British Fiction, 18001829

HESELTINE, William. Last of the Plantagenets, The (1829)

Contemporary Reviews

La Belle Assemblée, 3rd ser. 9 (Feb 1829): 83–85.

Embracing an important period of English history—that of the battle of Bosworth Field, and the years immediately following the overthrow of the hopes of the House of York— ‘The Last of the Plantagenets, an Historical Romance, illustrating some of the Public Events, and Domestic and Ecclesiastical Manners of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries,’ will not fail of awakening the interest, and of exciting the favourable attention of the reader. The subject is peculiarly suited to this species of composition, and our wonder is, that it should not sooner have attracted the notice of our historical novelists. This work is inscribed to the Earl of Winchelsea, ‘as a lineal descendant of Sir Thomas Moyle, the last protector of the last of the Plantagenets, and possessor of the manor of Eastwell, to which he retired.’ It purports to be the life of Richard Plantagenet, a son of Richard the Third, written by himself in his old age, after his rescue from want and poverty by Sir Thomas Moyle; and the manuscript, with other papers, the property of a deceased antiquary, is supposed to fall into the hands of two graduates of Cambridge, one of whom has been preferred to the rectory of Eastwell. The style assimilates itself to that of the old English Chronicles; and from being written in the first person, and from the religious and meditative tone by which it is pervaded, an air of truth is thrown over the narrative, and a higher degree of interest excited, than could otherwise have been the case. To tradition rather than to history, we are indebted for our knowledge of the existence of Richard Plantagenet. ‘It will be remembered,’ observes the author, ‘that King Richard III. had one natural son, named John of Gloucester, whom he made Captain of Calais;’ but it was not, until the year 1720, supposed that he had also another son, Richard, who was brought up in obscurity, acknowledged by his royal father only the night before the battle of Bosworth Field, and who survived until the reign of Edward VI., when he was upwards of eighty years of age.’

‘The fortunes of Plantagenet being blighted on the death of his father, after many adventures, he finally became a builder, and was employed as such in the erection of Eastwell Palace, when he discovered himself to Sir Thomas Moyle, who, in 1546, gave him ground in his [83/84] park to build himself the cottage in which he afterwards resided.’ Assuming these facts as his data, our author has displayed much ingenuity in the construction of his tale. The agitated feelings of the boy on being removed from the Monastery of Ely, where he had been brought up in ignorance of his birth, to Richard’s tent, on the eve of the battle of Bosworth when the king acknowledged him as his son, and the battle of which Plantaganet [sic] is a spectator, and finally a participator in, are well pourtrayed. Richard Plantaganet [sic], after the death of his father, is wounded, and left as dead upon the field. He is saved by an aged Jew, who treats him as his son, until he is taken into the protection of an adherent of the late king.

At the coronation of the Queen of Henry VII., he saves the life of the Princess Bride, who, although scarcely more than an infant, had been devoted to the cloister. The beauty of the child makes an impression upon his youthful heart, which neither time nor absence effaces; and at a subsequent period, after a long residence in the court of the Duchess of Burgundy, who, at her decease, makes him the bearer of some memorials to the Queen of England, &c., he again meets her, accidentally, in the tomb of Edward the Fourth, discloses to her his birth, and makes an avowal of his love, against which she pleads her devotion to a religious life. He a second time saves her from death, and effects a third meeting in the garden of the Abbey of Bermondsey, on the eve of the consecration of the Princess. They are discovered—the Princess is removed—whither, he is unable to ascertain—and having, in a moment of imprudence, disclosed his birth, Richard is conveyed a prisoner to Sheen. He escapes, embarks on board a vessel of discovery, visits America, and on his return to England is shipwrecked. The death of Henry VII. secures his freedom, and he enters the monastery of Our Lady of Walsingham. Here he enjoys a life of peace until the year 1514, when, with some of his brethren, he is made the bearer of offerings to the Priory of Dartford. On their arrival, the Prioress is on the point of death, and Richard is called in to confess her. In the dying Prioress he recognizes his beloved cousin Bride, whose last words assure him of her affection. From his peaceful retreat at Walsingham, he is driven at the dissolution of religious houses by Henry the Eighth, and is reduced to labour as a mason or builder, until Sir Thomas Moyle affords a shelter to his declining years. These are only a few of the incidents in the eventful life of this extraordinary individual; but they are sufficient, we trust, to excite the curiosity of the reader. The subjoined isolated passage, describing the last moments of Lord Lovel, constitute a fair specimen of the general style of the work

[Extract beginning ‘ “ ’Tis in vain, Plantaganet [sic], ’tis in vain; not all thy kind offices can now save thy dying friend....’, and ending on p. 85 (concluding the review) ‘...but on again looking towards the face of the Lord Lovel, I full soon perceived that I was alone!’, is omitted].

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