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The truth about “Alice”

By C.W. Giles, Punch, August 15, 1928

In the original article, Giles argues that “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” was not written by Charles Dodgson. He has a very weak argumentation for this, but he does make an interesting case about how the book could satirize English politics: the War of the Roses (1455-1485).

In this Civil War, two families (The House of York and The House of Lancaster) where fighting for the throne: the Yorkists with as emblem a white rose and the Lancastrians with a red rose as emblem.

In the article below you can find his argumentation for this.

[..] In ‘Through the Looking Glass’ we find [..] two parties distinguished as the Red and the White, and we trace it back to the scene in ‘Wonderland’ where the royal gardeners are busy painting white roses red. Gardener Two’s words reveal the secret: “This here ought to have been a red rose-tree, but we put in a white on by mistake, and if the Queen was to find out we should all have our heads cut off, you know.”

Where in history do we find red and white at variance, and men liable to decapitation for favoring a rose of the wrong colour? The answer leaps to mind, carrying the conviction that the ‘Alice’ books are a satire on the Wars of the Roses.

On that hypothesis the characters fall readily into their historical place. The Queen of Hearts (the Red Queen of Through the Looking Glass), who demanded red roses, can be none other than the Lancastrian Queen MARGARET, wife of HENRY VI., the somnolent and ineffectual Red King.

The critical student has a right to ask whether LEWIS CARROLL’s presentation of Her Majesty accords with that of any other historical character. The answer is in the Shakespearean. Take the Wonderland Queen’s favorite utterance, “Off with his head!” It cannot be mere coincidence that in Henry VI., having derisively crowned the captive Duke of York (the knave in Wonderland) Queen Margaret commands, “Off with the crown, and, with the crown, his head:” and again, “Off with his headand set it on York gates.”

[..] [W]e can [..] turn to Carroll to supplement some of the incidents which SHAKESPEARE records.

To give one instance: in the Duchess of Wonderland we cannot fail to recognize ELEANOR, Duchess of GLOUCESTER, Queen MARGARET’s mutual enemy. SHAKESPEARE tells us how the Queen boxed her ears, whereupon the DUCHESS vowed: “She shall not strike Dame Eleanor unavenged.”

We find the sequel in Wonderland. In the scene on the croquet-ground, Alice asks the White Rabbit, “Where’s the Duchess?”
“Hush! Hush!” said the Rabbit in a low hurried tone… “She’s under a sentence of execution.”
“What for?” said Alice.
“She boxed the Queen’s ears,” the Rabbit began…

Genealogists may advance the baby as an objection to identifying the Duchess with Dame ELEANOR, who had no son. But consider the attitude of the Duchess to the baby- one of such hostility that she administered pepper and then chastisement for sneezing. Clearly the baby was no son of hers, but some infant against whom she had a grudge, and who should that be but her husband’s successor to the title of Gloucester?

The baby stands for RICHARD OF GLOUCESTER, who eventually mounted the throne as RICHARD III., and this is confirmed by its transformation into a pig, which is parallelled by RICHARD’s adoption of a boar as a badge (whence the York ham). The Cheshire Cat’s interest in the baby’s welfare is understandable when we remember that in political rhymes of the period the Cat stands for SIR WILLIAM CATESBY, RICHARD’s follower. CATESBY became speaker of the House of Commons, to that the Cheshire Cat’s appearances and disappearances refer to the assembly and prorogation of Parliament.

As RICHARD III. is represented as an infant, the White King must be his elder brother, EDWARD IV. The King’s Messengers, Hatta and Haigha -the Mad Hatter and the March Hare in Wonderland- are of course of the White Rose faction.

Turning to history for a supplier of distinguished headgear, we at once identify the Hatter with Warwick the Kingmaker. The March Hare, however, is impersonal. He symbolises the Yorkist claim to the throne based on the descent from MORTIMER, Earl of MARCH, heir to RICHARD II.

The alternate victories and reverses of the White Rose and the Red are hinted by the battle between the Red ans White Knights: “One Rule seems to be that if one Knight hits another he knocks him off his horse, and if he misses he tumbles off himself.”

The fall of Humpty Dumpty, attended by the complete army of the White King, refers to the shattering defeat of the Lancastrians at Towton. But the contest between Tweedledum and Tweedledee is not one of the fights of the Roses. The two brothers, who, it will be rememberred, abondoned their intended battle on the arrival of a “monstrous crow”, are the old English kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex, which ceased their internecine strife to resist the Danish Raven. This is one of several references to earlier history which have crept into the Alice narrative, another being the ballad of Father William and the Young Man, who are, of course, the CONQUEROR and RUFUS.