Monarchy

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Monarchy

Post  eddie on Sun Nov 27, 2011 1:25 am

Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England by Thomas Penn – review

Henry VII's reign has yielded an evocative study

Blair Worden
guardian.co.uk, Friday 25 November 2011 22.55 GMT


ILLUSTRATION: CLIFFORD HARPER/AGRAPHIA.CO.UK

Henry VII can look a dull king, so dull that Thomas Penn's title omits his name. Shakespeare, drawn to the colour on either side of the reign, skipped it. His history plays depicted the dramatic conflicts of the wars of the roses, which Henry's accession after his victory at Bosworth in 1485 brought to an end. Shakespeare later turned to Henry's son and successor Henry VIII, whose rule brought marital sensation, renaissance spectacle and the reformation. The father's government was an exercise in discoloration. Its goals, relentlessly pursued until Henry's death in 1509, were the establishment of a royal house, the elimination of opposition, and the steady accumulation of power and wealth. Fittingly he dressed in expensive black.


Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England
by Thomas Penn

Yet in the hands of a narrator as accomplished as Penn, the reign acquires its own, troubling fascination. Two themes of his book preside: the permanent vulnerability of Henry's regime, and his ruthless methods of rule. His claim to the throne was tenuous and permanently contested. Only through the deaths of more obvious claimants, and after the accession of Richard III in 1483, when Henry was 26, did he become a leading candidate. Effectively an orphan, he had spent wretched years as a fugitive in Brittany. The reigns of his three predecessors were interrupted or foreshortened. Who could have expected that he would rule for 24 years, die in his bed, bequeath the first orderly succession to the throne for nearly a century, and found a famous dynasty?

It was no easy feat. The Lancastrian Henry and his Yorkist wife Elizabeth strove to reconcile the factions, but unreconciled Yorkists, to whom he was no more than a usurper, harassed his reign. The insurrections fronted by the pretenders Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck emerged from wide and formidable networks of conspiracy that drew in foreign rulers and leading English magnates, and infiltrated Henry's court. Even if the king outfaced his enemies in his lifetime, would they not forestall a Tudor succession? His bouts of grave illness brought the question repeatedly to the fore. In 1502 the death of his heir Arthur left the dynasty's prospects with Arthur's 10-year-old brother, Henry. The king's own death seven years later had to be kept secret until his nervous entourage had ensured the succession.

Henry VII ruled – as Machiavelli, just after his reign, was to advise usurpers to do – through fear rather than love. His spies and informers were everywhere. In 1621 Francis Bacon's history of the reign called Henry "a dark prince, and infinitely suspicious". He had, Bacon added, much to be suspicious about, "his times" being "full of secret conspiracies and troubles". Penn's picture of a reign of terror carries disturbing echoes of the Roman historian Tacitus's account of the emperor Tiberius, another ruler whose abridgements of liberty followed an era of civil strife.

Yet Henry's techniques of power went beyond the needs of surveillance and survival. They did as much to endanger his throne as to secure it. Their main aim was money. Bacon wanted the future Charles I to learn from Henry's reign, but the financial methods that would provoke fatal opposition to Charles look pale beside the exactions levied by Henry from often innocent subjects, who were denied legal process or threatened with trumped-up prosecutions and had to buy their freedom (though at moments of apparently impending death the king would repent of his methods and have the jails cleared and pardons issued).

Penn graphically describes a huge financial racket run by the king and his profiteering advisers. But he leaves us wondering how Henry got away with it. How did a precariously enthroned ruler, lacking a police force or a standing army, manage to run roughshod over the law? Why did the nobility accept the curtailment of the military power it had wielded in the wars of the roses and swallow the elevation of upstarts at Henry's court?

Penn is not one to understate a case. His account of Henry's government is more contentious than he lets on. Historians debate the extent of Henry's rapacity. Some of them have more to say than Penn about the constructive sides of the reign, which developed the state-building methods of his Yorkist predecessors. Still, as Penn observes, the national sense of relief in 1509 was palpable. Rarely was a father's reign so widely disparaged and disowned on the accession of the son. Thomas More hailed the end of "slavery" and the return of "liberty", "the end of sadness, the beginning of joy". He would learn better as the new reign unfolded. Penn notes something else about the paeans on the son's accession: later in the Tudor period, apologists for the regime would remember Henry VII as the restorer of national peace and unity, but in 1509 it was the king's death, not his rule, that was held to have ended a long era of dark instability.

If Penn's interpretation can sometimes seem slanted, its exposition would be hard to over-praise. The expressive and evocative power of his writing, and the union of scholarship with artistry, are rare in modern historical writing. It is a sobering reflection for professional historians that the apparently unpromising territory of Henry's reign has recently produced two memorable books, both of them written outside their ranks: this one, and Ann Wroe's biography of the pretender, Perkin (2003), a longer work on a shorter subject.

• Blair Worden's The English Civil Wars is published by Phoenix.

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Re: Monarchy

Post  eddie on Sat Apr 28, 2012 7:06 am

http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=mark+steel+lectures&view=detail&mid=137CD51414D9AE0A4CE9137CD51414D9AE0A4CE9&first=0&qpvt=mark+steel+lectures
Mark Steel on Oliver Cronwell 1/3

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Re: Monarchy

Post  eddie on Sat Apr 28, 2012 7:09 am

http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=mark+steel+lectures&view=detail&mid=8B839936E6E9ADE565CC8B839936E6E9ADE565CC&first=0&qpvt=mark+steel+lectures
Mark Steel on Oliver Cronwell 2/3

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Re: Monarchy

Post  eddie on Sat Apr 28, 2012 7:11 am

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87cQlFByK3c&feature=player_embedded
Mark Steel on Oliver Cromwell 3/3

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Re: Monarchy

Post  eddie on Sun May 06, 2012 9:14 pm

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel - review

The downfall of Anne Boleyn

Margaret Atwood

guardian.co.uk, Friday 4 May 2012 22.55 BST


Here comes a chopper ...: Anne Boleyn. Photograph: Roger-Viollet/Rex Features

Oh, those Tudors! We can't get enough of them. Whole bookshelves have been filled with them, acres of film consecrated to their antics. How badly behaved they were. What Machiavellian plottings and betrayals. Will we never tire of the imprisonments, torturings, entrail-windings, and burnings at the stake?


Bring Up the Bodies
by Hilary Mantel

Philippa Gregory has very successfully tackled the Boleyn girls, Mary the Mistress and Anne the Aggravating. Then there's The Tudors, the TV series, in which church geopolitics are ably dealt with, though some of the underwear is anachronistic and Henry VIII is a dark, brooding romantic who never gets fat. This is stretching it, but makes for much better sex than if he were to wheeze and grunt and ooze from his decaying leg all over the bedsheets, as in real life.

I have a weakness for the Tudors, so I inhaled Hilary Mantel's terrific Booker-winning Wolf Hall – the first in her series about Thomas Cromwell the Calculating and Ruthless – in almost one sitting. Now comes the aptly titled Bring Up the Bodies, which picks up the body parts where Wolf Hall left off.

As the book opens, it's summer. Henry and his court are staying at Wolf Hall, home of the Seymours, where Henry has his piggy eye on stiff, prudish little Jane, destined to be his next queen. Thomas Cromwell is flying his hawks, named after his dead daughters. "His children are falling from the sky," Mantel begins. "He watches from horseback, acres of England stretching behind him; they drop, gilt-winged, each with a blood-filled gaze … All summer has been like this, a riot of dismemberment." And we're off, into the deep, dark, labyrinthine, but strangely objective mind of Thomas Cromwell.

The historical Cromwell is an opaque figure, which is most likely why Mantel is interested in him: the less is truly known, the more room for a novelist. Cromwell rose from obscure and violent origins through a life abroad – sometime soldier, sometime merchant – to become England's top go-to man, the prime maker-and-breaker of fortunes and spines, secretly hated and despised, especially by aristocrats. He played Beria to Henry VIII's tyrannical Stalin: he did the dirty work and attended the beheadings, while Henry went hunting.

Cromwell elevated reform-minded Anne Boleyn, and sided with her until she stupidly thought she could get rid of him. Then he joined with her enemies to overthrow her, which we see him doing with steely finesse in Bring Up the Bodies. He was very feared and very smart, with a capacious memory for facts and also for slights, none of which he left unavenged.

While Cromwell has always had a bad press, Henry has generated mixed reviews. His early life was golden – Renaissance prince, sportsman, composer of poems, sprightly dancer, the glass of fashion and the mould of form, and so on – but he became increasingly despotic, bloodthirsty, rapacious, and possibly crazy. Charles Dickens, in his quirky A Child's History of England, has no use for him, calling him "a most intolerable ruffian, a disgrace to human nature, and a blot of blood and grease upon the History of England". In his later years, says Dickens, Henry was "a swollen, hideous spectacle, with a great hole in his leg, and so odious to every sense that it was dreadful to approach him". It's a 21st-century sport for doctors to weigh in on what exactly was wrong with Henry: it used to be thought he had syphilis, but diabetes now appears to be winning out. That, and possibly a brain injury from his jousting accident – an accident that causes Cromwell to lose his cool, since if Henry dies without an heir there will be civil war. Whatever else the Tudors did, they brought peace to England, and peace is what Cromwell works for. That, for Mantel, is one of the more praiseworthy motives for all the bloodletting that Cromwell engineers.

Peace rests on a stable king, and in that respect Cromwell has his work cut out. Already by the book's beginning Henry is beginning to fade, swell, and drool; his paranoia is growing, and the Plantagenets are plotting in the shrubbery. Cromwell sees this with precision and clarity, as he sees everything. He's a very self-aware narrator, and does not spare himself his own unwavering view, as when he appraises the portrait Hans Holbein has painted of him, "his dark purposes wrapped in wool and fur, his hand clenched around a document as if he were throttling it". His own son tells him he looks like a murderer, and other portraitists achieve a similar effect: "Wherever they begin, the final impact is the same: if he had a grievance against you, you wouldn't like to meet him at the dark of the moon."

But he also has corners of tenderness, and sees these in others: he's deep, not merely dark. And through him we experience the texture of how it feels to be sliding into a perilous dictatorship, where power is arbitrary, spies are everywhere, and one wrong word can mean your death. It's a reflection, perhaps, of our times, when democracies appear to be slipping back into the dungeon-filled shadowland of arbitrary power.

Cromwell's main opponent, Anne Boleyn, is as wilful and flirtatious as she usually is in fiction, but by the time of her death she has shrivelled to "a tiny figure, a bundle of bones". Is she more to be pitied than blamed? Not by Cromwell: "She does not look like a powerful enemy of England, but looks can deceive … If her sway had continued, the child Mary might have stood here; and he himself … waiting for the coarse English axe." Anne knew the rules of the power game but she hasn't played well enough, and she has lost. And, for the time being, Cromwell has won.

The ambiguous Cromwell is a character who fits Mantel's particular strengths. She's never gone for the sweet people, and is no stranger to dark purposes. Beginning with smaller canvases – novels set in present-day England – she moved to widescreen historical fiction with the masterful A Place of Greater Safety (1992), featuring the major actors of the French revolution as well as a large supporting cast and its twisted interactions. She relies on the same talent for intricacy in Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. There are a lot of people lurking around in Henry's court, all of them on the make or trying to sidestep the axe, and helping the reader keep track of them is a special craft.

Historical fiction has many pitfalls, multiple characters and plausible underwear being only two of them. How should people talk? Sixteenth-century diction would be intolerable, but so would modern slang; Mantel opts for standard English, with the occasional dirty joke, and for present-tense narration much of the time, which keeps us right there with Cromwell as his plots and Mantel's unfold. How much detail – clothes, furnishings, appliances – to supply without clogging up the page and slowing down the story? Enough to allow the reader to picture the scene, with lush fabrics and textures highlighted, as they were at the time. Mantel generally answers the same kinds of question that interest readers in court reports of murder trials or coverage of royal weddings. What was the dress like? How did she look? Who really went to bed with whom? Mantel sometimes overshares, but literary invention does not fail her: she's as deft and verbally adroit as ever.

We read historical fiction for the same reason we keep watching Hamlet: it's not what, it's how. And although we know the plot, the characters themselves do not. Mantel leaves Cromwell at a moment that would appear secure: four of his ill-wishing enemies, in addition to Anne, have just been beheaded, and many more have been neutralised. England will have peace, though it's "the peace of the hen coop when the fox has run home". But really Cromwell is balancing on a tightrope, with his enemies gathering and muttering offstage. The book ends as it begins, with an image of blood-soaked feathers.

But its end is not an end. "There are no endings," says Mantel. "If you think so you are deceived as to their nature. They are all beginnings. This is one." Which will lead us to the final instalment, and to the next batch of Henry's wives and Cromwell's machinations. How much intricate spadework will it take to "dig out" Cromwell, that "sleek, plump, and densely inaccessible" enigma? Reader, wait and see.

• Margaret Atwood's Year of the Flood is published by Bloomsbury.

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Re: Monarchy

Post  Lee Van Queef on Sat Sep 28, 2013 6:05 am

I was tempted not to bother with the Mantel novels as I don't really have much interest in reading about the already very familiar story of Henry VIII. However, I did bother and I'm glad that I did.

Both 'Wolf Hall' and 'Bring up the Bodies' are sublime.  They are fantastically written and cast Cromwell in a new, interesting light.   I look forward to the next one.

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Re: Monarchy

Post  pinhedz on Sat Sep 28, 2013 8:02 am

Cromwell was a jolly good chap.

He convinced Mrs. Pinz' family to move out of the old place and give America a try. Smile


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Re: Monarchy

Post  pinhedz on Sat Sep 28, 2013 8:04 am

I'd think somebody could still fix up the old place.  

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Re: Monarchy

Post  felix on Sat Sep 28, 2013 9:32 am

It's been fixed!



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Re: Monarchy

Post  pinhedz on Sat Sep 28, 2013 10:11 am

felix wrote:It's been fixed!
I can only pray that you are wrong. Shocked

We were there a few years ago, and found we could pull back the sheet metal that had been emplaced to block access to the spiral staircase to the top of the original tower (which is several centuries older--and more solid--than the rest of the castle).

Truth to tell, there was a local old timer who confided to us that we could pull back that  barrier and go up the stairs Wink).

We could see the 14th century lettering chiseled over the fireplace on the second floor (although the floors are long gone), which says "Theophilus Purcell).

Unfortunately for the Purcells, they refused to make any deals with Cromwell. Neutral

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Re: Monarchy

Post  felix on Sun Sep 29, 2013 12:29 am

It looks a wonderful old ruin, pinz. Where is it, if you don't mind tellin'?

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Re: Monarchy

Post  pinhedz on Sun Sep 29, 2013 4:47 am

Loughmore (or Loughmoe) castle (North Tipperary), seat of the Barons of Loughmoe. It started with just one tower, but later was expanded.

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