For want of a horshoe nail.

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View 761 Monday, February 04, 2013

It’s official. The bones found in a parking lot in Leicester are those of Richard III. http://www.latimes.com/news/world/worldnow/la-fg-wn-richard-iii-remains-20130204,0,7667709.story

Richard III is mostly known to us from Shakespeare, who had strong reasons to portray that last of the Plantagenets as an evil usurper since the descendants of Henry Tudor (Henry VII) ruled in that turbulent time. As did just about anyone in England after Bosworth Field. Henry was an insecure king, and thus unforgiving of those he thought his enemies – a tendency that passed along to all his Tudor descendants.

Thomas Costain in his magnificent four volume history of England from the Conqueror to Richard III made the case that Richard was what many of his subjects thought he was, a great king defeated by a usurper, but the rehabilitation of Richard in modern times was sparked by the detective novelist Josephine Tey (she’s very good if you don’t know her works) when she did a fiction novel involving her modern Scotland Yard detective Alan Grant looking into Richard III’s death. The novel is The Daughter of Time and if you haven’t read it you will like it, whatever your opinion of Richard III.

And as I indicated above, the four volume history of the kings of England after the Conquest, THE CONQUERING FAMILY, THE MAGNIFICENT CENTURY, THE THREE EDWARDS, and THE LAST PLANTAGENETS are a very readable way to become familiar with an important period of history that has had an effect on United States history ever since. The Canadian author Thomas Costain was better known for best selling history novels such as THE BLACK ROSE, but his histories were Book of the Month Club selections and became best sellers also, and once were very well known among book-reading Americans.

As to why you ought to know more about the Wars of the Roses, which began with the deposition of the weak king Richard II son of Henry III who had his own problems, those were the times in which the English people who colonized America learned the political principles that settled America. Richard III was killed at Bosworth and followed by Henry VII. His son was Henry VIII. Mark Twain wrote a popular novel about Henry VIII’s short lived son. And after Edward VI (the time of Cranmer and The Book of Common Prayer) came Queen Mary I, Bloody Mary, who burned Archbishop Cranmer alive, and instilled in the people of England a distaste for religious wars that is reflected in the First Amendment. And that bring us to Elizabeth I, James VI and First, and Charles I. Jamestown, Charleston. And perhaps that’s enough.

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The history of England is firmly behind much of the US Constitution. The members of the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 were firmly aware of both the attractions and detriments of monarchy. They were all thoroughly aware that their Chairman, General George Washington, could have assumed the throne of the United States at the behest of the officers of the Continental Army, and there was no power that could resist him; indeed it looked as if he would have great popular support. We are accustomed to the notion that one becomes the ruler by winning an election, but that was not the common practice of the world at the time – and isn’t now, for that matter, outside Europe and North America.

But the study of history isn’t very common now, and what is taught as history in the schools bears little relationship to what most of those reading this were taught. That is a matter for another time. What is important is to note that a republican form of government, with the peaceful succession of those who have won an election and the departure of those who lost it, is fairly rare in human history. I think it has happened precisely twice in the history of Venezuela, whose constitution pretty well copies ours. I could continue with examples but surely there is no need.

To the Framers, democracy was as risky as monarchy. Indeed, riskier because they knew where they could get a good king who might be induced to take the throne. But Washington didn’t want it, and there was no obvious successor.

Yet the usual product of democracy has been an Emperor. So said Roman history, and although the Framers of 1787 did not know what would happen in France not long afterwards, there were plenty of precedents throughout history. Leaving the selection of the monarch up to the momentary whim of the people was a very dangerous thing to do.

But they weren’t kidding when they said on the founding of this new republic that a new age now begins.

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This started as a ramble about finding the remains of Richard III, and hinting that the popular view of King Richard III as learned from Shakespeare may not be correct.

“A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

One could write a pretty good alternate history novel on the premise that Richard III found a horse.

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