23 August 2007

Today in history

I saw over at Father Z's that today is the anniversary of Bosworth field, the final battle of The War of the Roses, where Richard, King of England, Third of that name, met his death.

I taught the Shakespearean play many times. It is brilliant, but uneven; funny at times, yet ultimately tragic. It is also false. And most of the wrong information came from his source- The History of Richard III, by one Sir Thomas More.

There are many reasons for More's historical inaccuracies. First off, he wouldn't have been interested in historical accuracy as we see it today. He would have been more interested in portraying universal truths about tyranny and corruption, using Richard as a focus. He also made Richard deformed and ugly, with a withered hand, a hunchback and a limp, a deformed body which would visibly symbolize the deformed spirit within. (From his portrait he actually appears to be rather handsome.) There is another reason why More chose Richard as an exemplum of tyranny: More was working for, and educated by, Richard's enemies.

More is one of my personal heroes. I also love A Man for All Seasons. However, that movie is inaccurate, in almost the same way More's history of Richard is inaccurate: Bolt wrote a story about an exemplum of virtue, using More as his focus. Historically, More not only was not above flattery, or slander when required, he was actually quite good at it. We honour him because he had a line he would not cross, and there he stood firm.

A final note about Richard. He was the last of the Plantagenets, and the last king of England to die in battle. I used to be taught he was the last king to personally lead troops into battle, but William of Orange may have that claim instead. As he lead his charge this day on Bosworth's field, one of his trusted men rode alongside and stabbed him in the back. His last words were not a cry for a horse, but "Treason!"
editor's note: It turns out, yesterday was actually the anniversary of the battle, not today. My bad. I attribute it to ignorance, sheer ignorance, on my part.

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