Christmas 2012

“Now is the Winter of our Discontent.” I keep thinking of these words as the weather turns sharper, colder and daylight seems to die very early. Of course it conjures up Shakespeare’s “Richard III” and the bloody Wars of the Roses

I have never really understood why people are so swift to depict Richard as a psychopathic killer though, at the same time, he was hardly a saint. He slaughtered men in battle and he struck down political opponents. He was no more blood thirsty or cruel than many of his contemporaries. He had his virtues and his vices. The fifteenth century and the Wars of the Roses are the setting for my new novel ‘Roseblood’ which is based around one of London’s great gang families during the years 1450-1485. The more I read about the different factions of that era, the more I remember not so much Shakespeare or the ‘Chronicles of the White Rose,’ or even scholarly secondary sources such as Kendall’s ‘Richard III’ but more the film, ‘The Godfather.’

The aggressive Italian families of New York in the mid-twentieth century seem to have a great deal in common with the warring factions of fifteenth century England. During both eras, gangs fought to control power. Two important consequences followed from this. First, you had to make sure you were with a member of one of the gangs. Secondly you never betrayed your family or your gang. York, Lancaster, Beaufort, the Howards and the Tudors in my eyes were essentially hoodlums. They could anoint themselves, found Oxford colleges, portray themselves as devoted sons and daughters of Holy Mother Church but, in truth, they were Mafioso fighting a protracted gangland war and, unfortunately for some, the Tudors won!

One of the most striking similarities between the gangs of medieval England and those of the mafia is the concept of the blood feud. The Wars of the Roses often came down to one family trying to exterminate another. Once a member of a family had been killed no compromise was shown. Edward IV lost his father and brother at the violent battle of Wakefield; their severed heads, lampooned and crowned with paper hats, decorated Mickelgate Bar in York. Over ten years later, Edward and his brothers shattered the Lancastrians at Tewksbury, even following them into the abbey, hacking and cutting; the effects of such violence can still be seen today. A blood feud was á l’outrance – to the death! For example, the Yorkists always feared John DeVere, the Earl of Oxford. He was a good soldier and a very astute general. Edward IV tried to bribe him with all sorts of inducements. Oxford’s response was very stark: “You killed my father so I will kill you.” At Bosworth in 1485 Oxford was given his opportunity when he led the Tudor/Lancastrian faction to total victory against Edward’s brother, Richard III. Like the warring mafia families, the lords of the fifteenth century struck at each other. At the violent battle of Townton, Edward of York instructed his soldiers “Kill the leaders, spare the commoners.” In the blood-lust which followed the Lancastrian defeat, little mercy was shown to anyone. At the battle of St Albans (1455), the climax of my novel, I argue that the Yorkists hired master bowmen to take out the Lancastrian high command and these proved to be very effective. However, my novel is not seen through the eyes of the great lords but through the eyes of a London family who will support one faction through thick and thin. The Krays may have dominated post war London but, believe me, such a gang has a rich and ancient lineage!

I would like to wish all my readers a very happy and peaceful Christmas and a prosperous New Year. For my part, I promise I shall do my level best to create worlds of murderous, mysterious, mediaeval mayhem and so draw you in!
All the best,
Paul Doherty OBE

January 2013

‘Finally, if you wake early in the hours of 28th January 2013, then, of your mercy, remember the ghost and soul of Henry VIII who died 466 years ago.’

‘The Last of Days’ has just come back from the publishers for comment. I am certainly looking forward to the publication of this novel later in the year. The story is the journal of Will Somers, a real life character who also happened to be Henry VIII’s jester, though in those mysterious and murderous last days of this despotic king, there was very little to laugh about. In researching this novel I came across two sources of tradition. The first is how Henry VIII died in the early hours of Friday morning, 28th January 1547. According to the Protestant tradition, Henry died peacefully in his sleep pressing the hand of his confessor and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. However, a contemporary Catholic source has Henry screaming at the ghosts gathering around his bed, slurping white wine and moaning that all was lost. wpf785f652_05_06
Henry’s death was certainly mysterious and I discovered one gem, a very interesting nugget of information. According to the Franciscan, Cardinal Peto, Henry VIII on his death bed, expressed deep regret over the death of Anne Boleyn. Now I find this very strange because the name Boleyn was virtually forbidden in Henry’s court, and Henry’s daughter, Princess Elizabeth, was rarely seen or heard. Of course, Cardinal Peto could be a biased source. In a recent lecture on Anne Boleyn, I pointed out how Cardinal Peto, when he was a Franciscan at Greenwich, publicly warned Henry that because of his marriage to Anne Boleyn, he would suffer the same fate as King Ahab in the Old Testament, that dogs would come and lick his blood! As you may already know, Henry was buried in St George’s Chapel Windsor, in February 1547. A funeral cortege bearing his massive body slowly wended its way from London to Windsor. One night the cortege stopped at the Bridgettine Convent of Syon on Thames, where, according to some reports, Henry’s bloated corpse exploded. The putrid mess leaked through both the lead casket and the outer elmwood coffin. More gruesome still, some wandering dogs entered the church and began to lick what had seeped from the royal coffin. Certainly a macabre story and there is some archaeological evidence that it happened, yet it is Anne Boleyn who fascinates me. She always maintained that she had neither been unfaithful nor committed treason, yet there is considerable evidence that something untoward did happen. I hope to resolve this in my next blog! In the meantime, I am pleased to announce that I have a short story available in e-book format, “The Knight’s Confession.” I hope to publish more in the very near future. To conclude, many thanks for your support and I hope you continue to enjoy my work. I wish you all the best for 2013. Finally, if you wake early in the hours of 28th January 2013, then, of your mercy, remember the ghost and soul of Henry VIII who died 466 years ago. If his death was due to natural causes or Henry was helped to join the choir invisible, that is another matter which will also have to wait for the next blog!
Kindest regards,

Dr Paul Doherty OBE

March 2013

‘I am proposing to write short e-books on the above mysteries and I would certainly be grateful for the opinions of my cherished readers.’

History is a very deep and sometimes sinister forest. Well established paths run through it which one generation after another follows. We wander into the green darkness following the footsteps of our ancestors and certain facts about the forest become regarded almost as divine truth. We tend to think of history as progression, going deeper into the forest. Now and again, we will have a sharp reminder that this is not true. I always remember the famous Anglo- Saxon historian Stenton who made the surprising claim that women had far more rights in Year 1000 AD than they did in 1900. Yet there is more in the deep undergrowth of that forest. Surprises can range from rejecting the accepted story about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour to the very strong possibility that Roosevelt and Churchill fully realised that such an attack was imminent and welcomed it as a means to motivate public opinion.

The same is true of other periods of history. According to all the chronicles and the evidence presented by historians, Edward II was murdered in Berkley Castle on 21st September 1327. His corpse was tended by an old lady, his wife Isabella insisted that her late husband be buried at Gloucester and really didn’t expose the body to public view. There is evidence, however, of another explanation, that Berkley Castle was stormed, Edward II escaped and….. Or again, Elizabeth I is portrayed as the Virgin Queen. If that was so who was the young man picked up by the Spanish and personally interviewed by Phillip II who claimed to be the son of Dudley and Elizabeth I? The Spanish took him seriously as did the English secret service.

These are two examples of what happens when you leave the well-worn path of history and begin to move among its very tangled and luxurious undergrowth. I am proposing to write short e-books on the above mysteries and I would certainly be grateful for the opinions of my cherished readers. Or there again, perhaps I should return to Brother Athelstan and those tangled months before the Great Revolt of 1381 erupted. I do hope you are all well. After such a long cold winter, I now realise why mediaeval people were so exuberant about the arrival of spring!

Take care and kindest regards,

Dr. Paul Doherty OBE

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