• Shakespeare Olympiad

    Now that Shakespeare is part of this year’s London Olympics we’re going to be seeing his play about Richard II all over the place.  In fact it’s at the Globe shortly, in Palestinian Arabic.  It’s a wonderful play but what has this Richard to do with the real King Richard II?  Precious little in my opinion but the play is already unleashing a virulent round of Plantagenet bashing by the apologists for his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster and, after a bit of crown snatching, King Henry IV.

    It always starts with name calling.  Richard is petulant, whining, in a funk of self pity, cowardly, pompous and self-dramatising.   With the upshot that he deserved to lose his crown and die. 

    But where does this view come from?  A look at the sources show that it’s a hackneyed replaying of the bad press first put about by the Lancasters themselves to justify the theft of the crown by Bolingbroke.

    But hang on, doesn’t Shakespeare agree?  He surely does.

    Why? you might ask.

    It’s because he used Holinshed’s Chronicles for his source material.  Based on an idea of Reginald Wolfe, these were an editorial collaboration on stories from England’s past.  Wolfe died in 1573, too late to see publication, but the chronicles were such a success they were revised and republished in 1587, the version used by Shakespeare for his history plays.

    With a refined network of spies and a delight in beheading anybody they didn’t like the tyrannical Tudors, from Henry VII to Elizabeth I, were alert to any suggestion that their dynasty was founded on theft, murder and violation of the divine right of kings.  Anyone who disagreed had to watch their heads.  Hence the bias.  Inexplicably, the litany of prejudice against the deposed Richard continues to this day.

    Later I’ll show in more detail why Richard has been unjustly maligned.  Watch this space!


  • We’re the orchestra on the Titanic…

    or  in a lifeboat on a stormy sea?  EdVictor and Clare Alexander sum up what authors and publishers were feeling at the London Book Fair this week.  News had just broken that the US Department of Justice had decided to clamp down on a fixed price for ebooks.  It makes promises from the proliferating ebook publishers of 85% royalties  pretty meaningless.  85% of nothing? 99%?  It’s still zilch.  It brings back memories of the abolition of retail price maintenance and the catastrophic effect that had.  Apart from Penguin, Macmillan and Apple who are going to fight hard, who else cares?  Better take Pigling Bland’s advice and grow potatoes?

  • At last! A new twitter name. Please tweet Nunsleuth. I’ll be waiting.

  • The Dragon of Handale Priory

    Last week I pur on my walking boots and climbed up a steep cliff to have a look at the place where Hildegard goes next, a priory called Handale in the wilds of North Yorkshire.  It must have been a hellish place in the middle ages.  Set on a lonely cliff in the middle of thick woodland, it was famous for the  firebreathing dragon that stalks the surrounding Handale Woods.  It’s steep and wild country here with tumbling ironstone cliffs to the sea and a sinister castle close by.  It’s  just north of Whitby so it’s not surprising that Bram Stoke set his novel about Dracula in the area.  We climbed up through the mazy woods to a high ridge and although we got lost we didn’t come across any of the dragon’s descendants.  Not that time anyway.  The famous one gained its reputation by luring the local girls to his lair and then eating them.  He was killed by a tough knight called Scar who wielded a five foot sword.  His bones and the rusting sword were discovered in a stone coffin in 1830 but where are they now?  I’d love to know.  And where are the dragon’s bones?  After Scar killed it he found a fifteen year old girl  tied up in a nearby cave, waiting  for supper.  Later Scar marrried an earl’s daughter and  lived at the awe inspiring castle at Kilton.  This is a ruin now, very atmospheric, standing out against the stormy sky on a high ridge overlooking the moors.  There’s more about it in my next book, the fifth of Hildegard’s sleuthing adventures.  But I’m not sure the dragon will make an appearance.  Maybe he will…hang on, what’s that rustling in the woods..?