Pollard, AJ: Edward IV, The Summer King (Penguin Monarchs) (Allen Lane: London, 2016)
It happens in the best of families. Royalty is often an accident of birth, and doesn’t guarantee fitness for rule, as we’ve seen in the exploits of Henry VI and Edward II – weak sons of strong fathers.
It’s ironic, given Henry VIII‘s desperation for a legitimate son that we also see, in English history, that you can have too many heirs. It’s all very well having ‘an heir and a spare’, but in some ways we might say that Edward III caused the Wars of the Roses by having six sons. Similarly Richard, Duke of York did the country no favours by having four.
Towards the end of Pollard’s biography of Edward, he discusses the three Yorkist lads who attained adulthood:
‘Edward’s was a sadly dysfunctional family. Both his brothers betrayed him; in exasperated revenge he judicially murdered the elder; the younger without provocation in turn destroyed his children. Crowland recalls that the brothers possessed such talents that, had they been able to avoid discord, such a triple bond could only have been broken with the utmost difficulty. Surely he was right.’
Perhaps the stakes are too high, the potential rewards of disloyalty too tempting, to allow royal families to stick together. Royal blood, so often, appears to be thinner than water. Perhaps that’s a reason – another one – to be thankful we don’t occupy the very top spots ourselves …
There’s another lesson in there, I think. One that so many of the texts we teach at school contain, but is emphasised less than I would like.
The message is simply that united we are stronger, but when we act alone, every man for himself, we are ultimately weaker …