March 2015

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9th March

 

If February was my month for talking about 'bad kings' (see last month's News page), in March it's the turn of the queens! I'm currently busy preparing a presentation on 'Unhappy Queens' for the Garforth Probus group, and the three I've chosen to discuss are Margaret of Anjou, Mary, Queen of Scots (that's her on the left with her first husband, Francis, King of France) and Marie Antoinette. Although they're widely separated in time, they have one thing in common - all their lives were ruined (and in two cases, ended) as a direct result of their husbands' shortcomings.

 

Margaret was a character I loathed until I started researching her incredible story; now I see her as a woman to be respected and treated with sympathy. She was forced to act in a way then considered unbecoming to her sex due to the feeble-mindedness of Henry VI; and after he lost his crown to Edward IV at Towton, she suffered all kinds of misfortunes and indignities including shipwreck, starvation and destitution, and ended her life in obscurity as a pensioner of Louis XI. Mary Stuart was married three times to increasingly disastrous husbands; her first, Francis, died within a year of their marriage; her second, Henry, Lord Darnley, (surely one of the most stupid and irritating young men in English history!) was a syphilitic, drunken conniver who made himself so unpopular that he was assassinated by a cabal of Scottish lords; and her third, James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, was one of Darnley's assassins! Their short-lived union caused a massive scandal, leading to Mary's deposition, flight to England, long imprisonment by Elizabeth I, and ultimate execution for plotting to replace her 'good sister and cousin' on the throne. Finally, Marie Antoinette was a deeply unfortunate character: loathed from the outset by many French people because of her Austrian nationality, she, (like Margaret) fell victim to a basically well-meaning but chronically inept husband in the portly shape of Louis XVI. Louis had as little idea of how

to rule effectively as had Henry VI (and shared his inability to get down to the business of engendering an heir!); like Henry, his bumbling policies brought his country to the edge of bankruptcy, and unleashed a bloody horror - in this case, the French Revolution. Poor Marie Antoinette was largely carried along by the tide of events; although she was not a particularly clever woman and no political animal, neither was she evil and depraved as her detractors claimed, and in no way deserved her prolonged, humiliating imprisonment and eventual execution. Unhappy queens indeed, and both Margaret and Mary might equally have said the same as Marie Antoinette in October 1789: 'Oh my God, if we have committed faults, we have certainly expiated them.' Yes - three women wronged, during their lifetimes and by history, and I look forward to sharing their stories on the Probus Ladies Day next week!

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23rd March

 

Palm Sunday is almost upon us again, with Towton Battlefield Society's annual commemoration falling on the 554th anniversary of the battle, making it a particularly special day. So yesterday, Mick and I trucked a vanful of Portaloo cleaning gear, bin-bags and other essential items over to site, then spent several hours with a squad from TBS preparing the field: marking out the pitches for traders and re-enactors, white-lining the main 'street' and emergency access road, and distributing straw bales around for use at various points. Now all we have to do is go back on Friday and wait for the participants to start turning up! We should have a good show again, both on the field and in the barn; we're expecting a good variety of traders including Shropshire Lavender with their lovely fragrant products, and a newcomer, Cowleys Fine Food, purveyors of historically-inspired foodstuffs like spicy beef jerky. Well-known Wars of the Roses artist Graham Turner will also be in the barn signing and selling prints of his work, along with the Battlefield Societies from Bosworth, Northampton, Tewkesbury and Stamford Bridge, York Archaeological Trust, the Yorkshire Branch of the Richard III Society and many more attractions - and I'll be there too, selling my books!

 

But while we were working, I couldn't help thinking about the other very special events taking place in Leicestershire. Yes, 22nd March will go down in history as the day King Richard III's remains were formally received into the Cathedral of St Martin's in Leicester, after a ceremonial journey from the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre. I'm very proud to say that a number of our re-enacting friends, among them the Frei Compagnie's Steve Clegg, Frances Perry and Des Thomas, took part in the ceremony held there, including firing a 21-gun salute - you may have seen them on TV.

Sadly, owing to the clash with our Towton preparations, my own contribution to this extraordinary historical event has been limited to making a contribution to the Cathedral's Community Appeal - St Martin's is not a wealthy church, and needs help to pay for all the building works they have carried out ready to receive the king's remains. So if, like me, you're unable to get to Leicester during the reinterment week, why not send a donation? Meanwhile I'm looking forward to visiting Leicester again to pay my respects at his tomb after all the hoo-hah has died down - and I'll definitely make that trip within the next three months, because Richard's famous Book of Hours, found in his tent after the Battle of Bosworth and given to Henry Tudor's mother, Margaret Beaufort, will be on display at New Walk Museum before returning to its permanent home at Lambeth Palace. To stand in his presence, and to look at pages he would have known well will be one of the most thrilling historical experiences I've ever had - and one that I never expected in my wildest dreams to have the privilege of enjoying in this lifetime!