Richard and Anne: Painting and Passion by Karen King

Rather by accident the work of California artist Karen King came to my attention via her magnificent painting, Richard and Anne. Inspired by a passage from The Sunne in Splendour, Sharon Kay Penman’s epic novel of Richard III, it depicts the then Duke of Gloucester and his future queen, Anne, in a private moment as they attempt to forge their future. This is complicated by Anne’s previous tortured relationship with Edouard, her late husband and son of Richard’s enemy, Margaret of Anjou. They make their way outside, where Richard had

found for them a secluded retreat within a wall of willow and whitethorn; the sky was darkening into a delicately tinted violet and a crescent moon silvered the circling clouds over their heads. It was very quiet. She heard only the soft trilling of the night birds, was becoming aware of the heavy honeysuckle scents of spring. She should have been able to draw comfort from such surroundings; somehow, it didn’t help at all.

Anne begins to speak of Eduoard and just as quickly attempts to banish him and any reminders from their lives. “[S]he felt [Richard’s] fingers on her throat, caressing, tilting her face up to his. She let him kiss her, and rather timidly, put her arms around him as he drew her into a closer embrace.” It is this moment King captures on canvas, interpreting through her imagination the image she sees and all its vibrancy, including that felt by all the senses. Her Richard and Anne stand on a precipice, between the thick tension and surging relief of the moments that follow; not only can this be seen in the figures’ postures, but also felt. The lock of Anne’s hair falling over her cheek mirrors the ease and cascading looseness of her gown, yet the viewer can sense her stiffness and anguish as she leans into Richard. He, only somewhat relaxed, holds her in a comforting embrace, yet his eyes above her head, viewers can imagine, roam their surroundings, as if seeking elusive relief for the suffering she has endured.

Richard and Anne

I had the opportunity to chat with Karen, who so graciously shared with us some of her techniques, inspirations, personal favorites and passages as an artist.

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I would like to thank Lisl for giving me the opportunity to have a chat about the painting of Richard and Anne. While I was preparing for this interview I found just by chance a notebook where I had jotted down some notes regarding research for the painting. Chance? I think not. The first page was titled: “Understanding Richard III for a Portrait/Painting.” I had just finished reading Sharon Kay Penman’s The Sunne in Splendour and was so heartsick at the travesty that Shakespeare foisted upon the world regarding Richard Plantagenet that I wanted to read more. The first book referenced under the heading was Paul Murray Kendall’s Richard III. I wrote down one of his quotes, in which Kendall references Shakespeare’s play The Tragedy of Richard III:

What a tribute this is to art; what a misfortune it is to history.

I’d hope that my painting would be seen not so much as a tribute to art, but surely a tribute to the true Richard III.

Could you give us the basic technical information of the painting and tell us how you chose the materials for this particular piece?

The painting is done in acrylics. My pallet colors are Ultramarine Blue, Cadmium Yellow Medium, Cadmium Red, Raw Sienna and White. I don’t use pre-mixed colors such as green, orange, purple etc. because I like to create my own. I also never use black. If you’re wondering about Richard’s hair, well I made my own black. I prefer acrylics to oil because I’m not fond of using toxic products such as turpentine, which is needed to thin down the oils. The only down side to using acrylics is that they dry quickly. I keep a spray bottle of water handy to keep my pallet from drying out. I have a mixture of nice brushes (red sable) and cheap ones, which tend to lose bristles. I use the good ones for detail work and the cheap ones when I need to cover a lot of the canvas. When you have a 48 x 35 canvas, as is the case with Richard and Anne, there’s a lot of canvas to cover! I use masking tape to help me keep a straight edge. Really don’t know what I would have done without it on this painting.

I had wondered about the edges and other difficult parts away from them. I’d just assumed it was a dilemma only a non-artist such as myself would think to have.

I’m being constantly challenged by difficulties presented when painting something new. There are instructors that teach technique, but my main teacher thought it best to learn by trial and error. That way I’d know what to do the next time I was presented with the same problem. She also encouraged me to develop my own style rather than create paintings that are carbon copies of the instructor’s style, e.g. Bob Ross. I understand the principal of that philosophy but sometimes I think that I would have benefited by being an apprentice to a master painter and learned to paint the way one was taught during the Renaissance. I really don’t even know if they teach that way any longer. I probably would have been very impatient though. I remember when I first started painting I was given the assignment to pick a very simple object, divide the canvas into six equal parts, then paint the object in different ways in the six “panes.” Well I picked a light bulb. It was very challenging to make a cohesive painting using a light bulb for inspiration. Well after I completed that painting, the next assignment was to paint three more paintings using the six-paneled grid painting as their theme. So I had to paint three more light bulb paintings before I could paint something that I actually wanted to paint! Let me tell you I have not painted anything resembling a light bulb since!

This painting is inspired by a scene from Sharon Kay Penman’s The Sunne in Splendour in which Richard and Anne find a private space, away from the pressures bearing down on both of them, and work through some troubling history. What were some of the thoughts or feelings you had when reading the passage that eventually led to the painting?

What could be more peaceful and private than a priory garden for two soul mates to comfort one another? I was anticipating beautiful moments of shared love and intimacy, but it soon became apparent that as much as Anne wanted to give herself to Richard, she was incapable of doing so because of her horrific relationship with Edouard. My heart bled for Richard as he came to the realization that he and Anne had a long road ahead them. Unable to vent his anger against Anne’s tormenter, all he could do was be patient, and hope that his steadfast love would eventually heal her emotional wounds. Anne felt awful as well because although she loved Richard with all her heart she felt emotionally handicapped. The bittersweet scene touched me deeply. I truly felt their frustration and anguish.

How long did it take to complete?

To tell you the truth I don’t remember. At the time I was taking a painting class once a week for three hours. At that rate I believe it probably took me at least three months.

Is this the first scene to have moved you in such a way? Were there any others (in Sunne or elsewhere) you have brought or would like to bring to canvas?

That is an excellent question! There are quite a few scenes from other books that I wanted to paint, however whenever I really thought about actually doing them, I’d get overwhelmed by the magnitude of the endeavor. I really wanted to paint Ranulf’s marriage proposal scene from Sharon’s When Christ and His Saints Slept. It takes place in a lantern lit barn. Ranulf and Rhiannan are sitting on a bale of hay. She with a kitten curled up in her lap and he with his hand gently tilting up her chin to kiss her. It was such a moving scene but there was no way I could pull it off. Where would I find anything remotely resembling a medieval barn, and even if I could there’s no way that I’d be able to find two willing subjects to pose for me! I thought about finding pictures to use as references, but with such specific requirements they’re very difficult to find even with the Internet at your fingertips.

All that being said, I did paint a scene from an Edith Pargeter novel, Afterglow and Nightfall. Here’s the scene (I apologize for its length, but it’s one of the most moving passages that I’ve ever read. Just retyping it almost made me cry):

Lying as it does in a cleft of the northern hills, with the great mountain mass of Penmaenmawr to the east, Moel Wninon to the west and Foel-Fras to the south, the morning sun never enters Aber. But to look out at dawn to the north over the narrow salt marshes to Lavan sands and the sea, that is wonderful. The deepening light first tinted like feathers of doves, then flushing into rose, then glowing like amber, comes sweeping westward from Conway over the sea, to strike in a glitter of foam and sand on the distant coast of Anglesey across the strait from us, as if a golden tide had surged across the sea green tide, and flooded the visible world with light. That was such a morning. The only time that Eleanor’s eyes left Llwelyn’s face was to gaze at the morsel of sky seen through the open doorway, and he divined the last thirst that troubled her, she who loved the sun. If he could not take her where it would shine upon her, at least she might still look upon its beauty from the shadows.

He sat down beside her on the edge of the brychan, and lifted her against his shoulder, and carefully gathering the blankets of the bed about her, took her up in his arms. She made no sign of pain, but only a soft sigh and with his cheek pressed steadyingly against her hair he carried her out on to the guard-walk, and the few yards round the stony bulk of the tower to the northern parapet, and stood cradling her as the sun rose, their faces turned towards the sea.

There in the open the air was sweet and cool, and below us, beyond the shore road, the reeds and grasses of the marsh stood erect like small, bright lances, every one separate, going down in lush, tufted waves to where the sands began, with a great exultation of sea birds filling the air above. The level sunrays made all the surface of the strait a dance of darker blue in the centre, and the shallows where the sand showed through were the colour of ripening wheat. Along the horizon ran the purple line of the coast of Anglesey, and in the centre of that distant shore was the Franciscan friary of Llanfaes, the burying place of the princesses of Gwynedd. In the morning light it appeared as the distant harbour of desire, absolute in beauty and peace.

She lay content in his arms and on his heart, her cheek against his cheek, and her eyes drew light from the picture on which she gazed, and grew so wide and wise in their hazel gold that there was a moment when I believed he had won the battle. He knew better. Very still he stood, not to jar or hurt her and softly still he spoke, of Wales, that she had taken to her heart and that loved her in return and of a future when there would be no need of war, when this land would be free and united and honourable among the countries of Christendom, and kings and princes would pledge peace and keep it, and her child’s children, the descendants of Earl Simon, would walk at large as heroes among their own people, and equals among the monarchs of the world.

Her lips moved, soundlessly, saying: “Yes!” It was right that she should take her leave of the world, as she had greeted it in passing, with a cry of affirmation. The sun was just clear of the horizon, and the sky to eastward the colour of primroses, and to westward of cornflowers, when the faintest of tremors passed through her body, and her head turned slightly upon his shoulder, her lips straining to his cheek. One word she said, and this time not silently shaping it, yet on so feeble a breath that neither he nor I could have caught it but for the great silence in which we stood. But hear it I did, and so did he. We never spoke of it but I know.

“Cariad!” she said, and her breath caught and halted long gently began again, and again sank into stillness. He held her for a great while after that, but there was no more sound, and no more movement, and that was all her message to him. She did not leave him without saying farewell. Yes! Cariad!

This passage moved me deeply and I really wanted to capture the sense of tragedy. What I couldn’t capture was the beauty of the sunrise depicted by Mrs. Pargeter, for I’ve never been to that part of Wales to see it for myself. But I did try to get a feel as to what the area looked like by using Google maps. I also found pictures of the area on the Internet, but I could never get a true picture in my head. It also occurred to me as I was trying to compose the picture that Mrs. Pargeter was describing what they were seeing and so doing, does not involve the figures at all! So I had to combine the two; the figures and what they were seeing. In the end I think the figures are the true focal point of the painting and the sunrise had to suffer for it, All in all I’m pleased with the colors I used and never tire of looking at it. A magical thing happened though after I hung the painting up in my living room. One afternoon I was sitting across the room from the painting and happened to glance up at it and caught my breath. A beam of light from the setting sun was shining on the figures and it seemed as if they were lit from within. Yes! Cariad! So, Lisl, is there a favorite passage from a book that you’d like to see painted?

Well, with some exceptions I generally tend to see moving pictures in my mind when passages evoke images. For example in Sunne the night before Richard’s first battle, Sharon describes his facial movements in one particular instance, and I remember being struck by how easily I could see the exact movement of expression in his eyes and face based on her words. It’s an expression I’ve seen many times before in real life, but it’s the sort you never really stop to comment about. I was amazed at how such a small moment, an “insignificant” movement could leap out at me. I think it was made significant because, strange as this may sound, helped me to see more into this Richard.

I find it interesting that when you read you see moving pictures in your head. Don’t you love the way Sharon can describe facial expressions? There is so much subtlety in describing human emotions that it takes a very special author to bring the character to life; make them so real that as you said, “helped me see more into this Richard.” Writing, painting and music are very similar, in that when done well, evoke emotions that touch the heart.

Oh, I totally agree. Even small details can move hearts. Tell us about your Anne’s hair. If I recall correctly, it was described in the book as chestnut, yet you painted a rich red. How did you come to envision Anne in this way?

As a writer, have you ever had a chapter you were writing take on a life of its own? Your careful outline, suddenly gone astray? Well that happens with painting as well. I believe that I began to paint Anne’s hair a rich chestnut, but when painting the highlights I got carried away turning it red. I let it be because I liked the way it looked, knowing that I could easily change it later, but as the painting progressed I found that the color worked with the painting as a whole.

Close Up Richard and Anne

Also, I’m very aware that Anne should have been wearing a headdress. In fact I wanted to paint a headdress lying on the cloister wall, seemingly carelessly cast aside in the heat of the moment, but my art instructor at the time advised against it for she felt that it fought with the overall composition, so I left it out.

The painting and the way it came to be is a bit reminiscent of the Pre-Raphaelites, whose work was influenced in part by Romantic poetry. There is a great deal of detail in your painting, yet it is much more subtle than in most of the PRB’s works. Is there any particular influence in your artistic background that informs this piece?

As a teen I discovered Botticelli. I loved his linear style of painting. Fell in love with his portraits of young men. If you look at Botticelli’s Madonna and Angels, they are just exquisite, very ethereal and captivating. Later on I discovered the Pre-Raphaelite movement and became a fan of Sir Edward Burne-Jones. I wasn’t surprised to find out that he was influenced by Botticelli! If you are familiar with Burne-Jones’ work, it’s very linear as well. Lately though I’ve been drawn to the Pre-Raphaelite artist J. W. Waterhouse.

I have this fantasy of someday having the means to buy an old Tudor Style home in the English countryside where each room’s focal point and inspiration is a Waterhouse painting. We can dream can’t we? I believe that my style is a combination of Burne-Jones and Waterhouse. On a side note, the only painting that I’ve ever sold was a study I painted of the head of Venus in Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. I always found that pretty ironic. Lisl, do you have a favorite artists, or movement?

Well, I must confess I am not very artistic, and growing up tended to run into information on movements that really did very little to inspire me. (Sounds terrible, I know.) However, in high school I read a lot of Arthurian literature and simultaneously discovered the greeting card companies’ attraction to paintings by Burne-Jones and others. They were simply magnificent and the styles completely captured me. I loved Keats and tried to imagine “La Belle Dame sans Merci” brought to canvas in a similar fashion—which was a departure for me because my entire life until then had been spent focused on words. I happened to mention this to my English teacher, who possessed a treasure trove of books, and she showed the Waterhouse to me, which delighted me to no end.

I love the Arthurian Legend myself and I never cease to marvel over the magnificent art and superb literature that it has inspired. When I was in high school I read the book The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart and just fell in love with her version of Merlin.

I am still in love with those books.

Of course I read the next two books that followed and found myself smitten with one of the minor characters she developed for the series. I would literally daydream about going back in time and meeting this character. Well eventually I put my daydream into words and wrote a complete story about me and this character. One day in my art class I mentioned my story and one of the students suggested that I try to get it published. I told her that it wasn’t possible because I used Mary Stewart’s story as a base for my story. Her character was one of my main characters. She then suggested that I write to Mary Stewart to see if she could give me permission to use her character. Well I did just that, not expecting to her hear from her. About two months later I get an “air mail” letter from Scotland in the post and could not believe that Mary Stewart sent me a hand written reply! She was extremely nice about it but, unfortunately her publisher advised her against my request. I wasn’t too disappointed because I really don’t think that I’m that great of a writer and even if she had given her permission, I doubt that it could have been of interest to any publishing house.

I have a small story somewhat related you may find amusing. The Crystal Cave was actually on a list of books we were required to read the summer before school started. I was in my “don’t-tell-me-what-to-read” phase and resisted. I thought I knew all I wanted to know about Arthur, and my mother despaired, but she bought the books anyway. One day when cleaning my room I picked one up and gazed at the cover illustration of a strapping and rosy-cheeked Merlin—he even had reddish hair. Or it may have been a teenaged Arthur. In any case the image intrigued me so much I began to skim through the book. I remember placing the cloth on the floor and sitting there as I actually began reading. That moment re-directed my life.

Speaking of direction, Richard and Anne are located away from the central spot in the painting, and there is not much view to the sky, which is described magnificently in the passage it depicts – is there a statement within that choice, or intent to use these visual cues to signify mood or other energies within the scene?

Regarding the composition, I’m very fortunate to have had some very good art instructors who’ve taught me a lot about composition. There’s a mathematical formula called “The Golden Mean” which will tell you precisely where to place the focal point of your composition. Strangely enough, it’s not the center of the painting. There are also ways you can move the eye around the painting in a way that leads the viewer to the focal point. If you look at the cloister wall at the right hand side of the painting, it leads the eye to the figures. Also notice how the arch above the figures leads the eye to them. Remember earlier when I talked about the difficulties involved in painting a scene from a book? Well, this scene is not an exact replication of the scene from the book. The scene takes place in a priory garden with an arbor. When I sketched out the figures in an arbor, I just couldn’t get the feeling I wanted. But I knew that priories had cloisters so I used my artistic license and went the with cloister setting. Perhaps this scene is a last embrace, their last moment alone before they have to return to the hall after they left the garden and walked through the cloisters? When I made the choice of the cloisters, I chose a setting that gave me very little opportunity to paint a beautiful sunset. Perhaps I’m not meant to paint sunsets or sunrises for that matter. I was hoping to get the feel of the beautiful sky in that little bit you get to see through the arch. I remember that there was mention of a sliver of a moon, so I enjoyed putting that in there along with the pink tinged clouds. I also liked the way the dark cloister roof and walls contrasted with the brilliant blue sky and clouds and the subdued colors of the cloister garden, giving the viewer a feeling of dusk. Do you find it easy for your eye to move around the painting?

I do, and your reference to “The Golden Mean” brings back some memories of art history class. I recall being astounded at these techniques, because I thought artists were these talented people who simply painted something and there it was. Beautiful at the first. Looking at the painting again, it is as if the arches not only lead the eye, but perform a double duty in actually framing the top of the painting. There also seems to be what I might call a “balance” to it. A framing seems to work at the bottom as well, but without a lot of detail to distract from the figures of Richard and Anne. Emotionally there seems to be much around them not necessarily seen by the eye.

It is very gratifying to hear your comments, Lisl. Such a lot of love and hard work went into this painting that it’s very satisfying to know that someone else can see and feel its meaning. Being an amateur, I always fear that my efforts will be seen as corny and simplistic. Your appreciation of this painting inspires me to keep painting.

How would you describe this painting to someone unfamiliar with Sunne in Splendour or Richard III?

Oh my. This is the best question of all for this would give me the opportunity to enlighten the viewer whose only exposure to Richard III has been from Shakespeare. First of all I would highly recommend that they read The Sunne in Splendour. But if they balked at reading the book, I would tell them of the real Richard, his unfailing loyalty to his brother Edward, his courage and valor in the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury, and his brilliant administration of his duties as Lord of the North. His motto says it all “Loyaulte Me Lie,” Loyalty Binds Me.

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Images courtesy Karen King.

I, Richard: Seeking the Haunts of the Living

This is a short story I wrote for the first booksigning of my debut novel, The Rose of York: Love & War, born of my belief at the time that Richard’s bones had been thrown into the River Soar and also my deep sense that Richard III cared what we here on earth thought of him. I’ve kept it close to me for many years, but perhaps the time has come to let it go. Thanks to Philippa Langley and the successful archeological team that unearthed King Richard’s body, he will soon have a proper resting place and lay his head on silk.

Requiescat in Pace, Richard III.

So reads novelist Sandra Worth’s introduction to her wonderfully expressive and heart-rending short story, “I, Richard.” Told from the perspective of King Richard III, brutally slain in battle on August 22, 1485, it conveys the deep wounds suffered not only in life, but also those Richard carries after his death. He seeks truth where there seems to be none, and contemplates what a finality may bring.

My examination of the story’s deeper layers began as a review, and slowly united with exploration of its reflection of events and their implications in the lives of the countless people Richard has touched, before and after his death. Many know of his alleged misdeeds; what seems lacking is awareness of how his reign influenced the freedoms we know today.

Recent events have unearthed a new beginning for Richard Plantagenet, known to some only as Richard III, the king who for 500 years has been accused, amongst other crimes, of murdering his two nephews in order to claim the throne of England. His case has been most actively and openly researched since the end of the Tudor dynasty, when it was once more safe to speak other than ill of this dreadfully maligned monarch.

His detractors have upheld the charges against him, many determined also to maintain for him a grotesqueness equal, as the medieval mind would perceive, to the monstrous blackness of his inner being. While these modern-day accusers stand before us claiming to discount this antiquated notion of the physical body as reflection of the soul inside, they have yet to throw off the shackles of this belief themselves. For they repeat the hunchback and other memes as if they were important elements of the indictment to murder.

But what of Richard himself? What would he make of these and the numerous other charges against him that today remain the subject of heated debate not only between scientists and scholars but also writers, professors, students, readers, even bloggers and those participating in social media? Being late, does he simply not care any more? Or does he somehow maintain a presence here amongst the living? And does he simply observe, unable or unwilling to interact? What if he did care?

Sandra Worth, award-winning author of six novels of the Wars of the Roses, explores this territory in “I, Richard.” Opening with a nod toward the inevitable, the hour of death, Richard’s voice speaks of the crumbling of worlds with the passage of time, and disintegration of beings, both the self and those others who might remember him. Devoid of kindred comfort, why, then, is he here?

It is said, of course, that spirits who roam the realm of the living do because they are bound to something in their previous lives that keeps them from advancing to the next. Well known are Richard’s reasons for his unsettlement; perhaps the surprise is he has been at it this long. When one seeks release, however, from an unspeakable mystery and “from which I will not be free until it is revealed[,]” 500 years is a grim reminder that what comes after the end may be much worse than anything one might experience here on earth.

Richard’s end was indeed horrific; following it he must have been shattered to see his body—never mind that of an anointed king, but even simply as a human being—handled in so degrading a manner. We knew already of the awful head trauma and unseemly transport, then lately of the humiliation injuries, perhaps being bound at the wrists and no evidence of a coffin to at least have a last rest in. In our pain and grief over this new and terrible information, we must remind ourselves that Richard knew and had to endure this sight of himself since the day it happened, so achingly long ago.

Who wouldn’t go in search of something different?

And so

[s]ince my death I have traveled many haunts of the living in search of those who sense my grief, and have been heartened not to find myself friendless. When night deepens, I sometimes see a face that regards me with kindness. Hope is born in my breast. I follow them into their dreams. . . .

Richard has not been friendless indeed, and the accounts for how many came to advocate for him might be fascinating reading, not least because some, this writer included, fell into the Ricardian camp somewhat accidentally—that is to say they weren’t looking to take sides, but the sheer injustice, or simply the weight of the absurd made them sit up straight and take greater notice. Truth has a way of alerting people in this manner, and finding those who regard him other than how he last saw people treating him when on earth, must be encouraging, to say the least.

The king is portrayed in a number of studies as having been a kind and considerate individual. This is not to say he was not a product of his time, rather that kindness as we define it in our own era is quite different from what it was acknowledged to be in his. Now we take it for granted that someone accused of a crime, for example, maintains the right to make his defense and ought not to rot inside or have his worldly goods seized without a conviction in place. Surely some citizens of 15th century England approved of this consideration; largely, however, it was a foreign ideal.

This regal man having in life been so concerned with the lot of others, including those far beneath his own station, it then comes as little surprise that he may choose to follow some into their dreams, being aware of the myriad perspectives and limitations of others. Not all respond well to outright apparition. Perhaps still others could withstand watching Richard’s memories because he takes them through the experience, riding whispers on the wind.

Richard tells us, though, of two he has followed that few in his or our own era would find so savory. Remarkably this passage, given its fright factor, seems almost more poetic than any other in the story. Worth brings us to it succinctly utilizing a method that mirrors the deception of fiends, what with her elegant language depicting a revolting seizure, and we leap straight away into a pair of Richard’s after-life memories. We learn of two people who know the answers the king seeks, but their refusal to divulge what they know, even upon seeing him at their bedsides as death waits to escort them home, contributes to the hideousness of their respective ends. As the woman breathes her last, Richard sees the physical manifestation of power that had overtaken her, something that

resembled the incantation of a fiend. An eddy of darkness swirled from her, and in my mind arose the confusing impressions of a vast mental power, of avarice, coldness and malice, and of joy, of triumphant moments—and supreme despair.

A power so terrifyingly vast that it persuades the woman to believe its evil is her joy, and though she is penitent at her end, she steadfastly seals her heart from the truth that would free her from the grips of this darkness. She knows this, makes her choice, and despairs.

Heartbroken, Richard finds this reality discouraging and wonders at the apparent fruitlessness of his sojourns amongst the living. If a woman faced with the blackest of afterlife terrors chooses them rather than confess her knowledge, what hope is there? Some things are best left unsaid, and our king contemplates the imprisonment of eternal wandering, to forcibly witness the ongoing disparagement of his unsettled soul.

It has been aptly noted, however, that there are two sides to every coin, and recent events bring this notion into the fore. We tend to think of spirits as those who do the haunting, yet Richard speaks of “the haunts of the living.” Potentially embracing a number of connotations, the phrase seems to bring special significance to bear also on the results of our own contemplations. This explains the perceived wisdom of letting some issues lie, while they never truly do.

Rescuing Richard’s reputation is not a post-modern invention; people have been questioning the party line—even if in extreme secrecy—since his battered body first fell. These persons, our ancestors, had to endure life with knowledge passed to us that remains in shadows, frightening us with its power and secrecy, much of our fear residing in the realm of the unknown. At least in part it has been a willful haunting, because even after it became safe to speak of the dead king favorably, information is still withheld, defamation continually spread, academics infected with the partisan teaching of successive generations instructed to repeat rather than question.

In the end it may be King Richard himself who restores his own reputation, or at least becomes the significant stimulus that shifts enormous barriers. It was, after all, his own remains that yielded substantial clues, not least the absence of any withered arm. Other indications, noted above, also speak to the self-haunting of Henry Tudor, who required a degradation so extreme it had to commence with a bound corpse tossed into an unremarkable grave. We may never know all the answers, but there seems great hope that Richard’s truth shall set him free.

Update: The author has since removed the short story from her website and until further notice it is no longer available.

Photos of Bosworth Field plaque and Richard III to be replaced.

 

Book Review: We Speak No Treason

Because I sometimes have a tendency to borrow too many books from the library, it happens on occasion that I tire of keeping up with conflicting due dates and end up tossing the lot into a bag to haul them back, unread. Such was nearly the case with an older, non-slipcovered edition of Rosemary Hawley Jarman’s We Speak No Treason, a novel I’d ordered on recommendation, but didn’t remember as I was deciding my returns. I made to rid myself of this unknown book, thinking it a pity I was unaware of its content; it could be a rewarding read. Alas, could all the rest be, and so I sighed and continued with my task.

Something stayed my hand, however, and it actually hovered over the return pile as I hesitated and then finally withdrew, my curiosity unwilling to let go of what I might find between these covers.

We Speak no Treason-1

We Speak No Treason

by Rosemary Hawley Jarman

Curiosity in the Middle Ages could be a dangerous trait, as we see the characters here hover before even simple scenarios they know about or wish to know more of, perform secret observations, listen in on others’ conversations, purposefully or perchance. They, too, draw back, aware that even small choices could change the course of their lives while circumstances around them scheme to propel their destinies in other unknown manner.

The language of the tale is indeed magical yet ordinary. Many of the words we associate with medieval speech appear, and at first, perhaps, readers may perceive them as curious, though the mournful aura of the tale hangs heavier than unknown lexicon. This is perhaps especially as the deeper readers make their way into the telling, the lexicon begins to take on a more ordinary aspect. Words begin to be recognized as cousins to those we use today, their associations and nuances easily understood in the passages they inhabit. Jarman repeats them enough—in the manner people would in ordinary parlance—for us to become accustomed, while avoiding the heavy-handedness that sometimes traps medieval novels in stereotype, and she does with grace and variety, each character at times revealing his or her own patterns of speech.

Forbidden stories of King Richard III, We Speak No Treason is narrated by three who had been close to him though furthest now from any safe position to engage in such discussion: the Maiden, Richard’s former leman-turned-nun; the Fool, perilously serving under Henry Tudor following service to both Richard III and his elder brother, Edward IV; and the Man of Keen Sight, condemned to die for the crime of loyalty to his king, by way of Henry Tudor’s backdating his own reign.

We are led through the events of the years leading up to that terrible summer of 1485, which sees the slaughter of the last Plantagenet king at the hands of Henry Tudor’s impossibly outnumbered army. Treason aids the usurper, whose paranoia is so great that even in the age of Elizabeth I, his granddaughter, no Plantagenet association is too small to remove the threat of execution. Small wonder the characters, revealing to us their secrets in Henry’s time, are “diverters of necessity,” secret personal writings or whisper their tale despite an already appointed date with death.

One’s own choices do not always a destiny make, though sometimes they can seem to seal fates. The Maiden’s remembrances draw us into the tale, by way of a book she had written in and hidden for over sixteen years, knowing she should have set it ablaze long before. Like the garden she tends and loves as her own, she once knew Richard Gloucester and tended him in secret, away from the curious and prying eyes of such like Elysande, who shields her from their common mistress, Jacquetta of Bedford. Friendly with Elysande during the reign of Edward IV, she nevertheless lives within a “cold season,” as she does when telling her tale under Henry VII. For Jacquetta is the mother of Edward’s Queen Elizabeth, of the Woodvilles, Lancastrians whose enmity with Edward’s York branch of the Plantagenets is bitter and long lasting—and later allied with Tudor.

Elysande creates diversions for the lover she knows exists, though she is unaware until later this lover’s Plantagenet name. The Maiden is savvy enough to have created her own strategy to get herself to court with her mistress, but later falls victim to Jacquetta’s and the Queen’s dangerous fright when Edward is taken prisoner by his rebellious Warwick cousin. She is spared death, but packed of to a nunnery, being the only one aware that, as she journeys she “safeguard[s] one last small and secret joy. The royal child, the Plantagenet. The child of my beloved.”

The Maiden’s tale at this point is broken, and prior perusal of the book would indicate that her tale picks up again in the fourth section, “The Nun.” Not necessarily meant to be a surprise, for the Maiden herself references her nun status at the start, and modern readers have at least small awareness of medieval nunneries as a destination for widows and some women without means.

The baton thus passes to the Fool, and as we move deeper into his version of events, we begin to grasp the scope of Jarman’s skill in handling multiple narrators. Until now we have lived the Maiden’s tale with her in linear fashion, which may be the safest method but also the most effective given the sheer volume of detail. Familial relationships, names, events, rivalries, all this and more are referenced in a narrative that spans from the Maiden’s childhood, and prepares the reader for a slight shift in storytelling method as, fittingly, an actor takes the stage.

As such, the jester does not merely talk about disguisings; his life is lived as one. He “hides his wit behind idiocy and keeps a well-tuned ear,” talents that no doubt help ensure his survival under the reign of Henry Tudor. Moreover, Jarman’s technique with his storytelling reflects these methods he utilizes, giving the reader occasional pause to wonder under which King or moment the Fool now speaks. He tells of the Tudor’s paranoia manifest in a demand made after witnessing his mastiffs take on and kill a lion: ‘Hang them…Traitorous dogs shall not rise against a king.’

Piers—he reveals to us his name as well as internal conflict—nevertheless must at times strain to bear the load his lot in life has given him. “I live in past and present, then suddenly both come together with a fierce clash like an axe on armour and I am shaken into confusion[.]” He tends to confide in us some of the most horrific scenes at natural stopping points, or such when one must cease for the moment, the weight of his knowledge being too difficult to bear. We read these passages and then stop, the silence sitting with us as heavy as the terrible words preceding it. While talking about Anne’s pregnancy with the beloved Edward, Piers remembers Richard’s bastard son, and discusses at length the family’s living arrangement. John of Gloucester, he tells us, went to the block at age twenty, “brave Plantagenet. Traitorous dogs shall not rise against a King.”

If seeing so deftly into past and present while juggling to maintain a future is a curse as well as blessing, so too is there a downside to the acute vision possessed by the aptly named Man of Keen Sight, who, incidentally, meets briefly with Piers, who initially writes him off as a braggart.

However, it is so; the man has the ability to see into a long distance with greater acuity than most any other person. This aids greatly in his riding skills, but is “the archer’s enemy,” owing to the deficiency in spatial differentiation it causes. Perhaps akin to or presenting in conjunction with a proprioceptive disorder, it disorients the vision so receptors provide misinformation as to distance. “How,” the man asks, “can an archer study the nock and the unwavering hold when already the fat white cloud dangles close to his nose?”

Nonetheless, he develops technique to conquer this “useful fault” and it leads to riding with the Duke of Gloucester, whom he comes to love. The Man goes into exile with Richard, Dickon, who assigns him a pseudonym, “Mark Eye,” fitting for an archer and pleasing to the Man. He grows to love Dickon, and life, good, moves on.

It is not to last, however, as readers are aware from the time the Man is introduced by way of a penitent verse of The Nut-Brown Maid, one of many sung to us through the course of the novel:

 It standeth so; a deed is do

Whereof great harm shall grow;

My destiny is for to die

A shameful death, I trow.

Or else to flee, the t’one must be,

None other way I know

But to withdraw as an outlaw

And take me to my bow.

Wherefore adieu, my own heart true!

None other rede I can;

For I must to the greenwood go,

Alone, a banished man.

Indeed, we are privy from the start to the understanding that herein lies a condemned man, one even who hears the construction outside of his own gallows. Frequently, as he relays his story to us from his cell, he accepts defeat and fault. He condemns his actions, though not for having ridden at the last with King Richard, but rather for the shame that stayed with him for having neglected his friendship and duty to the king, indeed for having betrayed him by teaming up, cowardly-like, with those aiming to destroy Richard after King Edward’s death.

It is also he who receives the prophecy depicting the end of the Plantagenet line, and: “your King. . . the foot that strikes the stone shall turn into a head, and the bones tossed on a dunghill, to stink forever.” He tries to shake off memory of it, as he tried to dismiss it when it is first told him. But his ability to do fails, as increasingly does any sort of sight that may have aided him to perceive the darkness in men, as Richard himself comments upon, after regaining the upper hand from those who aim to thwart his protectorship: “How strange are the hearts of men!” That Richard chooses time and again to forgive those who seek to do him ill—or are too lazy or cowardly to protest such—provides a vision in itself, the “natural” consequences, some might say, of allowing those who seek his destruction to roam free.

If Richard possesses such a failing and declines to admit it, the Man does not. He speaks in hindsight of his acuity dimming and recalls grievously instances when, even then, he ought to have wondered. In moments such as these, again, the author weaves her own storytelling skills by presenting the same event from different perspectives—and how different they at times are! Comparison of the passages indicate clearly what is important to each teller, by way of what each highlights (or leaves out) as well as their brevity or length.

There is a sort of deja-vu to these scenes, ghostly almost, until readers realize in fact they have been here before.

 He summoned a sleepy young man to escort me back to the castle, one who had but lately come on duty, so that none should know, for the greenish dawn was rising over the fens and the camp would soon be stirring. He raised his hand to me as he stood between the tent-flaps, and there was a light about him that was not earthly; or it may have been their marsh fiends dimming their night-lamps behind him; I did not know.

*********

It was at Fotheringhay, and I had gone down into the camp, late, with some message. Everything was steaming with damp summer heat and in the musky darkness I discovered him with a young maid, whom he bade me guard through the ranks and deliver to the Duchess of Bedford’s apartments.

. . . I had thought it prudent to offer the damsel my arm, as she struggled through the trailing briars. . . . She stopped suddenly when we had gone a few steps and turned to look back.

‘Ah Jesu!’ she whispered, ‘How he shines!’

I fixed my sight upon the pale Duke, bringing him near in the lanternlight. A moth flew round his face and he lifted his hand to brush it away. The maiden smiled, in tears.

‘There is a light. . . a light,’ she sighed.

‘What then, mistress?’

She had looked up at me from the cavern of her hood.

‘A light about him not of this world,’ she said.

I could see naught but the fen-fires, burning malefically.       

In any kind of literary studies, readers are frequently instructed in the import of every single word; in no other novel has this reviewer found this to be quite as so as in this one. It is, as Jarman herself states, “a mammoth work,” though by no means in size alone. The information, understanding, historical references, implications—every single sentence contains something to inform another passage or reality, or brings to bear somewhere else. And the author not only weaves it all together, but does so via three different complex personalities. An additional result, for better or worse, is a greater awareness of the psychology of humans. Readers begin to grasp the scope of differences, the pathways in lives, and understand a bit more about the why in some of them. We may never understand why Richard makes some of the choices he does, though we can more competently assess the reality in which he lives, and leave judgment off for someone else.

Nevertheless choices do lead people, as they do for this Man of Keen Sight. Greater awareness of his own choices leads him to the cell he now occupies, willingly, for he chooses not to quit the field alive. That he leaves alive became the choice of an Other, and it is to lead him to his death. He speaks plainly of the books about Richard he shall never read, though he is sure they cannot invent hateful propaganda, for “[t]hey would need to invent a devil in human shape, so great was his glory.”

And so they did. The Maiden, following escape with her royal daughter from the pseudo house of God the Woodvilles had imprisoned her in, learns so very quickly when she quite by chance sees, on that terrible summer day in 1485, the prophecy become true. As the Tudor men’s victory train passes by, approaching the Bow Bridge,

             they surged on to [it], packed tight, their horses struggling in fear. The mule [hauling Richard’s ill-treated body], now nearly dropping from weariness among the foaming destriers, the steel-clad thighs, its flanks sodden with bloody sweat, staggered against the side of the bridge. The King’s head was crushed upon the stone. I heard the sound of rending bone, saw the bright new hurt done to the head which once did lie so sweetly in my lap. And I went mad.

*********

 But who was comfortable in the choices that led to this moment? Perhaps even not Henry Tudor, who worried these moments, some say, for the rest of his life, and not just in fear of his reign on this earth. The paranoia he created, not so uncommon in some royal circles, lived still when the one called Perkin Warbeck appeared, indeed still when the last Tudor monarch ruled. “They”—not only the Tudors—did indeed create a devil in human shape, taken up by others in fear for their lives.

What of us, then? We no longer have such fear stalking us. We can speak freely of Richard now, yet we, over 500 years later, have been taught and still teach our children of this “devil.” This is the choice we have made, save for some who have dedicated themselves to the truth, from the moment it was safe to do. So the threat over life is no more, but the pain lives on.

‘How strange are the hearts of men!’ Jarman’s Richard had cried out. For in addition to the dreadful memories exist some perceived threat to the power of theory, perhaps, or sense of relating. These people seem to want Richard to remain in the form that has been created for him, and although honest debate has been made, there are others who are not quite so.

In less than two hours from this writing the University of Leicester archeological dig team will reveal to the world the results of the DNA testing they have done on remains found that may be those of Richard, so unceremoniously treated in 1485. For Richard they seek to reverse the prophecy, at least that which relegates him to stink forever.

We cry for him at such inopportune moments, argue his case and in some instances find animosity developing around us. Some, including the author of We Speak No Treason, never wished for this dig to proceed—plainly and awfully spoken, it is indeed the digging up of an anointed king. Others argue they want to give him the dignified burial robbed from him. I cannot help but remember the Mother’s words to our Maiden:

 ‘Have I not said that this life is a transient thing?’

Whatever our position, it may be our only consolation.

********

We Speak No Treason by Rosemary Hawley Jarman

  • ISBN-10: 0965005429
  • ISBN-13: 978-0965005425

Also in Kindle edition:

We Speak No Treason, Volume I: The Flowering of the Rose

ASIN: B009YLIV7A

We Speak No Treason, Volume II: White Rose Turned to Blood

ASIN: B009YLIQUW

Image courtesy Rosemary Hawley Jarman.

Exciting days ahead for before the second sleep

Posting has been necessarily paced for me thus far, though it has been picking up a wee bit. Lots of this has to do with other obligations, though often I am prepping or working on ideas for the blog. As you can see, so far I’ve covered a few random topics, plus book and music reviews, and I’ll continue to do this.

I am delighted to share a few of the upcoming features to be found in before the second sleep:

This weekend I’ll post my review for Nancy Jardine’s The Beltane Choice, a romantic adventure set in Celtic Britain. August saw the novel’s release in e-book version; today it comes out in paperback. Nancy and Crooked Cat celebrate with an online release party at Facebook. Do join the festivities and enter to win an autographed copy!

Next up is another entry with Sarah Bruce Kelly, this time with a review for her award-winning Vivaldi’s Muse, an account of Annina Girò, Antonio Vivaldi’s longtime protégée. The book is an expansion of her previous novel, The Red Priest’s Annina, detailing life in 18th-century Venetian opera.

I am also preparing for a re-read of We Speak No Treason, which I absolutely fell for the first time. I loved this book so much I decided to re-visit and share with my readers. I am also delighted to announce that the best-selling author of this Richard III novel, Rosemary Hawley Jarman, has so very graciously agreed to an interview, which will be featured when the review is published.

In coming weeks I will begin a series of posts regarding Nicholas Orme’s Medieval Children. I hesitate to label it an “analysis,” as such an undertaking is not in my purview. However, as an early childhood teacher, mother of a young boy and a Middle Ages aficionado, I am very keen to learn more about this phase of life as it occurred in medieval days, and plan to take a more deliberate, studied approach to reading the book–what might be called an “exploration.” Share the journey with me!

I’ve been re-visiting some older poetry of my own from school days, as well as topics of study in university. Why am I so very proud of my C in Communicating Math Ideas? Who knew statistics could be so much fun? What does Tagore write about the preservation of memories? Also: Is baking art or science? A favorite Persian dish, on learning to play the piano, children’s art, amateur photography and my favorite medieval game, Nine Man Morris.

These, dear friends, are just some of the topics you can read about in coming weeks, and I look forward to you joining us as we explore them and others.

For now I say goodnight with my current favorite silly phrase, one I repeat a lot with my son (cue dramatic voice):

When good llamas go bad…

Anybody know where that comes from?

Book Review: Loyalty Binds Me

Back in January I read Loyalty Binds Me, one of a projected trilogy about a time-travelling Richard III–a surefire disaster or an intriguing proposition, depending on one’s viewpoint. I suppose I was somewhere in the middle because, frankly, I love the idea of time travel and wish I could do it myself, but simultaneously wondered how the author would pull this off.

Here’s what I found.

Loyalty Binds Me by Joan Szechtman

Modern Day Trials of the Last Plantagenet King

208970_444671668905742_169100148_nLoyalty Binds Me, second in a projected trilogy concerning Richard III, the medieval monarch of the “Princes in the Tower” tradition, takes on a huge task. Many readers will be familiar with the last Plantagenet king’s travel to present-day in the first installment, This Time, and speculative fiction fans (and others) will revel in such a journey. However, when Richard finds himself now under arrest for the murders of his nephews–which, mind you, happened some 500 years ago, and there exist contradictions to this charge–he experiences firsthand effects of the success the Tudors, Shakespeare and others have had in blackening his reputation. But how, readers may ask, does the author manage to overcome the label of absurdity; will enough modern lawmen actually believe this is Richard III come to this era, and are willing to risk their careers on such a prosecution? How can this be portrayed?

Worry not, readers, for Joan Szechtman not only manages all this heavy lifting, but also does it with the mark of a brilliant writer: by making it look easy. The flow of the book is so smooth, that when I read certain parts I actually gasped at the ups and downs Szechtman took me through with Richard. So thrilling are those danger moments, I found myself mentally shaking my fist at the need to sleep; I simply had to keep reading and find out what happens next.

One of the ways I can think of that helps the author achieve this is her understanding of today’s society. Unlike most people in Richard’s time, our society has been through so much with technology that even those who scoff at the idea of time travel still often contemplate it with a fair degree of seriousness. Coupled with the viable descriptions and scientific explanations through the book, many doubters will do a double take at the possibilities. Then there’s the government. Oh yes, they want a piece of the pie, and that, paired with the widespread belief that governments already know more than they are telling, clicks it all into place.

Ms. Szechtman also brings to bear the unfortunate understanding we all have of post-9/11 policing. When Richard’s tormentors are unable to move in the direction they wish, they play the terrorism card, using that to threaten him with indefinite detention. If that doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of readers today, it at least erases the sometimes smug sureness that we have progressed as much as we think, in terms of governance and liberty, from the days when Richard sought to bestow greater rights on those accused of crimes. It is sadly ironic that this king now falls victim to abuse of power that can cause someone simply to disappear. What grows from this is that where once there was care for a character, now there is great concern for the peril he is in.

Through all of this, the author allows us to peek into the lives of Richard’s modern-day family, his new wife and her two daughters he has adopted, as well as his beloved son Edward, whose resilience for the new world he is in is fairly strong–witness his grasp of technology, for example. But Edward, who woke from death to find his mother taken from him, speaks to us of how childhood, despite how overhauls, trends and social structures have changed it over the centuries, remains the same. Children are strong but vulnerable, astoundingly bright though need help navigating through even some of the briefest of situations and, perhaps most heartbreaking, love so strongly and want to please, yet withhold as a form of protection. They show us that we adults are given responsibility that is almost frightening in its ability to impact. Yet with brilliant economy Szechtman portrays all this in those peeks we are allowed, and we witness a family coming to terms with the usual trials all families must go through, as well as those of a father who has been arrested, and the merging of medieval and modern times–a blended family like no other.

This is by no means an exhaustive review of everything wonderful in Joan Szechtman’s latest book, but it does point the way to the other two, one as yet unpublished, for this book is not easily put down and forgotten. For those who already care about Richard, it will be a reader’s delight. Others who are new to the king, or willing to re-consider what exactly constitutes “common knowledge,” will find a wealth of historically accurate information as well as recognizable background details in order to do. Moreover, because the second book is written to be enjoyed independently, reading it first will not involve any guessing at the start. But Joan Szechtman’s Loyalty Binds Me will make you want to go back for more.

A copy of Loyalty Binds Me was furnished to the blogger in exchange for an honest review.
Image courtesy Joan Szechtman.