Episode 10 – Requiem of the Rose King

It is April 14, 1471 – the Battle of Barnet. The place, a small village north of London, now called Chipping Barnet (or High Barnet, per Wikipedia), and the battle one of the most important of the Wars of the Roses. That’s for a few reasons, but for our purposes there are two that are especially significant: this is where Richard has his Romeo and Juliet moment with King Henry VI and this is where the Earl of Warwick, Richard Neville, meets his end. It would be worth mentioning that in the show Warwick is struck down by Buckingham, meaning that a Richard is killed by a Henry, but quite frankly all of the men in this story have one of maybe four names, so it’s probably best not to make too much of that. (And yes, Buckingham’s given name is Henry.) If it’s not quite the touching death that it sort of wants to be, it is at least a very dramatic one, offering us a glimpse of how Warwick came to be a side-switching kingmaker and how his complex feelings about kings and crowns played into his ultimate downfall.

It also further broadens the confusion of Henry VI’s actual age based on how he appears in the series – he looks not much older than his own son, who is around Richard’s age. In history, Henry would be 49 years old at this point, having fathered Prince Edward at age 32. Why he looks so young here is probably to facilitate the romance between Henry and Richard, but this episode also offers another possibility: when Henry reveals himself to a couple of Lancastrian soldiers, they are aghast at his youthful appearance, saying that he should be old, careworn, and dirty with the mud and blood of his soldiers’ battles. That Henry is so fair and pure in appearance indicates what an unworthy king he has been, uncaring (or at least not understanding) the tribulations of those who flocked to his banner. He’s not a king worth fighting for, the men imply, because he clearly doesn’t understand what they’re fighting for. He says he cares about them, but his actions seem to imply otherwise.

Is that really fair? It depends on how you look at it. Henry (in the show) clearly didn’t enjoy ruling and longed for something simpler, which calls to mind Marie-Antoinette playing a shepherdess at Le Petit Trianon before the French Revolution, apocryphal though the story may be. Given the presence of Joan of Arc in the show, this may be a deliberate association, at least to a degree, but it also speaks to Henry’s spirituality, framing his youthfulness as a sort of innocence, which we also see manifested in his declaration of platonic love for Richard – he’s got trauma surrounding sex from witnessing his mother’s affair, but mostly he seems to equate lack of physical love as a form of spiritual love. He’s a form of Joan of Arc, the Maid of Orléans, and Richard is equally haunted by both of them, albeit in different ways.

That’s what makes it interesting that Richard banishes (or attempts to banish) Joan’s shade in favor of the spirit of his black-winged father. Again, this is interesting in terms of symbolism; Joan and York are playing the roles of the angel and the devil on Richard’s shoulders. Richard thinks Joan is the devil, but her final words as she fades away are that she’s the only one who really knows him, and therefore might be seen as someone giving him sounder advice. His father’s ghost is the manifestation of what Richard thinks he wants; Joan’s may be that little piece of himself that knows what’s really going on but is more comfortable to ignore. We can certainly see that idea solidify in Joan’s teasing attempts to tell him that his Henry and King Henry are one and the same, something Richard in no way wants to hear. Like most other things in Richard’s life, it’s too painful to contemplate – and we all know that just pushing things you don’t want to admit down never helps as much as we’d like it to.

That seems to be something that Prince Edward wants Anne to realize when he tells her to stop with the “as God wills” thinking. Anne has never been in charge of her own destiny (and neither has Edward, really), but he has hope while she does not. That could simply be due to the difference in the way men and women were treated in Medieval England, but we can really see Anne starting to think about how she’s been living, even if she’s not quite ready to say anything yet, even to herself.

The Battle of Barnet is over. The Battle of Tewkesbury looms. Richard’s battle with himself is in full swing, and I don’t think that angel on his shoulder is gone for good – but he may be in a place where no advice is going to help clear the fog of his own internal war.

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Requiem of the Rose King is currently streaming on Funimation.

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