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Her Highness, the Traitor

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These are pieces I've done just for the fun of it and posted on my blog. It seemed a shame for them to get lost among the blog archives, so I thought I'd include them here.

 

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Christmas 1484 with Richard III: A Playlet

 

Scene 1: Westminster Hall is bedecked with greenery and tapestries covered with little white boars as King Richard III and Queen Anne enter. They look around admiringly.

Anne: Isn’t it beautiful? (Coughs) I beg your pardon. And look, I’ve left a couple of places vacant just in case your nephews Edward and Richard return for Christmas from their grand tour of the Continent.

Richard: How thoughtful, my dear. (Aside) What am I going to tell her next? I can't keep them on the damn Grand Tour forever.

Scene 2: Some time later. The king and queen are mingling with their guests.

Anne: Here comes your brother’s daughter Elizabeth. I do think she's bearing up pretty well after being in sanctuary all that time, don't you? And look, Richard! Just in case the poor girl was feeling sad this Christmas I had her dress made from the same material as mine. Isn’t it beautiful?

Richard: (Eyes popping) Yes. She—er—it is.

(Elizabeth, heading toward the royal couple, passes courtiers)

Courtiers: Wowsa!

Elizabeth: (Aside) And I thought it was going to be no fun being a bastard. (Curtsies to Richard) I wish you good tidings of the season, your grace. Oh, and your grace too. (Turns to Anne) How are you feeling, your grace?

Anne: Perfectly well, thank you. (Coughs for five minutes or so) Excuse me for a few minutes.

Elizabeth: (Taking out a slip of paper from a pouch she wears at her side) I thought she’d never stop coughing. Do you know when the doctors say she’ll die? This is what I want engraved on our plate once we’re married, Dickon.

Richard: Sweetheart, I told you to keep calling me “uncle” in public.

Elizabeth: (Pouting) All right, Uncle. But what do you think about the engraving?

Richard: Beautiful. Er— Anne?

Anne: What are you showing your uncle, dear?

Elizabeth: Oh, that would spoil your surprise, your grace. (Scampers off)

Anne: What a sweet girl. We really need to find a husband for her, dear.

Richard: Oh, I’m working on it.

Anne: You think of everything.

Richard: Welcome, Lord Stanley! How goes it with your wife?

Stanley: My wife?

Richard: Yes, your wife, Margaret Beaufort. The woman you have under house arrest on my orders.

Stanley: Oh, yes, my wife. She is very well.

Richard: She doesn’t find her confinement disagreeable?

Stanley: Oh, she finds ways to pass the time.

Richard: And how is that son of hers? John, no, Edward, no, Henry. That’s it. Henry Tudor.

Stanley: Him. I have no idea. I don’t hear from him. She never hears from him. We never hear from him. Frankly, I think sometimes my wife forgets he’s even alive, he’s been abroad so long.

Richard: Indeed. Well, a merry Christmas to you, Lord Stanley. (Aside) Lying bastard.

Stanley: And a merry Christmas to you, your grace. (Aside) Not “your grace” for long if Maggie has her way. (Exits)

Richard: Oh, hello, Mother.

Cecily: Hello, dear.

Richard: Are you enjoying your Christmas?

Cecily: As much as I can since you spread that nasty rumor that I had been unfaithful to your father and that your brothers weren't his children.

Richard: Not that again. It was nothing personal, Mum. We went through this last Christmas.

Cecily: Yes, and we’ll go through it this Christmas too, and the Christmas after that, and the Christmas after that. And you know why? Because I’m your mother and I can say to you whatever I please. Even if you are the king. And don't get me started on how you got to be the king. Your dear little nephews—

Richard: Mother, how about going on pilgrimage next Christmas? I’ll pay for everything.

Scene 3: The royal bedchamber. Richard is lying alone in the royal bed. Suddenly a spirit appears, shrouded in a deep black garment that conceals all of it except for one outstretched hand. Richard stirs and wakes.

Richard: What—? (Aside) I knew that last cup of wine was a big mistake.

Spirit: I am the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

Richard: The what?

Spirit: You’d understand better if you were living about 400 years later. By then, a chap named Charles Dickens— But I’ve got other visits to pay tonight. Let’s discuss Christmas Yet to Come.

Richard: Tell me, O Spirit.

Spirit: Well, to begin with, your wife is going to die. I know you’ve been expecting that, but it’s not going to work out as you planned. You’re going to have to give up your plans to marry that nubile little niece of yours.

Richard: No nubile niece!

Spirit: It goes downhill from there. She’s going to marry Henry Tudor.

Richard: Not Tudor, no! Not Tudor!

Spirit: They’re going to have sons, and one of the sons is going to have six wives.

Richard: Six wives! I can’t even marry two! Or can I? Do I get to marry anyone else? Do I get to have living children?

Spirit: Sorry, no. Now, how can I put this? Well, in your case there’s not going to be a Christmas Yet to Come. This is your last one. Hope the food was good tonight.

Richard: Spirit?

Spirit: You’re going to die in battle before the end of the coming year, and Tudor is going to take the crown. Then he gets your niece, and the son with the six wives becomes king after him. You’ll be the end of the Plantagenet dynasty.

Richard: (After a long silence) I killed the little brats for this?

Spirit: I'm afraid so. But you will fight pretty well in that last battle, aside from getting killed. That's something.

Richard: Spirit, what I can do to change this dire future?

Spirit: Not a blessed thing. Too many people are going to be making a living writing books about you and the king with the six wives. But there is an upside to all of this.

Richard: Tell me, O Spirit.

Spirit: Your reputation will be bad, and a glover’s son named William Shakespeare will make it even worse. You’ll even be depicted with a hump on your back. But after 500 years or so, it will start to get better. There will be a society devoted entirely to improving your reputation. There will be publications devoted to you. Your enemies will be slandered. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a novel about you where you aren’t the good guy. Women in particular will love you. Everyone will blame someone else for the Princes in the Tower, and people won’t even care that you executed Hastings, Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan on trumped-up charges. You’ll be everybody’s favorite dead king.

Richard: So. Tudor gets the girl and the crown, and I get the Richard III Society and the adoring women?

Spirit: Yes.

Richard: (Sighing) Well, there are tradeoffs in life, aren’t there? Merry Christmas, Spirit.

Spirit: Merry Christmas. And to all a good night.

~

 


 

Historical Novels I Plan to Write Soon

 

Braveheart: The Sequel

Humiliated by her and her lover Roger Mortimer’s fall from power, Queen Isabella is stunned to receive a disguised visitor at Castle Rising—her first and only real love, William Wallace, who explains that another man offered to be hung, drawn, and quartered in his place so that Wallace could be reunited with Isabella. Isabella snaps, “Took you long enough, Kilt Boy,” but forgives him for his delay after a session of passionate lovemaking. They live happily for the rest of their lives, passing the days by making fun of Edward II’s loss at Bannockburn and marveling at how well their son Edward III turned out.


Where the Sun in Splendour Doesn’t Shine

Recognizing his suppressed homoerotic feelings for Edward IV only after his friend’s untimely death, William Hastings summons the Duke of Buckingham to London and begins a torrid love affair with him. When Hastings abruptly decides he likes Jane Shore better after all, Buckingham persuades Richard III to have Hastings executed. Later, when Richard III refuses Buckingham’s own advances, Buckingham rebels. The Princes in the Tower, meanwhile, escape and begin new lives as traveling players. They begin to write their own plays, which years later find their way into the hands of a rustic from Stratford-upon-Avon.


The Secret Dairy of Anne Boleyn

Fed up with the artificiality of court life, Anne establishes a little farm where she can retreat in times of stress and milk her cows. When she invites a group of muscular male courtiers to join her, Henry VIII mishears the phrase “bring in the hay” as “roll in the hay.” Disaster ensues.

~

 


 

Isabella of France, Live on Geraldus!

 

I’ve been doing some in-depth research, and deep in the stacks of the university library, I found the following hitherto untranslated transcript of an encounter between a Geraldus de Springerus and the dowager queen Isabella some time in the late 1340’s.

As background to this exciting discovery, it appears that in the decadent years between the Battle of Crécy and the advent of the Black Death, Geraldus de Springerus was an itinerant entertainer who traveled throughout England. His “shows,” as they were called in the common parlance, were widely attended by the lower elements of the populace, and featured “guests,” sometimes from the same rank as the audience, sometimes of a much higher social standing. Oddly, the latter sort of guests do not seem to have regarded their appearance alongside Springerus as demeaning. This suggests a hitherto unrealized fluidity among social relations at the time and, I hope, will provide a fruitful ground of study for researchers in decades to come.

The translation presented a challenge, as the shows were conducted in a peculiar mix of Norman French and Middle English, depending upon the status of the guest. Furthermore, there are lacunae where the transcriber appears to have simply given up the attempt to record the goings-on, instead simply writing, “Fisticuffs.” This implies that quite often, the passions of the audience may have become extremely heightened.

Many more transcripts await translation. In the meantime, I hope this modest contribution to medieval studies will be met with interest.

Geraldus: Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. Today the theme of our show is “Misunderstood Women.” I’m very pleased to have with me today our dowager queen, Isabella, over from Castle Rising, where she spends most of her time these days.

Isabella: But only because I want to.

Geraldus: Yes, your grace. We had another guest lined up, one Mistress Margery, who wanted to address accusations that she had been making people’s sheep die, but she had—er—a conflict and could not make it after all.

Audience Member: Because we burned the witch!

(Cheers and claps from audience. There is a single boo toward the back, followed by fisticuffs.)

Geraldus: (To Isabella) They’re a tough crowd today, your grace.

Isabella: (To Geraldus) Tough crowds? You’re looking at a woman who escaped the Scots single-handedly. Well, with some help from my knights, of course. (To the crowd). You’ve heard the stories about me. I took a lover. I had my husband murdered. I had my brother-in-law the Earl of Kent executed on trumped-up charges. I kept my son the king and his wife poor while my lover and I got richer and richer. I did everything possible to keep my lover in power and my son from being king on his own.

Geraldus: And those stories aren’t true, your grace?

Isabella: Of course they’re true. Do I look like a weakling to you? But no one understands why I did them. And that’s why I’m here, to set the record straight.

Geraldus: And that’s why I’ve brought you here, your grace. To—

Isabella: Oh, just keep quiet. (To the crowd) I put up with my no-good husband for years. I kept quiet when he gave all of my jewels to Gaveston. I listened while he talked about digging ditches. I never said “I told you so” when he lost to the Scots. I put up with the two Hugh le Despensers for as long as anyone possibly could. I was the best wife in the world. I was.

Woman in Audience: I hear you, girl!

Isabella: So what was I to do when a man like Roger Mortimer came along? Say no, thank you, I’d rather stay with my sodomite of a husband?

More Women in Audience: No way, girl!

Isabella: And the money. I couldn’t have Mortimer see me in rags, now could I? Or let him look shabby, could I? And the land—I needed places to entertain him in properly, didn’t I?

Even More Women in Audience: Damn straight!

Isabella: And my son. You think having a boy that age glaring daggers every time I so much as smiled at Roger Mortimer was pleasant? I couldn’t do anything to please the little wretch. (Dabs eyes.) I did try so hard to be a good mother to him. I got him on the throne, didn’t I?

Women in Audience: Awwww!

Isabella: And that stupid brother-in-law of mine was a meddler, pure and simple. If he’d minded his own business—

Man in Audience: So why’d you kill that poor bloke your husband?

(Fisticuffs between man and surrounding women.)

Geraldus: (after a long interval of fisticuffs) Well, that is a perfectly valid question, your grace.

Isabella: I— Well, because he was a bloody nuisance!

(Cheers from women in audience)

Geraldus: Well. We’ve got a very special surprise for you now, your grace.

(A curtain at the back of the platform is pushed aside and a man wearing a monk’s habit steps out and pulls his hood back. Isabella stares in horror at him.)

Isabella: You’re—you’re—

Edward II: Your husband, my dear.

Isabella: You’re not dead.

Edward II: Still smart as a whip after all of these years.

Isabella: But I went to your funeral!

Edward II: You went to a porter’s funeral. I killed him and escaped. I’ve been wandering all around Europe ever since, dressed like this.

Isabella: I held a splendid funeral for a damned porter? I’ve been paying to have masses said for a damned porter?

Edward II: That’s it.

Isabella: Well, this is just outrageous and in extremely poor taste.

Edward II: And you call the red-hot poker business good taste? I thought you would have been more subtle, frankly.

Isabella: That was Mortimer’s idea.

Edward II: (in a high voice) Oh, that was Mortimer’s idea. That’s right, blame it on your boyfriend. Oh look now, she’s sulking. She always was good at sulking.

Isabella: Well, I hope you don’t think you’re going to take your throne back.

Edward II: And deal with the Scots and your French relations again? Lord no, Ned’s welcome to it. I can do all of the rowing and thatching and ditch digging that I please now.

Isabella: Well, if that just isn’t absolutely delightful.

Geraldus: Folks? Why don’t you show there are no hard feelings? An embrace for the audience?

Isabella: [Editor’s note: This passage contains obscure words that appear to be strikingly scatological and obscene. Further analysis by specialists is needed here.]

(Isabella stalks off the platform.)

Edward II: Good riddance. Now that she’s gone, can you find a slot for me sometime? How about “Men Who Lost Their Thrones and Don’t Really Mind”? I hear that David Bruce is available.

Geraldus: It’s going to be hard, but—let’s see. I’ve got your niece Joan of Kent coming up on “Women Who Just Can’t Say No to Marriage,” and your son’s scheduled too, on “Men Who Want to Be King of France.” And there’s “People Who Worry About That Pestilence Thing Coming to England.” But I’ll think of something. I’ll have my people send a messenger to your people.

~

 


 

Geraldus Redux

 

I'm pleased to make available another manuscript in what scholars now know as the Geraldus de Springerus archives. It appears that Geraldus, believing the last appearance of Isabella and a very special surprise guest to have been popular amongst the audience, invited the pair back in an attempt to stage a reconciliation between them. The discovery of this particular transcript is particularly exciting: it suggests that the medieval concept of a "loveday," wherein disputes could be settled amicably out of court, had permeated a much wider range of affairs than previously thought. One can only wonder at what further discoveries lurk in these archives.


Geraldus: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I'm pleased to introduce again our most gracious lady, the Dowager Queen Isabella, and, er--

Edward: King Edward the Second.

Isabella: You cannot call yourself the king. You are a humble monk now.

Edward: I'm very well aware of that, my dear. You reminded me of that twice backstage.

Isabella: After all, you resigned your crown.

Edward: If you call that farce a resignation.

Geraldus: If I may. Your graces, let's face it. Neither of you is getting any younger.

Edward: I beg to differ. I've never felt healthier. All of this fresh air, and exercise, and—

Isabella: We know. You were born to be a peasant.

Edward: Maybe you ought to get outdoors a bit yourself, my dear. You're looking a little peaked.

Isabella: I am not. (Consults hand mirror)

Geraldus: Your graces. Both of you look wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. But as I said, time is passing. As my people told your people, it's time to put the past behind you and apologize to each other. You've each come prepared, I believe.

Isabella (Pulls out a long sheet of parchment): I certainly have.

Edward: That's what you want to apologize for? All that? Really, my dear, it's not necessary.

Isabella: Don't be silly. These are the things I wanted you to apologize for. It's a checklist.

Edward: Oh.

Isabella: Item one. There's the time you gave Gaveston my wedding jewels.

Edward: Oh, come. They suited him and not you. You were a skinny little girl of twelve and he was—magnificent. (Sighs longingly)

Isabella: Oh, for God's sake, get your mind out of your crotch and attend to item two.

Edward: All right. Item two.

Isabella: You ignored me after the coronation.

Edward: You had all of your irritating French relatives to sit with, didn't you? Besides, you got to talk to them about the jewels.

Isabella: All right. We will skip item two for now. Item three—

Edward: If you're going to claim I abandoned you to the Scots, I'm leaving.

Isabella: No, no. But I did forget Bannockburn, come to think of it.

Edward: I have to apologize to you for Bannockburn?

Isabella: It was a great blow to my pride as a queen.

Edward: Oh, all right. (Aside) God forbid we should injure her precious pride as a queen.

Isabella: I heard that. Back to item three. Hugh le Despenser the elder.

Edward: Hugh the elder? What did he ever do to you?

Isabella: He spawned Hugh the younger, which accounts for items four to one hundred.

Edward (Sadly, to audience): She just never did understand poor dear Hugh.

Isabella: Oh, I understood him all right. Well. Are you ready to apologize?

Edward: I suppose. (Stiffly) My most gracious lady, I humbly beg your pardon.

Isabella: I accept your humble apology.

Geraldus: Now, that's real progress.

Edward: Her turn! Let's talk about my deposition. And your killing my friends, and your trying to kill me, and Mortimer, and your locking me up, and your keeping the children from me, and—

Isabella: You never did have an orderly mind, did you? Well, let's get this over with. My gracious lord, I humbly beg your pardon.

Edward: Oh, come on. If that's humility, I'm the king of France.

Isabella: They wouldn't have you as the king of France.

Edward: Oh, Lord. (To audience) Now we're going to hear about the glories of France. And you wonder why we only had four children together? We're lucky we had that many.

Isabella: Oh, just accept my apology so we can get out of here.

Geraldus: Your grace, you could stand to look a bit more humble, in my opinion.

Isabella: Which no one asked you for, did they?

Edward: Oh, she still has her touch with the common people, doesn't she? (To audience) Tell us. Which queen do you like better? Isabella or Philippa?

Audience (Roaring): Philippa!

Edward: That nice, sweet lady. Always a kind word for everyone.

Isabella: How dare—

Edward: So gracious. So loyal. So merciful. The way she begged for those burghers in Calais—

Audience: Ahhh!

Isabella: Are we going to spend the rest of the afternoon talking about that irritating Hainaulter woman, or are you going to accept my apology?

Edward: Now I think she owes our dear Philippa an apology for that, don't you?

Isabella: Damn it, I came here to apologize to you, not her, and now I'm not going to apologize to either of you! (Stalks away)

Edward: Well, then, I'm going to withdraw my apology. (Shouts in Isabella's direction) She-wolf!

Isabella (From offstage): Sodomite!

Geraldus: Well. Sometimes people just aren't ready to let go of the past, it seems. Folks, join us next week for "Ten Pilgrimage Scams to Avoid."

Audience Member: Wait. She didn't make a sincere apology, and he withdrew his apology. Shouldn't we get our money back?

Geraldus: No. You'll just have to accept my humble apology for that, I guess.

~

 


 

A Christmas Newsletter from Anne Neville, 1483

Another year almost over! Who could have guessed that 1483 could have passed so quickly? Well, time flies when you’re having fun, they say!

First, the big news. Richard got a new job! It involves a lot more prestige and rewards, but also a lot more responsibility, so he wasn’t really sure whether he wanted to take it or not. But after talking it over with family and friends, he decided to go for it, and so he did! There were a couple of minor obstacles in the way, but they weren’t as hard to get around as he thought they would be at first. Anyway, he’s been in his new position since July, and though he’s not one to brag, we think he’s doing a pretty good job in it. Some of the old staff didn’t care for him taking over, it’s true, but some people just don’t like change, even when it’s good for them. We know they’ll adjust.

The only bad thing about the new job is that it requires Anne to do a lot of entertaining, so she had to move to London with Richard and leave little Ned up north with Anne’s mum. We really miss them both, but Ned is doing well. Now that it looks as if he’ll be going into the new “family business,” he’s got a lot of learning to do anyway.

Anne’s mum is such a card, by the way! When she heard about Richard’s new job, she said, “Well, maybe now you can spare me an acre or two, the pair of you!” She’s so funny, she makes the north seem a little warmer just by being there.

Richard’s mum is doing well too. There was a bit of a dust-up when she heard of some foolish gossip about her just before Richard got his new job, which some very silly people blamed on Richard himself! But everything’s been smoothed over now, and she’s back to praying at Berkhamsted just as if nothing ever happened at all. She tells Richard that she prays for him more than ever now, and we certainly do appreciate that.

Anyway, we’re adjusting pretty well to Richard’s new job and to our new digs in London. Anne wants a little company there, so we’re trying to get Richard’s niece Elizabeth—you remember that pretty girl whose father was always trying to pinch someone’s arse—to come join us there. It’s a delicate situation because her mother is VERY overprotective and has her nose out of joint for some reason too. But Richard says that he thinks he can sweeten her up for the right price. We certainly hope so, because if he doesn’t, Elizabeth just might get fed up and marry this dreadful man named Henry who’s been after her hand. His mother (the Henry creature’s, that is) used to be positively underfoot here in London, trying to get her precious Henry a position, and to hear her talk her darling boy could do Richard’s job just as well as he could. The very nerve! We don’t envy her husband one bit—how many times can you say, “Yes, dear,” in an evening? But she’s back at home where she belongs now, and it doesn’t look as if we’ll be hearing anything from her and her precious son any time soon—which is just another Christmas blessing!

The best to you and yours this Christmastide.

Richard and Anne

 

paisley

 


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