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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

A guest post by Iris

Re: “Richard the Mourner”:

I tend to agree with layers of unsubstantiated myth building century after century, including Richard’s butchering his way to the crown (4 executions against over 20.000 dead on the field only at Towton to put his brother Edward on the throne, indeed a pale imitation of a larger than life example of real Plantagenet ambition.) As for the issue you are addressing here, as you well remind us all the Crowland continuator, writing some 2 years after Richard’s own “funeral” and under Tudor’s regime, while amply (and I may add with no shred of a contemporary record to substantiate his statements) disserting on Richard’s incestous marriage plans only mentioned Anne was buried at Westminster with no less honors than befitted the interment of a queen.

However, just ONE DAY after Richard’s public refutal of the rumours he had poisoned his wife to marry his niece, the Court minutes of the Mercers’ Company report his speech at St John’s Hospital on 30 March with these words: “Addressing them ‘in a loud and distinct voice’, “he ‘showed his grief and displeasure aforesaid and said it never came into his thought or mind to marry in such manner wise, nor willing nor glad of the death of his queen but as sorry and in heart as heavy as man might be.” Now “‘showed his grief and displeasure” refers to body language, not words and speculations that it might refer to tears over the death of his wife do not seem to be so extraordinary to me. So at least in this occasion there is evidence suggesting some sort of phisical display of sorrow was caught by the audience attending this very unusual official speech. I do not know what others do when they are sad about the death of a close relative, I usually cry, I cannot see why another human being whatever his status should not do the same.

As far as Richard is concerned, this public display would not even have been the first one. The Crowland Chronicler, despite his evident dislike of the man and almost rejoicing on the divine punishment God had sent by taking Richard’s only legitimate son and heir away, also reports how, “on hearing the news of this, at Nottingham, where they were then residing, you might have seen his father and mother in a state almost bordering on madness, by reason of their sudden grief”. Now, again I do not luckily know what losing my only child means, I tend to say it’s generally considered a tragedy and Richard and Anne seem to have reacted accordingly as human beings. Did that involve tears? Possibly. So, is there any record literally using the words “tears” when describing Richard mourning over his departed beloved? No? Do contemporary records make it a far fetched fantasy to speculate on Richard’s tears in such occasions? Again no. Does that fit with the monster image of Tudor’s historians? Hardly. Is this why debunking the tears myth is so important?

If some in turn at this point want to speculate that Richard was a wimp crying at the first difficulty instead of a human being with basic human feelings and corresponding body language and was a good riddance when he was killed at Bosworth field, everyone is entitled to their opinion, I just know for some he can’t seem to win one way or the other

On the preservation of sources beyond our shores

Our post on Thursday ( showed that Jehan de Wavrin’s comments on the relative sizes of George and Richard in 1461 are available to us because Wavrin’s “Recueil des croniques et anchiennes istories de la Grant Bretaigne” (p.357) was composed in Burgundy. It was, therefore, beyond the reach of the “Tudor” agent known as the Human Shredder, whether he was Polydore Vergil or Robert Morton.

Similarly Dr. Anne Sutton (in the June 1977 Ricardian) has rediscovered Richard’s 28 June 1483 letter to Lord Mountjoy in Calais, enclosed a copy of the Three Estates’ petition to Richard – and perhaps the evidence Stillington gave to them is available?. The record of Richard’s remarriage plan surfaced in Portugal, thanks to Barrie Williams. Evidence relating to the “Simnel” coronation remained in Ireland.

Is a pattern emerging here? I wonder what else the archives of the rest of Europe have to tell us that England’s own could but can no longer?

We like to answer our readers’ queries …

On Thursday, someone enquired: “Who had a better claim to the throne than Henry VII”?

The short answer (excluding the right by conquest): almost anyone.
Conventionally, his mother was descended from Edward III through the Beaufort line, but they were only legitimised “excepta dignitate regali”. However, the balance of evidence suggests that his parents were undispensed first cousins, making Henry personally illegitimate. Then again, his great-grandfather, the first Beaufort, may have been a legitimate Swynford, giving him no royal descent at all. According to the latest DNA evidence, this latter conclusion is at least 5% probable.

The long answer: In summer 1485, apart from the reigning King Richard III, his Suffolk nephews all had claims and there were a few of those. Even if we discount women from reigning in their own right, many of his nieces later had sons. His father’s sister, Isobel, was married to an Earl of Essex and had Bourchier issue. His grandmother Anne Mortimer was the last of her line but Richard of Cambridge had a sister, Constance, through whom Anne Neville and the Barons Bergavenny descend. After Anne Mortimer but before Cambridge’s cousins would come the legitimate, unattainted Lancastrians in Portugal. Then there was an Earl of Kent and, as soon as attainders could be reversed, there was an Earl of Warwick and a Stafford heir.

Have we forgotten anyone?

“There was I, waiting at the church …….”

“There was I, waiting at the church,
Waiting at the church, waiting at the church;
When I found he’d left me in the lurch.
Lor, how it did upset me!
All at once, he sent me round a note
Here’s the very note, this is what he wrote:
“Can’t get away to marry you today,
My wife, won’t let me!”
{Vesta Victoria}

Have a look at this schedule of events. Elizabeth of York wasn’t exactly “left in the lurch”, in fact Obadiah Binks’ note is one that her father should have sent her mother:

25 December 1483:        Henry “Tudor” promises to marry Elizabeth of York or one of her sisters
22 August 1485:              Battle of Bosworth
30 October 1485:            Henry VII’s coronation
7 November 1485:         Richard III’s Titulus Regius is repealed, legitimising Elizabeth
14 January 1486:            Marriage to Elizabeth of York
20 September 1486:      Birth of Arthur “Tudor”, their first child
November 1486:             Elizabeth Woodville is arrested and confined to Bermondsey Abbey
16 June 1487:                   Battle of Stoke
25 November 1487:      Elizabeth’s coronation as Queen Consort

Henry VII, as he had become, certainly wasn’t in a hurry either to marry or to crown his bride, was he? Note the conditional promise – that he would try one of her sisters if she were already married (and we now know from the Portuguese records that Manoel of Beja was her likely husband whilst Buck recorded her joy at this prospect) – which scarcely marks him down as the romantic sort. Sending his mother-in-law to an Abbey (a male one at that) would have delighted a whole generation of comedians.

Now it seems likely that he sought to continue, in the immediate aftermath of Bosworth, the negotiations to substitute himself as a husband for Joao II’s sister Juana.

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