Monday, April 25, 2011

The Insanity Continues - please donate to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS

This is a follow-up to the post "How I Went Insane Without Really Trying"

Please consider making a donation to BC/EFA by visiting their website

When we last left our heroine, she'd just made an insane donation to BC/EFA and along with another gentleman won Daniel Radcliffe's bow tie from How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.
Photo taken backstage with the very gracious Daniel Radcliffe and John Larroquette, stars of the Broadway revival of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.   The third gentlemen is The Thespian's husband.

The next day, The Thespian (see, we're almost back to normal posting style) attended two shows.  The first,  Catch Me If You Can, did not do a fundraising appeal after the matinee performance.    Returning to the hotel, The Thespian's husband convinced The Thespian to wear THE bow tie to that night's performance of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert.  

At the Palace theater, The Thespian was thrilled to run into "John" who sat behind us at How To Succeed.   The Thespian thinks we looked marvelous.

Following the performance, there was another auction, this time for a pair of prop ruby slippers that was cut from the production.   They are signed by Will Swenson, Tony Shelton and Nick Adams and a sparkly opening night program signed by the entire cast was thrown in for good measure.   Guess what?

 The Thespian and her husband went backstage where we were thanked by C. David Johnson, who portrays Bob and a couple of other cast members.   Sorry, no photos this time, but a lovely experience.

On Sunday afternoon, we attended Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo.    Following the show, they auctioned off a photo with the entire cast as well as an autographed copy of one of Robin Williams' DVD's.    The Thespian tied with another generous woman.  Everyone in the cast and crew was very gracious with their time.

Many will think that The Thespian is completely insane for bidding a fair amount of money for these items and experiences.    Please read my initial post: "How I Went Insane Without Really Trying" and you will understand that Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is very dear to my heart.

Once again, please consider donating to this amazing charity.

Friday, April 22, 2011

How I Went Insane WIthout Really Trying

For this blog post, I am dropping my third person persona.   This is Diane, from my heart.

I went to NYC to extend my 50th birthday celebration.   First show on the agenda, How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying starring Daniel Radcliffe and John Larroquette.   After the show was over there was a fundraising appeal for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids.    This is a cause dear to my heart.   I have lost three colleagues to this horrible scourge, including one of my very best friends.   I support the organization at the Angel level (me and Meryl Streep).    Twice a year Broadway productions and some touring companies compete to raise money for BC/EFA.    That is why my basement has many signed posters from Broadway and touring productions.   I even have Daniel Radcliffe's autograph on a poster of Equus from a couple of years ago.

So, I got excited, yay, another poster.   Then they announced that they were auctioning off Daniel's bow tie from the performance.   At Equus it was the pen used to hypnotize the boy and it went for $800 dollars.   BC/EFA means so much to me and I decided to go for it (especially since they were accepting credit cards).  I ended up in a bidding war with a gentleman and they decided that they would give two ties.  He got act one, I got act two (or as Kevin put it the Vice Presidential tie).  

After being taken backstage and having my credit card swiped, I met John and Daniel.  They were very nice.  John is really tall and I took off my shoe to see just how tall.   Daniel and I are about eye level with my shoes off.    They both signed the tie "Happy Birthday, Diane --- Love Daniel Radcliffe , John Larroquette."   And they both signed my poster so the poster will join the wall when I get home and get it framed.

And they took pictures with Kevin's phone of me with John and Daniel and Kevin and me with them.

Felt like a rock star when I got to exit via the stage door.  

I promise not to go crazy at the other three shows.   But, I probably will go home with more signed posters.

All for a good cause.

 "if you touched him you understand what happiness was."   I miss you so much.

Welcome To The Show...Now Shut The F#^%€ Up

Audiences are rude. We want to be constantly wired to our phones and tablets. When our phones ring no matter how inappropriate the venue we have to answer it...right now! if only to tell the person calling "I can't talk right now."

The situation in live performance venues has gotten so bad that the list of "please don't" recited before the show begins gets longer and longer and contains more specific electronic hardware. How did we get this bad and what can theaters do to return the live performance experience to an enjoyable experience for both the performers and the audience members?

It all began with "the taking of photographs, with or without flash, and the use of recording devices is strictly prohibited." A lot of audience members are unaware that if the curtain is up and the set is visible taking a picture of it is infringing on the designer's copyright. A number of theaters' request that you don't take pictures of the interior of the theater for the same reason. A blanket prohibition gets the cameras put away from the beginning. You may think that the one shot you take won't bother anyone, but the click of the shutter and, with modern cameras, the glare of the screen provides an annoying destraction. The great Katharine Hepburn once stopped a performance to ask the photographing audience member if he was done. If you find that appalling here's a personal experience that The Thespian found utterly unbelievable.

The Thespian was attending a performance of La Traviata by the Washington National Opera at The Kennedy Center. Five minutes before the performance began a couple took their seats about four rows in front of where The Thespian was seated. The woman was dressed to the nines ready for an evening in the Opera House. The man was dressed in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. (The Thespian swears she is not making this up) The orchestra tuned and the curtain speech was given. Overture begins, curtain camera up. He starts filming the performance. His camera had a very bright screen. Fellow audience members loudly asked him to stop and he would, for five or ten minutes at a time. At the first intermission The Thespian fetched an usher and explained what was going on and pointed out where the couple was sitting. Act two begins with an usher poised nearby ready to pounce. The couple was late returning to their seats and had visited the Kennedy Center gift shop. Not five minutes later there was the crash of broken glass. Yep, they stepped on their gift shop bag and something broke. Something small and round was also in the bag and it spilled and loudly rolled under the seats. At this point the woman in the couple gave up and left, the man followed a couple of minutes later when he realized that she wasn't coming back.

"Please turn off all cellular phones, pagers, signal watches and Bluetooth devises.". How many times have you listened to a curtain speech and done a silent ten second countdown as all around your seat you are serenaded by the dulcet ringtones as phones are turned off? Why do we have to be constantly at everyone's reach? Back in the olden days you left the box office phone number with the babysitter or let the usher know your seat number and that you might be expecting to be contacted in the event of an emergency. Do we need to revisit that quaint old custom?
Arena Stage located in southwest Washington DC makes announcements asking you to turn off your cell phone before you enter the theater. The American Shakespeare Center in Staunton , Virginia asks that if you turn on your cell phone at intermission that you exit the theater even if you aren't making a phone call. Here's another personally witnessed faux pas.

The Thespian attended a performance of War Horse at Lincoln Center. There was not a verbal curtain speech before the performance. Instead, there was an insert in the program in large type which requested that all electronic devices be turned off as they might interfere with the sound equipment used for the performance. In addition, the ushers walked the aisles a few minutes before the performance began asking everyone to turn off their cell phones. The lights dim, the music begins...and in the row in front of The Thespian a cell phone rings. The audience member doesn't quickly silence it. Oh, no, he answers the phone. "Hello. I can't talk right now. I'm at a show. It's starting right now." An usher was right there and she became my theatrical heroine as she said to him, "What is wrong with you?"

The wonderful Artistic Director of Arena Stage, Molly Smith, always ends her recorded curtain speech with "and unwrap those". Getting a coughing fit cannot be helped especially in the often dry air in a theater. It never fails that when you get a tickle in your throat it always happens at the most quiet part of the performance. The mistake many audience members make is unwrapping the cough drop or candy really, really slowly. Here's a tip: if you have to rummage for something in your pocket or purse, it's going to make noise no matter how much you try to stay quiet. Better to get it out quickly and be done with it.

Food items are a completely different animal. It is rare in American theater to have food and beverages allowed in the actual theater. (The Thespian had Walls Ice Cream in the West End. The House Manager in me cringed) There are exceptions, but most professional theaters don't allow it. It makes cleanup difficult and the noise of eating and drinking can be a distraction to the performers. So, if the venue does not allow food, don't smuggle it in and snack after intermission.

The Thespian was attending a performance of South Pacific at The Kennedy Center. In the middle of "This Nearly Was Mine" there came from the seats directly behind The Thespian the crinkle of cellophane being slowly unwrapped. At first, The Thespian thought it was a cough drop. But, the noise continued for a lengthy period of time. The Thespian's husband turned around...and the audience member was mindlessly eating a box of Milk Duds.

What are the solutions to our rude behavior? Put away the cameras. Turn off the cell phones as soon as you arrive at the theater or no later than when you first sit down in your seat. Don't take food and drink to your seat unless the venue allows you to do so. If you are concerned that you have to reached, let the box office or house manager know your seat number and give the theater's phone number to your babysitter or other emergency contact person.

All it takes is common sense and simple human decency and the live performance experience can be pleasant for everyone.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

China: The Whole Enchilada at Landless Theatre Co.

Landless Theatre Co. Is known for creating theatrical productions simply meant to be fun and entertaining. From Gutenberg: The Musical to Evil Dead: The Musical to their recent sold out DC premiere of Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog, audiences know they are in for an irreverent evening of theater.

And so it is with their latest endeavor, China: The Whole Enchilada now onstage at the DC Arts Center in the Adams Morgan Neighborhood. The DC Arts Center is a very tiny performance space which provides a nice intimate and engaging space for Landless and their audience members. The cast of three actors does well with the limitations of the material, the space and the recorded soundtrack, and under the direction of John Sadowsky gamely entertain you with a mostly humorous parade through Chinese history

The play was written by Mark Brown with additional music and arrangements by Paul Mirkovitch. Mr. Brown was inspired to write the show after adopting his daughter from China. Some of the choices as to what to highlight in Chinese history were obviously influenced by that event. In some ways therein lies the main problem with the show. Our gallant band of three actors dive into the material with great enthusiasm. It's just that the choices in some of that history are occasionally jarring and grind the proceedings to a halt.

China: The Whole Enchilada briskly romps through 4000 of recorded history with a game gang of three white guys, Andrew Lloyd Baughman, Ben Demers and Matt Baughman. Stereotypes are acknowledged and made riotous fun over. History is skewered from philosophers to emperors to Chairman Mao. Good and bad history is exposed two parody alike. However not all of the material is handled in a comic vein. That is fine, but in this style of musical review it can bring the momentum to a halt.

There is nothing wrong with dramatizing for comedic effect the unsavory elements of history. One need only look at any of the better written pieces from the Reduced Shakespeare Company to which the format of China: The Whole Enchilada owes a great deal or even the current Broadway Musical The Book of Mormon to see that unlikeable cultural elements can be staged with macabre humorous effect. A prime example of this in China is the song "Lotus Shoes."   The binding of women's feet is one of the horrifying cultural elements in Chinese history.   But, the song about it is actually very funny.   One can take from the song itself the message that this was a bad practice and yet smile at how the topic is brought to life on the stage.   What grinds it to a halt is the follow-up of philosophical statements in Chinese history about how unimportant girls' lives are and the modern day one-child policy which has led to an extremely high abortion rate and the many young girls placed for adoption primarily because they aren't the coveted boys.    One realizes that his is a subject that hit close to home for the playwright, but the place to discuss it isn't in a lighthearted review of Chinese history.

Despite moments such as that, China: The Whole Enchilada is a fun little show and is worth the two hours traffic upon the tiny stage.     Andrew Lloyd Baughman is an engaging personality with a stunning voice.   Matt Baughman is a gifted vocal mimic and comedic talent.   Ben Demers gamely dives in to the insanity and has good comic timing even though he plays the sane member of the trio you'd think he was a long time veteran of Landless' zany style rather than making his debut with the company.   The actors have the challenge of performing to recorded music which means that it is occasionally set too low for their vocal ranges.    It is a shame that they are also miked.   In that small a space the sound levels should be able to be adjusted so that miking the actors is not necessary.

China: The Whole Enchilada will be performed at DC Arts Center through April 24, 2011.  For tickets and additional information please visit

Full disclosure: The Thespian was a financial backer of this production.   She hopes that this review is seen as fair and unbiased.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

War Horse at Lincoln Center - A Stunning Theatrical Achievement

Acclaimed author Michael Morpurgo wrote the novel War Horse in 1982.   He was deeply moved by stories he had learned from relatives and acquaintances about their experiences in World Wars I and II.   When he moved to Devon in the mid-1970's he became interested in the compelling stories of the horses that served in wartime.     It is known that  tens of millions of men lost their lives or were wounded on all sides during World War I.   The cost to the civilian population was equally devastating.    Through conversations with local Devon villagers, Mr. Morpurgo learned of the loss of the horses pressed into service.  8 million horses died serving in the Great War.    Used as cavalry mounts and to pull ambulances and guns, the British army alone used approximately 1 million horses in the war effort.   Of those million, 62,000 returned home, the rest died or were sold after the war, usually to be used in the devastated areas of France and Belgium as meat.     Mr. Morpurgo made the bold decision to tell the story of World War I from the point of view of one of those horses.    By doing so, he was able to tell a balanced story of the war from the point of view of the British and German forces and the French civilians caught in the middle.    The difficulty becomes how does one translate such a work to the stage.    The unbelievable National Theatre of Great Britain's production of War Horse, adapted by Nick Stafford, resoundingly answers that with an absolute masterpiece of theatrical staging.

How on earth do you adapt a novel in which your main protagonist is a horse?   The script by Nick Stafford opens up the story to include not only Joey, the beautiful thoroughbred and draft mix who is the focal point, but also the coming of age of the young Devon farm boy who loves him,  Albert Narracott.    This is not just a story of World War I, it is truly the story of Albert and his family and how they deal with the difficulties in life.    Albert's father, Ted is an alcoholic who is bound and determined to prove himself to be as successful as his brother, Arthur.   Ted was unable to serve in the Boer War and has a huge chip on his shoulder in the mistaken belief that because he stayed home no one in the village respects him.   Ted is a foolish man and risks his family's security by outbidding Arthur in a horse auction for young Joey the colt, but imperils the family farm as he spends the mortgage money to buy the horse.

It is through this foolish act that Joey and the young Albert meet.    Through gentle persuasion Albert gains Joey's trust and trains him and soon they are galloping the countryside.   Arthur cannot stand that Ted bested him and by plying him with alcohol gets him to bet that Joey can learn to plow a field in one week's time.    Albert is furious with his father, but agrees to try on the condition that if he succeeds then Albert will become Joey's owner.    Yet, Ted betrays his son when shortly after the contest, Ted learns that the British Army will pay 100 pounds for an officer's cavalry mount and sells Joey.    Joey is sent to to France where he will see the carnage of war, first as a British cavalry horse, then in the ensuing chaos he ends up on the German side, alongside another British horse, Topthorn.    Respite is little and Joey sees and suffers many torments.   Meanwhile, young Albert runs away from home, lies about his age and  joins the army to find his beloved horse.     Will Joey and Albert ever be united again?

What is utterly amazing is how the scale of this story, from the rolling farmland of Devon to No Man's Land with its tanks, machine guns and barbed wire unfold upon the Vivian Beaumont stage.     The set design by Rae Smith is deceptively simple.    Utilizing the Vivian Beaumont's thrust stage to great effect, the few set pieces are easily recognizable whether in the trenches at the front or the Narracott farm.  There is a large scrim-like gash across the top of the stage.   Audience members are left to ponder why it is shaped like it is until the moment that Albert runs away to join the war.   Upon this scrim projections of  marvelous sketches are drawn in front of our eyes showing everything from the Devon countryside to the growth of Albert and Joey's bond to the haunting skies over a battlefield.   Rae Smith also designed the wonderful sketches and the perfect costuming.  

Adrian Sutton has created a stunning score reminiscent of the time period.  The score is equally intimate as needed and at times lushly epic to accompany the scale of the war scenes.  John Tams original songs are timeless and could easily be of the time period.  Those songs are poignantly sung by Liam Robinson and Kate Pfaffl.  The direction by Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris emphasizes the emotions inherent in the story.    Toby Sedgwick's movement and his choreography for the horse sequences must be witnessed in person to see their effectiveness.

That brings us to the horses.   Adrian Kohler with Basil Jones for Handspring Puppet Company has created utterly amazing life-size puppets to portray Joey, Topthorn and all of the other horses in the production.    Each horse takes three actors to bring to life.  Due to the exertion required, multiple actors portray the horses.  At the performance this reviewer attended Joey was portrayed as a Foal by Stephen James Anthony, David Pegram and Leenya Rideout, Joey as a stallion by Jeslyn Kelly, Jonathan David Martin, Prentice Onayemi, Topthorn by Joel Reuben Ganz, Tom Lee and Jonathan Christopher MacMillan, Coco by Joby Earle and Enrico D. Wey and Heine by Sanjit De Silva and Bhavesh Patel.    The performance by these actors requires a Herculean effort over the course of the 2 hour and 40 minute running time.  These actors more than deserve their in costume and out of costume curtain calls.

And what a performance it is.   These puppets are steps beyond the most effective puppetry that used on on the stage (yes, including The Lion King)    These horses not only must move in a stylized, yet realistic fashion but they manipulate their ears, mouths and tails, must be able to bear the weight of the human characters and they breathe.    It is incredible to watch and draws applause from the audience at moments early in the performance, but quickly the audience forgets the artistry of the puppets and accepts them as the leading characters of the story.

As for the human characters the ensemble is a wonderful cohesive unit, whether portraying soldiers, villagers or, upon occasion the fences of a horse pen or the barbed wire of No Man's Land.    Outstanding performances are given by Boris McGiver as the foolish alcoholic Ted Narracott and Alyssa Breshnahan as Albert's mother, Rose, the steady rock of the family.   Peter Hermann plays Hauptmann Friedrich Muller,  the German officer who catches Joey and Topthorn after a brutal battle who tries to keep his humanity by saving these horses and himself with ambulance duty.   It is a deeply moving performance.  Mr. Hermann's Friedrich sees the futility of war and longs to find some semblance of normalcy long enough to survive the war and get home to his family.   As the young French girl Emilie that Friedrich, Joey and Topthorn winter with,  young Madeleine Rose Yen delivers a sweetly poignant performance.

This is a story of a boy and his horse.   As the boy, Albert, who must learn the cruelties of the world through his foolish father's behavior and later during his insane decision to go to war to find his horse, Seth Numrich delivers a nuanced emotional performance.    It is through Mr. Numrich that the puppet Joey becomes a living horse in the audience's eyes.   We love Joey because Albert loves Joey.   We root for their reunion, but the journey is long and we must witness, along with Albert the terror of war and the senseless losses along the way.     We are invested in this story because of the performances of Mr. Numrich and the actors who bring Joey to life.

This production premiered at the Royal National-Olivier Theatre in South Bank, London in 2007 and transferred to the West End in 2009.   May this production, with its American cast, enjoy an equally long run on Broadway.

For more information on the writing of War Horse - the novel, the creation of the horse puppets and additional background on World War I, please pick up a copy of the Lincoln Center Review in the lobby of the theater for a suggested donation of $1.00.

Parental advisory:  While this play is based on a children's novel, bear in mind that it depicts scenes of war.   It contains gun shots and strobe lighting and very loud sound effects.  There are also a few instances of profanity in the context of battle scenes.    Some young children may be upset by the deaths of humans and horses alike.

The National Theatre of Great Britain's production of War Horse is playing at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater.   For tickets and additional performance information please visit or call Telecharge at 212-239-6200, 800-447-7400.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Book Review: The Last White Rose: Dynasty, Rebellion and Treason, The Secret Wars Against the Tudors by Desmond Seward

In many respects thanks to rudimentary world history courses and William Shakespeare's Richard III, we are taught that Henry VII won the Battle of Bosworth Field, married Princess Elizabeth of York, uniting the warring houses of Lancaster and York and they all lived happily ever after in the new Tudor dynasty.    Oh, yes there are those pesky pretenders to the throne, Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck and  well rounded history courses will point out that the last battle of the War of the Roses took place in 1487 at the Battle of Stoke, but, all in all, Henry VII had a trouble-free reign leaving a secure future for his heir, Henry VIII, right?     Right?

As Desmond Seward in his exhaustively thorough new book,aThe Last White Rose: Dynasty, Rebellion and Treason, The Secret Wars Against the Tudors brings to light many attempts to topple the very fragile Tudor dynasty.   Throughout his reign, Henry VII faced constant threats to his regime and his son, Henry VIII, faced not persons pretending to be the true King of England, but persons who actually had royal blood and were the true heirs to the Yorkist claims to the throne.

The Thespian commends Mr. Seward for his thoroughness in describing every instance of rebellion against Henry VII and Henry VIII.   However, that is part of the problem with this book.    It is fascinating to learn of an assassination attempt on Henry VII when he visited York in 1486 and to have detailed analysis of the attempts to put on the throne  Lambert Simnel, put forth as the imprisoned Edward Plantagenet,  Earl of Warwick and the travels and travails of the fascinating Perkin Warbeck who was backed as Richard, Duke of York, the younger of the two Princes in the Tower.    It becomes mind-numbing to read in great detail every single name of every single person involved in the more minor rebellions such as that of the Grand Prior of the Order of St. John who plotted to poison Henry VII in 1496.

Despite these faults, the Thespian is grateful to Mr. Seward for bringing forward the truly fragile nature of the Tudor dynasty.    Simply having several children, including male heirs, did not a secure throne achieve.   One needs only look at the entire history of the 15th century battles between Henry VI who had one son who died at the Battle of Tewkesbury, and his cousin Richard, Duke of York's family, whose eldest son took the throne as Edward IV, to see the history of instability in the English throne.    Even Edward IV having two sons when he died did not lead to a secure succession with the usurpation by Edward IV's heretofore perfectly loyal brother, Richard III.   Richard only had one son and he predeceased him.    

In 1502, the fragility of the Tudor dynasty became a crisis.   Arthur, Prince of Wales died unexpectedly a few months after the diplomatic triumph of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon.   The youngest son of Henry VII, Prince Edmund had died in 1500.    In 1503, Queen Elizabeth of York died of complications of childbirth and her latest baby, Princess Katherine died as well.    Henry VII is left with one son and two daughters.    It is at this point that the remaining members of the Yorkist blood royal begin to plot to take the throne.  

As Mr. Seward points out there are a few different branches of the Yorkist blood at the turn of the 16th century.    The closest to the throne, Edward, Earl of Warrick, son of Edward IV's brother, George, Duke of Clarence, had been imprisoned in the Tower of London since Henry VII came to the throne.   He was executed in 1499 following an escape attempt with the also imprisoned pretender, Perkin Warbeck.  

Warrick had a sister, Margaret, who was married to a cousin of the Tudors, Richard Pole who had been knighted following the Battle of Stoke.   Margaret was the mother of Henry, Lord Montague, Reginald, her most famous child who became the last catholic Archbishop of Canterbury, and Sir Geoffrey Pole.

 Another family with royal blood were the Courtenays.   William Courtenay, who became Earl of Devonshire, married Queen Elizabeth of York's youngest sister, Princess Katherine.   They had one surviving son, Henry Courteney who would rise in favor under his cousin, Henry VIII and be created Marquis of Exeter.   The third family that caused the most difficulty to both Henry VII and Henry VIII were the de la Poles, Earls of Suffolk.

The de la Poles had married into the Yorkist royal family when John de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk married Edward IV and Richard III's sister, Elizabeth Plantagenet.     His son, another John, Earl of Lincoln had been named heir presumptive to the throne by Richard III.   John, Earl of Lincoln died at the Battle of Stoke.    His younger brother, Edmund de la Pole, was reconciled to the Tudor king and there are numerous records of his presence at court.    Following the death of the Earl of Warrick, which was considered by many to be judicial murder he rebelled against Henry VII and left the country.    He had a grievance in that his father's lands had become forfeit to the crown due to the attainder for treason.   However, he changed his mind, returned to England and was fined a huge sum of money.   From that point the de la Poles were less in favor.

Mr. Seward goes into detail the various ways in which the reports to the courts of Maximillian, Holy Roman Emperor, and Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy seemed to favor the White Rose claims.   However, favoring did not always translate into financial backing for the needed troops to back those claims.    Edmund fled to the court of Emperor Maximillian again a few years later and when Archduke Phillip, the new Duke of Burgundy was unexpectedly washed up on England's shores while traveling to Spain to claim his wife's throne in 1506, one of the deals negotiated was the return of Edmund de la Pole.    Edmund was duly returned and fully cooperated naming several members of the aristocracy as his backers.    Edmund remained in prison until the reign of Henry VIII and was executed in 1513 during the preparations for the French War and as a direct result of the French King, Louis XII deciding to give a military command to Edmund's brother, Richard de la Pole.

Henry VIII came to the throne in 1509 and issued a general pardon.   However, that pardon did not extend to those who had supported Edmund de la Pole, such as his brothers Richard and William de la Pole and William Courtenay, Earl of Devonshire.     Henry VIII rehabilitated Margaret Plantagenet giving her some of her family's lands, creating her Countess of Salisbury in her own right and appointing her godmother and governess of the Princess Mary.   He also raised his cousin, Henry Courtenay first to his father's title of Earl of Devonshire and then to Marquis of Exeter in June 1525.    Yet, as Mr. Seward points out having royal blood was a dangerous thing during the reign of Henry VIII.

Mr. Seward spends a good amount discussing Richard de la Pole's travels on the continent.   He remained at the French court, styling himself the White Rose.  It was in the service of King Francois I, that he died at the Battle of Pavia.  

The book includes the fall of Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, who died primarily due to trumped up charges that he planned to take the throne.   Then he turns to the circumstances behind the rarely mentioned in general Tudor history Exeter Conspiracy.

Henry VIII's quest for a male heir is generally looked upon through his marital history.   What becomes clear in a book such as Mr. Seward's is that the security of a male heir was paramount in the 16th century.    And a genuine threat was perceived by the mere existence of Margaret Plantagenet, Countess of Salisbury's children.  

Her second son, Reginald Pole was a talented scholar.  Henry VIII had sponsored his continental education and he rose in the Catholic church.   However, during the King's Great Matter, Henry VIII's annulment proceedings against Katherine of Aragon, Reginald took Katherine's side, writing polemics against Henry VIII's arguments.   Reginald was also considered a threat because, while he eventually rose to the rank of Cardinal, he never took priestly vows and therefore he could have been released from his role in the church.   He was constantly put forth as a potential husband for the Princess Mary.    Mr. Seward discusses the assassination and kidnapping attempts made on Reginald Pole and also that Reginald genuinely was trying to raise funds to potentially remove Henry VIII from the throne.

Into this was the innocence of the rest of his family.   Margaret Plantagenet, Countess of Salisbury, while remaining a staunch supporter of Katherine of Aragon and Princess Mary, dutifully wrote letters to Reginald condemning his actions.   Reginald's eldest brother, Henry, Lord Montague had been steadfastly loyal to the King participating in many of the glittering events and supporting the King in his annulment.   Their cousin, Henry Courtenay, Marquis of Exeter, from whom the Conspiracy takes its name, had been even more loyal, serving as a military commander and judge in the Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion.  

Yet, Henry VIII had finally succeeding in producing a male heir, the future King Edward VI.   Those with Yorkist blood were potentially a threat to the young prince.   And the Yorkist families had run afoul of the "new" men who had risen to power, such as Thomas Cromwell.  These men had earned their positions at court by ability and not by noble blood.

Henry VIII had Lord Montague and the Marquis of Exeter brought to trial and executed.  A few years later he had the elderly Countess of Salisbury executed as well.   Montague's young son, disappears into the Tower records.   Exeter's son would grow up in the Tower of London and be released during the reign of Queen Mary I only to be caught up in another rebellion leading to his exile and death.

Seward ends his book with the fall of the house of Howard which solidified the reformist position in the council that was proposed to govern during Edward VI's minority.

Overall, this is a very thorough book covering many aspects of Henry VII and Henry VIII's reigns that tend to get short shrift in more general biographies.   However, The Thespian cannot wholly recommend this book.  Why?   For the simple reason that it is poorly edited and contains numerous basic errors of fact.    A few examples:  Seward states that Prince Arthur was 17 when he died - he was 15, he names the Marquis of Exeter as Edward Courtenay - he was Henry, his son was Edward,  and the book names him correctly at a later point, he states that Gertrude Blount, the Marchioness of Exeter was half Spanish.  This later one is repeated by historians that were writing 20 or more years ago.  According to Burke's peerage she was fully English the daughter of his first wife, Elizabeth Say.    These are just a few of the errors there a a few more.     When a book contains basic errors of facts, no matter how valuable the material, The Thespian cannot give it her full stamp of approval.

Desmond Seward is a medieval historian whose previous books are A Brief History of the Hundred Years War and A Brief History of the Wars of the Roses.    His current book,DThe Last White Rose: Dynasty, Rebellion and Treason, The Secret Wars Against the Tudors was published by Constable Press in 2010.