Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A Royalist Whig? Loyalty binds me...

American Whigs took that name to signify the republican resisitance to the monarchical despotism of President Andrew Jackson -- what we might call today the "Imperial Presidency." So it would seem strange to remember today Richard III, the last Plantagent King of England, whose popular reputation has been that of usurper and tyrant. Well, as an historian, Shakespeare is marvelous playwright. (Yes, I am also a Ricardian.)
"The historical records of Richard's time show that he was in fact an enlightened monarch who passed progressive laws, fostered learning, promoted the importation of books, started the system of bail and passed legislation to stop the intimidation of juries by powerful men," states [Richard III Society] American Branch Chairman A. Compton Reeves, professor of medieval history at Ohio University. According to the Richard III Society, the charges against Richard stem from Tudor writers who, in their efforts to justify a new king and dynasty, systematically blackened Richard III's reputation. Shakespeare unwittingly used these biased sources--the only ones available as long as the Tudors occupied the English throne--to immortalize propaganda as legend.

"The most mighty Prince Richard ... all avarice set aside ruled his subjects in his realm full commendably, punishing offenders of his laws, specially extortioners and oppressors of his commons, and cherishing those that were virtuous, by the which discreet guiding he got great thanks of God and love of all his subjects, rich and poor, and great praise of the people of all other lands about him". Thus wrote a contemporary of the King.

The Richard III Society of Canada continues:
He was a keen student of law," and insisted on equality before the law and justice without delay. He formally created the institution of the Court of Request, whose duty it was to hear the 'bills, requests and supplications of poor persons." He established the practice of bail for prisoners awaiting trial, while prohibiting the seizure of their property before they had been judged by due process of law. He outlawed benevolences (the practice of extorting money by the king from his nobles), and successfully reorganized the system of governmental finance.

The Richard III Society in the UK includes this description of Richard's rule:
Richard’s parliament of 1484, apart from attending to the business of the king’s title and the October rebellion, passed legislation which led Sir Francis Bacon to describe Richard as ‘a good lawmaker for the ease and solace of the common people’. For example, Richard was concerned with the problem of corrupt and lazy officials and some of the statutes dealt with this problem. Richard’s policy throughout his career was to set standards whereby officials were educated and sufficiently wealthy in order for them to be less vulnerable to corruption. At a session in the Star Chamber Richard personally brought to the attention of his justices connivance at altering a court record, the reporter of the session states that Richard was ‘perturbed’ that such cases should arise.

"King Richard III’s only Parliament assembled on 23 January, 1484, passing 18 private statutes and 15 public ones. He is known to have been an innovative lawmaker and a summary of his statutes . . . indicates a keen insight into his desire to be fair, enlightened and judicious," says the Richard III Foundation.

Now, certainly Richard III was no enlightenment republican. He was a 15th Century King, after all. But as we look at the actions and legislation of our 3 branches of the Federal government, regardless of which party controls each particular branch, it seems as if the American republic is being run to promote something other than the general welfare. Politicians and pundits demogogue taxes, the "War on Terror," public morality, and whatever else they can think of as they buy each other off with the taxes paid by you, me, and our descendants. Frankly, our elected representatives could take some lessons in good government from Richard III.

So this Whig chooses to remember today a monarch who sought to promote domestic tranquility and justice in his realm. "Loyaulte me lie" (loyalty binds me) was his motto. And that loyalty wasn't just to himself.