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Tudor myth

Tudor myth

The Tudor myth is the tradition in English history, historiography and literature that presents the 15th century, including the Wars of the Roses, in England as a dark age of anarchy and bloodshed. The narrative that the Tudor myth perpetrated was curated with the political purpose of promoting the Tudor period of the 16th century as a golden age of peace, law, order, and prosperity. The hope was to elevate King Henry VII's rulership compared to his predecessors.

The Tudor myth was made to elevate King Henry VII (a Lancastrian by relation), by ruining King Richard II and King Richard III. Throughout the 16th century, Richard II would be vilified and portrayed as a terrible leader and traitor to the English monarchy. Richard III (and by extension, Yorkist loyalties) is portrayed as an irredeemable tyrant to legitimize Tudor rule. The most popular rendition gained notoriety due to Shakespeare’s play, Richard III, in which King Richard III's moral character is berated.

In Shakespeare's plays

Richard III

Shakespeare's plays were both a product of and a contributor to the Tudor myth and King Richard III's portrayal. His play was written with hindsight in mind, so he was aware of the events that followed King Richard III's reign. With this information in mind, Shakespeare set out to disparage King Richard III’s character. His portrayal of Richard III of England (1452–1485; reigned, 1483–1485) as a deformed hunchback and murderer. Historian Thomas More, was one of the first to spread this depiction of King Richard III. William Shakespeare picked up on the rumor and continued in this tradition through his history plays that covered the 15th century including Richard II, Henry IV, Part 1, Henry IV, Part 2, Henry V, Henry VI, Part 1, Henry VI, Part 2, Henry VI, Part 3, and Richard III. Though scholars and historians, such as Horace Walpole and Sir George Buck denounced this portrayal of the king during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Shakespeare's description of King Richard III remained the most well-known depiction of him in British/Commonwealth-American historical writing up until the twentieth century.

The description of King Richard III continued to grow with the revisionist historian Paul Murray Kendall, author of Richard III (1956), in which Shakespeare's depiction is brought to life. Kendall's film also garnered more attention to King Richard III's reputation in general, and many historians would begin to explore the validity if Shakespeare's and the Tudor myth portrayal of the king.

Though this portrayal of King Richard III is the most accepted, many, such as Merry England chose to provide a different perspective on his rulership. More specifically, Ricardian historians, the Richard III Society and The Society of Friends of King Richard III have striven to provide historical perspectives more favourable to Richard III and his achievements during his brief reign.

Richard II

The following passage from Act 4, Scene 1 in Shakespeare’s play, Richard II, is often pointed to as an expression of the Tudor myth. It is a speech by the character Carlisle, spoken just as Bolingbroke suggests that he will ascend the throne of England. Carlisle raises his voice to object, and ends with a vision of the future that seems to prophesy the civil wars that are the basis of Shakespeare’s English history plays:

In this scene, Shakespeare’s foreshadowing is seen. Many biblical comparisons are made through his characters when discussing the possibility of King Richard II’s rule. The mention of the "field of Golgotha" is in reference to Jesus’s crucifixion in the city of Golgotha. Throughout this play, England is described as a lively and green city and the character Carlisle is claiming that King Richard II rulership would bring death to England.

In other notable works

  • The Anglica Historia of Polydore Vergil, Books 23–25 on Richard III.; Entire 1555 edition (Henry VII's official historian). First in print in 1534.
  • Sir Thomas More's History of King Richard III (1513)[2]. More's book is hostile to Richard in a partisan spirit. A few years after Richard died a Warwickshire historian named John Rous claimed that Richard spent two years in the womb, and was finally born with a full set of teeth, and a full head of hair. Thomas More described Richard as "malicious, wrathful, envious … little of stature, ill featured of limbs, crook back." More's source was John Morton, who was Archbishop of Canterbury under Henry VII, and had served as Bishop of Ely under Edward IV and Richard III. Other sources include various Tudor accounts, including those by John Rous and Polydore Vergil. More also provides direct testimony.
  • Edward Hall's Union of the Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York (1548), portrayed King Henry IV in a favorable light.
  • Raphael Holinshed and his collaborators who wrote the Chronicles of England, Scotland and Wales (2nd edition, 1587), which was Shakespeare's primary source for his history plays.
  • William Shakespeare's play, Richard III
  • In The Black Adder, Richard III is presented as a kind man and good king who wins the Battle of Bosworth Field, but is succeeded by his nephew as Richard IV after he is accidentally killed. After Richard IV's death at the end of the series, Henry VII becomes king and rewrites history, presenting Richard III as an evil king, and eliminating Richard IV's reign from the history books.

See also

  • Exhumation and reburial of Richard III of England
  • Ricardian (Richard III)


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Text submitted to CC-BY-SA license. Source: Tudor myth by Wikipedia (Historical)