[Author's note: I fell in love with English history reading about the Plantagenets when I was a kid. From Henry of Anjou, grabbing the divorced former Queen of France, and one of the most beautiful, and headstrong, women in Christendom, shortly before he became Henry II of England, thereby creating the Angevin Empire all the way to Richard III, who lost it all to Henry Tudor at Bosworth field, and whose body has just been identified under a parking lot, they are a fascinating bunch.
From the best of Kings, like Edward I, called the "English Justinian" long before he was called "The Hammer of the Scots", to King John, who was so bad that he brought about the Barons in arms allied with the church behind the Archbishop of Canterbury, forcing his signature on Magna Charta, they were always fascinating, often wise and quite often very good Kings for their subjects.
On average they were far more friendly to individual liberty than the Anglo-Normans that preceded them or the Tudors who followed.]
Yesterday, my co-author Jessica told us a bit about the finding of the body of Richard III, the last Plantagenet King of England, under a parking lot in Leicester, her article is here, and we were one of the first to notice the story in this country here, here, and here back in September. It’s a story that fascinates many of us, not least because if you read any English history, you’ll find the Plantagenet kings and queens to be larger than life from the founder of the dynasty Henry II and his fabulous wife Eleanor of Aquitaine (if you want to read about a very strong woman in a man’s world, she would be a great choice) to the execrable John, who was forced to give us Magna Charta, not to mention his brother Edward the Black Prince, that fabled Crusader and King, right on down to Richard III who was the very last to wear the White Rose of the House of York in the War of the Roses. In a follow on post, Jessica, who is British, has clarified some things on the Plantagenets, and the Wars of the Roses. It is here.
The Anglo-Normans who preceded them always seemed sort of cold, and the presentment of Englishry, which was an occupation measure, denied justice to most of the population, and Henry VII who came after was a cold, acquisitive man, and after him we get into to the religious persecutions, and with the exception of Elizabeth I, I just never found too much appeal in any of them.
I note that the Catholics in England are calling for a State Funeral for Richard, which doesn’t seem terribly unreasonable to me, although I don’t have to pay for it, and some have called for a re-examination of the remains of two skeletons found in the 17th century who are believed to be the Princes in the Tower. The Queen has said no, so that’s an end of that.
If you don’t happen to know the Princes in the Tower were the sons of Edward IV and his Queen Elizabeth Woodville. They went into the Tower of London in June of 1483, shortly after that they were seen playing and then just disappeared. Their uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester had them declared illegitimate by Parliament (an act entitled Titulist Regulus) and then ascended the throne as Richard III.
Richard has always been suspected, of either killing them or at least giving the order but, there are plenty of suspects. There is Sir James Tyrrell, a Yorkist knight, there is Henry, 2d Duke of Buckingham, and there is also, of course Henry VII (Tudor) who defeated Richard at Bosworth Field and married their older sister. It’s a great mystery that most likely will never be solved. Incidentally, if most of what you know about this comes from Shakespeare, you need to broaden your horizons, Shakespeare was writing under the Tudor Kings and probably liked to eat (he was dependent on court patronage) as well as having his head firmly on his shoulders. Getting your history from playwrights has the same drawbacks as getting it from Hollywood.
I personally have problems with believing that Richard was the grasping, power-hungry man who Shakespeare portrays. His record as Duke of Gloucester is very interesting reading. He was a very loyal supporter of his brother and earned a reputation as a very good man as Lieutenant of the North. Here is a bit from Wikipedia
Richard’s Council of the North, derived from his ducal council, greatly improved conditions for Northern England, as commoners of that region were formerly without any substantial economic activity independent of London. Its descendant position was Secretary of State for the Northern Department.
In December 1483, Richard instituted what later became known as the Court of Requests, a court to which poor people who could not afford legal representation could apply for their grievances to be heard. He also introduced bail in January 1484, to protect suspected felons from imprisonment before trial and to protect their property from seizure during that time. He founded the College of Arms in 1484,he banned restrictions on the printing and sale of books, and he ordered the translation of the written Laws and Statutes from the traditional French into English.
England has a bad history with child kings by the way, Henry III reigned long but not well, during the latter part he was a figurehead for Simon de Montfort, Edward II was killed not for his homosexuality but because of his smart-aleck and overly greedy favorites like Piers Gaveston who manage to offend almost everybody, as well as because Edward was a very poor general in the wars with Scotland and France. Edward was eventually deposed by his wife Isabella of France, in favor of his son who became Edward III. There was also Richard II who succeeded at the age of 10, and while contemporaries say he acquitted himself well during the Peasant’s Revolt as he grew into adulthood he became badly out of tune with his barons and was eventually deposed by Henry of Bolingbroke, the son of John of Gaunt, first Duke of Lancaster, some sources say this was the effective start of the Wars of the Roses.
Richard III would have known all this, and also knew that Edward V (the oldest Prince in the Tower) was 12, what would he have thought?
The other thing we need to talk about is less exciting than Lords and Ladies but also quite important. England in the middle ages was almost entirely an agricultural land. The only real source of wealth was agriculture, with a very few exceptions, such as the de la Poles, who sprang from a merchant. In Medieval England the way to get rich was to get land, and the best way to get land was to be related to the King and/or Queen. Now throw in a generations long civil war (mostly amongst the nobility but extending to the gentry as well) and you have a wide open chance for corruption to hold sway.
Edwards IV’s Queen, Elizabeth Woodville came from a very large family and they were all greedy for land and honors, and Edward was in need of supporters. Which reminds me of the old American saw that came from the Credit Mobiliér scandal, when one of the financiers attempted to defend himself on a charge of bribing a Congressman by saying that he asked for and took it. So here we have a situation where the family of his ward would fatten itself off of the King’s (and his mother’s) favor irregardless of the good of the realm.
As we here in the colonies move into the 5th year of the reign of King Barack I, what do we have but an inexperienced and corrupt king who rewards his courtiers with no thought for his commons, in fact denigrating them, and attempting to take away the rights of free men. We all know the story of Baroness Nancy of San Fransisco, of the Duke of Solyndra, the Earl of Windmill, and all the others. Veritably a story of a child king.
What would Richard III, a man who served his brother the King loyally and well, as a soldier and general, as a Duke, and Lord Lieutenant of the North, and as a man who might have been one of the best of English Kings have thought of all this? Would he see a comparison with the Woodville family? I surely do.
Does Richard have a message for us? You see when he decided to become King his title was
Lord Protector of England
not regent of Edward V
Did he maybe have a conflict of loyalties between his loyalty to not-yet-crowned Edward V and his family and his loyalty to England itself? I think he did. I think he assumed the crown not because of overweening ambition, which he had never shown before in life. I think he assumed it because he had a higher duty to England.
The title of this piece is Loyaulte me lie, it was Richards personal motto, in English it is
Loyalty Binds Me
I think it did, and I think he does have a lesson for us about loyalty, whatever the cost
Loyaulte me lie
- Loyaulte me lie (nebraskaenergyobserver.wordpress.com)
- Richard III’s Remains Found In Council Car Park (news.sky.com)
- Dan Cruickshank calls for State funeral at Westminster Abbey for remains of Richard III (standard.co.uk)
- Stunning Richard III “Discovery of the Year” Brings Much-Maligned King’s Reputation Center-Stage, Says Historical Novelist Anne Easter Smith (prweb.com)
- The Plantagenets (nebraskaenergyobserver.wordpress.com)