Leicester

A little over a year ago, I visited Leicester with my family.  We actually visited three times last year.

I did visit the town a few years earlier, but not on purpose.  My partner at the time was driving me home to County Durham, along the A1.  I was feeling ill, but we just thought that was because of the heavy night before !!  I deteriorated as we were coming up to Leicester and he drove me straight to the local hospital, where we found out that I had a ruptured appendix and that I needed emergency surgery.

Our visits last year were of a more planned nature.  I say planned, the first was talked about and decided against, then plans were changed within 48 hours of the trip and we went after all!

We sat at home watching the cortege of Richard III travel through Leicester and the surrounding areas on the sunday.  Some of the services were quite emotional to watch, particularly the one at Bosworth, which I felt was well done (though whether Richard himself would have wanted soil from the place he died buried with him, am not too sure about).

After talking about it, my husband offered to take us to Leicester to pay our respects at his coffin, which was on display in the cathedral there until wednesday.  I had been an advocate of his burial to take place in York, as he was from the House of York, and was unsure how I felt about him being reinterred in Leicester.  In any case, we decided to go down there on tuesday.

I gave my eldest daughter the day off school, after arguing with them about how important an occasion this was (how many times in her life is she likely to be able to go and pay respects at the coffin of a 500 year old King of England?), and we set off early on the morning.  Our younger daughters came too, though I doubt they will remember it.

We did not expect the crowds that were there !!  The queues snaked thrugh the streets and people were standing for hours.  It was unbelieveable.

I will be entirely honest with you, as I have said to others, I was not very impressed with the way we were rushed through the cathedral that day.  I did not feel that we had time to stop and pay our respects or even say a prayer.  It was more like, ‘take your picture and the way out is over there’.  Not very respectful at all, in my opinion.  I felt that they only wanted numbers through the doors, nothing more.

Still we did get to spend a little time talking to Philippa Langley while we were there, which I enjoyed.  I even got to introduce her to my own little Philippa !

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Our second visit was in the summer, en route to Wales.  We re reouted via Leicester simply because I had wanted to see Richard III’s book of hours which was on display for a short time at a museum in the town.  It was fascinating to see his own writing in the book and to see how well preserved such a piece of history was.  Alledgedly it was found in his tent the day after Bosworth and presented to Margaret Beaufort afterwards.

Our third visit was again with the children, we visited the exhibition about Richard that had been opened on the site of his discovery.  It was a fun time for the children and I think it was enjoyed.  Standing above his actual grave site was a little eerie, especially when a silhouette of his skeleton lit up underneath me, without warning !!

Afterwards we went across to the cathedral to see his tomb.  I was a little apprehensive after our experience during re-internment week, but I was glad to find the atmosphere to be totally different.  We were not rushed through at all and were welcomed in.  We spent time admiring the tomb itself.  It looks very different in person than it did on television.  I was not too impressed with the tomb originally, but once I saw it up close, saw the way the light reflected and the area surrounding the tomb, I changed my mind.  There is a very tranquil feeling as you stand by it, I am not sure why, but that is what I felt.  My misgivings about him being buried there have been more or less laid to rest now.  He may have preferred to be interred by his beloved wife, though as she is in Westminster Abbey that would have probably required permission from the Queen, who has never really shown any interest in the finding of Richard, so probably would not have been in favour.  Most of the House of York is not actually interred in York in any case, so maybe Leicester was not so bad a choice after all.

I don’t know whether I would be considered a full blown Ricardian, I do not think he was an angel, but Kings of that age had to be strong and sometimes ruthless.  I have questions about his blame in the case of the Princes, they were in his care, but whether he actually killed them, I do question.  There is some evidence that Perkin Warbeck may have been Richard of Shrewsbury, so maybe he did spirit them away from public view somehow.  We will never know for sure.  I do not believe that the remains in the urn in Westminster belong to the boys, no matter what.  I can go into those reasons another time, perhaps.  I do now believe that he has been treated well in his death and at least must now surely be at peace.  Well at least this grave fits him !!

Henry Viii

It is the 525th birthday of Henry VIII today, he was born on this day in 1491.

He was never originally destined to be King of England, he had an older brother for that, it was planned by his father that he would ‘probably join the church’.

An ironic start, as he would eventually become the one who broke the catholic church in England !

It is said that his mother, Elizabeth of York, doted on Henry as a child.  Her elder son had been taken from her when he was quite young, to be trained in kingship as he was the heir.  He had an older sister when he was born, Margaret, though they are not said to have been close.  A younger sister came along after him, Mary, to whom he had a closer relationship.

His grandmother, Margaret (Beaufort), was also a big part of his life and survived to see him become King when his father died.  His other grandmother, Elizabeth (Woodville), had died before he was born, but had been banished to a convent for a time before her death, by his father (how many men would love to send their mother-in-laws away ?!?!).

He was brought up in the royal nursery alongside his sisters, showing great athletic prowess and growing into a strong healthy boy.  It was a huge blow to his parents and the royal court as a whole, when his elder brother, Arthur, died, when Henry was just eleven years old.

Becoming the heir to the throne, his father turned to him, to teach him the future role he would be forced to take.  The dowager Princess of Wales, Catherine (of Aragon), came to court for her mourning period.  It was moooted that Henry and her should marry to cement the alliance between England and Spain.  To begin with King Henry was in favour of this marriage, but changed his mind soon after and Catherine was sent to a country house instead, where she would live in almost penury until the death of Henry VII.

Soon after his brother’s death, his mother became pregnant once more, though sadly died in childbirth, along with his baby sister.  Two such losses within a year must have been very difficult for the young Henry to deal with.

HIs father kept Henry close to him from then on, probably scared to lose him too.  The next seven years were spent learning more about the country he would one day rule, until in 1509, his father died, and he finally accedded to the throne.

His story once he became King is well-known, his six wives, his love affairs, his eagerness for a son, I doubt I need to repeat a version of it here.

He, of course, does appear in my books, as they are based around his daughter, Mary, though not in a large role.  I found it dificult to write him in a nasty father role, even though that is what he became.  As he got older, many people say he became more evil, but I had difficulty seeing him in that way, so I showed him as being more distant from his family, instead.  Whether he was evil away from his family is for my reader to decide, I focus on Mary and her family.

Many reasons for his real life health decline have been suggested, from disease to a head injury.  I am no doctor, so I do not feel qualified to make any declarations of his problems.  I do feel it is possible that there was some genetic link to ‘madness’ in the bloodline of the crown though.  It is said that HenryVI went mad, catatonic in some versions, and some of the later Kings were also said to have times of ‘madness’.  So perhaps there is something to be seen in that, who knows.

Henry Viii is probably the best remembered of the English Kings, for many reasons, though I will not say he was the best of the English Kings.  He changed the face of the country when he created the Church of England, although it would be his daughter Elizabeth who would bring the vision of a true English church to greater being.

So a happy birthday to Henry, I imagine he will be sat at a big table somewhere in the afterlife, eating a massive banquet, with lots of wine !!!!!!

another parliament

The political talk over the last few days is overwhelming and to be honest, I have had my fill of it, so I thought I would talk about a different parliament today.

The parliament of 1483.

This was the parliament who, on this day in that year, offered the crown of England to Richard III, after studying the evidence of Bishop Stillington.

He had come first to Buckingham and Richard (history is unclear which was first) with his evidence about the marriage he had officiated at many years earlier, between Richard’s brother Edward and a certain young woman by the name of Eleanor Talbot.  We do not know exactly what evidence he offered to parliament as all evidence along with Titulus Regis, the parliament’s findings on the matter, were destroyed by Henry VI when he came to the throne.  It must have been strong enough evidence for the parliament to declare the marriage of the former king and Elizabeth Woodville to be null and void and their children to be bastards.  Admittedly, the Woodville clan were not the most popular people in the country and there could have been some in parliament who simply wanted rid of them, but I am sure that was not the reasoning for every single person in that parliament.  There must have been some evidence to back up the Bishop’s claims !

It has been said that the same Bishop also took this evidence to George of Clarence a few years earlier, who then took it to the King and confornted him.  There is proof that Clarence and the Bishop were then imprisoned in the Tower of London.  This resulted in George’s execution, though the Bishop was released a few months later.  Did Edward kill his brother because he knew of his dirty little secret?  After all, a secret marriage was not a strange thing for Edward to do, that was how he married Elizabeth Woodville too.  Maybe there were other ladies also, it has been mooted that he could have gone through sham weddings with at least two other women, simply to get them into bed !!  Of course, if Clarence had found out this juicy piece of gossip, it of course made Clarence into the legal heir to the throne after his brother, and after the ambitions he had shown in previous years, Edward must have seen him as a threat.  Could that have been the reason for his ‘private’ execution?

But returning to Richard, he had been given the precarious job of being Protector of the realm for the minority of his nephew Edward, upon his brother’s death.  Many think he rushed to London to take control of young Edward and then take the throne, but he actually waited long enough in the north to attend a memorial mass for his brother at York, before travelling south.

It is clear that the Woodville clan were not keen on Richard’s new post and prepared to get the young boy to london and crowned before Richard could get there.  Though many battles on behalf of his brother helped Richard to plan ahead and intercept the journey of the new King from Ludlow to London.  Some say an attempt on Richard’s life was made on this journey and that is why some of the young boy’s entourage was imprisoned and eventually executed, though there is no proof for this.

It is true that the dowager Queen then fled to Westminster for sanctuary, with her younger son and daughters.  Her reasoning for this is unclear.  She had no reason to fear Richard, he had been a loyal supporter of his brother for his whole life, had never said a word against the Queen, unlike Clarence.  Did she fear he knew of Edward’s secret as Clarence had done?  She took all of her jewels with her, some say most of the royal treasury, maybe she was hoping to bargain for safety or maybe planning her escape to the continent, as one of her Grey sons had been sent to take control of a ship.

Richard and Buckingham brought the young King to London and put him into the luxury of the royal apartments at the Tower.  Most people forget that the Tower was actually a royal palace at this time, not simply the prison it came to be thought of during Tudor times.  There is every evidence that the royal apartments there were very well appointed at that time and he had servants, he was not a prisoner.  Both Richard and Bickingham paid fealty to young Edward as the new King, there was no sign of any intention to unseat him from the throne at this point.

A coronation was planned and the King’s council were called to order.  A parliament was called to proclaim the King and Richard’s protectorate.  Still there were no signs of any planned usurpation.

The dowager queen was convinced to send her younger son into the care of the protector too, alongside his brother.  Here, I diverge from many beliefs, as I am a mother too, I wonder how she convinced herself to let the boy go if she thought Richard was a danger to any of her children.  Some think she replaced the boy with another (a la Philippa Gregory), which is a possibility I suppose, though young Richard had spent time at court, so more of the nobles would have recognised him than the young Edward, who had been sent to live at Ludlow from a young age.

Both the boys were placed in the royal apartments to prepare for the coronation.  It was traditional at the time, and for a time during the Tudor days too, that the monarch spent the night before their coronation at the Tower.  The boys were allowed to play and practise archery in the gardens of the Tower and there is evidence that they were seen doing this.  They had a reasonable amount of servants and the guards that were necessary for the King and his heir.  Still no sign of aspirations to take the crown.

At some point between this time and the planned date of the coronation, Bishop Stillington presented himself to Richard and Buckingham, then to parliament.  The proofs were studied and on this day, the parliament presented itself before Richard, it is said to have been at Crosby House in London, and offered him the crown in place of his nephew.

It is said that he reluctantly accepted, though this could very well have been staged to appear as such.  He already knew of Stillington and the evidence regarding his brother’s marriage, so it is hard to imagine that he was surprised by this offer.

The boys and the girls still in sanctuary with their mother, the dowager queen, were all proved to be bastards and Richard became King Richard III.  The story from there is for another time.

Referendum

Tomorrow Great Britiain goes to the polls on a very important issue.  My greatest wish is that whichever way the vote goes, the country can pull itself together afterwards and find the best way forward for everyone who lives here, particularly the next generation, and the one after that, and the one after that.

I just watched Sheila Hancock talking on c4’s debate about how she came through the war and the creation of the EU.  She talked of hating the Germans, of how many were killed and what an outlandish idea it initially was when Europe tried to come together to make a better future instead of killing each other.  But it has worked out well, I think.  Yes, we attack other countries (which I do not agree with), but we work together instead of fighting between us, that’s gotta be a good thing, right?

Personally I am voting to remain, I think we are safer to stay part of the larger European community, than to pull out and stand alone.  I am not saying that Britain could not stand on it’s own two feet, but I feel at this precise point in time that we are better off standing alongside our neighbours.

I am also thinking of the future for my children.  I feel there will be more future job prospects for them if we stay, more choices for them and more safety.  As the saying goes, safety in numbers.

But whatever happens tomorrow, and whichever way you vote, I hope this country finds a happy, safe and secure way forward, into the future.  For me, I will just be glad to end the neverending mudslinging from both sides and get back to watching something different on the news!!

James VI and I

Today is the birthday of the only child born to Mary, Queen of Scots, James in 1566.

He was only a baby when he was announced as King of the Scots upon the forced abdication of his mother.  So, like his mother, he never really knew any other life than that of being a ruling monarch.

He was born in Edinburgh Castle, though spent much of his childhood a little north at Stirling Castle, under the governorship of the Earl of Mar.  After his first birthday in 1567, he was separated from his mother and would never see her again.  She had been accused of conspiring to kill her husband and was incarcerated by the Scottish parliament.  She would later escape to england, where her cousin Elizabeth would imprison her and eventually execute her, but that is a different thread.

Within the first five years of his reign, James had seen four regents representing him as ruler, each dying conveniently quickly after being appointed.  The first was assassinated, the second killed in battle and the third after apparent food poisoning!  The fourth did last a little longer, coming to power in 1572 and eventually being executed in 1581.

James was raised as a protestant, as opposed to his mother’s strong Catholic faith.  This made him a favourite to succeed his protestant aunt, south of the border to the english throne.  He made overtures to Elizabeth in the aim of gaining that throne, signing some letters as her ‘natural son’.

She did not name him as her successor though it is known that her counsellors were in contact with him from about 1601 until her death in 1603.  He was announced as the new King in London on the same day that she died, 24th March.  How much of that correspondence the Queen was aware of is unknown, though she must have sanctioned some of it, at least towards her end.

He was married to Anne of Denmark before his accession to the english throne, actually travelling to Denmark to collect his bride, when the rough seas prevented her coming to him.

It appeared a happy marriage, at least in the beginning.  Three of their seven children lived to adulthood, including a second son named Charles, who would become his famous successor.

James showed favour to many males at his court, in the later years, more so than his wife, which raises questions of his orientation, at least looking at it in modern terms.  He was not known to have had mistresses, showing little interest in women apart from his wife. Many biographers argue over whether his male favourites were actually his lovers.

James had a great interest in literary matters, and is well known for his thesis on the divine right of kings, which would cause many problems in coming years for his son Charles !

Once he had been declared as King of England, James headed south for his coronation.  He had promised regular visits to Scotland but this did not happen.  He was accepted warmly by the majority of the court, and his young family, already with two sons to follow him, seemed like it brought a golden future.

Only two years later, James would be faced with the biggest threat to his life, with the gunpowder plot.  Everyone immediately thinks of Guy Fawkes when talking of the gunpowder plot, but he was actually just a lackey brought in to help with the movement of the gunpowder itself, others were more involved in the arranging of the assassination.  All of the people arrested were executed, leading to a widespread relief among the masses for the saving of their King and family.

It was discovered that the plot was enacted by Catholics and resulted in strict laws against Catholics being brought into being.

He attempted to create a full joining of the two nations of England and Scotland, but this was not popular in either nation.  He also had trouble with the Scottish Kirk (church) when he tried to bring it into line with the English church, of which he was now seen as the head.  He only visited Scotland once more during his reign, in 1617, while attempting to do this.

Queen Anne died soon after in 1619 and the King followed her in 1625 after at least a year of illness.  It is thought that he suffered a stroke shortly before his death, though he had been suffereing from a number of issues before that.

His eldest son, Henry, had pre-deceased him, in 1612, so his second son Charles followed him to the throne.  And then began a most turbulent time for the English monarchy.

James believed he had a God given right to rule, which did not always gel with the thoughts of people around him.  He believed himself to be a greater person than those he ruled over, but these thoughts were probably instilled in him from a young age, so can he really be blamed for them?  He would not remember a time when he was not revered as the King, or given everything he desired.  Why would he not start to believe he was better than all around him if it was constantly proven to him that he was on a pedestal?

His possible homosexuality is an interesting aspect of his behaviour.  He did not seem to think that he needed to hide his love for his ‘favourites’ at a time when gay love was forbidden by law and the church.  It cannot of course be proved that he had sexual relations with the Duke of Lennox, Robert Carr or George Villiers, who are his known favourites, but in those days, it would have been dangerous for members of the court to even suggest it, never mind report on it.

Queen Anne did have many pregnancies, all through the time of his favourites.  She had seven children, though four died young, and at least two miscarriages or stillbirths during their thirty year marriage, so the King obviously carried on with his marital duties alongside his favourite duties !

 

Life

A life threatening illness makes you think about a few things.  In the last 48 hours, I have been through the whole gamut of emotions.

Unexpectedly, I suffered an anaphylactic shock the day before yesterday.  For those who don’t understand what that means, it feels like you are being strangled from the inside.  Your throat stops admitting oxygen to your lungs, which burn and struggle to bring air into themselves.  Your heart speeds up as it fights to have enough oxygen to put into the blood and send around your body and eventually, if you don’t get help, your brain shuts down through lack of oxygen, closely followed by the rest of your body organs.  It is not a nice way to go, I am told, and I am very gratfeul that there were people present to help bring me back.

I have suffered these issues before, though this one took everyone by surprise.  I wish I could tell you the romantic line that your life flashes before your eyes in those few seconds, but it didn’t.  The only thing in my mind was trying to breathe.  When the adrenalin was pumped into me and I did come round, my first thought was for my children.  I was worried that they had seen my attack and been scared, primarily.

When I came home from hospital yesterday, it was to see the news that another woman, almost the same age as me and with two young children also, had been senselessly killed.

My first thought was how close I had just come to death and leaving my little girls behind, and how she must have felt in her final moments, knowing she was leaving her babies alone in this world.  As a mum, I found that the most upsetting thought possible.

I don’t care that she was an MP, or of a different party than I support, she was a mum and wife.  No-one deserves to die in such a way.  The fear she must have experienced in those minutes that she was attacked must have been horrendous.  What drives a person to want to do that to another person?

Yes, we hear of it from America often, maybe we have come to expect that.  When does life become so undervalued that one person thinks that they have a right to take it from another person?

This world is a strange and cruel one.  Increasingly I wonder why we all do it to ourselves, why we do not find a way through our disagreements that does not involve violence.  I also wonder whether this is the world that I want to raise my children in.  Do I really want them to grow up to expect that every day could be your last, as you do not know who will decide to kill you on any specific day?  It is bad enough when you have to cope with a health condition that could kill you at any time, but to know that there are people out there who could take your precious life away from you at any time for no apparent reason?

And life is precious.  Anyone who has stood on the verge of losing their life will tell you that.  Every day should be valued and enjoyed.  Life is short enough, without wasting the time worrying.  I will find a way to work around my issues, but this poor lady and her children don’t have the chance to, because someone thought he had a right to kill her.

Maybe I am just rambling because of my new medication, but I am torn inside. I am happy to be alive and with my children, but so sad that there are two other children who have lost their mother in such a way.  Sometimes I really hate this world.

When do we get to move to Mars?   It can’t be any worse !

Mary Queen of Scots

I feature Mary in my new book, so have been doing some reading on her life story.

My over powering image of her has been a young girl who was pushed and pulled by powerful people around her.  I feel she was given bad advice in many situations, and was used by most of the people around her, not always for her good, but for their own.

She became Queen at a very young age, a little over a week old, so never knew anything other than being in that position.  She was equally young when she was betrothed to the French Dauphin and sent to France, away from her home and family, to live at the French royal court, which was very different from the Scottish court of the day.

Once married to the Dauphin, the French King used her to claim the right to the English throne, when Mary Tudor died.  He also demanded a clause in her marriage contract giving France a claim to the Scottish throne, should Mary die, though this was not initially disclosed to the Scottish parliament.  As it happened the King died first, followed by his son, her husband, soon after.

As the French Queen did not like her, Mary ended up being sent back to Scotland, a place she hardly knew, having not been there since she was five years old.  Scotland of the day was a rough place, clan wars were commonplace and few nobles accepted her as any kind of leader, her brother being seen as more of a head of state (which got him killed a few years later, but thats another story).

Lord Darnley came along and swept her off her feet, not showing his drunkenness and bad temper until after their marriage, when it was too late for her to change her mind.  She had a child by him, the boy King that most of the nobles wanted.

I am not fully convinced that she knew all about Darnley’s murder, perhaps she knew something was afoot, though I do not think she planned it.  If you look at other decisions that she made in life, she was pushed by people around her, so maybe she was just told what to do and where to be at certain times.  I do not want to make it sound like I think she was unable to make decisions for herself, though that is one way to read her actions, I feel mostly that she trusted the wrong people.

I do think that Bothwell had something to do with his murder though, it is debateable how much intimacy between him and the Queen had happened before Darnley’s death, he was known to have disliked Darnley for a long time prior to his death.  Whether the Queen was consequently abducted by Bothwell or with him voluntarily is also to be questioned.  There are many women who fall easily for the bad boys, maybe his reputation as a bad boy attracted her?  Maybe she saw someone who would stand up for her and defend her?  Sadly she was disappointed on that fact as he left her to her fate and fled when they were beaten in battle, leaving her alledgedly pregnant with his twins.

After a time imprisoned by the Scottish parliament and after being forced to abdicate in her son’s favour, she took the chance to flee Scotland and landed in England.  Most reports say that this was her choice, eager to seek the care of her cousin Elizabeth.  You have to think that this idea was quite deluded of her, especially a few years earlier, when Elizabeth came to the English throne, Mary’s father-in-law had claimed that she was a bastard so Mary herself was the true English Queen.  Elizabeth must have been unnerved at the least, pissed off at the most !!

Her imprisonment in England was not always uncomfortable, she was living in castles with many servants at her disposal most of the time.  When ill, she was allowed to travel to a spa to help with her health, with guards of course.

You can see Elizabeth’s worries at having Mary around, but you can also see how Mary was getting frustrated at being held in this way, you can understand why she would want to escape.  Mary seems like a woman who needed a man for company and when the idea of marrying came along, you could imagine how she would have jumped at the chance.  Perhaps she thought he already had Elizabeth’s permission, in her prison, she had no way of finding out any different.

The plot to bring down Elizabeth and place Mary on the throne in her place, was very stupid of her to get involved in.  She did not, at this time, have any people around to give her advice, good or bad, so this must have been her own choice.  Elizabeth was left with little choice of punishment, as long as Mary was around, Catholics would see her a figurehead and possible replacement for their protestant Queen.  Whether the plot was organised by Elizabeth’s people in order to get rid of Mary is a strong possibility, I think.  Women of the day were often planned around, rather than planned for, men thought they knew better than the women, no matter what.

Elizabeth was also left with little choice of her heir when she came close to death, Mary’s son James was the only real choice available.

In my book, Mary will have a happier story, though I have not yet written it !!  Anyone who has read my first book, will know that she will have many of the same experiences as in real life, just possibly involving different people and places.  I can promise she will not end up decapitated though !!