Archive for August, 2010

The anniversary of the execution of William Catesby would seem to be a good enough time as any to review this rather odd book. I’m glad I have it in my collection for the appendices alone, which include modernised versions of various letters and documents as well as Catesby’s will, but as a useful and informative text it falls down spectacularly.

The author, Peter Hancock, is not an historian by profession but (like a great many of us) has undertaken a good deal of research over the years and is clearly identified as a ‘Ricardian’. Now, if I was faced with the stark choice of choosing which category I belonged to – Ricardian or non-Ricardian – I’d put myself in the former group, but we are not all of a feather, which makes life interesting. On the continuum ‘Skeptical <–> Immovable’, I suspect that we are at opposite ends.

This book seems to be driven, at least in part, by a need to explain and justify that most inexplicable act – the summary execution of William Hastings. It just doesn’t fit in with the view of those at the Immovable end of the continuum. There can be no denying that it occurred, nor that it was ordered (if not orchestrated) by Richard III, but how convenient would it be to find that the real instigator was someone else? That’s just what Hancock has managed to do, and he has taken the line of least resistance and blamed that utterly blameworthy individual, the rather shadowy and perhaps morally challenged William Catesby.

First of all, I have to say that this is, superficially at least, a well researched and well written book. The deeper one goes, however, the more it seems that the material has been very carefully collected and massaged to support the author’s theory.

He bases his speculation on four things: the Eleanor Butler pre-contract; the connections between the Catesbys and the Talbots; Catesby’s rapid acquisition, after the execution, of Hastings’ property and lands; and his equally rapid rise in the court of Richard III. Into this Hancock weaves a purported deal between Catesby and Thomas Stanley, involving the sparing of Richard’s Bosworth hostage, lord George Strange (son of Stanley and Richard’s cousin Alianor Nevill) as well as an explanation for Catesby’s eventual execution, despite the agreement. It all turns into quite a vast conspiracy including, at the very end, Henry Tudor. While I think a deal between Stanley and Catesby isn’t beyond the realms of possibility (and there is a passage in Catesby’s will that would seem to point to one), the construction of this web of intrigue and conspiracy weighs rather heavily and is an unnecessarily complex and unwieldy explanation for the inexplicable. I didn’t know the reason for Hastings’ execution when I finished this book any more than I had before I began it. It doesn’t work for me anymore than the received view that Hastings was plotting with the Wydevilles.

I don’t want to go into detail about Hancock’s ‘findings’ except to say that the whole construction rests on a very speculative and shaky foundation – the existence of documentary proof of the pre-contract which is not only in Catesby’s possession but is something that both Hastings and Henry Tudor are aware exists.

William Catesby has enough to answer for, I think, and serves in this book as a convenient scapegoat for what can only be described as an unjust act. I doubt there are many who’d leap to his defence, so I find that it’s down to me to do so. He was an opportunist with few scruples; he rose high and fast in the service of Richard III and he wasn’t above doing a deal with a man with even fewer scruples than he had himself. He certainly didn’t hesitate to grab as much of Hastings’ property as he could get his hands on, but to suggest that he deliberately set out to destroy the man and, incidentally, set the wheels in motion for the duke of Gloucester’s seizure of the throne, is a step too far. Richard III, as duke and king, made decisions both wise and (appallingly) unwise. Catesby might have been behind him (almost) every step of the way, but to use him to exonerate Richard on shaky and cobbled together evidence is disingenuous and, in its way, as heinous as the ‘Tudor propaganda’ so many of us have been trying to counter over the years.

Immovable Ricardians will love this book, I think. More skeptical ones, like me, need a bit more than speculation, imagination and a convenient scapegoat.

The mystery man stepped into the circle of torchlight.

“Harley?” I said, not quite able to believe my eyes. “Can it really be you?”

“Yes, it can and it is! I!” he said with a flourishing bow. The bandits drew back, whispering among themselves and I wonder if they were planning to try and kill us both. I crept a little closer, the better to hear.

“Change of plan,” the head bandit was saying. “We will kill the man and sell the girl as a slave.”

“But that’s the same as our old plan!” one of the other bandits a grizzled old man with a grey beard said. “Except with one added element, that of killing the mystery man.”

“Well, what should I have said? Slight modification to the plan?”

“That would have been more accurate. We wouldn’t have been expecting a completely different plan if you’d said that.”

“Well,” said another. “Is it a modification? Or an addition?”

“Sorry, was that addition or edition? You know, like first edition, second edition…”

“Draft!” said a third. “You could have said: Here’s the second draft of the plan.”

“That’s just silly!” the first bandit said. “Second draft! Whoever heard of such a thing!”

“Some people might say Plan B…”

But they all just scoffed at such arrant nonsense.

They continued their whispered bickering and I went back to Harley. The love of my life. He’d rescued me from the burning ship the pirates who attacked the ship had set fire to, throwing me into the water and following with a dive headfirst into the water. He’d caught me in his arms and swum with me all the way back to England. I thought he’d drowned, but he was here, larger than life. The hood fell away from his face and I gasped.

“Harley!” I gasped. “You’re quite hideously scarred!”

“Yes,” he said. “And that is why I have hidden myself from you all these years. But now I’ve found you again and you can learn to love me once more, even if I am horribly deformed.”

“No, I can’t. I’m sorry, Harley, but a girl has standards.”

And I ran away from the circle of torchlight, the whispering bandits and my disgustingly disfigured former love of my life and through the dark empty streets of Bruges. Until I came to the house where the Earl of Oxford was hiding.

Delivering my secret message from the Earl of Warwick was easy. Escaping the lascivious clutches of the Earl was entirely another. Such is the fate of the beautiful but virtuous spy!

“Unhand me, sirrah!” I demanded in a clam but authoratative voice.

“Nay wench!” he said. “You may be disguised as a boy, in your breeches and doublet, your lustrous hair pinned up under a cap, but I can tell that you are a maid and a beauty at that. Let me kiss you, for I am a lusty man!”

I slapped him but he grabbed me by the wrists and threw me onto the settle. I thought it was all up for me, that my jealously guarded virtue would soon be a thing of the past when he suddenly stopped, fell at my feet and began most piteously to weep.

“I am a poor wretched soul!” he wept. “And you are a fair maid who has risked life and limb and more to deliver me a message from my brother-in-law the earl of Warwick whose sister I am married to but she is in England and I – alas! – am not.”

I sat up and patted him on the head. “There! There!” I said. “All will be well. My lord of Warwick has gone to France and soon he will raise and army to invade England and topple the king who wronged him so. You will see your wife again.”

He sat back and sighed, wiping a tear from his eye. “That is my dream!” he said. “And you, fair sweet maiden, have made it come true!” He took my hand in his and kissed it. “You who are so virtuous and fair! I shall adore you, you know, to the end of my days.”

Extricating myself with difficulty, I left the lonely Earl to his memories and hopes and made my way down the street to the house where the Duke of Exeter was hiding. Leaning against the door I took several deep breaths. It wasn’t easy being beautiful! And exciting the passions of every man who saw me! But I had a job to do so I knocked on the door and was let in by a servant who put his fingers to his lips and led me into a darkened room.

“Who is it?” a rasping voice said.

“A secret messenger from the earl of Warwick,” the servant said.

“Bring her closer. Let me see.”

I was pulled closer to the voice in the dark which belonged to the Duke of Exeter. He gave an audible gasp. “But she is beautiful! Do not be afraid, maiden. You are safe with me. I… I… I had a terrible accident and now I am incapable…”

I pressed my hands against my ears, not wanting to hear – or even imagine – what he was incapable of. He sighed and turned away. “You are safe with me,” he said sadly.

I held out the letter and he took it. “Tell your master I will be there.”

I left the house and it took me a while before I realised I was followed.  I stopped, put my hands on my hips and turned around. “Harley!” I said. “I’m sorry that I can’t love you anymore, but you know I can only love a man as handsome as I am beautiful and you… Well, you’re not.”

“I seek not your love,” he said coming out of the shadows. “I want only to protect you. I have searched for you these many long years. Please don’t send me away. I shall stay hidden so that you don’t have to see me, let not your eyes fall upon my ugliness even by accident. Dakota! I beg you!”

I relented and let him follow me just in case anymore bandits tried to sell me as a slave. It was kind of creepy, you know? but how was he supposed to help it? Being in love with me, I mean. I mean, like, everyone else was. There was the Bastard of Fauconberg – dear Thomas! I allowed myself a fond smile – and the Earl of Oxford, Harley of course, Anthony Woodville, all those sailors… It made a girl quite cross to think of it.

“Where do we go?” he whispered.

“To France, Harley.” I said. “We go to France!”

“When Edward moved the remains of his father and brother from Pontefract and reburied them in a splendid ceremony at Fotheringhay Castle in 1463, Warwick bore his father and brother to Bisham Abbey two weeks later in an even more splendid ceremony.” (It gets worse.)

I’ve developed a strong feeling that this particular blogger and writer really really doesn’t like Warwick, but she’s not alone in her view that a driving philosophy in his life was to outdo his king and cousin, Edward IV. Affection for his father, mother and brother – all buried at Bisham that day – isn’t even considered to be a possible motive.

This is the same person who had Warwick ‘bristle’ to his brother John (while ‘squaring his shoulders’): “Who are you to question my judgment, I, the hero of England?”, bellowing “I am the kingmaker!” before destroying his London home, and, incidentally, has him fleeing to Calais after the defeat at St Albans. A few pages earlier, in reference to these letters: “I heard him [Warwick] refer to the deaths of his father and brother as “the murder of my kin.” Shocked I halted in my steps. The earl and Thomas – how could they be mere ‘kin’? They were his father, his brother! But this I knew I would never forget.”

In a few scant paragraphs immediately following: “But then he’d [Edward IV] turn his gaze thoughtfully on Warwick, who was richer than any king, and I felt that cold shiver run down my spine again,” this author deals with the funeral at Bisham of the countess and earl of Salisbury and their son, Thomas. Salisbury had stated a desire to be buried here with previous earls of Salisbury (not, incidentally with his “Neville ancestors”). The king’s absence is noted (“Again I felt that cold shiver of warning that told me something was amiss”), and his brother George’s presence. The Suffolks were there, as were lord and lady Hastings, both with close ties to the king through either blood or deep friendship – William Hastings may well have wished to attend his father-in-law’s funeral, at the very least for his wife’s sake, but would hardly have defied the king to do so. Edward’s absence might have been deliberate, but he was well represented (as he was at another Nevill celebration, the enthronement of the archbishop of York.) Reading backwards from Barnet (all those ‘cold shivers’) skews the story and misrepresents the characters and their motivations.

It may have been a funeral designed to advertise Warwick’s wealth, but hardly at the expense of his parents’ and brother’s honour and memory. The earl and countess of Salisbury were centre stage that day. The countess of Warwick wasn’t in attendance and neither was Thomas’s widow, the newly remarried Maud Stanhope. Also missing were the earl of Arundel, lord Stanley and Salisbury’s surviving sisters. Perhaps there wasn’t sufficient notice for them to attend, which suggests that the funeral was fairly hastily organised. If a conspicuous show of wealth, power and influence was the primary aim, more time and attention would have surely been spent on it (such as making sure as many dukes, duchesses, earls and countesses as possible were in attendance).

Like the archbishop’s feast, the funeral was undoubtedly first and foremost an occasion to honour family members who had achieved much in their lives; Warwick had wealth to lavish on both and he certainly did that. To do otherwise would have, no doubt, prompted charges of meanness and miserliness from the same writers who now charge him with doing all he could to outshine his cousin and king.

Just in case I’m accused of picking on people, here’s another random sampling from the blogsphere:

“In 1463 Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (a.k.a. Warwick the Kingmaker) staged a showpiece service here for the reburial of his father and his brother, killed at Pontefract. It was designed, perhaps, as a challenge to Edward IV, who had recently held a memorial service for his father and brother, killed at Rutland.”

It’s going to take a lot of work to change the perception that <Warwick + money + funeral != love for family> is a false equation. (I’m putting aside the inaccuracies because I have a big heart.)

The second funeral at Bisham was Warwick’s own. He was buried, along with his brother John, after Barnet. The bodies of the brothers were first put on display outside St Paul’s in London so that there would be no doubt that both were dead. It is sometimes stated that they were stripped naked, or dressed only in loincloths but a more sensible interpretation is that their armour was removed and they were displayed fully clothed. After this, both were removed to Bisham for burial.

Warwick had stated a preference to be buried at the Beauchamp chapel at Warwick Castle. Considering the circumstances of his death, and the lack of a voice to speak on his behalf (his wife was in sanctuary and neither of his daughters were in a position to speak up for him), such a request was unlikely to even be considered. Burial at a family mausoleum was more than most people could have hoped for in similar circumstances.

The funeral, though far less lavish than that of their parents and brother, Thomas, was neither hurried nor improperly carried out. Some shred of affection, and perhaps a strong sense of what he had once owed the Nevills, seems to have prompted Edward IV to ensure his cousins had a burial that was far removed from what might be expected either for fallen foes or traitors.  I’ve been hunting for more detail on this funeral, including who may have attended, though I can say that neither of the widows was there.

Not the funeral usually expected for 'traitors'

There is no trace now of any Nevills at Bisham. The priory was sacked during the dissolution of the monasteries and the effigies and bones either removed or destroyed. Salisbury’s effigy can be found at Burghfield church.

Richard or Dickon, frail and angelic® younger brother of King Edward IVth sat in the garden sighing. He was doing this because he was sad. His brother George, Duke of Clarence, had gone, left the country with the Earl of Warwick and his wife and daughters. (The Earl of Warwick’s wife and daughters. Clarence didn’t have any yet. Daughters, though he did have a wife. And he had left the country with her as well.) This was upsetting Richard or Dickon’s brother Edward, King of England a great deal. He didn’t know how much, if any, it might be upsetting George.

This all made Richard or Dickon sad because he loved his brothers, though he loved Edward more than he loved George. He also loved his cousin, Richard Lord Neville of Warwick. He loved him more than George but less than Edward. He also loved the Earl of Warwick’s daughter, Anne. A lot.

He wished his brother had let him marry Anne at the same time that George married Anne’s sister Isobel (also the Earl of Warwick’s daughter), though he hadn’t let him marry her either. It was all making his heart ache so very much.

He wanted to go and talk to his brother Edward about all this, but he was somewhere between his wife, the Queen’s bedchamber, and that of his favourite mistress, Jane Shore. Richard or Dickon found himself sneering at both of them. He didn’t like wives who secretly married his brother and he didn’t like mistresses.

Will Hastings, Edward’s best friend and also on his way to see Jane Shore, walked past Richard or Dickon and winked. Richard or Dickon flushed with both embarrassment and anger in equal amounts. If his brother Edward, who he adored and who could do no wrong in his eyes, was going to have a mistress, he really should have checked first that she wasn’t someone else’s mistress as well, especially Will Hastings whose step son-in-law, who was the son of the queen from a marriage she had before she secretly married the king, was secretly aspiring to be the man whose mistress Jane Shore was. If they just stuck to their wives, as God surely intended, he’d fell less angry and embarrassed and Jane Shore would be out of a job – she’d have to go back to being the wife of an impotent man and just make the best of it, though Richard or Dickon did understand, because though he might be pious and faithful to his wife when he got one, he wasn’t entirely without compassion.

With a sad, angry, pious and embarrassed sigh, he got up and went to look for his brother the King.

“You are indeed a merry harlot, Jane!” the King said. He laughed and kissed her. “I’m glad I have such a merry harlot for a mistress, it makes a change from the others who aren’t!”

Jane looked nervously towards the door. Will Hastings might be coming in soon and though the King didn’t seem to mind him visiting her, there might be an awkward moment if they met in the doorway and neither of them knew which one should move out of the way first.

“Thankee kindly, sire!” Jane said, kirtseying in her kirtle and looking all the merrier for it.

The King blew her another kiss and left the room. It had been a good day, what with bedding both his queen and his merry mistress, but he was feeling a little tired. In the throne room his brother Richard or Dickon was waiting for him. He always cheered up when he saw his little brother. He really enjoyed being adored and he hadn’t quite had enough adoration this morning.

“Hail brother!” he said when he came in. “Well met!”

“Ned,” Richard or Dickon said hurrying towards him. “What are we going to do about George?”

Edward sighed. This was one of the three questions that had formed a rich motif and backdrop to his childhood, the other two being (from his father): “When do I get to be king?” and (from his mother): “And just who thinks she’s more beautiful that I am?” “What are we going to do about George?” had been asked equally by both of them but more recently, since their father’s untimely death some ten years earlier, more often by their mother.

“I don’t know,” the King sighed wearily.

“I don’t think it’s fair that he gets to marry Isobel against your wishes and I don’t get to marry Anne,” Richard or Dickon said.

Edward patted him on the shoulder. He felt sorry for his little brother. He knew what it was to love someone, several someones usually, but there really was nothing he could do.

“I know,” he said. “Still… Look, I’ll go talk to mother, she’ll know what to do.”

Cecily Duchess of York and Mother of the King was looking at herself in the mirror in her room. Though she was getting on a bit she was gratified to see she was still the most beautiful woman in England.

“It’s the bone structure,” she explained to herself. “A good pair of cheekbones can hide a multitude of sins.”

She smiled to think how quickly her daughter-in-law the so called Queen of England would age, what with her rounded cheeks and her bad bone structure. She might be pretty at the moment, but Cecily knew she’d look better at 80 than Elizabeth would at 50. She looked up to see her son the King lounging in the doorway.

“What are we going to do about George, mother?” he said.

“I don’t know,” Cecily said. “I’m a bit cross with him because he says you aren’t my son. He says I slept with an archer, not your father.”

Edward frowned. “That’s very rude of him! Did you?”


“Good,” Edward grinned. “So, back to my question.”

“Well,” Cecily said. “Maybe I could get your sisters to write to him telling him to stop being silly. He always listens to them.”

Edward nodded. “That’s a very good idea, Mother!” He knew she’d know what to do! He was glad he’d reminded himself of that or he wouldn’t have thought to come and ask her.

Cecily nodded as well. She looked her son up and down. He didn’t much look like his father, being tall and blonde. If she squinted her eyes a little and turned her head he did look at little like that rather dishy archer she’d once known in Rouen. Who she hadn’t slept with, she hastened to add. Of course not! But, if the Queen ever crossed that invisible line that only Cecily knew about, she might just change her mind about that.

“Richard or Dickon is a bit down,” he went on.

Cecily stood up. Not her frail and angelic® Richard or Dickon who was secretly her favourite child because he looked so much like his father!

“He’s pining for young Anne,” the King continued. “Maybe I should have let him marry her against my wishes as well. George seems happy enough. Well, except for the plotting, the rebellion and hastily leaving the country.” He sat down and his handsome face grew grave. “I just want my brothers to be as happy in their married lives as I am.”

Cecily’s face grew grim as well, but for a totally different reason.

“Sire, sire!” a breathless page panted breathlessly. “I’ve just heard news from France! The Earl of Warwick and your brother are secretly treating with Margaret of Anjou!”

This was terrible news!

“I shall have to go and deal with this crisis, Mother,” he said.

Cecily nodded and turned back to her reflection, relieved to find that, in the last few minutes, she hadn’t got any less beautiful.

As he left the room he thought, I wonder if I have time to see if there are any mistresses I haven’t visited today?

I am congenitally incapable of working on one thing and one thing only – I am currently focussing on my fantasy project, but I have my Nevill wip, my notebooks and my snippets book to hand at all times, just in case I get an idea or feel a sudden need to look something up and jot it down. The other day, I wrote a post introducing an idea I had about the marriage between Alice Nevill & Henry Fitzhugh. Today, I grabbed my pen and the snippets book and wrote a brief page. I’d like to share it for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I’m feeling brave. (Yes, I know I’ve written and shared 23 chapters of The Daisy and the Bear with y’all, but that is vastly different – that’s a bit like me dressing up in a school uniform and singing I Touch Myself – it’s not really me. see?). And secondly, I want to test the waters, to see that I’ve got the balance between too much and not enough; between sickeningly graphic and sickeningly coy. I think I have. (In case anyone’s worried, the most intimate body part mentioned here is ‘thigh’. So those with a delicate disposition probably don’t need to worry.) This is very much a first draft, the outline of a sketch of a draft… So (taking a deep breath) here goes:

The First Time

The girl was terrified. The enormity of what she was about to do, the sin she was about to commit, sat uneasily on her soul. But she wanted this. It had been building since that first stolen kiss, the two of them hidden behind a tapestry in the deep window of the hall, his hand brushing against her breast. Her breathing was fast and shallow and her heart was pounding. Nothing will be the same after this, she thought. In his eyes she saw wonder and want, a tenderness so real and honest it almost took her breath away.

Down here, on the banks of the river, the whole world receded. His hand was on her skin, her skirts pushed up, her thighs waiting to part. He’d touched her there before and drawn away at the last minute. She wouldn’t let him go again.

“Henry,” she said softly, “I want this. I want you.”

He pulled away the last barrier and drew in a breath. Her eyes widened as he pressed into her and he looked away. She lifted her hands and turned his head towards her. There were tears in his eyes and she kissed them, salt sharp on her tongue. For a moment there was searing pain and she gasped. He fell onto her breast, stroking her hair, whispering words of comfort. When he moved again she went with him, the fingers of one hand caught in his hair, the other outsretched on the grass beside her.

“Oh,” she breathed. He raised himself on his arms and closed his eyes. She watched him as he came to climax, her own a small taste, a promise of what was to follow.

“I’m sorry, Ailie,” he said. “Oh, Lord help me!”

She held him. “Don’t be sorry. Please don’t be sorry!”

For a moment they lay together in the grass, still and quiet. Everything was different. God had seen them and He wasn’t angry. She would tell him that and he would smile. The world was silent, as if it too needed to catch its breath. Then the sound of voices encroached on their peace and he rose and dressed himself. She sat up, watching him.

“Next time,” she said, “we may have a little longer.”

He knelt and kissed her. “You are perfect and I have wronged you. There can’t be a next time.” And he disappeared into the trees.

When her sisters found her she was sitting by the river, tossing stones into the water. They sat down beside her, chattering and laughing. She smiled, hugging to herself her secret, the memory of his touch. The smell of him was on her hands. She raised them to her face and breathed him in.

“Next time,” she whispered.

“I hear the Earl of Warwick skulks in Le Chanel Anglais,” King Louis the IXth said, swirling his goblet of wine to better catch the aroma.  He breathed it in.  French wine was just so much better than any other. He looked at the woman sitting opposite him through his eyelashes. The firelight was glinting off her copper curls, the grey streak at the front – testament to both her age and tribulations – hidden in shadow. She was still a good looking woman, he thought.

“I don’t care!” the woman said. But Louis knew that she did, secretly, for she was in love with the Earl of Warwick and had been since a mere slip of a girl of 23. “‘E can do what ‘e likes! ‘E can drown for all I care!”

“Just think though,” Louis mused, as if running a completely hypothetical scenario through his analytical and devious mind. “What he could achieve if he was on your side. Do you not want your husband to be king of England once again?”

“My ‘usband can rot in ze Tower of London for all I care!” Margaret said scornfully. “‘E ‘as done nozing but skulk zere for years! A real man would ‘ave escaped and come to rescue me, come to restore me to my rightful place!”

“Perhaps that is why the Earl comes,” Louis pondered. “To restore you to your rightful place. You know better than I where that is.”

In ‘is ‘eart, she thought miserably. In ‘is arms, in ‘is bed. By ‘is side ruling Angleterre! But zat will never ‘appen for I will not bow to ‘is petulant demands!

“He is very handsome, is he not?” Louise cogitated.  “And very tall. He can have any woman he wants, they tell me, yet he prefers to live the life of a loveless monk.”

“‘E ‘as ‘is wife!”

“My spies tell me they have not lain together since she begat their second child. I wonder what it means, that a man so handsome, so virile, so manly, should remain celibate all these years. Perhaps he is honouring a lost love. They say he once had a secret, but that could just be a rumour.”

When Margaret laid her head on her pillow that night her eyes swam with tears and she felt that her heart would break. I am ‘is secret! she thought. I am ze one ‘e carries in ‘is ‘eart and memory. It is for me zat he keeps ‘is ‘onour and chastity. And ‘ow ‘ave I rewarded ‘im? By nurturing my ‘ate and loathing! ‘Ardening my ‘eart against ‘im! She sobbed herself to sleep that night and for many nights after.

Dakota Fitzpercy sat in a chair in the Bastard of Fauconberg’s cabin. He sat opposite, leering at her.

“No,” she said crossly. “Do not leer! It is disrespectful and I shall not be so direspected! If you have any hope that one day I shall let you kiss me again, you must be better behaved!”

“But I can have any woman I want!” the Bastard said.

“Not this one! Women deserve respect, Thomas. We deserve to be treated the same as men. Not for me the dull domestic life of a downtrodden wife. I want adventure! To see the world!”

“And I shall take you!” The Bastard’s eyes were shining. “Oh, there is so much I want to show you!” He dropped to his knees and took her hands in his. “I adore you! There is nothing I would not do for you! For you are brave and strong and beautiful. I will prove myself worthy of you, just you see! When I see you again I shall be a changed man!”

“I hope you shall,” she said sadly. “But I fear that the task is too great for one so degraded as you.”

He kissed her hands fervently and, after a few minutes, she snatched them away. “There was a seagull on the deck with a broken wing,” he said, his eyes shining with unbidden tears. “The old me would have wrung its neck and tossed it overboard. But I remember what you said about animals having feelings, too, and bandaged its poor wing. I tended to it day and night! And every time I looked at it, I thought of you. Dear, sweet Dakota. You are that wounded seagull and I would mend you with my love! I would set you soaring above the world and stay meekly at home waiting for your return. Please, you must let me kiss you again!”

“And so you shall.” She stood up.  “After I have carried out my mission. If you have been good.”

She would have to go soon, for her mission was both urgent and important.

Just as she was about to disembark, the Earl of Warwick appeared. He pressed a packet into her hand. “If you see the one who was once queen of England, pray you give her this.” His voice was choked with emotion and his hand trembled. He looked like he might be about to speak more but didn’t. Before she could respond, he was gone. Odd, she thought, frowning. Then she shrugged and made her way down the gangplank to the quay, frowning at the catcalls and whistles that inevitably greeted her.

The King of France wasn’t difficult to find. He was in Paris. Dakota had taken the time to change her clothes and now wore a magnificent frock in delicate shades of blue. To match my eyes, she thought, examining herself in the mirror. She curtseyed low when she saw the king, knowing that this best showed the hint of her magnificent bosom. When she straightened up she smiled at him and handed him the letter. He took it, kissed her hand and moved on to the next person who waited in line to greet him.

At the feast that night, Dakota watched Margaret of Anjou cutting up her son’s meat and feeding it to him, bite by bite. Spoiled brat! she thought contemptuously. If he had had the life she had had… Her childhood home burned by Saracens, her father slaughtered and her mother carried off as the prize to the harem of the sultan, he’d think twice before being so demanding! It had been this tragedy that had set Dakota’s feet on the path to adventure. There was a hint of revenge in her heart as well, but she wasn’t sure she’d get around to that. Independence was the thing! No man would pin her down. The queen looked sad and wistful. There was the hint of a tear in her eye when she watched courting couples kissing and cooing. She loves, Dakota thought sadly. And that love is lost. Dakota thought of her own lost love, who had perished saving her from the evil clutches of the Squire Runstable. She shuddered to remember how she had almost been forced to marry the old man. But Harley had saved her, his own life forfeit so long as hers was safe.

When the opportunity presented itself, Dakota approached the queen and slipped the letter into her hand. Perhaps the Earl had got it from an admirer of the queen, who blanched as pale as a sheet when she saw the writing on the envelope. She stuffed it into her bosom, looked down her nose at the girl and swept away, her fractious whining son scampering after her.

Under cover of darkness, and once more in the disguise she so loved, Dakota made her way to Bruges. Home of exiles. As she neared the city, she was accosted by a band of thugs.

“What have we here?” one of them said, leering at her. “A maid by all that’s holy! She shall fetch a pretty price in the slave market!”

Dakota thought there might be too many of them, about 15, for her to take out in her usual enthusiastic and unnecessarily violent style and was just starting to wonder how she was going to get out of this one when a voice, potent and full of quiet menace, growled, “Leave the girl or lose your lives!”

Who, she thought, is this mysterious stranger who is hidden in the dark and whose voice is used to being obeyed? When he walked into the firelight she gasped. It could not be! Surely!

Anne and her second husband, Thomas St Leger

I think this is going to be one of the more interesting marriages to write about, though I know very little at the moment.

Anne was married to Henry Holland, duke of Exeter. They had a daughter, Anne, in 1455 and possibly a son, Thomas, (according to at least one source) born in 1461. It’s difficult enough to find a time during the turbulence of 1454/5 when Anne and Henry (who did not have a happy union) could have been in the same place long enough to conceive a child, 1460/1 is even more unlikely. Their marriage essentially ended in 1461.

Just when Anne and Thomas St Leger became lovers isn’t clear, though there were rumours surrounding her (and to a lesser extent her sister Margaret) for some time from about the mid 1460s. Anne was granted an extremely favourable divorce from Holland in 1472 (with the Exeter title and lands being granted to her) and married St Leger in 1474. Their only daughter, Anne St Leger, was born two years later. Anne died shortly after her daughter’s birth.

St Leger was executed in 1483 after Buckingham’s rebellion. Their daughter was stripped of her titles and Exeter properties. She married George Manners (lord Roos) and died in 1526.

I will be exploring Anne and her marriages in more detail in a later post.

Warwick was being a pirate again which, he decided, after having a lot of money, reminiscing about his secret love affair with Margaret of Anjou and running England, was just about his favourite thing. Behind his ship, like the rather splended tail of a kite, rode a string of prizes that he’d wrested from the foreign hands of Burgundian and Spanish captains. He was quite pleased with himself.

His pale and insipid countess, Anne, was in her cabin being seasick again and this made him feel particularly contemptuous of her. Margaret wouldn’t give in to the mere whim of her stomach, even in a storm! He was sure of that. She would stand up, her hands on her hips, and face it like the fiery french filly that she was. What they couldn’t achieve together, he thought! He sighed as he leaned over the rail, a spray of water spraying into his face, and thought She is the perfect woman! The only one who can match my wit, power and charisma.

He looked over to the small knot of sailors that had gathered on the deck. He knew what had their attention, a young jack tar, currently on his hands and knees swabbing the deck, who had signed on for this voyage under an assumed name. The poor sailors were dazzled by him and none of them could have told you why. Warwick could see that it was embarrassing them all, but they were powerless to break away from the boy’s aura of charm and beauty. Warwick knew why. He headed over to them and, shuffling their feet, squinting up at the clouds and whistling, they all reluctantly broke away and went about their business. He leaned against the railing, pretending not to notice the young man, still swabbing a way, a strand of hair, black as a crow’s wing, hanging over his eyes.

“Ebony,” Warwick said quietly.

The sailor straightened up, the sponge in his hand dripping water.  “Dakota,’ she said.

“Got a job for you. Meet me in the usual place.”

Dakota nodded, brushed the errant strand of hair from her face and went back to her swabbing. They’d be flittering around her again as soon as the earl was gone. She sighed heavily. At times her beauty really was almost a curse!

In her cabin, the countess of Warwick’s seasickness was making her even more even more pale and insipid than usual.  She thanked God for her younger daughter Anne, who was delightfully sweet and caring. Who sat beside her bed, laying cool damp cloths upon her mother’s forehead.

“I just want to die!” she groaned.

“No you don’t,” the calm and pragmatic Anne said.  “We’ll be putting in to harbour soon so that Dad can sell the string of prizes that ride behind the ship like a rather splendid tail of a kite. You’ll feel better then.”

In the cabin next door, the young Duke and Duchess of Clarence were finding out that it was indeed possible to make love in a narrow bunk on a heaving, rocking, plunging ship without falling onto the floor more than a few times.

The Bastard of Fauconberg stood with one foot on a crate holding onto a rope and staring out to see.  He liked being a Bastard and a pirate! Sometimes, when he met a girl in a tavern and she coyly asked him what he did for a living, he’d look her in the eye and say. “I am a Bastard! and a pirate!” And it never failed. Before he could blink the girl would be semi naked and quivering. He had a great deal to thank his cousin the Earl of Warwick for, not least the amount of extreme action he got!

He shifted his gaze so that it fell upon the startlingly beautiful young sailor currently swabbing the deck. I’d hit that! he thought. The idea made him feel rather jolly and he started to think up ways he could get the stupendously gorgeous young sailor alone. I might ask him to come to my cabin, he thought cunningly. Then I’ll have him at my mercy! The Bastard of Fauconberg didn’t usually find himself planning the seduction of a young man, but there was something about this one, something he couldn’t quite put his finger on…

Dakota sighed and stood up, arching her back against the pain, much to the delight of several hardened seamen who happened to be wandering past. So, she thought, the earl has a mission for me. She emptied the bucket over the side of the ship and began to slouch nonchalantly towards the usual place. She hoped it would be an interesting mission. She was starting to feel rather cooped up and if she had to defend her honour one more time with her surprisingly agile karate moves, she feared she would scream!

The countess of Warwick listened to the sounds coming from the next cabin and pressed her pillow over her ears. If only her  older daughter wasn’t so enthusiastic about it all she thought she might cope.

Sitting demurely in a chair nearby, young Anne also heard the squeals and moans. One day that will be me, she thought primly. But instead of George it will be Richard or Dickon who carries me to such dizzying heights of delight. I just hope he’s strong enough. She closed her eyes and pictured his frail and angelic® face. She loved him so very much!

In the usual place, the earl of Warwick was waiting impatiently for his protege and spy. He could tell by the ripple that followed her that she was on her way, and by the sound of the flat of a hand cracking against flesh that either her perfectly shaped bottom was being slapped or someone’s face. If he was a betting man, he’d put money on the latter. She arrived, breathless and indignant.

“Ah, Madison,” he said, brushing aside her protests that this wasn’t her name. He pulled a wad of letters out of his jacket and handed them to her. “I need you to deliver these to the king of France, Louis IXI, the Duke of Exeter, the Earl of Oxford and the Duke of Somerset. Do you think you can manage that?”

Not without at least one of them trying to seduce me, she thought sourly. Allowed she said, “I will do my best, sir.”

He nodded and grunted. “We will be putting into harbour soon so that I can sell my kite tail of prizes. You can go then.’

Making her way to her cabin, Dakota started to plan her mission. First she’d make her way to the French court, deliver the letter to king Loius, then she’d find the others. It shouldn’t be too difficult.

“Boy!” She stopped in her tracks and looked around. Lounging in the doorway of his cabin, looking stunningly gorgeous and quite unequivically heterosexual in his black breeches and white shirt, black hair curling on his neck, the gold rings in his ears sparkling against his brown weathered skin, a boyish grin that nonetheless barely hid the predatory nature of a shark, was the Bastard of Fauconburg. Dakota sighed and turned towards him. He sauntered up to her. “I’ve been watching you.”

She lifted her chin and looked him in the eye. He grabbed her arm and pulled her close. “I thought so!” he said, grinning, one arm about her waist, the other tracing the line of her jaw. “I thought you were to beautiful to be a boy! I wonder what price you’d pay for me to keep your secret!”

“Unhand me!” she said through gritted teeth. “Or your cousin the earl will hear of this. I am under his protection!”

The Bastard grinned again. “I shall have a kiss at least!”

Pressing her even more tightly to him, he kissed her. Dakota struggled to free herself, finally managing to bring her knee up hard and fast into contact with some soft squishy bits she didn’t want to think about. The Bastard swore and let her go, doubled up in agony. Dakota looked at him contemptuously, turned on her heel and flounced away. How dare he! She was saving herself for someone. She didn’t quite know who yet, but she knew he was out there. Perhaps someone she’d known all her life, who loved her desperately and was prepared to wait until her adventuring days were done. Maybe it was a currently hard hearted cruel man called Dayne or Keiran who would be cured and softened by his love for her and vow never to be mean to another soul as long as he lived, so long as he could be with her. A tiny part of her, hidden away in the darkest recesses of her soul, kind of hoped it might be someone like the Bastard of Fauconberg. For all her protests, and the knee in the knackers, she’d been almost undone… that kiss had been something else!

Three things about Alice Nevill’s marriage to Henry Fitzhugh have been tickling away at the back of my brain recently.

1. It was a very local marriage between a daughter of the countess and earl of Salisbury and the young son of a loyal Nevill retainer;

2. Between the birth of their first and second child, there is a five year gap;

3. Alice’s place in the family is unclear, she was either born c 1430 or c 1434 – if the latter, the birth of a child in 1448 goes very much against Nevill policy and practice.

Perhaps it’s just my fevered imagination getting the better of me, but after a brief conversation with my husband on the way home from shopping a couple of weeks ago (in the car for the 35k trip home he’s a captive audience, poor chap, though usually at least a patient and forbearing one!) a niggle of an hypothesis began to form. I really don’t know whether to go with it (and thus be open to a charge – not least from myself – of Making Crap Up), or just plump for the earlier birth year and a much less exciting scenario.

Firstly, why are the questions I posed above even worthy of being asked?

1. Ok, Alice was the third of the Salisburys’ daughters to marry (and the fourth of their children). Joan married an earl; Cecily married the young duke of Warwick and Richard married his sister. Later, Thomas and John both managed to bag themselves heiresses. Alice married a lord. A local lord who lived up the road at Ravensworth, who she would have known all her life and whose family had firm, long standing connections with the Nevills, which would continue almost to lord Henry’s death. (After a slow start, Fitzhugh submitted to Edward IV after Towton and later helped his brother-in-law Warwick in his initially successful attempt to bring down the king, fleeing to Scotland in 1470. He didn’t, however, fight on either side at Barnet or Tewkesbury, dying in June of 1472.)

To me it seems that the Fitzhughs had at the very least a companionable marriage, if not a loving one. They had 10 children (possibly 11, but that’s a can of worms I’ll save for another day), all born at Ravensworth, and Alice remained a widow for more than 30 years after her husband’s death. They were probably buried together at Jervaulx Abbey, though no trace of them remains, nor have their wills.

I want to stress that I’m not speculating a marriage for love against the opposition of parents, but I can’t help thinking that the prospect of spending the rest of their lives together wasn’t an unknown quantity for them, nor was it particularly daunting. My initial take on this (and it might be my ultimate one yet) is that Alice is a young woman who knows her mind, who doesn’t want to be sent away from home to marry a stranger, who quite likes Henry and the idea of living at Ravensworth, and who manages to plant a seed in her father’s head that such a marriage is an incredibly sensible idea. (I’ve watched my own daughters convince their fathers that something they want desperately was Daddy’s idea, I don’t think it’s entirely implausible.)

2. There could be any number of reasons why, in a program of childbirth that spanned approximately 18 years, and included a successful birth once every 18 months to 2 years, there could have a 5 year hiatus, especially at the beginning. There could have been a stillbirth, or miscarriages. Or, for reasons I’m going to suggest below, there might have been no opportunity for a conception during this time.

3. Alice’s age is important in this. For many other young mothers at the time, it isn’t. The Nevills seem to have been careful not to expose their daughters to pregnancy and childbirth until they were about 18. Cecily was 19 when her daughter was born, Joan was around the same age, Alianor 19 or 20 and Katheryn 18. If Alice’s birth date is 1434, that makes her 14 at the time of her oldest child’s birth, which is a glaring anomaly.

What I don’t have is a date for the marriage, even a year. While I have the birth years for the Fitzhugh children, I don’t have more specific dates.

I was chuntering about all of this as we were driving up the Monaro, saying how it didn’t make sense; that I should probably just go with my first instincts, put Alice’s birth at the earlier date rather than the later, not worry about why she got a neighbouring lord and retainer while other sisters married earls and dukes – they would have been friends, I said – when my husband said something that Changed Everything…

“Maybe they were more than friends.”

And suddenly it all made sense! I could see it unfolding before my eyes…

The fourteen year old Alice and the eighteen year old Henry, suddenly realising just how grown up the other one was… Maybe they didn’t succumb to temptation more than a few times before Alice was faced with a truth she just couldn’t go on denying. Perhaps she talked to one of her brothers first, sixteen year old George say – who, if the sources have it correct, was by this time himself the father of a 2 year old illegitimate daughter. And, for the moment, Alice is not about to divulge the name of the child’s father.  George seeks advice from John, and after first laying their own plans to chastise the errant neighbour, they’re the ones who take the news to their father.

Now taciturn, hardbitten and northern doesn’t stop you flying into a blazing temper when you hear the news that your fourteen year old daughter’s gone and got herself pregnant, especially when she’s not naming names. So Salisbury, a loving father but a fifteenth century father, gives her a serious clip around the ear, probably calls her a harlot, gets her to fess up then… Sends For Henry!

I can’t imagine he’d greet him with a smile and a fatherly hug. Once he’s picked himself up off the floor and acclimated himself to the news that a) he’s going to be a father and b) as soon as they can arrange it, a husband, Henry starts to think maybe this isn’t so bad. He likes Alice, they’re clearly sexually compatible and he was going to have to marry someone someday. But… (and it’s a big but) they will see each other on their wedding day, he will be welcome at Middleham as usual and he will get to see his child – they will not be living together as husband and wife until such time as the Salisburys see fit! Take that, young man!

There might be some sweet little touches thrown in – a sympathetic and pragmatic brother who smuggles Henry in to see his bride to be one last time before the wedding; a letter full of reassurances (“I call you my wife, for such you have been since we first lay together”); the wedding is kind of bitter sweet; the parting emotional. Some months later, a daughter is born. And the years pass.

Until one day, Alice decides (as I suspect the Nevill women were prone to) that enough is enough, packs her things, and her daughter, and heads up the road to Ravensworth to be with her husband. There’s possibly some shyness – they’ve seen each other from time to time, but never alone, never with the chance to renew their intimacy. But it’s ok (thank goodness!), they’ve still got it and before you know it, their second daughter is on the way. Salisbury might grumble a bit, but he knows when to quit and resists the urge to fetch his rebellious daughter home. And, in time, as such things tend to go, all is well. Henry and Alice have a happy, fulfilled and above all fertile 24 year marriage.

All this would be lightly sketched in backstory in Nevill, but explored in more detail in Fitzhugh.

Is this all just stupid? Am I guilty of letting my imagination run away with me? Leaving myself open to charges of descending into the realms of romantic fantasy? Or do the known facts allow the hypothesis to stand? Does it really matter?

There’s always the Author’s Note to cover my sins…