Guest post by Steve-O-in NJ
In the year 1399 a nobleman of the House of Lancaster named Henry of Bolingbroke ousted Richard II of the house of Plantagenet, son of Edward III, from the throne of England, partly over alleged tyranny and mismanagement (possibly brought on by a personality disorder), but just as much over pride, power, and differences regarding how to govern. Henry IV’s reign was fraught with problems as the nobles battled for power and influence under an unconsolidated rule, including Henry “Hotspur” Percy’s revolt, an attempt to restore Wales’ independence by Prince Owen Glendower, even an attempt to restore Richard to the throne in something called The Epiphany revolt. After all, once someone has ousted a rightful ruler by force (or fraud or corruption), why can’t he be ousted by force?
Henry IV died at 45 due to less than wonderful health. Henry V, Prince Hal, followed his father to the throne. Though Shakespeare portrays him as a hero, and he did achieve some great feats on the battlefield, he died at 35 (previously thought to be of dysentery, but now thought of as probably heatstroke from hacking and banging in full armor in August) leaving a young and mentally infirm son to inherit the throne as Henry VI. The English nobles hadn’t forgotten the recent dynastic struggle, and there was no reason for another nobleman, named Richard of York (you need a scorecard to keep track of all these Richards and Henrys), also a cadet branch of the Plantagenet house, like the Lancasters were, not to decide to press his own claim to the throne, starting the 30-year dynastic struggle known as the Wars of the Roses, since the Lancaster symbol was a red rose and the York symbol was a white rose.
Richard would never take the throne, but, after a protracted war, his son Edward would, becoming Edward IV, who entered London in triumph and killed or exiled all of the Lancaster nobles and their supporters. It looked like he had won, however, after 12 years, he died suddenly at the age of 40, and his son Edward V vanished into the tower of London, most likely killed on the auspices of Edward’s brother, also named Richard, who became Richard III, also of Shakespearean fame. Unfortunately for Richard, who ruled for not even three years, the dark rumors of him having his nephew murdered never quite dissipated. He too was ousted and killed in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth field by Lancaster heir Henry Tudor, later Henry VII, who married one of the last York heiresses and finally put an end to this dynastic feuding, and also to noblemen maintaining their own armies which could be brought to bear against the crown at any time. The house of Tudor would rule until into the 1600s, when Elizabeth I died childless, opening the way to the Stuarts. Of course in the midst of all this feuding no one gave a damn about the common people, the farmers, artisans, craftsmen, and merchants, and their lot was often very hard.
But Steven, you say, why are you rehashing this period of history which is now 600 years ago, which few know about and fewer care about? The fact of the matter is that once someone can be declared ineligible to continue in a rightful office, or ousted by force, fraud or corruption, there’s really no reason that anyone else in that office, or any office, can’t meet the same fate. They say a reputation is like glass, easily shattered, hard to put back together. Legitimacy is more fragile still, and once it’s broken, it is often very hard to restore before a lot of damage is done, if it can be restored at all.
This country is now facing its own legitimacy moment, as a president who appears to have lost an election, albeit with a fair amount of questions about how that election was run, is accused of defying that election by force. However, this is not unique and it did not happen in a vacuum, as he himself faced a 4-year challenge from an opposition who disputed his right to the office he himself was elected to. Other political figures are following suit and refusing to concede or allow transitions. Like these royal houses, these political figures, and the parties that support them have begun to fall into the thinking that the other side has no legitimacy, and can’t win legitimately without racism or fraud, therefore they have no right to hold any kind of post or power. Also like the English nobility and royalty of the late 15th century, they have become fixated on battling one another for power and influence, not caring much what happens to those who suffer because of their fighting.
The nobles and royals at least had the excuse that the common people existed to serve them in the system they lived within. In the system that is supposed to exist in this country, the individuals elected to serve in government are supposed to serve the people, which is the other way round. You would think they would know better. Most of them apparently do not, elected office is simply their personal path to money, power, and influence. To them, issues like the pandemic we are still suffering after almost a year are not problems to be solved, but crises to be leveraged, and the laws, even the Constitution itself, exist only as far as can benefit them. If they cannot, they are to be worked around instead of within. In the meantime, if ordinary people suffer, that’s just too bad, they need to sit down, be quiet, and keep voting for those in power.
I’m not saying that this country absolutely can’t withstand another crisis of leadership, it has survived a lot worse. However, you don’t know which crisis will finally be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. I think there is a real problem when the powerful start to think of ordinary people as nothing more than pawns to be used in their power struggles, especially when what they are supposed to be doing is working for the benefit of all those people, not just the ones that it is advantageous to work for today. This fight against legitimacy needs to end now, and the political class in this country needs to remember what their job is and who they work for. If they refuse, and are determined to deny ordinary people the ordinary means of making themselves heard, then maybe it is time for the ordinary people to seek a different leadership that has different priorities, by whatever means necessary.