The Black Prince’s Cursed Ruby and Richard III?

Medieval British history is my absolute favourite era to read and study, so this article really appealed to me.

Seriously, who isn’t going to be intrigued by a series of kings who faced various challenges and misfortunes, connected by a ruby that is said to be cursed? What a fascinating historical mystery!

I hope you enjoy this post from the murreyandblue blog. If you’re at all interested in English medieval history, you should definitely give that blog a follow.

murreyandblue

Imperial State Crown, with the Black Prince’s Ruby at the front
from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Prince%27s_Ruby

“….It is said that Henry V wore it [the Black Prince’s Ruby] in his jewel-encrusted helmet at the battle of Agincourt, and Richard III did also at the battle of Bosworth….”

I found the above sentence in a post on the British Medieval History Facebook group. How very intriguing. It’s something I had never heard before. Did Richard really wear the priceless but cursed gem at Bosworth? If so, was he (as one friend has suggested) emulating Henry V? Or even the Black Prince himself?

The ruby is actually “a magnificent 170-caratredspinel, the largest uncut spinel in the world. This particular precious stone, known as ‘the Great Imposter’, has a traceable history dating back seven centuries and is rumoured to be cursed, as its consecutive royal owners have been dogged by…

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Misunderstood Shakespeare: “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”

“A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” 

Written by Shakespeare in around 1593, these words have become immortalised as the final words of desperation spoken by King Richard III of England as he battled Henry Tudor for control of the throne of England.  

These words are also possibly the most frequently misinterpreted Shakespeare quotation in history, although Prince Hal’s “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers!” from Henry Vl is right up there on the list. 

Shakespeare very cleverly painted Richard III to be entirely evil and villainous, self-serving and single-minded in his pursuit of the throne at the expense of all others who stood between him and the ultimate royal goal.  

As evil and villainous as Shakespeare’s Richard is, it’s crucial to remember that Richard was fighting for both his kingdom and his life. It makes absolutely no sense, therefore, that he would have been wandering around Bosworth Field offering someone his kingdom in exchange for a horse. 

What this line actually means is that Richard knew he was going to lose the battle if he couldn’t get back on a horse and keep fighting. His horse had just been killed in battle, while he was still riding it. On foot, he was without means of either strategic defence or meeting the enemy in an even fight. He was an easy target that travelled much slower and far less deftly than his mounted opponent. 

The line could be interpreted as meaning, “Without a horse, I’m going to lose my kingdom!” It was a cry of despair, not an attempt at last-minute marketing. 

The urgency and foreboding in Richard’s words make this scene a magnificent piece of drama. If there’s anything the audience loves more than a villain getting it in the neck, it’s the villain realising that it’s coming. 

When understood properly, this oft-misinterpreted quotation reveals once again the genius of the wordsmith. 

If you have a line or scene of Shakespeare you’d like explained, feel free to ask a question or make a suggestion in the comments and I’ll give it a red hot shot.

A Favourite Shakespeare Play: Richard III

I enjoy many of Shakespeare’s plays, but I do have a few particular favourites. 

At the top of that list would be Richard III. one of the history plays and part of the series that explores the conflict between the Lancaster and York branches of the Plantagenet family tree which we call The Wars of the Roses. 

Shakespeare’s characterisation of Richard as the ultimate villain is so masterful that it shaped how Richard was viewed for centuries afterward. The fact that the history was severely distorted and, at times, entirely fabricated, and that Shakespeare’s representation of Richard was hardly realistic, has nothing to do with it. Shakespeare was a playwright, not a historian, after all, and therefore not inclined  to let the truth get in the way of a great story. 

Of course, it was in his interests to cast Richard in a less than positive light. Shakespeare was very conscious of the fact that his Queen, Elizabeth I, was the granddaughter of Henry Tudor who defeated Richard in battle at Bosworth to become Henry VII. Making Richard less worth of the crown further legitimised Henry’s claim to it, and therefore reinforced her own. In a time when conspiracies and plots against Elizabeth were numerous, the validation of her place on the throne of England was essential for any playwright hoping for royal approval, and patronage from among the upper classes. 

Thus, Shakespeare’s Richard is a man who not only recognises his evil nature but delights in it and determines to see how much he can achieve with it. 

Richard’s choice to pursue evil rather than good from the very start sets the tone of the whole play, and the audience knows they are in for one hell of a ride. His soliloquies deliver profound insights into the evil mind of a villain. They are absolutely fascinating, crafted with intrigue and malice that horrify and enthrall the audience at the same time. It’s riveting stuff. And as Richard puts his schemes into action and celebrates his own cleverness and cunning when they succeed, the audience is acutely aware that they are watching an evil genius in action. 

My favourite character, though, is Margaret, the former queen of Henry VI. She is strong, she is angry, and she is hell-bent on justice. Margaret speaks vitriol and hurls insults and curses so effectively that Cecily, Richard’s own mother, asks Margaret to teach her how it’s done. She attains a level of Shakespearean Insult proficiency that nobody else ever quite managed, not even Richard himself.

The language of the play is magnificent. From the insult competitions to the curses that burn with the brimstone of hell itself, there is not a word wasted in this play. The imagery is incredibly powerful, and the emotive language is so clever and subtle that while the audience may recognise that the characters on stage are being deceived, they don’t realise until after the fact that that they, too, have been positioned and manipulated by a master of the art. 

It is only at the end of the play, when one realises they feel a little sorry for the villainous Richard, that the audience understands how the language and drama of the play have seduced them.   

To take a man from the pages of history, craft him into something hateful, and have the audience still feel something other than hatred for him— albeit, while most likely feeling hatred for him at the same time— is testimony to Shakespeare’s genius as a wordsmith and playwright. 

Richard III’s Book of Hours.

Anyone who knows me at all knows that I’m a history nerd. I love reading it. I love studying it. I love teaching it. And my favourite period of history, ever? Medieval Britain.

So you can imagine my absolute joy when I learned that Leicester Cathedral has made a digital copy of Richard III’s personal prayer book, the ‘Book of Hours’, available to everyone, world-wide, absolutely free. Maybe they don’t realise that I, and many others like me, would have willingly parted with cold, hard cash for that. Needless to say, I went right over there and grabbed it.

RIII Book of Hours
Included with the digital version of Richard’s Book of Hours is a commentary by historians Anne F. Sutton and Livia Visser Fuchs, which offers insight and explanations for the text.

Richard III is possibly one of the most controversial English kings. He’s the one they dug up from underneath a public car park in Leicester in 2012, and re-buried in Leicester Cathedral in 2015. But that’s not why he’s controversial.
Richard is the key figure at theKing_Richard_III centre of the “did he, or did he not?” debate about the demise of the ‘Princes in the Tower’. Of course, nobody really knows. There’s a lot of evidence that he was the most likely suspect, but there’s also a number of good arguments for other parties being responsible. The fact is, we’ll probably never know.

Either way, the Tudors very cleverly had Richard portrayed in both history and popular culture as the entirely self-serving, greedy, murderous, deceitful and manipulative hunchbacked king who murdered his way to the throne and effectively stole the kingdom of England from anyone who was more entitled to it than he.

That story was most famously perpetuated in Shakespeare’s play ‘Richard III’, which also caused him to be the most misquoted king of England ever. How many people actually believe that “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” meant that he was willing to swap his kingdom for a horse, presumably with the intention of escaping on it? In actual fact, even in Shakespeare’s play, he was saying that if he couldn’t get a horse to replace his own, which had been killed in battle, he would surely lose his kingdom to Henry Tudor. As I’ve pointed out to my own students, if Shakespeare had actually thought of making him look that cowardly and heartless about his own kingdom, he might have written it that way, but he didn’t. The Tudor bias in both the recorded history and in Shakespeare’s play did mean that for the last 550 years or so, most people have quite happily assumed the worst of Richard.

Richard’s Book of Hours suggests a different side to this man. Owning a prayer book is one thing; using it is another. Richard made personal notes in this book – a comment in the margin, a note about his birthday. Given the rarity of books at the time of Richard’s reign from 1483 until his death in 1485, one would be reluctant to write in a book unless they were actually using it. In some other similar books , there are occasional little notes written beside the text of the book by whichever priest was either writing or studying the text. We must understand, though, that it’s different than a teenager drawing winky faces next to the rude bits in Shakespeare.

One such note we can be absolutely certain was added by Richard to this book is “dolor”, which means ‘grief’. Having experienced the death of both his only son and then his wife, Richard was indeed a man familiar with grief.

When I consider the images of Richard’s Book of Hours, I think of a man who was conscious of his standing before God and who used this book daily. I think of the man contemplating his fate on the night before the Battle of Bosworth, where contemporary sources suggest he had a daily prayer book right there with him in his tent.  He was a man who prayed. Those records also tell us that Richard participated in a service of Mass before going into battle.  Obviously, I cannot vouch for his sincerity because I never met the man, but it does make one consider another perspective of this perhaps much-maligned king.

After the Battle of Bosworth where Richard died and Henry Tudor became Henry VII of England, Richard’s prayer book was gifted to Henry’s mother, Margaret Tudor. She didn’t scratch Richard’s name out of the front of the book, but she did write a short poem in the back that stated the book now belonged to her.

Thankfully, the book now belongs to Leicester Cathedral, who have generously shared it with all of us. Even in digital form, I find that very, very exciting.

 

Sources:
http://www.medievalists.net/2015/03/richard-iiis-book-of-hours/

http://www.medievalhistories.com/book-of-hours-of-richard-iii/

http://www.lambethpalacelibrary.org/content/annunciation

http://leicestercathedral.org/about-us/richard-iii/book-hours/

The 21st Century Burial of a 15th Century King.

This evening I’ve been watching the committal of Richard III’s grave to Leicester Cathedral from the University and the “funeral” ceremony in the cathedral.

RIII

Richard III: The Reburial (Channel 4)

It’s mind-boggling to think that I’m watching the funeral of a medieval king whose life, actions and legacy I have studied at length in both history and literature, more than 500 years after his death.

Despite the heated and lively historical debate over whether or not he was responsible for the disappearance of his two nephews, the sons of Edward IV known as ‘the princes in the tower’, and the hideous portrayal of Richard by Tudor historians and, in turn, Shakespeare’s famous play, his reign was characterised by many things that recommend him.

It’s most likely that the significant question of the fate of those young boys will never be answered. Richard was by no means the only person with both a motive and the means to do away with them, and there are some very good arguments as to why he would not have taken such an opportunity, not the least being the risk of losing his integrity and the loyalty and love of the English people.

I find it bizarre that the British royals, who are descended from his sister, have only sent a token representative in the Queen’s daughter-in-law, Sophie, Countess of Wessex. Richard was, after all, a King of England. He was the last King of England to die in battle, defending his throne and his country.

The Queen’s cousin, Richard, Duke of Gloucester was also present, He bears the same name and title that Richard III held before his accession to the throne, and is the royal patron of the Richard III Society.

I am pleased to see Richard III’s physical remains being treated with dignity and respect. I’m delighted to be able to be a witness to his reburial via the wonders of historical and scientific research and the internet.

It’s also great to see that the result of the discovery of Richard’s remains buried under a car park in Leicester, in what used to be the choir of the Greyfriar’s church, is an increased interest in the history of his reign and of England at the time.