Richard Armitage / Richard III rumble, Week 8!

More beautiful fan art from the Russian King Richard Armitage 2012 fan calendar. Channelling the Green Knight here?

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Check out this neat piece by fellow Armitage / Richard III fan and blogger who writes movingly about her history with and emotional connection to Leicester Cathedral. (No secret where she’d like to see the Richard III remains buried.) Churches come alive through the people who inhabit them — and the strong pull of Leicester is lovingly pictured in this piece.

And for this week’s Richard III news, go the King Richard Armitage fan initiative web page!

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And now to the TSIS group read. As always, links to the Twitter and FB groups are provided at the end of the post.

[Left: Swanswell Gate, one of the surviving remnants of the Coventry city walls, which were finished in 1400 and covered ca. 2.2 miles]

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.

[Right: In yellow, the former location of “the Herber” in the context of other London landmarks in 1830. The Tower is a little further east on the Thames embankment. The Herber burnt in the Great Fire of 1666, and Turnwheel-lane, the street where it was located, was taken out in the 1860s to build Cannon St Station.]

This week: TSIS, Book II, ch. 4-8 resume the narrative of May, 1471. We are given a perspective on the scene from Véronique de Crécy, one of the characters Penman constructed for her retelling, along with some backstory and a chance encounter given to that character to make Penman’s explanation of subsequent events more credible. Anne, now in London in the unfriendly custody of her brother-in-law, George, who wants to prevent her marriage and keep her properties, confesses that she loves Richard and always has. In September 1471 (ch. 5), Francis Lovell witnesses the execution of Thomas Neville, usually called the Bastard of Fauconberg, as a cleanup of remaining resistance to Edward. Lovell then reviews the events of summer 1471, including the disinheritance of John Neville’s son in favor of Richard; the relocation of Richard’s illegitimate son John to Neville custody (John’s mother’s identity is not known; Penman calls her “Nan,” possibly in order to create tension in Richard and Anne’s relationship (“Nan” is a nickname for “Anne”); historians now believe she may have been a woman named Alice Burgh); and the redistribution of spoils after Edward’s re-accession. Key in this reallotment are rewards to various Woodvilles, as well as to Will Hastings, a York cousin, fellow exile, and longtime supporter of Edward, who’s been leading the rear guard of Edward’s armies up till now, but to whose story it would now behoove us to start paying more attention. The novel then returns to Anne in London (ch. 6), whose well-being stands concretely under threat from George, in light of information from her powerless sister Isabel. Anne concocts a plan with Véronique to escape George’s custody. She has realized it by October, when the York brothers discuss her flight and possible whereabouts (ch. 7), with a toothachey Edward threatening George if she is not found (ch.8).

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This week we leave romance behind us again in favor of angst and politics. However, I note the results of last week’s poll at left. I was in a miserable minority (picked the trencher), and I note that most Armitage / Richard III fangirls prefer a more subtle depiction of romance than the grab for the breasts, but also that apparently no one was willing to say she didn’t like to watch Richard Armitage perform screen kisses!

Re: angst and politics, I could talk about one of three things this week — the two that probably interest most readers more are the angst, or the question of what Anne did to get away from George, and the believability of Véronique; I’m going to save those for next week. The other, politics, I’ll treat because I think it is a factor that many readers are not in a position to evaluate and thus likely to attribute to simple factionalism (the Woodvilles hate the Nevilles and the Yorks and vice

versa). I think it’s easy to draw that conclusion from this book because of the way that Penman tells the story — one king comes in and rewards his clients and then he’s out or dead, and his successor in turn rewards his respective clients. Clients in turn can only have one loyalty; only the names have changed. In particular, Penman suggests repeatedly to this point (and will emphasize later — I’ve read about another 200 pp. ahead since last week) that the Woodvilles are the cause of England’s problems — both because Edward married Elizabeth rather than making a French alliance, angering his uncle, and then made client relationships with her whole family, and next because the Woodvilles turned out to be so rapacious and, to some extent, bloodthirsty. Penman will place a lot of weight on Elizabeth’s perceived need for revenge against Warwick and then against other political threats in Edward’s family — and, beware of spoiler — Penman indirectly blames Elizabeth for the execution of George / Clarence, much further down the road. That narrative gets more weight in Book II, ch. 5, when we see the reactions of Richard’s circle to the political news from London.

First, this is just wrong; while Warwick cited the Woodvilles as a problem for him, no significant documentary evidence has ever been presented to argue that the family — despite wide consensus about their exploitation of their relationship to the crown — posed a huge political bone of contention for England’s nobles generally or for Richard specifically before the death of Edward IV. Until the minority of Edward V, they were mostly seen as annoyingly grasping, but nonetheless legitimate royal clients. Penman has made Warwick’s excuse for a rebellion into England’s history. Second, although I understand that, seen from the point of the modern reader, open patronage practices are despicable, they weren’t in the later middle ages, when they were actually expected. People above one in the hierarchy were supposed to dispense various kinds of largesse in return for service — a relationship both reciprocal and multivalent, with clients having multiple patrons and participating in crisscrossing networks of affinity. Finally, the point of medieval client relations was not to weaken the loser in the patronage game, as Penman’s narrative suggests, but rather to strengthen one’s own clients, who were then expected to support one when one needed them.

This element of the novel — even from the historiographical standpoint of the 1980s, a strongly anachronistic presentation of the social engines that drove English politics — is probably the one that annoys me the most, so far. It’s also not insignificant for the story, in that Penman continues to pursue the point that she first put into the mouth of Warwick in Book I, ch. 11 — Richard is a moralist — which in this context appears to mean that he was opposed on principled grounds to Edward’s rewarding of Woodville clients and creation of networks of service. Actually, Richard was an experienced builder of affinity networks and did exactly the same things, even before he became king, as Edward or any late medieval monarch would have done. Moreover, it is necessary for us to believe in Richard’s own capable use of affinity networks if we are to credit Penman’s account, else it would be hard to understand otherwise how Richard could ride to Edward’s aid at Middleham in Book I, ch. 12. Penman’s grand implication is that Edward was a successful king in his second term because although he was friendly, he didn’t repeat the mistakes of forgiveness that had led to his exile, and all in all, in his maintenance of power, not very worried about his morals (a point underlined by what we tend to see as a cruel and/or exploitative affair with Jane Shore), whereas Richard failed because he was painfully concerned with upright behavior. But while Penman’s storytelling supports this interpretation, it’s one not well sustained by events — as even this chapter shows in its reference to the young of Duke of Bedford’s loss of his estates due to his father, John Neville’s rebellion. Edward had a long history of estate / property manipulation to his own long-term disadvantage, of which we have already seen examples, as in the restoration of Northumberland to the Percys in Book I, ch. 14, a step that enhanced John Neville‘s resentment against him and probably contributed to his decision to participate in the rebellion. Some historians have even argued that Richard failed as monarch not because of his own inability to use patronage well, but because of the slow crumbling of Edward’s rickety client system.

What would have been good in this chapter instead? A discussion of the ways in which Edward logically and methodically built Richard up as his own client, and also of the affinity networks he created for Richard as a means of securing the northern regions of the realm. Edward had started on that briefly before Warwick & George / Clarence’s rebellion, but in its aftermath Richard became important to him in ways he had not been before. Edward needed Richard to be strong, and he consistently worked to create an advantage for him. Richard may have been defamed by history, but in the matter of receiving and exploiting patronage, he was no victim. Contemporaries would not have seen unfairness where Penman does.

OK, enough ranting.

So, back to Anne and the angst … well, kind of. We’re going to have to spend a lot of time talking about Anne next week. So here’s a poll about her to keep you warm:

I promise to talk about more fun stuff next time.

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See you next week for Book II, ch. 9-13.

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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 19, 2012.

6 Responses to “Richard Armitage / Richard III rumble, Week 8!”

  1. Yeaaaa! Thanks for your incisive summaries!

    Like

  2. Forgot to leave a comment saying thanks for linking to my blog…always appreciated 🙂

    Like

  3. I love your analysis of patronage, Servetus !
    I also must admit, I am tending to the interpretation, that the crumbling system of Edward IV led to Richard III’s problems. Though history never is easy and never only has one cause, but an assembly of influences.

    Like

    • I’m going to get back to this again later — I’m not done talking about this issue, as it will come up again forcefully at the end of Book II / beginning of Book III — but the whole demonstration of how this worked regionally, that Richard had to rebuild Edward’s affinity networks in the south of England, and couldn’t do it fast enough, assumed it would work for him as it was, I find really convincing. I’ve never understood why Richard should have been such a great ruler of the North and failed so abysmally in the south and that explanation adds a lot, I think.

      Like

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