Thursday, 24 April 2008


Edward, Duke of York, was a writer, his principal work being The Master of Game, written during a well-deserved spell in prison. (He is also reputed to have been a poet, though the one work I have seen attributed to him suggests he was not exactly up there with Chaucer.)

The Master of Game is a fascinating book, covering most aspects of medieval hunting in great detail. Much of it is a translation from an earlier work by Gaston Phoebus Count of Foix, but Edward did add five chapters of his own. One thing that becomes clear from Edward's writing is his regard for greyhounds. He classes them as 'fit for a knight or his lady' - in effect dogs for the nobility. Hunting was, of course, the preserve of the landed classes in the middle ages, although it was common for monks and other clergy to take part in the sport. (Monks often got in trouble for keeping unauthorised greyhounds.)

The reason I mention this is that greyhounds in our modern world are a much-abused breed, and need as much of our help as possible. If you can find it in your heart to give one a home, please do so - you will be rewarded with a loyal and loving companion, albeit one who may need to be watched while it learns not to chase cats and other small animals! Contrary to what you might think, they don't need a lot of exercise, and are more likely to wear out your sofa than your legs.

If you can't have one at home, why not sponsor one of the many rescue centres? You could do a lot worse than join me in supporting Tia Greyhound and Lurcher Rescue. They do a great job for these aristocratic animals!

Friday, 18 April 2008

Edward, Duke of Aumale

Edward of York had by this time secured a list of titles and offices that must have given his clerks writers' cramp. Duke of Aumale, Earl of Rutland and Cork. Lord Constable, Lord Admiral, Warden of the Cinque Ports, Constable of the Tower and of Dover, Keeper of the Channel Islands, Keeper of Carisbrooke and Lord of Wight, Warden of the New Forest, Justice in Eyre South of Trent - it just goes on and on. He was also customarily referred to in grants and other official documents as 'the King's brother' - not 'the King's kinsman' as was correct.

In his Fears of Henry IV Ian Mortimer suggests that Richard II had chosen Edward as his eventual successor, and there is some evidence for this. Notably Bagot, in his various confessions, claimed that Richard had told him, Bagot, that this was what was in his mind, and that Edward was the most suitable candidate for the job.

What is beyond doubt is that in the period 1396-1399 Edward was extremely high in Richard's favour and was showered with offices, grants of land and responsibilities. In February 1398 he was even appointed Warden of the West March and Keeper of Carlisle, despite having no land or following in the area. It seems likely that this decision of the King was one of the final straws for the Neville and Percy families, who a few months later were to be united in their support for Bolingbroke.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

The Loyal Conspiracy by Anthony Goodman

I've been looking for a cheap copy of The Loyal Conspiracy by Anthony Goodman for some time, and the other day I got lucky and found one, in Southport of all places. (Actually, for UKers among you, Southport is a surprisingly good place to go - there are at least three shops with a respectable stock of proper, second-hand books, the sort of business that used to be common but isn't any more.)

As you may have guessed, the book is about the Appellants, and Goodman broadly sympathises with them, as hinted in the title. At one point he refers to the likes of Bagot and Mowbray having to make the sort of choices that were familiar to many in the 20th century - do you know, I think Professor Goodman is almost comparing Richard II to Hitler and Stalin! Well, folks, I know which of the three I'd prefer to deal with, and it certainly wouldn't be any 20th century dictator.

It is a useful book however, and provides a stack of information about the Appellants. One thing I have noticed, already, is how generous Richard II was to Thomas of Woodstock in the 1390s. As late as 16 April 1397, about three months before he was arrested, he was pardoned a debt of £1074, 1 shilling and eightpence farthing that he owed to the Crown. There's more. Goodman reports Froissart saying that in 1395-6 Woodstock was continuously soliciting favours. (My italics). Poor old Woodstock, scraping along on a meagre £2500 a year, easily 1 million in modern money, how he suffered under that brutal regime! Where do I find a government to tyrannise me on similar terms?

Sunday, 13 April 2008

The death of Thomas of Woodstock

After my brief ramblings into the 15th century, I think it's time to return to the basic chronology and consider the death of Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester. His murder, if you like. Though how exactly it differs from the 'private execution' of George Clarence I am not sure. Clarence is rarely described as being murdered, unless it's by someone trying to pin the deed on the future Richard III.

Gloucester had been roughly as big a thorn in Richard II's side as Clarence was to be in that of Edward IV. Indeed it appears that Gloucester and his chums briefly deposed Richard in 1387. Ah, but then they suddenly realised they had a problem! Who was to succeed him? We can be sure that Bolingbroke argued for his father, Gaunt, while it's a 1-5 shot that Woodstock thought that he, Woodstock, was best fitted for the job. The eventual solution was to restore Richard and keep very quiet about their little muddle.

As I mentioned earlier, it was originally suggested that Gloucester, Arundel and Warwick were plotting against Richard in 1396, and that their arrests were a response to this. Whether there was a plot or not, they were actually arraigned on the basis of their deeds during 1386-88. This was undoubtedly a tactical error on Richard's part - he would have been far wiser to follow (or rather anticipate) the Tudor method of plot invention. You know, torture the odd musician or so, get 'proof' they were intriguing with the French, or the Man in the Moon - that sort of thing. By cancelling the pardons he led a lot of people to believe that he was not to be trusted, not least the two former Appellants he had apparently forgiven, Henry Bolingbroke (now made Duke of Hereford for his pains) and Thomas Mowbray (created Duke of Norfolk).

Gloucester was removed to Calais in Mowbray's care, and as mentioned in an earlier post, no sooner did his case come up in Parliament than it was announced he was dead. He was promptly found guilty and forfeited.

Now, one must be cautious here, because what follows is based on testimony to Henry IV's Parliament, and is therefore not necessarily 100% kosher. Bolingbroke could lie for England when it suited him, and he wasn't above fiddling with records, either. However, it appears that Gloucester was not dead. Mowbray had got a confession from him, but not killed him as - presumably - Richard had ordered.

Here Edward of York - now Duke of Aumale, Lord Constable, and, by Richard's creation, 'King's brother' - takes a hand. A couple of his squires were sent over to Calais to have a word in Mowbray's ear, and to take part in Gloucester's death. It appears Woodstock was smothered, at Richard's order, but with the active involvement of both Edward and Mowbray.

This is not a pretty tale. Not the sort of thing one can imagine William Marshal approving. It's highly likely that Gloucester's surviving brothers, Lancaster and York, did not approve either. Yet I must balance this by saying that Richard's so-called 'tyranny' was limited. He did not go on a mass killing spree as the Appellants had done in 1389. He may have put the fear of God into people, but as a tyrant he was strictly minor-league.

Rosewar - a blast from the past

Rosewar was a role playing game, a postal simulation of the Wars of the Roses. I didn't get involved until quite late on, but for the last few turns I was the Earl of Warwick! It was tremendous fun while it lasted, but Steve, the chap who ran it, found the burden too much in the face of his growing family responsibilities, and it came to an end in 2004, just as we were getting ready to have a Parliament.

You may enjoy reading the archives and seeing the alternate version of history.

Those of you who would like to try something similar may enjoy the board game Kingmaker though to get the best results you really need a group of like-minded people who are willing to play for several days. An evening is not long enough. There's also a computer version out there which is probably to be found as a download nowadays - the graphics are ancient though, don't expect anything fancy.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Elizabeth Woodville

I've come across a couple of interesting sites for Elizabeth Woodville. The more detailed one is here.

Elizabeth has had some hard criticism from Ricardians over the years. Much of it is unjustified. I can't understand why anyone finds it remarkable that an English medieval queen would be surrounded by ceremony - it came with the job, and she probably couldn't have switched it off if she'd wanted to. Nor is it odd that she should look after her relations - that's what anyone with access to power was expected to do. In fact, it was the whole point of having power.

There's a couple of recent positive biographies of Elizabeth. David Baldwin's Elizabeth Woodville, Sutton Publishing Ltd ISBN 0 7509 3886 2. Also Elizabeth Wydeville, The Slandered Queen by Arlene Okerlund ISBN 0 7524 3384 9. The latter is also available here. Or indeed here. A review of Okerlund's book is here.

Amazon's Scummy Tricks Spread to Europe.

Apparently Amazon is warning publishers that they mustn't discount on their websites. Or if the publisher dares to continue Amazon will take the selling price as the RRP and apply its terms of trading to that price. In other words, if Amazon receives a 50% discount from Penguin, for example, but Penguin is selling a £20 book for £15 on its website, Amazon will only give Penguin £7.50, rather than £10.

If you think that perhaps I have dreamed this nonsense while in a drunken stupor, please read this article for the full SP. This is on top of the previous nonsense of wanting to print all US POD books on its own presses.

It is going to hurt me, because I like cheap books, and I enjoy the convenience of being able to order practically any book I want from the same place. But I am going to boycott these bullying oiks, and I would encourage everyone to do the same. Amazon is not the only source for books, and needs to be reminded of this fact. Go to some trouble, spend a little more money if you have to. You're worth it!

Richard III Novel - Progress

I've knocked the first seven chapters into something resembling shape. I've reached a point just before Edward IV's capture by Warwick in 1469, and I need to take a step back to figure out just exactly what was happening. Given that Edward was practically paranoid during 68/9 about various conspiracies that were (either actually or in his imagination) being plotted against him, it does seem odd that he fell so easily into a trap.

Of course the biggest problem he faced was the defeat of Herbert and Stafford of Southwick at the battle of Edgecote, this serving to remove his anticipated reinforcements and destroy the morale of those around him. All that really saved Edward from this mess was the fact that while the political community were not overly impressed by his job performance, they were still less happy with the idea of having Clarence and Warwick running the shop. If Clarence had been half as popular as he presumably thought he was, the chances are that Edward IV would have been deposed. Instead Warwick found the hard way that the wheels of government would not turn for him, and he had little alternative but to restore Edward to power.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Historical Fiction - facing a threat?

It seems that Amazon, over in the USA, has decided that in future any POD (Print on demand) book it sells must be printed by its own company. On top of this, it also demands a very substantial discount from the publisher. This is certainly going to put the squeeze on small publishers and by extension, since a great deal of historical fiction is published by such outfits, is likely to reduce the number of historical fiction books coming on to the market. I suspect it may also have an impact on short-run academic works.

I am going to resist the temptation to rant on the subject, but there is definite cause for concern. You may care to check out some of the following links for more detail.

Gillian Polack

Doubtful Muse

Writers Weekly

Amazon's Official Letter

If this development concerns you, please tell anyone you know who is interested in books. Tell Amazon as well!

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

New Wars of the Roses Board

There's a new Wars of the Roses Board here.

A good place to go to discuss the conflict! Since the sad demise of the Late Medieval Britain Group such places have been few and far between outwith the Richard III Community. Let's hope this new venture is a big success.