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