Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Cross-Dressing Young Buckingham

It's generally known among Ricardians, and cited as an instance of his benevolence, that following Buckingham's rebellion against Richard III, the king bestowed an annuity of 200 marks upon Buckingham's widow Katherine, sister of Elizabeth Woodville. What's not so well known is that before that, Richard had placed a price on the heads of Buckingham's two small sons and that Katherine was kept prisoner by him for a time.

Barbara J. Harris recounts the story in her biography of Edward Stafford: the aptly titled Edward Stafford: Third Duke of Buckingham, 1478-1521. (Tudor fans will recall that Edward was eventually executed on orders of Henry VIII; How to Keep Your King Happy was evidently not on the Stafford family bookshelves.) The story appears in a manuscript in the Stafford Public Record Office and according to Harris is reprinted in Owen and Blakeway's 1825 work, A History of Shrewsbury. (The latter is available on Google, but a large chunk of pages is missing from the Google text. An excerpt can be found here.)

At the time Henry Stafford, the second duke, mounted his ill-fated rebellion, he had sent his wife and sons to Weobley, where Sir Richard Delabeare, who had close ties to the Staffords, took six-year-old Edward Stafford to Kinnersley. There he was entrusted to Elizabeth Mors, a servant of Richard's, and William ap Symon. (Whether Edward's four-year-old brother stayed behind at Weobley is unclear.) Harris notes that the Stafford daughters may have remained at the main family residence of Brecon Castle, where they were found and moved to Tretower after the Vaughan family sacked the castle.

Richard III, meanwhile, had placed a reward of 1,000 pounds on little Edward's head and of 500 pounds on his younger brother's head. (One hopes the "head" language wasn't to be taken literally and that Richard III's purpose was to take the little boys into custody, not to kill them.) With this reward in mind, search parties came twice to Kinnersley in search of Edward, who had been dressed like a girl and his forehead shaven accordingly in keeping with the female fashion of the time. Edward having been taken off the premises, the searchers failed to find him, but Richard Delabeare was arrested. Back at Weobley, Katherine Stafford had also been arrested. She was conveyed to London as a prisoner. One wonders if her prison was the Tower and, if so, whether she looked around there for signs of her nephews, Edward V and his brother.

Not long after Katherine's arrest, searchers again arrived at Kinnersley. Elizabeth fled to the park with her charge, waiting there four hours until she was told the danger was past. After that, Elizabeth and William decided to take Edward, again dressed as a girl, to Hereford. As Harris reports it, Edward "rode seated sideways on a pillow behind William ap Symon in the style of a proper young lady." Elizabeth, telling the story later, added sweetly that Edward was "the fairest gentlewoman and the best that ever she hadd in her Daies."

Edward's whereabouts after this are obscure. As Richard III released Katherine Stafford from prison and gave her an annuity, it seems likely that he had lost interest by that point in taking her sons captive. In any case, Edward isn't heard of until after the Battle of Bosworth, after which he was made a Knight of the Bath. He also acquired a stepfather, Jasper Tudor. In 1486, he and his brother were put into the care of Margaret Beaufort, who had been married to the boys' great-uncle.

A nice twist to this story is that Elizabeth Mors, Richard Delabeare's resourceful servant, subsequently married her master. Hey, it's not all unromance here.

Monday, September 17, 2007

A Novel About Margaret Beaufort

Ouch! Has it been so long since I last posted? Sorry, Richard--I've had deadlines.

Having read so many Wars of the Roses-related novels featuring Richard, I was intrigued when I ran across one about Margaret Beaufort, who in a few recent Ricardian novels has had the dubious honor of being named the killer or would-be killer of the Princes. Leaving aside this theory, which I find far-fetched (to put it mildly), Margaret Beaufort had a fascinating life, so I was looking forward to reading this novel--Destiny's Child by Iris Gower, a 1999 reprint of a novel originally published in 1975 as Bride of the Thirteenth Summer by Iris Davies.

Unfortunately, I found Destiny's Child to be disappointing. Margaret and her husbands are portrayed attractively, but Gower makes little effort to put Margaret's story in its historical context or even to explain to the poor reader what is going on outside Margaret's great hall. For instance, when Buckingham joins with Margaret in a rebellion against Richard III, we're never told that Buckingham had been instrumental in bringing Richard III to power. Earlier, Thomas Stanley is described as standing by Lord Hastings, but we're never told who Hastings is or that Hastings has been executed. Perhaps Gower assumed that a reader interested in Margaret Beaufort would know all of these things, but it strikes me as a somewhat unlikely assumption.

Historically, there are some right peculiar goings-on here. When Elizabeth of York comes out of sanctuary, she goes not to Richard III's household, but to Thomas and Margaret's. Gower also has Stanley agree to bring Margaret to the battlefield where Richard III's troops are preparing to meet Henry Tudor's so that Margaret can watch the battle, a rather unlikely plot device since Stanley is depicted as being unsure which side to support.

Aside from depicting Margaret's love for her first husband and for her son, there's very little effort made to show Margaret's inner workings. In the chapter where Margaret agrees to marry Thomas Stanley, she's suddenly shown as worldly-wise and rather cynical, a contrast to the way she's previously been depicted. Such a development isn't implausible, but in the context of the novel, it isn't well prepared for.

Richard himself doesn't appear at all, except as someone who's mentioned by the other characters. Margaret says she can't imagine that he would kill the Princes, and she doesn't appear to bear him any grudge, but she plots to have her son supplant him anyway. His death at Bosworth isn't even depicted.

All in all, Margaret could have been served much better. On the positive side, reading this historical novel did make me want to learn more about Margaret, so I ordered The King's Mother by Michael K. Jones and Malcolm Underwood, the standard biography of Margaret Beaufort, which just arrived in my mailbox today. Having read only bits and pieces of it before, I'm looking forward to reading it from cover to cover.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Ten Rules for Writing Ricardian Historical Fiction

Some time ago (I never was accused of being au courant), rules for writing various sorts of historical fiction were circulated in blogdom. Astonishingly, as far as I know, no one provided any for the aspiring Ricardian novelist. So here's my attempt to fill this gaping void:

1. Anne Beauchamp, Richard's mother-in-law, must be tearfully grateful when Richard III takes her to live with him and Anne, and must not under any circumstances allude to the fact that Richard and Clarence together have stripped her of all of her lands. The means by which Richard acquired the lands of George Neville and the Countess of Oxford should also be disregarded; if the matter of land must be mentioned at all, the reader should be allowed to assume that it came to Richard via the Land Fairy.

2. Anne Neville must be frail, in order to make Richard's love for her all the more noble and to get maximum pathos from her stay at the cookshop. The emotional power of a Ricardian novel can be measured roughly by the number of times Anne faints.

3. Anything bad that happens in England during the Wars of the Roses is the fault of either (a) Margaret of Anjou, (b) anyone named Woodville, (c) Margaret Beaufort, (d) the Stanleys, (e) Buckingham (except when he's allied with Richard III), or (f) Henry Tudor. Special points go to any Ricardian novelist who can make the Woodvilles responsible for global warming.

4. Anything good that happens in England during the Wars of the Roses is due to Richard, Duke of York, Edward IV (except when it's something Richard doesn't like), or Richard III.

5. Anne and Richard must have been childhood sweethearts whose lifelong wish to marry is thwarted by Warwick. The phrase "sold into marriage" should be used at least once when Anne marries Edward of Lancaster. Under no circumstances should Anne and Edward have even slightly positive feelings for each other.

6. Richard III's extramarital liaisons are the product of either his merry bachelor high jinks, a passionate premarital love affair with a woman of lower rank, or (preferably) his desperate need to find comfort in the absence of his childhood sweetheart Anne. Anyone else's extramarital liaisons are the product of lechery and depravity. Yes, that means you, William Hastings.

7. In the afterword, the conscientious Ricardian novelist will take a swipe at all accounts unfavorable to Richard, dismissing them as Tudor propaganda. The very same accounts, however, must be followed slavishly when they are unfavorable to Richard's enemies.

8. William Collingbourne's hanging, drawing, and quartering on Richard III's orders must not be depicted, as it would be a violation of the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which Richard would have followed to the letter if only it'd been written at the time.

9. Richard must not kill the Princes. Nor can he make a loaded remark such as, "Will no one rid me of those pesky Princes?" or "Sure would be a lot more to go around if we didn't have those two extra mouths in the Tower to feed." (But c'mon—you knew that rule.)

10. When in doubt, blame Elizabeth Woodville.