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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Images of "Why This Play Now?"

Some research images and ideas that keep Richard III relevant. Find out more on Matt's Ning. Read about cyborgs and Richard III here.

After Bhutto assasination.

Lamenting women.

Media attention.

Young leader.

Prince in the Tower.

Surveillance in Great Briton today:

Death, Ritual and the Media.


Bhutto's unmarked coffin.

Power and Technology.


Dailyxpress/Thai Photo Blog.

"How things go pop." Indymedia Ireland.

Hoyt, Mike. Reporting Iraq: An oral history of the war by reporters who covered it. Hoboken, NJ: Melville House Publishing. 2007. Print.

"Pakistan Mourns Death of Benazir Bhutto."

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images via New York Times

Warrick Page/Bloomberg News via New York Times

Ten Facts About Life in Shakespeare’s England

Shakespeare’s England, Life in Elizabethan and Jacobean Times is an excellent book edited by R. E. Pritchard that compiles and discusses primary documents from Shakespeare’s contemporaries in order to describe his world. This book offers us a unique insight into what exactly Shakespeare’s audience would have been thinking about while watching his plays, making connections between the turmoil on stage and that in London’s streets and England’s countryside.

1. The population was on the rise, going from 3 to 4.5 million during Shakespeare’s lifetime. To make matters worse, there was disease, rising prices without rising wages and increased social mobility that made life unstable. It was also the moment that England began to industrialize, expanding industries like cloth manufacture and mining.

2. Although marriages could be consummated at a very young age (12 for girls and 14 for boys), the average Elizabethan did not marry until his mid-twenties. Although women were “entirely under the power of their husbands,” companionship was sought in marriage before family or monetary gains (29). Courtship generally involved the exchange of rings, gloves or other tokens. Women tended to have six to seven children, and since contraception was primitive, premarital sex was not as common as we might think.

3. Under Elizabeth, England experienced an education boom due to the church reforms. By 1600, a third of the population was literate, although the rate was much higher in London, and reading had begun to become a part of daily life, explaining how pamphlets became useful political tools.

4. The Great Chain of Being dominated Elizabethan beliefs in the cosmos. Superstition was also widespread, despite its negative associations with Catholicism under Elizabeth, and astrology was a legitimate science. Witches were put on trial by being restrained and then thrown into water to see if they swam.

5. Elizabeth’s court was described by Sir Walter Raleigh as “[shining] like rotten wood” (129). There were around 1500 attendants overall, and sixty people who had access to the most private chambers. The Queen was never in one place for long, and inhabited different castles at different times of year, saving Whitehall for Parliament.

6. London had a population of 200,000 by 1600, since enclosure laws drove people into the city. Guilds held great power, but the city was run by the Lord Mayor, Aldermen and a Common Council.

7. The first theatres were established in “the Liberties,” or the southern suburbs, where brothels, bars, poorhouses, and asylums were found.

8. The poor were classified as “the impotent,” “the laboring” and “the idle” poor. Vagrants were everywhere as poverty increased, and riots frequently broke out, spreading fear among Elizabethans of crime and disorder.

9. Bastardry and infanticide peaked during Elizabeth’s time, which suggests that audiences of Richard III would have been sensitive to these issues in his plays.

10. There were over a thousand hangings in England and Wales every year, and beheading was reserved for those of higher rank.

Read more about Religion and Punishment in Elizabethan England.

York’s Matriarch: Cecily Neville, Duchess of York

The White Rose of York

Cecily Neville was born in 1415 to Ralph Neville, the Earl of Westmoreland. The youngest of twenty-three siblings, she was also related through her mother to the Beaufort family. Margaret’s biting words in Richard III about the Duchess’ evil womb are made more poignant in light of the career she made of having children. Of the eleven children she bore in just sixteen years, only six survived. Richard III was her last surviving son. She traveled about the country with her husband, Richard of York and when things became dire during the ensuing conflicts. It was both of Cecily’s Richard Nevilles, the Earl of Salisbury and the Earl of Warwick, with whom her husband allied himself while attempting to rise to power. In 1459, after the Battle of Ludford Bridge, the Nevilles were attainted and Cecily, left by her fleeing husband, was placed in the custody of her sister and her husband, the Duke of Buckingham, who got in trouble for allegedly supporting her financially. But when York took control of the government, Cecily met him like a queen upon a blue velvet carriage. Ever concerned for her children, she sent Richard and George to Burgundy after York was killed at Wakefield until Edward took the throne.

Cecily lived mostly at Berkhamstead in Hertfordshire or at Baynard’s Castle on the Thames in London while Edward ruled. Although Cecily didn’t have much a political career, she was important when it came to family decisions. She was, for example, staunchly opposed to Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville in 1464. She also helped to orchestrate the reconciliation of her sons Edward and Clarence after his imprudent alliance with Warwick. Her family wasn’t always kind in return. Warwick, Clarence and Richard all spread the rumor that Cecily had begotten a bastard Edward by another man for political purposes, to her extreme distress. Even as a York, Cecily was treated well enough under Henry VII and died in 1495.

Baynard's Castle in London.

The Duchess of York was also extremely pious. She enjoyed reading the work of female mystics and writers of her time, like St. Catherine of Siena and St. Bridget of Sweden. Cecily was known to attend nine services a day for prayer and instilled her interest in mystics in her two children, Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy and Richard III, who also kept these volumes in their personal libraries.


Kendall, Paul Murray. Richard the Third. NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 1956. Print.

Wagner, John A. Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc. 2001. Print.

“Those Other Guys” in Richard III: Who Supported Whom?

During the Wars of the Roses, loyalty was more of a suggestion than a rule. Peers switched sides all the time, and it becomes incredibly difficult to keep up with which Dukes and Earls supported with Kings and rebels when. In his Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses, John A. Wagner has a nifty chart that breaks it all down. However, in order to make things even simpler, here are key supports of Henry VII and Richard III during the final stage of the Wars of the Roses:

Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond and later Henry VII: Margaret Beaufort, Marquis of Dorset, John Morton/Bishop of Ely, Duke of Buckingham (later), Earl of Derby, Sir William Stanley, Christopher Urstwick, Earl of Oxford, Bishop of Salisbury, Sir James Blunt, Sir William Brandon, and Sir Walter Herbert.

Richard III: Sir Robert Brackenbury, Sir William Catesby, Earl of Kent, Duke of Norfolk, Earl of Surrey, Viscount Lovell, Duchess of Burgundy, Earl of Northumberland, Duke of Suffolk, Duke of Lincoln, Sir Richard Ratcliffe, Duke of Buckingham (earlier), and Sir James Tyrell.

The Battle of Bosworth.

Edward’s supporters included Archbishop of York, Sir Thomas Vaughn, Earl Rivers and Lord Hastings.

Check of the "Story of London" website for information about the Lord Mayor.

The Lancastrians:

Young Henry Tudor.

Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, King Henry VII was the last surviving Lancastrian heir as his father, Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, was Henry VI’s half brother while his mother, Margaret Beaufort, was the king’s cousin. His father died just three months before he was born, while his mother was only about to turn fourteen. Like Richard, he spent his childhood under the care of a guardian, his uncle Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, in Wales. He was then passed onto William Herbert, who was the Yorkist Welch lieutenant, when Edward IV seized Wales and Pembroke fled. Herbert wanted Richmond to marry one of his daughters, having paid off the king, but his execution by Warwick in 1469 after the Battle of Edgecote threw a wrench into his plans. Richmond found himself once again in the hands of his uncle, who reconquered Wales while Henry VI was replaced on the throne. It is said that Henry VI in fact recognized Richmond as the future Lancastrian savior when Richmond came to court, even though there were several other prospective heirs alive at the time. Most likely, this is a piece of clever Tudor propaganda.

Henry VII.

But in 1471, when Somerset, Prince Edward and Henry VI all died, Richmond could claim the throne. He fled with Pembroke to avoid persecution by Edward IV, only to become political pawns in Brittany. For about ten years various attempts were made to capture Richmond, with little success. Richard’s usurpation, however, made Richmond look to the crown. He tried to support Buckingham’s Rebellion, but once again fled when that failed. From Brittany to France to Wales, Richmond eventually collected an army of about 2,000 French and Scottish soldiers and 600 Englishmen, not including the various Lancastrians and Yorkist deserters he picked up along the way into England. August 22, 1485, he defeated Richard on Bosworth Field and was crowned Henry VI. He married Elizabeth of York the following year, symbolically ending the Wars of the Roses, although he was not finished fighting off Yorkist rebels. Lambert Simnel claimed to be the last surviving Yorkist with a claim to the throne, but was imprisoned in 1485 and finally executed in 1499. Simnel had in fact found another York imposter, who claimed to be the surviving “little prince” Richard, Duke of York, and made an escape attempt.

Henry VII's Coat of Arms.

The Tudor Myth has certainly glossed over the fact that Henry VII was not always popular. Early on, he frequently dealt with uprisings over tax increases when he needed funds for invading Scotland. When he wasn’t making political matches for his sons, he was trying to make them for himself when his wife died in 1503. What’s more, Henry hoarded massive amounts of money, and was the “richest prince in Christendom” when he died (Jokinen). However, he also spent a lot of money on hospitals and cathedrals, and his reign was a relatively peaceful one. However, it is important to keep in mind that Richmond was in as much need as any king ever is of a devilish enemy and a good mythical history.

The Tudor Rose, combining the red rose of Lancaster and the white rose of York.

John Morton, Bishop of Ely, was a leader of the Lancastrian opposition to Richard III and is believed to have been a principle source for Sir Thomas More’s chronicle. Morton was an Oxford law student who rose to prominent religious rank through his patron the Archbishop of Canterbury and was a member of Henry VI’s council. Morton supported Margaret of Anjou during the battles of 1461, particularly St. Albans. He joined the Lancastrian royal family in Scotland when Edward defeated them at Towton, and in 1463 went into exile with Margaret in France where he had a hand in the alliance made between her and Warwick. Morton finally submitted to Edward’s royal service in 1471 after the battle of Tewkesbury and became a key diplomat abroad, like during the Treaty of Picquigny in 1475, a royal councilor and the Bishop of Ely. Morton was one of the peers arrested by Richard in 1483 and placed under Buckingham’s custody because he was openly loyal to Edward V. It is believed that Morton had to do with Buckingham’s change of heart that led to his Rebellion. When that failed, he fled to Richmond in France, returning as one of Henry VII’s chief councilors. He went on to gain the titles of Archbishop of Canterbury, Chancellor, and Cardinal. In the 1490s, Sir Thomas More was thought to have served in Morton’s household, making Morton an important historical source of information just before his death in 1500.

John de Vere, Earl of Oxford was a staunch Lancastrian, who earned his title after his father and older brother were executed by Edward IV for their plot to invade, known as the Oxford Conspiracy of 1462. He was confined to the Tower in 1468 for a Lancastrian plot of his own, and he fled with Warwick in support of his attempt to reinstate Henry VI. He sought revenge on his family while Henry was back, executing their killer John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester as Constable of England. He fled to France when Edward IV regained the throne, was attainted and sent to prison at Calais until he managed to escape just in time to aid Richmond in the Battle of Bosworth, commanding the right wing of his army. It was Oxford’s successful first move that prompted Richard to charge the Tudor forces and consequently, caused Stanley to side with Richmond. He was well rewarded under Henry VII, and aided him again when the Yorkists tried to revolt in 1487. It was Oxford who condemned the last direct male Yorkist heir to death in 1499, before dying in 1513.

The Yorkists:

Sir Robert Brackenbury was from a family of Durham’s minor gentry and became the treasurer of Richard, Duke of Gloucester’s household in 1476. He was granted a lifetime appointment as Constable of the Tower of London when Richard took the throne and he remained a loyal supporter until his death at the Battle of Bosworth. Brackenbury was from the north, but was awarded with considerable landholdings in the south in Kent, such as the estates of the executed Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers. He was eventually knighted and became the sheriff of Kent among other duties poured on him by the king, and he became one of Richard’s most wealthy and rewarded officers. Although it is uncertain whether Brackenbury was actually aware of the plot to murder the princes, he was, nonetheless, their guardian when they arrived at the Tower in 1483.

John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, stayed loyal to Edward IV and the House of York after Richard III came to power. He came from Suffolk, and was a steadfast Yorkist, knighted for his service at Towton and made the first Yorkist sheriff of Norfolk. He was even a commander against Warwick in 1470. He helped Edward at Barnet and Tewkesbury and became deputy at Calais under Lord Hastings. His foreign affairs led him to France in 1475, where he became a hostage in negotiations with Louis XI. Sadly, Norfolk was badly abused by his king when Edward denied his inheritance of the late Duke of Norfolk, John Mowbray’s title when Anne Mowbray died at the age of nine. Anne, who was the child bride of Richard, Duke of York, had brought her father’s inheritance with her, and Edward was unwilling to let go of it. But, when Edward died in 1483, Norfolk received his dukedom and supported Richard III. Under Richard, he received many offices and awards for his loyalty and support during Buckingham’s Rebellion. Norfolk died at Bosworth and was attainted by Henry VII, although his son, Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, was eventually able to reverse it.


Thomas Stanley, Earl of Derby was consistently neutral throughout the Wars of the Roses, which ultimately ensured his survival. For example, in 1459 when Stanley had raised an army for Margaret of Anjou he also promised his support to his father-in-law Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury, who was Margaret’s Yorkist enemy. When the forces met at Blore Heath, Stanley stayed out of it altogether. He was later accused of treason by the Lancastrian government, but was forgiven when he fought for Henry VI at Northampton, 1460. But, Stanley’s loyalties were by no means tied to Lancaster, and he received many rewards from Edward IV. The contradictions continued, as Stanley both ignored Warwick’s call for help overthrowing Edward but then supported Henry VI during his readeption, only to be again promoted under the Yorkist king to lord steward and royal councilor! Stanley fought with Edward in France and Richard in Scotland.

Stanley Coat of Arms.

He was also one of the nobles arrested by Richard while meeting in the Tower June 13, 1483. Stanley was placed under house arrest and escaped in time for the coronation. Hastings, of course, was not so lucky. Although Stanley was married to Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, he seems to have had little to do with her plots to place her son on the throne. Stanley came under Richard’s suspicions, however, when he was gone from court a little too long, and Richard took Stanley’s son, Lord Strange, hostage. Stanley remained neutral at Bosworth while his brother’s army made the decisive choice to aid Richmond. Lord Strange survived when nobody bothered to carry out Richard’s death sentence. It was 1485 that Stanley was made Earl of Derby under Henry VII and received many attainted Yorkist lands. Stanley was neutral to the end, while his brother was sentenced to death for treason.

Effigies of Stanley and his wife.

Thomas Bourchier, Cardinal and Archbishop of Canterbury, was Buckingham’s half-brother and a distant descendant of Edward III. “As a third son, he was destined for an ecclesiastical career,” moving through the ranks until he became Archbishop of Canterbury under the Protectorate of Richard of York (35). He was favored by both Richard of York and Henry VI, but his attempts to make peace both at the Battle of St. Albans in 1455 and again during Henry’s Love-Day accords were unsuccessful. He remained loyal to Henry VI when he was replaced on the throne and once again tried to facilitate a peace accord to no avail. Bourchier was a member of the Parliament that disinherited the Lancastrian Prince Edward, and he ultimately agreed to Edward IV’s succession, crowning him in 1465. He helped to support his king in 1471 against Warwick and Clarence’s rebellion, when he became a Cardinal. It was Bourchier who persuaded Queen Elizabeth much later to let her son Richard, Duke of York join his brother Edward in the Tower. Historians speculate that he was probably not involved in the murder plot and loathe to crown Richard III shortly after. Of course, he almost immediately found himself placing the crown on the head of Henry VII in October 1485, dying just a few months later after a dutiful life of service.

The Suffolk Coat of Arms.


Jokinen, Anniina. “England Under the Tudors: King Henry VII of England.” Luminarium: Encyclopedia Project. 2009. Web. Accessed 2-26-10. <>.

John A. Wagner’s Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses, ABC-CLIO, 2001.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Protestants Versus Catholics: Religion in Elizabethan England

Shakespeare was well acquainted with the religious tensions of his age between the Catholics and the Protestants, and inevitably drew connections between the violent civil Wars of the Roses and the current threat of civil war over religion that many Elizabethans feared. Although it is highly contested, many historians believe that Shakespeare himself was a covert Catholic and would have intimately understood the secrecy, confusion, suspicion and potential punishment that accompanied following the old religion under Elizabeth. Shakespeare sneakily employs religious references and symbolism that his audiences would have been acutely aware of to talk about his tumultuous age and the way the Queen oversaw the nation’s religious affairs.

The young Queen Elizabeth I.

When Elizabeth was made Queen of England after the death of Mary Tudor on November 17, 1558, her people had good reason to be concerned. Within more or less the past decade the nation had gone from Protestant under Edward VI to Catholic under Mary and now back to Protestant. If famine, plague, inflation, and war with France and Scotland were not bad enough, now there was the threat of religious upheaval and the violent persecution that accompanied it.

Bloody Mary Tudor.

Neither Elizabeth nor her government was very enthusiastic at first about religious reform, knowing the problems that would ensure. At first, she simply banned preaching altogether to try and keep the peace, desperately afraid of Catholic revolt. Most Catholics were equally optimistic, assuming that a Catholic husband was all Elizabeth needed. It was the Protestant population, in fact, who wanted revenge for their fellow Englishmen who were exiled, imprisoned and burnt at the stake under Queen Mary. But as the crown began to seem more unstable in light of Elizabeth’s unmarried status and rumblings of a Scottish invasion that would seat Mary, Queen of Scots on the throne, Elizabeth sought to “reduce the realm to conformity” (Jones 19).

In 1559, Parliament passed the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity, which made Elizabeth the head of the Church with the help of an Ecclesiastical High Commission, or religious police, and returned the nation to Protestantism as it had been under Edward VI. Furthermore, anyone who denied the Queen’s authority over the church was punishable by death and those in office in the church and state were required to take an oath declaring as much. Protestants primarily objected to Catholic mass given in Latin, as it was “against the word of God to use a tongue unknown to the people of common prayer,” and the superstitious, ostentation of idols, images, altars, rosaries and Catholic rituals in general. The Book of Common Prayer from 1552 was adopted, which in particular allowed for a looser interpretation of the Eucharist. When it came to the destruction of images and altars, windows were replaced, idols destroyed and tables replaced altars. Elizabeth even sent out inspectors to make sure that it was done, unlike Queen Mary when she instated the Catholic ceremonies.

Elizabethans were very confused about religion. They did not know whether their God was a wrathful or a benevolent one, or what the fundamental differences were between the old and the new faiths. Many became “jacks of both sides” in order to escape notice, and at first, it seemed to work (Jones 18). However, devout Protestants wanted the Catholics purged and Elizabeth herself continued her reforms by creating a new calendar, translating the Book of Common Prayer in Latin for the universities and hanging the Ten Commandments where altars once were. Catholics were associated with witchcraft and necromancy, and even William Cecil, Elizabeth’s closest advisor, used this belief as an excuse to make political arrests.

The Tyburn tree in London, where Catholic martyrs were killed.

1563 marked a real turning point in the treatment of Catholics, and it was after Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion were finally accepted in 1566 that Elizabeth no longer looked like a more lenient ruler than her predecessor. The articles were intended to purge the Book of Common Prayer of any vestigial “popery,” clergy were given specific forms of dress, including collars and square caps, grammar schools were to be installed in each cathedral, both clergy members and laity had to be more studious, and the church would reallocate its funds (Jones 51-2). The articles were highly contested on the subject of, what else, uniforms for clergymen, and Elizabeth herself was furious that they had been drafted behind her back.

Edmund Campion and the Tyburn tree.

But after several riots over the articles, debates that widened the gap between Protestantism and Catholicism, more plots related to Mary in Scotland, and a new Act of Treason, Catholics were exiled and imprisoned en masse. At first, Elizabeth did not want to outright execute Catholics, attempting to distinguish her own rule from that of Mary Tudor. But the rebellion led by Edmund Campion and Robert Persons proved to be the limit, and these men became the first Catholic martyrs under Elizabeth. After that, Catholics were persecuted no differently than their Protestant counter parts had been, such as the Northern rebellion led by the Earl of Norfolk in 1559 that sought to put Mary on the throne. Elizabeth destroyed the rebel army and plundered the region in response, hanging 800 men in the first month of 1570. Catholics were no longer just enemies of the church to be reprimanded, but intolerable enemies of the nation.

The execution of Mary Stuart in the 2007 Cate Blanchett film, Elizabeth, the Golden Age.

It was around this time that Elizabeth’s suspicions grew of Mary’s involvement in various plots to make her queen. Almost twenty years of plotting went on until, in 1586 Elizabeth finally put her on trial at Fotheringhay Castle and in early 1587, Mary was executed in order to secure Elizabeth’s place on the throne as well as religious control. In 1588, Elizabeth faced yet another Catholic threat from Philip V of Spain, and it was defeating his Armada that finally ensured her English Protestant power.

Defeat of the Spanish Armada


Jones, Norman. The Birth of the Elizabethan Age: England in the 1560s. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishing Inc. 1995. Print.

“Queen Elizabeth I: Biography, Portraits, Primary Sources.” Tudor Monarchs. Web. Accessed 2-26-10. <>.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Upstart Woodvilles

Anthony Woodville, Earl of Rivers, and Thomas Grey, Marquis of Dorset, were just two of the many family members Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV’s unpopular wife, brought with her two court. In addition to her parents, Elizabeth had five brothers, seven sisters, and two sons when she arrived at court. Despite many a jealous complaint, Edward helped her sisters to many profitable marriages and offered her brothers and sons significant offices and landholdings during his reign, many of these in direct affront to Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick or one of Edward’s own brothers.

Elizabeth Woodville’s brother, Anthony, the Second Earl of Rivers, was born in 1442 as the son of As a youth he was knighted and fought at Towton in 1461, and a year later joined the peerage upon the death of his wife’s father, Lord Scales. He would eventually become the head of the Woodville family. He fought in one of the most famous tournaments of his time against the Anthony, Comte de la Roche, the bastard of Burgundy on a mission as an ambassador to Burgundy. His political ambition, along with the help of his sister’s own advancement at court, led to his promotion to Lieutenant of Calais (making him a rival to Hastings’ position at Captain of Calais) and Captain of the King’s Armada among other offices. He became Earl of Rivers after his brother and father were beheaded by Ratcliffe at the Battle of Edgecot in 1469. Rivers was briefly engaged in 1478 to Margaret, the sister of King James III of Scotland, although it was mysteriously ended. Although he fled with Edward during Warwick’s temporary take-over, he returned in time to aid the Queen and his nephews and nieces during an attack on the Tower. After his valiant aid at Barnet, Tewkesbury, and the defense of London from the Lancastrians, he was honored with the guardianship of little prince Edward. It was Rivers and his nephew Grey who were accompanying Edward V from Ludlow with 2,000 men when Richard and Buckingham intercepted and had them arrested. Richard, who like many of his contemporaries at court hated the Woodvilles, and Anthony in particular, for their undue distinctions and family connections, finally had Rivers beheaded at Pontefract on June 25, 1483, based on arms that were found in his luggage to suggest a potential overthrow.

Coat of arms.

Although Rivers is often painted as an obnoxious, political hanger-on of the Queen’s by Clarence, Richard and his other buddies, like Lord Hastings, he was actually a very modest, honorable guy and also a cultured man with extensive literary interests. After the death of his wife, he went on a religious pilgrimage in 1475 to Italy, and was nominated “Defender and Director of the Siege Apostolic for the Pope in England.” He met William Caxton, who had set up a printing press in the Sanctuary at Westminster. Caxton’s first commission came from Earl Rivers in the form of an English translation of a Latin to French book, Dictes and Sayengis of the Philosophers that appeared at court in 1477. While none of the original texts survive, we know that Rivers went on to work with Caxton on many more publications. The hated but harmless Rivers turned out to make a significant contribution to the history of English literature.

Rivers presenting Caxton's volume to the king.

Thomas Woodville, the First Marquis of Dorset was Elizabeth Woodville’s eldest son from her first marriage to Sir John Grey, who passed onto Thomas his title as Lord Ferrers of Groby in 1461. He was immediately promoted upon his sister’s marriage to the Earl of Huntington by Edward, who in return earned Thomas’ support at Tewkesbury and in carrying out the murder of Prince Edward, the son of Henry VI. In 1475, he married Lady Harrington and Bonville, assuming her titles as well, and within a few weeks of being made a knight of the Bath, he became Marquis of Dorset as well. It did not stop there. He was later honored as a knight of the Garter and made a member of the Privy Council. Dorset even received some “tidbits” of Clarence’s estates when he was executed by his brother (Kendall 149). No wonder the Yorkists felt annoyed and humiliated by his quick rise to power.

When Edward IV died, it was Dorset who was the Constable of the Tower when the princes were there killed. He was in the process of gaining war vessels for his family’s protection when Richard III took the throne. He promptly fled to Sanctuary and then to Yorkshire to fight, and Richard put out a reward for his arrest. He fought in Buckingham’s failed rebellion in 1484, and eventually made his way to Richmond’s side in France. From Paris, he wrote his mother the Queen Dowager a misleading note that he would soon return, only to flee farther onto the continent. He had lost Richmond’s trust, and he did not accompany the triumphant new king back to England, but joined him after Bosworth. His attainder was reversed, and though he was implicated in Simnel’s rebellion in 1486 and imprisoned briefly, he spent the rest of his life in good standing, embarking on various military missions. He died in 1501, and his son Thomas succeeded him.


Jokinen, Anniina. “Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers.” Luminarium: Encyclopedia Project. 2009. Web. Accessed 2-25-10. .

Jokinen, Anniina. “Thomas Grey, 1st Marquis of Dorset.” Luminarium: Encyclopedia Project. 2009. Web. Accessed 2-25-10. <>.

Kendall, Paul Murray. Richard the Third. NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 1956. Print.

Wagner, John A. Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc. 2001. Print.

Elizabeth Woodville: Beauty Queen

The lovely Elizabeth Woodville was the daughter of Richard Woodville, Earl of Rivers, epitome of chivalrous knight, and Jacquetta de Luxembourg, Duchess of Bedford. Elizabeth’s secret marriage to Edward IV was not the only scandal she was involved in; her birth was shrouded in secrecy due to Jacquetta’s marriage to her first husband’s favorite, and when discovered Richard was thrown in prison only to be saved by Henry based on Jacquetta’s position as a sort of honorary Queen Mother at court. From a young age Elizabeth was a prominent lady of Queen Margaret’s maids of honor, and she attracted many suitors. She married John Gray, a very wealthy heir and military commander under Queen Margaret, and she became one of the lady’s of the Queen’s bedchamber and a mother of two sons, Thomas and Richard. But when John died in 1460, things looked bleak: her two sons would be deprived of their inheritance and Elizabeth was grief-stricken for two long years.

Marriage to Edward IV.

And then she met Edward. The story goes that Elizabeth heard he was in the neighborhood near her castle at Grafton, so she waited for him beneath a tree now known in Northamptonshire as “the queen’s oak,” with her two sons. When he arrived she begged him to restore their lands and he was love-struck. Of course, Edward, the playboy that he was, did not actually want to marry Elizabeth and she did not want to settle for anything less. Playing hard to get, however, only increased Edward’s fervor and he eventually offered her his hand and they were married May 1, 1464, to the great annoyance of his mother, the Duchess of York. She gave birth to her daughter, Elizabeth, five months later at Westminster palace, helping to ease the tension between the child’s grandmothers (Edward’s mother was probably doubly annoyed when the daughter was christened to flatter his wife and not his mother). She was immediately unpopular at court, being the first royal marriage to an Englishwoman in more than two centuries and bringing with her a whole flock of relatives eager for promotions. It was her secret marriage to Edward and coronation a year later that finally pushed Warwick overboard. Edward not only ruined his plans for a marriage alliance with Bona, the princess of France, but he was also personally insulted when Edward did not go after his own eldest daughter, Isabel. Isabel was instead given to George, Duke of Clarence, and Warwick made war.

During the coming insurrection, Edward was captured by Warwick, who tried to convince Edward that his wife’s power over him was actually the result of her mother’s use of witchcraft, which would not be the first time the men of this history have used that line. Edward somehow found his way out of this scrape and returned to a welcoming London, stowing his wife and babes away in the Tower for their own safety while he fled the danger of Warwick’s return from abroad. Of course, this is where the old king, Henry VI, was also being held. Who could blame Elizabeth from making her way up the Thames to Sanctuary at Westminster instead? It was here that she had her first son, Edward V. After briefly and joyfully meeting with her husband, she returned to the Tower while Edward fought the battles at Barnet and Tewkesbury, calling on her brother Anthony to save her during an attack.

Elizabeth's three daughters, including Elizabeth of York.

The Queen not only had her hand in the promotion of her family and friends, whom received many rewards and attentions from Edward, but also did a little match making. In 1477, she walked her almost five-year-old son Richard, Duke of York, down the aisle to meet his three-year-old bride, Anne Mowbray.

The skull of Anne Mowbray.

But the Queen also knew how to exact revenge. She certainly did not try to dissuade Edward from punishing Clarence, under whose name her brother and father had been murdered in 1469, for treason. Shortly after his death, she was celebrating an extravagant festival of the Garter along with Elizabeth’s recent engagement with the dauphin of France, although it was broken by Louis XI shortly after, infuriating the Queen and her husband. Elizabeth also had to put up with the fact that Edward enjoyed his mistresses, especially the clever, lively Jane Shore. Just before Edward’s death, he attempted to resolve the conflict between Lords Stanley and Hastings and the Woodvilles, to little avail. Elizabeth was given very little attention in Edward’s will, which probably has to do with why Shakespeare’s widowed Queen is so worried about her position. And to make matters worse, the one ally she thought she might be able to count on, Edward’s steadfastly loyal but frequently absent brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, proved just the opposite.

Although Richard had sent Elizabeth some very gentle, thoughtful letters of condolences, he then preceded to kidnap her heir and arrest her brother Anthony, Earl of Rivers, and son, Lord Richard Gray. In a somewhat bizarre moment of carelessness, Elizabeth agreed to let Richard, Duke of York, join his brother Edward, probably contented some with the fact that coronation ceremony preparations for Edward V continued as usual. The princes were never seen again. Shortly thereafter, Earl Rivers and Richard Gray were also beheaded by Ratcliffe.

One can image the queasy stomach Elizabeth might have had watching the coronation ceremony of Richard III with her daughters. According to Sir Thomas More, Elizabeth fell apart when she heard the news of her sons’ deaths while in the care of lieutenant Sir Robert Brackenbury. When the new Queen Anne fell ill after her son Edward’s sudden death, her physician, Dr. Lewis, who was then the physician of another important mother, Margaret Beaufort, recommended the alliance of her eldest daughter, Elizabeth, with his other patient’s son, Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond. Elizabeth was overjoyed, although she considered backing out after the failure of Buckingham’s Rebellion. Her patience paid off and in 1586 after the Battle of Bosworth she witnessed the marriage of Henry VII to her daughter and was once again raised from her despair. She received land and wealth to help compensate for her cheated position as Queen Dowager due to the fact that the Duchess of York had seized most of Edward’s properties. She died more or less impoverished in 1492 and was quietly buried in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor.


Jokinen, Anniina. “Wars of the Roses: Elizabeth Woodville.” Luminarium: Encyclopedia Project. 2009. Web. Accessed 2-25-10. <>.

Wagner, John A. Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc. 2001. Print.

Production History of Richard III

While Richard III was one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays during his lifetime, Richard played by the famous Richard Burbage, its success has by no means stopped there. The play was performed once more in 1633 before the closing of the theatres in 1642, and then revived in 1700 with Colley Cibber’s shortened adaptation that embedded text from the Henry VI plays into the script. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, these condensed versions of the play remained popular and Richard III propelled many great English actors through their successful careers. David Garrick played Richard III almost continually from 1747 till 1776, and later Edmund Kean, the great, drunk, womanizing celebrity actor in London during the mid-19th century. In America, it was Edwin Forrest who used Richard III to achieve unprecedented fame on the American stage, playing into the typical portrayal of Richard as an “irredeemable monster, a dire warning against political tyranny” (Cliff 16-17). Although William Macready tried to popularize the full text once again in 1821, it was not until the 1870s that audiences were interested in a full-length Richard III.

David Garrick as Richard III.

The twentieth-century took the play from its popular shortened, highly theatrical and melodramatic form into more dynamic, diverse interpretations and ambitious stagings. In 1920, Leopold Jessner directed a version of the play in Berlin that reflected the “time of social and political upheaval in Europe” that inspired later productions to follow this more contemporary, political interpretation of the play (Besnault 123). Donald Wolfit, for example, directed a 1942 version of the play in which a Hitler-like Richard III reminded audiences all too well of the recent horrors of Nazi Germany. It is said that the audience even had to run for shelter because of a bomb alert that sounded during a production. Laurence Olivier played a “supremely cunning and devilish” Richard who also reflected the “cold-blooded ruthlessness” that viewers would have identified with the current war times (Besnault 123).

The 1950s saw a return to staging Shakespeare’s history plays with their “original practices” and it wasn’t until Terry Hands’ production in 1970 that the text was more fully experimented with. In 1984, Bill Alexander directed Richard III with the Royal Shakespeare Company in which Anthony Sherr played a spider-like Richard with a “crippling disease” who used a pair of crutches to move across the space while hopping and crawling (Besnault 123). In addition to Olivier’s own expressionist-inspired film version, the 1995 Richard Loncraine Richard III starring Ian McKellan offers yet another uncannily modern production that calls on images of 30s fascism and American gangsters to present a totalitarian Richard.

More recently in 2009, the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre staged its own “timeless” version of the play that looked at the play through more of a psychoanalytical lens then a political one. Although director Barbara Gaines saw the women as the “soul” of the play, she still placed them as powerless, fragile creatures in a violent world, while Richard was a man “attempting to deny his own humanity” and repress his instincts and feelings (Interview). The Garage Theatre in Long Beach, California invited audiences to “trip out on Richard as he slimes his way to the top” in its 2009 production (Garage Theatre Website). This performance, directed by Amy-Louise Sebelious, envisioned Richard as the DJ of a hot club called “The Tower,” updating the script with texting, drugs, and cross-dressing. At BAM, Kuwait’s Sabab/Sulayman Al-Bassam Theatre performed Richard III: An Arab Tragedy in which Richard’s rise to power was adapted for our own tumultuous, oil-obsessed times. The religious conflicts, nationalism, ritual, propaganda, and foreign affairs of the original text took on new meaning in this Arabic-language, contemporary version of the play commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company. The Royal Shakespeare Company's recent production of Richard III was set in “an alternative 19th century” England in which the Victorian prim-and-proper society becomes a glossy cover for the sordid, violent politics beneath. This production, in which director Sean Holmes strived to emphasize the theatricality of Richard’s character and his world, explored the movement in the plot from realism to expressionism while finding subtle connections to England’s current political structure and climate. These contemporary productions reveal how Richard III has lost no relevance or popular appeal since Richard Burbage was on the Elizabethan stage and continues to provide dramatists and audiences alike with haunting reflections of our own times.

Check out the YouTube video of Richard’s opening monologue on the BAM website, or read more about the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company productions.

Read more about the original production here.


Besnault, Marie-Hélène and Michel Bitot. “Historical legacy and fiction: the poetical reinvention of King Richard III.” The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare’s Histories. Ed. Michael Hattaway. Cambridge University Press. 2002. Print.

Cliff, Nigel. The Shakespeare Riots: Revenge, Drama and Death in Nineteenth-Century America. NY: Random House. 2007. Print.

Halperin, Marylin. “The Undertow of Richard III, Backstage, Director Interview.” Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. 2008. Web. Accessed 9-15-10. <,19,3,19,4,12>.

“Richard III.” Royal Shakespeare Company, n.d. Web. Accessed 9-15-10. <>.

“Richard III: An Arab Tragedy.” BAM. n.d. Web. Accessed 9-15-10. <>.

Scarborough, James. “Richard III, The Garage Theatre, by James Scarborough.” What the Butler Saw. Sept. 26, 2009. Web. Accessed 9-15-10. <>.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

About the Playwright: William Shakespeare

Personal Life and the Lost Years

William Shakespeare was born around St. George’s Day, April 23, 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, England, which is about one-hundred miles northwest of London. His father was John Shakespeare, a glover, illegal wool dealer and local official, and his mother was Mary Arden. He was the third of eight siblings and the first son. He attended a local grammar school, The King’s New School, where he learned English and Latin, studying Aesop’s fables, Ovid and Virgil. In his early years he would have also been exposed to the Geneva Bible, The Book of Common Prayer, Foxe’s Acts and Monuments, and other Protestant works. He married Anne Hathaway, eight years his elder, in 1482 and became a father in 1583. Their children included the eldest daughter Susana, Hamnet and Judith.

An early drawing of Shakespeare's home.

After 1585, Shakespeare does not appear in any records until 1592, known as the “lost years.” Some believe that he fled Stratford after a poaching incident while others believe that he was studying abroad, practicing law, or teaching school. While equally mysterious is how exactly Shakespeare ended up in London, it is possibly that he joined a theatre troupe that traveled through Stratford and the rest is history.

While Shakespeare was in London, his family remained in Stratford. He probably traveled home on occasion, about four days walking or two days ride. It was in 1596 that his son Hamnet died, and Shakespeare also composed the melancholy lines in King John, “Grief fills the room up of my absent child…” (Gray).

Shakespeare and the Theatre

In London, the “upstart crow” Shakespeare became a very successful, versatile playwright. In March 1592, for example, his Henry VI plays are recorded to have played five times in rotation with thirteen other plays, making Shakespeare’s plays the most performed compared to Kyd, Marlowe or anyone else. At first, Shakespeare was a kind of “freelance dramatist” and worked for The Queen’s Men, Lord Strange’s Men, and Pembroke’s Men, who performed frequently at court (Gray). Despite being hit hard by the closure of the theatres during an outbreak of the Plague in 1593 that killed roughly 11,000 of London’s 200,000 inhabitants, Shakespeare stayed afloat writing verse for patrons like Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, who became a long-term supporter. Shakespeare’s sonnets were most likely composed sometime during this “Southampton period,” between 1592 and 1595, earning him enough money to survive until the theatres reopened and become a sharer in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, organized by the Queen’s Chamberlain, Lord Hudson (Gray). It was with this troupe that Shakespeare worked with Richard Burbage, the great actor, his father James Burbage, and actor William Kempe. They performed publicly at the Theatre, the Swan and the Curtain.

Between 1594 and 1599, Lord Chamberlain’s Men became the most popular theatre troupe in London and Shakespeare’s writing was profuse. In 1597, when the lease ran out on Burbage’s Theatre, the family eventually decided to tear it down and use the timber to build the Globe on the Bankside across the Thames and could accommodate as many as 3,000 audience members beneath its open-air, thatched roof and among its three balconies. Shakespeare was one of the new theatre’s co-owners and made somewhere between £200 and £250 every year. Shakespeare was now able to help his father receive a coat of arms, and he even bought a mansion by Elizabethan standards in Stratford. The next years of explosive creativity and writing were probably connected to the rapid changes going on in society around him. Not only had the Essex Rebellion crumbled in 1601, ending in the execution of Southampton, but in 1603 England suddenly had a new monarch, James VI of Scotland, and Shakespeare was now a member of the King’s Men, the most popular company to perform at court. Shakespeare’s tragedies become increasingly popular, and it is speculated that Shakespeare himself was in a dark place while composing these “higher art forms.” In 1608, the King’s Men began performing at the more expensive, indoor theatre, Blackfriars, and Shakespeare focused on his romances that were in the spirit of the masques that became very popular at court. The Globe burnt down in 1613, but a second Globe was built on top of it, only this time with a tile roof.

In his final years, Shakespeare returned to Stratford to work on three more collaborative plays after The Tempest. It seems he spent his time with his two, now married, daughters, until his death at April 23, 1616.

Folios and Quartos

Shakespeare’s plays first appear in print in 1594 with Titus Andronicus in the form of quartos. These were very small, very inexpensive pamphlets that could be readily made and sold. The quartos remain the only source for Shakespeare’s writings, since he left no manuscripts, and they are often contradictory, reflecting drafts of plays or versions written by the actors from memory (British Library).

In 1623, the First Folio appeared thanks to two of Shakespeare’s colleagues, Heminges and Condell, entitled Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories & Tragedies. The folio included 36 plays, 18 of which had never been published. The collection was probably inspired by the recent folio of Ben Jonson, Workes, who even included a commemorative poem to the Bard.

Catholic Shakespeare

One of the most highly debated aspects of Shakespeare’s biography is his religion. While historians do not have concrete proof that Shakespeare was a Catholic, many pieces of evidence suggest that he was despite the era of Catholic persecution in which he lived and wrote:

1. The Arden Family was a wealthy, powerful, and staunchly Catholic family located in Warwickshire. Mary Arden, Shakespeare’s mother, was a not-so-distant relative of Edward Arden, the head of the family, who actively supported Jesuit rebels, such as Edmund Campion and Robert Southwell. Arden was hung, drawn and quartered for his religion and alleged involvement in treasonous plots in 1583 after his son-in-law, John Somerville, was arrested for claiming the Queen to be a heretic and calling for her death. Shakespeare and his mother would have certainly been affected by this incident, if they were not present at the executions.

2. Coventry, known for its medieval Catholic Mystery plays, was just a day’s ride from Stratford, where Shakespeare would have surely first have been exposed to the theatre.

3. John Shakespeare, William’s father, was certainly raised Catholic, although as a Bailiff and later Chief Alderman of Stratford, he publicly identified as a Protestant during his career. However, it is suggested by historians that John Shakespeare’s financial troubles and retreat from public affaires later in life was due to his difficulty functioning in an increasingly Protestant political climate. Most incriminating of all, in 1757, a testament of faith was found in Shakespeare’s birth home signed by John Shakespeare, and his name is later found on a list of Catholic sympathizers who refused Protestant communion by claiming to be in too much debt.

4. Shakespeare was possibly educated by known Catholics both at grammar school and in his “lost years” it has been speculated that Shakespeare studied abroad in Rome, attended a Catholic college or became a schoolmaster for a prominent Catholic family in Lancashire.

5. As a dramatist and poet, two of Shakespeare’s patrons, Lord Strange and Earl of Southampton, were from very Catholic families.

6. There is also documentation to suggest that Shakespeare purchased the gatehouse at Blackfriars, London where Catholics secretly met, making a very personal contribution to the survival of Catholicism.

Click here for an additional Shakespeare timeline including his life, plays and historical context.


The British Library. “Basic facts about William Shakespeare, his, life, his plays and the quartos.” William Shakespeare in quarto. Web. Accessed 2-22-10. <>.

“Edward Arden,” “John Shakespeare,” “John Somerville.” In Search of Shakespeare. PBS. 2003 Web. Accessed 2-22-10. <>.

Gray, Terry. “A Shakespeare Timeline.” 1998. Web. Accessed 2-22-10. <>.

Hammerschmidt-Hummel, Hildegard. "The most important subject that can possibly be": A Reply to E. A. J. Honigmann." Connotations. 12.2-3, 2003. Web. Accessed 2-22-10. <>.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Lancaster and York Family Tree

The family trees for the House of Lancaster and the House of York during the 15th century are incredible complex, which makes it difficult to find a clear, concise chart of who all these characters are and how they are related. Matt Grey built two really good trees for York and Lancaster that are posted under "photos" on the Ning for the Wars of the Roses, if you have access it to. Also, here is one that I like:

How Women Function in "Richard III"

In her book Women’s Matters: Politics, Gender and Nation in Shakespeare’s Early History Plays, Nina S. Levine describes how Richard’s simultaneous dependence on and hatred of women that results in his “warring with women” throughout the play was ultimately reflective of the crisis of succession and a female monarch experienced by Shakespeare’s Elizabethan audience (99). Levine argues that while Richard makes a claim for the women as unnatural, sexually perverse enemies, an Elizabethan audience would have seen their lamentation and cursing as “an acceptable model for female heroism” that allows the female characters “a place in politics [beyond] Richard’s misogynistic construction of women as either aggressors or victims” (102). Rather than portraying Margaret as a passive victim, she is aligned with Richard as a foil character, equally implicated in the play’s bloody conflict while actively reasserting her last “vestiges of power” in the form of elaborate curses (102). Anne on the other hand embodies the contradictory role of women within a patriarchal lineage system, in which she becomes trapped within Richard’s manipulation of “courtly discourse” to confirm both his power over her and his dependence on her. Finally, Levine illustrates how Elizabeth functions as a positive symbol of maternal heroism and aggression, battling for her children rather than herself (107-8). However, the women also represent a maternal source of destruction that mirrors contemporary concerns with “the female Tudor body politic” and Richard’s own misogynistic discourse on the subversion of masculine power and proper sexuality (110). Levine suggests that the women “turn their grief into vengeance” in an attempt to “[right] the monstrosity they have engendered” in Richard, or as an Elizabethan audience would have seen, in the Queen’s England (115). Ultimately, the play “interrogates the differences between the patriarchal myth of Tudor origins and the political realities of the 1590s” by underscoring Shakespeare’s ending that “[restores] patriarchal authority…and [returns] women to their place, off the political stage” as fictional and unrelated to the reality of England’s reliance on “women’s roles…in ensuring the succession…and the nation’s welfare” (120, 122).

Not only does this essay provide the role of women in the play with historical relevance, suggesting what they might have meant to Shakespeare’s audience, but it also demonstrates how Shakespeare’s use of Tudor propaganda might be used to critically examine patriarchy and its cultural myths. According to this essay, the women of Richard III are actively engaged in politics in a way that undermines traditional gender roles and empowers them, even when they are potentially implicated in the destruction and chaos of the play. This essay establishes the world of the play as destabilized in a way that empowers its female characters, providing them a crucial place in the political sphere even within a system that attempts to exclude them. Levine’s essay also allows a modern production to situate the play within the frameworks of post-modernism, cyborg feminist theory, and the current political scene that has just experienced a comparable overturning of traditional white, Western, patriarchal notions of who is fit to rule a country.


Levine, Nina S. Women’s Matters: Politics, Gender and Nation in Shakespeare’s Early History Plays. Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press. 1998.