I’ve always been fascinated by English medieval history and Richard III (the last Plantagenet King of England) although King of England for barely two years (July 6, 1483 – August 22, 1485) has always been a monarch of great interest. William Shakespeare who was working for a Tudor (and later a Stuart) monarch introduced Richard as the ultimate villain, the murderer of his two nephews (one of which was King Edward V, the other Edward V’s younger brother also named Richard) and a man whose deformed morality matched his deformed body. Of course the real story is far more nuanced. Richard no doubt was as ruthless as your typical Renaissance monarch but as I pointed out in one of the headlines, he was no more ruthless (and in many ways less) then many of his predecessors (including his brother King Edward IV who was responsible for the murder of King Henry VI) and less ruthless then his great-nephew King Henry VIII would turn out to be. As they say, the history books are written by the victors, and Richard was defeated and killed by the forces of Henry Tudor , the Earl of Richmond (who was aided by the treacherous betrayal of Richard by Lord William Stanley) at the Battle of Bosworth Field, on August 22, 1485 (which was the last battle of the Wars of the Roses).
by Andrew Roberts
The news that the skeleton of King Richard III has been found under a parking lot in Leicester, a city 100 miles north of London, should finally end half a millennium of winters of discontent for the most maligned monarch in English history. It proves that it is never too late to save one’s reputation.
In William Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” the king is shown facilitating the deaths of King Henry VI and his son Prince Edward; of Richard’s brother George, Duke of Clarence (drowned in a butt of malmsey wine); of the Second Duke of Buckingham; of Richard’s own wife, Anne Neville; and especially of the Princes in the Tower of London, the 12-year-old King Edward V and his 9-year-old brother Richard, Duke of York. It is the greatest example of theatrical overkill since the Tarantino-like closing scenes of “Hamlet” and “Macbeth,” yet there is absolutely no evidence that Richard was guilty of any of it. Shakespeare even has Richard killing the Duke of Somerset at the battle of St. Albans, which took place when Richard was 2 years old.
It is hoped by Ricardians (yes, the small but vocal band of Richard III’s supporters have a sobriquet) that the world-wide interest in his disinterment by Leicester University archaeologists will focus attention on his reputation. Just because his last stand at the Battle of Bosworth Field took place 528 years ago, it doesn’t mean that a good man’s name should continue to be sullied. [……]
Richard should be admired even today. After all, here is a monarch who abolished press censorship, invented the right to bail for people awaiting trial, reformed the country’s finances, and led bravely in battle despite a crippling disability.
It was Richard’s tragedy that after being betrayed by the turncoat Stanley family at Bosworth, he then had to contend with the greatest poet-playwright in the English language spin-doctoring against him on behalf of the incoming regime. When the Tudors defeated and succeeded the last of the Plantagenets, they constantly briefed against the previous administration, blaming it for all the country’s ills. Shakespeare even has Richard say: “I am determined to prove a villain.” […….]
Assuming that the skeleton really is that of the king—as the DNA experts at Leicester contend, having connected him to a Canadian carpenter named Michael Ibsen, who is directly descended from King Richard’s mother—its curvature of the spine implies that Shakespeare only slightly exaggerated by making him hunchbacked. A contemporary, the historian John Rous, described Richard as “slight in body and weak in strength,” yet the king led his men into many battles and at Bosworth “to his last breath he held himself nobly in a defending manner.” […….]
As Josephine Tey so elegantly demonstrated in her 1951 crime novel “The Daughter of Time,” no modern court would convict Richard III of the murder of the princes in the Tower, whose possible skeletons—discovered in 1674 under the staircase leading to the chapel—ought now to be disinterred from Westminster Abbey and subjected to DNA tests and modern pathology examinations. “Shall I be plain? I wish the bastards dead,” says Richard in the play. Yet the evidence for their murders is at best circumstantial, and at worst pure Tudor invention.
Not merely Richard III, but also his killer and successor Henry VII needed the princes out of the way. It is known that Henry became highly perturbed throughout his reign whenever (as happened regularly) pretenders appeared, claiming to be the princes. This implies that he suspected that they might still have been alive at the time of Bosworth.
Rumors abounded, for example, that they may have escaped the country into the care of their aunt, the Dowager Duchess of Burgundy. A DNA test on the bones supposed to be those of the Princes might establish whether they are the royal children, but it wouldn’t tell us how they died.[…….]Certainly Richard’s July 6, 1483, coronation was very well attended, which might not have been the case had his contemporaries believed that he had murdered his brother’s children.
There is something uplifting in the thought that even five centuries years after his death, a wronged monarch might at last find posthumous justice.
Read the rest -Shakespeare has a (Parking) Lot to answer for
Often overlooked by the dynasty that overthrew them, namely the Tudors, the Plantagenet dynasty in England which began with the reign of Henry II in 1154 is a fascinating one. The Plantagenets include several of the monarchs who figure prominently in the history of our Western Civilization such as – Henry II, Richard I (the Lionhearted), the evil John (of the Magna Carta), Edward I (Longshanks), Edward III (a great warrior King and patron of Geoffrey Chaucer), Henry V (the victor of Agincourt), and ending with the death of Richard III in 1485. The Plantagenets traced their dynasty to Geoffrey of Anjou who wore a sprig of a yellow flower in his helmet called a Planta Genesta.
by Andrew Roberts
King Richard III, whose severely wounded body disinterred from under a parking lot in the British Midlands was confirmed by DNA testing this week, was the last of the 14 Plantagenet monarchs who ruled England from 1154 until Richard’s death at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. The Plantagenets are only usually in the news when an ambitious theater director with a big budget chooses to stage all eight of Shakespeare’s “Plantagenet plays,” from Richard II to Richard III via two parts of Henry IV, Henry V, and three parts of Henry VI.
Sometimes written off by historians as mere medieval military oafs with nothing much more interesting to contribute than smiting, in fact the Plantagenet monarchs who ruled from Henry II to Richard III were a fairly accomplished lot. It was hardly their fault that the real literary and artistic renaissance of Britain took place after they lost power, although writers such as Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower, and William Langland did flourish in their era.
The clue to the Plantagenets’ success is to be found in King Edward I’s nickname, “The Hammer of the Scots,” because once the Scottish incursions in the north had been defeated it was a relatively simple matter to dominate the rest of the British Isles (with the exception of southern Ireland, always a law unto itself). With the control of mainland Britain and Northern Ireland, and the re-adoption of English as the official language in 1362, came a genuine sense of national identity.
In the realm of law it was the Plantagenet King John, who—albeit extremely reluctantly—gave the English-speaking peoples the right of habeas corpus, perhaps the very cornerstone of all our common law liberties to this day, nearly nine centuries after the signing of the Magna Carta. […….]John was an appallingly bad king, yet no less an authority on the English-speaking peoples as Winston Churchill believed that “We owe far more to the vices of John than to the labours of virtuous sovereigns.”
An area where the Plantagenets labored virtuously, in a way that still can be admired today, was in building those great structures of medieval Britain that have retained the capacity to impress. The great Gothic cathedrals that were centuries later to inspire Romantic painters such as Gainsborough, the border castles in Wales that still attract millions of visitors every year, the architectural glories of Westminster Abbey, York Minster, and King’s College, Cambridge were all built by Plantagenets. [……]
Another great achievement of the Plantagenets was that they simply lasted on the throne for 331 years, albeit with the last three decades scarred by the Wars of the Roses, which only came to an end with Richard’s death at Bosworth. For a family to occupy something as lethally dangerous as a medieval throne for over three centuries was remarkable, and certainly thrashes their hated rivals, the Tudors (at 118 years), but also the Normans (123 years), Stuarts (85 years), Hanoverians (187 years), and the present House of Windsor (112 years).
The Black Death, Hundred Years’ War, and Peasants’ Revolt all took place during the Plantagenets’ watch, along with endless barons’ wars, great plagues, and the burning of Joan of Arc. Yet there was also Henry V’s victory at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, perhaps the dynasty’s high spot. One Plantagenet king had a red-hot poker inserted into his anus to kill him in such a way that his body could be displayed to the populace (Edward II), another was captured on his return from the Crusades and ransomed at vast expense (Richard the Lionheart), but unlike some of the Hanoverian kings, they were never boring. They weren’t a particularly artistic family—except for Henry VI who, possibly not coincidentally, was one of the weakest of them all—but they certainly provided Shakespeare with a good deal of great material. And Richard III died with a sword in his hand, like a true Plantagenet.
Read the rest – The mighty – and overlooked – Reign of the Plantagenets