Sunday, November 03, 2013

War of the Roses Redux?

Bad is the world, and all will come to naught when such ill-dealing must be seen in thought. ~ William Shakespeare, Richard III

It was little more than a year ago that the bones of Richard III were found in a car park in Leicester, England.  The general public perception of Richard has been formed for most of us by Shakespeare's brilliant depiction of him in his play.  Richard is one of the foulest, nastiest, most unprincipled villains in all of history.

Well, maybe not.

On further review, as they say on sporting broadcasts, he may have been no worse than many another English monarch and better than some.  For starters, Shakespeare has to compress events in time rather drastically for dramatic effect.  While it makes for good drama, it makes for lousy history.  For example, the execution of his brother, the Duke of Clarence occurred years earlier and came about because King Edward was sick and tired of the Duke's taking sides against him.  After Clarence tried to cut a deal with France, Edward had enough and did him in.

In another example, Richard is shown wooing Lady Anne, the woman he would marry, yet he actually married her 8 years or so earlier and even had a son with her.

There has risen a sort of cottage industry in rehabilitating Richard.  One book that covers this well is Richard III by Paul Murray Kendall.  Seems that Richard may not have been the monster that Shakespeare dramatized after all.

One fact that everyone can agree upon is that Richard met his end on Bosworth Field at the hands of the troops of the Earl of Richmond, one Henry Tudor.  Henry would become Henry VII, grandpappy of one Elizabeth I, who was in charge when Shakespeare was knocking out his little plays.  Not wanting to tick off the ruling monarch may account, in part, for Shakespeare's take on Richard.

At any rate, as was standard at the time, the body of Richard was paraded through some localities for all to see.  This was done to ensure that somebody wouldn't pop up claiming to be Richard and cause more trouble for Henry.  Ultimately, Richard's body was deposited in Leicester, but no one was quite sure where.  It was presumed he was buried in or near the Greyfriar's friary, which is now a parking lot.

Once it was established through DNA testing against Richard's nearest living relative(the Brits do keep excellent family histories), a new War of the Roses suddenly erupted.

To begin with, the people of Leicester, sensing serious tourist cash, decided that Leicester had always been one of Richard's favorite places.  Also, he was buried there by "royal edict", although Henry wasn't king yet when he dumped the body there.  At any rate, figuring possession in 9 points of the law, the local government set up creating a proper tomb.

Well, who should come out of the woodwork but the people of York.  Calling themselves, the Plantagenet Alliance, these folks felt it was obvious that Richard was one of theirs (he was a son of the Duke of York).  These Yorkists, who have a Richard III museum, insist Richard would have wanted to be buried in the old home grounds, so they want him shipped up there.

Leicester puts it baldly by saying York has plenty of tourist attractions, while Leicester has few, and removal of Richard means they would "have one less."  York, of course, claims money has nothing to do with it.

But, they do have a museum, now don't they?

There is a great irony in the fact that a man who was once the most despised monarch in English history should now be in such demand.  Of course, being dead, it isn't likely he'll be throwing people into the Tower, so he's a lot safer to have around now.

As Shakespeare said in Henry IV Part II, "A man can die but once."  Being buried, however, can be quite another matter.

No comments: