Sunday, August 22, 2010

Pop History Moment: The Battle of Bosworth Field (1485)

On this day in 1485, Richard III lost both his crown and his life, and England gained its most English Royal Family ever, overturning four centuries of French cultural dominance in the British Isles. History is fraught with decisive moments, but few of them have had the impact on British culture - and especially British pop culture - that the Battle of Bosworth Field has...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketFor instance, the reign of Henry VII is generally credited as the genesis of the English Renaissance, a flowering of the arts fostered both by his son, Henry VIII and his granddaughter Elizabeth I*. In addition to theatre, innovations in music, painting, and architecture marked the Tudor Age. In the modern day, of course, the Tudors are somewhat more than a cottage industry - they're a palace industry, you might say - with tours and souvenirs helping to fill the insatiable demand wrought by television, movies, and books about them.

Naturally, as the creation myth of the House of Tudor, the Battle of Bosworth Field features prominently in the art and culture of the era as well; the action in William Shakespeare's Richard III (c.1591) naturally centres around the battle. The play is one of Bosworth's more famous representations, and in true Shakespearean style, functions better as mythology than history. The Bard, eager to curry favour with his Queen, lays it on as thick in his defamation of Richard III as he trowels treacle into his portrayal of Henry VII.

In the 1955 film version, Laurence Olivier portrayed Richard III, and Stanley Baker played the future Henry VII; a 1995 version starring Ian McKellan as Richard and Dominic West as Henry both masterfully and stylishly set the play in a fictional Nazi England of the 1930s. For those with a slightly more comic bent, the Battle also features in the first episode of Blackadder 1, entitled The Foretelling.

*And even, to an extent, under Mary I, since great art tends to flourish best in the most repressive times.

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