Archive for December, 2010

Again, this is not a factual post about the death of the earl of Salisbury, at Pontefract castle, at the hands of the mob (possibly more directly at the hands of the Bastard of Exeter). What I want to do here is explore ways of portraying this in my Nevill wip – from the pov of lord Henry Fitzhugh, Salisbury’s son-in-law and retainer.

I’m still trying to get to grips with what Fitzhugh was doing (apart from managing to father four children with his wife, Alice Nevill – who I am calling ‘Ailie’ to distinguish her from her mother) between the first battle of St Albans and Towton, where he (through the agency of his brother-in-law, the earl of Warwick) finally made a commitment to the Yorkist cause and submitted to the new king, Edward IV. Mind you, as Fitzhugh was solidly behind Warwick in his later rebellion, I have to wonder whether his support of Edward was quite as wholehearted as it seems. My view here is that it’s Warwick more than Edward who Henry swears himself to. As traumatising as the events at and after Wakefield must have been for the Nevills, Henry’s perspective is, I think, both unique and valuable.

I gripe quite regularly, on and offline, about the dearth of information about Fitzhugh, but that can sometimes work in my favour – if I don’t know where he was or what he was doing, then I can be the one making the decisions! And what follows are my decisions, based very carefully on what little information I have to date.

This time can’t have been easy for Henry and his wife, Ailie. Henry would have grown up with the Nevill boys, being of an age with Thomas. It’s possible (though I haven’t found anything to support or refute this) that, after his father’s death, he was Salisbury’s ward. Certainly, as the pre-eminent Wensleydale family, it’s likely that he received a good deal of his knightly training at Middleham. I’ve already explored one possible explanation for the anomalous birth of a child to Ailie and Henry when she was was fourteen or fifteen, and that, too, is based on the premise that Henry spent a great deal of his young life with the Nevills. He had no brothers of his own, though he had seven sisters, and it would seem that the Nevill brothers and John Scrope of Bolton (who married his sister Joan) filled this gap in his life.

According to Hicks (various sources), Fitzhugh was with the royal army at Wakefield, but didn’t fight. Whether this was to prevent him from potentially changing sides (as Johnson, in his biography of York, speculates he was at least contemplating at this point) or he himself somehow managed to avoid engaging, we don’t know. Nor do we know if he was at Pontefract castle to witness the murder of his father-in-law. Though he may well have tried to return home at the earliest opportunity, it is more likely in my view that he kept himself close to Pontefract, not quite in the hope of rescuing Salisbury, perhaps, but to assure himself that all was well.

The affect of all this on the Fitzhugh marriage is again very speculative. My view is that Ailie and Henry had a strong and affectionate marriage, based on a more or less shared childhood. If Henry was, in fact, a staunch supporter of Henry VI during this time, and this would be despite his obligations to Salisbury, one would expect there to be some discomfort in the Fitzhugh family home at Ravensworth castle – trouble, perhaps, in paradise? Still, children Margery, Richard, Thomas, and perhaps the very beginnings of John, made their appearance in these years, so it can’t have been too bad…

Henry would have been able to do nothing to save Salisbury’s life in the end, though he might well have tried. Perhaps he witnessed it. If he did, it must have been difficult to say the least. It would have been a grief stricken, maybe shellshocked, Henry who made his way home to his wife. Though he didn’t declare himself for York until after Towton (where again he didn’t take the field), the deaths of his father-in-law, brother-in-law, Thomas, and young William Bonville, must have weighed heavily on his heart.

I can’t imagine that Henry beat the news home. Ailie would have been waiting for him, knowing of the deaths of those close to her and knowing that her husband hadn’t been on their side. In my mind, they have a very difficult night ahead of them.

In my version of the story, sex is a hugely important motif for Henry and Ailie. Lovers since she was 14 and he was 18, their physical closeness is a barometer for their deeper feelings (which develop over time). Henry confirms the confused and frightening news that Ailie has been hearing from messengers and survivors. In her grief and anger, she blames him and shuts him out. Henry tries to take comfort from their children, but he needs his wife. My Ailie has a very personal relationship with God, and in her rooms she engages in a dialogue, the upshot of which is that she is offered the lives of her father and brother back in exchange for Henry. As sad as it makes her feel, she can’t accept this. For all the love she feels for her family, Henry has become more important to her than anyone. She finds him asleep on the floor outside her door. (He has, perhaps, been hammering on it and fallen into exhausted sleep.)

Once they are together in the dark, Ailie undressing him as she always does, they both know it’s their need for each other, the family they’ve created together and the friendship of a lifetime, that’s going to get them through this. They are both still deep in grief and, to some extent, guilt. Lying together in Ailie’s bed, the crisis passes.

Towton still lies ahead, and I have to find out (or work out) why he’s still officially with the Lancastrian army at this point…

This is quite a sketchy post, more a commemoration than anything particularly useful, as I have yet to undertake the required deep research into this battle.

The battle of Wakefield, 30 December 1460, like the first battle of St Albans some five years earlier, both helped to change the nature of the conduct of the Wars of the Roses and escalated the violence, both in and post-battle. One of the overriding images, for a lot of people, is that of the row of heads on Micklegate Bar in York, the duke of York’s wearing a paper crown.

No-one knows why York engaged the larger Lancastrian force that day and it seems sometimes that individual interpretations of events are based on partisanship and – in one case at least – on perceptions of York coloured by perceptions of his son, Richard duke of Gloucester, later Richard III.

In his video presentation of Sandal Castle, John Fox suggests that York would never have made such a fundamental mistake as riding out to rescue stranded foragers because he was a seasoned soldier who didn’t make fundamental mistakes.  As Fox is a strong advocate for the rehabilitation of Richard III, and as it would seem he is of the school of thought that identifies the young Richard strongly with his father, his reluctance to allow York to be fallible may be based in this. Fox prefers the hypothesis that York was betrayed by one of his men.

Others, who are not particularly fond of the duke of York, subscribe to the idea that he was lured out of the castle by taunting Lancastrians.

In the only detailed exploration of this battle that I currently have (Dockray and Knowles articles in the Richard III Society offprint The Battle of Wakefield) each scenario is discussed but no firm conclusion is reached.

For me, the story of the stranded foraging party makes by far the most sense.

However it happened, York, his son Edmund, earl of Rutland, sir Thomas Nevill, the young lord Harrington, William Bonville, (husband of Thomas’s sister Katheryn) and his father, also William Bonville, amongst many others, fell in battle. The earl of Salisbury survived the day and was taken to Pontefract castle where he was, the following day, beheaded.

York’s widow, Cecily Nevill, never remarried, dying in 1495. The countess of Salisbury, Alice Montacute, died in 1462. Maud, lady Willoughby, widow of Thomas Nevill, married sir Gervase Clifton the following year, only to lose him to a violent death in 1471. He was executed after the battle of Tewkesbury. Lady Harrington, Katheryn Nevill, mother of Bonville’s only child, married William lord Hastings in 1462. He was beheaded by Richard duke of Gloucester in 1483.

Merry Christmas!

Posted: December 24, 2010 in Trivialities, rants & other ephemera

Here’s wishing you all a very merry Christmas from all of us here at the Feast – which is, um, me!

I wish you love and good food, the happiness of thoughtful gifts from loving friends

and faces filled with joy as they open their gifts from you.

I wish you the warmth of family, whether around the table or around the world.

Merry Christmas one and all.


His Grace the Archbishop of York would like to extend, on behalf of his family,

his own wishes of love and peace.

As my New Year post cannot be anything other than tinged with sadness,

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their support this year!

A Nevill Feast is proud to present our first ever Christmas Special


Warwick: (Holding up his hands to dampen down the rapturous applause): Thank you, thank you. You’re too kind. It’s good to see so many of you here. We got the duke of Exeter in the audience? Duke of Exeter? No? What – couldn’t make it? Shame. I just wanted to give him this. (hunts for something in his pockets) Where is it?  Ah, here it is. (Pulls out a ticket) He won the grand raffle prize.  No, really, he did. Tickets for a round the world cruise. One way, sadly. (drum sting) All got your daggers with you? Good, good. If you feel yourself getting a bit peckish, just nip around the back. There’s plenty of roast ox to go round. If the turnspit’s asleep, just give him a kick. You know, that boy’s so lazy he’d fall asleep in front of an open fire! (gales of hysterical laughter) So, how many dukes we got in the audience? (smattering of applause) Three or four, that’s good. Earls? (more applause) My, there are a lot of earls here tonight! It’s good to see. Kings? (peers into the audience) Just the two of you, then? (nervous laughter) No, seriously, it’s good to see you could both make it. It’s always nice when the wife lets you out for the night. That Elizabeth Wydeville, she’s quite a woman, isn’t she?  And Margaret of Anjou! Talk about hard acts to follow. Inspiring, I call them. Poetry, civil war… Well, it’s all the same in the end, isn’t it? Always good when it’s over. No, no, listen, I’ve written a poem. It’s called Queens. (clears his throat) Young Ned’s heart won by beauteous witch, while Henry’s saddled with a bi… Haven’t quite finished that one. (shrieks of laughter) Listen, foiks, we’ve got a very special surprise guest tonight. No, I’m not going to tell you who it is. You’ll just have to wait. Right now, I’d like you to give a big warm welcome to my brother John and his beautiful wife Isobel. He’s written this song specially for her. John and Isobel! (more rapturous applause)

Lights up stage right – John and Isobel I are sitting on stools, gazing into each other’s eyes tenderly. Lutes begin to play softly and slowly…

John: On Christmas Eeeeeeeeeeve, in the cold cold snow, as I toiled my way home to my love, I looked at the sky with a tear in my eye, and sang to the stars above, and they looked down at this poor poor soul, trudging his weary way hoooooooooome, and I wondered where would I be, if I didn’t have my gal, home at Seaton Delaval – my angel on the top of my Chriiiiiiiiiiistmas treeeeeeeeeeeee.

Isobel I: Home from Towton and Hexham and He-edgely Moor, from St Albans and ….

Meanwhile, backstage…

Isobel N: I think you’ll find that’s my hennin, little sister!

Anne N: No, Daddy got it for me! Anyway, aren’t you going to have  a crown or something?

Isobel N: It doesn’t even fit you! Look, your big fat head’s sticking out.

Anne N: I’ll tell Mother! (snatches the hennin, it’s a little rumpled. Anne goes to the door) Mother! Mother! Isobel’s being mean to me!

In a quiet spot under a tree – this could be filmed earlier:

Breathless interviewer: I have with me here Alice Montacute, countess of Salisbury, the only woman attainted during the Wars of the Roses. She’s kindly agreed to talk to us tonight about her experiences. Tell me, countess, my lady, your highness, ma’am, what was it like, being attainted?

Alice M: Well, it wasn’t terribly nice!

Breathless interviewer: No, I’m sure it wasn’t. You’ve won many hearts, through your bravery and courage, your countessliness. I’m sure they’d love to know what was going through your mind when you heard the news.

Alice M: Well, I thought: Goodness, I’ve been attainted!

Back in the studio:

Warwick: (as the final strains of You’re the Angel on the Top of My Christmas Tree fade away) Thank you John and Isobel. Wasn’t that just stunning? And who wouldn’t want that little angel decorating their tree! (thunderous applause). Now, our next guest did extremely well at the Calais Comedy Club open mic night. Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiir Thomas Nevill! (flourish of hand, unsure applause)

Thomas: (puts a mic in a stand and looks out over at the audience) So, I says to the Duke of York, I says, So, you want to be king, do you?

Meanwhile, in another part of backstage:

Edward Prince of Wales: You upstage me tonight, Dickon, and I’ll step all over that ‘kingdom for a horse’ schtick you do.

Richard duke of Gloucester: Try it, Dead Eddie, and the audience will tear you to pieces! You know that’s what half of them have come to hear, you psychopath!

Edward Prince of Wales: Hunchback!

Richard duke of Gloucester: What did you say?

Edward Prince of Wales: You heard me.

Richard duke of Gloucester: (pretending to sneeze) Tewkesbury!

Sir Thomas Nevill continues:

Thomas: … Why does it take a Percy an hour to eat breakfast? Because the orange juice carton says ‘concentrate’…

(robust laughter – he’s got them in the palm of his hand)

Greenroom – the Archbishop of York is going over his sermon:

Archbishop: And, as you all know, Henry VI is the rightful king… No, hang on… Edward IV is the rightful king. (consults his notes) Yes, that’s right. Edward, Edward, Edward…

Sir Thomas Nevill is still going strong:

Thomas: So, where’s everyone from?  Anyone here from Wakefield?

(there are a few ragged cheers)

Warwick: (quietly to floor manager) The Stanleys – aren’t they on next? … You’re kidding! … So, what am I supposed to do for the next five minutes?

Sir Thomas Nevill shows no sign of slowing down:

Thomas: A Percy walks into a bar. The barman says “Why the long face?” The Percy says “Just got our arses kicked by the Nevills again!”

(huge applause and laughter)

In the wings, the Duchess of York and the Countess of Warwick are trying to keep a choir of small angels quiet.

Duchess of York: George. George! Put down that candle. I’ve told you before, burning your sister’s hair isn’t nice.

Countess of Warwick: Richard! No, not you the other one. Richard Fitzhugh! Over here now. Tuck your shirt in. Oh, lord, your wings are all crooked again.

Duchess of York: Alphabetical order, I keep telling you that! (to the Countess) Is it by first name? Or their father’s title, I keep forgetting.

Countess of Warwick: Why don’t we just get all the Annes together, and all the Edwards…

Duchess of York: George! If I have to tell you one more time!

Back in the studio:

Warwick: Ladies and gentlemen, live by satellite from Sandal Castle. Our very special guest for this evening, and let me tell you, this wasn’t at all easy to set up. We’ve lost two camera crews to the Lancastrians and our continuity girl’s still missing. (hushed aws from audience) Yes, yes. We should all send our prayers out to her. Though I’m sure she’ll turn up, safe and well. It is Christmas after all, goodwill to all … (gets the stretch signal) Speaking of Lancastrians, what do you call one Lancastrian at the bottom of the ocean? The duke of Exeter! (drum sting) A Lancastrian, a Burgundian and a Venetian walk into a bar… (aside) Are we ready? Excellent. Ladies and gentlemen, live by satellite from Sandal Castle… my father, the Earl of Salisbury! (the audience is on its feet, Salisbury waits for some minutes before it dies down. All eyes are on him. There is a deathly, expectant hush.)

Salisbury: Heyup!

(standing ovation to end all standing ovations. The earl almost cracks a smile.)

Warwick: Well, that brings us to the end of the show. (more aws from audience) I know, I know. It’s been a great night and I’m glad you could all join us.

The duchess and the countess usher their unruly angels onto the stage. They are joined by the rest of the cast for a rousing rendition of I’m Dreaming of a White Rose Christmas.

Credits roll, lights fade.

Warwick: Well, I think that went very well, don’t you?

Countess of Warwick: (coyly) Next year, I’d rather like to be the angel on top of the Christmas tree.

Warwick: Why wait for next year? (takes her by the hand and leads her backstage) Got a perfectly good Christmas tree right here, just waiting for an angel to ah… to ah… (whispers in her ear)

Countess of Warwick: (giggling) Oh, you are awful! But I like you.

Susan Higginbotham writes a good book.

Research, honesty and genuine historical accuracy – the hallmarks of her work – show through in Queen of Last Hopes as they did in The Stolen Crown. Any writerly liberties taken are not just listed in her author’s note, but explained and contextualised. Her books can be trusted, and this isn’t something that can be said about a good many authors of historical fiction.

When it comes to the Wars of the Roses, Susan and I line up on opposite sides, which makes the reading experience for me doubly interesting. My views and prejudices are challenged, and some might say not before time. But I take the challenge easily enough and, while I may not be prepared to develop a disliking for the Duke of York, I am more than happy to find that I have been given permission to like Margaret of Anjou. For that, I am very thankful. Margaret has long deserved her story to be written by a skilled and sympathetic hand, and in Susan Higginbotham she has found one.

Susan’s Margaret is a strong woman, reluctant at first to take up the role that history forces on her, full of regret and sorrow at her ultimate failure and the failure of the cause she devotes a good part of her life to. She is never portrayed as anything other than a woman, and one who has no wish to be anything else. She is a wife, a mother and a queen, and it is in that treble capacity that she fights – for her husband, her son and the crown that belongs to them.

When choosing a female first person narrator in historical fiction, the writer comes smack up against a fairly fierce limitation – women, even queens, were usually nowhere near the scenes of conflict and action that often defined the times. This is particularly true of the Wars of the Roses. While breathless reports from defeated or victorious survivors often have to suffice, there is an alternative device, and one that is utilised cleverly in Queen of Last Hopes – the alternative narrator. Apart from the voice of Katherine Vaux in the epilogue, all voices other than Margaret’s are male. Not only does this allow the reader to witness significant events that Margaret can’t, it also illustrates beautifully Margaret’s lone, and lonely, position amongst the other powerbrokers of her time.

The Margaret of Anjou of this book is not without her flaws. Susan is no apologist and Margaret’s mistakes, both personal and political, are allowed to stand and speak for themselves. And, as writers sympathetic to Richard III have been doing for the last few decades for their hero, she sweeps aside the stereotypes that have plagued Margaret and her son, Edward Prince of Wales. That she has been able to do this without throwing other, undeserving, characters into the role of incorrigible villain – with perhaps one notable and understandable exception – is very much to her credit.

Anyone who is impatient with certain of the current, much acclaimed, crop of women writers of historical fiction can turn to Susan Higginbotham in the knowledge that what they read can be trusted. And enjoyed.