Tag Archives: British history

This Day in History 7/6: Richard III is crowned King of England

Do all of history’s bad guys deserve their reputations?  In the case of Richard III, probably yes and no.

Today in 1483, Richard, Duke of Gloucester was crowned Richard III of England.  It wasn’t supposed to be that way.

When his brother Edward IV died in April, Richard was made Lord Protector of the heir apparent, the future Edward V.  Little Edward was supposed to be crowned on June 22, but all of a sudden, his mother’s marriage to Edward IV was declared invalid, making the young prince a young bastard.

Who, then, became the king in his stead?  Why his lord protector of course, the king’s brother, Richard.  The young Edward and his brother were never heard from again, as they became the infamous “princes in the tower.”  Richard ruled for two years until he himself was killed in a battle against the forces of Henry Tudor, Duke of Richmond, in Bosworth Field in 1485.  The last English king to die in battle, Richard was also only the second king to die in battle on English soil since Harold Godwinson in the 1066 Battle of Hastings.

In terms of facts, this is really it.  Yet Richard III is remembered as a hunchbacked, monstrous villain thanks to one William Shakespeare.

Today, Richard is a very controversial figure.  Many still view his deeds, especially those portrayed in Shakespeare’s eponymous play, as being genuine.  To an extent, they have a point.  Richard did scheme and connive his way onto the throne.  However, his machinations were certainly not much more than his predecessors’, especially his brother–and certainly on par with his successors, especially his usurper Henry Tudor, who became Henry VII.  There is even doubt to his culpability in the death of the princes in the Tower.

Richard’s treachery, thus, is pretty par for the course in the wide lens of British history.

In fact, there are many who view Richard as a stablizing force in England at the time.  With the death of Edward IV, many believe Richard enjoyed a popular reputation as a staunch defender of the realm and a force for continuity.  Richard fended off rebellions from within and without when Edward was king, and his succession was viewed as a necessary progression rather than a coup.

Yet the Richard of Shakespeare still creeps into history.  It’s too bad, because the fictional Richard is so much fun to watch–his schemes, his backstabbing, and his eventual comeuppance.

Attached is the famous Act I soliloquy of Richard from the 1995 film Richard III starring Sir Ian McKellan in the title role.  It ranks up there with Olivier’s Richard as among the best performances of the character on film.  It takes a while to get to the actual speech, but it’s worth it.

I highly recommend viewing the whole film.  There’s so much bad Shakespeare out there that its so refreshing when it’s done right…and few do it better nowadays than Sir Ian.  Enjoy.

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Videos for the Classroom: Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s Wedding; The 2010 Opening of Parliament

C-SPAN link to the State Opening of the UK Parliament 2010

As Wills and Kate get ready to take the big step this Friday, the Neighborhood would like to delve into both fantasy and reality.

Back in 1981, the world gaped in awe as another prince married a young Briton who took the nation by storm.  Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, parents of Prince William, were wed in a “fairy-tale” ceremony in St. Paul’s Cathedral.  Attached is the ABC News coverage of the event.  We all saw how well that turned out.

The second video (both the snippet and the entire video which is linked on C-SPAN) is one of my favorite ceremonies, the State Opening of Parliament in May of 2010.  Since William is angling for the throne in the future, this will be one of his most important state functions.  Most of the ritual involves the monarch officially opening Parliament from the upper house, the House of Lords, an unelected body dating from feudal times.  Yet the most intriguing part of the ceremony is the summoning of the elected House of Commons, or “lower house.”

Watch the ritual closely, as the message is not lost on anyone: you may reign as monarch, but you do not rule this kingdom.  The Commons makes the laws for the realm, no matter what ritual abides.

As for William and Kate Middleton, I understand choosing a different church from your parents.  But Westminster Abbey is like having the wedding near both your birthplace and your tombstone–in this case literally.  The Abbey is traditionally where monarchs are crowned as well as buried: maybe Will and Kate wanted to pick a good spot next to Oscar Wilde (at least then Will can rest easy–I doubt Oscar would make a move).

In any case, the Neighborhood wishes the newlyweds the best of luck in marriage, in producing an heir (hopefully with a minimum of that famous Windsor inbreeding–thanks Kate!), and in hopefully weening the royals off the teat of the welfare checks they get from the British nation.

Let’s see how that last one pans out.

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This Day in History 8/23: The Execution of William Wallace and the fight for Scottish Independence

Today, on August 23, 1305, William Wallace, leader of the fight for Scottish independence, was executed in Smithfield, England on the orders of the English king Edward I.  He became a martyr for the Scottish cause, and led to the subsequent victory of the Scots at Bannockburn in 1314 and the re-assertion of Scotland’s autonomy.

The story of Wallace has been told and retold over centuries, most famously in Mel Gibson’s epic Braveheart.  His exploits have been themselves exploited, aggrandized and mythologized to the point that it is difficult to find the real person.  Attached is Episode 2 of the BBC documentary, A History of Scotland, that gives an incredibly nuanced version of the Wallace story, as well as that of the events leading to Wallace’s rise to prominence.

In the film, the narrator correctly states that over the past 700 years, Wallace became a brand, an image for both independence and Unionist movements.  Hopefully, as we discover more, the real Wallace can finally show himself.

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