Posts Tagged ‘Books’


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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Richard III by David Baldwin

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Bookworm

Book Review:  RRichard III by David Baldwinichard III by David Baldwin

David Baldwin, Richard III.  Amberley Publishing, 2012.  ISBN 9781445601823

This review was presented at NSW Convention in Mittagong in May 2012.  We apologise for the delay in posting it.

Richard III by David Baldwin was published on 28 February 2012, so well before the remains of Richard III were found where they had been buried in the church of the Leicester Greyfriars.  However, it should not be forgotten that Baldwin had as early as 1986 published the hypothesis that his remains were still where they had originally been buried, [1] I had ordered the book as soon as it came out, expecting some new insights. Once I had received it and saw the endorsement by Philippa Gregory on the back, I started wondering though, whether I had not made a huge mistake.

The subtitle is “Ruthless hunchback or paragon of virtue, the true story of the last Plantagenet king”, which does reflect what Baldwin sets out to do.  As he explains in his Introduction “It seems improbable that any human being could be as evil – or alternatively as misunderstood – as Richard, and … somewhere behind all the conflicting argument stands a real man who had both qualities and failings.  Neither black or white, but – like all of us – somewhere in between”. [pp.10-11]  An admirable aim, but we’ll have to see whether he can achieve it.

Baldwin follows a chronological approach.  Starting with Richard’s birth and finishing after Bosworth with a chapter on “Legacy & Legend”.  On the whole he is reasonably fair, the chapter on Richard as Warwick’s heir in the North is a case in point.  Richard has often been blamed for being excessively aggressive in extending his interests during this period, but Baldwin puts this into its historical context and shows that Richard’s behaviour was just normal.  He was no worse than others, but as the king’s brother he had obviously more scope for extending his interests, though they were not necessarily to the detriment of others.  Baldwin also stresses that this was not only the normal behaviour for a medieval nobleman, but would also have been expected of him.

While I have some reservations about Baldwin’s analysis of how Richard III came to the throne, it has to be said that this is unquestionably a period on which views are at their most partisan.  I found his heavy reliance on Thomas More – strawberries and all – and Mancini somewhat limiting, especially – as we shall see later – considering Balwin’s view on the legends surrounding Richard.  He does, however, reject the notion that the crown was what Richard had always wanted, but rather that “he was seizing an opportunity rather than fulfilling an expectation”. [p.104]

On the question of the fate of the princes, Baldwin thinks that the elder, Edward, died of natural causes, while the younger, Richard, survived.  This comes as no surprise, considering that he wrote The Lost Prince five years previously, where he set out to show that the mysterious Richard of Eastwell was in reality the younger son of Edward IV.

Baldwin shows that Richard’s reign was always rather insecure, which was why a nobody like Henry Tudor could actually manage to overthrow him and stay in power.  He explains that Richard’s legacy are the progressive laws of his only parliament, which “affected the lives of Englishmen far into the future”. [p.216]  He concludes that “Richard’s achievements are arguably greater than those of some kings who reigned for longer, and there are indications that they would have been greater still if he had been allowed more time” [p.219]

As for the legends surrounding Richard I agree when he says that “It was perhaps inevitable that a king who both gained and lost his throne in such dramatic circumstances would be become the stuff of legend” [p.228], but that these do not tell us anything about him personally.

On the whole I think Baldwin does quite a good job at showing Richard as a “man who is … both principled and unprincipled, a flawed diamond” [p.228]  I don’t think that he offers much new for someone who knows the period reasonably well, but would be a good introduction.

It is a pity, however, that Baldwin occasionally adopts a fictional approach.  This begins in Richard’s childhood when we meet a boy at Fastolf Place, who “eagerly anticipated trips into the bustling city [ie. London] beyond the wall”.  [p.17]  Later, during the dramatic events of May/June 1483, we learn that “Richard … worried constantly about the future, searched his conscience many times over”. [p.99].  Obviously we have no idea how Richard felt and assumptions like these, which do nothing to explain the events, have no place in a work of non-fiction.

With some reservations I can recommend this new book on Richard, though I would not class it as “must read”.

[1] David Baldwin, ‘King Richard’s Grave in Leicester‘, Transactions of Leicester Archaeological and Historical Society, Vol. 60 (1986), pp.21-24

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Richard III – The King under the Car Park

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Bookworm

Richard III -  The King under the Car Park

Book Review:  Richard III – The King under the Car Park

Mathew Morris & Richard Buckley, Richard III – The King under the Car Park. University of Leicester Archaeological Services, 2013.  ISBN 978-0-9574792-2-7

Richard III –  The King under the Car Park tells the story of the Greyfriars Dig from the point of view of the scientists involved in the dig:  Mathew Morris supervised the field work and Richard Buckley was the lead archaeologist.  It is a slim book, only 64 pages, but it is amazing how much well-founded information it contains.  The many well-chosen illustrations, both historical ones as well as modern photographs, are a treat.

Before describing the dig and its outcome, the book covers the historical background that led to Richard III being buried in the church of the Greyfriars (ie. Franciscans) in the first place.  They acknowledge that “Shakespeare weaves a compelling portrait of the king, yet in real life he was a loyal brother and a fearless leader who inspired great loyalty amongst his followers, and a lawmaker whose legal reforms still affect us today.” [p.8]  They follow Richard to the Battle of Bosworth, also summarising the research that established the actual site of the action.

The section explaining Leicester’s history was particularly interesting and helps to visualise the historic sites in the modern city.  Part of their research was overlaying and comparing historical maps with modern maps of Leicester.

They explain their objectives in undertaking this dig.  They wanted to find the remains of the Franciscan Friary, identify clues and orientation of the buildings, locate the church within the friary, if they managed to locate the church, they wanted to find the choir, and the fifth objective, which seemed highly unlikely to achieve, was locating Richard’s remains.  It is well known by now that they managed to realise all five objectives.  The dig itself is chronologically explained and illustrated with diagrams.

The last pages cover the post-dig research which established that the remains which were found are indeed those of Richard III.  The issue of the DNA match, which can be rather confusing to the lay person, is well explained.

The book acknowledges the roles played by Philippa Langley, John Ashdown-Hill and the Richard III Society in general.

Richard III –  The King under the Car Park is highly recommended for anyone interested in the finding of Richard’s remains.

Note: I would like to thank my friend in Leicester, who attended the launch of this book and bought an extra copy and posted it to me.   This is particularly appreciated, as this book does not seem to be available yet to Australians through the usual channels.However, you can order it directly from the University of Leicester shop at

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The King’s Grave

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Bookworm

The King's Grave

The King’s Grave

Book Review:  The King’s Grave

Philippa Langley, Michael Jones, The King’s Grave.  St. Martin’s Press, 2013

All of us in the Richard III Society and many others followed the discovery of what was later confirmed to be Richard III’s remains under the car park in Leicester with fascination and awe.  In several homes the champagne corks popped, when it was announced on 4 February 2013 that these remains were indeed those of Richard III.

The King’s Grave is written by Philippa Langley and Michael Jones.  It would be safe to say that without Philippa’s drive and determination the Greyfriars Dig would never have taken place.  Michael Jones is a well-known historian of the period.  Here the authors are telling two different but related tales in alternating chapters in one book about “a search for Richard’s remains – and also, accompanying it, the search for his real historical reputation.” [Preface]

Philippa recounts the story of the lead-up to the dig, the time of the dig itself and its fantastic result. While it gives a good day to day account of the dig, it is also a very personal story and the reader experiences with her all the frustrations, hiccups and anxieties she felt along the way, thus making it personal for the reader as well.  However, it has to be said that this very emotional style, the constant use of the word “I” and the frequent reminders of the strange sensation she first experienced in the car park in May 2004, might come across as if it was all about Philippa, though she does acknowledge John Ashdown-Hill and Annette Carson and others.

Michael on the other hand provides the historical background to Richard’s life – and death – in a sympathetic, but unsentimental way.  His aim is “Not to condemn him, nor to sanitize his actions, but to place him firmly back in the context of his times” [Preface] and he succeeded in doing so.  He emphasizes Richard’s keen sense of justice and religiousness.

The conclusion is that

“Richard III wasn’t a saint. He was a man, who played the hand he was dealt loyally and, as far as he could within the limitations of his time, humanely. Above all, whether on and off the battlefield, he never failed to display courage.” [Chapter 11:  The Man Behind the Myth]

The mystery of what happened to Edward IV’s sons, though not related to the archaeological search for Richard, but very much part of “the search for his real historical reputation”, is dealt with in an Appendix.  Here the two authors agree to disagree.  Philippa explaining convincingly why Richard should be innocent and Michael explaining equally convincingly why he probably had to do it.

A second appendix to The King’s Grave is about the psychological analysis of Richard III by Prof Mark Lansdale and Julian Booth, a more extensive version of this was included in the March 2013 Ricardian Bulletin.

The King’s Grave is illuminated by many examples, some of them well-known to a Ricardian, some maybe less so.  Thomas Barowe, and his generous gift to Cambridge University as a memorial of Richard III is mentioned.  The book also introduces the reader to Jane Sacheverell and the way she changed the law.

I found it interesting to find out that, while Henry had Richard’s body displayed in Leicester, he himself moved on to Coventry to celebrate his victory, before returning to Leicester and then continuing on to London.

The King’s Grave is a book that will resonate with any Ricardian who lived through this exciting period, but will also be of interest to readers, who might not have followed the events with so much enthusiasm while they unfolded.

You can watch a short interview with the author’s of The King’s Grave on YouTube.

This is a review of an advance ebook copy supplied by the publishers through  Quotes are therefore referenced by chapters rather than page numbers.

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   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Bookworm, News

More congratulations are due to our branch member, Barbara Gaskell Denvil.  She has just been awarded the BRAG medallion of honour for her medieval thriller/paranormal novel Fair Weather.

BRAG medallions are awarded by indieBRAG.  The word “indie” refers to self or independently published books, while BRAG is an acronym for Book Readers Appreciation Group.

A big round of applause for Barbara!

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   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Events in History

Birth of Edith Pargeter, author of historical and detective fiction.

Under the pseudonym of Ellis Peters, she wrote the Inspector Felse nolvels (from 1951) and the Brother Cadfael series (since 1977).  Under her own name she published the Heaven Tree trilogy of novels in the early 1960s. She also translated Czech poetry and prose, which were published in sixteen volumes.  She produced nearly eighty books as well as many short stories and articles.

Edith Pargeter died on 14 October 1995, while working on another Cadfael novel.

SourceODNB – Kate Fullbrook, ‘Pargeter, Edith Mary [Ellis Peters] (1913–1995)’




   Posted by: Julia Redlich    in Bookworm

Barbara Gaskell Denvil. No surprise there for New South Wales Branch members and visitors to our website. Barbara’s imaginative and beautifully written books, Satin Cinnabar and Sumerford’s Autumn, and her well-researched features are much appreciated.

Her latest achievement is winning a copy of a young person’s novel The Disappearing Rose, by Canadian writer Renee Duke who, keen to promote her latest work, organised a competition on Lynne Murray’s blog to find out who people thought were responsible for the disappearance of the two Princes. Good idea – until she was alarmed to discover that Richard was winning!

An emergency email for help arrived in Julia’s inbox and, naturally, Julia sent a plea to all New South Wales members and friends to show that loyalty binds them and to save Richard from this undesirable fate!

And so they did. Renee reports that 34% of the votes and comments were from Australia which in a world-wide competition is pretty terrific – and Barbara’s comment was the winner. The overall results were:

First: Margaret Beaufort

Second: Henry VII and Richard III (tie)

Third: Henry, Duke of Buckingham and Elizabeth of York (another tie)

Fourth: Sir Thomas More

Fifth: two write-ins:  No one (’cos they survived) and Henry VIII (he time-travelled)

Barbara’s winning comment was different again. She says,“I basically explained – very briefly – why I thought the princes actually survived.”

And that seems much more logical than the suggestion of the sainted More; his tender age when the princes disappeared makes it unlikely that he could have organised the event!

So, what of the book The Disappearing Rose? It is for young people, especially those who love time travel, history, mystery and adventure.

“No one knows what happened to the little Princes of the Tower. That’s what Dane, Paige, and Jack are told when they start working on a medieval documentary for Dane and Paige’s filmmaker father. But then an ancient medallion transports them back to the fifteenth century and gives them a chance to discover the truth about the mysterious disappearance of young King Edward the Fifth and his brother Richard, Duke of York. But they’d better be careful. The princes are definitely in danger, and the person responsible for their disappearance just might decide that their new friends should disappear as well.”

Sounds like good reading for tweens, teens and those over 21 too. The good news is it is the first in The Time Rose series. It is an e-book and more information can be found on

Renee Duke, the author, grew up in England and says she has been interested in the princes ever since she read about them in a text book of the Uncle-Richard-did-it variety that still prevails. She’s hoping that the time travel approach will lure high tech fantasy obsessed children of today into considering other possible culprits.

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   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Bookworm

Should you be looking for a special Christmas present for a budding Ricardian, a great idea is Annette Carson’s Richard III:  A Small Guide to the Great Debate.

The book is valuable and useful introduction for those new to the subject.  Those with more background knowledge of the period and the issues concerning Richard III will find Annette’s logical and concise presentation of the known facts helpful and interesting.   Wherever you may be in your Ricardian journey, this book is greatly recommended.

Up to know it had only been available as a paperback from Annette directly, but now you can also get it for eBook readers.  It can be ordered either from Troubador Publishing Ltd or from Amazon.

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   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Bookworm, News

A new guidebook is due to be launched today:  Richard III: The Leicester Connection by David Baldwin.  It should be a great help to anyone planning to visit Leicester.  According to the announcement it will bring “to life the city’s medieval past, King Richard III’s links to the city and the extraordinary story of how he came to be buried in the city following his death at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.”

Appropriately the launch will take place at Leicester’s Travelodge, which is on the site of the Blue Boar Inn, where Richard stayed before heading to meet Henry Tudor’s army at Bosworth.  An information panel will tell the Blue Boar Inn.  The author, David Baldwin, will obviously be present, but the instigator of the Greyfriars Project, Philippa Langley is also expected.  The Mayor of Leicester, Peter Soulsby, will unveil a plaque at the Travelodge marking the site of the Blue Boar Inn.

If you are planning to visit the city, one of your first stops should be either at The Guildhall, New Walk Museum, Visit Leicester, Leicester Cathedral or the University of Leicester bookshop, where you can buy the book for £3.99.

For more information click here and here.

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   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Bookworm

One of the most enjoyable pieces of Ricardian fiction, The Adventures of Alianore Audley by Brain Wainwright, is now available for Kindle.  As the print version of the book has for some time been quite difficult to get hold of, this is certainly great news.

Alianore is my favourite Ricardian heroine and I can only encourage you to make her acquaintance, too.  You won’t be disappointed!