Sunday, 11 April 2021

"The Last Daughter" by Nicola Cornick

It is something of a clichee that it is easier to write a scathing review than a glowing one. 

If so, I would be in trouble, because "The Last Daughter" by Nicola Cornick, which will be published on 8 July, is a great book, about which I can only gush. 

Like Cornick`s other books, this novel is a timeslip novel, with dual story lines - one taking place in the 15th century and following the life of Anne Lovell, wife of Francis, and the other taking place in modern day England, following the original character Serena. 

Serena`s story is somewhat more complicated than Anne`s. While Anne`s story starts with her, age just five in 1465, being told her uncle has decided she is to marry the king`s ward, 8-year-old Francis Lovell, and then follows her through several important events of her life as baroness, as Francis`s wife, as a 15th century noblewoman, Serena`s story starts more tragically: a young woman at the end of her twenties, who, in her own words, runs "a bespoke historical tours company", she has lost her twin Caitlin when Caitlin vanished as a teenager. As the story begins, Caitlin`s body has just been found near Minster Lovell Hall, close to where she disappeared ten years before the story starts. Serena, who has often spent time in her grandparents` house near the manor as a teen, returns to the village to find out what happened to her sister. As she does so, she not only finds out that there are some very strange circumstances surrounding her sister`s death and burial, she also reconnects with old friends, in particular her old crush Jack, and finds out more about her own background than she bargained for when returning to Minster Lovell.

The thread tying the stories of Anne and Serena together - apart from a spoiler, which I will not give away in this review - is, in fact, the Legend of Mistletoe Bough, which is given a rather unexpected twist in this book, a twist that affects the lives of both Anne and Serena. For most of the book, the effect of this legend and this storyline on Serena seems more significant than on Anne, though at the end, it becomes clear that Anne is just as affected by it. 

Since giving away more would be giving away key elements of the plot, I will instead simply say that it is a quite interesting storyline, and that the modern story surrounding Serena and the dashing Jack was an interesting one, and the characters sympathetic and relatable - no mean feat, seeing as how they had to vie for my attention with the storyline surrounding Anne and Francis. 

This storyline is, of course, what attracted me most to this book, what was my main interest. Without beating around the bush: it was the very best portrayal of Anne Lovell I have ever seen anywhere. Respectful, engaging and relatable without giving her any 21st century traits to make her more attractive to the reader, this Anne shines, and she shines in a way close to what evidence suggests. 

Anne`s story, narrated by her as an adult but starting in her childhood, was naturally familiar to me, but even so, the twists Cornick wove into it managed to surprise me. Her Anne is a curious child, who retains her curiosity into adulthood. She`s very loving and adores her husband, who loves her too, but she is also very stubborn. This combination of characteristics drives one twist in Anne`s story - and it is used to explain why Anne, unlike her mother and sister Elizabeth, did not choose to become Queen Anne Neville`s lady-in-waiting. Personally, I think that the most likely explanation is that she simply did not like Queen Anne, but Cornick chooses a more dramatic explanation - one that works very well in the story. I`m mentioning this to point out that even in instances when the narrative chooses a different conclusion to the one I come to, it worked well to engage me, and I do not simply praise this book because it echoed all my views. 

The side characters are equally well-drawn as Anne is. Of particular note is Alice FitzHugh, Anne`s mother, who is a powerful if somewhat stern woman, who is all too aware of her important ancestry and struggles to bond with her headstrong daughter, though their relationship thaws somewhat when Anne realises her own similarity in many ways to her mother, particularly their shared stubbornness. It never becomes quite as warm as Anne`s relationship to her adored father, though, whose role in this book, as indeed in Anne`s real life, is sadly short. 

Joan Lovell, whose part is equally regrettably short, is described, even as a child, as having "a brisk air of organisation" as well as a "slightly protective way she spoke about her brother" with, both touches I loved. Frideswide is intelligent and self-confident, which also seems very close to what evidence suggests.

And then, of course, there is my leading man himself. Francis. Anne`s adored husband. I will admit, I was slightly afraid that as the obvious love interest of one of the novel`s protagonists, he might be suffering a bit from what I call the Male Hero Protagonist syndrome - being too streamlined, too heroic, too flawless. I need not have worried; Cornick is too good a writer for this. Though he is the best of men in Anne`s eyes, he does have flaws, and he does have weaknesses. One touch about his characterisation I especially liked was that for all his dealing with the highest and mightiest of the realm, he was essentially an extremely private person, keeping his emotions close to his chest, and even Anne does not always know them. From what we know, this seems extremely realistic. 

It was easy to tell that this novel was immaculately researched, and there were only very minor mistakes; that really I only noticed because I can recite the facts about Anne and her family in my sleep. I don`t think anyone but me would care, or even notice, that Anne`s sister Alice is said in passing to have been younger than her sister Elizabeth - and even I can`t say that it bothered me much. The great research of the book was noticable and made the book even more enjoyable for me. 

Some of the things I enjoyed most about this book were 

(1) that in her part of the story, it was Anne`s story. It was not her story but busy comparing her to another woman. She was the heroine. (Worth of note, looking at pretty much all other portrayals of Anne Lovell, ever, was that her cousin Anne Neville did not even really turn up. She was mentioned once or twice, as naturally she would be, but that was it. For once, she did not steal all of Anne`s storyline and thunder.) 

(2) that Anne did not showcast any 21st century values, describing herself as a pawn who wants to marry for love, or any of these clichees. She knows what life is like, and she doesn`t think it very strange. 

(3) the ending with Anne and Francis. No spoilers, but that was very touching, and makes me wish that it would/could have ended like that. 

(4) though Anne does not have any children, there is no huge fuss made about that. She would love to have children, and this becomes a plotpoint, but there is no huge row made about it, it does not serve as a "but" to her and Francis`s marital happiness, and is not used to make her lesser. 

Finally, mostly to be utterly honest and complete, here are some tiny points of criticism: 

(1) The book is not long enough! I need more information on everyone - the dashing Jack in the modern part of the story, the tactless and understandably frustrated Inspector Litton (who I don`t think was meant to become an Ensemble Darkhorse but for me, absolutely did - I could understand her!), and Rebecca Shaw and Mr Anstruther. In the 15th century storyline, I would have loved to see more of Joan and Frideswide Lovell, to meet Richard FitzHugh, Anne`s brother to whom she was very close, her sister Elizabeth - everyone. I`d also have liked if the one miscarriage we have evidence Anne suffered had been mentioned, as surely it affected her. 

(2) Francis was, in my opinion, somewhat too political before Richard III`s accession. It works very well in the context of the story, but ... well. I did say I would bring up some tiny points of criticism, and this is one. Francis was, even as Lord Chamberlain, pretty unpolitical. 

And finally, the only thing I would say actually did slightly bother me, more than just me taking a note because I noticed something. It was nowhere near enough to spoil my enjoyment, but it is my only actual serious point of criticism:

(3) Edward Franke`s actions in 1488, concerning Anne Lovell, are ignored. 

However, all in all, I can only say I wholeheartedly recommend this book. It is the only book featuring Anne and Francis Lovell prominently which I can absolutely, unreservedly recommend, and I do hope it does fabulously well and everyone buys it and meets the amazing Anne Lovell. 

Friday, 2 April 2021

Upcoming books

 Hello everyone!

This blog has lain dormant for nearly one and a half years, but finally, I am starting it up again. 

Things have happened since my last post on here, but it has taken me until now to finally re-activate this blog. I`m apologising to everyone who likes reading it, if indeed anyone does. 

Though a lot has been going on in the world, and in my life, I am focusing on the positive here, and this will be the centre of this first post after a long time:

New books I have written, shall write, or am currently writing.

(1) A book on John de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, and his son, the ever-so-creatively named John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln. Brother-in-law and nephew respectively of Edward IV and Richard III, and guardian and foster brother (again, respectively) of Francis Lovell`s for some five years. The book has been provisionally titled "De la Pole, Father and Son: The Duke, the Earl and the Struggle for Power", and is going to be published by Amberley Publishing. There is no publication date yet, but I finished the mauscript last summer, and Covid-19 allowing, it should be on the market at some point this year.

(2) A book on Alice Chaucer, Countess of Salisbury and Duchess of Suffolk, mother and grandmother of John, Duke of Suffolk and John, Earl of Salisbury. A powerhouse in the early and mid-fifteenth century, a woman who was born a commoner and died a dowager duchess, who was close to a king and queen, who held political power and managed to come through the Wars of the Roses unscathed. A truly fascinating woman, living in a truly fascinating time. The provisional title for this book is "What is Better than a Good Woman? Alice Chaucer, Commoner and Yorkist Matriarch", and it, too, is going to be published by Amberley Publishing. I sent the finished manuscript to the publisher earlier this week, and presumably, the book will be published early next year. 

(3) A book on mental health in late medieval England and France, and the many myths that have grown up around famous cases of men and women afflicted with mental illnesses at that time, their treatment and how such illnesses were viewed by their contemporaries. It is also going to explore the societal and religious implications of mental illnesses, and how these changed during the fourteenth and fifteenth century. Provisionally titled "Medieval Mental Health: Uncovering the Myths", this is the book I am currently working on. The deadline for the finished manuscript is 1 October and it will probably be published around a year afterwards, by Pen&Sword Books. 

(4) A book on the wardship system in medieval England, and the treatment of orphaned underaged heirs and heiresses. Though a fact of life for sadly very many rich and famous figures through the Middle Ages, it is a subject that has not really been examined in its own right. It will detail the advantages, but also the many pitfalls of the system, and use examples for the many weird, sad, odd and interesting things that could happen to an orphaned heir or heiress, whose wardship had fallen to the king or one of the king`s men - or women, for that matter. In fact, the part woman played in this system, of which they are often assumed to have been victims but not active players, will be a significant part of this book. Its title has provisionally been announced as "A History of Medieval Wardship: The Trials of Orphaned Noble Children", and the deadline for handing in the finished manuscript is 1 October 2022. Therefore, it will not be published before autumn 2023, also by Pen&Sword books.

(5) A book on fertility, childbirth and all the many problems, theories and difficulties surrounding it during medieval times. This book is going to focus on the many, often conflicting, ideas of what caused infertility, how it was treated, how women who could not have children (be it because of any illness or problem they suffered from themselves, or due to some illness or problem their husband had) were treated, and how such (supposed) infertility could even have an effect on political issues. However, this is not going to be the only focus of the book. It will also discuss pregnancy, how it was regarded in medieval England, what remedies were suggested for any ailments or difficulties experienced during it, as well as childbirth and all the troubles that could arise during it, how they were anticipated, dealt with and often faced when they could not be avoided. Though the focus of it is going to be royal women such as Anne of Bohemia, for whom we naturally have much more evidence than for commoner women, there will be information about such less recorded women as well. Provisionally titled "Fertility, Pregnancy and Childbirth for Royal Women in the Middle Ages", the headline for handing in the finished manuscript is also 1 October 2022, and it will mostly likely be published around a year later by Pen&Sword books. 

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Joan Beaumont, Margaret Beaufort and historical notions of fertility

Since I started reading Dr Nicola Tallis`s fabulous new book on Margaret Beaufort, I have been thinking about Margaret, her extremely early pregnancy with the future Henry VII, as well as Francis`s mother Joan Beaumont and her similarly early pregnancies.

The trigger for all these thoughts, and for this article, was Tallis´s statement that though it is usually assumed that Margaret had no more children after Henry because her giving birth at only 13 years of age made her infertile, this is not actually proved, and there might have been other reasons for it.

Naturally, I have nothing to say against this statement. It`s indubitably true. There was no way, with the medicine known in the 15th century, to ascertain infertility, even less the cause of it, and so today, we can only guess about the issues that affected the men and women at the time. However, in the light of all this, the thoughts and opinions of people in the 15th century about fertility and extremely young births are interesting and very telling.

Famously, by law, the age of consent in the 15th century was 12 years for women and 14 years for men. It is sometimes assumed that because of this, sex at this very young age was common and accepted. This is not so; and though it was not punishable by law, society at large did not look kindly on such early consummation. [1] Margaret`s extreme youth when she became pregnant and her husband Edmund Tudor`s decision to consummate their marriage this early caused a lot of unfavourable comments in contemporary and early modern sources, and there is evidence she herself considered it far too early. Many years later, she would counsel her son Henry VII not to allow his daughter, her granddaughter Margaret, to be married too early, as it could "injure her health". Obviously, she had her own experiences in mind and did not consider these experiences as normal and expected.

Nor was Margaret a special case, who was commented on because of the high status she had and the even higher status she got in later life. Though her case was lesser known than Margaret Beaufort´s, for the simple reason than she was of somewhat lesser birth and status, her contemporary Joan Beaumont`s very early pregnancy was similarly regarded with disgust by those who knew of it.

Born two years before Margaret, Joan became pregnant at some point in late 1454 or early 1455, at the age of just 13. She was, therefore, only a few months older than Margaret was when she became pregnant. She gave birth either shortly before or - somewhat more likely - shortly after her fourteenth birthday, to a boy called John, after his father. Though this small boy`s birth did not cause the comments Henry Tudor`s birth did, Joan`s pregnancy was not greeted with joy by her relatives. Her father-in-law, already less than friendly towards his son, Joan`s husband John Lovell, in his will, added a codicil shortly before his death, by which time he must have known of his daughter-in-law`s pregnancy. In this codicil, John Lovell was all but disinherited, with his father making sure he would only receive a pittance of his large fortune, and almost nothing for nearly as long as it would take for Joan`s child to reach majority. It is hard not to see a show of his feelings about his then 22-year-old son`s actions in consummating his marriage with his barely teenaged wife in this, but Joan`s own father was to make his feelings even clearer. In his own will, written in 1456, by which time Joan, then 14, was already pregnant again, he left a small amount of money to his baby grandson, but stated that his daughter ("my daughter Lovell, my life") was "to the fury of God, wife of John my son". It is, therefore, quite clear that so early consummation was not something that was accepted and expected. Like Margaret advised for her granddaughter, with her own experiences in mind, it seems that Joan`s son, Francis Lovell, took his mother`s experiences to heart when contemplating marriages for his sisters. Both of them were only married after their sixteenth birthday - a clear sign that like Margaret, he didn`t want to take any chances.

However, there is an obvious difference in the cases of Margaret Beaufort and Joan Beaumont, which harks back to the original point of the cause of Henry Tudor remaining an only child. Though only a few months older than Margaret when she first gave birth, Joan remained very fertile. Within only a couple of months of her first birth, she was pregnant again, and the pregnancy was successful - doubly remarkable as this second pregnancy resulted in a twin birth, something that was even more dangerous at the time than a single birth. That Joan survived both those births, together with all three babies, and remained fertile even after this, giving birth twice more in the following ten years, could suggest that it was not Margaret`s extremely early pregnancy and birth that caused her apparent infertility after Henry`s birth.

However, it is sheerest guesswork, and does nothing more than perhaps throw a doubt on this assumption. We know far too little to say that these cases were so similar that such a comparison makes sense. It is entirely possible that despite being nearly Margaret`s age, Joan was taller and stronger than Margaret, who was said to be very small even in her adult years, and therefore able to recover better from the births. It´s also possible, and in the case of her second pregnany, even likely, that Joan went into labour somewhat prematurely, and giving birth to therefore smaller babies did less lasting damage. All of this is possible, none of it is verifiable, and cannot therefore be used to debunk or confirm the cause of Margaret`s infertility, and Joan`s continued fertility.

It is notable, however, that Margaret herself apparently seemed to think that her early pregnancy and birth had caused her infertility, or at the very least contributed to it, as can be seen in her statement that if her granddaughter was married too early it could "injure her health". This is particularly interesting in that while it obviously assumed it was because of her that her subsequent marriages after her first husband`s death had not produced any children, she saw her first husband´s actions in making her pregnant so early as at least partly responsible. In an age when infertility was almost always seen as the woman`s fault, this is certainly remarkable. That Margaret`s son and daughter-in-law apparently agreed, both supporting her point of view about this and their daughter`s marriage, suggests that the connection between too early births and infertility was at the very least seen as logical and a risk not worth taking - in addition to the very real and provable risk to a mother and child`s life in the case of a birth at too young an age.

Of course, what really caused Margaret`s infertility cannot be ascertained, but she herself, and her contemporaries, seemed to connect it with her experiences and her too early pregnancy and birth. Joan Beaumont was lucky in that she did not suffer those consequences, but she faced other perils. Her husband John Lovell, apparently an unsavoury character, did not seem to treat her well, even apart from forcing her to become pregnant so very early. Nor did he seem to treat his twin children well, with his relationship to his first son, John Lovell jr, who sadly died in childhood, unknown. With the birth of twins being in several legends seen as caused by a mother`s sexual appetites, in some cases even casting doubt on the twins` paternity, it might have given John Lovell ammunition for his bad treatment. All that can be said is that, through no consideration of his own, he definitely did not destroy his young wife`s fertility, while in the case of Edmund Tudor, he very well might have, and was at least contemporarily thought to be responsible for destroying Margaret Beaufort`s chance of having more children.

[1] In fact, most people only married in their twenties. It was only nobility who married so very young in the first place.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Stop treating Anne Lovell badly!

This is going to be another installment in something about which I have spoken before; my deep-seated problem with the horrible, historically inaccurate and very sexist way Anne Lovell is treated in fiction. Her portrayals in fiction are so nasty that the novels most friendly to her simply ignore her existence, while those in which she is mentioned seem to be vying for the best way to portray her as the most horrible person anyone has ever encountered, and the most horrible character in the entire novel. There are novels which are sympathetic to Richard which portray Anne Lovell with more vitriol than Henry Tudor.

Now, being all for historical accuracy, I don`t condone inventing any inaccurate portrayal of Henry Tudor, either. Of course, in a novel about Richard, he is by necessity not a sympathetic character, but there need to be no inventions for it. But it`s more than a bit weird that authors who choose to invent nasty qualities for characters would do so for the wife of Richard`s best friend rather than for someone who actually did something bad to Richard, in a novel sympathetic to him.

There are three ways in which Anne Lovell is treated in novels, and none of them is good.

(1) "Yesterday upon the stair, I met a girl who wasn`t there".*

This is the most wide-spread version in non-fiction, and in the more sympathetic fiction, as at least it doesn`t slander her. For non-fiction it is somewhat explicable, as even Francis is often barely mention. It is a missed opportunity, as it ignores Anne`s very likely participation in Francis`s rebellions, that she committed treason for him and was considered dangerous by Henry VII`s government, but it is only logical that such subjects will not be addressed in non-fiction which barely mentions Francis`s rebellions. (Or doesn`t mention one of them at all, as often happens with the 1486 rebellion). In fiction, it is somewhat more jarring, as in non-fiction it can at least be assumed he probably was married at some point, while fiction of that sort sometimes glosses it over so much even Francis never thinks about it. In some of these cases, he has affairs with or outright relationships with other women, without him, them, or anyone else ever thinking about his wife, or even the fact he had a wife, at all. For all intents and purposes in those novels, it is as if she never existed.

(2) "She wasn`t there again today. Oh how I wish she`d go away."

This is a more common take in fiction; of Anne Lovell who is mentioned in passing as being Francis`s wife, but whose existence then never influences the plot, Francis`s actions, or even his thoughts and feelings again. Usually, this is explained by casual mentions of Anne being horrible, but at least it isn`t expanded upon and her supposed horrible horribleness made a plot point. A typical example is one novel in which it is claimed that her mother would not let her live with Francis as man and wife. This baffling statement is never explained, and in the whole rest of the novel, Anne is only brought up occasionally to be quickly dismissed (at various points as "weepy", "limp" and similar adjectives) and provide an excuse why Francis can`t marry his OC mistress, the author obviously being angry her existence stopped such a plot development. Another typical novel has Francis bring her up shortly to say his marriage isn`t as good as the supposedly perfect one of Richard and Anne Neville, and she`s never mentioned again. 

(3) "And every tale condemns me for a villain."

This is the worst, and sadly the most wide-spread version of Anne Lovell in fiction: a horrible woman who has all the bad qualities the author can think of. Various novels have called her ugly in colourful (and massively sexist) language, have insisted she is "unlikeable", "one of those miserable creatures who is happiest when pulling another soul to pieces" and other completely far-fetched and historically inaccurate claims. (And to make this whole thing even worse, more often than not, such qualities are told, not shown, which makes it seem like an excuse by the other characters for their relentless bullying of Anne Lovell.) Fairly often, this also comes at the expense of actual facts about Anne. Many novels age her up so Francis can state at a time when she was twelve in real-life that his marriage has failed, even that it is "hell". One claim that is found especially often is that she is frigid and sexless, and/or that she is so horrible Francis can`t bring himself to consummate the marriage, to explain why she and Francis had no children, as if infertility was an invention of the 20th century. (See below.) Also found often is the claim that she is so very religious, which somehow makes her bad. It`s all absolutely nasty (and this doesn`t even go into the implications of a woman apparently being bad when she doesn`t want sex for some reason).

Now, all of this would be bad enough if this was all there was to Anne`s portrayal in fiction. But it is not, because a lot of these portrayals do not only try and fill gaps in our knowledge in the worst possible way for Anne and based on no evidence, a lot of them actually take things we do have evidence for and which show her in a very good light, and claim the opposite.

The most obvious example for this is her and Francis`s childlessness. The most obvious explanation for this would be that one or both of them were infertile, and that it had absolutely nothing to do with the quality of their marriage. With a fair bit of digging, however - or reading my book, which I just mentioned here to advertise it and which of course couldn`t be done until three months ago - it becomes clear that Francis somehow knew it was his fault they couldn`t have children (which, given the lack of exact knowledge about reproduction at the time, almost certainly means he and Anne had to stop having sex at some point, possibly because of sickness or trauma), that she wanted children and that he was very sorry about this. It is perhaps expecting too much of novelists to do that much digging about what is essentially a side-character, but it also means that when these novels portray their childlessness as caused by Anne being horrible, they take an issue that was obviously painful for her and her husband, that was caused by something nasty for Francis and during which Anne supported her husband and stood by him, and use it as evidence she was horrible.

It`s similar with her being so religious and therefore horrible. It is not only offensive in itself, as if religiosity was somehow inherently wrong, it not only imposes modern values on medieval characters, whose understanding of and attitude towards religion was completely different to ours, it takes a sign of Anne`s love and loyalty to her husband and somehow turns it into the opposite. At some point before December 1489, age just 29, Anne took a religious vow of some sort, which meant she would never be able to marry again. It came after years of Anne committing treason to find Francis, committing treason to help Francis`s rebellions, standing by him through difficult time and being known to be an influence on him, and therefore clearly meant she didn`t want to be married to anyone but Francis. This is not as hard to find out as the issue with fertility above, and yet, somehow, her effectively making it clear that she did not want any other husband but Francis, gets presented as proof she hated him and didn`t want to be married at all.

The bottom line of all this is, I`m really sick of Anne Lovell`s portrayal in fiction.

*Yes, I know, it`s "man who wasn`t there", but it made neat headlines for these two subsections of poor Anne`s treatment in fiction.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

The conference "Dynasty and Disappearance" in Minster Lovell 18/05/2019

Yesterday, the conference "Dynasty and Disappearance" took place in Minster Lovell. It was organised by Steven David, who wrote a book about Francis called "The Last Champion of York: Francis Lovell, Richard III`s Truest Friend" and gave a talk there and who invited me to give a talk as well.

I arrived in Minster Lovell on Saturday morning, having come to London by plane on Friday, from there to Witney, where I stayed the night before Steve`s wife Rose picked me up and drove me to the place of our conference. Joining me were my parents, who wanted to hear me talk as well.

Arriving at the Old Swan hotel in Minster Lovell, I was quite awed. The Malthouse, were the conference took place, was very swish indeed, and the village turned out to be, as Rose said, like a picture book. Very green, very calm, very beautiful. A lot of nature. I loved it immediately.

The conference was organised perfectly, and inside the Malthouse, I was greeted by a wonderful selection of books about the village, holiday cards and CDs showing pictures of it, nicely arranged with a rather atmospheric - if implausible - picture of a skeleton sitting in a chair in a cellar, a skeleton dog at its feet, a helmet as would have been worn during battle in Francis`s time and other such lovely things. I especially loved an armoured glove, into which little hearts had been worked. I shall now forever believe Francis wore such gloves.

I did not get to admire the display for very long, though, because there were people to meet. Everyone was in a good mood, asking questions about my journey from Germany and how I came to be interested in Francis. Everyone was so nice and lovely, I slowly started to become less nervous about giving my talk in front of 50 people, and when it started at around 10:15 am, after a nice introduction, I felt I could speak with some ease.

My talk was about "Francis's childhood, connections and his place as an adult in Oxfordshire society", and it was quite fun to hold, actually. People were really interested, which made me feel secure as the talk went on, and I even got a laugh or two at some points, for example when I professed to have absolutely no idea how to pronounce "Magdalen College" and, as a Hessian, probably being incapable of doing it correctly.

All in all, I think it went well. I received some questions, among others by an elderly lady who mentioned an old local story that Francis`s twin sister had killed Francis, having first led him to a church and having read the mass of the dead for him before doing so. To my relief, no one else had ever heard of this story either, and I could answer that his twin sister most definitely could not have killed him, having died some six to seven years before he vanished.

After my talk was over, there were refreshments offered. I got to talk to several more people, some of whom I had spoken to before over the internet, and making new aquaintances. After around twenty minutes, Steve gave his talk, titled "Pretender, Power and the Plantagenets". It was mostly about Francis`s rebellions during Henry VII`s reign and the possibilities of what happened to him after he vanished. It was a great talk, though I do not agree with Steve`s theory of where Francis eventually died.

It was also great to pool our thoughts and knowledge after the end of his talk. During the approximately 30 minutes long plenary session, we answered some very interesting questions, among others about Anne FitzHugh`s whereabouts after Francis vanished.

We then went to lunch, and had a very enjoyable time talking about Francis, as well as about other subjects. Afterwards, we then had a guided tour through the village, to St Kenelm`s church and the ruins of Minster Lovell Hall - which, as we learnt, was not actually called that until the 19th century, before that being simply known as the Minster`s Manor.

The village was absolutely lovely, and the ruins of Minster Lovell Hall were awe-inspiring. It was a very special feeling to be there in person. The walls were much higher than I expected, but I thought they gave out some rather weird vibes. Not so much in the first part of the ruins, but as we progressed towards what were likely the ruins of the "private" parts of the manor, I thought it felt somewhat oppressive. It was very strange indeed, but despite this, I loved being there. It was like understanding Francis a bit more still, seeing where he grew up, and added to that, it was an amazingly beautiful place.

In the end, we went into St Kenelm`s church, where I saw William Lovell`s grave. It was astoundingly tucked away, not the centre of the church as I had expected, though I loved his effigy, which was, after all these years, still so very detailed. We were served tea and cake in church, chatted a bit more, before the conference ended.

It was a perfect, a lovely day, and I am very happy to have been there, to have met Steve, Rose and so many others.

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Francis`s older brother, John Lovell jr?

In 1456,at some point before September, and therefore the birth of Francis and Joan Lovell, their grandfather John Beaumont, Viscount Beaumont, wrote his will. Though he lived for another four years after writing it, he did not change it again. After his death in battle in 1460, fighting against Yorkist forces, the then victorious Yorkist allowed the terms of the will to be followed and his son William Beaumont was granted licence to enter his lands after proving his age.

The original will is still extant and held in the National Archives. Some of the writing has become very faint over the years, but most of it is still legible. The will in itself is neither particularly long nor particularly unconventional. As expected, John made arrangements that "my obytt be held yerely" and left money and belongings to friends and relatives.

There are only two notable facts about the way the will is written. For one, though John started writing the will in (somewhat shaky) Latin, he switched to English about half-way through. The second interesting fact is the very emotive language he used in the bequest to his daughter Joan. Leaving her 1500 marks, John describes her as "my daughter Lovell, my life", which he then followed with the statement that she was "to the wrath of God my son John`s wife". Perhaps unsurprisingly in the light of such condemnation, John Lovell is not left anything in the will.

There is, however, another very interesting bequest in the will. After the bequests to his son and heir William, right in the beginning of the will, and just before the bequest to his daughter Joan, John left "John my son 990 shillings when 10 [??] years after his birth."

This is notable because John Beaumont did not have a son called John. Though he might have had unrecorded children by his first wife Elizabeth Phelip, by 1441, only Henry, who died at the age of eight in 1442, William and Joan survived. John`s second wife, Katherine Neville, was 46 years of age when he married her and therefore too old to give him any more children. Though it is of course possible John had illegitimate children, those would not have been mentioned before his legitimate daughter. "John my son" can, therefore, not have been John Beaumont`s actual son. 

It was, however, perfectly common to both describe not only children-in-law but also stepchildren and grandchildren simply as children. An example of that is found in Cecily Neville`s will, in which she describes her grandson Edmund, Earl of Suffolk, as "my son Edmund" and his brother William as "my son William". Another example is Anne Neville, Duchess of Buckingham`s will in which her grandson Henry is described as her son.

John Beaumont did, in fact, have a stepson called John - John Mowbray, 3rd Duke of Norfolk. However, it is very unlikely he is the "John my son" meant in the bequest. Not only would it be very strange for John Beaumont to mention his stepson before his own daughter, John Mowbray was only six years younger than his stepfather and therefore the condition that something should only happen ten years after his birth would make no sense. The same counts for his son, John Beaumont`s step-grandson, who was already twelve when the will was made.

This means that "John my son" cannot be John`s stepson. Since his son-in-law John Lovell is explicitly identified as his daughter Joan`s husband, it also cannot have been him who was meant, since surely if so, the identifier would have been added to this first mention. It would also make little sense for John Beaumont to mention a son-in-law he obviously despised before his daughter.

This means that "John my son" must have been a grandson, a son of either William or Joan. Though William was 18 when the will was made and could very well have fathered a son by then, it is once more unlikely that John Beaumont would mention an illegitimate grandson before his legitimate daughter. Since William was married to Joan Stafford, daughter of Humphrey, Duke of Buckingham and Anne Neville (mentioned above), who was only born in 1442, it`s all but impossible that he could have had a legitimate son by 1456.

Which means that "John my son" was most likely the oldest son of John Lovell and Joan Beaumont. Though Joan Beaumont was only a year older than her sister-in-law Joan Stafford, she would have just been old enough to have been able to conceive a child that fits the criteria. If so, John Lovell jr must have been born between June 1455, when William Lovell`s will makes it clear that he did not yet have any grandchildren by his sons, and November 1455, seeing as Francis and his twin sister Joan would have to have been conceived in December 1455 to be born in September 1456. Joan, who was born between June and early August 1441, would have been 13 or just turned 14 when he was born, while her husband would have been 22.

There is no other reference I have been able to find for John Lovell jr, but this does not have to mean anything, since there is also no contemporary reference to Francis before 1465. In fact, if he had an older brother who was still alive when he and Joan were born, it might explain why Francis was given his unusual name, rather than named after his father, especially since his father does not seem to have been the type of person who was very tolerant.

There is no evidence how long John Lovell jr might have lived. Possibly, he lived until he was around 8, dying in 1463, which might explain his younger sister Frideswide`s birth a year later, but it is sheerest guesswork.

All that seems clear is that it is almost certain that, despite his mother`s extreme youth even when she had Francis and Joan jr, Francis had an older brother called John, who is mentioned in his grandfather John Beaumont`s will.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

"Lovell our Dogge: The Life of Viscount Lovell, Closest Friend of Richard III and Failed Regicide" available for pre-order

My book on Francis Lovell - "Lovell our Dogge: The Life of Viscount Lovell, Closest Friend of Richard III and Failed Regicide" is now available for pre-order. 

It can be found on amazon here:

And on Book Depository here:
Its publishing date is 15th July 2019.