Thursday, June 25, 2015

Two Sides to Every Story

I'm currently in the unique position of reading two books from quite different perspectives. Both books are fabulous and convince the reader that the protagonist is in the right and that history dealt them a savage blow. The problem? The hero of one is the villain of the other.

Nancy Bilyeau's The Tapestry is the third book in her series featuring Joanna Stafford. Joanna was a novice at Dartford Priory before Henry VIII was convinced that closing down the monasteries was a good idea by everyone's favorite bad guy, Thomas Cromwell.

Thomas Cromwell is the beloved Master Secretary of Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies, the sequel to Wolf Hall. Though the historical fact regarding Cromwell is not sugarcoated, Mantel somehow convinces the reader to fall in love with him just as thoroughly as the London women who are lining up to become the next Mrs. Cromwell.

While this is one of the things that I love about historical fiction, it makes me wish more than ever that there was a way to transport in time to learn the truth. I have the feeling that some of the truth lives in each of these stories.

Mantel's Cromwell is disgusted by rich monks that he sees spending more time with their mistresses than the poor. His analytical mind quickly tallies up what good could be done with the treasure stored up by these religious houses that he is convinced do more harm than good for the people of England. The Dissolution of the Monasteries is designed to reallocate dollars to enrich education, provide jobs, and, of course, line Henry VIII's pockets.

Bilyeau's Joanna is crushed when her way of life is decimated. The path that she felt God had called her to is not only destroyed but mocked. She sees Cromwell as a manipulative, greedy courtier who would sell his own mother to ingratiate himself to the king. (Well, maybe he would sell his father in either portrayal.) My heart swells as Joanna witnesses walls of ancient religious houses thoughtlessly torn down. King Henry first tells her she cannot be a nun, then tells her that former nuns and novices cannot marry. She is left undefined, God's path for her life blocked by Thomas Cromwell.

Both of these pictures of Tudor times have elements of truth in them. At the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, approximately 12,000 people lived in various religious houses. There were bound to have been some like the decidedly un-pious monks that Cromwell despises and others like the devout Joanna Stafford. As with most stories there are two sides that each carry their own amount of truth.

Despite how much I may adore Mantel's Cromwell, I still can find little excuse for the widespread destruction of historic buildings, documents, and treasure that occurred by his order. Did he truly hope to reinvent a system that would have worked better for the welfare of the general population? If he did, his hopes were not realized. Thousands of those who had devoted their lives to God would go on to starve or live in poverty after their homes were taken away, while those enriched turned out to be Henry and his cronies much more than the poor. There are indications that this wasn't Cromwell's intent, but it was the result.

One thing that each of these book series makes clear is that Thomas Cromwell is a multifaceted person who had a significant effect on events of his time. If it were possible to choose someone from history to sit and have lunch with, wouldn't he be an intriguing companion?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Are English Monarchs Guilty of Legalized Murder?

A few of my recent posts have turned into discussions of executions
performed by various Plantagenet and Tudor monarchs. Often, in a conversation of the end of one dynasty and the beginning of the next, proponents of one king or the other are likely to pull questionable killings out of the debate arsenal. The truth is, whether you think Henry VII was a horrid usurper or saved the country from the evil villain Richard III, most of these men - and women - have some blood on their hands.

Limiting myself to the 15th and 16th centuries, I decided to take a look at executions that may qualify more as murders ordered by the kings and queens of England.

Henry IV

The most infamous execution under Henry IV's reign is that of Richard II. Rumors abound regarding the death of this inept king who was replaced by his royal cousin. While Richard may have starved himself as he suffered from severe depression, there is no doubt that he died under Henry IV's watch on February 14, 1400.

Henry V

Unlike many who would follow him, Henry V does not have a lengthy list of Englishmen who met their end at his hands. One exception is his friend John Oldcastle who was charged with heresy. This Henry is better known for his escapades in France, where he ordered the execution of French prisoners and the starvation of women and children at Rouen.

Henry VI

This gentle and mentally ill monarch may not have ordered questionable executions himself, but England became a bloody killing field during his reign. Many blame his wife, Margaret of Anjou, for sending thousands of soldiers to their deaths rather than let those next in line advise Henry. Others see her as a strong example of a devoted wife and mother. However you judge her, noblemen began to die in droves until the ascendancy of Edward of York.

Edward IV

Edward would eventually follow the example set by his distant cousin, Henry IV, and order the death of Henry VI. Though this did not happen until 1471, after the death of the displaced king's son and heir, Edward undoubtedly saw Henry's death as the beginning of peace after two violent decades of civil war. Officially, Henry died of melancholy.

Some claim that the death of Edward of Lancaster, son of Henry VI, was also murder by Edward or his followers. All that is known for sure is that he fell at Tewkesbury, during or shortly following the battle.

George of Clarence, Edward's own brother, is another mysterious execution that took place at Edward's command. It is also one of the events that got this discussion started here.

Edward was grew bold in his willingness to clear the land of his opponents. Was this in reaction to the death of his father, Richard of York, and brother, Edmund? Richard had hidden behind armies while asking to advise the king. Edward showed no such hesitance. After Hedgeley Moor, he executed the Lancastrian leaders. He was also not afraid to pull his enemies from sanctuary.

Edward V

The doomed Edward V had little opportunity to order any executions. As the 12 year old heir to Edward IV, he was soon replaced by his uncle Richard III. Was Edward a bastard or Richard a usurper? We may never know.

Before Richard was crowned, he ordered the executions of Anthony Woodville and Richard Grey. These deaths technically took place during Edward's reign, if we can even call it that, but he certainly didn't order them. Anthony was a father figure to Edward, but a threat to Richard. There is little question who truly ordered these deaths.

Richard III

Richard's short reign is plagued by questionable deaths, starting with those already mentioned. The hasty execution of William Hastings is also often noted by many as evidence of Richard's ruthlessness. Hastings, a friend and counselor of Edward IV was summarily killed when Richard became convinced that he was plotting against him with Woodville allies.

Richard is also responsible for the execution of Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, after his ill-fated rebellion against his one-time friend. Richard refused even to speak to Buckingham or give him an opportunity to defend himself. Though Richard is also criticized for this, it was standard procedure of the day.

Finally and most dramatically, Richard is held responsible for the murder of his nephews, Edward and Richard, better known as the Princes in the Tower. Though some have attempted to clear Richard's name of this crime, the fact remains that the two boys disappeared while in Richard's care.

Henry VII

Henry VII is often overlooked in favor of the more intriguing kings that bookend his reign. While some believe he deserves more credit and attention, others believe his ruthlessness is what is understated.

Henry showed himself merciful when he made the rebel figurehead, Lambert Simnel, a member of his household rather than having the boy executed. However, Henry would later execute others with eyes for his throne. Perkin Warbeck, Edward of Warwick, and Ralph Wilford each met this end. Henry also sent assassins after Richard de la Pole in Europe in much the way his son would later hunt Reginald Pole.

Henry VIII

It would be possible to write quite a long list of those who fell to the ax under Henry VIII's order. Another Duke of Buckingham met a treasonous end, this one the son of Henry Stafford. Not stopping there, Henry also trumped up charges against several remaining Plantagenets, including Henry Pole, Margaret Pole, Henry Courtenay, Edmund de la Pole, and Henry Howard.

Henry was fast to cross the fine line between love and hate, executing several former friends. Most notable among these are Thomas Moore and Thomas Cromwell. Of course we cannot forget his unfortunate wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, in addition to the several men who went to their deaths with them.

Deaths at Henry's order could fill a book, so we will simply agree at this point that he may be the bloodiest, and least predictable of the monarchs considered here.

Edward VI

Edward was young and advised by others throughout his reign, leaving little to accuse him of. Possibly the most shocking execution orders signed by him were for his own uncles, Edward and Thomas Seymour. The Tudors like to keep murder in the family.


Was "Bloody Mary" truly more ruthless than her predecessors or her sister? Protestants, like Thomas Cranmer, would burn at Mary's order, but the same occurred during her father's reign. She gave into pressure to have Jane Grey executed, but Elizabeth went on to make the remaining Grey sisters sorry to be alive. Mary's reign had its fair share of horrid deaths, but they were less than ordered by her father, and at least she remained consistent regarding who she stood against.


The glorious virgin queen excelled were her sister did not: public relations. Like her father, she executed noblemen who got out of line, including Thomas Percy, Robert Devereux, Thomas Howard, and, of course, Mary Queen of Scots. Several priests met their end, despite Elizabeth's reputation as
religiously tolerant. Elizabeth was also talented in punishments that did not include death. She played a decades' long marriage game with Robert Dudley (and half the other eligible bachelors in Europe), imprisoned the Grey sisters, their spouses, and children when they dared to start families that may match Elizabeth in royal blood.

Many other pieces of evidence could be brought against each of these monarchs, but in the end it may be true that they are each guilty of legalized murder. This seems inexcusable to us by modern standards, but monarchs of the 15th and 16th centuries had long precedent of using ruthless methods to ensure their power.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Guest Post: A Glimpse at Regency Era Law by Regina Jeffers

For my latest cozy mystery, part of the action is a trial set in 1816. Many of the tenets of court law we now accept as commonplace were not part of the court system during the Regency Period. For example, the defendant would be expected to argue his own case. A barrister could provide the defendant advice on points of law, but the proof of innocence rested purely on the defendant’s shoulders. Neither were witnesses for the defendant “required” to attend the trial’s proceedings. Needless to say, a writ of error could send the outcome of the case to a court of appeals, especially in the case of a wealthier defendant, who could afford the expense. 

In The Prosecution of Mr. Darcy’s Cousin, Fitzwilliam Darcys cousin, Major General Fitzwilliam  (Colonel Fitzwilliam in Jane Austens Pride and Prejudice) is accused of a series of crimes of which he has no memory for he is suffering from what we would now call PTSD. (There was no official name for the stress of war at the time.)

Old Bailey Trial
Darcy must use every bit of cunning he possesses to prove his cousin innocent for it would be a great victory for the “unwashed masses” to convict the second son of an earl for the crimes. All of London is set against the major general. If Darcy does not know success at the trial, then his only hope would be a writ of error. But how does a writ of error become a point of appellation in the British legal system? And what role would the House of Lords play in this process? For those of us in the States, many facets of the English legal system is as foreign as the statute of limitations in juvenile cases. So, let us explore some of the differences.

“The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees an accused the right to representation by counsel in serious criminal prosecutions. The responsibility for appointing counsel in federal criminal proceedings for those unable to bear the cost of representation has historically rested in the federal judiciary. Before the enactment of the Criminal Justice Act in 1964 (CJA), there was no authority to compensate appointed counsel for their services or litigation expenses, and federal judges depended on the professional obligation of lawyers to provide pro bono publico representation to defendants unable to retain counsel.“ (United States Courts Services and Forms)
However, for many centuries in England, the law permitted appeals to the House of Lords. The HOL also served as the final Court of Appeals for Scotland and Ireland. The Appellate Jurisdiction Act of 1876 continued the appellate jurisdiction of the House, as well as to provide the suitor a statutory right of appeal to the House of Lords. The 3rd Section of that Act says an appeal from any order or judgment of her Majesty’s Court of Appeal in England lies to the House of Lords.

In Ireland, the Irish Judicature Act of 1877 gives the right of appeal to the House of Lords in all decisions, judgments, decrees or orders from the Irish Court of Appeal that were previously appealable to the House of Lords or to the Privy Council. The right of appeal by way of writ of error from the decision of the Queen’s Bench Division of the Irish High Court of Justice is also preserved in this Irish Judicature Act.

The Scots made no alteration in the right of appeal. The Appellate Jurisdiction Act of 1876 provided Scotland the right of appeal to the House of Lords from any order or judgment of any court of Scotland from which error or an appeal lay to the House of Lords by common law or by statue at the time of passing the act.

An appeal of a civil case in the English courts must be sent up by the Supreme Court of Judicature in England (Her Majesty’s Court of Appeal).The only judicial proceedings by which matters of a criminal nature could formerly be brought before the House of Lords was by writ of error.

A writ of error is the only means a judicial proceeding in a criminal matter may be brought before the House of Lords. From ancient times, a writ of error could be brought in England at common law, both in civil and criminal proceedings from inferior Courts of Record to the Court of Queen’s Bench and from thence direct to the House of Lords. Numerous statutes define the means by which a writ of error was brought to the attention of the House of Lords. The writ must first come before the judges or barons of the other two courts in the Exchequer Chamber before coming to the House of Lords.

Time limitations for a writ of error in a civil case originally was set at twenty years. The Common Law Procedure Act of 1852 abolished writs of error in civil cases, but they remained in criminal cases. Such was true until the Judicature Acts of 1873 and 1875. The acts abolished writs of error in bills of exception and proceedings in civil cases, but nothing in the acts affect the practice and procedure in criminal proceedings.

For more information on the legal system, I would recommend Charles Marsh Denison and Charles Henderson Scott’s The Practice & Procedure of the House of Lords in English, Scotch & Irish Appeal Cases Under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act, 1876.

New from Regina Jeffers
The Prosecution of Mr. Darcy’s Cousin: A Pride and Prejudice Mystery from Pegasus Books

Fitzwilliam Darcy is enjoying his marital bliss. His wife, the former Elizabeth Bennet, presented him two sons and a world of contentment. All is well until “aggravation” rears its head when Darcy receives a note of urgency from his sister Georgiana.
In truth, Darcy never fully approved of Georgianas joining with their cousin, Major General Edward Fitzwilliam, for Darcy assumed the major general held Georgiana at arms length, dooming Darcys sister to a life of unhappiness.
Dutifully, Darcy and Elizabeth rush to Georgianas side when the major general leaves his wife and daughter behind, with no word of his whereabouts and no hopes of Edwards return. Forced to seek his cousin in the slews of Londons underbelly, at length, Darcy discovers the major general and returns Fitzwilliam to his family.
Even so, the Darcys troubles are far from over. During the major generals absence from home, witnesses note Fitzwilliams presence in the area of two horrific murders. When Edward Fitzwilliam is arrested for the crimes, Darcy must discover the real culprit before the authorities hanged his cousin and the Fitzwilliam name knew a lifetime of shame.
The Prosecution of Mr. Darcy’s Cousin: A Pride and Prejudice Mystery is available for purchase on Kindle or Nook and in paperback through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.    
Meet the Author
Regina Jeffers is an award-winning author of cozy mysteries, Austenesque sequels and retellings, and Regency era romances. A teacher for thirty-nine years, Jeffers often serves as a consultant for Language Arts and Media Literacy programs. With multiple degrees, Regina has been a Time Warner Star Teacher, Columbus (OH) Teacher of the Year, and a Martha Holden Jennings Scholar. With 7 new releases in 2015, Jeffers is considered one of publishing’s most prolific authors.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Arrest of George of Clarence

George Plantagenet, like most of his contemporaries, lived a dramatic life through turbulent times. Born in 1449, his life almost precisely lines up with the years of the Wars of the Roses. On June 10, 1477, he was sent to the Tower on the order of the King, George’s brother, Edward IV.

This arrest came as a surprise to some, who had observed Edward tolerate more serious crimes perpetrated by his impetuous, glory seeking brother. Was this the final straw for the tolerant older brother or did he truly see George as a threat to his throne?

George would have done well to have been content with his lot in life as the king’s heir. Until the birth of Prince Edward in 1470 that is the role George had filled, though he had consistently strived for more. With the birth of two princes ahead of him in the line of succession, George seems to have had thrown caution aside and determined that he could grasp more.

George had been convinced to join the Earl of Warwick, Richard Neville, who would later become known as the Kingmaker, in revolting against Edward. Both were looking to create a regime in which they could have more power. Whether Warwick ever planned on truly giving George a better position than he already had as the Duke of Clarence, one can only guess. In the end, George lost his nerve and turned his coat once again to join his brother in 1471.

However, George was not arrested until 1477, so Edward forgave his brother his betrayals and difficulties until the death of Isabel Neville. The daughter of Warwick had been married to George against Edward’s wishes, but this is another crime that George had been forgiven for. When she succumbed to childbed fever, George seems to have lost any small amount of self-control he once had.

With his household in mourning, George ordered the execution of Isabel’s servant, Ankarette Twynho, claiming that she had poisoned her mistress. George’s mental state continued to deteriorate in the following months, reportedly consulting necromancers and bristling over his brother’s refusal to approve a foreign bride for him. Finally after six months of George causing havoc wherever he went, Edward had him arrested for treason.

Some have hypothesized that George had learned of the precontract that Richard III would later use to disinherit his nephews, and that this is the true reason that Edward felt that he must be eliminated at this time. George’s actions of 1477 are disturbing but not as serious as those in his past. Was Edward’s decision simply based on the accumulation of George’s sins?

George would be held in the Tower for eight long months while his brother agonized over what to do with him. His execution finally took place on February 18, 1478. His execution was performed privately, but it is widely believed that he chose to be drowned in a butt of malmsey, making George’s death as dramatic as his short life had been.

George left behind two children, Edward and Margaret. Edward inherited his grandfather’s title and became Edward of Warwick. He would be imprisoned for over half of his life before being executed by Henry VII due to the threat of his Plantagenet blood. Margaret was awarded an old family title of Countess of Salisbury by Henry VIII decades before he, too, decided that her Plantagenet blood was too great a threat. She was beheaded on Henry’s orders on May 27, 1541 at age 67.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Coronation of Richard III

July 6, 2015 is the 532nd anniversary of one of the most controversial events in English history. Many historians and Wars of the Roses enthusiasts continue to debate Richard of Gloucester’s motivations and intentions when he took the crown of England from his young nephew, who was already being called Edward V. I will leave that debate for another day as we look at what the coronation of Richard III may have looked like.

Richard’s coronation was shared with his wife, Anne Neville, who was crowned queen at his side. Their son, another Edward, remained in the north. Did they fear for his health or safety? It is unknown, but the fact remains that he died less than a year later so poor health is a possibility.

Richard’s brother Edward IV had been a boisterous and glamorous king, probably not unlike his grandson, Henry VIII. Except that Edward had better luck with the fertility of his queen, Elizabeth Woodville, and therefore never experienced the frustration to beget a son that defines so much of Henry’s reign. Edward had set a high standard for pageantry and magnificence that Richard’s coronation met and exceeded.

Anne’s dress was handcrafted out of 27 yards of white cloth of gold, trimmed in ermine. Over it, she wore a velvet robe and mantle in royal purple. This purple stretched behind Anne in the form of a stunning train created from 56 yards of the precious velvet. With her proud Neville background, Anne surely looked every bit a Queen of England.

Richard was dressed no less magnificently than his bride in his own purple velvet mantle that was exchanged for one in glimmering cloth of gold once the ceremony at Westminster Abbey was completed. He and Anne had been reverently anointed with holy oil, recognizing them as monarchs of England and representatives of God.

The banquet following the solemn mass was another example of amazing ceremony, especially considering the brief period of time that had been taken to plan it. Course after course of savory foods and delicate desserts were served to the most important people in the land. Richard and Anne were served from dishes of rich gold and silver.

Contrary to what some may believe about Richard’s reputation as a villain and usurper, great rejoicing took place at his coronation. Though Edward V may or may not have been the legitimate heir (that, too, is a discussion for another day), the people of England had suffered through too many years of civil war that were the result of a child king who never truly grew up. Rather than taking the chance that young Edward would become a second Henry VI, many nobles were eager to back the capable brother of the previous king. More than 3,000 people including most of the nobility attended the coronation feast in a celebration that has not seen its equal since.

Since I have a particular interest in her, I have often wondered what Elizabeth of York was thinking as Richard III’s coronation took place. Still in sanctuary with her mother and sisters, Elizabeth would have still been in shock at the death of her larger than life father and the bastardization of herself and her siblings. Did she see Richard as a grasping villain?

Nine more months would go by before Elizabeth and her sisters would leave sanctuary with their mother. In this time, Richard ruled well, but somehow misplaced Elizabeth’s brothers. Did he have them murdered to solidify his own strength and eliminate future heads of rebellion? Did someone else do away with them, thinking they were doing Richard a favor? Possibly a member of the Lancastrian remnant rid the country of two more York boys, or they simply sickened and died. Many authors have written in the hope that the boys didn’t die at all but escaped or were sent away by Richard for their own safety. We do not know the truth to this day, but this is an issue that Elizabeth would have struggled with.

When she went to court, no longer as a princess but as the bastard daughter of the king’s brother, what thoughts were coursing through her mind? Maybe Elizabeth believed the story of her father’s precontract. After all, she was old enough to know that he had been many things, but monogamous was not one of them. To overhear one conversation between her and Richard is a privilege that I wish there was a way to obtain.

Whether Elizabeth hated Richard, was in love with him, or had a relationship that fell somewhere in between, his reign was not to last. Shortly following the deaths of his heir and then his queen, Richard fell in a courageous charge at Bosworth, defending his crown from Henry Tudor on August 22, 1485. Henry had promised to marry Elizabeth the previous Christmas and made good on that promise on January 18, 1486. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Reader Survey Results

Remember the Reader Survey that you were invited to participate in here? Well, author MK Tod has compiled some interesting results! You can see them here.

It looks like there is good news for me with the highest percentage of readers responding that they prefer to read about the 13th-16th centuries. Welcome, my medievalist friends!