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Roan Rose

a novel by Juliet Waldron

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The Trouble with Richard
an original essay by Juliet Waldron
Richard III

Richard III, I mean. He and I became acquainted about the time I reached “The Age of Tween,” through the “The Daughter of Time” by Josephine Tey. I found the book, along with other seminal works—my admittedly light-weight definition—in a wastebasket in the common room of a Barbados hotel. These were paperbacks, discarded mostly because they’d lost their covers. Novels abandoned by past tourists ended in the lobby bookcases.

 As a dedicated reader who was often on my own, I always checked these areas, looking through the collections of mysteries, historicals and thrillers which inevitably populated the shelves, hoping to find something interesting to fill the “noon-day sun time” when nobody went to the beach. Here I found Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and Margery Allingham and as well as various less memorable, gory rape-and-pillage historicals about the usual suspects: Romans, Tudors, and Vikings.

The D of T defends Richard, last of the evil and glorious Plantagenets, from the charge of having killed his nephews. Richard did depose the boys and he did take the crown for himself. He put the children, ostensibly for safe-keeping, in The Tower of London, but they were never seen again. With all the ardor of a young convert, I whole-heartedly embraced Tey’s argument that Richard, hitherto a loyal workhorse for his family, had been framed by the man who had undermined his rule and killed him--Henry Tudor—Henry VII—founder of that popular and murderous dynasty.

Victorian character card for Shakespeare's Richard III

As I pursued Tey’s reasoning, I discovered the historians who had influenced Tey: Sir George Buck and Sir Clement Markham. The latter, writing in Victorian Times, had mounted the first really spirited defense of the King, although the counter-blast was not long in coming. Since the D of T had made the subject well-known, an entire Ricardian “industry” quickly sprang up. Legions of lady novelists took Richard’s side, portraying him as a doomed, romantic figure. Enthusiastic readers, responding as I had, swelled the numbers of the now international Richard III Society.

The King’s 20th Century academic champion was the American historian Paul Murray Kendall, a specialist on the late middle ages, whose autograph I still cherish. Following Richard with a colder, clearer eye was Charles Ross, who was ready to admit that even if the King had gone medieval on his nephews, he’d been a good administrator and a “Just Lord” in an age perpetually short of such able men.              

Rockwell Kent illustratation

There is no shortage of nominees for “perp” besides Richard—his best ol’ ex-friend the Duke of Buckingham, for instance, who turned out to be an agent of Henry Tudor. If the royal boys, hidden in some obscure place, did survive the Battle of Bosworth (where Richard, fighting at the front of his troops, died) they would have jumped straight to the top of Henry’s hit parade.  History is plain that this first Tudor was as much of a royal serial killer as his more infamous son, and that he perfected the stratagem of the judicial murder. This Henry would eventually behead most of the people who’d betrayed Richard and handed him the throne.

On a personal level, too, Richard proved to be trouble. I spent years researching and writing a Ricardian novel--dedicated, as all novels are, to the ones we love. Authors are always scarred by still-born manuscripts, ones we’ve spent so many years imagining. Historicals are said to be back in fashion, but this one, written from the point of view of a peasant girl whose life path becomes unluckily intertwined with that of the Lady Anne Neville, didn’t impress anyone. Perhaps they didn’t like the fact that even the most loyal servant, will sometimes love her lady and sometimes despise her. Moreover, she moves between the privileged royals above stairs and the narrower, darker confines of a life lived in the shadow-of-the-keep, where in winter the cattle may be rooming with you. (Nothing escapist about that.)

Shakespearean actor David Garrick as Richard III

But to get back on track, I don’t believe Richard’s troubles will ever end. The academic arguments and weepy novels continue. Five Hundred years later, and we still don’t know “Who Dunnit.” At best, we can only speculate—and I’m sure we will.