Richard III: evil or good

In a previous post, “Richard III: lost and found” (115journals.com), I described the recent discovery of the bones RIchard III who was killed by Henry Tudor in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. Henry then became Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch in England, followed in turn, by Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. The question I promised to address at the end of my previous post was whether Richard deserved the reputation that has come down to us, citing Shakespeare’s play, on the one hand, and Josephine Tey’s novel, The Daughter of Time, on the other.

Shakespeare’s play Richard III was probably produced in 1594, during Elizabeth’s reign, over 100 years after Richard’s death. The playwright drew on Holinshed’s history which in its turn drew on Thomas More’s account of events. More was solidly in the Tudor camp, having served both Henry VII and Henry VIII. In any case, according to Tey’s research, More did not actually write the history of Richard that is attributed to him, but rather re-copied in his own hand an account actually written by one John Morton, a participant in events. This re-copied account was found in More’s papers after his execution and published as his own work. The Tudors -namely Henry VIII- repaid More’s service by beheading him.

Josephine Tey’s novel, The Daughter of Time, was published in 1951 and is not the first debunking of the evil Richard legend, which held that he was a usurper of the throne, guilty of fratricide and regicide, and a man without honour who proposed to marry his own niece. Other writers – Buck in the 17th century, Walpole in the 18th and Markham in the 19th – also contradicted that legend. Indeed there is something called the Rickardian Society devoted to that same task since 1924.

I came to love Shakespeare’s play when I saw Alec Guiness play the lead at Stratford, Ontario as a teenager. It was a brilliant portrayal of a villain who rejoiced in his villainy. Like all school children I had learned that Richard was the boogeyman who had killed the poor little princes (Edward V and his younger brother) in the Tower of London and it didn’t occur to me that might not be true.

I’m not sure when I first read The Daughter of Time, but it would have been probably 15 years or more after it was first published. A few days ago, I loaded it onto my Kindle and read it for the 3rd time. It is just not possible, for me at any rate, to keep its complex ideas in my head. The daughter of time, by the way, is truth.

Shakespeare’s play begins with a long monologue by Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who was depicted by Guiness as hunchbacked and twisted, drabbly dressed with greasy hair sticking out from under a red cap. He begins by asserting that he was
Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time
Into this breathing world scarce half made up –
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them –
And yet, so skilled is he at seduction that by the end of the scene, he has talked Anne Neville into marrying him despite the fact that she began by hating him. She has good reason: Richard has murdered her husband, the Prince Of Wales, and her father-in-law, the deposed king, Henry VI, to secure the throne for his brother. Richard carries on throughout the play murdering his way to the top. He kills his brother, Clarence, who is next in birth-order to Edward IV, and therefore, an obstacle to Richard’s inheriting the throne. He pins the murder on Edward thereby accelerating his illness and when Edward dies, he imprisons his sons in the Tower of London. He kills the nobles who support the child Edward V although he (Richard) has been appointed Regent to rule until Edward is of age. He kills his wife, Anne Neville in a plan to marry his niece, Elizabeth. Then, infamously, he hires James Tyrell to kill the little princes by smothering them. When Richard’s horse is shot out from under him at the Battle of Bosworth Field, Henry of Richmond finishes him off and becomes Henry VII, the first Tudor king. Shakespeare counted Queen Elizabeth, Henry’s grand daughter as the chief patron of his theatre company, plenty of reason to seize on the dramatic possibilities of Richard’s villainy.

Now, even before we turn to Tey’s refutation of these charges, it is worth noting that Richard’s hired hands are supposed to have dispatched his brother the Duke of Clarence by drowning him in a butt of Malmsey, that is a large barrel of wine. This was actually a Cockney expression indicating that Clarence died of drink, although, in actual fact, he was executed for treason.

Josphine Tey’s novel is constructed like a mystery. The detective, Grant is lying flat in a hospital bed recovering from injuries sustained while he was chasing a suspect. To pass the time, he is trying to solve the riddle of whether Richard deserved the reputation that Shakespeare hung on him. He has the help of a “research worker”, Brent Carradine, who looks things up at the British Museum. Those were the quaint old days when sitting in a library was the only way to do such research. By this time, Grant has figured out that More’s account was highly suspect and not even his own. Curiously, even the historians who castigate Richard, have to admit that he was devoted to Edward IV throughout his life and that he was an admirable administrator, an excellent general, and a brave soldier. Yet they also picture him as suddenly becoming willing to wade through blood to get to the throne, even though he is already safely ensconced there as the Regent. Grant and his researcher decide to focus not on such accounts, but on actual documents from the time – accounts, letters, decrees, court records, legislation.

It quickly becomes clear that  Richard’s rule of 18 months was not only orderly but progressive, the people being granted such things as the right to bail and freedom from intimidation as jurors. Richard dealt with those charged with treason in an even-handed way returning confiscated property, for example, to the family to be administered. In the light of future events, when the Lancasters and their Woodville allies rose against him, he would have been better to be a tyrant. Yet he seems to have been a decent fellow who was popular with the people.

The research In The Daughter of Time turns up information that, just as Richard is planning Edward V’s coronation, one Bishop Stillingham announces that he had presided over a marriage of Edward IV  to   another woman prior his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. As a result, Edward V is deemed illegitimate and the throne passes to Richard.

In the matter of the princes in the Tower, It is true that Richard sent them to live there. It was a royal residence at that time and to live there was not a punishment unless you were in the dungeons. The princes were not. They lived royally as their mother did once she came out of hiding and they were taught by their tutor. Their sisters attended events at Richard’s court and the mother, Elizabeth Woodville, accepted a pension from the man historians say is her sons’ murderer.

After he killed Richard, Henry VII moved to get an act of Attainder, declaring Richard was never entitled to be king, but in the posthumous charges, there is no mention that Richard has murdered his nephews. Indeed there is no mention of them again in any documents until James Tyrell is charged with their murders 20 years later and executed. True they have vanished. The documents that the research worker uncovers indicate that Tyrell is granted a general pardon by Henry in early June 1486 and another one a month later. What has he done during that time that makes the second pardon necessary? Shortly thereafter, Henry makes him Constable of Guisnes and Tyrell goes to live there near Calais. (England still had sovereignty over part of what is now France.)

Why would Henry want the princes dead? He has married their older sister and set about restoring her legitimacy, but if she is legitimate, so are her brothers and they have a much more lawful, hereditary claim to the throne than Henry. The researcher in Tey’s novel finds an abundance of evidence that Henry also eliminated anyone else who stood in Edward IV’s line, including Clarence’s son, whom Richard had made his own heir. Henry VIII carries on executing those who seem to threaten the Tudor claim to the throne.

Shakespeare’s Richard is a brilliant portrayal of an evil person who rejoices in his evil and his final end while tragic, is richly deserved. Tey’s Richard, the more historically accurate one, in my opinion, is an altogether more honourable fellow; moreover, apart from one shoulder being higher than the other, he does not seem to have been disfigured.  I regret that Richard’s reputation has been thus sullied for the past 500 years.

Early October: reflections from Journal 119

The first weekend in October has always been an important one for me. As a high school English teacher, I found that by that date I had finally forged a relationship with my classes. I knew their names and I was interested in them as individuals and they had, usually, stopped testing me, having presumably given me a passing grade. So by then the hard slog of the new school year was over.

And there was another reward – it was a long weekend, the first Monday in October being Thanksgiving Day here, where harvest time comes earlier than it does south of the border.

Some teachers in the States have a long weekend as well in honour of Columbus Day. Not all, as I found it one year when I took my 7 year-old grandson for a hike in Topanga Canyon that day. I discovered to my mortification (I was a teacher after all) that his school, a private school in Los Angeles, didn’t have that holiday. It was the sort of school that let its students plan the lessons, so, in fact, our day trip was not much out of line.

This year, that child is in his first year residency at a New England hospital. Just saying.

On Saturday I drove to Stratford to see a production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, a trip of about an hour and a half with a bonus that hadn’t occurred to me. The trees were aflame with colour. In the middle distance woodlots glowed with orange and red and golden phosphorescence. (We are lucky here to have so many hard maples that produce such bright colours. The photographer who originally posted “A Tribute to Autumn”, which I reblogged lives farther north and west, I think, because the trees there produce mostly yellows.) The corn nearer the highway still stood dusky gold, but as we drove farther northwest, the fields became brown and beige stubble.

Surprising how cold it was when we got out of the car to find lunch. I had worn a sheepskin-lined rain coat and a wool tam, scarf and gloves, but the cold wind went right through me as if I were wearing diaphanous cotton. No doubt about it, summer was long gone.

I note by the way that, although it is only 70 degrees F. in Los Angeles today, it will be back up to 92 next week.

The Festival Theatre in Stratford Ontario has a thrust stage, rather than a proscenium arch. I first saw it when I was a teenager in the second year of its operation, although at the time, it was housed in a huge circular tent. The permanent structure was designed to mimic the tent. By the time, we had hiked through the park from our car, we were chilled to the bone and it seemed as if a glass of pinot noir was in order to get the blood moving again.

Once seated, I realized that my friend who had made the reservation online had upgraded us, not to the very best seats, but almost, thinking I wouldn’t notice her largess. It is hard in such a theatre to get a bad seat, but the sections at the sides of the horseshoe-shaped auditorium are more challenging. And the row in front of us was entirely empty, sold no doubt to some sponsoring company but not distributed so no heads obscured our view. The set had a staircase that swept up around a palm tree!!!! This production had been relocated to Brazil in the early 1900s.

I had looked up a summary of the plot of Much Ado About Nothing, just to sort it out from Shakespeare’s other comedies, but I was not prepared for how familiar I found it. I knew the next line before the actor spoke it. It was unsettling! Apparently, in my 35 year career, I had taught it many times and forgotten I had done so. Considering that most years I taught 5 plays by Shakespeare, I had much opportunity.

Basically, the play is about the duelling couple who apparently scorn each other and are always putting each other down, but eventually ….. Shakespeare used the same sort of plot device in Taming of the Shrew. He liked to set a headstrong, witty woman, in this case Beatrice, against the equally willful, caustic man, Benedict. There’s plenty of scope for pratfalls as they eavesdrop on their friends who are setting them up to fall in love.

After the show, we stopped at Balzacs for coffee and sugar enough to get us home through a dark and rainy drive.

Monday, turkey day, was a roast beef day in my house, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, which I came to love when I was married to a Yorkshire lad. Fortune had carried him back to my table after many years’ absence and he assured me that I had channelled his mother’s pudding. (See recipe below.) My mother-in-law used beef fat but beef doesn’t have much fat these days so I opt for butter. And it turned out well even though we never succeeded in raising large bubbles. Like my mother-in-law, I chose a loaf tin rather than the 9 by 6.You start the oven at 400 and turn it down to 350 after 20 minutes. If you are like me, you forget when you turned it down and have to wing it after that. Maybe that’s when I got help from beyond. Proof I had channelled her: it came out of the oven puffed high and lightly browned. You have to serve it asap, so the mashed root veg (See recipe below.) had to be ready, the beef sliced and the gravy made. (Why is there never enough gravy?) The roasted beet and argula salad had to wait its turn. The meal was so delicious that we four fell to expressions ofthankfulness spontaneously. And of course there was pumpkin pie.

There were absent friends, some more permanently absent than others. We were a family reconstituted with good fellowship and food.

Early October has a way of reconciling me to the inevitable, which comes earlier here than it does down there in my second home.

 Yorkshire Pudding according to The Joy of Cooking 75th anniversary ed.

Have all ingredients at room temperature, about 70 degrees F. Preheat oven to 400 F. Sift into a bowl:

3/4 cup all-purpose flour minus 2 tablespoons
1/2 tsp of salt
Make a well in the centre and pour in
1/2 cup milk
Stir in the milk. Beat in:
2 large eggs well beaten
Add:
1/2 cup water
Beat the batter until large bubbles rise to the surface. …Pour 1/4 in. beef drippings or melted butter into a 9 by 6 baking dish or 6 regular muffin cups. Heat pan or dish until hot. POur in batter and bake 20 min. Reduce heat to 350 and bake 10-15 min. longer until puffed and golden brown.

Mashed Root Vegetables a la Desmond, my hairdresser

Peel or scrub equal amounts of carrots, parsnips and turnip, dice, add water to cover, salt, bring to boil and reduce heat. Cook until fork tender, but not soft. Drain and mash. Add butter and pepper.
Desmond says, “Don’t even think of adding sugar. These vegetables are sweet enough.”