Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Sunne in Splendour

If you love English history and the development of western civilization you are going to love the novels of Sharon Kay Penman. She brings you into the societies that developed our system of government, developed how we view humanity and precipitated the events that still reverberate in our world today.

I found her novels as a young mother, at home, with two small children. I was looking for true intellectual stimulation, but so not into reading textbooks or non-fiction. I like to learn and be entertained at the same time. The best part of her novels is that her history is exact, highly researched based upon respected historical authorities. She may interpret some events, every historian actually does that. No one can truly know what is beyond the documents and papers left behind by the actors of their day. Even diaries can lie, exaggerate and presuppose.

But perspectives and an individual's reality can be extrapolated and sometimes even mischievously  used as fodder for the readers enjoyment. So Penman encompasses the reader with her use of imagery, history and allusion to the future. But mostly she makes you care about the people you are reading want to know what happened to them and at times it does break your heart.

Today I want to introduce you to the book: The Sunne in Splendour......

It was the time of the War of the Roses, pitting the House of York against the House of Lancaster. A devastating period of English history. A civil war that destroyed a generation and nearly lead to the destruction of England. It is the time of the end of the Plantagenet dynasty, Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine and Richard the Lionheart,  making way for the Tudors, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.

This is a novel about the retelling of the story of Richard III. That most hated hunchback of Shakespeare's legends. Penman delves into the world in which Richard and his family lived. She explores the mythos and the politics surrounding the ascension to the throne of England. She talks about the wars, the intrigue and in her author's note how history is written by the winner.

Not surprisingly then, that Shakespeare would seek to immortalize Richard's evil while giving forbearance to his Tudor benefactor's family. To say nothing of the fact that the Queen of England could quite readily disassociate your head from your shoulders at that time. Sadly in the end then, what we truly know of Richard and the events of that time-period for most of us, comes from that most damning of Shakespeare's plays.

The Sunne in Splendour receives its name from a patch worn by persons so that their allegiances can be readily identified on a battlefield. In this case Richard was of the House of York. These identifications are the precursor to our own use of flags, symbols and the highly prized patches of combat veterans. See everything comes from somewhere. Nothing exists in a vacuum. The Sunne in Splendour was simply a picture of the sun in the sky at high noon. It is no mistake that Shakespeare uses "sun" instead of "son," in the opening soliloquy of Richard III....

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.

Act I, Scene I

I read this book over 15 years ago. That is my original copy in the picture.  I keep books that reach my soul.  I do usually even lend books out. However, this book and all my Penman books, have never left this house. Have you ever been so totally drawn into a book that it becomes a part of you? Something speaks to me from her pen. I feel the people who lived in these worlds. Read this book and you too shall be transported back into the heart and soul of people long gone, but that were as real as we are today.

Tomorrow more from Sharon Kay Penman...the Welsh trilogy.

Qi en Pace,


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