Richard Armitage / Richard III rumble, Last week!

18203_555405267817261_2024135935_nFan art from Maraia Donnici at FB.


Sharon Kay Penman confesses that in the new UK version of Sunne in Splendour, Richard III will win the Battle of Bosworth Field!


Screen shot 2013-01-14 at 3.36.17 PM

Latest links from the International press at King Richard Armitage fan initiative.

Sign the petition: here.


At White Rose Writings: Which actor has the most Plantagenet-esque nose?


From Fabo: Secret rooms uncovered at Warwick Castle.


And now to the group read.


[Left: the lower part of the picture shows the surviving medieval pieces of Nottingham Castle, which was renovated in the 1870s. Source.]

Last week: TSIS, Book IV, ch. 21-25 trace the events of October, 1484, to March, 1485. In Nottingham again (ch. 21), Anne is feeling poorly, missing her period, and not pregnant; Véronique convinces her to call the doctor, who diagnoses consumption. Anne tells Richard to stop sleeping with her for fear of contagion. In London in January, 1485, now out of sanctuary (ch. 22), Elizabeth Woodville plots her way back to power, with the assistance of Reginald Bray, one of Buckingham’s conspirators, who warns Elizabeth that Bess seems to be too enamored of Richard ever to consider marrying Henry Tudor. Elizabeth states her belief that Buckingham murdered her sons. On her way home, Elizabeth ponders the possibility that Richard and Bess could be romantic partners. Seeing Bess watching Richard at the court’s Twelfth Night revels, Elizabeth concludes that the rumors are true. A failing Anne takes to her bed at Windsor in February, 1485 (ch. 23). Praying at the memorials for Will Hastings and Edward IV, Richard encounters a pregnant Jane Shore. Bess, meanwhile, is crying over her horse’s death as sublimation for her grief over Anne. Her mother tries to talk her into wanting to marry Richard. Having returned to Westminster in March (ch. 24), Anne and Richard talk on her deathbed, whereupon she dies — unfortunately for Richard, on the same day as a solar eclipse, an ill omen. Afterwards (ch. 25), London is agog with the possibility that Richard might marry Bess and that Anne’s death might have been hastened with poison. His advisors debate whether it would be better to ignore the rumors or respond to them; Richard speaks because it had been an error not to make the disappearance of the princes public in the summer of 1483. Cecily pleads with Richard to see Bess before putting her out of reach. At this meeting, Bess concedes that she had briefly entertained romantic dreams of Richard, and Richard realizes his last tie to his brother has now been broken.


[Right: The remains of Berkhamsted Castle, where Cecily Neville spent the last years of her life, engaged in religious exercises after taking Benedictine vows. It was abandoned after her death in 1495. Source.]

This week: The end of the book! In May, 1485 (ch. 26), Cecily Neville dines with Richard — described by his ally, John Scrope, as going through the motions — in Berkhamsted. Aware that clients are leaving Richard to side with Henry Tudor, she suggests a remission of taxes for London to get the south of England on side. In urging her son to remarry, Cecily draws from him the admission that he fears he sinned in taking the throne, and realizes that he is putting the maintenance of his throne in divine hands. In August of the same year (ch. 27), Richard dreams of Anne and reflects over the coming challenges, as Tudor has landed in Wales. Thomas Stanley, always at pains to keep York and Lancaster in balance, says he is too sick to support Richard; in reality, he’s decided for Tudor. A rare solitary moment leads to a chance encounter with a woman. Stanley’s son, George, tries to escape Richard’s camp. Richard has his son John sent away to safety and ponders the past even more. At Redmore Plain (ch. 28), Lovell and Humphrey Stafford ponder how Richard could have put himself in a situation where his own flank commanders were not to be trusted and his own allies from York are not to be present. More of his camp recount the story that allegedly prophecies the manner of Richard’s death. Richard is unenthused about victory, insofar as he has decided that should he win, he will not show the losers any mercy. Richard tortured by bad dreams, decides not to hear mass. The battle begins; Tudor is outnumbered and not a military man himself. But Richard’s friend Norfolk is killed; the Stanleys betray him; Northumberland does not move his men into position — and in the end, Richard makes a desperate charge directly at Tudor. He’s killed.

Bermondsey_Abbey_1[Left: 2006 photo of excavation at the site of Bermondsey Abbey, where Elizabeth Woodville spent her last years; it was pulled down after the dissolution of the monasteries. Source.]

At Sheriffs Hutton (ch. 29), now occupied by Tudor’s men, Cecily of York watches over her cousins helplessly and learns from some of Richard’s allies that the battle was lost due to treason. In December, 1485 (ch. 30), Bess is preparing for Christmas at Westminster, and reconciling herself to a marriage to Tudor after that. Bess denies to Tudor that she’d been Richard’s lover. In July, 1486 (ch. 31), Richard’s and York’s still loyal supporters, among them Lovell, gather in Burgundy at the court of Richard’s sister, Margaret of York. All of the possible York pretenders are imprisoned. Véronique urges Lovell, who’s bent on revenge for Richard, to forget the past — to no end. In June, 1492 (ch. 32), Grace [one of Edward IV’s illegitimate offspring] visits Elizabeth Woodville on her deathbed at Bermondsey Abbey. Bess cannot come, as she’s brought to bed with her fourth pregnancy in six years. Bess refers to her awareness of the (tendentious) Rous Roll. Bess and Grace conclude that someday the truth about Richard will be forgotten. The book closes with an afterword that tells of the fates of the surviving principals: the death in rebellion or in prison of Richard’s supporters; the ill fates of the turncoats who had supported Tudor; the gradual fading from the scene of the surviving Grey men, Elizabeth Woodville’s sons; the deaths of Anne Neville’s mother and Cecily Neville; the fates of Edward IV’s daughters; and the executions of Richard’s illegitimate male heirs and their surviving York cousins in the consequence of rebellions in their favor.


Screen shot 2012-09-22 at 10.08.45 PMI have dozens of papers to grade and lots of other pressing work today, so what really belongs here — an analysis of the factors that led to the many betrayals that ended Richard’s reign — will have to wait. Someday I’ll put something like that at the King Richard Armitage fan initiative site. Right now I’m mostly relieved that we’re done reading this book!

In the end, here are my observations:

This novel is really Ricardian. There’s nothing wrong with that in a novel, but speaking as a historian, it started to bother me. I think the real interest in realizing a project about Richard III lies not in the fact that Richard’s reputation needed or needs to be saved, but rather in his status as a medieval king trying to establish and legitimate himself over and over again in a treacherous environment, and doing it at extreme odds, including — as we now know from the excavations — in the face of his own severe physical difficulties.

In short, we can see in the life of Richard an interesting response to the demands of medieval kingship — and a convincing attempt to deal with the changing historical world in which the protagonist lived. To me, this never came through in the novel, which was overly focused on saving Richard, almost to the point of making him the victim of circumstance — a way that Richard never would have seen himself. It surprised me that in the end I liked Shakespeare’s feisty Richard more than Penman’s resigned one. I just didn’t buy that he would have been quite this defeatist at the end of his life.

Additionally, the further I got into the story, and the more I researched the historical background, the less interested I became in Anne Neville as a convincing romantic partner for Richard III. I gradually became convinced that although she was a victim of many of Richard’s maneuvers, she herself was trying to maneuver the situation to her advantage within her scope of action — as would any medieval noblewoman. This doesn’t make her evil; but in all the sources I read, I never saw a glimpse of the emotional, feminine Anne Neville Penman portrays. I would be eager to see her written as a partner equal to Richard in terms of political acumen and personal energy, but not, again, as the tragic sufferer that Penman makes her.

Penman makes a lot of social / cultural atmosphere missteps in this book — but the status of these fields has changed drastically in the decades since she wrote it, and she can’t be faulted for this problem. I am sure scriptwriters will take this more into account than she was able to.

And then there are two questions that still remain really open in my mind — in terms of an Armitage Richard III project.

I. Historical narration. I didn’t know much about the minor players in this story before I started reading this book. Now I know a lot about them — which means both that I struggled to sort them out for readers of this series, but also that I know the way that Penman portrays them is also quite reduced in comparison to actual history. I don’t know how a script should attempt to deal with this problem — particular with the dizzying variety of minor characters all named Edward and Elizabeth.

II. “The story.” That is to say: you can’t make a historical fiction up out of a narrative history. You have to add additional material. Usually historical drama errs too far in one direction or another — either adhering slavishly to fact, or giving up fact entirely for the story. The question is how much additional material to add to make a fascinating story. The Richard III story offers a lot of potential for additions just because so much is unknown or has been lost. My beef with Penman was that she made it seem like she was adhering closely to history while not really doing so. I’d honestly prefer more of a Hilary Mantel approach.

Thanks for participating the group read! I hope we all learned a lot more about Richard III — and why this would be such a great project for Richard Armitage to realize.

~ by Servetus on February 25, 2013.

6 Responses to “Richard Armitage / Richard III rumble, Last week!”

  1. Thanks for another great summary. I am sorry that we have reached the end of TSIS–mostly due to the body count. I came to reflect upon and sympathize with these individuals in the story as the real human beings they once were. So the deaths–starting with Edmund–were very sad for me.

    This extended family of York’s and Neville’s had more than its share of heartache and loss. And in the end as Penman portrays him, King Richard III was a defeated “man”–haunted by his losses. He had lost his beloved son Ned and his soul mate wife Anne. I chose to buy into the love story.

    And the very last shred of KR3’s will to do battle as king seemed to be gone from his heart when betrayal was everywhere and he made his last desperate push–which quickly went against him. It was a treacherous time to live and to die–as a man and as a king.

    May the repose of the souls of King RIchard III and his family, his friends, and his allies be at peace and at rest.


  2. Thank you so much for your wonderful historical background analysis and the for me so essential and helpful overviews, Servetus!
    King Richard III’s story gives so much space for a script development and I hope the films can be done.
    You know, I am not convinced that ‘he did it’, but at least, he made enough to make it likely or possible that he could have. What a fantastic background for speculations and an ambivalent Richard III role for Richard Armitage.

    I must admit, I thought you had made a joke with your first comment today, and only believed you, when I read the Facebook comment by Sharon Kay Penman.
    That text change of the story would not really change anything for me, as in my head, the real history still would run and dominate the images.


    • I do think it’s interesting to ask whether Richard would have followed the legislative path he set out in 1484, and how ruthless he would have been to his opponents, had he survived Bosworth … 🙂


      • The history surely would have judged him differently and perhaps even admiringly, but most likely for a more or really bloody career then. How deep ingrained his believes about justice were in case his own interests were concerned, that would really be interesting to discover.


  3. […] Feeling a bit adrift for your Richard III fix in the month since the end of #RA4R3 ‘s group read of The Sunne in Splendour? […]


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