History geek alert!

(sorry, this post is a bit late now – I was trying to proof it, and instead… I just kind of didn’t post it!)

I am totally geeking out over the discovery of King Richard’s skeleton! I hardly knew anything about Richard III except a few bits and pieces from the Ian McKellan movie and the classic line “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” and then I started reading Philippa Gregory’s books and made the connections between him and the Princes in the Tower and the story of Henry Tudor picking up his crown from the muddy field at Bosworth. Most recently I read The Kingmaker’s Daughter and enjoyed the perspective on Richard from his wife Anne Neville – obviously fictionalized, but it was nice to get an idea of the character of the man from a sympathetic point of view.

So anyway, I’m a total geek. A history geek. And a Philippa Gregory geek. And I guess a historical fiction geek, even though I haven’t read all that much of it. It’s really the best way to learn history – to live for a few days inside another world and time, and live their stories from their own perspectives. PG always focuses on female characters – women who have been almost forgotten by history, but who were in the thick of things at the most crucial times, when crowns changed hands and plots were hatched. Wonderful stuff! For all the people who think that history is dull, learning names and dates for multiple choice tests, it’s not the history that’s dull, it’s your teachers and school system that are.

I am so glad that I had to write long essays answering big thematic questions in my exams. Sure, you need to know names and dates, but you’re telling stories – explaining how Hitler capitalized on the mood of a defeated Germany and used the humiliating terms of the Treaty of Versailles to feed his nationalism which led to WWII (roughly). See, I remember a least the gist of the Origins of WWII class I was in sometimes around 1990 because it was a story, and also because it helped make sense of why the Marshall Plan after WWII focused on building defeated nations back up – sometimes we do learn from history’s mistakes. If you read/watch enough stories about a period in history it’s amazing how rich it becomes and how much more sense things make – both what happened then and what’s going in the world now…

Anyway, I have a few friends at work who are just as much, if not more, geeky about history. My favorite monarchy geek pointed out that Richard died long before the Reformation and was therefore a Catholic – there was no Church of England. So she is waiting to see what the Pope has to say about the reburial plans and how the services and ceremonies are handled. It’s not often you bury a 500 year dead King of England!

Just think, a medieval King, the last Plantagenet King of England, the last King to lose his crown in battle… the turn of history, where the Cousin’s War (War of the Roses) finally ended and gave way to the great Tudor era… yeah, I’m a history geek! I’m already trying to figure out what image to use for my PL card to mark this amazing discovery… Oh my gosh – I haven’t even talked about the scoliosis, the complete lack of any sign that Richard was deformed or disfigured or shriveled in any way as Shakespeare would have us think of him. Never forget that history is written and rewritten by the victors and the Tudor’s were the victors over Richard, and Shakespeare was writing for the Tudors.

I just started reading a non fiction book by Philippa Gregory “The Women of the Cousins’ War: The Duchess, the Queen and the King’s Mother” – a collection of short histories of Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort. I’m still reading her introduction about fiction, history and historical fiction. It’s quite interesting to consider that histories are all stories, in the sense that no history can include every detail and historians are always picking and choosing details to support a narrative and their conclusions. Novelists have to keep us immersed in their narrative – there’s no room for “maybes” and “nobody knows”. But in both cases there is always speculation. The thing that the novelist does is show us the (possible) motivations that lead to the actions and events that the historians tell us about. And that’s what I find so interesting.


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