Pen and watercolor, gouache, gold-leaf and oil, size approximately 20 x 22 inches, Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery.
This picture is a detailed study for a 1908 commissioned mural (one of six paintings by different artists) for the Palace of Westminster. The paintings were to illustrate six different scenes from English history.
This confrontation in the Temple Garden occurs in 1 Henry VI, Act II, scene iv, and symbolically recreates the origins of the Wars of the Roses. Richard Plantagenet (the figure on the left) who will eventually become the Duke of York plucks a white rose, the emblem of the Yorks, and his adversary, John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset (the figure on the right), picks a red rose, the badge of the Lancastrians. Their followers then choose sides by plucking a red or white rose.
Shakespeare's histories form a single narrative, and we must look for the roots of this scene in the Temple Garden in Richard II when Bolingbroke threatens the reign of Richard with rebellion and usurpation. Speaking to Northumberland, Richard says in Act III, scene iii:
Yet know, my master, God omnipotent,
The time foretold by Richard II is coming, and Warwick warns in Henry VI:
And here I prophesy: this brawl to-day
The full import of the red and white roses becomes apparent in Act IV, scene i, when Henry attempts to reconcile Richard and Somerset and dismisses the symbolic significance of the roses.
Let me be umpire in this doubtful strife.
Richard is immediately suspicious and says, "I like it not, / In that he wears the badge of Somerset." Warwick tells Richard to pay no heed, that Henry "thought no harm." Richard, unpacified, answers ominously, "An if I wist he did--But let it rest." The factions will not, however, let it rest, and Henry's random choice of the red rose will result in the end of his reign and the ultimate ascendancy of Richard III, the most evil of Shakespeare's monarchs.
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