Richard Armitage / Richard III rumble, Week 7!

Who needs Hobbit coins? An image from the Russian 2012 King Richard Armitage calendar.

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Not as much Richard III news to report this week. Representing your King Richard Armitage pride can benefit charity, as CDoart explains. By using these links, you generate the donation no matter what you buy — KRA stuff, Hobbit stuff, or anything that Zazzle sells. Here’s some KRA bling.

On her FB page (you must “like” to see it), Sharon Kay Penman notes that yesterday (Nov. 10) was the birthday of Edward IV’s youngest daughter, Bridget, who became a nun.

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And now, to the group read. As always, links to the Twitter and FB discussions are found at the end of this post.

[Right: X marks the spot where Warwick died. Source.]

Last week: TSIS, Book I, ch. 26-30 took us through April and May of 1471 and Edward IV‘s return to England and reestablishment on the throne. Richard was reunited with Francis Lovell (ch. 26); George / Clarence was not reconciled with Edward and Richard. The forces of Lancaster (ch. 27) united behind Warwick and John Neville on the eve of the Battle of Barnet (ch. 26-27), which York won and in which Warwick and Neville were killed. The “real” Lancaster — Marguerite, her son, Edward of Lancaster and the Duke of Somerset — responded to the bad news at Cerne Abbey (ch. 28) as their York cousins, Edward of Lancaster’s wife, Anne Neville, and George’s wife, Isobel, dreaded a future after the dissolution of the alliances that fostered their marriages (ch. 29). The forces of York planned what would become the Battle of Tewkesbury (ch. 30), setting up their battle order and speculating over the future of Anne’s estates, which would fall to George to administer in the event of Edward of Lancaster’s death.

[Left: Norman façade of Tewkesbury Abbey, where fugitives from Lancaster fled. Source.]

This week: TSIS, Book I, ch. 31-32 & Book II (“Anne”), ch. 1-3 picks up with Edward IV chasing the armies of Lancaster (ch. 31), which remained in England but sought to join their Tudor allies and reinforcements. The Jasper Tudor referred to here is not only the half-brother of Henry VI on the distaff, and thus the uncle of Edward of Lancaster, but also the uncle of the future Henry VII. In her depiction of campaign events, Penman takes important details from the anonymous fifteenth-century Historie of the Arrivall of Edward IV. The army of Lancaster cannot cross the Severn River into Wales and stops to fight, taking the best ground. Somerset proposes to Marguerite a strategy designed to keep her son out of the brunt of the fighting — Penman’s explanation for why Lancaster abandoned the better visibility of the high ground. In the battle itself (ch. 32), the assaults are murderous. York first holds ground, then takes an organized retreat, during which Somerset performs his maneuver — flanking on the left, through a forest he believes unprotected — a move we observe through the eyes of Edward of Lancaster. But Richard had put men in that forest, and they in turn flank Somerset, who does not receive the agreed-upon support from fellow commander Baron Wenlock. As a rout of Lancaster begins, Somerset kills Wenlock, a sight that causes Lancaster’s men to run for their lives. Fugitives flee to the church at the Abbey of St Mary’s, where they discuss the report of George’s killing of Edward of Lancaster. Later, after a brief trial, Edward IV has Somerset executed for treason. Book II, ch. 1, in giving us Anne’s perspective, for which there are no historical sources, becomes clearly Ricardian. Captured along with Marguerite, Anne concludes that the best she can expect from Edward is to be put in a convent — and is then charmed by Edward and Richard’s generosity. Edward’s reentry into Coventry (ch. 2), which had supported Warwick, serves as a backdrop for the now open enmity between George, who expected to control his sister-in-law Anne’s estates, and Richard, depicted here as wanting to marry her for love, since he was granted Middleham Castle anyway. Edward’s repeated offers to Richard to give him anything smacked to me of Herod and Salomé — a gift with the potential to bankrupt the overenthusiastic giver. Edward attempts to mediate between George and Richard, and fails. The forces of York reenter London (ch. 3); Edward orders the murder of Henry VI against Richard’s wishes (note that in Shakespeare’s play, Richard commits this murder), and the ever-pragmatic Elizabeth Woodville gets it on with Edward in order to allay his scruples.

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I can’t add much to my discussion of the battle scenes from Tewkesbury from the extremely long ch. 32, except, perhaps, that I enjoy reading these conversations behind the scenes, which continue to add to the impressions of the cultural circumstances around late medieval and early modern battles — Edward’s concern that Richard not be taken alive, for instance, or the fear before battle on both sides, among the experienced and the inexperienced, the worries of soldiers on the losing side that they would not receive mercy, or the apparent constant concern that one’s own allied generals would change sides on the battlefield. (Yay for the early modern state apparatus, which needed another three centuries to eliminate this problem, but did so very successfully.)

Readers of last week’s post, however, were not very excited about seeing

Armitage in battle — I admit that this result surprised me. Respondents to the polls were evenly divided between seeing a character that Armitage played sweaty and not wanting him even to be wounded. I should have gone on a harder sell for the dancing motions of battle with a poleaxe and sword. But maybe that will be easier for us to stomach after we see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

[Left: Drawing of Anne Neville from the Rous Roll, one of two surviving contemporary depictions. Source.]

With the end of the battles for now and Penman’s switch to “Anne” in Book II, the major element of the story this week is the ramped-up romance between Richard and Anne Neville — and its political consequences. Romance writing that I personally enjoy is something for which I tend to be willing to take off my historian’s hat, and I like the way Penman has done this well enough so far. (We’re now at the furthest point of my advance reading, so I can’t make any predictions about how I’ll feel about what happens in latter chapters.) I’ll note the potential interpretive issues, however, because the charge that Richard only pursued Anne for what she could give him (politically, financially) constitutes a major element in the case against Richard, just as the belief that they were truly “in love” provides an important component of Ricardian revisionism. As I’ve noted in the past, redressing the wrongs done to Richard involves rewriting this relationship (though I’ve also said that I could not care less). I’d love to see Richard Armitage play this piece of the story just as much as the battle scenes — because Armitage has stated that he believes Richard “loved Anne Neville, passionately, from childhood until death.” The course of that emotion and history on Richard Armitage’s face would be a treat to see, especially given the matters that made their personal relationship so difficult. During King Richard Week 2011 I wrote about all of the political and ecclesiastical factors that bedeviled Anne and Richard’s relationship from the beginning, and I won’t repeat these, except to note two conclusions from that discussion. First, despite the many legal boundaries on their actions, noble women did possess political and personal agency in fifteenth-century England and knew how to use them (a theme that this novel has done a solid job of demonstrating so far). Second, it doesn’t have to be “either / or” — had Richard loved Anne in the sense that we mean today when we say that, that would hardly have prevented him from seeing her as a good political match and using her politically (which would have been nothing new, as her father had done the same).

[Right: Photographic facsimile page of Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, made from the single surviving copy of the Caxton edition of 1485. Source. The most likely candidate as author was a rough contemporary of the events in Penman’s novel till now, and was pardoned by Edward IV.]

So. Love among the upper orders. The ideal was chivalric. However: by the mid-fifteenth century, most historians agree, codes of chivalry had faded because of transformations occurring in weapons systems and the size of armies. While knights still fought as knights, they were overtaken as warriors not simply by technological developments, but also by growing acceptance of a cultural pragmatism regarding both politics and war. In this book, Penman gives us Edward and Richard struggling over their lack of bloodthirst for defeated opponents and their clear awareness that as long as certain people lived, they would offer the cause for rebellion. Edward’s refusal to have Marguerite executed provides evidence of the intersection of the military and courtly moments of the chivalric ideal. I’m suspicious, in that I tend to think that pragmatism had often triumphed over the ideal. As Johan Huizinga noted, the cultivation of these ideals involve the dream of a disappeared past that had never really existed. Edward left Marguerite alive because he found some interest in doing so (which doesn’t exclude chivalry — as cultural ideals of the period also shaped its notions of interest). Now: that such stories and the ideals that went with them remained popular is evidenced well in early English printing — like Caxton’s output, a significant chunk of the books that survive are chivalric romances printed for a literate audience among the bourgeoisie — not least because its children aped chivalric manners in order to advance socially.

[Left: Courtly love poetry from a fifteenth-century English manuscript, Bodleian MS Fairfax 16. Source.]

In the question of romance, the manners element of chivalry remained important. We might expect to find more of it here, not least because Edward makes such a big deal out of his treatment of women and because we do see the court following chivalric manners throughout the novel. In dealing with the Richard / Anne romance, however, Penman seems to have decided that the conventions of courtly love — in which physical love between the knight and his maiden was an ideal rather than a reality — did not apply to Richard and Anne’s case. This decision might have been made for purposes of characterization — Penman shows us Edward IV reading a chivalric poem during his captivity in ch. 11 (and tossing a book across the room, which would have been unlikely because books were rare and valuable objects in that period), but when describing Lovell looking over Richard’s books in ch. 15, she gives Richard only a medieval chronicle and books on war and falconry, apparently suggesting that Richard did not lose himself in tales of love, honor, and heroism. Penman’s decision corresponds well to an ongoing historical consensus that the very concrete manifestations of this element of the chivalric ideal were reflected primarily in literature as opposed to in real life. And a century or so later, Shakespeare would be making fun of the manners of courtly love in Romeo and Juliet. Good enough.

[Right: fifteenth-century copy of the romance, Sir Degravant, in the Findern manuscript, Ff.1.6, held by Cambridge University Library. Source.]

Speaking historically, I wouldn’t object to that emphasis, even if courtly manners were still operating. I would, however, question the decision to give Richard and Anne such a modern romance. We get childhood sweethearts, torn apart by political circumstance and reunited against the odds, with the introduction of the hurt / comfort element as Richard has to convince Anne that he will not be the brutal or inconsiderate lover Penman says her late husband was. That stance means a lot of pieces in Penman’s Richard / Anne romance don’t fit together especially well with history. It would make sense if Anne denied Richard because she was following a courtly love convention, but Penman doesn’t raise that possibility at all. And more specifically, the way Penman has Anne put Richard off here makes it looks Penman will make her Anne politically naive in a way that’s simply not credible given how much time the historical Anne had spent around high politics. Yes, she was fourteen, but she was fourteen in an age when Richard won a decisive battle for his brother (Barnet) at seventeen.

[Left: Chaucer’s second nun in a depiction in a fifteenth-century English ms. Source.]

In Book II, ch. 1, for instance, Penman has Anne ponder with discouragement the possibility that she could be put away as a nun. Historically, however, Anne also knew that as heir to the Beauchamp and Warwick estates, she was likely to become the object of squabbling if she stayed alive. I posit that the historical Anne would have seen the threat of execution as Edward of Lancaster’s wife as much greater than the fictional Anne does here — and also much more aware that her body, as the synecdoche for her property — was her main political tool (as witnessed to by Edward’s question to Richard in ch. 3 about whether Anne could be pregnant with Lancaster’s child). It would have been obvious to the historical Anne that the sole remaining marriageable York brother, Richard, could be the source of her salvation. I’m ambivalent about the “Anne hated sex with her late husband so she doesn’t want to let Richard paw her” explanation — see below — but even if the historical Anne wasn’t eager for Richard’s touch, at the same time, once Penman has Richard show an interest in the fictional Anne, as at the end of ch. 1, it would make no sense for even the fictional Anne to behave in the way she does in ch. 2, at least not given the reason that Penman specifies. According to Penman, the fictional Anne lets Richard get to second base and then withdraws because she flashes back to unpleasant memories of sex with Edward of Lancaster. Had either the fictional or the historical Anne found herself in this situation, however, and not resorted to courtly love conventions in her decisions, it would have been equally likely for her to engage in a game of teasing simply to lead Richard in the direction of matrimony, which would have changed her position from wife and sister-in-law of rebels to wife of the second most powerful man in England.

[Right: The 1434 Arnolfini double portrait, traditionally said to be a wedding or betrothal image. Source.]

On the question of whether the fictional Anne would have shied away from non-marital intimacy with Richard because of bad memories of her marriage bed, it’s certainly not impossible. Still, I’m suspicious just because this seems like a very modern trope to me — the result of the cultural influences of a century in which young women were assumed to need sexual awakening, their virginity and maintenance of same was surrounded with unbelievable amounts of cultural energy, and first coitus was built up to be a, if not the, sexually decisive experience of a woman’s life. The fictional Anne’s attitude here conflicts strongly with the awareness of fifteenth-century noblewomen of the purposes of their bodies. As important alliance partners, they knew that their bodies were the repositories of real property, as well as tools of reproduction to build families, and that their sexual lives had political consequences — so that the notions of privacy and pleasure as vested in the body by modernity were simply not operating, or not in the same way, as they do in our own age. In short, noblewomen’s bodies were public in a way that we simply cannot imagine today, but was very apparent to them. I honestly don’t know what sources Penman had for portraying Anne’s marriage to Lancaster as unhappy; it’s odd that she takes the trouble to have Anne mention in ch. 29 that Edward opposed wife-beating right before she had Edward physically threaten Anne — which suggests that Penman had a source that said that much at least that she had to argue against. I can imagine that divided family loyalty and fear of the future if Lancaster failed to retake the English throne might have been more significant factors in souring the marriage than Edward’s deficits as a person or a lover — a case Penman makes more convincingly herself in ch. 19. In any case, Anne and Edward were married for less than five months, which isn’t to say she wouldn’t have developed a trauma, but simply to note that she didn’t experience years of marital rape. Secondly, Anne would also have known that her own short-term political interest potentially lay in conceiving, so no matter how badly she felt about sleeping with Edward, at least before April 1471, she would have had reasons to entice him into her bed despite any disgust she felt. (And her husband would have agreed — noble sexual relations in this period are first and foremost about procreation for political advantage, something historical novelists often forget.) Further — and this is a point Penman acknowledges when she has Richard ponder how to win Anne in Book II, ch. 2, noting that his previous sexual partners had been ardent — the fifteenth century lacked the notion that women, even virginal ones, were or should be cold or need sexual awakening. The fifteenth-century was quite aware of female sexual desire. All of which makes this piece of the Anne / Richard romance puzzling when considered historically.

All of that said, however, I found myself re-reading the makeout scenes in this week’s reading with a lot of pleasure. As a reader, I grew up in the twentieth century, and so I am a big fan of both sexual initiation and hurt / comfort fanfic, and that’s the kind of romance Penman gave these lovers. I can’t wait to read more. Will Richard succeed in overcoming Anne’s inhibitions, and when? Which leads to my usual nonsensical drivel question.

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See you next week for Book II, ch. 4-8.

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The Sunne in Splendour Group Read continues on Sunday night at 9 p.m., U.S. East Coast time, and continuing Sunday nights through February.

Directions for veterans of #ArmitageWatch are found here.

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.

~ by Servetus on November 12, 2012.

5 Responses to “Richard Armitage / Richard III rumble, Week 7!”

  1. I’m so hopelessly behind in my reading (chapter 22!) I blame it on my new smartphone..And on my growing twitter addiction. Instead of reading Sunne on the public transport I now tweet and/or read/comment on RA blogs!

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  2. Servetus just voted in the poll (for the kiss in the garden), but option #7 made me smile. 🙂 Do you think you could find anyone among your readership who doesn’t like to see RA perform screen kisses??? 😀

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    • No, I only put that in there to be fair to anyone who doesn’t like watching him kiss. I try to be evenhanded as possible. 🙂

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  3. […] Last week: TSIS, Book I, ch. 31-32 & Book II (“Anne”), ch. 1-3 took us from the York victory at Tewkesbury to the subsequent attempts of Edward IV to reassert his own royal authority (all in May, 1471). The prelude to the battle (ch. 31) and battle itself (ch. 32) further substantiated Richard‘s military reputation; the battle ended with the rout of Lancaster, the death of Edward of Lancaster, and the capture and neutralization of Marguerite d’Anjou. Here endeth Book I. The more openly Ricardian stance of Book II is revealed by Anne Neville, who pondered her options (Book II, ch.1) in the wake of the deaths of her husband and father. Edward reentered Coventry (ch. 2) to obtain the city’s repentance for its support of Warwick Warwick in the form of tribute, only to greet internal family strife, especially with George / Clarence over the disposition of the Warwick estates and Anne, and then entered London (ch. 3), where he reluctantly ordered the murder of Henry VI. […]

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