Monday 19 December 2011

Running Dogs of Capitalism

Not all the actions of the brutal North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il who died today were absurd. In particular I note that he put the Welsh King of England Henry VII's portrait on one of his postage stamps - something not yet done in the UK in spite of the wily old usurper's canny construction of the modern state, ending the chaotic Mediaeval era decisively by imposing systematic taxation and central control of the legal system.

The first Tudor is overshadowed by his son Henry VIII but deserves much more attention. His claim to the English throne was tenuous in the extreme, partly relying on his grandfather's's marriage to the widow of Henry V but more especially on his mum (Lady Margaret Beaufort, a dour evangelical who founded my College among other good works) who descended from an illegitimate son of John of Gaunt - so, you are right to be puzzled, he had no serious legal claim.

In fact he probably had a better dynastic case, based on relationships with several Welsh princely houses, for being the last plausible "Mab Darogan", the mystical "Son of Destiny" awaited by optimistic Welsh people with a mission to expel the Anglo-Saxons from these islands, following in the footsteps of King Arthur and Owain Glynd┼Ár.

Indeed he made much of this when he landed in Milford Haven, raised the banner of legendary 7C Welsh King Cadwaladr, and went on to thrash Richard III at Bosworth with many Welsh soldiers in his army including Carmarthenshire hard-case Rhys ap Thomas who struck the infanticidal last of the Yorkists dead with his pole-axe as he was looking for a horse. Henry even called his first son Arthur in the spirit of redeeming Welsh honour but of course the lad died young leaving his widow Catherine of Aragon second-hand (and so contrary to the Book of Leviticus) to his younger brother...the rest is (more familiar) history.

By coincidence I am presently reading the first substantial biography of Henry for many years The Winter King which my Mum has given me for Christmas (I couldn't resist opening it before the big day). It's looking good, offering a balanced view of the old chancer whom I can't help liking.

The Korean stamp (above) uses the best portrait of the monarch in the National Portrait Gallery which is unusually life-like for its time (and seemingly accurate - it compares very closely with his death mask). He looks like what he was: cunning, pragmatic, anti-war but prepared to fight for his own, and intelligent, a contrast to his son's pompous and megalomaniacal portraits and those of many of his dim royal successors. He also looks like a particular type of Welshman with his thin face and narrow, inquisitive nose - a bit like the late, great comedian and crooner from up the road in Ammanford Ryan Davies (see below).

If you are wondering why the North Koreans put Harri Tudur on their stamp then I'm afraid I have no idea. Maybe Kim thought that Henry's successful thwarting of rebellions led by those running dogs of capitalism Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck would send a message to anybody thinking about questioning his position? On the other hand it is difficult to imagine Kim treating a rebel as Henry did Simnel: the generous king pardoned him and put him on a rehabilitative work scheme - turning the spit in the royal kitchen.