Richard III was killed this day, August 22nd in 1485, bringing about the end of the Plantagenet Kings and Queens, and with it, the longest ruling dynasty in English history.
In a scene worthy of a series finale on cable television, King Richard was struck down ignominiously at the Battle of Bosworth Field, when supposed loyal allies either switched allegiances or lay in wait to see which side was to prevail before committing themselves.
When the manifest treason in his ranks was revealed to him and accompanied with advice to retreat, Richard is said to have replied, “God forbid I yield one step. This day I will die as a king or win.”
Details of the battle are scant, but the horrendous thrashing that King Richard endured on the battlefield survives in various chronicles throughout the ages. The kings death, it seems, was a ghastly one.
King Richard’s body was lost for 527 years until 2012 when his remains were finally located in an amazing discovery. His skeleton was found in a dreary modern day parking lot which was built upon the former site of The Grey Friars Church.
The church was closed and dismantled by King Henry VIII in his monastery purge of the 16th century. King Richard’s discovery is still yielding fascinating clues as to his life and times.
The skeleton indicates the effects of scoliosis of the spine as King Richard was known to have had. But more telling were the numerous perimortem (“of the time of death”) injuries to the skull which were consistent both with the accounts of his demise and the weapons employed in the 15th century battle.
Though King Richard’s reign ended the Plantagenet dynasty, their influence remains.
Chronological distance, coupled with man’s instinctive tendency toward narcissism, has shrouded the impact of this tempestuous Royal House but the Plantagenets endure despite the veil we have place upon them.
In the over three centuries of Plantagenet rule, the seeds of the modern world were planted. It is fitting then, that the name itself derives from a plant, so styled because the founder of the dynasty, Geoffrey, count of Anjou, wore in his helmet a sprig of the yellow broom or planta genista.
Geoffrey was an avid hunter and he ordered scores of acres planted with the seeds of the flowering shrub because it attracted the game he sought to hunt. Similarly, the Plantagenet Kings and Queens planted the seeds of the modern world. The blossoms are everywhere.
Interspersed between the intrigue, espionage, bloodbaths, murder and betrayal were born the institutions of the modern age; soaring architectural achievements were fashioned in the great gothic cathedrals such as Westminster Abbey. And most significantly, the rights of man, which were destined to spread all over the globe, were codified in the Magna Carta.
From that charter we were bequeathed the hallowed concepts of self-government, habeas corpus, trial by jury, property rights, freedom of speech, and the right to proselytize for one’s own religion.
Great English literature was also crafted by Geoffrey Chaucer, William Langland and John Gower in this time. Legends, like Robin Hood were made then and still remain. Eminent centers of learning were built such as Oxford and Cambridge Universities and Eton College. Advances in medicine were made, military tactics and weaponry were revolutionized, sea-faring knowledge and free-market trade was begun. All of this was hatched during the fertile Plantagenet reign.
Each of the warrior kings and queens of the Royal House of Plantagenet made a colossal impact on the world. Their reigns were more often violent than not, but they were also muscular and far-reaching, bearing fruit five centuries into the future.
King Richard III died this day in 1485, bringing about the end of the “yellow bloom.” But his legacy, and those of his forebears, yet remain.
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