Dawning of the Tudor Sunne – By Wendy J. Dunn
I am certain my family thought my craziness was well and truly confirmed after hearing me scream out on the night of February 4th, 2013, “It’s him! It’s him!” My mind (and heart) swirled with the news confirming that the bones discovered under a Leicester car park did indeed belong to Richard III.
I wrote Dawning of the Tudor Sunne for my Tudor England site at Suite101 about a decade ago, but decided to publish it again – in tribute to a King who was one of my teenage crushes. I now find the passing of years has only deepened my feelings for him.
A very brief description of the War of Roses.
Beginning after the captivity and death of Richard II, The War of Roses was essentially sporadic, bloody faction fighting between the noble families of York and Lancaster, both of them believing they possessed better right than the other to the ultimate prize: the English crown. Bosworth Field was the last battle between these two families.
In 1485, on an English summer’s day, two young men, backed by their respective armies, gazed across at each other in a place known to history as Bosworth Field—so named because it was near the town of Market Bosworth. One man, thirty-two-year-old, was an experienced leader. From his teenage years, he had successfully campaigned in forays against his family’s or country’s enemies; sometimes, that was the same. For the last two years, he had been England’s King, the third to bear the name of Richard; the army he commanded here was the stronger one.
The other man was twenty-eight. His claim to the English crown was tenuous at the best. Indeed, Henry Tudor’s claim shifted on sands. A descendent of John Beaufort, a by-blow (later legitimatized by an act of parliament) of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt , fourth son of Edward III, Henry Tudor was also the grandson of a French princess who became Henry V’s Queen and mother of Henry VI, a King doomed to meet a violent death in The Tower.
Widowed in her early twenties, Catherine de Valois was the daughter of the mad Louis of France. Owen Tudor, a handsome Welsh squire with duties in her wardrobe, caught her glance, and soon given other duties. In a relationship spanning likely a decade, Catherine bore Owen Tudor five children. Historian still debate whether they were truly married. However, this was a Catholic and pious age — even if sometimes just for show. As a Dowager Queen, Catherine would have had her own household priest, so I believe a marriage ceremony took place.
This belief is strengthened by what history recounts about Catherine. Catherine de Valois grew up in a family steeped with scandal; her father suffered periods of ‘madness’; her mother wasn’t too sure who fathered some of her children. With a background like that, it is easy to imagine that she would have sought stability for her own children. In the fifteenth century, that meant marriage to the father of these children. Catherine’s grandson, Henry VII, was the posthumous son of the first of these children, Edmund Tudor, who married Margaret Beaufort, a twelve-year bride who became a thirteen-year-old mother.
Henry Tudor, Margaret’s one and only baby, grew up in extremely uncertain times, amid the bloodiest conflicts of The War of Roses, conflicts forcing him to spend much of his first twenty-eight years in exile to ensure his own survival. Despite these uncertain times, there appeared at least one thing Henry was very certain about. After the deaths of Henry VI and his son Edward, Henry Tudor believed himself the scion of the Lancastrian family, and meant for kingship.
Henry Tudor and Richard III—two entirely different men — battled it out on the twenty-second day of August 1485, for life or death. At the beginning of this day, many serving Richard, the last York King, likely believed the King would easily defeat Tudor’s threat to his monarchy. Crowned and anointed King, a competent leader with a well-equipped and experienced army, he had all the pluses on his side.
Except for one important thing.
Richard III at Bosworth Field was not the Richard of times past. Although he appeared determined to ‘do or die’ on this day, I see him here as already a defeated man. Starting with Edward IV’s death, a brother Richard served devotedly from his youngest years, Richard had suffered a series of personal tragedies over a brief twenty-four-month period. Anne Neville, his beloved wife, had died a very hard death from consumption; months before that, Edward, his eleven-year-old son and heir, had also died, to the great grief of his parents. As well as all this heartache, there were also political disasters inflicting him on every turn. Yes, for Richard, the youngest and last remaining son of Richard, Duke of York, his Kingship brought with it a poisoned cup.
Probably the most maligned of all English Kings, Richard is one of my favourite kings of England. Put against the context of the times, I have faith in Richard’s sincerity and attempts to live a good life. Yet—the Tudor propaganda machine paints Richard III as a man who slandered his mother (Edward IV born because of her unfaithfulness), murdering the saintly Henry VI in the Tower of London, just after he pitilessly killed his son Edward on the battlefield. Though he may have had obeyed his brother’s orders to ‘put away’ Henry VI, I think it very unlikely Edward IV would employ his nineteen-year-old brother as a convenient executioner—even to the extent of having Richard arrange the drowning of their brother George in a barrel of his favourite wine.
During Richard’s brief time as king, the accusations continue. Some of Richard’s supposed sins include desiring to wed and bed his own niece, the eighteen-year-old Elizabeth of York. Indeed, to achieve this end, Anne Neville’s death wasn’t because of consumption—rather, her death was due to poison, a poison administered nightly by her husband. Yet, here is a man with a personal motto of ‘Loyalty binds me’, who served his brother Edward IV with devotion and clearly loved his wife. Risking a healthy debate on my hands, I take a lot of this propaganda with a grain of salt. This includes putting him on the dock as the murderer of his two young nephews. It is more likely someone did the deed for him, thinking it would please him. Just as Henry II’s knights had murdered Thomas Beckett because they thought this was his desire. My own personal feeling is that the boys died through the machinations of others. Another uncle, the Duke of Buckingham, had far more motive and opportunity. He was a man who not only detested the Woodville family, the family of the young princes’ mother, but a man executed as a self-serving traitor.
Richard, in the short time he wore the crown of England, proved a very able monarch. He not only passed good laws protecting the common people but also encouraged the printing trade in England. But now, with the loss of his beloved wife and son, perhaps also knowing someone killed his nephews on his behalf, his heart just wasn’t in the coming battle. Even though he fought heroically, withstanding the betrayals of trusted men on the battlefield, Richard seemed to wish for death.
After he died, with his sword in his hand, Richard’s body suffered the indignity of being stripped naked and abused, before being strung across a horse. Days would pass before they properly buried him. I believe the best epitaph for Richard comes from not one person but many. Knowing their beloved king no more, the city of York risked angering England’s new monarch, proclaiming, King Richard, late mercifully reigning upon us, was, through great treason of the Duke of Norfolk and many others that turned against him, with many other lords and nobility . . . was piteously slain and murdered, to the great heaviness of this city.
Thus, with the Battle of Bosworth unquestionably won, Henry Tudor’s army crowned him King on the battlefield, someone placing Richard’s gold circlet upon his head, and the Tudor era began.
Murph, Roxanne C. Richard III: The Making of a legend. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1977, reprinted 1984
Michalove, Sharon D. The Re-inventing of Richard III- paper presented at the conference ‘Reinventing the Middle ages and the Renaissance, 1995.
Richard III novels I have enjoyed: