English 366B, Section S02: Shakespeare's Histories and Tragedies   >   Richard II: Notes (1), the "Tudor Myth" To the previous page To the next page

Notes (1), the "Tudor Myth"

Henry VII was a canny politician, thwarting conspiracies and eliminating threats to the throne. He encouraged a rewriting of history that put him in a heroic light.

The Tudor myth ran roughly as follows:

  1. Henry IV's usurpation of Richard II (an anointed king ruling by divine right) spawned almost a century of disorder culminating in the Wars of the Roses and in the rise of Richard III, an embodiment of evil.
  2. Harmony was then finally restored by Henry Tudor, the last Lancastrian and God's own white knight, who cast down Richard III and, by marrying the heiress of the House of York, united the two rival dynasties.
  3. The English people could thus rest assured the new king was once again appointed by God, while being encouraged to regard any enemy of Tudor rule as a threat to society's so recently healed wounds.
Myths?
  1. The doctrine of the divine right of kings was hotly debated.
  2. Henry IV's usurpation was not unique--King John had committed a similar "sin" without apparently damning his descendants or upsetting the world order.
  3. The premise of a dynastic conflict between the Houses of Lancaster and York misrepresents the nature of the "Wars of the Roses," the causes and effects of which are still debated.
  4. The view of a 15th-century nobility divided into partisans of the red and white roses was invented by Henry VII, and provided a convenient symbol of united support for his own regime: the two roses superimposed.
  5. Richard III's supposed deformity (the hunchback) was another imaginative creation, and his actions in gaining the throne can hardly be considered more damnable than the murder of Gloucester, attributed to Richard II.
  6. Henry Tudor's own usurpation and subsequent purges of the nobility were certainly neither bloodless nor humane.
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This page last updated on 20 December 2006. © Michael Best, 2006.