Interviews about Richard III on CTV News Channel, CBC Toronto and and Global News

I will be discussing the authentication of King Richard III’s remains on the CTV news channel today (February 4, 2013) at 1:10pm EST and on the Global News Hour at 5:30pm EST today (February 4) and on CBC News Toronto at 5:55pm EST today.

Tomorrow (February 5), I will be interviewed on Global News Regina at 8:10am EST.

Click here to watch the Global News Interview about Richard III

The Medieval Book Reviews 6: Margaret of York: The Diabolical Duchess by Christine Weightman

The last reigning generation of the House of York was not treated kindly by Tudor chroniclers. King Edward IV’s relations with women threatened the stability of his dynasty as his supposed pre contract with Eleanor Butler allowed his brother Richard III to argue that his children with his Queen, Elizabeth Woodville, were illegitimate. George, Duke of Clarence was the incautious opportunist who may have ended his days drowned in a barrel of Malmsey wine for conspiring against King Edward. Richard III was immortalized by Shakespeare as a usurper responsible for the deaths of his relatives. Their sister, Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy was “the diabolical duchess,” believed to have supported the claims of various Yorkist pretenders as part of a personal vendetta. While Richard III’s villainous reputation has been contested by revisionist historians and an entire Richard III society, the characterization of Margaret as a scheming “diabolical duchess” continues to appear to both factual accounts of the reign of King Henry VII and historical fiction about Perkin Warbeck and Lambert Simnel, the Yorkist pretenders. In Margaret of York, Christine Weightman presents “the diabolical duchess” as a multidimensional stateswoman, who had sound political and economic reasons to support attempts to overthrow Henry VII and his Tudor dynasty.

Margaret of York begins with the most significant event in the Princess’s life, her lavish wedding to Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy in Bruges, in 1468. Charles and Margaret presided over the most opulent wedding celebrations of the fifteenth century with days of tournaments and banquets that symbolized both the apparent stability of the Yorkist dynasty and the immense wealth of the Dukes of Burgundy, who controlled access the valuable trading centres of the Low Countries. The wedding received particular attention in England because dynastic marriages with foreign royalty were comparatively uncommon during the Wars of the Roses. Both of Margaret’s elder sisters, Elizabeth and Anne, married English noblemen to increase the domestic resources of the House of York during its hostilities against the House of Lancaster.

Weightman’s decision to begin her biography of Margaret with her wedding then look backwards at her youth is astute because childhood, particularly that of women, was of little interest to medieval writers. Nevertheless, the common childhood experiences of George, Duke of Clarence, Margaret of York and the future Richard III appear to have had a profound impact on their future approach to the politics. These three youngest children of Richard, Duke of York and Cecily Neville were still residing with their parents when their family incurred the displeasure of Henry VI’s ambitious consort, Margaret of Anjou and witnessed the most desperate moments in their family’s political fortunes.

In contrast to the Duke and Duchess of York, who appear to have lost significant revenues from indifferent management of their lands and estates, George, Margaret and Richard all grew up to be fiercely protective of their economic and political interests. David Baldwin recently speculated that Richard III was determined to do anything, even overthrow and possibly murder his own nephews, to avoid experiencing the instability of his youth again. Weightman’s portrayal of Margaret suggests that was similarly preoccupied with her wealth and political power.

Margaret of York at the time of her wedding to Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy in 1468.

The position of Duchess of Burgundy provided the capable Margaret with an outlet for her abilities as a diplomat and stateswomen. She appears to have had a strong relationship with her husband and her stepdaughter, Mary the Rich, heiress to Burgundy and been instrumental in the arrangement of the happy and politically significant marriage of Mary and Archduke Maximilian, heir to the Holy Roman Empire. (Those following this weekend’s wedding of Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume of Luxembourg to Countess Stephanie Lannoy of Belgium may be interested to know the wedding of Maximilian to Mary prevented modern day Belgium from being absorbed into France.) At the same time, Margaret enjoyed English revenues and trading interests, which came to an abrupt end when Henry Tudor defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth field in 1485.

Weightman’s Margaret of York was therefore not consumed by a personal vendetta against the Tudors but economic and political grievances. King Henry had terminated her English income and pursued a French alliance that threatened the interests of her Hapsburg step-grandchildren. Margaret’s support for the Yorkist claimants significantly coincided with Henry VII’s diplomatic overtures toward France, asserting Maximilian’s interests as well as her own.

Margaret of York is a fascinating study of one of the most significant political figures in fifteenth century Europe. Christine Weightman’s research and analysis rescues “the diabolical duchess” from the one dimensional portrayals of Tudor chronicles and reveals a multifaceted princess, determined to protect the interests of herself and her family in the uncertain world of late medieval Europe.

Royals on the Battlefield: Prince Harry Returns to Afghanistan

Prince Harry on Parade as Officer Cadet Wales at Sandhurst in 2005.

Prince Harry returned to active service in Afghanistan this morning. In contrast to his previous overseas tour of duty, as an Forward Air Controller in Helmand Province in 2008, the media has been informed of the Prince’s activities. In his new role as a co-pilot gunner of an Apache helicopter, he will not be recognizable to his opponents. Harry’s missions as an Apache pilot will include supporting ground troops under attack from Taliban insurgents and providing an escort for aircraft transporting troops or equipment. The technology in the Apache helicopters may be twenty-first century but Prince Harry’s presence in Afghanistan is part of a royal tradition of military leadership that dates back to the origins of monarchy in the British Isles.

Statue of Alfred the Great in Winchester erected a thousand years after his death

The Saxon Kings of what is now England in the Early Middle Ages were primarily war leaders whose goal was the defence of their kingdoms from Viking invasions. Even Alfred the Great (r. 871-899), famous for his endowments of monasteries and other places of learning was only able to act as a cultural patron after he had successfully defeated King Guthrum of the Danish Vikings in 880 and united the Saxon kingdoms under his rule. Saxon Kings who were unwilling face their responsibilities as war leaders such as Aethelred the Unready (r. 978-1013 and 1014-1016), who preferred to pay tribute to the Danes, lost their legitimacy as monarchs.

The importance of the King as a war leader superseded all other considerations regarding the English royal succession in the early Middle Ages. The Battle of Hastings in 1066 reflected eleventh century attitudes toward kingship as a military vocation. Under modern succession law, neither William, Duke of Normandy nor Harold Godwinson would be considered a suitable heir to King Edward the Confessor. Harold was Edward’s brother-in-law and William was a second cousin born out of wedlock. Edward’s closest living relative, Edgar the Aetheling, however, was only in his early teens in 1066, too young to serve as an effective war leader. William became the first Norman King of England because of his prowess on the battlefield.

The Gatehouse of Battle Abbey, commissioned by William I to celebrate his victory against Harold II at the Battle of Hastings.

The expectation that the King would serve as a military commander also created barriers to female succession. When William I’s youngest son, Henry I died in 1135, his only surviving child, Matilda was unable to travel to Westminster to claim the throne in person because she was pregnant with her youngest son. When her cousin Stephen was acclaimed King, Matilda had to appoint a military leader, her half brother Robert of Gloucester, to defend her rights because she could not take the field on her own behalf. Stephen ultimately ended the conflict by leaving his throne to Matilda’s eldest son, the future Henry II.

Statue of Richard I outside the Houses of Parliament at Westminster

In the High Middle Ages, Kings of England proved their military valour through participation in the Crusades and later, the Wars of the Roses. King Richard I, “The Lionhearted” achieved victories in the Third Crusade (1189-1192) and the future Edward I was wounded by an assassin during the Ninth Crusade (1271-1272). Edward’s injury and the news that he had succeeded to the English throne ended the last period of English royal military service in the Middle East until Prince Harry’s 2008 Tour of Duty. Edward continued his military leadership as King, defeating Llywelyn the Last, Prince of Wales in 1282 and earning a reputation as “The Hammer of the Scots.”

During the Wars of the Roses in the fifteenth century, success on the battlefield once again determined a King’s legitimacy. Richard II and Henry VI lost their thrones because they were unable or unwilling to fight for their thrones while Henry V and Edward IV gained popular acclaim for their prowess on the battlefield. When Henry VII defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth field in 1485, he significantly claimed the throne by right of conquest rather than by his marriage to Richard’s niece, Elizabeth of York.

Portrait of Elizabeth I commemorating the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588

Although the ascension of the Tudor dynasty appeared to ensure a more stable line of succession, the fortunes of sixteenth and seventeenth centuries monarchs continued to rise and fall on the battlefield. In 1553, Queen Mary I secured her claim to the throne by raising a military force that successfully challenged the powerful supporters of her cousin, Lady Jane Grey. The circumstances of Mary’s ascension and the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 proved that female rulers could preside over the successful military campaigns that ensured a monarch’s legitimacy. During the War of the Spanish Succession in the early eighteenth century, Queen Anne would receive popular acclaim because of the victories of her appointed general, John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough.

Portrait of King George II at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743.

In the seventeenth century, Charles I would lose his throne when he was defeated during the English Civil Wars of the 1640s and both Charles II and William III would assemble invading forces in an attempt to secure their succession to the English and Scottish thrones from continental Europe. The last British monarch to personally lead his troops into battle was King George II, who participated in the Battle of Dettingen in the War of the Austrian Succession in 1743, an event that inspired George Frederick Handel’s Te Deum.

The tradition of royal military service in the British Isles continued long after the reign of George II. While the monarch and his direct heirs no longer directly participated in military engagements, younger sons within the royal family often pursued careers in the armed forces. Queen Victoria’s third son, Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught served as a Lieutenant for forty years in various parts of the British Empire. As second sons, both King George V and King George VI had naval careers before ascending to the throne. Prince Harry’s uncle, Prince Andrew served as a Sea King helicopter co-pliot during the Falklands War in 1982-1893. Prince Harry’s second tour of duty in Afghanistan is part of a centuries long tradition of royal military service that shaped the course of England’s thousand year old monarchy.


The Tudor Book Reviews 6: The Last Plantagenet Consorts: Gender, Genre and Historiography 1440-1627 by Kavita Mudan Finn

England’s royal consorts during the Wars of the Roses are shadowy, controversial figures. The literary sources describing the activities of Henry VI’s consort, Margaret of Anjou, Edward IV’s and Richard III’s mother, Cecily Neville, Edward IV’s queen, Elizabeth Woodville, Richard III’s wife, Anne Neville and the first Tudor queen, Elizabeth of York, are often contradictory, leaving the true significance of these royal ladies open to interpretation.

The shifting fortunes of these royal women during the political turbulence have inspired centuries of literary interpretation from Shakespeare’s history plays to present day Philippa Gregory novels. In The Last Plantagenet Consorts: Gender, Genre, and Historiography, 1440-1627, Kavita Mudan Finn looks at the mythology around these figures that emerged from the literary sources, showing how Tudor and Jacobean authors viewed Plantagenet queens.

Recent trends in historical analysis of the last Plantagenet queens include separating fact from fiction in the often contradictory source material, rehabilitating those royal women who appear to be victims of Tudor propaganda, and extrapolating instances of female political agency to demonstrate the historical significance of Lancastrian and Yorkist royal ladies. The most recent scholarly biographies of queens actives during the Wars of the Roses, Arlene Okerlund’s Elizabeth of York and Michael Hicks’s Anne Neville: Queen to Richard III both incorporate these approaches into their works. Mudan Finn, takes a different approach in The Last Plantagenet Consorts, looking at the texts themselves instead of the women discussed within them.

The actual events of the last Plantagenet queens’ lives are only one element of the fifteenth and sixteenth century texts that shape modern understanding of royal women during the Wars of the Roses. Polydore Vergil’s Anglica Historica, Thomas More’s History of King Richard III and Shakespeare’s history plays all employ the literary techniques of the period and existing precedents for discussing queens consort. In successive chronicles and literary interpretations, the widowed Elizabeth Woodville appears to be the heroine of a romance, catching the eye of King Edward IV as she stands beside the road, waiting the ask the King for assistance for herself and her two sons. Both Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret of Anjou also appear as tragic queens in certain chronicles, appearing to achieve their political ambitions before losing everything, including their beloved sons and heirs.

Tudor anxieties about women, royal favourites and court factions also influenced the development of popular attitudes toward the last Plantagenet queens. The Wars of the Roses were a period when Kings appeared to rise and fall according to the political agendas of prominent members of the nobility, including royal women. One of the reasons why chronicles pertaining to Henry VII’s consort, Elizabeth of York, emphasize her feminine virtues instead of her superior claim to the throne was the Tudor anxiety about powerful royal women causing political instability and undermining the authority of the monarch. In common with the Shakespearean portrayal of Richard III, the most well known portrayals of queenship during the Wars of the Roses reflect the Tudor consolidation of royal authority.

Mudan Finn’s study ends in 1627, during the first years of the reign of Charles I, with analysis of Michael Drayton’s poem, “The Miseries of Queen Marguerite.” With Charles I’s marriage to King Louis XIII’s sister, Henrietta Maria of France, there was once again a French queen consort in England and the precedents set by Margaret of Anjou were relevant to the Stuart court. I would have been interested to read Kavita Finn’s insights on depictions of the last Plantagenet queens during the English Civil Wars of the 1640s. As Henrietta Maria became actively involved in the royalist cause, her activities were compared to those of Margaret of Anjou during the Wars of the Roses.

In  The Last Plantagenet Consorts, Kavita Mudan Finn combines historical scholarship, literary analysis and gender study to look at the construction of narratives about royal ladies during the Wars of the Roses. The established medieval literary genres of romance and tragedy as well as Tudor anxieties about royal favourites shaped the chronicles that continue to influence modern views of England’s last medieval queens.

The Medieval Book Reviews 4: Richard III: A Life by David Baldwin

In 1525, King Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, met with the mayor and prominent citizens of London to request that they provide “a benevolence” of money for their monarch. One of the citizens replied that a statute passed by King Richard III made any form of taxation without the consent of parliament illegal.This statute would have profound implications for subsequent historical events including the English Civil Wars and the American Revolution.

After thirty years of Tudor propaganda designed to blacken the late King Richard III’s reputation, Cardinal Wolsey was incredulous that anyone would use the last Plantagenet King’s legislation to support his argument. Wolsey declared to the assembled Londoners, “I marvel that you speak of Richard the third, which was a usurper and murderer of his own nephews. Then of so evil a man, how can the acts be good? Make no such allegations; his acts be not honourable.”

The irate citizen continued to challenge the Cardinal, stating, “And it please your Grace, although he did evil, yet in his time were many good acts made, not by him only, but by the consent of the body of the whole realm, which is the Parliament.” This interpretation of Richard III’s life and reign mirrors David Baldwin’s approach to the often contradictory and fragmentary sources concerning one of England’s most controversial monarchs. Richard III: A Life analyzes the King within the context of his times, presenting the monarch as a complex figure, whose character was shaped by the violent and uncertain circumstances of the Wars of the Roses. Baldwin is the author of numerous works of English medieval history including Elizabeth Woodville: Mother of the Princes in the Tower and Robin Hood: The English Outlaw Unmasked and applies his vast knowledge of the period to his assessment of Richard III.

Popular portrayals of Richard III contain little nuance, presenting the King as either the straightforward villain described by Cardinal Wolsey or the innocent victim of Tudor libel. In William Shakespeare’s famous play, the King is presented as an older man, even though he was only thirty-two when he was killed at the Battle of Bosworth field, and responsible for murders that took place before the actual King was born. Shakespeare’s King suffered from numerous health problems including a hunchback, and, according to one scholar of the play, celiac disease, and therefore must resort to deviousness and the removal of his relatives to achieve political leadership in the military climate of fifteenth century England.

Recent historical novels provide an alternate interpretation of the King’s character that is equally dramatically compelling but one dimensional. In Sharon Kay Penman’s The Sunne In Splendour: A Novel of Richard III  or Sandra Worth’s, The King’s Daughter, Richard III is a chivalric hero, deeply in love with his wife, Anne Neville, despite the fact that historians know little about their relationship except that they spent their childhoods in the same household and grieved together when their only son died. These authors imagine Richard reluctantly assuming the throne to save England from the chaos that might come of a boy King’s rule although his precise motives remain open to debate.

In his balanced biography, Baldwin explains that these two contrasting legends of Richard III emerged from the same evidence because the King may have had had a split personality that changed according to his circumstances. During the brief periods when Richard felt secure in his position as Duke of Gloucester or King of England, he was known for his personal piety, strict moral standards, charitable endowments and love of learning. During the more extended periods when he fought to maintain his wealth and position, he did not hesitate to overthrow his nephew, accuse his mother of adultery or consider putting aside his ailing wife.  According to Baldwin, “He knew the difference between right and wrong, but the terrible uncertainty of his earliest years compelled him to behave in ways he himself would not have thought acceptable in other circumstances.” The historical Richard was not as villainous or heroic as the fictional King but a complicated figure whose actions changed according to his circumstances.

Baldwin quickly dismisses the ailments attributed to the King by Shakespeare for a medieval Prince with a hunchback and celiac disease would not have been able to fully participate in fifteenth century warfare as Richard did during the reign of his brother, Edward IV. The question of whether Richard was directly involved in the murder of his nephews, known as the Princes in the Tower, is more difficult to answer. Baldwin correctly observes that there is not enough surviving evidence to convict Richard or anyone else of their murder and that young Edward V’s situation was very different from previous deposed English monarchs who were adults despised for their misrule.

There was a medieval English precedent for the disappearance of a child claimant to the throne, however, that is not discussed in Baldwin’s work. When King John assumed the throne in 1202, he almost certainly had his sixteen year old nephew, Arthur of Brittany, murdered to secure his own succession. The same split personality that allowed Richard to justify the overthrow of Edward V may have concluded that the existence of a rival King would only prolong the Wars of the Roses, which ultimately ended in 1485 with the triumph of King Henry VII at the Battle of Bosworth field.

David Baldwin’s balanced biography, Richard III: A Life is a welcome counterpoint to the one dimensional portrayals of the King in popular culture. King Richard III was a monarch shaped by the circumstances of the Wars of the Roses. Despite his brief reign, his decisions as monarch had a profound effect on the course of English history.