Lady B’s no-nonsense banter from Cirencester Park

Over Christmas and the New Year, I was unwell and have had to endure a period of complete rest.

Totally enforced, by the way; rest is not something with which I am familiar, so I had to find something to occupy myself.

We’re all familiar with the term ‘binge-watching’, and I can happily confirm it is GREAT, especially under these circumstances.

In the past, if we enjoyed a programme, we’d have to wait until the following week for the next instalment. It was excruciating. Pubs, bars, cafés, and workplaces would be filled with conjecture, conspiracy theories, and predictions – usually hopelessly wrong.

No longer do we have to wait; well, unless you’re particularly fond of soaps, because with the advent of streaming services, we can sit down to an entire day of something delicious.

I am particularly fond of a costume drama. My dearest schoolfriend Alice, when she was living abroad (her husband was a British Ambassador overseas), would always base herself with us on her UK trips and we’d spend happy evenings submerging ourselves in series such as Downton Abbey.

Molly and Nell, Alice’s two daughters – who we share; they’ve grown up with us as much as they have their parents – would phone us up, and instead of saying ‘What are you up to?’, they’d ask which costume drama we were watching, and when we admitted that in fact we were, they’d howl with laughter and say, ‘We KNEW it!’

It became, and has remained, a standing family joke.

Over the past couple of weeks of feeling somewhat below par, I found The Winter King, an historical drama about the young King Arthur, fantastically medieval and rather gory in places. Highly entertaining, and very well cast.

Brooding warlords, a determined young King Arthur, a stunning Guinevere, deeply unpleasant Saxon invaders, and manipulative neighbouring leaders – it’s fabulous, but is the historical accuracy there?

So, my question is this. While we love watching period dramas – thereby satisfying the taste of the modern consumer – when based on factual figures, do we take it with a large pinch of salt, or do we joyfully believe every moment?

King Richard III is the perfect example of this theory. For centuries, books have been written, plays acted, and films made, vilifying him as the murderous king, doing away with the Princes in the Tower to grasp the throne for himself.

But, thanks to the extraordinary tenacity of historian Phillipa Langley (who found the King in the car park), questions have been raised laying serious doubt as to whether this actually happened, and it was all in fact Tudor spin, formed to solidify their claim to the very throne Richard occupied.

Her inquisitive and unrelenting research has brought almost irrefutable proof the two boys grew up and lived abroad, both returning to England, attempting to reclaim their heritage, unsuccessfully.

I was introduced to her by Elizabeth St John, a dear friend, and a distant cousin to our family through the Lydiard Park line of the St John’s, (Lucy married our ancestor Sir Allen Apsley in the early 1600s).

Elizabeth has written many historical novels based on our family history, and she has always conceded that, in order to maintain a flow of a story, you have to (rather like the underground trains) ‘Mind the Gaps’. In other words, acknowledge there are gaps of records, and fill them in sensitively and with imagination.

But with Phillipa’s research, history has almost definitely been proven wrong. I find it quite mind-blowing. The books will have to be re-written, thousands of them. Teachers will have to re-introduce the new theory into classes, and paintings will have to be renamed as fictional.

I recommend her book, The Princes in the Tower, and if you have access to streaming, find the documentary Phillipa did with Rob Rinder proving her theory.

History is usually written by the victors, and ancient history, or history that precedes formal records, should always be up for debate. Whether or not academia is open to it is an entirely different matter.

Contact @CotswoldLadyB