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Henry VIII–‘Irritating’. A Historian Speaks Out!

 

Historians and historical fiction writers sometimes don’t see eye to eye over their respective chosen fields. David Starkey in particular excoriated fiction writers–mainly, it seemed by his rather inflammatory comments, because they tend to be a) female and b) hold different opinions to himself on certain figures  such as Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII.

Historian Diarmaid  MacCulloch, author of a vast biography of Thomas Cromwell (Thomas Cromwell: A life) quite refreshingly takes an opposite view. He is quite the admirer of the excellent works of Hilary Mantel and seems to understand that a good historical fiction can ignite an interest in  ‘real’ history in a reader by breathing life into long-dead protagonists and imbuing the prose with the feel of the age–something that often doesn’t happen with non-fiction because of its very nature. He also said he found Mantel’s portrayal of Cromwell to tally with his own studies in many respects–a high accolade.

Although a ‘Tudor historian’, while writing the Cromwell biography, he apparently  found himself very ‘irritated’ by Henry VIII, adding, ‘The more you know Henry, the more you dislike him: the intense egotism of the man and the way he distorts the lives of everyone around him.’

I don’t think many Tudor historians would have admitted such a thing in the past,  and find it very healthy and interesting that in the last few years  some  historians are modern and open-minded enough to challenge pre-conceptions about historical figures such as Thomas Cromwell…or Henry VIII…or, of course, Richard  III.

 

 

InterviewwithDiarmidMacCulloch

 

diar

 

 

Eleanor: A reminder of the evidence

I know some people in Cairo are a little slow on the uptake, but there are several independent sources, as shown by the Revealing Richard III blog. In a recent series of articles in the Ricardian Bulletin, the team cite:

  1. Titulus Regius, as composed from the petition to the Three Estates on 26 June 1483;
  2.  Richard III’s letter to Lord Mountjoy, Captain of Calais, two days later;
  3. The Crowland Chronicle, which independently confirmed the above letter;
  4. Phillippe de Commynes‘ (above left) contemporaneous (1483) reports to Louis XI;
  5. Eustace de Chapuys‘ (below left) 1533-4 letters to Charles V, showing that Henry VIII had a lesser dynastic claim to the English throne than Catherine of Aragon, his patron’s aunt;
  6. A 1486 Year Book, detailing Henry VII’s attempts to persuade Bishop Stillington to confess so that Titulus Regius could be annulled and not just destroyed unread.
    The last three all name Stillington or refer to the “Bishop of B”, such that only Bath and Wells fits that description in England during 1483-7. Birmingham, Blackburn, Bradford and Bristol didn’t have Bishops in those days.

In fact, by building on John Ashdown-Hill’s decade of painstaking research, the Revealing Richard team even link to the text of Titulus Regius. These points don’t even mention Stillington’s imprisonment, the Desmond executions, Clarence’s imprisonment and execution, Catesby’s execution, Lady Eleanor’s land dealings and testament together with Lord Sudeley’s adverse treatment and More‘s “Lady Lucy” false trail.

Digging for Britain

Just six miles north-west of Leicester was Bradgate House, the childhood home of Lady Jane Grey, ostensibly the subject of the Streatham Portrait. The second episode of this year’s series, presented by Alice Roberts, focused upon the “North”, starting with Leicester University’s investigation into the probable site.

Here they found that the most obvious building was too recent for Jane (1536-54). However, there were other remains below it and these included a “pilgrim badge” as well as some 1542-7 coins. Unlike Richard III and Wolsey, one found in Leicester and the other probably never lost there, Jane’s resting place is in St. Peter ad Vincula, within the environs of the Tower of London.

Another of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s palaces….

Charing Palace through the 14th century gateway

My inexhaustible interest in the past takes me everywhere…mostly via the internet these days, I confess. Finding buildings that are wonderful jewels from our history is always rewarding, and so here is my latest discovery.

The article below begins: “….Charing Palace is the remains of an 11th-century bishop’s palace used by Archbishops of Canterbury as a stopping place between Canterbury and their London residence of Lambeth Palace. The village of Charing stood on the main pilgrim route to Canterbury, and it made sense for the Archbishops to have an official presence there….”

Well, there are bishops’ palaces all over Britain, and I only know of a fraction of them. This is one I did not know, yet it was important enough for kings Henry VII and Henry VIII, as well as the Archbishops of Canterbury themselves. “….In 1520 the Palace hosted some of the 4000 men and women of Henry VIII’s entourage as they journeyed to the king’s famous meeting with Francis I of France at the Field of the Cloth of Gold near Calais….”

Henry VIII at the Field of Cloth of Gold, Calais

Read more at about Charing Palace at https://www.britainexpress.com/attractions.htm?attraction=2890, which also contains a number of photographs.

The Bishop, the MP, the scientist, the historian and the brewer

The preacher at St. Paul’s stated that the late King’s surviving issue were illegitimate. On this occasion, it wasn’t Dr. Ralph Shaa on 22nd June 1483 about Edward IV’s sons but Rt. Rev. Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London and Westminster, on 9 July 1553 about Henry VIII’s daughters, at which time Jane was proclaimed. As we know, Ridley (b.c.1500), together with Hugh Latimer, Bishop of Worcester, was burned in Oxford today in 1555. Like the earlier victim, Rowland Tayler, he had been a chaplain to Thomas Cranmer, his Archbishop. Furthermore, as a result of the Reformation in which all three had participated with gusto, they were part of the first generation of English clergy, not bound by clerical celibacy, to marry and have legitimate children. Bishop Ridley’s own notable descendants include these four, three of whom are closely related to each other and share his connections to Northumbria:

Rt. Hon Nicholas, Baron Ridley (1929-93), son of the 3rd Viscount Ridley, who was MP for Cirencester and Tewkesbury for more than half of his life and a Cabinet Minister for seven years. His maternal grandfather was the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens.

 

 

 

Professor Jane Ridley (b.1953), daughter of the above and a modern historian at the University of Buckingham, who is a particular expert on the nineteenth century, who we cited in this post. Here, on the BBC’s “Keeping the faith”, she speaks about her ecclesiastical ancestor.
Jasper Ridley (1920-2004), the fellow historian who wrote the Bishop’s biography as well as those of Cranmer and Knox, is a more distant relation.

 

Matthew, 5th Viscount Ridley (b.1958) is Nicholas’ nephew and thus Jane’s cousin. He is a scientist, blogger, writer and businessman, whose team won Christmas University Challenge in 2015.

 

 

 

 

Nelion Ridley is an Essex-based brewer, as this article from a Wetherspoon’s newsletter also shows. “Bishop Nick” is a recent company, formed after Ridleys (1842) was bought out, producing “Heresy”, “1555”, “Ridley’s Rite”, “Martyr” and “Divine”.

Other interesting coincidences are emboldened.

Tyndale and the mumpsimuses….!

 

Mumpsimus is a word that may have originated with Erasmus, but of which I had never heard. It means “adherence to or persistence in an erroneous use of language, memorization, practice, belief, etc., out of habit or obstinacy”.

In William Tyndale‘s 1530 book Practice of Prelates, the word was used in the sense of a stubborn opponent to Tyndale’s views. He said that the men whom Cardinal Wolsey had asked to find reasons why Catherine of Aragon was not truly the wife of King Henry VIII of England were “all lawyers, and other doctors, mumpsimuses of divinity’.” (quoted from Wikipedia)

Well, my friends, we know a few of them, do we not? And not necessarily in connection with the law or the Church.

I’m sure Richard would think it of certain historians and biographers who’ve persisted in always saying the very worst of him! Traditionalist mumpsimuses. A bit of a mouthful, but sounds good!

Naming no names, of course.

Did Elizabeth Wydville die of the plague….?

Elizabeth Woodville

We all know that on 8th June, 1492, Elizabeth Woodville died in relative obscurity in Bermondsey Abbey, and it has been imagined that she died a natural death, perhaps brought on by her greatly reduced circumstances and exclusion from court. (Although perhaps she preferred to hide away because she’d simply had enough of court life and court intrigue?) Anyway, she came to prominence because of her scandalous (at the time and since) marriage to Edward IV.

Edward IV

Henry VII disliked her, and because of this, maybe her daughters saw the wisdom of “dropping” her. Maybe. It just isn’t known. What is known is that Henry, being a fond son-in-law, relieved her of her possessions.

Now, thanks to a recently discovered letter, there is a new theory about the actual reason for her death. According to this article :-

“….Euan Roger is a records specialist at the National Archives and while looking through 16th century documents, he found a letter from the Venetian ambassador to London which seems to indicate Elizabeth’s death came about because of the feared illness. The document was written in 1511, some nineteen years after she had died, but Euan Roger believes its description of ”the Queen-Widow, mother of King Edward” can only refer to the most famous Woodville of them all.

“….The letter states that she has died of the plague and “the king is disturbed”….”

Being written some nineteen years after Elizabeth’s demise casts a rather curious light on the tenses used in the letter. She “has” died of the plague? The king “is” disturbed? Would the Venetian ambassador really express himself like that so many years after the event? And which king? Henry VII had died in 1509, and the present king in 1511 was his son, Henry VIII.

Something doesn’t seem quite right, and yet, as Mr Roger concludes, to which other Queen Elizabeth could the letter refer? Henry VII’s queen, Elizabeth of York (eldest daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville) died in 1503, but she wasn’t a widow and did not have a son who could be termed “King Edward”. Elizabeth Woodville was a widowed queen, and her eldest son by Edward IV is still referred to as King Edward (V), so she does indeed seem to be the only candidate.

Elizabeth of York

It is an interesting thought that Elizabeth Woodville passed away of the plague, but it doesn’t alter the fact that she was sidelined and virtually ignored. And that the reason was probably (in my opinion) Henry VII’s gut-wrenching fear that the truth about her clandestine marriage would out. He depended upon his marriage to Elizabeth of York to legitimise his reign, because it “united” the warring factions in the realm. It was to make such a marriage possible that he very carefully overturned Richard III’s claim to the throne, which was based upon the illegitimacy of Edward IV’s marriage, and therefore of the children born of it. Yet by doing this, Henry also legitimised his new queen’s missing brothers, and I think he spent the rest of his life agonising about the triumphant return of one or the other of the missing boys he himself had given a superior claim to the throne than his own.

While Elizabeth Woodville lived, she was a danger to him. She could at any time confirm that Richard III had been correct to take the throne, because her children were baseborn and Richard was the true heir. Would this thought “disturb” Henry VII? Yes, I rather think so.

Which brings another possibility to mind. Was Elizabeth perilously close to broadcasting the truth? Had something happened to trigger this? If so, her sudden demise might be very desirable. Blaming the plague for what was actually a murder might be a neat solution. There is no proof to support such a theory, of course, but I have always believed that Elizabeth of York’s brothers, the “princes in the Tower” were disposed of after the Battle of Bosworth, and were therefore Tudor victims. Richard III did not do it, but has borne the brunt of the blame throughout history. Maybe the plague/unhappiness didn’t dispose of Elizabeth Woodville either.

But the tenses in the letter are still problematic, and, like Mr Roger, I can only arrive at the same conclusion: the king and queen in question are Elizabeth Woodville and Henry VII.

Henry VII

 

A visible difference

This Mail on Sunday interview with Jonathan Rhys Meyers is sadly, mostly about his current personal problems. However, one or two paragraphs towards the end, should be of interest:

But it was his lead role in TV drama The Tudors, as the criminally charismatic Henry VIII, that made everyone take note, even though Rhys Meyers initially had his doubts about playing the monarch.
‘When they first asked me to do it, I said, “You must be insane!” And they said, “We have to make this part of English history palpable to a modern-day audience – and no one’s going to watch a 300lb guy run around the screen having sex.”’ Watching Rhys Meyers run around the screen having sex was a different story entirely, however.

In other words, he agreed that he felt far too slim for the part, as “The Tudors“‘

final scene with him merging into the great Holbein painting showed. At least Maria Doyle Kennedy, Natalie Dormer (left) and the other four “wives” didn’t have to be paid danger money, as an actor of Henry VIII’s real bulk (above) may have necessitated.

Otherwise, Mr. Rhys Meyers may have wanted to visit a certain pub in Ely with this menu:

Imagine being in Henry VII’s marriage bed, and….

This bed is far too beautiful for Henry VII. In my opinion, anyway. As to finding it in a hotel…well, what if you were snuggled there, anticipating your cooked breakfast next morning, when Henry’s ghost clambers in beside you???? Lawks!

To read more, go here.

Britain’s Most Historic Towns (2)

This excellent Channel Four programme, presented by Professor Alice Roberts, with Dr. Ben Robinson in the helicopter, has returned for a new series. The early venues were Dover (World War Two, visiting the underground base, concentrating on the retreat from Dunkirk and subsequent Channel defence, meeting some survivors, wearing ATS uniform and riding in a tank), her home city Bristol (Georgian, with slavery, gin, chocolate and great architecture featured) and Cardiff (where coal and the Marquess of Bute brought much prosperity in the Edwardian era, before it could supplant Machyllenth as Wales’ capital).

The series then moved on to Oxford to illustrate the Civil War sieges, where Alice Roberts’ Worsleyesque love of dressing up saw her in New Model Army uniform, playing real tennis and viewing Charles I’s ersatz capital. Episode five illustrated Plantagenet Canterbury, featuring St. Augustine, Becket, Chaucer, the Black Death and Peasants’ Revolt. We were also shown a copy of the Magna Carta. The last show was about Stewart Stirling, where she visited the Castle and walls, brewed beer, played with a replica antique football and visited a well, illustrating how individual Stewart monarchs were vulnerable, even to internal opposition, but the line was secure.

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