An Interview with
Anne Easter Smith
Gaines: What was your inspiration for A Rose for the Crown?
Anne Easter Smith:I have been interested in Richard III since I read The Daughter of Time in the mid-1960s. I learned Richard was a Bad King in our British boarding school history books and when I read Josephine Tey's well researched mystery novel, I was fascinated to realize that somehow history had been skewed by the winners of Bosworth--those upstart Tudors. Shakespeare was the real culprit though, as his play reached the masses, and the story of the hunchbacked king who bumped off half of his relatives--including the adorable princes in the Tower--is pretty much what got written into history books, unfortunately. Part of the mission of the Richard III Society, to which I belong, is to try and get people re-interested in the period and reading what really happened. I hope my book sends people to other non-fiction resources to find out more about this much maligned king. I am not saying he was a paragon, I am saying he wasn't any better or worse than anyone in power in those days. There is a great line written by who knows who: "To have been born of royal blood in medieval times was to court an early death."
One of Kate Hauteís most pleasing attributes is her outspokenness. Why is this quality so unusual in 15th-century England?
Women of the period were a lot stronger than one tends to think. They very often had to run homes, castles, estates when their men were away fighting. They were working in the fields alongside their men; some had their own businesses, although they were not allowed into the guilds; and they learned how to hunt along with the men. But generally, they were seen but not heard when in the company of men. However, Cecily of York, Edward IV and Richard III's mother, was a force to be reckoned with and after her husband's death and Edward became the hope of the House of York, she advised him for the first few months of his reign. But generally, Kate would most certainly have been chastised for her boldness--and I had her mother and Elinor try and discipline her. But Kate saw how it amused both her father and Richard Haute, and she mentally put that away in her bag of tricks.
In that context, Kateís limited education is enhanced by her association with her cousinís family and later, the Sir John Howardís at Tendring Hall. How does a young woman of humble beginnings increase her future fortunes by association with families of influence? How important are these connections to the furtherance of marriage, family revenues, etc.?
Many young people were sent into the homes of wealthier relatives in those days -- if the relative was kind enough to take them in. There are many examples of this throughout history, and anyone who has read Dickens will know that it was still prevalent in the Victorian times. Of course it gave a young woman a leg up, but Kate could not have immediately married into the Haute family on the Ightham Hautes' level. Her physical desirability was what saved her from becoming a lady's companion and spinster. That is why I had her marry Thomas Draper first--he was not in the same class as the Hautes, but he left her very well off and a wealthy widow was a very desirable marriage partner, no matter what her beginnings were. But do not assume she could in any way have married higher than George Haute with her beginnings. In the previous century, Katherine Swynford, who was the daughter of a knight (certainly much higher up than Farmer Bywood) and husband of a knight, became the governess to John of Gaunt's children because John took her as his mistress. She had several children with him, and after his first two wives died and he was near death himself, he asked his son, the king's permission to marry her and legitimize their brood. But this was a rare exception.
Kateís first husband, a kindly and bumbling draper, allows her the freedom to choose who she wants to marry. Regardless of her status as a widow, how does Kateís youth affect her inexperience in the choices she makes?
Answered in previous question, except that she had no choice. I had her marry George because I needed to move her into a circle where she could have met Richard of Gloucester--and because the character's name I had chosen actually existed and I had to have her get the Haute name. Because my theme of loyalty was important to maintain, I wanted to make sure Kate was true to herself and her morals by making George the way he was so that she could be with Richard without breaking those rules.
Much has been written about Richard III, yet you portray him as a more likeable character in his youth and through the eyes of a woman. Despite his bad press, were you confident of selling this more sympathetic Richard?
I was extremely confident because I am certainly not the first. May I recommend Josephine Tey (see above), Sharon Kay Penman's Sunne in Splendor, Rosemary Hawley Jarman's We Speak No Treason, Meredith Whitford's Treason and a host of other Ricardian novels that have been written over the past several decades. Most impressive in the non-fiction category is Paul Murray Kendall's Richard III biography--probably a little too generous, but all well documented. Richard is a very intriguing man--he only reigned for two years and yet there has probably been more written about him than almost any other of our English kings!
Historically, Richard sired three children out of wedlock; how did you arrive at Kate Hauteís character and what does she bring, as a commoner, to this turbulent time in English history?
I knew when I set out to write A Rose for the Crown that I wanted to write it from an every-day woman's perspective. Medieval life fascinates me and especially daily life. My second book has been more difficult for me because I am inside palaces and politics, but I've had a fascinating experience with it.
With vague connections to the throne, would it actually have been possible for a woman like Kate to reach the status she achieved in her lifetime and consort to the king and mother of his children?
Probably not--but I tried very, very hard to make A Rose for the Crown as plausible a story as I could. I wanted people to buy into it. By the time I finished, I was quite convinced Kate Haute had actually existed! I hope I drew readers in as well.
In a period rife with internecine war and constant betrayals, what does Kate offer a beleaguered Richard that he can find nowhere else?
Obviously, Kate offers Richard true love, a chance to be a father, a sounding board with no axe to grind, and some peace and quiet away from court.
Richard prizes loyalty above all else and when he weds Anne Neville, he breaks completely from Kate, regardless of their love. Is this unusual? Didnít most royals keep their mistresses and children nearby?
I think it would be presumptuous of me to say whether it was unusual or not. Let us say many royals had their mistresses at court, but just like politicians and royals today, many may have had clandestine affairs that no one knew about. After all, they didn't have the paparazzi and tabloids hounding their every footstep back then! I really don't know. Because no one knows who Richard had his bastards with, I had to make a plausible story as to why Kate was not visible.
Kate is certainly as loyal as Richard and will never disappoint him. Is her loyalty ever misplaced, for instance, her desire to protect Georgeís parents from their sonís shame and the decision to send her third child away, without telling his father about his existence?
I think it is obvious from the book why she sent Richard of Eastwell away and didn't tell Richard. That is also part of the history we know--whether Richard of Eastwell was actually a bastard of Richard's we really aren't sure. But I think he was and because he was not at court with the other two (which history tells us they were), then Richard must not have known about him.
From the beginning of their clandestine relationship, Kate knows that Richard will not, cannot marry her, yet she is shocked when he marries Anne. Is her pain more from the reality of their break or Richardís choice of wife?
I would use the word devastated when it actually happens. How could she have been shocked when he told her right from the start that one day he would have to marry for state. Anne Neville was an unknown to Kate -- she was a rival, that's all, and so naturally Kate resented her.
Kate is forced to make some painful decisions for the safe-keeping and futures of her children. Were it not for her relationship with Richard, would the children have been lost to their mother once under the care of the father? What was the common practice in such matters?
I do not think that a parent would have been kept from a child unless the parent was some whore from a brothel and the child was a king's son (and was taken into the household). I think there were probably many royal bastards brought up in monasteries and nunneries i.e. left on church doorsteps. But this is just conjecture.
Do years and experience finally temper Kateís impulsiveness?
I hope not! That's what makes her so endearing.
Besides offering her unique perspective on the War of the Roses, Kate Haute relates equally to peasants and kings, affording the reader an inside view of the times. How did you tackle the enormous amount of research involved I writing A Rose for the Crown?
This was a mammoth task, and it took me four full years to research and write the book. I had never done research like this before (I never went to college) and so it took me a while to get a system going. I collected bits and pieces of information from many sources--museums like the Cluny in Paris, London Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, just going around and writing descriptions of artifacts I saw. I read copious biographies and essays about the people in the Wars of the Roses, I spent days walking over all the ground I covered in the book, picking up maps and brochures. I got books on medieval life, food, pastimes, costumes, castles, chivalry etc.and have quite a library now. I have spent many happy hours in the New York City Public Library, where they have a fabulous amount of material on 15th century England. As a member of the RIII Society, I am on the listserv and as many of the members are more scholarly than I, I often got answers to questions within minutes that would have taken me hours finding in a library. The web has been very helpful in my second book. During the writing and researching of "Rose" in the late 1990s, I had dial-up and the web was not as extensive as it is now.
What would you like your readers to take away from reading your novel?
A fascination with the period and that history doesn't have to be text-book dry. People throughout the ages have had the same hopes, dreams, desires, despair and difficult decisions as we have today, and I hope I have painted a picture of what life might have been like in medieval times.
Are you currently working on another novel? If so, can you share something about your new project?
Daughter of York has just been submitted to my editor and should be in the stores by April 2007. It is the story of Margaret of York, Richard's older sister, who is sent to be married to Charles the Bold, duke of Burgundy, without ever having seen the man. She was a bibliophile--William Caxton's first printed book in English was a commission from Margaret--and had one of the best minds in medieval Europe. Had she been born a boy, I have no doubt she would have made England an excellent king!
As a first-time novelist, do you have any wisdom for would-be writers?
Keep at it and listen to your heart--and your characters--as you write. I am a poster child for stumbling through a first book without a single clue as to why or where I was going with it. I had no intention of trying to get it published. I just wanted to see if I could actually finish something I had started in my life!
A native of England, Anne Easter Smith has lived in the United States for more than thirty-five years. She is a member of the Richard III Society and lives in Newburyport, Massachusetts, with her husband, Scott. You can visit her website at
Contributing reviewer Luan Gaines interviewed Anne Easter Smith, author of A Rose for the Crown (see accompanying review), about
her book via email for curledup.com. No part
of this interview may be reproduced without permission. Luan Gaines/2006.