Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Sun of York

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.

On this last day of Winter, the words from Shakespeare Richard III reverberate. But we discover in the first line already, if we read it closely, that the subject here is really discontent, not the season that, just now, buds energetically in a young but still weak sun. Comes the second, punning line. The sun of York was King Edward IV of England. He’s dubbed the sun because he later adopted a blazing sun as his badge. And he was the son of York because he was the son of Richard Plantagenet, third Duke of York. Richard III, briefly king of England himself, was Edward’s youngest brother. Edward’s dates were 1442-1483, a mere 41 years. Despite living in a violent time—much of the violence caused by his own good self (but in a good cause, as always)—he died of natural causes. So much for life expectancy then. And though a king of England, he was born in France. Now to provide the flavor of the fifteenth century, here is Edward’s early resume as brought to us by Wikipedia: “Before becoming King he was 4th Duke of York, 7th Earl of March, 5th Earl of Cambridge, and 9th Earl of Ulster. He was also the 65th Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece.” (Image source is here).

What sort of world was the fifteenth century? Here in the Americas, the big name was Moctezuma. The Aztecs had reached their pinnacle—but the European ships were heading out their way. Just nine years after Edward died, Columbus landed. In the Old World the Ottomans were just beginning their great expansion into an empire. The Hunnish Golden Horde had invaded Siberia a couple of years before Edward was born. Joan of Arc was a big name, but she was burnt alive (at 19) eleven years before Edward was born. In Edward’s time, and under his rule, civil war raged in England, not between the haves and have nots but between the House of York and the House of Lancaster. That was the War of the Roses. Other wars? How about the Thirteen Years War? In that conflict the Teutonic Knights buckled under and Poland seized Prussia. There was the Hundred Years War, the Valois v. Plantagenets (to the latter of whom we are related, in this post, by way of Edward’s dad). The Sikh religion was founded in 1469 with Edward just 27.

Now some footnotes. The Order of the Golden Fleece was a chivalric order founded in 1430 in Burges in Flanders. That word in the quote, lour’d? It comes from Middle English louren. One of its meanings is to lie in wait; another is to look sullen or to frown. And thus the line might be rendered modern by saying “And all the clouds that frowned upon our house.”

Now our distance in time from the Sun of York’s ascension to the throne (1461) is 550 years. And his world looks very, very different from ours—except for the important things, the wars. So I got to thinking. What might it be like 550 years from now, thus in the year 2561. I was hoping that Star Trek would help me. But it happens that the farthest-out episode in that glorious series, in this millennium, anyway, is 2387. Now around our clan we like to sigh, or acerbically remark, that we’ve not yet achieved a Star Trek level of civilization. And, indeed, I rather suspect that we won’t. But what we might achieve is whatever blazing glory Edward IV represented. And with that in mind, the winter of our discontent might ease up just a little—especially since the sun will dawn on Spring tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. I've never looked so closely at these famous lines... such layers. Nice.