Recently, I was asked to appear on a television series for Channel 4 (UK).
The show investigates the history of superstitions, and I was asked to discuss the concept of ‘bier-right’, which held that the corpse of a recently murdered victim would bleed in the presence of its killer.
This book is the first sustained study of how James's subjects commented upon, appropriated and reworked these royal writings.
Jane Rickard highlights the vitality of such responses across genres - including poetry, court masque, sermon, polemic and drama - and in the different media of performance, manuscript and print.
Suddenly, Gloucester (Henry’s murderer) enters the scene and stops the procession.
Lady Anne cries: Shakespeare provides no further context for Henry’s spontaneous bleeding corpse for its significance would not be lost on a contemporary audience.
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The book focuses in particular on Jonson, Donne and Shakespeare, arguing that these major authors responded in illuminatingly contrasting ways to James's claims as an author-king, made especially creative uses of the opportunities that his publications afforded and helped to inspire some of what the King in turn wrote.
Their literary responses reveal that royal writing enabled a significant reimagining of the relationship between ruler and ruled.
That task was to explain to a general audience where this idea originated, and why people believed in it.
The belief that a corpse would bleed in the presence of its murderer is Germanic in origin and dates as far back as the 6 ‘[F]or as in a secret murther, if the deade carcase be at any time thereafter handled by the murtherer, it wil gush out of bloud, as if the [blood] were crying to heauen for reuenge of the murtherer, God hauing appointed that secret super-naturall signe, for tryall of that secrete vnnaturall crime…’  Here we find Lady Anne following the body of her dead husband, Henry VI, as he is carried to his final resting place.
This is singled out in the editors' Introduction as 'the most unsettled and unsettling of his [James's] texts ... Indeed in the light of the fate of his son to whom the work is dedicated it seems eerily prophetic.