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.

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.

Author Christine Elaine Black discusses her creative process

When I heard about Christine Elaine Black’s novel “A Rose for Lancaster” from our mutual acquaintance, author Cara Bristol, I had to read it. Set in the 15th century, the romance between Blanche and Giles takes place after the defeat of King Richard III, who is the hero of my novel “Rings of Passage.” Based on our novels, Christine and I are on opposite sides of the Wars of the Roses! When I read “A Rose for Lancaster,” I was immediately charmed by the story. Blanche is a Yorkist and Giles a Lancastrian. They rise above their political loyalties to be together. In this interview, Christine discusses her writing life and her love of history.

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Christine Elaine Black’s links:

A Rose for Lancaster

“A Rose for Lancaster”

Author Biography
Blog
On Twitter

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Christine Elaine Black interview

Karla: At what point did you know you wanted to be a writer? Was there an event, or a comment someone made to you, or an experience that made you think, “Hey, I’d like to write.”

Christine Elaine: I started writing to encourage my daughter’s foray into the storytelling world. I intended to write for her (which I did) but then I enjoyed it so much I kept writing and delved into the romantic historical genre.

Karla: Do you have a very early work that you would like to reinvent or get into shape to share with the world? What is it?

Christine Elaine: I have quite a few projects that are finished but ‘rough,’ and that means finding time to re-read, edit, re-shape and publish. If I had unlimited time I’d likely have it done by now but life in the real world calls to me. It’s a constant give and take to be an author.

Karla: When you write novels, do you use an outline, or are you a pantser (flying by the seat of your pants)?

Christine Elaine: I start with an idea. I love ancient Rome and found it difficult to source a romance book in that time period. The idea for Maximus sprang into my head and I started writing the story without much plotting. The characters took over and the story fell into place. Although I write ‘romance’ which is typically as story dealing with the relationship of a couple central to the plot, I like to add many other characters to embellish the plot. Since trying out the self-publishing market I write slightly outside the romance box to include a few of my favourtie secondary characters. It’s fun!

Karla: What is the MOST important to you? Plot? Character? Setting?

Christine Elaine: A really great story is the most important to me. The characters add to that of course and I love them all, even the mean ones in a strange way, but story is important. The characters need angst and conflict to make us care.

Karla: How scheduled are you when writing?

Christine Elaine: For a number of years I wrote late at night. Parents will understand the reason for that! It was my time to relax and spend in a constructive, creative way. Lately, I’m learning a whole new world of blogging, tweeting and Facebooking and that’s eating away at my writing time.

Karla: Where do you write? Is there certain music you have playing in the background? A favorite room, desk or chair? Are you like J.K. Rowling, and write in a coffee shop?

Christine Elaine: I use the Mac (family room) or the PC (home office) and prefer silence if I can get it. I’ve never written when I’m out and about in the real world. Too many distractions for me.

Karla: Are the stories that you write different from those that you read? For instance, romance versus humor.

Christine Elaine: I’ve read a lot of historical fiction. If I could write like the authors I idolize that would be a dream come true. Let me give you a few examples:

Colleen McCullough’s Roman series (a tour de force)
Jack Whyte’s Camelot series (incredible)
Bernard Cornwell’s Viking series (amazing)
Pauline Gedge’s Egyptian works (mesmerising)
Jo Graham’s Numinous World series (fantastic)

As you can see, I read a list of heavy hitters in the literary world! I couldn’t begin to compare myself to career authors.

Karla: Is your creative process something you sweat over? Or is it something you trust to “kick in” as soon as you get started.

Christine Elaine: I don’t have any issues with the creative process. If I need to take a break from a particular scene, character or book, then I switch to something different or go for a walk. Often I write prolific amounts and edit or switch things around as new and improved ideas come to me. It’s hard to hit the delete key on work but in the end it can be for the best.

Karla: If you have a troublesome plot issue, how do you solve it? Is there a method or a meditation you turn to solve the problem?

Christine Elaine: I sleep on it. Often I go to bed thinking about my characters and imagine them in situations, working through problems or having conversations. I don’t dream about them as some of my fellow writers have said they do, but I run scenarios in my head.

Karla: What advice would you give to new authors who are trying to find their voice and their stride?

Christine Elaine: The best advice I can give is network with other writers and look for feedback from trusted or well-meaning friends (including virtual friends). I posted some work on a few writer sites before publishing and it helped to chat with others in the same boat and exchange views on each other’s work. Ultimately, though it’s a growth process and some find it easier than others.

Karla: I couldn’t agree more! And I want to thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your insights with us. _____________________________________________________

Rings of Passage

Rings of Passage is now in paperback!

In other news… “Rings of Passage” is now available in paperback through Amazon! It would make a great Christmas gift for the bookworm in your life.

My city is gone

Memorial Elementary School

School buildings like these are becoming endangered in this country, as cities sacrifice local history in the name of “progress.”

When the Pretenders’ lyric “I went back to Ohio but my city was gone” floated over the airwaves in 1982, I was fresh out of college and had just moved from my Northeast Ohio hometown to California to seek my future.

Now that I’m older, I understand what Chrissie Hynde’s song was trying to tell me. For a long time, I wanted to go back to Ohio to live. But my city is gone.

In 2008, the passing of a property tax levy in my hometown funded the building of new schools, at the same time dooming several of the older schools. Since then, the short-sighted city planners have been bulldozing a big chunk of the city I grew up in.

I say short-sighted for good reason. Cities such as my hometown are suffering a brain drain of major proportions. Young people – college graduates with professional and technical skills – are abandoning their home turf in droves, heading out to promised lands such as Silicon Valley or Austin, Texas.

People like me who moved away long ago are now older and a little homesick. We discovered pastures further afield aren’t necessarily so green, after all.

Perhaps we’ve been considering a return to our childhood home. It could be a shot in the arm for those communities, because we’d be bringing with us our seasoned knowledge and professional and technical skills.

Except – if I ever make the decision to move “home,” I would like it to still be there.

In the next few weeks, yet another major landmark in the town I grew up in will be razed. (Memorial Elementary School to be demolished.)

Neighborhoods are made up of people, it’s true. But residents of a city live within a landscape they recognize as home, anchored with schools and businesses and that old tree on the corner that’s been there since your grandfather was a kid.

Communities grow up around these things that are as integral to the feeling of the place as the people are. They are as enduring as the same family names showing up on the school roster every generation. They are brick and mortar patriarchs and matriarchs, the architecture of home, literally and in our minds.

People cling to these images like they do their families. When those of us who leave want to come home, we expect these things to be there. Changed, perhaps: a new owner for this restaurant, or different family in that house. But the school we went to is still there, filled with another generation of children, and we all have something in common.

Our city.

When we come back, to live for good or to visit, it’s that sense that no matter how crazy the outside world becomes, some things never change. It’s familiar. It’s home.

One would think that my hometown would have learned that selling its soul in the name of progress is short-sighted and foolish. This is the same city that allowed the architectural wonder of the city founder’s palatial mansion to be torn down in 1965 to put up a shopping center – and now insists that downtown businesses design storefronts in the mansion’s image. I love my city, but it’s like shutting the door of the estate’s last remaining outbuildings after the horse ran away.

They literally paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

That was before my time. But the destruction of the high school that my grandpa, my mom, my uncles and aunts, my sister and I attended – that happened during my time. Another blow to my soul was the razing of my elementary school, a beautiful brick structure of great character, built in the art deco style of the 1920s.

These losses broke my heart in a way nothing ever has. I realize these things happen as we grow older. But the destruction of these landmarks that viscerally connect me to family and friends and the city I call home are like the city founder’s lost mansion: irretrievably gone.

When these things vanish, the character of our city is diminished. Gone is that indefinable thing that makes it different from the endless communities of tract homes and suburban sprawl stretching across the country, homogenizing everything in its path with mediocrity and dullness.

Once it’s paved over, maybe my hometown will finally shake free of the jokes about there being a bar and a church and a chicken restaurant on every corner of the city. But you know, it’s our little quirk, and it makes us different. It makes us memorable. And if you can’t laugh at yourself a bit, then there really is a problem.

Maybe, after all the homogenizing, there will be fewer “bad” neighborhoods. But those neighborhoods are home to someone who, if they have left, might come back – but only if there is actually a city to come home to.

Who wants to return to a place leveled by strip-mall sprawl and little boxes made of ticky tacky. And guess what? No one new is going to move in either. Why bother, if it’s all the same everywhere? Live somewhere with better weather – such as those “greener fields” that young people go to after college.

It’s true there are a lot of us who left to find success beyond our city limits. Maybe we found it and maybe we didn’t, but in the process, we expanded our horizons and grew as individuals and maybe picked up a few good ideas along the way. We came to realize the value of growing up in a place like my hometown. We might have returned with our knowledge and our talents and enthusiasm – but now we’re less likely to. Because, as the Pretenders sang, “our city is gone.”

Build new schools, tear down old ones with character – it’s all in the name of “progress,” right? But there are things larger than money – such as loyalty to the people who live in the community, who walk their dogs past those structures destined to be torn down, who will die a little bit inside when those things are gone.

Because that’s one less thing that makes them feel whole and right and part of this experience that is the town they love. The systematic destruction of a past that was good and true and honest  doesn’t fix the city. It breaks it.  It rips out authenticity by the roots and paves it over with false hopes and a thin veneer of prosperity that wears off quickly.

If you want to pump money into the neighborhoods, remodel them, don’t tear them down. Don’t tear out the heart of the city and break the hearts of the residents. Leave those structures that form the cornerstones of memory and the sense of feeling “at home.”

Use its history as a foundation for the future. Don’t tear it down. Don’t make it less unique. Make it more so. Believe in it. If you do, maybe we will, too.

Instead of jokes like, “Will the last one to leave please turn out the lights?” – maybe people will actually come back to a place that has substance and texture and buildings made of brick, not stucco.

We will carry a torch for the city that made us who we are,  a place to be proud of – a city that’s not “gone.”