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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History, has written more than 50 books specializing in British Christianity. These books include: The Monastery Murders, clerical mysteries; Lord Danvers Investigates, Victorian true-crime; The Elizabeth and Richard series, literary suspense; and Glastonbury, The Novel of Christian England. She loves research and sharing you-are-there experiences with her readers.

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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History


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Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History

A traveling researcher engages people and places from Britain's past and present, drawing comparisons and contrasts between past and present for today's reader.

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Richard III Inspires Reflection on Crime Novels

By Fay Sampson ~ March 23, 2015

 I have just been watching the opening stages in the reburial of the bones of Richard III, who was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. He was the last of the Plantaganet kings and the last English king to die in battle.

It is the culmination of a remarkable story. The victor Henry Tudor, who became Henry VII, paraded Richard’s body through the streets of Leicester, slung naked over the back of a horse. He was buried, rather quietly, in Greyfriars Priory, but his grave was lost with the destruction of the Priory under the Reformation of Henry VIII. A few years ago, archaeologists from the University of Leicester, funded by the  Richard III Society, discovered his bones under a car park on the site of the priory. These showed that he was not the hunchback of Shakespeare’s play Richard III, which vilifies him to please the Tudor monarch Elizabeth I, but he did have a deformed spine. Investigation of his DNA linked him to present-day descendants of Richard’s sister. One of these made the coffin in which Richard’s bones will be reburied in Leicester Cathedral. 

 Today, that coffin made a symbolic journey to the places Richard had known in life and the field of Bosworth where he met his death. A solemn cortège brought him through the streets of Leicester, which were flanked by hundreds of people, with the white roses of the House of York on his coffin. A far more respectful journey than his previous one.

Representatives of the University of Leicester, which had excavated his bones and forensically examined them, handed over his remains to the cathedral authorities. He was carried into the cathedral to lie in state until his re-interment on Thursday by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

It was a moving ceremony. The British do these ceremonial occasions rather well, even though this particular occasion has never happened before.

More than five hundred years after his death, Richard III remains a controversial figure. At the heart of his story lies a murder mystery. Was he, or was he not, responsible for the deaths of the Princes in the Tower? These were the young sons of the previous king Edward IV, and should have succeeded him. They disappeared without a trace. Richard, who was Edward’s brother, declared himself king in their place. Suspicion points strongly to Richard as their murderer, but proof has never been found. His supporters vehemently deny it.

But in death he was received into the cathedral like any other human being at the close of life. All guilt is wiped away. We are all forgiven sinners.

The dramatic possibilities for historical crime fiction are all too apparent. I find my own crime novels are almost always inspired by events in real life, however much I may transpose and embroider them. It may be a story from the Venerable Bede writing about the 7th century, or something from my own family history. Real life is full of intriguing mysteries, which sow the seeds of fiction. (to see Donna's earlier post on her connection with Richard III see I Slept With Royalty)

  Fay's latest crime novels, both of which show her love of dramatic moments in history, are                The Wounded Thorn:Recently retired teacher Hilary decides that the best way to stop herself worrying about her husband, who’s away doing voluntary work in war-torn Gaza, is to distract herself with a holiday. She invites her good friend Veronica, a recent widow, to accompany her on a trip to Glastonbury, to see the ancient sights. The pair are saddened to discover that the sacred Glastonbury Thorn tree has been severely damaged, and they wonder whether other local sites are under threat too. But even they are unprepared for the shocking discovery Hilary makes at the Chalice Well: an abandoned bag, containing a bomb . . .

Who is to blame? A foreign tourist? An eccentric pagan author? Or an angry local who resents that a Christian place has been ‘overun’ by other beliefs? Hilary and Veronica just want to be on holiday, but they can’t help but be sucked in to the investigation.

  And A Corpse in Holy WatersWhat secrets could Lucy be hiding, and why is a “Dead Man” following her as she visits holy wells in Cornwall? And could her secret harm a child? 

When widowed photographer Aidan is invited to visit the holy wells of Cornwall he does not expect to be confronted with a corpse. 
Aidan is pursuing a delicate friendship with Lucy, a Methodist minister, with the connivance of his bright young daughter Melangell. It is Lucy who has invited them to accompany her. What they do not know is that she has another reason to go to Cornwall, besides her interest in ancient holy places. 

It is Melangell who sees it first: “Like a dead man walking”. 
Aidan and Lucy search for the supposed corpse in vain. But as they move from one holy well to another it seems that it is the “corpse” who is pursuing them. 
Aidan realizes that Lucy is guarding a dangerous secret, which she will not tell even him. 
By the end of the day, the bizarre image of the dead man becomes a reality, in one of the most beautiful sacred places of Cornwall. Aidan is not the only one left wondering whether Lucy could be the culprit.

Back home, the three of them are pursued by the police and the mysterious League of Albion. Lucy has attracted the hatred of some very dangerous people. Now Aidan and Melangell are in danger too. 

As events become ever more sinister, and violent, both Lucy and Aidan find it necessary to go on the run – separately. Aidan is consumed by fear for what is happening to Lucy. But as he tries to find her, in another of the holy places, he and Melangell are moving into even greater risk. 


Fay Sampson (UK) is a writer of adult and children's fiction and non-fiction, including A MALIGNANT HOUSE, #2 in the Susie Fewings series, a British Crime Club Pick.

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Reader Comments:

Fascinating reflection, Fay. I do hope some of the footage will be available in the States. We get BBC America, but haven't seen anything yet. Hopefully on YouTube.

Great article on re-internment of Richard III in the Church Times. I haven't seen a video yet, but I feel like I've been there from reading this article. Only thing it doesn't mention is thaat the coffin was handmade by Michael Ibsen, Richard III's descendent. Michael is a musician, but cabinetmaking is his day job.
-Donna, March 24, 2015

Another good article about the reinturnment on the BBC site:
-Donna, March 28, 2015

I'm afraid that the whole debacle over Richard has led to a lot of unpleasantness. Academics who are critical of Richard (and not just in the matter of the Princes) have been subejcted to a lot of abuse, and insults.

The problem I think is that the previous vilification has lead to a knee-jerk reaction in which any criticism of him is taken badly, and its become acceptable to vilify anyone seen as opposed to him. Henry Tudor in particualur is treated as the Devil Incarnate now.

I hope a more objective reaction will become normal soon.
-Medievalgirl01, August 13, 2016

There has also been a lot of misinformation in the media. Benedict Cumberbatch for instance, is not a descendant of Richard III, he is actually descended from Edmund Beaufort Duke of Somerset, a cousin of Richard, and a scion of a prominent Lancastrian family, the three sons of whom all died fighting against Richard's family in the Wars of the Roses. Two were executed, one killed in Battle.
-Medievalgirl01, August 13, 2016

Medieval girl, thank you so much for writing! How interesting about Benedict Cumberbath's ancestry! I recently re-edited a book I wrote some time ago about the Somerset family, who are the Dukes of Beaufort--just the reverse of your reference above. When interviewing the family for research I remember the duchess explaining that quirk of names and titles to me. I find it all endlessly fascinating.
-Donna , August 13, 2016

Medieval girl, thank you so much for writing! How interesting about Benedict Cumberbath's ancestry! I recently re-edited a book I wrote some time ago about the Somerset family, who are the Dukes of Beaufort--just the reverse of your reference above. When interviewing the family for research I remember the duchess explaining that quirk of names and titles to me. I find it all endlessly fascinating.
You are so right about how there are "fashions" in historical interpretation as in everything else. I suppose if one can take the balance over time one might reach something approaching accuracy (if not truth).
-Donna, August 13, 2016

The reason for the change of name might be that the heir in the male line of Edmund Beaufort was his eldest son Henry's son Charles. The problem was that Charles was illigitimate, none of Duke Edmund's sons ever married as they spent much of thier lives in exile or at war, so Charles was born to a mistress.

Hence, Charles was not able to inherit the title of the Duke of Somerset, because of laws and customs about illigitimate sons and children. He did initially take the Surname of Beaufort, but he dropped that, and changed to 'Somerset' instead.
-Medievalgirl01, August 13, 2016

Very interesting--thank you! What an amazing wealth of information, I appreciate your sharing.
-Donna, August 13, 2016

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