I’m a history lover, from the womb as best I can tell.
I was trying to remember what first piece of historical fiction I read and having trouble, and if we leave out the fantasies like Cinderella (always set in the 18th century) and Jack and the Beanstalk (middle ages) I’m not sure, but that’s because it was probably when I was very young.
But that led me to thinking about history, which I remember from my childhood as being a series of wonderful stories. It’s probably chauvinism on my part, but to me no other country seems quite so dense with great stories as England.
We started with the stories in primary school, listening to them told, then writing our own short versions and illustrating them with some sort of drawing.
The first, of course, was Julius Cesar arriving, finding people painted blue with woad and saying, “I came, I saw, I conquered.”
Then there was St. Augustine (I think, does anyone know?) who saw blond haired, blue-eyed English children in a slave market in Rome and asked what people they were. When told they were Angles he said, “Not Angles but angels.”
King Alfred and the cakes – and the first English navy, finally able to defeat the Vikings.
The whole Norman Conquest, from Harold being driven by storm into Normandy where he was tricked into swearing an oath to support William for the crown when Edward the Confessor died. About his rejection of that; William delayed by storms (it’s no wonder the English talk about the weather a lot. It’s shaped our history); Harold having to march north to defeat another invader then return south at an amazing speed; about Hastings and Harold with an arrow in his eye.
An illustrated story, that – the Bayeaux Tapestry.
See a frame here.
You can see the whole taspestry at the above site. http://rubens.anu.edu.au/htdocs/bytype/textiles/bayeux/
Then we have red-haired William Rufus shot by someone in the New Forest; the treasury and crown captured by his brother Henry; then Henry’s only son, Henry, killed in a storm in the Channel (there we go again!) in the White Ship. Which led to civil war. (It’s not at all surprising that a number of subsequent monarchs were obsessed by the need for an incontestable male heir.)
Henry II and Thomas a Becket. Richard the Lionheart. Only the noble side of him for children — crusades and his minstrel Blondel. Bad Prince John losing his treasure in the Wash. (Weather again.) The Edwards – strong, weak, strong – defeating the Welsh and almost, the Scots. The Eleanor Crosses. The death of the Black Prince. How can you not love a storyline that has a Black Prince?
We took in Joan of Arc without much reference to the bad side of the English in that affair by right of her being a Catholic Saint. There’s another mine of fabulous stories!
Richard III, the princes in the Tower, “My horse, my horse, my kingdom for a horse!” (it helps to have a lot of the history retold by Shakespeare) the Wars of the Roses (Of particular interest in Lancashire where I grew up. There’s even a cricket match still between Lancashire and Yorkshire called the Roses. Living history, you see.) The bizarrely dramatic Tudor cycle — Henry VIII and his six wives, the Nine Days Queen, Mary Tudor with Calais engraved on her heart, Mary Queen of Scots seeing her secretary murdered before her eyes and, well, her whole story is hard to believe anyway! All crowned with Sir Francis Drake (bowling on Plymouth Ho,) Good Queen Bess (“I may have the body of a weak and feeble woman….”) and the Armada.
This was all colored by a Catholic education — the conscientiously stubborn St. Thomas More and the dashing, martyred Jesuit, St. Thomas Campion. But that goes way back, too. To St. Patrick arriving to covert the heathen.
The Civil War, with the Cavaliers so much more dashing and romantic than the Roundheads, and illustrated by Victorian pictured such as And When Did You Last See Your Father? (I can’t see a way to link directly to the item about the picture, but it’s down the bottom of this page.)
The Victorians, vile as they were (there are some wonderfully funny books on English history and one is The Vile Victorians. I think another is The Nasty Normas. You get the idea. Great to get kids interested in history because it’s all the stories again.) did have their use as romantic illustrators of England’s stories.
The future Charles II in the oak tree. The Restoration, the Glorious Revolution. William of Orange killed by a molehole when riding, hence Stuart toasts to the little gentleman in the black velvet coat. (I think I have that right, but not precisely. I’m blogging this off the top of my head.) The ’15 and the ’45 with Flora McDonald helping Bonnie Prince Charlie escape disguised as her maid….
There are few standard stories of romantic fiction that haven’t been true in history somewhere, sometime. After the ’15, one lady smuggled her condemned husband out of prison in women’s clothing.
Are you a lover of history’s stories? Which are your favorites? Share the best romantic, dramatic stories from your own heritage.