Archive for May, 2012

One of my favourite scenes. I’m very pleased with the way this has turned out.

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When the plates and cups were cleared, the table and the leftover food packed onto the cart, Lady Scrope opened a book and began to read.

Ailie’s breathing slowed. The Countess’s head fell back and she closed her eyes. The children settled down around Mistress Kendall. Maud was halfway to sleep herself when Alison jumped up.

“Blackberries! We’ve forgotten the blackberries!”

The Countess opened one eye. “Don’t take them too far, Kendall.”

Baskets were fetched from the cart and the girls’ hands and faces cleaned. Maud stood up and stretched her back.

“I’ll come with you. If you’ll not think me in the way.”

“Not at all, Lady Willoughby,” Mistress Kendall said. “The best ones are just along the hedgegrow. Master Palfreyman was telling me.”

The Countess opened the other eye. “Was he now?”

“Come, girls. Katie, you can show Lady Willoughby the way.”

Maud followed them away from the river to the border of a meadow.

“Let’s see who can get the most,” Margaret said.

“Don’t forget to whistle while you pick,” Katheryn said.

Alison nodded solemnly before making an attempt that reduced them all to helpless laughter.

Despite the lateness of the season, there were berries aplenty, hidden deep in the bramble thickets. Maud pulled aside the thorny branches, catching her sleeves and scratching her hands. She filled her basket and her belly quickly and sat down in the grass, watching the girls, their mouths and hands stained with juice.

“Don’t forget,” she said, “we have to take some back for the others.”

“This might be the last time Katie does this,” Mistress Kendall said.

“It’s the way of things.”

“It is, my lady. And I’m pleased for them, of course, just a little sad for myself. I’ve been with them fifteen years. A nursemaid comes to love her charges.”

“Thomas was eight,” Maud said. “I try to imagine the child he must have been.”

“A wicked boy!” Mistress Kendall laughed. “They all were, thinking they could get around everyone with a smile and a kiss. Fine young men now, so we must have done something right. I wasn’t much more than a girl myself. I’ve known Meggie since she was a baby. I shall have to stop calling her that soon, I suppose.”

They watched as the girls drifted further away, moving together, methodically stripping the fruit before moving on.

“Like a set of steps,” Maud said. “Katheryn up high, Alison low and Margaret in the middle.”

“You’ll be blessed soon, my lady. Perhaps if you would think of me…”

“I shall be advised by the Countess.” Maud smiled at Mistress Kendall. “Fifteen years is a fine recommendation.”

She stretched her legs out in front of her and leaned back on her elbows, tilting her head up to catch the sun on her face. The men would be back soon, whole and safe, their enemies vanquished. Or Salisbury would have his sons by the throat, one in each hand, chastened and subdued. Ailie would take Fitzhugh aside and question him mercilessly, tearing the whole story from his lips, word by word. The Countess would greet the Earl with an affectionate kiss and Maud… Maud would take Thomas by the hand and lead him to their bed.

A cry from one of the girls, and she opened her eyes and sat up. They were on their way back, Margaret in the lead, holding up an arm and crying. Katheryn was behind her, burdened by two baskets, looking over her shoulder to make sure Alison followed. Mistress Kendall ran to her charges and inspected Margaret’s wounded arm. Alison skipped over to where Maud sat. She put down her basket and dropped to her knees.

“That’s a lot of blackberries,” she said with a deep sigh.

“It certainly is!” Maud looked at her face. It was stained with sticky juice. “Looks like you’ve eaten a lot as well.”

“There were so many! And my hands just wouldn’t listen.” Alison spread her arms wide and shrugged her shoulders. “Put them in the basket! I said, but they just kept on popping them into my mouth.”

“Like this?” Maud took a handful and ate them.

“No!” Alison snatched the basket up so quickly that she spilled several berries onto the grass. She looked at them in horror, then at Maud in accusation. “I’ll have to go and get some more now!”

Maud scooped up some of her own berries and dropped them into the child’s basket. “Here, that should make up for what I stole.”

“And Grandma will be cross with you!”

“That’s all right. I can deal with Grandma.”

“Margaret hurt herself.” Katheryn dropped the baskets she carried and sat down beside Alison. “Such a baby!”

Margaret’s sleeve was pushed back to her elbow. She peered at the wound, her brows furrowed, as Mistress Kendall attended to it.

“It must have hurt,” Maud said.

“I thought she was half dead, the way she squawked,” Katheryn said.

Her tears dried and the pain almost forgotten, Margaret ran to where they sat, her nurse close behind.

“Just a scratch,” Mistress Kendall said. “We’d best get her back to her mother so she can chide me.”

Margaret showed Maud her arm, wrapped in a kerchief, the blood already starting to seep through. “Mother won’t chide you, Kendall. She’ll just tell me I should be more careful. It does sting!” She looked at Katheryn with accusing eyes. “You’d have squawked, too!”

Maud picked up her basket and Margaret’s and they started back. It had been a lovely afternoon, the cares of the world lifted from the women’s shoulders. A feast of blackberries would be its perfect end.

“Just look at your faces!” the Countess said when she saw them.  “Did you bring any for us?”

“There’s plenty.” Maud set the baskets down. “Sweet and juicy.”

“Meggie hurt herself,” Katheryn said.

“Not too badly, my lady.” Kendall said quickly. “No more than a scratch.”

The Countess glared at Margaret, once again close to tears, this time at the depth of her sister’s betrayal.

“Show me!”

Her feet dragging, Margaret obeyed her mother. The Countess pushed the child’s sleeve up and unwrapped the kerchief.

“You’ll live,” she said. “Next time be more careful. I’m sure Kendall will be.”

Alison distributed the baskets among the women, making sure that her own ended up with her mother. The Countess took the handful Katheryn offered and ate them slowly, one at a time.

“We should start back soon,” Ailie said. “They might be home.”

“Take the girls to the river, Kendall, and wash their hands and faces.” The Countess looked at Maud. “And do the same for Lady Willoughby while you’re about it.”

The men weren’t home when they got back to the castle.

An indispensable site for anyone researching the Wars of the Roses: British History Online. Here you can find, among other things, the Rolls of Parliament for the reigns of Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III. There’s a lot you can access for free, but getting the full benefit of it costs around £36 a year. I really can’t do without it.

Immediately after the first battle of St Albans, York, Salisbury and Warwick attended the King in his quarters at St Albans Abbey. Abbot Whetehamstede gives York a hell of a speech denouncing the dead Somerset and urging Henry to ‘rejoice’ at both Somerset’s death and York’s triumph. “I am, and always was, and all my followers are and were your faithful – indeed, your most faithful – liegemen; and we will always remain…” York had been insisting the truth of this for some years now, so determined to get his point across that twice he stood with a sizeable band of armed men, demanding to be given access to the king.

What Henry VI must have gone through in the brief half hour of battle proper… Having already suffered a breakdown that left him uncommunicative and insensible for more than a year, his mental state was perhaps not fragile but at least vulnerable. He’s often seen (and portrayed) as a puppet, carried along by his favourites and chief councillors, Somerset among then, reacting to the things that happened, believing the last man who spoke to him. York certainly chose to promote the view that, before the battle, Henry was deliberately kept in the dark, the letters sent to him from Royston and Ware kept out of his hands. There’s an alternate reading to this. In the Stow Relation (from Boardman, The Battle of St Albans 1455, p112) strong words are put into Henry’s mouth in response to York’s demands:

I, king Henry, charge and commaunde that no maner personne of what degree, astate or condicion that ever he be, abide nat but that they avoide the fielde and noughte to be so hardy to make resistence ageinste me in myn owne reaume. For I shall knowe what traitor dare be so bolde tareise any people in myn owne lande, wherthroughe I am in grete disease and hevines [heaviness]. Be that feithe I owe unto Seint Edward and unto the crowne of England, I shall destroye hem every moderis sone, And eke they to be hanged, drawen and quartered that maybe takyn aftirwarde of theim inensaumple to make all such traitors to be ware forto make eny rising of people withinne myn owne lande and so traitorously tabide theire king and gouvernor. And for aconclusion, rather thanne they shall have eny lorde that there is with me at this tyme, I shall this day for theire sake in this quarrel my selfe lyve and dye.”

These sounds like the words of a King who knows what’s going in and is very much in his right mind. By the time the battle was done, Henry’s mental state seems to have deteriorated. It’s hardly surprising. With Warwick’s northern archers, led by sir Robert Ogle, firing into the market square, Warwick and his men not far behind, York and Salisbury assaulting the barricades across Sopwell and Shropshire Lanes, his own men desperately scrambling into armour and the royal standard – which should have made him safe – thrown down in the confusion, an arrow wound in the neck, being bustled into a nearby house for safety… By the time York found him, whether he gave the speech Whetehamstede credits him with or not, it’s hardly surprising that Henry responded the way he did. “There were rebels in the town,” York says, more or less, “but we dealt with them for you.”

The following month in parliament, York, Salisbury and Warwick made a declaration excusing themselves entirely of blame for anything that happened at St Albans, transferring the fault onto the shoulders for three men: the late Duke of Somerset, Thomas Thorpe and William Joseph. These three had, according to York:

“entendyng as it is supposed to the hurte and destruction of oure true right trusty and well beloved cousyns, Richard duc of York, Richard erle of Warrewik, and Richard erle of Salisbury, and of theire heires; moved and sollicited us by diverse meanes to mistruste oure seid cousyns, and to instraunge theym from oure favour and good grace affermyng theym not oure true liege men, and therefore provoked and stired us to have proceeded with grete might of people under colour of oure matiers, where noon we hadde, to the avaunsyng of theire owne matiers and quarelles. Oure said cousyns understandyng and consideryng, as they saye, the labours made ayenst theym, and that the said Edmunde, Thomas, and William, for thexecution of theire entent, enforced thaim with grete might of men in diverse countreyes, moche harneys and grete habilmentes of werre, addressed thaim toward oure presence, to declare theim oure true liegmen, the better accompanyed for theire suertee, and to resiste such malice as they verrely demed was purposed to have been executed ayenst theim, at thaire commyng unto us, by the seid Edmunde, Thomas and William, and for noon other cause; and to thentent that we shuld not wondre nor mervaille of the commyng of oure said cousyns aforereherced toward us, nor of the manere therof, nor have any suspecion or mystrust therof toward oure persone, they wrote thaire lettres at Roiston the .xx. day of May last passed, and thaim sent afore thaire commyng unto us, for thaire declaracion and desire, to the most reverend fadre in God Thomas archiebishop of Caunterbury, oure chaunceller of Englond, to be by hym openned unto us, whereof thendorsment and teneur foloweth hereafter:”

These letters “were never openned or declared unto us, afore the commyng of oure said cousyns to the side of the toune of Seint Albone, the .xxij. day of May last passed, we than beyng within the same toune, but from us to that tyme kept by the seid Edmunde, Thomas and William”.

York, therefore, had no choice but to do what he did:

“And the said .xxij. day, oure said cousins heryng of oure beyng in the said towne of Seint Albone, come thider desiryng in full lowly wyse to have hadde knowlache of oure entent and pleasire of thaire demeanyng, touchyng the matier in thaire said lettres, to us by thaim the said .xxij. day afore sent, and to come to oure presence to declare thaim as above it is specified. Whereunto aboute .xij. of the clocke of that same day, by thavis of the said Edmunde, Thomas Thorp and William Joseph, it was as we conceyve withoute oure knoweleche answered unto thaim that than we had not seen the same lettres; wheruppon oure said cousins, demyng as we nowe conceyve and understond for trouth, that the same lettres shold be by the seid Edmunde, Thomas Thorp and William Joseph that were thanne there aboute us kept from us, to the entent that we shuld not knowe the true and feithfull disposition of the same oure cousins toward us and oure estate, profered theim self to entree into the same towne, to come to oure presence for thaire said declaracion.”

There seems to be no doubt in the minds of anyone, then or now, that the Yorkists – specifically Warwick – attacked first. The king, however, has allowed himself to be convinced otherwise. Not a month after the battle, a different version of events is enshrined in the parliamentary roll:

“And the said Edmunde, Thomas Thorp and William Joseph, with grete multitude of people to thaim assembled, defensably arraied, to the entent to let oure said cousins to come to oure < presence, and > thaim to destroie and slee, opennely saiyng and callyng thaime fals traitours to us, and that they shuld dye as traitours, thenne and there sore assaulted oure said cousins in the said entre into the said towne”

York, Salisbury and Warwick were entirely blameless and the king  was happy to let everyone know:

“We therfore consideryng the premisses, declare, repute, accepte, hold and approve oure said cousins, and all thoo persones that comme with thaim in thaire felaship to the said towne of Seint Albone, the said .xxij. day, and all < other persones that > thaim or any of thaim have assisted, stired, helped, conforted or counseilled, oure true and feithfull liegmen; and woll that thurgh all oure said reaume by all oure people of the same, they and ichoon of theim be soo taken, reputed, accepted, holden and approved.” 


“that noon of oure said cousins, the duc of York, and erles of Warwic and Salisbury, nor noon of the said persones commyng or beyng with thaim, nor noon of thaire said assistours, helpours, stirrers, confortours or counseillours, ner noon of any of thaire heires, of ner for any thyng supposed or pretended to be doon to or ayenst oure persone, corone or dignitte, be empeched, sued, vexed, greved, hurt or molested in thaire bodies, landes or goodes, in anywyse. And over that, we woll by the said advis and auctoritee, that noon of oure said cousins, ner noon of the said persones commyng with thaim to the said toune of Seint Albone, ner noon of thaire said assistours, helpours, sturrers, counseillours or confortours, ner noon of any of thaire heires, of ner for any thyng that happened the said .xxij. day to falle or be doon at the said towne of Seint Albone, be empeched, sued, greved, vexed, hurt or molested in thaire bodies, goodes or landes, in anywyse.”

That was that. Sorted. What would have been seen and treated as treason by a stronger king was altered, by some particularly beautiful Double Speak, into a triumph for the rebels. A new need for a Protector was identified and York was, once again, appointed and the lords spiritual and temporal turned their attention to the always pressing matter of Calais. Yorkist propaganda (which is a bit like Tudor Propaganda! only Yorkist) had been used to spectacular success.

First St Albans didn’t bring lasting success to York and his backers. He was again dismissed as Protector once Henry was more strong of mind. Four years later, York, Salisbury and Warwick were once again to gather together to make declarations of loyalty and write their manifestoes. This time, though short term disaster and exile were the result, the real triumph of spring 1455 was to benefit them. Of all that was achieved – the deaths of Somerset and Northumberland; the astonishing pardon of the Yorkists; York’s short term ascendancy – it was the appointment of Warwick as Captain of Calais that proved to be the master stroke. The Yorkists (and Warwick in his later rebellions) had a safe haven where they could regroup, arm and plan, and from where they could launch their invasion.

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Don’t forget to leave a comment here if you want the chance to win some books.

15,000 blog visitors! It’s taken a while, but I feel such a sense of achievement. So, to celebrate, I’m going to give away some books. All written by me, I’m afraid. But you can’t have everything!

I’m giving away:

Three copies of The Daisy & the Bear; three copies of Thomas & Maud (still a work in progress, but I won’t forget, I promise!) and three copies of my fantasy novel, Dissolution.

I’ll be giving one set away in Australia – your choice of kindle or paperback; one set in the USA (because that’s where the bulk of my blog visitors are from); and one to someone in the rest of the world. Kindle only outside Australia, I’m afraid. I just can’t manage the postage.

So, leave a comment on this post and you might win! (Ooops – almost forgot. You’ll need to let me know which group you’re in. Sorry about that.)

And a huge thank you to everyone who’s read the blog, all those who’ve supported me over the last couple of years. Couldn’t have done it without you!

Following on from this brilliant post from Kathryn Warner, I thought I’d weigh in with my two cents. Firstly, I agree with everything she says. Secondly, I’m not an historian. I have never studied history formally. I have a degree and am working on my Masters, but these are linguistics and writing quals respectively. I’m as much as amateur as anyone out there. I’m not preaching this from any lofty heights or from the perspective of someone who understands or uses any kind of academic method. But I conduct my research as diligently as I can. Sometimes I’m challenged and that’s fine – so long as the challenger can back up what they say with sources – preferably primary, secondary will do but oh, please! not a novel.

Which is what I’m writing and my intention is to stick to the history – what’s been recorded. There are huge gaps to fill, relationships to build, conversations to have, lives to be lived. Some of that can be gleaned from sources or background information, but a good deal of it has to come from me. I need to make sure I do that with respect for my characters, who aren’t really characters at all, but real people who lived real lives, felt real emotions and suffered real deaths. Too many novelists seem to forget that. Sadly, so do too many readers.

I skimmed a review of Philippa Gregory’s Lady of the Rivers the other day. (Disclaimer: I really don’t rate Gregory’s work much.) The reviewer lamented the book’s lack of a ‘plucky heroine’. Which brings me to the subject of this blog: female first person narrators in historical novels set in the Middle Ages. Seems to be some kind of fad at the moment, the shortcomings of the style ignored, the women in question turned into thinly disguised 21st century grrlz. If they’re not hiding in cupboards they’re disguised as boys, or riding, unescorted, to the scene of the next big bit of action. The thing is, by and large, they weren’t witnesses to these big events. Their husbands, fathers and brothers might have been, but they weren’t. So why play fast and loose not only with facts but with the very nature of these women themselves by pretending they were? Worse still are the times when the writer needs to resort to a long report from a breathless rider, fresh from the battlefield, or execution, or whatever the event was. That kind of thing can have its place, but why not include a male voice in the story? The voice, maybe, of one of the men who was actually involved in what was going on.

And this ‘plucky heroine’ is always, somehow, the only one in the whole book who does such things. In order to get her to stand out, all other women must be seen as either barking mad with power; helpless swooning damsels or terrified of everything that’s going on around them. A classic example of this kind of heroine is the Isobel Ingoldisthorpe we meet in Lady of the Roses. She does it all! The whole shebang. And her mother-in-law, the indomitable Alice Montacute Countess of Salisbury, is turned into a helpless wailing nancy just so that Isobel can be shown all the braver, all the more reourceful. My heart hurt for the Countess when I read that book. Sadly, it isn’t an isolated example. Neither is Philippa Gregory’s magic-powers-having Elizabeth Wydeville in The White Queen. (Someone who, btw, seems to have stepped straight out of the pages of Hawley Jarman’s much better book, The King’s Grey Mare.)

So here’s my plea to all historical novelists everywhere. Please do include women’s stories and women’s voices, but do it intelligently and in a way that doesn’t make at least this reader want to throw the book at the wall in disgust. Here are some suggestions:

1. Give your female character the courtesy – and respect – of finding out about her life. Search primary sources, court documents and the like, for any mention of her. If she’s mentioned in a footnoted article, hunt that article down. Contact historians who’ve written about her – they can be quite generous. Secondary sources can be useful, but don’t stop there. ‘Women’s lives weren’t recorded’ is a poor excuse. If they owned property, and most noblewomen did, they’re in the record somewhere, it’s just a matter of finding them

2. Tell the real story of her life, not one you’ve mostly made up. if you think you can tell a better story than the real one, then tell it. Change the names, the setting, the time and write the story you think should be written. Don’t change the events of her life to better fit what you think ought to have happened. You might have the most splendid idea that she and her fourth husband were secret childhood sweethearts, but if he was five years older than her, or grew up at the other end of the country, you might have to throw the idea out. Let the history guide the story, not the other way round. You’d be surprised at the number of readers of HF who want to learn history from novels. If you change the life of your main character, that’s the last thing they’re going to be doing.

3. Don’t make a woman be responsible for telling the whole story unless you want the lives of her menfolk to be only ever experienced second or third hand. Let them tell their bits of it. Noblewomen in the Middle Ages didn’t have dull, boring, stultifying lives – or not all of them. When their husbands were away from home, they took charge of their estates, including the defence of their homes if necessary. But they also didn’t charge around the countryside on horseback unescorted, looking for the next battle to witness, or the next brawl to insert themselves into. Sure, some of them were there or thereabouts for important events, and you might find reference to that in a source somewhere. But if they weren’t there, don’t put them there!

4. You want to make the main female focus of your story a strong woman – that’s fine, she probably was. Don’t overdo it. And don’t throw all the other women into the shadows in order to achieve that. Using the Countess of Salisbury as an example (again), she was attainted for treason in 1459, probably for raising troops for her husband. She shared the Duke of York’s exile in Ireland because of that, either making her own way there or accompanying him when he left Ludlow. After the murder of her husband, she was in the process of bringing a wrongful death suit against several men she held responsible. She must have found life difficult from time to time and she may even have sat down in a quiet corner to have a bit of a cry when it all got too much, but she kept going. The vast majority of women in her situation did. They didn’t take to their beds and wait for death to release them from their lives of misery. In your research, look for the strengths and weaknesses in all your women and write to that. Don’t make them either weaker or stronger than they were. Treat them with respect.

5. ‘Plucky heroines’ belong in books about boarding schools, not grown women in the Middle Ages. Brave in the face of danger, stoic under difficulties, prepared to step outside their usual roles from time to time when the need arose – yes, all these things. But not dressed in their brother’s clothes charging around the countryside on their own, carrying secret messages, heroically saving their husbands’ lives, throwing themselves at the feet of the queen to beg some favour or other. If it happened, it might be mentioned somewhere. If it didn’t, why make it up?

6. Rape, or the threat of it, can be powerful. Overused, as it often is, it becomes just another cliche. In order to make your villain more villainy, or your heroine more heroiney, maybe you think that he should rape, or threaten to rape, her. Women can identify with that, can’t they? Your heroine will win all their sympathy. Won’t she? Maybe, if it’s pivotal to the plor. Or if it actually happened. But gratuitous rape is just that. Gratuitous and tacky. Give the poor girl a break! And him. Give him a break as well. A charge of rape is a serious matter, even five hundred years after the fact. Just don’t do it!

7. Forebodings, presentiments and foreshadowing… Now you know what’s going to happen in the end. (I hope you do. Or why are you writing this in the first place?) But your characters don’t. You know she’s going to be a widow before she’s 30. Or for the third time. Or be childless all her life. Or lose three brothers to the headsman. Or die in childbirth. Or a whole number of things. She doesn’t. She can’t possibly know. Don’t give her nightmares that foretell the future, or visions, or cold shivers or anything like that. Let her wave her husband cheerfully goodbye the last times she sees him. Or maybe, let her be still not over the argument they had the night before. Let his awful death be the shock it should be, not I knew something terrible was going to happen. She didn’t.

8. She married who her father chose for her, not some bloke she met one night at a party and fell deeply in love with. And she will marry her father’s choice without complaint. That doesn’t maker her a pawn or him heartless. If he’s a good father, he’ll do his best for her. But if it doesn’t work out the way everyone hoped, she’ll have to learn to live with it. And so will her husband. (Unless she’s the Duchess of Exeter, in which case all bets are off.) If they haven’t come to some kind of understanding, that might just be because they’re not hugely compatible. It’s probably not because he’s a brute who beats her for the hell of it. Make something of the marriage. Don’t just pile the misery onto her, making her a victim. People generally didn’t marry for love (unless they’re Edward IV, in which case all bets are off). Most hoped that love, or at least a feeling of shared purpose, would come. Yes, there were miserable marriages, but ‘arranged’ marriage should not be treated as a synonym.

9. Please please please don’t make her a 21st century Mary Sue! That’s a crime against history, in my books. Maybe she’s not beautiful, or a particularly good dancer. Perhaps she stumbles when she reads or never quite got the hang of French. Maybe not every man she meets falls in love with her (and tries to rape her). Maybe she has enemies, other women who just don’t like her, even though she’s a perfectly decent person. And, oh please!, don’t make the villain do a face turn just as he’s facing death, begging her forgiveness and confessing his deep undying love. That’s not the reason he’s been her husband’s bitter enemy for twenty years. Other things have been going on. Your heroine is not the centre of the universe.

10. And if you must make your heroine share Naked Fun Time with another woman, please leave the honey in the larder.

The battle itself, fought in the streets of St Albans, the royal standard raised then abandoned in the market square, lasted little over half an hour. Three prominent noblemen were killed. Henry VI was wounded. Yorkist propaganda got its first real work out. The Earl of Warwick’s reputation was made.

The build up to the battle – the convergence of the two parties on St Albans; the steady stream of letters from York’s party to anyone they thought might read them; the toing and froing of heralds – took up several days. The aftermath – the extraordinary Parliamentary Pardon; Warwick’s appointment as Captain of Calais; York’s second protectorate – briefly shifted the balance of power from Henry VI and his supporters to the Duke of York and his. More nobles stayed out of the battle than took part and, unlike Towton, no-one rushed to submit themselves to the new authority in England: York’s power proved illusory and transient.

I really should have spread this over several days, announced a solemn and serious Countdown to St Albans, perhaps. Missed opportunity, I suppose. Still, there’s always next year…

We know about St Albans from a number of sources, not all of them impartial. Most are, sadly, not available online. The Stow Relation (decidely pro-Yorkist) can be found among the Paston letters, but you’ll have to hunt. I didn’t keep the link after I printed what I needed.  Abbot Whetehamstede’s account is decidedly hostile, which is understandable as the battle was fought on his doorstep. The Dijon Relation is more balanced, coming as it did from a foreign observer. The Fastolf Relation was probably written by a young pursuivant attached to the party of Mowbray Herald. It breaks off just before the battle begins, concentrating as it does on the several hours of parlay before the battle proper. These last two, and part of Whetehamstede’s Registrum, can be found in Andrew Boardman’s excellent The First Battle of St Albans 1455.

Two other secondary sources that are particularly useful are CAJ Armstrong’s Politics and the Battle of St Albans, 1455 and Michael Hicks’s Propaganda and the First Battle of St Albans, 1455. Burley, Elliot & Watson’s, The Battles of St Albans is also a very useful book.

The story begins with a message of warning, possibly from the Duke of Buckingham, advising the Duke of York that his main rival, the Duke of Somerset, had been holding secret meetings in London with a view to orchestrating the downfall of York and the Nevills at the upcoming parliament in Leicester. York, the Earl of Salisbury and the Earl of Warwick were together in Royston on 20 May, and here they began a letter writing campaign to convince Henry VI of their loyalty and of the slanders made against them. York’s sons, Edward Earl of March and Edmund Earl of Rutland, were with them.  I’ve yet to find an account, primary or secondary, that clearly places Thomas and John Nevill in the party, but it makes sense that they were there as well.

The letters can be found here.

Much is made of the difficulties of mediaeval travel – poor roads, bad weather, time taken to cover distances – the letters written in Royston and, the next day, in Ware, certainly found their respective recipients in good time. The letters intended for the king got into the hands of his advisors well before the two parties met in St Albans. They weren’t read by Henry or, if they were, he neither acknowledged them nor responded.

I’ve used the term ‘Yorkist’ here, but I’m not sure there was a Yorkist party before St Albans. The previous year, Salisbury and Warwick had joined York in his first term as Protector and Defender largely because their interests coincided, rather than because the Nevills believed in York’s right to lead government. Now they were banding together for mutual protection. They had little support. York’s son-in-law the Duke of Exeter was firmly on the other side. Salisbury’s brother Lord Fauconberg was as well, at least nominally. His sons-in-law, Thomas Stanley and Henry Fitzhugh, stayed well out of things, Fitzhugh (as he was to be up until Towton) in the king’s army and Stanley hovering somewhere in the ‘sorry, couldn’t get there in time’ zone. He wasn’t the only one: the Duke of Norfolk and Lord Cromwell, both York’s supporters on paper at least, were also just too far away to make it to the battle.

Fauconberg being in the king’s party was quite useful. He was one of the lords York sent his letters to, in the hope that he could get them to Henry. Though Norfolk wasn’t there himself, he did send his herald who had a starring role in the pre-battle negotiations. Some months later, for reasons that are clear to no-one, Cromwell was blamed for the whole mess by an angry Warwick and hightailed it to the home of the Earl of Shrewsbury for protection.

In the hours before the battle, Mowbray Herald conducted negotiations with Buckingham Herald. The Duke of Buckingham had been put in charge of the royal army in place of the Duke of Somerset. This was a shrewd move by Henry, as Buckingham was known to be more neutral (by far!) than Somerset. York’s demands were simple: he wanted to speak with the king in person and he wanted Somerset handed over to him so he could be tried on the charges laid against him late in 1453. Henry wasn’t about to give Somerset up and probably hoped for the same outcome as he’d enjoyed at Dartmouth in 1452 – York backing down, swearing an oath and promising to never take up arms against the king again.

York and the Nevills were camped outside the town in Key Field. Henry VI and his party, unprepared for battle, were in the market square. The royal standard was raised.

There was no easy way the Yorkists could get into the town. Though unwalled, defensive barriers could be drawn across two main access routes – Sopwell Lane and Shropshire Lane. A ditch ran along the ‘town backsides’. Various sources say that skirmishing took place before the battle proper, but with the topography of the town, and the defences, I’ve never quite been able to figure out just where, or how, this happened. I’m hoping for the light of understanding to dawn one of these days!

Warwick (or sir Robert Ogle for those who don’t want to give Warwick the credit) saw a way through the gardens of the houses backing onto the ditch. With cries of ‘A Warwick! A Warwick!’ filling the air, his archers clearing the way, Warwick crashed through the gardens and into the market square. York and Salisbury, facing the barricades, began their assault.

Here’s a pretty good map of St Albans.

Most of the men in Henry’s party weren’t prepared for battle. Some were still getting into their armour. The King was in the market square, defended by a stout band of men. Someone – and there are several candidates for this, including the ever fleeing Earl of Wiltshire, dropped the standard on the ground and cut for it. (After the battle, Wiltshire was caught attempting to escape. While this, and other flights from lost battles, is often used to demonstrate his cowardice, fleeing the scene of defeat was by no means a habit unique to him.)

Three noblemen were killed in the battle, two of them probably deliberately targetted by York and the Nevills. The Duke of Somerset, trapped in a house, came out fighting and was felled by a blow from a battle axe. Just who was responsible for this is unclear, but Warwick is often given the credit. The Earl of Northumberland – long an enemy of the Nevills – was also slain. Possibly Salisbury was responsible for this, but if John Nevill was at the battle, I wouldn’t be looking too much further for a culprit. The third man killed was Lord Clifford, who died defending the barriers. He doesn’t seem to have been a deliberate target of attack.

The King was found in the house of a tanner (by the more reliable reports). His neck had been grazed by an arrow, but the wound was not life threatening. York found him, dropped to his knees in front of him and swore his allegiance. He then had Henry taken to the nearby Abbey where he could rest.

Whetehamstede reports looting by the Yorkist soldiers. He also reports seeing many dead. The Phillips relation (which can be found in the Paston Letters) gives a more or less reliable list of the dead.

When all was quiet, York, Salisbury and Warwick went to the king in the Abbey and fell to their knees, swearing they meant no harm and wanted only to save him from those who would harm him. Possibly somewhat fuddled, Henry received them and before he knew it, had appointed Warwick Captain of Calais, a post most recently held by the late Duke of Somerset.

The next day, the Yorkists escorted Henry VI to London where a crown-wearing ceremony took place. With Somerset dead, there was a power vacuum into which York neatly slipped.

Next post, I shall explore the extraordinary Parliamentary Pardon, that turned what was if not a treasonable act something that looked and smelled like a treasonable act into a triumph for the Duke of York.

Chapter 4: In which a frail and angelic® king refuses radical surgery and discovers there might be worse things than dying in a last desperate suicidal charge

Low voices woke him, bright lights momentarily blinded him and a splitting headache made him realise there was a chance – despite recent events – that he was alive. Frail and angelic® but alive.

The voices seemed to belong to three men who were huddled together at the end of a long room. He understood not a word that was said.

“He’s not at all like I imagined he’d be.” One of them men cast a glance the King’s way. “And I’m not sure we can recast at this late stage.”

“Recast!” A second man spurtled. “He’s the only one. The real thing. The punters would spot a ring in a mile off.”

“Well, he doesn’t look like the real thing.”

Richard or Dickon closed his eyes. Whatever they were saying, he sensed that they were talking about him. It was time, he decided, to figure out where he was and what the hell might be going on.

He was lying in a bed. Narrower than he was used to and harder. Cold metal rails at its foot and head. Crisp white sheets. Beside the bed was a large machine that occasionally made a strange sound. When he lifted his arm, he seemed to be attached to it. He pulled gently and the machine protested. Loudly. One of the men still talking incomprehensible gibberish looked up. Another one started towards him and the third one said, “Bloody hell! He’s awake!”

Before the man could reach him, however, a vision in pale blue appeared by his bed. Long black hair hanging about her shoulders, a tiny hat – little more than a folded square of cloth – perched at a seductive angle atop her head. Creamy white breasts straining against the restraints of a garment that seemed moulded to her flesh, long blue leggings accentuating the length and shapeliness of her legs. Richard or Dickon swallowed hard and remember that he had once been a happily married man to his childhood sweetheart and love of his life. Sighing heavily, he thought of her, Anne, sweet Anne! Beautiful in her way but never ever, even in his wildest imaginings, anything close to this goddess.

“Sire.” It was a breath of warm and perfumed air.

Richard or Dickon struggled to sit up. He knew that voice! Tearing his eyes away from the woman’s ample chest – he knew that soft and cushiony bosom! – he looked at her exquisite face. He knew those gentle liquid eyes!

“Dakota?” he said.

She frowned, but even that couldn’t spoil the perfect symmetry of her ethereal beauty. “Sire?”

“Where am I? What’s going on?”

“You’re in hospital, Sire. Don’t worry. We’ll take good care of you.”

Now it was time for Richard or Dickon to frown. He understood her! She was speaking perfect Middle English, his native language and the only one he knew, except for French and a smattering of Latin. And Yorkshire.

She settled him gently back onto the pillows and he hadn’t the strength to resist. A gentle hand on his cheek and a smile that would have melted the heart of the Devil himself, she turned her attention to the complaining machine.

“How is he doing?” the man said, coming to a stop by the nurse’s side.

“Pretty well. We should be up and about in a couple of days. Then he can join Julius and the Scottish one in the convalescent suite.”

The man looked at the King and drew the nurse – Dakota, his favourite spy and undercover courtesan, he was sure of it now – a little way from the bed.

“Dr Shepherd’s not happy,” the man said. “We may have to do a little work on him. If you could explain it to him, I’m sure he’ll understand.”

“But, doctor…”

“Just do it, Sister FitzPercy, or I’ll have you transferred to the centipede ward.” He lowered his beetling eyebrows and glared at her. The nurse stood her ground for a moment then sighed and turned back to the bed. Dr Shepherd watched her for a time, then went back to the others. Richard or Dickon watched warily as they left the ward.

“And how are we this morning?” the nurse said brightly.

Later, much later, when all was still and quiet, Richard or Dickon lay in his bed wondering how he’d got into this mess and how on earth he was going to get out of it. His nurse was indeed named Dakota FitzPercy but, she insisted insistently, not the one he’d known and grown to rely on all those years ago.

Years… Centuries! This was going to take some getting used to.

He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. Despite his pleas, Dakota had refused to remove the bandages from his arms or the tether that connected him to the machine. So, it would have to come with him. Wherever it was he was going.

Sire, she’d said, apologetically. I’m not sure I can explain properly, but you’re here for a reason. A very important reason. And… She’d hesitated and he sensed that he wasn’t going to like what he was about to hear next. When he heard it, he realised he’d been right. And… you don’t look right. I mean, where’s the hump? The withered arm? The cruel and choleric expression? The beaky nose?

The what? he’d said.

He put his feet flat on the floor and pushed himself up. Taking the machine by the scruff of its neck, he tested his balance. It seemed good, though his legs were a little week. Pushing the machine in front of him – it glided beautifully on little wheels – he made his slow way to the door.

It’s important, sire, Dakota had assertively asserted. You must look the part. It won’t take long. They’ll put you under and you won’t know a thing. When you wake up, you’ll be perfect!

His hand was on the door and he pushed it open, dragging his machine behind him. Perfect! he thought bitterly. With an ugly hump on his back and a useless arm!

I will not do it! he’d cried in fury and outrage. ‘Tis a monstrous thing to turn a reasonably well shaped man into a monster! People would hate and fear me and I am a King used to being greatly loved. Besides, it’s a stupid idea!

It was also a cruel and pointless idea. What made it worse was that he still had no clue as to what it was all about. He crept out into a cold and dark hallway. Using the machine as support, he hobbled down it, careless as to direction, not caring where he went so long as he found another door, preferably to some kind of freedom.

Some way down the passage, light spilled out from under a closed door. He heard the hum of muted voices. Beside the door was a large glass window. Richard or Dickon stopped beside it and peered inside. The sight that met his eyes made him reel back in horror. Lying on a circle of tables was a line of naked people, men and women alike. A figure swathed in green, its face masked, was busy attaching the face of the last man to the… and here Richard or Dickon had to swallow hard so as not to throw up… the bottom of another.

What kind of place was this? What hell had he arrived in? For hell it must be. His first thoughts that he was dead, belied as they were by his surroundings, must have been correct after all. In that cold hospital corridor, a fiendish medical experiment almost coming to its devillish end not six feet from him, the stricken King, truly frail and angelic® for the first time in his life, fell to his knees and prayed for deliverance.

Sometimes, those of us interested in the Wars of the Roses take sides: Team York and Team Lancaster. Then there’s Team Plantagent and Team Tudor. As should be clear by now, I’m a firm member of Team Nevill. I’ve yet to meet anyone who’ll admit to being on Team Percy.

The ‘perfidious Percies’ as I noticed them described recently. No-one much likes them, it seems. The deep irony of this is that, as a titled and land rich family, they’ve survived when so many others haven’t. This survival seems to have hung, in the 15th century, from a very slender twig. Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland… That they were *all* called Henry can get a little confusing, but we just have to learn to live with that.

The list of Percy dead during the Wars is as impressive as it is tragic.

First to die was Henry Percy, son of Hotspur, father of the belligerent Egremont who was so fond of feuding with our very own John Nevill. He was killed at the first battle of St Albans. Possibly targetted by one or other of the Nevills. His death added a level of ferocity to his sons’ actions. Egremont, in particular, seems to have developed a thirst for revenge. He, along with others, including young Somerset whose father also fell at St Albans, tried several times to ambush one or more Nevill. My name is Thomas Percy. You killed my father. His older brother, Henry (Lord Poynings, later earl of Northumberland) kept himself out of it, though he can’t have had much love for his cousins.

Egremont himself was killed at the battle of Northampton. His younger brothers Richard and Ralph, partners in his feudic crimes, were also killed in battles – Ralph at Hedgeley Moor and Richard (along with Henry, the earl) at Towton.

Henry’s son (Henry – whoda thought!) was captured and kept prisoner by Edward IV, his titles and lands forfeited, until the King realised that he needed him. He was restored to his titles (which John Nevill had been keeping warm) but didn’t do a great deal to show his gratitude to Edward, except, by happenstance, keep Nevill from preventing him land at Ravenspur in 1471.

Ricardians often partly blame the 3rd earl of Northumberland for the defeat at Bosworth in 1485, but his actions may not have been deliberate treason – he might have been too far away to get there in time. But, as the Percies are clearly perfidious

The next Percy who rates any kind of mention is the one who didn’t marry Anne Boleyn and is therefore held responsible for her execution. And, apparently, in punishment for this, he was rendered impotent.

The Nevill-Percy feud is still being fought, it would seem, though few people are actually on the side of the Nevills. They just stand in as kind of proxies for the real heroes – Edward IV and Richard III. Interestingly, by the time of the Revolt of the Northern Earls in 1569, the Nevills (the earl of Westmorland) and Percies had put aside their differences and now worked together to topple a queen. They failed.

The Percies lost a good deal between Hotspur’s actions in the early 1400s and the 1569 rising. Three generations, five men killed in battle and one imprisoned in the Tower, suffered during the Wars of the Roses. It might be time to cut them a little slack.


I thought I’d share part of my research and writing process, using Richard Welles as an example. It goes something like this:

• There’s this person whose name crops up from time to time in connection with one or other of the Nevills;

• I know nothing or next to nothing about them;

• I think ‘Oh, well, they’re not really all that important at this point, so long as I get the bits I do know right”.

• They keep cropping up in more and more contexts, until finally…

• I find myself asking awkward questions I can’t answer.

In Welles’ case the current awkward question is: “If, as they did, Welles and his wife, Maud Stanhope’s stepdaughter, harried her out of her dower lands, and as this affected her second husband, Thomas Nevill, how on earth did the Nevills and the Welles’ end up being so close?” Close enough for Welles to have a substantial role in the Archbishop of York’s enthronement feast; and close enough for Welles and his son, Robert, to lead the Lincolnshire rebellion on Warwick’s behalf and, sadly, both lose their lives as a result.

Maud did get her dower lands back and she and Thomas both lived there for a time (as she did with her third husband, Gervase Clyfton). The only thing I can find that tells me this is a reference in official records that mentions Thomas as ‘Sir Thomas Nevill of Eresby’ in 1459. (Eresby being where Maud’s dower lands were.) In 1460, Richard Welles, up until then a staunch supporter of Henry VI, swore himself to Edward IV. Five years after that, he was acting as carver at George Nevill’s big feast. Four years after that, he was executed after confessing his part, Warwick’s and Clarence’s in the Lincolnshire rebellion.

I don’t know anything about the state of Maud’s relationship with her stepdaughter, beyond Maud being forced from her dowerlands. While that might suggest that the two weren’t particular friends, it could also have been a case of  ‘nothing personal’. I recently came across an intriguing few snippets referring to an ongoing property dispute between Henry Fitzhugh and his sister Joan, wife of lord Scrope of Bolton. Seems there was a garden in York that each swore their father had given, bestowed upon or left them. I’ve found nothing that suggests any ill feeling between the Fitzhugh siblings, or between Henry and John Scrope. I haven’t followed the story through to whatever the outcome might have been. That’s a task for another time.

Maud’s first husband, Robert Lord Willoughby, died in July 1452. In January the following year, Maud was granted her dower lands. From the relevant Privy Council Proceedings:

To the escheator in Lincolnshire. Order to take of Maud who was wife of Robert Wylughby knight an oath, etc., and in presence of Joan daughter and heir of the said Robert, or of her attorneys, to assign dower to the said Maud.

To Geoffrey Fyldyng mayor of the city of Lincoln and escheator therein. Order to assign dower to the said Maud, of whom the king has commanded the escheator in Lincolnshire to take an oath etc.

Some little while after this, Maud was forced to flee Eresby for sanctuary with her uncle, Ralph Lord Cromwell, at Tattershall.

The best I can say at the moment is that some time between her marriage to Thomas Nevill in August 1453 and 1459, Maud did enter into her dower lands and from then until his death in December 1460, that was Thomas Nevill’s principle place of residence.

In December 1454, Maud’s mother died at Tuxford in Nottinghamshire. Though I don’t have a firm record of this, Maud and her husband may have attended the Inquisition Post Mortem. As subsequent events would show, Thomas wasn’t known for sitting back and waiting for officials and executors to sort things out. He tended to take a more proactive approach. So I’m left, failing any firm evidence, with conjecture to fall back on: a meeting between the two men, the tentative beginnings of a friendship, a level of rapprochement between Maud and her step-son-in-law, steps taken towards getting the property at Eresby back into Maud’s hands. And the foundations of a friendship between the two men that, after Thomas’s death and Welles coming to terms with the new Yorkist king, was easily transferred to the earl of Warwick. Given Maud’s later dealings with John Nevill (which I’m not going to tell you about here – I have to hold something back!), any connection forged between her and Welles during her second marriage could have possibly acted as a layer of glue holding the two families together. Of course, Maud alone couldn’t have been responsible for the closeness of the ties between Welles and Warwick that allowed, at great peril to himself, Richard Welles Lord Willoughby and his son, Robert Lord Welles, to stir and lead a rebellion on Warwick’s behalf.

What I’d really like to find (and I’ve hunted for it, trust me!) is a clear reference to when Maud and Thomas got control of the Eresby lands. I don’t mind Making Crap Up if I have no choice, but I’d rather not have to. So, until I don’t have to, I’ll be doing the best I can with what little I have.