Tudor myth

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The Tudor myth is the tradition in English history, historiography and literature that presents the period of the 15th century, including the Wars of the Roses, in England as a dark age of anarchy and bloodshed. It served the political purpose of promoting the Tudor period of the 16th century as a golden age of peace, law, order, and prosperity.[1]

Shakespeare's Richard II[edit]

There is a passage in Shakespeare’s play, Richard II, that is often pointed to as an expression of the Tudor myth. It is a speech by the character Carlisle, spoken just as Bolingbroke suggests that he will ascend the throne of England. Carlisle raises his voice to object, and ends with a vision of the future that seems to prophesy the civil wars that are the basis of Shakespeare’s English history plays:[2][3]

My Lord of Hereford here, whom you call king,
Is a foul traitor to proud Hereford's king;
And if you crown him, let me prophesy,
The blood of English shall manure the ground
And future ages groan for this foul act;
Peace shall go sleep with Turks and infidels,
And in this seat of peace tumultuous wars
Shall kin with kin and kind with kind confound;
Disorder, horror, fear, and mutiny,
Shall here inhabit, and this land be call'd
The field of Golgotha and dead men's skulls.
O! if you raise this house against this house,
It will the woefullest division prove
That ever fell upon this cursed earth.
Prevent it, resist it, let it not be so,
Lest child, child's children, cry against you woe![4]

Traditions in the histories of Richard III[edit]

Conspicuous in this tradition of history writing and literature was the portrayal of Richard III of England (1452–1485; reigned, 1483–1485) as a deformed hunchback and murderer. One of the historians who founded this tradition was Thomas More, who wrote a history of Richard III. William Shakespeare continued in this tradition through his history plays that covered the 15th century: Richard II, Henry IV, Part 1, Henry IV, Part 2, Henry V, Henry VI, Part 1, Henry VI, Part 2, Henry VI, Part 3, and Richard III. This tradition dominated the writing of British/Commonwealth-American history up until the twentieth century. However, Horace Walpole and Sir George Buck contradicted this dominant school of historiography during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.[5]

The revisionist historian Paul Murray Kendall, author of Richard III (1956), among others, was instrumental in drawing the attention of fellow historians to the distortions of this tradition.[6][7]

The concept of Merry England takes the opposite view of this period. More specifically, Ricardian historians, the Richard III Society and The Society of Friends of King Richard III have striven to provide historical perspectives more favourable to Richard III and his achievements during his brief reign.[8]

Sources of the Tudor myth[edit]

  • The Anglica Historia of Polydore Vergil, Books 23–25 on Richard III.; Entire 1555 edition (Henry VII's official historian). First in print in 1534.
  • Sir Thomas More's History of King Richard III (1513)[2]. More's book is hostile to Richard in a partisan spirit. A few years after Richard died a Warwickshire historian named John Rous claimed that Richard spent two years in the womb, and was finally born with a full set of teeth, and a full head of hair. Thomas More described Richard as "malicious, wrathful, envious … little of stature, ill featured of limbs, crook back."[9] More's source was John Morton, who was Archbishop of Canterbury under Henry VII, and had served as Bishop of Ely under Edward IV and Richard III. Other sources include various Tudor accounts, including those by John Rous and Polydore Vergil. More also provides direct testimony.[10]

Further line of the tradition[edit]

  • Edward Hall's Union of the Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York (1548), which was then in turn used as a reference by
  • Raphael Holinshed and his collaborators who wrote the Chronicles of England, Scotland and Wales (2nd edition, 1587), which was Shakespeare's primary source for his history plays.
  • William Shakespeare's play, Richard III

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1] Tillyard, E. M. W. Shakespeare’s History Plays. Chatto & Windus (1944) ISBN 978-0701111571
  2. ^ Grene, Nicholas. Shakespeare's Tragic Imagination. Springer (2016) ISBN 9781349249701
  3. ^ Brustein, Robert Sanford. The Tainted Muse: Prejudice and Presumption in Shakespeare and His Time. Yale University Press, 2009 ISBN 9780300115765 p. 135
  4. ^ Shakespeare, William. Richard II. Act 4, sc. i
  5. ^ Reese, M. M. The Cease of Majesty: A Study of Shakespeare's History Plays, New York: St Martin's Press, 1961
  6. ^ Kendall, Paul Murray. Richard III, New York: W. W. Norton, 1956
  7. ^ Kendall, Paul Murray. Richard III: The Great Debate: Sir Thomas More's History of King Richard III and Horace Walpole's Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard III, 1965
  8. ^ Gillingham, John. The Wars of The Roses: Peace and Conflict in Fifteenth-Century England. Louisiana State University Press, 1981
  9. ^ Carleton, Charles. Royal Warriors: A Military History of the British Monarchy. Routledge, 2014. p. 66. ISBN 9781317873778
  10. ^ Gross, Charles. The Sources and Literature of English History from the Earliest Times to about 1485. Longmans, Green & Company, 1900. p. 297.