Review for THE KING’S RETRIBUTION by Mary Anne Yarde

“When I was young and powerless, they saw fit to manipulate Parliament to achieve their selfish ends. Those days are over. It’s my turn, now. I mean to bring the Crown back to the splendor and magnificence it possessed in the days of Edward I—when the Crown ruled Parliament, not the other way around…”

They had demanded pardons, and he had given them for there had been no other choice. But things were different now. The son of Edward, The Black Prince, would see justice served. Richard II would have his revenge, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it.

At least, Richard II had thought there was no one to stand in his way. But the Wheel of Fortune was forever turning, and fate was not done with Richard yet…
From the death of Queen Anne to the utter despair of a vanquished king, The King’s Retribution: Book Two of The Plantagenet Legacy by Mercedes Rochelle is the story of the tyranny of Richard II and his subsequent fall from grace.

Confident in his newfound power, Richard is determined to right an injustice. He may have given those involved in the Lords Appellants’ rebellion their pardons, but he has not forgotten such a gross betrayal. And now was the time to right that wrong. Besieged with paranoia, Richard travels along a path that will ultimately end in his demise. With her enthralling narrative, Rochelle has given us a Richard who is determined to assert his personal will upon the baronial challenges that plagued his early reign. But in doing so, Richard abuses his divine powers which leads to dire retribution seemingly from the heavens. Why did Richard do this? Rochelle goes some way to explain. Richard is left totally undone by the death of his beloved wife — he loses the one person who understands his fears and can console him. Beset with grief and desperate to gain a sense of control in his life, Richard forgoes the fragile peace that was so hard-won in order to consolidate his power. Rochelle does not give us a Richard who has lost his mind, as some historians argue, but instead one who is governed by fear which leads him down a road of forced confessions and even the murder of his uncle, Gloucester.

But that is not his only crime. Richard is seemingly out of touch with the common people, and he mismanages the country’s finance. He is also apt at creating friction between the nobles, but especially between members of his family. This Rochelle describes in all its glorious yet sometimes ugly detail.

As Richard loses control over his country and his own destiny, Rochelle presents her readers with a despairing king. Richard’s desperate attempts to hold onto his honour and dignity despite Henry’s efforts to humiliate him was masterfully drawn. One could only feel sympathy for this dejected King as he is betrayed by almost everyone around him. And yet, with quiet dignity, Richard endures the hecklers on the streets as he is ushered into a world of uncertainty and despair.

Rochelle presents two very different sides to Richard — the paranoid statesman whose own personal bodyguard, the Chester Archers, causes disquiet and concern, but also Rochelle depicts a devoted husband. I thought Rochelle’s depiction of Richard II was utterly sublime, and his desperation really drove this story forward and made it unputdownable.  Read More

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New Release! THE KING’S RETRIBUTION

If you read A KING UNDER SIEGE, you might remember that we left off just as Richard declared his majority at age 22. He was able to rise above the humiliation inflicted on him during the Merciless Parliament, but the fear that it could happen again haunted him the rest of his life. Ten years was a long time to wait before taking revenge on your enemies, but King Richard II was a patient man. Hiding his antagonism toward the Lords Appellant, once he felt strong enough to wreak his revenge he was swift and merciless. Alas for Richard, he went too far, and in his eagerness to protect his crown Richard underestimated the very man who would take it from him: Henry Bolingbroke.

Haven’t read A KING UNDER SIEGE yet? Email me for a FREE Audible Promotion Code

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Usury in Medieval England: Lending Money to the King

Detail from Death and the Miser by Hieronymus Bosch, National Gallery of Art, Source: Wikipedia

It’s pretty much a given that usury was considered a sin by almost all Christians; even Dante put usurers in the seventh circle of hell. However, the degrees of sinning and the exact definition of usury is debated to this day, so I am merely a novice dipping my big toe into the ocean of discourse. Nonetheless, I always wondered how people got away with it. After all, no one would take the risk of lending money without some sort of recompense, would they?

Since medieval Christians were forbidden to practice usury, it fell upon the Jews to engage in this unsavory profession—as long as they didn’t lend to other Jews. After all, in England Jews were not allowed traditional trades; they were marginalized into socially inferior professions like tax or rent collection or money changing. Unfortunately for them, their practice made the Jewish moneylender the first victim whenever it was convenient for those in authority—or mobs—to rid themselves of their pesky creditors. Again and again we hear tales of their murder, arrest, torture, or expulsion, and I wonder how that behavior could possibly encourage the next generation to continue lending?

But in this article, I’m interested in how the crown got its loans. After all, war was an expensive business and the taxes approved by Parliament took months to collect—and they usually didn’t cover all the bills. In fact, it is widely believed that Edward III was responsible for giving Parliament the idea that they could force their agenda on the king in exchange for the next round of taxes—first one, then the other. My research tells me that the money needed by the king was borrowed in advance, with the provision that the lenders would be paid off with the proceeds from the next tax collection, or sometimes “on the customs of the ports”.

BL Add. 27695, f.8. Cocharelli of Genoa. Bankers in an Italian counting house in the 14th cent. Source: Wikipedia

The first three Edwards borrowed money from Italian banking-houses, but they were notorious for not paying back their loans. At first, the bankers were motivated by profit, but soon they needed to keep lending money to ensure they didn’t lose what they had already invested. The two largest bankers, the Peruzzi and the Bardi, collapsed in the 1340s, and most historians believe that Edward III’s nonpayment of colossal loans was the main contributing factor.

Some of the wealthier magnates, bishops, merchants, or corporations were tapped again and again for royal loans. They were issued tallies by the king’s commissioner that they could later redeem when the exchequer was solvent—in theory. It was more reliable to advance loans to be credited against their own future taxation. Coercion was not unheard of: according to K.B. McFarlane, a contemporary writer told us that in Henry V’s day, “Italian merchants had been given a choice between lending and going to prison and had in some cases preferred prison”. (Richard II wasn’t the only king guilty of “forced loans”! But that’s another story.)

It’s an outside possibility that people lent money to the crown out of the kindness of their hearts—expecting no return—anxious to serve their country. It’s more likely that at the very least, the creditor stood to gain trading concessions or licenses, or some kind of preference. But the most convincing explanation of all, considering everyone wanted to skirt the illegality of usury, was that they were compensated, but in a way that made it difficult to prove. Fortunately, some evidence has survived that has enabled historians to track the clever devices used to conceal usury. For instance, in the case of royal tallies, they were often taken at a large discount: it was recorded that “one Robert Worsley, mercer of London, took two royal tallies for a total of £500 in settlement of a debt of £400 owed him by John, Duke of Bedford”¹. That’s a pretty hefty markup!

The Usurers by Quentin Metsys, Galleria Doria Pamphilj (Rome) Source: Wikipedia

Enter the word chevisance or chevance: essentially a form of disguised usury. This term was used regardless of the size of the loan. Contemporary literature is full of rebukes concerning this damnable practice, which they often referred to as bastard usury. To leave no trace, the sum recorded in the exchequer was the amount that was to be repaid, not what was loaned (the loan was known as mutuum). Often, the money that was loaned did not even go to the treasurer; he was only responsible for paying the debt and nothing more. Rarely was the documentation more precise than that. However, there was one incident that demonstrated how ruinous the rate could be. In 1376, the London merchant Richard Lyons was impeached with the charge that he took a 50% markup against the exchequer. It was said that he lent 20,000 marks and received back £20,000; a mark was 2/3 of a pound (not exactly a 50% markup, but who knows?). John of Gaunt defended him, saying “that the rate was nothing out of the ordinary for a royal loan”.² No wonder the exchequer was always broke! Cardinal Beaufort—one of the wealthiest men of his time—is said to have lent the crown an excess of £200,000 during his career (he survived well in to Henry VI’s reign); there were times he was the only bulwark between the country and bankruptcy. It can only be assumed he didn’t get rich on his benefices alone, and he was accordingly castigated by his detractors.

Although the official ban on usury wasn’t lifted until the eighteenth century, in practice everyone pretty much looked the other way. After all, even the pope needed to borrow money. As long as it was for a good cause, usury could be rationalized…somehow.

 ¹ McFarlane, K.B., Loans to the Lancastrian Kings, the Problem of Inducement, from England in the Fifteenth Century, Collected Essays, The Hambledon Press, 1981, p.72
² ibid, p.77

That’s no way to say ‘Goodbye.’ Guest Post by Judith Arnopp

Henry VIII, att. to Joos Van Cleve, Royal Collection. Source: Wikipedia

Although Henry VIII is famous for abandoning, beheading and divorcing his wives it seems he didn’t enjoy ‘goodbyes.’ Each of his marriages ended suddenly, without discussion.  In most instances he simply left the palace, mounted his horse and rode away. End of relationship. End of marriage.

His battle for a divorce from Katherine of Aragon, his wife for more than twenty years, was a protracted affair, ending with Henry breaking his ties with the Pope and the excommunication of England from the Roman Church. By the time he finally removed himself from the marriage, he was already committed to Anne Boleyn. For months the king and his two ‘wives’ had lived in a sort of Ménage à trois with Catherine trailing in the wake of Henry and Anne. But in June 1531 Henry and Anne rode away from Hampton court, leaving the queen behind. For a few weeks the couple visited several hunting lodges with Anne playing the part of consort. It had long been Catherine’s habit to write to Henry every few days when they were apart, enquiring after his health but this time her letters also expressed her regret that he had not bid her farewell when he departed. Henry’s response was pitiless, informing her he ‘cared not for her adieux.’ Catherine’s reply illustrates admirable restraint but Henry didn’t not bother to answer; instead she received a letter from the Council which, for the first time failed to address her as ‘Queen.’ A further order demanded that she remove herself to The More in Hertfordshire, and ordered the Princess Mary to go to Richmond. Henry was not only abandoning Catherine but also their daughter Mary, who was never allowed to see her mother again.

Henry’s marriage to Anne was very different his first. Whereas Catherine had turned a blind eye to the king’s romantic indiscretions, Anne treated the matter very differently. This made his marriage to Anne a roller coaster ride of arguments, fights and reconciliations. There are, and always have been, plenty of marriages like this, so it wasn’t necessarily a sign that they were no longer in love. Since their life together was peppered with disputes, when Anne fell out of favour in May 1536 she had no reason to suspect that it was any more than another tiff. But, after signing the order for her arrest, Henry refused to see or communicate with Anne again. It is tempting to wonder if things would have turned out very differently had she been given the chance to talk her way out of it, as Henry’s sixth wife, Katherine Parr, did in the final years of his reign.

Jane Seymour has always been described as the ‘one he loved best’ yet when she died they had not been married long enough for him to tire of her and since she had just provided the longed for heir she was in high favour at the time of her death. He does seem to have grieved longer for Jane than any other of his wives and did not remarry straight away but we don’t really know if that was the case. Henry delayed his planned departure to Esher by several days while Jane lay on her deathbed and Cromwell was told, ‘If she amend (recover), he will go, and if she amend not, he told me this day, he could not find it in his heart to tarry.” (David Starkey in Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII  p. 608) In other words, Jane’s death did not interfere with the king’s itinerary but perhaps it is wrong of us to expect it to have. Jane died at 8pm on the same day this message was written. We do not know if Henry was with her but it is unlikely.
I have always questioned Henry’s love for Jane. We tend to think that because he was still in love with her (or at least had not yet found a replacement) he must have loved her more than the others. But, suppose she had survived, who is to say whether or not he would have tired of her and found an excuse to rid himself of her?

I think we are safe to assume Henry had no love for his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. Before the marriage had even taken place, Henry wanted an end to it. He raged to his councillors that she did not please him but hampered by the political ties of the union, he was trapped, like a caged lion. The wedding went ahead and the honeymoon night was reputedly a disaster. All over London jousts and celebrations were under way but the king was far from happy. Before the bells had stopped ringing he was already paying court to Catherine Howard at the home of Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester in Southwark. ‘Anne herself probably understood little of the political storm which raged round her and of which she was the all-too passive cause. She was shrewd enough, however, to notice the King’s attentions to Catherine Howard, and, on 20th June, complained vigorously about them to the Cleves agent in London, Karl Harst. Two days later, she was in better spirits, because Henry had spoken to her kindly. It was the last time she saw him as her husband.” (Starkey) Ordered to leave the court and take up residence at Richmond Palace, Anne was not made aware of the king’s decision to reconsider the marriage until July. Although she was often at court after the annulment, Anne and Henry did not meet again until after the separation was legally finalized.

Catherine Howard, as we all know, was accused of adultery and treason. As sad as it is, the charges were probably just. The legend of the little queen running screaming for Henry along the corridors of Hampton court sound as if they are straight from the pages of fiction, and they probably are but the image is a powerful one. For Catherine, coming at the end of a long line of dispatched spouses, there can have been little doubt as to her fate. But, if the story is true, it was a futile attempt to reason with the king. Henry had already fled. Hurt and humiliated, the king lost no time in leaving. On the 5th of November, on the pretext of hunting he ‘dined in a little pleasure-house in one of the parks around Hampton Court. Then, under the cover of night, he left secretly for London.’ (Starkey, p. 671) Catherine never saw him again. After her death, the Spanish ambassador described Henry as suffering ‘greater sorrow and regret at her loss than at the faults, loss of divorce of his preceding wives.’ (Starkey. P. 685) The picture of an ageing broken king mourning his faithless bride is touching but it has to be said his sorrow was more likely to have been of the self-pitying kind.

Katherine Parr, Henry’s last queen, was a scholar and a reformer, publishing books and entering the male world of theological debate. This, together with her influence over the ageing king, won her enemies among the conservative faction. Just as with several of her predecessors, moves were made to bring her down. It is possible that Katherine was just too clever, perhaps she irritated Henry with her polished arguments, perhaps she reminded him just a little too much of Anne Boleyn. Whatever the reason, after several years of marriage, Henry came to resent her and this provided her enemies with the opportunity they needed. When Henry complained, in Gardiner’s presence, of the nature of the queen’s conversation Gardiner lost no time in convincing the king to agree to turn against her. Her women were questioned and her books seized, and the queen was to be arrested and sent to the Tower. Luckily for Katherine, a sympathiser got wind of the plan and tipped her off. Katherine went straight to the king but had the sense not to remonstrate with him outright. Instead, when the subject turned to religion, she pretended ignorance, preferring to ‘defer my judgement in this, and all other cases, to our Majesty’s wisdom, as my only anchor Supreme Head and Governor her in earth, next under God.’  (Starkey. P.763) When he questioned her honesty, she went on to claim that she had only ever disputed with Henry to take his mind from his pain, and to try to learn from his own great wisdom. His ego salved and his faith in women restored, Henry and Katherine kissed and made up. Wriothesley came to arrest Katherine while she and Henry were walking in the garden but when he drew out the warrant Henry furiously berated him, calling him a knave and a beast. Wisely, Wriothesley fled the royal presence. On this occasion the queen remained in the King’s favour but as Henry’s health began to deteriorate the couple spent more and more time apart. Henry spent his last Christmas in London, while Katherine was at Greenwich.
He died in January 1547, without saying ‘Goodbye’ to the queen.

 



Judith Arnopp is the author of award winning historical fiction. Her novels are written from the perspective of historical women from all walks of life, prostitutes to Tudor queens. Her non-fiction articles feature in various historical anthologies, magazines and historical blogs.

Connect with Judith:

Webpage: http://www.judithmarnopp.com
Author page: author.to/juditharnoppbooks
Blog: http://juditharnoppnovelist.blogspot.co.uk/
twitter@juditharnopp

 

The Queen’s Seal: Isabella of Angoulême, Guest Post by Erica Lainé

Isabella had a gold matrix, or seal-die, which was used to make her seal as Queen of England. The seal is the wax impression; the matrix is used over and over again to make the impression. Isabella’s seal is oval as all medieval queen’s seals were, and shows the full length queen standing with her hair flowing, a cross with a bird above it in one hand and a lily in the other. Each of these are symbols of purity and also fertility. At that time, once married, a woman could not be shown with her hair down or indeed uncovered. The other side would have shown her crowned but I have never seen that and suspect it is badly damaged. The wax impression was threaded onto the parchment documents with strips of ribbon or cord. The gold matrix is about 1 1/2 inches long and just under an inch wide and would have been stored in a special pouch or richly embroidered bag. The one illustrated is from 1280 and is the seal bag for Edward 1st, her grandson.

Queens generally did not seal in matters of state but restricted the use of their seals to their own affairs and the disposition of their often considerable wealth. However while Queen of England between 1200-1216, Isabella rarely used her seal and she did not have the wealth usually given to a queen. King John treated her in a mean-spirited way! But when she returned to France she used it always. She also had a smaller, more personal seal that she kept with her at all times. All the records of her using the seal show that it was pressed into green wax, not the red that is so often associated a with wax impression.

The gold matrix is in the archives in Angoulême a tangible connection with Isabella of Angoulême, Queen of England

She stamped the letter with her great seal, and there she is standing, facing front, robed and crowned, her hair falling in ringlets around her face. In her right hand she holds a flower, in her left a bird. Isabella, by the grace of God, Queen of England, Lady of Ireland. Isabella, Duchess of the Normans, of the Men of Aquitaine and of Anjou.

 

Isabella of Angoulême (The Tangled Queen Book 1)

Set in the thirteenth century, the kingdoms of England and France continue to struggle over territory. King John’s widow, Isabella of Angoulême, Queen of England is ignored and unwanted by the English court. She moves back to France to claim her inheritance. The English councillors expect her to be biddable to them and to guard these lands for King Henry III, her nine-year-old son.

But in the Poitou, a region far from Paris and London, local fiefdoms ignore all forms of authority.

The Tangled Queen is the story of Isabella’s determination to forge her own powerful domain. She has to face forceful men who would stop her at every turn. She intrigues and plots to make her dream a reality and she learns to play all sides against each other. Isabella’s second controversial marriage is one full of passion, pride and politics. Treachery becomes second nature as her ambitions soar. She must be unassailable.

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Isabella-Angoulême-Tangled-Queen-Book-ebook/dp/B079NSY9J4

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Interview with Kevin E. Green, Narrator for Heir To A Prophecy

Have you ever wondered what a narrator goes through when recording an audio book? I certainly did, and my narrator, Kevin E. Green has been kind enough to answer a few questions posted by my interviewer Mark Schultz, the WordRefiner who many of you probably know. I added in a few questions, myself!

MERCEDES:

How much time does it take to produce an average hour of audio?

KEVIN:

The first recording can take around twice as long as the finished product, so that’s about 2 hours per hour finished. Then comes editing which takes another two hours, then mastering (getting the levels right for ACX) another 10 minutes, and finally proof listening of the finished file to make sure I’ve not missed anything – extraneous noises, incorrect pauses, so that’s around 5 hours per finished hour, plus the hour I take to read the book first (essential!)

MERCEDES:

How do you make corrections? Do you have to start the whole section over or can you insert short phrases?

KEVIN:

When recording I use what is called ‘punch and roll’ which most narrators use.  It enables me to stop the recording when I make a mistake, roll the cursor back to the phrase/sentence before the mistake and hit record again. This enables me to record the correct version over the top of the mistake.   When editing the finished file, I use a different DAW (digital audio workstation) for editing only.  It’s easier to edit in this one than the recording DAW.  I can re-record any mistakes in a separate file and copy them into the master file.    It can be tricky matching the voice tone though, so it can take several takes before the sound matches the original.  Funnily enough, it’s easier to match an accented character than my main narration voice, as that can change slightly over the course of a chapter (especially if it’s a long chapter).  Very occasionally I can slot a single word into a phrase, depending on pauses within the phrase.

MERCEDES:

What is the ideal chapter length for an audio book?

KEVIN:

I think the ideal chapter length (for me anyway) is around 20-25 minutes.  Any longer than that and my voice can start to go off – especially if there is loud dialogue or heavy accents in the chapter, as that can begin to make my throat sore.  Straight narration with no accents is a lot easier, 40-50 minutes before I start to feel it.  I don’t like taking a rest halfway through as my natural voice can change slightly.

MARK:

Kevin, have you always wanted to do this type of work? How did you get started being a voice actor? What is the term you use if that is not correct?

KEVIN:

Well, I started actually recording audiobooks a few years before I took early retirement from work, but I always loved reading aloud to my two sons when they were young. I read Lord of the Rings in its entirety twice, once for each boy as they were 5 years apart in age, doing all the voices.
I started recording for Librivox, the public domain free site which volunteers record for fun. It’s a great site to learn the craft. Then I moved on to Audible/ACX for Amazon and started making a little money, and I am now on Bee Audio and Findaway Voices books as well. And yes, voice actor is the correct term.

MARK:

Librivox sounds very interesting. What steps should a person take who wants to learn the art of voice acting? What advice would you give to someone who has a desire, but no experience?

KEVIN:

If someone wants to start in narration, they should have some acting experience to start with. After that, a voice coach would be good, and then plenty of practice on Librivox where you can learn a lot about techniques and the technology required to record a good quality recording. There is a website called Gravy for the Brain which is an excellent resource and has a lot of teaching resources for voice over actors, including mentoring. Becoming a good voice actor/narrator is not quick or easy and has a steep learning curve when it comes to the technology, and making a reasonable living at it is a long way down the line.

MARK:

You are on Audible, Bee Audio and Findaway Voices. For an author, what are the primary differences they should be aware of between these platforms? What are the differences for a voice actor?

KEVIN:

Yes I am on all three platforms, but ACX is my main source of work. The difference between them is that ACX offers up titles which any narrator can audition for, whereas the other two rely on the author to select a voice from the various narrators’ voice samples on their websites. The narrator then gets offered the book if selected without having to audition. Unfortunately 95% of their work is in the US, so we in the UK get very little work from them. After a narrator is reasonably well established, there are also repeat books from the same author if the author likes your work. This can bypass the ACX audition system as well, and just goes straight to production.

MARK:

Is it hard to create different voices?
What kind of clues do you look for to guide the creation of a voice?
How do you keep your voices straight?
Do you make yourself an audio cheat sheet?

KEVIN:

Yes it can be tricky to create different voices.
The most problematical is where there are a number of similar characters (gender, age etc) in the same scene, and trying to make each voice distinct from the others – there is only so much one set of vocal chords can do!
I tend to have a stock of around a dozen voices which have evolved over the years and I use those in most books. Other voices I have to make up and try to fit them to the type of person I see in my mind, unless the author has been very generous and described the physicality and geographical origin of the character, and even better how their voice sounds! Females are difficult obviously, but I have a passable low register female voice which I can notch up in tone to give a different character. Books with three sisters are a nightmare!
I keep an audio file of about 10 seconds of each voice which I keep on hand to constantly refer to as characters change in the dialogue. I don’t mark up the scripts with different colors as some narrators do, as I don’t find it a lot of help, and it’s very time consuming. I might just as well use that time to re-record passages if necessary.
Just as an example, Mercedes’ recent book that I recorded ‘A King under Siege’ had 38 main characters, and nearly as many incidental characters who only had a few lines. When you get half a dozen in a council meeting for instance, it takes a long time to keep referring back to the audio file to make sure you’re using the correct voice for each character. ‘Heir to a Prophecy’ wasn’t as bad, as there were only about a dozen main characters, and fortunately a lot of them were either Scottish, Welsh or French as well as English which helps a great deal in using distinctive and identifiable voices..

MARK:

How many hours a day and in one stretch can you do voice acting?

KEVIN:

On a good day, I spend about 4-5 hours in my recording booth. Around half of those will be actual recording. I can manage about 1-1/2 hours solid speaking before my voice starts to go off. A couple of hours rest and I can probably do the same again. Fortunately most chapters aren’t that long, and I take about an hour of recording for a finished half-hour chapter. The rest of the time is spent on editing, mastering and then proof listening to the final file.

MARK:

What kind of equipment do you use for recording?
What equipment should a beginner buy to get started in the business?

KEVIN:

I use an Audiotechnica mic, model 4040, and a Presonus audio interface, a Studio 26. They plug into a standard microsoft PC.
A beginner could get going at a basic level with a laptop and a USB mike, using the free software Audacity. That’s how I started (not a laptop in my case, the PC). It’s pretty much down to budget. A USB mike would cost between £50 and £100 and if you’ve got a laptop or PC that’s all you need. Obviously a quiet space – some people use a cupboard lined with coats or blankets to deaden the sound. As you get better you can upgrade to a more professional setup like mine.

For the full interview with Word Refiner, click HERE

Heir To A Prophecy Sample Audio Link:

 

Macbeth and the Gunpowder Plot

Gunpowder Plot Conspirators, Contemporary engraving, National Portrait Gallery, Source: Wikipedia

It wasn’t until recently that I discovered the link between Shakespeare’s famous play and the event that nearly shook England’s ruling class to its knees. The Gunpowder Plot was a carefully planned event with thirty-six barrels of gunpowder stashed under the House of Lords in order to blow King James and his government sky-high. Most fortunately—as the story goes—it was foiled by a last-minute letter to Lord Monteagle warning him not to attend Parliament the next day. A timely search of the basement exposed Guy Fawkes and his stockpile before he had the opportunity to apply the fuse. England celebrated its miraculous escape from disaster, and the king’s men went after the conspiracy with a vengeance.

What did this have to do with Shakespeare? Well, as it turns out, Warwickshire was a hotbed of conspirators, and some properties near Stratford-Upon-Avon had been leased to provide a meeting house for the plotters. Worse than that, the town was full of closet Catholics known as recusants—and Shakespeare may have been one of them. A search of the properties in question revealed a hoard of forbidden Catholic paraphernalia—or “massing relics”, as they were called. William Shakespeare, unfortunately, was distantly related to some of the plotters themselves and had business relationships with others. Talk about guilt by association!

Macbeth consulting the vision of the armed head, by Henry Fuseli. Source: Wikipedia

Since we know next to nothing about Shakespeare, we can only speculate about his motivations. But I suspect appeasing the king might have been on his mind. Not so coincidentally, less than a year after the gunpowder plot we see the first performance of Macbeth, demonstrating the consequences of killing a king. Shakespeare also gives a nod to James’s lineage—Banquo was recognized as the ancestor to the Stewarts—as well as a reference to witches—a theme close to the monarch’s heart. It was commonly thought that diabolical agents were responsible for the most evil of human activities.

But that’s not all. Renowned Shakespearean historian James Shapiro tells us that a discovery during the gunpowder plot investigation introduced a new word to the English lexicon: equivocation. Actually, the word wasn’t new; it was just redefined and “had become a byword that transfixed the nation and suffused the play he was writing”.1 The government badly needed a scapegoat—a leader—and they found him in the guise of Jesuit Superior Henry Garnet, who had written a treatise advising Catholics how to lie under oath during interrogation, while seeming to tell the truth. It was a play on words extraordinaire.

A diligent search of the Inner Temple in London had uncovered this amazing manuscript, with a crossed-out title: “A Treatise of Equivocation” which had been changed to “A Treatise of Lying and Fraudulent Equivocation”. Here, too, the word “of” was crossed out and changed to “against”, but no one was fooled; the authorities had, in their hands, a how-to guide for evading prosecution. For example, “You could deny that you were harboring a priest by saying that the priest ‘lyeth not in my house,’ since he wasn’t telling lies there.”2

Anonymous portrait of Friar Henry Garnet, Source: Wikipedia

Whether the treatise had anything to do with the gunpowder plot was irrelevant; Garnet apparently knew about the conspiracy and kept silent. This was good enough, and so much better than prosecuting a handful of disgruntled Catholic gentry. Now the detested fingers of the Jesuits were all over the plot, and the treatise took on a major role in the legal proceedings. The word equivocation had gone viral, so to speak, and a high-profile trial of Garnet himself ended in the inevitable conviction of treason.

In Macbeth, as Professor Shapiro tells us, “Equivocation permeates the play”.  The witches equivocate when they tell Macbeth he shall be king—not informing him that he will need to kill in order to get the crown. And of course, later on, they equivocate, telling him he should never be vanquished ‘till Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane. Macbeth equivocates to his wife, not telling her that Banquo’s heirs will be kings rather than his own. He equivocates when he kills the guards, then again when he hires Banquo’s murderers. Lady Macbeth equivocates when she tells the banquet guests that “my lord is often thus” after they watch him shriek at an empty chair. Even Lady McDuff equivocates, pretending to her son that his absent father is dead. But the most telling aspect of all is the porter scene, in which the word equivocate is used over and over again:

Knock, knock! Who’s there, in th’ other devil’s name? Faith, here’s an equivocator that could swear in both the scales against either scale, who committed treason enough for God’s sake yet could not equivocate to heaven. O, come in, equivocator.” 

The word is used five times by the porter and later, once by Macbeth. There’s no doubt that equivocation truly is the byword this time around, made even more interesting that it is only used once in all Shakespeare’s plays written before Macbeth.

As he often did, Shakespeare wrote his play in response to concerns pervading London society. A fear of unseen forces was very real to his contemporaries, and Macbeth would have struck a chord in the unsettled atmosphere pervading King James’s court. One wonders what the playgoers might have thought when passing underneath the severed heads of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators, while crossing London Bridge from Southwark on their way home.

1  Shapiro, James, THE YEAR OF LEAR, SHAKESPEARE IN 1606, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2015, p.156
2  ibid, p.158

Christmas in the time of the Vikings

Odin the Wanderer, by Georg von Rosen, 1886 from the Swedish Poetic Edda (Source, Wikipedia)

Yule celebrations are Pagan in origin and came from the Germanic countries. They were alive and well in the Nordic lands, and were most likely brought over to Anglo-Saxon England with the Viking settlers. Eventually, the midwinter celebrations merged with the Christian festival of Christmastide, better known as the 12 Days of Christmas. I think we would recognize many of their festivities, although some of them were dedicated to Odin!

Since the Yule (or Jul) took place around the Solstice, the shortest day of the year, there is a certain element of celebrating the return of the light. It is said that the name Yule is derived from the Old Norse HJOL, meaning ‘wheel,’ to identify the moment when the wheel of the year is at its lowest point, ready to rise again. But it was also thought that in this time of year, the spirits of the dead most commonly crossed over into the human realm. It is thought that many of the Yuletide customs were an attempt to protect the household against hostile supernatural influences. On the other hand, it is also said that ancestors came back during this season, and sometimes food was left out for them so they would help promote a good harvest the following year. Some of the spirits were benevolent—but not all.

One night stood out from the others—the 24th of December. This is when the children filled their shoes with straw, carrots and sugar lumps and set them out by the fire to feed Odin’s flying eight-legged horse Sleipnir as the God led the Wild Hunt—the host of the restless dead—through the darkness. In return, Odin would leave the children small gifts and sweets as a reward. He was even known to slide down the chimney! Or fire hole, as the case may be.

The Wild Hunt by Johan Wilhelm Cordes, Museum Behnhaus Drägerhaus, Lubeck, Germany (Source, Wikipedia)

Many tales were told of the Wild Hunt. Because winter nights were often stormy and turbulent, Odin was most likely to be heard then, raging and howling, riding to collect the fallen, whether they be living or recently departed. People—especially children—were warned to stay indoors. It was a terrible thing to witness the Wild Hunt; rumors abounded that people seeing the Wild Hunt might be abducted to the underworld or to the fairy kingdom—or even killed. A gift—or rather, a sacrifice—was advised, to thank Odin for taking care of the family’s recently deceased. In 1673, Johannes Scheffer (The History of Lapland) wrote “All the Bits they have preserved for these two Days, they put in a small Chest made of the Bark of Birch, in the shape of a Boat, with its Sails and Oars; they pour also some of the Fat of the Broth upon it, and thus hang it on a Tree, about a Bow Shot distant from the backside of their Huts”. Perhaps this represented the practice of ship burials, though no one really knows the exact purpose of this ritual.

Yule is a time for feasting, dancing, and family. The traditional food of the Yule was Boar, an animal sacred to Freyr, the Norse God of Yule and fertility. This was probably the origin of the Boar’s Head presented at later Christmas feasts. Then we have the Yule Log. The largest ash—the wood of Yggdrasil—log was brought inside so that ritual runes could be carved onto it, calling on the gods to protect one and all from ill-fortune. Burning the Yule log was thought to give power to the sun and bring warmth again to the land. The carved log was sprinkled with mead and decorated with dry sprigs of pine and cones and as it was lit, musicians plucked the strings of their harps and started the singing. It burned for twelve hours, which brought good fortune for the next twelve months.

Odin riding Sleipnir. From the 18th century Icelandic manuscript. Source, Wikipedia

Outside, evergreens would be decorated with small lanterns and candles, plus crackers, little carved statues of gods, pieces of dried fruit, and even berries strung together. A huge bonfire was lit, reportedly to dispel any evil that was marching abroad. There was dancing around and through the bonfire, especially among the youngsters.

It’s pretty commonly assumed that Odin the Wanderer eventually morphed into our Santa Claus. The old legends came in many forms, one of which was Odin on a chariot pulled by goats (who later became reindeers). Or, possibly, his eight-legged Sleipnir was the precursor to reindeer (naturally, from the North). Odin who was the lord of Alfheim, the home of the elves (Santa’s elves?). The comparisons go on and on. How much of is true?

Thomas Mowbray, Bolingbroke’s adversary

Richard II makes Thomas Mowbray the Earl Marshal, BL Cotton MS Nero D VI, f.85r.

Considering that Thomas Mowbray, Earl of Nottingham (and later 1st Duke of Norfolk) participated in almost every major event of Richard II’s reign, it’s surprising that he’s been given so little attention by historians. It is evident that Thomas had a checkered career, in favor then out of favor then back again until his final outlawry. He is often depicted as a slippery character, though it’s not clear whether he was motivated by ambition, jealousy, or was he driven by circumstances? It’s hard to say, considering how difficult it was to maintain one’s equilibrium during Richard II’s tempestuous reign.

Orphaned at age two, Thomas and his elder brother John were  brought up in the royal court alongside future rival Robert de Vere (another ward). All became close friends with Prince—soon to become King—Richard. John died in 1383, passing on the title Earl of Nottingham to Thomas, who was elected knight of the Garter in the same year. Two years later he was granted the title of Earl Marshal for life. Not bad for a nineteen year-old. He even had an apartment all his own at Eltham, the royal palace—reserved, naturally, for high-ranking nobles.

Nonetheless, trouble was brewing. Robert de Vere had managed to capture Richard’s affection and Thomas was increasingly left out. Rather than fight a losing battle he went over to the opposite court faction and married Elizabeth, the daughter of Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel. I would assume he couldn’t have found a wife more calculated to alienate the king, though Richard did “distribute liveries of cloth to the earl’s wedding guests in 1384” (1). Nonetheless, Mowbray’s  association with Arundel put him squarely in the Lords Appellant camp, just in time to march against Robert de Vere who was attempting to bring a force from Cheshire to protect the king against his rebellious nobles. Alas, de Vere was no general and his army made a pitiful showing at Radcot Bridge, eventually surrendering with very little loss of life. Robert fled to the Continent; that thorn in Mowbray’s side was removed forever.

Robert de Vere fleeing Radcot Bridge, from Gruthuse Froissart, BN FR 2645, fol.245V

By then, Henry of Bolingbroke (future King Henry IV) had joined forces with the Lords Appellant, making their number five. After Radcot Bridge the victors confronted King Richard in the Tower, forcing their agenda down his throat and threatening to depose him. Cowed after three days’ isolation in the Tower, the king agreed to call parliament. It met in January of 1388, ushering in the worst year of Richard’s life.

Bolingbroke and Mowbray, the junior Appellants, mainly kept quiet during the Merciless Parliament, only asserting themselves against their elders when it came time to condemn Richard’s beloved vice-chamberlain, Sir Simon Burley. By now, the Merciless Parliament had become a bloodbath and the senior Appellants knew that unless their purge was total, the survivors would demand retribution. Too bad for them that the king himself would take on the mantle of avenger ten years later.

But Richard had noted Mowbray’s reticence and decided to bring him back into the fold. In 1389 he made Mowbray Warden of the East March toward Scotland; later Thomas became Captain of Calais and royal lieutenant in the north-east of France.  He accompanied the king to Ireland in 1394 and was credited with many successful assignments;  he even came within a hair’s breadth of capturing Art MacMurchadha abed with his wife. Shortly thereafter, Mowbray went to France to negotiate a truce and Richard’s marriage to Princess Isabella.

But Mowbray’s uneasy favor with Richard was sorely tested in 1397 when the king launched his tardy retribution against the senior Lords Appellant. Conniving with his new affinity of noble supporters (including Mowbray), Richard initiated a new Appeal against Gloucester, Warwick, and Arundel. Capturing Warwick was easy; the king invited all three to a formal dinner and Warwick was the only one who showed up. A polite, entertaining evening ensued, at the end of which the king ordered the unwary Warwick’s arrest. Immediately afterwards, Arundel was persuaded to give himself up. Richard dealt with Gloucester in person. Collecting a large retinue including Mowbray, the king rode all night to Gloucester’s Pleshy residence, dragging the sick duke out of bed and arresting him as well. Gloucester was placed into Mowbray’s charge and taken to Calais where he was imprisoned in the castle.

The king was adamant; he did not dare appeal Gloucester in person in front of parliament. Politically, that was too volatile. But he needed proof of the duke’s guilt relating to the Merciless Parliament of 1388. A lot of suspicious activities took place in Gloucester’s prison under the unwilling direction of Thomas Mowbray, Captain of Calais. Eventually a confession was extracted from the duke, and shortly thereafter a sullen Mowbray announced before parliament that Gloucester was dead. No further explanation was forthcoming and after the confession was read Gloucester was condemned as a traitor in absentia. But naturally rumors abounded and Mowbray was implicated beyond a doubt.

After the Revenge Parliament, as it came to be called, the king created a slew of dukes to reward his supporters—sneeringly called “the duketti” by contemporaries. Even Mowbray was created Duke of Norfolk. But it wasn’t enough to reassure Thomas. After all, he was one of the five Appellants; now that the king was finished with the instigators he was bound to cast his vengeful eye on the remaining two. From then on, Thomas feared for his own life and stayed away from court as much as he could.

The Challenge of Mowbray and Bolingbroke from Froissart Chronicles, BnF ms. Francais 2646, fol.295

But he finally broke under the stress. In December that same year, Mowbray caught up with Bolingbroke on the road to London. He wasted no time in getting to the point. “Henry, we are about to be undone!” he is said to have declared. When Henry asked him why, he replied, “for what was done at Radcot Bridge”.(2) Pretending astonishment (or was he pretending?) Bolingbroke objected: look at the honors Richard showered them with; they had all received pardons. But Mowbray believed none of it. He even told Henry there were men plotting the destruction of him and his father. He hoped Henry would help devise a plan for their mutual defense.

But poor Mowbray had badly miscalculated. Far from allying himself with his former Appellant, Bolingbroke made a report to the king (or he told his father who went to the king). Then followed a series of accusations and denials, counter-accusations and further denials. Unable to settle this argument amicably, the court of chivalry decided on a trial by combat. It was to be the event of the decade. Held at Coventry, the tournament was attended by knights from as far away as France, and the two challengers went to great lengths to acquire the very best and most expensive armor and trappings. But all was for naught. As depicted by Shakespeare, as soon as Mowbray and Bolingbroke started their charge, King Richard threw in his baton and halted the fight. After discussing the matter with his council, the king declared that Bolingbroke would be exiled for ten years and Mowbray for life.

It was a devastating decision for the Duke of Norfolk. He took his leave shortly thereafter with a small retinue, forbidden to make any contact with Bolingbroke—not that he was very likely to. One wonders if he would have been recalled to England after Henry became king, but we’ll never know. He died in Venice just a year later, somewhere around the 22nd or 27th of September in 1399—just a few days before Richard was forced to abdicate. His young son, another Thomas, was not permitted to assume his father’s titles and soon involved  himself in political turmoil, finally joining the ill-fated revolt of Archbishop Scrope in 1405, where he was beheaded alongside the prelate.

  1. “The Politics of Magnate Power” by Alastair Dunn, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2003, p. 40
  2. “Chronicles of the Revolution 1397-1400” by Chris Given-Wilson, p.86

Who—and What—were the Lords Appellant?

Arundel, Gloucester, Nottingham, Derby, and Warwick, Before the King Source: Wikimedia

When I first bumped into the Lords Appellant I was confused because as far as I knew, an appeal was filed after a court conviction in an attempt to reverse the decision. But as it turns out, in the fourteenth century an appeal was the starting point—an indictment or an accusation against someone, initiating a legal procedure. What made the case of the Lords Appellant so special was that this was the first time the appeal was introduced into Parliament; up until then, it was used in common and civil courts.

When you see the words Lords Appellant capitalized, it refers to those involved in the first legal crisis of Richard II’s reign. Their case was against Richard’s friends, counselors, and officers who were accused of giving the king bad advice—misleading and deceiving him. Most historians agree that the Appellants were driven by resentment, ambition, and dissatisfaction. Here they were, some of the most powerful magnates in the realm, shut out of Richard’s inner circle. No influence with the king, no power, no opportunities to reward their retainers—all these obstacles put them in a bad position. However, they weren’t powerful enough to go after Richard directly; there was no popular swell of discontent as in the case of Edward II. The second best solution was to eliminate the king’s despised supporters and get him under their control.

The only person that stood between the Appellants and the king was John of Gaunt, the eldest surviving son of Edward III and a stickler for protocol. However, in 1386 when he sailed for Spain to pursue a crown of his own, his absence left Richard exposed to his enemies. They immediately went on the offensive and the young king was too inexperienced to know how to deal with them. Nonetheless, the Lords Appellant had a problem. If they went through the courts, the rulings wouldn’t be permanent enough. The only way to completely destroy their enemies, take away their titles, lands—even their lives—and dispossess the heirs was through Parliament. Not only were their motives questionable, but the whole process had no legal basis from which to act, and the Appellants were forced to make up the rules as they went along, twisting the system to accommodate their self-serving objectives.

Woodstock receives King Richard from Froissart Chronicles BL MS Harley 4380, f.117

The driving force behind the Lords Appellant was Thomas of Woodstock, 1st Duke of Gloucester (the youngest son of Edward III). One would think that the king’s uncle would not be his worst enemy, but Gloucester was a bitter, aggressive man. He reminds me of John Lackland because he, too, came out on the losing end of land distribution after all his siblings were taken care of. He only became duke two years before all this unpleasantness started, and even so he was dependent on the exchequer for his revenue. If it weren’t for his wife, one of the great Bohun heiresses, he would have had nothing at all. His only hope of prominence would have been from the French wars like his brother the Black Prince and his father Edward III; but here, too, the king disappointed him. There was to be no major campaigning in this reign, and Gloucester became the spokesman for warmongers amongst his peers. As the Appellants gained the upper hand, Gloucester even went so far as to put himself forward as a possible replacement (after having deposed Richard), but young Henry of Bolingbroke put an end to that scheme. There were stronger claimants to the throne, himself included.

Richard Fitzalan, from Froissart Chronicles, Getty MS Ludwig xiii, fol.311v.

In almost total accord with Gloucester, Richard FitzAlan, 11th Earl of Arundel was a stout collaborator. He was an experienced, if unexceptional warrior and served under John of Gaunt, mostly as admiral. Although he won brief popularity by sharing a year’s worth of wine with all of England at rock-bottom prices (from 100 captured Flemish vessels), his brusque and overbearing personality made him few friends. From the beginning of Richard’s reign he was on the council of regency, and in 1381 he was appointed co-councilor in constant attendance upon the young king, ironically alongside his future victim Michael de la Pole. Although Richard warmed up to Michael he found Arundel detestable, which I suspect contributed to the crisis.

Thomas Beauchamp (Luminarium.org)

The third original Appellant was Thomas de Beauchamp, 12th Earl of Warwick. He was the son of the famous Thomas Beauchamp known for his bravery at Crecy and Poitiers. Rather mediocre and undistinguished, Thomas never lived up to his father’s reputation. But he was, after all, a noble from a great family and hence valuable as an ally. He pretty much went along with everything Gloucester said and didn’t rock the boat.

The three Appellants originally appealed five of Richard’s supporters: Michael de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk and chancellor of England, Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford and Richard’s closest friend, Robert Tresilian, Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, Sir Nicholas Brembre, wealthy London magnate and former Mayor, and Alexander Neville, Archbishop of York. After the Lords Appellant made their formal appeal, Richard arranged for Neville, de la Pole, and Tresilian to slip away, and secretly sent Robert de Vere to Cheshire to raise an army to defend him. Brembre stayed put, certain of his innocence, and sought to gain support in London for the king (he paid for that with his life).

Once the Appellants discovered that de Vere was putting together an army, the last two “junior” members came on board. Henry of Bolingbroke, Earl of Derby (son of John of Gaunt and the future Henry IV) posted himself at Radcot Bridge and succeeded in blocking de Vere from crossing the Thames; the royal army dispersed after a brief and pathetic battle and de Vere escaped over the Channel. Why did the non-political Bolingbroke join the Appellants? He later claimed he needed to protect this father’s interests. It’s also difficult to discover the motives of Thomas de Mowbray, Earl of Nottingham, 1st Duke of Norfolk (great-great grandson of Edward I and son-in-law to Arundel). He could have been driven by jealousy of Robert de Vere, who supplanted him in Richard’s esteem. His early friendship with the king had definitely cooled, especially after he married Arundel’s daughter; I imagine his father in-law put pressure on him to join the party of resistance. These last two Appellants tended to take a back seat, so to speak, and never wholeheartedly agreed with all the knavery that attended these trials. Nonetheless, they were committed and so the three became five.

Queen Anne Intercedes for Sir Simon Burley, from A Chronicle of England (Source: Wikimedia)

From besieging the king in the Tower of London to the Merciless Parliament of 1388, the Lords Appellant pursued a bloody campaign against the king’s supporters, culminating in the outrageous execution of Sir Simon Burley, Richard’s vice-chamberlain and lifelong mentor. (By then they had gone way beyond their initial condemnations.) Bolingbroke and Mowbray publicly objected to Burley’s conviction, as well as the Duke of York, Gloucester’s brother; even Queen Anne got on her knees and begged Gloucester for Burley’s life, to no avail. In the end, eight of Richard’s supporters were executed—for no good reason. Three more fled to permanent exile, and over forty others were ejected from court (some returned later as Richard took back his authority). The king was reduced to a figurehead and withdrew to lick his wounds. For one year the three original Appellants tried to run the government their way (Bolingbroke and Mowbray had lost interest by then), but it soon became obvious that they were doing no better than before. Worse, actually: it was under their watch that the disastrous Battle of Otterburn was lost and Henry Hotspur taken prisoner along with his brother Ralph. Their ransom was a huge hit to the already depleted exchequer, which had been obliged to pay the Lords Appellant 20,000 pounds to reimburse them “for their great expenses in procuring the salvation of the realm and the destruction of the traitors”.

When Richard declared his majority in 1389, he was able to take over and dismiss his enemies without a protest. But, though Richard was obliged to “forgive and forget” on the surface, in reality his anger festered for ten years until he was strong enough to wreak revenge on the men who humiliated him.

You can read more about the Lords Appellant in my novel A KING UNDER SIEGE.