Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Friday, 19 April 2013

King Henry V and Lady Thatcher

I am currently re-reading Keith Dockray's The Warrior King: the Life of Henry V. This  is a useful contribution to Henrician studies, with an emphasis on the historiography of the King and the nature of the contemporary and near- contemporary sources. The author is perhaps not as much an enthusiastic partisan for the King as some other biographers have been, and it is very much a political biography. He has a strong sense that we see Henry through the prism of his own propaganda as received by both friend and foe, and perhaps he does not give enough weight to the points that both the King and his contemporaries were mentally constrained by the times in which they lived, thinking and acting as men of their times faced by situations as they understood them.

Thinking on these lines began to lead me to think about the similarities with Lady Thatcher who has dominated the news media in the days since her death, and the numerous articles assessing her and her legacy. Here too the debate is formulated by her advocacy of her political position over the years.

Cartoonists not infrequently depicted her as Boadicea, Joan of Arc or Queen Elizabeth I, and these were not inapposite choices for a woman political leader, but I began to see that she had not a little in common with the perception of the victor of Agincourt.

That notion was reinforced particularly by the images of her coffin lying in the chapel of St Mary Undercroft at Westminster, which is one of the surviving parts of the Palace of Westminster which the King would have known.

One cannot push the similarities too far of course, but iron as an adjective was used for King Henry V by several contemporary writers, and the Soviet nickname of the Iron Lady became a badge of honour for Margaret Thatcher.

Both were conviction politicians, but ones who, on the whole, combined taht with prudence and preparedness. Both had luck - be it at Agincourt, internal French faction and Montereau, or Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock, Labour infighting and the SDP, not to mention Arthur Scargill. Both knew how to use that luck and to seize the opportunity to achieve what they wanted. Both could, and did, catch the  mood of the country. The technical skill of the Falklands campaign would have, no doubt, have attracted the approval of the Lancastrian King, who would have had the same fixity of purpose in asserting the claim to sovereignty. Both won the respect of many of their opponents as formidable and committed champions of their cause. Both were perhaps unique in their times by reason of their personality, abilities and achievements.

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