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Archive for the month “Aug, 2014”

The Double Standards of the Cairo residents

“I think we have to change things by going after those who continue to slew the historical evidence at every possible opportunity. When a writer refers to Richard raising an army against a defenceless Woodville entourage in 1483 we need to respond with the evidence that he did the exact opposite and that it was the Queen’s party who raised a small army to escort Edward back to London and Richard who kept his men to a minimum. When Richard is accused of bullying the Countess of Oxford we need to point out that she was funding her son’s treasonous activities abroad and therefore searching her lodgings and cutting off the income streams that funded his enterprises were actually quite reasonable in the circumstances. She paid the price for being Lancastrian to the core in the same way that Cecily Neville was bullied by Marguerite’s troops at the Sack of Ludlow as the wife and mother of ‘traitors’. When Sir Thomas More is quoted as a reliable contemporary source we should counter with the facts that he was a child in 1485, raised by Richard’s implacable enemy Bishop Morton and used him as a key source for his writing during the Tudor period and is therefore neither reliable nor contemporary to events. We do not need to create a saint, far from it. We need to break the cycle that portrays Richard’s actions as anything other than understandable in the context of his world. Moral judgement through C21st eyes is a nonsense in relation to the reality of life in C15th yet almost every historian who approaches Richard’s life falls back on either championing or castigating him at a deeply moral level. It is not that this doesn’t apply to other historical figures, we can think of many other individuals who are treated like this by history. We seem unable to move beyond the eternal questions of justifying or condemning which is ultimately a great hindrance to appreciating the wider picture. Richard will never be understood until we can truly embed him into his own times.”

Richard III: Elected Monarch or Usurper?

From Barbara Gaskell Denvil:

“Very little reliable documentary evidence survives from the Middle Ages. The life and times of Richard III therefore remain a period of frustration and fascination for historians, scholars and interested amateurs alike. So why is it – when one very clear contemporary document survives from that period – that so many people choose either to ignore it, or disbelieve it?

This one original and incontrovertible document dates from 1484. It sets forth in plain language (of the time) the entitlement to the throne of the man crowned Richard III, and states that, after certain facts were brought to light which made it clear that King Edward IV’s sons were now considered illegitimate and young Warwick, Clarence’s son, was debarred by his father’s attainder, Richard, at that time Duke of Gloucester, stood next in line.

After lengthy investigation and consideration of the newly disclosed situation by the Royal Council and the members of Parliament originally called to London for the expected coronation of the young prince, (most of whom were present) the agreed conclusion was that the crown should be offered to Richard, who was already ratified as Protector of the Realm. He was petitioned by the three estates, being the Lords Temporal, the Lords Spiritual, and representatives of the Commons who included a good many leading citizens of London. He was officially and legally asked to take the throne. It could actually be said that he was elected. Indeed, the wording of Titulus Regius includes the words ‘this Eleccion of us the Three Estates’, And yet he is consistently accused of being a usurper, and of having ‘seized’ the throne.

The accepted modern meaning of the verb ‘to usurp’ according to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, is simply: “To take a position of power illegally or by force.” Using this definition alone, it is perfectly clear that a man who was asked after due deliberation by England’s government to accept the throne, a right which was then ratified by the full parliament, did not in any manner usurp that position.

However, the modern definition of usurpation does not always sit easily in history. After the initial
tyranny of kings was firmly established in 1066 with the unarguable usurpation of William I, over subsequent reigns England gradually began to modify and moderate her attitude to the royal rights of inheritance and the power of both kings and lords of the realm. Unlike the French model which continued doggedly with absolute power resting in the hands of royalty, England changed, adapted, and finally adopted a system of government by which an alternative administration could substitute for the rule of her monarch in certain matters when he was considered incapacitated either by age or health.

The Plantagenet line continued to uphold the right of kings to pass down the crown to their sons or grandsons, but clearly this was not always possible and under such circumstances, suitable but less direct heirs were necessarily sought within the bloodline. With this in mind, accusations of usurpation have been levelled against the first Lancastrian king, Henry IV who took the throne in 1399 and even against King Edward IV (1461). This went to the heart of the Wars of the Roses, but it is important to remember that in both cases, i.e. the enforced abdication of Richard II and the crowning of Henry IV as monarch in his place, and later the official acceptance of Edward IV’s father Richard, Duke of York, as the heir to Henry VI, these were actions carried out in circumstances where the monarch of the day had forfeited confidence and support by showing himself to be dangerously unfit to rule. And, of course, both these irregular successions were enacted and confirmed by Parliament. The term ‘usurpation’, therefore, now depends on whose side the speaker is on. Clearly the succession rights of kings were not inviolate and the later opinion (of Tudors and Stuarts, for instance) that an anointed monarch held an unarguable God-given right to absolute power, did not at all apply in the 15th century.

In 1483 following the death of Edward IV, it was expected that his eldest son would inherit the throne as Edward V. Yet shortly before his coronation, Robert Stillington (Bishop of Bath and Wells) announced that Edward IV’s marriage to the mother of the heir to the throne had been, to state it simply, bigamous, and that therefore all his children were illegitimate. Stillington was an important and respected ecclesiastical figure, and a previous Lord Chancellor of Edward IV, so his word would have been taken very seriously indeed. It is hard to see what possible benefit he would have gained from lying. Indeed, a good deal of detriment was the far more likely result had his story been false. His announcement, however, would never have been accepted without enormous investigation. Whatever proofs he offered we can no longer know. There is no surviving record of his exact report, nor of any witnesses called or other evidence shown at the time. But the lady who was named as Edward IV’s first wife was the Lady Eleanor Talbot, daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury and sister to the Duchess of Norfolk, a widow and member of a noble and highly important family. Not someone to make the subject of ludicrous and improper rumours. The Lady Eleanor was now deceased, but she had been very much alive when Edward married Elizabeth Woodville, the mother of his children. Many close and high-powered members of Lady Eleanor’s family were still alive and would certainly not have stood silent if they knew the lady was being wrongfully slandered.

Some now choose simply to disbelieve Stillington’s claim. Yet they have not one shred of evidence to support this, nor one hint that this first marriage never took place. Certainly direct proofs that it did take place are also lacking. A few bewildered souls ask where’s the marriage certificate? But no such thing existed in 15th century and you could, for instance, take a lady’s hand, vow to wed her, and if she accepted, you then tumbled her into bed to consummate the match – and lo and behold – you were legally man and wife. The church was naturally not happy with this sort of clandestine affair without banns being called and often without witnesses – but it happened all the time and it was legally binding.

That King Edward IV favoured this type of thing was blatantly obvious, because that’s also exactly what happened the second time around. He wed Elizabeth Woodville in secret, in exactly that same manner. Indeed, he is often said to have ‘married for love’ – an unusual thing for a king in those days. But it was a very strange sort of love – for he made no mention of his secret wedding for 5 whole months. During those months the lady was never invited to the palace, she was entirely unacknowledged, her existing sons (she was a widow), instead of being taken in and elevated by the king, were given elsewhere as wards, and the king even sent his courtiers off abroad to start negotiating for a foreign princess to become his wife. But then, quite suddenly after those long silent months, to the bewilderment of almost the entire country and the dismay of most of the lords. King Edward announced the marriage. He brought his suddenly admitted queen to court, and that was that. A clandestine wedding led to a new queen and eventually a parcel of royal children.

So had he done this on other occasions in the past, yet never acknowledged it? Certainly Lady Eleanor Talbot came into some unusual bequests for which there is no known explanation, nor clear manner in which they could have been acquired. She then retired into permanent religious seclusion.

It does seem strange to many that this wronged and misused lady did not complain, did not announce her legal status as queen, nor denounce her legal husband, even when he took another wife. I have no answer to this beyond pointing out the logic of the situation. This was a high-born lady, and ladies, especially of a religious nature, did not whine or openly humiliate themselves by publicising the fact that they had been used, bedded, ravished, and then abandoned. Nor did they try to cause rebellion and unease (in a land so recently returning to peace) by accusing the king of dishonesty and immorality. She also ran the risk, if she made public announcements, that the king might deny the marriage and thus humiliate her further. Instead she accepted his apology and his gifts (my assumption), though continued to act (as in the manner of making her last will and testament) as a married woman with a living husband. And after all, while the king lived, it was a personal matter anyway and did not yet affect government or the people. It was not until he died and his eldest son’s legitimacy was in question, that the truth of this situation became politically imperative.

So with Edward V no longer considered of legitimate royal descent, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, stood as the one direct and legally legitimate heir.

The document itself (Titulus Regius) states clearly that incontrovertible evidence existed and could be forthcoming if and when required. It was later stated that proofs had already been brought before the Council “authentic doctors, proctors and notaries of the law, with depositions from divers witnesses.” Lady Eleanor Talbot’s powerful family surely stood witness. Certainly none of these relatives came forward to deny the claim, or to defend the lady’s honour by refuting the existence of this clandestine marriage. So why doubt such proofs existed? People were no more stupid at that time than they are now and it is highly ridiculous to presume that they would have accepted such a dramatic and inconvenient fact on the eve of the new young king’s coronation, unless they were well and truly convinced.

The frequent modern assumption that Stillington’s claim of bigamy was not only untrue but a clear manipulation by the evil and ambitious Richard III to usurp and seize the throne, is not only a leap of huge unproven prejudice, but it completely and naïvely overlooks the known power and position of the Royal Council and Parliament of the day. Ignoring the delightful genius of Shakespeare’s dramatic fiction, and the less delightful fiction of Tudor chroniclers who supplied the stories he told, we should at least respect the experience and intelligence of the lords, remembering also the obvious precedent of parliamentary decision regarding Richard II and Henry VI as mentioned above.

Stillington’s announcement must have been made during the latter half of May 1483. It is clear that in the following weeks the Royal Council and those representatives of Parliament present in London met in discussion many times.

The supposition that Richard of Gloucester had the power to threaten and bully all those poor cringing medieval lords is frankly laughable. For a start, Richard’s troops were miles away in Yorkshire, whereas most of the lords had their own armed retinues, not to mention huge private armies on which they could call. Many held particular powers and all were men of substance. These were not lords to be easily bullied, nor convinced without very good reason. A figure of 32 lords temporal, 66 knights, 44 lords spiritual with access to the Pope should they feel obliged to call on him, and 30 members of the Commons have been recorded during meetings of four hours or more, although the Royal Council itself was smaller in number.

Are we now arrogant enough to suppose that these were all corrupt fools to be duped or bribed, incompetent cowards to be frightened into compliance, or men without the slightest interest in the future of the land in which they lived and which supported them and their families and property? It appears that many of us completely underestimate the power of the lords, council and parliament during the 15th century and are happy to ignore the legal precedent for the lords and parliament to debate and determine the situation when the king’s rule was, for whatever reason, in question.

Some now argue that even if proved illegitimate, Edward V could still, with parliamentary agreement, have been accepted as king. But it is clear that parliament rejected any such compromise, since the lords logically and clearly preferred the proven competency of a grown man already ratified as Protector of the Realm and known for his leadership quality.

We also need to remember that King Edward IV had several illegitimate children by various mistresses. Making one illegitimate child legally able to inherit the throne, could even possibly have opened a chain of claims by others. Besides, bastardy called into question not only the capability of the bastard himself to inherit, but looking ahead down the generations, even if overlooked in Edward V himself, it invited later questions as to his dynasty.

The often repeated cries of “Bigamy? A pre-contract? No. It couldn’t be true. It was too convenient,” or “Too much of a coincidence,” can come only from those who already assume Richard guilty of ambitious connivance and malicious manipulation. Only by assuming his guilt and duplicity before the fact, can these accusations be made. This is why we cannot take at face value the handful of hostile narratives from those times, because their preconceptions are evident to even the most cursory scrutiny. And significantly, there are no surviving records from the governing council that supported Richard.

Once you set aside any existing bias, it is clear that this was highly inconvenient, and there was no coincidence at all. It threw everybody into chaos. We cannot even be sure if Richard wanted the throne. Perhaps he didn’t. Perhaps he did. It doesn’t matter. He was the remaining heir and he was asked to accept the throne. Thant’s on record. The matter was put to the three estates of English government who decided that Richard of Gloucester had a clear duty to take the throne. Richard accepted. Actually he had little choice.

Conflicting loyalties and self-interest produced protestors as always, but no one at the time actually refuted the accusation of bigamy posthumously directed against Edward IV. Even Elizabeth Woodville, the mother of the ‘princes’ now declared illegitimate, apparently placed no objection. She was now living within the precincts of Westminster sanctuary, comfortably in the Abbot’s house, where she had direct access to the considerable higher authority of ecclesiastical power (her own brother was Bishop Lionel Woodville) and could easily have made a direct plea to the Pope for a church ruling and intervention. She did none of these things. She accepted the ruling, just as if she had already known the truth of the matter.

Therefore whether you like the sound of King Richard or not – one thing is entirely clear. He was officially and legally petitioned to accept the throne of England, and contemporary legal documentation proves this. He did not usurp nor seize anything. He could be said to have been legally elected by Parliament. He was fully acknowledged and anointed as monarch when his coronation was duly attended by virtually every peer in England, even those whose families supported the Lancastrian dynasty.

So those, including those claiming to be ‘open-minded,’ but who begin their articles by calling Richard III a usurper, or stating that he ‘seized’ the throne, are either proclaiming their secret bias, or they should enlarge their area of research.

With thanks to many, and to various sources, but with particular gratitude to Annette Carson and her books “A Small Guide to the Great Debate,” and “Richard III: The Maligned King.” “

Sir Galahad in stained glass….

sir-galahad-2George Frederic Watts  Sir Galahad 1817 - 1904 - The Fetch of Richard III6-sir-galahad-cryder-memorial-window-19101

I recently posted a picture that I had fiddled with to put Richard’s head on a painting of Sir Galahad by George Frederic Watts. Just now, while looking for something else (doesn’t it always happen?) I came upon a stained glass window of the same painting. It’s the Cryder Memorial Window, before 1910. Leaded glass, 45 x 27 1/4 inches. St. Andrew’s Dune Church, Southampton, New York. Really beautiful. The pictures I have uploaded here are self-explanatory, I think. The first is the original painting (or rather, a version of it – I can’t find the exact one I used now), the middle one is my twiddle, and the one on  the right is the stained glass picture.

Book Review: Sacred King: Richard III: Sinner, Sufferer, Scapegoat, Sacrifice

by J.P. Reedman

“Sacred King” is styled as a “historical fantasy novella” about Richard III, but don’t let that stop you from reading it. The book is in no way a “Mary Sue” story that you often find in the fantasy section of your local Ricardian book store.

Reedman has already written several books dealing with ancient British mythology, and brings that knowledge over to the Ricardian genre to spin an inventive, original, fresh take on Richard’s death, afterlife, and re-discovery. But don’t think you have to be an expert yourself on ancient folklore. Reedman weaves this into the story so that it doesn’t seem as if she’s talking over your head, even if you barely remember the name of Arthur’s sword.

Reedman did her research well on the Ricardian side of the story & it shows. Richard is portrayed as a human being, with all his faults & doubts & sins. This Richard is no over-romanticized “wind in his hair” knight riding off into the sunset with his beloved Anne, nor is he the hump-backed, withered arm evil uncle. Both of these views parody & diminish Richard as a person; Reedman’s story gives him back the humanity that has been lost & has been absent from more recent books on his life.

Overall, Reedman has created a story that can be read, enjoyed, & most importantly, understood by anyone, even someone unfamiliar with Richard’s life and/or British mythology. I really enjoyed reading this version of Richard’s life & afterlife. Who knows? It could really have happened this way.

The book is currently available in print & on Kindle. I read the Kindle version.

Those mobile bones

The bones, purporting to be of the former Edward V and the elder of his brothers, have an interesting history of their own.

1) More relates that they were buried at night by one priest, without anyone knowing – which narrative is regarded as a Fifth Gospel by Cairo residents, if regarded as a farce by everyone else.

2) Wroe (p.140, as cited in “The Mystery of the Vanishing Chapel” here in July) quotes Henry VII (“Tudor”) as offering (in 1495) to show Maximilian I and Margaret of Burgundy (aunt by marriage to them both) the chapel where Richard of Shrewsbury was buried.

3) More went on to claim that the same priest dug up the “ex-Princes” and moved them on but he doesn’t know where – a point the Cairo folk ignore as inconvenient. {by the time of More’s execution}

4 Carson (p. 201) draws our attention to one John Webb, who found some bones in 1647.

5 She also (pp. 200-) talks of the better known 1674 find in the same place, which Charles II used for propaganda, were the same. Were they reburied immediately on the first occasion, after all the Civil War was in progress with the Parliamentarians having the upper hand and caring not for another ex-King and brother thereof?

So, for those not suffering from cognitive dissonance, is it likely that they were buried, moved to a chapel by 1495, moved back to the rough area of their first burial, dug up in 1647, immediately reburied in the same place and rediscovered “by accident” in 1674? Or is it far more logical that the whole More story amounts to “ten pounds of hogwash in a five pound bag” (to quote Sam Shepherd’s defence counsel) a story that people have desperately tried to bolster with a random but convenient set of remains for four centuries?

Frankly, it just doesn’t add up and it never has.

More Cairo antics

Another example:

Someone wrote to suggest that Richard’s final charge at “Tudor”, in which he killed Mr. William Brandon (“Tudor”‘s standard bearer) and unhorsed Sir John Cheney, was a sign of cowardice. Never mind that thosee paid by the first two “Tudors” to lie about him admitted that the King died “fighting manfully” ….. “in the thickest press of his enemies”. This has to be the most hilarious case of denialism so far.

Unless, of course, you know differently.

Eulogy for Richard III

Today, we observe the 529th anniversary of King Richard III’s death on Redemore Plain. It is a sad day, full of grief for those of us who believe that he was a good and just King, a man of multiple dimensions, a loving husband, a tender father, a dutiful son and brother, and a man of civic and spiritual virtue.

We mourn the loss of a human life, as all life is sacred, but also the loss of a particularly noble and heroic life cut down in its prime at age 32 during a savage and brutal battle.

I can’t help but think that when Richard acceded to the Throne of England in 1483, just over two years prior to his death, he might have found the words of Petrarch, in his Epistolae metricae, to be particularly relevant:

“Living, I despise what melancholy fate
has brought us wretches in these evil years.
Long before my birth time smiled and may again,
for once there was, and yet will be, more joyful days.
But in this middle age time’s dregs
sweep around us, and we beneath a heavy
load of vice. Genius, virtue, glory now
have gone, leaving chance and sloth to rule.
Shameful vision this! We must awake or die!”

The summons to “awake” or to be born anew is something that I believe Richard might have held as a lodestar for his service as a son of York, Duke of Gloucester, and later King of England. For this reason, I see Richard as exemplifying all the aspects of a “Renaissance man” – for the word renaissance means “rebirth”. And, coincidentally, Richard was born in the same year as Leonardo de Vinci, 1452.

Therefore, rather than contemplating the tragedy of his untimely and bitter death, I choose to speak of his Renaissance qualities. It is especially poignant now, because his Earthly remains have been recovered from a very humble grave and there is a rebirth of interest in this figure from distant history. We have a choice. We can focus on the horrors of his last minutes of life, the brutal humiliations suffered by his corpse, and the lowliness of his grave. Or we can focus on his joyful days, his love of justice and virtue, his appreciation for books and music, his love of family and friends, and his enduring love of God. It was a life that did not indulge simply in the flattery of rich and powerful men, but sought to be the Ideal Prince. A Renaissance Prince.

One of the great art works of the Renaissance was painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in the years 1338-1339 in the Italian Republic of Siena. The colorful frescoes are painted in the Gothic style and they are located in the great Council Room in the Town Hall. There are six different scenes, and they are called Allegory of Good Government, Allegory of Bad Government, Effects of Bad Government in the City, Effects of Good Government in the City and Effects of Good Government in the Country. It was certainly an attempt by an early Italian Renaissance painter to give a pictorial representation of what were considered virtues and vices in the early Renaissance.

Like the Wars of the Roses in England in the 15th century, the 14th century was a turbulent time for politics in the Italian city-states. There were constant violent party struggles; governments were overthrown, and governments were reinstated. Common people suffered, but carried on. The frescoes painted by Lorenzetti promoted the morality of government and provided a constant reminder for the council to remain just leaders by showing them a comprehensive cause-and-effect situation of corrupt, tyrannical governing in comparison to that of virtuous governing.

I will only speak about one of those panels: The Allegory of Good Government. It depicts civic officers and magistrates, who are all bound by the scales of Justice. Above them, are floating bodiless ghosts of the virtues. Wisdom sits above the head of the Commune of Siena. He sits upon a throne and holds an orb and scepter, symbolizing temporal power. That character is guided by Faith, Hope and Charity. He confers with the proper Virtues necessary for a proper and just ruler. The virtues of Good Government are represented by six crowned, stately female figures: Peace, Fortitude, Prudence, Magnanimity, Temperance and Justice.

The text within the lower border of the image reads: “This holy virtue [Justice], where she rules, induces to unity the many souls [of citizens], and they, gathered together for such a purpose, make the Common Good [ben commune] their Lord; and he, in order to govern his state, chooses never to turn his eyes from the resplendent faces of the Virtues who sit around him. Therefore to him in triumph are offered taxes, tributes, and lordship of towns; therefore, without war, every civic result duly follows – useful, necessary, and pleasurable.”

Let’s talk about Richard and the virtue of Peace. He took the Crown by a mechanism that did not require the blood of England’s common people to be smeared on a battlefield. He used the bloodless instrument of Parliament to justify his cause and his right to the throne. The Commons petitioned him to be king, and, rather than face a bitter familial and internecine tug-of-war over the governing of a boy-king, he made the courageous step of surrendering his comfortable life as Great Lord of the North, to become King. No battle had been waged by him for his own Crown. All he did was defend it.

Fortitude. This virtue is particularly apt for Richard. As a young child of 7, he suffered an exile to a foreign country, in a land which spoke a foreign tongue to his ear and exercised unfamiliar customs to him. Then, as a teenager, he was again exiled to a foreign place, where he was compelled to be his older brother’s advocate, where he undertook to seek funds for his brother’s invasion of England, where he prostrated himself before burghers in order to outfit a small invading fleet. He suffered horrific storms on the Seas, but did not surrender to their violence. He led his brother’s armies, leading the vanguard, at two heroic battles at Barnet and Tewkesbury. He was only 19 years old, and although he was wounded at Barnet, he proceeded to great accomplishment at Tewkesbury.

Prudence. As Duke of Gloucester, Richard built one of the Greatest Affinities ever known in the Middle Ages, through the exercise of prudence and political caution and skill. He was sensitive to the overweening egos of the houses of Stanley and Percy, and often relinquished positions of power to which he had been entitled by grant of his brother King Edward. He chose, instead, to unify deep divisions that had been ongoing in the Neville house, by unifying their two cadet branches of Salisbury and Warwick into his retinue. As King, he was generous with titles and gifts of office to smaller gentry like the Howards, rewarded the old noble houses like Lovel, and allowed someone like William Catesby, a brilliant lawyer, to come into pre-eminence despite his relatively lowly birth.

Magnanimity. Can we not forget how magnanimous Richard was as King to such dubious characters as Lord Stanley or his wife Margaret Beaufort? Stanley and Beaufort, each with their own agendas which conflicted with Richard’s, were permitted to play dominant roles in his coronation. Even though Margaret could have been stripped of her lands, he preserved them by way of her husband, despite the fact that she had been communicating with her scion, Henry Tudor, in France, undoubtedly for reasons that might have appeared to be just, but – as we know ultimately – for reasons of her own ambition to place him on the Throne. Some say magnanimity was Richard’s Achilles heel; I contend it exemplified the virtue of a true Renaissance man who was willing to give people a second chance.

Temperance. When we think of this virtue, our first thought is of someone who does not over-indulge himself with drink, women, or song. And we know that Richard did not maintain any known liaisons with a mistress while married to Anne Neville, that he was a faithful and loyal husband, and that if he did have any affairs of the heart, they were not brazenly flaunted to his court or to his Queen. But there’s also another dimension to temperance and that is “restraint”. I am speaking of a type of restraint we see in the aspect of religious tolerance. Richard owned a New Testament translated into English: this was likely a heretical possession, but reflects his tolerance of an emerging religious movement that would later provoke the most vile and bloody conflicts and the loss of human life. Also, let us reflect on the fact that Richard extended a Knighthood on a Jewish gentleman, the first of his kind in England, Sir Edward Brampton.

Justice. In his one and only Parliament, Richard sought to extend the hand of blind justice and fair administration of laws in the kingdom. Many of his public statutes sought to redress abuses and corruption committed on a daily basis in the courts, in the marketplace and in the dealing of land. They aimed to protect even the humblest commoner, not just the rich and mighty. His statutes were the first to be proclaimed in English, so that all literate people, and those who understood English, could hear them in their own native tongue, regardless of their schooling in Latin or Legal French. For this, his reputation is unsullied and remained an example for generations to come.

Finally, we come to another profound attribute of the Ideal Renaissance Prince, and that is Pleasure. In neo-Platonic ideals, pleasure is central to human life, as it is emblematic of Man who is neither divine nor animal. Pleasure is within his grasp because he can make his own destiny, formulate a science, appreciate knowledge, and savor his God-given senses through art, music and dance. As one scholar has observed:

“Most of what Renaissance humanists borrowed from Socrates, Plato and Cicero was their happy, natural and wholesome enjoyment of human life. In the refined civilization that was the Renaissance, the humanists believed they were the ancients reincarnate. Their ideal was excellence, moral and intellectual excellence. And the ancient Greeks had a word for this quality: arete. The virtue of excellence and the excellence of virtue. Be healthy in mind and in body. Seek virtue. Live the good life. Explore all potentialities. Serve the civitas. This is the Platonic idea of paideia, what we today call culture.” (Professor Steven Kreis, The History Guide, copyright 2006.)

Richard truly exemplified these ideas. He had a diverse library of books and defended the nascent book printing trade against xenophobic protectionist efforts of his day; his band of minstrels and his choirs were renowned in England for their splendid music-making; he made architectural improvements to his castles and manors not just for defensive purposes but for their aspect of pleasing the senses. He hosted terrific and energetic Christmas feasts, some of which offended the haughty prelates of his day. He relished beautiful jewels, lavished his Queen with luxurious gowns, loved the tales of Chivalry, and spent great sums of money to establish centers of learning at York, Middleham, Barnard Castle, Fotheringhay and Queen’s College at Cambridge. He also spent extravagantly on religious chantries, seeking redemption from Purgatory for his beloved family members and his own soul. All these are characteristics of a Prince who is not only spiritually virtuous, but in thrall to all noble and pleasurable creations of Man.

This is the Richard of my memory. And, today, I want to celebrate these memories. I want him to rest in sweet peace and in remembrance for the brief but deep joys he had when walking the Earth. I want to celebrate his virtues, his mercy, and his sense of fair play and plain dealing. And his love for beautiful things.

Rest in peace, Richard, and may the Angels sing you a Glorious Requiem and greet you with open arms at the Gate of Heaven, Noble Prince.

Richard III at Bosworth (2): The Final Moments

On this date in 1485, the last Plantagenet king of England died on Bosworth Field defending his crown from Henry Tudor.

Today, thanks to archaeological investigations on the battlefield, we know whereabouts the combat took place and that at least one side (probably the king’s) deployed artillery. The question of exactly how Richard III came to be unhorsed remains a matter for conjecture; suffice to say here that his cavalry charge having failed to dispatch the pretender, he continued fighting manfully on foot ‘in the thickest press of his enemies’ until the fatal melee.

As to how his end came about, the discovery of his skeleton means that myth can be laid aside and his final moments reconstructed with reasonable accuracy. The bardic tradition which has Richard’s head struck so hard by a Welsh halberdier as to drive the crown into his skull is demonstrably untrue, since no such crushing trauma was found.

However, it does contain a grain of truth, indicated by the wounds he in fact sustained. Maybe his helmet was struck by a halberd with sufficient force to stun or disorientate him. Taking instant advantage of this, one or two foes closed in and cut the helmet’s chin-strap, as shown by the shallow cut-marks either side of his jaw.

Once the helmet had been yanked off, it was pretty much ‘game over’. An assailant swung a bladed weapon, probably a sword, at the rear left of his head, aiming to cleave it apart. Richard may have side-stepped or stumbled away, because the blow failed to do this; it did however shear off a disc of scalp several centimetres in diameter, along with the outer layer of skull-bone (consistent with the line, ‘killed the Boar, shaved his head’).

An injury of such stunning force may have driven him to his knees, because another attacker was able to strike the top centre of his head using a square-section weapon such as the beak of a war-hammer or a rondel dagger. This penetrated his skull, driving two flaps of bone into the upper surface of his brain. In all likelihood this rendered Richard unconscious so that he slumped forward, exposing the back of his head. Two opponents then delivered the fatal blows: one, possibly the same swordsman who inflicted the ‘shaving’ injury, plunged his blade in from the left with such force that it penetrated all the way through the brain to leave a mark on the inner table of Richard’s skull. The other, possibly the halberdier, struck from the right, cleaving off a massive slice of bone and cutting into the cerebellum. Either of these wounds would have been instantly fatal – and thus perished the last, and one of the very few, English kings to die in battle.

The one consolation is that this series of events probably takes longer to read about than it did to happen, and (mercifully) Richard may have been aware of very little after the first major blow. But it was a sad end for a brave warrior – so whether you love or hate Richard III, do spare him a thought on this, the 529th anniversary of his death.

The latest Channel Four documentary on Richard III….

I have now seen the excellent Channel Four documentary on whether or not Richard III could have led the cavalry charge at Bosworth. Well, of course, it was already known that he did, so the question was, how efficiently could he do it? The …answer was “Bl–dy well!” The young man, Dominic Smee, whose scoliosis is a virtual match for Richard’s, was an inspiration, not only to others, but to himself as well, which was so very warming to learn.

However, Dominic aside, for he was perfect throughout, I have a quibble or two about the programme itself, excellent as it was, because the verdict at the end was that once Richard became king, he also became a glutton and drunkard. Excuse me? Let me think about this.

On ascending the throne (rightfully, lawfully and without question as the true wearer of the crown) he took on the banquet circus. It was unavoidable. You couldn’t have important ambassadors dining on bread and cheese. Not good for England’s street cred in Europe. Imagine the post-prandial giggles at the French court. Richard is bankrupt and can’t afford hospitality. Hey, maybe we should plan an invasion while he can’t afford to arm his forces… Oh, oui, quelle bonne idée! Pass the napkin and quill, let’s start planning…

But for Channel Four, the implication of these banquets was that Richard ate his way through everything on the immense menu. Historically, he was actually recorded as eating ‘sparingly’. I’d like to see our present queen sitting at a banquet and proceeding to chomp the lot! Richard, apparently also drank far too much. Surely, if he was half-cut all the time, when everyone else wasn’t, someone, somewhere might have made a teensy note? I’m certain our ‘Enery Tudor (for one) wouldn’t have missed such a handy stick with which to beat his predecessor.

The programme kept insisting that Richard’s diet was far, far richer than those of his peers and contemporaries. How do they know? How many other kings’ bones have they ground up to find out? I’m prepared to believe that Richard’s food was much richer once he became king, but the drinking bit is iffy to say the least. They all drank then – the water was as iffy as the conjecture about his booze-addled existence. And he didn’t sit at those banquets alone, so presumably everyone around him was chomping and slurping as well?

So, no, I think Channel Four are hoping for a little controversy. After all, the programme shows that Richard could certainly do everything he is recorded as having done. That might equal ‘boring’ in TV-speak, so let’s home in on something else to crank up the hype. Ah yes – he was a lush! And he had worms. Mustn’t forget the worms. Always good for the shudder factor. Oh, PS, he had more worms than anyone else as well. Yes, neat suggestion. He was excessive in everything!

Otherwise, I enjoyed it all. And nothing has shaken my loyalty or admiration for King Richard III. Adversity struck him on all sides in his health and private life, and in the public form of treachery by those who wanted his power for themselves, but still he was a remarkable king, whose Parliament did so very much for his people. Slightly built, drunk, suffering from indigestion due to gorging on over-rich food at breakfast in his tent, he still came within a few feet of giving Henry the Jelly a fatal dent to the helm. Bonk! One huge Ricardian clout would have been all that was needed, and bingo – no Tudor dynasty! No wonder Henry made sure to never again be on a battlefield. He must have bricked it big time when he watched the demon Richard hacking his way toward him.

So well done, Dominic. I think we now have a much more accurate idea of what Richard actually looked like, gracile arms and all. And Dominic now feels much more confident in himself, so while he did a favour for Richard, Richard has returned that favour. Good luck, Dominic, may your fortunes improve now on. We all wish you well.

And yes, thank you Channel Four, for a very informative programme. Shame about some over-emphases, but on the whole you have done Richard a service.

More Cairo fun

It seems as if those denialists, rather than give up and concede that the evidence*since Kendall is favourable to Richard, are descending into self-parody.

Apart from someone, with a name that is quite valuable at Scrabble, resurfacing after five years, we have had some new claims. The Calais garrison were suggested to have defected to “Tudor” when Edward IV’s bigamy revealed, except that we know that they were loyal throughout Richard’s reign as John of Gloucester was still their Captain at the end. Catherine de Valois apparently attended and addressed Parliament when her “wedding” to Owen Tudor was attested to, a considerable feat for a dead lady.

Still, these new falsehoods make a change from their old ones, disproven so often.

* Barrie Williams, Ashdown-Hill, Carson etc

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