Where the History Podcasts meet the Historical Fiction…

Since I started producing my series of Wars of the Roses podcasts,  quite a number of people have asked me how my historical fiction stories dovetail in with the non-fiction podcasts – or not! Until now I haven’t really thought too much about it, preferring to keep the two separate. However, since the only reason I started the podcasts was to help readers navigate through a potentially confusing set of events, there is some merit in connecting the two.R&B-boxset-frontimage-white

So, where to begin? In general, the podcasts cover a much longer period than my fictional series because I wanted to give anyone listening to the podcasts a chance to see where and how the conflict began. My first novel about the fictional Elder family, Feud, begins in 1459 on the eve of what I have called in the podcasts the first crisis of the Wars of the Roses. The Rebels & Brothers series continues the story of the Elders through the events of Edward IV’s first reign until 1471 when the second crisis of the conflict ends.

So, here in a handy list are the podcasts which cover the events of my first series: Rebels & Brothers.

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Feud:   Podcasts 11: Let Battle Commence

             Podcast 12: Warwick, the Pirate Earl

             Podcast 13: Winter Has Come…

             Podcast 14: Our Sun of York

             Podcast 15: The Bloody Meadow

 

 

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A Traitor’s Fate:

            Podcast 16: Who Wants to be in My Gang?

            Podcast 17: You Wouldn’t Read About It

            Podcast 18: Last Chance Saloon

            Podcast 19: Be careful What You Wish For…

 

 

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000448_00060]

 

Kingdom of Rebels:

            Podcast 19: Be careful What You Wish For…

            Podcast 20: Warwick, the Wedding Planner

 

 

 

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The Last Shroud:

            Podcast 20: Warwick, the Wedding Planner

            Podcast 21: The Kingmaker Illusion

            Podcast 22: Warwick Has a Cunning Plan

            Podcast 23: Welcome to the House of Cards

            Podcast 24: Coming in by the Windows

            Podcast 25: The Fog of War

                                                                  Podcast 26: Another Bloody Meadow…

If you want to listen to the history podcasts you can find them on my website here – or subscribe via iTunes.

If you want to read my historical fiction series, Rebels & Brothers, you can find the books on Amazon – UK or Amazon – US or simply order through a book shop!

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Posted in Historical Fiction, History, Plantagenets, Wars of the Roses, Writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Silk and the Sword by Sharon Bennett Connelly

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

The Norman Conquest is, I suppose, a period about which we all know at least a little bit. We have heard of Harold Godwinson, William the Conqueror and perhaps Harald Hardrada of Norway – the three men who contribute most to the story of 1066. Some of us who have studied the period a little more closely will be aware of the exploits and influence of other men. We may even know something of several women of the period, but to be honest we won’t know very much. What this book does – and does very effectively – is to give the women of the conquest centre stage.

I think it is exceptionally difficult to look at the events of the 11th century through the eyes of a woman, but Ms Bennett Connolly teases every last detail out of the few tenuous threads of evidence that the women have left us. She does it in a very measured way, for at no point does the reader feel that his credulity is being overstretched. There is always a balance in what is said and how it is expressed. One should not underestimate the skill required to strike such a balance between understating and overstating the role of any individual – male or female – when the evidence is so sparse. This fine judgement is one reason why the book is so effective.

You would think that, with such limited raw material, all we would end up with is a procession of clone women all doing much the same thing in much the same way. But the writer manages to create distinct individuals and set them in the context of both the events and the society of the 11th century. But she does more than that; she manages to focus in on their individual lives. So, not only do we get a sense of their roles in the state, but we also have an insight into their personal lives in their relationships with their husbands or children in their own households.

Permeating through this book is a recurrent theme of the perilous position of high born women in this period. Often they are merely bargaining counters in the marriage game; frequently a woman of royal or noble birth was married several times and each time was expected to produce a brood of heirs. But we also read of their important role in administration, negotiation and the church.

Perhaps the most difficult task attempted by the author is to lead the reader through the sometimes labyrinthine genealogies of the Saxons – amongst others. The problem is that to have any hope of grasping who a particular woman is, we have to see how she is connected to others. But how do you do that with clarity? The solution in this book is a lot of repetition: rather like saying to the reader this is the sister of ‘so and so’ – you’ll remember ‘so and so’ he was the one who… etc, etc.

The first couple of times that I encountered this repetition I was unsure about it, but then I saw that it was essential in a book of this scope. Without this ‘hand rail’ of constant reminders, I would have fallen off the mountain of detail because every page brings new characters to the story. The way the book is written enabled me to understand the connections – which are numerous – between the women of the time.

Two women stand out in the book for me: Emma of Normandy and Gytha of Wessex – those two I found especially interesting, but the strength of the book is also in the other little gems that I was completely unaware of, such as Judith of Flanders and St Margaret of Scotland.

Ms Bennett Connolly writes in a clear and interesting style that made the book a pleasure to read, but I also learned an enormous amount about both the women and the events they witnessed and I regard myself as fortunate to have received an advance review copy.

December 2018

Posted in Book Reviews, History, Medieval History, Norman Conquest, Saxon England, Women's history | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Competition Time!

Over on my Facebook author page it’s giveaway time to celebrate the new audiobook version of Feud! 

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Click here to win a chance of a free download of Feud on the Audible site – open to both UK and US readers – but hurry because you’ve only got until 11.30 pm on Sunday 18th November [UK time!]

Posted in Competition, Historical Fiction, New release, Wars of the Roses | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Storming the conventions of historical fiction

I came late to writing historical fiction – in fact late to writing altogether.

History was what I knew best but there were a number of conventions associated with historical fiction that I did not like very much.

The idea of fictional history where one twisted the events and timeline to suit the story really didn’t appeal to me at all. The history was just too important to me. So if I was going to write historical fiction at all then whatever history I included would have to be as accurate as possible.

Another, equally important consideration on my mind was readership. When I started writing, historical fiction tended to fall into one of two categories: historical romance, often written by women for women, and historical action, often written by men for men. Now I know this was not exclusively the case but it was pretty much so, as is evidenced by the number of female writers who used only their initials when writing books with a lot of action in them to disguise the fact that they were women. Obviously the publishing premise was that none of us have the remotest idea about the opposite sex!

I found this convention rather irritating and I set out to write a book with three main protagonists: two women and one man. There would be plenty of action – no holds barred – but it wasn’t only the men who took part in it. There was some romance – in fact several love stories; but though romance might sometimes drive the story along, it was not the main theme.

Overall there were as many female characters as male since my observation is that there are a lot of both in the world.

There was another historical social convention I wanted to attack: the belief that women in the middle ages had no power, no influence and were simply there to have children – and obviously the bit before that…  Now, whilst that might accurately represent the view of the medieval church, it is not in fact how life was. There were plenty of exceptions where women had considerable influence, ran their own businesses, and even commanded men. It seemed important to me that women were given a variety of roles in my stories: most had to conventional to be authentic, but some could be less conventional.

Finally, I wanted to challenge the notion of the lower classes only ever acting in a supporting role. There is a place in the story for the plucky, loyal servant who sacrifices himself in order that the hero can survive but they weren’t all like that!  I included the usual suspects: servants, innkeepers, whores, blacksmiths, yes – but I wanted them to have their own stories too, interwoven with their social superiors rather than just acting as stereotypes.

I wanted therefore at least a little bit of social depth. How did the actions of the powerful impact on the lives of the not so powerful? I wanted subplots which dealt with their concerns – often very different from their masters – or mistresses! Some were loyal but others were grumpy and uncooperative despite – or because of – their lowly station in life. In fact the whole idea of characters being completely ‘good’ or ‘bad’ was something I was keen to move away from.

Feud-Cover-August-2018-Final-Front-onlyThe period covered by my first book Feud, 1459-61, was by far the bloodiest time of the Wars of the Roses and I felt that the reader needed to grasp exactly what that meant, so there is full-on action in several battles. But there were also the effects of battles which are less frequently dealt with.

At the time I was writing Feud, I was intrigued by the discovery of some skeletons near the site of the battle of Towton. In itself, I suppose, it is not that surprising to find some corpses near an old battlefield but it was one skeleton in particular that interested me. One of the corpses revealed that this particular soldier, though he died at Towton, had received a grievous facial injury at some time well before that. It set me to thinking about battlefield surgery and how injured combatants dealt with life afterwards – and clearly, in some cases, continued to be soldiers.

One consequence of all my good intentions was that I ended up with a legion of characters. With hindsight, I might have reduced the cast list a bit… but fortunately during the Wars of the Roses I could indulge in quite a few casualties…

The danger in writing a story to appeal to both sexes was that I would alienate all readers: perhaps there was not enough romance, or too much action, or simply too many characters! My antidote for all of that was to make the pace of the story as fast as possible with a lot of dialogue and very few lengthy descriptions. I wanted the reader to keep reading – to be prepared to wade through the carnage – or the tender embraces – to find out what happened to the characters next.

I am not suggesting that my series of books will appeal to everyone because I’m certain they will not – and that is as it should be. However, I have had enough direct contact with readers now – six years after I first published Feud – to be sure that, whatever flaws my debut novel had, it does have thousands of readers of both sexes who have enjoyed it.

Since I began writing – some ten to twelve years ago now – the face of historical fiction has changed, as society has changed. But, more importantly, publishing has changed too. The books ‘out there’ for readers now are no longer channelled only through traditional publishing and so there is a much greater variety of stories and sub-genres available.

TheBloodOfPrinces-FrontMy sixth, and most recent, Wars of the Roses novel, The Blood of Princes, is set in one of the most turbulent years in the whole of English history – 1483. And yes, it deals with Richard III and the Princes in the Tower, but, like all the books which preceded it, it is a story of a family and its men, women, children, servants, men at arms, etc. They are thrust into a time of crisis and each is trying, in his own way, to emerge from it unscathed.

As the blurb tells you:  “… members of the battle-scarred Elder family are drawn, one by one, into his conspiracy. Soon they are mired so deep in the murky underbelly of London society, that there seems no hope of escape from the tangle of intrigue and murder.”

But don’t worry, they’re getting used to it!

I’m not claiming here to have single-handedly broken any mould, just explaining what inspired me to write in the way I have.  Now, as I write my seventh book, Echoes of Treason, the principles I adopted at the start are still there – though hopefully my writing has improved over the years.

[Note: This post first appeared in September 2018 as a guest post on Mary Anne Yarde’s popular blog: Myths, Legends, Books & Coffee Pots which you can find here.]

Posted in Historical Fiction, Historical Romance, History, Medieval History, The Writing Process, Wars of the Roses, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Dodging Arrows Podcasts: The Wars of the Roses!

Podcasting the Wars of the Roses!

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Always been confused by the Wars of the Roses? Hardly dared ask a question in case you get a three hour long answer? Well, help is at hand!

Over on my website I’m running a series of history podcasts tracing the origins, nature and extent of the Wars of the Roses – the period during which my novels are set. Each podcast is between 10 and 15 minutes in length – so easy to find time for!

My object in creating these podcasts is purely educational – free from fictional influences and facebook rants!

Though I’ve studied this period for many years – more than I care to recall! – I don’t claim to know everything and it’s perfectly possible that other students of this controversial period will disagree with some of my conclusions. All I hope to do is give those who are interested a few basic handholds from which to explore further.

The podcasts are hosted on Soundcloud and the music on the podcasts is “Never Tell Me The Odds” composed by Johannes Bornlöf and licensed for use by courtesy of www.epidemicsound.com

To listen to the podcasts, click here

You can also find them on iTunes by searching for Wars of the Roses Podcasts. Feel free to give a rating or review.

You can also leave a comment on individual podcasts if you wish – be polite!

If you’re interested, and you’ve not yet sampled my historical fiction books, you might want to see how I’ve woven the history into the fiction by having a look at my first book, Feud,  which is also available as an audiobook on Audible UK or Audible.com or indeed Amazon or iTunes…

 

Posted in History, Medieval History, Plantagenets, Richard III, Uncategorized, Wars of the Roses | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Common Myths of the Wars of the Roses: Richard III: Victim of Tudor Propaganda? Part 1

In the past year, while writing my sixth novel set during the Wars of the Roses, I’ve had to confront directly in my research the legend that is Richard III. So much has been written about this king that it is in danger of simply deteriorating into ‘white noise’. Over a period of decades of examining the sources and reading the historians, I am still astonished not only by what is said but also the vehemence with which many assertions are made.

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Richard III [Wikimedia Commons]

There are so many myths about Richard that it’s difficult to know where to start, but one view which endures is that Richard’s reputation was destroyed by Tudor propaganda.

The fragmentary evidence we have about Richard is often seriously flawed. So when we talk glibly about Richard, or Henry Tudor for that matter, being ‘popular’ or ‘unpopular’ we are basing our assessment on tiny shards of evidence. That alone is reason enough to question our conclusions.

In this post, I am focusing on how Richard’s actions were perceived by others in 1483.

Before 1483, even most of the political classes would never have met Richard, Duke of Gloucester – or any other important lord. Their world was their manor, or perhaps at most, their county. They would know the leading men of the land only by reputation – by stories of what they were said to have done. It was wholly subjective and unreliable, but it was pretty much all they had.

There were no newspapers or social media, so they must glean snippets out of personal letters from friends at court, or others they knew. Everything was hearsay – informed hearsay – from the tiny few who witnessed any events of importance. News was spread by word of mouth and opinion filtered downwards since every lord in each stratum of society would have his own clients – his political, social and economic dependents.

You can imagine how the information received – and passed on – by these clients, changed with the telling and retelling. What started out as: “did Richard have a hand in the death of the ‘Princes’?” might well end up as: “Richard murdered them!”

But surely this is a case of a man whose reputation was tarnished after his fall by a vengeful victor?

There is no question that before the summer of 1483, Richard was generally held in high regard as: the loyal brother of the late king, a brave soldier, the successful general of the recent Scottish war, the good lord and supporter of his clients and tenants.

That Richard was still revered even at the end of his reign by many in the north is suggested by an entry in the York Records for 23rd August 1485 – the day after Bosworth: “King Richard, late lawfully reigning over us, was… piteously slain and murdered to the great heaviness of this city.”

Nevertheless, the battle over Richard III’s reputation began well before 1485. 

Richard’s image with some folk was pretty tarnished long before Bosworth. In a matter of months during summer 1483, the good opinion of Richard changed drastically. By October 1483 there was an unsuccessful rebellion against Richard which alone is evidence of discontent among at least some the ruling classes of the southern counties. Since it also involved the betrayal of Richard by his closest ally, the Duke of Buckingham, it could not have given people much confidence.

More striking still is that those who supported Henry Tudor’s first bid for the throne formed a rather unholy alliance of die-hard Lancastrian exiles and loyal servants of the Yorkist Edward IV. In fact most came from the latter group who should have been Richard’s natural supporters.

Such a significant shift in opinion could not have been caused by Henry Tudor alone – or his mother, Lady Margaret Stanley, née Beaufort. Indeed few men in England were in direct contact with Henry when the first rebellion occurred.

So, why did some Yorkists choose to support Henry Tudor rather than Richard III? The answer lies not in Tudor propaganda, but in the events between April and July 1483.

In April 1483, en route to the coronation in London, Richard arrested Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, and several other members of Edward V’s household. This caused some political shockwaves and did not promote an atmosphere of calm. Though the Woodvilles are usually presented, rightly or wrongly, as unpopular, Anthony Woodville, the queen’s brother, might be seen as among the best of them.

I have seen it written countless times that Rivers “hated” Gloucester, so let me be clear on this point: there is no evidence whatsoever that Rivers and Gloucester resented, or disagreed with, or were hostile to – each other before the moment of Rivers’ arrest.

Nor is there any credible evidence that Rivers was plotting against Gloucester, who expected to be confirmed as Protector by the King’s Council when he arrived in London. As the maternal uncle and governor of the Prince of Wales, Rivers was closer to the new boy king than any other leading nobleman. Rivers was not arrested because of what he had done, but because of what he might do. It was a pre-emptive strike and pre-emptive strikes unsettle people.

Gloucester might, in part at least, have been responding to letters from Lord Hastings – the close ally of young Edward’s father – urging him to weaken the power of the queen’s family lest they should dominate the new reign. Hastings, though rightly viewed by many – both then and since – as a ‘reliable pair of hands’, panicked in April 1483. Why? Because he, unlike Gloucester, was wary of the queen and especially hostile to her eldest son, Thomas, Marquis of Dorset.

All the same, when Gloucester arrested Rivers and the others, many in the Council, and beyond, accepted his explanation that there was a Woodville plot against him, though they had no intention of allowing Gloucester to take complete control of the government. In the ensuing weeks councillors worked in two groups: one discussed arrangements for the coronation, while another met separately with Gloucester.

What little evidence we have hints that this division of the council caused mutterings. What, some wondered, was Gloucester discussing with his small group of councillors? Though such thoughts do not constitute opposition to the Protector, they do at least suggest some unease.

Few could have been aware that in mid- June Richard sent letters north calling urgently for troops. If they had been, they might have been more concerned, because in London they would have seen little evidence of the continuing plot which Richard claimed as the justification for it. The queen was in sanctuary at Westminster, so hardly ‘on side’ but she had little opportunity and no resources to challenge Gloucester.

Then, on 13th June 1483, a singular event occurred: Lord Hastings, loyal stalwart of the previous regime, and apparent ally of the Protector, was dragged from the council chamber and brutally beheaded at Gloucester’s command.

Also, John Morton, Bishop of Ely and Lord Thomas Stanley, among others, were summarily arrested. Lord Stanley, like Hastings, was a key figure in the kingdom and not to be trifled with lightly.

It is often suggested that opinion hostile to Richard was confined to the southern counties where the October rebellion broke out, but the power base of Lord Thomas Stanley – released by Gloucester on good behaviour – was in the north-west. Whatever views Lord Stanley, or his many clients, held about Gloucester before 13th June, I doubt he was their best friend afterwards.

This is the pivotal event of the summer. Why? Because if William Hastings, staunch Yorkist and close supporter of Gloucester, could be treated thus, then no man could feel safe.

From that moment on, there was an atmosphere of suspicion and fear at court. When it did become known that Gloucester had sent for a northern army, that only accentuated the alarm. Since the death of Edward IV, Gloucester had imprisoned or executed three of the half dozen most influential magnates in the kingdom and a fourth, Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, appeared to be his most trusted ally. What conclusion would any experienced courtier draw from that?

This, remember, is before any suggestion of Gloucester taking the throne, let alone killing his nephews, but we can be pretty sure that the question on everyone’s mind at court was: what is Gloucester going to do next?

Then, as if by magic, several claims were made questioning the legitimacy of King Edward V. People at court were not stupid – influenced by rumour and self-interest, yes – but not stupid. The fact that these allegations surfaced only days after Hastings’ execution was not lost on anyone. Let us not forget that there were far more men of influence in London than usual because of the impending coronation. Such men wrote letters to their relatives, or to their clients in the country which support the conclusion that opinion of Gloucester was shifting. Where there had been confidence, now there was, at best, confusion and at worst, suspicion.

Then there was the coronation…

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The royal arms of Richard III [Creative Commons license in the Public Domain]

Opinion was shifting amongst many who had served Edward IV. When Gloucester first postponed the king’s coronation, most would have agreed with him. Time was too short for the arrangements to be made and a delay until June 22nd seemed sensible. But when the coronation was postponed for a second time, it caused only consternation and confusion. The accusations that the new king was illegitimate might need to be investigated but that did not mean that Richard had to be crowned king at once in his nephew’s stead. But the momentum was with Gloucester and he pushed ahead regardless of opinion amongst the political classes.

Some wondered about the reason for Hastings’ death – few at court could have taken seriously the allegation that he was plotting with the queen against Richard. They watched Richard take the throne and they joined the dots. When the sons of the late king ceased to be seen in the Tower gardens, they joined the dots again.

It matters little now – as it mattered little then – whether Richard was guilty or not. Enough men of substance were incensed by the events of the summer of 1483 and the likelihood [unproven, of course] that the sons of Edward IV were dead.

Many did nothing, preferring – in the light of bitter past experience – to see where events took them – but others wanted action and very likely it was a distraught and embittered dowager queen, Elizabeth Woodville, who fanned the flames.

The strength of their opinion is shown by their willingness to support an exile about whom they knew nothing and whose claim to the throne could not have been weaker.

Their outrage was a lifeline for Henry Tudor languishing, penniless, in Brittany. His mother, Margaret Beaufort, was determined to engineer his return to England and lost no time in apprising him of the changed situation. Thus, even before his 1485 invasion, Henry was referring to Richard as an “unnatural tyrant” and an “enemy of nature”.

Were these phrases propaganda? Yes, for such words made the assumption that Richard was guilty of having the ‘Princes’ killed. But they were also the sort of remarks routinely flung out to rally potential supporters and Richard delivered comparable slurs about Henry as a would-be ‘usurper’.

The shift in opinion in the summer of 1483 did not ensure that Henry Tudor would be successful but it did mean that Richard’s regime, which depended on a small number of very powerful men, lacked a groundswell of support. Rumours circulated – not only in England, but abroad – which undermined Richard’s credibility.

Although many might not, in the end, take up arms against Richard III, they might not fight for him either.

In the next post on this theme, I shall address the issue of Tudor propaganda after 1483.

[N.B. This post appeared first on the English Historical Fiction Authors Blog]

Posted in History, Medieval History, Plantagenets, Richard III, Wars of the Roses | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Common Myths of the Wars of the Roses: Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, the ‘Kingmaker’? Part 4

This is the final part of my exploration into the notion that Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, merits the epithet of “kingmaker”. 

[N.B. All 4 parts were previously published on the English Historical Fiction Authors Blog]

In the winter of 1469-70, despite an apparent rapprochement with the king, Warwick was contemplating open rebellion. Apart from capitulation, it was his only option: he must replace Edward IV with his own son in law, George, Duke of Clarence.

So, in March 1470, Warwick created a crisis by backing Lord Welles in a local feud with one of the king’s household men, Sir Thomas Burgh. At first, the king was unaware of the involvement of Warwick and Clarence, but when he defeated Welles, he discovered plenty of evidence. Though he summoned the earl and the duke to explain, they refused to come and gathered their forces in the midlands. Warwick hoped for support from his brother, John Neville, Earl of Northumberland, and from Lord Thomas Stanley, the most influential lord in the north-west. Both refused to join him and, without them, he knew he was doomed.

Fleeing south, Warwick and Clarence collected their wives and managed – just – to evade the king’s pursuing army at Dartmouth. From there, after attempting to gather more ships and men at Southampton, they sailed to Calais. But King Edward had already written to Calais and the ships were denied entry, though Warwick’s heavily pregnant daughter Isabel was going into labour and subsequently lost her child.

Warwick had little choice but to head for France and hope for a warm welcome. Another attempt at kingmaking had ended in abject failure.

Warwick’s ships continued along the channel, indulging in some gratuitous piracy against Flemish ships on the way. The earl might have seen this as a windfall, or perhaps he reckoned that action against the Burgundians would ease his entry to a French port. My guess is that he thought it couldn’t hurt his reputation with the French king, Louis XI, when he asked for his protection.

Condemned in England as a traitor, Warwick now faced an ignominious end to his illustrious career, but remarkably, in a matter of months, he managed to resurrect his kingmaking ambitions. How did such an unlikely reversal of fortune come about?

Even before this latest disaster, Warwick surely realised that Clarence was a weak reed so, if he really wanted a change of monarch, he needed a better candidate. One of Warwick’s few remaining assets was his daughter, Anne, and now whoever she married would need to bring something special to the family – preferably a touch of royalty. He needed someone whose name alone would attract men to his banner, which brings us to one of the most interesting volte-faces in English history: Warwick’s pact with his most bitter enemy, Margaret of Anjou.

It is a measure of Warwick’s utter desperation that he was willing to fling aside previous loyalties to mount one last attempt at achieving real power.

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Source gallica.bnf.fr / National Library of France

If Warwick had ever considered the possibility of reconciliation with Queen Margaret, he must have viewed it as a last resort. Well, in May 1470, the last resort had been reached. Yet, how could the former queen be persuaded to agree to a pact with the man she regarded as the architect of her family’s demise? England already had a spare king. The unfortunate Henry VI had been a prisoner of Edward IV since July 1465, but his queen, Margaret of Anjou, had never given up hope of restoring not only her husband but more importantly her son, Edward of Westminster.

Whilst it is true that Margaret would need a lot of persuading, by spring 1470 with no resources left to her, even the indomitable Margaret was low on optimism.

Louis XI, known as ‘the universal spider’, was an expert manipulator of people. He knew from Warwick’s diplomatic missions that the earl favoured a French alliance – a policy over which he fell out with King Edward who instead allied himself to Burgundy, France’s enemy.

This was an alliance King Louis was desperate to break. Thus, between May and July 1470, he brokered negotiations between Warwick and Margaret. He was very persuasive and both parties recognised that it was their last chance. Margaret swallowed her bile and came to terms, doing her best to humiliate the earl in the process; and Warwick, always a better diplomat than soldier, soaked it up on his knees.

At first it was probably just one of many irons in the fire for ‘the spider’, but once it seemed that it might actually happen, he provided money, ships and men – the lifeblood of invasion without which Warwick could have gone nowhere!

One could devote a dozen posts to the subsequent events but since my focus is on the kingmaking, I shall simply note that, against all odds, Warwick succeeded in putting together a coalition of Edward’s enemies, including not only Queen Margaret but the renegade lords: Jasper Tudor – King Henry’s half-brother and John de Vere, Earl of Oxford – a diehard Lancastrian.

Nevertheless, as always, success in England would depend upon the actions of a few key men: his brother John Neville, recently stripped of the earldom of Northumberland; Lord Thomas Stanley and, not least, the Duke of Clarence himself. How would all these individuals react in the crisis that Warwick created?

When Warwick landed in the south-west in September 1470, he proclaimed that he was restoring the rightful king, Henry VI. However dishonest one might feel now that this claim was, there is no doubt that it resonated with some at the time. Bear in mind also that, at this point Edward IV had no male heir whereas Henry VI did. However unlikely it seemed, Warwick had put together what appeared to be an attractive package.

King Edward was in the north stamping out Neville-backed risings, but still confident he could defeat Warwick. However, one by one, his leading nobles joined the rebellion: notably Lord Stanley and the Earl of Shrewsbury – but also crucially, and at the very last minute, Warwick’s brother, John Neville – still smarting from the loss of his earldom. Since he had always remained loyal to Edward, it was a body blow to the king. With Warwick advancing from the south and John Neville close by in the north, the king could only disband his army and flee to his Burgundian ally, Duke Charles. Meanwhile, his pregnant wife, Elizabeth Woodville, took sanctuary with her daughters at Westminster – not for the first, or last, time!

Victorious, Warwick headed for the capital to free a bemused Henry VI and await the return of Queen Margaret and her son, Edward – recently married to Anne Neville. Nevertheless, he faced some tricky problems ahead in managing a hastily-engineered coalition which amounted to an alliance of his enemies. Once Queen Margaret returned, along with some of his most bitter foes, such as Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, he must have feared what would happen. All that though lay in the future, because Queen Margaret was reluctant to take the leap of faith and return to England, beset by her own doubts about the wisdom of trusting Warwick.

Thus, at the heart of Warwick’s alliance lay animosity and mistrust.

His friends too were nervous: some supporters, notably Stanley and Shrewsbury, received little reward for their vital support. His brother John, risking all to support him, must have been uneasy about his rival in the north, Henry Percy, recently restored to the earldom of Northumberland by Edward IV. If these men harboured doubts about what they had done, those with no love at all for Warwick were just biding their time until Queen Margaret arrived. If enough pressure was applied, would the coalition simply splinter?

The sudden return of Edward IV in March 1471 provided the first test for the new regime. Edward landed with perhaps 500 men, professed loyalty to Henry VI and claimed that he wanted only his dukedom of York. With hindsight of course this seems pretty hard to believe, but at the time it created confusion at a critical moment. Edward’s boldness paralysed his enemies, for though both Northumberland and John Neville could have stopped him in his tracks, neither did.

Battle_of_Barnet_retouched

Battle of Barnet via Wikimedia Commons

Edward IV hurried to London where he returned the old king to the Tower and prepared to meet Warwick head on. At the resulting battle of Barnet in April, several key advantages lay with Warwick: better artillery and two reliable commanders in his brother, John, and the Earl of Oxford. However, since it was fought in a fog, the outcome might just as well have been settled by the toss of a coin. Yet perhaps it was a fitting end to the chaotic years of plotting and in-fighting from 1469-71. Even so, Edward gathered only modest support before he reached the midlands. After all, who would risk all by supporting him? Well, as it turned out, his errant brother, George, Duke of Clarence, would.

Clarence was the ‘spare thumb’ of Warwick’s regime and was even more worried about his future than Warwick himself. Though the earl might have foreseen it, Clarence’s sudden defection to Edward, taking all his adherents with him, changed everything.

Warwick not only lost at Barnet, but he was killed, so his kingmaking exploits ended there. Only hours afterwards, Queen Margaret and her son landed at Weymouth.

King Edward’s troubles did not end at Barnet, but Warwick’s ambitions did. Like all his kingmaking attempts, the last was fatally flawed. You could argue that he was unlucky and that, had he won at Barnet, his achievement would have endured. But it was not just bad luck. His last hurrah was built upon a creaking foundation and, in his desperation, Warwick ignored vital flaws – not least the very real problem of what to do with Clarence. Clarence, as they say, ‘voted with his feet’.

If ever there was a tragic figure in English history, it is Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. One of the great men of his age, he promised much, but was destroyed by his own pride and ambition. He was not the only English nobleman to perish in that way during the medieval period, but he was certainly one of the most notable.

For me, there is no occasion when Warwick justifies the name “kingmaker”, for he made no-one king. In every case, other factors were more important than the role of Warwick himself and even the readeption of Henry VI proved so fragile that it barely lasted a few anxious months. The image of Warwick, the kingmaker, belongs only in the pages of historical fiction.

 

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