What Happens When Kings Don’t Die: Sarah Cawkwell on an England where Richard III won
5 years ago
We know now that long after the last Plantagenet king of England, Richard III, fatally came second at the Battle of Bosworth Field his body found itself unceremoniously lying beneath a car-park in Leicester.
But what would England look like if Shakespeare's favourite bad guy had won instead?
In June, Abaddon is launching a brand new historical fantasy series from an up and coming author: Heirs of the Demon King: Uprising is a thrilling alternative history by Sarah Cawkwell set in a world filled with magic and where, instead of the famous Tudor monarchs, there is an unconquered line of kings stemming from a victorious Richard III.
Sarah, who has previously written Warhammer novels, now brings her sense of history and visceral action to this fantastical re-imagining of the 16th Century. And we asked her to put together a few words to explain the series and what it's like resurrecting one of the most controversial Royal dynasties in English history...
What Happens When Kings Don’t Die
When I was asked to consider an ‘alternative history-coupled with fantasy’ story, it took me about eleven seconds to decide whereabouts in history I would start.
A million years ago, when I was infinitely younger and certainly more impressionable, I went on a week’s holiday with my then-boyfriend to a remote little cottage somewhere in Scotland. Beautiful place it was: lovely walks, great fishing (for him), nice local pub (for me), no television and a shelf full of books that I could read whilst curled up beside a crackling log fire.
Amongst these books was the novelisation of a television series called The Devil’s Crown. I picked it up with vague disinterest and started reading it. By the end, I was in love with the Plantagenet family and this depiction of them. I can honestly say that returning that wonderful book to the shelf was the most heartbreaking separation from a book I can remember. I t
hen started reading more and more about the Plantagenet family and find their legacy to be fascinating reading.
King Henry the Second was a true warrior king, a man who, whenever he saw something he wanted, would smack his hand down on a table, shout, ‘I WANT T
HIS THING!’, then go out and take it. I would put money down that he never once said ‘could you please pass the salt’.
This sense of self-entitlement also guaranteed him his wife, the remarkable Eleanor of Aquitaine, possibly amongst the most interesting and powerful women ever to feature in England’s history - and the mother of some of the most remarkable monarchs this country has ever seen.
Henry certainly did not suffer fools gladly and he was allegedly massively unpopular as a king. Yet in that novel, he became a sympathetic anti-hero. I’m a sucker for those.
Historical fiction is a delightful area of genre: accounts can be written that paint images of people who often exist only in dry, dusty history books, or as caricatures of their time. For example, the Bard immortalised Richard the Third as a tyrannical, hunch-backed monstrosity: others have argued that this is a great disservice to the long-dead king. History, so they say, is written by the winners and the losers are confined to pages where they are lampooned and ridiculed.
The Battle of Bosworth Field has been prominent in the news over the last couple of years due to the remains of King Richard the Third having been formally identified. Of all places for the last descendant of a great warrior king to be found, beneath layers of car park Tarmac in Leicestershire is probably one of the least dignified.
Richard the Third has perpetually been labelled as a nominal ‘bad guy’. That seemed like an interesting place to start.
What if, I hypothesised, Richard the Third beat Henry Tudor into a pulp on that August day in Leicestershire? What would have happened to England if he had reigned for more than the twenty-six months he did?
But even that was not the true point of divergence for this story. It would have been easy enough to re-write human history based on a Plantagenet victory that day and indeed, this is where Heirs of the Demon King: Uprising opens. But the story goes back further than that. What is it that gave Richard the strength to overcome on the battlefield?
For the answer to that, we look further back in history. We visit King Richard, the Lionheart, a man who is variously portrayed as either Sean Connery, or a shining beacon of English leadership (although many historians claim he didn't speak a word of English and preferred to live in Aquitaine rather than the country over which he ruled). The Devil’s Crown portrayed Richard in a very unsympathetic light which I feel was remarkably brave.
I went with the middle ground. King Richard the First returns from the Holy Land and the Crusades with a gift for the people of his country. He brings with him the gift of true magic: a mastery of the elements and weaving of spells and incantations that bring power and prosperity to his small island. The people of England embrace this gift and the country flourishes. The spread of magic across the known world brings an era of harmony.
You know it can’t possibly last. Let any power fall into the wrong hands and it will inevitably become a warped and twisted terrible thing. So once the ‘wrong’ people start using the gift, magic slowly pollutes the country and becomes something to be feared and banished, no longer to be embraced.
By the time King Richard the Third, the last of the Plantagenets takes to the battlefield at Bosworth, the monarchy is broken and England is a place torn apart by tyranny and war. Bosworth is the last hope for Richard and in order to perpetuate his line, he must call upon the powers with whom his distant ancestor bargained and make a deal of his own.
For every bargain made, there is a price to be paid. Richard’s greed and lust for victory condemns his ancestors to a nightmare.
But eventually the time comes when someone has to make a stand and Heirs of the Demon King: Uprising brings together a number of unlikely individuals whose stories and journeys race towards a final, fateful showdown at dawn on the day of the Winter Solstice…
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