In curledup.com contributor Luan Gaines' interview with Sandra Worth,
the author of
The Rose of York trilogy, exposes history's injustice to a maligned monarch, the burden of opposing loyalties, and the potential for fiction to challenge records and touch minds.
Interviewer Luan Gaines: What inspired you to write Richard III’s story from a new perspective?
Sandra Worth: The more I learned about him after seeing his portrait, the more difficult it became to reconcile the actions of his life with his reputation in history. Hitler said that if you tell the big lie and repeat it often enough, people will believe it. That’s what the Tudors did. A controversy rages about this king, but anyone who approaches the subject with an open mind can’t help coming to the conclusion that a terrible injustice has been done. You may not believe it, but the Wars of the Roses is still being fought today – only now in books. When scenes started coming to me, I knew I had to throw my hat into the ring for Richard.
Your novels are set against the chaotic background of the Wars of the Roses. What was the source of that conflict and what was the Plantagenet position?
The Wars of the Roses was a family feud, in many ways just like the movie The War of the Roses. But instead of a divorcing couple, the Plantagenet family was cousins from the Houses of York and Lancaster, and instead of fighting over a house, they fought over the Crown of England. Like the movie, by the time their feud was over, every legitimate heir of the Plantagenet dynasty lay dead. That is what brought the Tudors to the throne. It’s a tremendously rich human drama that so fascinated Shakespeare, he set most of his plays in this period.
In The Rose of York: Love & War, Richard is fatherless, raised by the Earl of Warwick, “the Kingmaker.” How do his years with Warwick shape Richard’s attitudes?
The Kingmaker was a man far ahead of his times. He was actually quite democratic and beloved by the people for his concern and generosity to the poor. He believed that merit should be the foundation of a man’s rise to power and he himself would have made a great king, but this was the feudal age when people still believed God’s will determined their place in society, and that God ordained by birth who should be king, noble, or common. Richard lived with the Kingmaker for most of childhood, and absorbed his ideas and concern for the common man. Eventually he married his daughter, Anne Neville, who had spent time in a kitchen as a scullery maid. As a result of their experiences, Richard and Anne had a unique appreciation of what life was like for common folk. As King and Queen, they tried their best to ameliorate the lot of their people with justice.
Receiving an education in statecraft at the side of King Edward IV and Warwick, Richard appreciates the contentious nature of the court, unhappy in the center of conflict. At what point does he realize the dangers of inheritance?
Richard realizes the dangers of his position at the tender age of six, when his father and older brother are murdered by the fiery French queen, Marguerite d’Anjou, and he’s forced to flee England for Bruges. It had to be a terrifying experience for such a young child to deal with so much loss all at one time in a foreign land, separated from his mother, and everything familiar to him. Much later in life, when his dead brother’s detested queen made a grab for power, the uncertainty of his position was probably brought home to him again. He may have relived some of those earlier experiences and fears as he grappled with the situation he found himself in.
The dark young man with two golden brothers, Richard is serious and responsible, choosing as his oath “Loyalty binds me.” How does this oath define and restrict Edward in the complicated relationships with those he loves? Does his loyalty become a burden?
It is an irony of Richard’s story that loyalty is a recurring theme as, time and again, he is faced with this agonizing choice. During the civil was between his brother Edward and the Kingmaker, does he remain true to the man who raised him as a father, and whose daughter he loves or does he choose to side with his royal brother, King Edward, to whom he’s not only bound by blood, but also by a sacred oath? Later still, Richard is faced with another brutal choice. After Edward’s death, he must choose between loyalty to his dead brother and his people. Does he suppress the truth and let Edward’s reviled and rapacious queen seize power and plunge the land into civil war, or does he expose Edward’s terrible secret and try to save his people from bloodshed? It is a wrenching choice, and an onerous burden.
Richard is attracted to Anne Neville since childhood, with an eye to marriage when they are of age. Why does Edward IV refuse to allow his brothers, Richard and George to marry the Neville daughters, Anne and Belle, respectively? Are the king’s objections valid or merely an exercise of his will?
In medieval times, royal children were used as pawns to cement treaties or extend royal power with other royals. King Edward’s two young brothers represented two valuable pawns to be used to great advantage in this situation. By marrying them to the Neville girls, Edward would be discarding his assets and placing even more power into the hands of his greatest rival. By refusing to grant his approval, he was asserting power over the Kingmaker, and that was no doubt how he wished it to be.
Once Edward IV marries Bess Woodville, Richard suffers, watching the king become estranged from brother George and suspicious of his faithful lords, particularly Warwick. Why does Elizabeth Woodville so hate the Nevilles and the king’s brothers? Politics, personal or both?
Paul Murray Kendall, Richard III’s most notable biographer, offers an explanation for her attitude. He suggests that she saw the King’s brothers as rivals for the riches that should go to her own family. Elizabeth Woodville seems to have been an extremely avaricious, controlling and manipulative individual with a strong vengeful cast to her nature. With George, Duke of Clarence, their hatred was personal and mutual. From the first, he had voiced loud disapproval of low-born Elizabeth Woodville as an unsuitable bride for his royal brother. With Richard, Elizabeth Woodville’s attitude rested more on greed, politics and fear. Though Richard, unlike Clarence, had always shown her respect, she believed Richard would make her pay for executing Clarence. As far as Warwick was concerned (and by association, the Nevilles), it was mainly a tug for political power, but with a strong need for revenge. During the Wars of the Roses, the Woodvilles were on the Lancastrian side. Warwick captured Elizabeth Woodville’s brother and father while they were asleep aboard ship instead of being prepared for battle, and he ridiculed them publicly. They became the butt of jokes throughout England for a long time. Elizabeth Woodville was determined to get even with Warwick for this humiliation. In any case, she had eleven brothers and sisters and the Woodvilles were not a wealthy family so she felt driven to acquire riches and power for them, which alienated most of the nobility, including Warwick.
What is the cause of Edward’s final rift with Warwick and what are the consequences for Richard?
Warwick had been battling the Queen for control of foreign policy: she wanted the King’s sister to marry into Burgundy, and Warwick wanted her to marry into France. When the King sent him on an embassy to France and then behind his back made a marriage pact with Burgundy, Warwick felt humiliated before the entire world. This was the last straw for him.
In the ultimate betrayal, the Duke of Warwick marries Anne to Prince Eduoard, son of Marguerite de Anjou of France. What causes Warwick to turn his back on Edward? What is Richard’s reaction?
Warwick had planned to depose Edward and place his son-in-law, Clarence, the King’s eldest brother, on the throne. But Clarence is almost as despised by the people as the Queen and her family. Warwick’s position in England is untenable due to the enmity and power of the Queen. He can’t depose Edward alone, so he joins forces with his former enemy and throws in his lot with Lancaster. Now Richard finds himself in a dreadful position. His motto is Loyalty Binds Me, and he must choose between the man who raised him as a son (and whose daughter he loves) and his brother King Edward. Loyalty to one’s king is the cardinal rule of the medieval code of honor, and to go against it is to commit the vile crime of treason. But whichever side he chooses, Richard knows he must fight a brother.
In Crown of Destiny, Richard and Anne have married, although they are cousins and have not yet received a dispensation from the Pope, one of the few times Richard follows his heart instead of his principles. As a family man, he begins a lifelong commitment to reforming the judicial system. How significant is this contribution, not only at the time, but for our modern day legal system?
HUGE! Its importance can’t be over-estimated! Richard took the region of the North, which had been torn by the unrest of civil war, and re-established law and order by his dedication to fairness and justice. (The modern counterpart would be taking Iraq and turning it into a haven of peace, prosperity and justice in record time!) Richard achieved this by adhering to a scrupulous code of fairness, for which he won the hearts of the people. When he became King, he proclaimed the revolutionary idea that every man should be seen as equal in the eyes of the law—which eventually became the modern idea of “Blind Justice,” the legal foundation of our democracy. Richard’s one and only Parliament gave bail to the innocent, protection from seizure of property to the innocent, reformed the judicial system with protections against bribery and tainted verdicts, and gave us the Statue of Limitations, so people couldn’t be hauled into court time and again on the same charge until the desired verdict was obtained. His laws brought justice to the common man and eventually flowered into modern Western democracy.
On his deathbed, Edward makes Richard Lord Protector of his heir, a task which Richard dutifully accepts. But Richard is chronically oblivious to the plotting of those who would thwart him, especially Elizabeth Woodville and Lord Hastings. Isn’t this trait a significant problem for Richard throughout his life?
Richard had a flaw fatal to a king: he was trusting, and he was trusting because he himself could be trusted. It seems to be a problem for honorable people to fully appreciate the deviousness of others (witness Jimmy Carter’s naiveté in telling Castro he would accept anyone who wished to come to the U.S., and Castro reacting by emptying his prisons and lunatic asylums, taking Carter by surprise). Probably due to the strict chivalrous code of honor he followed throughout his life, Richard gave others the benefit of the doubt, and was especially forgiving of women. Contrast this with the inherent paranoia of the Tudors who employed an army of spies, made torture an art, and didn’t concern themselves with a person’s guilt or innocence. Ruthlessly, they went about executing anyone who posed a threat to their hold on power, whether man, woman or child, even when their crime was nothing more than being born with royal blood with an inherent title to the throne. (Witness Henry VII’s brutal execution of the twenty-four year old Earl of Warwick who he had imprisoned in the Tower since the boy was eleven years old, and Henry VIII’s savage execution of Clarence’s daughter, seventy-year-old Margaret Plantagenet on the grounds that her son wouldn’t return to England from France).
Serving as Lord Protector and planning the coronation of Edward’s son, Richard is apprised of Edward’s secret. How does Richard react to this shocking revelation and what are the consequences of his decision?
He is appalled and disbelieving. It changes his view of his brother who had been, until this point in Richard’s life, a steady guiding light for him through all adversity. Now his entire life is turned upside down by the calamity. For the good of the realm, he finds himself forced by his dead brother’s recklessness into taking an excruciating decision that will change his own life, and alter the course of history.
At a pivotal point in Crown of Destiny, Hastings admonishes Richard, “You’re rare as the unicorn, but you won’t outrun the dogs.” True?
The unicorn was the medieval symbol of purity and integrity. Richard has adhered to a strict of honor and loyalty all his life, but he lived in a violent age of intrigue and betrayal that would ultimately prove his destruction. As Hastings sees it, Buckingham is one of the “dogs” but Richard refuses to take Hastings’ warning to heart, because Buckingham is his friend, and Richard has always been loyal to his friends.
Richard’s reaction to Hastings’ act of treason is extreme, considering his usually judicious handling of such issues. Why the overreaction and subsequent pardon of others who plotted with Hastings?
Richard’s extreme reaction to Hastings’ treason is actually in character. Loyalty, Richard’s strongest trait, is reflected in his motto, Loyaulte Me Lie. At seventeen, when faced with the critical choice between his love for Anne and loyalty to his king, he chose loyalty. No doubt the decision cost him dear since from that point on, when faced with disloyalty in those he loved and had trusted implicitly—his kin Hastings, his kin St. Leger, his kin Buckingham—his reaction was swift, violent, deadly. He could pardon others because they meant nothing to him and, therefore, he expected nothing from them. Hastings, however, had been friend, kin, and ally. His sin was too great to be borne.
Richard III is crowned, the country at peace, at least for awhile, but he is deeply saddened by the loss of his brothers and the loyal Nevilles. The unexpected death of Richard’s son, Ned, is devastating. How do the terrible losses, the burdens of kingship and the threat to the throne by Henry Tudor change Richard?
He feels abandoned by God who has taken from him everyone he ever loved. Always a deeply pious man, he has looked to God, first for hope, then for answers, and now he finds himself confronted only with silence. He takes that as God’s condemnation on him for actions taken and choices made. Betrayal and loss sap Richard’s will to live and he goes into battle, a deeply grieving father mourning his beloved wife, seeking God’s final judgment.
For many years, Richard compares himself to King Arthur. Yet he admits, in the end, that Arthur failed and chivalry is dead. What is Richard’s attraction to Arthur’s legend?
In times of civil strife, the human heart harkens back to a time when the world seems a better place. Camelot was one such time close to Richard’s heart because he knew Sir Thomas Malory personally (not shown in the book), and he was born in violence during the last days of the Age of Chivalry. The parallels of Arthur’s world to Richard’s world are stunning and placed the dream and myth of Camelot front and center for Richard. Arthur was born in violence, came to the throne in violence, and tried to bring peace to his world before being destroyed by violence himself. In Camelot peace ruled the land after a period of terrible upheaval because King Arthur brought justice to the people. Richard tried to do the same for England once he was king, and hoped for a better result. But, in the end, treachery destroyed his dreams, just as it had done King Arthur’s.
The deaths of the princes in the Tower have frequently been attributed to Richard III. Contrary to the prevailing influence of Tudor history and given your own extensive research, do you believe Richard is capable of such a crime?
Absolutely not. To give just one example, there were three little princes who stood between Richard and the throne, not only two, so what happened to the third prince? This was Clarence’s nine-year-old son, the orphaned Edward, Earl of Warwick. When Richard became King, one of the first actions he took was to send for this child and bring him into his household to live, and he treated him as family and loved him as one of his own. When Richard was killed at Bosworth, one of the first actions Henry Tudor took was to send for this child, now eleven. Tudor imprisoned him in the Tower of London and thirteen years later, he brought him out and beheaded him on a trumped up charge of treason. Edward, Earl of Warwick, was twenty-four years old, never having known freedom again after Richard’s death. Nothing illustrates the difference in the character of Richard III and Henry Tudor than this example. But there are many other clues that point to Richard’s innocence.
Along with the question of Edward’s right to sit the English throne, doubts are also circulated about Richard’s parentage, gossip that haunts him over the years. Do these claims have a basis in fact or are they merely the fruits of malicious gossip?
This idea that Richard was not a true Plantagenet exists only in my book. It doesn’t seem to have been common gossip in England, even though Richard was so different from the rest of his family. For me, this “outsider” feeling I attributed to Richard explains many of his actions for me. An article on my website, “Richard III: A Thoroughly Modern Man?,” previously published in The Ricardian Register, explores this idea in depth.
Richard governs his subjects with judiciousness, treating all with equality before the law. What are Richard’s most significant contributions to society? How has his legacy fared?
His legacy has fared very well indeed since it is the foundation for our own democracy! Today we take the rights he gave us for granted, never knowing they came from him. For example, he enacted bail for the innocent, so that people wouldn’t be imprisoned until after conviction of the crime of which they stood accused. He protected their property from seizure until after conviction, so it could not be confiscated based solely on an accusation. He gave us the statute of limitations so a person couldn’t be hauled into court time and again until the desired result was attained (as Bess Woodville did with Sir Thomas Cooke). Then there’s the jury system. It didn’t work well in Richard’s day since juries were packed with itinerants and verdicts were routinely bought and sold. He reformed it with protections against bribery and tainted verdicts and declared that only persons of “good repute” who owned property in the jurisdiction could serve on a jury. The important economic protection we call “Clear Title” even comes from him. This protection is to prevent unscrupulous sellers of land from selling the same property multiple times to unsuspecting buyers. Anyone who has ever bought a house is familiar with it.
Given your more human perspective of Richard III, The Rose of York trilogy has achieved much acclaim from enthusiastic readers. What media attention have you received since the publication of The Rose of York: Love & War, Crown of Destiny, and Fall from Grace? Are there articles and interviews we can read to learn more about your work?
There are some newspaper interviews posted on my website,
https://www.sandraworth.com/about.htm#TALK. Several more are coming out in April and May. In addition, The Romantic Times Magazine is doing a Clubhouse Feature in their May issue, and Houston Magazine is coming out with a feature interview in their April issue. These will eventually be posted on my website under “Author Info—Interviews.” I have also posted a series of non-fiction articles on my website that were published in the quarterly journal of the Richard III Society, The Ricardian Register.
How has your trilogy been received by the critics and the public-at-large? Do you feel you have successfully challenged the record of this much-maligned king?
I’m grateful that my books seem to have touched some minds and hearts. One interesting this is that the books seem to have crossed genres and been embraced both by romance readers as well as readers of serious historical fiction, widening the audience, which I think is a wonderful thing. In addition to all the lovely emails from readers telling me they would never again see Richard III as a villain, one high school senior wrote me to say she was changing her major from English Literature to History in college as a result of my book, and another reader wrote that she was so moved by Richard’s story that she is now a passionate Ricardian, has joined the Richard III Society, and is opening a chapter in her hometown of Santa Fe, NM. Naturally, I am absolutely delighted by all this.
Sandra Worth is the winner of numerous writing awards and prizes, ten of them bestowed thus far for The Rose of York trilogy.
Contributing reviewer Luan Gaines interviewed Sandra Worth, author of The Rose of York trilogy (see accompanying review), about
her books for curledup.com. Luan Gaines/2007.