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Medieval monarchs feared political sorcery as a form of treason, but monarchs themselves were also accused of using magic, and several kings became intensely interested in the political and financial potential of occult traditions. Beginning in the twelfth century, rulers began to show interest in the political potential of astrological prognostications, although it was not until the fourteenth century that accusations of political sorcery first burst onto the scene in England. A succession of occult royal advisers, including Roger Bacon and George Ripley, attempted to assume the mantle of Merlin and counsel England’s kings, while Richard II went beyond other monarchs in defining himself as a royal magus. Medieval kings attempted to draw on occult knowledge for both warfare and financial aid in the Hundred Years’ War. Alchemists strove in vain to cure Henry VI of mental illness, while accusations of magic against the wife of Humphrey, duke of Gloucester destabilised the nation. During the Wars of the Roses, politically motivated accusations of sorcery played a key role in the rise of Richard III. The chapter highlights the ambiguity of magic and occult traditions in medieval politics, and their uses both positive and negative in the arts of politics.
From his two historical tetralogies to his great tragedies, civil and dynastic conflict is a near-constant presence in Shakespeare’s plays. This chapter sweeps across his career to explore the political ferment against which he developed his nuanced depictions of civil discord. It begins with the political contexts that shaped the rise of the English history play in the 1590s and extends through the bitter dynastic rivalries that mark Shakespeare’s depictions of Greek and Roman history, his tragedies, and the full body of his plays. It finds that, while Shakespeare studiously avoided taking sides in the warring factions he depicts, he embraced the opportunity to study the genesis of civil strife – its causes, personal motivations, and means by which it is intermittently brought under control. Civil and dynastic conflict serves Shakespeare brilliantly as essential to his craft as playwright, with implications about civil discord at all times and in all places.
This chapter considers the impact of The Wars of the Roses on late fifteenth-century historiography. It outlines the ways in which English historical writing had begun to change in the years preceding the civil unrest and examines how the dynastic conflict exacerbated those changes, triggering new developments in how historiographers approached the task of writing history in flux. Surveying a range of texts from lesser known works, such as the chronicles of John Vale and John Herryson, to more influential accounts, like the chronicles of John Hardyng, the Chronicle of the Lincolnshire Rebellion, and the Second Continuation of the Crowland Chronicle, the chapter charts the impact of sustained political instability on late medieval historiography. It features authors’ flair for rewriting the past for rival bloodlines, their increased reliance on genealogies, newsletters and official documents, and the emergence of the first governmentally sanctioned histories.
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