Tag Archives: Richard III

A great read on Medieval Queens – Queens Consort – Lisa Hilton

Image.ashxI bought this with my Waterstones Christmas voucher as I love the medieval period and have always been particularly interested in the lives of these women who are often only mentioned as a postscript to their husband’s story.

This book tells the history of all the  English (in fact the majority of them were not English) queens between 1066 starting with Matilda of Flanders ending in 1503 with Elizabeth of York.  It is full of interesting and even shocking stories such as Isabella of France, watching Hugh Despenser (the suspected lover of her husband) being castrated and hung drawn and quartered.  Isabella was argued to have left a  “dark stain on the annals of female royalty” and has been traditionally viewed as an unnatural woman, although Hilton points out that in this age (like today) women  were condemned for things that men would not be, such as being decisive (seen as aggressive) or being an effective landowner (seen as greedy).    I still think watching someone being castrated is pretty shocking.

Hugh Despenser's execution (no sign of Isabella)

Hugh Despenser’s execution (no sign of Isabella)

There are plenty of other engrossing  facts such as Eleanor of Castile having fifteen children and the love between her and her husband Edward I,  so when she died he had the Eleanor crosses erected in the places where her body rested on the way to London  and he ordered masses to be said after her death so that in the six months afterwards 47,000 masses were said for her whereas poor Elizabeth Woodville got none (probably because Henry VII was so stingy).  Interestingly, no one else much in England liked Eleanor.

The queens ranged from those with great influence such Eleanor of Aquitaine whereas others like Berengaria were just pawns.  Younger royal children were often sent away as dynastic tools,  the four year old Joan daughter of Edward  III sent to Austria to be betrothed at the age of just four.    Hilton also questions whether there is enough evidence to judge whether Richard I and Edward II were gay, something I had just taken as fact.    Another gory fact details Pepys kissing the embalmed corpse of Katherine of Valois over 200 years after her death.  For the first time as a Yorkist fan, I found myself  with some sympathy for Margaret (or Marguerite) of Anjou, imagine getting lumbered with a mentally unstable, ineffective husband, your only son being killed, losing the throne and  dying a penniless embarrassment.  There are interesting parallels with the role of medieval queens and  Hilary Mantel’s recent comments about the Duchess of Cambridge being “a plastic princess” whose only role is childbearing.  Hilton points out that as the medieval period progressed there was a decline in the  ritual and symbolic role of the queens with Elizabeth of York not even being crowned until 1487, two years after their marriage, but we also have the interesting paradox that less than a century later Elizabeth I becomes “perhaps the greatest period of female power in England before the 20th century”.

Richard III and Anne Neville

Richard III and Anne Neville

There are some problems with this book largely due to the lack of historical sources on women’s history especially relating to this  period  so some chapters are  a bit scanty, for example Elizabeth of York is hardly mentioned at all in her chapter.  If you read too much in one go it does  become a bit list like and repetitive.  I also got a bit upset by Hilton’s obvious bias against Richard III in the Anne Neville chapter, she even had a Richard III lover like me questioning my love for him and ruined my romantic notion that it was a love match.  The conclusion was also the weakest section with a long-winded parallel drawn between medieval queens and the   queens in Beowulf  and the Morte d’ Arthur  which I didnt really understand.

This is a great introduction or supplement to the lives of the medieval queens and the medieval period, and is recommended for anyone who wants a historical, but factual page turner.



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Javier Marías – Tomorrow in the battle think on me

Victor has gone back to Marta´s house for a night of passion when she suddenly dies in his arms in bed.  Victor is then left in a quandary about whether to expose his identity by contacting her husband Déan in London. In the end he shockingly walks off with her bra, her husband´s contact details, and her answering machine tape and leaves her young son alone with his mothers´ body.  All of Marta´s family except for her elderly father know that Marta spent the night with someone and Déan is determined to discover who.  Victor cannot stop himself from contacting the family to discover what happened to Marta and to find out how much they know.

It is a very interesting premise for a novel but I am not sure how realistic it is. Surely most people with any humanity would ring the police or an ambulance.  Still it makes for a shocking story, but one of the characters has an even bigger secret which is linked to this event.

The novel seems slightly misogynistic.  Victor is not a very likeable character, he stalks women and has sex with a prostitute who he thinks might be his wife but he’s not sure (seems implausible to me, and this ex-wife springs out of nowhere more than half way through the novel).  There is a post modern moment when the prostitute asks his name and he answers;

“Javier,” I lied.

“Not another Javier.. Madrid´s full of them or perhaps it´s just the name you´d all like to have.”

The novel deals with the issue of  the haunting of the men by dead women.  Marías makes constant references to Shakespeare´s Henry IV and Richard III.  The title refers to Richard III´s haunting by the ghosts of those he has murdered (highly historically inaccurate),

“Tomorrow in the battle think on me,” and fall thy edgeless sword.  Tomorrow in the battle Think on me when I was mortal and let fall thy pointless lance.”. “Let me sit heavy on thy soul tomorrow, let me be lead within thy bosom and in a bloody battle end thy days:Tomorrow in the battle think on me, despair and die!”

Javier Marías is obviously a very clever author.  There are extended reflections on a range  of issues  some of which are very interesting such as the Anglo-Saxon word that describes the relationship acquired by two men who have slept with the same woman.  His reflections on abortion seem very incisive. However this does not make the book an easy read and it has some of the longest paragraphs I have ever read.  It can be quite hard to follow, but probably easier if unlike me you don’t start reading this before Christmas and then go back to it a few weeks later.

A good read, but I don´t think I would re-read it, which is pretty much how I felt about A Heart So White.

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Philippa Gregory – The White Queen and The Red Queen (We love Richard III)

A friend said to me when she saw these on my bookshelves, ‘I didnt think you would like her at all’ .  It is true that I am a historical fiction snob and difficult to please, after all I will criticise Wolf Hall whilst everyone else loves it, and also Gregory’s The Queen’s Fool is one of the most ridiculous historical novels I have ever read (the protagonist is present for every major hisorical event under the later Tudors).  Well, yes in some ways they are a bit popular and obviously have had to have lots of fictional parts but once I got into them both I found them to be page-turners.  They remind me of Jean Plaidy books and I loved her from about the age of 12 and I think they got me even more interested in 15th and 16th century history.

I studied the Wars of the Roses at A-level and it is one of the most interesting periods of English history.  The White Queen focuses on Elizabeth Woodville the Queen of Yorkist Edward IV, she has been mentioned in the press recently as an example of another ‘commoner’ who married a royal, but as Suzanne Moore pointed out in the Guardian it’s not as if Kate Middleton worked at Lidl is it?  By the same token Woodville was the daughter of an earl but her lack of royal blood made her hugely unpopular with the English nobility.  I have personally always been interested in the fact that she looks bald in the most famous portrait of her.  In order to make this a bit more scandalous Gregory argues that Woodville did use witchcraft in some frankly unconvincing ways in order to gain her position.  However if she was really a witch she wasn’t a very good one, considering she could not stop half of her family being murdered.

The Red Queen deals with Margaret Beaufort who I never liked much as she was a Lancastrian (boo!) and mother of the most boring King of England, Henry VII.  I have always been interested in the fact that she got married at the age of 12 and gave birth at the age of 13 (which nearly killed her).  I was glad to read in this that she is presented as a religious bigot who is inspired by Joan of Arc.  She is manipulative and will do whatever she needs to, to ensure the succession of her son to the throne.  Gregory even puts forward the theory that she considered the murder of the Princes in the Tower and doesn’t support the widely held view that Richard III did it (hurrah, I love Richard III).  For more on this look at the Richard III society pages.


Overall these are page turners with horrible covers with very modern looking women dressed in 15th century clothes,  which are well-researched and bring this period alive. You can read more about Gregory’s historical novels at



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