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Of Cameron, Clegg and Kingmakers


While the hurly burly of the past week has been, at times, worthy  of the machinations of the best Shakespearean plot, the shady role of the kingmaker is not without precedent in the White Rose county.

Two of history’s famous warring kings  - Lancaster’s Henry VI and the Yorkist Edward IV – were both subject to the wiles of history’s original ‘Kingmaker’ during the loggerheads of the War of the Roses.

Nick Clegg may have seemed either the villain of the peace or the hero of the day in these past tumultuous days, but his political dilemma looks tame next to the infamous Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick  -the original ‘Kingmaker’.

Warwick was the wealthiest and most powerful English lord of his age, with political connections that went beyond our borders and its bitter feudal family connections.

But he was instrumental in the deposition of two kings, a fact which later earned him his epithet of "Warwick the Kingmaker".

His tale is the backbone to Shakespeare’s convoluted Henry VI trilogy, specifically Henry VI Pt3, which helped establish Shakespeare’s reputation as a major playwright.

Through fortunes of marriage and inheritance, Warwick emerged in the 1450s at the centre of English politics.

Originally a supporter of the Lancastrian King Henry VI, a territorial dispute led him to collaborate with Richard Duke of York, father of the future Edward IV, (and Richard III),  opposing king Henry.

The political conflict later turned into full-scale rebellion, and both York and Warwick's father, Salisbury, fell in battle.

York's son, however, Edward, triumphed but crucially - only with Warwick's assistance, and was crowned King Edward IV, becoming head of the Yorkist claim.

Warwick’s machinations would later earn him the epithet of ‘Kingmaker’, but in the best Shakespearean traditions, his duplicity would lead to his downfall.

Edward initially ruled with his Kingmaker’s support, but the two later fell out over policy.

Then, in the medieval snakepit of politics, Warwick connived to restore Henry VI to the throne.

The ‘Kingmaker’s’ triumph was short-lived however; Warwick was defeated by Edward at the Battle of Barnet and killed – crushed in a sense by his own machinations.

In the end, it was the power of the monarchy that found some form or resolve.

What has changed we might ask ourselves?

IBM Businessman and Yorkshire author Peter Algar, an expert on the War of the Roses, feudal political history, and author of the hit novel The Shepherd Lord,  says the events of the past few days have astounding resonance.

He says:

What lessons have we learned from history? The political leaders of the Wars of the Roses - the nobles supporting the factions of the Houses of York and Lancaster, were the ultimate losers in the posturing, machinations and constant changing of sides during the bloodiest of civil wars.  

“In reality, neither side won but gave way to the rise of the venal Tudor monarchy, the end of chivalry, the dismantling of favours, rank and land to the old aristocracy - abrogated to the nouveau riche, loadsamoney, merchant class and sadly the demise of the old church and the alms it doled out to the poor and needy.

“Some historians think that Warwick had an over-inflated idea of his own contribution to Edward IV’s ascendancy and over-played his own hand when the new king married Elizabeth Woodville against his advice.  

“Slighted, and ever - hungry for more land and power, the already wealthy Warwick advocated a short lived rebellion but was later outclassed and out-maneuvered by Edward Plantagenet.

““Pity poor Albion after the latter day carrion crows pick over its poor, bloodied carcass. Politicians today should perhaps be mindful that history repeats itself?”

The nomenclature of Kingmaker has since passed to various people through history – the Khans of the exotic Golden Horde in ancient legend, David Axelrod in his role with Barack Obama, and even Alistair Campbell with Tony Blair.

But to quote Shakespeare’s Hamlet, as the ‘election lights’ upon Nick Clegg and David Cameron in this ongoing conspiracy of kings and queens and the hurly burly of power– perhaps the rest of us can only look on, and sagely, reflect to our illustrious past, somewhat knowingly.