Tuesday, September 09, 2003

History redux

I just finished reading a history on the War of the Roses, which if you've forgotten your 15th century English history lessons, was the struggle for the English throne between the houses of Lancaster and York, and later between York and Tudor. I thought it would be fascinating to learn about the intrigues, the deceptions, the incestuous marriages, and the power grabs that characterized those days of yore. More often than not, though, it read like a medieval version of any old congressional session, plus or minus a few beheadings with rusty swords and uncooperative magnates being drawn and quartered.

Tell me if this sounds familiar: the Lancastrian King's claim to the throne rests on questionable foundations, his grandfather having usurped the throne from the rightful line of kings. The populace doesn't really care because the office of king has such mystique that he is venerated without question, and his father was a powerful wartime king. But this king, Henry VI, is not a strong leader. He is not terribly bright, and clueless as to matters of the state, although he is renowned for his piety. Born-again, you might say. His decisions are largely made by his court, and those for their own benefit. Things start to crumble when crime escalates, the economy goes south, and the king only seems interested in rewarding his court with even greater tracts of land and wealth. And don't even get me started on Medicare.

Enter the Duke of York, descendant from the true line of Plantagenet kings and a war-hero to boot. (I put Wesley Clark here, but you can pick and choose. Don't think Nader works, though.) The country is being horribly mismanaged, attempts at reform are falling on deaf ears as the ruling class does not want to sacrifice any gains, and only drastic action will carry the day. York sweeps in (well, his son, as York Sr. was killed in battle and had his head displayed on a pike), deposes the usurper, and wins the day, to the adoring cheers of the people.

From here, things get complicated, with a couple more back-and-forths and the fickle populace cheering whoever has the crown on their head. But it's uncannily familiar, down to France being a major pain in the ass even back then.


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