The Coffee Pot Book Club Presents "The Usurper King" by Mercedes Rochelle
Please welcome back to the Tavern the lovely Mercedes Rochelle! We're celebrating her new historical novel, The Usurper King (The Plantagenet Legacy, Book 3). I'm eager to find out more, so grab a cup of mead and let's take a peek into Mercedes's intriguing story...
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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Sneak preview from The Usurper King
The Day after Henry Bolingbroke returned from exile
"My lord, a small band of warriors are approaching bearing Percy arms."
"Percy?" Henry whirled around, touching Erpingham who was distracted by the ship's captain. "Thomas, why would Percy be here?"
"Which Percy?" Erpingham asked.
"The younger, I believe," said the knight.
"Hotspur," Henry said to himself. "He's Warden of the East March of Scotland if I'm not mistaken." He glanced at the knight. "You say he has only a small group?"
"I counted six men."
"Not enough to attack us, unless more are in hiding."
"Let us greet him," Erpingham said. "Best to deal with him directly."
Both Henry and Thomas knew Harry Hotspur well, so-named by the Scots because he was always ready to dash into battle. Just a few years older than Henry, he had also distinguished himself at the St. Inglevert tournament. They had spent many long evenings drinking and feasting together in those heady days, but once the festivities were over they had not crossed paths since. Hotspur and his father, Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland had their hands full keeping peace in the Marches, and their experience with the restive Scots was invaluable.
Henry was well aware that the Percies were pivotal in his upcoming struggle. They were the most powerful force in the North, by far. Their only rival was Ralph Neville, the Earl of Westmorland—a new earl, one of King Richard's derisively named duketti. He was given his new title after the Revenge Parliament that condemned the Appellants. Bolingbroke was counting on Westmorland as a potential ally because Ralph had recently married his half-sister Joan Beaufort. At the same time, Henry knew that the Percies weren't going to let Neville get ahead of them when there was a chance to grab more power. So he was relatively certain he could induce them to support him as well.
But he wasn't prepared to face them so soon! At least he only had to confront the son; the father would ride roughshod over any perceived threat. Still, Henry wasn't sure how to manage Harry yet. He was well aware that by law, Percy could use his office to arrest him as a declared outlaw. Or at least he could try.
As Hotspur and his followers entered through the gates of the priory, Henry, Arundel, and Erpingham were waiting for them in the courtyard. "My lord, what a surprise to see you here," said Henry, holding the reins of Hotspur's horse.
Dismounting, Harry brushed his hands across his legs. "Dusty out there," he said amiably. "One of your messengers rode across my land and naturally I questioned him. I was at my manor of Seamer, which is only about twelve miles away."
"What brings you so far south?" Henry asked, pretending not to be concerned. As Warden of the East March of Scotland, Hotspur spent most of his time in Northumberland—not here, in Yorkshire. Putting on his most amiable expression, Henry led the others into the priory where the good friars laid out food and drink for them.
"I came to collect payment from the exchequer for my services as warden." Hotspur accepted a mug of ale from a servant. "I think it would be more appropriate to ask what you are doing here?" He softened the remark with a smile.
It was hard to resist his grin. Harry had a certain openness about him that invited trust. Tall, bearded, brown-haired, sincere, and intense, Percy's son was well-known for his honesty and chivalry. He was the opposite of his brusque father.
Henry was not immune to Hotspur's charm. "I have come back to reclaim my patrimony, which was unjustly taken from me," he answered softly. For a moment there was silence around the table.
"I think my father received a letter from you last month."
Henry grunted. He had sent letters to both of them. "What happened to me concerns us all," he said in earnest.
Young Thomas FitzAlan walked into the room. Henry pointed to him. "Harry, this is Thomas Arundel, son of the late Earl Richard. Like me, he comes to reclaim his earldom. Thomas, meet Sir Harry Percy, son of the Earl of Northumberland." The lad came forward and bowed.
"And this is his uncle Thomas, the Archbishop of Canterbury," Henry continued. "I don't believe you ever met."
Arundel nodded. Hotspur gave him a long look; he knew the archbishop had also been outlawed. "I don't think we have," he said finally. "Well met, your Grace. I see you all have the same purpose in returning to England."
"There are injustices that need to be put to right," Henry said. "I hope to gather enough support to convince King Richard he must reverse his unlawful decisions."
"I see." Harry looked around the room. "It appears you have made a modest start."
Despite himself, Henry blushed. "I came with my closest companions, who accompanied me to France. I have faith my Lancastrian affinity will swell my ranks."
Percy nodded. Again his smile rescued an uncomfortable situation. "I have no doubt. King Richard's policies have even disturbed our stability in the North."
Was that an invitation? "You must know I have great respect for your family. Between your lordship and Lancaster—and the Nevilles, secondarily—the North is a force to be reckoned with."
Hotspur nodded, uncommitted.
"I would have you with me, Harry."
Taking a sip of his ale, Hotspur looked at the table. "You're asking for much, my lord."
"Duke Henry speaks for all the nobles in the land," interjected the archbishop. "If Richard could take away the great Lancastrian patrimony with a strike of his quill, what's to stop him from doing the same to everyone else?"
"Or declaring a loyal subject a traitor?" added Henry, unable to suppress his bitterness. "We are all at the mercy of his impulses." He sensed Hotspur's resistance was half-hearted, and his heart pounded in response.
"We've considered that, ourselves," Harry said. He turned his whole body, facing Henry. "What are your real intentions?"
Blinking, Henry drew himself up. "I have stated them. I came here to reclaim my own."
Henry didn't know whether to be surprised or offended. But, he admitted to himself, that question was going to be asked again and again. There was no easy way to put this. "Are you wondering if I covet the throne?"
There. It was said. For the first time.
"It crossed my mind." Hotspur stared at him, trying to measure his honesty. Henry shook his head.
"I have no interest in Richard's crown. The Lancastrian inheritance is more than enough."
"How do you intend to convince the king, as you say?"
Henry pursed his lips. It was a fair question. "It won't be easy. I think, as in the past, a group of magnates," he said slowly, "if united by a common goal, can force an obstinate king to rule more wisely, with their help."
"We don't have to look any farther back than 1387," Arundel asserted. "The parliamentary Continual Council was only established for one year. It would need to be permanent this time."
"There were other examples," Percy mused. "The Council of Fifteen under Simon de Montfort. Or more lately, the Lords Ordainers against Edward II. Both ended badly for the barons if I'm not mistaken. We don't even need to talk about the Lords Appellant."
Henry squirmed uncomfortably. Percy was right. But he had to try again. "This time around, the king has no powerful supporters. Richard's new appointees have no teeth. Besides, they are with him in Ireland."
"Perhaps." Hotspur turned his cup in his hand.
"Between the Lancastrian affinity and the North, I trust, we will prove an irresistible force." Henry leaned forward. "I am prepared to pay the wages of any men who choose to follow me."
"Ah, that will be a great benefit." Percy cocked his head. "You have no intention of usurping the king?"
"Are you prepared to swear an oath?"
Without hesitation, Henry put a hand on Percy's arm. "My lord, I will do so at once."
Getting up and gesturing for everyone in the room to follow, Henry called for a monk to meet them in the chapel. They approached the altar and waited while the brother reverently unlocked a casket and produced a bible. Henry knelt, putting his hand on the precious volume.
"I swear, before this room full of witnesses and God himself, my only intent in returning to England is to reclaim my inheritance. By the grace of God, I will recover my patrimony and serve the king as a loyal subject."
He held his hand on the bible as every man crossed himself. Then he stood, a reverential glow on his face. "Are you with me, Harry?"
Percy was suitably impressed by his sincerity. Only hesitating for a moment, he extended his hand. "You may count on me. I will go at once to my father so we can gather our resources."
Meet the Author
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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