Chapter samakh is the only passage in the novel where we hear a different voice; either it is Eddie choosing to speak in the third person, or a later interpolator adding in this particular chapter, set in, for my money, the most beautiful city in Europe. We meet again Rabbi Abraham di Mayorca, chatting amicably with another royal official, Father Pablo, in the splendid medieval cloisters of the Archives of the Crown of Aragon. The Rabbi, as a loyal servant of King Ferran is in a tricky position. Ferran is King of Aragon and Count of Barcelona; but he is married to Isabella, Queen of the more powerful kingdom of Castille; and while Ferran is subtle, flexible and tolerant of the Jews, his wife is an altogether different proposition: Catholic to the bone and determined, in time, to rid the whole Spanish state of both Moors and Jews. So, while Abraham is eager to serve his King, he is also aware that the time may be coming when he will need to gird his loins and move on, like his ancestors so many times before, to other less hostile lands. And so the diplomatic mission entrusted to him by his King, behind the back of the Queen, to negotiate a marriage between the Infanta and the Prince of Wales (whom Anthony is now mentoring at Ludlow Castle) offers an opportunity to leave the Catalan lands honourably.... and, over in the Kingdom of England, to seek a new patron.
Strangely enough, this little scene is my favourite in the novel, or more precisely, the one I am most proud of. I think that, for once, this passage says a lot in a short space; thus achieving brevity and, so they say, brevity is the soul of wit. I love seeing birds of prey at medieval fairs and the like, though the only examples of falconry I have had the pleasure of seeing have been on t.v. But I did some fascinating research for this scene, as falconry was a very important sport for the nobility - men and women - in he Middle Ages, with strict rules and its own linguistic code. It also made it possible to show the 2 young men having an intimate - and for Eddie deeply wounding - conversation without looking directly at each other, while they concentrated on their falcons. The split between the men, which is engineered by Anthony's sister Queen Elizabeth Wydville is key to the crux of the plot which occurs not more than a year or so later. I hope it works for you.
On 5th January 1477 occurred the Battle of Nancy, one of the most momentous battles in European history.For the previous century Burgundy - embracing the whole of the Netherlands (the wealthiest lands in Europe) plus the French Duchy of Burgundy and Franche Comte - had been one of the leading states in Europe. You may remember that Charles of Burgundy was feverishly attempting to persuade either the Holy Roman Emperor or the Pope to recognize him as a King - and in fact, Burgundy had, in the early Middle Ages, been a kingdom. Having no luck with this, Duke Charles turned on his neighbours the Swiss, in hopes of carving a kingdom out of their cantons. This was a fatal mistake as they had other plans and were well prepared to defend their lands. Charles proved how apt was his soubriquet 'the Rash' by attacking them at precisely the wrong moment. His army was destroyed and he himself slain. This left the rich Netherlands under the control of Charles' wife, the Duchess Margaret, a formidable Lady, who was of course King Edward's sister (and the only woman our Eddie ever wanted to marry.) Charles' heir was Margaret's step-daughter, Mary, the greatest heiress in Europe. Margaret wisely and swiftly concluded marriage negotiations with the Holy Roman Emperor's heir, Maximilian von Habsburg. And thus that dynasty took another important step towards domination of Europe.
Our two heroes are on their grand tour and enjoying the glories of Renaissance Italy; their next stop is Rome, where Anthony is planning to have discussions with Sixtus IV. And then he drops his bombshell. Anthony Wydville was a real historic character, brother of the beautiful and powerful Queen Elizabeth, and known as a paragon of chivalry and a fine writer. But he now reveals to Eddie the King's stand-by plan to marry off his eldest daughter (another Elizabeth) to the dangerously loose cannon, Henry Tudor, who is living in exile in the Duchy of Brittany; then an independent state within the French kingdom. Through his mother, the very rich and influential Lady Margaret Beaufort, Henry T is generally regarded as the surviving heir of Lancaster, following the deaths of both Henry VI and his only son, Edward, Prince of Wales. He is, as Eddie points out, descended from 2 illegitimate lines, but nonetheless he is the last male Lancastrian standing. Eddie is disgusted because the Princess Elizabeth is already officially betrothed to the Dauphin, heir to the French throne. But of course royal daughters have always been regarded as marriage fodder; and Edward's actions are typical 'realpolitik'. It seems Eddie is disillusioned with both his hero, the King , and his beloved friend, Anthony. But hasn't it ever been thus? Does he - do you - believe that anyone becomes a King (or the CEO of a major company) by being nice?
In this extract ,the two blood-brothers - Eddie and Anthony - continue their grand tour by visiting Florence/Firenze, a city surely as beautiful as any in Europe. They visit one of the most famous characters in European history, a paladin of the Renaissance (which had been growing in Italy for a hundred years but, as yet, had hardly touched England) Lorenzo dei Medici, known ever since as 'il Magnifico.' They come under his, and his Mother's, spell and are introduced to that giant of world art 'Leonardo from Vinci.' He is a large, rather ungainly man, but is entranced by the beauty of Anthony (now Earl Rivers) whom he wishes to paint. The Florentine court, no strangers to homoeroticism, give our two bosom buddies adjacent rooms, but you may notice the text is ambiguous as to whether they sleep together. Chaqueun a son gout. (Did anybody recognize the earlier quotation used when they first stay together 'And that night they were not divided'? To put you out of your misery, it is a quotation from one of my favourite novels, the great lesbian classic from the 1920's: Radclyffe Hall's 'The Well of Loneliness', which I heartily recommend). Towards the end of this passage, Eddie first meets a man who is going to change his life: Rabbi Abraham. Having been brought up an instinctual antisemite, Eddie is both distrustful and unfriendly, repulsed by the Rabbi's powerful aura. As we shall see, his attitude will develop into something very different.
I am thrilled to announce that I have arranged for this novel to be reviewed in the prestigious US magazine 'Kirkus'.Due to irrational prejudices, a lot of newspapers/magazines refuse pointblank to review independently published books, without even deigning to open them. So a review from a prominent journal is most welcome. I am also hopeful of an exciting opinion from a very prominent historian; but that may yet be a few months away! My lips are sealed. Eddy and Anthony are sent on an important diplomatic mission to Duke Charles of Burgundy; a prince who, not for nothing, was renowned as 'Charles the Rash.' Just as, years before, King Edward had married his beloved Elizabeth Wydville without informing his cousin, Warwick the Kingmaker, so now Edward makes peace with Louis of France, without letting his principal ally, Duke Charles, in on the secret! Charles is utterly infuriated; and gives voice to the rumour whispered through the courts of Europe that Edward is not the son of Richard Plantagenet but of his mother's lover, one Blaybourne. (Echoes of a current Royal Family?) These rumours had been substantiated by none other than Duchess Cecily, Edward's mother, herself. Later, this may well have been the real motive behind Richard III's seizure of the Crown. One thing is clear: Edward IV is no longer the fit young warrior of Tewkesbury. In fact, from our vantage point, he is beginning to resemble his middle-aged and obese grandson, King Henry VIII.
We are now at the start of Book 3, and Eddie is feeling like Charles Kingsley (in the Victorian era): "When all the world is young lad, And all the trees are green, And every goose a swan lad, And every lass a queen." Human nature does not change from century to century, and Eddie and his beloved friend Anthony decide to exploit their youth by going on a grand tour ...to Italy, where the Renaissance is already raging. There they will meet the ruler of Florence, Lorenzo dei Medici. There is a small cloud, no bigger than a man's hand, on the horizon: the exiled existence of Henry Tudor, only son of Margaret Beaufort, and surviving heir of Lancaster. King Edward is wisely keen to re-patriate him, either as a prospective son-in-law or in a coffin. But his protector, Duke Francis of Brittany, is holding his cards close to his chest. Do you perhaps hear the echo of the style of one of my favourite writers in the sentences "This was typical of Anthony, ever the scholar. But I wanted the facts." That writer is the late Gore Vidal. He was once kind enough to send me a letter replying to my fan male. But it got lost in one of several house-moves, along with one from the wonderful historical novelist Mary Renault; and another from the great composer of musicals Stephen Sondheim. But as the Good Book says "All flesh is grass" - and letters even more so.
Here I give you chapter 'yod' or 'yud'; the tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It is now 1471, and we are about to witness arguably the turning-point of the Cousins' Wars: the Battle of Tewkesbury. Tewkesbury is still a pretty country town in the West of England, not far from Hereford and the Welsh border. There is an annual re-enactment there of the Battle every summer with knights and ladies attending from all over Europe. It is incredibly exciting; a cross between grand opera and an international rugby match. However, the real Battle was very bloody; and decisive. Not only was the Lancastrian Prince of Wales killed in the Battle - or possibly just afterwards by King Edward and his brothers, as Shakespeare has it - but after the Battle, the Duke of Somerset who had turned his coat several times, with other Lancastrian nobles fled to sanctuary in the magnificent, still-standing Tewkesbury Abbey. Edward IV broke the laws of sanctuary by giving them free passage out, then slaughtering them. All's fair in love and war. When i was a small child I watched on tv the brilliant Shakespearian cycle called The Hollow Crown, with the wonderful Dame Peggy Ashcroft giving a heart-rending performance as Queen Margaret of Anjou. I've tried to re-capture some of that pathos in the portrayal here of the defeated and bereft Margaret in her captivity. You will have to judge if I have achieved it, just a little.
It is 1470 and the world has indeed turned upside down. The over-powerful Earl of Warwick - known as "the kingmaker" - has astounded everyone by going over from the his close kinsmen the Yorkists to his sworn enemies the Lancastrians. Their true leader is not the weak and sickly Henry VI but his consort Queen Margaret of Anjou, a woman to be reckoned with, who hates Warwick with a vengeance. Not surprisingly, when he kneels before her at the cathedral door, she keeps him on this knees for an uncomfortably long time. And though she agrees to betroth her sixteen year-old son Edward, prince of Wales - who by all accounts had more in common with her than with his monkish papa - to Warwick's daughter Anne, she confidentially instructs him not to consummate the match so as to keep open the possibility of an annulment later. Meanwhile Eddie and Anthony accompany their King into exile in Burgundy. I love Brussels, which is greatly underrated by the British, and the beautiful historic city of Bruges and have visited the handsome mansion of Louis de Gruuthuse, who was the Yorkists' host in exile. As we shall see, when the wheel of fortune - much talked of in the Middle Ages - turned again, and King Edward was restored to his throne, Gruuthuse was rewarded with an English earldom.
We are now at the beginning of book 2 of my novel, Spring. Eddie, our narrator, is in the prime of life and is growing ever closer to the paladin of chivalry, Anthony Wydville, brother of Edward IV's Queen Elizabeth. They have been sent on an important mission: to deliver the Lady Margaret, the King's beauteous sister to her betrothed, Duke Charles of Burgundy. Margaret is the only woman Eddie ever wanted to marry but he must put aside his personal feelings to do his duty. Burgundy is of course a province of France and was bestowed by Philip VI on his younger son, Jean le Bon. But Jean's descendants added the whole of the Netherlands to their 'appanage' by marriage or conquest, and the Low Countries were the richest states in Europe. So an alliance with Burgundy was vital for the House of York, as a counter-balance to the French who were hosting the exiled Lancastrian Henry VI and his powerful wife, Margaret of Anjou. And if you would like to learn more about the history of Burgundy - whose Duke, Charles the Bold, longed to be a King - you couldn't do better than to read "The Burgundians; a vanished empire" by Bart Van Loo, which I am currently devouring.
Surprisingly, in the fifteenth century, sodomy (between man and man or man and beast) was not an offence in the Royal courts. It was however a mortal sin, punished by the Ecclesiastical Courts. And, you may remember, the powerful Knights Templar had been destroyed around 1312 at the wish of King Philip IV of France, who accused them of idolatry and sodomy...There was no concept in the Middle Ages of a 'gay' identity; rather, sodomy was a sin that could be committed by anyone. The statutory gap was in fact filled in 1533 by the charmingly named Buggery Act, introduced by that doyen of sexual morality, King Henry VIII. We know that Eddie and his beloved Anthony undergo ceremony of 'blood-brotherhood' which has been shown to have existed in Western Europe. If you're a history buff, take a look at 'Ritual Brotherhood in Western Medieval Europe' by Elizabeth A.R Brown (Cambridge University Press) though Dame Alice gives short shrift to the concept. But in this extract we find Eddie becoming enamoured of the glamorous Lady Margaret, younger sister of his adored King . Courtly love, of a knight towards an unobtainable lady, is of course a medieval trope. Whether Eddie's passion is full-blooded and physical or akin to the fandom of a modern gay man towards a Madonna or a Lady Gaga - that I leave you to decide.
There are some writers of historical fiction - the much-praised Hilary Mantel for instance - who would never contradict the historical record. While I largely go along with this, I feel a greater kinship with those fabulists who allow their imagination to fly a little; my beloved Mary Renault, for example, who was our greatest story-teller of ancient Greece and Persia. A little bit of magic realism is not out of place in a historical novel; and you may recognize it here. The 'Ring' is a very numinous symbol in many mythologies and, hence, works of art. Think of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings - 'one ring to rule them all'; the rather ominous Ring of the Nibelungen in Wagner; and - always my favourite - W.M.Thackeray's wonderful 'children's book' 'The Rose and the Ring', which delighted my youth. A ring symbolizes power, inheritance and...magic Hence the King's ring which Eddie, with rather mixed feelings, inherits from his - reputedly - Jewish grandmother. He's not the only English aristocrat to have had that shock...(Think of the Saxe-Coburg/Windsor family....my lips are sealed.)
"Unique and fresh, packed full of De-la-Pole's passion-filled words and his character blazes to life...The narrative is rich, full of historical research..Truly brilliant. 5 stars and Highly Recommended." These comments come from my book's first professional review, by the US-based Historical Fiction Company. This excerpt is from the fourth chapter, daled; daled being the fourth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. More accurately fourth consonant, as the vowels are represented by dots and dashes, around the consonants. There are 22 chapters, corresponding to the 22 Hebrew consonants. We are in the 1450s, the decade before the outbreak of the Cousins' Wars, the life and death struggle between the 2 branches of the Plantagenet dynasty: the Houses of York and Lancaster. My own loyalties are divided. I am (like Richard III) a 'son of York', having been born in the East Riding of that huge county. But I am an alumnus of King's College, Cambridge. This was founded in 1441 by the Lancastrian King Henry VI as a finishing school for Eton, and it's foundation was probably his only achievement. At King's we drink a toast to the Founder in piam memoriam (in pious memory) in silence, as he came to a bloody end, as you will discover.
A very brilliant lady, Jane Spiro, Professor of Education at Oxford Brookes University has been kind enough to write that this book "inhabits the past as convincingly as Hilary Mantel", who won Britain's most prestigious literary prize (the Booker) twice. We find Eddie, our narrator, participating in his first battle; the Battle of Towton. Although 16 seems very young to don armour, you will see that young Eddie is ably guided by an old retainer of his formidable Mama, the dowager Duchess of Suffolk, Dame Alice Chaucer. Now, you may be surprized to know this, but I have never actually been in battle. However I feel as if I have, and a Wars of the Roses battle at that, as I have twice attended and thrilled at the annual re-enactment of the Battle of Tewkesbury, 1471. Tewkesbury is a beautiful, very historic country town near Hereford (which I often used to visit) with its medieval Abbey still intact. The re-enactment - preceded by a fabulous medieval fair with fire-eaters and Renaissance musicians - is incredibly exciting, a cross between grand opera and an international rugby match; and as far as I'm concerned you can't find anything more exciting than that. Meanwhile, we in the crowd are whipped up to support our chosen side by shouting 'a York' or 'a Lancaster'. I yelled for both as I was born in Yorkshire; but am an alumnus of King's College, Cambridge, whose foundation in 1441 was the Lancastrian King Henry VI's only achievement.
It's the beginning and the end of any story that matter most. I wrote and re-wrote this opening several times. When I read it to a crowd for the first time, at our book launch, well, it seemed to work. You could hear a pin drop, as they say, reminding me of when, as a small town prodigy, I played the piano (usually Chopin ) to an audience as a twelve-year-old. It was vital also to catch the narrator's tone of voice - and late medieval English - from the start. One literary agent, who called me the day after receiving the first 40 pages of the novel - kept saying, in her own plummy tones, "I LOVE the voice!". However, within a week, she had decided she didn't love it enough. Her loss. Eddy is mordant, vain, well-educated, ambitious - and, in modern terms bisexual - but I'm fond of him; and I hope you will be too.
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