London Calling

Now that my sleeping patterns are somewhat back to normal, I have to really sit down and reflect on what London was like.

London has had a very odd sort of place in my imagination. I grew up reading the stories of Sherlock Holmes, and pictured the Victorian London with hansom cabs and gentlemen in top hats. Hey – I was six. Shut up. :) But long and short of it, I knew, in reality, that London had a lot more to it than just the stories of the greatest detective.

As I studied history, I grew fascinated with the medieval era and Renaissance art. I dug deep into the history of the British monarchy, from the Wars of the Roses forward, and you may well remember, if you stuck around on this blog long enough, that I nearly did cartwheels at work when they announced from Leicestershire that the skeleton found in the parking lot was, in fact, that of Richard III, the last Plantagenet King of England, who actually laid down the foundation of the modern bail system that is still used today.

History has been my favorite fascination, just as jazz has been my only enduring love affair, and such were the circumstances that, at last, brought me to the United Kingdom two weeks after my thirtieth birthday.

This was the trip I selected to mark the occasion. You guys know I travel. You know I travel a lot. But there is something to be said for marking a special occasion with a trip, and I could think of very few destinations that could mark the occasion quite like London.

Mind you, it took me forever to find the right flights. It helped that two of my favorite music people had a show in Pizza Express, and definitely helped that the timing just worked. But I didn’t manage to get a solid flight until around March, by means of Aer Lingus – my first time flying with them, and the trip had a short layover in Dublin, Ireland.

A layover that did not last long enough in the least, I think.

My friend Brendan, an Irish native, refers to it simply as Home. Until I flew over Ireland, I didn’t understand why. Something about seeing the neat fields, something about the way that the Irish Sea sparkled in the morning sunshine, and the simple, straightforward manner of the people all call to the spirit in a way. Someone like myself, a wanderer and adventurer by nature, can look at this land and want to settle on a piece of it, and grow on it. It’s Home indeed, to those who hail from it, because if even someone like myself, a wanderer born into the people who have, historically, had no home, an adventurer who thrives and lives on the chase of the next beautiful places and people to see and photograph, can look at the fields of Ireland and feel a connection to the land, then what else can I call it but Home? Or at least, a place with potential for it to become home, in some decades down the line.

London itself has turned out to be interesting in many ways. I stayed only a short walk from Shaftesbury Avenue, but felt no draw to the theater. It was too reminiscent of Broadway for me to feel any draw to it; but the blend of modern technology – RFID-oriented public transit? Yes, please take a page out of this, NY – and classic architecture was a fascination. I could walk past a building and see a plaque commemorating the person who stayed there and when, and there would be twenty of those in as many blocks. Twists, turns, down this alley, past that storefront, and you find yourself in a tiny little coffee shop that is everything you can want: great food, quiet music, people who don’t disturb you. Take a trip down to the Tower, and the first thing you will see when you come out of the pedestrian underpass is a thousand-year-old castle with the Shard jutting out into the gray sky right behind it. An odd juxtaposition of everything that London was, and everything that it has become.

And yes, my trip started by journeying into the Tower.

The fact that I came out alive is something that I might joke about, but in all seriousness, I have done meticulous research on everything that has taken place in that castle. All the legends, the ghosts, the mysteries, the infamous prisoners… I have researched and committed all of it to memory.

However… have you ever walked into a place and felt the earth shift beneath your feet when the realization hits you, at last, that you are in the right place at the precise right time? Have you ever experienced something that convinces you that yes, anything in the world is possible, just because it has brought you to this exact place and time?

I have felt that all of three times in my life. The first time was aboard the Celebrity Century cruise ship in 2009, my very first music charter cruise that has transformed my life. The second time was at a particular point last year, at a summer festival where I was shooting as media, when I knew that I was on the right path for myself.

The third…was when I came out of the pedestrian underpass and surfaced right in front of the Tower.

Seeing that castle for the first time made everything tilt. There was nothing for me, or my eyes, but the turrets and the structure of that castle, nothing but the thousand years of its history reciting itself rapid-fire in my ears. Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley, did they know where each other was held at the time Mary I imprisoned them? Did they meet, dine, walk the grounds in secret, aided and abetted by a sympathetic jailer? Did Anne Boleyn know at the time of her coronation that the same rooms she was in would be the same rooms where she would later await her execution, or where her own daughter would later end up before she became queen? Did the Princes in the Tower, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, walk these rooms, these courtyards? Elizabeth Woodville, the mother of those princes, popularized as the White Queen, shut herself up in the Tower when her husband, Edward IV, was captured by Warwick the Kingmaker; where was she? In the Beauchamp wing? The White Tower?

The enormity of it all just hit me like a ton of bricks when I set eyes onto that castle. Like the buzz of modern London, the traffic and the electronics, all ceased to exist. Like for the briefest of seconds, it was the medieval era, with all the fear that this castle struck into the people’s souls.

The last thing I should have done was go into the Bloody Tower by myself, and definitely not as the first stop. If there is ever any place in the world that will forever convince you that ghosts are real, then I can think of nothing better than the Tower of London as that place, and the Bloody Tower as the wing in which you will find said proof.

One of the rooms in that castle has been set up as an exhibit dedicated to the Princes int he Tower, and ties it to Richard III as the culprit behind their disappearance. Frankly, this is something I disagree upon very firmly, for the simple reason that Richard III hero-worshipped his brother Edward IV, and out of loyalty alone, I truly doubt that he would’ve harmed a hair on the boys’ heads. If he is responsible for their disappearance, I would think it would be only in getting them silently out of the Tower and somewhere safe. After all, Richard himself was sent away to Flanders for safekeeping during the Wars of the Roses as well. There’s also the part where it’s rumored that Edward IV was a bastard, fathered by an archer, and this is corroborated by the contemporary descriptions of the Plantagenet men: the Duke of York, their father, was a man of a small, slender build, dark-haired. Richard III and George, Duke of Clarence, were both built very similarly. Edward IV was huge: over 6ft tall, built broad, and blond. The Lady Cecily Neville, their mother, was also of a slighter stature. So whose genes showed up in Edward IV? If you want further proof, look at the skeletal analysis of Richard III, conducted recently, and compare that with the grandson of Edward IV…whom you know as Henry VIII.

Genetics are funny like that, they expose certain things. But this would mean that the Princes in the Tower were, in fact, legally barred from the throne, because their father, Edward IV, was never the legitimate king in the first place…which would mean that Richard III was, indeed, legitimately able to claim the throne.

Nonetheless, those two boys did vanish somewhere in the Bloody Tower, and when you take the tiny, steep, twisty spiral staircase up to the Room of the Princes, you start to feel the enormity of that history weighing on you. The cold stone wall under your hand seems to vibrate. Your breathing quickens. Maybe it’s just the knowledge of the history, or maybe it’s the feeling like you really, really shouldn’t be there alone. But I will tell you, even though I was alone on that staircase, I could not breathe for anything. And I sure as hell didn’t feel alone.

You walk through everything that the Tower offers, and despite the solemn splendor of the Crown Jewels, despite seeing the Armory exhibit with King Henry VIII’s suits of armor, you can’t help but remember all the bloody incidents of history that have haunted this place from its inception. This is not the place that has a benevolent mark in English history, nor that of the world, and being inside it, even knowing that you can now walk out of it alive, makes you remember all the multitudes who were denied such a privilege.

I didn’t go to St. Peter ad Vincula, which is the final resting place of many of Henry VIII’s victims, including Queen Anne Boleyn. That’s something for the next visit. But after being in the Bloody Tower, to go there just was a little Too Much.

I’m always one to believe in reason first, and I would love to chalk this experience up to just my encyclopedic knowledge of history being recited rapid-fire with every step I took in the Tower. But really, it was more than that. The window that whipped open when I walked in the Beauchamp Tower, that vibrating feeling under my hand whenever I touched a wall on my way into another room… When the evidence adds up to a picture that doesn’t quite fit into the laws of reason, you have to take the improbable solution as the answer.

Really, though, that alone was what made London memorable for me. The fact that, though the London Eye does give you the best view in the house, apart from the quiet, majestic stillness of Westminster Abbey and the tombs and chapels of everyone who has graced the pages of legends and history books alike, that there is such an immersing experience as the Tower. Where you walk into the walls of the castle and, immediately, travel back five hundred years into the history and the unexplained.
For that reason alone, and for the reason of needing to visit St. Peter ad Vincula, Hampton Court, Windsor Palace, and all the locations of medieval England that I couldn’t squeeze into just one week, I absolutely know that I shall be going back. I don’t know when, but go back I shall.

Kat G.

A Whole New Different Project (and question for my folks)

It’s NaNoWriMo time in about three weeks, and while I’m right about ready with what I know I’ll be writing – another installment in The Index Series – I have started thinking about my other love: history.

When I was about nine years old, give or take a year, I read a book that was de rigeur in my mother’s generation. It was the autobiography of Alexandra Brushteyn, an author, teacher, and pioneer of literacy in days of post-revolutionary Russia. Mrs. Brushteyn wrote the story of her fascinating, multifaceted, challenging and all-in-all astounding life in several autobiographic books. The specific book I read was a trilogy that encompassed her childhood and school years, which took place in pre-revolutionary Russia of the late 1890s-early 1900s.

To say that this story was amazing is not to give it anywhere near the accolades it deserves. Through the eyes of a nine-year-old growing into adulthood in that period and place in history, you get to know an entirely different world. Who in the US even knows US history of that era, never mind Russian pre-revolutionary history? No one ever considers that before the epic political and historic mess that Russia had become, it was a world that, all considered, didn’t differ that much from any other country in that time.

And lately, I dove right back into the book, having found it – and all the others that followed it – in e-book format.

And it occurred to me, especially in the wake of the current state of affairs that all the lessons that Mrs. Brushteyn learned as a girl of nine, and continued to learn well into her life, are effectively the same lessons applicable today.

Now, the book is in Russian. I speak the language fluently still, though a proud New Yorker of most of my life. And I wonder…what if I translate it? What if I translate and have it released in English?

I posit to you, my readers – and crucially, my fellow authors – a major question:

What are the copyright/rights issues to keep in mind when translating a published work, especially if the work is, technically, out of production?

This book is old. It’s about 53 years old, and it’s not been in print for as long as I recall. Right now, the e-book transcriptions I have were a fan project – that I know of – and I am not sure if there’s an English translation done already; I’ve not been able to find one. I am not sure if I should treat this story as public domain, or if I have to query someone for permission to translate. The only people who may have a stake in the translation may be the author’s descendants, but I haven’t the foggiest as to where they are right now.

I would really, really enjoy doing the translation of this story. It’s about 500 pages of grueling work that’ll test my knowledge of both languages, but it’s a story that I feel, especially in this place and time, needs to be told.

Chime in, author folk.


On the new Supreme Court ruling.

You probably have already seen it make headlines. SCOTUS struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. 

Not two hours later, Texas takes advantage of this.

And I, who reads history books for the hell of it, who researches time periods, culture, attitudes therein just for fun, feel like I’m sitting back and watching the history of this country in rewind mode. Horror doesn’t quite encompass what I’m feeling. Numbness doesn’t either. Hell, the closest I come to comparing my own emotions about this would be the Star Wars III scene where Padme Amidala is watching the entire Council celebrate the creation of the Galactic Empire, knowing that this is the collapse of freedom as she knows it. “This is how liberty dies,” she said. “With thunderous applause.” While there’s no thunderous applause, there is a court decision, a legal act that only a subsequent decision in the same court can overturn, that puts a wrecking ball into the progress of this country when it comes to voters and discrimination.

The November primaries were not that long ago.  I got up at 4am just to be one of the first people to cast my vote. And if you remember the November primaries, minorities faced all sorts of backlash throughout the country – why? Because they wanted to vote. Attempts to intimidate voters off the line? Check. Attempts to curtail same-day registration? Check. Closing down polling centers to force people into hour-long queues to get them to give up and leave? Why, thank you, Florida, if I remember, that was you. And now, Texas (why the hell is it always Texas?!) is redrawing its districts in an effort to – surprise to no one – curtail minority votes.

And Texas, for the record, is seeing its white non-Hispanic majority dwindle down. Another election or two and that state will be bluer than the Caribbean in the summer.

Guys, don’t give me crap about voter ID having anything to do with proof of citizenship. Citizenship gets verified when someone registers to vote. The voter registration card is effectively all the ID you need, and barring that, guess what: voter rolls are required at the polls. So by the time one gets to their polling place, they’re either there or they’re not. If they must register same day – again, gets verified. There’s no need for a voter ID law. And in that same decision, the SCOTUS has upheld Section 5,

Let’s call a spade a spade here, and it’ll be unpleasant, and I don’t really give a damn how unpleasant this is, but I have to say it. It’s about race. This court case was all about race, any way you slice it. It’s all about non-white people being in charge and having the opportunity to influence who’s in charge. It’s all about the fact that there’s a black man in the White House who got there by popular and electoral vote alike, held onto his seat by the same vote, and proved that he has the brain and the acumen to hold the office, and the old white male Christian “majority” of the Republicans can no longer get what they want just on the presumption of their own privilege of being old, white, male, and Christian. It’s about the fact that minorities, whether black, Latino, naturalized citizen, or female in combination with any of the above being anywhere near a position of authority. It’s about the fact that old white Christian males are so insecure in their positions that they feel threatened by every little thing that doesn’t fit into their narrow little comfort zones.

This decision has put a serious dent into forty years of progress; progress and a law that people had been arrested for, killed for, imprisoned for, and lynched for in their quest to get that law on the books. This country has a very long and very ugly history of racism, and if anyone has ever thought that we’re a “post-racial” society, they are deluded. They haven’t seen the racist anti-Obama rallies when he first got elected in 2008. They haven’t seen the birthers effectively bully the President into releasing his birth certificate just because of his middle name, all the while the rest of the country quietly knew that if he were white, it would’ve been considered the height of disrespect. They haven’t see the assassinations of Malcolm X and MLK, who pointed out the deep injustices of racism in their time. All these things happened. They are American history. They are recent American history, if you consider this country’s age, and nothing can paint that history out of the national canvas. Racism is everywhere, even now, in every stereotype that a politician spouts in the media, in the pop culture stereotypes that people get paid money to perpetuate, and in every time that a celebrity has a Freudian slip that shows their actual mentality (yes, Paula “Butter” Deen, I’m looking at you). It’s there, and being immune to it doesn’t erase it one bit. Just because you’re not seeing segregated water fountains a half-century after Brown v. Board of Education got settled doesn’t mean that there aren’t people, everywhere, who miss those days. And unfortunately for the rest of the country, those people are the ones in charge. Case in point, when Georgia high school kids who wanted to have an integrated (that is, a non-segregated) prom, their principal called it a “publicity stunt”. I don’t know which was worse: the segregated prom being there to begin with in the sunny year of 2013, the principal’s response, or the fact that I could actually say, “It’s Georgia” by route of explanation on why there’s a segregated prom in 2013 and people would not think it any unusual an explanation. Same way as I can say, “It’s Texas” to recent anti-birth control spoutings, and no one is surprised.

Truth be told, few things are more disturbing than seeing a Supreme Court – a diverse Supreme Court, considering its history – decide to do away with a provision to one of the most important laws that this country had enacted.

It’s my personal opinion that Clarence Thomas should be censured at the very least; he benefited directly from the anti-discriminatory provisions that this law had set into place, and frankly, I expected him to know better. It’s thanks to that law that he is on his Supreme Court seat. He is decidedly against same-sex marriage, conveniently forgetting that his own marriage was illegal half a century ago too. And he had drawn a concurring opinion on a law that he had directly reaped the benefits from. I don’t think there are words to adequately express my contempt for him and for Antonin Scalia, whose remark on “racial entitlements” should’ve, ideally, warranted a slap across the face, from Thomas first. But apparently, Thomas is that much more comfortable in the bubble  – that the Voting Rights Act and the Brown v. Board of Education decision, and other anti-discriminatory laws had helped him built – than to look at the world outside.

And Texas, looks like, is a little too eager to begin redrawing their maps, says legal scholarly opinion.

Gee, ya think???

And what gets at me is that we, the under-40s, the college grads, the people starting their families or their careers, or both, the people who went to the polls en masse after being thoroughly disenchanted with the state of affairs as it was, are all pro-equality. We have made leaps and bounds in progress, we have been the cause of change – as a people, not as individuals – and I’m pretty sure that there is quite a good bit of outrage at this decision, not just in my generation but in our parents and grandparents, who were likely there for the original change; when the Voting Rights Act was signed. I’m hoping that the outrage will be enough to make some sort of an impact. Unfortunately, I’m good at US history, and unfortunately, I know the next steps down the slippery slope. Because this plus the decision on silence being an indicator of guilt – nice one, SCOTUS, no one revoked the Fifth until now – is starting to raise the little alarm in the back of my mind that says, you’ve seen this all before. Your parents know what this was like. You know you’ve been there.

Yeah. Unfortunately. Deja vu is a bitch. So is history.


History’s Mystery, Part 2

If you know me, then you know that it isn’t like me at all to leave a mystery laying around. And the unearthing of Richard III opened a mystery indeed.

As with the discovery of anyone’s remains, we get curious as to how that person lived and died. We know how he died – but what do we really know about how Richard Plantagenet lived? We can put things together based on the customs of the time, on the historic circumstances, but let’s also consider that, because Richard was the last king of a dynasty, his biographic record is actually a little sketchy.

Never mind “a little”. It’s very sketchy. In fact, it makes me wonder what accurate contemporary record of his life exists.

As I’ve found out, the accepted biography of Richard Plantagenet was written by Thomas More, who had been beatified by the Anglican Church. Saint Thomas. There’s just one thing wrong with the picture: Thomas More’s account could not possibly be accurate. Why?  He was born in 1478. So when Richard III got crowned, Thomas More…was five years old. Moreover, being raised close to the court of Henry VII and later being a close friend of Henry VIII – and him we do know a lot about – More’s biography of Richard loses greatly in its credibility on the account that he had a vested interest in staying on the Tudors’ good side. He had gotten his info on Richard III secondhand, which may make or break the bio, depending on the source. As it happens, John Morton, who was the source for Thomas More, had a massive falling-out with Richard while Edward IV was still alive. His credibility is a little compromised, moreover on the account that Morton enjoyed a good life under Henry VII and had no interest whatsoever in losing it.

And of course, William “Now is the winter of our discontent” Shakespeare’s view of Richard Plantagenet we know to be pure theatrical embellishment. Which leaves us with…what?

We do, however, have records of what he had done, and based on those, we can draw conclusions. Yep, time for me to put on my investigative hat yet again.

(Times like these, I am glad to have my crim-j degree.)

What do we know for sure?

What kind of a king was he for his two years on the throne?

We know that he had a strong belief in social justice and sympathized with the common man, and this can be inferred from the laws that he had enacted in the two years that he was king. Richard III is actually the great-grandfather of the current staple concepts of the judicial system. He had enacted the bail system, enforced the idea that lawsuits absolutely must take place through a judge, and that no taxes are to be levied on the people without a unanimous Parliament approval.

Sound familiar?

If you live in the US and have ever taken a civics class, it should ring a bell nice and loud. The Founding Fathers of the US had actually developed upon and built upon an idea that had been originally pushed through by a 15th-Century English king. Wild, innit?

Richard III died in battle. Was he always a warrior?

Yes. He had always been fighting on his brother’s side, since his teens, because the Wars of the Roses dominated his life. He had a motto, like most knights of the time had their mottos, and his was Loyaulte me lie. Translated, it means “Loyalty binds me”. And indeed, Edward IV had Richard by his side through every fight of the Wars of the Roses, and Richard never, not once, swayed in loyalty to his brother the king (unlike their middle brother, George, Duke of Clarence, whose coat-turning made his wardrobe like a revolving door). Their age gap was 10 years; Edward was a tall, muscled, blond womanizer, a dashing commander, and the King of England at eighteen. Richard was skinny, dark-haired, and as we now know from his skeleton, had developed scoliosis in his adolescence. Likely, Richard was an awkward young man in his adolescence because of that contrast with his royal brother. Edward had ascended to the throne when Richard was about eight years old – perfect age and circumstance for looking up to his brother developing into hero-worship. So of course, in part because he put his brother the king on a pedestal already, and in a huge part because his brother was the king, Richard fought for him whenever he was summoned, and fought very well by all accounts.

Bosworth was a shining example, for all its unfortunate end. Richard knew that his lieutenants were defecting to Tudor. He knew that if he were to retreat and come back with a better-mustered, bigger force, he would’ve succeeded in keeping his throne, but he did not even think to retreat; to him, it would’ve been the height of dishonor. So what did he do? He charged for Tudor, head-on. You may call it a desperate move, but to him, it was honorable. His troop may’ve been defecting, but not him. It was his battle, his kingdom, and his sovereign duty to the crown to defend it, just like he had defended his brother’s crown. Loyaulte me lie. It cost him his life, and his crown, but he died defending his honor.

What about his personal life?

We know for a fact that Anne Neville, his wife, was his childhood friend. Richard was raised at Warwick Castle, by the Earl of Warwick’s family, and it was custom back then to send a child over to a relative or family friend for them to learn proper manners, music, languages, dancing, etc. He and George, Duke of Clarence, grew up side-by-side with Anne and Isabel Neville, who would later become their respective wives. Whether or not the marriage of George and Isabel was for political reasons only, or there was real affection there, it’s not for me to speculate. What their marriage did, however, was bar Richard and Anne from getting married without a dispensation on the basis of affinity. After Anne’s marriage to Edward of Lancaster (her father’s maneuver to throw Edward IV off the throne…for the umpteenth time) ended in his death, she ended up in the custody of George and Isabel. Who got her out of their keeping? Richard. And the story goes (and how true it is, we’ll never know) that he dressed her up as a servant girl to get her out of there without George and Isabel knowing. But, very unfortunately, after he became king, he lost Anne, and his son with her, Edward, within a year of each other.

We do know this for a fact: Richard gave Anne many gifts, and he spared no expense. She was always termed as the “dearly beloved consort” or “most beloved consort” in sales records (and those are great weight in evidence) and he sent her furs, silks, cloth-of-gold, etc. All of those considered lavish by the standards of the day, and there are plenty of such purchases throughout their marriage. It’s pretty fair to say that Richard III loved his wife very much and made sure he showed it.

Record has it that he had two children by two other women. Whether it was before his marriage to Anne or after, I do not know, but I do know that those children were acknowledged by him and enjoyed the benefits of the acknowledgment as well. Fair to say that he was very generous.

What about the hunchback bit? There were some accounts calling him a “croche-backe”.

That gets a bit iffy. Hunchback is a common term, and nearly always used to define a spinal deformity without being particular as to how it happened or what it was. We know Richard III had serious scoliosis, based on his skeleton. But his spine twisted sideways, so he would not have had an actual hump. It’s likely that he had uneven shoulders, but considering that 15th-century clothing included plenty of capes and jerkins and doublets, he would not have had this be too obvious. It was also likely that, depending on his attitude towards his own bodily quirk, he would’ve had his clothes padded at the lower shoulder to appear more even. But like all men at court, he danced, traveled, and jousted, and no one commented to flaws in his dance steps, certainly. And he fought in 50lbs of steel armor. So it’s safe to say that he was by no means hindered by his scoliosis, to the degree where terming it as a disability is inapplicable. If he can charge out in 50lbs of steel armor, repeatedly, with a twisted spinal column, this man was anything but disabled.

Withered arm, to humor Shakespeare? Not that we know of. Medical analysis shows that he had very slender arms, based on bone structure, but he was of a slight build overall. So this would not be unusual.

What about the Princes in the Tower?

I’m afraid that on this one, it’s less about what we know and more about what we can conclude. I’ll take my best shot at figuring out, at the very least, the circumstances under which Richard became king.

We do not know exactly when the Princes disappeared, but we do know that the succession of the older one was under fire. We do know that the Parliament had declared them illegitimate by Titulus Regius, because Edward may have (speculation, because customs binding marriage were very loose) been married prior to Elizabeth Woodville, his queen. If that’s the case, and he wanted to get to the throne in his own right, he had no reason to kill them. If they’re illegitimate, they’re out of the succession. Period.

Now, this is the interesting part. The more I think about it, I may well recant my prior statement that Richard III was a usurper. The validity of his usurpation lies directly in the question of the legitimacy of Edward IV’s marriage to the queen. If, in fact, it was a bigamous marriage, and if Richard was among the people who had no idea about it – I know it’s speculative, but bear with me for a minute – then how can he be a usurper if he, point blank, hadn’t the slightest? It’s said that the only true way to keep a secret is for the other person to be dead; Eleanor Butler, the alleged previous wife, has died by the time of Richard III’s accession. Who would know but Edward, Eleanor, some witnesses, and whoever performed the ceremony?

Let’s give the benefit of the doubt to the claim for a minute. Suppose Edward really was secretly married to Eleanor Butler prior to the Lady Woodville. It could well have been recorded somewhere and hushed up at Edward’s accession. As was the case with royal mistresses, Edward would’ve had her married off to a nobleman, where she would be safely out of the way, and paid the family handsomely for their silence. And, if Edward IV was married bigamously, then by the laws of the day, not only do his sons not inherit, but the crown would pass on to the next boy in the family.

As it is, Edward had two surviving brothers; Edmund Plantagenet was killed in the first battles of the Wars of the Roses.

Now, I mentioned George as a turncoat. As he was, because whenever Warwick, who was his father-in-law, would plot to overthrow Edward, George was right there with him. After years of enduring this, Edward has had enough, and finally charged his brother with treason. Historic rumor claims that George had “drowned in a butt of malmsey” – in other words, an enormous barrel of wine. Whether or not George had really been executed in this fashion is anyone’s guess. But we know that Edward had outlived him.

Then there’s Richard. And Richard’s motto was loyaulte me lie. And loyal indeed he stayed – to Edward.

So if it was true that Edward was a bigamist, then yes, that would have made Richard his direct and logical heir.

Now, the Princes in the Tower.

If Richard was next to his big brother throughout his life, then why in the hell would he harm his brother’s sons? Crown, possibly, but if you consider his unwavering loyalty to Edward, you have to wonder how much he cared about the crown.

We do know that Richard was no fan of the queen’s family.

Let’s go back to the wives for a moment. Edward’s known wife, the queen Elizabeth Woodville, while an amazing beauty at her time, was not popular as a queen. She was the oldest of 13 surviving children, and as she became queen, her first order was to ensure that her entire family was taken care of financially and socially. She married her siblings into pretty much every wealthy family, and this was the source of a lot of tooth-gnashing from those who had not benefited from the Woodvilles suddenly being the recipients of wealth, power, and privilege. The Earl of Warwick, a perfect example of this malcontent, had led multiple charges against Edward, going as far as recruiting the Lancastrian faction for it, because he was not among the people who had benefited. Warwick had also planned to have Edward marry a French princess, so his secret/private wedding to Elizabeth Woodville was a wrench in his plan. But Warwick died at Tewkesbury, and the malcontent was not quite limited to just him alone.

If the Parliament had any vested interest in disinheriting the Princes based on a rumor (no concrete proof of Edward IV’s previous marriage to the lady Eleanor Butler exists, far as I know – but only as far as I know), it would be to remove the Woodville influence from English rule.

And, well, it is the crown of England. It’s the ultimate carrot on a stick. Richard Plantagenet had grown up in the shadow of the throne his entire life; if it were within his reach, would he grasp it? Without question. But would he go so far as to do anything to his nephews, the children of the brother he loved, regardless of who their mother was? Doubtful. In truth to his motto, he was going to be Lord Protector as long as possible, but if he were to buy the illegitimacy bit, or even push it through the Parliament, if he had any proof whatsoever that Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was not valid, then yes, he’d take the crown for himself – all without touching a hair on the boys’ heads.

That and no one knows, exactly, when the boys disappeared. The accepted period is within Richard’s reign. But again, if they were illegitimized by Titulus Regius, then there was no reason for them to be harmed at all. Far as law went, they were the illegitimate children of a king, like many kings before and after Edward IV (ahem, Henry VIII).

That’s what we know so far. Most of it, as you can see, is speculative, and it’s drawn only from established facts, and it makes me think that that’s effectively the only way to break this case is to examine and analyze established records. Court payment ledgers. Wardrobe orders. Parliament records. And so on and so forth. Things that are kept for record retention, not so much as biographic purpose.

We may well find out exactly what sort of a person Richard III was, and maybe, someday soon, we’ll find out about the Princes in the Tower.


History’s Mystery.

Fresh off the presses in England: the last Plantagenet king, Richard III, has been finally found.

Pardon me, but I have to pick up my jaw from the ground. This is absolutely stupendous, in terms of the convoluted mess that was English history at the era of the Wars of the Roses. My English history buff is rejoicing, but now this opens up the door to a whole different can of worms: what exactly was going on before Bosworth?

History tells us what we know for a fact as to how Richard III got killed: Henry Tudor invaded from Brittany. Richard III went out to meet his rival at Bosworth Field, and lost. And he lost, primarily, because Henry Tudor’s stepfather, Lord Stanley, who was married to power mom extraordinaire Margaret Beaufort, switched sides at the very last second and his forces (chances are, Lord Stanley did this himself) ended up killing Richard on the field. But after that, things get muddled.

Per the link above, the skeleton shows extensive head wounds, and an arrow-puncture to the back. A good guess is that Richard has been brought down with the arrow first, and then maced or beaten to death.

The Wars of the Roses were a brutal affair, and if you consider that the Lancaster and York sides were both descended from King Edward III and were so intermarried to maintain power that calling it The Cousins’ War, as many English historians and hist-fic authors had taken to doing – yes, I have Philippa Gregory in mind here – you can call it the greatest family squabble known to man. If you consider the drama of the Plantagenet family in particular, especially Richard’s two brothers, Edward (Edward IV) and George (Duke of Clarence), then man, who needs to watch soap operas. History is enough in and of itself.

The one thing that isn’t clear, however, is exactly what sort of person Richard has been in his very short reign. He was king for only two years prior to his demise, and he found out the very hard way that having power is not what it’s cracked up to be. Shakespeare had taken serious liberties with his reputation, accusing him blatantly of killing the Princes in the Tower, his nephews, and considering the brutalities of battle of the day, having him be all, “A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” is ridiculous. See above as far as his injuries. A horse would not at all have helped Richard if he got an arrow in the back. He would’ve slid out of the saddle, and if people were waiting for him to do so – chances are, they were – then he was doomed as soon as that arrow found its target.

The mystery of the Princes in the Tower is directly tied into Richard’s reign. The Princes were his two nephews, sons of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, and upon the death of Edward IV, Edward V was due to come to the throne. Richard Plantagenet was appointed Lord Protector; in other words, he was regent while Edward was growing into adulthood. Richard had grown up watching his brother the king battle repeatedly to defend his throne, even against their middle brother, George. He knew how precious power was back then, and of course, he chose to grasp it for himself. So he held Edward, Prince of Wales, and Richard, Duke of York, then twelve and eight (not certain) years old, in the Tower.

Don’t think of him as a horrible person automatically; the Tower was a palace as well as a prison. The boys were allowed to play outside, they received visitors, and likely were treated well. There’s just one small problem: they disappeared.

You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out that they probably died there. Whether it was natural causes – remember, no modern medicine – or not is anyone’s guess, but the accepted theory is that they were killed.

Of course, immediately, the first person suspected was Richard III. Makes sense, though, wouldn’t it? He’s Lord Protector. The only thing standing between him and the throne was those two boys. But he was on the throne already. And atop that, he passed a law that removed them from the succession, alleging that Edward IV was already married at the time of his wedding to Elizabeth Woodville, which made the Princes illegitimate.

Whether or not that is true, anyone’s guess. The common practice for a nobleman to get laid at the time was to promise marriage. If someone were to do that in front of a priest, well, that was just as binding. Sounds ridiculous from today’s standards, but again, we’re talking about the 1400s. But one way or the next, with such a bombshell, the Princes could not inherit. Richard, thusly, had no reason whatsoever to kill them. Moreover, within the family squabbles, aka the multiple battles of the Wars of the Roses, Richard sided with…King Edward IV. He would’ve been quite fond of his nephews.

Let’s also consider that there were other factions jockeying for the throne. Primarily, again, Henry Tudor. His mother, Margaret Beaufort, was a mastermind plotter. She entered a loveless, purely political marriage with Lord Stanley for no reason other than banking on him supporting the Lancaster claim to the throne through her son. She managed to convince Elizabeth Woodville, who hid in sanctuary at Westminster Abbey at the time of Richard’s ascension, to betroth her oldest daughter, Elizabeth of York, to Henry. And from all reports, Margaret was the power behind the throne after Henry VII took the crown; she signed all correspondence as Margaret Regina (even though her daughter-in-law had the title of queen), and exiled the Dowager Queen to a nunnery. But apart from that, at the time of Richard’s reign, guess who was Constable of the Tower.

Lord Stanley. Her husband.

If Richard wouldn’t authorize the death of two boys for no reason other than being born princes, then I can bet you good money that Lord Stanley and Margaret Beaufort would have no such qualms. The Lancaster faction had been decimated at Towton at the time of Edward IV’s ascension over Henry VI, and Margaret, being direct heiress after Edward of Lancaster (son of Henry VI and Margaret d’Anjou) died at Tewkesbury, would have never, not once, lost sight of the fact that she was of royal blood herself. Family ambition back then was everything, and has been the driving force behind the war to begin with. Margaret knew one thing all her life, and had grown up with it: her son had claim to be King of England. Her husband, Lord Stanley, had a reputation for switching sides for his own benefit. He would never have missed an opportunity to be stepfather to the King of England, even if it meant ordering the deaths of two boys.

Fortunes of war indeed.

But then there’s also a theory – I wouldn’t quite call it a conspiracy theory, but it’s definitely a hypothesis that carries some weight – that only one of the princes died in the Tower, and Elizabeth Woodville saw to it that her son Richard, Duke of York, survived, and another boy took his place when Richard III proposed that both princes should be in the Tower.

And you know what? I actually believe it. I’ll explain why.

Consider the position of Elizabeth Woodville after Edward IV died. She couldn’t rule in her own right, being female. She was terrified that someone would hurt her boys. She was terrified that Henry Tudor would invade and kill her as a bargain. So she went into sanctuary at Westminster, if only to buy time. Edward V, her son, one of the Princes in the Tower, would’ve been in the tower pending his coronation. But Richard, Duke of York, the younger one, was with her at Westminster. Considering that her position was precarious, I’d imagine that she would not trust Richard Plantagenet worth a damn. And Margaret Beaufort started her correspondence with the queen at roughly that time, and would’ve let her know that no plans have been made to crown Edward V. Dead giveaway that Richard Plantagenet was about to seize the crown in his own right. Her position, thusly, would be even more precarious.

And if you had two treasures and worried about thieves, the last thing you would do is keep them in the same box.

Elizabeth Woodville was no fool. As soon as she knew that Edward would not be crowned, boy king or not, she realized that her sons were in danger, Edward for sure because he was in the Tower. She would’ve realized that, eventually, Richard III would ask for her younger son too. Her best bet would’ve been to smuggle the young Richard, Duke of York, out of sanctuary and hide him abroad. Edward IV hid in Flanders at one point in the Wars of the Roses. To save her son’s life, I would imagine that Elizabeth Woodville would’ve taken advantage of any connection her husband may have made there.

And yet, Richard III was saddled with the blame for the Princes’ deaths, historically, and Shakespeare was way, way too happy to go with that. In truth, no one knows for a fact what exactly happened to those boys. There was, however, one impersonator of Richard, Duke of York who was believable enough to marry a Scottish princess, a one Perkin Warbeck. He actually got so far as to get imprisoned by Henry VII, got executed, yes…but no full record of his interrogation apart from one by the very young Thomas More exists, and this makes you wonder as to whether or not Elizabeth Woodville had the wherewithal to smuggle out one of her sons with the hope that he would reach adulthood and reclaim the throne in his own right. Likely, she did. But since we’re about 500 years past that time, unraveling this mystery would be a, pardon the pun, royal pain.

Richard III’s reputation is that of a usurper. Is he one? Yes. No question. Edward, Prince of Wales, was 12 years old, which at the time was the accepted age of adulthood. He should have, for all intents and purposes, been crowned; Henry VI of Lancaster was crowned as a boy too and ruled into adulthood and right up until the Battle of Towton handed the crown to Edward IV. Richard usurped the throne, and I wouldn’t be surprised if his wife, Anne Neville, had something to do with it, considering that her father, Earl of Warwick, was forever known as The Kingmaker. You marry the kingmaker’s daughter, you better believe she would expect you to become king. And if Richard loved his wife, which by all accounts he did, since childhood, then…

Ahhh, history. Who needs television, when you can unravel mysteries past and see what develops?

I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on England as they run with their discovery.


ETA: oh, it just got a LOT better. Yes, it got a LOT better! Thanks to the wonderful bit of digital reconstruction, we know now what Richard Plantagenet likely looked like.

Accepted portrait:

Holy DAMN. Not that I put much stock in medieval portraiture, but…wow. This is absolutely stoke-worthy on all levels. History’s alive and well in modern tech.