Monday, 6 August 2007

May you live in interesting times

It isn't just weddings, actually. I've had quite a lot to do with the Tudors recently, and I have been struck once again, that whereas the period of the Tudors is one of the most interesting periods in English history, it was also one of the nastiest and bloodiest.
It recalls the words of that Chinese curse: 'May you live in interesting times'.
And really though there is lots of fascination in the Tudor kings and queens themselves, you wouldn't really want to go on holiday with any of them; they were a pretty horrid lot.
Henry VII: no historian has yet had a real go at him, but he usurped the crown (having blood ties to the royal family that were very thin indeed); he extorted taxes to an extreme level, he bullied the Church outrageously, using bishops as unpaid civil servants and refusing to permit them to perform their required spiritual duties, sometimes even fining them if they tried to visit their own dioceses when they should have been doing his bidding, running a castle in Wales or something. He treated Catherine of Aragon abominably, all but refusing to feed her when she was widowed after Prince Arthur's death.
Henry VIII: well, we know more about him now. The image of 'bluff King Hal', the 'glorious cad' has begun to finally disappear, and we see him in his true colours as 'a real scumbag' (as an American student recently said to me). Since Scarisbrick, Haigh and Duffy set to work on uncovering the real facts of his reign, it become harder and harder to make excuses for his towering ego and sadistic self-centred bloodthirstiness.
Edward VI; well, he were nobbut a lad when he died, and never actually took the reins of power himself, so it's hard to say what he would have become. But he did make things difficult for his sister Mary when she wanted to go on attending Mass in private, and lots of pretty bloodthirsty things were done in his reign.
Mary: Well, she tends to come off best in Catholic eyes, which, I suppose, is understandable. And unquestionably she could not but have inherited some good traits from her saintly mother. However, the excuses that one makes for her—that she had had a most horrible time in her youth, that she never was happy with some of the more extreme measures taken in her reign &c—cannot quite extinguish the stench of the fires of Smithfield which have fuelled Protestant rhetoric and Catholic embarrassment for hundreds of years now. Were those fires really necessary, even granted the bloodiness of that age? At any rate, as things turned out, I think they did more harm than good.
Elizabeth: in many ways the worst of the bunch. She, too, has not had a revisionist historian look at her career, but when they do, I think that they will have a lot to say. I think she was a brilliant Machiavellian politician, but I get quite cross when people (mostly Anglicans) try to hold her (and her 'Settlement') up as examples of tolerance. She may indeed have said that she 'wanted no windows into mens' souls', meaning, I suppose that she didn't mind what religious opinions people held, but only let them try to live according to those opinions, and the full might of the law was down on them. And it is no use blaming Pius V for this, since he excommunicated her; Black Betty was already persecuting busily within a year of her accession; the excommunication simply persuaded her to turn the heat up.
My bile against the Gloriana/Virgin Queen /Paragon of Tolerance view of Elizabeth was particularly accentuated by the production of the film Elizabeth, where Cate Blanchett plays the eponymous heroine. The Dean and chapter of Durham Cathedral lent their beautiful building for the filming of this atrocious, biased and unhistorical farrago (go on, Justin, tell us what you really think; don't hold back), where, amongst other libels, a Jesuit (presumably intended to be Edmund Campion) as his first act on English soil commits a murder, and then goes on to try to assassinate Elizabeth herself, on the direct orders of the Pope. Mary is presented as a horrible old hag (naturally filmed in the crypt) played by the comedienne Kathy Burke (whom I love in some of her other roles).
Oh that's enough! You know what I think of the Tudors now.

2 comments:

gemoftheocean said...

The great "what if" about the Tudors is that "what if" one of Henry's sons by Catherine of Aragon hadn't been stillborn or died in infancy? See where all this misogyny lead to? "oh, no, can't have a woman, she wouldn't be strong enough of a leader...." So what happens, all that "divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived" business, plus all the anti-catholicism etc. ad infinitum. All because Henry VIII couldn't produce male brats that were robust! You wonder if England would still be largely Catholic and zillions of world events weren't affected by that one fact.

Karen H. -- San Diego, Ca.

White Stone Name Seeker said...

PArt of my dh's journey home was through his understanding of the terror wrought by the Tudors- Henry VIII and 'Good' Queen Bess in particular. He saw that although he was not Anglican, that the whole foundation of English Protestantism was on these two bloodthirsty and rather gross people.
He got deep into history and soon ceased to be protestant.