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15. May, 2016

I've been reminded by Arthur Kincaid that although Sir George Buck was outspoken in his denunciation of Thomas More and John Morton, Cornwallis did not clearly specify who he meant by 'the Chronicler' whose negative picture of Richard he challenged in his dedication to The Encomium of Richard III. Although Cornwalllis avoids naming More anywhere in the encomium, it is my belief (based on internal evidence) that the 'life' of Richard III he had 'lately read' was the Thomas More publication, and on page 15 he denounces the author's 'malicious credulity' in embracing the partisan writings of a supporter of the house of Lancaster. Cornwallis certainly made no bones about his view of John Morton, who he says 'corrupted' the Duke of Buckingham. But his avoidance of naming any authors means I can't categorically say that his denunciation referred to More and Morton. 

31. Jan, 2016

On the matter of sources that are usually cited for the origin of Richard III’s blackened reputation, it occurs to me that I’ve done quite a lot of reading lately around Thomas More’s influential Richard III, which means I have been delving more deeply into the analyses published in the Appendix to my book Richard III: The Maligned King.

Many scholars of 16th-century literature subscribe to the view that More was writing satirical drama to pillory his exemplum of 'The Tyrant', personified (regrettably) by Richard III in his unfinished book. Dr Arthur Kincaid led the vanguard in 1972 with his assessment that its dramatic structure is paramount to its proper appreciation, which was accepted by R.S. Sylvester in the 1976 Yale edition of Richard III which I think is still considered the gold standard (see page xvi). Other analyses have been content to follow Kincaid’s lead, e.g. a paper dated 1982 by Elizabeth S. Donno in Renaissance Quarterly. Alison Hanham continued in the same vein in Richard III and his Early Historians (1975), although Hanham fell into a common error by categorizing More as an historian. As early as 1963 Sylvester’s commentary in Vol. 2 of the Yale ‘Complete Works of Thomas More’ had made it clear that already the literary world rejected it as constituting what we (or historiographers) would call history, and indeed the title ‘History’ of Richard III was almost certainly attached to it posthumously. In support of Kincaid et al. are the contemporary reports that More was fascinated by the theatre, had already tried his hand at writing plays, and was known to leap up on to the stage during performances and interpolate an off-the-cuff role for himself.

Thomas More had spent a number of his young years in the household of Cardinal John Morton, under the cardinal’s tutelage, and in the early 1600s the idea that Cardinal John Morton authored More's book was current among members of the antiquary movement. They knew of a certain tract hostile to Richard III written by Morton which was in the library of More's son-in-law – some had read it, others knew of its contents, so there clearly were close similarities between the two works. Since then, scholarly assessments of More's English and Latin have decided against Morton’s authorship (which wasn't very likely anyway, especially when you consider that Morton died in 1500). 

Nevertheless, knowledgeable 17th-century antiquaries like Sir George Buck and Sir William Cornwallis were so vehement and outspoken about the authorship of More's book by Morton that I believe they should not be ignored. My proposition is as follows ... (1) That More DID have access to Morton's tract, and (2) that its contents DID prompt More's embarking on his Richard III project, to the extent that that's where he got his entire premise of Richard as tyrannous, hypocritical, murderous, etc. Thomas More was thus fully equipped with the ready-made central villain for his polemic against tyranny, fleshed out with Morton’s anecdotal reports of his various crimes. I then propose that (3) working from this basis, More added all the embellishments that transformed it into a piece of dramatic craftsmanship – the condemnatory language, the dialogue, the moments of high theatre like the confrontation with Hastings – until he had something that satisfied his muse. In other words Morton loaded the gun and More discharged it with results that Morton could only have dreamed of.

At this point a number of questions arise. Undoubtedly the several extant versions (in English and Latin) are brilliantly conceived and executed. So why did More set his bravura piece aside and never seek to publish it? He couldn’t wait to see Utopia in print, yet he never even finished his Richard III – and, significantly, never mentioned a word of it in all the copious writings of his that are known to us. As you might expect, I have a proposition for this, too: (4) eventually, I submit, he started questioning the veracity of the information provided by Cardinal Morton’s tract. This was a private project to which he returned on and off over the span of several years, and he had probably written many thousands of words of his drama before he thought to speak of it to anyone. If he initially found some of it rested on shaky ground, this would not have bothered him: More was entirely happy with the rhetorical practice of arguing persuasively both for AND against a proposition, and in this period of time ‘historical truth’ was not a matter of great concern. My suggestion is that there came a time, however, when he simply couldn’t suppress the nagging suspicion that the basis of his Richard III story as told by Morton was unreliable. This was not merely a matter of questioning the accuracy of the events in his story, it was much more important than that: if what I suggest is the case, Thomas More’s belief in the mentor of his youth would have been shaken. Nothing less than this, I believe, would have disillusioned him deeply enough to have stopped him in his tracks.

14. Jan, 2016

In the space of a few days cancer has taken two amazing English talents aged only in their sixties. The news about David Bowie was only just sinking in when we heard today of Alan Rickman's death. I encountered him first in roles like Colonel Brandon (Sense and Sensibility, see photo) and the Sheriff of Nottingham (Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves), having kicked myself for missing him in Liaisons Dangereuses. In the early 1990s, while working on my biography of Jeff Beck, I did a lot of research for a planned biography of Alan Rickman - he had trained at RADA, as had my husband, Paul Carson. I was pipped at the post by a gossipy effort by Maureen Paton which I thought did him less than justice. His versatility was enormous, and I treasure a signed photograph he gave me. An unforgettable talent.

11. Jan, 2016

An emotional day today, with the death of David Bowie. His music a part of my life since the 1960s. It’s not tremendously well known that I wrote the first (unauthorized) biography of British rock guitarist Jeff Beck, published in 2001 by Hal Leonard and awarded 4 stars by Q Magazine. In the book I recounted the story of how Jeff came to appear onstage with Bowie at his Ziggy Stardust farewell concert. It runs as follows.

. . . At around this time Beck made a surprise guest appearance at the famous ‘retirement’ night of David Bowie’s Spiders from Mars world tour, mounted at London’s Hammersmith Odeon on 3 July 1973. Beck’s appearance was arranged by Bowie as a birthday treat for his guitarist, Mick Ronson, who idolized Beck’s playing and had always longed to play with him onstage.

Beck was sent a mysterious note from Bowie, enclosing tickets and asking him to be at the show. Called up for the encores, he joined the band on ‘Jean Genie’ and ‘Love Me Do’ (with Bowie supplying the harmonica part). A second encore, ‘Around and Around’, also featured Beck on his magic voice tube. [This was the ‘talking guitar’ effect often used later by Peter Frampton.]

The surprise appearance entailed even more of a surprise for Beck when he learned that the show had been filmed for cinema and TV. This was something he hadn’t expected, and frankly he didn’t feel he had performed too well . . . Given the option, he decided to exclude his appearances and they were duly edited out of the film and the official live album. Nevertheless, the first two numbers were shown on US television and the third one was broadcast in Europe!

Beck was left with a strange memento of the occasion when he was given a weird rag doll by Bowie and Ronson, which they said resembled him. An odd gift, but one that he kept ever afterwards. He also attended Bowie’s retirement party at the Café Royal the following night, where the guests included Mick and Bianca Jagger, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, Keith Moon, Lulu, Cat Stevens, Lou Reed, Barbra Streisand, Britt Ekland, Tony Curtis, Elliot Gould, Ryan O’Neal, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, with music supplied by Dr John. Surely one of the most glittering rock events of the decade.

11. Jan, 2016

I posted a link on Facebook to my speculative little piece on the 'Hastings plot' (see Ricardian Topics page) and the reach on Facebook is already well over 10,000! Plus it's being reproduced in blogs and newsletters. Such has been the interest that I've edited it a little to make things a bit clearer to the non-specialist reader.

What I would really LOVE is for anyone interested in this to PLEASE read my little book Richard Duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector and High Constable of England (available here and from the Richard III Society) (and as an eBook) because this explains Richard's legitimate powers within the government at the time of the Hastings incident. Context is everything, so it's important to consider who in this scenario was acting legally and who illegally!