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The tale of Brutus, the great-grandson of Aeneas of Troy and the legendary founder of Britain, has long been the subject of historical speculation and national pride for the British.

As a lover of all things Arthurian, I’ve long been fascinated by the story of Brutus as well as the debate that has ensued over his historicity. Consequently, I was thrilled to receive a review copy of Anthony Adolph’s new book Brutus of Troy and the Quest for the Ancestry of the British from publisher Pen & Sword.

"Brutus of Troy" is the first full-length exploration of all versions of the Brutus legend, from its origins in the Trojan War to why the British cling to it.

“Brutus of Troy” is the first full-length exploration of all versions of the Brutus legend, from its origins in the Trojan War to why the British cling to it.

For those not familiar with Brutus’ story, I’ll briefly summarize it before discussing Adolph’s book.

When Troy fell, as told in Homer, Aeneas, a cousin to King Priam and hence a prince of Troy, fled from the city. His story is told in Virgil’s Aeneid. Eventually, Aeneas arrives in Italy and his descendants, Romulus and Remus, found Rome. Brutus, a cousin to Rome’s founders, is Aeneas’ great-grandson. Brutus accidentally kills his father and is sent into exile. He travels to Greece where he finds a group of enslaved Trojans whom he helps to achieve their freedom. They then travel across the Mediterranean, through the Strait of Gibraltar, and to Britain, which they colonize. Consequently, Brutus’ name is given to the island, Britain supposedly being a version of Brutus. The island, however, is occupied by giants, including Gogmagog, whom Brutus defeats. In time, Brutus’ descendants are successive kings of Britain, which leads down to the time of King Arthur and, eventually, through a Welsh line to Henry VII, making all successive monarchs of Great Britain Brutus’ descendants.

Various versions of Brutus’ story differ slightly in the details, but that’s the story in a nutshell. The question is—is the story true, and if not, why has it been so popular and mattered so much to the British?

Anthony Adolph sets out to answer those questions in Brutus of Troy. I admit that my initial desire to read this book came from my hope that Adolph would prove that the story of Brutus was undeniably true. After all, I’ve read books by authors like Alan Wilson and Baram Blackett, who believe the erasure of Brutus as a historical figure is a longstanding effort by the English to repress and destroy the Welsh sense of identity. I have no doubt that the English did plenty to oppress the Welsh over the centuries, but that doesn’t mean a Welsh legend is historical fact. Still, I’ve longed to believe Brutus’ story is true. After all, I can trace my own ancestry back to the Plantagenet kings of England, and Brutus was one of their alleged ancestors through the Welsh king Llewellyn the Great of Wales, and that would make Brutus my ancestor. It would also (and I’m being a bit facetious here) mean that since Brutus’ great-great-grandmother was Aphrodite, daughter of Zeus, I am descended from the Greek Gods. (Now I know where I get my natural beauty.)

Adolph himself wanted to believe the story of Brutus, but the more he researched it, the more unlikely it seemed, and in the end, he had to conclude it is just a myth. Bummer. But that doesn’t mean that Brutus’ tale isn’t still a major part of the heritage of all modern-day Britons and their cousins in the United States and around the globe. Therefore, to understand the significance of Brutus’ legend, we need to look at how it developed.

A good bulk of Adolph’s book answers the question of how the story arose and why it became popular. He discusses how the Roman influence on Britain led to the Britons’ familiarity with classical literature, including the tales of Homer and Virgil about Troy. The arrival of Christianity in Britain also played a role. The British wished to link themselves to the classical and civilized world, to give themselves a substantial history, and so they manipulated genealogies to create the figure of Brutus and to make him the ancestor of their own Welsh kings. They also wanted to understand their place in the human family. They were not alone in this desire; the Irish, the French, and even the Norse made similar efforts, as Adolph describes—they found a way to manipulate genealogies to claim that the Trojans were the descendants of the biblical Noah, and later, the British created the tale of Joseph of Arimathea and even Christ coming to Britain. Joseph’s daughter, Anna, married Beli Mawr, a descendant of Brutus, and so the British became part of a line stretching back to Adam and Eve.

Yes, I still wish the tale of Brutus was true, but Adolph’s logic in explaining the tale’s evolution makes perfect sense and calls to mind another book I recently read, Myths of the Rune Stone by David Krueger about a Viking rune stone discovered in Minnesota in the late nineteenth century by a Scandinavian farmer. The stone was “proof” that the Vikings had traveled to Minnesota in the fourteenth century. Krueger explores how this stone was probably forged by the Scandinavian immigrants to Minnesota as a way to claim they had a right to the land they had taken from the Native Americans because their ancestors had been there before them. Similar claims are made regarding the Trojans in Britain—some people have even theorized that Troy was in Britain and the Trojans were driven out when Troy fell, so Brutus was leading a return to their homeland for his people. In any case, it comes as no surprise that people will manipulate the facts to create the history they want for themselves, and over time, what is false becomes perceived as the truth, and so for about a thousand years, the British people believed they were descendants of Brutus and his fellow Trojans.

Adolph goes on to explore how the legend of Brutus developed over time from the early medieval writing of Nennius to the elaborate History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth, and then into the Renaissance period, eighteenth century, and Victorian age. Adolph exhausts his subject, summarizing and quoting from every work about Brutus that he could find, including works by Milton, Pope, Blake, and Wordsworth. While I appreciated his thoroughness, I had to admit that I found many of these summaries boring to read because they repeated the Brutus story over and over, just noting the differences and similarities, and most of the poems about Brutus were not first-rate. I agree with Adolph, however, that William Blake’s version of the story was probably the best. Adolph concludes by mentioning modern fiction that incorporates the myth, including Hades’ Daughter (2003) by Australian novelist Sara Douglass, which portrays a darker version of Brutus and even suggests he later reincarnated as William the Conqueror.

This painting by Federico Barocci depicts Brutus' great-grandfather, Aeneas, fleeing from Troy with his father Anchises on his shoulders.

This painting by Federico Barocci depicts Brutus’ great-grandfather, Aeneas, fleeing from Troy with his father Anchises on his shoulders.

Adolph also looks at efforts since the nineteenth century to prove the Brutus myth to be true, especially the work of the Victorian writer Rev. Richard Williams Morgan, whose works continue to be used by pseudo-historians but reflect creative scholarship and intentional twisting of history to fit his agenda of what he wants to believe.

Brutus of Troy concludes by looking at how the legend of Brutus has become part of British culture and how Brutus has become associated with various places in London (the New Troy that legend said he founded). Most notable of these is the Tower of London, where Brutus is said to be buried.

I especially appreciated the genealogy charts in the book that show how the current British royal family would be descended from Brutus and from Adam and Eve, if the genealogies were true, as well as showing Brutus’ relationship to other members of the Trojan royal family and its descendants, including Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great. Finally, there are forty-five plate images in the middle of the book as well as illustrations throughout the rest of the book that depict places associated with Brutus and artwork based on his story. A particularly handy reference included is a timeline of the Brutus myth from the fall of Troy through the publications of various versions of his story, and of course, there is an extensive bibliography.

Brutus of Troy really made me understand better the role that the Brutus legend has played throughout British history and why it has stayed alive for centuries. It also made me want to read more of Anthony Adolph’s books since he is an avid writer about history and genealogy and the author of nine other books, including Tracing Your Aristocratic Ancestors and In Search of Our Ancient Ancestors.

Finally, of course, King Arthur gets a brief mention in terms of how he fits into the Brutus family tree. People interested in British history, genealogy, or the Arthurian legend will definitely want to add Brutus of Troy to their permanent collections.

For more information about Brutus of Troy and Anthony Adolph, visit Adolph’s website at http://anthonyadolph.co.uk/ or the publisher’s website at http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Brutus-of-Troy-Hardback/p/11213

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur, a five-book historical fantasy series, of which the first three books—Arthur’s Legacy, Melusine’s Gift, and Ogier’s Prayer—are now in print. He is also the author of King Arthur’s Children, a scholarly exploration of Arthur’s descendants in history and fiction, as well as many other books. You can learn more about him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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I have long been interested in the Fairy Melusine, as evidenced by my writing the book Melusine’s Gift. While researching that novel, I learned that Melusine was referenced in Philippa Gregory’s The Cousins War series, beginning with The Lady of the Rivers, so I had to read those novels. I found them fascinating since I’ve also long been interested in the Wars of the Roses. Indeed, it’s possible that I am descended from Elizabeth Woodville, and her mother, Jacquetta of Luxembourg, who figure prominently in the novels.

Melusine

Melusine

But one thing confused me about Gregory’s depiction of Melusine. Her insistence that Jacquetta, and the House of Luxembourg, was descended from the famous mermaid-like fairy. I assumed there must be some source to this idea, but Gregory never explains the connection in the novel. Melusine is better known as the ancestor to the House of Lusignan, so I could only guess that some member of the House of Lusignan had married into the House of Luxembourg, but who?

I also was surprised by Gregory making the English characters in the novel suspicious of Jacquetta and Elizabeth because of their connection to Melusine. Both women are even accused of witchcraft, so clearly descent from a famous mythical creature—sorceress, mermaid, flying serpent woman, however you want to describe Melusine—was a partial explanation for this fear and their belief that the women might share their ancestor’s supernatural powers. But Gregory completely ignored that the English royal family, the Plantagenets, including Edward IV, whom Elizabeth Woodville married, themselves claimed descent from Melusine. Not until the final novel in the series, The King’s Curse, does she even make a passing reference to this connection.

Where did Gregory get the idea that the House of Luxembourg could be descended from Melusine? According to Wikipedia, Gregory may have gotten this idea from another novelist. “Rosemary Hawley Jarman used a reference from Sabine Baring-Gould’s Curious Myths of the Middle Ages that the House of Luxembourg claimed descent from Melusine in her 1972 novel The King’s Grey Mare, making Elizabeth Woodville’s family claim descent from the water-spirit. This element is repeated in Philippa Gregory’s novels The White Queen (2009) and The Lady of the Rivers (2011), but with Jacquetta of Luxembourg telling Elizabeth that their descent from Melusine comes through the Dukes of Burgundy.”

First, let me say that the claim of the Dukes of Burgundy to being descended from Melusine seems unlikely. In fact, I believe Gregory made up the connection that the House of Luxembourg is connected to the House of Burgundy. If they were at the time of the mid-fifteenth century, it was a very tenuous connection and I could not find a connection. Furthermore, the Dukes of Burgundy during Jacquetta’s time in the early fifteenth century were directly descended from the French royal family.

Elizabeth Woodville, wife to Edward IV of England, was descended from the House of Luxembourg, and perhaps a descendant of Melusine.

Elizabeth Woodville, wife to Edward IV of England, was descended from the House of Luxembourg, and perhaps a descendant of Melusine.

Baring-Gould’s claim that the House of Luxembourg claimed descent from Melusine is true, but it is not a credible claim. In fact, in The Book of Melusine of Lusignan by Gareth Knight, who is perhaps the greatest expert on Melusine, it is stated that the Luxembourg legend says that Sigefroy, first Count of Lusignan, married a woman named Melusine (p. 117). Since we know Melusine married Count Raimond of Lusignan in other versions of the legend, it is likely various nobles just decided to make up their own connections to Melusine. Somehow, I just don’t see Melusine as a bigamist who deserted Raimond and then went and remarried. Furthermore, Sigefroy is considered the first count of Luxembourg and he lived in the tenth century, while Melusine seems to have lived in the eighth century when she is married to Raimond of Lusignan. Plus, we know that Sigefroy was married to Hedwig of Nordgau, by whom he had several children, including those through whom the House of Luxembourg descended.

So the link between Melusine and Luxembourg seems to be completely fanciful, but still, I decided to dig into Jacquetta’s family tree to see whether I could find any Lusignan link, and believe it or not, I did find a connection. The link is actually through Jacquetta’s paternal grandmother’s line, as shown below. The tree begins with the first documented member of the House of Lusignan, Hugh I, who lived in the ninth century and whom we can presume would be the alleged descendant of Melusine. Each person on the chart is the parent of the person below him or her.

 

Lusignan Genealogy, linking to Luxembourg

Hugh I

Hugh II (d. 967) According to the Chronicle of Saint-Maixent, he built the castle at Lusignan.

Hugh III

Hugh IV (d.1026)

Hugh V (d.1060)

Hugh VI (1039/43-1103/10)

Hugh VII of Lusignan (1065-1171)

Hugh VIII of Lusignan (d. 1165/71)

Aimery of Lusignan (1145-1205) – brother to Guy, King of Jerusalem

Hugh I of Cyprus (1194/5-1218)

Marie de Lusignan (1215-1251/3)

Hugh, Count of Brienne (1240-1296)

Walter V of Brienne (1278-1311)

Isabella of Brienne (1306-1360), claimant to the Kingdom of Jerusalem

Louis of Enghien (d. 1394)

Marguerite of Enghien (b. 1365) m. John of Luxembourg, Lord of Beauvoir

Peter of Luxembourg, Count of Saint Pol (1390-1433)

Jacquetta of Luxembourg, married Earl Rivers

Elizabeth, Queen of England m. Edward IV

Elizabeth of York m. Henry VII

Henry VIII of England

 

The genealogy above is a very roundabout way to connect Luxembourg to Lusignan, but the connection is there. That said, Jacquetta was as closely connected to the Plantagenets already as she was to Lusignan, being a descendant of Plantagenet king Henry III as shown below.

Henry III of England (1208-1272)

Beatrice of England (1242-1275) m. John II, Duke of Brittany

Marie of Brittany (1268-1339)

John of Chatillon, Count of Saint-Pol (d. 1344)

Mahaut of Chatillon, Countess of Saint-Pol

John of Luxembourgh, Lord of Beauvoir

Peter of Luxembourg

Jacquetta of Luxembourg

 

This chart would mean that Jacquetta would also be potentially descended from Melusine if it were true that the Plantagenets were descended from Melusine. But what was the Plantagenet connection? We know that Richard the Lionhearted, who was brother to King John and, therefore, uncle to Henry III, used to like to joke about being descended from Melusine. Therefore, the link has to date to before the thirteenth century. The connection of the Plantagenets to the Lusignan’s actually exists in the line of Anjou from which the Plantagenet line descended.

Fulk Anjou, King of Jerusalem

Geoffrey V of Anjou m. Maud, daughter of Henry I of England

Henry II of England

John of England

Henry III

 

Here’s where things get confusing. In the first chart above showing Jacquetta’s ancestors, we have Aimery of Lusignan, brother to King Guy of Jerusalem. The genealogy of the Kings of Jerusalem is full of marriages where husbands inherited the crown from their wives. Let’s try to unravel the genealogy of the Kings of Jerusalem.

Fulk of Anjou, King of Jerusalem m. Ermengarde of Maine. They were the parents of Geoffrey of Anjou, progenitor of the Plantagenets. Fulk later married Melisende, Queen of Jerusalem. They had two sons Baldwin III and Amalric, both Kings of Jerusalem. Melisende was herself the daughter of King Baldwin II of Jerusalem, so Fulk achieved the throne through marriage. Also, notably, Melisende is often confused with Melusine because of the similar name, though that may or may not be the cause of the Plantagenet claim to descent from Melusine. Melisende got her own name from her father, King Baldwin II’s mother, Melisende, who was the daughter of Guy I of Montlhery. Who Guy’s father was is questionable. According to Wikipedia, he was probably the third son of Thibault of Montlhery, though some sources say his father’s name was Milo. I find this latter assertion interesting since the Fairy Melusine may have had a son named Milo or Milon according to some less than creditable sources. But that does not explain the link between Lusignan and the Plantagenets.

As it turns out, Fulk’s son, Amalric, had a daughter, Sybilla, who ended up inheriting the crown of Jerusalem and passing it to her husband, Guy of Lusignan. The result is that the link between Plantagenets and Lusignan is only through marriage, making them sort of half-cousins, but the Plantagenets themselves are not direct descendants of Lusignan. At least not through the House of Anjou.

But a later Plantagenet link does exist. Henry III’s mother was Isabella of Angouleme. Isabella was engaged to marry Hugh IX of Lusignan (brother of Aimery and Guy) when King John instead married her and made her Queen of England. As a result, the Lusignans rebelled against the English king. After John’s death in 1216, Isabella returned to France and married in 1220 Hugh X, the son of her former fiancée. (Not so strange since he was within a few years of her age while King John was twenty-four years older than Isabella.) Hugh X and Isabella had many children who would have been the half-siblings to King Henry III. Among those children was Aymer, who became Bishop of Winchester, and Alice, who married the Earl of Surrey, while the other children seem to have remained in France. So again, another Lusignan connection for the Plantagenets, but again, only by marriage.

"The Wandering Unicorn" by Manuel Mujica Lainez

“The Wandering Unicorn” by Manuel Mujica Lainez is a fanciful novel about Melusine watching over her Lusignan descendants during the Crusades.

In any case, what is clear from these genealogical explorations is that if Melusine was the progenitor of the House of Lusignan, she had many, many descendants. But the question remains whether she even lived. The line of Lusignan can only be traced back for certain to Hugh I who lived in the early tenth century, and his son is likely the true builder of the Castle of Lusignan, which is reputed to have been built by Melusine. Searches for Hugh’s ancestry would be difficult and would require going back a century or two to find the ancestress Melusine if she existed at all. However, no records seem to exist of Hugh’s ancestry.

The question also arises whether we even know Melusine’s real name? According to The Serpent and the Swan: The Animal Bride in Folklore and Literature, the name Melusine was used by the first chroniclers of her tale, D’Arras and Couldrette, as an abbreviation of the French words “Mere des Lusignan” which would be “Mother of the Lusignans” in English (Source http://jungiangenealogy.weebly.com/melusine-de-alba.html). In other words, the real Melusine, like so many medieval and ancient women, remains nameless to us.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D., is the author of The Children of Arthur series, including the novels Arthur’s Legacy and Melusine’s Gift. You can learn more about him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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Marcus Pitcaithly has launched a new fiction series, beginning with The Realm of Albion. This series is sure to be a treat for anyone who loves British mythology and history. Educated at Oxford, Pitcaithly has had a lifelong interest in history, mythology, and the interplay between the two. He has previously written The Hereward Trilogy, set in England just after the Norman Conquest, as well as scholarly works on Shakespeare and medieval history. While a lot of authors have retold the Arthurian story, Pitcaithly has decided to go back farther and recreate its roots in pre-Roman Britain.

The Realm of Albion, a retelling of the King Lear story drawing on Welsh sources - by Marcus Pitcaithly.

The Realm of Albion, a retelling of the King Lear story drawing on Welsh sources – by Marcus Pitcaithly.

Drawing on an impressive range of sources, including Shakespeare, but also The Welsh Triads, The Mabinogion, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain, and the medieval French romance Perceforest, The Realm of Albion is a retelling of the King Lear story from the viewpoint of Lear’s forgotten wife, Penarddun. At age fourteen, this daughter of King Belin is sent to be wife to the elderly King Llyr, and the night before her wedding, she witnesses the famous scene when Llyr asks his daughters whether they love him. But while the basic frame of this novel’s plot follows the tale as told previously, plenty of twists are involved, and those twists are what made me fall in love with this book.

Before Penarddun arrives at Llyr’s court, she stops at Avalon, where she meets Urganda, servant to the goddess Latis. Urganda tells Penarddun that Urganda’s sister, Gogoniant, was Llyr’s first wife and the mother of his daughter Cordelia. Llyr also had a dwarf son he claimed was stillborn and had exposed, although he doesn’t know that son survived and now lives at Avalon. Llyr’s other two daughters, Goneril and Regan, were born to his concubines. Therefore, Cordelia is Llyr’s only truly legitimate daughter, and she is significant as well because of her link to Avalon.

For years, Avalon has been home to the Lady of the Lake and a religious center of Britain, but Llyr, in his lust for power and not wanting anyone to have power over him, invaded Avalon and forced and took Gogoniant away to be his wife. She was the rightful Lady of the Lake, and Cordelia, therefore, is her successor. The Lady of the Lake’s consort is known as the Penteyrnedd, and Llyr has taken that to mean the consort is also the High King. At the same time, he has made himself the enemy of Avalon, even if he has power over it.

The well-known scene between Llyr and his daughters turns out to be staged. Cordelia has been told how to answer her father beforehand and she does so obediently. Llyr asks his daughters how much they love him and Goneril and Regan please him with their answers while Cordelia says she has nothing to add, resulting in her being disinherited. Llyr wants it this way to demolish the power of Avalon and the Lady of the Lake so he remains powerful.

Penarddun witnesses and participates in the events that follow, which will be well-known to those familiar with Shakespeare’s play. In time, Goneril and Regan turn on Llyr and he goes mad, and Cordelia must return to set things right. I won’t say more about the plot because I don’t want to give away all the interesting changes and additions that Pitcaithly has made to the storyline.

I did, however, appreciate the Arthurian elements he is planting in this first book. The sword Excalibur is introduced into the novel. We are told that when Llyr invaded Avalon, it was thrown into the mere to prevent him from obtaining it since it is the sword of the Lady and wielded by her consort. Without it, Llyr would not be the true consort. After Cordelia has set all to rights, the sword is found when the mere dries up. It is given to Cordelia’s husband, with the understanding that he serves the Lady and the consort’s title is now changed to Pendragon.

Cordelia in the Court of King Lear - an 1873 painting by Sir John Gilbert

Cordelia in the Court of King Lear – an 1873 painting by Sir John Gilbert

Another interesting Arthurian element is the role of Merlin. Like Marion Zimmer Bradley in The Mists of Avalon, Pitcaithly uses “Merlin” as a title, but it is more than just a position. The “Merlin” in this novel is Awel, a young boy who is believed to be the god Mabon born in human form as happens every so many years. It is believed Awel fulfills this prophecy because he was born at the dawn of Beltane and because his father died three months before his birth, making him a “fatherless” boy. We are told that if Awel has the power of a god, a wise king will want him on his side, but a fearful king would want him dead. Consequently, his identity is kept from Llyr. Awel travels to Llyr’s castle as part of Penarddun’s bridal party, and when Llyr meets him, he thinks he’s a fool and has him dress in fool’s clothes. I really thought this twist on Pitcaithly’s part was brilliant since the fool in Shakespeare’s plays is typically the wisest person and utters prophecies, so it is a logical and intelligent twist for the fool to be the Merlin.

Finally, I really appreciated the scholarship and effort that Pitcaithly put into writing this book. Having written Arthurian fiction myself, I know how much research is required and also how one has to take texts that are often vague, obscure, or fragmented, or storylines that have been embellished over centuries and sift through them as well as embellish them to fill in the missing pieces of the story. In his introduction, Pitcaithly remarks that it “feels almost like detective work, as if I am uncovering a true history from flawed sources.” That’s a feeling I know very well. He has taken a very minor reference to Penarddun in Welsh literature and created an entire novel around it.

What’s to come next in the series? In his introduction, Pitcaithly tells us he was first inspired to write a novel about the Amadis legend based on his early reading of Lewis Spence’s Legends and Romances of Spain. Over time, he realized that despite that legend’s Spanish trappings, it felt distinctly Celtic to him. I am not familiar with the Amadis legend, but in The Realm of Albion, Pitcaithly mentions in passing a couple of times a young prince belonging to another royal family named Amadis—a clear sign that Amadis will figure in later books. But as for the next book, it will be titled Under the Clear Sky and will bring in characters involved in the Sertorian War and the Spartacus revolt, as well as covering the reign of Cordelia and the rise of Bran, son to Llyr and Penarddun.

I highly recommend The Realm of Albion. It is wonderful to see the fragmented stories of the ancient Britons given new life and to have someone enthusiastic and knowledgeable about his subject put together the pieces to create a compelling story for modern readers. Anyone interested in ancient British history or the Arthurian legend will enjoy this book. I don’t know of anyone else who has taken on such a grand and scholarly undertaking to explore in fiction the pre-Arthurian period and even pre-Roman period (the novel’s action takes place around 80 B.C.E.). Marion Zimmer Bradley, of course, wrote her Avalon novels that were prequels to The Mists of Avalon, but with the exception of Ravens of Avalon, completed by her successor, Diana Paxson, I don’t feel those books were very successful or convincing, and they did not have as authentic a feeling of ancient British lore as what Pitcaithly brings to this retelling. With a large cast of bigger than life legendary characters, new twists on old tales, and plenty of Arthurian references, The Realm of Albion is a fabulous start to a fascinating new series. I look forward to reading the next book.

The Realm of Albion is available at most online bookstores. For more information about Marcus Pitcaithly, visit http://marcuspitcaithly.wix.com/marcus-pitcaithly.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, and The Children of Arthur novel series. Visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com

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Recently, I read Philippa Gregory’s novel The White Queen, about Elizabeth Woodville and the Wars of the Roses, and I liked it enough to read the sequel, The White Princess. I did not read the other books in “The Cousins War” series, but I may feel inclined to at some point. I started with The White Queen because I didn’t know it was part of a series, but also because the book interested me for two reasons:

TheWhiteQueen1. Elizabeth Woodville: She is the lesser reason why I read the book, but I must admit my prejudice here. I am descended from John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, so I am related or descended from several of the major players in the Wars of the Roses. Among them is Gaunt’s daughter Joan Beaufort’s daughters, Catherine Neville (my direct ancestor) and Cecily Neville, who was mother to Edward IV and Richard III. My descent from Catherine Neville is by her daughter, Cecily Willoughby who married Baron Dudley and in time became ancestor to Thomas Dudley, the 2nd Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. But Thomas Dudley’s ancestry has always been in question—whether or not he was descended from the Barons Dudley, whose coat of arms he used, but he was always quiet about his ancestry, perhaps embarrassed by his relation to the notorious John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland or John Sutton, 3rd Baron Dudley, commonly known as Lord Quondam because his cousin, the Duke of Northumberland, took the family castle off his hands when he couldn’t pay his debts. Recently, a new theory surfaced that Gov. Dudley was also descended from Thomas Grey, the son of Elizabeth Woodville by her first marriage, which would make Dudley not only a descendant of the Barons of Dudley, but Lord Quondam who married Thomas Grey’s daughter. It also makes Thomas Dudley a cousin to Lady Jane Grey, whom the Duke of Northumberland tried to put on the throne and ended up being executed for. So in short, I wanted to know more about Elizabeth Woodville because of this newfound genealogy connection. Nor was this an easy discovery for me because I’d always sided with the House of Lancaster, but now here I might be descended from a Yorkist Queen—oh well, she had started out as a Lancastrian as well until she fell in love with Edward IV.

Thomas Dudley, 2nd Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, from whom countless Americans have descended including John Kerry, Humphrey Bogart, Irene Castle, Herbert Hoover, and Paul Giamatti.

Thomas Dudley, 2nd Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, from whom countless Americans have descended including John Kerry, Humphrey Bogart, Irene Castle, Herbert Hoover, and Paul Giamatti.

2. Melusine: Philippa Gregory works the Melusine legend into the novel by claiming that Elizabeth Woodville’s mother, Jacquetta of Luxembourg, was a descendant of Melusine. In fact, Melusine is claimed as an ancestor to the entire House of Luxembourg. I was surprised by this since usually Melusine is considered to have lived in the eighth century and have been ancestress to the House of Lusignan, but several royal and noble lines wanted to claim descent from her—although why has never been clear given her strange story. I have written about Melusine in more depth on this blog previously, but in short, she was raised in Avalon (yes, King Arthur’s Avalon) and cursed by her mother always to appear as a mermaid or flying serpent one night a week. I have recently been writing my own novel about Melusine so I was curious about how Gregory depicted her.

My review of Gregory’s novel is then largely based on those interests.

First, Melusine—I honestly don’t know why Gregory bothered to include her in the books. Her story is not told in full in the novel but used instead by Elizabeth and Jacquetta as proof that they are descended from a great water goddess (the goddess term seems going too far to me, although Melusine may have evolved from pagan myths where she was a goddess). As a result, Jacquetta and Elizabeth (they were often thought to be witches anyway) have some witch powers to do minor things like create storms at sea. Fortunately, Gregory doesn’t take this too far, but nevertheless, if she had left Melusine out of the novel, it would not have mattered at all.

In fact, the only time the witchcraft idea works well in the novel is when Elizabeth Woodville curses whoever killed her sons, the princes in the Tower; the curse says that the murderer will lose his first born son and his grandson—the irony here is that Gregory ends up showing that Henry Tudor, rather than Richard III, was probably the murderer, since Henry’s firstborn son Arthur died, and then Henry VIII’s son Edward died, leaving only women to reign—Mary and Elizabeth I. I found this an interesting twist to the novel. I also liked the occasional references to King Arthur—the Tudors loved to believe they were Arthur’s heirs and even descendants, hence Prince Arthur’s name. Unfortunately, as far as Gregory is concerned, this curse is the reason why we never had a new King Arthur.

Melusine not only was a popular choice as a legendary ancestor for many of the royal and noble houses of Europe, but she also inspired the Starbucks coffee logo.

Melusine not only was a popular choice as a legendary ancestor for many of the royal and noble houses of Europe, but she also inspired the Starbucks coffee logo.

I also loved Gregory’s idea that Elizabeth managed to trick Richard III and sent another boy rather than Richard, Duke of York, to the Tower and that Richard escaped and became the illustrious Perkin Warbeck, who may or may not have been a pretender to the throne. Gregory pretty much had me convinced by the novel’s end that Perkin Warbeck may have been the true Richard, Duke of York; at least, it’s a theory I’d be interested in considering further.

I am no expert on the Wars of the Roses, but I did not see any glaring errors in the novel other than Gregory’s continually stating that Jacquetta is related to the Dukes of Burgundy. I am very interested in genealogy, but search as I might, I could find no relationship between her and the Dukes of Burgundy and several other people I discovered online also had to conclude that Gregory made up the connection—why, I don’t know. But other than that, reading these novels really helped me to learn history in an interesting and entertaining way, and I did go online to find out more details about many of the people in the novels and learn more about the period.

The White Queen has recently been made into a Starz television series, which I haven’t watched and I’ve read reviews of it not being very historically accurate. Considering the atrocity that Starz made out of the Camelot series (see my reviews on this blog), I probably won’t watch it. But the novels are very readable, especially The White Queen, which was a true page-turner I didn’t want to put down. If you love British history and good historical fiction, you will probably enjoy reading these novels. If you want to learn more about Melusine, look elsewhere or wait for my novel, Melusine’s Gift: The Children of Arthur, Book Two, when it comes out in 2015 following Arthur’s Legacy: The Children of Arthur, Book One coming summer 2014.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, and the upcoming novel Arthur’s Legacy, The Children of Arthur: Book One. You can visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com

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