Saturday, June 20, 2009

Initial Thoughts on Richard II

I was made better acquainted with Richard II by reading Jean Plaidy's "Passage to Pontefract", her handling of the story of John of Gaunt and Richard of Bordeaux, who became the second of that name on the death of his grandfather, Edward III.

This book was a retelling of the history serially, with little extraneous material. Actually, it was like reading a history book with the characters strengthened into fiction. What characters they were! - senile Edward III and his rapacious paramour Alice Perrers, Good Plump Queen Philippa, the wanton turned troubled Fair Maid of Kent, the ambitious (how many times were we reminded) John of Gaunt, a wonderful and treasured Catherine Swynford, down to the quite complex figure of Richard II. History of course is written by the winners, and the Lancastrians may have exaggerated the depth of this monarch's ineptitude.

Another Martyr to the Cause

The Tudor Dynasty, one haunted by a need to perpetuate itself if ever there was, had a number of martyrs to the Cause. Anne Boleyn and the anti-Anne, Jane Seymour, are among the number. In a sense, Henry VIII himself had a life and value system driven by the need to provide an heir, thus he was a martyr of sorts too.

"Plain Jane", by Laurien Gardner (who I gather is also Jennifer Ashley), is a cut above a romance novel, and a level or two below masterful historical fiction. Jane's "plainness" is an attribute beaten to death, and is one that defines her. In truth, (I think) this attribute is her greatest strength, as a foil to the erstwhile fascinating Anne, and its concomitant virtuousness perceived is as strong a draw to Henry as Anne's bewitching smile was. Whatever. Sometimes I see the Six Wives as types enslaved by the Tudor dilemma and victims of the tragedy of not delivering the required societal result for which they were chosen. Jane is the one that delivers, but she has to pay with her life anyway.

The Jane in "Plain Jane" was in the bind of all of the wives, not to be able to question the boss with any long range success, as seen by her defense of a ransacked nunnery which elicited the statement from Henry that he could kill her off too if she opposed him.

Plain Jane was virtuous but not insipid. Of the wives, she may be the least documented, and the treatment in this novel is thus welcome.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Anne Boleyn in her own words

I just read "The Lady in the Tower" by the mistress, Jean Plaidy. Anne tells her story, and one is drawn in by her wisdom in hindsight. She writes/tells from the time when she lives and now her life is done, to paraphrase Chidiock Tichborne. Such a vantage point has made her quite perceptive, especially regarding her imperious behavior around Henry VIII, a man she admits she never loved. Well, he really wasn't that lovable, I should think.

Unlucky in love and embittered thereby - Henry Percy of the North being an early beau, she feels that Henry prevented their union so he could have this tasty morsel to himself. She traded any hope for further love for ambition, a quality that stood her in good standing in her relationship with Henry Tudor. The result is resounding success at getting her way with the King, but at such a cost to the nation, and a knife edge of danger, though she believes the necessary son will result from their relationship.

One may regard Anne as something of a silly woman, but Plaidy's take on her introspection, however late, is very engaging and believable. Basically, she was in over her head, and only in looking back she sees the power of the despot she was dealing with, power over her very life.