Anne Easter Smith has a passion for the York family. Her muse is the recently re-interred King Richard III, whose life and times she has studied for fifty years, and which led to a five-book contract about the York family during the Wars of the Roses with Simon & Schuster’s Touchstone Books.
Anne appeared on the blog several years ago writing about Edward IV’s women – a uniquely popular post on A Writer of History. I invited Anne to share an excerpt from her new novel to whet your appetites for more!
Excerpt from This Son of York
The night before a battle affected men in various ways. Some spent it drinking and carousing with the camp followers; some spent it hiding in the woods and nervously emptying their bowels; others passed the time playing dice; others in prayer; and still more, like Richard, in contemplating the insignificance of their earthly lives. “No matter what the priests tell you about each of us being important to God,” Richard had once said to his wife, “How can one life mean any more than another among so many throughout the history of mankind? As an anointed king, I must be more important than the beggar in the street, but in truth, I know I am not. When we die and molder in our graves, who will remember us then, one any more than another?”
“God will,” Anne had said simply, “you must believe He will. And because you are a king, your grave will be marked by a fine tomb announcing to the world who you were.” She had laughed then. “If I am lucky, I will lie with you and be remembered, too.” Dearest Anne, he thought guiltily as he lay on his elaborate camp bed, I must see to it that you are remembered.
The night was warm, and his tent was open to any welcome breeze that might waft by. In the past on the eve of battle, Richard had recited his prayers, had a cup of wine with fellow commanders, and slept well. Tonight, he knew, was different. Tomorrow he must fight for his crown as well as his life. He could not quite believe it had come down to this moment. He had acted honorably all his days, he thought, done his duty to his family, England and, lately reluctantly, to God.
A remark of the earl of Warwick’s occurred to him: “Scheming is a virtue if kings are to survive.” Is that what I have done—schemed? Nay, it is not, he reassured himself, it is not.The other part of his mentor’s homily had warned: “To be a great leader, you must learn the skills to be flexible in wooing allies to your side.” It was a skill that had come easily to Edward, but Richard’s reticence to trust had not charmed those he should have sought as allies. Was that where he had gone wrong? Instead of winning with words, friendship, and diplomacy, he had tried to buy men’s trust with land and offices. How many of his men understood him, he wondered.
Richard gave up examining his flaws, failures, and missteps, knowing he must concentrate on the morrow. He tried to close his eyes to the pricks of light from the hundreds of campfires and his ears to the drunken shouts, laughter and singing of the soldiers, the stamping and snickering of a thousand horses, and the clinking of the armorers and smiths making last-minute adjustments or repairs to harnesses. Everyone faced death in his own way, and Richard had no illusions that this might not be his time. He had a fifty-fifty chance, because in the end it would come down to him or Henry. Only one of them would wear the crown after battle, because the other would be dead—either in the field or later by the axe.
Part of him wished the two of them could fight it out alone and let all others return to their homes. He had no doubt he would run the Tudor through. Richard had trained hard since boyhood and fought in many battles to become the experienced soldier he was now; Henry of Richmond, wrongly claiming the crown, would be seeing battle for the first time, and, as Richard had heard, had not enjoyed the rigors of knightly training while languishing at Brittany’s court. Another part of him relished the thought of a glorious military victory and of extinguishing Lancastrian hopes forever.
He was suddenly jolted back to the other time he and Edward believed Lancaster had been vanquished, and, as was their wont, his thoughts returned to King Henry’s demise. Lancastrian Henry VI, son of the great victor of Agincourt and Edward’s predecessor, had played a part in Richard’s life since he’d been in swaddling bands, Richard remembered. He sat up, pushing black thoughts back into hell, and reached for his book of hours—the very one given him as a gift by Henry when Richard was but a lad. He stared at it now. How I wish I had listened to your advice, your grace, and never agreed to wear a crown. He groaned. Sweet Jesu, how has it come to this,he asked himself yet again. Paging idly through the prayer book, the gold and silver of the exquisite illuminations glinting in the candlelight, he indulged in pondering his life and began to wish he could return to the days when the worst of his troubles was being called the runt of York’s litter. It seemed so long ago…
Dickon, York’s youngest
Leicester, August 25, 2012
I arrive at the car park just as the 360-degree excavator is ripping into Trench One, and the first piece of the tarmac is removed. The machine will very shortly be going right over the painted letter ‘R’, close to where my instinct told me Richard’s remains lay when I first came here. I still believe it. Nothing has changed my mind….
I can’t take my eyes off the excavator and have to pinch myself as I watch….
The scoop arm drops down and begins to lift out giant clods of earth, debris and rubble, swinging them on to the spoil heaps. I check my watch. It’s 2:15 p.m….
Suddenly Mathew Morris’s hand shoots into the air. The excavator stops and Morris jumps into the trench. He looks up at me.
There’s a bone.
—Philippa Langley, excerpt from The King’s Grave
When was the first time Richard became aware the unsavory word was being used to describe him? Possibly as early as age seven, and it was then Dickon began to understand he would have to fight for his place in his illustrious family and indeed the world. Far too young, in truth.
It did not help to dispel the cruel moniker often given to a last-born that Richard, nicknamed Dickon to avoid confusion with his father, the duke of York, had a short, skeletal statureand had succumbed to frequent childhood illnesses. However, not long after Richard’s birth, when King Henry had happened by Fotheringhay, principal residence of the house of York, the king had raised the infant Richard high and proclaimed him, “A perfect prince!”
“He shall be king some day,” the king had declared. Duchess Cecily’s smile had frozen on her beautiful face as attendants gasped their horror. Not that the statement was untrue, but no one present could possibly have guessed Richard’s destiny. He was the fourth son of a duke—of royal blood, it needs to be said—but he was no king’s heir. Certainly there was mounting conflict between Henry’s house of Lancaster and the house of York as to which had the better claim to the Plantagenet crown, but war between these cousins was far from anyone’s mind. No, poor befuddled Henry had simply and sadly mistaken this child for his own, as yet, unborn son. The king had had lapses of sanity of late, it was true, but he appeared perfectly well, and thus the York courtiers could be excused for believing the king’s words, which they thought tantamount to treason. But how could a king speak treason against himself?
But Cecily knew better; she recognized the blank stare with which Henry gazed on her son and knew the king’s fragile mind had drifted. She realized he had no inkling of his lapse, and she felt sorry for him. Despite their quarrels, she and Henry had always liked each other—Cecily’s feelings more of concern, to tell the truth—and now to silence the murmurings around the room, she swiftly came to the king’s rescue.
“Your grace, this is my son Richard,” she had declared brightly. “Let me take him from you before he pulls off that pearl button. We cannot have him swallowing such a treasure!” She chuckled. “I see he already has good taste. Your son will be born soon, I hear,” she had run on smoothly. “What happy news!” Turning to her steward she asked that he escort the king to his chamber. “I can see you are weary, your grace. I pray you allow Sir Henry to make you comfortable.” And with her gracious and quick-witted intervention, the duchess had dispelled what had been an embarrassing but prophetic slip of Henry’s tongue. Looking down at her child, gurgling in his cradle, she could not possibly have dreamed what Fortune had in store for him.
This Son of York by Anne Easter Smith ~~ Concluding her best-selling Wars of the Roses series, Anne Easter Smith has made Richard III her protagonist in her latest book This Son of York. The much maligned Richard is brought into new focus following the discovery of his bones under a car park in Leicester in 2013.
As the fourth son of the duke of York, Richard of Gloucester could not have hoped for much more than the life of a wealthy, but insignificant nobleman. Instead fate took him down a drama-filled, unexpected path to the throne. As York challenged Lancaster for the crown, early tragedies and betrayals, including by his faithless brother George, led the young Richard to count on none but himself. Imbued with the traits of loyalty and duty to family and country, he proved them time and again especially when he reluctantly came to wear the crown. Buoyed by the love of two women, he stayed true to one while cherishing the other, both helping him bear the burden of his scoliosis.
A warrior of renown, a loyal brother, loving husband and father, a king mindful of injustice yet beset by betrayal, and a man convinced his God has forsaken him by burdening him with crippling scoliosis, This Son of York has a compelling tale to tell. With her meticulous attention to detail—and the truth—Easter Smith’s compelling storytelling paints a very different picture of the king Shakespeare reviled as “…thou elvish-marked, abortive, rooting hog.”
Many thanks, Anne. I’m hooked and I know others will be too.
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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.