Daughter of Time: Research & History, Claim 8

Source 6: A book by the authority of the period, Sir Cuthbert Oliphant.

Here, Grant discusses (as mentioned previously) how Sir Thomas More "got his account of Richard [from] Richard's bitterest enemy . . . from one John Morton . . . It is on that story that Holinshed fashioned his history, and on that story that Shakespeare fashioned his character."

Grant then moves on to an analysis of Oliphant as a historian.
Henry VII, Richard's royal rival

Claim 8: A more objective source would be more transparent.

First, Grant argues that Oliphant, a fictionalized pompous historian, while not "consciously Lancastrian" does not exactly play fair: while traducing Richard as an awful monster, Oliphant is "very tolerant of Henry VII's usurpation [even though Henry VII] didn't have a vestige of a shadow of a claim to the throne."

Tey misses a historical reality here; when English nobles of the past became dissatisfied with a king, they would look anywhere for a contender. When English nobles became disgusted with John circa Magna Carta, they went to a very distant relative in France to lead their rebellion (as soon as John died and his 9-year-old son Henry succeeded, the rebels sent the distant relative home).

On the other hand, Grant does make the more than valid observation that Henry VII (and his son Henry VIII) had a chilling  (by any political standard) habit of killing off their opponents using shifty legal means. He later reads from a source that "it was the settled and considered policy of the Tudors to rid themselves of all rivals to the throne, more especially those heirs of York who remained alive on the succession of Henry VII." He marvels on "this placid acceptance of wholesale murder . . . Richard III had been credited with the elimination of two nephews and his name was a synonym for evil. But Henry VII . . . was regarded as a shrewd and far-seeing monarch."

Prince John: A knife! He's got a knife!
Eleanor: Of course he has a knife; 
he always has a knife; 
we all have knives! 
It's 1183 and we're barbarians! 
Grant has a valid point. I have read books about Richard that argued something like, "Well, we have to understand that the medieval era was a dangerous time."

Yes, yes, it was. The problem here is labeling everyone before 1500 (the Renaissance) as brutal, torturing barbarians and everyone after 1500 as enlightened and noble (i.e., "shrewd and far-seeing").

Problems also arise when people decide the opposite: everyone before 1900 was sweet and pro-nature. Everyone after 1900 is cynical and greedy.

The problem in general is assigning valued characteristics to certain eras. Certain eras certainly had certain points of view, not to mention certain attitudes, ideologies, and problems, many of which I'm glad have faded away. Certain eras are, to be fair, better than others. But deciding, for example, All women before 1920 were meek and mild and bossed around by their husbands! shows a complete lack of understanding of the human condition. Women had far fewer rights in the past (in some places, none at all), but there were bossy wives and meek wives and loving wives and hateful wives and tough wives and commonsensical wives and flighty wives just as there were domineering husbands and mild husbands and amused husbands and destructive husbands and protective husbands and
Prince Geoffrey: I know. You know I know. 
I know you know I know. 
We know Henry knows, 
and Henry knows we know it. [smiles] 
We're a knowledgeable family.
indifferent husbands and dimwitted husbands. In some ways, "historical" romance novels are more accurate than many academic essays! The world changes. Human nature doesn't so much.

Likewise, deciding that Richard is barbaric while Henry VII is wily simply because one ruled in the 1400s and one in the 1500s is kind of ridiculous. They were more like each other than either one was like us. And they were more like themselves than they would have been like each other.

After establishing that Oliphant is not completely objective in his assessments, Grant states, "I'm as completely bewildered as Sir Cuthbert Oliphant [by Richard's behavior]. The only difference between us is that I know I'm bewildered and he doesn't seem to be aware of it."

Grant is talking, in part, about transparency, the ability for a source to SHOW how it reach its conclusions. Transparency is the reason academic papers are supposed to list the author's primary and secondary research; it is the reason that census.gov shows its math; it is the reason that good pollsters show ALL their questions (see below). A transparent source will show the problems with the research, including the failure of the research to answer all questions/reach certain conclusions.

Not only should an author like Oliphant be able to think critically about his monarchs, he should be able to show that he has thought critically. In Grant's opinion, Oliphant is like the conspiracy theorist who wants to argue that a worldwide conspiracy of big business, government, and the internet controls people's thoughts, then USES the internet to prove his point.

Clip: Yes, Prime Minister discusses transparency.

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