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Who really won at Bosworth? (by Katherine Newman-Warren)

I think increasingly it is Richard who has ultimately gained the greater victory. Henry won temporal power and died in his bed but Richard has gained a kind of immortality that Henry could never hope to achieve and went down fighting as a warrior king with the symbols of his kingship on his body. If a king is a symbol for his people then Richard has become, for so many, the embodiment of courage against the odds, of survival and endurance and also of human frailty and loss. As Bishop Tim said the ‘Richard’ effect touches people around the world. They are prepared to embrace him in all his flawed complexity, knowing that his choices were hard and his options limited, understanding that he was born into a bloody civil war where personal tragedies were common place and strength was often manifested in the ability to stay alive long enough to grow to manhood. People see their own struggles and setbacks in his story. They can forgive him his mistakes and bad judgements because they recognize their own faults and failings in his but they are no longer willing to swallow distortions and lies without probing these arguments for the truth which is always a rainbow of motivations and a shifting sea of morality. Our reaction to his story dares us to be wise, to understand that moral judgement from the comfort of an armchair and a place of safety is rarely justifiable and that given the same pressures we might have done worse and likely no better than he managed. They understand the enormity of his grief at the loss of his child and what crushing responsibility he shouldered alone in the last year of his life and they will continue to remember him long after the media frenzy moves on to find fresh meat. The Director of the RSC said this week that without Shakespeare Richard would have neither the notoriety nor support that he has enjoyed and in one sense I can accept this. People don’t like injustice and in the modern world, they are disgusted by prejudice based on disability. Shakespeare’s Richard is persuasive and charismatic in a way that the real Richard was perhaps not, despite his Plantagenet bloodline, but he is without regret or remorse and I don’t believe that Richard didn’t agonise over his decisions or regret his mistakes. The anxiety of his piety suggests rather the opposite and makes him real and pitiable as we all are.

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5 thoughts on “Who really won at Bosworth? (by Katherine Newman-Warren)

  1. Jenny Colley on said:

    Wonderful post. You summed up my own feelings so elegantly.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. mairemartello on said:

    I enjoyed this blog very much – the only thing I would disagree with is that I think the original Richard was just as charismatic and persuasive as Shakespeare – perhaps more so because the few letters we have show a witty and wise character – a deeply patriotic man who put his country before his own comfort and ease – to the point of sacrificing his own life in a lost attempt to save his crown. I have always believed that a man who was only on the throne two years must have had a powerful personality to bust through 500 encrusted years of history. The king who came after him was on the throne decades and his legacy is a child’s rhyme about his stinginess.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Von Poppelau’s account of him also makes him look very charming – you get the picture of a king who’s warm, spirited, great conversationalist, generous and prone to giving honored guests gifts, loves music… he certainly charmed the Silesian visitor, who otherwise disliked England and most of what he saw there.

      John Rous’ unfavourable comments about Richard III as an evil Antichrist, written after Richard’s death, also imply that Richard was quite charming, which Rous then spins in a negative way, saying that Richard appeared nice to people but was actually evil and scheming behind it: “Scorpio rose at his birth, which sign is the house of Mars; and as Scorpio has a flattering countenance, a stinging tail, so he himself showed himself to all.”

      I think that Shakespeare was, however, simply using his brain; he was not the first to pick Richard III as a subject, there were other plays about Richard written around the same time, and from what I’ve heard, they portray Richard in an even worse light – he is as evil, but lacks the cleverness and charm of Shakespeare’s Richard (and one of them supposedly even has Richard trying to rape Jane Shore or some nonsense like that; thankfully, Shakespeare was smart enough to realize portraying him as a rapist would have been stupid). He probably simply thought: well, this guy who was supposedly so awful and also deformed and what not managed to trick so many people and persuade them he would be a good king? He has to be really charismatic! (Of course, Shakespeare loved his charismatic villains who talk directly to the audience, from Aaron in Titus Andronicus, to Richard III, to Iago and Edmund from King Lear.) You can’t have a character with no appealing qualities whatsoever and make him successful, that makes no sense.

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  3. Jenny Colley on said:

    Actually, Maire, that was the only thing I wondered about too. Richard’s followers seem to have been fiercely loyal and there must have been something in the man which inspired that. It always struck me, for example, that the way Francis Lovell continued to fight even after Richard’s death must have had a great deal to do with loyalty to his friend and king.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. mairemartello on said:

    Yes, he inspired loyalty. And he upset the barons and nobility so much with his reforms that they rebelled. A reverse-mirror image of King John!

    Liked by 2 people

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