Marjorie Bowen (1885-1952) was a very prolific author of historical fiction, romance, crime and horror, producing over one hundred and fifty books durMarjorie Bowen (1885-1952) was a very prolific author of historical fiction, romance, crime and horror, producing over one hundred and fifty books during her lifetime. Endeavour Press have gradually been making some of them available to modern readers and there are several that I’m interested in reading, but I decided to start with this one, Dickon, as it is set during one of my favourite historical periods: the Wars of the Roses.
The title refers to Richard III (Dickon, of course, is a nickname for Richard) and the novel follows Richard throughout his entire life, beginning with the moment when, as a child, he learns that his father, the Duke of York, and elder brother, Edmund, have been killed at the Battle of Wakefield. The book is divided into three sections; the first is called The Three Suns, which refers to the parhelion which appeared in the sky at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross, but could also be a pun on the three remaining 'sons' of the Duke of York – and covers Richard’s childhood up to the point where his brother wins the throne for York, becoming King Edward IV.
The middle section, The Bear and Ragged Staff (a reference to the emblem of the Earl of Warwick) concentrates on 1470-1472, the period of the rebellion of Warwick and George, Duke of Clarence. Finally, The White Boar takes us through Edward’s death and the period immediately afterwards – Richard’s own brief reign and his tragic end at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. There is no doubt that Richard suffered a lot of misfortune and tragedy and this is symbolised in the novel in the form of Jon Fogge, a man-at-arms whom Richard believes has been haunting him throughout his life, bringing bad news and bad luck to the Plantagenets.
Dickon was published in 1929 and I think it’s fair to say that it’s quite different from the majority of historical fiction that is being published today. The dialogue has a very old-fashioned feel, being sprinkled with words like ‘thou’, ‘thee’, ‘doth’ and ‘hath’, something that seems to have been dropped by most modern historical novelists, and the whole novel also has an air of innocence, with sex scenes only hinted at rather than explicitly described. I do like 'older' historical fiction but I suspect some readers will find this book too archaic and romanticised.
In her preface to the novel, Marjorie Bowen says that she has studied all of the known sources and "has violated no known fact, nor presented any character or action in any light that is not probable, as well as possible". I did notice a few historical inaccuracies, but as I’m not completely sure how much material was available in 1929 and how much has only come to light in more recent years, I’m not going to be too critical. There are also a lot of controversies surrounding Richard III and his reign – there is no one version of events that has been accepted by everybody – so different authors and historians do have different theories and different interpretations. I was particularly curious to see how Bowen was going to approach the mystery of the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower, so I was disappointed to find that her solution was simply to ignore the whole episode!
Richard himself is portrayed as sensitive, loyal and trusting, a brave warrior and a devoted brother, father and husband. His character lacks the depth and complexity I would have liked and sometimes seems too good to be true, although I can appreciate that this is one of the earliest pro-Ricardian novels, written decades before books like The Daughter of Time or The Sunne in Splendour, and that the author was trying to provide an alternative to the usual view of Richard as the hunchbacked villain of Shakespeare’s play.
If you’re completely new to this period of history and the life of Richard III, this book is maybe not the best place to start, but I did find it quite enjoyable and a good addition to my collection of Wars of the Roses fiction. I will be reading more by Marjorie Bowen....more
On a cold winter’s morning in 1460, a band of armed horsemen approach the Priory of St Mary near Lincoln. One of the monks, Thomas Everingham, is outsOn a cold winter’s morning in 1460, a band of armed horsemen approach the Priory of St Mary near Lincoln. One of the monks, Thomas Everingham, is outside the priory walls that morning, having been sent out to kill a fox that has been caught in a trap, and when he notices that the soldiers are about to attack two nuns (one of whom is Sister Katherine, a young woman who has spent most of her life in the priory) he decides to intervene. In the scuffle that follows, Thomas seriously injures one of the men, who happens to be the son of the nobleman Sir Giles Riven. With the furious Sir Giles seeking revenge, Thomas and Katherine (disguised as a boy called Kit) are forced to flee the priory.
After living for so many years in their isolated religious community, Thomas and Katherine have little knowledge of the world beyond and are surprised to find that England is in the midst of war. Henry VI is still on the throne but is under threat from the Duke of York and Earl of Warwick, whose armies are gathering in Calais in preparation for the next stage of what will become known as the Wars of the Roses.
With the help of pardoner Robert Daud, who leaves them a bag containing a mysterious book, Thomas and Katherine reach Calais and join the company of two of Warwick’s men, Sir John Fakenham and his son, Richard. Here Thomas learns to use a bow and Katherine increases her knowledge of healing, skills they will need when they return to England to face their enemy, Sir Giles Riven, and to play their part in the bloody battles of Northampton and Towton.
Although this book has already received lots of glowing reviews, I’ll admit that I had my doubts about it before I started reading. I thought it might be too similar to Conn Iggulden’s Wars of the Roses novel, Stormbird, which I read last year and struggled with. Luckily, while there were some similarities and I suspect that most people who did love Stormbird will love this book too, I did enjoy this one quite a bit more.
This is one of my favourite historical periods but I never get bored with reading about it; each book I pick up offers something new and adds to my knowledge of the subject. This novel is slightly different from most of the others I’ve read that are set during the Wars of the Roses, because instead of concentrating on the kings and queens, the rich noblemen and powerful battle commanders, the focus here is always on the ordinary people – people like Thomas, Katherine and their friends who have no involvement in politics and decision-making, but are risking their lives for York or for Lancaster.
I was interested to learn that Toby Clements had attended re-enactments and living history camps and even tried using a longbow, all as part of his research for this novel. The research has really paid off because his writing has a feel of authenticity that is sometimes lacking in other books. I could almost imagine that I really was standing in the middle of a muddy battlefield with arrows flying around me, walking through a smelly, bustling market place or watching Katherine performing surgery without the benefits of modern medicine. There’s certainly nothing glamorous about this story!
I only have two minor complaints about the book – and both are entirely a matter of personal taste. First, it is written in present tense which is something I almost always find slightly irritating. It seems to be an increasingly common choice of authors these days and is becoming difficult to avoid, but I still don’t like it and find past tense much easier to read. Clements also devotes more time to the battles (and fights, brawls, archery sessions etc) than I would have liked, but although I didn’t particularly enjoy reading these scenes I can appreciate that they were written very well, especially the Battle of Towton. As I said, though, other readers will not necessarily have a problem with either of these things.
Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims is the first in a series. At the moment I’m undecided as to whether I want to continue with the second book, but I did end up enjoying this one for the different perspective it offered on a period I love. ...more
This is the second book in Philippa Gregory’s new series set during the Wars of the Roses, a tumultuous period of English history in which the rival hThis is the second book in Philippa Gregory’s new series set during the Wars of the Roses, a tumultuous period of English history in which the rival houses of York and Lancaster struggled for power. In The White Queen we met Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Edward IV of York, sister-in-law of Richard III and mother of the two young princes who mysteriously disappeared in the Tower of London in 1483. The Red Queen is the story of another woman who also played an important part in the Wars of the Roses: Margaret Beaufort of Lancaster, the mother of King Henry VII.
Although this is the second book in the series, I wouldn’t really describe it as a sequel – that is, The Red Queen doesn’t just pick up where The White Queen left off. The two books overlap somewhat and cover some of the same events, but from opposing sides of the conflict. You don’t really need to have read the first book to understand this one, although it would probably make sense to read them in the correct order. I really like the concept of two books each telling the story from a different perspective; throughout much of The White Queen, Margaret Beaufort and the Tudors were shadowy characters in the background, plotting and scheming from afar, so it was good to have them take centre stage in The Red Queen.
One of the themes running throughout the book is Margaret’s belief that God has chosen her to be another Joan of Arc, who will lead the House of Lancaster to victory, and that God’s will is for her son Henry Tudor to be crowned King. Margaret was not very likeable – in fact she came across as a very cold, ambitious and unpleasant person – but as far as I can tell, this is probably true of the historical Margaret. I was surprised that I could still enjoy this book despite the narrator being so unsympathetic; sometimes obnoxious characters can be fun to read about, and I found Margaret’s uncharitable thoughts about the House of York and the Woodville family quite funny at times.
I can’t really comment on the historical accuracy of this book because I have never studied the period in any depth – however, my lack of knowledge meant that I could just concentrate on enjoying the story! The Wars of the Roses were a complex and long-running series of conflicts, during which many of the key players changed their allegiances several times (and just to confuse things further, many of them also had the same names – lots of Henrys and Edwards, for example) but Philippa Gregory has made it easy to understand and follow what’s going on. I do think a more detailed family tree would have been helpful though – the one provided in the book was incomplete and I didn’t find it very useful.
The book is written in the same format as The White Queen, with most of the story being told in the first person present tense, occasionally switching to the third person to relate important events at which Margaret was not present, such as the Battle of Bosworth Field. I really like the way Philippa Gregory writes battle scenes using language that I can understand, as I often find reading about battles very confusing! The whole book is written in quite simplistic prose and can be repetitive at times, but it always held my attention and drew me into the story.
If you are new to the Wars of the Roses – a fascinating period of history – then I would recommend either The Red Queen or The White Queen as an excellent starting point. I also think that if you’ve tried Philippa Gregory in the past and didn’t find her books to your taste, it could be worth giving her another chance as these newest books are quite different from the Tudor ones that I’ve read....more
As soon as I started reading I knew I was going to love this book. Not only did it turn out to be the best historical fiction book I've read for a lonAs soon as I started reading I knew I was going to love this book. Not only did it turn out to be the best historical fiction book I've read for a long time, it was also one of the best books of any type that I've read this year.
The Sunne in Splendour tells the complete life story of Richard III from childhood to death. Penman portrays Richard as a sympathetic figure who has been unfairly treated by history. Sadly, he is often thought of today as the villain of Shakespeare’s Richard III: the evil hunchback who murdered his nephews. It's worth remembering though, that Shakespeare lived in Tudor England – and it was Henry Tudor who defeated Richard, the last of the Plantagenet kings.
The Wars of the Roses is the term used to describe a series of battles and rebellions that took place between two branches of the English royal family, the House of York and the House of Lancaster, during the late fifteenth century. I already had some basic knowledge of the period before I started reading this book, but even if you don't I think Penman makes it easy enough to understand. Sometimes a story can suffer from the author's attempts to include every little bit of interesting information they’ve uncovered in their research, but that's not actually a problem here. Yes, there's an enormous amount of detail, but everything feels necessary and helps to build up a vivid picture of Richard's world.
The author really brought the characters to life and made them feel like real people who I could understand and care about rather than just names on the pages of a school history book. The number of characters with similar names could have caused confusion but I thought Penman handled the problem very well making them easy to identify by using nicknames (Ned, Dickon, Bess etc) or titles (Warwick, Clarence, Montagu) and Edward of Lancaster is given the French version of his name, Edouard, to distinguish him from Edward of York.
The story is told from multiple viewpoints, with surprisingly little of the story being from Richard's perspective. Much of what we learn about Richard we learn through the eyes of his family, friends and enemies. A lot of time is devoted to the romance between Richard and Anne Neville, but what really fascinated me was the complex relationship between the York brothers, Richard, Edward and George.
As you might expect, there are a number of battle scenes – something that I don’t usually enjoy, but these were so well written that I was able to follow exactly what was happening and could even form mental pictures of the battlefields and the positions of the two opposing armies. The Battle of Barnet kept me up late on a work night and the Battle of Tewkesbury was even more compelling. I loved the way we got to see the human side of the battles, the emotions of the people on the battlefield, rather than just descriptions of the military tactics. While Richard and Edward are clearly supposed to be our 'heroes', it's a testament to Penman's writing that I could also cry at the deaths of their 'enemies'.
Being almost 900 pages long, it took me a long time to read this book, but that was mainly because it was so emotionally intense in places that I couldn't read too much at once. And also, I was dreading reaching the end. The problem with a book like this is that you know what's ultimately going to happen (at least you do if you have some background knowledge of the period or have read about it before) so I knew what the eventual fate of the characters was going to be.
This is one of the best books I've read this year and I can't believe I've never read anything by Sharon Penman before now. At least I know I'll have hours of reading pleasure ahead of me as I work through the rest of her novels! ...more
Philippa Gregory is best known for her Tudor court novels, but with The White Queen she moves further back in time to the Plantagenets and the Wars ofPhilippa Gregory is best known for her Tudor court novels, but with The White Queen she moves further back in time to the Plantagenets and the Wars of the Roses.
Elizabeth Woodville is twenty seven when she meets and falls in love with King Edward IV. Following a private wedding, Elizabeth becomes Queen of England and finds herself caught up in the ongoing battles between the House of Lancaster and the House of York. Amidst all the politics, intrigue and betrayal, Elizabeth's concern is for the future of her children - in particular her two royal sons who will become the famous 'Princes in the Tower', a mystery which remains unsolved to this day.
The book is written in the first person present tense which I found slightly irritating, though not enough to stop me from enjoying the book. The use of present tense does help the reader to feel as if they are experiencing events along with Elizabeth, so it works in that sense, but my personal preference is definitely for past tense. There are a few passages where the viewpoint temporarily changes to the third person in order to describe battles which Elizabeth doesn't witness but which are an important part of the storyline. I often find battle scenes boring, but these are well written and go into just the right amount of detail.
I found the story itself quite suspenseful and exciting - it probably helped that although I read a lot of historical fiction novels, I haven't read many about the War of the Roses, so only had a vague idea of what was going to happen. Of course, this meant that I wasn't sure exactly which parts of the book were based on fact and which parts were the invention of the author. In her note at the end of the book, Gregory mentions that there's not much information available about the period, therefore there are some areas where she felt free to use her imagination.
If you're not very familiar with the historical background, you'll need to concentrate to be able to keep track of all the battles, changes of allegiances and numerous claimants to the throne. The family tree provided at the front of the book is not very helpful - it's incomplete and really needed to show at least one more generation, as it ends before some of the important characters in the story were even born.
I found it difficult to warm to the character of Elizabeth but could feel sympathy for her, especially towards the end of the book. Richard III was also portrayed quite sympathetically - nothing like the evil hunchback in Shakespeare's play! I would have liked to have seen his relationship with Elizabeth more thoroughly explored in the book - there was no real explanation for why she distrusts him so much, other than that she's had dreams and premonitions that something bad will happen to her sons in the Tower. On the subject of the Princes in the Tower, the book explores an interesting theory, which may or may not be true - it would be nice to think that it was.
Interspersed with the main story is the tale of Melusina, the water goddess, from whom Elizabeth and the female members of her family are said to have descended and from whom they claim to have inherited magical powers. Magic and mythology are recurring themes throughout the book. Elizabeth and her mother Jacquetta's witchcraft skills are used as an explanation for several key historical events - for example, they whistle up storms to defeat their enemies at sea. This aspect of the story became quite repetitive and just didn't appeal to me much. Sometimes it felt as if there were references to Melusina, water, rivers, the sea etc on almost every page!
The book ends abruptly, but that's not surprising since The White Queen is the first in a trilogy called The Cousins' War and will be followed by The Red Queen and The White Princess which will focus on Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth of York respectively.
I would recommend The White Queen if, like me, you don't have much knowledge of the Wars of the Roses and are looking for an enjoyable and relatively easy to understand introduction to the period. For those of you with a lot of background knowledge, I think there should still be enough new ideas to keep you interested.