Why I Love History’s Bad Boys

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.

Here I am with Richard at Bosworth. Don't we make a lovely couple?

Here I am with Richard at Bosworth. Don’t we make a lovely couple?

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! 

About Katherine Longshore

Katherine Longshore is the author of GILT (Viking/Penguin May 2012), a story of friendship and betrayal set in the court of Henry VIII, and TARNISH (June 2013), the story of a young Anne Boleyn. You can learn more about her www.katherinelongshore.com

11 thoughts on “Why I Love History’s Bad Boys

  1. I was knocked blind-side by Richard III as a teen (in a novel – didn’t see McKellan’s film until much later – am I that much older than you??). I have been a staunch supporter ever since so hail to a fellow Ricardian! I also agree with your assessment of Henry VIII – did he devolve into megalomania and paranoia? Yeah. But was he brilliant and beautiful in the beginning? Absolutely. (But no way was he making scrambled eggs and tater tots so that Catherine could write novels…)

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. I think you chose your Englishman very well! But I can understand the allure of the not so proper tyrant–they lived their lives with passion, at the very least. I’m also super intrigued to learn about Richard III’s remains finally being found and what other secrets they might reveal. Thank you for cluing us in to that!!

  3. Awesome post, Katy! Very interested in hearing the results too!

  4. History is full of great complicated characters. That’s so exciting about the dig, too.

  5. Thanks, Sharon and Connie! I love complicated characters. And very much looking forward to Monday!

  6. kamikinard says:

    Great post, Cat! Very interesting… and, of course, well written!

  7. kamikinard says:

    Sorry, I meant Katherine!!!! Glad to have found this blog.

  8. That’s all right, Kami!

  9. […] and Outlaws.  I jumped on the chance to converse on the topic, because, as you know, I already have a thing for history’s bad boys.  I dug into a few history books, hoping to get some insight into the appeal of […]

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