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This would explain a lot

Next month, David Starkey will be talking about Henry VIII on television again (1). However, in this Telegraph interview, he is compared to Henry in several ways, even suggesting that he

is that King’s reincarnation.
Sadly, the interviewer seems not to understand which of Henry’s marriage ceremonies were valid, or the difference between divorce and annulment, differences which were fully explained in a certain book a few years ago (2).

(1) Channel Four, Monday 6 April, 21:00.
(2) Royal Marriage Secrets, Ashdown-Hill, Chapter 10, pp. 95-113

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Band of Brothers

godfather 2When Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo began to write their classic Godfather movies, based on Mario Puzo’s pop novel, did they have the Plantagenet Brothers, Edward, George and Richard in mind as the prototypes of Sonny, Fredo and Michael Corleone?  Whether they did or not, the parallels among the characters and their historical counterparts are quite interesting and in several instances, astonishing.

In Godfather 2, considered the masterwork of the trilogy, we meet the handsome, elegant Vito Corleone (Robert DeNiro), father of the trio, as a young Italian immigrant who learns to survive the mean streets of Manhattan in the early 20th Century.  After many trials and error, he succeeds by eventually seizing authority from the corrupt, wealthy power-brokers and extortionists of the poor, exemplified by Don Fanucci (Gastone Muschin), and proceeds to build a power base of his own from which he can exercise both justice and punishment as well as accumulate land and riches.  That this land is in the Borough of Queens, New York and not Lincolnshire or Yorkshire does not lessen the fact that it bears some similarity to the life of Richard of York in his ongoing quest to seize power from the naïve Henry the Sixth and his corrupt court.  Where they differ, aside from location and time, is that Don Corleone did not have to contend with the scary Margaret of Anjou.  In almost all cases in these movies, with perhaps the exception of Kay played by Diane Keaton, the women take a backseat to the men of the Costa Nostra.

godfather 6

Where the parallels get much stronger is the introduction of the three brothers in the first Godfather film.  The youngest, the quiet, scholarly Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) is back from fighting in the Pacific and hopes to graduate from college and go into politics.  A bit of an outsider within his family (“That’s my family, Kay, not me”), he is nonetheless keeping a silent watch on the frenzied actions of his landsman.  In this, we see an inkling of the young Duke of Gloucester, a soldier who may originally have been slated to become a priest, who had an active interest in law, literature and music but one who had no logical chance of rising within the royal family.  But through twists of amazing fate and fortune’s ever-spinning wheel, as most Ricardians know:  just when he thought he was out, they pulled him back in!

godfather 4Brother Sonny Corleone (James Caan), the oldest of the clan, is the golden boy of the family, the apple of his father’s eye (Marlon Brando) and the successor to his father’s dynasty.  But Sonny has a problem not unlike his Plantagenet model, King Edward IV:  he’s a slothful womanizer with several mistresses, one of whom, Lucy, is so tempting that Don Corleone scolds his son for becoming soft and decadent and not looking after business.  Sonny’s insistence on bringing narcotics into his crime syndicate – a quick way to make a buck – surely has a parallel to Edward’s Treaty of Picquigny, which easily brought thousands upon thousands of crowns into the English treasury and was much disdained by the straight-laced Richard.  We also know that Edward came to value Richard’s loyalty and work ethic in carrying out his orders as Constable of England, head of the Admiralty and Lord of the North and so, too, does Sonny esteem his youngest brother when Michael volunteers to kill his father’s would-be murderers after Corleone Pére becomes the victim of an assassination attempt.  While we cannot compare Richard’s actions to that of the murderous Michael, we do know that Richard remained a loyal family man and admirer of his brother Edward – perhaps until he was set upon by a brace of Woodvilles.

Was there ever a character more like George, Duke of Clarence than Fredo played by the late, great John Casale?

godfather 5This is the weak middle brother who drunkenly screams “I’m your older brother, Mike, and I was stepped over!” when confronted about his bad behavior.  He’s the overlooked, jealous and distrusted son and sibling, constantly protected by Michael but continually betraying his family in wrong-headed alliances with Las Vegas and Havana mobsters culminating in a plot to assassinate his younger brother who is now head of the family.  How similar to the unstable and drunken Clarence joining with the Earl of Warwick in rebellion and again implicated in various plots to overthrow the king and seize the crown.  Just as Clarence was hauled off to the Tower by Edward IV, Fredo is consigned to purdah at Michael’s Lake Tahoe secluded retreat.  At this point, the parallel diverges in that we know that Richard was adamantly opposed to his brother being executed while Michael Corleone delivers Fredo’s death warrant with a kiss.  (“It was you, Fredo, it was you.”)  Yet both brothers, historical and fictional, deeply regret the loss of a childhood playmate and blood relative.

Once Fredo is executed and Sonny and Vito are long dead, an embittered Michael stands alone as the head of his family.  He is left with fractured friendships and interests which must somehow be glued together in order to keep “the business” going.  Michael becomes involved with shady Italian politicians and Vatican financiers as Richard welcomed the overtures of the dicey Duke of Buckingham.   Both have unhappy outcomes that do not bode well for the future of either man.  Lastly, there is an eerie similarity between Richard and Michael when his daughter, Mary, played by Sofia Coppola in Godfather 3, is brutally murdered on the steps of the Palermo Opera House by a bullet meant for her father.  In his guilt and frenzy, we see Michael silently scream in what must surely echo Richard’s own agony when confronted with his own son’s unexpected death.  Michael cannot be comforted by his ex-wife and I suspect Queen Anne also could not help her grieving husband.

godfather 7

Truly, a medieval bloodfest filmed by Gordon Willis in somber, handsome shades of ruby red, cobalt blue and black that might easily hint at a touch of Yorkist murrey and blue.

Oh, and could this be Richard and his lawyer William Catsby?  Played by Robert Duvall.

godfather 1

A guest post from (Professor) Karen Griebling

From time to time I have alluded rather obliquely to the fact that I see strong similarities between late 15th century English politics and early 21st century American politics and that is among the reasons I think that Richard III’s story needs to be told, and told NOW especially. I had been sitting on those revelations all this time because I felt that art needed to be given a chance to make its point, that the libretto and the music would bring those things to light; but I suspect I am putting too much faith in that. People will be struggling with the plot, the music, and the language on the first hearing so perhaps now is the time to make that statement.

To most people nowadays the Wars of the Roses seem to have been a Hatfield versus McCoy family feud of remote antiquity. Little do they realize that international diplomacy had a great deal to do with it, that Louis XI “the Spider” of France, Charles ‘the Rash” of Burgundy, Francis or Brittany, Maximillian of Austria, the Pope, the Doge of Milan, the Hundred Years War, gun powder and the printing press (technology), Spain and Portugal, Scotland and Ireland, the emergence of the middle class, gender roles and rights, religious ideology, the middle east, and international economics and trade agreements were key players in those events. Change is a constant; but the more things change, the more they remain the same in some ways. Having immersed myself in the politics of the 15th century for some time now, I am more aware of the similarities than ever, and the cyclic tendency of things.

Meanwhile, among the strong similarities between American politics and those of the late 15th century in Britain as I see it, are the House of Lancaster being somewhat equivalent to the Republicans, rewarding insiders and throwing money into costly and futile foreign wars (The Hundred Years War) while bankrupting the state and allowing its subjects to starve, doing anything in their power no matter how ridiculous/devious to malign and unseat the reigning house, and the House of York being similar to the Democrats who were allied with the Duchy of Burgundy and generally more progressive, more liberal, more populist, and tended to shake up the status quo by introducing commoners to court/inside the beltway.

The Medieval concept of Fortune’s Wheel is certainly apropos. It’s a wheel that twists on it axis as it turns, though, I think. We think of Mesopotamia as the Cradle of Civilization, but that civilization erupted through violence and competition for limited resources among peoples with conflicting and exclusive ideologies. East and Southeast Asia were also in the ascendant early on, and culture and civilization spread West to Europe gradually, via Turkey, Greece and Rome to Europe. The late 15th c. then saw the discovery of the Americas by Europeans (Richard III had died in battle just 7 years earlier, in fact.) The west appears to be in decline now and the East appears to be ascending, and the strife in the Cradle of Civilization, always at a dull roar, it seems, is increasing once again.

I DO think that this accounts for the popularity of shows like “Game of Thrones” which is loosely based on the Wars of the Roses, and “The White Queen”. And somehow I feel as though the discovery of the mortal remains of Richard III coincided with this time 530 years after his death for a greater purpose. As Joe Leaphorn character in the Hillerman mysteries says, (and I paraphrase) ‘I don’t believe in coincidences’. Or rather, I do, but I believe they have meanings and a significance that we may or may not grasp immediately.

Some of you may recall that I taught a course on musical rhetoric and politics a couple of years ago. The focus of that course had been of interest to me ever since I was a DMA student at University of Texas and wrote a paper on ‘protest music’–no, not the folk-pop music of the ’60s and ’70s, but protest music in 20th century classical art music by composers such as Hindemith, Dallapiccola, Britten, Berg, Schoenberg, and others. The course I taught in 2013 though, went back to the beginnings of European classical music–examining the nature and purpose of Gregorian chant as a tool of the church for subjugating, unifying, and pacifying the masses (!), through the development of word painting in the Renaissance, and structural abstractions as codes during periods of intense censorship in the late 18th century and in Soviet Russia in the 20th century, the use of quotation in masses by Josquin and in early Postmodern composers like George Rochberg, etc., the use of music dramas first to flatter the patron and teach moral and ethical lessons, not unlike early TV sit-coms, and the later use of them to lampoon aristocrats (the SNL of the 18th and 19th centuries!), and the emergence of music by women and composers of color during the mid twentieth century equal rights era, etc..

That, all of it, comes to bear in the opera, Richard III: A Crown of Roses, A Crown of Thorns. This isn’t just a romantic piece about a long-dead king, or pretty arias and exciting battle scene music, it isn’t just about rehabilitating his reputation through art (though that is certainly its mission), but it is about critically examining and understanding the world we live in and drawing attention to the patterns of repetition from history that we sometimes fail to recognize so that we can learn from them.KG1 KG2 KG3

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