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Simon Walker

Simon Walker taught history at the University of Sheffield. He died in 2004.

Edward IV

Simon Walker, 10 July 2003

When Richard, Duke of York, laid claim to the English throne in 1460, he presented himself as a physician, sent to heal the ills of the kingdom. In partnership with his apothecaries, the faithful Commons, he would probe ‘the root and bottom of this long-festered canker’ and separate ‘the clean and pure stuff from the old, corrupt and putrefied dregs’. Such medical...

Usurpation

Simon Walker, 10 June 1999

Six hundred years ago this summer, Richard II lost his throne. Preoccupied by the attempt to shore up his failing Irish peace settlement, Richard unwisely delayed his return to the mainland in order to confront a rumoured uprising, and landed to find his kingdom already slipping from his grasp. In the hectic skirmishes that followed, the inventor of the pocket handkerchief predictably proved no match for his battle-hardened cousin, Henry of Lancaster. Tricked into surrender at Conway Castle, Richard was brought south under heavy guard. Although he was still accorded all the honour due his kingly status, his subjects could not fail to observe that, throughout the ceremonies of royalty, the Duke of Lancaster stood one pace behind him, an ominous presence in full armour. Once in London, Richard was paraded through the streets before a derisive crowd, browbeaten into agreeing to abdicate, and declared, for good measure, to be neither worthy nor capable of royal government. It only remained for Henry to advance towards the empty throne in Westminster Hall and claim it as his own.

Occasions for Worship

Simon Walker, 4 September 1997

Each generation fashions its own image of Richard II. To his contemporaries, Richard’s fate was an admonitory instance of changing fortune: the King fell in the midst of his glory and was delivered into the hands of his enemies. To historians of the Tudor age, Richard’s deposition by one of his subjects was a terrible warning of the dangers of rebellion, bequeathing to succeeding generations a legacy of bloodshed and civil strife. Others read in the King’s fate a more personal message. ‘I am Richard II. Know ye not that?’ the ageing Queen Elizabeth demanded, mindful of her fallen favourite, the Earl of Essex, and his forlorn attempt to rally support for his claim to the throne by staging the tragedy of Richard’s fall ‘forty times in open streets and houses’. The play Essex performed was, in all probability, Shakespeare’s version of Richard’s final years, an account which turned the chronicle narratives of revenge and betrayal into a true tragedy by showing the King encompassed by the defects of his own character.

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