Merlyn MacLeod, Author

Merlyn MacLeod, Author

Two wenches writing as one. Named after the falcon, not the mage.

Most-Famous 20th-Century Tarot Deck Features Death’s Banner Emblazened with the White Rose of the House of York

White Rose of the House of York

White Rose of the House of York

The Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot Deck (RWS) is arguably the most famous of 20th-century Tarot decks. For decades, I’ve been using the RWS as an aid to developing fictional characters. Only recently did I notice the Death card in the Major Arcana features a skeletal knight carrying a banner on which is imprinted the White Rose of the House of York. As far as I can tell, the image of the Yorkist Rose does not appear on any Tarot deck – medieval or modern – preceding the RWS.

Death card in the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot Deck

Death card in the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot Deck

Who Designed the RWS?

Arthur Edward Waite (2 October 1857 – 19 May 1942), commonly known as A. E. Waite, was an American-born British poet and scholarly mystic who wrote extensively on Masonic, occult and esoteric matters. Coincidentally or not, he shared the same day of birth as Richard III. Waite was a member of the original Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, along with such Victorian notables as Bram Stoker, W.B. Yeats, and Constance Wilde (wife of Oscar Wilde). Waite co-created the deck with illustrator Pamela Coleman Smith.

Pamela Coleman Smith (16 February 1878 – 18 September 1951) was an English-American artist, illustrator, and writer. Among her first projects were The Illustrated Verses of William Butler Yeats and a book on the actress Ellen Terry, written by Bram Stoker. Yeats introduced Smith to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Waite was already a member, and Smith met him in 1901 when she joined the Order.

The Golden Dawn splintered in the early 20th century due to a number of its members having…let’s call them personality conflicts. At that time, Smith and Waite both moved to the Independent and Rectified Rite of the Golden Dawn (aka The Holy Order of the Golden Dawn). In 1909, Waite commissioned Smith to produce a Tarot deck meant to appeal to the world of art.

Regarding who designed what for the deck:

Waite is often cited as the designer of the Waite-Smith Tarot, but it would be more accurate to consider him as half of a design team, with responsibility for the major concept, the structure of individual cards, and the overall symbolic system. Because Waite was not an artist himself, he commissioned the talented and intuitive Smith to create the actual deck.[i]

It is likely that Smith worked from Waite’s written and verbal instructions rather than from sketches; that is, from detailed descriptions of the desired designs. This is how illustrators often work, and as a commercial illustrator, Smith would probably have been comfortable with such a working process. It appears that Waite provided detailed instructions mainly or exclusively for the Major Arcana.[ii]

The deck was called Tarot Cards when it was first published in December 1909 by William Rider & Son of London. It’s been said that Waite and Smith borrowed heavily from the Tarot of Marseilles, but the RWS’s Death card is very different from the Death card in the Tarot of Marseilles. 


Death card from the Tarot deck of Jean Dodal of Lyon – a classic “Marseilles” deck dating from 1701-1715.

It’s more likely that Waite and Smith took much of their inspiration from the Sola-Busca Tarot deck, which originated in Northern Italy around 1491. The Sola-Busca was displayed to the public shortly after it was acquired by the British Museum in 1907. This deck was the first and only fully illustrated Tarot deck available before the RWS was published, but the Death card of the Sola-Busca deck also bears no resemblance to the Death card in the RWS deck.


Death card of the Sola-Busca Tarot deck in the British Museum.

After examining these and other examples of Death cards in old Tarot decks, I can only conclude that A.E. Waite was the first to deliberately include the White Rose of the House of York in the Death card.

What Did Waite and/or Coleman Meeeeeean by Featuring the White Rose of York in a Tarot Deck?

What follows is only the smallest of attempts to begin unraveling Waite’s possible intent(s) when he chose to have Death carry a banner featuring the White Rose of York. Every Tarot deck overflows with symbolic meaning, and the RWS is no different. The problem with and the joy of all symbols is that their meaning is always subjective: what a White Rose of York means to me likely isn’t what it means to you, and every meaning is valid to the person holding it.

A.E. Waite included illustrations from the RWS deck in his Pictorial Key to the Tarot, which was meant to explain the deck, but Tarot and Golden Dawn scholars know that his summaries are deliberately incomplete.[iii] In addition to this, the history and meaning of the Tarot in general are hidden in the mists of medieval time, so you can spend months, if not years, researching both and make very little headway. Along the way, you discover there are Tarot references not only in medieval grimoires and royal courts, but far beyond – for example, in Marlowe and Shakespeare and Yeats. In the end, you come to realize that a Tarot deck is a tool meant to put the reader of a card spread in touch with his or her subconscious, so in the end the objects in the cards symbolize whatever they mean to the reader.

This is a long way of saying that if someone wants to do in-depth research as to why the White Rose of the House of York was chosen by Waite, he or she is going to have to set aside what that particular rose symbolizes for them. In order to discern what it might have meant to Waite, the researcher will need a firm knowledge of:

  1. Medieval tarot decks
  2. The history and symbolic meaning of the White Rose of the House of York
  3. Tarot history (veiled in medieval mystery)
  4. Tarot card meanings (multiple meanings for every card depending on the analyst you consult)
  5. Jungian archetypes
  6. The meaning of esoteric and occult symbols (Manly P. Hall is a good place to start)
  7. A.E. Waite’s life and times (Victorian to Edwardian)
  8. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and its various offshoots
  9. What the White Rose of the House of York may have symbolized to A.E. Waite, and why
  10. A great imagination with which to conjecture
  11. The knowledge that your conclusions can be nothing but subjective, and Waite’s inclusion of the White Rose of York might be coincidental…or not.

A better scholar than I regarding Alle Thinges Tarot and Yorkist is going to have to follow up on this…if they want to, and they have the time. All I can offer are the tiniest of tidbits and possibilities.

What Did Waite Say?

This is all Waite wrote about the RWS Death card in his Pictorial Key to the Tarot:

Divinatory Meanings

End, mortality, destruction, corruption also, for a man, the loss of a benefactor for a woman, many contrarieties; for a maid, failure of marriage projects.

Divinatory Meanings – Reversed

Inertia, sleep, lethargy, petrifaction, somnambulism; hope destroyed.

Inner Symbolism

The veil or mask of life is perpetuated in change, transformation and passage from lower to higher, and this is more fitly represented in the rectified Tarot by one of the apocalyptic visions than by the crude notion of the reaping skeleton. Behind it lies the whole world of ascent in the spirit. The mysterious horseman moves slowly, bearing a black banner emblazoned with the Mystic Rose, which signifies life. Between two pillars on the verge of the horizon there shines the sun of immortality. The horseman carries no visible weapon, but king and child and maiden fall before him, while a prelate with clasped hands awaits his end.

There should be no need to point out that the suggestion of death which I have made in connection with the previous card [i.e., The Hanged Man] is, of course, to be understood mystically, but this is not the case in the present instance. The natural transit of man to the next stage of his being either is or may be one form of his progress, but the exotic and almost unknown entrance, while still in this life, into the state of mystical death is a change in the form of consciousness and the passage into a state to which ordinary death is neither the path nor gate. The existing occult explanations of the 13th card are, on the whole, better than usual, rebirth, creation, destination, renewal, and the rest.


[Card number] 13. Death. The method of presentation is almost invariable, and embodies a bourgeois form of symbolism. The scene is the field of life, and amidst ordinary rank vegetation there are living arms and heads protruding from the ground. One of the heads is crowned, and a skeleton with a great scythe is in the act of mowing it. The transparent and unescapable meaning is death, but the alternatives allocated to the symbol are change and transformation. Other heads have been swept from their place previously, but it is, in its current and patent meaning, more especially a card of the death of Kings. In the exotic sense it has been said to signify the ascent of the spirit in the divine spheres, creation and destruction, perpetual movement, and so forth.[iv]

Waite doesn’t point out that the rose is the White Rose of the House of York. Instead, he calls it a “Mystic Rose which signifies life.” Remember that Mystic Rose, we’ll be returning to it.

Waite does state that his Death card is “a card of the death of kings,” and the card does feature the body of a king and his upside-down crown laying behind the left hoof of Death’s warhorse. As far as I can discern after examining other medieval and modern Death cards, Waite’s design is the only one illustrating/symbolizing “the death of kings.” All the other Death cards – unless the deck is based on Waite’s design – feature a variation on the classic medieval image of skeletal Death on foot and scything a field (as in the Marseilles example above), or on horseback a la archetypal Death as a Horseman of the Apocalypse.

Whether Waite had the death of King Richard III specifically in mind when he designed his Death card is anyone’s guess. Still, a strong argument might be made that, given the fallen king on the ground whose crown has tumbled from his head, and the presentation of a medieval knight on a warhorse (however skeletal the knight may be), Waite may have had in mind the last English king to die in battle.

I’ve a number of other books analyzing the Tarot, and 95% of them use RWS illustrations to accompany their text. None of the authors comment on Death’s rose being the White Rose of the House York, so I’m left to ask: Why in the world does Waite have his Death waving a banner prominently featuring what’s obviously the White Rose of York, and why did he call it a ‘Mystic Rose’?

What the heck is a Mystic Rose?

Mystic Rose #1

Sometimes what someone doesn’t say speaks loudest of all, so it may be important to remember all Waite says about the Yorkist Rose in his Death card is that it is a “Mystic Rose.”

Throughout history, the rose has been a symbol of love, purity, virginity, sexuality, fertility, regeneration…and secrets. The White Rose of the House of York is white because, in the liturgical symbolism of the medieval Church, white symbolizes light, innocence, purity, joy, and glory.

Waite’s mother converted to Catholicism and took her children with her. To the medieval and modern Catholic church, the “Mystic Rose” is Mary, the mother of Christ. Among her many titles are the “Mystical Rose of Heaven” and the “Rosa Mystica,” but it doesn’t follow that, to Waite (who ended up a devout Rosicrucian), the White Rose of the House of York symbolized Mary. It does follow that, to Waite, a rose symbolized Mary, for he wrote about the Rose and the Cross in Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross:

“Thus the Rose is a symbol of Mary because of her motherhood, but in relation to her it belongs to divine things, even as she herself stands on the threshold of Deity, being Spouse of the Divine Spirit and bearer of the Divine word made flesh. So also is the Rose of Shekinah, a Divine Rose, as she whom it typifies is Divine Mother of souls.”[v]

The rose in general – not just a white rose – has also been a symbol for silence and secrecy in many secret societies. An ancient custom was to hang a rose over a council table to indicate that everything spoken during the meeting was to remain secret. This custom may have derived from an ancient Egyptian image of Horus, the divine son of Isis, sitting inside a rose and holding a finger to his lips, admonishing silence when it came to the Egyptian mysteries.

Horus was called Harpocrates by the ancient Greeks, and Harpocrates was the Greek god of silence. In Greek myth, Eros presents a rose to him. This is where the term “sub rosa” comes from, meaning “under the rose” or “the keeping of a secret.” As an aside, the rose is also the national flower of England…and Waite’s mother was English.

George Knowles writes:

After his sister’s death in 1874, Waite lost interest in the Roman Catholic Church, but retained a great love for its ritual ceremony.

“Waite had formulated the theory that all esoteric practices and traditions, whether Alchemy, Hebrew Kabbalah, Legends of the Holy Grail, Rosicrucianism, Christian Mysticism or Freemasonry, were secret paths to a direct experience of God. He was convinced that the symbolism in each of these traditions had a common root and a common end, and that their correct interpretation would lead to a revelation of concealed ways to spiritual illumination.”[vi]

However interesting this esoteric labyrinth might be, the tangled path doesn’t lead us any closer to explaining why the White Rose of the House of York specifically was included on the Death card of the RWS Tarot deck.

Mystic Rose #2 and #3

Both the Yorkists and Waite would both have been familiar with Dante (1265–1321). The Italian poet depicted Paradise as a White Rose or Mystic Rose in which God was at the center with the saints surrounding Him. In his Divine Comedy, Dante also described Mary as the mystic rose: “Behold the rose, where in the divine word was made incarnate.”


Gustav Dore’s 19th-century illustration of Dante’s Paradise/Mystic Rose

Gustav Dore illustrated Dante’s Mystic Rose in 1868. Dore’s illustration has more in common with the mathematician’s Mystic Rose, which is defined as, “A beautiful image created by joining together points that are equally spaced around a circle.” Any child who has played with a Spirograph knows what that’s all about, and an online animation lets you change the number of points around a circle to construct your own Mystic Rose. (The Mystic Rose poster illustrated below is available from as a PDF.)

Poster compliments of and available for download from

Poster compliments of and available for download from



My Conclusion is Sub Rosa

I know that a fitting conclusion to this article would be a pronouncement along the lines of:

“It’s obvious the Death card in the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck features a deliberate depiction of King Richard III as both corpse and Death. A.E. Waite and his illustrator, Pamela Coleman Smith, lays before us a magnificent archetypal image of the skeletal king encased in black armor, riding a white charger, and carrying a black banner on which is emblazoned the White Rose of the House of York.

The white charger is obviously White Surrey, which symbolizes change, for the dead king’s power in our modern world has come to him through the mightiest of all changes – death.

“Richard’s skull peering at us from his helm symbolizes permanence as well as impermanence. Through the triumphant return of the dead king, Waite succeeds in reminding us of the impermanence of life, yet Richard’s soul (symbolized by his skull, which does not dissolve) remains visible to those of us still loyal to him and worthy enough to sense it.

“The inclusion of the White Rose of York obviously conveys the pure, white rose of Richard’s spirit – he has no body but thrives with life-force as we remember him. The ten petals of the White Rose of York indicate completion, for the House of York did not fall on Bosworth’s battlefield, rather it was completed and raised to a higher, mystical level.

“This card bears even more meaning now that Richard III’s remains have been found and reinterred….”

I could go on in this vein, but you get my drift.

I don’t know why A.E. Waite and Pamela Coleman Smith included the White Rose of the House of York in their Death card. I do know it’s up front and center, and the eye is drawn there first. Knowing Waite and his esoteric leanings, his inclusion of the White Rose of York on a black banner means something. I just don’t know what it is.

Sub rosa…under the rose…to keep a secret. I’m led to think of the debatable reasons why Richard chose a boar as his personal emblem, alongside the precise symbolism inherent in medieval heraldry and stained glass, illuminated manuscripts, and other medieval art. Medievals were attached to their symbols in ways we can’t completely understand at this distance. So are modern-day mystical scholars.

In the end, I must leave it to others to ferret out the myriad symbols behind Death’s banner emblazoned with the White Rose of the House of York. In the meantime, what does it mean? Anything you want it to mean.

(Reblogged to Murrey & Blue)


[i] Waite, Arthur Edward. Shadow of Life and Thought. Kessinger Publishing, page 184.

[ii] Wikipedia entry on Pamela Coleman Smith:

[iii] You can automatically download a free PDF of Waite’s Pictorial Key to the Tarot by entering the following URL in your browser:

[iv] Waite, A.E., The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, PDF of 1910 edition, page 39. Aavailable from at the URL cited in footnote iii.

[v] Waite, A.E., Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross, Kessinger Publishing, 2010, page 92.

[vi] (sic) George Knowles doesn’t cite his source, but I suspect it’s A.E. Waite’s autobiography, Shadows of Life and Thought (1938).


Facebooktwitterpinterestmailby feather

Richard III – Christmas In Bruges

Quai Rosaire in Brügge, by  F. Stroobant  in Illustrirter Katalog der internationalen Kunstausstellung im Königl. Glaspalaste in München 1883, 4. Auflage, München, September 1883. (Wikimedia Commons)

Quai Rosaire in Brügge, by F. Stroobant in Illustrirter Katalog der internationalen Kunstausstellung im Königl. Glaspalaste in München 1883, 4. Auflage, München, September 1883. (Wikimedia Commons)

by Merlyn MacLeod

 A Christmas candle is a lovely thing.
It makes no noise at all,
but softly gives itself away.

~Eva Logue


“I ask ye, is it too much for a good man to ask for a bit of warm comfort on a cold Christmas Eve?”

Hastings raised his hands about chest high. His squeezing motion, and his companions’ coarse laughter, left no doubt as to the ‘warm comfort’ Hastings was referring to.

I turned my gaze from the small group at the great chamber’s fireplace and looked out on the falling snow outside the window. The window seat made for a chilly place of repose, but it was preferable to the gathering by the fire. The wind outside moaned like the voices of lost souls, but the whinging of the living in the great chamber this night almost drowned it out.

My brother Edward and his closest friend, Lord William Hastings, had begun drinking that afternoon. Always, they were attempting to lay the ghosts arising from any number of things, including having to spend Christmas in exile; our unwilling dependence upon the generosity of Louis, Seigneur de la Gruuthuse; and the most recent, alarming rumor that Charles, the Duke of Burgundy would soon order Louis and everyone else in Bruges to cease extending credit or offering any sort of support to us. What would be the fate of three hundred impoverished soldiers and their dethroned king if we were driven out of the town and into the winter cold?

It was no wonder Hastings was suffering, but his becoming as drunk as a sow was making me suffer as well.

“Why does he behave like this?” I had asked my brother the first time I’d seen Hastings growl more than a few unwelcome words at the king before taking his surly self—and his wine—off to bed.

“He doesn’t much care for Fortune’s Wheel at the moment,” said Edward.

“The wheel in Chaucer’s tale of the monk?” I asked with some bewilderment, “or the ones portrayed in the rose windows of our cathedrals?”

“Either. Both. Or all, if you wish.”

I shook my head. “I don’t understand.”

“Did our lady-mother not explain to you the meaning of Fortune’s Wheel?”

“If she did, I’ve forgotten.”

“The Wheel illustrates four stages of life. Beginning at the left, each stage depicts regnabo…” Edward gestured in a circle to the right, “regno, regnavi. And…sum sine regno.”

As the youngest son of the Duke of York, I had been destined for the church before my father and older brother Edmund had fallen at Wakefield. So it was that my mother had insisted upon seeing me well-schooled in Latin. So well, that I had no trouble translating it.

I shall reign; I reign; I have reigned; I have no kingdom.

Edward regarded me mildly as I stared back at him in horror.

“Hastings has told you he’s upset with how closely an allegorical wheel is—seems to be—following….” It seemed betrayal to actually voice the words, so I didn’t.

“Hastings has no need to tell me what is true. I am a king in exile, I have no kingdom. I know William’s fears well enough, for I share them. Do you not share them as well, Dickon?”

“I do not. I have every faith that God will return your throne to you.”

“Then I shall depend upon you to restore my faith when it falters. As for William, he seeks to bury his fear in drink and welcome the oblivion of dreamless sleep. Eventually.” Edward leaned forward to squeeze my shoulder. “It would go better if you offered him compassion, rather than judgment.”

I knew the wisdom of my brother’s counsel, but Hastings didn’t make it easy for me to practice it.

The two of them had been quietly mourning and pining for home over their supper when Lord Rivers and I had departed for the Christmas vigil mass at the Church of Our Lady. Upon our return, we discovered that my brother and his boon-companion had drunk so much, their manners had become course and the subjects of their discussion even worse.

How I hated this.

Leaning my shoulder against the cold stone supporting the window, I stared into the snow flurries as night claimed the day and braced myself for the sullen, caustic meanness that inevitably came to possess Hastings whenever he drank too much.

I missed England as much as did the others. Missed the familiar comfort of being at Baynard’s Castle in London with my mother, or safe with old friends and mentors at Middleham. I missed the frenzied Christmas preparations, the warmhearted camaraderie and excitement shared by the entire household, the hunting and the laying in of all we’d need for the feasts. I even missed the overly cheerful minstrels, the players and their familiar entertainments. I missed warming myself before a blazing hearth, smelling the meat roasting in the kitchen, sharing mulled wine and bantering with beloved friends while fierce winds and bitter snow hurled themselves about the battlements.

At least the vigil mass at Our Lady had been comfortingly familiar, for the Latin was the same no matter where the mass was celebrated. But the faithful men, women, and children standing in the crowded nave had been whispering in incomprehensible Flemish until the hand-bell was rung and the priest elevated the Blessed Host—which had only served to remind me how very far I was from home.

Once again, my brother had opted not to leave Gruuthuse palace and cross the few yards it took to reach the church. I worried for Edward’s soul, but knew better than to mention it. It was folly to push him. The harder one urged him to do something—even God’s will—the deeper Edward dug in and refused to comply.

Such was the lesson in determination that Warwick had taught him. I knew that Edward, in his turn, dreamed of showing Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick exactly how much determination an exiled king could have to destroy a betraying cousin and reclaim his throne.

Would that God would soon grant Edward his dream. Waiting with our exiled king while traitor Warwick held London was not improving anyone’s mood.

Our exile was difficult and awkward enough, but we English had done nothing to endear ourselves to my brother-in-law the Duke of Burgundy, nor to the merchants of Bruges. In the place of good will, we had accumulated debts and the certainty of more debts.

Language was also a barrier, for none but myself claimed to speak any Flemish. I knew only a few phrases, regardless my mother had sent me as a child of nine into safety in the Low Countries. Eventually my brother George and I had come to Bruges, but we had remained less than six months—far less time than was necessary to learn Flemish.

Fortunately, many in Bruges also spoke French, which meant that while communication could be awkward, it wasn’t impossible…if one spoke French. But when Edward and I had ventured into the marketplace, we had discovered that language wasn’t necessary for us to understand the contempt the local merchants and tavernkeepers have come to feel for “rude engelsen uit”.

We and the few hundred knights and soldiers with us had all escaped England with empty purses. We were all living on Gruuthuse’s generosity and the paltry stipend extracted monthly from Charles, the Duke of Burgundy by his kind duchess, our sister Margaret.

Margaret loved and welcomed us with without hesitation, as had Louis. But once I’d witnessed a furious encounter between a group of drunken English knights and a sober Flemish tavern-keep who expected payment at the end of his night of service, I couldn’t blame the honest merchants of Bruges for their malice toward us. I wasn’t enjoying my countrymen’s company, either.

My mind was brought back to this Christmas eve as Hastings growled a reply to something Anthony Woodville had said.

“Aye, that’s all well and good for you, but you didn’t leave a wife and little children behind, did you?” He went on to interrupt Anthony’s attempt at a soothing reply. “Some men miss a soft bed with a soft woman in it. Miss good coin in their pocket, too, and a good meal when they ask for one. A bit of respect, even. I’ve seen none of that since I followed Edward here.”

“You can always go home.” My brother’s voice was low and deceptively mild. “There’s no sentence of death on your head, after all. I would not hold your going against you, nor against any who followed me out of England. You know that.”

Hastings made a rude noise. “You know Warwick’s ruled by that bitch Anjou and the spider-king behind her. They’re the ones wanting you dead, Eddie. The rest of us made the choice to follow our liege-lord. You know that Anthony and I would do it again, so how well d’you think Lord Rivers here would fare with Margaret d’Anjou. God’s bones, his sister’s your queen and the mother of your new-born heir. And how d’you think I’d fare if I were to go kneeling and groveling before Warwick as he did before the French bitch?

Said Anthony, “You would fare better than I, William. You’re married to Warwick’s sister, after all.”

“Aye, that I am. That’d save me my life, but Warwick would take the rest, he would. I’d lose my home at Ashby, my Kirby Muxloe and the other beauties Edward’s given me. It’s certain I’d live—be allowed to exist in a dirt-floored hovel with my poor wife and half-starving little ones…but then again, there’s that small matter of loyalty. We all of us followed our king to protect him, and that’s what we’ll do, my boy. At least, I will. Can’t speak for the buggered men beyond these walls.”

Personally, I was delighted at the prospect of Lord Hastings taking ship in a storm-tossed, winter attempt to reach England. It would be so much the better if he and his vessel were lost in passage, for his scolding criticism would then be silenced. But so, too, would the lives of his shipmates be snuffed out.

A quick examination of my conscience revealed that I didn’t wish anyone ill. Not really. I just wanted the man to go away, and stay away.

I needed to confess the sour, malicious thoughts I harbored against Lord Hastings. I also needed to work hard to regret those thoughts, else my confession would be for naught. What, I wondered, would my penance be for wishing death—however briefly—upon one of my brother’s liege-men?

Given half a chance, I could easily take Hastings’ place at Edward’s side, could defend my brother and king every bit as well as the drunken noble now sprawled before the fire, nodding into his cup. Wasn’t it past time Edward dismissed the man to his bed?

“I would not hold you, William. You’ve always been free to come or go.”

Edward still didn’t sound upset. More than likely, he recognized Hastings’ griping as nothing more than a drunken tantrum from someone who wouldn’t mean it in the morning. Would Hastings even remember saying such terrible things to his king?

“Richard and I would be fine without you.”

Edward’s words gave me a moment of hope that this Christmas Eve would see the sharp, final edge of a wedge set between them. Hastings would be banished—at the very least he would be sent out of Bruges. My hope, quickly kindled, died just as swiftly under Hastings’ mocking laughter.

“Am I to leave you and Rivers with that scrawny excuse for a knight? Nay, Edward. The lad’s useless to you. I’ve no idea why you brought him with us, for he’s nothing but a drain on our resources—one more soul to support and watch over. Dickon can’t do a thing to help you. Anthony and I can, and we will.”

Hastings raised his goblet in a solemn, if wobbling, toast. “No threat will ever get to you through us.”

Oh, such arrogance, Lord Hastings.

Always pompous on good days, the man was beyond unbearable when any host’s wine flowed freely. His insolent pride was then evident every time he opened his mouth.

Hastings should be made to confess that mortal sin among others, but I knew it was unlikely. He hadn’t attended mass in months. I doubted very much that he’d make an honest confession even if we were kept in Bruges until Easter.

I personally thought the man was a doichle—a churlish idiot whose immortal soul was in peril for any number of damned reasons, but my brother still considered this ass a good friend. Why Edward felt that way had ever been and would likely ever be a source of bewilderment to me. I couldn’t stand being near the man, for to be near Hastings was inevitably to become a target of his mockery and contempt—for no more than my daring to exist and my size, it seemed.

I knew I was small, but who wasn’t, when compared to Edward? I also knew that I was not yet experienced in battle or in life as were the other men who shared the warmth of Louis’ great chamber and his wine tonight. But my brother had told me weeks before that Anthony Woodville had not yet won honor in battle, either.

Regardless Lord Rivers was the same age as Edward himself, and well-trained in the art of war, it seemed that Anthony preferred to stay well behind the main fighting of any battle—which behavior had unfortunately resulted in his being captured twice by Yorkist soldiers. Anthony was, however, a solid tournament champion, as I had seen for myself a few years before, when Anthony had fought a two-day dual against Antoine, the Bastard of Burgundy.

“He has some skill with the battle-axe,” Warwick himself had declared after my brother the king had thrown down his baton—at the queen’s panicked urging—to prevent one of the men from killing the other during their second fight.

So the man could fight. He just didn’t want to do so on a battlefield.

Anthony and Edward each had twelve years on me, while Hastings had twenty. Hastings never ceased pointing out my youth and my inexperience, but Warwick had trained me, and some day I would have my chance to prove my quality and serve my king in battle. In the meantime, I was determined to honor my oaths as a Knight of the Bath and a Knight of the Garter—which, I was proud to remember, was one more Order than Hastings had to his credit.

As a boy, before knowing what exactly a knight’s oath meant, I had sworn most solemnly to serve God and my king. As the years passed, I had slowly come to understand exactly what responsibility my oaths entailed. I was more than eager to take the field and aid my king in the recovery of his throne.

Edward believed me. More than that, Edward believed in me and my callow abilities. Or so he said.

“Richard is my brother. He shares our lot, and I don’t hear him complaining.”

As quickly as that, I became the focus of the conversation. Three heads turned toward me, three men eyed me where I sat.

My skin prickled as Hastings narrowed his eyes. I felt his frustration redirect itself to a far more direct and tangible target: me.

“Aye, he’s your brother, Eddie, and he spent the evening at mass. Holier than the lot of us, aren’t you?”

Rising to his feet, Hastings swaggered toward me, wineskin in hand. Edward had long ago removed the delicate Venetian glass from Hastings’ clumsy grip. We drank up a great deal of Gruuthuse’s wine. We didn’t need to break his imported glasses as well.

“Did you pray for us tonight, little priest? Did you beg the Holy Mother to ask her Beloved Son to send us a miracle? Get us home again? At least that would be something useful from you. ‘Tis pity your blessed mother couldn’t see her youngest safe into the church. If she’d done that, you wouldn’t be a burden to us now. Because praying is about all you’re good for.”

The black look on Hastings’ face hinted at the possibility of his moving beyond mere words this time, for his ever-building frustration seemed to have made him meaner than usual.

Dread and a strange sort of excitement raced through me, though instinct told me not to move. I sensed that to stand or to turn away would only feed the man’s fury, make him determined to physically demonstrate the power he thought he had over me.

Coming up behind Hastings, Edward caught the man’s arm, turned him toward him. “I suggest you leave Richard alone.”

“Ah, there you are.” Hastings thumped Edward in the chest with the back of his hand. “Big brother come to rescue the wee piglet.”

The tirade would continue until Hastings left us, but at least Edward had turned him away from me. Part of me was disappointed that Edward had interceded, but another part was grateful, for I had no wish to demonstrate my skill with a dagger against my brother’s closest friend.

At least, not when Hastings was as pissed as he was this night.

I took advantage of the momentary break in the man’s attack to get to my feet and stride across the chamber to make a grab for my cloak. Someone came up behind me as I finished buckling the clasp beneath my throat. I spun round with my hand on the hilt of my dagger.

Anthony Woodville.

He was a decent enough fellow, but sometimes more oblivious and gentle than he should have been for his own safety. He had never joined in the taunts aimed my way, and I had long ago forgiven his inability to stomach the uncertainty and the bloodletting of war. Some men earned honor at battle, some at tournament. While the former gained a knight more honor than did the latter, Anthony’s skill in the lists was not to be scorned.

His gaze held sympathy. He knew I was leaving, and he knew why. It suddenly occurred to me that Anthony made a habit of evading one sort of fight, I another. He handed me my sword.

“We’ll be past this tomorrow,” he murmured.

“Until the next time.” I kept my voice low and glanced toward the door, then back at him. He might come with me.

Anthony looked over his shoulder at my brother, who was still occupied with Hastings. Turning back, he shook his head. His blue eyes were filled with longing.

“Take care, Dickon.” He stepped back.

I understood. Anthony’s had to remain with Edward, he couldn’t shift his loyalty—not to the outcast, runt piglet of the group.

I could but nod and edge toward the door. Not swiftly, mind you. Not with any speed that might attract attention. Just a step and then another. Smoothly, quietly, until I could lift the latch and slip outside, into the cold corridor.

It was dark beyond the great chamber, save for a single torch burning at the top of the winding staircase leading down to the ground floor.

Our few servants had been dismissed hours before, and the great house felt strangely empty. I knew Louis and his family was nearby in their separate, private wing, but I had no desire to intrude upon their Christmas eve.

I was halfway down the hall when Edward flung open the door of the chamber I had just vacated. I instinctively shrank back into the shadows and shook my head ruefully to realize that childish habits learned as a squire in Middleham were more to blame for my reaction than was any true need to evade Edward. Whenever Francis Lovell and I had returned from some forbidden adventure, we snuck back into the rooms we shared with the sleep-loving knight who mentored us. I now suspected that Sir Harold had not been as sound a sleeper as he seemed. He had been a squire once and so likely tolerated our craving the freedom of a midnight ride unescorted.

Turning, Edward braced his hands on either side of the doorframe and leaned back into the room. His face was cast into shadow, while his body reflected an ease I suspected he was likely far from feeling.

“Our wine is gone, our fire burned to embers. Anthony, I know you can’t wait to read Caxton’s new book, so I’ll bid you a good night. Hastings, you make piss-poor company tonight. Let’s explore the generosity of the women keeping rooms above the Old Bull, and see if we can’t change your mood this holy night.”

Hastings swaggered forth. Ducking beneath Edward’s arm, he turned to toss the now empty wooden cup back into the room.

“I’ll willingly join you in the hunt, Eddie.”

Whoring on the eve of Our Lord’s birth? I could but sigh inwardly as they linked arms and proceeded past me, down the winding stairway.

“A man needs his comforts—”

Edward pushed Hastings out into the cold and closed the door quietly behind him. Stepping back into the torchlight of the hallway, I stared after them.

Whoring had never held any interest, for I preferred to come to know the girl lying beneath me before I…knew…her. My obstinate unwillingness to join in the night hunts at Westminster had given Hastings even more kindling for his mocking fire after I had left Middleham and joined my brother in London, but I couldn’t care less. The meaningless caresses of a debauched female could never enticed me because I had only ever desired the touch of one women who was forever out of reach.

Let my brother and his coarse friend take their lusts and their meager coin out for a walk this night. Let them offer insult to God and further antagonize the whores they could not pay the price previously agreed upon. Let the night’s antics amuse Louis and further antagonize our brother-in-law. Let us all see what happened upon the morrow to make our situation in Bruges even more precarious.

I retrieved the long-empty saddlebag I’d stubbornly kept during our flight from England and headed downstairs, toward the kitchen. I hoped a quick visit would provide the few provisions I needed to take with me, as I had no intention of returning to this great house until I absolutely had to.

The light from the glowing kitchen embers revealed a score of servants sleeping on the floor, but no one stirred as I made my careful way between them. A stealthy search amid the wine casks in the cellar behind the kitchen revealed a fat skin of wine that no one had yet claimed. Loaves of bread were stacked like bricks very nearly to the ceiling in one corner of the kitchen, no doubt waiting to be used in the Christmas feast tomorrow.

I took the liberty of tying up two loaves and a small wheel of cheese in a worn towel before stuffing them hastily into my leather bag. Thusly fortified with everything a knight might need for a siege—or to run away—I made my way to the kitchen door leading to the outside.

Running away was something I had sworn this knight would never do, for fears were always to be faced and thereby conquered. I reasoned that I wasn’t afraid of Hastings. I’d simply had more than enough of him for the moment.

I slipped outside of the kitchen and leaned against the stout wooden door. An icy wind stung my cheeks and eyelids, and the night was shrouded in that eerie glow that seems a part of every new-fallen snow. The wind was made even more bitter by its containing the damp of the town’s canals. The searing cold penetrated my thick cloak, wormed its way into my very bones beneath my wool doublet and breeches.

It was far too cold to linger outside for very long, and it took only a moment’s reflection for me to decide my direction this night. There was only one place I would feel comfortable, one place where I wouldn’t intrude on anyone. Heading into the icy wind and swirling snow, I made for the one place that had always shown me refuge, no matter my years.

Once I’d reached the stable, I managed to pry a side door open far enough to slip inside. The gust of wind and snow accompanying me made the horses stir. No doubt they were irritated by the sudden blast of frigid air.

I slammed the door behind me and stood still, enjoying the absence of the wind and savoring the relative warmth. My years at Middleham had shown me that every winter’s stable was surprisingly warm with the body heat of so many animals contained within. I had strong hopes of passing a comfortable night amid the horses.

A glowing lantern was suspended well out of reach of clumsy men, incendiary fodder, and ever-curious horses. Mounted on a thick iron chain set high in the center of the roof, it cast enough light for me to make my way down the center aisle.

Horses in their stalls were the same in any land. Their quiet companionship offered me comforting nickers of welcome, curiosity, and unabashed hope for treats.

“Good evening, my friends,” I called.

My own horse’s stall was the third from the far end, on the right-hand line of stalls. My horse? That was far from the truth, and my heart ached to acSknowledge it.

My own stallion was far away in England, abandoned on the northern shore of the Wash when our party had to commandeer whatever small watercraft we could and steer for our lives through a storm to Lynn. I could not ride him any farther that night, nor could I protect him. In truth, I could not even protect myself, outcast as I was, even among the other outcasts. With no warning, no provisions, I had left behind my beautiful, bold Ashtail with our other horses. I could only pray that he had ended up in kind hands.

I located the old horse Louis had generously given me leave to use upon our arrival, and opened his stall. He sidled to the back of the stall, eyed me warily, and tried to look small. Clearly, he was concerned that I would take him from his shelter and demand that he go out into the icy night.

“No, lad. We’re staying in. I hope you don’t mind overmuch if I join you?”

The horse, being a Flemish mount, had no idea what I was saying, but he knew how to ask if I’d brought anything good in my pockets. Regardless our limited association, it hadn’t taken him long to figure out that I usually brought treats with me.

His carefully casual sniff of my hand made me smile, and I set my saddlebag down in the straw to uncover the side of one of the loaves of bread and tear off a bit for him. My offering was eagerly accepted. That, and a pat on the neck, reassured him that I had no wish to bring any hardship upon him this evening.

A quick kick at the bedding showed me that someone had taken the time to bed my horse’s stall with a generous amount of clean straw. That was well, as the weather was obviously going to be unpleasant for some time, which meant the horses would have to stay inside. Clean, deep bedding was a kindness and a cleanliness issue. Louis, it seemed, employed only the best grooms.

Who was it that had taken such good care of my horse? A quick lad, as I recalled—one of those thin adolescents that always try to stay out of sight in any noble household.

I didn’t know his name, and any attempt at conversation would have been hopeless anyway, as he likely didn’t speak French. If I got a chance, I would try to find a way to thank the groom, but I didn’t really know how.

I set my wineskin down in the corner of my horse’s manger, only to just as swiftly reclaim the skin as my horse stuck his whiskered muzzle in the middle of it and lipped the leather in an attempt to claim whatever might be tasty inside.

Scooping up my goods, I dropped them safely out of reach against the outside wall of the stall before going in search of additional bedding for myself. A couple of armloads of straw for my bed, and another bundle of hay for my companion, and I felt we might be set for the night.

Other animals shifted in their stalls, looking intently down the aisle at the hay going by. I couldn’t bear to leave them without a Christmas treat, so I forked more hay to all of the horses and followed up with a quick check of their water. The long troughs running the length of the stalls were mostly frozen, but accessible to all who might need a good drink after a second ration of dry hay.

It comforted me to be among the horses, who desired nothing more than the simple tending of a competent groom. The learning of those tasks had come to me along with the gift of my first pony at Fotheringhay. Months spent as a page at Middleham had reinforced the lessons well. This night, the irritated donkey who tried to bite me for my generous efforts only made me feel all the more welcome, for horses belonged to a society I knew well. I understood them, I trusted them. I was more than contented to spend my Christmas eve with them.

Returning to my own horse’s stall, fluffed up my extra straw in the corner, wrapped my cloak tight about me and settled, with a somewhat improved mood, into my nest. My wineskin and saddlebag were tucked close at hand in the corner at my head, just in case I should want something to eat or need to defend them.

Silence settled over the stable as the horses dozed, safe from the wind howling outside. I could hear the icy flakes tapping against the wooden boards of the stable in the stronger gusts, hear the moaning voices in the wind as it sought the small cracks and openings to force small eddies of chill air inside.

I felt as though I was hearing the voices of ghosts this Christmas eve, hearing their wails buried in the storm. Were parts of Bruges haunted, as parts of Yorkshire were?

I shook my head and drove away the thought. I had enough ghosts in my memories to torment me tonight. I needed no other, borrowed ones.

This was, without doubt, the strangest Christmas eve for me. I ached to be back in England. I missed my mother and sisters. I longed for the glad company of my good friend Francis, who was much more a brother than those given to me by God. Most of all, and not for the first time, I missed Anne. My darling Anne, whom Warwick had dragged away from home against her will to ruthlessly give her in marriage to….

No, I wouldn’t think of that.

The most I could do was offer prayers for Anne and all the rest of my loved ones from whom I was parted. Even Ashtail should have a prayer, no matter the church fathers had declared that animals have no souls and exist only to serve men. My deserted stallion was as helpless a victim to Fortune’s Wheel as was all of mankind. I certainly had the time, if not the candles, to ask a few saints and archangels to intercede for all of us, to beg our most sweet lord Jesus Christ to save us all from the perils of body and soul.

All, except Hastings. He would have to ask for himself.

Another sound reached me then. One not normally associated with horses.

I had heard rustlings in the loft earlier and tried not to think about what vermin might be up there. Mice, yes, even rats were common enough where horses and grain were to be found, but neither were the best of companions.

The newest rustling made it clear that the noises were not in my imagination. My horse-friend—whose name I had not learned—also turned his head and pricked his ears as the sound came again.

If a horse heard it, it was real. If a horse thought it out of the ordinary, it must be so.

I sat still and tried to quiet my breathing. New sounds reached me then. Someone caught their breath in distress, was trying to suppress their weeping.

The wind’s moaning had turned to weeping?

I felt a chill up my spine that had nothing to do with the weather. Could there actually be a ghost in the stable with me this night?

I then heard what sounded like a sniffle—the sort that accompanied a running nose. A decidedly non-ghostlike sound.

So I wasn’t the only person inside this stable tonight?

“Who is there?” I called into the darkness.

I tried to sound friendly, but the sniffling was followed by a gasp, and sharp silence.

Perhaps they did not speak English? I called upon my fractured Flemish in an attempt to reassure.

“Wie is daar?”

No answer.

“Wat is er mis?”

No one answered, but I did hear a bit more rustling overhead.

I left the stall and headed toward the ladder that led upward. Climbing quietly, I paused at the top and scarcely breathed. The lantern light was soft and diffused across the loft. I waited for my eyes to adjust to the shadows.

After a long moment of silence, I heard another, quieter sniffle from someone who seemed buried beneath the straw.

It took but a moment to cross to the softly weeping pile of straw. Reaching down, I grabbed what I hoped was an arm. A quick pull upward parted the straw, and my ghost proved to be a wide-eyed, very frightened boy who fought me not at all as I dragged him upward.

“Ah, you’re just a lad.”

Letting go his arm, I sank down to rest on my haunches and watched him. He wiped away his tears. Scooting backward, he eyed the sword at my side.

“You’re one of those English knights, aren’t you?” Scrabbling to his feet, he straightened his tunic and offered a hasty bow. Bits of straw scattered around him. “I’m sorry, m’lord. I mean no offense, really.”

“You speak English?”

“Yes, m’lord.” He offered another bow and shoved his hair from his eyes. “My mum is from Bruges, but my da is from England. He had me learn, what with all the trade hereabout.”

“What are you doing in the stable so late? And hiding in the loft? Surely you weren’t hiding from me?”

“I work in the stables for the Seigneur. I meant no trouble, m’lord. Really, I didn’t.”

“I know you mean no trouble, and certainly no harm.”

It was then I realized that my new companion was trying to balance on one foot.

“Are you hurt?”

“Nay, m’lord. I didn’t mean to disturb you. Oh, please, m’lord, don’t tell Master Piet.”

The child—for he couldn’t have been much over ten years—was looking at me with wide, desperate eyes. He raised a hand and pushed back his hair to cover an ear that was obviously swollen and sore.

“Let’s sit down, shall we?” I carefully settled myself into the straw and gestured that the boy should join me. “Now, I heard you crying up here. I think you must be very sad or hurt very badly. Which is it?”

Rather than answer me, the boy looked down, so that I could no longer see his face.

“Is it both hurt and sad? I suspect that Piet the stable-master boxed your ear today. Is that so?”

The child nodded with some reluctance.

“Why is it he hurt you?”

“Master Piet was very angry that I didn’t clean out Rivier Voet’s hooves this morning,” came the quiet admission. “But I was busy, what with all the people going out and coming in for Christmas, and the bad weather and wet horses and all. I didn’t forget to do his feet. I just hadn’t done them yet.”

“I understand how you can become overworked at such times. Piet must be a very impatient man.”

He looked at me, wary and almost suspicious, but with a hint of curiosity as well.

“Oh yes, I had my ears boxed when I was a page, and also when I was a squire, over just that sort of thing.”

“You did?”

“More than once. So I understand very well how it happens.”

I smiled at the memories. Right now, even my memories of being punished at Middleham for misdeeds were happy. Once more, I found myself wishing I was still in Yorkshire.

“But that doesn’t explain why you were hiding in the hay,” I continued. “Would Piet not allow you to go home this Christmas eve?”

He shook his head. I heard another sniffle before the thin shoulders began to shake.

“Tell me, please?” I urged gently. “Maybe I can help.”


“Can’t help? Is it that bad?”

He shook his head, and more bits of straw sifted from his hair.

“Can’t get home. It’s my foot. A man came in on a big, big horse. It wouldn’t stand still for me to rub it down and get the wet off. It kept wiggling around and tried to bite my…um.”

The boy squirmed and snuck a look at me. I dared not laugh, though I wanted to.

“Go on.”

“That horse nipped and nipped, and then it stood on my foot. It was such a big horse, and it weight a lot, and it wouldn’t get off, and tonight it hurts so bad that I can’t walk. Master Piet said it was my fault for being so stupid, but that my foot’s only bruised, and it’ll heal up quick….”

“But not quick enough for tonight.”

I saw the problem clearly now. I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t go home for Christmas.

“It’s a fair walk to home,” the boy went on. “I don’t mind it usually, but it’s so cold and wet, and my foot hurts so much, I just can’t even try. My mum and da will be worried when I don’t come, but…I just can’t do it.”

He wiped his eyes on one sleeve and used his other sleeve to wipe his nose.

“Not complainin’, m’lord. I’ve a good place to stay out of the storm, and I’ll be first one here come morning to tend the horses. That should please Master Piet.”

His smile was brave but wobbly, and his lower lip trembled before he ducked his head again. I could hear his empty belly growling its hunger, as well.

What a miserable night for such a little boy. I may have been lonely and feeling sorry for myself, may have been missing my loved ones and a warm hearth and a good meal among friends, but I knew those things would be out of reach even as I chose to follow my brother into exile. This child’s family was waiting anxiously for him in a house that was surely filled with love and a good dinner.

There was no way I could mend my woes, but I could end his.

“Come with me,” I ordered.

Going to the ladder, I began backing down into the stable aisle. The boy poked his head over the loft floor and peered down at me.

“Come with you to where? Does your horse need more hay or water?”

I laughed. I didn’t mean to, but I did, for my joy for the plan I’d made began to eclipse my own sorrows.

“Come with me on my fine horse that you take care of so well for me. We’re going to take you home.”

“Me? On a horse?” He sounded horrified, positively scandalized. “In the snow and the storm?”

“Yes, you on a horse in the snow and the storm. We’ll ride together. It won’t hurt your foot a bit, and your mum and da will be happy to have you home safe and sound. If you walk back and forth every day, your home can’t be more than a couple of miles, can it?”

“Nay, just about that. But you out in this storm? And me on a horse…it’s not allowed.”

He’d climbed awkwardly down the ladder and was creeping slowly ever closer to me in spite of his reasonable refusals. I’d offered to create a Christmas miracle for him, and I could tell how badly he wanted to say yes.

The boy’s sincerity and innocence reminded me so much of my early years among strangers in the north, when I’d wanted nothing more than a hug from my lady mother and the comfort of my own bed, that I found myself forcing back my own tears.

That clinched it. This lad was going home tonight.

I handed him the wineskin and my saddlebag. “Hold this for me, will you please?”

I then headed for the tack room and returned with my mount’s blanket, saddle and bridle. “I’m sorry for lying to you about going out, old fellow, but we’re needed. You can manage a bit of snow to save this young man’s Christmas, can’t you? I promise if you do this for me, you’ll have a rubdown and extra grain when we get back. And we’ll travel as swiftly as the storm allows.”

The horse sighed, resigned to his fate as I tightened the girth. Retrieving my provisions, I tied them to the saddle. After leading the horse from his warm stall, I pulled the stable boy beside me.

“Give him a pat on the shoulder and tell him thank you for me.”

“Bedankt, vriend paard Gelovigen.”

The horse turned his head to touch the child’s shoulder with his muzzle, as close to a caress as you’d ever get from most horses. It was clear the animal horse trusted—maybe even loved—this boy. It made me even more determined to see the child safe home.

“What did you call him?” I asked.


I’m sure my confusion showed on my face.

“It’s his name.”

“I don’t know much Flemish. What does it mean?”

He gave a lopsided grin. “It means faithful. Gelovigen is a good horse, he’s just a little bit old now. I’m told he used to be our lord’s favorite mount years ago.”

So Louis had given me the best of the worst? I supposed that was some sort of honor. Or Louis thought so little of me that he made sure I was given a horse safe enough for small children and grandmothers to ride. Either way, I liked this horse. And I was sorry to ask the old fellow to journey out into the cold.

“And what is your name?” I asked.


“Well met, Kees.” Laying my hand across my heart, I gave a shallow bow. “You may call me Dickon.”

His eyes widened in fear. Surely my name couldn’t mean anything to him, or be that frightening?

“You are one of the Seigneur’s guests—an English knight with much honor. I dare not call you by name, m’lord.”

If only he knew how much honor I did not have, and how much honor I’d likely never get the chance to earn. I was lord of nothing. Nothing but a nuisance, no one of any value, only the baby brother of a king in exile. I had a death sentence hanging over me, and I would never see home or family again if I wished to continue living.

My heart ached as I acknowledged the harsh truth of my situation, but I pushed away my sorrow. I was still a knight, and tonight I was determined to see Kees safely home.

“You can call me Dickon if we’re friends, and I have asked you to do so, yes? Are we not friends now?”

Kees answered with his silence.

I pushed on. “I would like to consider you my friend. Jelly here is the only real friend I have in Bruges. I’d like a friend who can talk.”

“Jelly?” Kees’ snicker was a wonderful change from tears.

“I can’t remember what you called him, but it started with Jelly, didn’t it?”


“Gelovigen,” I repeated carefully. “My horse-friend’s name is Gelovigen, my people-friend’s name is Kees. And my name is Dickon. Please use it?”

“All right…Dickon,” he repeated softly.

“Thank you. Now, up you get.”

I tapped him on the thigh, prompting him to bend his leg at the knee. When he did, I tossed him up into the saddle. I then led Gelovigen, who seemed resigned to his fate, to the stable doors. I opened the doors just enough to let the horse squeeze through, then carefully closed them tight.

A foot into the stirrup, a hop, and I was seated behind Kees. The light accumulation of snow already on the saddle melted into my wool breeches. That fast, and I was cold and wet—the two conditions I most loathed.

Ah well, sooner started, sooner finished, and then Gelovigen and I could return and settle down in our warm straw beds.

I pulled up my hood, tucked my cloak close around Kees and myself. Gelovigen walked across the courtyard and beneath the stone archway fronting Gruuthuse’s palace. I nodded at the miserable guards on duty, who had nothing more than a freezing halberd and a flickering lantern to keep them company.

Once clear of the archway, Gelovigen halted, and I gathered the reins in front of Kees. Already, my fingers were frozen. Bowing my head, I spoke into the boy’s ear against the bitter wind.

“Which way?”

He pointed down the snow-covered street, and I nudged Gelovigen into motion.

A quick glance around the area, and I realized that I could no longer tell street from bank from canal in the soft-glowing night. It was a situation that could turn deadly if I misread landmarks I didn’t know to begin with.

“You will guide us carefully, yes?” I asked Kees, who had covered his head and face with the woolen folds of my cloak and was pushing back against me for added warmth. “We don’t want to end up on the canal ice.”

The boy nodded. He wrapped the cloak over my hands before covering them with his own to keep the warm wool in place.

Kees was true to his word. At every turn and drift, small, white fingers emerged to point to the left or the right—or to wiggle in a particular direction, which I came to understand meant, ‘Further over that way, please.’

I obeyed without question, and faithful Gelovigen trudged calmly through the deepening snow. He paid no mind as he passed the intermittent torches that hissed and crackled as snowflakes hit them, though he did shake the snow from his head frequently and carried his ears back in displeasure. Eventually, there were no more torches.

Kees’ directions took us into the merchant section of Bruges, an area where I had never felt comfortable since my brother’s men badgered the merchants constantly for more credit…and other things. I didn’t know exactly what those other things entailed, and felt no need to be kept informed of such details. All I knew was that the merchants didn’t like us, and neither did I. But I had no control over any of them, or the situation, and I suspected Edward didn’t, either.

Light and shadows moved behind some of the windows, muffled laughter drifted on the cold air occasionally, but we met no one else on the stormy streets. I felt as if the three of us had been entirely cut off from the rest of the world.

I soon lost myself in the snow coating my cloak, my freezing face and aching ears, in the wearisome, trudging misery of the journey. I hoped that Gelovigen knew his way home, because I could not remember most of the turns we’d made and had visions of wandering about in the storm until the three of us froze to death.

I tried to take heart in the knowledge that I was doing a good deed for young Kees, as a good knight should. I continued turning Gelovigen as the boy bid me, but our entire journey was made in deathly silence until we reached midway down a narrow, silent street that looked like every other dark street we had ridden down.

“This one! This one here!”

A skinny arm appeared from under the cloak and began to wave wildly at a window with lights flickering behind the wooden shutters, and a small, brave candle burning on the sill outside.

I closed my stiff fingers. Gelovigen willingly came to a halt, switched his rump around toward the wind and lowered his head.

“This is home?” I asked.

The question was unnecessary, for young Kees had thrown off my cloak and was about to leap from the horse, his bruised foot and injured toes forgotten in his excitement. Or perhaps they were completely numb from the cold. Mine certainly were.

“Moeder! Vader! Ik ben thuis!”

I managed to catch his arm and lower him gently to the ground, rather than see him jump down and land hard on the snow-covered cobbles. I feared a deep ache would follow such a landing once his feet were warmed, but I only managed to slow his descent.

He was off and running toward a door that burst open before he reached it. A careworn woman with a blanket around her shoulders ran out into the storm to catch and hug him close. Their delighted chatter and obvious love for each other warmed my heart, if not the rest of me.

I reached down to give my patient, miserable horse a pat on the neck. “That’s what this was all about, my friend. Let’s go back to our stall, shall we?”

A large, strong hand closed over my wrist before I could shift my hand on the rein to turn Gelovigen.

“You must come with me, out of this storm,” said a deep voice in most welcome English.

A big man who had to be Kees’ father stood at my knee, and he did not seem inclined to release my wrist.

“No, I’ll be off home again,” I told him, “but I thank you. I just wanted to see your young son safely home.”

“The weather is foul, and I wish to thank you properly for bringing our lad home. His mum was beside herself with worry, and now that he is here, we can have a happy Christmas. You come join us.”

Kees and his mother were waving from the warm glow of the cottage doorway, beckoning me inside.

“We’ve warm drink and a fine supper for tonight,” the father continued, “and a goose on the spit for tomorrow. You must come inside where it is warm.”

I was tempted, but at the same time I knew how lean things were for many of the citizens of Bruges. I’d not be eating their Christmas meal, as I’d come empty-handed and had nothing to share. Secondly, I had no wish for them to know I was one of the hideous English. Once they found out, my reception would likely be as chilly as the weather. Besides, I had made promises to Gelovigen; a horse his age couldn’t be expected spend the night out in this weather. All were very good reasons why I should turn the horse and hope we could find Gruuthuse’s palace again.

“We all want you inside with us. I heard Kees tell his mother you’re one of the foul English knights, but only a good man would show such compassion and care for a stable boy. You are most welcome in our home, and at our table. We’ve a fair stable out back, if your beast wouldn’t mind sharing shelter with our cow and pony.”

The big man beside me grinned widely and clapped me on the thigh, as though he would not let go until I agreed to do as he wished.

To be welcome? To have someone smile at me and mean it? To be wanted somewhere? I had not felt such hope since before I had left England. How could I turn away such an invitation? And old Gelovigen deserved to be out of the wet and wind.

I had to accept.

“I believe my horse would grateful for any shelter right now. He has been faithful to a fault, carrying us through the storm. For his sake at least, I would be glad to accept your offer.”

“Then come down from there and let us tend him together. Tritje already has a place at the table set for you. She weaves woolen socks and other clothes for our stall in the market, so at the very least there is a pair of dry socks waiting for you beside our fire.”

Now there was an appealing notion. Dry socks and a warm fire to share with friends, a cup of wine…

Wine? Yes, we could have that.

My heart leaped at the realization that I need not come empty-handed to the family’s gathering.

We were inside the small stable now, and Gelovigen favored us by shaking like a dog and showering us both with melting snow. I began stripping off the saddle and bridle and paid special attention to my saddlebag and wineskin, while Kees’ father twisted a handful of straw into a wisp to get the wet off of Gelovigen.

The horse sighed deeply and buried his nose in the pony’s hay rack. The pony squealed at the indignity, but otherwise seemed to welcome Gelovigen’s company.

We rubbed my horse until he was mostly dry, steaming in the relative warmth, and obviously contented with the extra hay and company. Kees’ father shoved more hay past the noses buried in the hay rack, then gave them both furry necks a pat before pushing me toward the door.

The icy wind and snow was much like a blow when we stepped out of the comforting warmth of the stable. I blindly followed the broad back of the man in front of me through the swirling flakes, trusting him to lead me back to the house. It seemed to take an eternity before we reached a door, which swung open into a small bit of heaven.

The tiny house truly was a home, and Kees greeted me with a shy smile while his mother bustled about. Taking my saddle, Kees thumped it into the corner and hung my bridle on a nearby hook to dry. I set my provisions beside the saddle.

The boy’s mother checked the goose roasting over the fire, while I was urged farther into the room. Oh, how I’d missed such a scene.

Without asking permission, another, nearly grown woman pulled my wet cloak from my shoulders and draped it over a bench near—but not too near—the fire. Kees’ mother threw a towel over my head and made me bend over without ceremony, the better to vigorously scrub my wet hair.

My startled eyes met Kees’, who gave me a lopsided grin.

“Mum did the same to me while you and Da settled Gelovigen. It’s best if you just give in and let her.”

I eventually escaped the determined buffeting, only to be pushed into the chair closest to the fire. After seeing me settled, Kees’ mother went after her husband to give him the same treatment. Placing his hands on his thighs, the big man bent over without argument. I couldn’t understand much of what was being said, but the mothering attitude and open affection were all too evident.

“I’m James,” he said, winking at me from beneath the towel. “Welcome to our home, m’lord.”

“None of that, please,” I heard myself protest. “I’ve just gone through this with your son. I have no rank or position in Burgundy. Please, just call me Dickon?”

“Dickon it is, then. Best we get your fine riding boots off and drying, or your toes will be terrible sorry by morning.”

James moved to help, but I managed to wave him off.

“I can manage my own boots, thank you. Please see to Kees’ foot? A horse stepped on him, and he cannot walk well for the pain. That’s why he didn’t make it home earlier.”

Tritje was immediately at her son’s side.

“My wife understands more English than she can speak,” said James. “She’ll see Kees’ right. The boy needs to watch the big beasts when they’re restless. Maybe this time he’ll learn.”

James’ words indicated he was shrugging off Kees’ injury, but it was obvious from the worried glances he threw toward his son that he wanted to stride over and turn that frozen, bruised foot between his own hands and see the damage for himself. Eventually, as I exchanged my wet socks for the ones provided by Tritje, James did drift away and join the tending of his son’s injuries.

The younger woman appeared at my side and shyly offered me a bowl of something liquid and warm. I realized it was some kind of soup, though I did not recognize the scent of it and had no clue what it might be.

Would be nice with a bit of bread, I thought, but would never have been so rude as to ask for more than these generous people had already offered. Then I remembered what I had helped myself to this evening in Louis’ kitchen.

“Hang about, could you bring me my bag? The bag from my saddle? Please? And the wineskin?”

I waved toward the tack, but the girl only stared at me in bewilderment.

I knew should just get up and get the things myself, but my toes were beginning to thaw, and I was reluctant to get the new, warmed socks wet by walking in the melting snow we’d tracked in.

From across the room, James rapped out a quick sentence in Flemish and nodded toward my saddle. His daughter hastened to carry out my request.

I smiled my thanks when she handed me my things, and set about trying to untie the wet, swollen leather ties on the saddlebag. My warming fingers succeeded, and I drew out my offerings. They may have been meager, but I felt much better having something to contribute.

I held out the wineskin as well as the cloth-wrapped bread and cheese to the girl. She took them with a silent smile and set it all on the table. The next moment, she exclaimed in delight after lifting a corner of the cloth.

“What’s that?”

James got to his feet and was beside the girl in a couple of long strides. By then, she had the cloth completely folded back and was staring at the bread as if she’d never seen it before.

“There are two loaves of good demain bread here? And an entire wheel of cheese? I can only imagine the wine you’ve brought us.” James looked at me as if he thought I should take it all back.

I gestured toward the wineskin. “It’s a full skin, and I think you’ll find the wine within is surprisingly good. I’m sorry about the missing bit of bread, but I fed it to my horse.”

I felt rather silly confessing that, but it brought smiles from James and Kees, and from the rest of the family once it was explained.

“I told you he was a kind man,” Kees said with some pride. “And he’s my friend. He said so. Didn’t you, Dickon?”

“I did indeed, and I’m proud to have you as my first friend in Bruges. My horse likes you too, and you know that says a lot. Animals always know a person’s quality. And James, before you protest, I want you to have the bread and the wine as gifts for your table. I’ve nothing else with me and little else to share, but if you can use what I’ve brought….”

I could think of nothing else to say, but it seemed more words weren’t necessary. Tritje was clasping one of the loaves of bread to her ample bosom, as though it were a child or a treasure long lost. Her daughter was holding the other loaf of bread in quite the same way. Apparently they were pleased with my gifts.

The wheel of cheese was discussed with equal excitement, while James carefully poured out the wine into small wooden cups.

“Thanks to our new friend and unexpected joys, we’ll all have a fine Christmas this year. We thank you, Dickon.” James raised his cup in a toast, first to me, and then to the heavens. “And we thank you, our dear lord Jesus Christ, true God, on the eve of this, your birth.”

The little spark of hope in my heart burst into a steady glow as we gathered round the table. Kees reached for my left hand, his mother for my right to complete the circle as James continued his prayer.

I knew then that it truly was Christmas. The people might be different and the home unfamiliar, but this humble family was just as welcoming and loving as the one I’d left behind. I understood now that kindness and joy were the same, no matter what part of the world I might find myself in.

Bowing my head, I gave thanks that this night, in spite of Fortune’s ever-turning wheel, I had come home for Christmas after all.


Facebooktwitterpinterestmailby feather

Writing Cat

A few weeks ago, I had to say goodbye to Mac — my marmalade-cat friend of 14 years. He stayed as long as he could, refusing to let me know he had cancer. I found out when I ran my hand down his back, and he made a sound I’d never heard before. There was nothing to be done — they can’t cure carcinoma.

Two days later, I was adopted by a black kitten. I grew up with black cats, so all such moggies are friends. She has very big eyes, and her humane society name was Mercy. To herself she is…Herself. Like all kittens, she likes to run and stalk and climb and play. Her favorite toys thus far are neat little chase-me balls made from small strips of flexible cohesive vet wraps that are meant to protect horse legs. They bounce beautifully as they’re made of latex, and they roll in unexpected patterns. They also catch on claws and can be carried about in the mouth. And lost under the furniture. Of course.

During my writing session this morning, Herself jumped atop a five-drawer filing cabinet, only to perch atop my ancient laser printer, to pose with William Turner (aka Orlando Bloom). (My cell phone doesn’t take great pictures, but if I had reached for my Nikon, she’d have be gone by the time I got set up.)


Herself likes to keep company with me when I’m writing, and she reminded me of Pangur Bán who was another cat companionioning another writer.

When I went looking, I discovered Seamus Heaney (who died last year) had made a new translation of the poem featuring Pangur Bán. If you’ve not heard the poem, you’ll likely not know it was written in Irish by an anonymous monk in a ninth-century manuscript that belongs to the monastery of St. Paul in Austria. And here it is, for cat lovers everywhere:

Pangur Bán

From the 9th-century Irish poem written by an annonymous monk. Translated By Seamus Heaney.

Read the translator’s notes

Pangur Bán and I at work,
Adepts, equals, cat and clerk:
       His whole instinct is to hunt,
       Mine to free the meaning pent.
More than loud acclaim, I love
Books, silence, thought, my alcove.
       Happy for me, Pangur Bán
       Child-plays round some mouse’s den.
Truth to tell, just being here,
Housed alone, housed together,
       Adds up to its own reward:
       Concentration, stealthy art.
Next thing an unwary mouse
Bares his flank: Pangur pounces.
       Next thing lines that held and held
       Meaning back begin to yield.
All the while, his round bright eye
Fixes on the wall, while I
       Focus my less piercing gaze
       On the challenge of the page.
With his unsheathed, perfect nails
Pangur springs, exults and kills.
       When the longed-for, difficult
       Answers come, I too exult.
So it goes. To each his own.
No vying. No vexation.
       Taking pleasure, taking pains,
       Kindred spirits, veterans.
Day and night, soft purr, soft pad,
Pangur Bán has learned his trade.
       Day and night, my own hard work
       Solves the cruxes, makes a mark.
Cat1 Facebooktwitterpinterestmailby feather

Fool me once….

…because we all work so much better when the company culture says, “The killings will continue until creativity & sales improve.”

…because we all work so much better when the company culture says, “The killings will continue until creativity & sales improve.”

I have two neighbors directly across from me. The one on the right side, we call The Ghouls because they repair cars until the wee-smalls and someone once said, “Go to bed, ya ghouls!” and it stuck.

The other neighbor, on the left side does container gardening.

This neighbor lives alone. She bought a new Subaru Impreza in the past year.

She comes home every afternoon around 1 p.m. Gets her mail. Goes into her house. She and I are about the same age. I know this because the window of my writing room overlooks her driveway.

I find myself wondering where she works, that she’s able to keep her car and her home. Support herself.

She looks happy. Contented, even. Her employer hasn’t thrown her away (aka ‘laid her off’).

A friend called to tell me that [the company that shall remain nameless] wants to hire a receptionist/accounts payable clerk. I am neither qualified nor interested in being an accounting anything. This does not stop him from wanting me to apply for this poisontion (sic).

He obviously hasn’t seen their ad for a graphic designer yet. An ad I already know about because another friend told me she got married, is happy, and  escaped submitted her resignation.

I worked as a graphic designer for this company for nearly twelve years. They threw me away some months ago. They threw away nine other graphic designers before me. But hey, that’s just good business, right? They’re trying to survive as their publishing/advertising business is dying.

Back to the receptionist/accounts payable clerk ad.

I find myself wondering how someone is supposed to answer phones, greet customers, and pay enough attention to detail so as not to make mistakes doing accounts payable. But hey…it’s not my train to wreck drive.

Back to the other ad they’ve posted for a graphic designer.

They laid off another graphic designer a few months ago. Including the latest exit, they’re down to five designers. I guess they can’t make it with five, and so they’re advertising for a sixth.

It occurred to me that [this company that shall remain nameless] didn’t call the designer they just laid off and ask her to come back.

Call me naïve, but isn’t that what’s supposed to happen? You need someone for a position you previously laid off, you call the person you most recently laid off to come back?

Not this company. They put an ad in the paper for someone shiny and new. And likely younger. Someone who knows how important it is to dress like a character from Sex In The City when you design an ad for a customer you never see, someone who couldn’t care less in this rural town what you look like. It’s all about them, per them. It’s not about [this company that shall not be named].

But why listen to me? I only made a living and designed thousands of ads by reading the minds of clients figuring out what was important to the customers I was designing for. Maybe they’ll listen to the fact that their customers are all going to radio because print ads are too expensive and don’t pull in enough new customers…but I doubt it.

I wish I’d thought to ask my friend why he wants me to apply to a company that’s dying in an industry that’s dying. One that’s also known locally for: (1) lying to and psychologically abusing their employees over the past five or so years (it’s always about power, not about what’s right); 2) having an office culture that’s built on the 21st-century equivalent of having the Sword of Damocles hanging over every employee’s head; 3) consistently laying off people at the end of every other quarter, just before the company owner/president arrives for his twice yearly report (from his daughter) on how things are going; and, 4) is managed by people who may be even more terrified regarding their futures than the people they employ.

On the other hand, maybe being mean is just good business.

On the other hand, maybe the Sword of Damocles is perpetually thirsty, but some of us have learned to never let it hang over us ever again.


Facebooktwitterpinterestmailby feather

Archie Fisher’s “The Witch of the Westmoreland”

Some months ago, someone introduced me to “The Witch of the Westmoreland.” Set in northern England and featuring a knight, complete with hawk and hound, it sounds like it could be a medieval ballad, but it was composed in the 20th century by Scottish folk singer/songwriter Archie Fisher.

You can hear him performing it here. The recording is from a public performance in 1971, so it’s not all that clear. Another, clearer version is sung by Stan Rogers here .

You’ll likely need the lyrics to understand it, so here they are.

The Witch of the Westmoreland, by Archie Fisher

Pale was the wounded knight
That bore the rowan shield,
Loud and cruel were the ravens’ cries
That feasted on the field,

Saying, “Beck water, cold and clear,
Will never clean your wound.
There’s none but the Maid of the Winding Mere
Can mak’ thee hale and soond.”

“So course well, my brindled hounds,
And fetch me the mountain hare
Whose coat is as gray as the Wastwater
Or as white as the lily fair.”

Who said, “Green moss and heather bands
Will never staunch the flood.
There’s none but the Witch of the West-mer-lands
Can save thy dear life’s blood.”

“So turn, turn your stallion’s head
Till his red mane flies in the wind,
And the rider o’ the moon gaes by
And the bright star falls behind.”

And clear was the paley moon
When his shadow passed him by;
Below the hill was the brightest star
When he heard the houlet cry,

Saying, “Why do you ride this way
And wharfore cam’ you here?”
“I seek the Witch of the West-mer-lands
That dwells by the Winding mere.”

“Then fly free your good grey hawk
To gather the goldenrod,
And face your horse intae the clouds
Above yon gay green wood.”

And it’s weary by the Ullswater
And the misty brake fern way
Till through the cleft o’ the Kirkstane Pass
The winding water lay.

He said, “Lie down, my brindled hounds,
And rest, my good grey hawk,
And thee, my steed, may graze thy fill
For I must dismount and walk.

“But come when you hear my horn
And answer swift the call,
For I fear ere the sun will rise this morn
You may serve me best of all.”

And it’s down to the water’s brim
He’s borne the rowan shield,
And the goldenrod he has cast in
To see what the lake might yield.

And wet rose she from the lake
And fast and fleet gaed she,
One half the form of a maiden fair
With a jet-black mare’s body.

And loud, long and shrill he blew,
Till his steed was by his side;
High overhead his grey hawk flew
And swiftly he did ride,

Saying, “Course well, my brindled hounds,
And fetch me the jet-black mare!
Stoop and strike, my good grey hawk,
And bring me the maiden fair!”

She said, “Pray sheath thy silvery sword,
Lay down thy rowan shield.
For I see by the briny blood that flows
You’ve been wounded in the field.”

And she stood in a gown of the velvet blue,
Bound ’round with a silver chain,
She’s kissed his pale lips aince and twice
And three times ’round again.

She’s bound his wounds with the goldenrod,
Full fast in her arms he lay,
And he has risen, hale and sound,
With the sun high in the day.

She said, “Ride with your brindled hound at heel
And your good grey hawk in hand.
There’s nane can harm the knight who’s lain
With the Witch of the West-mer-land.”


Facebooktwitterpinterestmailby feather

For the Faeries Who Live at the Bottom of the Garden

"He finds her, and this is the consequence."

“Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?”
~ Douglas Adams

No, Douglas. It’s not. Because a fairy needs a garden and much love and creative support to survive and thrive in this world. Especially when a little boy comes tearing down the path and rips off her wings — as some little boy will eventually do, come what may.

Not only does having your wings ripped off hurt a hell of a lot, and scar you for life; some fairies are scarred for life and don’t quite understand why.

And another thing — that garden you think so beautiful is only beautiful because the damn fairy made it beautiful in the first place.

So perhaps it’s best if little boys do ignore the fairies at the bottom of the garden. The fairies will be much safer that way, if the little boys play their war and power games at the top of the garden where the sharp rocks are. There they can bloody knees and noses and break their bones, and leave fairy hearts safely alone.

Bonus Song: “Fairies Living at the Bottom of the Garden” by Renaissance (1981, British Pop)

Facebooktwitterpinterestmailby feather

How Young Were King Richard III & His Queen, Anne Neville


Richard III (Aneurin Barnard) & Anne Neville (Faye Marsay) in “The White Queen”

I was looking at a few photos from a series that ran last year that featured bits with Richard III and his queen, Anne Neville.

They were so young… he was 30 when he took the throne. Anne had just turned 27.

I’ve always thought both of them would have been much happier staying in Middleham as they had for the previous twelve years. Neither one seems to have cared much for court, and there they were, having to establish their own.

Guinevere says something in the musical “Camelot” that I’ve never forgotten, after Arthur asks if she wishes she’d never been born a queen.

“Oh, occasionally. It’s never being alone that bothers me most. Do you know, I have never been without someone around me in my entire life?… I mean, completely, totally, solitarily alone? Sometimes I wish the castle were empty, everyone gone, no one here but me. Do you know what I would do? I would bolt every door, lock every window, take off all my clothes and run stark naked from room to room. I would got to the kitchen, naked; prepare my own meals; naked; do some embroidery, naked; and put on my crown, naked. And when I passed a mirror, I would stop and say, “Ello, Jenny old thing! Nice to see you.!” But I must say, on the whole, being a queen can be…a weary load.”

I think Edward IV and his queen Elizabeth Woodville loved being what they were.

I’m not so sure Richard and Anne did. Within 18 months, they and their only son were dead.

Facebooktwitterpinterestmailby feather

Richard III, Rasputin, Vlad the Impaler – One of these is not like the others

Mirror, mirror on the wall, Who's the most evil one of all?

Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who’s the most evil one of all?

Has anyone else tried to read The Religious Life of Richard III: Piety & Prayer in the North of England by Jonathan Hughes?

I knew going in that Hughes is openly anti-Richard; I didn’t know he’s anti-Richard with a vengeance. I’m reading the book for insights into Richard and his medieval Catholicism and how it affected his personality/life. But every evil thing laid at Richard’s feet…in his introduction Hughes insists that Richard did it. Everything. No exceptions. He killed Henry VI. He killed Edward, Prince of Wales after the Battle of Tewkesbury. He helped kill his brother, Clarence. He wanted to marry his niece and so he poisoned his wife. His problem was pride; it’s better that his brother was a glutton and lustful because gluttony and lust don’t lead to the same dastardly doings as does the sin of pride. On and on and on. Ad nauseum.

Hughes even posits that Richard knew ahead of time his brother the king, Edward IV, was going to die of gluttony. (Edward did? And Richard did? Where the heck is that proven?) Richard made plans accordingly while his brother was still alive. I’m surprised Richard’s crystal ball hasn’t been dug up yet at Middleham.

While reading the seemingly endless list of Evil!King Richard III accusations and mentally ticking off historically valid rebuttals (like the Juana of Portugal and Infanta of Spain marriage negotiations, which Hughes didn’t know about or ignored; and the unreliability of More and Vergil), it occurred to me that if Richard had done everything tradition says he did, he would have been a full-blown psychopath, even more manipulative and murderous than the character Shakespeare framed.

It also occurred to me that if Richard had been as manipulative, murderous, and sneaky-crafty at hiding his intentions for nigh on 12+ years and hiding out in Yorkshire while planning to satisfy his (always hidden) overweening ambition by snatching the throne when Edward V obligingly died, then that Richard would never have lost the Battle of Bosworth. That Richard would have lost no time running away to fight another day. Because self-preservation? That’s been at the top of every known psychopath’s list of priorities.

And not only that: “All for one and more for me” would have been Richard’s obvious and consistent policy long before he took the throne. If that was the case, I doubt any Yorkshireman would have missed Richard after he died. Yet plenty did. A few years after Bosworth, the Earl of Northumberland lost his life at the hands of a Yorkshire mob because of his role in helping the man they thought of as their king to go missing.

How amazing is it that Richard as Duke of Gloucester didn’t arbitrarily go murdering children. Nor did he plot against and behead members of the gentry or the nobility during the 12 years he lived in the North — regardless he would have been within his rights legally to do so, if only because he was Constable of England.

How amazing is it that instead of hanging and beheading his way through Yorkshire, when the city of York wrote to say, “We’ve had this bloke in prison for some weeks because he badmouthed you, yer Grace. What should we do with him?”, Richard, Duke of Gloucester wrote back, “Release him.”

Maybe Richard’s reply was really code for, “Torture him until he’s very nearly dead, then lynch the bugger. While you’re at it, exile his wife and kiddies, yeah?”

Given the consistent way the Duke of Gloucester conducted his life while living in the North, and how he served as the equivalent of a circuit judge for so long (upholding the law village by town, and even taming those pesky border reivers), he’d have to have undergone a total personality transplant (or been infested with medieval demons) to do what tradition and Tudor propaganda says he did.

Maybe Richard fell off of his horse and received a great blow to the head a few days before he received word from Hastings that his brother the king had died. Maybe that’s the reason for the alleged change in his personality.

Now…admittedly Hughes wrote this book in mid-2000 and the historical analysis pendulum has swung a bit more to center in the past 14 years. I’ve read that current Richard III scholars no longer believe he did all the dastardly things he was convicted (in absentia and on hearsay — which isn’t admissible in a court of law) of doing 500+ years ago. But there’s Ross’s and Hicks’ biographies, and a handful of other books…”Selectively murderous” is what I remember from Ross, and I’ve been warned to avoid Hicks.

I know there’s Good King Richard? by Jeremy Potter, and the most excellent The Maligned King by Annette Carson (both foundationed in solid research), but I’m not seeing the centered pendulum of academia, so perhaps someone could provide a list of the more moderate scholars and their writings?

Hughes’ writing is broad-stroke, and his matter-of-fact insistence on “GUILTY!” for everything — with no more “proof” than hearsay writings decades past Bosworth — is wearying.  He isn’t as bad in tone as Desmond what’s-his-name’s poison, but close.

I’m going to continue wading through this thing, looking for useful morsels of information on Richard and his medieval Catholicism, but it’s at a cost. I’m having to read the book in short spurts. After 30 minutes, I feel like I need a shower to wash off the bad feelings that come with this book. I’m not exaggerating about the shower.

I know Richard wasn’t all treacle and divinity, but eesh. When you lay out the catalog of terrible sins he’s supposed to have committed (and I hadn’t done this in awhile), it’s a list that is unbelievable. Not because a medieval warlord wouldn’t have done those things, but because if he had done all those things, a solid evidence trail would be there for at least some of them. The “proof” wouldn’t all be hearsay and deliberate Tudor smear campaign.

If you go researching Vlad the Impaler (1431-1476/77), you run into eyewitness accounts of his medieval warlord nastiness in great, violent, and bloody detail. You learn about his childhood, his training in cruelty from the Turks when he was held captive as a child, his political and personal reasons for acting so violently toward others when he ruled. You have no trouble placing him in context with his surroundings and culture. You don’t get, “It was rumored that he impaled his enemies on spikes,” or, “Some say he nailed the visiting diplomats’ turbans to their heads, but as yet I haven’t been able to ascertain why he did this.” You get stark information. (He nailed the turbans to the diplomats’ heads because said diplomats refused to remove their turbans in his presence. Obviously, the penalty for insulting the Voivode of Wallachia could be severe.)

You can stack up the 15th century historical record in the case of Vlad and know it supports your conclusion. You back away from the blood and mayhem and realize there’s no question about it: he was a ruthless medieval ruler and a great model for Dracula.

On the other hand, the trouble with researching Richard is that you have to dig through a lot of backstairs gossip and keep digging (as Annette Carson has) before you get to reliable contemporary details regarding him, his reign, or his life. Many writers — academic and fiction as well — seem unwilling to do this. Annette Carson is the only writer I know who has based her work on the events of Richard III’s reign as they actually happened, and based on reports in only the original sources — are there others?

I simply cannot understand why historians seem to lose all their power of discernment when they come to research and write about Richard III. Shakespeare wrote a powerful play, but it’s dramatic fiction, not history. Why does tradition treat a playwright and his 16th-century sources as reliable historical accounts of actual events when they’re not?

Does this happen with other historical figures, or only with Richard?

Oh. Wait. It happens with Rasputin as well. So there’s another “He was too evil!” example of someone who lost his reputation to his murderer.

I’m going to take that shower now.

PS. Someone has whispered to me that I’ll find more sympathetic and reasonable assessments of Richard’s piety from Sutton & Visser-Fuchs, & Pamela Tudor-Craig. Thank heaven for interlibrary loan….


Facebooktwitterpinterestmailby feather

Endnotes to Bertram Fields’ “Royal Blood”


In 2000, lawyer Bertram Fields published a strong rebuttal to certain authors’ hatchet jobs on Richard III.

A note in Royal Blood: Mystery of the Princes told readers they could find Fields’ endnotes in a file archived on his publisher’s site. The site was subsequently deleted from the Web, and the endnotes went missing.

Many months ago, a member of The Richard III Society discussion group managed to located the notes via the Wayback Machine.

I offered to upload Fields’ notes for someone on Facebook…so here they are. Click on the link below to download the file.



Facebooktwitterpinterestmailby feather

Clubs We Don’t Wanna Belong To


Do you remember all those clubs in high school? Spanish Club, Student Government Club, Yearbook Club, Drama Club, Chess Club, Computer Club, etc?

As I was loading the dishwasher this morning (and looking forward to doing some medieval research), it occurred to me that when I was in high school I had nothing in common with 99% of the members of those clubs. I never wanted to join in  their reindeer games. I did latch onto Drama Club and ended up being a Thespian which led to a lot of neat stuff in college (like madrigals and opera theatre and touring with the Shrine of the Ages Choir with a fantastic director we called Mel, but that’s another story).

When I envision the high school clubs expanding out into the world with shiny new names (compliments of whatever marketing efforts they make), I finally understand why I don’t relate to 99% of society.

My “tribe” is something entirely different, and that’s why it’s always made me miserable to try fitting into mainstream, mundane society and corporate life as its presented in the media. Being pressured to work that 8-5 job and dress this way and don’t forget the makeup and heels and clothing that will make you look like everyone else in the cookie-cutter world because  this means security and safety (bwahahahahaa the hell?) makes me feel as if a Black Suit came around with a clipboard to my first-hour class when I was a senior, loomed over my fragile little writing desk, and growled, “Sign up with us, or else.”

“Or else,” I said then. I still say it now. I’d rather eat glass that be like the “Triplets” in the old Fred Astaire movie,  Bandwagon, who dressed alike and talked alike and thinked alike and pasteboard-smiled alike and stabbed-in-the-back alike — like so many of us today in the name of false safety and non-existent security. 

If you haven’t seen the “Triplets,” here they are:

I refuse to be a Triplet. My own geeky clubs are out there. I’m finding them.

What about your own clubs? Have you found or invented them yourself? What advice can you give for breaking away from the fake-society vampires?

NOTE: Walraversijde is an archeological site and museum of a fishing village at the Flemish coast that existed from the early 1300s to the end of the 17th century. On planet Earth, it’s near Oostende, Belgium.

Facebooktwitterpinterestmailby feather