The Order of the White Boar
By Alex Marchant
If every book catches fire from a single inspirational spark, there can be no doubt what set alight the first flames of The Order of the White Boar. Perhaps you remember it too. It was a moment that gripped many people all around the world. A moment I never thought I’d witness – when ‘King Richard III’ trended on Twitter.
The time: the morning of Tuesday 4 February 2013. The location: the ancient Guild Hall in Leicester, a small city in the English Midlands. The scene: a press conference called by the local university jointly with a team of individuals who had a few years before embarked on what seemed to many an impossible quest: the Looking for Richard Project (LFRP).
The previous summer an archaeological dig had begun in a council car park in Leicester, which was believed to overlie the medieval priory of the Grey Friars. This was the place where it was recorded that King Richard III, the last of the Plantagenet dynasty, had been buried following his death in battle in 1485: the date usually taken as the end of the medieval period and the beginning of the early modern period in Britain.
On the very first day, following the instructions of the client for the dig, Philippa Langley of the LFRP, a grave was discovered. But it was covered over again as the archaeologists didn’t believe it could be the one they were searching for. It was only a couple of weeks later that it was finally excavated – and found to be that of a young man who appeared to have died from battle wounds. The bones, in a very good state of preservation, were sent for analysis, including of their DNA, to see whether it matched with DNA donated by the only known surviving female-line descendants of King Richard’s sister.
And five months later that famous press conference was called, and beamed around the world, to announce finally that, ‘beyond reasonable doubt’, the grave was indeed that of Richard III.
I was watching, entranced, holding my breath until those final words, at which point the journalists who were present erupted into applause. I, along with very many others, found myself with tears welling. Since my teenage years, I have been a Ricardian – one who believes a great injustice has been done to Richard Plantagenet in the centuries since his death, during which he has been branded a child-murdering, usurping tyrant.
The records of the time, both official and unofficial, don’t depict him as that. A bishop observing him during his coronation progress round the country wrote in a private letter, ‘He contents the people where he goes best that ever did prince . . . On my troth I liked never the condition of any prince so well as his’, and in the weeks after his death the city of York spoke of him as ‘the most famous prince of blessed memory’. But in the decades after he was defeated and slain at the Battle of Bosworth, and his throne usurped by the victor of that battle, Henry Tudor, an ‘official history’ evolved – based on rumour, hearsay, manipulation of records, and outright lies and propaganda – which culminated in the marvellous fiction that is Shakespeare’s play The Tragedy of Richard III. ‘Tragedy’, note, not ‘History’, though it is usually lumped in with what have been dubbed the playwright’s ‘history plays’. These cover the end of the Hundred Years War and the length of the so-called Wars of the Roses . . . and were written in the reign of, and to flatter, the then incumbent of the English throne – Henry Tudor’s granddaughter, Elizabeth I. It would not perhaps have been very polite – or politic – for Shakespeare to point out that her grandfather himself had in fact been the usurper.
|King Richard III and his son, Edward, Prince of Wales, at Middleham Church|
Part of the myth surrounding King Richard was that his grave had been broken open during the Reformation and the Dissolution of the monasteries, and the remains of his body dumped unceremoniously in the local river. But, as with so much else to do with Richard, the history didn’t support that, and meticulous research by the Looking for Richard Project had pinpointed exactly where the grave still lay.
As a Ricardian I knew this announcement, which had so caught the public’s imagination, was a unique chance to counter the ‘traditional’ history and communicate to people the story of the real Richard III. But how to do it? I’m not a campaigner, one who writes persuasive letters to influential people, or can stand up and proclaim the truth to a crowd. But I was already author of two (unpublished) novels for children. Were there any books out there already telling the real tale for children – before they were exposed to the dark Tudor-created legend?
To my surprise, there weren’t – and so my first published novel was born.
The Order of the White Boar relates the story of Richard Plantagenet, then Duke of Gloucester, through the eyes of a young page, Matthew Wansford, who enters his service at Middleham Castle in Yorkshire in the summer of 1482. The sequel, The King’s Man (due to be published in May this year), takes Richard’s and Matthew’s story on through the Year of the Three Kings of 1483 to the Battle of Bosworth – and beyond. Together the two books cover the final three years in this most controversial young king’s life.
|Middleham Castle, Wensleydale|
And they were born out of rage at the lies that have been told about him over the years. As I hesitated over whether and how to write such a book, a very angry old man came hammering at my door, insisting I tell his story, and through it King Richard’s. That old man was Matthew, fifty years on, having grown up watching the evolution of the ‘official’ Tudor history. The first words I wrote of the book were straight from his mouth. ‘Lies! All lies!’ was how the original prologue began.
That prologue didn’t make the final cut of either The Order of the White Boar or The King’s Man, as it didn’t seem appropriate for the children’s book that it spawned, but its raw anger remained with me throughout the writing of the whole story. And as I start preparatory work on the third book of the sequence, continuing Matthew and his friends’ stories after Richard’s death – in the ‘twilight between the golden sun of Yorkist rule and the dark unknown of the Tudor future’ – that anger still simmers. Or maybe, to return to the imagery with which I began, the first tongues of flame that flickered into life at that February press conference haven’t died away, but are rather being fanned into a conflagration – or perhaps into a rain of fire aimed at the last bastions of Tudor propaganda.
Born and raised in the rolling Surrey downs, and following stints as an archaeologist and in publishing in London and Gloucester, Alex now lives surrounded by moors in King Richard III’s northern heartland, working as a freelance copyeditor, proofreader and, more recently, independent author of books for children aged 10+.
The Order of the White Boar
How well do you know the story of King Richard III? Not as well as Matthew Wansford.
Twelve-year-old Matthew Wansford has always longed to be a knight. And his chance comes in the golden summer of 1482 when he arrives at Middleham Castle, to serve the King’s brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester.
Soon he encounters a dangerous enemy. Hugh, a fellow page, is a better swordsman, horseman, more skilled in all the knightly arts – and the son of an executed traitor. Now he aims to make Matt's life hell.
Yet Matt also finds the most steadfast of friends – Alys, Roger and Edward, the Duke’s only son. Together they forge a secret knightly fellowship, the Order of the White Boar, and swear an oath of lifelong loyalty – to each other and to their good lord, Duke Richard.
But these are not times to play at war. Soon Matt and his friends will be plunged into the deadly games of the Wars of the Roses. Will their loyalty be tested as the storm looms on the horizon?
The King’s Man
How well do you know the story of the real King Richard III?
It's April 1483, and the death of his brother King Edward IV has turned the life of Richard, Duke of Gloucester upside down, and with it that of his 13-year-old page Matthew Wansford.
Banished from Middleham Castle and his friends, Matt must make a new life for himself alone in London. But danger and intrigue lie in wait on the road as he rides south with Duke Richard to meet the new boy king, Edward V – and new challenges and old enemies confront them in the city.
As the Year of the Three Kings unfolds – and plots, rebellions, rumours, death and battles come fast one upon the other – Matt must decide where his loyalties lie.
What will the future bring for him, his friends and his much-loved master? And can Matt and the Order of the White Boar heed their King’s call on the day of his greatest need?
The King’s Man, the eagerly awaited sequel to The Order of the White Boar, continues the story of Richard Plantagenet for readers aged 10 to 110.