Yes, today is the day in 1485, that King Richard III of England, was unhorsed and killed on Bosworth field. Poor Richard. He lost his life and his dynasty. The crown went to Welsh Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond, who became Henry VII of England, father to the infamous and ubiquitous Henry VIII.
Who was Richard? Was he really the villain he is portrayed to be in Shakespeare's tragic play (whence the title's quote comes)? Was he the diabolical instigator of the murders of the Princes in the Tower? Or is he really the innocent as portrayed in Josephine Tey's 1951 novella The Daughter of Time?
I doubt we'll ever know the real truth, though I tend to think that he was, perhaps, a little of both. He was a medieval man, after all, seeking the highest place in the land. But he was a loyal and accomplished warrior, fighting to restore his brother, King Edward IV to the throne during the War of the Roses. He was appointed to many posts under his brother's reign, in recognition of his loyalty and service: Contable of England, Chief Justice of North Wales, Chief Steward and Chamberlain of Wales, High Sheriff of Cumberland for life, Great Chamberlain, Lord High Admiral of England, Lieutenant of the North and Commander-in-Chief against the Scots and hereditary Warden of the West Marches, and later Lord Protector when his brother the king died and his young son, King Edward V was a bit too young to rule. In other words, he was no slouch.
However, he seemed to be surrounded by conspirators, whether actual or imagined, and many were executed for treason. And the Princes in the Tower were later declared illegitimate because Edward IV was supposedly married first to Eleanor Butler and therefore made his marriage to Elizabeth Woodeville, the mother of the princes, invalid. The princes just sort of...disappeared.
Rebellion was afoot, though, and when Richard went to his fateful battle at Bosworth field it was all going to be settled one way or another. Or was it? History is a funny thing. Yes, it's based on documents and firsthand and thirdhand accounts.To the victor go the spoils, but records are there and the information available offers only a glimpse that is sometimes interpreted one way and then another. That's what makes it interesting. In fact, sometimes new archaeological information comes to light, and if you go to the link above at Bosworth field, you will find that not only did they re-evaluate where exactly was the battleground, but they also discovered cannon balls and shot leadning historians to the conclusion that heavy movable artillary were used much earlier for battles than expected, as well as the use of gunners.
How can I bring this around back to the fourteenth century and to Crispin, you ask? Well, I'll tell you.
In his household, John of Gaunt, the duke of Lancaster had the court poet Geoffrey Chaucer as a loyal friend and servant. Was it because he liked the poet or liked his sister-in-law more? For the duke entertained Chaucer’s sister-in-law Katherine Swynford as his mistress for over twenty-five years, and even married her a year after his second wife, Constanza of Castille, died. Katherine wasn’t his first mistress. When he was a young man he took one of his mother’s ladies-in-waiting as a mistress, Marie de St. Hiliare, and had a daughter with her, named Blanche Plantagenet. All told, he had about fourteen children both legitimate and ill-, with nine living into adulthood. His illegitimate children from Katherine Swynford were made legitimate by King Richard II when John finally married her, but they were barred from inheriting the throne.
Meanwhile, King Richard II had a falling out with the duke’s legitimate son Henry Bolingbroke and kicked him out of the country. But it is Lancaster who gets the last laugh. By the end of the century, Richard is forced to abdicate and is then left to starve to death. Lancaster’s son Henry seized the throne and thus the royal House of Lancaster began. Unfortunately, the venerable duke was in his grave by then.
But speaking of inheriting the throne, Gaunt’s eldest son by Katherine Swynford, John, had a granddaughter, Margaret Beaufort, whose son became Henry VII and took the throne from the last Plantagenet, Richard III. And Henry VII in turn married Elizabeth of York (who was also related to John of Gaunt), thus ending the York and Lancaster feud known as the War of the Roses, and allowing Gaunt's and Katherine's descendants to get the throne at last.