John Watkins: What Richard III Can Teach Us TodayRoundup: Historians' Take
tags: foreign policy, Richard III, John Watkins, University of Minnesota, Wars of the Roses
John Watkins is distinguished McKnight university professor of English and affiliate faculty in history at the University of Minnesota.
I like the idea of the hunchbacked Richard III, newly exhumed from his final resting spot beneath a parking lot in Leicester, England, visiting the Oval Office. You can imagine the late, unlamented English monarch exchanging pleasantries with U.S. President Barack Obama about horseback riding and complaining about what a pain it is to deal with the intolerable French. They might also exchange notes on the inevitable headaches of leadership -- though, in Obama's case, he's not likely to take his skeet-shooting gun and parachute into Helmand province to battle the Taliban.
But the conversation could quickly take a more somber turn. If there is a lesson from the 1485 fall of Richard's House of York, it's that there are worse things than judicious appeasement.
In general, the Wars of the Roses -- the 30-year civil war between Richard's Yorkist family and their Lancastrian cousins -- continued a three-way policy dance that dated far back into the Hundred Years War. The Lancastrians often found support among the French; their bitter enemies, the Yorkists, found their friends among the powerful Dukes of Burgundy. In 1475, Edward IV, Richard's older brother, became the first solvent English king in decades by finally cutting a good deal with the French. In exchange for no longer pressing his dubious claim to be the legitimate king of France, the French gave him a cozy pension and lucrative trading benefits. Yes, Richard's very distant cousin Henry V had been more dashing in all his belligerence at Agincourt, but it had cost his realm dearly. Edward was learning that diplomatic success was easier and cheaper to achieve than military victory, and often had longer lasting results....
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