100 Days of Solitude: chpt 4

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Upsplash

A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the story of seven generations of the Buendia family, which founded the riverside town on Macondo in the jungle of Columbia. In the first generation the isolated town has no outside contact except for an annual visit from a Gypsy band. It is a place where the inexplicable can happen and ghosts are commonplace. Many misfortunes befall the Buedias, all of which it turns out have been predicted. It is a long book, perfect if you are still, like me, a coronavirus shut-in.

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Day 74: Black Lives Matter:

Bona Fides: my mother’s people came over on the Hopewell, 3 ships or so after the Mayflower and landed in Plymouth. A cousin would brag we came over on the Mayflower and then add sardonically that we were well-bred and dirt poor.

I live in a building where the brown and black and other non-white complexions outnumber us whities. When I get off the elevator the only thing I remember about their appearance is whether they wore a mask. N.B. the children are incredibly beautiful. I once tried to describe a handyman to my sister – I had forgotten his name. She couldn’t figure out who I meant. “He put up my curtain hold-backs,” I said. “Oh, you mean G. Why didn’t you say he was black?” I stared at her. “He’s black?” I said.

We watch George Floyd dying as a policeman kneels on his neck for over 8 minutes. The next day we see the other angle – two other cops kneeling on his body. The cop on his neck had worked with  Floyd as a bouncer at a club. Police were called because Floyd had tried to pass a phony $20 bill, a capital punishment crime apparently. And how do you actually know you have a phony bill?

Demonstrations in support of  Black Lives Matter start across the United States and spread to Canada and around the world and they don’t stop, day after day, night after night. By day 78, Minneapolis is in flames.Then Atlanta and all across the country, cities are burning..

In December 2017, I had been talking to my ex-husband, Blake. We both loathed Donald Trump who gave us new reasons every day. Absentmindedly, I said, “I can see the cities burning.” It was a truly nasty vision and I put it well away. Blake didn’t. He kept repeating it as if it was his idea. He had had stage 4 cancer for 10 years and was only then beginning to weaken. In January 2019, it was clear he needed me and our son to take a hand in his care. He kept talking about cities burning and only Bernie Sanders could stop it. He thought it was a class revolution. He died before Bernie lost and well before the vision that I couldn’t remember came true.

Day 79: Watching the L.A. demonstration on TV at midnight, I was moved to call my grandson there. He had just got back from marching. He had been hit by rubber bullets three times, one glanced off his gas mask (!!), one hit his backpack, which he was wearing on his front (no score) and one made his foot bleed. At least eight people in the U.S. lost an eye to rubber bullets.

The Floyd family appeals to demonstrators to stop the carnage and they do. My grandson decides before that it is too dangerous and stops going.

Demonstrations continue. Trump retreats to his bunker. For inspection purposes. Then he calls some sort of military force out to clear Lafayette Square in front of the White House, so he can walk to the church across the square without permission from said church and hold up a Bible. One of the clergy of that church has just been tear gassed and another driven back from her first-aid post.

(Day 75: My Super Power

By the power of my negotiating skills, I save a marriage. It has to be saved again a few weeks later, but the couple can, by then, do it themselves.)

I have marched in many demonstrations, sometimes with my husband and small children, always for social justice causes. I was union rep when I taught. I hear Canadians sanctimoniously declare there is no systemic racism in Canada. While it is true since we didn’t have slavery, our racism may be harder to see, white people don’t get to decide that. Native people do and black and brown and yellow people, immigrants, do. Only they can see it.

Seers only
witness
to avoid
forfeiture
Sinche, Sinche 
celiadermontblog.com

Day 92: As a child, I was shut in boxes. Not for punishment. Far from it. I was a ‘special’ child. For one thing I had webbed toes. I was shut in boxes for increasingly longer periods of time so that I would develop my psychic skills. I was not keen on being special or shut in boxes or being psychic. But my cult was. The cult is shut down now, but I still know what’s in the mail before I open the box or when a loved one is in trouble and I see cinema-scope productions in my head – just flashes – momentary glimpses. Of the future.

Trump decided to hold a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I fight off these flashes for days, but then a week before it happens, in an unguarded moment, I have a horrific vision. It is at night. It has no color. But then colors can’t be seen at night. I try to focus on my TV program, but finally, I have to phone my sister. I find I can’t actually talk. But she knows me. She waits until I begin blurting it out. By now I can’t get my breath, I am shaking uncontrollably, I feel as if my head is going to explode and I want to vomit. Little by little she drags it out of me – the noise of explosions and falling fire, airplanes, rushing fire, machine gun shots, screams and  running feet. “It’s destroyed,” I say. “The whole town is destroyed. There’s nothing left but black ruins. The people are gone. They’re going to destroy Tulsa.” Trump’s followers fighting the BLM people. “It already happened,” she says. “Don’t get metaphysical on me,” I all but yell. “No, no, stop,” she says. “It happened in 1921. You’re seeing the past. It’s called the Greenwood Massacre. Look it up on your phone.”

While she tells me what she remembers from a recent report, I scan through the Wikepedia entry and race on to the next article. The prosperous black community of Greenwood leveled to the ground, looted, 300 people dead, 6,000 -black people of course – taken into custody for 8 days. Residents, impoverished, homeless, wandering.

“Why would I be seeing that?” I demand. Georgie sighs, “All time is one. You know the drill. You’ve seen it before probably.” I hate that idea. Al time is one. Everything that happened, happens or will happen is happening now. The panic threatens to restart. Some days of my life have been so awful that I want them sealed safely in the past.

Day 100: The day of the Tulsa rally arrives. the rally is ill-attended, partly because teenagers who do not intend to attend reserve seats on Tik Tok, partly because Trumpers are not that stupid. They prefer not to die of Covid. There are very few anti-rally demonstrators. A Republican senator subsequently gets Covid, along with a good many others no doubt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Motherless six-year-old looks at the World in 2020

The 13th century poet, Rumi asked, “Who looks out with my eyes?” Lately, it has been my 6-year-old self.

When I was 6, a bad thing happened and I nearly died. I was hurt bad physically, but much more deeply in my heart and my soul. For a while, I was drifting away until the loving care of my Aunt Mae pulled me back and healed me up with nothing more than a few herbs, a tin bath tub and raspberry pie.

By the time, I returned home, I had no memory of what had happened. Mae had taught me to put the pain away in the inner-most doll of a series of Russian dolls. And under her care, I learned to read the whole of the first Dick and Jane book and add numbers all the way to 10. I had missed almost the entire month of September, but I was way ahead of the other kids. On the December report card, I came first.

I didn’t work my way down to that innermost Russian doll for 60 years. Only then did I learn her story.

For over twenty years now I have had to return to that child and try to address her despair and depression. It hasn’t worked very well. There are dolls around my house and teddy bears, a child’s rocking chair and certainly, I have catered to her love of reading. One of my best friends is my younger sister, whose newborn croup figured significantly in the ‘bad thing’. But the 6-year-old, let’s call her Jo as her maternal grandfather did, has been subject to what is best explained by the old spiritual, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child/ a long way from home, dear Lord/ a long way from home”. (See my memoir Never Tell  at joycehowe.com

Naturally, she has sought to attach herself to substitute mothers, and to feel equally abandoned when these people didn’t do the job. One of these has recently pointed out that I have within me the power to deal with Jo and her insatiable needs myself. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse – not that I didn’t want to.

So I began the tearful task of confronting Jo’s feelings head-on. (I have described this process.)    https://115journals.com/?s=the+cure+for+pain

I thought twice a day meditations on the trauma would fix things pretty quick. On the 4th day, I felt sufficiently together to go to the grocery store. Rude awakening. Jo was so depressed I could barely concentrate. I weighed a bag of mushrooms at the self-check-out and put in the code for whole wheat dinner rolls. I tried to walk out without paying for 2 gallon jugs of spring water. The friendly helper finally decided I was just dotty not larcenous. I unloaded my groceries into the car’s trunk and sat in the driver’s seat getting a grip.

At home, I decided that little Jo needed more conversation, so I started to talk to her – in my head, I hasten to say.

Now Jo belongs to an earlier time, September 1942 to be precise – when things weren’t going well in the war. It was not at all clear that Hitler wouldn’t win and send his bad men knocking on our door even in the province of Quebec in Canada. Children knew as much about the war as the CBC was permitted to tell us while we ate our dinner at noon and we understood how dire things were because we eavesdropped on adults in the time- honoured childhood way. That’s not to mention the school propaganda campaign that had us dragging in carts of glass bottles, tin cans, newspaper and stinky leftover fat to win the war.

Moreover, we were not only poor, we were rationed. Butter, eggs, lard, sugar and even molasses, the stalwart nutrients of any poor family were hard to come by.

As a result of this background Jo burst onto the scene full of -not grief – but wonder and curiosity. I spent a whole evening explaining – in my head. Her daddy had told her about the fact that after the war, radio would have pictures. She hadn’t believed him, but seeing it was not surprising. She had seen a refrigerator in the house across the street, but could I make ice cream like our neighbour. It was an exciting evening. Jo just would not calm down. In between these lessons, I reminded her that I was a big person now and I was her mommy. I didn’t choose to watch anything scary on television, but I did have to sing three verses of Amazing Grace. She was disappointed that my voice had got old, but it improved on the third rendition.

Today, she is quieter, but I know she isn’t going to let me bury her back inside that Russian doll and I can feel her looking out of my eyes.

Who Says Words with My Mouth

Who looks out with my eyes? What is
the soul? I cannot stop asking.

If I could taste one sip of an answer,
I could break out of this prison for drunks.

I didn’t come here of my own accord,
and I can’t leave that way.

Whoever brought me here will have to take me home.

Rumi trans. Coleman Barks. The Book of Love p. 57

 

Victoria and Abdul: on the eve of destruction

As Queen Victoria lay dying, her friend and Munshi (teacher) Abdul Karim had a few minutes alone with her. Abdul was a Muslim from Agra, India, a prison clerk, who had been selected to present a medal to Victoria, Empress of India, primarily because he was tall. Victoria subsequently became fond of him, made him an important part of her household and announced she would knight him. Meanwhile, he taught her Urdo and some of the wisdom of the East.

As he leaned over her death bed, she whispered that she was afraid. He replied, “Let go, Little Drop, you will join the great ocean.” These, he added, are the words of Rumi, but it is Allah who is the teacher, implying that neither he nor Rumi deserve such credit.

As they talked, Bertie, her son and the future king and her grandson, Germany’s Kaiser, waited outside along with the other high-ranking members of the royal household.They were not best-pleased. They had tried to stop her from making Abdul a knight by threatening to have her declared insane. She replied by listing her manifold shortcomings – rheumatism, greediness, morbid obesity, dullness, etc., but declared she was not insane. She had ruled the British Empire 61 years and 234 days and she was not about to step aside. (In fact she ruled, in the end, 63 years, 7 months and 2 days, surpassing even George III. Since then, of course, another queen has beat her record.) Judi Dench portrayed Victoria’s repudiation of her court’s rebellion by announcing she would dub no knights that year, but she would make Abdul a member of the Victorian Order of Merit.

The story is based on fact – mostly – including Abdul’s journal, which managed to escape Edward VII’s (Bertie’s) pillaging of Abdul’s effects once his mother was dead.

Judi Dench is old enough to depict the physical decline of Victoria in her 80s. There is a scene where she sits in her night clothes at her dressing table, her long, straight hair hanging down, her ravaged face registering her disappointment that Abdul has misled her about the Muslim role in the Indian Mutiny. (It was the Muslim, not the Hindu, soldiers in the British army that threw down their arms: they had heard their guns were greased with pig fat. Wholesale slaughter ensued.) Watching that scene is particularly affecting for an older woman like me even though “she doesn’t look her age”. It set me up nicely for the death scene. I had to keep hitting pause in order to wipe my glasses.

Rumi’s poetry, translated by Coleman Barks, has been a great comfort to me, especially his Book of Love. I read Blake his poem called The Gazing House just before he passed. Blake was apparently unconscious but I knew he could hear.

On the night when you cross the street
from your shop and your house to the cemetery,

you’ll hear me hailing you from inside
the open grave, and you’ll realize
how we’ve always been together.

I am the clear consciousness core
of your being, the same in ecstasy
as in self-hating fatigue

……
And don’t look for me in human shape!
I am inside your looking. No room for form
with love this strong.

Rumi the Book of Love trans. Coleman Barks p.178

Victoria and Abdul had that kind of love despite the 60 years and class and race that lay between them. His last words to her are “You are going to a safer place.”

Meanwhile, we must be patient.

 

Hillbilly Elegy: reflection #2

In my last post, ‘Hillbilly Elegy: a personal reflection’, I related J.D. Vance’s experience in a family from a Kentucky holler transplanted to an Ohio steel town, to my own. We left the Hill in the Eastern Townships of Quebec to come to a steel town in Ontario.

I pointed out that an elegy is a lament for the dead. But, honestly, who could lament the passing of a class of such people, prone to violence, alcoholism, drug addiction, lack of ambition, despair and, finally, sloth?

The short answer is me.

After I posted the article, I began to feel very sad. Was it just the mountain I missed, the sunny open hay fields, the granite and the slate, the noisy trout streams and the deep, sighing woods? Surely it could not be the macho male culture.

My young uncles, younger than me were my playmates initially. There was a young aunt too. Together we four, armed with sandwiches and a wire handled bottle of spring water, would hike off to the nearest brook to cool off. We jumped in the hay mow together, played ‘Kick the Can’ and held country music fests on the roof of the garage. Their father, my maternal grandfather, would sit with us on the porch as evening gathered, and point out Venus. He called the porch the ‘piazza’ to make us laugh.

Ostensibly, it was a teetotal society. Beer and booze in general were spoken of in whispers.

Because, at the time, I was my father’s only child, I got a glimpse into the hidden side of our community, quite unlike the church yard where the ladies stooped as the minister arrived in case their dresses were too short.

In this other world, the backwoods camps, there was plenty of hooch made by my great grandfather and served in bean cans. Rinsed at least once. The latest kill, in or out of season, would be on display. There would be much laughter at jokes I couldn’t really understand, and bad language.

Eventually, my young uncles’ voices got deeper and rougher. They left school at the end of grade seven and began hard labor in their early teens.

When my husband and I, with professional careers and two children, went back to the hill for Christmas, the ‘boys’ took my citified husband off to such a camp on snow mobiles. They didn’t come back that night. I was, of course, frantic. They had got him roaring drunk, a familiar and manageable state for them. In the morning out hunting, they handed my husband a rifle and dared him to shoot a ground hog sitting on a stump. He shot it through the eye and never forgave himself. (Either that or Hitler turned him into a really annoying pacifist.)

What’s not to love?

On the other hand, there was the Guild. The women met in the church hall, a splendid structure with an art noveau interior, a curtained stage and a kitchen. The dances that were held there were a kind of bacchanalia for us kids. The Guild meetings were more sedate. Perhaps we played with the crayons and paper from the Sunday School room in the church. The women sat in a circle and conducted business, usually about projects they were undertaking. Then they got on with the quilt they were piecing together to raffle off, or they  took up their knitting, grey wool socks for the soldiers after 1939.

There was tea and home baking – cookies, squares, even a frosted cake. Not the luxurious spread of the oyster suppers or chicken dinners that ended with a glut of pie, but sugar nonetheless. Or some syrup substitute as rationing came in.

At the dances, the men would filter outside while the fiddle and the piano played South of the Border, Down Mexico Way. What went on out there, besides laughing and smoking was ignored, although female noses turned up at some of the returnees.

Guild meetings were altogether safer. For a year, I was the only baby on the Hill. I would have been adored by all those baby-loving women even if I were ugly. They led me to believe I was not. I remember lying on the edge of the stage being fitted into my snowsuit, while Maude, my mother’s cousin, or Mae, a great aunt on one side and step great grandma on the other, dressed me while singing Bye Baby Bunting. They called a snow suit a bunting bag. According to the song my daddy was out killing a rabbit to make me one.

In short, at Guild meetings, I floated in a sea of love, and this, Aunt Mae and Maude would teach me in Sunday School, was the love of God, ‘which passeth understanding’.

Still float there! I know, I know. Just hard to remember in the face of old age, distance from loved ones and even alienation. But that early grounding enabled me to continue the creation of something beautiful, not just my family, my extended family, my beautiful newly published book, but my own self.

So thank God for hillbillies!

Hour of the Hawkjoycehowe.com

 

 

 

Separatism Fatigue

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I was born in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada, (on the border with Vermont and New Hampshire) and although I moved away when I was nine, my heart still lives under Hereford mountain. So imagine my surprise when I reacted to the latest uproar about Quebec separating from Canada by wearily wishing it would just go and be done with it.

I must have got old and crotchety, I thought. How could I think that? True I didn’t journey to Montreal in 1995 as thousands of others from right across Canada did in a massive demonstration of love, which worked. That referendum was defeated and we have had almost twenty years of something like peace, not all that peaceful but not excessively worrying either.

On the other hand, we have been stewing over this problem since the early sixties when A Royal Commission on Bilingual and Bicultural-ism was set up in answer to growing Québec nationalism. The effect was that people enrolled their children in French immersion schools across the country and seriously ambitious folk made themselves bilingual. We had a brief cultural détente during Montreal Expo in 1967, but the next year, we had FLQ terrorism and murder in the name of Separatism. We had the War Measures Act, martial law in Québec. Individually, we had serious inner conflict. That was the year the Parti Québeçois was formed by the merging of two existing parties. Under the leadership of René Lévesque, it won the provincial election in 1976.

I took that very hard. My mother, who had been given two weeks to live in 1970, was by the fall of 1976, unable to fight death off any longer and this Lévesque wanted to take away my motherland.

English speakers left Montreal in droves and flocked a few hours down the road to Toronto doing their bit to liven up their new city.

In 1980, Lévesque held the first referendum to that effect, weighting the question by what we Anglais considered to be an ambiguous question. Despite this the No’s prevailed, settling the question, we thought. Foolish hope. In 1995, after the Unity Rally, the No’s won again but barely.

Before I go on, a little personal history. I was an English-speaking Québecer. The mortgage on our farm was held by a Frenchman. He was depicted in family conversations like Simon Legree. I was dragged along by my father to “negotiations” with this man. The rest of the continent might have been pulling out of the Great Recession, but not Hereford Hill. The only reason we were still eating, and not well at that, was we grew potatoes, milked cows,  and hunted. I remember those tense ‘sort of’ conversations. Hard to talk when two people don’t share language, except for swear words. So my father gave up the farm. “Je me souviens” (“I remember”) is on the Quebec license plates. It’s not clear if it means the Battle of the Plains of Abraham where the British won over the French, or the humiliation of having to address the Federal government in English. When I read it, I remember being downtrodden by the French.

In the years since Lévesque’s win, Québec has passed laws limiting education in English schools. If you are a native French speaker or an immigrant, you are required to go to a French school. Together with the falling birth rate in the province, this policy has reduced the population, although people from Haiti or Morocco, French-speaking countries, flock in, it seems. Not sure how the “pur laine” (pure wool) the good old fashioned French Québecois, feel about that.

For a while in the 70’s, when I visited, store clerks, etc. actually pretended not to understand any English or my fractured French. I do have several years of study, but unfortunately under English speakers who had dreadful accents. My children fared better with French-speakers and summers in France. That is changed now. Hotel employees and other service providers are eager to communicate. They have lost their Parisian frostiness.

As I said in an earlier post, it is still not possible to figure out all the highway signs and I find myself praying – in English- that the one I just sailed past uncomprehendingly, didn’t say “Road closed ahead”. Let’s see “rue fermé…” And sort out “est” and “ouest” at 120 KPH!

Lately, Pauline Marois the P.Q. premier of Quebec and the merry band in her minority government, have sought to woo voters by plumping for a more secular state, à la France, which went that way after the French Revolution. She seeks to pass a bill forbidding the wearing of visible symbols of religious allegiance by public representatives and workers – the hijab, the turban, the yarmulka, even to be fair, ostentatious crosses, although small ones are to be allowed. So goodbye job, Muslim, scarf-wearing daycare worker/ teacher assistant. Marois called a provincial election for April 7, 2014 and proposes to win a majority in the legislature by this strategy. She vowed to fight the election on that bill and on the province’s economy.

Last week, she showed up at a press conference with PKP (Pierre-Karl Péladeau) in tow. He, she announced, would run in the election. He is the owner of a country-wide media conglomerate, including newspapers and television stations, which he vows to retain, but place in a blind trust if he is elected. (Blind, my eye; this guy is a hands-on publisher.) Trouble is he didn’t act like a humble, first time candidate. Immediately, he made it clear that he chose to run only with sovereignty in view. (Yes, that means Separation.) By the end of the week, Ms Marois was (gently) holding him back from the microphone. Then she went on to explain that a separated Quebec would still have open borders, use Canadian currency and have a seat on the Bank of Canada.  Really! but will there be a tariff on cheese?

Pundits including Conrad Black in Saturday’s (March 15, 2014) National Post (Let’s hold our own referendum) think that “the French are about evenly divided on the issue, and the 20% of Quebecers not native French Canadians are solidly Federalist” leaving opinion at about where it was in 1980 – 60 No to 40 Yes.

But … do I care? Finally, in Rex Murphy’s column in the same paper, I found out that I am not so special after all. In fact, he says that as a country we are worn out by this marital spat and we have all begun to think, “If you want to go, go.”

Did I actually say that? Oh my dear starvation mountains please still be there.

Richard III: evil or good

In a previous post, “Richard III: lost and found” (115journals.com), I described the recent discovery of the bones RIchard III who was killed by Henry Tudor in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. Henry then became Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch in England, followed in turn, by Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. The question I promised to address at the end of my previous post was whether Richard deserved the reputation that has come down to us, citing Shakespeare’s play, on the one hand, and Josephine Tey’s novel, The Daughter of Time, on the other.

Shakespeare’s play Richard III was probably produced in 1594, during Elizabeth’s reign, over 100 years after Richard’s death. The playwright drew on Holinshed’s history which in its turn drew on Thomas More’s account of events. More was solidly in the Tudor camp, having served both Henry VII and Henry VIII. In any case, according to Tey’s research, More did not actually write the history of Richard that is attributed to him, but rather re-copied in his own hand an account actually written by one John Morton, a participant in events. This re-copied account was found in More’s papers after his execution and published as his own work. The Tudors -namely Henry VIII- repaid More’s service by beheading him.

Josephine Tey’s novel, The Daughter of Time, was published in 1951 and is not the first debunking of the evil Richard legend, which held that he was a usurper of the throne, guilty of fratricide and regicide, and a man without honour who proposed to marry his own niece. Other writers – Buck in the 17th century, Walpole in the 18th and Markham in the 19th – also contradicted that legend. Indeed there is something called the Rickardian Society devoted to that same task since 1924.

I came to love Shakespeare’s play when I saw Alec Guiness play the lead at Stratford, Ontario as a teenager. It was a brilliant portrayal of a villain who rejoiced in his villainy. Like all school children I had learned that Richard was the boogeyman who had killed the poor little princes (Edward V and his younger brother) in the Tower of London and it didn’t occur to me that might not be true.

I’m not sure when I first read The Daughter of Time, but it would have been probably 15 years or more after it was first published. A few days ago, I loaded it onto my Kindle and read it for the 3rd time. It is just not possible, for me at any rate, to keep its complex ideas in my head. The daughter of time, by the way, is truth.

Shakespeare’s play begins with a long monologue by Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who was depicted by Guiness as hunchbacked and twisted, drabbly dressed with greasy hair sticking out from under a red cap. He begins by asserting that he was
Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time
Into this breathing world scarce half made up –
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them –
And yet, so skilled is he at seduction that by the end of the scene, he has talked Anne Neville into marrying him despite the fact that she began by hating him. She has good reason: Richard has murdered her husband, the Prince Of Wales, and her father-in-law, the deposed king, Henry VI, to secure the throne for his brother. Richard carries on throughout the play murdering his way to the top. He kills his brother, Clarence, who is next in birth-order to Edward IV, and therefore, an obstacle to Richard’s inheriting the throne. He pins the murder on Edward thereby accelerating his illness and when Edward dies, he imprisons his sons in the Tower of London. He kills the nobles who support the child Edward V although he (Richard) has been appointed Regent to rule until Edward is of age. He kills his wife, Anne Neville in a plan to marry his niece, Elizabeth. Then, infamously, he hires James Tyrell to kill the little princes by smothering them. When Richard’s horse is shot out from under him at the Battle of Bosworth Field, Henry of Richmond finishes him off and becomes Henry VII, the first Tudor king. Shakespeare counted Queen Elizabeth, Henry’s grand daughter as the chief patron of his theatre company, plenty of reason to seize on the dramatic possibilities of Richard’s villainy.

Now, even before we turn to Tey’s refutation of these charges, it is worth noting that Richard’s hired hands are supposed to have dispatched his brother the Duke of Clarence by drowning him in a butt of Malmsey, that is a large barrel of wine. This was actually a Cockney expression indicating that Clarence died of drink, although, in actual fact, he was executed for treason.

Josphine Tey’s novel is constructed like a mystery. The detective, Grant is lying flat in a hospital bed recovering from injuries sustained while he was chasing a suspect. To pass the time, he is trying to solve the riddle of whether Richard deserved the reputation that Shakespeare hung on him. He has the help of a “research worker”, Brent Carradine, who looks things up at the British Museum. Those were the quaint old days when sitting in a library was the only way to do such research. By this time, Grant has figured out that More’s account was highly suspect and not even his own. Curiously, even the historians who castigate Richard, have to admit that he was devoted to Edward IV throughout his life and that he was an admirable administrator, an excellent general, and a brave soldier. Yet they also picture him as suddenly becoming willing to wade through blood to get to the throne, even though he is already safely ensconced there as the Regent. Grant and his researcher decide to focus not on such accounts, but on actual documents from the time – accounts, letters, decrees, court records, legislation.

It quickly becomes clear that  Richard’s rule of 18 months was not only orderly but progressive, the people being granted such things as the right to bail and freedom from intimidation as jurors. Richard dealt with those charged with treason in an even-handed way returning confiscated property, for example, to the family to be administered. In the light of future events, when the Lancasters and their Woodville allies rose against him, he would have been better to be a tyrant. Yet he seems to have been a decent fellow who was popular with the people.

The research In The Daughter of Time turns up information that, just as Richard is planning Edward V’s coronation, one Bishop Stillingham announces that he had presided over a marriage of Edward IV  to   another woman prior his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. As a result, Edward V is deemed illegitimate and the throne passes to Richard.

In the matter of the princes in the Tower, It is true that Richard sent them to live there. It was a royal residence at that time and to live there was not a punishment unless you were in the dungeons. The princes were not. They lived royally as their mother did once she came out of hiding and they were taught by their tutor. Their sisters attended events at Richard’s court and the mother, Elizabeth Woodville, accepted a pension from the man historians say is her sons’ murderer.

After he killed Richard, Henry VII moved to get an act of Attainder, declaring Richard was never entitled to be king, but in the posthumous charges, there is no mention that Richard has murdered his nephews. Indeed there is no mention of them again in any documents until James Tyrell is charged with their murders 20 years later and executed. True they have vanished. The documents that the research worker uncovers indicate that Tyrell is granted a general pardon by Henry in early June 1486 and another one a month later. What has he done during that time that makes the second pardon necessary? Shortly thereafter, Henry makes him Constable of Guisnes and Tyrell goes to live there near Calais. (England still had sovereignty over part of what is now France.)

Why would Henry want the princes dead? He has married their older sister and set about restoring her legitimacy, but if she is legitimate, so are her brothers and they have a much more lawful, hereditary claim to the throne than Henry. The researcher in Tey’s novel finds an abundance of evidence that Henry also eliminated anyone else who stood in Edward IV’s line, including Clarence’s son, whom Richard had made his own heir. Henry VIII carries on executing those who seem to threaten the Tudor claim to the throne.

Shakespeare’s Richard is a brilliant portrayal of an evil person who rejoices in his evil and his final end while tragic, is richly deserved. Tey’s Richard, the more historically accurate one, in my opinion, is an altogether more honourable fellow; moreover, apart from one shoulder being higher than the other, he does not seem to have been disfigured.  I regret that Richard’s reputation has been thus sullied for the past 500 years.

Richard III: lost and found

On Monday, February 4, 2013, a team of archaeologists and scientists announced the bones found last September under a Leicester parking lot were those of Richard III.

Richard, Duke of Gloucester, ruled England from 1482 to 1485, having deposed his 12 year-old nephew, Edward V, whose guardian he was. He was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field at the age of 32 by Henry,  Duke of Richmond, who succeeded Richard as Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch.

The story was that Richard’s naked body flung over a horse was hurriedly taken to the Greyfriars Monastery for an ignominious burial, but the monastery had long since ceased to exist and the Richard’s last resting place was lost to memory. Members of the Richard III society researched the location of the monastery and came up with its location in the council car park in Leicester. Excavation revealed two bodies, one in a cramped grave showed signs of severe scoliosis and a fatal wound at the base of the skull. Richard III was known to have suffered a spinal deformity, which caused him to be hunch-backed and so, excitement grew.

Carbon dating of 2 ribs indicated that the bones were roughly 500 years old and further examination that they were of a man in his late 20s or early 30’s. Richard died at 32. A tooth was extracted for DNA testing and proved to have a rare mitochondrial DNA sequence, found in a very small percentage of people. Painstakingly, the chromosome sequence was restructured and eventually tested against 2 of Richard’s relatives, one of them a Canadian 17th-great nephew.  The results identified the bones as being Richard’s.

More of the story emerged as the week went on, somewhat to the discredit of Henry or possibly of his ill-controlled soldiers. A halberd, a long pike-like weapon with a spear-like point and an axe below it, had sliced through the base of his skull. (source National Post, Thu. Feb 7, 2013) There was a dent in his skull, probably resulting from a fall while wearing his helmet. A smaller cut at the base of his skull, also a fatal blow, was caused by a sword. There was a knife cut on his lower jaw, possibly caused when his helmet was lost. (He had, famously, already lost his horse: “A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse”.) A small hole in the top of his head was probably caused by an arrow. There was a knife wound on his cheekbone. A cut mark on a rib may have been caused by a knife post mortem. He seems to have been stabbed in the right buttock, an insult injury after his armour was removed.  His hands were crossed suggesting that they had been tied. The feet bones were missing possibly because a 19th century outhouse had been built close to the grave and almost destroyed it. There was no evidence of a shroud or other covering.

The article in the National Post cited above speculates that the spinal deformity may have originated at puberty. My Encyclopedia of World History (Ed. Wm. Langer) describes Richard as able, a good soldier and skilled at winning public support. Evidently, he was also good at losing it if the pile-on at his death is any evidence.

There are 2 views of Richard. Shakespeare gives us one, painting him as an assassin and manipulator who killed Edward and his younger brother in the Tower of London. Had them killed, that is as well as his own brother Clarence who stood between him and the throne. A more positive view is presented by Josephine Tey in The Daughter of Time. I will consider these 2 views in an upcoming post.