Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Terry Jones at Ohio State

Yesterday Terry Jones came to speak at Ohio State. For those who are not familiar with him, Terry Jones was a member of Monty Python, without question the greatest comedy group of all time. Jones had a particular talent for playing cranky old ladies. Here are my notes on the lecture. Any mistakes are my fault.

Translating Richard II
Introduction: We would like to welcome Terry Jones. In his youth he made fun of the great age of chivalry. It appears that he is now reformed. He is a serious scholar in his own right he wrote two books on Chaucer, Chaucer’s Knight and Who Murdered Chaucer. Chaucer’s patron was Richard II.
Terry Jones: One of the big problems about talking about Richard II is that most people do not know who he was. He is not Richard I. He did not murder Muslims and denigrate England. He is not Richard III. I googled Richard II and was asked if I meant Richard III. Richard II and Richard III have something in common in that they were the victims of spin.
So who was Richard II? Richard II ruled from 1377-99. He was overthrown and murdered. Shakespeare wrote a play about him. He portrayed him as ineffectual and mad. Historians have tended to portray him as a tyrant. He put his own people in power. He abolished legislation to curb his household expenses. Most have been a very rich court. He censored foreign correspondence. Made people pay bribes for pardons.
Now Richard thought of himself as a defender of the people. He and the king of France were the most valiant knights in all of Europe. What is the difference between a tyrant and a king? The Middle-Ages was full of books of rules for princes. They all stem from Aristotle. According to Aristotle kingship looks to the common interest. Tyranny looks to the interest of a single person. We can see this view of kingship in Thomas Aquinas and Giles of Rome. Nothing to do with how much power you had. Machiavelli is the exception to this rule. He wrote a book of rules for tyrants not princes. He was a very naughty boy. (Brian’s mother’s voice as in “He is not the Messiah. He is a very naughty boy.”) Aristotle believed that theoretically a king was the best. Aquinas was writing for Hugh of Cyprus. It would not have been appropriate for Aquinas to say that middle class was the best form of rule.
Concentration of power was seen as a good thing. The king was the good father of the nation. Being the father meant submission and obedience. From this perspective we can understand Richard’s actions. They were about submission to the king. Once you submit to the king you can have mercy. Even the peasants were echoing the ideas of the court. It seems that Richard had a lot of support from that quarter. You cannot equate the rulers of the 14th century with modern day tyrants.
The aim of good government was peace. We can see this in such writers as Giles of Rome and Bartolus of Sassoferrato. In 1381 Richard II attempted to negotiate a peace treaty with France. In the period of 1377-81 quarter of a million pounds were spent on the military. Richard recognized that the war was bleeding him dry and wanted to end it. This put him in conflict with the military hawks of his day, Gloucester, Warwick and Arundel. Imagine if Jimmy Carter had Rumsfeld and Cheney as his advisors.
A truce was eventually achieved in 1396. Richard II married Isabelle, the seven year old daughter of the king of France. He was willing to put his sex life on hold.
According to Dante, as long as you have barons fighting at home you cannot have power rule.
Arundel was a pretty nasty piece of work. Richard attacked Arundel in parliament because Arundel attacked him. We see a constant pattern of calculated insults all through his reign. Arundel missed the funeral of Ann and then said he had to go. Richard struck him.
Richard was scared of Gloucester, his uncle. Gloucester also was a traitor. He worked against Richard’s attempts at peace. He would only accept an “honorable” peace which meant France giving England everything they wanted.
Not only were Gloucester and his allies plotting against the peace with France. They also violently rebelled. They demanded the right to investigate Richard’s household. 1387 they rebelled. This led to the Battle of Radcot Bridge. They killed many of Richard’s supporters. In 1388 we have the Merciless Parliament. In 1397 when Richard arrested these people he was taking out the ringleaders of 1388. Arundel was executed, Gloucester was exiled. Richard was very brave in personally going out to arrest his uncle.
Was Richard a megalomaniac as Henry IV claimed? It was claimed that Richard wasted money. He may have been a spoiled brat. Considering his upbringing he probably was. He had to act as he did. That was the fashion of royal courts. He had to keep up appearances. His first father in law was the Holy Roman Emperor. We cannot say he was vain. According to John of Salisbury, the king is God on earth. According to Thomas Aquinas, the king is the soul of the body. It was disingenuous for Walshingham in his chronicles to attack Richard. He knew that kings were expected.
Archbiship Thomas Arundel was sacked by Richard but came back into power under Henry IV. He gave a speech to parliament saying that now a man is going to be in power. This has been the spin for the past six hundred years.
If you compare Richard’s tomb to that of Henry IV you will see that Richard’s is much plainer.
Was Richard really so extravagant? He spent only 12,000 pounds during the 1386-89 period. He put up a lot of taxes such as the Wool tax in 1398. These taxes though were linked t o pardons for past rebellions.
Richard II has been accused of having poor counsel. The truth is that Richard chose intelligent people. He put in older people, expert men. The problem was that these people were not great nobles. They had middle class backgrounds. One was the son of a butcher another was the son of a merchant.
Was Richard II really unpopular? You have to keep in mind that Henry IV was a usurper. He murdered his own cousin. He wanted to make himself out as well respected. So he hired new scribes to write chronicles and he got the old ones to revise what they had written. Adam of Usk’s Chronicle was written in 1401. Dieulacres was a new scribe. Kirkstall worked for Richard II but he changes his tune once Henry took power. Letter Book H has several pages taken out. We can easily imagine what they contained. Henry tired to recruit Christine of Piza for his propaganda machine by arresting her son and blackmailing her. Christine refused to go along with this. You can see the revision of texts in the Vox Clamantis by John Gower. You can see Arundel’s hand. Gower liked Richard in the Confessions. He later though changed the dedication to Henry of Lancaster (Henry IV). But Henry was not yet the Duke of Lancaster in 1392.
Richard let people off who rebelled against him with simple fines. The peasants seemed to have liked him. During his campaign against Scotland Richard refused to take his men further because he knew his men did not have enough supplies. In doing this he went against John of Gaunt. People of London did not come to Henry’s side until Richard was caught. Six weeks. We have the example of Jencio the squire who refused to take off his badge of support for Richard and was jailed for this. Richard knighted the future Henry V. Henry V hated his father and was close to Richard. Even after Richard was captured and was clearly finished, people held on hope that he would somehow come back to power.
As to the issue of censorship. It was Henry IV who went after heresy in 1401. Thomas Arundel took the lead in this. Arundel made it a crime to read or even think anything heretical. He even had people quizzed as to their beliefs on a monthly basis.

After the speech I got the chance to say hello to Terry Jones. He, very nicely, autographed the inside sheet of my Holy Grail DVD.

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