CTV News Channel Interview: The Reburial of Richard III

The earliest surviving portrait of King Richard III

The earliest surviving portrait of King Richard III

Richard III will be reburied in Leicester Cathedral on March 26, after months of debate¬†concerning both his final resting place and the plans for the ceremony. On the CTV news channel, I discussed Richard III’s contentious reputation from Shakespeare to modern times, the controversy surrounding the funeral plans and what Richard III himself might have thought of the arrangements.

Click here to watch the interview, “Reburial of an English King”¬†on the CTV news channel.

Friday Royal Read: Edward II: The Unconventional King by Kathryn Warner

Edward II and Richard III, who will be laid to rest in Leicester Cathedral on March 26, have made a similar journey through popular culture. In both cases, the story of a flawed¬†monarch who lost his throne to an invading force inspired an Elizabethan playwright. Both¬†Richard III¬†by William Shakespeare and ¬†Edward II¬†by Christopher Marlowe created a received wisdom about their title characters that was accepted by the public¬†for centuries. Shakespeare’s Richard III was a hunchbacked villain who ruthlessly eliminated his family members and died offering his kingdom for a horse. Marlowe’s Edward II was foolish,¬†dominated by his male “minions,” and met a¬†gruesome end by being disemboweled with a red hot poker.

In the 20th century, popular perceptions of Richard III and Edward II diverged. The founding of the Richard III society in 1924 began the process of reevaluating Richard III’s reputation and Shakespeare’s portrayal has been thoroughly critiqued. The discovery of Richard III’s remains revived popular interest in the king’s reputation and there is now a range of more sympathetic portrayals of Richard in historical fiction and popular biography alike. In contrast, Marlowe’s portrayal of Edward II has become even more accepted and entrenched in popular culture. For example, the 1995 Oscar winning film Braveheart, portrayed the future Edward II as frivolous, focused entirely on his male favourites and easily cuckolded by his estranged wife.

In the foreward to Kathryn Warner’s book, Edward II: The Unconventional King, historian Ian¬†Mortimer observes that there is an “Edward II routine” accepted by the public and numerous historians. Warner, one of the foremost experts on Edward II, scrutinizes the accepted narrative of Edward II’s life and death, finding the complex historical figure behind the Elizabethan legend.

Warner demonstrates that while Edward II rarely an effective monarch, especially compared to his father, Edward I, and son, Edward III, he was a much more complicated figure than his depiction in popular culture. The strongest sections¬†of the book are Warner’s thoughtful revaluation of Edward II’s marriage to Isabelle of France. The match began badly with Edward ignoring his 12 year old wife to socialize with his favourite, Piers Gaveston, during the wedding celebrations, and ended badly with Isabelle overthrowing her husband with the help of her own favourite, Roger Mortimer. During the intervening years, however, Warner reveals an¬†effective working relationship between the king and queen with evidence that they cared for each others’ welfare. The existence of four children, all of whom were clearly fathered by Edward, is clear evidence that the royal couple were not estranged for their entire marriage as they are in Marlowe’s play.

I was not convinced by the final chapter of Edward II: The Unconventional King¬†on Edward II’s possible life in exile¬†after his presumed death in 1327. While accounts of Edward II’s death by red hot poker are as fictionalized as Richard III offering his kingdom for a horse at the Battle of Bosworth field, the possibility that Edward II managed to fake his own death and live out his life in obscurity seems unlikely. Edward II did not simply disappear in the manner of Richard III’s nephews, the Princes in the Tower, but had a funeral in Gloucester Abbey attended by dozens of people close to him. The existence of circumstantial evidence for Edward II’s survival, however, reveals that there remain unanswered questions about this controversial king. Like Richard III, Edward II continues to be a historical enigma with a contested reputation.

Next Week: Princes at War: The Bitter Battle Inside Britain’s Royal Family in the Darkest Days of WWII¬†by Deborah Cadbury

My latest Ottawa Citizen column: “The Queen’s reign doesn’t depend on Richard III’s DNA”

The earliest surviving portrait of King Richard III

The earliest surviving portrait of King Richard III

“The remains of King Richard III continue to yield new information about one of England‚Äôs most controversial kings and his family. DNA analysis reveals that Richard‚Äôs bones share mitochondrial DNA, which is passed through the female line with the Canadian Ibsen family, but there is no genetic match with his male line relatives. The release of these findings has prompted speculation about the Queen‚Äôs right to reign if there was a break in the main royal bloodline. The royal succession, however, was not always determined by seniority in the royal family….”

Click here to read the full column in the Ottawa Citizen: “The Queen’s Reign Doesn’t Depend on Richard III’s DNA”

Curious to learn more about the life and legacy of King Richard III? My University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies course “Richard III: Monstrous or Misunderstood?” begins January 7, 2015.¬†Click here to register!

Elizabeth of York: The First Tudor Queen by Alison Weir (Review)

King Henry VIII’s mother, Elizabeth of York, has emerged from the shadows. After decades of obscurity compared to her son’s six wives, Elizabeth is now the subject of popular biographies and historical novels alike including Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen by Amy License and The White Princess by Philippa Gregory. The England of Elizabeth’s lifetime has also captured the public’s imagination. The recent discovery of the remains of Elizabeth’s uncle, Richard III, has revived interest in the Battle of Bosworth Field where her future husband, Henry Tudor seized the crown and founded a new dynasty that united the Houses of Lancaster and York. In Elizabeth of York: The First Tudor Queen, Alison Weir, author of sixteen medieval and Tudor biographies and five historical novels tells the story of the first Tudor Queen and her tumultuous times.

Elizabeth was popular in her own lifetime and idealized by Victorian biographers because she appeared to be the ideal Tudor wife, mother and queen consort, providing quiet support and legitimacy for Henry VII’s rule. While source material concerning Elizabeth’s life, particularly before her marriage, is frustratingly incomplete compared to her more famous children and grandchildren, Weir emphasizes evidence that she exerted influence over her family and court. The “Song of Lady Bessy” imagined her actively plotting to place Henry Tudor on the throne and secure their marriage. Her account books as queen reveal her extensive charitable activities and court patronage. Elizabeth also worked with her powerful mother-in-law, Margaret Beaufort, to influence Henry VII’s policies, particularly the dynastic marriages of her children. There are a few places where speculation is presented as fact, most notably Weir’s controversial view that Elizabeth “was actively pushing” for a marriage to her uncle, Richard III, but most of the analysis of Elizabeth’s character is clearly supported by surviving source material.

In additional to revealing Elizabeth’s full role at the Tudor court, Weir provides an evocative portrait of her world. Elizabeth’s father, Edward IV, imitated the sumptuous display of the Burgundian court and the young princess therefore grew up in an atmosphere of great luxury. At the same time, the political circumstances of the Wars of the Roses made her position precarious. She experienced two periods of sanctuary in Westminster Abbey and was declared illegitimate by Richard III before becoming Henry VII’s queen. The disappearance of Elizabeth’s brothers, the Princes in the Tower, remains a mystery to the present day. Weir is critical of revisionist interpretations of Richard III’s reign and blames him for the death of his nephews, summarizing convincing evidence from her previous book,¬†The Princes in the Tower.

The second two thirds of the book is stronger than the first because there are more sources about Elizabeth’s time as a queen than a princess. The early chapters would benefit from a more thorough discussion of English attitudes toward female succession in the Middle Ages. Weir writes, “in the fifteenth century it would have been unthinkable for a woman to succeed to the throne” but there had actually been plenty of debate about women’s succession rights. William the Conqueror’s granddaughter, Matilda, briefly held power in 1141, during a Civil War with her cousin, King Stephen.

England explicitly upheld women’s succession rights during the reign of Edward III when a proposal to introduce a Salic law was defeated by parliament. The Wars of Roses resulted in both men and women losing succession rights that they would have enjoyed in peacetime. Outside England, there were prominent examples of female rulers in the fifteenth century including Queen Isabella of Castile and Mary, Duchess of Burgundy. A key reason why Henry Tudor was determined to marry Elizabeth, and there was speculation that Richard III contemplated marrying his niece, was because she was a rival claimant to the throne.

Elizabeth of York: The First Tudor Queen is a well written and interesting portrait of Elizabeth of York’s life and times. Weir captures the unique circumstances of Elizabeth’s world, which combined sumptuous display and deadly political intrigue. Greater attention to the medieval English debate over female succession would have made the narrative stronger, demonstrating how Elizabeth’s granddaughters, Mary I and Elizabeth I were able to establish themselves as England’s first undisputed female rulers.


Richard III’s Bones of Contention

While I was away on the Baltic Cruise these past couple weeks, my article about the remains of Richard III, “Richard III’s Bones of Contention” was published in the Kingston Whig-Standard on August 23. In this column, I compared the controversy surrounding Richard III to the excavation of the Romanov remains in the 1990s and the uncertainty regarding the last resting place of Tecumseh, the famous Shawnee general from the War of 1812.

Click here to read “Richard III’s Bones of Contention

Anne Neville: Richard III’s Tragic Queen by Amy Licence (Review)

Richard III, one of England’s most notorious Kings was married to Anne Neville, one of the most obscure Queens. Anne was a great heiress through both her father, Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick and her mother, Lady Anne de Beauchamp but her appearance and personality are virtually unknown. Playwrights and historical novelists from William Shakespeare to Philippa Gregory have stepped into the breach imagining a variety of responses by Anne to Richard III and his rise to power.

For Shakespeare, Anne was one more victim of Richard III’s tyranny. In Richard III, the hunchbacked King tells the audience, “I’ll marry Warwick’s youngest daughter./What, though I kill’d her husband and her father?” then makes clear that he will discard her once she has ceases to be of use to him. Jean Plaidy titled her novel about Anne Neville, The Reluctant Queen, presenting Anne as a retiring figure who preferred country life in the North of England to being Queen at Richard III’s court.

In The Sunne In Splendour: A Novel of Richard III, Sharon Kay Penman imagined Anne to be a gentle, romantic soul, devoted to Richard, her childhood sweetheart. The most recent novel about Anne Neville, The Kingmaker’s Daughter by Philippa Gregory presents a more assertive Anne, determined to escape her previous experiences as a political pawn by marriage to the future Richard III.

In Anne Neville: Richard III’s Tragic Queen, Amy License, author of In Bed with the Tudors, Royal Babies and Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Queen reveals just how much of these interpretations consists of pure speculation. There is no evidence that Anne was a victim, a romantic, a pawn or a reluctant queen. Instead, she may well have been Richard III’s Lady Macbeth, urging her husband to usurp to throne so that she could have the crown she had expected during her first marriage and revenge against the Woodvilles who had long been enemies of the Neville family.

One of the reasons why Richard III remains a controversial figure today is because his usurpation of his nephew Edward V’s throne appears out of character when compared to his years of loyal service to his elder brother, Edward IV. There is also little evidence of direct conflict between Richard and his sister-in-law’s family, the Woodvilles, before Edward V’s ascension. In contrast, Anne’s father, the Earl of Warwick opposed the marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville from the beginning and Elizabeth reputedly feared that the marriages of the Neville daughters to the King’s brothers would make Warwick too powerful and encouraged her husband to withhold his consent. Richard III’s motives may never be known with certainty but it is certainly possible that the rivalry between the Woodvilles and the Nevilles influenced his decision to seize power in 1483.

One of the most interesting sections of Licence’s book is her treatment of Anne’s short first marriage to Edward of Westminster, the only child of Henry VI and Marguerite of Anjou. Although Shakespeare imagined that Anne mourned her first husband, subsequent historians and novelists assumed that this young man who, according to one ambassador “already talks of nothing but cutting off heads or making war” must have been repugnant to her. License argues that Edward’s interest in warfare was perfectly in keeping with the times and Anne’s first marriage offered her a chance to wear a crown. Anne’s time as the daughter-in-law of the ruthless Marguerite, and her marriage to a direct heir to the throne may have influenced her subsequent ambitions for Richard.

In addition to her informed speculation about Anne’s marriages, motives and influence on Richard III, Licence also provides a rich social history of English noble life during the Wars of the Roses. The book contains images of the castles where Anne lived and detailed descriptions of the education and daily life of noblewomen of the period. License provides a particularly vivid description of Anne’s sister Isabel’s establishment as Duchess of Clarence, where Anne lived during her brief widowhood. There is not enough evidence to indicate whether Richard or Anne first raised the possibility of marriage but the setting of their courtship comes alive in License’s work.

Anne Neville: Richard III’s Tragic Queen is a fascinating reassessment of one of England’s most obscure Queens. License argues that historians, novelists and playwrights may have underestimated Anne by portraying her as a victim or pawn. At a time when royal women such as Elizabeth Woodville and Marguerite of Anjou exercised a profound influence over the course of the Wars of the Roses, Anne may have aspired to become queen and wield power through her husband. There is not enough evidence to determine the full extent of Anne’s influence over Richard III but she may well have been closely involved in his rise to power.

5 “Modern” Royal Parenting Trends That Are Actually Centuries Old

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in Ottawa for Canada Day in 2011

With the Duchess of Cambridge – better known as Kate Middleton – in her third trimester, there is intense speculation about the arrangements for the birth of the royal baby and the choices the royal couple will make as parents. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are known for combining their own innovations with royal traditions. For example, they were married in Westminster Abbey, where the weddings of the future Elizabeth II and George VI took place, but they introduced a charity gift registry and English field maple trees to decorate the aisle.

There is every reason to assume that the royal couple will adopt a similar blend of tradition and modernity in their approach to parenting. Nevertheless, a number of recent articles about royal parenting have assumed that since William and Catherine are a modern, twenty-first century royal couple, every single decision they plan to make as parents is either their own innovation or was introduced into the royal family by Princess Diana. These assumptions ignore the long history of royal parenting . I explained in a previous post that a number of royal parenting innovations attributed to Princess Diana are actually revivals of nineteenth century practices.

The Prince and Princess of Wales and Prince William

Despite clear evidence of nurturing royal parenting before Princess Diana, there a number of royal commentators who credit the late Princess of Wales with introducing “modern” royal parenting trends that were supposedly unknown to previous royal mothers.

A recent article by Rob Wallace of ABC news incorrectly claimed that Princess Diana was the first royal mother to breastfeed, allow her children to socialize with non-royalty and take her infant on an overseas tour. Another article published this month erroneously states that Prince William plans to “break with tradition” and become the first royal father in the delivery room.

There are numerous supposedly “modern” royal parenting trends that are actually centuries old and certainly long predate either the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge or Princess Diana. Here are 5 examples:

Crown Princess Victoria of Prussia, Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter

1) Breastfeeding The stereotype about royal mothers before Diana is that they handed their infants over to a wet nurse at birth. Royal commentators often cite Queen Victoria’s distaste for breastfeeding as evidence that royal mothers before Diana did not nurse their own children. The reason we know so much about Victoria’s views on¬† breastfeeding, however, is because her daughters ignored her advice on this matter and nursed their own children.

When Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, Crown Princess Victoria of Prussia, known as “Vicky” to her family, began nursing her own children, the Queen wrote a disapproving letter on the subject to her own half-sister, Princess Feodora of Leningen. The reply demonstrated that Queen Victoria’s distaste for breastfeeding was far from universal in royal circles, even in the nineteenth century. Feodora wrote, “I am sorry to find that Vicky’s determination to nurse makes you so angry…the Queen of Prussia feels the same as you. I have no opinion…as I have always felt it a duty for a mother to nurse a child if she can and if the doctors approve (See Hannah Pakula, An Uncommon Woman, p. 215).”

Albert, the Prince Consort in 1860

2) Royal Fathers in the Delivery Room Queen Victoria may have disapproved of breastfeeding but she was more than willing to break with tradition by having her husband, Prince Albert by her side for the births of her children. Childbirth unsettled the Queen, who owed her crown to the death of her cousin, Princess Charlotte, following the birth of a stillborn son.

The Queen described Albert’s presence at the birth of her eldest daughter, Vicky, in her 1840 journal, The Queen recorded, ‚ÄúJust before the early hours of the morning of the 21st I felt again very uncomfortable & with difficulty aroused Albert . . .Tried to get to sleep again, but by 4, I got very bad & both the Doctors arrived. My beloved Albert was so dear and kind. . . Dearest Albert hardly left me at all, & was the greatest support and comfort (Reprinted in Hannah Pakula, An Uncommon Woman, p. 27-28).” When William was born in 1982, Charles followed Albert’s example and was present for Diana’s entire 16 hour labour.

Ten month old Grand Duchess Olga meeting her great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, in 1896 as part of her parents’s coronation tour of Europe

3) Royal Babies on Tour Long before Diana insisted that the infant William accompany his parents on a tour of Australia in 1983, Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, the Empress Alexandra of Russia and her husband, Czar Nicholas II traveled with their ten month old daughter, Grand Duchess Olga, on their 1896 coronation tour of Europe. Nicholas II wrote to his brother, Grand Duke Georgy, after his coronation, ‚ÄúThis year seems to be a year of hard labour with Alix and me as the martyrs: Moscow in the Spring, and now soon all these intolerable foreign visits. First of all we are going to Austria, then Kiev, Germany, Denmark, England, France and finally Darmstadt . . .On top of it, we shall have to drag our poor little daughter with us, as all the relatives want to see her. I can imagine what the French will get up to in Paris ‚Äď maybe they really will rename her Napoleondra, or something like it! (Translated and Reprinted in Maylunas and Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion, p. 151).” Like Nicholas II, Diana discovered that a royal tour with an infant was difficult and William remained in the United Kingdom when the Prince and Princess of Wales visited Canada later in 1983.

Elizabeth Woodville, consort to King Edward IV

4) Involvement of Non-Royal Grandparents in a Royal Baby’s Upbringing The Duchess of Cambridge’s mother, Carole Middleton, has received extensive scrutiny from the British press for her rumoured plan to live with her daughter for the weeks following the royal baby’s birth. In past centuries, British royalty often married foreign royalty, circumstances that frequently prevented royal children from having a close relationship with their maternal grandparents. When monarchs of England or Scotland married members of the nobility, however, the queen consort’s family were closely involved in the upbringing of the royal children.

For example, when King Edward IV’s consort, Elizabeth Woodville, went into labour with her first child, Elizabeth of York, in 1466, the new baby’s maternal grandmother, Jacquetta Woodville, and maternal aunts were present. One of the reasons Richard III seized the throne from Edward IV’s and Elizabeth Woodville’s son Edward V in 1483 was to protect his own interests because he feared young Edward was too much under the influence of his Woodville relatives. For more information about the role of the Woodvilles in the upbringing of Edward IV’s children, see Amy Licence’s biography of Elizabeth of York.

The earliest surviving portrait of King Richard III

5) Royal Children Experiencing Life Outside Palace Walls

Richard III’s own upbringing was a classic example of a royal child living and learning alongside non-royal peers centuries before¬† Diana sent William to kindergarten. During the Middle Ages, children of English, Welsh and Scottish royalty often spent part of their childhood in a noble household, socializing with young people outside the royal family and receiving their education in a group setting.

The future King Richard III spent part of his childhood in the household of Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick, where he met his lifelong friend, Francis Lovell, and future wife, Anne Neville. In Warwick’s household, young Richard learned the techniques of medieval warfare alongside other boys from the English nobility. The pressure to match the abilities of his peers may have helped the future King to master horseback riding and the heavy medieval broadsword in spite of his scoliosis. For more information about the childhood of Richard III, see David Baldwin’s biography of the controversial King.

The Tudor Book Reviews 12: Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen by Amy Licence

Elizabeth of York, consort of the founder of the Tudor dynasty, King Henry VII, is the least well known of the Tudor Queens. Both Henry and Elizabeth have been reduced to one dimensional stereotypes in the popular imagination: Henry the miser and Elizabeth the dutiful wife and mother whose image is the model for the queen on playing cards. In contrast, their son Henry VIII has been the subject of both scholarly analysis and popular biographies, which scrutinize all the known evidence concerning his personality, religious reforms, cultural patronage and his famous marriages.

Henry VIII’s six wives, Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr are the subjects of individual and collective studies that discuss them as private women and as queens. Many of Elizabeth of York’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren, such as Queen Mary I, Elizabeth I, Lady Jane Grey and Mary, Queen of Scots are iconic figures in their own right. In Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen, Amy Licence, author of Anne Neville: Richard III’s Tragic Queen and In Bed with the Tudors brings the first Tudor queen out of obscurity, looking at Henry VII’s consort within the context of her times and discussing her role in establishing the legitimacy of the Tudor dynasty.

Throughout Elizabeth of York, Licence emphasizes the importance of viewing the Plantagenet princess and Tudor queen through the worldview of the late 15th century. Recent historical fiction featuring Elizabeth has speculated that the young princess was attracted to the power and personality of her uncle, Richard III, on the basis of an incomplete and no longer extant letter than might refer to any number of marriage plans for the King’s niece. Earlier speculation concerning Elizabeth imagined a romance with the future Henry VII, although it is unlikely that they met before he became King and their marriage was a foregone conclusion.

Licence reminds her readers that romance would have had little influence on Elizabeth’s choices or the choices that were made for her. As the eldest daughter of King Edward IV, her duty was to make a royal marriage that advanced the interests of her family. Once her Uncle, Richard III, seized the English throne in 1483, all Edward IV’s children were declared illegitimate and her brothers, the famous “Princes in the Tower” disappeared, it became all the more important that Elizabeth devote herself to restoring the fortunes of her mother and sisters. Drawing on scholarly studies such as Elizabeth of Yorkby Arlene Naylor Okerlund, Licence speculates that the princess may have served as a kind of spy for her mother, Elizabeth Woodville and future mother-in-law, Margaret Beaufort at the court of Richard III.

Licence’s discussion of the culture of late 15th century suggests some revealing conclusions about the major figures in Elizabeth’s life. The marriage between her parents, Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, took place in secret on the May Day, when the boundaries within the social hierarchy were temporarily set aside. The timing, secrecy and Edward IV’s rumoured history of going through some form of marriage with women who resisted his advances suggests that he may have planned initially to repudiate the union. Licence also looks at Richard III’s reputation during his reign, before the Tudors came to power, highlighting evidence that he was already rumoured to have murdered his nephews before he was killed at the Battle of Bosworth field in 1485.

The final chapter of Elizabeth of York is the strongest because the best documented year of the Queen’s life was the last one before she died of childbirth in 1503¬† at the age of 37. Elizabeth’s accounts in the last year of her life reveal an active queen consort whose reputation for charity and intercession tempered Henry VII’s perceived severity and frugality. Records of her religious donations and pilgrimages reveal a strong identification with the Virgin Mary as an intercessor and bereaved mother. Elizabeth’s devotions increased after the death of her eldest son Arthur and she and Henry VII appear to have been particularly united in the aftermath of this family tragedy.

As Queen, Elizabeth of York is less well documented than future generations of Tudor women but Amy Licence reveals hints of the personality behind the illustration on playing cards to a broad popular audience in Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen. Elizabeth’s Yorkist ancestry, popularity with the English people and intercessory activities were crucial to establishing the Tudors as a legitimate dynasty during the reign of Henry VII>

The Medieval Book Reviews 7: Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses by Sarah Gristwood

The Wars of the Roses or “The Cousins Wars” as they were known in the fifteenth century are a difficult period for any historian. The Latin monastic chronicles that described the main events of the Middle Ages were going out of style at this time and England did not yet have a strong tradition of secular historical writing. The surviving primary sources often contradict one another, resulting in wildly different interpretations of the same historical figures.

The current controversy about whether King Richard III was an honorable Prince who assumed the throne in 1483 for the good of England or a power hungry usurper who ordered the murder of his nephews may never be resolved because of the absence of key sources. The lives of the mothers, wives and daughters of the Princes who fought in the Wars of the Roses are even more difficult to reconstruct. In Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses, Sarah Gristwood, a journalist and author of Elizabeth & Leicester and Arbella: England’s Lost Queen pieces together both the political role of the women of the Wars of the Roses and the social history of women at court in fifteenth century England.

Gristwood looks at seven pivotal figures from Henry VI’s coming of age in 1437 to the ascension of Henry VIII in 1509. Henry VI’s wife Marguerite of Anjou came from a family of powerful Queens and noblewomen. Marguerite’s grandmother Yolande of Aragon, was a patron of Joan of Arc who influenced King Charles VII of France’s rise to power during the Hundred Years War. When Henry VI developed what would now be diagnosed as catatonic schizophrenia, Marguerite assumed a leadership role at his court but discovered that the English were hostile to foreign queens assuming power.

Cecily Neville was the matriarch of the House of York, wife of Richard, Duke of York and mother of King Edward IV and King Richard III. Despite her influence over her husband and sons and connections to other powerful figures of the period, she has never been the subject of a full biography. Cecily’s youngest daughter, Margaret of York, supported the her family’s ambitions from Burgundy. Her support for Yorkist claimants to the English throne threatened the legitimacy of Margaret Beaufort’s son, Henry VII. Margaret Beaufort was a senior member of the House of Lancaster in England. Following the birth of her son, Henry Tudor, at the age of thirteen, she was unable to have more children and became fiercely ambitious for her only child.

Elizabeth Woodville was an unlikely Queen of England, a Lancastrian widow with two sons who caught the eye of Edward IV. Gristwood reminds her readers that Elizabeth Woodville was not simply a commoner who had married above her station but a descendant of the ruling House of Luxembourg through her mother. The favour shown to her numerous relatives at court alienated Edward IV’s supporters including Anne Neville’s father, the Earl of Warwick. Despite first marrying Marguerite of Anjou’s only son Edward then becoming the consort of Richard III, Anne is the most under-documented figure in Gristwood’s book. Gristwood speculates that she was politically marginalized by Richard III, who assumed control over her extensive lands in the North of England.

Following the Battle of Bosworth field in 1485, the Houses of Lancaster and York were united through the wedding of Henry VII to Edward IV’s daughter Elizabeth of York. The first Tudor queen is often assumed to have been a passive figure but Gristwood analyzes evidence that Elizabeth had been raised to become a queen and attempted to shape her own destiny at the court of Richard III. Elizabeth of York appears to have exerted a profound a influence on her daughters, Queen Margaret of Scotland and Queen Mary of France and her younger son, King Henry VIII.

Through her comparative study of the seven most prominent women of the Wars of the Roses, Gristwood reveals the abrupt changes in the fortune that were typical for royal and aristocratic families of the period. Cecily Neville narrowly missed her opportunity to become queen when her husband Richard of York was killed in battle. Elizabeth Woodville’s eldest son was born in sanctuary but she regained her throne when Edward IV triumphed over Marguerite of Anjou. Margaret Beaufort was accused of treason during the reign of Richard III then became a respected councillor to her son, Henry VII.

Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses is a fascinating joint biography of seven of the most prominent women in fifteenth century England. Gristwood makes excellent use of the limited source material about the women behind the conflict that defined the last decades of Plantagenet rule in England. The leadership roles assumed by the wives, mother and daughters of England’s last Plantagenet Kings set precedents for the famous reigning queens of the Tudor dynasty, Mary I and Elizabeth I.

The Richard III Funeral Controversy and 5 Unknown Royal Grave Sites

The earliest surviving portrait of Richard III

The controversy surrounding the burial of Richard III, whose remains were discovered last year in a Leicester parking lot, continues this week as fifteen surviving descendants of the King’s relatives threaten legal action if the King is not buried in York Minster cathedral. The University of Leicester responded to the members of the Plantagenet Alliance on March 26, stating in a press release, “The plan for re-interment in Leicester Cathedral was clearly stated and unambiguous at the start of the project and announced in a statement on Friday 24 August 2012. This was before the dig started.”

Leicester Cathedral has faced criticism in recent weeks for planning a plain stone stab as a memorial for Richard III instead of the elaborate tomb designed by members of the Richard III society.  The nature of the planned funeral service has also received scrutiny because Leicester Cathedral is a Church of England place of worship but the King reigned before the Protestant Reformation and would have worshipped according to Roman Catholic rites.

The Russian Imperial family in 1913

The debate concerning the funeral of Richard III may appear unique but it has much in common with the controversies that surrounded the excavation and reburial of Emperor Nicholas II of Russia, his wife Alexandra, their five children and four of their servants during the 1990s. Russia’s Imperial capital, St. Petersburg, its current capital, Moscow, and the location of the family’s 1918 murder, Yekaterinburg were all potential locations for the reburial of the remains. Russia’s last Imperial family were ultimately laid to rest in the Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg, which is the burial place of all but two Russian rulers since the reign of Peter the Great.

Richard III’s funeral may set precedents governing the discovery and reburial of other lost royal remains in the British Isles. There are numerous prominent royal personages who still do not have a known grave for numerous reasons including the dissolution of the English monasteries during the reign of Henry VIII, disgrace at the time of death or even rumours of survival at the time of the official funeral.

Portrait of the Princes in the Tower, Kind Edward V and Richard, Duke of York by Paul Delaroche

Here are 5 Examples of Unknown or Contested Royal Grave Sites in the British Isles:

1) The Princes in the Tower The deposed King Edward V and his brother, Richard, Duke of York disappeared in 1483, after their uncle, Richard III, seized the throne and confined them to the Tower of London. In 1674, a box containing the skeletons of two children was discovered near the White Tower. King Charles II interred the remains in an urn in Westminster Abbey. The remains were last analyzed in 1933, before the advent of DNA analysis, which made it impossible to confirm that the remains were actually those of the Princes of the Tower. The 2012 discovery of Richard III revived popular interest in modern analysis of the bones in the urn but both Westminster Abbey and Queen Elizabeth II have refused permission for further study of the alleged remains of the Princes in the Tower. Further Reading: Alison Weir, The Princes in the Tower

Statue of Alfred the Great in Winchester

2) Alfred the Great The famous Saxon King died in 899 after a long and painful illness that may have been Crohn’s Disease. Alfred, his wife Ealhswith, and son, Edward the Elder were originally buried in the Old Minster of Winchester Cathedral then moved to the New Minster. When the monks moved to Hyde Abbey in 1110, they took the royal remains with them where they remained until the Abbey was demolished on the orders of King Henry VIII in 1539. By the time a prison was constructed on the Hyde Abbey site in the eighteenth century, the bones were lost. Stone coffins inscribed with the names of Alfred, Ealhswith and Edward were discovered recently but they were empty, suggesting that the monks moved the royal remains before the dissolution of the monasteries. In 2013, archaeologists exhumed an unmarked grave in St Bartholomew’s Church, Winchester. Researchers from the University of Winchester are currently seeking permission to analyze these remains, which may be those of the long lost Alfred the Great. Further Reading: Benjamin Mekkle, The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the Great

“Boadicea Haranguing the Britons” by John Opie

3) Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni The Celtic Queen fought her last battle against the Romans in 60 or 61 AD and is believed to have committed suicide following her defeat to avoid being paraded in a Roman Triumph. The precise location of the battle and the Queen’s final resting place in unknown. King’s Cross railway station in London is located on the site of a village known as “Battle Bridge” near the site of an ancient crossing of the River Fleet. According to legend, Boudicca fought her last stand on this location and was buried in the area. There is speculation that Boudicca’s tomb may be located under platform 8,9 or 10 at King’s Cross railway station. There is not currently sufficient evidence to merit an excavation of King’s Cross station. Further Reading: Marguerite Johnson, Boudicca

4) Simon de Montfort King Henry III’s brother-in-law, Simon de Montfort was killed at the Battle of Evesham during the Second Barons War in 1265. Montfort seized control of the government after defeating Henry III at the Battle of Lewes in 1264 and taking the King and his heir prisoner. During his year in power, Montfort pioneered representative government, summoning elected representatives from the counties for a 1265 parliament at Westminster. Henry III’s son, the future Edward I, escaped in 1265 and raised a 10,000 man army that defeated Montfort’s 5,000 supporters at Evesham. Monfort’s remains were mutilated on the battlefield and displayed in various regions of England before being buried at Evesham Abbey. Henry III was dismayed by the number of pilgrims who visited Montfort’s grave and ordered the remains to be removed to an unknown location on the Abbey grounds. Evesham Abbey was almost entirely destroyed in 1540, during the dissolution of the monasteries. Further Reading: J. R. Maddicott, Simon de Montfort

Edward II receiving the English Crown

5) Edward II King Edward II was deposed by his wife, Queen Isabella and her lover, Roger Mortimer in 1327. The former King was imprisoned in Berkeley Castle while Isabella and Mortimer governed on behalf of his young son, Edward III. There were rumours that Edward II was quietly smothered in prison later in 1327. Isabella held a public funeral for her late husband in Gloucester Cathedral that same year. In his 1592 play Edward II, Christopher Marlowe popularized a more brutal legend about the King’s passing by having Mortimer’s agents come onstage with a table and a red hot poker and one of murderers declare, “So, lay the table down, and stamp on it/But not too hard lest that you bruise his body.”

Despite the funeral and the legends surrounding Edward II’s manner of death, Edward III’s biographer, Ian Mortimer has discovered evidence that the deposed King may have escaped from Berkeley Castle and lived out his natural life in retirement in Italy. In this hypothesis, Edward II exchanged clothing with a servant who closely resembled him and left Berkeley Castle for Ireland and, ultimately, Italy. The unlucky servant was murdered and buried in Gloucester Cathedral. Mortimer’s theory has been contested by other scholars of Edward II’s life and death. For further Reading on Edward II’s reign, see Seymour Phillips, Edward II