The Usurper King
(The Plantagenet Legacy, Book 3) By Mercedes Rochelle
From Outlaw to Usurper, Henry Bolingbroke fought one rebellion after another.
First, he led his own uprising. Gathering support the day he returned from exile, Henry marched across the country and vanquished the forsaken Richard II. Little did he realize that his problems were only just beginning. How does a usurper prove his legitimacy? What to do with the deposed king? Only three months after he took the crown, Henry IV had to face a rebellion led by Richard’s disgruntled favorites. Worse yet, he was harassed by rumors of Richard’s return to claim the throne. His own supporters were turning against him. How to control the overweening Percies, who were already demanding more than he could give? What to do with the rebellious Welsh? After only three years, the horrific Battle of Shrewsbury nearly cost him the throne—and his life. It didn’t take long for Henry to discover that that having the kingship was much less rewarding than striving for it.
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EXCERPT: Edward of Rutland decides to betray his fellow-conspirators before the Epiphany Rising
For once the Earl of Rutland was glad his retainers rode behind him, leaving him to his own thoughts. His route led him in either of two directions: the appointed meeting place at Kingston, or his father’s manor in Burnham, close to Windsor. It was time to decide. Musing, he watched as a courier rode toward them from the opposite direction. He recognized the man, a confidential servant of John Holland.
“My lord,” the messenger said, leaning over with a letter. He didn’t even need to dismount.
Taking the dispatch, Rutland dismissed him. “I thank you for your trouble. I will send my own man with a response.”
Looking confused, the other nodded and turned back. It was not his place to question an earl.
Waiting until the courier was safely on his way, Edward opened the letter. To Edward, Earl of Rutland. We are surprised and distressed that you are not here at the appointed hour. We remind you of your bond and your oath. Whatever the reason, make sure you meet us at Colnbrook in time for our projected enterprise.
Their concern was well placed. During the last few weeks, Edward had vacillated in his intentions. He hadn’t asked to be part of this rebellion; the others had just assumed he would join them. For many years he was one of them—one of Richard’s closest advisors and even a friend, on a good day. As one of the Counter-Appellants, he had shared their disgrace.
But there was more. He kept thinking of that last day in the Tower, when Richard had called him a villain and a traitor and kicked his hat across the floor. Richard nursed his resentments for years; he may never forgive Rutland, even if rescued. The other conspirators knew nothing of this disturbing moment. The only witnesses were his father and King Henry. Was it worth the risk to rescue a king who might prove his own undoing?
Edward shook his head. Loyalty to the others would only go so far. They wouldn’t save him if he was arrested. On the other hand, his father had guaranteed his good behavior. If he betrayed that trust and joined the rebellion he could be disinherited.
He hated to admit it to himself, but his unsavory reputation wasn’t entirely unjustified. He didn’t necessarily mean to shift loyalties; it’s just that situations arose when he had to make unfortunate choices to protect himself. Nonetheless, people didn’t trust him. Look at the fiasco during the last Parliament! The floor was littered with gages. If he betrayed the Counter-Appellants this time, his notoriety would cling to him the rest of his life.
On the other hand, if he exposed the conspiracy, the king would be eternally grateful. So what was the difficulty?
Reaching the crossroads, he turned the horse toward his father’s manor.
As usual, Edmund of Langley could be found in his solar sunk deep in a chair with lots of pillows to support his arthritic back. He was dictating a letter to his secretary and raised his cane in welcome as Edward came in.
“How do you feel today, father?”
“No better nor worse than usual,” Edmund grunted. “That will be all for now,” he waved to his secretary. “Throw another log on the fire before you leave, would you?”
His secretary obliged while his son helped himself to some wine.
“There’s something I need to tell you,” Edward said, sitting down.
“What has happened?”
“A conspiracy, father.”
Edmund stiffened in his chair, letting out a grunt of pain. “Against the king?”
“I’m afraid so. They tried to involve me. I went along at first, um, so I could learn what they were planning. Here.” He pulled out the deed with all six seals and handed it to his father.
Smoothing his scraggly beard, Edmund read the document. “Restore King Richard or die in the attempt?” His mouth fell open. “Whose seals are these? I recognize both Hollands and yours…”
“And Salisbury, Despenser, and Maudeleyn. There are many more involved, of course.”
“What madness is this? When is this supposed to happen?”
“The attack will be on the Epiphany. We must get to the king.”
“We? What are you planning?”
“They, father. We are going to stop them.”
Disbelieving, Edmund waved him on.
“They are sending confederates hiding in wagons along with the harnesses and trappings for the tournament,” Rutland continued. “At their signal, the men will kill the guards and open the gates to let the rebels in.”
“And kill the king?”
“They have many supporters,” Edward said defensively.
“I don’t care. Help me up.” Rutland supported his shoulders as Edmund pushed himself out of the chair with his cane. Straightening, the duke pursed his lips. “Why did you wait so long?”
Edward hesitated. “King Richard—”
“King Richard my ass. You don’t give a fig for King Richard. You couldn’t decide who to support. What? Did you conclude that this venture will fail?”
For once, Edward was stung. “I’m trying to do the right thing.”
“For a change. You have a lot of explaining to do. I see why you need my help. Come, we can’t afford to tarry.”
In the shortest time possible, York, Rutland, and a small escort were thundering to Windsor. They gained immediate entry to the king, who was privately dining with his four sons.
Mercedes Rochelle is an ardent lover of medieval history, and has channeled this interest into fiction writing. Her first four books cover eleventh-century Britain and events surrounding the Norman Conquest of England. The next series is called The Plantagenet Legacy about the struggles and abdication of Richard II, leading to the troubled reigns of the Lancastrian Kings. She also writes a blog: HistoricalBritainBlog.com to explore the history behind the story. Born in St. Louis, MO, she received by BA in Literature at the Univ. of Missouri St.Louis in 1979 then moved to New York in 1982 while in her mid-20s to “see the world”. The search hasn’t ended! Today she lives in Sergeantsville, NJ with her husband in a log home they had built themselves.
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