Richard III Tour: Kenilworth Castle – The King’s ghost roams

Aside

In 1990, I set off for England for a month to research my Richard III novel, “Rings of Passage.” This is my travel journal.

Looking back from 2014: I remember being very affected by Kenilworth, as if I had entered a holy realm. It was back in the days before there were digital cameras, and I had used all my color film at the storybook castle, Warwick. All that remained in my backpack was 35mm black-and-white 400 ASA film – which meant the pictures would be contrasty with some visible film grain. Turns out, Kenilworth looks amazing in black and white. That day, the universe had my back.

Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire
Sept 20, 1990

I can’t describe how I felt at Kenilworth. These huge chunks of ruins gave me the eeriest feeling. Like how I always imagined Wuthering Heights. It was the first place I’d visited that will actually be in my book.

I had to take two buses to get there. I got there late – about 4:30. There was hardly anyone there – two or three other people and myself. And it was cold, about 50. The wind was blowing gustily. The sky was steel grey. Surrounded by gentle, green slopes, sheep, a quaint town.

Door into the past

Door into the past

There at Kenilworth, it was so isolated. So far from anywhere. It echoed with the past.

I walked all of its nooks and crannies. I climbed up into a tower, up these narrow spiral stairs in the dark – and it was ghostly. And to think that Richard stayed there.

I got a tight stomach, a tingly feeling, as if I might see Richard’s ghost any minute. As if the past were going on at the same time in a different dimension. As if we were sharing the same physical space. I was nervous, as if I were about to meet someone famous. I got rushes, as if I had taken an amphetamine. Like Anise must feel in Richard’s presence.

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Rings of Passage

Rings of Passage

Rings of Passage” is a time travel historical fantasy, with Richard III as the romantic hero. Wizards control the events of history, but a woman’s love transcends all. Available for Kindle and in paperback from Amazon.com.

 

 

Richard III Tour: Warwick Castle – The King slept here

In 1990, I set off for England for a month to research my Richard III novel, “Rings of Passage.” This is my travel journal.

Looking back from 2014: Walking into Warwick was like entering a storybook castle. I remember being fascinated by centuries-old structures that the locals took for granted. What struck me was the difference in perspective between what Americans think as “old” compared to the British. “Thousand-year-old castle? Eh. Nothing special.”

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Sept. 20, 1990
Warwick Castle

Queen Anne's bedroom at Warwick

Queen Anne’s bedroom at Warwick

Warwick, still intact, was magnificent. So much of it has been tampered with by the Victorians. But there was an old bed there, carved intricately of wood. With the 4 big bulbous posts and roof – to be surrounded by curtains. I imagined Richard and Anise there and I could picture the scene perfectly. Delicious.

I saw the dungeons and tried to absorb that. And where Edward IV was imprisoned by the Earl of Warwick. Just a tiny room, with a bed and a teeny tiny writing table with a candle on it.

My floor plan of Anise's bedroom

My floor plan of Anise’s bedroom

I went up and down 200 stairs (narrow staircases) and got quite a thrill, knowing Richard had been there. I saw a room I quite liked for my book, as Anise’s room. 

It was somewhat difficult today, dealing with the buses. But so well worth it.

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Rings of Passage

Rings of Passage

Rings of Passage” is a time travel historical fantasy, with Richard III as the romantic hero. Wizards control the events of history, but a woman’s love transcends all. Available for Kindle and in paperback from Amazon.com.

 

Richard III Tour: Bosworth Field – Praying with the King

In 1990, I set off for England for a month to research my Richard III novel, “Rings of Passage.” This is my travel journal.

Looking back from 2014: My visit to Bosworth Field is burned into my memory. It is the ultimate destination for a Ricardian – the place where he did not plead, “My kingdom for a horse,” but instead cried, “Treason!” as an unworthy pretender invaded his realm and wrested it from him. Richard was the last English king to lead an army to the battlefield. To stand where he died moved me deeply. But to kneel where he prayed transcended it all.

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Leicester
Sept 25, 1990

Map to Bosworth Field

10 mile round trip on foot

Today was exhausting and exhilarating. I went from low to high several times.

I walked 10 miles.

One mile to the bus station.Then scrambling around trying to get the right bus. (Leicester has not treated me well.) Then from Market Bosworth, 2½ miles to the visitors center at Bosworth field. Then 1½ around the battlefield. Then 1½ round trip to Sutton Cheney church where Richard prayed the night before the battle. Then 2½ miles back to Market Bosworth.

Then another mile back from the bus station in Leicester to my B&B. And I really had to run to Market Bosworth to catch the bus and only with about a minute to spare – or else I’d have to wait another hour.

Nerve wracking.

The battlefield was really nice and the walk there wasn’t too bad, if long. I didn’t get to stay long at the place he was actually killed though. I wonder how they know.

Church of St. James, Sutton Cheney

Church of St. James, Sutton Cheney

At Sutton Cheney, there is this really old, old church with a damp smell. But so peaceful. I knelt where I thought Richard might have at the altar and looked at the crumbly walls as he might have. And I got that tingly feeling, like you get when you’re in the basement and you just want to get upstairs now. And at that point, a sadness came over me and I cried for Richard.

I sat for a few minutes alone in the church and cried. Then I prayed that I would have the talent and perseverance to tell Richard’s story.

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Rings of Passage

Rings of Passage

Rings of Passage” is a time travel historical fantasy, with Richard III as the romantic hero. Wizards control the events of history, but a woman’s love transcends all. Available for Kindle and in paperback from Amazon.com.

Richard III Tour: Leicester – I felt his bones beneath me

In 1990, I set off for England for a month – the first time I had been “across the pond”  – and I was going on my own. I was thick in the middle of writing my Richard III novel, “Rings of Passage.” I believed him innocent of the crimes he was accused of, and read all I could about him. Books and research were not enough. When I went to England, I went to experience the places Richard had lived and died. I went to find the king I had fallen a little bit in love with.

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Looking back from 2014: When I visited Leicester, the city was not yet famous for being the place where a King of England’s remains were excavated in 2012. During my visit, there were no crowds gathering at the site where Greyfriars Priory once stood. The city felt unloved and avoided, much as Richard himself had been before becoming the poster child for archaeology.
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Karla Tipton

Karla Tipton, England,

Leicester, Sept 24, 1990

I’m starting to wear down. Either it’s me or all this traveling is taking its toll. I caught trains and carried heavy luggage all day. In the pouring down cold rain. Miserable. Did laundry.Then tonight I walked to all the places Richard had been that are no longer standing. Not very exciting. I did sort of feel his bones beneath me at Greyfriars – but it might have been fatigue.

Tomorrow, Bosworth Field. Which means another long walk. I sure hope this one is not along a busy highway like the one to Middleham. If it is, I hope it’s flat with lots of shoulder.


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Related links:
King Richard III Pub
Statue of Richard III
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Rings of Passage

Rings of Passage

Rings of Passage” is a time travel historical fantasy, with Richard III as the romantic hero. Wizards control the events of history, but a woman’s love transcends all. Available for Kindle and in paperback from Amazon.com.

Why did Shakespeare throw Richard III under the bus?

Dedicated to a fellow writer from my newspaper days, who inspired deliberation on this topic through his blog, “A Year of Shakespeare: 38 Plays, 365 Days.”
Richard III and Shakespeare
Why did Shakespeare throw Richard under the bus?

Some of the assumptions I make here may be false, however it is based on a fair amount of research, some of which I did while researching for my novel, Rings of Passage. I don’t claim to be a Shakespeare scholar. Experts out there take issue, please, if you will. Let’s get this thing cleared up.

Why did Shakespeare throw Richard III under the bus?

  • Political fear

Shakespeare wrote Richard III during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and so his portrayal of Richard is sometimes shrugged off as “toeing the party line.”

Elizabeth’s father Henry VIII dispatched Yorkists whenever he could get away with it. On flimsy charges, he beheaded Richard’s niece Margaret (countess of Salisbury,  George, duke of Clarence’s daughter) when she was 68 years old. She was hardly a threat.

He learned his hatred of Yorkists from his father, Henry VII, the founder of the Tudor dynasty, whose hate was grounded in the reasonable fear that his kingship was both undeserved and usurped.

If you had Yorkist leanings during the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII, you had good reason to be afraid.

Yet Elizabeth the First did not share the hatred of her father and grandfather. She was a moderate in government and tolerant in religion. She enjoyed the theater, earning the disapproval of the Puritans on her own counsel.

According to Lisa Thyer, author of “Shakespeare Life and Times/Intro to Shakespeare’s life and Historical Context”:  “Theater was often used as a covert forum for political criticism: …some may have remembered the swinish face of Henry VIII, and all in the audience knew that it was only under special circumstances that they could publicly share the thought that monarch was a swine.”

Criticism of the Tudor dynasty embedded in a dramatic performance would not be cause enough for Elizabeth to eliminate a playwright, whose work she most likely enjoyed.

To toe the line of the current political climate is not a convincing enough argument for  Shakespeare’s trashing of Richard III.

  • Chasing the fame

How many tabloids have jumped on the bandwagon to destroy some celebrity’s career for the sheer purpose of selling more copies? Could the Bard’s motivation have been opportunistic?

Although Richard III is one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays “preceded only by the three parts of Henry VI and perhaps a handful of comedies,” according to Wikipedia Richard had been dead a century by then, give or take a few years. Richard’s “dark” reputation had already been convincingly painted against the backdrop of the “Tudor Myth*.”

The rehashing of that old chestnut wouldn’t have gained a playwright much traction unless he happened to be Shakespeare. Like all great writing, he took an old idea and told the story in such a compelling way that it became new again.

It’s the universality of this theme, molded by the deft hand of a genius, that propelled Richard III to the top of the Elizabethan drama charts.

If there was any bandwagon jumping, it was because Shakespeare knew he could use the legend of Richard’s evil to drive home the idea that, in the karmic scheme of things, crime doesn’t pay. Shakespeare was not adverse to cozying up to his audience’s preferences, however (more on that later).

  • Poetic license

By the time Shakespeare penned Richard III, he had already written three historical plays Henry VI, parts I, II and III.

While researching the intrigues of British royalty, Shakespeare wasn’t looking for truth. He was looking for drama. And something deeper.

Shakespeare grew up on the morality plays popular at the time of his youth. These plays, and the classical dramatic tradition of unity and decorum learned as part of a grammar school education, provided the foundation for his work. Along with his contemporaries, Shakespeare blended old morality drama with classical theory to develop a new secular form for the English Renaissance.

In a nutshell, this new form of drama resonated on an emotional level, but also incorporated themes dealing with the human condition and destiny. And despite its ambiguous themes and complexity, this new brand of drama should be universally understood, not only to the educated elite, but also to ordinary people.

Because of the speed that authors had to produce plays at the time, and the Renaissance theory that  tragic plots should be grounded in history, Shakespeare turned to source material typically used by playwrights of the time: Raphael Holinshed’s 1587 Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande.

Among the sources Holinshed used for Richard III was Thomas More’s unfinished, The History of Richard III.

Born in 1478, More was 7 years old when the Battle at Bosworth took place. As a boy, he lived for a time in the household of Dr. John Morton, who was Archbishop of Canterbury under Henry VII, and one of Richard’s bitterest enemies. Morton’s conspiratorial machinations against Richard eventually helped put Tudor on the throne.

More’s account of Richard’s life was interpreted through the prism of Morton’s anti-Richard propaganda, which was then reiterated in Holinshed’s Chronicles, which provided the plot for Shakespeare’s play.

Morton’s hatred filtered through Shakespeare’s pen dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s turning Richard into an evil and unredeemable monster who murdered children.

In his quest for drama and theme, Shakespeare had no use for primary sources that proved otherwise.

Even if Shakespeare knew that Richard III could not have perpetrated the crimes he was a accused of, he didn’t care. In Henry VI, Part II, Shakespeare has Richard killing the Duke of Somerset, when in actuality Richard was only three years old.  In part three of Henry VI, Richard is seen participating in the Battles of Mortimer’s Cross and Towton.  In fact, Richard was 8 years old and living in Burgundy.

Shakespeare’s motivation was not to exonerate, but to exploit plot twists to amplify his theme.

As with the character of “Vice” of whom Elizabethan audiences would been familiar from the morality plays the fates turned on Richard in the end**.

“Fate versus free will” was popular with audiences influenced by the growing Calvinism of the Elizabethan era. Inherent was the belief in historical fatalism, in which individual historical events are determined by God, who often punishes evil with (apparent) evil.

Shakespeare used Richard’s “reputation” as the perfect vehicle for conveying this idea.

Does that make him a toady to the Calvinists? I don’t think so. Still, he wasn’t beyond playing to the preferences of his audience.

Yet it is done so brilliantly. Can’t we forgive him?

I never really doubted that Shakespeare’s real motivation behind Richard III was artistic. I need not have taken the journey, just to come to the conclusion I had at the beginning.

However, I have learned much, and do not regret the trip.

And finally…

  • Conspiracy theory

In a nutshell, there are serious scholars who believe “William Shakespeare” was an identity assumed by a member of the nobility, Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, to enable him to write plays and sonnets anonymously.

If Oxford was Shakespeare, he would have had strong motivation for painting Richard III’s reputation black.

Prior to Richard’s reign, the de Vere family had been stripped of nearly all its land holdings, after John de Vere participated in the Battle of Barnet in 1471, against the Yorkists. Richard’s elder brother, King Edward IV, confiscated, and then turned around and granted to Richard, all of John de Vere’ s property.

Was Shakespeare’s most famous play written by de Vere out of some kind of revenge?

Food for thought.

My Sources
Footnotes:
* Tudor Myth: Political propaganda promoting the Tudor period of the 16th century as a golden age of peace, law, order, and prosperity; and the Yorkist period of the15th century, including the Wars of the Roses, as a dark age of anarchy and bloodshed.
** Richard was God’s curse on England in punishment for the deposition of Richard II in 1399, which formed the basis for the conflict between the Yorkists and Lancastrians and sparked the Wars of the Roses.

Universe, throw me a (royal) bone!

Richard III PortraitThere are times in your life when something in the Universe shifts and you get what you want.

Up until that point, it seemed impossible. It was the tallest Everest to climb without ropes, or the widest Pacific to cross in only a bamboo raft. The odds were always against you.

Finally, you get to an age where the magical thinking stops and reality sinks in. You accept the fact that what you want so badly, what you have wanted all your life, you will never have. You make peace with it. And inside you – really deep inside you – it does become okay not to have it.

Perhaps it’s that acceptance that causes the shift. Maybe, when the Universe is between hoisting weird coincidences upon hapless humans and laughing at them, it stands back, takes a look at your noble acceptance and hears your brave utterings of “It wasn’t really that important.” Then, and only then, the Universe says, “Ah, ha! Now let’s throw her a bone!”

It’s exactly what happened to me. The Universe threw me a bone. Actually, it threw me an entire skeleton.

In February, it was announced that the skeleton of King Richard III had been unearthed from beneath a parking lot where, back in the fifteenth century, the Greyfriars Priory had stood in Leicester, England.

I took the hint, and unearthed my own remains – of a novel I had finished years ago and had tried, but failed, to get published.

The time had come to try again.

In “Rings of Passage,” my unlikely romantic hero is King Richard III. In the centuries since he was slain by Henry Tudor’s army (528 years ago today), Richard has been unfairly maligned by, oh, just about everyone. That’s what happens when the winning side writes history books.

To add insult to injury, Shakespeare wrote one of his greatest plays based around Richard’s infamous crimes, such as how he’d had his innocent nephews, the Princes in the Tower, murdered. (In my novel, you’ll find out who really did it.)

The Bard leaves us with the taste of ridicule in our minds when he writes Richard’s final cry as he falls in the throes of battle: “My kingdom for a horse!”

I mean, who is ever going to forget that? (Especially, if you’ve heard it spoken by Laurence Olivier.)

At the Battle of Bosworth Field, this was the real final cry Richard shouted at his usurping and unworthy cousin Henry Tudor: “Treason!”

Today, on the anniversary of Richard III’s death, my novel “Rings of Passage” has been brought to life. In it, Richard is loved by a modern heroine, Anise, who travels back in time to attempt the impossible: to change history and save the king from his tragic fate.

The excavation of an anointed King of England’s remains, followed by the DNA evidence confirming his identity, was the unlikeliest of outcomes – and yet proved successful.

The unearthing and resurrection of my novel? Well, let’s just say both occurrences are a bit of a miracle.

(To give credit where credit is due, I recommend you visit the Richard III Society’s article by Dr. John Ashdown Hill describing how this amazing archaeological discovery unfolded.)

And because today is August 22:

“PLANTAGENET, Richard. Remember before God, Richard III, King of England, and those who fell at Bosworth Field, 22nd August 1485, having kept faith. Loyaulte me Lie.”
Afterthought: My novel can be found here: