Thursday, 7 February 2013

Richard was a Good Lad –

... as Calum-Safety saw him in 1956, anyway:

Extract from Smothpubs booklet As ‘Safety’ Saw It: Around Stornoway in the 1950s, 2009, p.32 (See previous posts for more about this publication.)

Tyrant Exposed

It took the English several centuries to discover that Henry the Eighth was an unscrupulous, insanely bad-tempered, and bloody tyrant. Everybody knew he was a bad husband – but his excesses in other directions were glossed over by his historians who were more concerned with fawning upon his immediate descendants than with historical truth. Thus was created a fictitious character known to schoolboys as “Bluff King Hal”. The bluff was all on the part of the chroniclers, and strangely enough they got away with it until comparatively recently.
           Not only could they whitewash to the advantage of the monarchy, they could smear with equal facility for the same reason. Richard the Third, it has been discovered, was not as black as he was painted. His was a discredited dynasty and all the self-seeking scribblers set about maligning him to keep in with the Tudors. Even Shakespeare took a hand in it – and thus we had created for us another fictitious character known to schoolboys as Richard Crookback.
         Now we are beginning to find out that Richard, although he suffered from a physical deformity, suffered from none mentally. He had a fine intellect and set out to be a good and benevolent monarch – and he might have succeeded, with a less unscrupulous court and in less troubled and intrigue-ridden times, in establishing himself as one of the ablest and best of English kings.
           Now the point of all this is that up to the present day it seems to have taken centuries to get some historical characters into their proper perspective – at least in the countries in which those characters lived. The onlooker sees most of the game – and of course each country writes its own history differently. For example it is obvious that British history is taught in some European countries quite differently from the way it is taught in British schools. And vice versa. And European contemporaries of Richard III and Henry VIII would have recognised them for what they were.
            In the same way it had been widely recognised in this country for some considerable time before his death that Stalin had established a dictatorship in Russia. Now the Russians themselves have discovered this fact. They are advertising to the world at large that their hero of not so long ago was a tyrant. But their main concern seems to be the establishing of this historical truth in their own country and to the satisfaction of their own people. What really surprises the rest of the world is that they should have discovered the truth so soon. It is not usual for the history of dictatorship to be written with the correct slant, so quickly, by the country where the dictatorship was established.
            Perhaps this is another trend of modern times. The attainment of historical perspective may be speeding up in the same way as everything else seems to be doing nowadays. What it took English “history” a few centuries to discover about “Bluff King Hal” Russian “history” has discovered about Joe Stalin in as many years.
            The Russians may have their own reasons for doing it, but that it is being done at all, and done so soon, is a step in the right direction.
            Who knows? Perhaps in future historical skeletons will be taken out immediately for public gibbeting, instead of being white-washed or left to moulder in cupboards. Certainly it is unreasonable to expect that “nil nisi bonum” [nothing but good {to be spoken of the dead]] should apply to tyrants!

'As I See It' Stornoway Gazette, 3 & 6/04/1956

Like many readers, Calum Smith, author of the above, was greatly impressed by the arguments in “The Daughter of Time” by Josephine Tey (a.k.a. Elizabeth Mackintosh,  a.k.a. Gordon Daviot), in which the search  for the truth about Richard III and “who done it” (the Princes in the Tower) is presented as a detective story. [‘Spoiler’ alert:] Henry VII emerges as the villain of the piece.

Edmund Kean not looking too villainous as Richard III
To follow: More on “The Daughter of Time” and its idiosyncratic author, and why even people who normally have little time for royalty in any form care about this half-millennium old question.