WINNERS OF SUNNE BOOK DRAWING
I would like to thank all of you who entered the drawing and posted such lovely comments about Sunne. That meant so much to me; I never imagined that Sunne would resonate so strongly with so many or that it would continue to attract new readers three decades and counting after its initial publication. And I certainly never imagined that Richard’s lost grave would be found or that he’d be re-interred at Leicester Cathedral with such ceremony and world-wide attention. Richard the rock star? No, I definitely did not see that one coming!
I am happy to announce that the winner of a signed hardcover copy of the new British edition of Sunne is Laurie Spencer. And the runner-up winner of a signed paperback edition is Cynthia Fuller. As soon as I get mailing addresses from you both, I will put your copies in the post. I know many of you will be disappointed, so I promise to hold another Sunne book drawing before the year is out.
When I was listing all the unexpected developments concerning Richard and Sunne, I neglected to mention the remarkable fact that we now know what he looked like, thanks to that forensic reconstruction of his face. I do not see him as a blond, though. I do not doubt that his hair was that shade as a small child, but I think it darkened as he grew into maturity. My own hair was the color of sunlight until I was about three or so, and then it darkened, too, as is usually the case. I suppose it is possible that his hair did not, but I am not yet willing to surrender the mental image of Richard that served as inspiration during the twelve years that it took me to write Sunne. So I can say with certainty that my Richard was not a blond! At least his youthful appearance has been restored; he was not yet thirty-three at the time of his death, but the portraits—all done after Bosworth when it was highly advisable to portray him in as sinister a light as possible—made him appear as if he had one foot in the grave.
We rarely get detailed descriptions of the medieval dead in the years before the age of portrait painting. Until the 16th century, we must depend upon the chroniclers, and they were notoriously indifferent to the needs of future historical novelists. The best we can usually hope for is a throw-away line or two. We know that Randulph de Blundeville, the Earl of Chester in Here be Dragons, and Robert Beaumont, the Earl of Leicester in Lionheart and Ransom, were both shorter than average, for they were praised for the valor of their spirits in such small bodies. We know that Llywelyn ab Iorwerth’s rebellious son, Gruffydd, was a big man and had put on weight during his captivity in the Tower of London, for a chronicler tells us that this was a contributing factor in his death; he was so heavy that his makeshift sheet-rope broke, hurling him to his doom. We know that Balian d’Ibelin, the major character in my current work, Outremer, was very tall, for a chronicler reports that he was chosen to carry the young child-king, Baldwin V, to his coronation because he was the tallest man in the kingdom.
The chroniclers of that same kingdom rather unkindly describe Renaud, Lord of Sidon, as very ugly, while lauding his intelligence. But that is positively benign compared to one Saracen chronicler’s comments about the controversial and brilliant Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, son of the Lionheart’s nemesis, Heinrich von Hohenstaufen, and his unhappy consort, Constance de Hauteville, Queen of Sicily in her own right. According to Sibt Ibn al-Jawzi, “The Emperor was covered with red hair, was bald and myopic. Had he been a slave, he would not have fetched 200 dirhams at market.” It is only fair to include a more favorable description of Frederick from the Cronica of Salimbene: “He could read, write, sing, and compose music and songs. He was a handsome man, well-built but of medium stature.” Which one was right? Who knows?
William, the Archbishop of Tyre, tutor to the young king Baldwin, and author of Deeds Beyond the Sea, which is considered by many to be the finest history written by a man of the Middle Ages, provides some remarkably detailed descriptions of the highborn lords of their kingdom. William of Montferrat was the elder brother of Conrad of Montferrat, the latter a character in Lionheart, whose fate haunted Richard in A King’s Ransom. William came to Jerusalem to wed Sybilla, Baldwin’s sister, with the expectation that he and she would rule once Baldwin’s leprosy incapacitated or killed him. William of Tyre brings him vividly to life in his chronicle, telling us that he was tall and handsome with blond hair, that he was “exceedingly irascible but very generous and of an open disposition and manly courage. He never concealed any purpose but showed frankly just what he thought in his own mind. He was fond of eating and altogether too devoted to drinking, although not to such an extent to as to injure his mind.”
William offers an even more remarkable description of King Amalric, father to the tragic Baldwin and uncle to our Henry II; Amalric’s father, Fulk of Anjou, was Henry’s grandfather. It is worth quoting in full:
“He was a man endowed with worldly experience, very shrewd and circumspect in his deeds. He had a slight impediment of the tongue, not so much that could be considered a defect, but so that he had no elegance in spontaneous, flowing speech… His body was of pleasing stature, as if it had been measured proportionally so that he was taller than the average, but smaller than the very tall… His face was attractive… His eyes were bright, and somewhat protruding; his nose, like his brother’s, aquiline; his hair yellow, and slightly receding; his beard covered his cheeks and chin with pleasing fullness. However, he had an uncontrollable laugh, which made him shake all over… He was fat beyond measure, in such a way that he had breasts like a woman, hanging down to his belt…”
William also tells us of Amalric’s shrewdness, his ambition and courage, his greed, his taciturn nature, and his indifference to the boundaries of matrimony. He may not have been loved by his subjects, but he commanded their respect, and if not for his untimely death, at age thirty-eight, the history of his kingdom might have been far different.
William saw Amalric clearly, aware of both his vices and his virtues, but he loved Amalric’s son. It was William who first discovered the symptoms of that dreaded disease when Baldwin was only about ten or eleven. Here is his description of the young leper king:
“I cannot keep my eyes dry while speaking of it. For as he began to reach the age of puberty, it became apparent that he was suffering from that most terrible disease, leprosy. Each day he grew more ill. The extremities and the face were most affected, so that the hearts of his faithful men were touched by compassion when they looked at him. Baldwin was adept at literary studies. Daily he grew more promising and developed a more loving disposition. He was handsome for his age and he was quick to learn to ride and handle horses — more so than his ancestors. He had a tenacious memory and loved to talk. He was economical, but he well remembered both favors and injuries. He resembled his father, not only in his face, but in his whole appearance. He was also like his father in his walk and in the timbre of his voice. He had a quick mind, but his speech was slow. He was, like his father, an avid listener to history and he was very willing to follow good advice.”
If only William had been so generous in his descriptions of the highborn women of Outremer. He apparently took his vows of chastity seriously, for he says not a word about the appearances of any of them. He calls Queen Melisende, mother to Amalric, whom he admired, “sparse.” He says of Baldwin’s mother, Agnes de Courtenay, whom he loathed, that she was “detestable to God.” And that is it.
Fortunately one of the Saracen chroniclers was more verbose, at least when describing Baldwin’s youngest sister, Isabella, who would one day rule as queen and, as readers of Lionheart will remember, married Henri, the Count of Champagne, only days after the murder of her husband, Conrad of Montferrat, by two Assassins as he rode through the streets of Tyre. Imad al-Din al-Isfahani, a member of Saladin’s inner circle, seems to have been rather smitten by Isabella, describing her poetically, as follows:
“…one of the daughters of heaven; her face, shining white, appeared like the morning in the night of her very black hair.”
Moving on to Baldwin’s Angevin cousins, we have very detailed descriptions of Henry II. We know that his hair was red, but greyed as he aged, that he kept it cropped short because he worried about going bald. We are told that he had grey, bloodshot eyes that were “dove-like” when he was feeling peaceful but “gleamed like fire” when he was in a temper. He was of “medium height,” and powerfully built, with a broad chest and a boxer’s arms; he was also bow-legged, which they ascribed to the long hours he spent in the saddle. He was said to be “a man blessed with sound limbs and a handsome countenance, one upon whom men gazed a thousand times, yet took occasion to return.” The chroniclers lauded his intelligence, his memory, his sardonic humor, and his “knowledge of all tongues spoken from the coasts of France to the River Jordan, but making use of only Latin and French.”
We know that Henry’s two eldest sons, the Young King (Hal in my books) and Richard, were taller than average, and his two youngest sons, Geoffrey and John, were shorter than average but handsome. Thanks to an invasion of John’s tomb at Worcester Cathedral, we know that he was five feet, six inches tall, so that fits with the guess of historians that Henry would have been about five feet, nine inches, and Hal and Richard over six feet. One who knew Richard said that “He was tall, of elegant build; the color of his hair was between red and gold; his limbs were supple and straight. He had long arms suited to wielding a sword. His long legs matched the rest of his body.” As for Richard’s neglected wife, Berengaria, it is believed that she was only five feet, based upon a discovery of bones thought to be hers at the abbey she founded. The most famous description of her comes from the acid pen of Richard of Devizes, who deemed her “more prudent than pretty.” Very catchy, so it is not surprising it has been so often quoted, but Richard of Devizes never laid eyes upon her. One chronicler who did, Ambroise, tells us she was very fair and lovely. We do know that her younger sister was thought to be quite beautiful, so my guess is that she would not have scared any children had she ventured out without a veil. I don’t think the breakdown of her marriage to Richard had anything to do with her appearance; they had much more serious differences to deal with, as I hope I was able to portray convincingly in Ransom.
Henry’s daughters, Mathilda and Joanna and Eleanora were all said to be lovely, and of course not a single chronicler thought to mention the hair or eye color of their celebrated mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. This lapse has led to some unintentional humor on the part of Eleanor’s biographers, with one assuring us that she had golden hair and blue eyes while another one tells us with equal certainty that she had black hair and eyes and a voluptuous figure.
As a dynasty, the Plantagenets seem to have been a good-looking lot, but it is such a pity that we have no portraits of any of them that are comparable to the portraits done of the Tudors. We do have some fascinating reconstructions, though. Click onto this YouTube link if you’ve not seen Eleanor and Richard, brought to mesmerizing life by Jude Maris, based upon their effigies at Fontevrault Abbey. Watching them “wake up” from their long sleep is both amazing and a bit eerie. She also does Henry II, Elizabeth Woodville, and the six wives of Henry VIII. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVOFwLfchWA
Lastly, here is the link to ten very interesting historical forensic reconstructions which are, of course, much more reliable than those that are done from effigies. Here you will find Richard III in his blond incarnation and Mary, Queen of Scots, among others. Well worth a look.
Again, thank you all for participating in the drawing, and congratulations to the winners.
June 1, 2015