The original inspiration for this novel came from the magnificent ‘Middleham Jewel’ and its loss by its wealthy mediaeval owner near to Warwick’s great fortress in North Yorkshire. It is now thought that it belonged either to the Countess of Warwick or Isabel Neville, but when I first began writing, no such theory existed.
Although The Colour Of Treason is a work of fiction, it is firmly grounded in historical fact. Wherever possible I have tried to stick to the known movements and whereabouts of the historical figures and known encounters between them. Of course, by definition, their interaction with fictional characters took place only in my imagination, including Elizabeth and Warwick’s relationship. There is no evidence for Warwick taking a mistress though he did have a natural daughter, probably conceived in his teens whilst in the North with his father. She became Lady Margaret Huddlestone. The assumption as to whether a marriage was a happy one or not cannot easily be made at this distance, especially without any personal documentation. Most high-status mediaeval marriages were contracts between two families, to advance the interests of both parties. Richard Neville’s and Anne Beauchamp’s marriage was part of a double union between their families contracted when they were children. The Earldom of Salisbury, which Warwick would inherit upon his father’s death, was not as esteemed in name or estates as that of Warwick, held by his father-in-law and as such I have chosen to make Anne feel she was marrying beneath her; I have no evidence for this, but an instinct that she was her father’s daughter – even commissioning ‘The Beauchamp Pageant,’ a celebration of her father’s chivalric life and deeds. A J Pollard says she may well have ‘encouraged her husband to identify with the Beauchamp traditions’ early in their married life and that Warwick felt the expectation of such legend is undoubted. Because of this, coupled with the additional strain on the marriage that the lack of a male heir to continue that tradition must have produced, I have chosen to make the earl and countess somewhat estranged from each other, fulfilling their duty to each other but no more.
Whether to use fictional characters or not is often a difficult choice for a writer of Historical Fiction, but in my case it was Elizabeth who came first. Some might find her daring unbelievable in a fifteenth-century context, but the use of a female spy to take letters to the Duke of Clarence from Edward is true, though we do not know her identity. I have used Elizabeth’s social blunders as a mirror for the formality and etiquette of fifteenth-century life. Every aspect of fifteenth-century life was governed by etiquette and an individual would certainly not have enjoyed the personal privacy we do today. I have tried to reflect this without cluttering the story with extraneous characters, but any noble lady of Isabel Neville’s status would have been attended by perhaps a dozen or so damozels and would have seldom been alone. The same is also true of any lord, though men were allowed greater personal freedom and could more readily lose their followers – as exemplified by King Edward’s clandestine marriage to Elizabeth Wydeville!
Sources for the fifteenth-century are not nearly as numerous as those for later periods and they can often be contradictory, forcing the novelist to make interesting choices. The evidence for King Edward’s indiscretion with Lady Anne Neville comes from Polydore Vergil and the even later Hall’s chronicle and so must be treated with some scepticism, but I chose to use it here to justify Warwick’s uncharacteristically reckless backing of the Lincolnshire Rebellion which resulted in his ignominious flight from England.
And so we come to Warwick himself. It is easy, as most historical novelists and many modern historians have done, to characterize Warwick as an avaricious, arrogant and over-mighty subject. But that is far too simple. In my opinion it would be difficult to find a fifteenth-century nobleman who would not fit this description in such an uncertain world. A J Pollard calls Warwick ‘an idol of the multitudes’ and certainly his popularity with the commons was always greater than that of King Edward. He was, as Michael Hicks says, the greatest nobleman of his age; simply there was nothing he could not do; no obstacle he could not overcome. He manufactured the Yorkist success from his own ingenuity and at his own cost; he was a consummate seafarer and at times a pirate, fighting hand to hand on the deck of his ships; a general, surveying battles and deploying his forces, including artillery as necessary: he ensured Edward maintained his grip on the throne by his indefatigable presence in the north in the winter of 1462-3 where, based at Warkworth, he rode each day the sixty-mile circuit to Alnwick, Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh to check on the progress of each siege, which he supplied by sea. He was the master of planning and logistics. He was also a politician, harnessing the will of the people to his own cause with a charm and charisma that could win men over whatever their position or nationality. He was thought of by his contemporaries as a prince and comparison with the Duchy of Burgundy is not misplaced, for as the Captain of Calais he was quasi-independent of the king and his government. Of course he could be vengeful too; but this must be set in context of the fifteenth-century world he inhabited: he was not the only nobleman who swept his rivals from the board when given the opportunity, though he is much castigated by modern historians for doing so.
It has been argued that it was not Warwick who changed but Edward: what Warwick stood for in 1461 he still stood for in 1471 – it was just that the world had turned beneath his feet. Warwick never saw himself as merely a subject of Edward IV, as the dukes of Burgundy did not see themselves as mere subjects of the king of France; he had been the arbiter of English politics for 15 years and he saw no reason why he could not continue to be so. This and the desire for his dynasty to sire the next line of kings of England meant that he had the temerity to challenge the status quo and believe he could win. And for a time, he did.
In The Colour Of Treason and its sequel, A Rose Of England, I only hope I have gone someway to conveying the complexity of his character and his undoubted charisma; he captured his contemporaries’ imaginations, as he still captures imaginations today.