By Wendy J. Dunn
A very brief description of the War of the Roses
Beginning after the captivity and death of Richard II, The War of Roses was essentially sporadic, bloody faction fighting between the noble families of York and Lancaster, both of them believing they possessed the better right than the other to the ultimate prize: the English crown. Bosworth Field was the last battle between these two families.
In 1485, on an English summer’s day, two young men, backed by their respective armies, gazed across at each other on a place known to history as Bosworth Field – so named because it was situated near the town of Market Bosworth. One man, thirty-two-year-old, was an experienced leader. From his teenage years he had successfully campaigned in forays against his family’s or country’s enemies; sometimes, this was one and the same. For the last two years he had been England’s King, the third to bear the name of Richard; the army he commanded here was the stronger one.
Henry Tudor, the leader of the other army, was twenty-eight. He had a tenuous claim to the English crown at the best. A descendent of John Beaufort, a bastard son (later legitimatized by an act of parliament) of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, fourth son of Edward III, Henry Tudor was also the grandson of a French princess who became the wife of Henry V and mother of Henry VI, a King doomed to meet a violent death in The Tower.
Catherine de Valois, daughter of the mad Louis of France, had been married only a short time to Henry V when his early death left her widowed. Still a very young woman, she fell in love with Owen Tudor, a handsome Welsh squire in her household, with duties in her wardrobe. He was soon given other duties. In a relationship spanning likely a decade, Catherine bore Owen Tudor five children. It is still debated whether or not they were truly married. However, this was a Catholic and pious age – even if sometimes just for show. As a Dowager Queen, Catherine would have had her own household priest, so I believe a marriage ceremony did take place.
My belief is strengthened by what history recounts about Catherine. Catherine de Valois grew up in a family steeped with scandal; her father suffered periods of ‘madness’; her mother wasn’t too certain if her husband or his brother fathered some of her children. With a background like that, it is easy to imagine that she would have sought to avoid mirroring her mother’s shame and would have married the father of her children. Catherine’s grandson Henry was the posthumous son of the first of these children, Edmund Tudor who married Margaret Beaufort, a twelve-year bride who became a thirteen-year old mother.
Henry Tudor, Margaret’s one and only baby, grew up in extremely uncertain times, in the midst of the bloodiest conflicts of The War of Roses. These conflicts forced him to spend most of his first twenty-eight years in exile to ensure his own survival. Despite these uncertain times, there appeared at least one thing Henry was very certain about. After the deaths of Henry VI and his son Edward, Henry Tudor believed himself the scion of the Lancastrian family who was meant for Kingship.
Henry Tudor and Richard III – two entirely different men – battled it out on the twenty-second day of August 1485, for life or death. At the beginning of this day, the many serving Richard, the last York King, likely believed the King would easily defeat Henry Tudor’s threat to his monarchy. Crowned and anointed King, a competent leader with a well-equipped and experienced army, he had all the pluses on his side. Except for one important thing.
Richard III at Bosworth Field was not the Richard of times past. Despite the fact he appeared determined to ‘do or die’ on this day, I see him here as already a defeated man. Starting with Edward IV’s death, a brother Richard had loved and served devotedly from his youngest years, Richard had suffered a series of personal tragedies over a brief twenty-four month period. Anne Neville, his beloved wife, had died a very hard death from consumption. Another tragic death had preceded hers. Edward, the eleven- year old son and heir of Richard and Anne, had also died, to the great grief of his parents. As well as all this heartache, there were also political disasters inflicting him at every turn. Richard, the youngest son of Richard, the Duke of York, had discovered kingship brought with it no peace, rather a poisoned cup.
Richard has been probably the most maligned of all English Kings. Put against the context of the times, I have faith in Richard’s sincerity and attempts to live a good life. Yet – the Tudor propaganda machine paints Richard III as a man who slandered his mother (Edward IV born as a result of her unfaithfulness), murdering the saintly Henry VI in the Tower of London, just after he pitilessly killed his son Edward on the battlefield. It may be possible that he obeyed his brother’s orders to ‘put away’ Henry VI, but I really think it very unlikely Edward IV would employ his nineteen-year-old brother as a convenient henchman – even to the extent of having Richard arrange the drowning of their brother George in a barrel of his favourite wine.
In Richard’s brief time as King the accusations continued. Some of Richard’s supposed sins include desiring to wed and bed his own niece, the eighteen-year-old Elizabeth of York. Indeed, to achieve this end, Anne Neville’s death wasn’t because of consumption – rather her death was due to poison, a poison administered nightly by her husband. Yet, here is a man with a personal motto of ‘Loyalty binds me’, who served devotedly and dutifully his brother Edward IV for years and clearly loved his wife. Risking a healthy debate on my hands, I do not believe he murdered his two young nephews, the uncrowned Edward V and his brother Richard. It is more possible someone did the deed for him, thinking it would please him, just as Henry II’s knights thought to please their King by murdering Thomas Becket because they thought this was his desire. My own personal feeling is that the boys were killed through the machinations of another uncle, the Duke of Buckingham, a man who not only detested the Woodville family, the family of the young Princes’ mother, but a man executed as a self-serving traitor.
Richard, in the short time he wore the crown of England, proved a very able monarch. He not only passed good laws protecting the common people but also encouraged the printing trade in England. But now, with the loss of his beloved wife and son, perhaps also knowing someone killed his nephews on his behalf, his heart just wasn’t in the coming battle. Even though he fought heroically, withstanding the betrayals of trusted men on the battlefield, Richard seemed to seek out his own death when he attempted to kill Henry Tudor by charging through the men who protected him.
After he died, with his sword in his hand, Richard’s body suffered the indignity of being stripped naked and abused, before being strung across a horse. Days would pass before he was even properly buried. I believe the best epitaph for Richard comes from not one person but many. Knowing their beloved King no more, the city of York risked angering England’s new monarch, proclaiming:
King Richard, late mercifully reigning upon us, was, through great treason of the Duke of Norfolk and many others that turned against him, with many other lords and nobility . . . was piteously slain and murdered, to the great heaviness of this city.
Thus, with the Battle of Bosworth unquestionably won, Henry Tudor’s army crowned him King on the battlefield, placing Richard’s gold circlet upon his head, and the Tudor era began.
Murph, Roxanne C. Richard III: The Making of a legend. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1977, reprinted 1984
Michalove, Sharon D. The Re-inventing of Richard III- paper presented at the conference ‘Reinventing the Middle ages and the Renaissance, 1995.
Richard III novels I have enjoyed:
The Rose of York: Love & War by Sandra Worth My review: The Rose of York
The Rose of York: Crown of Destiny, by Sandra Worth
The Rose of York: Crown of Destiny continues a story that speaks to the core of human existence. Depicted through magical and skillful prose and drawn with great passion and insight, Worth’s Richard III is the Richard no reader can ever forget.
The Rose of York: Fall from Grace, by San
We Speak No Treason I and 2 by Rosemary Hawley Jarman
The Sunne In Splendour: A Novel of Richard III by Sharon Kay Penman
HISTORICAL NOVEL SOCIETY AUSTRALIA 2015 CONFERENCE
HNSA is offering a 10% discount to QAB members and browsers (discount code below) for the inaugural HNSA 2015 conference to be held on 20-22 March 2015 at historic Balmain Town Hall, Sydney. This reduces a whole conference ticket from $250 to $225. The price includes morning and afternoon teas as well as a luncheon voucher. Apply the FBHNSA15 coupon code to a standard ticket. Book now to secure your place! HSNA REGISTRATION
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Wendy J. Dunn is an Australian writer who has been obsessed by Anne Boleyn and Tudor History since she was ten-years-old. She is the author of two Tudor novels: Dear Heart, How Like You This?, the winner of the 2003 Glyph Fiction Award and 2004 runner up in the Eric Hoffer Award for Commercial Fiction, and The Light in the Labyrinth, her first young adult novel.
While she continues to have a very close and spooky relationship with Sir Thomas Wyatt, the elder (Tom told the story of Anne Boleyn in Dear Heart, How Like You This?), serendipity of life now leaves her no longer wondering if she has been channeling Anne Boleyn and Sir Tom for years in her writing, but considering the possibility of ancestral memory. Her own family tree reveals the intriguing fact that her ancestors – possibly over three generations – had purchased land from both the Boleyn and Wyatt families to build up their own holdings. It seems very likely Wendy’s ancestors knew the Wyatts and Boleyns personally.
Born in Melbourne, Australia, Wendy is married and the mother of three sons and one daughter—named after a certain Tudor queen, surprisingly, not Anne.
After successfully completing her MA (Writing) at Swinburne University Wendy became a tutor for the same course. She gained her PhD (Human Society) in 2014. For more information, visit Wendy’s website at Wendy J. Dunn.