author C.C.Cole's blog

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Guest post: Setting Some Facts Straight: My Review of “The White Queen” by Andy McMillin

I'm happy to use my blog space for a very intelligent young lady, who studies medieval history, to give her take on the series "The White Queen."  I thank her for allowing me to post her insight and detailed review on my blog and see the link for the review on her tumblr site: 

Andy McMillin

I, like many for the last 10 weeks or so have been watching Starz “The White Queen.” At first, I struggled to get through the first episode due to drugged stupor from surgery but once I finally watched it, I was curious as to what the series had to offer.

The series is based off the book of similar title set during the War of The Roses in England in 1450s or so. It’s a medieval period themed series: my cup of tea basically. So me and my knowledge, biting my tongue many of times, and mind; ended up watching the show in its entirety. In the end I was amazed. I had read mixed reviews, and was actually quiet shocked of how the series was perceived by many audiences. In the end, I certainly did not follow the tone of the journalists who wrote the reviews. Still I wonder what was put in their drink that day. Did they forget that film is like any art form, it is interpretative and first and foremost it is art. Criticizing it won’t do you a bit of good. The overall consensus: the show left me wanting more, and a with a few sleepless nights with the vision of Richard III dead body on the ground….I got a little freaked out…. Shock factor achieved there Aneurin.

The acting. Words don’t even come close. We are introduced to Elizabeth and Edward first. The Anne and Richard, played by Faye Marsay and Aneurin Barnard. They stole the show. As well as Amanda Hale who plays Margaret Beauford and Stanely. I am uncertain of the actors name. The twists, the emotions, the technique, they all used, especially Aneurin, is just captivating. I remember watching the first episode where Richard III is really a main character and I was just floored. His performance just blew me away. Give him a prize someone. I have seen a ton of period movies and not, and "The White Queen" just blew it out of the park. Bravo! Now, the show is over and I miss my medieval fix!

With that being said, we get to my review of the series. I understand liberties were taken with some aspects of the filming, i.e. lack of armor, clothing, and other details, (red paint on the window frame) which being a trained medievalist, I didn’t complain and just let it slide. As far as critiquing, the only real problem I had was some of the themes addressed in the story line. There is just not even close or loose historical base to have made the claims. It is a little bewildering to me as a historian and a scholar, that they were even suggested. As a result, it created confusion amongst many viewers and their views of specific characters, especially of Richard III. Of note, I did have a blast helping my peers understand the period after the show was over that following night. 

Now back to Richard. He is probably the most misunderstood of all the English Plantagenet kings. A lot of it traces back to what happened after and before his death.
Now my gripes. First, I had a slight issue with the relationship that was suggested in the show between Lizzy (Elisabeth of York) and Richard. This more than likely never happened, actually it didn’t. It was a result of gossip and rumor. Anne and Richard actually shared a bed up until she got ill. This wasn’t very common in that day. King’s and Queen’s had separate chambers. If he had had an affair, she would have been the first to know, since they shared a bed up until the end, when it was feared that he too would become ill.

Is there any evidence? No. There is only one letter in existence that Lizzy wrote that is more than likely a misinterpretation or a fake. It is also know, or it should be that if Lizzy was educated, she would have known about courtly romance and courtly love, introduced by Marie de France. This needs to be taken into consideration. It greatly impacted writing at the time, as well as composition. When looking at her writings, these are some of the aspects that pop out and yes, could be misinterpreted quite easily for “love” not “admiration,” which in fact it was. Richard was planning a wedding for her. As a responsible and thankful niece, of course he would be in admiration of her; he is helping her plan her future marriage. This is a big deal and an expensive one.
Some notes about the letter. The letter found by George Buck, who lived about 100 years after Richard’s death. It claimed to have “have seen a letter written by Elizabeth of York to John Howard, 1st Duke of Norfolk, shortly before the death of Queen Anne Neville, in which Elizabeth declared her love for Richard III and her hope of becoming his wife. In Buck’s words, the letter asks Norfolk “to be a mediator for her to the King, in behalf of the marriage propounded between them”, who, as she wrote, was her “onely joy and maker in this world”, and that she was his in heart and thought: “withall insinuating that the better part of February was past, and that she feared the Queen would never die.” The letter, if it ever existed, is now lost.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Buck) Now as a scholar, it is quite interesting that a letter oh 100 years later emerges, then disappears. Something in this is not right. Hence, why it is thought that the letter was a fake, or misinterpretation, and oh by the way.. it’s missing now too.

Another source, that documents and discusses this letter as well as the information received from the Croyland Chronicles; the book Richard, Return of the King, by Patricia J. Collins, the same letter cited, and is also discussed. She also brings similar points about the letter, and the fact that Richard repeatedly publicly denied any such plans to marry his niece. Yet rumors circulated like wild fire after Anne’s death and did not help the situation. It was known is that he wished to remarry soon, as he had no heir to the throne at that time, he needed some job security. But it would make sense that the rumor mill went overboard, despite the good that Richard did. The game was to the defeated the one who is your opponent make them a victim of libel or slander, gossip and rumor and chip at them until they break. The rumors continued after his death under the rule of the new king, he had to establish power. And of course, they had to clean up the rumors of any public notion of what people once thought of Elizabeth of York when she married Henry Tudor. She had to be fit to marry a king. Place the blame on the dead king, he is dead so he can’t defend himself; easy scapegoat. 

What do we take away from this? Just because it ends up in the daily newspaper, doesn’t mean it is fact or true. The educated public is a very small pool and most are the clergy, rumors are what makes the wheel and the power go around.
Finally, the princes in the tower. This is probably one of todays and in this time period, the biggest unsolved mystery to date. The show suggests that Elizabeth swapped young Richard out, with an imposter. That so did not happen. There are doctor records that show proof he was in the tower and he was ill. The gossip flew when they disappeared, again, who was unpopular? Richard III he was blamed for their disappearance. In defending Richard, it is questioned that Elisabeth’s loyalty eventually switched to him, but it was too late for obvious reasons, for him to save his throne. The simple fact that it did shift to him, is an indication that he was not responsible for their disappearance or why would she have changed loyalties if in fact he had something to do with the disappearances? It would not make sense, as what little evidence we have suggests. 

The likely culprits? Margaret Beauford, and Stanley. They both wanted Tudor on that throne, and history shows that there is pile of bodies to that lead to that “iron throne”. Now, hypothetically, it is possible that she switched one of her children. But the biggest factual and theoretical problems that historians face today, is there is just no evidence anything that even suggests or supports who murdered the children, or in fact that they were even murdered in the first place. My personal theory; one died, the other more than likely died as well. From someone’s hand, no, from illness, yes. I vote tuberculosis; we already have a few dead of the disease currently in the show.

An article in The Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/feb/05/princes-in-tower-staying-under), discusses the urn that was found in the tower with some bones of two children found at the bottom of a stair case during a renovation, that could possibly hold some clues to this mystery. Since the discovery of Richard III and DNA testing of his remains, a suggestion was made to have those bones DNA tested but the request was denied. This actually puts a very interesting twist on the plot. The Church of England, and the Queen were even consulted and supported the denial. Perhaps they really do know what happened, it’s some big secret? We might never know. Is this enough to prove Richard III responsible, no. He was a very loyal, and catholic and held the church in great esteem, why would he commit a mortal sin on a child, he had other problems to worry about, and they were great by far. He went to great lengths to deny public accusations, where the Croyland Chronicles suggests, as well as the York House Books, as the one responsible for their disappearance. Again, the blame landed on a king whose competition wanted power, and if they could break him down piece by piece, they would and to take what they wanted in the end, that being the throne.
History always seems to have a different picture, than its interpretation or artistic departure. This is why I enjoy film. Sometimes it is nice to take a departure from what we know and to let it go. 

My overall opinion of the show was it was terrific, beautiful, and just wonderfully written from an artistic perspective. From a historical perspective, it leads a lot into much needed discussion. But this is good for people like me. I love to teach others about what I love and know. There are so many aspects of medieval life that just one show cannot even begin to understand its complexity. It’s a complex but fascinating period. My biggest advice to people wanting to learn about the period or the people in it? Do your research wisely, and really look at who your sources have been written by. If you are reading about Richard III, if it is later for example 1600’s, the opinion will be painted poorly. This is something we are discovering today and is unfortunately the case in so much of our documentation. Sometimes a little of rewriting the past has to take place.

Finally, take a step back and try to think like that medieval person who wrote the material especially if it’s a primary source. Many angles need to be thought of when you go read into that piece. Who are they in favor with, what is their position at court, what is their education level, and are they a man of importance. To look at the life and times of individuals of the past, some of our best sources are the actual legal documents and letters of that time. For example “The Paston Letters.” They give anyone a perfect window into that time. The world of the Middle Ages is a fascinating time period and that was clearly depicted in the show “The White Queen.” It is a show worth its weight in gold. I highly suggest it.

Starz “The White Queen” is currently up for a People’s Choice Award for 2014.

Also vote for Aneurin Barnard for his role of Richard III

~ Andrea C. S. McMillin, BA Medieval Studies w/ History U.C. Davis and current scholar
October 26, 2013

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Richard’s Offer

The lead character of the Gastar Series has a final conversation with Richard III.

As Richard pulled the imps away from him in the blazes in the bottom of the fire pit in Hell, he felt his strength waning moment by moment slowly, as if he were dying over a thousand years.  Some of the demonic creatures had faces familiar to him, like his beloved wife Anne, and his brothers Edward and George.  Sometimes he felt a whip lash across his back, but never had any erosion of his clothing or skin.  The pain from the wound ended almost instantly, replaced with more pain, emotional or physical. 

At the tip of this nose, an arrow whizzed by, piercing one of the larger demons through the head.  Other arrows pinned the small imps into the rocky bottom of the pit.  Through the fire, Richard saw Shevata walk toward him, her bow slung around her shoulder, and carrying a ball of blue fire in the palm of her hand.  The imps began to scatter as she threw the fire towards them, making a clearing.

“Zermon sent me down to check on you.”  Said Shevata.  She motioned to an opening.  “Follow me.” 
Richard followed with hesitation.  “What do you want?”
“I want nothing.  Zermon at this moment is angry with one of your descendants named Henry the eighth.  Right now he is resurrecting and burning him for the fifth time.”

“I don’t know that Henry and my line ended with me.”  Said Richard.
Shevata shrugged.  “Well, whatever, he is, Zermon thinks he’s worse than you and ordered me to give you an offer.”  They reached the outside of the pit to the vastness of hell, a red sky with miles of nothing but a black pebble surface.  Shevata smiled.  “This is the scary part of the underworld.  Think about being trapped out here for eternity.  It almost makes the fire pits appealing.”

“What are you offering me?”  Asked Richard.
“Tell me what happened to you.”
“I wanted the best for England.  All of my life I’d been in service and I wanted to serve, not rule.  Instead, I was blamed for the murder of two boys I intended to raise and accused of bedding my niece.”
Shevata raised her eyebrows.  “Don’t tell Zermon about your niece.  He may approve of that.  How did you die?”

“A rival attacked to take my throne.  In battle, my own men changed sides and abandoned me to die.” 
“There must be a reason.”  Said Shevata.
“Everyone was so eager to believe the worst about me.  Do you understand what that’s like?”  Said Richard.
Shevata smiled.  “The worst of me is usually true.  Rumors don’t put you down here.  What did?”
“I executed my sister-in-law’s brother and her son.  I thought they were traitors.”  He sighed, shaking his head.  “It was a mistake.”  He looked back at her.  “Why are you here?” 

Shevata said, “I murdered the last high priest of the God of the Dead.  So I’m Zermon's prisoner.”
“What can you offer me?”  Said Richard.
“There is only one way out.”  Said Shevata, loading a small black crossbow.  “Do you want it?”

Tears ran down his face.  “This would truly be my end, wouldn’t it?”
Shevata nodded.  “I’m sorry.  Your legacy may change, but it will take a very long time, many kings from now.”
He turned his back to her and closed his eyes.  “Do it.” He said.
She fired.  He disappeared with his soul in a flash of light.  

"I'm sorry Richard."  She whispered to herself.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Non-Spoiler: Review of “The White Princess” by Phillipa Gregory

The young Elizabeth narrates her story and reflects upon her life, very different from her mother.  She was raised as a Princess in the powerful House of York.  Her family ensured that she was educated to be a queen as much as the young Prince would be raised to be a king; so she knew her music, books, sewing, and even some basics of cooking.  In every fairy tale of a Princess, she lands almost every detail.

The detail she misses is her Prince that isn’t a toad, but a King.  Henry VII does marry her under specific details given by her mother Margaret “Regina” (not Beaufort anymore) who has given herself a new title almost the length of my blog article.  Margaret leaves nothing to chance, and she and her son aren’t sympathetic with a princess who loved a fallen king more than she should have in all ways.  It takes time for the young Elizabeth to deal with the fact that her man lost and she is a spoil of war.

Her beautiful mother, Elizabeth Woodville, doesn’t disappear.  She’s a tremendous help to her daughter, as Jaquetta was for her, present for childbirth and emotionally giving as much help as she can.  But girls are not women, Elizabeth and Margaret have more in common than we realize in “The White Queen” as the scheming continues with young Elizabeth sitting in the middle of drama that she isn’t really privy to and not a real part of. 

Henry understands immediately that a noble battle to become King and being a King are two entirely different feats; the latter infinitely more difficult.  The English people must learn the Tudor dynasty, which does not happen overnight.  Like Richard, he thinks he’s being the good guy but doesn’t know whom his enemies and friends are.  He is proud of his lovely queen, but like most men, finds any woman pining for another man to be a turnoff.  Over time and childbirths later, they find common ground in their children, like many married couples.

“The White Princess” carries the story into the beginning of the Tudor rule of England.  The young Elizabeth is witness to many points of intrigue, and though is a protected princess and a queen later, the reader learns that during such times, no one is really protected.

On Prince Richard

"The White Queen" Henry Tudor

As “The White Queen” series wrapped up, as usual, I had to watch the finale about four times to take in all of the details before making up my mind what inspired me the most about the series.  Overall, I found it enjoyable as well as Ms. Gregory’s books.  As we fans tweeted about our obsession from one episode to the next, I’ll gently remind the historians:  We know it isn’t actual history.  Now, may we all sit and enjoy the show and the rest of you use the remote. 

On Twitter, the most popular character amongst the crowd I interacted with clearly was Richard III, played by non-ugly ace young actor Aneurin Barnard.  While I like cute actors as much as the next girl, I think the complexity of his character from loyal/boyish love/good husband/villain/murderer/cheater/loser reeled in the audience, which was mostly women, I suspect.  But that is part of the fantasy; to bring history to life, and toss in enough sympathy and good looks to interest the viewers, then watch the downfall.

After my fourth viewing of the finale, like all stories, it’s not the cute guys; it’s the characters that stay with me.  As Phillipa Gregory shined light upon the women during that time, she also reminded us that war, the bloodshed, is men’s work.  Regardless of who’s in the right, or in the wrong, the most ambitious, the cleverest or the most naïve of women they have no say when steel hits steel and rules are thrown out and the last man standing will be the King.

So for some analysis:  Richard had it all.  Let’s assume he didn’t kill the Princes in the Tower.  Still, he had a strong following in the north of England, the Yorks were still powerful, Wales leaned toward him, and he was a veteran soldier and skilled at putting down rebellious nobles like Buckingham and loyal in laws and innocent nephews (he put Antony Rivers and Richard Grey to death), so he didn’t have much to fear from an unknown invader with an unknown last name.  On the personal side, with the death of his wife and son, he had plenty nearby to soften the blow of non-loss to him, favoring his niece from her famously fertile mother to be his next queen.   When one has pure confidence does one need faith?

Enter Henry Tudor, a young man with a prisoner-hired army with only his uncle Jasper and his pious, insane mother to support him.  I found myself moved in the series when he landed in Wales and scooped up the sand and I realized all he had was faith.  Instead of running, he and his uncle took a deep breath and went to battle, and their faith was rewarded by wild card Stanley.  Richard’s lack of faith was rewarded by being pulled off his horse by footmen and being hacked to death, stripped naked and his crown handed to Henry Tudor. 

“The Prince,” written after this time, teaches that power must be taken completely so nothing is left to chance.  Faith is not a Machiavellian trait, even when such are people of the cloth.  While we viewers are sympathetic to Richard, we watch him lose his way.  Faith is when you look and see nothing and still keep going.  Our ancestors risked their lives with nothing but faith that so we are free today.  This story serves us as a reminder.

On White Magic

With the ongoing popularity of “The White Queen” I’ve noticed in Phillipa Gregory’s writing and in the cable series something I don’t often see as a fantasy fanatic:  White magic. 

Most of the time, magic is something dark, like “Game of Thrones” blood magic that traded the life of Daenerys Targaryen’s son for the birth of her dragons.  Harry Potter faced “Dark wizards” like Voldemort, willing to split his soul to become immortal.  We can name countless of villains and heroes using dark sources for power; hence part of the label “Dark Fantasy.”

What about powerful good people?  Harry Potter definitely showed us that the good guys weren’t mushrooms in the finale.  They could still stop evil keeping within the boundaries of “forgivable” magic.  (Gee whiz..)  I still love the part when Bellatrix met her end by Mrs. Weasley. 

"Krull" The Widow of the Web
My favorite fantasy example of “white magic” is the old film “Krull,” not so bad in originality of the villain, but too “game-like.”  The good guy wizard gave me pain in his twit example of power and spells on little cards.  But “the widow of the web” clearly showed the audience of an example of how extreme white magic can be.  She killed her infant because her man left them to feed her rage, so she paid by an infinite curse in a white cell, a white web, and a white spider, growing old, and in the end, choosing her death for a noble purpose.  

"The White Queen"  "The Storm"
“The White Queen” magic was downplayed in the books to me, but for a series it added interest and a touch of fantasy.  The vague curses were the most dangerous, as they rippled through time and led to the always-unintended consequences when one wields great power; being a storm, fog, rain, or the deaths of first born sons.

I like seeing how writers use “white magic” since it tends to be more of a challenge to write.  Evil is easy, magic is easy, keeping magic noble is skill.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

On Becoming a Blogger

Sam and Jackie in "Boss"

When my first novel “Act of Redemption” was published in 2009, I had an uninteresting website, an empty Facebook page, and a Twitter account that had more unfollows than follows.  With zero experience in social networking, I sat like a paper napkin to absorb all types of money wasting promotions, spam accusations, all just to be disposed of when done with.

The email from Google informing me that my site had zero visits didn’t encourage me either.  A local company reassured me for a mere $10K they could set up a website for me that would draw thousands.  Hmm.  Fool me once.   So I ditched everything I paid for and started over.

The first big door to open for me obviously was the creation of my own blog.  I chose Blogger and still like it, and ditched my paid for Wordpress blog that was as distasteful as my old website.  (blasphemy, I know, wordpress fans).  It’s not that I have any big problem with Wordpress, but Blogger was easier for me.

Next, what to post on a blog?  The early days were embarrassing.  I posted a few links and short videos of a fantasy guy that builds cool fantasy gadgets.  I thought, “Here it is, my blog!  Hi!  Uh…hello?”  Realizing I need real remedial help, I joined “The Blog Farm,” who sent me an email offering to refund my money because of my useless blog.

Ouch.  Frustrated, after some email exchanges, “The Blog Farm” helped me understand what was needed to have a blog, which is original work.  In order to blog, I had to write something.  Anything.  I’m supposed to be a writer, right?  Finally, the light bulb went off in my dense head and my series of “new author” articles began and my guest posting started right away. 

As time went by, I learned there could always be too much of a good thing.  By being over-enthusiastic, I found myself blogging for several blogs, which accelerated my awful carpal tunnel syndrome to the point that I required shots in both wrists instead of surgery.  (Both hands can’t be operated on at the same time, so when both are extremely inflamed, they give steroid shots deep in the wrists).  Realizing this was a wake up call, I backed away, took a few months off and recently returned to cyberspace to my own blog.

My inspiration?  Answer:  Everything that inspires me to write, books, films, experiences, and dreams.  I’ve spent a decade reading columns on the computer during lunch breaks, which helped me learn how to pace blog posts.  Does every writer need to blog?  Answer:  I don’t think so.  Most writers find their own way to connect with readers.  No size fits all, and blogging is no exception.