Hello, my fellow Americans.
You may have heard yesterday the announcement that, over in England, they confirmed having found the remains of King Richard III. Since we’re all Americans here, I assume your reaction was similar to my own: “Who?” You may have caught a few interviews in which people pronounced the news “bloody exciting” and the people who did the research as “clever blokes.” Whatever that means.
If you’re like me, you wondered why this dead man is newsworthy. It’s not like he’s Honey Boo-boo, after all. Well, lucky for you, I did some research so you don’t have to. So here is King Richard III, for Americans by an American.
What’s a king?
A king is the supreme ruler of a given land. He is not elected by the people; rather, he is appointed by God Himself.(1) King Ad-Rock of The Beastie Boys is a good example.
So, a king’s like the President?
Generally speaking, no. The President has to rely on Congress to make the laws and the Supreme Court gets to decide if laws are unconstitutional. A king has no Congress or court to answer to. No constitution. He must answer to his people, but only if the people can gather in large enough masses and with the right weapons.
Was Martin Luther King a king?
No. He was a King, Jr.
The Burger King?
He’s not even real.
Oh, okay. Hey I thought England only had queens…
That is markedly unfair. Just because they talk weird doesn’t mean they’re all homosexuals.
Not that kind of queen…
Right. Sorry. England has been ruled by a Queen since 1952, this is true. And some of England’s more well-known rulers, such as Elizabeth I and Victoria, have been Queens. But throughout most of history England has been ruled by kings.
How long does a king remain king?
For life, usually. A king can choose to retire, but that can lead to awkwardness, confusion, tragedy, and failed suicide attempts.(2)
Are kings famous?
Well, the king would be well-known but not necessarily well-liked. Think of the guys in Nickleback here or pretty much any Wayans brothers movie ever. Some royalty are positively adored by their people though, such as Queen Elizabeth I, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge,(3) and Queen Latifah.
How does someone become king?
Often, the king is decided by birthright. When a king passes away, his eldest son takes the throne.
They mourn in the bathroom?
No. Their thrones are in water closets.
What if there are no sons?
If there are no sons, things can get rather messy, as Brits historically have gotten rather tetchy about the whole succession thing. For example, Henry VIII killed off loads of wives simply because they failed to produce a male heir. He also broke with the Catholic church and founded his own church just so he could divorce said wives before offing them. Luckily, Brits have chilled out a bit w/r/t succession since then.
Well, Henry VIII’s heir, Edward VI, died of tuberculosis at a young age. One of Henry VIII great-nieces, Lady Jane Grey, was named heir to Edward VI. She was England’s first queen. But despite Lady Jane’s succession being approved by Council, she only ruled for about a week because the people rallied around Mary. Mary was daughter of Catherine of Aragon, one of Henry VIII’s wives. Mary ruled for about five years and then gave the crown to her half-sister, who became Queen Elizabeth I. Queen Elizabeth was, by all accounts, awesome, and sort of taught the Brits (and the world) that chicks who rule can rule.
Will Wills’s & Kate’s son will eventually be king?
Actually, British Parliament recently changed the rules. The first-born child of William and Kate – male or female – will be heir to the throne.
How else does someone become king?
Sometimes the throne is taken by force. Sometimes a king’s bloodline runs out and Council decides a new king.(4)
How did Richard III become king?
Well, when Edward IV died his son, Edward V, was only 12 years old. His uncle, Richard the Duke of Gloucester, was named Protector. Richard was suspicious of Edward IV’s mother and her family. So to protect his brother’s throne (Edward IV), Richard made himself king, had Edward V and his little brother – also named Richard – declared illegitimate, and dragged off to the Royal apartments in the Tower of London. They were never seen again.
If you watch soap operas or have successfully navigated the A Song of Fire and Ice series,(5) the above makes perfect sense.
So the monarchy makes good entertainment?
Sure does. Stories of kings and successions has been gripping our imaginations from early times through Shakespeare and onto The Tudors.
Ooooh! The Tudors! I know them!
Yes you do. The Tudors are like a soap opera within a soap opera. Henry VIII, the one with all the wives? He was a Tudor. ‘Nuff said.
Was Richard III related to Henry VIII?
No. But it was Henry VIII’s father, Henry VII, who killed Richard III.
Is Richard III related to Wills & Kate?
It’s not likely. Since Richard III’s son died before he did, there aren’t any direct descendants. Then again, kings tend to be somewhat promiscuous(6) so the possibility can’t be wholly ruled out.
Is Richard III the same Richard from Robin Hood?
No. Richard I (aka Richard the Lionheart) reigned about 300 years before Richard III.
Is he the king from Braveheart? That guy was an ass…
Yes he was. But, no. That was Edward I, or Edward Longshanks. He reigned about 200 years before Richard III.
The king from V for Vendetta?
Nope. That was King James I who Guy Fawkes wanted to assassinate in the Gunpowder Plot. He reigned roughly 200 years after Richard III. King James I, by the way, commissioned the King James Bible, united the kingdoms of Britain and Scotland, ushered in the Jacobian Age, even though his name wasn’t Jacob,(7) and gave LeBron James a way to show off his ego.
Is he the king from The King’s Speech?
Not even close. That’s King George VI, who reigned roughly 450 years after Richard III. He was the husband of the current Queen of England, Elizabeth II.
From The King and I?
That’s not even the same country.
From The Lion King?
Those…those aren’t even people.
So was this guy in any movies?
Well, Shakespeare wrote a play about him called, appropriately, Richard III. The play has been adapted into a movie a few times, most recently in 1995.
Yes. We Americans luckily have evolved beyond loving literature in obscure languages like Greek and Latin and older versions of English.
Do I, as an American, need to read Shakespeare?
Nope. Freedom from Shakespeare is like the 19th Amendment or something.
Do I, as an American, need to care about Richard III?
Do I, as an American, need to care about British kings?
Nope. We don’t have royalty; we have celebrities.
So why does any of this matter?
Because Richard III could become a zombie.
Oooh! I love The Walking Dead!
Well and who doesn’t, right?
- Which occasionally requires the approval of Council. Don’t ask.
- See King Lear, by William Shakespeare. Or just watch The Lion King.
- Prince William Wales and Princess Kate Middleton.
- Which occasionally requires the approval of God. Don’t ask.
- Upon which HBO’s Game of Thrones is based.
- It’s good to be the king.
- Don’t ask.