Episode 11 – Requiem of the Rose King

It’s been easier to feel sorry for almost any character besides Queen Margaret over the course of The Requiem of the Rose King. She’s spent most of the show as a scenery-chewing villain, standing in opposition to her peaceful husband Henry and to the Yorks in equal measure. That means that’s it’s easy to forget that she didn’t have many choices in her own life, nor is she likely to have been living a life she wanted; we’ve heard Anne Neville make similar lamentations, but none from Margaret – until now.

In history, the Battle of Tewkesbury is the final, definitive battle between Henry VI’s and Edward IV’s forces, largely because it results in the death of Prince Edward, Henry’s only blood heir. We don’t know exactly how Prince Edward died, but apocrypha says that he was killed by the Duke of Clarence after the battle, which is how the show chooses to do it – George cuts him down from behind, which seems fitting for the character who hasn’t been particularly trustworthy. But it’s in Prince Edward’s capture and promised death that we finally see Margaret break and come to realize that she’s really only been doing what she felt she had to for most of her life on English soil. Historically, England was less receptive to women in positions of power than France, where Margaret hailed from, and to be a strong woman married to a man more interested in religion ruling than must have been painful for her; in this episode she refers to the English court as a “nest of vipers.” With her husband uninterested in loving her, her son became the only person she really had, the one she’s been fighting for all this time. Without a man to hang her ambition on, Margaret, like Anne, doesn’t count for much in Medieval England. If she’s been cruel, if she’s been driven, it’s because she has nothing else, and when she offers her life so that her son’s can be spared, she’s not just talking a good game – she means it.

And really, what would a Shakespearean tragedy be without attempting noble sacrifices gone horribly wrong and touching moments of tragic death? Margaret’s life is just as tragic as Prince Edward’s death, and the scene where Richard finishes the job after George has stabbed him through is one of the saddest of the series thus far. The use of red rose petals spouting from Richard’s sword is beautiful, as is the imagery of the rose petals floating upward from the dead soldiers—it’s a symbolic end to the fight between Lancaster and York, but also perhaps emblematic of their souls ascending as their deposed king prays for them. The battle is not won without loss, as Margaret could tell you. In Henry the Sixth Part Three she refers to the three York brothers as “And what is Edward but a ruthless sea?/ What Clarence but a quicksand of deceit?/ And Richard but a ragged fatal rock?” Those lines speak of how she sees them as unpredictable, dangerous foes, and barely two scenes later she sees that come to fruition, when they kill her son.

That makes it worth noting that Margaret is the only character to live through all four of Shakespeare’s plays, and the only character to appear alive in all of them. There’s a Cassandra-like quality to her character, which again brings us back to how the series uses Joan of Arc, whose final lines in the first part of Henry the Sixth curse the Plantagenet line as well as Mercutio ever did the Montagues and Capulets. Joan is watching her curse play out, while Margaret is caught up in the curse despite never having asked to be a part of the Plantagenet family; in fact in part two of Henry the Sixth she has an affair with the Duke of Suffolk, which may be what she’s referring to when she mentions a love who died in this episode. Richard’s life is equally suffused with tragedy, and maybe we can see our way to more easily feeling sympathy for him, especially these past two episodes where he learns that the people he blames for his father’s death are also the people who profess to love him. Whatever the case, a line from The Tempest best sums up this episode: “Hell is empty/ and all the devils are here.”

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Requiem of the Rose King is currently streaming on Funimation.

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