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Posts Tagged ‘Prince Arthur’

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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Queen Elizabeth II

What does one post on a blog about the Arthurian legend to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II?

After much thought, I recalled The Faerie Queene (1596), Edmund Spenser’s great poem in which Gloriana, the Faerie Queene was modeled on Queen Elizabeth I. Not surprisingly this fantastic poem, one of the greatest in the English language, was turned into an opera called Gloriana by Benjamin Britten to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, and the lead barge in yesterday’s Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant was named The Gloriana.

In The Faerie Queene, the Redcrosse Knight meets Prince Arthur before he becomes the great King of England. Arthur tells of his vision of The Faerie Queene, Gloriana, and his love for her in Book 1, Canto 9:

XIII
For-wearied with my sports, I did alight
From loftie steed, and downe to sleepe me layd; 110
The verdant gras my couch did goodly dight,
And pillow was my helmet faire displayd:
Whiles every sence[*] the humour sweet embayd,
And slombring soft my hart did steale away,
Me seemed, by my side a royall Mayd 115
Her daintie limbes full softly down did lay:
So faire a creature yet saw never sunny day.

XIV

Prince Arthur’s Vision of Gloriana – painting by Henry Fuseli

Most goodly glee and lovely blandishment
She to me made, and bad me love her deare;
For dearely sure her love was to me bent, 120
As when just time expired should appeare.
But whether dreames delude, or true it were,
Was never hart so ravisht with delight,
Ne living man like words did ever heare,
As she to me delivered all that night; 125
And at her parting said, She Queene of Faeries hight.

XV

When I awoke, and found her place devoyd,
And nought but pressed gras, where she had lyen,
I sorrowed all so much as earst I joyd,
And washed all her place with watry eyen. 130
From that day forth I lov’d that face divine;
From that day forth I cast in carefull mind
To seeke her out with labour, and long tyne,
And never vowd to rest till her I find,
Nine monethes I seeke in vain, yet ni’ll that vow unbind. 135

As Arthur’s heir, what would Prince Arthur have thought of Queen Elizabeth II? No one can say for sure, but she like her namesake, Elizabeth I, may be compared to Gloriana, a glorious queen who has long served her people and continues to be a model to us of someone willing to do her duty to her people and country in the face of all odds, and for that, we can truly say she has had a long and glorious reign!

Congratulations, Your Majesty, on Sixty Glorious Years!

Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant – June 3, 2012

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I recently returned from a wonderful trip to the beautiful country of Turkey. I knew Turkey was filled with ancient history—the ruins of Ephesus, Troy, etc.—but I have always been most fascinated with the Byzantines, or the Greeks or Romans, as they called themselves. I am also struck by the similarities between Camelot and Constantinople, and particularly between King Arthur and Constantine XI, the last Byzantine Emperor. Just as Camelot was the brief shining moment before Britain was conquered by the Saxons, so Constantinople was the last remnant of the great Roman Empire which had once ruled most of the known world, including Britain. The city’s fall to the Turks in 1453 marked the end of the Roman Empire, which had stretched on for over 2,000 years.

Constantine XI, the last emperor, had a tragic ending that inspired great myths similar to those of King Arthur, so while the two were not necessarily related, although Constantine XI was named for Constantine the Great, and Arthur is often believed to be a relative or descendant of Constantine the Great, Constantine XI may be deemed a mythical or literary descendant of King Arthur in how they are both depicted as leaders who may come again.

Constantine’s tragedy lies not only in the Fall of Constantinople, but that he was the last emperor, without even an heir. He had two wives but no children, his second wife dying in childbirth. Similarly, Arthur had no children who survived him. His end is more tragic in that his son, Mordred, and he slew each other, but nevertheless, both leaders’ endings spelled the end of an era.

The people of Constantinople, the city being all that was left of an empire, held out under siege by Mehmet II for fifty-three days before the city finally fell. In the city’s last hours, Constantine would have prayed inside Hagia Sophia before going to fight with his people as the city walls were beaten down.

What happened to the emperor once the city fell has become the stuff of legend. The emperor’s body was never found, or if it were, it was not recorded. One source states that Constantine’s last words were, “The city is fallen and I am still alive,” and then he tore off his imperial ornaments so he could not be distinguished from the other soldiers and made a final charge at the enemy. According to Roger Crowley in his wonderful book about the Fall of Constantinople, 1453, Constantine was very aware that he would go down in history as the emperor who let the city fall, so he may not have wanted to be identified because of the shame he felt, and he also would not have wanted to be taken alive and forced into shameful positions of submission before the conqueror, Mehmet II.

One story claims that Constantine was identified by his purple boots, and that his body was decapitated and his head sent around Asia Minor as proof of Mehmet II’s victory, but more likely, his body was never identified and he died in a mass grave with the rest of his soldiers.

The inability to locate the emperor’s body led to myths that he had not died. Just as King Arthur is taken to Avalon before he can die so he can be healed of his wound and allowed to return again, so Constantine is preserved from death so he can return. In one such legend, an angel rescues the emperor as the Ottomans enter the city. The angel turns Constantine into marble and places him under the earth in a cave near the Golden Gate where he waits to be brought back to life to re-conquer the city for the Christians.

Just as the British have hoped for Arthur to return in their hour of greatest need—during World War II, the myth was especially prevalent—the Greeks have held onto the dream of Constantine’s return.

During the Balkan Wars and Greco-Turkish War in the early twentieth century, the name of the then Greek King, Constantine, was used to see him as part of a prophetic myth that Constantine had returned. Although Constantine XII failed to return Constantinople to Christian hands, similar British efforts have been made to recreate King Arthur through another monarch of the same name, such as King John’s nephew in the thirteenth century being named Prince Arthur, to the brother of Henry VIII who was also Prince Arthur, and even the speculation that current Prince William will use his middle name Arthur when he someday ascends the throne of Britain.

Constantine’s return seems very unlikely to me, especially when Istanbul is a thriving busy city of nearly 20 million today, and a largely Westernized if Turkish city. Had Constantine not been the last emperor, doubtless one soon after him would have been, but his myth speaks to the affection his people had for him, that they did not wish him ill or blame him for the loss of Constantinople, but rather they see him as a tragic hero, just as Arthur lives affectionately in the British people’s bosoms.

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Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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