Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Maligned Margaret

An illustration from a manuscript presented to Margaret by John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury

An illustration from a manuscript presented to Margaret by John
Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury

Susan Higginbotham is the author of five historical novels set in medieval and Tudor England, including “The Queen of Last Hopes,” a novel about Margaret of Anjou. Her first nonfiction book, “The Woodvilles,” about Edward IV’s queen and her family, was published this month. You can read more about her work at her website and her blog. This post is a part of “The Women Behind the Fictions” blog series.

In the recent series The White Queen, based on the novels of Philippa Gregory, Margaret of Anjou, queen to the unfortunate Henry VI, makes only a brief appearance. It’s an odd omission in a series that focuses on the women of this period, chiefly Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret Beaufort, and Anne Neville. If the scriptwriters were looking for a formidable woman, surely Margaret, who struggled ceaselessly over the years to uphold her husband’s and her son’s right to the throne, deserved top billing.

But perhaps it’s just as well that Margaret didn’t have more of a prominent role in the series, for Margaret has fared rather badly in historical fiction. She’s regularly shown as an adulteress and a vengeful harpy—and that reflects the more balanced portrayals of her. One historical novel has her repeatedly trying to murder her daughter-in-law, Anne Neville, while another has her committing incest with her son.

A set piece in many a Wars of the Roses novel involves cruel Margaret ordering immediately after the Battle of Wakefield that the severed heads of the Duke of York and his teenage son, the Earl of Rutland, be displayed and the Duke’s head be garnished with a paper crown. In fact, Margaret was not at the Battle of Wakefield; she was in Scotland at the time. There’s even been considerable doubt cast as to the extent of the atrocities supposedly committed by her troops.

Of England’s queens, Margaret is by far one of the most unlucky. Criticized at first for her failure to conceive a child, when she finally did become pregnant, her enemies accused her of adultery. (There’s simply no proof that she had sexual relations with any man but her husband.) During her pregnancy, her husband lost his reason; eventually, the loss of his crown followed. Believing that the throne of England was her son’s birthright, she fought for it until his death at the Battle of Tewkesbury. She was brought to London as a prisoner, only to have her husband murdered the night of her arrival. No longer regarded as a threat by the Yorkists, only as a financial burden, she was finally sent back to France, where she died in obscurity. Had she survived just three more years, she would have seen her husband’s nephew, Henry Tudor come to the throne as the representative of the Lancastrian cause for which Margaret had struggled for so long.

A medallion of Margaret done by Pietro da Milano

A medallion of Margaret done by Pietro da Milano

Margaret is frequently compared to an earlier French-born Queen of England, Isabella of France, and the traditionally negative portrayal of each of them has often been ascribed to misogyny and xenophobia. Both women, indeed, have recently benefited from recent interest in medieval women and medieval queens and as a result have received more balanced appraisals from historians, female and male alike. Yet popular culture has lagged behind, for while Isabella has been portrayed sympathetically by a number of novelists, especially female ones, Margaret of Anjou has met a quite different fate at their hands. She’s frequently little more than a cardboard villain, and even when she’s given some semblance of depth, the myths such as her presence at the Battle of Wakefield are trotted out. (Ironically, this portrayal of Margaret, which owes so much to Shakespeare, is often perpetuated by the very same novelists who decry the Bard’s portrayal of Richard III.)

Strangely, Isabella, who was disloyal to her husband (Edward II) and even to her own son, and who was possibly an adulteress, has attracted defenders because of those very facts. They treat her alleged adultery as the natural reaction of a wronged wife and her deposition of her husband as being a commendable reaction against royal tyranny. Yet the loyalty of Margaret to her husband and to her son is depicted as the power-mad reaction of a vengeful woman.

So why not spare Margaret of Anjou a little kindness for a change? When she arrived in England as a seasick fifteen-year-old in 1445, she might well have hoped to have been a traditional queen, smiling at her husband’s side, doing good works, and procuring favors for her subjects. Instead, with an incapacitated husband and competing claims to the throne, she found herself thrust into a situation that had no easy solutions, either for the men involved or for Margaret. Novelists have recognized the complexity of the situation these men faced; it’s time they did the same for Margaret.


Filed under The Women Behind the Fictions

The Almost Mythical Early Life of Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots

The Queen of Scots was a French girl and her name was not Mary: it was Marie!

By Linda Root

Marie Stuart is not the same persona as Mary Tudor (Mary I of England) who historians sometimes call Bloody Mary: Nor is she the same person as Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s favorite sister who was briefly queen consort of France but never a queen in her own right.  The confusion would not have occurred but for the insistence of contemporary historians that the Queen of Scots be given the English name of Mary, a politically motivated misnomer. Her father James V of Scotland died when she was six days old and the Scottish influence on her childhood died with him. Her mother Marie of Guise had been in Scotland for four years when he died. The House of Guise had a mixed Franco-Germanic heritage which they traced to Charlemagne.  Following French assumption of suzerainty over Lorraine, Guise scions were French princes. They were as powerful as they were arrogant and looked upon Scotland as a Provence with bad weather.

Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots

Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots

Mary Tudor (Mary I)

Mary Tudor (Mary I)

The Queen of Scots was at least as French as her mother, who had been educated in Joinville under the tutelage of her devoutly religious mother Antoinette de Bourbon, who dressed as a nun and wore a cilice. The Queen of Scots was schooled in the royal nursery at Saint Germain-en-Laye, her curriculum dictated by queen consort Catherine de Medici and the king’s mistress Diane de Poitiers. Her education was identical to the one received by Catherine’s daughters, princesses Elisabeth and Claud. Their tutors were renaissance scholars. Diane was a patroness of the arts and a fashion icon, an ideal role model for a future queen.

Assertions of historians that Marie Stuart spoke no French when she arrived in France at age five seem implausible.  Traditionally, young Scottish monarchs lived at Stirling, but Marie Stuart remained in her mother’s French-speaking household until she was five.  The Dowager’s advisers were the Frenchmen de Thermes and d’Oysel, and her household staff and ladies-in-waiting were predominantly French.  It is disingenuous to believe that she spoke Scots to her infant daughter when she barely knew it herself. 


When the queen was five she was sent to France to evade an English army scouring Scotland in hopes of hauling her to a forced betrothal to Edward VI. Before she sailed, she was affianced by proxy to the four-year-old dauphin. Hers was not a flight into an unfamiliar world.  Scottish aristocrats were often educated at the Sorbonne. France granted dual citizenship to Scots.  Fashion at the Scottish court was French. Marie of Guise consulted Diane de Poitiers on her wardrobe. Three of the four Scottish girls selected to accompany Marie to France—the Four Maries– had French mothers. Even they were hustled to a convent school in Poissy and the other Scots were sent packing.  Any trace of Scottishness that Marie retained was systematically eradicated. Below is a note she wrote to her mother when she was seven.  Voila! It is a note written by a French girl.

The assertion that Marie Stuart was an unhappy child who was abused by Queen Catherine and corrupted by Diane de Poitiers is a construct of historians who wish to cast Marie Stuart as a perennial victim. Henri II doted on the charming child slated to become his daughter-in-law, and neither of the two women competing for his affections would have dared abuse or malign her. It is more likely that she played them off against each other. She learned poetry from Ronsard and history from Brantome, but her ability to manipulate those around her came from her uncle Charles. In addition to being Christendom’s second most powerful prelate, he was the richest man in France. His position as his niece’s mentor insulated her from exploitation by all but her uncle’s.

It benefited the king’s dynastic plan for his son to have a perfect wife. Francois stuttered and his nose ran constantly. Having Marie at his side was a necessary accouterment. The wedding  went forward in 1558, in hopes that Francois’s testicles  would eventually descend into his scrotum and the dynasty would be saved. Meanwhile, illusion  was enough. Unfortunately, in the autumn the new dauphiness misstepped, and it was her uncles and Henri  who tripped her. 


Diane de Poitiers


Henri II

Caterina Maria de Romula de’Medici

Caterina Maria de Romula de’Medici

  To understand the interplay between the Tudor and Stuart dynasties, forget what you remember of The Tudors and Cate Blanchett’s portrayals of Elizabeth. The acting and sets are better than the history. In spite of myriad novels and movies, Marie Stuart and Elizabeth Tudor never met.  Do not waste time puzzling over how Great Harry’s sister Margaret who wed and smothered the wizened King of Portugal fits into this: No such person existed. The real Margaret Tudor was Henry VIII’s impetuous older sister whom he shunted to Scotland to marry James IV before she did something outrageous.  Her firstborn, prophetically named James, became James V a year later when his father died at Flodden.  In 1542 he became Marie Stuart’s father. Having suffered a military rout at Solway Moss and the unwanted gift of a daughter when he needed a son, he muttered something cryptic about ‘it started with a lass and is ending with a lass’, turned to face the wall and died.

The real Margaret Tudor was Marie Stuart’s grandmother. She was also the grandmother of Marie Stuart’s second husband Darnley, son of Lady Margaret Douglas, child of Margaret‘s tempestuous second marriage to Archibald Douglas. Sixteenth century royals made a habit of marrying their cousins, which kept the Pope busy signing dispensations but did little to enhance the bloodlines.  As a closet Catholic, Margaret Douglas was Mary Tudor’s favorite cousin, the Catholic choice to become her heir. But Mary declined to override her father’s Will. The crown passed to Protestant Elizabeth.

Next, Marie Stuart ventured onto the political stage and tripped. Her uncles and Henri insisted that since Elizabeth was both bastard and heretic, the Queen of Scots was England’s rightful queen. Seduced by the idea, Marie began quartering the English arms alongside those of France and Scotland. She was either deplorably  naïve or as overreaching as her uncles. The pope ruled for Elizabeth.  Marie Stuart had taken her first stumble on the path to Fotheringhay.

Marie ElizabethICoronation

The Queen of Scots Became Queen of France Literally By Accident

HenriJoustIn  the summer of 1559, after years of war Europe was at peace. The court was celebrating the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis in a series of tournaments at La Tournelles.  Late in the final day of jousting,  Henri neglected to lower his visor and Gabriel Montgomerie’s lance entered his forehead near his eye. Before nightfall , Catherine sent  Diane packing. A few days later, Henri  died. Marie Stuart was the French queen consort  and immature Francois was king. Catherine allied herself with the Guises and rode to the Louvres in the same coach as the new queen while Francois II paraded beside the Duke of Guise. Marie Stuart had attained the status she had dreamed of since childhood, and the  Guises ruled France.

Marie Stuart’s time as a French Queen Consort did not last long:

Under the Salic law that prevailed in France, women could not ascend the throne. Marie Stuart never reigned there. Assertions that she  controlled her husband and thus ruled France are misguided. Her uncles controlled them both.  They governed while the young royals amused themselves by hunting the white stag. Enemies  of the ultra-Catholic Guises plastered Paris with posters asking “Ou est le roi?”

In the spring of 1560  the anti-Guise faction launched  a plot to free Francois  from his wife’s relatives. But too many conspirators were involved and the plan was leaked to Catherine. The assault  against the vacationing  royals at Amboise ended in a rout. A grisly purge of anyone with a link to the rebels followed. The Loire ran red with the blood of peasants whose only sin was giving water to a soldier. Marie watched the executions from a gallery window. Each day’s slaughter was followed by fireworks and water sports until the court was forced  to move to Chenonceau to avoid the stench of rotting corpses  hanging from the battlement.

There was brief rejoicing when Marie missed a menses and began wearing a smock, but is was as illusory as Mary Tudor’s false pregnancies.  Apparently the queen was still a virgin. The smock was discarded and the dynastic aspirations of the Guises soon followed. After hunting  in a mild  snowstorm,  Francois developed an ear infection that migrated to his brain. He died in December of what doctors called ’brain fever.’ His mother left his deathbed long enough to convene the Estates General. The king died that night and on the following day the second son of the woman Marie Stuart scornfully called ‘the Italian shopkeeper’s daughter’ became Charles IX and the shopkeeper’s daugher was named his Regent. The Guises retired to Joinville.

The Queen’s return to Scotland was a last resort:

She spent the next five years trying to regain the status she lost when Francois died. Her quest began in Europe as she shopped for a husband of similar rank.  Her first choice was Don Carlos of Austria,  the Spanish Infante, Philip’s son to his first wife and double cousin Maria of Portugal. Carlos was not only physically deformed: he was mentally ill. His homicidal outbursts were aimed at  Philip who had no desire to let him breed. Besides, Philip had promised Catherine to nix any marriage that might weaken the position of Marie’s old friend, his consort Elisabeth Valois, who was pregnant.

Charles IX

Charles IX

Don Carlos

Don Carlos

Charles IX was another possibility.  The nine-year-old was infatuated with his pretty sister-in-law.  Catherine made short shrift of that.  She had no desire to reinstate her condescending daughter in law just when she was rid of her. Disconsolate Marie visited her grandmother, and her uncles snubbed her.  After her half brother Lord James Stewart arrived to entice her to Scotland to assume personal rule, they thawed. Having Scotland in their clutches was better than nothing.

When the queen’s flagship  entered Leith harbor  ahead of schedule, there was  no one to greet it.. The convoy carrying her livery, horses and household goods had been confiscated by Elizabeth. The queen requisitioned a burgess’s house to rest and wash, and then set out for  Edinburgh on a borrowed horse. The exceptionally tall  female rider with porcelain skin and  auburn hair attracted a crowd that followed her to Holyrood. That night they serenaded her from the courtyard.  Her apartments at Holyrood were not ready for her arrival, and neither were the Scots.

 …On that note, her reign began

Linda Root is a former homicide prosecutor and the author of four historical novels set in Marie Stuart’s Scotland.  Root lives in Yucca Valley, California with husband Chris and two mixed giant Alaskan Malamutes Maxx and Maya.  Her fifth book of the series, 1603: The Queen’s Revenge, is scheduled for release in early 2014. Check out the first four in the series by clicking on the following links: The First Marie and the Queen of Scots, The Last Knight and the Queen of Scots The Midwife’s Secret: The Mystery of the Hidden Princess, and The Other Daughter: the Midwife’s Secret II.


Filed under The Women Behind the Fictions

Daring to Believe: The Making of a Writer

Sarah MorrisSarah Morris is the author of Le Temps Viendra: A Novel of Anne Boleyn and co-author of In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn, a visitor’s companion to all the places and artifacts associated with one of England’s most iconic and controversial queens. You can visit her Facebook page for updates on her latest projects. This piece is a part of of our guest series, “Across/Beyond Genres with The Tudors: Guest Posts by Novelists, Historians, Cultural Observers, Poets, Memoirists, Artists, and Bloggers.”

I am writing this article for all of you who harbour a secret desire to write and express your passion for a subject that is no doubt close to your heart. It is true that every ‘would be’ creator of prose must face their own unique smorgasbord of obstacles – both real and imagined – in order to deliver the finished article. I do not know yours; but I do know that there were plenty of reasons why my recent publications should never have even been written in the first place. My hope is that in sharing some of my trials and tribulations, at least one of you will realise that there is no difference between us, and that your dream is right there for the taking – that if I can do it, then so can you.

First and foremost, although I had a life-long yen to write a book, my goal had steadfastly eluded me for nearly forty years. I certainly did not see myself as an author, and when I began to write the novel that would eventually turn into Le Temps Viendra: A Novel of Anne Boleyn in 2010, it was never meant to be published. It took three months of solid writing before I finally convinced myself that what was flowing from my imagination might be of interest to anyone other than me. This is an important milestone to reach; a shift in how we see ourselves, our very identity. I had to begin to relate to myself as an author.

In a way, maybe I was lucky. I never set out to write Le Temps Viendra (LTV), nor my second book, In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn, which, for me, flowed naturally from the first. I have always said that LTV happened to me, and so I found myself caught up in a miraculous process of creativity that swept me along in its wake. Quite often it felt as though the book demanded to be written, and I was merely a conduit through which the words could flow. But through this, I came to understand a key ingredient for success for both the books that I have written thus far; I felt passionately about my heroine, her story and her innocence. Ultimately, I was seized by an unstoppable desire to tell that story of innocence and play my part in righting the ancient injustice of her judicial murder. It became evident over the coming months just how important was that connection between me and Anne, and my sense of purpose in retelling her story. It would provide the drive and energy that would keep me going, when it might otherwise have been easier to set my work aside and confine it to the ‘too difficult’ pile.

In addition, to compound matters further, like many of you, I did not have the luxury of being able to write full-time. The financial reality of life meant, and still means, that writing is not my main occupation. My main work is in running my own business as a leadership coach, requiring me to divide my time between the sixteenth century, and the twenty-first, on a daily basis. Of all the obstacles, I personally find this the most challenging to navigate. It is not just physically about finding enough hours in the day to accommodate the demands of both, but energetically being able to elegantly dance between two very different worlds that require such different disciplines from me; being able to bring right concentration and effort to both is a continual struggle, demanding ruthless discipline and the ability to remain organised.

Yet, committing to write a book is no easy task, no matter how organised you are. This is why so many people speak of their desire to publish something, but never actually do it. One of my favourite quotes, that so perfectly sums up my relationship with writing, comes from Pablo Picasso who said, ‘I have put my heart and soul into my work, and have lost my mind in the process.’ There have been times when I literally felt like this was what was happening to me. In the case of both books, I have experienced the intensity of penning a work of fiction and non-fiction, and how success in reaching one’s goal requires not just a modicum of talent, but a fierce, relentless determination to stay the course, a sort of bloody-minded stubbornness to write that last word – no matter what. And for me, there was a cost. Hours of sitting in front of a computer screen during evening, weekends and holiday periods took its toll physically, and I developed what some people call ‘Electromagnetic Field Sickness’. It is something that I have had to work hard to manage, mainly by ensuring that I make time to go outside, in nature. My dog, Milly provides the perfect excuse to get me outdoors, where I can physically regroup and get my energy moving around my body.

After I finished In the Footsteps, I desperately needed time of to rest and recover. It had been an intense three years of writing. I have learnt many lessons about being more realistic with what I can achieve, given my innate capacity, and how much I can take on and still remain sane – and well. I suspect I needed to pass through this rite of passage; that this wisdom is borne only from the bloody aftermath of the heat of battle. And so I am taking my time, keeping my writing muscle flexed but giving myself space to allow the creative impulse to emerge once more. But if I were ever asked about what I feel is most important factor in writing a book, it would be that you start, and that you consistently turn up, and put one foot in front of the other, day after day. By doing so, you will eventually reach the summit, and although weary, I can promise you this – it will be exhilarating!


Filed under Across/Beyond Genres with The Tudors: Guest Posts by Novelists, Historians, Cultural Observers, Poets, Memoirists, Artists, and Bloggers