An update on Mistress Shore, John Agard and Thomas Lynom

It’s really exciting to come across more information about Mistress Shore. Of course, it’s nowhere near as exciting as finding the skeleton of a king but I’ve been delving into on-line Chancery cases as part of the research for the novel I’m writing at the moment.

An Elizabeth Lambard, gentlewoman, brought two cases for debt before John Brown, Mayor of the Staple of Westminster between March 1482 and March 1483.

The first case was against esquire John Bavantyne of Haseley in Oxfordshire for 500 marks, which was a lot of money back then.

The second case of debt was against Lady Margaret Clifford, the widow of John, Lord Clifford, and her son, Henry, for £100.

Assuming this is our Mistress Shore, then she reverted back to her maiden name and she was also wealthy enough to lend money.

The other cases of interest was John Agard, the brother-in-law of William Shore, Elizabeth’s divorced husband, bringing a case against, Thomas Lynom (and if you’ve read the novel, you’ll know who he is), for holding onto the deeds of a house and lands in Elmhurst, Staffordshire. Unfortunately, the date is not clear, either between 1486–93 or 1505–15.

John Agard was also a defendant in a case in 1504-15. It looks like William Fraunces of Little Chester married Agard’s daughter, Joan, and because she died (probably soon after the wedding), Agard did not pay her dowry.

I’ve done some sleuthing in the Victoria County History as a follow up on Haseley and Elmhurst but haven’t found anything else that is relevant.

Some readers may consider this rather dry stuff but all these bits and pieces are useful in fleshing out historical people, especially the lesser known ones. These Chancery cases get as close to the facts as is possible and are rather intriguing. It’s interesting to speculate why Bavantyne or Lady Clifford needed to borrow money off a king’s mistress.

John Agard is mentioned in William Shore’s will as his executor and he may have represented his business interests when William was overseas. Agard figured more in the original draft of Mistress to the Crown but the chapters on Elizabeth’s childhood and thirteen years of marriage to Shore needed to be cut. By the way, if anyone is interested in reading those, do let me know.

Mistress to the Crown

I thought it might be fun to imagine how a modern day reporter might handle the rumours about the gorgeous Mistress Shore in the 1470s before she met the king.

London citizen’s wife sues for a divorce

The Mercers’ Guild was shocked today by the news that the wife of guild member, William Shore, is asking for a separation on the grounds that he is impotent, frigid and unable to give her children.

‘I am prepared to take this case to Rome,’ she told our reporter this morning. ‘I have been married to him since my early teens but it was not my choice and I should like our marriage to be annulled.’

‘Utterly disgraceful,’ ‘It will create unwelcome precedents’, and ‘Unless she has friends in high places, how is she going to pay for it?’ are some of the comments from concerned guildsmen.

A spokesman for the Court of Arches, where matrimonial cases are heard with the consent of his Holiness in Rome, told our reporter that such cases are rarely allowed to proceed. ‘If the wife has been beaten by a drunken husband for eight years or more then there is a chance that His Holiness will appoint a tribunal for the hearing. Mistress Shore, however, has suffered no such abuse. She has vexatiously tried to bring a case several times already and her chances of succeeding this time are futile.’

When we raised this with Mistress Shore, she was undeterred. ‘I shall find the funds somehow.’

If Rome does give permission for proceedings against William Shore, he will need to undergo tests to disprove his impotence in the presence of several scantily-clad ‘cherrylips’ from Southwark.

Master Shore has refused to be interviewed but one of his fellow liverymen told us, ‘William is a God-fearing, hardworking guild member. He shouldn’t have married such an educated girl.’

Shore’s wife is the daughter of former London Sheriff, mercer John Lambard, Alderman of Farringdon ward and former member of the Council of Aldermen. Lambard has declined to give comment.

Does Mistress Shore have friends in ‘high places’? Read tomorrow’s London Chronicle

Click here for reviews, a blurb and to read an extract. For more about the real historical Mistress Shore, go to Inspiration for a New Novel.

Interview with Dorothy Dunnett

‘Ian Fleming was a friend of ours and he told me he was going to write a novel about “a spy to end all spies” and he went ahead and created James Bond, and I decided, ‘Right, then, if he can do it, so can I! I am going to create the hero to end all heroes’.

Dorothy Dunnett, Sydney, 13 March 2000, telling me about how the character of Lymond came into being.

And that was how Dorothy Dunnett (1923–2001) described to me the beginning of her journey to become a best-selling diva – and a historical novelist to end all historical novelists!

Back in 2000, she was visiting Australia for the first time – a guest of the Adelaide Writers’ Festival – but there was little publicity about her visit in the Australian press and only a fraction of her fans found out that she was visiting.

‘I have waited decades for a chance to meet her,’ exclaimed one of her ardent admirers, Bantam historical novelist Cheryl Sawyer, as she joined the book signing queue.

I’d waited decades, too, and I was delighted that Dorothy was willing for me to interview her. I did not know what to expect, a formidable Lady Dunnett, encrusted with British reserve? Or a Judi Dench MI5 chief-type? I was wrong on both counts. The woman who arrived to be interviewed proved to be a friendly Scot, astute but gentle, stylish yet understated in her appearance, grandmotherly, cheerful and unrushed. A sprightly, seventy-six year old who looked much younger than her age.

Over her writing career, she had completed a series of six mammoth novels, set in the sixteenth century, following the adventures of Francis Crawford of Lymond, a young, golden-haired, Scottish nobleman. She had also written six contemporary spy novels, and when I met her, the seventh and final novel of her House of Niccolò series (the adventures of Nicholas de Fleury, a Flemish merchant of the mid-late fifteenth century) was in press.

Her ideal hero – charismatic Lymond (pronounced Lie-mond) came to birth on an Olivette typewriter in the 1950s. She told me he had proved to be ‘a difficult creature, articulate, mercurial, charismatic’ but she had planned to follow his ‘star-crossed career – disturbing, hilarious, dangerous’ through ten years of his life.

She explained it was not just Ian Fleming who had provoked her to become an author.

‘I never had the desire to write particularly, but I married the right man. You see, I started complaining to my husband that I could not find the sort of books I wanted to read. I’d enjoyed authors like Dumas, Sabatini and Orczy. I’d read the Hornblower series and all of Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels. I just ran out of authors. ‘Why not write your own?’ said my husband. ‘But make it a series. Publishers prefer that.’

Dorothy started doing the research for the Lymond series at the National Library, Edinburgh, and she was later to become a member of its Board of Trustees. She made notes painstakingly by hand. There were no photocopiers, no faxes, no emails to distant libraries and no world wide web with on-line copies of historical records that could be easily downloaded.

Halfway through the first draft of her first book, she stuck a hesitant toe in the literary water and posted the mss to Hutchinson. Impressed, they sent the already bulky parcel out to their reader. ‘Whatever happens, you must publish this book,’ came the reply. Offers arrived from several publishers, but always with the proviso: ‘only if the book is shortened.’

Dorothy, already a success as a portrait painter with exhibitions in the Royal Scottish Academy, was not sure if she could be bothered to continue writing. It was then that Lois Cole (the editor who had persuaded Margaret Mitchell of GONE WITH THE WIND to change her heroine’s name from Pansy to Scarlett), rode in. Cole masterminded the cuts and steered the manuscript to the right publisher. Dunnett’s first book THE GAME OF KINGS was published in America then England. That was in 1961.

As Lymond’s adventures moved from Scotland to Catherine de Medici’s France and on to the Mediterranean and the intrigues of the Knights of St John, Dorothy travelled as well, covering a great canvas. Her fourth novel PAWN IN FRANKINCENSE took her main characters to the court of Suleiman the Magnificent. By then she had truly found her author’s voice and her hero had met his match in two people: his enemy, Graham Malett (Gabriel) and the feisty and clever young English girl, Phillippa Somerville. For me, the scene at the Turkish court where the enmity between the two men culminates in a deadly game of chess with living pieces was stunning, the tension extraordinary.

With 22 books between 1961 and 1998, how did she manage such an output?

‘It takes me about fourteen month to complete one of the Niccolò books. In the morning I usually deal with correspondence and any business to do with all the committees I’m on. I read up all my history notes relevant to the chapter that I’m working on and then I sit down at the keyboard, usually doing 2500 words at a sitting, and I’ll often work until five in the morning.’

CAPRICE & RONDO, her most recent publication when I met her, was a hefty 559 pages with a cast of 188 named characters, let alone the rest. That was typical.

Setting her own rules

Dorothy’s historical novels broke the by-laws doled out to wannabe writers – there were no simple concepts, no economy of description, no talking down to the reader. Instead, she demanded cerebral dexterity from her fans as she whizzed them through intrigue within intrigue. I told her I reckoned that like King Henry VII, she had ‘a corkscrew mind’ and she laughed, fully agreeing.

As for character viewpoints, again she had her own rules and that is what made her heroes so special. Often you witness Lymond or Nicholas in action but you do not always know what they are thinking unless they tell you. It is more often through the eyes of the friends and associates who cluster round them, like worker bees around the sovereign of the hive, that you see what is happening.

There are some rules that Dorothy did follow. She knew a good hook works: ‘Not to every young girl is it given to enter the harem of the Sultan of Turkey and return to her homeland a virgin.’

So begins THE RINGED CASTLE, the fifth Lymond novel.

The fresh, apt phrases, the wonderful narrative poured forth in the early hours. Dorothy was not an author who spiced in the details in a later draft, she always got it right first time.

‘How do you remember if you have used a particular metaphor already?’ I asked her.

‘Ah,’ she answered, ‘that is where I rely on my copy editor to tell me if I have repeated an adjective or used a similar description before.’ She also admitted she always sent half the latest manuscript to the editor before she had finished the total draft. A practice that would terrify some authors.

Her style was underlined with humour. No question, either, that her portrait painter’s skill carried to her novels. It was the quirky details that could lift the whole – the body language, the aspects of personality that needed to be noticed and the importance of the background – the fine brush strokes that make her descriptions and characters so memorable.

Her gasp of history was phenomenal, the details trustworthy, and the renaissance world she recreated with its merchants, mercenaries and potentates showed an understanding of international trade and politics that many a modern diplomat might envy.

Did you ever employ researchers?

She told me she did most of it herself.

‘My notes for my early novels are in ledgers. My studio is lined with bookcases. I buy a huge number of reference books and I subscribe to about twenty periodicals so I can keep myself informed about what is available. I realize now why few writers have tackled sixteenth century history. It requires a huge amount of effort.’


She wrote one stand-alone historical which stepped outside the familiar 1460-1558 territory – her novel on Macbeth, KING HEREAFTER, published in 1976 before she began the Niccolò series. She never returned to this earlier period.

‘Had changing eras taken too much time? Was this a mandatory book?’ I asked her.

‘The publishers suggested that I tackle a famous Scots historical figure: Mary, Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charlie or Macbeth. Well, no one had dared to challenge Shakespeare, so I decided on Macbeth. The research took five years and there were very few sources, so I used a lot of recent archaeological information and I came up with some radical conclusions on Macbeth’s identity that changed the history books.’

Had she ever thought of turning herself into a historian like Dorothy Tuchman, author of A DISTANT MIRROR and THE MARCH OF FOLLY?

‘Yes,’ she answered, maybe one day she would write up her findings on Macbeth in a non-fiction format. ‘Don’t forget I have my Johnson Johnson books as well,’ she reminded me.

Yes, she also had six novels with a modern hero, an intelligence agent and well-known painter of portraits who wore bifocals, owned a Mayfair apartment and a yacht called Dolly. ‘I have difficulty keeping up to date with the research. As soon as I get used to the layout and equipment of my hero’s latest yacht, a new model comes onto the market and I have to research that.’

I could imagine her enjoying that, the silver cap of curls tousled by the sea wind. Not bad for a seventy-six year old. ‘The publishers were worried I might die before the final Niccolò novel was finished. I had to give them a summary in case something happened to me.’

And her fans needed satisfaction. She told me that her American devotees produced a quarterly correspondence magazine that was euphemistically called M and K (it began as ‘Marzipan and Kisses’, her description of Catherine de Medici’s court in QUEENS’ PLAY.) The English letterzine preferred to call itself Whispering Gallery. Then she told me there was Elspeth Morrison’s THE DOROTHY DUNNETT COMPANION (published by Michael Joseph) which translates the poetry quoted by Lymond and offers raunchy enlightenment on the hero’s Latin swear words.

The fate of Nicholas de Fleury

‘Do your fans try to influence the plots?’ I asked.

‘Indeed,’ she told me, ‘they try. Sometimes the pressure is punishing.’ At that point, she smiled. ‘If I ever let on where the action is going to be, some of my readers look up the political events of that country and start pre-guessing.’

Many fans had written in to her, pre-guessing the denouement of GEMINI and Dorothy was anxious to surprise them as she had done so wonderfully in CHECKMATE, her final book on Lymond.

‘Yes,’ she said, sparkling when I mentioned how much I’d been blown away by CHECKMATE’S final chapter. ‘The ending caught you all out. One of my devoted readers hurled the novel across the room in disgusted fury a few pages before the end and wrote me a vitriolic anonymous letter, but then she cooled off, eventually finished the book and realized she had been wrong. I had this very ashamed fan come up to me and more or less confess it had been her.’

Breathtaking feats

The New South Wales fans who turned up for the book signing at Dymocks’ Book Store in Sydney were delighted when Dorothy read a much-requested scene from QUEENS’ PLAY: the drunken, dangerous race across the thatched roofs of Blois with Lymond masquerading as a bawdy, silver-tongued Irishman; an episode that ends with a final leap from the church of St Lomer to the château and, typically Dunnett, a donkey. (For Nicholas, a there was an ostrich race in Bruges).

‘Have you ever tried any of the feats you expected of your heroes?’ I asked her later, thinking of Macbeth’s run across the oar blades in KING HEREAFTER.

‘No,’ Dorothy answered. ‘I am totally hopeless but my husband and sons have tried their best to introduce me to a lot of sports. I needed to understand sailing when I started writing my modern thrillers and I know what it is like to control a horse. Alastair [her husband] and I rode ponies up in the north of Scotland.’

A twentieth century knight

Glaswegian Alistair Dunnett had been frequently mentioned during the interview and there was the sense of his constant encouragement of his gifted wife. The grasp of banking that features in Dorothy’s historicals is probably drawn from his early career. He was also editor of The Scotsman for 16 years, and a Doctor of Literature, a published author and playwright. In1995, Dorothy found herself, romantically, married to a twentieth century knight when he was honoured for his services to journalism and public life. Nor was the new Lady Dunnett short of honours. In 1986 she had been made a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and in 1992 she received an OBE for her services to literature.


Dorothy in trying to outwit her readers did not manage to give the Niccolò series a breathtaking ending that would resonate with readers afterwards. She had perhaps set herself too high an achievement first time round in CHECKMATE. Anyhow, that’s how I feel about it.

Every so often I get Dorothy’s Lymond series from the shelf and work my way yet again through her hero’s adventures. It is the last three books of that series, which I love the best, as Philippa grows into the heroine worthy of the man she loves. I revel in the humour that flavours the dialogue and narrative, the witty imagery, the lack of dumbing down. There is always something new I discover and the more I work at my writing craft, the more I am in awe of Dorothy’s skill.

I had hoped she would live to be a hundred. The market needed her, her readers needed her. Sadly she died in November 2001, but I feel so privileged to have talked with her. It was a delight and a honour to meet the writer whom I admired most of all – and she was so nice, too.

Hugh Dispenser’s body found?

I was really very excited about this. Those of you who have read The Knight and the Rose may recall the horrible fate of King Edward II’s adviser (and possibly his gay lover), Hugh Despenser the younger, who was hanged, drawn and quartered in Hereford in 1326. So you can imagine how fascinating it was to read Laura Clout’s article on the discovery of his body (well, parts of it) in the UK Telegraph.

Apparently, investigations of the remains found at Hulton Abbey in Staffordshire in the 1970s show that the man’s body was decapitated, chopped up in a manner related to the punishment of quartering plus there was evidence of a wounding in the stomach, all consistent with the manner of Hugh’s death. It is known that his head and a few bones were given to his wife for burial and these are the parts that are missing from the Hulton remains. The carbon dating and other evidence, according to anthropologist Mary Lewis, points to the remains being that of Hugh Dispenser.

Here’s a quick run through the background to Hugh’s downfall:

King Edward II was famous for his male favourites. After Piers Gaveston was executed by the barons in 1312, the vacuum in Edward’s affection was gradually filled by the two Hugh Le Despensers – father and son. An ignominious defeat at Bannockburn in 1314 (when the Scots led by Robert the Bruce not only routed the English army but seized all their valuables) was a disaster for Edward and his close supporters. He and Hugh the younger fled for their lives. The queen was abandoned at Tynemouth and left to fend for herself.

For a while after the battle, the Despensers’ enemies among the barons held sway and both Hughs were banished from the court, but then in 1322 the King’s army won a victory against the rebel lords at Boroughbridge in Yorkshire (the beginning of The Knight and the Rose) and the leader of the rebels, the King’s cousin, the Earl of Lancaster was beheaded.

Edward was able to restore his friends’ fortunes. Hugh the elder became Earl of Winchester. Hugh the younger, now in his late thirties, sought to consolidate his power base in Wales. He also supervised the reform of the English Exchequer, made the King’s Chamber into an efficient department of state and reorganised the English wool industry.

Nemesis was waiting. The man who was to finally bring about the Despenser’s downfall was the handsome and capable Sir Roger Mortimer. He was a prisoner in the Tower of London but with the help of the rebel Bishop of Hereford, he managed to escape to France and there he bided his time.

High Dispenser’s greatest enemy was Edward’s neglected queen, Isabella, sister to the King of France, and in 1325, he and Edward permitted her to go across the Channel to negotiate with her brother. The big mistake was that they made was to let thirteen-year-old son, Prince Edward, the heir to the throne, go with her. Of course, Isabella met up again with Mortimer and they became lovers. Isabella was no longer a meek young princess but an assertive woman in her mid-thirties bent on revenge and she had an alternative king in mind.

She arranged a marriage for her son with Philippa, the daughter of the Count of Hainault and Holland, and with help from the new in-laws, she amassed an army to invade England in Prince Edward’s name.

They landed near Walton in Kent in September and the majority of the English barons joined their force. Isabella achieved extraordinary success or a woman. Her army seized London and drove the King and his supporters westward. Sixty-four year old Hugh the elder bravely made a stand at Bristol to give his son and King Edward time to escape. The castle garrison rebelled against him, he was forced to surrender and executed as a traitor. His head was sent for display in Winchester and his body was thrown to the dogs.

Edward and Hugh the younger fled into Wales and several times tried to sail to the Island of Lundy but adverse winds drove them back. Eventually they were captured and High was bought to Hereford for trial. One account, that I came across when I was writing The Knight and the Rose, said that when Hugh was brought to the scaffold, his captors had crowned his head with nettles and covered his body with religious writings. He was hanged on a 50 feet high ladder before the Queen, Mortimer and the Prince. Parts of his body were sent all over England for display and his head was stuck on a pole on London Bridge.

Edward II was forced to abdicate and died in Berkley Castle, probably murdered on the orders of Mortimer. Mortimer got too big for his boots and started to treat the young King Edward III in a less than respectful manner. He was arrested and executed. Isabella went into comfortable retirement.

Edward II, the play by Christopher Marlowe tells the story of this unpopular king and is worth seeing if you ever have the opportunity. I saw Ian McKellen play King Edward in London in 1970 and it was the most powerful stage acting I have ever seen. And if you want to get a sense of Hugh the Younger’s wealth and power, stand in the great hall of Caerphilly castle. Yes, this immense castle is in ruins now, but imagine it in all its glory.

One cannot help feeling a sense of tragedy in the horrible punishment meted out to Hugh the Younger. If only he had not been so acquisitive and high handed. Both he and his father had great administrative talent. Perhaps if he had served a king of more even temperament with better leadership skills and a dedication to serving England in a more responsible manner, he might have earned himself a better epitaph.

The case of the missing head

I thought you might be interested to hear about The Case of the Bishop’s Missing Head. Some years ago I came across the fact that Cardinal John Morton’s fine tomb in Canterbury was empty. I haven’t much time for Morton, who was one of King Henry VII’s advisors, and he wasn’t particularly flavour of the month among his contemporaries either. His policy was: if you flaunt your wealth, you can pay more tax, and if you are going round looking poor than you must be a miser and you can also pay more tax. It was nicknamed ‘Morton’s Fork’.

So why was the tomb empty? Well, Morton had been buried in a shallow grave in the cathedral crypt. During the English Civil War, the metal plate marking his grave was taken by the Roundheads for recycling as munitions, and the unprotected flagstones began to crack. By the reign of Charles II, people were pilfering Morton’s bones and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s’s nephew, Ralph Sheldon, suggested to his uncle that the skull should be removed and placed in a leaden box for safekeeping. By the 1680s, it had become a Sheldon family heirloom.

The skull seems to have ended up with a Jesuit college in Liège. The Sheldons, like many Roman Catholic families, had sent their sons overseas to be educated because Roman Catholic schools were not permitted in England and maybe one of them donated the skull to the college. During the French Revolution, the school shifted to England and took up permanent residence in an Elizabethan mansion in Stonyhurst, Lancashire, courtesy of an old pupil, Thomas Weld of Dorset, who had inherited the property.

When I wrote to Stonyhurst College inquiring if they did indeed have Morton’s head, the school authorities were wondering the same question. Feeling a duty of care, they had just sent off the skull for analysis to the Regius Professor of Forensic Science at Edinburgh University.

Professor Busuttil in his unpublished report concluded that the skull belonged to ‘an elderly well-nourished Caucasian male who died five centuries ago’. The skull showed that the man had not suffered from any protein or vitamin deficiency and therefore it was ‘likely that he lived in the higher socio-economic strata of his society’. The professor found there was no evidence of ‘osteoporosis or osteroarthrosis in the tempero-mandible joint sockets’ and this suggested that the skull belonged to a man not older than sixty-five to seventy years old.

I did some research on the Weld family in the Dorset archives. They were Roman Catholic and family members had collected memorabilia and relics but there was no mention of this particular item being donated to Stonyhurst. The college did, however, at various times, have memorabilia of other famous Roman Catholics such as Sir Thomas More, so it was all quite feasible that the Sheldons might have donated the skull to the college collection.

Morton was reputed to have been well into his seventies when he died in 1500. I have been unable to find out the year of his birth but examining his career indicates that he must have been born before 1430. The fact that his head is actually missing from his grave also supports the tradition that the skull may well be his.

Morton was the great enemy of King Richard III and seduced the king’s greatest supporter, the Duke of Buckingham, to rebel against Richard.

What an ending for the three of them! Richard’s bones under a Leicester car park, Buckingham’s ghost is reputed to haunt Debenham’s department store in Salisbury and Morton has been decapitated by posterity.

Update September 2012

And the end of the story? Archaeologists have found Richard’s skeleton in the carpark site!

I don’t know if Stonyhurst College decided to send the skull back to Canterbury Cathedral advising them to take better care of it this time, or whether the school authorities buried the skull with an inscription stating its history. Presumably, after centuries of adventure, the head is now at peace.