Tuesday 30 November 2010

"The Weight of Glory": Madame Royale (2010)

Madame Royale is the second in Elena Maria Vidal's series of novels on the French Royal Family in the period surrounding the Revolution. The endorsement and praise for the book on the back of the current edition's cover - and its Amazon page - was written by yours truly and I was so honoured to be asked by Miss Vidal, whose excellent blog was one of the reasons why I felt inspired to start my own.

Having written the endorsement of Madame Royale, it's fair to say that I'm something of a fan! But, I have not yet had the opportunity to write a full review for the book having already written one of its prequel - Trianon, back in July.  My thanks to Elena Maria for very kindly sending me a copy of the book and for even more generously asking for my opinions for its back cover and for a review. It's very flattering and I hope I have written a review that is both fair and worthy of the novel.


"Thérèse’s mind wandered from the doings of the British parliament. It seemed to her that from around the time of her marriage ten years earlier she fell prey to distractions whenever she attempted to read, or pray, or in any other way apply her mind. Not prison or the Terror, not threat of death or even the loss of her entire family had been able to rattle her steel-trap mind. All the sorrows were suddenly catching up with her, like hounds closing in upon their game. After a decade of maintaining a day by day façade of marital contentment, of suppressing her emotions of betrayal and disappointment, of fighting envy of women with children, of trying to build the confidence of a man whose soul was scarred beyond repair, she felt she had lost her former self-possession and was scrambling to cling to every vestige of peace and sanity that remained to her."
- From Madame Royale by Elena Maria Vidal


It is never easy to be the daughter of a famous woman and even less so to be the daughter of a famously glamorous woman. It is rare indeed for history to produce a woman like Elizabeth I, who managed to outstrip the fame and appeal of her iconic and doomed mother. More often than not, the daughters of famous women are pale and pallid shadows in the luminescent glow of their mother’s reputational star. Who, for instance, can tell us very much about the daughters of Eleanor of Aquitaine or Elizabeth Woodville? Or, rather, who can get excited about them? And if they are not quietly drowning in the tide of their mothers’ memories, such daughters are often sadly consumed by bitterness at being unable to emulate their fame. In the last century, the vituperative respective memoirs of Christina Crawford and B.D. Hyman are perhaps the most memorable examples of this less-than-commendable familial trait.

It was therefore one of the many tragedies of the life of Princess Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte of France that she was the only surviving daughter of Marie-Antoinette. Marie-Thérèse would certainly not have considered being her mother’s daughter a tragedy, but as Marie-Antoinette’s chic ghost permanently haunted her daughter’s less-than-chic present it compelled people to draw unfavourable comparisons between the two women. Marie-Antoinette had been attractive, elegant, vivacious, outgoing and possessed of a proverbially famous charm; her eldest child, Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte, had none of these qualities. Instead, Marie-Thérèse’s looks rapidly deteriorated as she reached adulthood, she was disinterested in fashion, socially awkward, often rude when in company, painfully shy and utterly devoid of charisma. The only thing she had inherited from her mother was a genuine interest in the well-being of the poor and a love of young children. From both of her parents, she also acquired an almost other-worldly level of courage and dignity under pressure. And it these qualities, coupled with her strong Roman Catholic faith, which Elena Maria Vidal chooses to highlight in her fantastic (and now re-issued in paperback) novel Madame Royale, a sequel to Trianon, which was based on the final years of her parents’ marriage.

Like many of the Parisians of the 1810s and 1820s, modern novelists are often disappointed when confronted by the figure of the adult Marie-Thérèse. When she finally returned to her homeland, upon the restoration of the monarchy in 1814, the Parisians wanted Marie-Thérèse to be what one would have expected in the daughter of Marie-Antoinette. Having written Marie-Thérèse as a major character in All Those Who Suffered, the first ever full length play I wrote back when I was seventeen, I share (or rather, shared) their frustrations. As far as many of the French were concerned, the princess who was coming back to them was going to be the veritable reincarnation of the young Austrian archduchess who had so dazzlingly mounted the throne alongside her husband in the halcyon days of 1774. Coupled with the fact that this princess had just spent nearly two decades in an exile littered with flight, intrigue and genteel poverty, the good people of Paris seemed to be under the general impression that they were about to greet a woman who was a cross between a young Marie-Antoinette and an Antigone.

They were not.

Instead, the princess who rode through the streets of Paris during the early days of the Restoration was taciturn, frigid and more masculine than feminine in her appearance. That this was the daughter of the legendarily charming and seductively tragic Marie-Antoinette could have been almost laughable, had it not been for the fact that the Parisians failed to find anything amusing in Marie-Thérèse’s physical appearance or social manners. Most modern novelists, playwrights and film-makers have followed suit in being truly disappointed by the spectacle presented by Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte’s adult life and so Madame Royale is one of the very few – indeed, at the moment, the only – novel dealing with her under-studied story.

By the time the novel properly begins, the surviving members of the French Royal Family are living in exile in England. Their daily routine is the same day-in, day-out, and Miss Vidal captures perfectly the stultifying routine of the embittered Court-in-exile. Marie-Thérèse’s eldest uncle, formerly the Comte de Provence, has taken the regnal name of Louis XVIII, now that his elder brother and young nephew (Marie-Thérèse’s father and brother respectively) have lost their lives in the Revolution. Obese but clever, the exiled king uses his flawless manners to mask his Machiavellian and intrinsically selfish personality. Another of Marie-Thérèse’s uncles, the handsome and reactionary Comte d’Artois, is living in London, only occasionally visiting the rest of the Royal Family at the tiny English country house they have been given as their residence in exile. It is there that Marie-Thérèse currently lives, having married her first cousin, the truculent and unappealing Duc d’Angoulême. How precisely the most famous princess in Europe reached this point and her determination to make her marriage work is slowly unfolded across the course of the novel. Even if you don’t agree with Marie-Thérèse’s strict personal morality, her devotion to her own principles is nothing short of inspiring.

Yet, in Madame Royale Marie-Thérèse emerges not just as an admirable character, but crucially as a sympathetic one as well. I’m not ashamed to say that, in terms of nuances, Miss Vidal outstrips my characterisation of her in All Those Who Suffered, hands-down. It is a testament to her skills as an historical novelist and her passion for her characters that she has been able to take such a potentially difficult character as Marie-Thérèse and turn her into a figure worthy of being the eponymous heroine of a novel. Thankfully, she does not do this by excising the less attractive sides of the princess’s personality – that would be the easy way out. Rather, she accentuates the faults in the hope that we might come to better understand the princess’s struggles. Marie-Thérèse’s virtues are self-evident within the novel’s opening two chapters – she is courageous, principled, devout, loyal, kind and dutiful. Her faults, however, are slowly revealed over the course of the story. At times, when Marie-Thérèse launches into one of her more didactic and heavy-handed monologues on the virtues of State Catholicism, it’s difficult not to associate it with the mind-numbing exhortations of modern-day evangelicals in their born-again fervour. Miss Vidal also shows us the occasional paranoiac conspiracy theory swirling around in the princess’s deluded and damaged brain, in which she blames the entire French Revolution on freemasonry. She genuinely believes that the entire thing was the result of a long-term atheistic conspiracy, rather than what it really was – the more terrifying reality of mob violence run amok and then codified into legalised hysterical idealism. The author then describes moments of Marie-Thérèse being supremely lacking in charity – her ‘cold fury’ when she hears that the pious Duchesse d’Orléans has been left unmolested by the Revolution, simply because her husband was both a freemason and a republican, when other equally religious aristocratic ladies have been slaughtered on the steps of the guillotine. There are also dozens of moments in which Marie-Thérèse is cold, rude or awkward to those around her. And what makes this all so brilliant within the context of the novel is that it actually makes us like Marie-Thérèse even more than we might have if she had been perfect. Miss Vidal shows us that Madame Royale is more than aware that she’s being rude or taciturn; she can feel her manner alienating people and she tries desperately to inject herself with some of her mother’s fabled charm. All to no avail. And it’s this struggle – not just to be right and to do the right thing, but to be charming and to do the gracious thing – which makes your heart ache a little for Miss Vidal’s heroine. It’s the ongoing daily struggles of her life – so far removed from the “happily ever after” we might have expected – which makes Marie-Thérèse a very unusual and profoundly moving sort of heroine. As characterisations go, it’s a fine example of the craft of the historical novelist.

As I have said, the lead character in Madame Royale is expertly drawn. However, this is also a novel populated by a whole range of other minor characters from the period – the future King George IV of Britain, Marie-Antoinette’s former admirer Count von Fersen, the enigmatic Knights of The Faith, the feisty Duchesse de Berry and the handsome, ambitious Archduke Karl von Hapsburg. Three of the subsidiary characterisations in this novel deserve a special mention, however, and in all three cases, they are interestingly enough characters of whom we are not really supposed to approve – personally, politically or both. The first is the exiled de jure Queen of France, Marie-Joséphine of Savoy, by now sunk into a middle-aged melancholia. Historically speaking, the real Marie-Joséphine was quite possibly a repressed lesbian; she was certainly an un-repressed alcoholic. Whatever the truth, being married to a man such as Louis XVIII was bound to have made her life miserable anyway. Eaten away by the charade of her married life, consumed by guilt for her jealousy of the now-dead Marie-Antoinette, robbed of her former lavish lifestyle by the Revolution and sinking further and further into an abyss of alcoholism and depression, Marie-Joséphine is the novel's most pathetic character and the scene in which she dies, begging Marie-Thérèse to forgive her for her jealous spite of her mother, finally made me feel sympathy for an historical character whom I had always previously dismissed as a gaudy, irritating irrelevance. It was actually the scene in the novel I found the saddest and the one in which Marie-Thérèse’s full commitment to Christian teachings on forgiveness really shone through. Marie-Thérèse’s estranged cousin, Louis-Philippe, is another fascinating character. Handsome, sexually appealing and flawlessly polite, the fact that he is a prince with a strong and genuine commitment to left-wing ideology is a paradox which serves only to make him yet more attractive and more enigmatic. His idealism is so clueless that, like Marie-Thérèse, we struggled to condemn him entirely. It is also something of a relief to see a left-wing character presented in a pro-royalist novel as something other than a drooling sociopath. Finally, a word on my favourite characterisation in the entire novel - that rendered of the consummate political survivor, Talleyrand. Given that the novel itself is dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I think it’s fair to say that it’s supremely unlikely that Miss Vidal personally approves of the man who began his career as a bishop in the pre-Revolutionary Catholic Church, before ditching it entirely and somehow managing to survive the Revolution, the Directory, the Bonaparte Empire and the restoration of the Monarchy with his fortune and political credit more or less completely intact. A compulsive womaniser, even in his days as a bishop, Talleyrand was devoted to his own personal fortune, social-climbing and a life of luxury and privilege. He was, moreover, a mass of contradictions – despite his apparent left-wing credentials, his closest friend was the King’s younger brother, the Comte d’Artois, one of the leaders of the French ultra-Right (the moment where Talleyrand announces how much he loves the prince is one of the novel’s most moving and surprising turns), despite making his peace with the republic, he lamented the ‘sweetness and grace’ of aristocratic life in the days before the Revolution and despite having abandoned his earlier oaths of loyalty to both throne and altar, Talleyrand has a strong obsession with beauty, charm and grace. Madame Royale captures all of this perfectly. It neither condemns nor praises Talleyrand. It is for the reader to draw their own conclusions about his paradoxically appealing and repugnant character and career. And, as far as I’m concerned, I would say that Madame Royale’s depiction of Talleyrand is one of the finest examples of historical characterisation currently in print. It’s a triumph. I never expected to feel anything but contempt for the former bishop, but, as with Marie-Joséphine, I found myself unexpectedly moved. And hats off to Miss Vidal for making that possible!

One thing I enjoyed very much in Trianon was Miss Vidal’s style of writing and I’m happy to say it returned again in Madame Royale. Whether it was intentional or not, I don’t know, but her approach of writing in a style very reminiscent of the memoirs of the actual period seemed to me to the perfect way of drawing you into the early 19th-century’s psychology, modes of expression and values. I've always loved that era's style of literary delivery and so Madame Royale was a treat to read, even from a stylistic point-of-view.

It is this style which allows the novel to tease out the full potential of one of its central storylines – the case of what really happened to Marie-Thérèse’s younger brother during the Revolution. Nowadays, of course, science has established beyond reasonable doubt that the boy died at the age of ten in a filthy republican jail, but in the early 1800s, there were no such certainties. The boy who should be king had simply vanished at the height of the Terror and no-one knew where he – or his body – was. In the years to come, the true fate of the “Lost Dauphin” (although by then he was technically Louis XVII) became one of the great obsessions in western European culture. It was very much the Grand Duchess Anastasia case of its day. I myself was so enraptured by it as a teenager that I wrote my aforementioned first play on the subject, although, in that production, I chose to have Louis-Charles live and one day return to Paris. It was only when I grew older that I suddenly realised that my portrait of the missing prince might have been a tad too idealistic. Having read anew the book I had been inspired to write All Those Who Suffered by, it occurred to me that given the horrific child abuse the young child had suffered, that (had he survived) it was highly unlikely that he would have been the confident, moral and determined young man I characterised him as in All Those Who Suffered. What Madame Royale does is grapple with the question I had missed during the writing of that play – it not only explores the full ramifications of the scandal of the missing boy-king from the point-of-view of his only surviving sister, but she also has Marie-Thérèse confront the upsetting idea that, even if her beloved brother is alive, he might be so damaged by what the revolutionaries did to him that he would have to be hidden away from public gaze forever, anyway. If I were ever to return to All Those Who Suffered, I would certainly bear these things in mind. By exploring the fascinating case of the missing prince from Marie-Thérèse’s agonised perspective, Elena Maria manages to make us think once again about what it was like to live at the centre of an affair which everybody else simply found to be an entertaining conspiracy theory.

There are moments in Madame Royale which work better than others. Its weakest section by far is its prologue, set on the eve of the Revolution. It has a chilling conclusion, told through the eyes of a courtesan, but its opening seems slightly too obvious and the representation of the dissolute left-wing prince, Philippe Égalité, lacks the subtlety and nuances of some of Miss Vidal’s other characters. The novel's strongest sections, I would say, are the death of Queen Marie-Joséphine, the visit to Madame Simon and the terrible moment at a party in Vienna, which I will not spoil for readers.

Finally, a note on one of the major subjects of the book – religion. In a way, I think one can say that Elena Maria Vidal’s first two novels are quintessentially novels of martyrdom. But not in the traditional sense of the word. Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, the main characters of Trianon, were not put to death because they were Christians; the fact that they were Christians only increased the French Revolution’s ire against them, but any historian worth their salt will tell you that the real reason the King and Queen of France were executed was politics, not piety. It was because they were royals, not Catholics, which spurred the First Republic to drive the doctrine of enforced Equality home with the blade of the guillotine. Their daughter Marie-Thérèse did not even suffer a violent death. Rather, she died peacefully in her bed in a mansion on the outskirts of Vienna in 1851, at the age of seventy-three.

Proclaiming that Trianon is a novel of martyrdom is however much easier than making the same case for Madame Royale. Looking at the final years of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette’s lives, it’s difficult not to be drawn to the conclusion that, as Miss Vidal’s novel contends, theirs was a kind of martyrdom. Alright, it might not have been as clear-cut as Saint Perpetua being thrown to wild beasts in the ampitheatre or Saint Anastasia’s agonising death in the flames, but their story is not much less tragic, nor any the less cruel. Beginning with the siege of Versailles in the autumn of 1789, when their bodyguard was butchered and their home ransacked, the King and Queen progressed through four purgatorial – and then hellish - years in which they experienced house arrest, physical intimidation, threats of assassination, the enforced exile of the rest of their family, an unrelenting and savage legal assault on their religion, ritual public humiliation, the lynching of the queen’s closest friend, several massacres of their supporters, imprisonment, separation, perjured trials and charges of incest, adultery, treason, espionage, embezzlement, corruption, paedophilia and attempted genocide. The Queen, once left a widow, was also forced to endure separation from her son (who was then, essentially, tortured and brutalised to death) and finally separation from her daughter.

Given the appalling gradient of disaster the French Royal Family suffered, the casual observer might be forgiven for concluding that Marie-Thérèse was the member of the clan who got off lightly. After all, she survived and lived into her eighth decade and, despite certain financial worries, she was never genuinely or actually poor. Moreover, given the eternal fascination of her mother’s story, isn’t it always going to be the case that by virtue of comparison Marie-Thérèse’s story simply seems far less interesting? Well, yes. In terms of drama, that’s an undeniably valid conclusion. But if Marie-Antoinette’s is a martyrdom of melodrama, Marie-Thérèse’s is one of the mundane. This is a woman who struggles on a daily basis with issues about her own personal behaviour, familial obligations, duties to one’s country, one’s faith, one’s place in society, an often-frustrating marriage, a lost love, difficult friends, unhappiness, politics, love and money. Where Marie-Antoinette’s struggles were executed in the arena of great drama and earth-shattering events, her daughter’s is carried out in the everyday and it’s that element of her story, I think, which gives Madame Royale its greatest emotional appeal. Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte is not perfect, but she is a great and courageous lady struggling to do what she thinks is right and proper on a daily basis. This policy often brings her personal unhappiness, but also brings her great joy and, at the very last, the ability to stand before God with a clean conscience and say with honesty that she had always tried to do the right thing. She had never been cruel, nor selfish, nor spiteful, nor dishonest. Whatever one might think of the French Restoration and the final years of monarchy in France, whatever one might think of Catholicism and aristocracy, privilege and power, the one salient point Madame Royale is trying to make is that the story of a woman of principle, decency and integrity is one that’s very much worth telling.

When I finished reading Madame Royale, I didn’t quite know what to think or say. The final scene, where the princess’s coffin passes by the ranks of Slovenian peasants gathered to watch her funeral, left me feeling slightly bereft. I also felt strangely angry at history for not having allotted Marie-Thérèse a kinder destiny, but what I couldn’t fault was the devotion to telling that destiny on the part of the author. They say that the greatest story in History is the Truth and in Madame Royale Elena Maria Vidal certainly proves that’s the case. The sights, sounds and smells of 19th-century Europe are all brilliantly captured in this immaculately researched and exquisite novel, which, as I’ve said, recalls the great memoirists of the 1800s. Madame Royale is an unforgettable portrait of a royal life torn between religion, politics, revolution, mystery, heartache and intrigue and I was honoured to be asked to endorse it, thrilled to be asked to review it and moved to be able to read it. I concluded my review of Trianon by saying that I was sure that Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette would have been touched by Miss Vidal’s literary portrait of them, I am even more certain that, even if she wouldn’t have been able to express it as fulsomely as her mother, Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte would have been flattered and deeply grateful for the portrait rendered of her in the pages of Madame Royale. It is a fantastic tribute to one of Europe’s most tragic but courageous princesses.

Gareth Russell

Saturday 27 November 2010

The House of Plantagenet: A Genealogy

In preparation for the next stage of this blog's Queens of England series, I'm posting a genealogy of the House of Plantagenet, structured around its kings - the two Henrys, two Richards, three Edwards and one deeply unfortunate John. Next week, I plan to post two articles - a review of Elena Maria Vidal's fantastic second novel, Madame Royale, a sequel to Trianon - followed by Chapter 5 of the Queens of England series, "How am I possible?": The Life of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of France and Queen of England.

The royal family listed below, who ruled England from 1154 until 1399, are referred to by the name "Plantagenet," although it is generally accepted that they were not commonly known by that name until several centuries after their demise. At the time, they were more usually referred to as the House of Anjou or the Angevins, as a reference to the ancestral homeland of Henry II's father, Geoffrey, Count of Anjou. However, since it is by the name of Plantagenet that they are more frequently referenced in later histories and in most of today's sources, I have chosen to stick with that for clarity's sake. It was an immense and fascinating period in British history, in which Ireland and then Wales were not only brought into the commonwealth for the first time, but the full and recognisable splendour and horror of the English Middle Ages was unfurled under a succession of larger-than-life monarchs and their brides.

Given the paucity of medieval records, I should also like to point out that several of these genealogies listed below may be "inaccurate" to some people, in that I have had to make educated guesses based on my own assumptions about which of the sources are most likely to be correct. 

Here follows a genealogy of the Royal House of Plantagenet ...

(Reigned December 19th, 1154 - July 6th, 1189)
Sometimes known as "Henry FitzEmpress," "Henry Plantagenet," or "Henry Curtmantle"

It was during King Henry's reign that Ireland was first added to the monarchy's commonwealth. Legal alterations to Ireland's position within the monarchy were subsequently made in 1494, 1541, 1800 and 1921. 
Son of Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou, and Maud, Dowager Holy Roman Empress and "Lady of the English"

Pre-regnal titles: Count of Touraine and Count of Maine (1151), Duke of Normandy and Count of Anjou (1151) and Duke of Aquitaine suo uxoris (1152)

Born in Le Mans, Anjou, on March 5th, 1133

Died at the Château de Chinon on July 6th, 1189

Buried at Fontevrault Abbey, France

Henry II was married, whilst still Duke of Normandy, at Poitiers Cathedral, France, on May 18th 1152, to Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine, daughter of William X, Duke of Aquitaine, and his wife, Eleanor de la Rochefoucauld. Prior to this marriage, Eleanor had been Queen of France by virtue of her marriage to Louis VII, King of France, with whom she had issue. The marriage ended in divorce. Queen Eleanor was born in the Aquitaine, possibly at the Palais d'Ombriere in Bordeaux, in approximately 1121 and she died of natural causes at Fontevrault Abbey on April 1st, 1204, where she was subsequently buried.

Issue of the Marriage of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine: -

1. WILLIAM, Count of Poitiers (1153 - 1156)

2. HENRY, the so-called "Young King" (1155 - 1183). He married Marguerite of France, later Queen-consort of Hungary, and had issue.

3. MATILDA, Duchess of Saxony (1156 - 1189). She married Heinrich the Lion, Duke of Saxony and Duke of Bavaria, and had issue.

4. RICHARD I, King of England (1157 - 1199). He married Berengaria of Navarre.

5. GEOFFREY, Duke of Brittany and Earl of Richmond (1158 - 1186). He married Constance of Brittany and had issue.

6. ELEANOR, Queen of Castile (1161 - 1214). She married Alfonso VIII, King of Castile, and had issue, including the future queen-consorts of León, France, Aragon and Portugal, and two future rulers of Castile itself.

7. JOAN, Queen of Sicily (1165 - 1199). She married firstly to William the Good, King of Sicily, and had issue. After King William's death, Joan married secondly to Raymond VI, Comte de Toulouse, and also had issue. She later took the veil as a nun at Fontevrault Abbey.

8. JOHN, King of England (1166 - 1216). He married firstly to Isobel, Countess of Gloucester, and after their divorce to Isabelle of Angoulême, by whom he had issue.

Issue of King Henry's affair with a prostitute called Ikenai: -
i. Geoffrey, Archbishop of York (died 1212)
ii. Peter (born and died young)

Issue of King Henry's affair with Lady Nesta Blewer: -
iii. Morgan, Bishop of Durham

Issue of King Henry's affairs with various unknown women: -
iv. William, Earl of Salisbury (died 1226). He married Lady Ela Fitzpatrick and had issue.
v. Matilda, Abbess of Barking (died 1202)
vi. Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln (died 1235)
vii. Richard (born and died young)

HENRY II was succeeded by his third son, RICHARD I.


(Reigned July 6th, 1189 - April 6th, 1199)
 Sometimes known as "Richard the Lionheart"

Son of Henry II, King of England, and his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine

Pre-regnal titles: Duke of Aquitaine (1172)

Born at Beaumont Palace, Oxford, on September 8th, 1157

Died on military campaign at the siege of Chalus in France on April 6th, 1199

Buried at Fontevrault Abbey in France

Richard I was married in the Chapel of Saint George at Lissomol, Cyprus, on May 12th, 1191, to Berengaria of Navarre, daughter of Sancho VI, King of Navarre, and his queen, Beatrice of Castile. Queen Berengaria was born in Béarn, Navarre, sometime around 1164 and she died at the Abbey l'Espan in Anjou, where she had taken the veil as a nun, sometime around 1230. Her body was initially interred there, but was moved in 1821 on the orders of King Louis XVIII of France to be re-buried in the Cathedral of St.-Julien in Le Mans.

King Richard never fathered a child with either queen or a mistress. It is highly unlikely on geographical grounds that he was the biological father of two children sometimes accredited to him, including Philip, Seigneur de Cognac.

RICHARD I was succeeded by his youngest brother, JOHN.


(Reigned April 6th, 1189 - October 19th, 1216) 
Sometimes known as "John Lack-Land," "John Soft-Sword" or "Bad King John"

Son of Henry II, King of England, and his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine

Pre-regnal titles: He held the courtesy title of "King of Ireland" from 1177, Count of Mortain (1189), Earl of Gloucester suo uxoris (1199)

Born at Beaumont Palace, Oxford, on Christmas Eve, 1164

Died at Newark Castle, Lincoln, on October 19th, 1216

Buried in Worcester Cathedral, properly called the Cathedral Church of Christ and Blessed Mary the Virgin of Worcester

John was married, whilst still Count of Mortain, at Marlborough Castle on August 29th, 1189 to Isobel of Gloucester, daughter and heiress of William, Earl of Gloucester, and his wife, Lady Hawise (née de Beaumont). Isobel was born on one of her father's estates sometime around 1176 and she died of natural causes during the winter of 1217. The marriage of John and Isobel was declared legally invalid on grounds of consanguinity on August 30th, 1199. She is buried in Canterbury Cathedral.

John was married for the second time at Bordeaux Castle on August 24th, 1100 to Isabelle of Angoulême, daughter of Aymer, Comte d'Angoulême, and his wife Alice (née de Courtenay), a granddaughter of Louis VI, King of France. Queen Isabelle was born in France sometime around 1187 and she died of natural causes at Fontevrault Abbey on May 31st, 1246, where she was subsequently buried.

Issue of the Marriage of John and Isabelle of Angoulême: -

1. HENRY III, King of England (1207 - 1272). He married Eleanor of Provence and had issue.

2. RICHARD, King of the Romans (1209 - 1272). He married Isabella, Dowager Countess of Hertford, and had issue. After her death, he married Sanchia of Provence and also had issue. After her death, he married thirdly to Beatrice von Falkenburg.

3. JOAN, Queen of Scots (1210 - 1238). She married Alexander II, King of Scots.

4. ISABELLA, Holy Roman Empress and Queen of Sicily (1214 - 1241). She married Frederick Barbarossa, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Sicily, and had issue.

5. ELEANOR, Countess of Pembroke (1215 - 1275). She married firstly William, 2nd Earl of Pembroke. After his death, she became Countess of Leicester thanks to her marriage to Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, with whom she had issue. Following his death in battle, she took the veil at Montargis Abbey in France.

Issue of King John's affair with Mrs. Clementina Pinel: -
i. Joan, Princess of Wales (died 1237). She married Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, Prince of Wales, and had  issue.
Issue of King John's liaison with Hawise de Tracy: -

ii. Oliver (killed at the Battle of Damietta in modern-day Egypt in 1290)

Issue of King John's affairs with various unknown women: -

iii. Richard Fitzjohn, Baron Chilham. He married Lady Rohese of Dover and had issue.
iv. Osbert Gifford (died 1216)
v. Geoffrey FitzRoy (died 1205)
vi. Sir John Fitzjohn (died 1242)
vii. Odo FitzRoy (died 1242)
viii. Richard, Constable of Wallingford Castle 
ix. Henry Fitzjohn
x. Matilda, Abbess of Barking Convent
xi. Isabella la Blanche

At the time of his death in 1216, King John was survived by both of his wives - his ex-wife, Isobel, and his queen, Isabelle. Isobel had re-married after the annulment of her marriage to John, becoming Countess of Essex and Sussex thanks to her marriage to Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex and Sussex. After his death, she married for a third time to Hubert de Burgh, Earl of Kent, to whom she was married at the time of her death in 1217. There was no offspring from any of her marriages. 

Queen Isabelle re-married to Hugh de Lusignan, Comte de la Marche, and had issue.

JOHN was succeeded by his eldest son, HENRY III.

(Reigned October 19th, 1216 - November 16th, 1272) 

It was during King Henry's reign that England's formal union and claim to the Duchy of Normandy, which had existed since 1066, was renounced under the terms of the Treaty of Paris (1259.)

Son of John, King of England, and his queen, Isabelle of Angoulême

Born in Winchester Castle on October 1st, 1207

Died at the Palace of Westminster on November 16th, 1272

Buried in Westminster Abbey

Henry III was married in Canterbury Cathedral on January 14th, 1236 to Eleanor of Provence, daughter of Raymond Berenger, Comte de Provence, and his wife, Beatrice of Savoy. Queen Eleanor was born at Aix-en-Provence in France, sometime around 1223, and she died of natural causes at Amesbury Abbey, where she had taken the veil as a nun on June 25th, 1291, where she was subsequently buried.

Issue of the Marriage between Henry III and Eleanor of Provence: -

1. EDWARD I, King of England (1239 - 1307). He married twice - firstly to Eleanor of Castile and after her death to Marguerite of France. There was issue from both marriages.
2. MARGARET, Queen of Scots (1240 - 1275). She married Alexander III, King of Scots, and had issue, including the future queen-consort of Norway.

3. BEATRICE, Duchess of Brittany (1242 - 1275). She married twice - firstly to John de Montfort, Earl of Richmond, and after his death to Jean II, Duke of Brittany, with whom she had issue.

4. EDMUND, Earl of Leicster and claimant to the throne of Sicily (1245 - 1296). He married twice - firstly to Lady Aveline Fortibus, Countess of Aumale, and after her death, he married Blanche of Artois, Queen Mother of Navarre, by whom he had issue.

5. RICHARD (?1247 - 1256)

6. JOHN (?1250 - 1256)

7. WILLIAM (?1251 - 1256)

8. KATHERINE (1252 - 1257)

9. HENRY (born and died young)

HENRY III was succeeded by his eldest son, Edward I.


(Reigned November 16th, 1272 - July 7th, 1307) 
Sometimes known as "Edward Longshanks" or "Edward, Hammer of the Scots"

It was during King Edward's reign that Wales was conquered and became part of the same monarchy as England

Son of Henry III, King of England, and his queen, Eleanor of Provence

Pre-regnal titles: Duke of Gascony and Earl of Chester (1254)

Born at the Palace of Westminster in June 1239

Died on military campaign in Northumberland on July 7th, 1307

Buried in Westminster Abbey

Edward I was married, whilst still Duke of Gascony, at the Abbey of Las Huelgas in Burgos, Castile, in October 1254 to Eleanor of Castile, daughter of Ferdinand III, King of Castile, and his queen, Jeanne d'Aumale. Queen Eleanor was born in her father's kingdom, either in 1244 or 1245, and she died of natural causes at Herby Manor, Nottinghamshire, on November 28th, 1290. She was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Edward I married for a second time in Canterbury Cathedral in September 1299 to Marguerite of France, daughter of Philippe III, King of France, and his queen, Marie of Brabant. Queen Marguerite was born in Paris, some time around 1279, and she died of natural causes either in 1317 or 1318. She was buried at Greyfriars Church in London, but her tomb was destroyed during the Reformation.

Issue of the Marriage of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile: -

1. ELEANOR, Queen of Aragon (died 1298). She married twice - firstly to Alfonso III, King of Aragon, and after his death, Henry III, Count of Bar, with whom she had issue.

2. JOANNA (born and died 1265)

3. JOHN (1266 - 1272)

4. HENRY (1267 - 1274)

5. JULIANA (born and died 1271)

6. JOAN, Countess of Gloucester and of Hertford (1272 - 1307). She married twice - firstly to Lord Gilbert de Clare, 3rd Earl of Gloucester and 7th Earl of Hertford, with whom she had issue. After his death, she married Lord Ralph de Monthermer, Earl of Atholl, with whom she also had issue. 

7. ALFONSO, Earl of Chester (1273 - 1284)

8. MARGARET, Duchess of Brabant (1275 - 1318). She married Johann the Peaceful, Duke of Brabant, with whom she had issue.

9. BERENICE (1276 - 1279)

10. ISABELLA (born and died 1279)

11. ELIZABETH, Countess of Holland and Zeeland (1282 - 1316). She married twice - firstly to Johann I, Count of Holland and Zeeland, and after his death, Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford and Essex, with whom she had issue.

12. EDWARD II, King of England (1284 - 1327). He married Isabella of France and had issue.

13. BEATRICE (born and died 1286)

14. BLANCHE (born and died 1289)

Issue of the Marriage between Edward I and Marguerite of France: -

1. THOMAS, Earl of Norfolk (1300 - 1338). He married twice - firstly to Alice Hales, a knight's daughter, with whom he had issue. After her death, he married Lady Mary Cobham.

2. EDMUND, Earl of Arundel (1301 - executed 1330). He married Margaret, Baroness Wake of Liddell, by whom he had issue.

3. ELEANOR (1306 - 1311).

On chronological grounds, it is unlikely that Edward I was the biological father of the Lord John Botetourt (died 1324.)

EDWARD I was succeeded by his son, EDWARD II.


(Reigned July 7th, 1307 - Deposed January 20th, 1327)

Son of Edward I, King of England, and his queen, Eleanor of Castile

Pre-regnal titles: Edward II was the first heir-to-the-throne to carry the title of "Prince of Wales," which subsequently became the traditional title reserved for England's heir-apparent, similar to the title of "Dauphin" in France and "Crown Prince" in various other nations. He carried the title, and that of Earl of Chester, from 1301; he was also Count of Ponthieu and Mortain from 1290 and Duke of Aquitaine from 1306.

Born at Caernarvon Castle, Wales, on April 25th, 1284

Murdered at Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire, presumably on September 21st, 1327

Buried in Gloucester Cathedral, properly called the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and the Holy and Indivisible Trinity

Edward II  was married in Boulogne Cathedral, France, in January 1308 to Isabella of France, daughter of Philippe IV, King of France and Jeanne I, Queen of Navarre. Queen Isabella was born in Paris, some time around 1293, and she died of natural causes at Castle Rising in Norfolk on August 22nd, 1358. She was buried in Greyfriars Church, London, but her tomb was destroyed during the Reformation.

Issue of the Marriage of Edward II and Isabella of France: -

1. EDWARD III, King of England (1312 - 1377). He married Philippa of Hainault and had issue.

2. JOHN, Earl of Cornwall (1316 - 1336)

3. ELEANOR, Countess of Gueldres and Zutphen (1318 - 1355). She married Reginald II, Count of Gueldres and Zutphen, with whom she had issue.

4. JOAN, Queen of Scots (1321 - 1362). She married David II, King of Scots.

It is fundamentally unlikely that Edward II was the biological father of an illegitimate child called Adam.

EDWARD II was deposed, forced to abdicate and then murdered in favour of, but not on the orders of, his son, EDWARD III.


(Reigned January 20th, 1307 - June 21st, 1377)
Son of Edward II, King of England, and his queen, Isabella of France

Pre-regnal titles: Earl of Chester (1312), Count of Ponthieu and Count of Montreuil, then Duke of Aquitaine (1325)

Born at Windsor Castle on November 13th, 1312

Died following a stroke at Sheen Palace on June 21st, 1377

Buried in Westminster Abbey

Edward III was married at York Minster on January 24th, 1328, to Philippa of Hainault, daughter of Wilhelm the Good, Count of Hainault and Holland, and his wife, Jeanne de Valois. Queen Philippa was born sometime around 1314, probably in Holland, and she died of natural causes on the Feast of the Assumption 1369 at Windsor Castle. She is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Issue of the Marriage of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault: -

1. EDWARD, Prince of Wales (1330 - 1376.) He married Joan, Countess of Kent, and had issue, including the future king, Richard II.

2. ISABELLA, Comtesse de Soissons (1332 - 1382.) She married Enguerrand de Coucy, Comte de Soissons and Earl of Bedford, with whom she had issue.

3. JOAN (1335 - 1348.)

4.  WILLIAM (born and died 1337)
5. LIONEL, Duke of Clarence (1338 - 1368.) He married twice - firstly to Elizabeth, Countess of Ulster, by whom he had issue and after her death, Yolanda Visconti, daughter of the Duke of Milan.

6. JOHN, Duke of Lancaster and claimant to the thrones of Castile and León (1340 - 1399.) He married three times - firstly to Lady Blanche of Lancaster, by whom he had issue, including the future king, Henry IV. After her death, his second wife was Princess Constanza of Castile, via whom John acquired his controversial claim to two thrones in the Iberian peninsula. Their marriage had offspring. Finally, after Constanza's death, he married Lady Katherine Swynford, by whom he had already had issue.

7. EDMUND, Duke of York (1341 - 1402.) He married twice - firstly to Princess Isabella of Castile, his elder brother's sister-in-law, by whom he had issue, and after her death, he married Lady Joan Holland.

8. BLANCHE (born and died 1342.)

9. MARY, Duchess of Brittany (1344 - 1362.) She married Jean IV, Duke of Brittany.

10. MARGARET, Countess of Pembroke (1346 - 1361.) She married John Hastings, 2nd Earl of Pembroke.

11. THOMAS (1347 - 1348.)

12. WILLIAM (born and died 1348)

13. THOMAS, Duke of Gloucester (1355 - murdered 1397.) He married Lady Eleanor de Bohun, by whom he had issue.

Issue of King Edward's affair with Alice Perrers: -

i. Sir John de Southeray (1365 - 1384.) He married Lady Matilda Percy.
ii. Joan, who married Mr. Robert Skerne and had issue.
iii. Jane, who married Mr. Robert Northland.

On chronological grounds, it is highly unlikely that King Edward was the biological father of Nicholas Lytlington, the future Abbot of Westminster.

EDWARD III was succeeded by his grandson, RICHARD II.


(Reigned June 21st, 1377 - Deposed August 19th, 1399)
Son of Edward, Prince of Wales and his wife, Joan, Countess of Kent

Pre-regnal titles: Prince of Wales, Earl of Chester and Earl of Cornwall (1376)

Born in Bordeaux, France, in January 1366

Murdered at Pontefract Castle in the early months of 1400

Buried initially in the parish church of King's Langley in Hertfordshire, but later re-buried in Westminster Abbey on the orders of King Henry V

Richard II was married at the Palace of Westminster in January 1382 to Anne of Bohemia, daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles IV, and his empress, Elisabeth of Pomerania. Queen Anne was born in Prague on May 11th, 1366 and she died during an outbreak of the plague at Sheen Palace on June 7th, 1394. She was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Richard II was married for the second time in Saint Nicholas's Church, Calais, in November 1396 to Isabelle de Valois, daughter of Charles VI, King of France, and his queen, Isabelle of Ingolstadt-Bavaria. Queen Isabelle was born in the Louvre on November 9th, 1389 and she died in childbirth at the Château de Blois on September 13th, 1409. She was initially buried in the Abbey of St.-Laumer in Blois, but her remains were later removed to the Church of the Celestines in Paris.

It is fundamentally unlikely on chronological grounds that Richard II could have been the father of the young man known as Richard Maudelyn.

At the time of his murder, King Richard was survived by his second wife, Isabelle de Valois, who subsequently married Charles, Duc d'Orléans, with whom she had issue.

By the time of his murder, RICHARD II had already been forcibly succeeded by his cousin, HENRY IV.

Thursday 25 November 2010

November 25th, 1533: The Marriage of the King's Bastard

Anne Boleyn liked to play match-maker and in the chill winter of 1533, the 26 year-old queen had reason to feel especially pleased with herself on this front. She had just managed to arrange the marriage of her young cousin, Lady Mary Howard, to the King's illegitimate son, Henry, Duke of Richmond. The married couple were both aged only fourteen at the time and, at the King's insistence, the consummation of their marriage was delayed for the time being. The King's own late brother, Prince Arthur, had died within months of his marriage in 1501 to Katherine of Aragon, who subsequently went on to become Henry's first wife.  Now, the King apparently agreed with his own late father in believing that it was the premature consummation of that marriage which had hastened young Arthur's road into the grave in 1502. Katherine, of course, famously declared that their six month marriage had been virginal. Whatever the truth, the English government's version of that long-ago union was now used to justify keeping young Henry and Mary apart on their wedding night.

Despite a later reputation for jealousy, Anne Boleyn was always charm itself to anyone, regardless of their position or potential threat, provided they agreed with her. The 14 year-old duke was apparently one such character and he had recently accompanied his biological father and stepmother on a state visit to France, by which time the queen-to-be had almost certainly already begun promoting the idea of a marriage between the teenage Henry and her pretty Howard cousin. From Anne's point-of-view, it made shrewd political sense to keep Richmond well within the family fold until she herself produced a legitimate son and neutralised any idea that the throne might pass to him when the King died. More importantly, Anne Boleyn took the obligations of family very seriously and despite an occasionally fraught relationship, she was well aware that her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, had been firm in supporting her ascent to the throne. This match was the perfect way to repay the duke's loyalty to her, by arranging for his only daughter to marry into the extended royal family. Anne's recent academic biographer, E.W. Ives, has gone so far as to say, "Perhaps Anne felt she had paid her debts to the Howards by persuading Henry to marry his illegitimate son, the duke of Richmond, to her cousin Mary without the large payment the king would normally have expected for disposing of so valuable a match."

Perhaps. Clearly, Anne's influence could be felt all-over the marriage, both in terms of sense and sentiment. As Professor Ives has said, the King did not request the normally enormous payment from Norfolk, which can only have been down to the Queen's influence, since there is no other reason for it. And aside from politics, the marriage between Henry, Duke of Richmond and Mary Howard was also one which bore all the hallmarks of having been arranged by someone who took a real and genuine pleasure in match-making. To begin with, the bride's brother and her groom were the best of friends; indeed, they had been raised together and educated together. Furthermore, both bride and groom were highly well-educated and both took an interest in poetry and the arts, as well as in emergent Protestantism. They were also of exactly the same age and they were both physically attractive. The duke was the son of the King and his one-time mistress, Elizabeth Blount, a famously beautiful woman, who some palace servants still rated as even more beautiful than the current queen. Born shortly after the final miscarriage of King Henry's first wife, the bastard baby was swiftly acknowledged as his own by the King, who showered the child with lavish presents, wealth, an enormous household and titles, taken from England, Ireland and Wales. The title of "Duke of Richmond," given to the child when he was only six years-old, was one which Queen Katherine of Aragon had felt the insult of particularly; Richmond had been the title held by the King's own father in the years before he had come to the throne. To the Spanish queen, it seemed like an ominous sign that Henry was planning to place his bastard above her own daughter in the line of succession.

In the boy's case, Anne decided to try honey, where Katherine had opted for vinegar. If she felt any concern about the prospect of the young duke supplanting her own 2 month-old daughter Elizabeth in the succession, she gave no outward sign of it. Instead, lavish parties were thrown and gifts were showered upon her de facto stepson as he was married in a glittering ceremony to her attractive and vivacious cousin. Since Richmond was undeniably illegitimate, Anne cannot have worried too much about any threat he posed to her own child - but, better safe than sorry.

Henry FitzRoy, Duke of Richmond and Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond would never have any children together. Three years after their marriage, at the age of seventeen, the duke lost his battle with tuberculosis and Mary, now a widow before her eighteenth birthday, was to one day share her family's imprisonment in the Tower of London when another royal cousin - Queen Catherine Howard - incurred the wrath of her husband. Eventually, Mary was released when it established beyond doubt that she had no knowledge of Catherine's adultery. She died in 1557, having spent the last decade of her life estranged from her father and voluntarily living away from Court.

Saturday 20 November 2010

More on the late Duchess of Wellington

Firstly, an apology for there being no posts on this blog since the genealogy of the House of Normandy and, before that, a biographical sketch of Matilda of Boulogne, as part of the Queens of England series. I have been on a working holiday to the States, working in New York on things related to Popular and also visiting New Haven/Yale, where some of my very best and most wonderful friends live and study. I've had a fantastic time and the return to the reality of academic work in Belfast is one which I'm not exactly jumping at the prospect of!

I recently reported the news that Diana, Duchess of Wellington had passed away, at home, on November 1st. The Daily Telegraph is now carrying the full obituary of the Duchess's fascinating life.

Sunday 7 November 2010

The Other Queen: The Life of Matilda of Boulogne, Queen of England

"In many ways, Matilda of Boulogne was a model consort. As a regent, diplomat, warrior, counsellor and mother, she occupies a position alongside her predecessors Matilda of Scotland and Matilda of Flanders, at the apogee of English queenship, after which many historians concur that the power invested in the office began to decline ... Matilda's husband is one of the great, if misunderstood, failures of English kingship. Matilda herself, though, was never anything less than a great queen." 
- Lisa Hilton, Queens Consort: England's Medieval Queens (2008)

Author's Note

Firstly, a note of apology for having taken so long to write and upload the fourth instalment in this blog’s “Queens of England” series. The last update – “The Fair Maid of Brabant” – chronicling the life of Adeliza of Louvain was posted on August 31st, over two months ago. With writing the sequel to Popular and working on various scripts and my Masters degree in Medieval History, things have rather gotten away from me. This post – the life of Adeliza’s successor (although Adeliza never really regarded her as such) – is the last post chronicling the lives of the queens of the House of Normandy, which ruled England from 1066 to 1154. In terms of time, it was a short dynastic reign; in terms of importance, vast. After this, I shall be posting on the House of Normandy’s genealogy and then moving onto the queens of the House of Plantagenet, who reigned from 1154 to 1399. 

Secondly, a note on structure. Just as the names Eleanor and Isabella were to dominate the lists of their immediate successors, the name Matilda was very much the preferred name of the queens of the Anglo-Norman empire. In fact, with the exception of the decorous Adeliza of Louvain, every Anglo-Norman queen bore the name of Matilda. In part, this was because the British-Norman elite was a relatively tiny and close-knit group. Its first queen, Matilda of Flanders, stood as godmother to her future daughter-in-law and successor, who was thus also named Matilda, in her honour. This Matilda (of Scotland), in turn, stood as godmother to this queen, her niece Matilda of Boulogne. All this would potentially be complicated enough from a narrative point-of-view were it not for the fact that for the entirety of Matilda of Boulogne’s time as queen, her life was fatally intertwined with that of her cousin, also named Matilda (herself the daughter of Matilda of Scotland). At the very same time as Matilda of Boulogne claimed to be the true queen-consort of England, her cousin was claiming to be the true queen-regnant. Needless to say, neither acknowledged the legitimacy of the other’s claim. The two Matildas were intimately aware of one another, but from the perspective of telling their story, having two Matildas appearing so frequently in the text is going to be distracting. Luckily, their world was bi- and sometimes even tri-lingual. “Matilda” was the European version of their name, but their Anglo-Saxon subjects preferred to render it by its more traditional usage – “Maud.” This chapter in the series focuses primarily on the life of Matilda of Boulogne, a French heiress married to the prince who controversially seized the throne of England in 1135 and became known as “King Stephen.” Their cousin and rival, who claimed to be the true inheritor of the English crown, was an English princess and the widow of the German Emperor. She will thus be referred to either as “the Empress” or by the Anglo-Saxon variant of her name, “Maud.”

In the Year of Grace, 1135
The mystic’s eyes gleamed with certainty as he pronounced his prophecy. It is always difficult to tell where the fire of spiritual surety springs from – either a religious gift or a mental imbalance. But the hermit need not have worried; the prince standing before him was a pious soul, much more inclined to see the old man’s mutterings as visionary, rather than insane. It was a dangerous time in England, dangerous, even, for the prince to be consulting the hermit about the matter in question. An old and sick man, who had long outlived the sons of his first marriage, was sitting upon the throne; his queen, beautiful and charming, was barren. After over a decade of marriage, she had produced no children to replace those lost years ago in a catastrophic shipwreck off the coast of Normandy. A crisis of the succession was brewing, just as surely as there was a God in Heaven. Recently, the King’s only surviving legitimate child - a daughter - had recently been made a widow by the death of the German Emperor. In her widowhood, she had returned to her father’s realm, which placed her back in play as viable contender for the succession. Certainly, it seemed to be the old king’s wish to leave his crown to his imperial daughter. But within the elite of his kingdoms in England and Normandy, there were many great lords who said that for them to be ruled over by a woman would be an abomination. They said that the true heir was not the King’s daughter, but his nephew, Stephen.

It was that prince, Stephen, who now stood before the old man, who years earlier had eschewed the vanities of the world and retreated into a life of religious seclusion and poverty where, it was said, the angels had endowed him with the dubious gift of prophecy. The Hermit fixed his rheumy eyes upon the prince who, despite his quiet and chivalrous exterior, wanted so desperately to take the throne of England when his aged uncle at last died. The holy man spoke: the Queen would remain barren. It had been ordained by Heaven that no child would quicken the womb of Adeliza of Louvain, whilst the Crown of England still sat upon her head. The King would not die in England, the monk said next, but rather in his possessions beyond the sea – in Normandy, the land of his ancestors. Finally, he concluded the prophecy by giving the prince the news he had been so desperate to hear – the Empress would not sit upon the throne when her father died. England and Normandy would pass instead to Stephen. Infused by an intoxicating mixture of piety and ambition, Stephen received the hermit’s blessing and hurried swiftly from the dank cave where the holy man chose to worship Christ in solitude and suffering. 

Saturday 6 November 2010

"Any Human Heart" (2010)

I'm so excited to be able to post a link to Channel 4's new television series, Any Human Heart, an adaptation of the bestselling and award winning novel by William Boyd, which has one of my favourite people, Emerald Fennell, amongst its glitteringly delightful cast. Very exciting. 

Emerald and I first met at Oxford just before Christmas of 2006, when I was directing my second student play and she auditioned, as one of 83 girls competing for the three main roles in my favourite play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. We got to speak properly for the first time at the call-backs, when I accidentally scheduled the next auditionee an hour after Emerald's audition ended. So, we stayed and chatted for a while and I was heartily relieved that, at last, someone told me that my neurotic fear of flying was more than justified. It's not how often it happens, but how bad it will be when it happens. Even worse if the plane nose dives, then rights itself, and you're the person who wet yourself mid-plummet and have to live with that shame for the rest of the flight. True words. Perhaps some of my favourite memories of our time in Oxford include us, bedraggled and exhausted sitting, without shame, with various 18th century costumes and props slung over our arms as we waited for a post-rehearsal supper table to open up at the Chiang Mai restaurant. Good times. Less endearingly, on my part, there was an incident during a rehearsal for Dangerous Liaisons in a music room at Worcester College, when I - very tired and stressed with the dress rehearsal approaching - was interrupted by someone banging away on a defunct drum kit behind me. For some reason, I assumed it was my friend Johnny Rhodes, so I spun round in high fury and snapped, "Johnny, for f***'s sake! What are you doing?" Only to discover that it was Emerald on said drums; at which point, my demeanour changed entirely and I beamed, "Oh, it's you, Emmy. Well done." Johnny meanwhile, from the far corner of the room, glowered with seething fury from behind his 18th century valet's attire.

The novel Any Human Heart - published by Penguin - is written like a diary or a collection of papers and it follows the life of a fictitious author and art expert, Logan Montstuart, through his existence in the English upper-classes for most of the 20th century. Educated at Oxford in the years between the two world wars, Logan marries into the aristocracy - his wife Lottie (played by Emerald) is the daughter of an earl. However, life is not exactly plain sailing and the story of Any Human Heart chronicles Logan's misadventures across the British Empire as it enters its twilight, his interaction with the ex-King, Edward VIII and his social-climbing American wife, Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor (played by X Files and Bleak House alum, Gillian Anderson), and his life in America and France in the later half of the 20th century. 

It's a fantastic book with a wonderful cast for the adaptation, which was written by William Boyd. It will be broadcast later this year by Channel 4, in four 2-hour segments. So do look out for it! Amongst the cast are Oscar winner Jim Broadbent as the elderly Logan, with Pirates of the Caribbean 4's Sam Claflin and Pride and Prejudice's Matthew Macfadyen playing the younger versions; joining them, apart from Emerald, are Brideshead Revisited's Hayley Atwell, Sex and the City's Kim Cattrall, Tom Hollander as Edward VIII, Gillian Anderson and The West Wing's Richard Schiff. 

I'm obviously hugely excited about this, especially since it seems absolutely no time at all since I was directing Emerald in a student production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Dangerous Liaisons. And giving her the first three chapters of Popular which I had written, to see if she thought they were any good. I'm obviously incredibly grateful for the feedback I received right after she had finished reading them. Johnny, on the other hand, failed to read them at all and got away with saying, "Yeah, yeah, I loved the party in Chapter ...." And inserted any number he could think of. A clever strategy which worked until he accidentally hit upon the one chapter in the book sans party.

It's incredibly exciting that Any Human Heart is finished and I can't wait to see it.

The trailer for Any Human Heart can be watched here.
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