This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi-paradise, This fortress built by Nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war, This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall Or as a moat defensive to a house, Against the envy of less happier lands,-- This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England. ~~William Shakespeare, Richard III

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Rest in Peace Richard

Richard III (Oct 2, 1452 - Aug 22, 1485)

On this day in 1485, the most maligned King in English history was killed at the Battle of Bosworth field. He was betrayed by some of his lords and was "piteously slain and murdered" (as is recorded in the York City records), paving the way for the usurper Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond (Henry VII). Thus began the Tudor Dynasty, based on a very weak and illegitimate claim to the throne, and the complete destruction of Richard's reputation.

The battle was mainly a hand-to-hand encounter (which was typical of the times), with the Stanley family (who had promised Tudor that they would desert Richard) keeping away from the fight until, at a critical moment when it was obvious which way the victory was headed, they joined Tudor. Richard, realizing that he was betrayed, cried out, "Treason, treason!" He knew he'd either leave as the King of England or dead and refused to leave the field until, overpowered by numbers, he fell dead in the middle of his enemies. He came very close to dispatching his enemy, Henry Tudor, killing his standard barer, William Brandon (the father of Henry VIII's close friend, Charles Brandon). The crown was supposedly picked up on the field of battle and placed by Sir William Stanley on the head of Tudor, who was at once proclaimed king by the whole army. After the battle Richard's body was carried to Leicester, carried naked across a horse's back, and buried without honor in the church of the Greyfriars. His death was the end of the Plantagenet Dynasty which had ruled England since the succession of Henry II in 1154.

Richard was not the villain that his enemies made him out to appear. He had good qualities, both as a man and a ruler, and seemed to have a sound judgment of political needs (he had been able to keep the North of England in peace for his brother). However, it is impossible to clear him of the crime, the popular belief that was mostly likely the chief cause of his ruin - the death of his nephews, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, in the Tower of London. He was not a monster but a typical man in an age of strange contradictions of character, an age of refined (for the day) culture mixed with horrible cruelty, and he possessed an emotional temper that was capable of anything (he was a Plantagenet after all). Tradition represents Richard as deformed but this has never been proven. After his defeat at Bosworth, Tudor and his supporters needed to solidify his claim to the throne and what better way to do that than to make the English people think that the King he replaced was a deformed, evil monster who killed his own nephews? No one did more to cement that belief than William Shakespeare with his play Richard III (who was undoubtedly writing to please the Tudors). They were hugely successful in their endeavors and, unfortunately, this view of Richard stuck until probably the 20th century when scholars really began to study him.

Loyaulte me lie