#RA4R3 rumble, Week Six!
[Left: Royal Richard Armitage fan art by FedoraLady, who states: “Sire … I will follow you anywhere!” Admittedly, this is more “crusader” than “War of the Roses” era but still oh so pretty.]
New from the Richard III burial front: UK Ministry of Justice backpedals for the present from its decision to give the body to Leicester Cathedral. All the links are here, at the King Richard Armitage fan initiative, along with link to an argument for Gloucester Cathedral [!] and a link to a neat article about Michael Ibsen (the guy whose mtDNA is being used as a control) visiting Bosworth Field.
Ceterum censeo — if you haven’t signed the petition in support of Richard Armitage’s Richard III ambitions, you can do so here.
And finally: a fellow blogger and Twitter reader offers her take on what she sees as the main theme of The Sunne in Splendour. What is it? Click here to find out what she thinks!
I’m still trying to finish up Magic Week at King Richard Armitage. I’m putting in a placeholder here. Struggling with how to discuss the source for part 2 of the post on exorcism.
[ETA: here’s today’s Wand Week post — the second part of the post on exorcism in the fifteenth century.
And now, to the collective reading. As always, links can be found at the end of the post for joining in the Twitter and Facebook events. I start with “this week’s reading” and follow with comments and my usual vaguely outrageous poll.
Last week: The reading (TSIS Book I, ch. 21-25) treated the prelude to Edward IV‘s (and Richard’s) return to England through their reunion with their families in London. We started with Charles the Bold‘s attitudes to Edward in January 1471, as revealed by Philippe de Commines and Margaret of York and Edward’s hesitance about George / Clarence (ch.21), moving on to reactions to his return (ch. 22) in March. Edward IV was admitted into the city of York (ch. 23) in the same month, whence he confronted Warwick at Coventry and joined with George, whose side switching facilitated his return (ch. 24), and journeyed thence to London (ch. 25), where he imprisoned Henry VI again, in April 1471.
In this week’s reading: Penman presents the days around Easter 1471, a decisive period for the re-establishment of Edward’s seat on the English throne. First, Richard is reunited with childhood companion and York client, Francis Lovell (ch. 26), who has brought Richard’s beloved wolfhound back to his master. Penman uses Lovell’s role as observer to give us purchase on internal York family politics — in which George remains an outsider despite his support of Edward. [At right: the poll results regarding your opinion of why George was such a jerk. I picked “dumb”; the historical consensus seems to fall somewhere between acutely conscious of his interests and ineffective politician.] If you’re wondering why Penman spends so much time telling us about the playful, inquisitive Bess — she’s the future wife of Henry VII. Both Elizabeth Woodville and Cecily Neville want Edward to neutralize George. After Good Friday prayers, Edward reveals that Richard will command the vanguard of the anticipated battle with the Lancastrian forces under Warwick.
Next we switch perspectives to the Lancastrian army (ch. 27). Warwick and John Neville ponder the awkward politics of two York relatives commanding Lancaster’s forces and the potential effect on the soldiers, not least because John had let Edward and Richard pass back into England unchallenged, apparently out of family loyalty, and had been offered clemency if he surrendered.
[Left: Initial battle lines at Barnet. Source.]
The Battle of Barnet begins as surprisingly in the middle of this chapter as the historical record suggests. Badly outnumbered, Edward / Richard / York snuck up on Warwick / John Neville / Lancaster and thus avoided misaimed pre-battle shelling. Determining their lines under conditions of poor visibility, the armies did not face each other head on; Richard and his forces ended up on the right flank. Fighting uphill and ferociously, Richard gets his arm injured — setting up Penman’s explanation of the “withered arm” problem in Richard III historiography. Oxford outflanked Hastings and that wing of the York army disintegrated, but Richard at first held and then flanked the Lancastrian forces on his end of the line. In response, Oxford rallied his men back toward the center of the battle, but in the fog, pelted John Neville (“Montagu” on the diagram — click to enlarge) with friendly fire, which provoked precisely the crisis in the lines that Warwick and Neville had feared. Observing confusion, Edward sent his reserves into the center. Warwick fled before the York army and was killed, along with John Neville, who wore York colors under his armor. (Bye the bye: I felt like John Neville’s death makes George’s lack of interest in maintaining family loyalty a lot more comprehensible.)
But the Yorks, who’d now extinguished their rebellious cousins, still had to deal with the Lancastrian Lancastrians, who return to England stop to gather their plans at Cerne Abbey (ch. 28). Marguerite, her son, Edward of Lancaster, his unenthusiastic wife, Anne Neville, and George’s wife, Isobel, learn of Barnet. Marguerite wishes to return to France; would-be king Edward insists that they must fight. Marguerite’s tête-à-tete with the Duke of Somerset dissuades her. The sisters process the news (ch. 29), which endangers their position among the Lancastrians — Isobel plans to return to her “traitor” husband, George, and Edward, no longer dependent on her father’s army, threatens Anne. Anne’s (non-)reaction to her father’s death and Edward’s cruelty set up Penman’s historiographical position that Richard and Anne loved each other. Finally, the York forces reconnoiter (ch. 30) on the eve of the Battle of Tewkesbury, deciding the order of battle and contemplating the possible future of Anne Neville, foreshadowing Richard’s next political conflict (with George, Anne’s guardian, over her person and her possessions).
As a historical reader, I noticed way less to pick at this week. Oddly for me, I liked all of these chapters a great deal — a sign either that Penman does a great job sketching out these battles and the personal interactions among painful political conflicts and suspicions of treason — or else, that I don’t know enough about medieval battles to say anything much about them and so my “historian who hates historical novels” allergies were not provoked as quickly as usual.
That said — this is what I liked. Penman has an amazing talent for making medieval battle seem particularly visceral (we will see this again in the chapters about Tewkesbury). I find it a bit strange because, as my earlier comments on this book reveal over and over again, I’m having a hard time getting a handle on what she’s trying to say about Richard’s interiority — about his inner personality — but I felt for the first time in these chapters like I had an idea of who this seventeen-year-old might be. At the same time, re-reading the relevant chapters, I note practically no discussion of Richard’s feelings — other than revulsion and exhaustion. Maybe it’s that I finally see Richard really doing something extremely well, which makes me understand something about his character. I’m going to have to think about this more. Why do I suddenly feel like he’s less opaque?
I would also add that her battle narrative is well done if it’s aimed at a reader like me. That’s a part of history that always makes my eyes glaze over (something some of my more “bloodthirsty” students really regret about my classes — I am much more likely to discuss anything about wars than battle maneuvers). Reading these chapters actually made me interested in looking up what happened at Barnet, hence the map graphic above. I don’t show many of these in my lectures! And while we learn which weapons were used, she keeps them in the background, limiting her discussion to their effects and the difficulties people experienced in using them.
[Left: The Battle of Barnet in a late fifteenth-century ms. Source.]
The bigger interpretive question I have about these battles is Penman’s attribution of causality — the only matter that I have any real quibble with at this point. No question that from our perspective, medieval people seem superstitious (or to include superstitious elements in their religion). But how do you feel about the heavy emphasis on both sides of non-rational elements in planning? Statements about how Edward IV will win because of the battle’s coincidence with Easter Sunday and related anniversaries? Marguerite’s fear that she’s about to get payback for the slaying of the unarmed Edmund of Rutland by her forces? Those bother me a bit less than the discussion of the decision at Cerne to continue with the onslaught against Edward IV despite the defeat at Barnet and the death of Warwick. To my taste, Penman makes this episode seem mostly like an adventure. Marguerite had been babying her son all these years; coddled too much, Edward was eager to demonstrate his manhood and pursue his heritage; and Somerset thought this was the last, best chance for Lancaster. I suppose the latter can be interpreted as a strategic concern — but the former seem slightly sketchy to me. After dominating him all these years, why would Marguerite suddenly decide to let her beloved son have his way? A little superficial reading about this question suggests to me that the forces of Lancaster were stronger than they appear here (hence the dash northward to meet up with the Tudor armies that we’re about to read about) and that Edward was taken somewhat by surprise by Marguerite’s reappearance in England (which in itself seems odd). In any case, it’s clear from the chapters here that Penman relates her historical narrative somehow to her notion of fate; Lancaster seems more doomed in this phase of the conflict than contemporaries must have thought, or the consensus of historical scholarship suggests.
To finish up: before I forget: According to Penman’s original acknowledgements, the character of Véronique, whom we met two weeks ago and who shows up here, is the only non-historical character in the book. I was trying to figure out who “Hugh Short” was — the deserter who gives Somerset his information — but a quick search didn’t yield any information.
Finally, because war can’t always be serious, here’s this week’s fun poll. Yes, I do know that war is awful and we shouldn’t joke about it — but war films are often intentionally or inadvertently not reflective of that seriousness. And Armitage is a dramatic actor! Think of the possibilities! After seeing Lucas North destroy all kinds of villains, I’m eager to see what he’d do with a poleaxe.
Next week: Book I, ch. 31-32 and the first three chapters of Book II: Tewkesbury and its aftermath, physical and political. Be there or be square.
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Participate via the Institute of Armitage Studies facebook page, here. You can sign up there for a reminder to come and chat on facebook, too.
If you want to sign up for Twitter in order to participate in the chat, but haven’t yet, an explanation of procedures is found at the bottom of this post. The tweetchat “room” for this event will be here.
The chat is free form — come to tweet your impressions, or even a favorite quote from the first five chapters of the book.