I had the chance to interview author Anne Easter Smith about the discovery of the bones of Richard III, King of England. She is a member of the Richard III Society and knows a lot about the man and has a lot of great insight on the subject to offer. Anne is touring with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours in support of her upcoming book, Royal Mistress, and reflecting on the discovery of the bones of Richard III.
What was the first thing you thought upon hearing that they may have found the body of King Richard III of England under a parking lot?
Yippee! comes to mind ;-) It has always bothered me that Richard’s bones have never been found. It means none of we Ricardians have had anywhere to go and pay our respects except for a stone memorial in a field at Bosworth (and even that is now thought not to be the spot where he died).
Why has it taken such a long period of time for researchers to discover the resting place of Richard III?
Once the Tudors were firmly on the throne and their historians did a good job of blackening Richard’s name, people probably didn’t care where his remains were. Henry VII actually loosed his tightly laced purse strings and forked out for a modest stone memorial placed in the Greyfriars monastery somewhere several years after Richard’s death, but with the dissolution of the monasteries in Henry VIII’s time, the monastery was ransacked and desecrated. Rumor had it that the plunderers found Richard’s body and threw it in the Soar River. End of story. But then another story said that Richard’s “sarcophagus” was then dragged outside and used as a horse trough. There was no way Richard had anything as fancy as a sarcophagus--who would have paid for it? And so I think the way they found his body -- by itself in the nave near the altar --would have been the most reverent burial the monks could have given the former king. It was not until Philippa Langley, chair of the Scottish branch of the Richard III Society, began her passionate research to uncover the mystery of his resting place a few years ago did interest (and funding) come into play.
Has there been any discussion of what will happen with the body if it was determined to be Richard? What do you think would be the best option?
Much discussion has ensued, I can assure you. Most Ricardians would like to see him buried in York Minster, which is said to have been Richard’s wish. There was even a debate in the House of Commons when York, Leicester and Westminster Abbey were considered. I believe the City of Leicester won out, having owned the remains for more than 500 years. And there is already a large memorial plaque in the nave of that cathedral for him. Richard never liked the south, and I doubt he would have been happy to be in London!
What is it about the Plantagenets that put you in their corner, so to speak, in your novels?
I became obsessed--yes, you could say that!--with Richard from my early 20s when I read Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. She put doubt in my mind that Richard really was the monster our history books (and Shakespeare) depicted. I began to read everything I could about him. However, before that I had adored Anya Seton’s Katherine and had learned a lot about the 14th century Plantagenets (although John of Gaunt, whose mistress Katherine was a Lancastrian). I am a staunch Yorkist now!
Your novel, A Rose for the Crown, is a revisionist version of the reign of Richard III. What does this mean and why choose to write your novel this way?
When I joined the Richard III Society back in the early ‘90s, I took their mission statement seriously, which was to “...promote in every possible way research into the life and times of Richard III, and to secure a reassessment of the material relating to this period, and of the role in English history of this monarch.” I had done so much research on him by that time, I had decided he was not the man I had been traditionally taught he was, so I wanted to try my hand at writing Richard’s real story. It turned out to be more Kate Haute’s story (a woman I imagined might have been the mother of his bastard children), but Richard’s personality and life was told through her very loving and biased eyes (mine perhaps??).
You have written several novels where Richard is a character – has your way of thinking/writing about him changed at all over time?
I think you will be surprised by Richard in Royal Mistress! Because I am telling the story of Edward IV’s final and favorite mistress, Jane Shore, who was--it could be admitted-- not treated kindly by Richard, I had to look at him through her eyes, and the eyes of her very good friend and subsequent patron, William Hastings, who was executed by Richard. I chose to write this book in omniscient narration, which means I can jump around into different people’s head. This was new for me but, I have to say, very freeing. It meant that I could speak from Richard’s heart as well as Jane’s and Will’s, and I hope I have shown the terrible dilemma a man of his piety and sense of duty had in making the decisions he did from April to July 1483 following his beloved brother Edward’s death. I do not show Richard as pure white as perhaps he was in A Rose for the Crown, but in many (but not 50!) shades of grey.
What can you tell us about your upcoming release, Royal Mistress (to be released in May)?
I have already had a few family and close friends read the book and they have told me they think it is my best! I know many readers will never like any of my books as well as Rose, but I really believe my writing has improved and my themes and characterizations have deepened since then. I hope you will enjoy it!
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