16 July, 2020

The Support Group for People Maligned in Historical Fiction Meets Again!

Another meeting, years after the first one! This one was written partly by me and partly by Michèle Schindler, author of a great biography of Francis, Lord Lovell, who also writes a blog dedicated to Francis. Thanks for your great contributions, Michèle!


Edward II: Welcome to the latest meeting of the Support Group for People Maligned in Historical Fiction, everybody! I'm delighted to see so many of you here! Well, actually, I'm not, because it means that your posthumous reputations have been suffering because of the rubbish certain writers have been saying about you. A lot has happened since our last meeting, and regarding depictions of myself, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that most writers and documentary makers are now backing off the claim that I was murdered by red-hot poker, because they realise that the vile, sadistic little tale is no longer tenable. The bad news is, they don't really want to let go of it, so we get YouTube documentaries where the presenter goes 'right, let's see an enactment of what it might have looked like if Edward really had been tortured to death like that!' and the camera lingers lovingly on the agonised and screaming face of the actor playing me. And if that wasn't bad enough, the presenter chortles and says something like 'why don't we watch that again, in slow motion?' I worry about these folks, I really do. Anyway, anyone else need to vent about what's been written or said about them?

Margaret Beaufort: Lots and lots and lots of people have decided that I murdered the Princes in the Tower in 1483, despite having no access to the Tower and, let's face it, no motive either, unless you count wanting to put Richard III's young son, or one of his nephews, on the throne.

Edward II: Weird, that one, isn't it? As though you could have predicted in advance that Richard's son would die the following year. Did you have the gift of foresight, Margaret? I'm guessing not.

Margaret Beaufort: Well, I'm the most ambitious and evil person who ever lived, you know, who spent every second of my life cackling evilly and calculating how I was going to put my son on the throne one day, even when there were about 67 people in the succession ahead of him. Apparently I was planning to murder them all.

Anne Lovell: Margaret dear, that's because they imagine you were unnaturally and weirdly obsessed with your son. And with Joan of Arc as well, hahaha, as if. You didn't have a normal maternal relationship with Henry, because somehow, only my cousin Anne Neville is allowed to love her son. Or her husband, apparently. I'm not sure what else I should have done to make it clear that I loved my husband Francis. Commit treason for him? Refuse to remarry after he vanished? Oh wait, I did. Not that you'd ever know it from novels.

George of Clarence: I feel your pain, dear cousin. I also suffer from the need in novels to make my sister-in-law Anne Neville the absolute centre of everything. Several novelists have me mistreat my wife Isabel when our first baby died, so Anne could watch horror-struck. This was my and Isabel's baby who died, but somehow novels think it was all about Anne. Those novels also insist I wanted to murder her to keep her from marrying my brother. And you know what this is based on? A later source saying I sent her somewhere to hide her. I didn't even do that, but it'd still be a million miles from trying to murder her!

Elizabeth Woodville: Not only do lots of people dismiss me as not the rightful queen of England at all, and blather on and on and on and on waaaaay beyond tedium about freaking Melusine and my and my mother's amazing witchy powers, I've now been called - wait for it - an 'Essex Girl'. And have been accused of murdering half my husband's court, including his supposed first wife Eleanor Talbot, her brother-in-law the duke of Norfolk, and who the heck knows who else.

Joan Geneville: That's awful, Elizabeth. I've never been accused of murder, but most writers carry on as though I didn't even exist. I'd been married to Roger Mortimer for just under thirty years when he was executed in November 1330, and we had a dozen kids together. He's now been written up everywhere as the greatest romantic hero of all time because he formed an alliance with Isabella of France. Amazing how Edward II cheating on Queen Isabella is the most unforgivably appalling thing ever, and makes her the most tragic neglected victim who ever lived, but when she supposedly has an affair with my husband, no-one seems to bother about me or even notice the double standards.

Constanza of Castile: Ohhhh, I know exactly what you mean, Joan. To be honest, I wasn't all that bothered about my husband John of Gaunt having a long-term affair with Katherine Swynford, and actually, just between you and me, I kind of liked Katherine. She was good fun. And after all, my father had affairs and fathered children with just about every woman he ever laid eyes on, including his cousin and at least one of my mother's cousins, and my mother was his chief mistress and not his wife. Come to think of it, his real wife was kept in prison. But you know what, I do seriously object to being depicted as a smelly religious zealot, who offends my husband's nostrils with my unpleasant body odour because I don't wash enough. I mean, come onnnnn. And worshipping my dead dad? I loved my father, but obviously I do not worship him. That is so offensive to my religious sensibilities.

Eleanor de Bohun: I don't think any of us ladies come out very well in that novel, Constanza, except Katherine, oh, and Blanche of Lancaster as well, who exists in a kind of cloud of perfect gorgeous saintliness. It describes me as having a fish mouth, and then later, a mouth like a haddock. I can't even visualise what kind of mouth a haddock actually has, to be perfectly honest - can anyone? - but I'm pretty sure I'm not being complimented. And Joan of Kent is nothing but a 'mound of flesh' at her son's coronation, apparently.

Anne Lovell: I feel you, ladies! One novel describes me as having "skin the colour and consistency of porridge". I'm trying to imagine human skin that's the same consistency of porridge, and not getting very far. What the hell, people? I can also offer some absolute horror at seeing the fact that Francis and I had no children used against me in horrifying ways. The nicest of that was still one book that had me worrying that I was lesser than my cousin Anne Neville, who had a child despite "everyone thinking she was too frail to carry a child to term". Just why everyone would be so worried about my cousin's childbearing ability is a mystery, but at least that particular novel didn't blame my childlessness on the fact that I am too ugly or too repulsive for my husband to touch. 

Blanche de Bourbon: Coming back to Constanza's point, the real wife of King Pedro would be me. Obviously not blaming you for this, Constanza, sweetheart, because you weren't even born yet, but your dad Pedro put me in solitary confinement while he went off with your mum. And he had affairs with plenty of other women, as you point out. But me, I just get completely ignored. Imprisoned by my husband two days after my wedding and kept there for eight years until he finally had me bumped off, and does anyone care? Nope! All they do is weep and wail about Edward II supposedly ignoring Isabella at their coronation banquet, like that's the worst thing that's ever happened to anyone. Quite honestly, I'd settle for being maligned in historical fiction if writers ever even remembered that I existed!

Joan Geneville: I'm with you there, Constanza. When I'm not being ignored as though I never even existed, despite decades of loyalty to my husband, I'm written as grossly overweight and hopelessly unattractive, or so cold and frigid in bed that Roger is forced to look elsewhere for affection and intimacy, the poor lamb. Did I mention that Roger and I had twelve children?

Anne Beauchamp, countess of Warwick: Good evening, fellow maligned people! Not only did I suffer the indignity of being declared legally dead so that my sons-in-law could take my lands, I see that one novel condemns me as a bad mother as well, so besotted with my dear Richard that I ignored our daughters and only cared about saving my own skin after my daughter Anne Neville was widowed and in potential danger. So that's nice.

William Stanley: I feel your pain. Just because I kind of, eh, suddenly betrayed my Yorkist leanings at the Battle at Bosworth field does not mean I spent my entire life victimising everyone around me. Do you know that at least three novels insist I abused my dear first wife Joan? The horror of that being printed! And based on what, me switching sides in the civil war nearly twenty years after her death? Joan and me were very happy! And since we're on the subject, I never sat on the fence. You're looking for my brother Thomas. And I never molested anyone. That I even have to say this!

Edward II: Astonishing how so many writers confuse you and your brother Thomas, William, as though you were clones of each other, or even one person shared between two bodies. So weird. And sorry to hear you've been accused of abusing your wife. Poor William Hastings joined us once, to tell us about being painted as a child rapist and murderer in one series of novels, the poor man. And there's this one novel that has my father-in-law and all three of my brothers-in-law sexually abusing my wife when she was a child. I mean honestly. I can't stand any of those French gits - well, Louis is bearable, I suppose, and the younger Philip and I get on pretty well as long as we keep the Channel between us - but what a thing to invent about them! Far worse even than the voyeuristic dwarf spying on me and Isabella consummating our marriage in one novel. I shudder at the memory.

William Stanley: Is that the novel with 'passion' in the title that has you being 'noisily buggered' by Piers, Edward? That description is about as erotic as cholera.

Edward: *shudders again* Do. Not. Remind. Me.

Thomas Becket: Good evening, my fellow maligned men and women. Can someone explain to me why writers of the 20th and 21st century, always seem to want to explain everything with sex? My friend Henry was no prude, but even he would think it ridiculous. I took a vow of chastity in my youth and kept it, and no one in my own time doubted it. This has not stopped novelists from insisting I sexually desired Henry, and only stood up for the rights of the church as ploy for revenge because he rejected me. Because somehow, that's not far-fetched or ridiculous at all, while the idea that I stood up for ideals that were widely shared during my lifetime because I actually believed in them is considered unlikely. I don't expect I will ever understand this.

Francis Lovell: Hello, everyone, Anne Lovell's husband here. I'm King Richard III's annoying stupid friend whom he lets tag along, so it appears, and I'm always sleeping with every available woman, up to and including Margaret of York, only not with my wife. I'm not very intelligent but I exude misplaced confidence. Or I could introduce myself as simply Francis, Viscount Lovell, but I doubt if anyone would even recognise me without these novel tropes. All of which are naturally untrue, but that's what novels have drummed into people's heads I was.

Edward II: I don't understand it either, Thomas, and Francis, sorry to hear you've also been a victim of everything being reduced to sex. What gets me as well is the novelist who moaned on social media and blogs about how horribly over-sexualised modern historical fiction is, while writing a series of novels where my dad tries to seduce the young girl who is, in this bizarre fictional universe, his own half-sister. Because my great-aunt's husband Simon de Montfort had an affair with my grandmother, supposedly, and was the real father of my father. Simon was hundreds of miles from my grandmother when she and King Henry conceived my father, but hey, let's not let that minor detail spoil the story. When films can make William Wallace the real father of my son even though he'd been dead for seven years, and when novels and social media can make Roger Mortimer the real father of my son even though he was in Ireland at the time, anything is possible. Right, that's all we've got time for today, folks! Hope you've found this venting session cathartic and helpful. Until the next time!


Undine said...

Edgar Allan Poe gives all of you a standing ovation.

He has yet to recover from the novel that had him sleeping with his aunt.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you, Undine! Oh gosh, that's really bad :/

Anonymous said...

Great post! (although, Elizabeth Woodville as a witch explains a lot, IMO ... after all, if she hid the boys at Hogwarts, Richard couldn't produce them ... and since they weren't dead, Henry couldn't hold a requiem mass!)

Seriously, who wasn't maligned in historical fiction?


Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Esther, and hehehe, true! :-D

Absolutely! I/we could probably keep writing these posts forever.

Amanda said...

Kathryn, thank you. You know the '12 at dinner game', ie ask living or dead people who would you invite as 12 guests to dinner?

Kathryn Warner said...

Hi Amanda, that's a great idea for a blog post...:-)

sami parkkonen said...

Kreegah bundolo! Like Tarzan would have said. No, wait... He is just a fictional, right?

For some reason the historical novels of our times have fallen into two categories: 1. Sexsexsex. and 2. Fantasy.

If not being about sex underlining every move and decision and situation then it is all about some weird witchcraft or supernatural powers and all that goes with it. Personally I like historical novels IF written for adults and normal sensibility. But stories about having, planning, hoping or demanding sex all the time or spiritually flying medieval knights just do not cut it for me. I don't know what is wrong with me. Perhaps I am just a grumpy middle aged man when I wish for a novel written by an adult for the adults.

MRats said...

A humourous way to put important points across! I hope that those who have been mislead by these cruel inventions will read this excellent post.

My favorite line: Edward: *shudders again* Do. Not. Remind. Me.

I can just picture him saying it. And you know how I love to visualize everything!

NXPL said...

Well written, and how sad is it that writers and other media moguls screw history up again and again.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you, everyone! :) Glad you enjoyed the post.

kb said...

Absolutely wonderful!!!

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you! :)

Lady-Plantagenet said...

Thank you so much for this gem! I especially liked the parts from George of Clarence and Anne Beauchamp, FFS it’s not all about Anne! Somehow Richard and Anne being happy means George’s (and everyone else’s) marriage MUST have been miserable. Would love to get Isabel Neville’s and Warwick’s POV in the next segment of god willing there will be one!

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you! Isabel and Warwick would be great additions to another session...hope to find time to write one at some point ;-)

History Lady said...

I love this Margaret Beaufort is literally cutting. As for Elizabeth Woodville, I feel her pain. At least one Ricardian historian speculates that she even murdered her husband because people don't just die of food poisoning.

She (the historian that is) didn't seem to understand that before antiboiotics it was entirely plausible for a relatively healthy 40 year old to die of food poisoning. At least two other kings probably did, in fact. Henry I and John.

History Lady said...

Edgar Allen Poe is not the only one. Several novels have Richard III sleeping with not only Elizabeth of York, but several of his other nieces as well. Apparently, he was just irresistible, or incest is supposed to be romantic or something.

Kathryn Warner said...

Oh yes, I seem to remember that now, about Elizabeth Woodville - I'd forgotten. And her motive was, supposedly, that Edward IV had gone off her and she'd wield more power as the mother of the king rather than as the wife of the king. Hmmmm.

Weirdly enough, the evidence of Edward II's accounts of 1324/26, plus several comments by chroniclers, might - emphasis on the might - indicate that he did have an affair with his niece Eleanor (de Clare) Despenser. :o

Roebuck said...

Excellent as ever, thank you.

To add to these:

Ivar The Boneless: OK, I was a limbo dancer in my misspent youth. That doesn't mean I had to be carried into battle Inn a tureen. That was my cousin Frothgar The Filleted...


Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you! Haha, love it! ;-)

Anerje said...

Ah, love this post. Finding myself at home a lot recently, like lots of others, I've been reading a lot and mixing historical fiction and non-fiction, and I've read some howlers amongst some very fine books. I actually stopped reading 1 book a third of the way through as it was ridiculously biased. I won't name the author or book, but it was astonishing in it's bias. And kept repeating gossip as fact! Oh, and it was non-fiction! I have huge sympathy for Margaret Beaufort, who has been much maligned. Ridiculous to think she must have harboured thoughts of her son becoming king when during the reign of Edward IV there were so many Yorkist contenders.

I also read another book which delivered the old chestnut that Isabella and Roger Mortimer were lovers - despite there being no evidence.

Judy said...

Nice to see Constance of Castile in there!

Kathryn Warner said...

Judy, oh yes, she had to be in!

Anerje, thanks for the comments!

History Lady said...

Oh no, this particular historian suggests that Elizabeth Woodville poisoned her husband because he was planning to divorce her remarry someone more royal The whole you needed a valid basis to get a divorce thing didn't seem to occur.

The more control of the King thing is yet another theory. Poor Elizabeth is all I can say.

Interesting about Edward II. I have your book on Edward's nieces to get around to sometime.

Louise Wyatt said...

I have no intelligent comment whatsoever to make but I love this post - could be a book in itself!

Kathryn Warner said...

History Lady: thanks and hope you enjoy the book!

Louise: hehe, great idea ;-)

Sansa said...

Hi, I like your blog.
May you include Edward of Lancaster,Jane Boleyn.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks! And those are excellent suggestions and would make a great addition.

Steve said...

King Jojn of England just reads the blog article, sighs, and pours himself another drink.