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Historical Fiction on Edward, the Black Prince

9 July 2008 — fuzzyhistory


The son of Philippa and Edward III, Edward (1330-1376) preceded his father in death by a little more than a year, and thus, never became king. History recognizes his prowess as a military leader against the French during the Hundred Years’ War. According to Thomas Costain, he earned the sobriquet because “he wore black armor at the battle of Crecy, [which was] supplied by his father” (The Three Edwards, 1962, p. 267). But the title came later, after his death.

Edward married Joan of Kent in what was probably a love-match. They had 2 children – Edward, who died in childhood, and the future Richard II.

Use the resources available in Find Books to locate copies of these novels. Green titles comprise those I really enjoyed (Excellent to Very Good rating). If there is no comment following the title, I haven’t read the book.

The Archer’s Tale by Bernard Cornwell. The Hundred Years’ War supplies the background to this tale about the quest for the holy grail. Edward makes an appearance. The U.K. title is Harlequin.

The Black Plantagenet Pamela Bennetts.

The First Princess of Wales by Karen Harper. On Joan of Kent’s romance with Edward. Criticized for historical inaccuracy.

Katherine by Anya Seton. On John of Gaunt’s romance with Katherine Swynford. Edward and Joan appear within.

Lady of the Garter by Juliet Dymoke. The story centers around Joan of Kent, who married Edward for love after 2 previous marriages.

The Lady Royal by Molly Costain Haycraft. Biographical fiction about Edward’s sister, Isabella de Coucy.

Passage to Pontefract by Jean Plaidy. As Richard II and Henry IV struggle for the throne, the rivalry between Edward and John of Gaunt is provided as background.

Sir Nigel by Arthur Conan Doyle. Takes place during the Hundred Years’ War. While not focusing on Edward, the Black Prince appears within.

The White Company by Arthur Conan Doyle. Takes place during the Hundred Years’ War. While not focusing on Edward, the Black Prince appears within.

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The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell

8 July 2008 — fuzzyhistory

The first book in The Saxon Chronicles introduces the fictional Uhtred, a 10-year-old boy whose family holds Bebbanburg (now Bamburgh Castle) in Northumbria. The year is 866 and the Danes have begun to invade the northern regions of what is now England. When they strike Bebbanburg, a Dane named Ragnar captures Uhtred, and then raises him as a son.

Through the eyes of a boy who longs to be a warrior, Cornwell presents the Danish side of the story. The Danes believe the English kings are weak. Indeed, they raid Northumbria, East Anglia and Mercia with relative ease, destroying monasteries, churches, nunneries and the English way of life.

A gifted storyteller, Cornwell makes you feel a part of these violent times. He describes not only the raids and the killings in graphic detail, but the mindset. “Start your killers young, before their consciences are grown. Start them young and they will be lethal.”

To break up the intensity of the slaughter, Cornwell interjects humor. It is, however, a humor even more irreverent than what appears in the Sharpe series.

“Your gods are false gods,” King Edmund of East Anglia tells the Danes.

“Prove it,” they respond, which leads to a discussion of how the Christian god influences events through His will.

A Dane asks, “So would your god protect you from my arrows?” Edmund responds that He would if it were His will.

“We shall shoot arrows at you….” Unable to back down from his stance about God’s will, Edmund stands before the archers, who, of course, kill him. “Nowadays, of course, [remarks Uhtred] that story is never told; instead children learn how brave Saint Edmund stood up to the Danes, demanded their conversion, and was murdered. So now he is a martyr and a saint, warbling happily in heaven, but the truth is that he was a fool and talked himself into martyrdom.”

Regarding King Alfred of Wessex (Alfred the Great), he portrays a man who is pious and sick, though intelligent and wise in the ways of warfare. He cunningly tricks Uhtred – after Ragnar’s death – into fighting for him. Alfred and the region of Cornwalum are the final holdouts by the end of the first book.

Since this is my second reading of The Last Kingdom, which I perhaps enjoyed more than the first reading, I can rate it none other than excellent. The Pale Horseman is the next book in the series, followed by Lords of the North and Sword Song. (Click the image above to purchase the novel from Amazon. Fuzzy History receives a small commission for the referral).

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Historical Fiction on Richard III

2 July 2008 — fuzzyhistory

Updated 7 September 2008. The 30 years (1455-1485) that make up the Wars of the Roses – a period of intermittent civil strife between Lancastrians and Yorkists – tested the character of many a man. Much historical fiction stems from this era. Add to the troubled times, an unsolved mystery involving the disappearance of two princes, and you have the perfect background for a story. Since Richard III reigned at the time of their disappearance, and since the Battle of Bosworth, where he died, marks the end of the Wars, it was perhaps inevitable that he become a frequent subject of historical fiction. Thus, I’ll start the pathfinders to which I refer in my introductory post, with him.

Use the resources available in Find Books to locate copies of these novels. Or for books currently available at Amazon, follow the title links. Fuzzy History receives a small commission for referral purchases.

Green titles comprise those I really enjoyed (Excellent to Very Good rating). If there is no comment following the title, I haven’t read the book.

Broken Sword by Rhoda Edwards. Very dry reading that covers the last 2 years of Richard’s reign. For the earlier years, see Fortune’s Wheel.

Crown of Roses by Valerie Anand. Realistic character portrayal.

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. Inspector Grant of Scotland Yard assesses the character of Richard III from his hospital bed. Somewhat dated ideas. Pro-Ricardian.

Fortune’s Wheel by Rhoda Edwards. Dry reading that covers the early years of Edward IV’s reign, when Richard served as his loyal second-man. For Richard’s reign, see Broken Sword.

The Founding by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. First in a series that stretches from the Wars of the Roses to present day, this story features brief appearances from Richard III. It’s sympathic.

The Killing of Richard the Third by Robert Farrington. The first book in a trilogy that features an amateur secret agent. It covers the years, 1483 to 1495. Pro-Ricardian. The other two titles in the series are Tudor Agent and The Traitors of Bosworth.

The King’s Bed by Margaret Campbell Barnes.

King’s Ransom by Glenn Pierce.

The Lodestar by Pamela Belle. The main character joins the Duke of Gloucester’s household. The novel suggests one possibility concerning the fate of the young princes. The book is considered a prequel to the author’s English Civil War series.

The Murders of Richard III by Elizabeth Peters. While I enjoyed the early books in the author’s Amelia Peabody mystery series, I couldn’t finish this one. Roxane C. Murph, past chairman of the American Branch of the Richard III Society, said this about it: ”The Murders of Richard III has been rather controversial. I enjoyed the book, and was surprised by the unfavorable reactions of some Ricardians. Peters pokes fun at some of the more uncritical defenders of the king, but there is no malice in her work. I suppose it just proves that some of us are over-sensitive on the subject, or perhaps we take ourselves too seriously at times.”

Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Vanora Bennett. A sub-plot centers around what happened to one of the princes, but the book itself is not about Richard III. Major characters include Sir Thomas More and the German artist, Hans Holbein.

Richard III by Shakespeare. Largely exaggerated, historically inaccurate, but nonetheless a great classic.

The Rose at Harvest End by Eleanor Fairburn. Book 3 in a four-part series on Cicely Neville, Richard III’s mother. This one covers 1461 to the death of Edward IV in 1483. Other titles in the series: The Rose in Spring (#1), White Rose, Dark Summer (#2) and Winter’s Rose (#4).

A Rose for the Crown by Anne Easter Smith. An imagined love story about Richard III and his fictional mistress, Kate Haute.

Rose of Rapture by Rebecca Brandewynne. A historical romance with the typical cheesy cover of a bodice-ripper. But consumer comments indicate it portrays better-than-average historical research.

The Rose of York: Love & War by Sandra Worth. This title is the first in a series. I thought the characterizations were over-the-top. Purple prose. Pro-Ricardian. There are two more in the series: Crown of Destiny and Fall from Grace.

The Seventh Son by Reay Tannahill. A bit on the dry side, the author gives a balanced portrayal of Richard III. He’s neither evil nor a saint.

The Sun In Splendor by Juliet Dymoke.

The Sunne In Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman. An epic novel of the reigns of Edward IV and Richard III. Pro-Ricardian.

To the Tower Born by Robin Maxwell.

Treason by Meredith Whitford.

Under the Hog by Patrick Carleton. I haven’t read this one yet. It can be difficult to track down at a reasonable price. Originally published in 1938, it is a pro-Ricardian classic.

We Speak No Treason by Rosemary Hawley Jarman. I haven’t read this one. Romantic. Pro-Ricardian.

The White Rose by Jan Westcott. I haven’t read this one. Westcott wrote more romance than historical fiction. Former Richard III Society Fiction Librarian, Jeanne Trahan Faubell, says The White Rose is “a romantic novel greatly sympathetic to Elizabeth and Anthony Woodville.”

Additional Resources

Barton Library Catalogue (Richard III Society)

Medieval Fiction Reading List

Ricardian Fiction: Trash and Treasures

The Wars of the Roses: Fiction

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Lady Macbeth by Susan Fraser King

1 July 2008 — fuzzyhistory

Born Gruadh inghean Bodhe (also spelled Gruoch ingen Boite), Lady Macbeth was the granddaughter of Kenneth III, King of Scots (997-1005). As the author explains in the historical note, “So little is known of Macbeth’s queen that historians have drawn conclusions based on the events and circumstances around her.” Drawing such conclusions within the context of a fictional story works well.

The story of Gruadh opens with two kidnappings and rescues – the later event taking place when Gruadh is almost of marrying age (about 14). Consequently, Gruadh’s father seeks a protector and an alliance for his lineage.

About one year later, Gruadh marries Gilcomgan. Gilcomgan is mormaer or ruler of the Moray region – a region Macbeth covets. In this account, Macbeth attacks and traps Gilcomgan in 1032 “in a burning tower with fifty men at Burghead Sands.” He then marries Gruadh and becomes mormaer of Moray. King does a fine job of explaining how Gruadh feels about the loss of Gilcomgan and her new marriage.

But at this point, the story largely becomes Macbeth’s. While Gruadh struggles with almost equal desires to be both a warrior queen and mother, Macbeth serves as a general to King Duncan.

Duncan, however, was an inept ruler. By 1040, Macbeth garnered enough power to challenge and fatally wound the king.

The story then skips ahead to 1050, the year Macbeth went on a pilgrimage to Rome. On his return, rumors abound concerning Malcolm Canmore’s (son of Duncan) quest for the throne. In essence, history repeats itself. Canmore does to Macbeth what Macbeth did to Duncan. Macbeth’s rule ends in 1057 with his death.

Engaged from the start, I enjoyed this story immensely. The author is a wonderful storyteller. If there are weaknesses in the story, it’s the occasional narrative that reads too much like a research summary and the rushed ending. The last part, which covers from 1050 to shortly after Macbeth’s death isn’t as complete as the rest of the story. Nonetheless, Lady Macbeth deserves high marks and I await the author’s next book with bated breath. Rating: Excellent.

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The Aviary Gate by Katie Hickman

1 July 2008 — fuzzyhistory

I picked up this book at the library mostly because of the intriguing cover and because I wanted a break from English historical fiction.

The story centers around two women – Celia, who lived as a harem slave in the late 16th Century, and Elizabeth, who is a 21st Century graduate student conducting research. Intrigued by a note written by Celia, Elizabeth sets out to discover what happened to her. Had the author stuck to this plot – and developed it – I might have enjoyed the story more.

Instead, the reader is sidetracked by the not-so-romantic tale of Elizabeth and Marius. Conceited and pompous, Marius simply uses Elizabeth. Worse, she lets him, all the while bemoaning that he does so. Then, determined to trace Celia, she bucks up and heads to Turkey.

Meanwhile, we learn about Celia’s romance. Prior to her capture, Celia was affianced to Paul Pindar. Pindar is an actual historic character – a wealthy merchant and later ambassador to Turkey. (To be clear, Celia is fictional.)

The plot centers around Celia’s attempts to escape the harem, Paul’s search for Celia, Elizabeth’s efforts to find out what happened to Celia, murder and intrigue within the harem, and Elizabeth’s developing relationship with a man she meets in Turkey. Do you begin to see the problem?

This 350-page book suffers from too many plots. Had the focus stayed on Elizabeth’s attempts to discover what happened to Celia; had the author not tried to connect the two women through their romances, this could have been a better book. Rating: Good.

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