Sandra Heath Wilson on bringing Richard III and his niece Cicely together

Sandra Heath Wilson - new greyscaleSandra was born in South Wales, but spent a great deal of her childhood in Ulster and Germany. She has lived in Gloucestershire since marrying forty years ago, and has one daughter and two grandchildren. Published worldwide, her early books were set around the Wars of the Roses. Her other books, also published by Robert Hale, include her Regency novels The Makeshift Marriage, Lady Jane’s Ribbons and Hide and Seek.

Here, she discusses why she is so drawn to Richard III and why his niece, Cicely, was the right woman to tell the story.

With the imminent publication of CICELY’S KING RICHARD, the first in my Cicely trilogy, I have to wonder – again – what it is about both Richard and his second niece that draws me so strongly to them both. They weren’t really lovers in life. Well, not as far as I know. If they were, discretion was certainly the word. But seriously, they have an appeal so strong that, for the scribe in me, NOT to write their story would be very difficult.

The fascination with Richard III is known world-wide. How many other medieval kings – kings of any period, come to that – still have legions of supporters today? But believe it or not now, there was a time when I was as taken in by Shakespeare’s ‘Tudorised’ version of him as everyone else.

Then, when I was in my twenties, I happened upon a book that was somewhere between historical novel and contemporary. This book was the famous DAUGHTER OF TIME by Josephine Tey, in which her police detective hero is laid up in hospital with nothing to do to pass the time. A friend brings him a selection of portraits, and invites him to use his detective skills to assess each subject. It is when he gets to King Richard III that he finds himself disagreeing with everything he had ever been taught of that ultimately tragic king. By the end of Tey’s book, Richard had been exonerated of all the terrible crimes allotted to him.

I too looked at that same portrait and believed Richard to be innocent. None of his portraits were created during his lifetime, but they all show that same fine-boned face, slight build, long dark-chestnut hair and haunting eyes. And now his remains have been found, we have the modelled head that has become world-famous. It’s the same face, so we know for certain that Richard III really did look like that. A slender man, affected by scoliosis, but more than able to unhorse the gigantic Sir John Cheyne at the Battle of Bosworth. A sensitive man who liked music and books. A just man whose one and only Parliament did more for the people of England than any other monarch, no matter how long the reign. An ill-fated man who lost his child, his wife, and then his life, defending his realm against a foreign invasion by the usurper Henry Tudor.

cicely's king richardThe more I sought to learn about Richard, the more involved I became. I found all the books I could, fiction and non-fiction. I was hooked, beyond all shadow of doubt.

Everything about him told me he was a truly exceptional man who would have done so much for England if he’d been allowed the chance. I was five centuries too late to support him when he needed it, but I could do all I could to put matters right at a distance, so to speak. And so I started writing, and my very first novel – eventually a trilogy – was published by Robert Hale.

The heroine I chose was Richard’s second niece, Cicely. She interested me because, as far as I knew, no one else had written about her. Sir Thomas More called her ‘not so fortunate as fair’, and she was once destined to be Queen of Scotland. Instead she made a recently-discovered first marriage that was swiftly annulled after Bosworth in order for her to be wed to Henry Tudor’s half-uncle, John Welles. And when he died, she committed the heinous sin of marrying a commoner. Henry was infuriated by this, which gave the novelist in me pause for thought. Why was he quite so livid and vengeful? But that is for another time.

Having written that early trilogy, I did not expect to write about Cicely again, until Richard’s remains were discovered. The urge to write everything again was impossible to resist, but when the words began to flow, something happened that changed everything. Instead of loving Richard’s illegitimate son, John of Gloucester, as she had in the first books, she began to love Richard himself. Authors sometimes tell you their characters will do as they want, not what they are told. It’s true. I simply could not ignore the rapport between Richard and his spirited niece. They wrote their own words and feelings, and the result is what I hope will be read as a beautiful but doomed love story.

So, in CICELY’S KING RICHARD, you’ll read of forbidden love between an uncle and his niece, strangers at the beginning, lovers at the end. They cannot help but love, and it’s a passionate, deep, enduring emotion they both know is wrong. Most of us know he’s to be cruelly taken from her at Bosworth, but Cicely does not. She awaits good news of his victory. Her heart and life are shattered by his loss, but her love continues. It will never end.

This is my view of a love story that might have been, and explains my attachment to Cicely and Richard. I have brought them together in a way that probably did not happen in life. But when I look at the modelled head that has been made from a copy of his skull, and I see what a truly handsome young man he was (just imagine him smiling!) I find it very easy indeed to believe Cicely would be fatally drawn to him. He was not a married man straying from his wife, but a lonely widower in need of the comfort only an understanding woman could give. If he found it in an illicit love with Cicely, I can’t condemn either of them. Love is love, and doesn’t always observe the rules.

Those rules are to be broken again in the next book, CICELY’S SECOND KING. That king being Henry Tudor.

– Sandra Heath Wilson

 Cicely’s King Richard is available to pre-order now