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Another Richmond in the field

14 Jul 2018

William Hogarth’s ‘David Garrick as Richard III’ (1745): Tormented by ghosts and driven to the point of madness, Hogarth was a famous English artist (Public domain)

 

Here’s another expression you can thank Shakespeare for. Another Richmond in the field is an unwanted or unwelcome participant, or someone who turns up only to make things more difficult than they already are. 

 

As we pointed out over on Twitter, that’s a saying whose origins lie in the closing scenes of Shakespeare’s Richard III, based as it is on lines spoken by the eponymous king immediately before he leaves the stage for the last time, famously (and desperately) searching for a horse. “I think,” the king exclaims, in the final throes of his final battle, that “there be six Richmonds in the field; five have I slain today.”

 

So who is Richmond? And why are there so many of him? 

 

Well, “Richmond” is Richard III’s eventual successor, the future king Henry VII; at this point in the story, he is merely Henry, Earl of Richmond. As a Yorkist Tudor, Henry is Richard’s sworn enemy, and (in Shakespeare’s telling of the story at least) is ultimately portrayed as something of his direct opposite: handsome, strapping, thoroughly good, decent, and peace-loving. To Richard, Richmond poses a very real and very existential threat: if he were to secure victory, not only would Richard’s reign be over, but his family’s entire dynastic grip on the crown would be finished. Richard, as a result, is utterly determined to seek his opponent out on the battlefield, slay him, and thereby see off his threat once and for all. 

 

Unfortunately for Richard, by this point in the play he is so exhausted (and so tortured by the horrific deeds he’s engineered to secure his own rule) that his grip on reality is starting to loosen, and the ever-present threat of a Tudor victory is now grossly playing on his mind. So, far from needing only to tackle the one Richmond in battle, his addled mind believes he has already confronted five, and is currently pursuing a sixth—Henry, and the threat he poses to Richard’s reign, is seemingly all around him.

 

And it’s for that reason that the expression another Richmond in the field has come to refer to an unwanted, unforeseen, or unexpected participant. 

 

As for Richard III, what happened next is well known alas. The Battle of Bosworth Field, in 1485, turned out to be the final battle of the tumultuous Wars of the Roses. Richard was killed, Henry ascended to the throne, and the newly installed Tudor dynasty reigned over England for the next 113 years—thereby seeing off Richard’s dwindling Plantagent dynasty (quite literally) into the history books. 

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