Guys may think being called “nice” is the kiss of death, but I love nice guys. I married a nice guy. He supports my dreams, takes care of the kids when I go out of town and doesn’t complain when we have scrambled eggs for dinner because I’m on a deadline. I personally don’t see the attraction of hanging around someone who doesn’t treat you well.
But I have a thing for history’s bad boys.
Richard III was my first historical love. I saw Ian McKellen in the film version of Shakespeare’s play and fell head over heels. I’ve seen different stage versions since then and have the same gut reaction every time. Pure, unadulterated infatuation. He’s so vibrant, so evil, so breathtakingly wicked. He’s like the Grinch, only he’s never reformed.
I’ve learned since then that Shakespeare was prone to exaggeration and poetic license. (Actually, I knew that before.) History makes an impressive impact when it’s fictionalized. All writers of historical fiction play with nuances and form–with character and characterization–to make a compelling story. Yes, perhaps Shakespeare went a little above and beyond, but his audiences ate it up. Hunchback? Yes! Withered soul? Yes! Regicide? Fratricide? Infanticide? Yes! Yes! Yes!
After reading every volume of popular history on Richard that I could find, I now love him more as an underdog. An unappreciated and much-maligned scapegoat. It’s entirely possible he did some of the things Thomas More and William Shakespeare accuse him of (like the murders of the princes in the tower). But it’s equally possible that he didn’t. Read Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, and tell me what you think. But either way, I find his story–and his character–fascinating. I even wear a pin modeled on his white boar badge whenever I do a book event. And I’m waiting not-so-patiently for next Monday (February 4), when the University of Leicester is going to announce their scientific findings of a dig that could possibly have been his remains.
My subsequent favorite historical bad boy is pretty obvious from my novels. Henry VIII is most often seen as a fat, bloated, tyrannical megalomaniac who disposed of wives like the rest of us dispose of plastic bottles. Though this certainly may apply to his later years, at the beginning of his reign, it doesn’t appear to be true. Nor do I believe he was the dark and devilish sexy satyr of the Showtime series.
Instead, I think history has again given us a hindsight that doesn’t let us see his finer points. He was incredibly intelligent and supported education, including that of his daughters. As a young man, he gave the impression of being highly sensitive, thoughtful, and was probably extremely attractive (tall, handsome and very fit). I believe he honestly loved his first three wives (at least at the beginning of their relationships) and he was probably a romantic. The drawback to this was that when the shine wore off a romance, he wasn’t willing to put in the work.
Not like a true “nice guy”. I can’t see Richard cooking tater tots and doing the vacuuming while his wife attended a library conference. And I certainly can’t picture Henry quietly eating scrambled eggs instead of his usual thirty dishes at dinner. So as much as I love the historical bad boys, I’m very glad I married the Englishman I did.
Addendum: The University of Leicester has announced that the bones found in the Leicester car park are those of Richard III!