Feuding and fighting.
I am currently reading a book about the reconstruction of the Welsh Highland Railway. For those who don’t know, this was a narrow gauge line that lay completely derelict (all track lifted) for more than 70 years. Eventually, after a hideously complex and titanic struggle against the odds, it was rebuilt and you can now ride on it. And a very nice ride it is too, all the way from Caernarfon to Porthmadog.
So what has this to do with Yorkist England? you may reasonably ask. Well, the first few chapters of the book describe the ongoing feud between two factions who wanted to own the railway. They were all railway enthusiasts, naturally, and they all wanted the railway to reopen, but both sides had their own views as to how it could be done. And, boy, did they squabble! Actually squabble doesn’t cover it – it was a long saga of bitterness and outright hatred that still leaves scars to this day. A number of ‘powerful personalities’ were engaged on both sides, and no one was willing to give an inch. Occasionally there was an attempt to bring the two sides together, but the conferences grew as heated as those you might find in a stalemated civil war. There was no loveday here! Only at the very end, when one side had clearly lost through courts and public enquries and ministerial decisions, was a sort of agreement reached.
I can’t help but see a parallel to the matter of Richard III. We are all history enthusiasts, and we all have the same objective – historical truth. The only difficulty is that, unlike the reopening of a railway, ‘historical truth’ is not a tangible end. Certainly not when we have a fair bit of evidence, but virtually nothing in the way of proof. Sadly, the discovery of Richard’s body seems to have acted as a catalyst in terms of deepening the bitterness and intensity of the debate around him.
I am a long standing Ricardian. I make no bones about it. I am biased in Richard’s favour. I wish everyone in the debate would be equally frank, instead of pretending to be independent thinkers, free from bias, and with no particular agenda. If you think Henry VII was in the right, why not just say so?
I am frankly sick of the level of abuse aimed at me, and people like me. For example:
1. That all my ideas on Richard are based on reading novels. This may be true of some Ricardians, but certainly not all. Indeed, I can think of some who very pointedly do not read novels at all. Most of us, believe it or not, read factual history books all the time. Including those with which we disagree, in whole or part. To suggest otherwise is downright insulting. The accusation is particularly annoying because it is clear that many of the anti-Richards are heavily influenced by ‘popular history’ which is almost invariably overly dependent on the fictions of More and Shakespeare. Like fiction, ‘popular history’ is a useful introduction for newcomers, but nothing matches the reading of serious history texts and original sources.
2. The suggestion that the likes of me secretly want to go to bed with Richard. Poor Philippa Langley has had this thrown at her left, right and centre. It is absurd, and one wonders how the anti-Richards would care to be characterised as the Brides (or Grooms) of Henry VII, or perhaps more aptly, of Anthony Woodville? One suspects that all hell would break loose.
3. The intellectual arrogance of people who appear to know what happened in 1483-1485. How, were they there in a previous life? Were they, perhaps, Lady Rivers? They claim to know things that even fringe members of Richard III’s own court would not have known for certain! Most Ricardians, if pushed, will admit the possibility that Richard did away with the boys, or that Edward IV did not marry Eleanor Talbot. The anti-Richard brigade are rarely willing to concede the converse. It is as if they have some secret store of knowledge that contains the absolute historical truth.
4. The homophobic abuse aimed at a particular distinguished historian who dares to differ from the ‘party line’. We Ricardians may have our faults, but I honestly don’t recall any of us stooping to such a low, even though there is at least one very large and prominent target on the ‘other side’.
This is written more in sorrow than in anger. I don’t expect peace to break out any time soon, especially as people on both sides seem to want to confine themselves to echo chambers. I just hope that the general tone of debate takes an upward turn.