Thursday, November 1, 2012

Dying of old age and trying for the throne in War of Roses days...NOT COMPATIBLE

 Heidi Klum, as host of Project Runway, prepared each contestant for elimination with, "In fashion, one day you're in, one day  you're out."  If she traveled back in time to host Project War of the Roses, she might say, "In the cousins' war, one day your head is held high, wearing or hoping for a crown,  one day your head is on a pike, or submerged in a cask of wine or smashed to a pulp inside your helmet."

A look at the primary holders or and contenders for the crown during this tumultuous era, presented in order of death, suggests that if one who wanted to live long might would do  better to take holy orders.  The list does not address the many relatives, followers and manipulators on each side who met untimely deaths.

While struggling to stay alive, contenders and holders of the throne could enjoy their sworn enemies, close relatives, and large swathes of the public variously describing them as cuckolds, illegitimate, drunk, feeble minded, degenerate, perverted, and murderous...frequently with good reason.

Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, who initially fronted the House of York in challenging Henry VI,
Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York

 was dispatched in battle in 1460. by Lancastrian forces.  To heap insult on the ultimate injury, his head was displayed on a pike.  His son Edmund of Rutland died the same day, but for good or ill Richard had three other sons who continued to fight with Lancastrians and among themselves.

Henry VI, only son of Henry V, Agincourt conquerer, who died during his son's infancy) was reputed to be not very bright or mentally ill or perhaps just too pious and devoted to religion to be suited to the kingly role.  His reign was an on and off affair, fighting off Richard, Duke of York and then Richard's son Edward, who became King Edward IV. 

Henry VI, saintly or just not quite all there?

There were widespread rumors that Henry's wife, Margaret of Anjou, had resorted to outside help to impregnate her with their only child.  Henry was ultimately murdered by or at the behest of his successor in the Tower in 1471, one day after the death of his only son (or not?) in battle.

George, Duke of Clarence, brother of Edward IV, kept trying to depose his brother.  He defamed his own dear old Mum Cecily Neville, Duchess of York by spreading the word that Edward was her son, not by the duke, but by a hunky archer who had caught her eye.  She was still alive and kicking when he told these tales and innocent or guilty she was surely royally not amused.Executed in the Tower in 1478 at the the behest of his brother the King, probably by being placed head down in a barrel of wine, which mirrored George's lifestyle.

Edward IV, reigned as king,  his reign bifurcated by the brief return of Henry VI, from age 18 until his death of fever around age 40.   

Edward IV, a King of large appetites

His own brother George had raised an allegation Edward was illegitimate on the basis that their mother, Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, had adultered with an archer while the Duke was away. 
Cecily Neville: did she let an archer take close aim?
 Seems to me that saying one's brother is base born because Mom had a roving eye could be used against oneself down the line, as well as annoying the aforementioned Mom who was very much alive when all this went down. 

Edward and Richard, the two close-in age sons of Edward IV and his wife Elizabeth Woodville, first and second in line for the throne.  They famously disappeared from being "protected" in the tower by their uncle, Richard III, who Edward IV had made the bad call of appointing to watch over during their minority.  Richard took a leaf from the playbook of George and declared the boys were illegitimate based on the assertion that their father had been pre-contracted to marry somebody else when her married hottie  Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Woodville leveraged her looks and cunning
to become queen, played the game and paid a price

Such pre contracts, often made during the early childhood of the pledged individuals, were frequently used to end marriages that one or both parties decided were less than ideal. Richard also put about that Elizabeth Woodville and her mother practiced witchcraft, but the basically relied on the legitimacy question. Under this pretext he put the princes aside and moved himself from Protector to King shortly before what would have been Edward's coronation. The princes, who were supposed to be comfortably housed in the Tower and studying with tutors, were never seen again. The disappearance dates to 1483, when they would have been twelve and ten.

  The most widely believed theory is that Richard got a henchman to murder therm for obvious if unsavory reasons.  However, some scholars and lots of fiction writers like the idea(s) that they were done away with by Henry Tudor, the eventual Henry VII to clear his own path and make Richard look bad, or that one or both were smuggled abroad.  The princes had a boatload of legitimate siblings, but they were all girls.  One of their sisters, Elizabeth of York, ultimately, after being pursued by Uncle Dickie, below, married Lancastrian  Henry Tudor and thus helped unite the warring factions. She was also the mother of our uber-fascinating Henry VIII.

Richard III, oy vey,  what can we say! Shakespeare, taking a leaf from chronicles by Thomas More, paints him as an ill-begotten envious and wretch with a deformed spine. Josephine Tey thinks he was a fine fellow. Most other fictionalizers come out somewhere in between. He very likely had his nephews killed and definitely tried to put aside his wife to marry his niece, which skeeved out even the thin family tree loving sensibilities of the time.  Died a gruesome death at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. 
Richard III, malign or maligned?

All these kings and contenders, and only Edward IV got to die in bed and he didn't have a peaceful time of it.  Just sayin'

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Back after a post-laptop theft break

My fictional education blogging, but not the education itself, was derailed when somebody stole my laptop on IN THE FRICKIN CABIN of a commercial flight from Jacksonville to Tampa in August.  You can theoretically blog from a mobile device, but that's not so much for me.  Anyhow, I eventually bought a new laptop and here is the Big Fat, back on track.
My initial plan was to start midway-ish  in the Tudor period, late in the reign of Henry VIII, and then double back the first marriage of Henry and move forward from there. The down period for the blog convinced me that there's no understanding the Tudors without understanding the War of the Roses. 
Is there plenty of fictional grist for my self-Tudoring impulse? There is!

My fictional War of the Roses bibliography, a mx of straight historical novels, historical mysteries, and one enduring stage drama,  so far: Richard III by William Shakespeare, The Daughter of Time by Josphine Tey, The Red Queen and The White Queen by Phillipa Gregory, A Dangerous Inheritance by AIison Weir, and The Lammas Feast by Kate Sedley.  Also, Sovereign by John Sansom is set in the reign of Henry VIII, but is largely informed by rumors surviving from the W/O/R period.

WIll be posting soon on what I've learned!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Hood wars

I am  building up my fictellectual capital to take up Catherine Parr, but in the mean time, I have learned that  you can't get far into fiction about the court of Henry VIII without having ladies described in terms of the hoods they wore, French versus English. 

Margaret Pole representing in an English hood
  The English hoods were the type that looked like Gothic doorways and in their most severe iterations hid all of the wearer's head.  Her is Margaret Pole, last of the Plantagenets rocking the style.  She was confined in the Tower for quite a while and ultimately executed by Henry for treason. As best I can tell her primary offense was to be the last Plantagenet and thus a potential rallying point.

French hoods are to the modern eye much more flattering, they followed the shape of the human head and sat back far enough to show a lady's own hair.  During the time of Anne Boleyn's ascendancy, the French model was  definitely the more fashionable and alluring choice, the English the choice of the elderly and traditionalists.  The English hood made a brief comeback when Jane Seymour, who favored it, was queen consort, but was generally on its way out by mid sixteenth century.  Below, Henry's sister Margaret Tudor models French style headgear.
Margaret Tudor rocking a French hood

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Rated a mild PG-13, What Was Katherine Howard Thinking, Part 2

Aha! I thought I had done for now with accepting input on Katherine Howard's motives, but The Last Wife of Henry VIII, a novelistic treatment by Carrolly Erickson of the life of her successor Catherine Parr also treats the Howard downfall at some length. Into the mix it goes!

So, what was Katherine Howard thinking to cheat on the man  she knew had, only a few years before, put her very own cousin Anne Boleyn to death on charges of adultery that even Anne's  enemies regarded as trumped up?  Before I get more specific, I don't believe any of the authors would disagree that Katherine had been truthfully told that Anne Boleyn was tart, jealous, demanding, moody and oppositional.  She may have believed, and been persuaded by her ambitious relatives,  that if she just looked cute, smiled a lot, and said, "Oh, Your Majesty is always right!" the same fate might never befall her.  Not a chance I'd take, but I have the benefit of all these novels and miniseries.

With that background, what made her overcome the fear any sentient being surely would have?  Different writers, different scenarios. The King wasn't up for any reproductive sex in Six Wives.  He was just barely maybe  in the ballpark in The Boleyn Inheritance.  He was functional if not fun for Katheine in The Tudors and The Last Wife.   Ascribed m otives for taking the dangerous step of outside lovin': desire for a better sex life plus infatuation with Culpepper plus being egged on by Lady Rochford (The Tudors); infatuation with Culpepper plus desire to become pregnant so that the King wouldn't put her aside or worse, egged on  the Duke of Norfolk (Boleyn Inheritance, Last Wife) or Culpepper lust plus pressure from the Duke of Norfolk to get pregnant (Six Wives). Needless to say each puts a slightly different spin on the mix.
The Six Wives idea that the King was a non performer in the realm of baby making endeavors doesn't make a lot of sense combined with the same teleplay's plot line that the Culpepper affair  was motivated in part by Katherine's  desire to get pregnant.  Henry may have been vainglorious and subject to flattery, but he knew where babies came from and Katherine and the Duke of Norfolk knew that he knew. Even  if Katherine had become pregnant and somehow convinced an E.D. ridden Henry that intense spooning got them there, AND she had produced a fine healthy son, would not the child's  likely resemblance to the legendarily handsome Culpepper have revived the King's initial skepticism? So… I'm not able to buy that one.  If the King was even marginally succeeding, the baby making motive is still puzzling. Katherine had been with her young lover Dereham many times and never become pregnant, so would she not question her own fertility?  I have to go with the idea that she as unhappy with her royal sex life, infatuated with Culpepper, not that smart, egged on by Lady Rochford, and perhaps had a strong hope that if caught, she could work her wiles on the King and limit the damage to divorce.

So fiction has not given me a clear indication of what KH was thinking, but I have my theories. More puzzling is: what was Thomas Culpepper thinking?   I know he was a hormonal young man, and clearly he was attracted to the Queen, but is little brain strong, big brain weak sufficient? After all, once she was married to the King, Katherine was kind of stuck being the only Queen, but Culpepper is universally described as a hottie. He could have and very likely did fool around with adulterous Court wives, adventurous maids of honor, and any number of working class wenches who would have enjoyed a nice gift or two plus the attentions of a good looking young gentleman. Hmmm.  In The Tudors Culpepper, as a favorite of the King, readily got out of well-founded charges of rape and murder, so possibly he, like his lady friend, overestimated the reach of the King's fond regard. 

OK, then, what was Lady Rochford, go-between and door guard thinking? When in later posts  I go back on the time line  and talk about Lady Rochford during the fall of Ann Boleyn, it will be clear that LR had a lot of emotional baggage. That aside, in Six Wives and The Boleyn Inheritance, she was heavily influenced and tricked into being the fall guy  by her kinsman-by-marriage Thomas ""Snakey" Howard, Duke of Norfolk.  In The Last Wife, Katherine bribed her.  In The Tudors, and to a lesser degree in all the fictional accounts, she got sexual jollies through voyeurism. She took equal risk for a small fraction of the pleasure and ended up on the block, but she was a complicated woman.

In Six Wives, Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, always the nastiest of underhand villains has the nerve…da noive! to be the one run tattling to the king when he decides that rumors are out of control and the King will find out anyway. Not only that, Norfolk persuades the King that death, not divorce and disgrace, is the only remedy.  Bad bad  Six Wives Duke!  All the versions paint  this high born gent as quite evil, but Six Wives makes me want to step into my laptop and kick him a few times.  Needless to say, Dereham and Culpepper got the royal torture and eventual execution, while the Duke, one of life's evil survivors, bounced back.

Back before my fictional Tudor education had reached its present depth, I felt very sorry for Francis Dereham:  how could he have known that it would be after the fact  treason to have non-adulterous sex with a girl who didn't live at court and wasn't on the King's radar at all. I'm a little less sympathetic now because it appears that (in everybody's version) by weaseling his way into the Queen's service, he was the architect of his own downfall, if not everyone's.

With the next post, I'll look at Katherine's execution  and look at her successor Catherine Parr,  one of the most interesting and admirable  of Tudor era characters. I'll also throw in my fictional education on the great royal progress to York, the big event of the Howard era, and the ill-starred invasion of France during the Parr years.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Figuring out religious matters from detective fiction, that's serendipity

I will get back to Katherine Howard, but wanted to introduce my fully fictional education on religious sentiments in Henry's time. I have  (with full enjoyment) powered through the five-book series featuring the adventures of  C.J. Sansom's recurring protagonist Matthew Shardlake, a younger contemporary of Henry VIII.  The other books and dramatizations I've tackled so far are based, sometimes a bit fancifully, on recorded historical events. The  Shardlake books are full on fictional  mystery-thrillers woven into historical events.

They weave in  a lot about the texture and mechanics of everyday Tudor era life, as well as the impact of the constant upheavals on a range of everyday people, some of which is no doubt educated speculation but generally rings true.

My Shardlake experience has given me a lot more confidence about understanding the range of that massive source of contention, religious difference.  I already knew that talking about England in the years following the break with the Catholic church in terms of "Protestant" versus "Catholic"  goes beyond confusing and is downright misleading.  

Here's my newly clarified overview of the main classes of believers:

Papists:  hoped for full return to the Catholic Church under rule of the Pope.

Conservatives: resigned to the idea that the Church of England was cut off from Rome, but wanted return to some or all of the "old ways," including  monasticism, Latin mass, strictly limited access to English Bibles, confession,  veneration or relics, and the doctrine of purgatory.

Reformers: Had been very repelled by corrupt practices in the Catholic church,were  strongly in favor of access to the English bible by everyone, liked sweeping away of trappings of Catholic Church. Had varying opinions about matters such as ornamentation and instrumental music in churches.'

Radical reformers: Progenitors of Puritans, zealously religious, insular, intolerant of rituals and frivolous behavior, separatist in tendency.

And as for the King himself, what did he think? Henry, for all that he was strong-willed, was subject to influence of his wives and their families, and also of the men of  church and state whose careers he had promoted.  The things he liked about breaking from the Church were 1) getting to say who he could marry and divorce without meddling, and 2) enjoying the huge boost in wealth that came from dissolution and virtual appropriation of the monasteries.  

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A break in recapping and and analysis to advise the time traveler

If you are worthy and fortunate enough to get your grant application for time travel funded and you decide to take up residence at the court of Henry VIII to see what all the fuss is about, I've read and viewed enough to compile a "Don't" list.

Obvious Don'ts:

1) Marry Henry VIII.
2) Have an affair or flirtation with anyone who is married to Henry VIII.
3) Facilitate anyone else having an affair with anyone who is married to Henry VIII.
4) If you dallied with the current Queen before she caught the King's eye, stay away from court, keep a low profile and DON'T under any circumstances use your past intimacy to blackmail the Queen into giving you a cushy court job.  NOT WORTH IT!

Those will not surprise anyone who is familiar with the more sensational extracts from Great Harry's bio.

Slightly more subtle Don'ts:

1) Work for high office if you are not of noble birth.  The Four Thomases, More, Woolsey, Cromwell, and Cramner were talented and hard-working commoners who were elevated by Henry to great eminence, but all went out on a sour note.
2) Wear your religious sentiments on your sleeve, even if they are in favor at the moment...they won't be for long.
3) Go out on a limb to do the bidding of the high nobility.  Buncha serpents, and that's insulting the snakes!  They will protect themselves, not you.

Hard to keep the Four Thomases straight?  Portraits may or may not help.





Monday, July 2, 2012

A willful and self-possessed Mistress Howard in the BBC's Six Wives, first of 2 posts

Other than A Man for All Seasons and no doubt a chopped up late movie showing or two of Private Life, my first Henry exposure was the BBC's 1970 The Six Wives of Henry VIII, which i specifically remember watching in my undergraduate dorm's TV lounge. The six episodes now reside on YouTube, and in many respects hold up quite well.

The Katheine Howard episode writing credit goes to Beverley Cross (a dude named Beverley!) English playwright and librettetist who was not once but twice married to Downton Abbey fave Maggie Smith. I thought the Duke of Norfolk couldn't get any snakier than in The Boleyn Inheritance, but in this version he makes Iago look like Forrest Gump.

Seeing how he got to that height of villainy takes needs a bit of a recap:

Early in the ninety minute episode episode, while still resident at her grandmother's household (history tells us it was her step-grandmother, but the teleplay skips the "step.") Katherine, bragging about her amorous adventures to a dormitory mate, she says, "Without danger, there is no true passion." If the real life KH said and meant such a thing, maybe the way the rest of her short life played out was fun...while it lasted.

She is very intentionally and explicitly placed by her Uncle Duke "Snakey" of Norfolk in Henry's court when he is already known to be discontented with Anne of Cleves. (In Phillipa Gregory's version she is brought in as a lady in waiting at the time of Anne's arrival in England.) Snakey the Duke goes so far as to have Katherine swear an oath of fealty to him when he proposes the queen scheme. This Katherine is focused to the point of ruthlessness once her eyes have been pointed to the "prize."

Henry, meanwhile, is looking pretty rough from his festering leg wound and complains to Norfolk about boredom from enforced inactivity. The reptilian one has an answer for that! Why, he was just hanging out with his lovely young niece, freshly arrived from the country, and she would be a veritable tonic. This Henry has a Fool at his side, who provides sage Foolish counsel to leave the ladies alone, which of course Henry chooses to ignore.

Maybe there's some historical basis BUT...the Six Wives version, whose casting and makeup effects seem highly realistic, has Snakey the Duke, bringing his niece for presentation to his majesty, barge straight into the room where the King's wound is being drained by his physician. This seems an affont to decorum and the king's vanity which Norfolk would be unlikely to risk. Next, Katherine demands to take over the wound drainage, which she inexplicably turns out to be good at. I wasn't there, but seems very weird. It is in line with the less-ditzy-more-purposeful Katherine the episode presents.

Six Wives' Keith Michel, with makeup and wardrobe, is probably very close to how Henry looked and moved at the time of the Howard marriage, and speaks in the high strangulated voice that contemporaries remarked. Six Wives is no The Tudors in the sexy scene department, and the wedding night seques directly from the king checking out his bride in the bedchamber to the morning...when he apologizes for disappointing his bride. Katherine, smoothly fibs that she is inexperienced and can't miss what she doesn't know AND reassures that he has been sick and no doubt will rebound in a royal jiffy and anyhow she just adores and worships her majestic husband. Henry, re-enertized, bouds out to order a hearty breakfast for the queen, and his back turned Katherine looks...worried. She confesses to Lady Rochford that not only could the King not do the deed, he does not look so great without his clothes.

No sooner does Katherine express disgust at her poor prospects for physical fulfillment, than into the bedchamber pops Thomas Culpepper, who had earlier caught the queen's eye. I understand we have to move the story along, but the Queen had a full complement of LADIES in waiting, the English court was known to be elaborate and formal, and male courtiers, especially notorious horndogs like Culpepper, did not have an open invite to gape at the queen in her nightgown. That same morning, Katherine joins the King in receiving ambassadors and she and Culpepper make sexy come hither eyes at each other while the king obliviously talks diplomacy. OK, OK, only got an hour to move the plot but that's kind of ridiculous.

Katherine again uses her amazing medical skills to attend Henry after a riding accident, and takes advantage of his physical distress to banish his Fool, whom she dies not fool. The extortionist can be extorted: her old lover Francis Derham blackmails her into appointing him her private secretary, on the understanding that he be totally discreet. Ha! As if! He lets Culpepper know she has a past, and Culpepper starts to imagine a present. Culpepper consults the Duke of Norfolk, who tells Katherine to send Derham on a road trip instead of her idea, which is to have him executed or murdered.