Friday, 16 February 2018

Life in the time of… Richard, Duke of Gloucester and Lord John Elder by Derek Birks #History #Medieval #RichardIII @Feud_writer

Life in the time of… Richard, Duke of Gloucester and Lord John Elder.
By Derek Birks

1483  was a year of crisis – possibly one of the most hotly debated crises in history and certainly in late medieval English history.

Why? Because it involved the overthrow and probable death of a boy king, Edward V, and at the same time it propelled onto the pages of history Richard, Duke of Gloucester and later Richard III - a man that everyone seems either to love or loathe!

What makes it so fascinating is the speed with which apparently stable government descended into chaos.

At Easter 1483 all was well in the kingdom of England. The king, Edward IV, was in his forties and had two male heirs to succeed him. In the north he had the support of his trusted brother, Richard Duke of Gloucester, in whom he had vested great power and influence. Elsewhere, several other loyal magnates kept the kingdom at peace: Thomas Stanley in the north-west, the Howards in East Anglia, Lord William Hastings in the Midlands and Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers in the West. Rivers, the queen’s brother, also acted as the governor of Edward, Prince of Wales at Ludlow.

As I said, all was well - until, after a sudden short illness, King Edward IV died.

With amazing rapidity, chaos ensued as jealousies kept under control by the late king now reared up and threatened to tear the governing classes apart.

Lord Hastings, fearful that the queen’s relatives would wield more power under the new king, 12 year old Edward V, wrote in panic to Richard of Gloucester urging him to come south with all speed. Meanwhile the King’s Council attempted to make plans for Edward’s coronation amid an atmosphere of rumour and suspicion.
Then on 29th April 1483, seemingly out of the blue, there was a coup.

Earl Rivers, escorting the young king to London, had arranged to meet the Dukes of Gloucester and Buckingham at Northampton, where we are told they enjoyed a convivial evening. The following morning, however, Rivers and several other officers of the crown, were arrested by Gloucester and Buckingham.

This single act changed the political landscape radically.

So much has been written about the sequence of events that followed the arrest that I shall not attempt to add to it here. The issue which has captured people’s imagination most – almost from 1483 onwards to the present day - is the question of what happened to Edward V and his younger brother – the so-called ‘princes in the tower’.
Everyone has a view on this from the ‘man – or woman - on the street’ to the most eminent historians we have.

Spoiler alert! We don’t know the answer and since the evidence to support any explanation is almost non-existent, folk have resorted to other means. 
The best we can do is try to consider what could have happened and historical fiction is as good a way as any to see how the events of 1483 might have played out.

My new novel, The Blood of Princes, is woven tightly around the historical events of 1483 and some of the actual people closely involved in the events. My story is about the survival of the Elders – a middling baronial family (fictional) - but it is closely entwined with the fate of the princes and Richard, Duke of Gloucester.

The Blood of Princes is the second in a series called The Craft of Kings. It tells the story of how the Elder family, notably the hero, Lord John Elder, become embroiled in the events of 1483.

So who is John Elder and where does he fit into the crisis of 1483?

John is a minor lord who owns ten manors in various parts of the country – typical perhaps of those men of moderate substance who provided the backbone of any medieval local government. He and other members of his family have strong connections with the previous king, Edward IV. [For which, see my Rebels & Brothers series]

In my story, John is assigned to protect young Edward V – having had some dealings with him when he was Prince of Wales in the previous book, Scars from the Past.
Since he is with Earl Rivers at the point of his arrest, our protagonist is at the centre of the whole story from the start.

John is a taciturn sort of chap, recently married and still not entirely sure how to live with his father’s rather daunting legend. Thus he brings his own character flaws and anxieties to a situation that has more than enough already.

Through the eyes of John, his relatives and household men and women, we witness the interaction of the real people of the royal court. We feel the tension begin to rise; we wince at the betrayals, and experience the fears and doubts of those in London at a time of very great uncertainty.

And what of those without power, wealth or influence?

I always like to include a raft of characters who inhabit the darker recesses of late medieval society at its lower levels. In this book the focus is on London, so we have an array of town-dwelling common folk: humble archers and men at arms, serving girls and whores. These people also had a part to play in events though they existed in a sort of parallel universe.

Their struggle for survival had more to do with scratching out a living in a brutal world of filth, poverty and crime than worrying about who would be the next king. Most knew their place and their place was at the bottom of the heap. Yet in every important event these people are there; they are involved – required even - if political actions are to have any substance or meaning.

While I have sought to provide an outcome as far as the princes are concerned and have tried to give some context and explanation for the motives of several key political players, this is a work of fiction, not history.

As someone who has studied exhaustively and taught the events of this period over decades, I think I can reasonably claim to know a little about it. Do I believe this is how it might have happened in 1483? Aside from the fictional elements of my story, yes, I do, but I do not claim to be ‘right’ – because no-one can!

Derek Birks
Derek was born in Hampshire in England but spent his teenage years in Auckland, New Zealand, where he still has strong family ties. On his return to England, after eight years abroad, he read history at Reading University.
As long as he can remember, Derek has loved books and he always wanted to write. By the age of 17, he was writing stories, songs, poetry – in fact virtually anything. Inevitably, after university, work and family life took precedence and for many years he taught history in a secondary school. Though he enjoyed teaching immensely, he also found a creative outlet in theatrical activities: stage-managing musicals and outdoor Shakespeare, including a performance of Henry VIII for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 at Windsor Castle.
In 2010 Derek took early retirement to concentrate on writing. He aims to write action-packed fiction, rooted in accurate history. Though he is interested in everything historical, his particular favourite is the late medieval period. So far he has completed one 4-book series, entitled Rebels and Brothers, which is set during the Wars of the Roses and he has now embarked on another Wars of the Roses series: The Craft of Kings. The series begins with Scars from the Past. 
‘As with all good historical fiction, the reader learns fascinating period detail while being entertained by an experienced author who knows his trade.’  Historical Novel Society review of Scars from the Past

Apart from his writing, he enjoys travelling – often to carry out research for his books - and also spends his time gardening, walking and taking part in archaeological digs.
You can find Derek...
Twitter  Website  Blog  Facebook Amazon author page 

The Blood of Princes

A savage tale of love, treason and betrayal.
A bloody struggle for power at the heart of the royal court.

In April 1483, the sudden death of King Edward IV brings his twelve year old son to the throne.
Restless young lord and ex-mercenary John Elder is newly-appointed to the service of Edward, Prince of Wales, and charged with the boy’s safety. His first task, escorting the new king to London for his coronation, seems a simple one but the accession of a boy king raises concerns among the leading noblemen of the land.
As old jealousies and feuds are rekindled, the new king’s uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, seizes control and plunges the kingdom into crisis. But is Gloucester young Edward’s enemy, or saviour?
While John, outlawed and trapped, must wait to see how events unfold, other members of the battle-scarred Elder family are drawn, one by one, into his conspiracy. Soon they are mired so deep in the murky underbelly of London society, that there seems no hope of escape from the tangle of intrigue and murder.
In the end, all lives will hang upon the outcome of a daring incursion into the Tower of London itself.


  1. This period of history continues to fascinate. So many theories as to what happened to the Princes in the Tower, I wonder if we will ever discover the truth.

  2. Probably not, Mary Anne, but many thanks for having me on your blog today!

  3. Gosh. This isintriguing. I love the idea of a fictional family. I absolutely want to read this but most likely such start with the first in the series. I have alist to read and absolutely these books are there.


See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx