Friday, August 10, 2007

Love and Marriage

Enshrined in the pages of historical fiction is a familiar story: young Richard, Duke of Gloucester, comes to Middleham Castle in Yorkshire to be reared in the home of the Earl of Warwick, where he and the earl's youngest daughter, Anne, become childhood sweethearts before entering into a grander passion for each other. Then the earl turns against Edward IV, Gloucester's brother, and Gloucester nobly chooses to side with his brother in the ensuing conflict. When Warwick forms an unholy alliance with the exiled Margaret of Anjou, Anne, herself in love with Richard, is forced to marry nasty Prince Edward, Margaret of Anjou's son, despite her protests. Their marriage is consummated with the utmost reluctance on Anne's part and the utmost brutality on Edward's, but soon justice, truth, and the Yorkist Way prevail. Anne, husbandless, fatherless, frail, and forlorn, is forced into a cookshop by her greedy brother-in-law George, Duke of Clarence. There she is worked to the point of collapse until gallant Richard rides up on a white horse, rescues her, restores her to health, marries her, and sweeps her off to the moors of Yorkshire, where they live a blissful existence until Those Nasty Woodvilles ruin everything by forcing Richard to take the crown to save England.

Yes, I'm a little teary-eyed too. And did I mention that Richard is an expert lover (his skills honed by the fathering of two bastard children, who were sired only because he missed Anne so much he sought comfort in another's bed) who through his sensitivity and savoir-faire helps poor Anne forget those wretched nights with Edward of Lancaster?

Now for the unromantic version. Anne and Richard did spend time together as children, but there's no evidence that they were "childhood sweethearts." They could have been, but childhood proximity hardly guarantees affection. They could have detested each other; they could have been quite indifferent to each other; they could have liked each other well enough, they could have had eyes for no one else. No one knows. They might well have thought of themselves as being future spouses. As Anne had no brothers, she could expect to inherit half of her parents' vast estates; she therefore was a most suitable match for a king's brother.

Whatever plans Richard and Anne had, if any, were thwarted when Warwick rebelled against Edward IV and arranged for Anne to marry Margaret of Anjou's son, Edward. Not much is known about Edward's personality. One observer did state that he was always talking about cutting off people's heads, but this was perhaps understandable in light of the fact that he had been dispossessed of his claim to the throne. Aside from this, there's nothing that indicates that he treated Anne badly--or that he treated her well, for that matter. It's not even known whether their marriage was consummated. Anne's feelings about it are also unknown. She might have disliked the idea; then again, she might have hoped that her father and Margaret would prevail and that she would end up as Edward's queen. Anne may well have shared the ambitions of her father; though nothing is known of her personality, there's nothing to support Paul Murray Kendall's picture of her as a retiring girl who longed for nothing but a quiet life in Yorkshire with Richard. Who knows? Maybe she was a Lady Macbeth type who egged Richard on to claim the crown. (Now that would make an interesting novel.)

Clarence may well have disguised Anne "in the habit of a cookmaid" (it's reported by the usually reliable Croyland Chronicler) but further details are, sadly, unknown.

And Anne's marriage to Richard? Ricardian novelists tend to overlook a minor detail here: Anne had land. Lots of land. Or, to be more precise, her parents had lots of land, and when the Earl of Warwick died, Clarence, his son-in-law, decided that he should have all of it. This didn't sit well with Richard, who unlike Clarence had never swerved from his loyalty to Edward IV and believed he should be suitably rewarded. The most effective way Richard could get his hands on the Warwick lands was to marry Anne, and that's precisely what he did. Far from sitting passively by and hoping that Edward tossed him a stray manor or two, he argued vigorously for his fair share. As the Croyland chronicler wrote:

In consequence of this, such violent discussion arose between the brothers, and so many arguments were, with the greatest acuteness, put forth on either side, in the king's presence, who sat in judgment in the council-chamber, that all present, and the lawyers even, were quite surprised that these princes should find arguments in such abundance by means of which to support their respective causes. In fact, these three brothers, the king and the two dukes, were possessed of such surpassing talents that, if they had been able to live without dissensions, such a threefold cord could never have been broken without the utmost difficulty. At last, their most loving brother, king Edward, agreed to act as mediator between them; and in order that the discord between princes of such high rank might not cause any hindrance to the carrying out of his royal intentions in relation to the affairs of France, the whole misunderstanding was at last set at rest, upon the following terms: the marriage of the duke of Gloucester with Anne before-named was to take place, and he was to have such and so much of the earl's lands as should be agreed upon between them through the mediation of arbitrators; while all the rest were to remain in the possession of the duke of Clarence.

The brothers were to fight for several years over the inheritance (much of which rightfully belonged to Anne's mother, the Countess of Warwick, whose rights were entirely ignored by the king and his brothers and were eventually extinguished by an obliging Parliament), but Richard came out of the dispute well in the long run. He also took care to secure his rights by having Parliament declare that if he and Anne were divorced (i.e., if their marriage was annulled), he would retain Anne's lands as long as he remained unmarried. That provision is simply not the product of a lovesick boy heedless of everything but his beloved. (Indeed, far from being lost in a romantic fog at the time he was wrangling with Clarence, Richard was further augmenting his landholdings by forcing the elderly Countess of Oxford to hand over her estates to him.)

Anne for her part was probably quite happy with her marriage to Richard. Marriage to Clarence's brother was the best chance she had of protecting her share of her inheritance. Had she not married Richard, she might well have found herself dumped into a convent or forced to marry someone of Clarence's choosing. She would likely have been stripped of her inheritance rights, as her mother was. Marriage to Richard gave her a powerful protector and allowed her to preserve her birthright.

Mind you, this is not to condemn Anne and Richard for making what was probably first and foremost a marriage of convenience. Most members of the nobility at the time made the same type of marriage, and they would have been trained from childhood to expect to make such a match. Anne and Richard would have been very unconventional people indeed, not to mention naive ones, if they had grown up expecting to marry for love.

Reay Tannahill, to her credit, is one of the few historical novelists who depicts the marriage of Richard and Anne as being motivated by practical considerations, with the couple growing to love each other as the marriage progresses. (To her added credit, Tannahill also resists the temptation of making the cookshop incident into the usual three-hanky melodrama; in her novel The Seventh Son, it's almost farcical.)

Of course, one very well known royal marriage was very likely based on love, or at least on lust: that of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. That match had all the ingredients of star-crossed romance: rich boy and poor girl, king and commoner, Yorkist family versus Lancastrian family, opposition from the elders (at least Edward IV's elders), a secret marriage--the works. All you need is a balcony, and you've got Romeo and Juliet. But mention the match of Edward and Elizabeth, and the same people who can't abide the notion of Richard and Anne marrying for material considerations will suddenly grow flinty-hearted and dry-eyed. They start muttering about witchcraft and trickery and all sorts of unpleasantness.

I guess love is a many-splendored thing. Unless you're the king and your wife is a Woodville.


Alianore said...

LOL! This is so exactly the way all the Rich III novels* I've read recently portray their marriage. You'd think Anne wasn't a great heiress, as her vast lands are never mentioned.

[*Apart from the Tannahill, which is still on my TBR pile, but I've flicked through it.]

I'd love to see Anne depicted as a Lady Macbeth type! That would be great, and such a refreshing change from the usual 'feeble but saintly' portrayal. A novel I read last year has her fainting or collapsing at least three times - I just wanted to shake her.

BTW, apart from the fact that she died pretty young, is there any evidence that Anne was physically frail? Most Rich III novels seem to depict her as such, so much so that it almost seems to be accepted historical fact, like the notion that she and Richard were childhood sweethearts.

Susan Higginbotham said...

I don't think there's any evidence that Anne was physically frail, except for the fact that she bore only one living child and her early death. But many otherwise healthy women have fertility problems, of course, and she could have been quite healthy until she contracted whatever condition killed her. I don't think much information on her household accounts has survived, but as far as I know there's no indication that she was a chronic invalid, such as payments to physicians or such. She certainly seems to have been able to travel, first with her parents and later to London to be crowned and then to the north on Richard's royal progress. Anne's sister did die young too, but I think it was of complications following childbirth (I'd have to check on this). Her mother, on the other hand, lived to a ripe old age.

Daphne said...

I think Anne Easter Smith's Novel, A Rose for the Crown, also portrays their marriage as more of a necessary one than one of undying love. But of course in that book, Richard can't marry the girl he really loves!

Sarah said...

If Philippa Gregory's upcoming The White Queen really is going to be about Elizabeth Woodville, as rumor has it, let's hope she has a new take on her relationship with Edward. Can you think of anyone else a novel with that title could be about?

Sarah said...

Or, I suppose it could be about Anne, again... though there's already been a novel with that title about her. Either way, I hope it's not the usual interpretation, which I'm tired of as well.

Gabriele C. said...

I too, like the Macbeth version. Who knows, it could have been Anne who killed the princes in the Tower, or ordered it. :)

Susan Higginbotham said...

Oh, I can see Anne now walking into the Tower with big, thick pillows under her arm. "Just to make the boys more comfortable!"

Warenne1304 said...

Great post Susan about the awful mawkishness that Ricardians put out about the 'love-match' of Anne and Richard. One thing you missed out which makes the point even stronger is that Richard, knowing that he never got a papal dispensation for what was an illegal marriage, received a grant from his brother than in the event of his divorcing Anne he would still get to keep her lands if he remained unmarried. Talk about a pre-nup in reverse!