• Plantagenet Fever

    What is it that makes people obsessed with certain figures from the past?  The tedious Tudors are probably reaching the end of their undeserved popularity (surely!) and now it’s the turn of King Richard III to take centre stage.

    This is nothing new.  My daughter’s drama teacher in York had a framed portrait of Richard on her studio wall and founded the Richard III Society in York against all the criticisms of the academics.

    Now she’s justified.

    I recently came across someone else who thought that Richard III had been maligned for political purposes by Henry Tudor and the rest of that egregious bunch.  This is the Canadian author Thomas B. Costain.  In his masterly and very readable account of the Plantagenet dynasty he offers the standard Tudor view that Richard was a bad lot.  But then, after examining the facts as we know them, in an author’s afterword, he adds this:

    “Is it necessary to recapitulate all the evidence in Richard’s favour in order to believe that the verdict of history should be changed…?…Should not the history taught in schools be changed to an impartial basis in accorance with what is now known?  Must schoolrooms and reference books go on indefinitely with the old version, stubbornly grinding the Tudor axe?”

    He concludes:

    “By living, he might have allowed himself a long span of years in which to employ his great administrative gifts as king and to put into the form of laws the changes he had in his mind.  This might have made possible a more satisfying end to the chronicles of a great dynasty.  It could then perhaps have been possible to present Richard, not as the last and the blackest of that fantastic family whose achievements and adventures have engaged our attention through these long volumes.  It might even have been possible to show him as one of the most constuctive, perhaps as one of the greatest, of the kingly Plantagenets.”

    Yes, that would be something, wouldn’t it?  Costain said all this in 1962 in his book The Last Plantagenets 1377-1485.  Time grinds exceedingly slow in the groves of academe.

    Perhaps one day a reassessment of Richard II might be made too.  It was his murder by his greedily ambitiious cousin Henry Bolingbroke that started more than eighty years of bloody civil war called The Wars of the Roses which only ended with Richard III’s death at Bosworth.  His kingly predecessor also received short shrift from his enemies in an effort to conceal their crime.

    I hope, in the entertainment provided by a mystery series like the six books of Hildegard of Meaux, to give readers some idea of the events that led to King Richard II’s murder.  I believe this will be as radical as the current rethinking about Richard III.

    Let’s hope it doesn’t take another fifty years to bring this Richard out of the darkness.