How well do you know the story of King Richard III? Not as well as Matthew Wansford.
Now I’ve been a fan of Richard III since I first read Josephine Tey’s fantastic book ‘The Daughter of Time’ – which focuses on the mystery of the princes in the tower, so you’ll not be surprised to know that I don’t believe Richard had them killed. I know many people will disagree with me, but one person I know who won’t is the young guest I have on my blog today. And young Master Matthew Wansford is well placed to judge the truth about Richard’s character, for he serves him well. Here is his master:
Matthew’s interview is part of the ongoing “Interview My Character Blog Hop” organized by the Historical Writers Forum on Facebook, which has been running throughout June and July: a varied group of historical authors are interviewing each other’s characters, which has made for some fascinating reading!
All the interviews can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/Historical-Writers-Forum-Blog-Hop-Page-313883642875335/. My very own Munro – hero of a long-running Scottish series, was interviewed by Samantha Wilcoxson on 15th July. His story will be found at https://samanthawilcoxson.blogspot.com/ In the meantime, please sit back and prepare to welcome Matthew Wansford, who though young has plenty to say for himself.
But first a sentence of introduction.
Matthew Wansford, a 12-year-old merchant’s son, has always longed to be a knight. And his chance comes in the golden summer of 1482 when he arrives at Middleham Castle, home of King Edward IV’s brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester
Welcome, Matthew. Can you tell my readers how you first came to Middleham Castle– a place I wouldn’t mind living in myself – I believe it wasn’t altogether by choice.
I thank you, my lady, for inviting me to speak to you about life with my master, King Richard, the third of that name. When first I entered his service, he was not yet King, of course, but rather Duke – of Gloucester, though his home had long been in the north of England, governing there for his brother, King Edward IV. Middleham Castle in Wensleydale was his main home, not too far away from my own in the fair city of York. I was grateful to be accepted as part of the household there after… well, after the misfortune that led to my dismissal from the Minster Song School in my home town. I prefer not to speak of what happened that day. It brought great shame on my family – particularly my father, who is a member of the city council and was witness to the event – while in the company of his council friends…
It’s not uncommon for young men to be placed in another family to learn knightly skills – do you think this system is a good idea?
It is perhaps not for me to say whether it is a good idea or a bad. Such has been the custom for long ages now and many would say it is vital to the training of our young noblemen. All I know is that I was thankful for my chance to join the other pages as they studied under some of the finest tutors in the land – in all subjects of importance for a warrior and a courtier: from book learning and languages, music and dancing, to fighting with a sword – albeit, for us pages, one made only of chestnut. These are skills I would not have learned at school in York.
Not everyone is your friend at Middleham – why do you think Hugh has become your enemy? And pardon me for asking, but was it your fault or his?
So you have heard tell of Hugh Soulsby? He dislikes people more easily than he likes them. It’s just his way, I think. Perhaps the execution of his father when he was so young is the reason. Yet his father’s treason was forgiven by King Edward – and by the Duke, who took Hugh into his household. But I think also Hugh is perhaps too conscious of his own noble descent to accept any around him who are lowlier than he. Certainly, in his eyes, the son of a York merchant – and not a very rich one at that – is no fit companion for a Soulsby. Whether that is my fault or his, I cannot say…
Richard, Duke of Gloucester seems to single you out and treat you with kindness, even though you are only a lowly page. Can you explain how and why this happens?
I have indeed been honoured with His Grace’s kindness and favour – and those of his good lady wife, Duchess Anne. It has been a source of much amazement to me. To begin with, it was simply that the Duke loves music and I was blessed by our good Lord with a fine singing voice (I cannot take the credit for it, though I have done my best to follow my singing masters’ guidance and training). Later, I suppose, after what happened on the boar hunt, when the Duke’s little son Ed almost died in the snow … Even King Edward himself told me he would be in my debt for the service I rendered that day.
Reading about you in my century, the punishments meted out to boys in your situation seem quite harsh, what do you feel about the discipline that you suffered under?
I cannot deny that both my body and my pride suffered under the beatings I received at the castle, though such punishments are normal for us children. And far worse would be to have been dismissed from His Grace’s service for my failings, as I once feared. My distress at my expulsion from the Minster School would have been as nothing compared with being sent away from my friends and my good master at the castle.
You have made some friends at Middleham – how has that helped you to handle some of the difficult situations that have arisen? And how important do you think are friendships made at an early age? Do you expect them to last?
I hope my friends and I will be loyal to each other all our lives, as we swore faithfully when we formed our chivalric Order of the White Boar. We drank a draught of friendship and had our venture blessed by Sir William, the castle chaplain. It’s unusual for a girl like Alys Langdown to be a member of such an Order, but she’s as brave and strong as – well, if I am honest, perhaps braver and stronger than both Roger and me. And she has stood by us and little Ed throughout all our adventures. Maybe we four will not always be together, but I hope we will always be able to call on one another for help, whatever happens.
Some people would regard some of your actions as foolish; do you have any regrets about anything you have done?
I will always have regrets about things I have done or have not done, and I know I have not always served my lord as well as I should, for all that I have tried my best. Sometimes I rush into situations when I should think first before acting. Duke Richard himself has admonished me for resorting to blows to settle a dispute, saying violence should be a last resort, not the first. But when you are as small as I am, sometimes the only chance you have of winning a fight is to take your opponent by surprise. It doesn’t always succeed, of course… especially when your opponent is older and bigger, and has the advantage of noble birth and a ready tongue…
Your author has given your story the title ‘Order of the White Boar’ – can you tell us how you think they came to make that choice and whether you think it’s a good one?
My scribe, Alex, when chronicling my and my friends’ adventures, wanted a title that would at once tell readers that it was a story of my master, King Richard. With our Order of chivalry taking its name from his heraldic symbol, the white boar, it seemed an obvious choice for a name. (Having said that, Alex did hope someone would suggest a more exciting title before the story was sent to the master printers, but it was not to be.)
I obviously don’t want to spoil your story for other readers, but are there any specific events that you feel you can talk about that were particularly exciting or unexpected?
To a boy raised in a quiet part of York, everything about life in a castle, surrounded by knights and nobles, is exciting! I would never have expected to enter such a world when I was learning by rote at my song school and when the days were marked only by the passing of seasonal rituals in our great cathedral. But I will never forget the terror I felt in the depths of the blizzard at the boar hunt – the hunt that turned instead into a hunt for little Ed. Nor indeed will the memory ever leave me of my first visit to our magnificent capital city of London – of the splendours of our stay at King Edward’s court in Westminster, of the colourful Yuletide revels, of being addressed by King Edward himself and his family, even being presented with costly gifts by them. Ah, those were wondrous times!
And finally, Matthew, you obviously think Richard a good master, how would you answer those whose opinion of him is quite different?
To whom have you been speaking of my master that you have heard opinions different from my own? Not any who know him. Save perhaps Master Soulsby, who resents him for the beatings he receives – always richly deserved though they are. Or mayhap some relative of Queen Elizabeth who is jealous of the favours the Duke receives from King Edward for his good service and his loyalty. They say, too, that the King of France is his enemy because Duke Richard refused the bribe he was offered. (Though they also say King Edward himself accepted King Louis’s pension as payment for not waging war against that country.) Or perhaps it is that pretender Henry Tudor of whom we hear tell – who claims for himself the throne of England, though he has less blood right to it than many another nobleman still in England.
As like as not, you will not accept the word of a lowly page as to my master’s good character – for you will perhaps see my view as partial after the favours I have received. Would you rather heed the words of a great churchman who met him, the Bishop of St David’s, who said, ‘He contents the people where he goes best that ever did prince’, or of the Scottish ambassador who said, ‘Never has so much spirit or greater virtue reigned in such a small body’? Or perhaps of the Italian doctor who stated, ‘The good reputation of his private life and public activities powerfully attracted the esteem of strangers.’ These are not men who have anything to gain from such comments in their private correspondence. And my own council of York, despite much personal risk in later, more dangerous times, called my master ‘the most famous prince of blessed memory’. These are the words of other people who knew him well.
My apologies young Matthew, I did not intend any offence, indeed I share your opinion and that of the good men you have quoted regarding your master, and I shall pledge on my honour to do all in my power to increase his good name.
But I must let you return to your duties, lest your suffer another punishment for your absence. Would that I could accompany you and meet your young friends, but time does not permit it, and thank you for sharing your story with me.
Alex Marchant is the author of two books which relate the story of young Matthew Wansford and his friends – The Order of the White Boar and The King’s Man
Matthew is keen for many more children to know the truth about his master, so has persuaded his scribe to offer a copy of The Order of the White Boar to one lucky reader who comments on this post
(paperback within the UK or ebook worldwide).