Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Mismatch of the Century

The story of Owen Tudor and Katherine of Valois is, to me, the most romantic and tragic of all medieval love stories. This tale was addressed by Rosemary Hawley Jarman's book, "Crown in Candlelight". She teases out of the known facts of the story a thematically charged work of poetry and density.

The two most lushly and lovingly described parts of the book are apposite - the playing out of the battle of Agincourt, and the resounding loving of Owen Tydier (as the author. calls him) and Cathryn (as Owen calls her). The other parts of the narrative appeared to swirl around these two poles, with many foreshadowings and stepbacks.

Henry V is totally and painfully anal, the symbolic also real, visceral pain that comes with glory. Katherine of Valois seems to have walked through life almost numb in response to the abuse done her by her parents, a mad king about to shatter and a queen of great appetite and indulged will.

Henry VI, 'Little Harry', the focus of an intensely dysfunctional extended family, seemed to reach for his mother as she receded continually into her wished-to-be corner of the world where she could pursue conjugal bliss with one Owen Tudor, of gloried Welsh descent, though a clerk of the wardrobe. She wished to see her son continually but was impeded by Henry's uncle Gloucester, seen here as licentiously evil, and conjugally joined with the supposed witch Eleanor Cobham.

Owen's Welshness is encompassed by the earth and sky and the harp of a bard and the protection of a woman. She is Hywelis, who to me represents Wales, as Owen's connection with her is his unknown talisman. The story has an epic completeness, pulled from the mess of historical fact, and drawn from mystic mountains and rain soaked battlefields.

Their union bore sons, and thus was the seed of the Tudor dynasty. And then the rest, they say, is history.

The end of Owen and Katherine's story found me weeping, a sure sign of its power.

(pictured: the wedding of Henry V and Katherine of Valois at Troyes)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

And Those of Us Who Do Love Jane...

The title of this post was a phrase used by someone in the Jane Austen Society to preface a great truth about literary folk.  I have forgotten the pronouncement, but I remember her.  The Jane may have been Jane Austen, but I am thinking of another Jane, a Jane who wasn't really a Jane but an Elizabeth.  Jane Shore.  And, having read a short study concerning her, I can say that I really do love her.

Jane, or Elizabeth, didn't cash in on her dalliance with Edward IV.  Initially trapped in a marriage with William Shore, a goldsmith, she was then able to divorce him armed with the fact that the he was impotent.  Then she was free to be scooped up by Edward.  "Of his loves, she was the merriest."  Their pleasant relationship lasted until his death at the age of forty.

It fell to Richard III to make an example of her by making her walk through London in a shift carrying a lighted taper.  I suppose it was part of the package of discrediting his elder brother, but the shaming backfired, as was reported, when the people of London cheered her instead of reviling her.

Her fortunes improved.  While she was in Ludgate Prison, Thomas Lynam, a solicitor and right arm of Richard, was captivated by her and took her to wife, as they say.  Richard needed Lynam's service so much that he had to put up with the marriage.  Jane must have again become penurious upon his death.  She lived far into the 16th Century, impoverished and defeated.

However, Jane lived on in ballad and anecdote.  She was an example of wantonness coming to a bad end.  Her story was often told, with embellishments in literature and later on, in film.

I suppose the only way for a woman to enjoy some sort of power and influence in the Middle Ages was to become a concubine of a royal.  A mistress sometimes had more influence than a queen.  The only physical description in the literature painted her as being blond, short and pleasantly plump.  I find her to have been a figure of courage and forthrightness.  May her story live on.

(the work was "The Mysterious Mistress" by Margaret Crosland)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

United in a Disunited World

Just read a wonderfully tasty story about a pair of lovers in war torn England. The time was the 15th century and the pair: John Neville (brother of the Kingmaker) and Isobel Ingoldsthorpe, a ward of Margaret of Anjou. The novel is "Lady of the Roses" by Sandra Worth. Her work is delightfully comprehensive. Henry VI has a fairly sizeable part - called "Holy Harry" by the populace, he is gentle and somewhat simple. There is one scene wherein he stands up to his queen, in a needful request of Isobel's. I enjoyed his character depiction.

This novel tells of the excruciatingly divided loyalties, twists and turns of military alliances, and the courage of women who are mostly powerless to act but must deal with the results. The colors, tastes and weather events of the time are well described, and the period comes alive in an accessible and moving melange. (Have the hankies ready at the close)

I'll have to step back and hit some nonfiction before I read another novel. It will be hard to find another that directly deals with the Wars of the Roses so well. Any suggestions?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Woodville Woman

I am an ardent fan of Elizabeth Woodville. The last book of historical fiction that I have read - "The King's Grey Mare" by Rosemary Hawley Jarman presented a complex portrait of this lucky then unlucky woman. The Wheel of Fortune may have been her principal tarot concept card. The witchcraft angle is deeply scored, the interfering mother, Jacquetta of Bedford a force to be dealt with.

Married for love to her own Sir John Grey and ensconced in beautiful Bradgate Park, her fortunes change abruptly for the worse when he is killed in battle, and then change again in the famous scene under a spreading woody tree where she captivates Edward IV. Many children later, the Wars of the Roses shift against her husband, and she folds into Sanctuary. After Edward's death, she is at the mercy of Richard III and Henry VII. Though she has a beautiful woman's power, and the weapon of her fecundity, she comes to be powerless and boxed out towards the end of her life.

Jarman's book held the first portrait of Henry VI as a little more than a bit player in my fictive reading experience. He is a caricature of the henpecked husband, and his monkishness powers one of the early scenes with Elizabeth at his court (or rather Margaret of Anjou's court). It was very good to see him with a speaking part in a novel.