Posts Tagged ‘Bosworth Field’

The Karl Roves of Tudor England

Posted in General, On This Day on August 22nd, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – 1 Comment

August 22, 1485:  Henry VII Becomes King; Machiavelli and MBAs Get a Role Model

Today is the anniversary of the battle of Bosworth Field. In tribute to the fallen and vilified Richard III, please hunch your shoulder.

History indeed is written by the victors, and the usurping Tudors had some extraordinary flacks in their service. The first “official” biography of Richard III was written in 1518 by an ambitious lawyer named Thomas More. More’s history could have been a Wes Craven screenplay; Richard is depicted as a physical monster. In this portrait, a hunchback may be Richard’s most attractive feature. More grafts upon Richard a withered arm and a limp; furthermore, More’s caricature was born with a full–and threatening– set of teeth. The real Richard had none of these disabilities and distortions, and actually was more attractive than Henry VII–who looked like a constipated actuary.

In 1592 a young playwright named Shakespeare was eager to ingratiate himself to the public and rich patrons, so he wrote a gushingly Pro-Tudor dramatization of the War of the Roses. The four plays, the Henry VI trilogy and Richard III, are a slapdash concoction of convoluted history and overripe melodrama. In “Henry VI, part III”, Richard is depicted as gleefully waging war when, in fact, he was only three years old.  However inaccurate the plays, the audience loved them.  (Indeed, Richard III is still popular–and today is considered much funnier than Shakespeare’s intentional comedies.) Shakespeare would have been gratified–if amazed–to know that his melodrama has become the common perception of King Richard.

Of course, Richard has his defenders. A number of historians and novelists have attempted heroic exonerations of the vilified king; but it remains an uneven match: their facts against St. More’s reputation and Shakespeare’s talent.   You may number me among the vicarious Yorkists. Let’s deal with the most notorious charge against Richard: the killing of the Little Princes.

I think that Richard is innocent of killing his nephews. They certainly were an inconvenience to him (don’t we all have nephews like that!) but he could have found better ways to remove them than an unexplained disappearance. He could even have blamed the Lancastrian/Tudor partisans for the princes’ deaths. In fact, he should have if they really were dead. However, their disposal was not urgent or even necessary. Parliament had already declared them illegitimate; and there was little political support for them. Their mother’s family, the Woodvilles, was hated by the old nobility.

However Henry VII would have had to kill them. His claims to royal lineage were tenuous and illegitimate. (The Lancastrians had proved obligingly sterile, allowing Tudor–a half-second cousin, once removed, from Wales–to represent the dynasty.) Any Yorkist prince or princess was a threat to him. Other than the Yorkist princess he coerced into marriage, Henry had his in-laws executed, imprisoned or cloistered.

Perhaps Richard had already done him the favor of killing the Princes. But Henry’s behavior was suspicious and incriminating.

It is interesting to note that when Henry VII ascended to the throne, he had Parliament issue a list of Richard’s crimes. The murder of the Princes was not cited, a rather surprising omission. Since Henry married their sister, you think that he have noticed their absence when they didn’t respond to the wedding invitations.

Didn’t anyone notice that the Princes were missing? Perhaps the Queen Mother did. For some reason, she was suddenly imprisoned in 1487 for being a supporter of Richard III. Would she really have supported the man who had murdered her sons? That may have been Henry’s reason for imprisoning her.

In fact, it wasn’t until 1495 and the attempted coup by Perkins Warbeck, a charlatan claiming to be one of the Little Princes, that Henry finally announced the deaths of his brothers-in-law. He also ordered the execution of Richard’s henchman Sir James Tyrrell. The one incongruity with that revelation was that Tyrrell had been a favorite of Henry’s and had enjoyed promotions under the Tudors.

Furthermore, although Henry seemed to know the details of the murders, he didn’t make any effort to exhume the bodies and give them a Christian burial. That gesture of decency didn’t occur until the reign of Charles II.

I am inclined to one theory that would explain Richard’s silence and Henry’s reticence. The crime might have been committed by the Duke of Buckingham, a proclaimed Yorkist partisan and a covert Tudor conspirator. The Duke was in charge of the Tower and had the opportunity to kill the princes. He could have committed the crime and then assured both sides he had done it as a favor to them. He may have been expecting rewards from both sides. However, Richard seemed anything but grateful. The King rebuffed his old ally, driving the Duke to rebellion. The Duke lost the battle and his head. However Richard may have felt too incriminated by his past association to announce the murder of the Princes.

Of course, this is just speculation.

Ironically, while I defend Richard’s innocence, I must admit that Henry VII was one of England’s greatest kings and the founder of a brilliant dynasty.