Category Archives: research

Research: Richard III

In case you didn’t know, I’m something of a Ricardian as a result of always having been intrigued by Shakespeare’s play, which is brilliant but hardly believable as documentary evidence of anything except Tudor revisionism. My further reading led me to the conclusion that history’s Richard was hard done by. 

Whatever his real faults and crimes, I joyfully took up the unequivocal pro-Richard cause as a balance to all the Tricky Dicky hate that’s out there. 

I’ve written a couple of pro-Richard stories, which were published in Grant Me the Carving of My Name and have low key aims to write an alternative history one day. I have no particular plot yet, but I’ve been doing general reading and research to deepen my knowledge of complexities surrounding the War of the Roses and Richard’s short reign.

While in London recently, I did my favourite London activity, which is to read old books at the British Library.

Horace Walpole and I ♥ Richard

The first I looked at was a 1770 edition of Horace Walpole’s Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard the Third, where he explores all the charges levelled against Richard Plantagenet by Shakespeare, Sir Thomas More and a host of other Tudor historians.  He uses contemporary accounts and good old courtroom logic to unpack what appears to be a heap of fabrications, misreadings, malign interpretations and Tudor self-interest.

Let’s put aside the thrill of reading a book published 285 years after Richard’s death, and 195 years before my birth and marvel at Walpole noting that the only “deformity” of Richard’s noted in his lifetime was his uneven shoulders – no sign of the limp, hunch, withered arm etc attributed to him by later historians. Richard’s scoliosis was only discovered/confirmed when they found his body in 2012.

Thank you, Mr Walpole, for researching so many primary documents so that, when i finally get to writing whatever I write, I won’t have to.

Real Person Hatefic

On the opposite side to me and Walpole, though, I found the most appalling/hilarious 18th century Richard III Real Person Fanfic by an anonymous author. 

Called A Dialogue Between King Richard III and his Adopted Son and published in Dublin in 1753 (good lord, I handled a 266 year old book!), it’s set in Hell, where the spirit of King Richard III greets a recent arrival, dubbed Richard IV, who tells of his journey to the underworld. 

Richard IV: I fell in much love with a great sum of money that was possess’d by a young Lady, whom I heartily despised, but as one could not be had without the other, and money was very necessary to me, I condescended to marry her.

King Richard: But cou’dn’t you get the money without committing Matrimony?

Richard IV: You may swear I cou’dn’t. I tryed indeed, but the squeamish Bitch would do nothing but in a lawful way, as she call’d it.

King Richard: Then I pardon you.

Richard IV: Yes, and I hope you will do the same for two or three more Marriages.

King Richard: With all my heart, but proceed.

Young Richard IV proceeds all right, demonstrating that he’s a wastrel, bigamist, cheat, highwayman, debaucher  and general nasty piece of work, to the general applause of the dead King. Well, except for when Richard Jr plotted the death of his nephew:

Richard IV: I was long in debate with myself as whether I should murder him myself or get him murdered.

King Richard: This is the only weak part of your History hitherto. How can you say you had my Character always in view? I am almost asham’d of you, you were foolishly faint-hearted.

Of course, the knave only exiled the nephew, which act of ‘faint-hearted foolishness’ comes back to bite him on the bum when the nephew returns to England.

Richard IV: It was then I cursed myself a thousand times every Hour for being so foolishly tender as not to have dispatched him at once, for Dead Men Tell No tales.

At this point in his narrative, he claims he’ll give it all up, beg for mercy and live like a gentleman. King Richard III is not amused, saying: 

King Richard: I in the like case chose to die bravely in Bosworth field, sword in hand rather than quit the least of my usurpations. I fear you were a coward.

Richard IV: I own sir I had always a great tenderness for my own person and had rather at any time have taken twenty kicks on the A___ or Twicks by the Nose than run the Risk of one Poke thro’ the Guts.’

The whole thing is blackly funny where it isn’t predictably banal, and ends with King Richard adopting this arsehole as a son before they both wind up wailing piteously with their guilt over how they treated their nephews. 

Even if you think  Richard did half the evil things he’s accused of (and Horace Walpole  and I definitely don’t) it’s a hell of a comedown for such a grand  villain to be cheering on a common thief and swindler. Even  Shakespeare’s Richard has more pride.

FutureLearning Medieval England

While I was in the UK a friend put me onto Future Learn, which offers some of its courses for free.

I’ve been studying  England in the Time of King Richard III and learning all sorts of things about the key players in the Wars of the Roses, layers of society, the impact of the Black Death, the development of writing, and Richard’s library.

Paying my respects to Dickon

Whatever the Tudors made of the man, Richard was popular up North with his people, and since his body was discovered and he was reinterred in Leicester Cathedral in 2015. His reinterment coincided with an unexpected victory for the Leicester City football club, so the locals have become Ricardians too.

The Leicester Museum is currently showing a royal portrait of Richard, adding another Ricardian tourism spot in addition to the Richard III Centre, the Leicester Cathedral opposite where he’s now buried, and the Bosworth Battlefield just out of town.

I like to pop by one or more of those places when I’m in town, just to say hi to the only royal I give the slightest damn about.

Who knows where all this reading will one day lead – right now my aim is to fill my brain with relevant material and let it all ferment away. 

Review: Murder, Misadventures and Miserable Ends – Tales from a Colonial Coroner’s Court by Catie Gilchrist

Social history, especially as it pertains to murder and crime, will always be a lure to get me into a book.  Catie Gilchrist’s account of Henry Shiell’s 33 year tenure as colonial Sydney’s City Coroner through a selection of the cases over which he presided has been on my wish list for a while.

The cases that passed through Shiell’s court between 1866 and 1899 are presented in distinct categories: murder, manslaughter, suicide, accidental deaths occurring through the hazards of work, transport and daily life, and the deaths resulting from unwanted pregnancies, either through abortion or infanticide. It’s a sad and sometimes sensational record of life and death in a colonial city and the usual spread of human suffering, passion, cruelty and pity.

Gilchrist doesn’t simply provide a litany of cases and their outcomes – her research into various cases comes with commentary of how Sydney society responded to notorious and sometimes heartbreaking cases. She also records the instances of when inquests resulted in suggestions for changes in laws and attitudes – whether such calls for change were ignored, embraced or took several years for authorities to act.

Gilchrist adds her own observations on how poverty and societal attitudes towards women and men affected various kinds of deaths, remarking with asperity particularly on damaging and contradictory attitudes to women and the poor (and poor women especially) that created situations in which so much tragic death occurred.

The author’s occasional tendency to withhold the names of key perpetrators for effect was sometimes frustrating. The reader needs to stay alert too, as cases mentioned one or more chapters ago might come up again to demonstrate the timeline. (I took a four week break between starting and finishing this book, which meant I lost track a little!)

Coffee and sticky notes: research essentials

Those quibbles notwithstanding, I read Murder, Misadventures and Miserable Ends: Tales from a Colonial Coroner’s Court with morbid fascination and finished it with a greater understanding of the conditions in Victorian-era Sydney. My copy is now festooned with sticky notes against cases and relevant laws that I may refer to for further research in my own writing.

My Melbourne: Melbourne General Cemetery

Melbourne General Cemetery

I enjoy a visit to a graveyard: these markers of the end of everyone’s story (or, for believers, the end of the fist book and the beginning of the sequel).

One of my favourite cemeteries is Melbourne General Cemetery, which dates from 1853.

Kitty Carrasco lives opposite this graveyard in Kitty and Cadaver, and there’s a very uncomfortable encounter with the dead rising from their graves and the ensuing musical battle where the minstrels try to sing the dead to rest again.

The Melbourne General Cemetery contains the remains of hundreds of Melburnians from all walks of life. Residents include great politicians, social reformers, explorers, singers, public servants and sportsmen from the early days of the colony.

Naturally, there are writers and other contributors to Melbourne’s literary history among the cemetery’s residents. These include Marcus Clarke, author of For the Term of His Natural Life; city co-founder John Fawkner, who produced Melbourne’s first newspaper; and John Stanley James, an early journalist who wrote for “The Argus” newspaper under the pseudonym ‘The Vagabond’.

Explorers Burke and Wills were buried here after their remains were recovered; opera singer Frederick Federici, whose ghost is said to haunt the Princess Theatre, is interred here.

One of the charms of the Old Melbourne Cemetery (and, indeed, of all cemeteries) is the occasional eccentric tombstone; whether it’s a pithy epitaph or an unusual design carved in stone.

One of the most distinctive and evocative headstones in the cemetery is that of Emily Mather, murdered in 1891 by her husband Frederick Deeming (a serial killer who some believed to be Jack the Ripper).

The headstone remarks upon on her murder and gives some frankly victim-blaming advice on being careful who you marry.

Walter Lindrum’s headstone

The 1960 grave of world champion billiard’s player, Walter Lindrum, is much less gruesome – a few stone billiard balls and a cue lie across the polished marble, as though Walter has just stepped away for a moment and will be back to finish his shot shortly.

Another unexpected memorial in Melbourne General Cemetery is the one to Elvis Presley – curious, given Elvis never made it to Australia.

The Elvis memorial

The memorial is said to be the only officially approved shrine outside of Graceland. It was commissioned by the Elvis Presley Fan Club in 1977 and still attracts visitors each year on the anniversary of the hip-swiveller’s death.

Graves can be sad; they can even be morbid. I find them melancholy but restful, a reminder that every life, however, brief, has it’s own story, filled with love, drama, tragedy and joy.

Every story ends. I want to make sure the pages of mine are full.

My Library: Folklore and occult history

I have a growing collection of books about myths, legends, folklore and occult history that I’m working through and flagging with sticky notes. Whenever I find something music-related, in goes a tag while I consider how I might use it in a Kitty and Cadaver story.

The next Kitty & Cadaver book is being planned and will be set in the UK – its working title is currently Rivers and Ravens so naturally I’m also looking for material about waterways and corvids. 🙂

I’m also interested in the history of occultism and the paranormal in the UK, as you never know when I might want to slip a little weirdness into a canon-era Holmes/Watson story.

Merlin Coverley’s Occult London has some cool background information on the likes of Dr John Dee, the 16th century scientist who was equally involved in ‘natural magic’. Queen Elizabeth I consulted him a few times. His name pops up in paranormal fiction set in the era – he was name-checked in KJ Charles’s first Green Men book, Spectred Isle. (I can’t recommend KJ Charles highly enough, by the way!)

Other personalities and places covered by Coverley are the architect Nicholas Hawksmoor (Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s graphic novel, From Hell, speculates that Jack the Ripper used Hawksmoor’s 18th century churches as part of ritual magic); Madame Blavatsky, the Victorian-era occultist behind the popularisation of the Theosophical Society in London; the notorious Aleister Crowley, who appears in Charlie Raven’s The Compact (with Dr John Watson having a supporting role as well!); and Caxton Hall, where Crowley operated in London for a while in 1910.

A Celtic Book of Days is a much lighter read, filled as it is with little snippets for every day of the Celtic year, which counts nights instead of days and begins on 1 November at Samhain, the end of summer.

The entries are short and not always particularly relevant to the paranormal for my purposes, but it’s scattered with lots of lovely little hints and ideas about folklore.

Among the ideas for further reading, I’ve learned about the Merrows (the females are beautiful but the male half of this mermaid sketch is described as having green teeth and hair, pig’s eyes and red noses); Saint Gobnat, the patron saint of bees, and the bird who built a nest in the hand of St Kevin, who perforce had to patiently hold still until the eggs hatched.

Musical folklore includes the Welsh belief that if a baby cries at baptism, it’ll be a good singer; the Furry Dance Song from Cornwall; a flurry of morris dancing that goes on in June; and St Cecilia, the patron saint of music and musicians.

I have some very fat books on folklore in the shelf too, so I expect they’ll be positively fluttering with sticky notes by the time I’m done!

two books on the paranormal, bristling with sticky notes.