“An honest tale speeds best, being plainly told”. Mr Shakespeare’s R3

“Now is the Winter of our discontent made Glorious by that son of York”.

So, that pile of old bones thrown into a makeshift grave, turns out to be dear old Rich; he of the supposed hunch-backed dwarfish stature.  He who did or did not (depending on which version of history you read) have the two ‘Princes in the Tower’ wasted and was generally an unliked man of medieval England.  The amazing story of how a King was discovered under a council car-park (no doubt with a huge pile of excess-parking fines tucked under his belt) has dominated the news here for a few weeks now.  How refreshing to have something new to talk about, how fed up are we all of weather (which continues also to amaze – snow on its way again, “I think I’m going back to Massachusetts”….), of fraudulent bankers (only the ‘w’ is changed to protect the guilty) and of the old, old saga of Europe and our part in it.   The bones and the Europe question have given an historic theme to my verbalisms this week, a theme in which Wales has an arterial importance.

All of Wales is mentally engaged in the annual Gladitorial battles of the Six Nations Rugby tournament.  Once again, as in the sixth century, marauding invaders from across the Irish sea sailed up the coast of south Wales and penetrated the defences of the Capital city.  The men in red were rather like the ‘Lady in Red’,  caught with their Welsh tartan kilts blowing in their faces (am I the only one who thinks Welsh tartan kilts are somehow retarded !?) while the shamrock shielded ‘little people’ romped to a 20 point lead.  Eventually Glyndwr and Rebecca were roused from their slumbers and the Welsh team fought back to grab a well deserved second place.

Now “with motion of no less selerity, our swift scene flies”, to Paris, where, on a very cold Saturday night, a war of attrition was slugged out until once again, as at Crecy in 1346, the three white Ostrich feathers (worn by the Black Prince in that battle to honour some blind Bavarian duke who ‘blindly’ led a cavalry charge somewhere in history !) and the Ddraig Goch, the Red Dragon, were triumphant.  Please note that there is a theme here which will gradually emerge.  Please note also that the green and white background to the Welsh flag, on which the Dragon always faces left (left wing socialism was always a dominant political force in Wales), comes from the ‘uniforms’ of green and white in which good old Edmund of Woodstock (aka: Black Prince – coal mining was clearly also a Welsh theme back then too) clothed his Welsh warriors.

The Red Dragon which waves in the faces of all our ‘enemies’ during the Six Nations has an unclear pedigree.  Certainly the great early-medieval Welsh poets, Aneurin and Taliesin, referred to the Draig in their tales of daring-do but they used the term for a leader or warrior.  The dragon was also linked with the early Kings of Britain and it is this which saw it used by the guy who eventually did for poor old  Rich as he wandered around the car-park looking for his horse (don’t we all know the feeling !).

Richard III (or Richard 3rd ?) was about as unpopular a King as Thatcher was a Prime Minister and, as with the Iron Lady, eventually the Barons got a little fed up with him and his House of York cronies.  It’s a very convoluted story but put simply (i.e. as I see it) the Wars of the Roses, the Houses of York against Lancaster, raged around the country, for over 30 years (1455-87) during which time everyone got a bit fed up of all the spin-doctors, the party-political speeches, the rape and pillage and the constant bad harvests.  Despite the fact that both sides of the argument came from the same father, Edward 3, they just couldn’t sort it out.  The Lancastrians accused Rich of being an illegitimate King – well, his lot did grab the throne by force in 1399 when Henry IV (that’s Henry 4th !!) made Rich 2 an offer he couldn’t refuse – and he abdicated when his horse’s head was next to him in bed one morning;  what is it with these Kings losing their horses all over history!?

Anyway, fast forward to  1st August 1485,  in the little French port of Honfleur ( a place well known to those of us who use cross channel ferries to Normandy) Henry Tudor is clambering aboard a boat with a bunch of wild Kermits and heading across the sea to Milford Haven (a place well known to those of us who follow Oil Tanker/pollution-at-sea  disasters).  Six long days later, on August 7th,  he staggers ashore on Mill Beach and makes it to a pub in Dale.  He is disappointed to find that several of his so called ‘allies’ haven’t actually turned up to meet him – like Lord Rhys of Dinefwr.  Because of the lack of support along his eastward route – south and much of west Wales was firmly in Richard’s camp – he has to head north up the coast to Cardigan and eventually on to Machynlleth (oddly enough the site of the first Welsh Parliament).  From there he heads inland towards the Severn valley and onward to Shrewsbury, all the while gathering men and support.  Meanwhile, back in Llandeilo, Rhys decides he had better honour his pledge and so, with two thousand or so warriors from the Towy valley, he heads off following the old Roman road through Llandovery, up past me at Beulah, on to cross the Wye and thence through the Radnor Forest area to meet HT in Shrewsbury.  By August 21st  HT is camped ready for a show-down with Rich and the following day, although outnumbered (it is thought HT had around 5,000 men whereas Rich had 8,000), he succeeds in routing the King’s forces at Bosworth Field.

Poor old Rich is actually killed – a pretty severe death judging by the findings of the paleo-archaeologists, the back of his head was sliced off (precisely why riders should ALWAYS wear a helmet !!), a spike driven into the top of his skull, a pointy sword shoved up his backside, albeit post-mortem, and then he was chopped up a bit more and dumped in a grave that was even too small for his 5ft 8″ figure, in the grounds of a Priory.  Goodbye to the Plantagenets.

Henry Tudor flew a red dragon banner at Bosworth, partly to give credence to his fairly illegitimate claim to be the rightful heir to the English throne (back to it being a symbol used by early British Kings) and partly to honour the Welshmen who fought alongside him.  Therein began the Tudor dynasty which lasted for 118 years.

A red ffyry dragon peyntid upon white and greene sarcement”.

“True is my Lord Llywelyn and Tall warriors follow him; a thousand and a host in green and white”.

 The Welsh element in the saga of Richard III is carried forth today in the rousing words of the National Anthem that is harmoniously blasted out at the start of each rugby international. Although, as if to portray the divisions that existed in medieval Wales and which, to a certain extent, remain to this day, there is no firm acceptance amongst Welsh speakers of the true translation and meaning of the anthem…

My favoured version is:

The Land of my Fathers so dear unto me,

Old Land where the Poets are honoured and free,

It’s warring defenders , so gallant and brave

For freedom their live’s blood they gave

Country, Country, true I am to my Country

While seas secure this land so pure

Oh may our language endure.

Like all good anthems it is best heard (and hence not understood by most foreigners) sung in the native tongue.

February is always filled with the passion of the battlefields of the Six Nations – we are heading off to take-on the Romans next, we’ll teach them for daring to come here all those years ago…  Historically the month has played an important part in forming the world we now live in.  It was in 1952 on the 6th of this month that Princess ‘Lillibet became Elizabeth II – wasn’t Liz 1 a Tudor ?  She in turn saw her man Drake enter the Pacific in 1578 on the 11th of this month, a year after the crazy red-head had chopped the head of Mary Queen of Scots on the 8th of February !  Although there may be a tenuous link with those events and this musing perhaps the most important February date is the 12th in 1809, the birth day of one Abraham Lincoln who, arguably, had a greater influence on world politics than all the above events.  But my favourite has to be a February date which I was alive to witness (and now I’ve seen his ‘relics’ in the Air and Space Smithsonian museum in Washington  D.C.), the 10th in 1962 when John Glen orbited the earth.

A fitting end to a wandering blog post that hopefully leaves you as dis-interested as I am as to where old Rich’s bones will reside.  Leicester or York….. what d’ya think ?

Surely we’ve all got more important things to worry our waking minds …

“The world is gone so bad that Wrens make prey where Eagles dare not perch”

(Richard III Act I, Scene 3)

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