Your book, A King Under Siege, sounds fascinating. Can you share with me what the first idea was that made you decide to write this story? It might be very different from how the story ended up being, but I am curious, if you don’t mind sharing. And, if the story is very different, would you mind sharing the process by which you ended up with your current novel?
Shakespeare and A King Under Siege
Back in my college days, I watched the new BBC Shakespeare Production of Richard II with Derek Jacobi. I had never heard of Richard, but I watched this play with growing fascination and by the end, when he sat in prison bemoaning the fate of kings, I was smitten. You know, I carried him around with me for over forty years, intending to write his story someday.
At the time, I didn’t realize that Shakespeare only covered the last three years of Richard’s life in the play. I had no idea what I was in for: first the Peasants’ Revolt then the Lords Appellant (and the Merciless Parliament) putting Richard’s friends and advisors to death. His story was much more complicated than I ever imagined. And of course, it helped explain the events in Shakespeare’s play—especially the exile of Henry Bolingbroke, which was kind of “out of left field” to me. In fact, I would say that events during Richard’s reign deserved more than one play, but there’s a possibility that Shakespeare might have upset the queen if he had done so. He barely managed to stay out of jail as it was—especially after the Earl of Essex used his play to promote his ill-fated rebellion.
But I digress. Suffice it to say that Shakespeare’s play actually depicted events in my next book, THE KING’S RETRIBUTION. So I had to go back and start from the beginning. At first, I was going to gloss over the Peasants’ Revolt, but frankly I found it too interesting to ignore. Wat Tyler and John Ball were giant personalities, and their revolt shook medieval society to its core. And indeed, I think Richard’s actions revealed his courage under fire—a trait so important to kingship. Too bad he was only fourteen and under the thumb of his elders who were quick to downplay his accomplishments.
But it wasn’t until I unearthed the whole Lords Appellant episode that I understood how Richard’s personality got warped. He lost everyone who was important to him—except for his wife—and was humiliated to the point of almost losing his crown. No wonder he felt the need to wreak revenge. It’s a marvel he waited so long. I believe the untimely death of Queen Anne removed the most effective brake on his unwholesome tendencies.
So Shakespeare, who began his play with the famous scene where Bolingbroke and Mowbray accused each other of treason, showed us the beginning of the end. Their unfortunate quarrel gave Richard the opportunity to get rid of the last two Appellants who almost destroyed his kingship. He had already taken his revenge on the other three, the Duke of Gloucester (whose unavenged murder is referenced several times in the play without explanation), the Earl of Arundel (who was executed) and the Earl of Warwick (who was degraded and imprisoned). Exiling Bolingbroke and Mowbray gave Richard great satisfaction, and Gaunt’s death shortly thereafter clinched his triumph when he confiscated Bolingbroke’s inheritance.
I always wondered whether the Elizabethans knew the history behind Shakespeare’s plays (for instance, did they know Banquo in Macbeth was the ancestor of the Stewarts?). In Richard II’s case, the play works as it is very well, but a knowledge of its background makes it even more comprehensible. I watched the play often while writing this book (and afterwards), and each time I saw it I caught something new. Needless to say, the same qualifies for Henry IV, as I was soon to discover!
Thank you so much for sharing. I think Shakespeare has a lot to be blamed for. His tendency to play around with details of the past is as fascinating as the events he depicts. Good luck with the new book.
Here’s the blurb:
Richard II found himself under siege not once, but twice in his minority. Crowned king at age ten, he was only fourteen when the Peasants’ Revolt terrorized London. But he proved himself every bit the Plantagenet successor, facing Wat Tyler and the rebels when all seemed lost. Alas, his triumph was short-lived, and for the next ten years he struggled to assert himself against his uncles and increasingly hostile nobles. Just like in the days of his great-grandfather Edward II, vengeful magnates strove to separate him from his friends and advisors, and even threatened to depose him if he refused to do their bidding. The Lords Appellant, as they came to be known, purged the royal household with the help of the Merciless Parliament. They murdered his closest allies, leaving the King alone and defenseless. He would never forget his humiliation at the hands of his subjects. Richard’s inability to protect his adherents would haunt him for the rest of his life, and he vowed that next time, retribution would be his.
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Meet the Author
Mercedes Rochelle is an ardent lover of medieval history, and has channeled this interest into fiction writing. Her first four books cover eleventh-century Britain and events surrounding the Norman Conquest of England. The next series is called The Plantagenet Legacy about the struggles and abdication of Richard II, leading to the troubled reigns of the Lancastrian Kings. She also writes a blog: HistoricalBritainBlog.com to explore the history behind the story. Born in St. Louis, MO, she received by BA in Literature at the Univ. of Missouri St.Louis in 1979 then moved to New York in 1982 while in her mid-20s to “see the world”. The search hasn’t ended! Today she lives in Sergeantsville, NJ with her husband in a log home they had built themselves.
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