The morning of August 22, in 1485, might be one of the most definitive moments in world history. It is certainly one of the most defining moments in English history. It was on that day that the King of England, Richard III, aged 32 years, 10 months, and 19 days, died in the most famous battle of the War of the Roses — the Battle of Bosworth Field.
Arguably, Bosworth Field still has a direct effect on social and political events to this very day and of course, leads us directly to events 80 years ago, in the summer of 1938, at the Blue Ridge College in New Windsor.
I’ll explain that in a moment; after I take advantage of the opportunity to wax poetically about William Shakespeare. His version of the history of Richard III is better understood, and enjoyed, as a character study than a history of one of the more tumultuous periods in English history.
For this writer, the War of the Roses, the death of Richard III and the Shakespearian festival in New Windsor in 1938 have been one of my favorite topics for decades and various versions of this article have appeared in print here and in other publications over the years.
Today, as our nation currently attempts to extricate itself from a social and political tar pit and wallows around like a bellowing mastodon; the Shakespearian melodrama and theatricality that is Washington, D.C., is reminiscent of the machinations of William Shakespeare.
The death of Richard III, the last English king to die at the head of an army, established the Tudor dynasty and along with the Treaty of Westphalia in the summer of 1648 which ended a series of brutal religious wars in Europe; helped establish the modern state as we know it today.
The skirmishes over the historic significance of the battle in Leicestershire County, in the center of England, has raged ever since. Bosworth Field effectively ended the 30-year English civil war between the houses of York and Lancaster, the Wars of the Roses, and put an exclamation point on the end of the Middle Ages.
However, not in doubt is the fact that the battle ended the House of Plantagenet line of 15 kings that ruled England from 1154, when it took over from the House of Normandy, until 1485. After the death of Richard III, King Henry VII seized the throne and became the first English monarch of the House of Tudor, which lasted until 1603.
“Now is the winter of our discontent, Made glorious summer by this son of York…” Many will recognize that these lines appear in “Richard III,” by Shakespeare, April 23, 1564 – April 23, 1616.
Richard III is the last play of a study in history of the Wars of Roses that arguably includes other plays by Shakespeare, including Henry VI — parts 1, 2 and 3; Richard II, and Henry V. However, of all of Shakespeare’s work, Richard III remains my favorite — followed by, on any given day — “As You Like It.”
Throughout Carroll County’s history folks have enjoyed many arts and cultural programs such as church choirs, theater groups, and band concerts in the summer. Years ago, outdoor theatre in New Windsor also “made glorious summer,” according to research by historian Joe Getty for the Historical Society of Carroll County many years ago.
In 1938, “the words of Shakespeare resounded among the trees in front of” Old Main on the campus of Blue Ridge College, reports Getty. “(A) Shakespearian festival was sponsored by the drama department of Blue Ridge College…” The college folded in 1944. The campus is used today by Springdale Preparatory
“This was no small-town production,” observes Getty in his research, “but was planned with panache and great vision...” The Westminster newspaper, the Democratic Advocate, proclaimed that “it is expected that New Windsor may become an American Salzburg. Special trains and buses are expected to be operated from Washington and Baltimore.” The reason for all of this acclaim, according to Getty, “was the reputation of the summer theatre’s director, Madame Barry-Orlova…
“Excitement was also created in the town of New Windsor because actors from throughout the United States came to the campus to participate in the summer festival. ... The theatre group, known as the Blue Ridge Players, used many local residents… Many people who were children in New Windsor at that time can recall participating as dancers and fairies in the forest scenes…
“The season of theater productions played to rave reviews…” reports Getty. “The repertoire during the ten-week season included Shakespeare’s As You Like It, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Merry Wives of Windsor, Twelfth Night and The Tempest…”