Saturday, March 27, 2010

Silken Bonds

A few years ago I first bumped into Jane Shore, the celebrated mistress of King Edward IV. She was being examined by a biographer, who was fleshing out a likely picture of her life as a late 15th century courtesan. Recently, however, I met her in a pleasantly lively novel by Vanora Bennett - "Figures in Silk". However, it is her sister Isabel who turns into an achiever of another type - that of a prosperous silk merchant.

Her capability and verve in establishing the prominence of the House of Claver is set against a hopeless and intense affair with an unattainable personage. This is almost a bifurcation, aptitude and cleverness on the one side of her life, and the heartfelt ambivalence in her illicit relationship comprising another side of her life.

Jane and Isabel are quite different, in appearance, attitude and modes of survival. However, they near each other by story's end. This is a good story although some of the character depictions may be a little of a stretch. It is a fine look at the merchant class in 15th century England, however, and worth reading for that reason included.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Stolen Crown

I always like meeting new people, especially new English dead people. Susan Higginbotham's latest work delves into the emotions, thoughts, and precarious lives of Katherine Woodville and Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. My knowledge of the period (Wars of the Roses) is incomplete, though I am trying to ingest all of the facts, feelings and fictions of the era for a good feel of what I will be looking for in England in the near future.

Edward IV wedded Elizabeth Woodville in secret and tried to keep it so as long as possible. After the union was discovered/proclaimed, a passel of Woodvilles made advantageous marriage alliances with nobles and/or their heirs, including our headlining pair. Katherine (Kate), the youngest of the tribe links up with Henry (Harry) and the rest of their lives are spent in the furious uncertainty of the time of the Wars. Especially interesting is Higginbotham's portrayal of Richard of Gloucester, who, in the early days, was best friend to Harry - some time before he took the crown and assumed the name of Richard III. I found it to be the most plausible of the solutions to the Princes in the Tower mystery, totally fitting in with the character of those involved.

As far as the title of the book is concerned, the crown was stolen more than once - these thefts could embody the dynamic shifts in power between the red and the white and are their core. I'd say - read this book for a number of reasons, all good.