Lessons In Legitimacy From The War Of The Roses


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.

21 thoughts on “Lessons In Legitimacy From The War Of The Roses

  1. Great piece Steve. Thank you.

    I’d analogize Trump’s being elected in 2016 to a Viking, or worse, a Frenchman, being installed as King of England 600 years ago. His voters wanted fresh blood. Unfortunately, all the hangers on and courtiers of current U.S. politics, media and the elites weren’t buying it. To the Tower? Off with his head! Put his head on a pike!

    Wouldn’t Nancy Pelosi look good in one of those Elizabethan collars that look like Hunter Douglas accordion shade material?

    • More likely Nancy would meet the fate of mary, queen of Scots, who was beheaded under Queen Elizabeth I, while wearing a wig that made her look younger. However, the headsman did not know that, and when he picked up her head to show it to the cheering crowd, it fell from the wig revealing a head of ugly gray hair and suddenly aging her appearance to hag level in a second.

      • Maybe the Dems will so promptly cripple the economy with new regulations she’ll run out of hair dye and Botox during the current congress.

  2. My take on this essay as far as politics in the United States goes is, a new precedence was set by the political left in the last four years and to expect things to return to pre Trump politics is not logical.

    If the political left had simply been the adult in the room after a month or so of political hissy fits then politics in the USA would not be where we are today in spite of the unethical loose cannon mouthed President Trump, but that’s not what happened. President Trump didn’t create the political divide the political left did. President Trump did exacerbate the divide with his complete refusal to kowtow to the outright abuse of power tactics from the DC Democrats and the continuous blatant propaganda war launched against him personally by the Democrats and their lapdog Pravda styled media. The political left has been in a scorched earth war campaign with President Trump, Republicans and Conservatives in general since Donald Trump was nominated as the Presidential candidate.

    Coming soon to a theater near you will be the new political battle cry of the political right…

    “Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the dogs of war.”

    I don’t want to see a war in the USA but I honestly don’t see anyone that’s going to effectively be able to unite the extremes and stop the momentum of the train. It’s sad.

    • Call me an optimist, but I think things will work out without any civil war. But I also thought in late 2016 the Dems would settle down about two months into Trump’s administration. Boy, was I wrong about that!

    • “The political left has been in a scorched earth war campaign with President Trump, Republicans and Conservatives in general since Donald Trump was nominated as the Presidential candidate.”

      And let’s not forget that the very same political left was cheering the loudest for Donald J. Trump to win the G.O.P. nomination, and the media just couldn’t seem to bring themselves to point the camera at anyone else throughout the primaries.

      Then once he was a lock to win it, he suddenly became the devil incarnate.


      P.S. And let’s also not forget that, prior to running for President, “Reality TV Star” Donald Trump was a New York Democrat.

    • “Trump didn’t create the political divide the political left did.”

      True, not Trump, but not the political left by my calculus. The day of President Obama’s inauguration (I think it was that day), McConnell sat with incoming VP Biden in the Capitol cafeteria (or somewhere) and told him not to expect to get anything accomplished because the Republicans were going to block anything that the new administration would try to do. And they (the Republicans) did. That’s pretty definitively divisive.

      • 1. Didn’t happen. This has been debunked many times. It’s a classic Democrat big lie, and people still repeat it.
        2. What McConnell says to Biden is heresay (this is taking the made-up story as true), and what any one person says in private can’t divide anything. McConnell also didn’t have the power to block anything: Democrats had both Houses in 2009.
        3. Regardless of what Mitch said, it’s not divisive like leaders in the opposition party saying that the President was not legitimate or that Russians stole the election or nearly a hundred Democrats boycotting the inauguration, or attempting to flip the electoral college, or accusing the President of colluding with Russia to steal the election, etc, etc, etc. Obama had the approval of about 70% of the public when he was inaugurated. John McCain never said that Obama voters were “deplorables.”

        The claim that opposition to Obama was in the same universe as what President Trump was subjected to is delusional and desperate. It would be refreshing to see just one progressive/Democrats admit what is undeniable –and despicable—on the record.

        • Jack wrote, “Didn’t happen. This has been debunked many times. It’s a classic Democrat big lie, and people still repeat it.”, “The claim that opposition to Obama was in the same universe as what President Trump was subjected to is delusional and desperate.”

          I completely agree with Jack.

          How dare anyone disagree with the political lefts’ rhetoric when they employ principles of progressive goebbelism at every turn.

      • Patrice wrote, “The day of President Obama’s inauguration (I think it was that day), McConnell sat with incoming VP Biden in the Capitol cafeteria (or somewhere) and told him not to expect to get anything accomplished because the Republicans were going to block anything that the new administration would try to do.”

        Do you realize that you’re parroting false propaganda?

        Consider taking my test, for Acute Propaganda-Induced Anti-Trump Hysteria Syndrome.

  3. Apropos of almost nothing, and appealable to almost no one but Jack and his theatrical sensibilities:

    I had the good fortune to attend an all-day performance of the three parts of Henry VI and Richard III (all condensed to 3 plays) at the Royal Shakespeare Company in London.

    A few years later, I was fortunate enough to see an all-day performance of Richard II, both parts of Henry IV and Henry V (again condensed to 3 parts) at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.

    Poor King John-the bastard child of Shakespearean History plays ( I don’t count Henry VII).


    • Actually, apropos of absolutely nothing except my last comment, I have imagined that the US Presidents would be an appropriate topic for a series of Shakespearean-type plays, not necessarily as historical plays, but as characterizations of human nature. You can’t encapsulate the Life of Washington, but Washington as Cincinnatus is interesting. There are tragic figures. There are grand and noble figures, with all of the flaws and foibles of the Everyman. Some would be easy (Lincoln, Trump, Nixon, Grant); some would be harder (William Henry Harrison being the most obvious), but I bet that every one has a lesson to teach somewhere.

      If only there were someone (ANYONE!?!?) with a sense of drama AND knowledge of Presidential history to identify the unique dramatic lessons of the US Presidents.


    • Ah, I have no way to compete with THAT.

      Although in 1978, I did see, with my family,a celebratory (in honor of the the Tower’s 900th anniversary, as construction began on it in 1078) production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Yeomen of the Guard” that used the walls of Tower as the set. The audience sat in the moat…

  4. Amazing how long the ‘spin’ can last from media bias. In 1688 a cabal of dirty Protestant traitors ‘deposed’ the legitimate Stuart king James II and dialled up a Dutch invasion fleet to instal their puppet William of Orange, who conveniently didn’t even speak English! The biased media christened this treachery the ‘Glorious Revolution’ and the name stuck. ‘Fake news’ played a part notably through the spreading of provocative anti Catholic lies by Titus Oates. And the schemers of treachery even sought to win early feminist support cajole by roping in wife Mary and calling ‘William and Mary’ joint monarchs!!

    Very little is really new …..

    • And prior to that everything had come loose because a cabal of other traitors deposed and beheaded the legitimate Charles I, and Cromwell, one of the thirty greatest villains of history, took over. Charles II was restored after Cromwell died and his son couldn’t hold on, but the days of kings ruling rather than simply reigning was over.

      BTW, as you’re no doubt aware, the Dutch line didn’t last, and Parliament had to again invite in a king, in this case George of Hanover, a German prince who barely spoke English. It is his descendants through the line of Queen Victoria, married to German prince Albert of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, who occupy the throne now, although they declared themselves the House of Windsor during WW1.

  5. Very little is really new…

    True. But some are retold better than others, as I believe is today’s well-deserved guest post by Steve-O, not to mention its annotation by Andrew Wakeling, and Jut Gory’s footnote to the future. Together with the other comments they make a grand wake-up for the memory and fuel for the imagination. Jack’s posts are the mainstay of my daily brain-tuning but few enlightening pleasures last all the way to the bottom of the “page”.

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