Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Sins of the Father

This fellow is one scary dude (or "dread lord").  Kenneth Branagh's portrayal of Henry V resonated with me - a mixture of a romantic view of war through the soliloquies ("a touch of Harry in the night"), and the bloody gory hopelessly tragic detail of the film sequences at Harfleur and Agincourt.  He bankrupted the treasury for his son, and only postponed the reckoning of the central Lancastrian moral problem- that they stood on the shoulders of a murdered Richard II.

I often think of the parallels to today - how the Bush administration has all but bankrupted our national treasury for a war whose premise is even more flimsy as Henry V's reason for war.  I don't see a way out - and hope it doesn't turn out like the Hundred Years War, with an empire dwindling back to the original size, and seemingly irreparable loss of credibility in the world.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Margaret of York - Part 2

Having finished Daughter of York, a reading undertaken last week, I found the work entertaining, but there is another book that someone should pen, and that is what happened next.  The disintegration of all that Charles the Bold (pictured) worked for, as empires do rise and fall, and how Margaret had to employ her considerable political skills to try and prevent the denouement - well, the following historical period could ask for someone to flesh out a good work of fiction for its explication.

I will not attempt a book review here, and Smith had to stop somewhere, as Margaret's hero would in historical reality be married in a couple of years to someone else it was best to stop where she did.

Charles the Bold is portrayed very severely, and looking at his portrait, straight, simple and unadorned, I find it hard to picture him as the villain as he was in this book.  He was probably very much a man of his times, and the sumptuousness of the Burgundian court required more conquest to perpetuate itself.  (I suppose).   He was, to me, a soldier no less strident than Henry V.

Margaret of Anjou was an enemy of Burgundy as a princess of France, and she never took her hatreds lightly.  She has a small role in this novel, as she should.   During the bulk of this time, having lost her husband and son,  she was a ward, so to speak,  of Louis XI, who allowed her space in his kingdom to fade out in poverty.  Another 180 degree turn in the Wheel of Fortune.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Under a fine tree (fiction)

(just setting this down - haven't researched fully)

Was it an oak tree?  It was really rather green, and the noise from the battle nearby buzzed in his brain.  The Queen, who knew how to fight a battle, had told Henry to get him hither and please, try not to be captured.  He knew that he, in marked contrast to his father, was unable to lead troops into battle.

The air was soft and warm under the tree, and ants crawled over Henry's round toed shoes.  The sky shifted as he fixed his gaze on the clouds in the opposite direction from the battle.  It is a pleasant market town, St. Albans, with a monastery.  The nearness and finality of bloodshed stabbed at his heart, and he didn't know whether to laugh or weep.  Then he lapsed into a helpless self pity .. if only he weren't king...

In times like these, he was really only happy to be swayed by Margaret.  She had evolved from that 15 year old beauty from France to someone who emphatically took charge.  She stepped in to fill the power vacuum in the marriage with an intensity that surprised him.  He loved his queen, and took heart from her vibrancy.  And now they had a fine son.  Edward's birth energized Margaret in another way, she had someone to protect, to shape into a ruler.  As Edward IV, someday he would repair the reeling Lancastrian inheritance.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Margaret of York

So far I am meeting with this lady through a novel of historical fiction that seems to this point to be historical romance.  Daughter of York by Anne Easter Smith.   It is a new book in the mix, and so far I am enjoying it - the first novel I have started concerning an era I know a deal about.  The use of the 1460's as a backdrop is something I aspire to, so it is good to see another work with it.

Margaret seems realistic enough, a jeune fille with too much time on her hands.  So far, a dwarf has been bestowed upon her and she is showing some sophistication for her age in her dealings with that gift.  This in contrast to her amorous proclivities.  I fear she may become like Elizabeth I, in one pulled close to astray when young.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Wall (Fiction)

And of course, there was the Wall, the outward manifestation of what was going on within Henry's mind. A mind that had shut itself off, unnoticing of when the body performed any function.

He sat, or rather was arranged on a pile of rags in a vague room in Windsor Castle. The mood of the others dwelling in the castle was somber, fearful, yet daring to hope that their anointed king would soon free himself from the blankness of the Wall.

This was sometimes made unlikely, as when his mind climbed a step and he saw the ghost of a father he never had known - with a disapproving grimace on his hard haughty famous face. This apparition knocked Henry back, his head against one wall and his mind against another. Like many sons of famous fathers, he had often been able to do nothing but shrug that he was a grave disappointment to his father's example.

When the news came to him that all was lost in France, that he was the son of the one who had won all, and that as that son he had lost all, well, it was the logical outcome of the way things were going. That was when he was first blocked by the Wall. Queen Margaret could have been heard in the room crying angry tears, burning with fear of what would happen if he never stepped through that Wall. The Queen was in the middle of her first pregnancy, and she knew that the court all assumed another to be the father. She knew, however, that it was Henry, and that the same fate might come upon a child of theirs as came upon the King.

And the recurrence of a reign of a boy king at this time would be a great burden upon the country, even greater than the reign of this king who had had so many fingers in the pie that was the Regency of the boy king.

The Queen was fearful of so many things, and as she often sat in the room hoping to see some sort of life in Henry, she occasionally saw a line of spittle draw itself down from the corner of his mouth. This was so sad to see his wheel come to its nadir (sum sine regno), I am unable to reign, I am without a crown. He had seemed to be so innocent, why was he (and the realm) being punished?

Not Really a Revelation

Just finished surfing blogs that handle medieval history, and someone, don't remember who, said that H6 was "the worst disaster ever to sit upon the English throne".  That is probably patently true - sort of like saying George Bush is the worst president ever to inhabit the Presidency.  There is no way I would want to delve into the intricacies (or lack thereof) of our President, so why a medieval English failure?   I think I outlined reasons in the first post.   It is hard to say which leader was worse.  There are a lot of similarities - the father issue, the reckless spending, the loss of credibility in the world.

To my moderately tutored knowledge, one has to address the question:  why did each country put up with such disastrous "leadership" for so long?   I have a couple of books on my shelf that I haven't gone through yet that address this of Henry.  (I buy books when I fall into mania at my workspace - amazon.com is scary).  So, maybe as the year progresses I will have a handle on the why of some of the aspects of Henry's kingship that were so disastrous.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Cruelty in the 14th Century

Another period I know little about was made fascinating by what I deem an excellent work of historical fiction - The Traitor's Wife by Susan Higginbotham.  In focusing on a figure who was well connected (well for much of her life) but not well known, she tells the story of a woman buffeted by the currents around her.  She is Eleanor de Clare, niece to Edward II, wife of Hugh le Despenser the Younger (his execution pictured here).  Like the novel previously mentioned presenting Constance of York, artistic license is manifest, but the whole work holds together very well focusing on this beautiful heiress.

What does this have to do with H6?  Stephen King wrote that to write you must read a lot and write a lot, baldly put.  I absorb, I hope, this example of well written historical fiction, and start to connect up what I can attempt.  I know the period is not the same, but this novel depicts ancestors of the people I intend to write about.  One should know as much background and ancestry of their historical protagonist as one can.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Some Brief Thoughts on Shakespeare

Shakespeare's Henry VI trilogy, part of a tetralogy if you add the logical next installment Richard III, never fails to provide something new upon each reading. The Henry plays span his lifetime, from cradle to Tower. Even though the plays bear his name, Henry is not a central character in any of them. The Henry plays were Shakespeare's first performed plays, so I read. The scope of the end of the Hundred Years War to the end of the Wars of the Roses was daunting, to be sure.

Henry himself always makes me want to either cry or shake him. I don't know if I really see Henry the way Shakespeare does, but Shakespeare probably defined the way Henry was viewed in Elizabethan times. Ah, the myth of the royal saint! Miracles were attributed to him for a century or so following his murder. But, somehow, Henry just doesn't make it as a saint. His ineffectuality is rampant throughout the play, becoming more of a contrast to those around him as the trilogy marches on.

I have read through the plays six or seven times now, with an emphasis on Part 3. That play has a plethora of action, and the best soliloquies. I am sure I will read through them all again soon.