Posts Tagged ‘Ricardian Authors’


Talking takes history to a wider audience

   Posted by: Julia Redlich    in Bookworm

Mistress to the CrownThis is how Isolde Martyn, author, past chairperson of the New South Wales Branch and welcome speaker at our meetings, spent Thursday, March 27th. A guest of the Port Stephens Libraries at Tomaree and Raymond Terrace, she spoke on her novel Mistress to the Crown, her absorbing and well researched story about Elizabeth Lambard (aka Jane Shore). Many NSW Branch members attended the launch of this book last year.

Isolde’s talk gave wonderful insight to Elizabeth the person, the problems and people she had to cope with, as well as a fascinating view of the London in which she lived, loved and – not so well known– ran a successful business. And, no, William Shore was not a goldsmith, and examples of early novels whose covers implied that Elizabeth was a goldsmith’s wife were amusing viewing if bodice-ripper style appealed.

It was, as is often the case, a shame that those attending were quality not quantity, but enthusiastic questions and opinions gave hope that a few more people now realise that history was alive and well long before the Tudors butted in! This will be helped by the sales of the book, as well as those of Isolde’s novel about Harry Buckingham The Devil in Ermine. Richard was mentioned of course, especially his “what fools these mortals be” style letter about Tom Lynom. Another attendee was thrilled to know she shared Richard’s birthday!

We can look forward to another of Isolde’s books titled The Golden Widows that will be published by Mira in August this year. And the identity of the widows? The book opens with this introduction:

It is estimated that between 1450 and 1500, during the struggle for the crown between the Houses of York and Lancaster, 62 of England’s lords and their heirs were slain. Of the 44 noble ladies who were left as widows, 21 remarried.

This is the story of two of those women, Kate and Elysabeth, whose husbands fought on opposing sides. Kate was the sister of the earl known in history as “Warwick the Kingmaker” and Elysabeth became very famous in her own right.

This will be another welcome addition to Isolde’s portraits of medieval England. Each is eminently readable as fiction, excellent for accurate research – andlet’s give a huge plus for the lists of the historically correct characters (a minimum of invented names for lesser ones) and a glossary of medieval terms.

Mistress to the Crown, published by Mira, rrp $25, ISBN 978 1743560211, soon available in a smaller paperback edition.

The Devil in Ermine, an e-book available for Kindle or from Amazon Print on Demand. ISBN: 0-9873 8469-0; ISBN-13: 978-098738460-0-7.

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   Posted by: Helen Cox    in News

Helen Cox, author of two excellent books on the Battle of Wakefield, here shares with us some thoughts about Richard III.  We are very grateful to Helen for making this article, which was first published on her website Herstory Writing & Interpretation, available to us.

In Life and Death: Richard III

Events in Leicester last summer have pulled King Richard III from the obscurity of a lost grave and transformed him into the most intimately known of all English monarchs. The forensic archaeological analysis of his skeleton has revealed a grain of truth in the Shakespearean caricature, but he was not ‘hump-backed’ (afflicted by kyphosis) – he was a ‘crook-back’, suffering from severe scoliosis (abnormal lateral curvature of the spine). The degree of normal bone development shows that this was not a congenital defect but began in adolescence, from an as-yet unknown cause (as with 80% of modern cases). So Richard should have enjoyed a normal, active boyhood, and presumably began the customary martial-arts training several years before the onset of his condition. Presumably, too, he continued to practice skill-at-arms despite the back-ache and strain on his heart and lungs imposed by the scoliosis, since at the age of 19 he is recorded as having fought at the Battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury. He then continued a hawkish career in Edward IV’s war-camp, opposing the 1475 Treaty of Picquigny, campaigning in the northern borders, and in 1482, recovering Berwick after mounting a full-scale invasion of Scotland – military achievements remarkable for one of such slender build and with the extreme curvature of his spine in adulthood:

© University of Leicester

However, it is worth noting that the condition appears far more dramatic in the skeleton than it does in the living body, as photographs of modern sufferers show; and based on contemporary images, Richard’s scoliosis seems to have manifested as one shoulder slightly higher than the other. He may also have had an uneven waist and a twist to the torso, barely noticeable when he was fully dressed. Interestingly, modern medical advice is for scoliosis sufferers to remain as active as possible – so in pursuing a military career, he was in fact doing the best thing for his condition. I wonder if he also wore a back-brace, as doctors today advise in some cases?

Aside from this, Richard had no physical abnormalities (contrary to the ‘withered arm’ story related by Sir Thomas More, and the famous ‘Broken Sword’ portrait painted after his death, showing him with deformed fingers). Without scoliosis, he would have stood approximately 5’ 8” (1.73m) tall, an average height compared with the Towton skeletons, but the spinal bend would have reduced his stature somewhat. (Nonetheless, he was still ‘three fingers taller’ than Nicolas von Poppelau, a German knight who met and described him in 1484).

We also know that his teeth, apart from the loss of a few molars, were in good condition and not excessively worn, (consistent with eating well-refined flour); and that he enjoyed a high-status diet rich in animal protein, especially fish – indicating a devout adherence to religious fast-days, and/or a liking for seafood! And the facial reconstruction based on his skull shows that his portraits were accurate: Richard in life was a personable, square-jawed man with a determined nose and chin, dark brown wavy hair, and dark blue-grey eyes.

His skeleton also tells the full, gruesome story of his death and posthumous fate, again with close correspondence to the historical record. Having launched a cavalry charge in an effort to reach and kill Henry Tudor, Richard somehow became unhorsed, possibly because his mount stumbled in marshy ground. The jolt may have flung off his helmet, or it may have been knocked off by a blow that broke the chin-strap, because the concentration of wounds to his skull shows that he must have been un-helmed as he continued to fight on foot, hacking desperately through Tudor’s bodyguard. He received two relatively superficial cuts to his face, one on the right jaw and one on the right cheek, possibly inflicted by a dagger and consistent with close-quarters engagement; then a series of catastrophic head wounds suggesting that he was soon surrounded and overwhelmed (see illustration below).

The first of these probably came from a swordsman on his left, aiming to cleave his head apart with a downward sweeping action. Richard may have seen it coming and tried to side-step or turn away, but the sword caught him a glancing blow on the left-hand side back of the head, shaving away a disc of scalp and the outer layer of skull to expose the porous bone underneath. An injury of such stunning force may well have driven him to his knees, because another assailant was able to strike the top centre of his head, using a square-section weapon consistent with a rondel dagger or war-hammer beak; this penetrated his skull, driving two flaps of bone into the upper surface of the brain. In all likelihood this rendered Richard unconscious so that he slumped forward, exposing the back of his head. Two opponents then stepped in to deliver the coup de grâce; one of them may have been the swordsman who had inflicted the ‘shaving’ wound, and now thrust in his blade from the left with such force that it penetrated all the way through the brain and made a mark on the inner table of the skull. The second assailant, probably armed with a heavy weapon like a poll-axe or halberd, struck from the right, cleaving off a massive slice of bone and cutting into the cerebellum; either of these wounds would have been instantly fatal. A bloody end, indeed – although it could have been over mercifully quickly, with Richard aware of very little after the first major blow.

© University of Leicester: Micro-computed X-ray tomography image showing the fatal sword wound (B) and halberd slice (C) either side of the area (A) where the cervical spine meets the skull.

Richard’s corpse was then stripped, and at least two more injuries inflicted post-mortem: a dagger cut to a right rib and a sword cut to the pelvis, the latter consistent with a stab to the buttock while his body was slung face-down over the horse that carried him back to Leicester. Judging from the position of his hands in the grave they appear to have been bound, (perhaps in order to drag his corpse from the field), and were not later untied; but if his body suffered other wounds and indignities, (as it may well have done, pre- or post-mortem), they have left no trace on his bones.

The last Plantagenet king was then hastily buried by the monks of Grey Friars, without a coffin and in a grave not long enough to accommodate his corpse at full stretch; but since he had lain exposed for three days in late August, covered in blood and open wounds, their haste is perhaps understandable – it must have been a stomach-churning task.And thus Richard III lay undisturbed for 527 years, in a grave lost until August 2012; the rest, as they say, is history.

© Helen Cox
March 2013

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   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Bookworm, News

I just heard with great sadness that one of my favourite authors, Margaret Frazer, the pen name of Gail Frazer, passed away last night.

Her meticulously researched medieval detective stories, most of them featuring either Dame Frevisse or Joliffe, have been popular with many of us.  As they played in the mid-15th century, many of the persons of this period we are so interested in came to life in the pages of her novels.  For me, her Alice Chaucer is unforgettable.

Gail will be missed by many of us.

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The Children of the King

   Posted by: Julia Redlich    in Bookworm

Book Review:  The Children of the King

One of the rewards of speaking to groups about King Richard III and the Society is the appreciation received afterwards. When Dorothea and Julia spoke to U3A Harbourside North at Mosman recently, not only did we enlist two new members, but also received a welcome book token. Our choice was to buy The Children of the King, by Sonia Hartnett, an Australian author who has won multiple awards for her books including the prestigious Astrid Lingrin Memorial Award in 2008.  Because Hartnett’s books are specially for young people, we asked an 10-year-old to read it for us and share her thoughts.

The Children of the King, by Sonia Hartnett, Viking, rrp $24.95. ISBN 978 0 670 07613.

The Children of the KingThis story is about two girls and a boy during World War 2. Cecily and her brother Jeremy move with their mother to their Uncle Peregrine’s house in the north of England to escape the bombing in London. They also decide to look after another girl called May who is there on her own. Jeremy, who is older, is worried about his father who has to stay in London, and wants to be with him.

The girls find two strangely clothed boys hiding in old crumbling Snow Castle nearby. They learn they were brought there and can’t leave. Uncle Peregrine tells them about an old kingdom when Snow Castle was not a ruin. Over time he tells more of what happened then, of a Duke who became king and did his best, but was killed. May believes that the two boys in the castle who reappear at times were two who disappeared mysteriously long ago. Together the girls find out whether the past can live with the present.

My favourite part of the story is definitely when Uncle Peregrine tells the story of Snow Castle and its mysteries. No-one ever found out about it. The story is really engaging, the history is told slowly. It made me want to find out more about the times – and especially about the two boys, who they were and what happened to them. I give this book Three Stars out of Three!!!


Note: The Children of the King is a great gift idea for young people in your life. Annaliese’s Aunt Lucy and her grandmother couldn’t put it down, which accounts for the all ages queue waiting to read it!

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Welcome, Barbara!

   Posted by: Barbara Gaskell Denvil    in News, NSW Branch News

We are delighted to welcome a new member to our branch, Barbara Gaskell Denvil.

As I’ve just joined the Richard III Society, NSW Branch, I thought I should introduce myself.

I actually live in Victoria, but having received a strong recommendation from a friend to seek out the inestimable Dorothea Preis, I decided to do just that.

I’m an author, and I’ve recently published my first novel FAIR WEATHER (by BARBARA GASKELL DENVIL $2.99 Amazon Kindle and soon on for all other devices) which is a fantasy set in medieval England around the early 1200s. There’s a fair chunk of historical content, but the basic plot is pure fantasy. It seems quite popular so far and has received some good reviews.

However, my main passion is later medieval history and the life and times of Richard III in particular, which I’ve been researching for years.  My next book which is due out within the month, starts on 22nd August 1485, and covers the first months of Henry VII’s reign. This is called SATIN CINNABAR and several members of the RIIISoc in the UK have been kind enough to give it a firm thumbs up.

I was born in England (near Gloucester, which seems apt) and I hold joint citizenship but have been living here in semi rural isolation for the past 15 years.  I spent the middle years of my life living on a yacht and sailing the Mediterranean, so probably it’s high time I settled down – though itchy feet still keep me restless and dreaming.

Now retired, I’m delighted to take up the love of my youth and once again start writing. When much younger I worked for Books and Bookmen as a critic and reviewer, and published numerous short stories and articles but all that seems centuries ago.  Now the flocks of parrots and the odd wallaby in the garden seems to add piquancy to the medieval intrigues which so inspire me.

I’m delighted to have finally joined the Society, and look forward to many further years of learning – and writing – about Good King Richard.

With the best of luck to all of you.

Cheers, Barbara

Please feel free to visit Barbara’s blog!

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Queen by Right

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Bookworm

Queen by Right

Book Review:  Queen by Right

Anne Easter Smith, Queen by Right.  Touchstone, New York, 2011.  ISBN 9781416550471 (paperback)

The queen of the title of Anne Easter Smith’s latest novel is Cecily Neville, the mother of Edward IV and Richard III.  Many readers of historical fiction will shared the experiences of  her sons in novels, but this has been much less the case for Cecily.  And after meeting Anne Easter Smith’s Cecily I can only wonder why.

Queen by Right covers Cecily’s life from 1423, when she is eight years old, until her son Edward’s coronation in June 1461.  And while the events of the remaining 34 years of Cecily’s life would easily provide enough material for at least one other novel, I welcome her decision to limit this one to the earlier – and at least for me – less well-known period. Read the rest of this entry »

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Guest post by Helen Cox

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in News

Helen Cox, the author of The Battle of Wakefield Revisited and Walk Wakefield 1460, attended the recent conference “Interpreting Battlefield Finds: Making the Most of Museums”.  Here she tells us her experiences from this interesting conference.  Thank you, Helen, for sharing this with us!

Conference Review:  Interpreting Battlefield Finds: Making the Most of Museums

Royal Armouries, Leeds, Saturday 11th June 2011

Productive partnership was very much the theme of Interpreting Battlefield Finds: Making the Most of Museums, jointly run by the Leeds Royal Armouries and the Battlefields Trust.

Proceedings were opened by Dr. Jonathan Riley, Director General and Master of the Armouries, who welcomed delegates and paid tribute to the late Richard Holmes.

Alex Hildred, Curator of Ordnance for the Mary Rose Trust, then gave the first paper on ‘Interpretation of a Shipwreck Assemblage from the Battle of the Solent, 1545’. Finds from Henry VIII’s flagship, the Mary Rose, included 91 guns of varying size made from cast bronze, cast iron and wrought iron, complete with gun carriages, and thousands of stone, cast iron and lead projectiles. The Royal Armouries and Mary Rose Trust created working replicas of several types of gun, and undertook test firings to demonstrate the firepower of Tudor artillery. Armouries staff also identified a cartridge former and gunner’s rule (for checking cannonball sizes) in the assemblage – and, by recognising a maker’s mark, showed that Henry VIII’s army was using matchlock muskets imported from Gardone in Venice. The assemblage also contained more than 2000 arrows and 172 longbows – almost equalling the total number of firearms – indicating that archery was still important at this date. Archers could achieve a more rapid rate of fire and greater long-distance accuracy than musketeers, and longbows were a useful fall-back if gunpowder was spoiled at sea; however, within a few decades developments in firearm technology would render this traditional English weapon obsolete. Read the rest of this entry »

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Walk Bosworth

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in News

While I sit here writing this, it is just past 14h30 – that is here in Sydney, where – at least when it comes to time – we are ahead of most of the rest of the world.  In about 9 hours, when it is 14h30 in the UK, a new walking trail will be officially opened at the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre.

The new trail takes the recent discoveries about the actual site of the battle into consideration.  It runs in a loop around Ambion Hill with views across the relocated battlefield at two points.  Along the way there is information on the lead up to the battle, an introduction of the main protagonists for the casual sight-seer (Ricardians visit because of one of the protagonists) and an explanation of the events of 22 August 1485 including reconstructed images of what the battlefield may have looked like on the day.

This trail is the final element of developments at the battlefield funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.   And of course we all voted for the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre in the recent National Lottery Awards, though it seems that it did not make it to the finalists.

The new trail is open all year round and entry is free.

The opening of the new trail was announced on About My Area.  You can find the results of the National Lottery Awards here.

Illustration of Richard III:  © Andrew Jamieson,

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Guest post by Anne Easter Smith

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Bookworm

We are thrilled to welcome a guest post by well-known Ricardian novelist Anne Easter Smith, author of A Rose for the Crown, Daughter of York and The King’s Grace.  I loved all her previous novels and am now impatiently awaiting delivery of her recently published Queen by Right about Cecily Neville, duchess of York.  In her guest post Anne examines the rumour that Edward IV was not the son of Richard, duke of York.  Thank you so much, Anne, for sharing this with us.

Cecily’s so-called affair

I was drawn to writing about Cecily Neville as soon as I began researching my first – and what I thought would be my only – book A Rose for the Crown.  I could not write Richard III’s story without knowing a lot about his parents and his siblings.  Oddly, Cecily did not appear at all in that book, but in a few scenes her absence hung over the brothers Edward and Richard and you feel she is an indomitable presence in their lives.  Indeed, I think one of the reasons Edward chose not to reveal his secret marriage to Elizabeth Woodville for so long was because he feared a slap upside the head from Proud Cis.  And boy, did she give him one when the marriage was finally outed, and, according to the Italian visitor Dominic Mancini who was in London in 1484 – twenty years after the fact – and was the first to write about the rumor, Cecily “fell into a frenzy.”  It was partly because of the scorn she had for this upstart nobody Woodville woman who must now be called queen that she began to style herself, “Cecily, the king’s mother, and late wife unto Richard, by right king of England and of France and lord of Ireland.”  Or as my title infers, “Queen by Right.” Read the rest of this entry »

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The Queen of Last Hopes

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Bookworm

The Queen of Last Hopes

Book Review:  The Queen of Last Hopes

Susan Higginbotham, The Queen of Last Hopes.  Sourcebooks Inc., Naperville, 2011.  ISBN 9781402242816 (pbk)

As the red rose on the cover indicates The Queen of Last Hopes is a Lancastrian queen:  Margaret of Anjou, the queen of Henry VI.  Susan Higginbotham narrates Margaret’s life against the backdrop of the earlier part of the Wars of the Roses through the eyes of a variety of Lancastrian witnesses, often Margaret herself, but for scenes where she was not present she uses others, for instance William de la Pole or Henry Beaufort as well as Margaret’s husband and son.

Clearly, Susan sits on the opposite side of the fence when it comes to the conflict between the House of York and the House of Lancaster.  While it initially came as a bit of a shock to see our Yorkist heroes described in a fairly negative light, this is a positive and necessary experience as it forces us to re-evaluate our preconceived ideas.  We need to remember that all too often our views of medieval persons are based on prejudice, so in order to come to a more balanced understanding it is necessary to be jolted out of our complacency every now and then.

Susan’s The Queen of Last Hopes offers us the opportunity to meet Margaret of Anjou as a real person we can sympathise with.  She is not a one-dimensional saint, nor is she the one-dimensional villain we encounter so often in Ricardian fiction.  Her actions are well-motivated by her feelings for her husband, her son and their rights.

The book is based on impeccable historical research, which is also reflected by the Author’s Note at the end.  While I was disappointed by the only appearance of Richard of Gloucester, in which he is committing one of the killings he gets traditionally blamed for, she does explain in the Notes that there is no proof for this.

I still prefer my roses white, but can only recommend this book.  It is an enjoyable read and will prevent tunnel-vision.

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