Book Review: “Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty” by Elizabeth Norton

9781445605784_p0_v1_s550x406The Wars of the Roses was a time of great hardships and strong men and women who did everything they could in order to survive. One of these remarkable people was a woman who did everything she could to make sure her only son lived and prospered. She was the daughter of a man who, allegedly committed suicide, she had four different husbands and gave birth to her son at the age of thirteen. She helped organize rebellions and a marriage that helped her son win the throne of England. Her name was Margaret Beaufort, the mother of King Henry VII. Her remarkable story is told in Elizabeth Norton’s insightful book, “Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty.”

This was a time of extraordinary men and women who knew both triumphs and tragedies. Margaret Beaufort was no exception as Fortune’s wheel gave her quite a ride, as Elizabeth Norton explains:

The idea of Fortune’s wheel, with its random changes from prosperity to disaster, was a popular one in medieval England, and Margaret Beaufort, with her long and turbulent life, saw herself, and was seen by others, as the living embodiment of the concept. Margaret was the mother of the Tudor dynasty in England, and it was through her that Henry VII was able to bid for the throne and gather enough strength to claim it. She knew times of great prosperity and power, but also times of deep despair. These were, to a large extent, products of the period in which Margaret lived, and her family, the Beauforts, had also suffered and prospered from Fortune’s random spin in the years before her birth. (Norton, 9).

Norton begins her book by explaining the origins of the Beaufort family, with the relationship between John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford. It is through John of Gaunt that the Beauforts were able to go from illegitimate children to royal relations. This connection brought them a lot of favors, but it also brought a lot of heartaches. When the Beauforts fell, they fell hard, like Margaret’s father John Beaufort who allegedly committed suicide after a failed mission in France. His death meant that Margaret, his only child, was made a very wealthy heiress and a very eligible young lady on the marriage market. She was married to her first husband at the tender age of 10, but it did not last long. Her second marriage was to King Henry VI’s half-brother Edmund Tudor. He died before he could meet his son, leaving Margaret a mother and a widow before she turned 14. This might have been a dark moment in any young woman’s life, but Margaret grows from this experience, for herself and her only son Henry Tudor.

Margaret used her next two marriages, to Sir Henry Stafford and Lord Thomas Stanley, to her advantage to help her son’s cause. Henry was on the run with his uncle Jasper during this time since the Yorkist cause saw him as a potential heir to the throne. It was Margaret’s influence with the court and her financial support that helped her son and her brother-in-law survive during this time. It all paid off and after years apart, she was reunited with her son after the Battle of Bosworth Field. Henry was victorious and declared King Henry VII. The Tudor Dynasty was created, and Margaret Beaufort began her new role as the King’s Mother. She was a mother-in-law to Elizabeth of York, a grandmother to Henry and Elizabeth’s children, and a patroness for colleges and universities. Margaret was a devout woman who also had control of her own finances, even though she was married. Fortune’s wheel gave Margaret Beaufort quite a ride, but she endured it and helped create one of the greatest dynasties in English history, the Tudor dynasty.

Elizabeth Norton sheds light on Margaret Beaufort’s story. In recent years, Margaret Beaufort has been vilified but reading the letters written by Margaret and from people who knew her shows who she really was, a strong and devout woman who would do anything for her son. Norton is able to balance the facts that we know about Margaret’s life and times with letters and poems about her and Norton’s engaging writing style to give Margaret a biography she deserves. This biography is meticulously researched and a delight to read. If you want a fascinating biography about this remarkable woman, I highly recommend you read Elizabeth Norton’s “Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty”.

Book Review: “Wars of the Roses: Ravenspur- Rise of the Tudors” by Conn Iggulden

41+RQteGLUL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_By the year 1470, England had been embroiled in a civil war between the houses of York and Lancaster for nearly 20 years. Edward IV was king until he was driven out of the country by his former best friend Warwick and Edward’s own brother, George Duke of Clarence. The House of Lancaster is back in charge with Henry VI, but Edward IV and his other brother Richard Duke of Gloucester are not giving up without a fight. However, there is another family who wants to fight for the throne, the Tudors. How will it come to an end? Who will become King of England when all the major battles come to an end? These questions are answered in Conn Iggulden’s thrilling conclusion to his Wars of the Roses series, “Ravenspur- Rise of the Tudors.”

We are thrown back into the story with Edward forced to leave England and his wife and children forced to go into sanctuary while the Lancasters, with Warwick and George Duke of Clarence taking over military control. We are also introduced to new characters. Jasper Tudor, his nephew Henry Tudor, and Edward’s other brother Richard Duke of Gloucester, who would one day become King Richard III. In his historical note, Conn Iggulden explains Richard, his twisted spine and the struggle he might have had on the battlefield:

For all those who have imbibed a romantic view of King Richard III, I think they have cause to be grateful to Shakespeare, for all the bard’s delight in making him a hunchbacked villain. Without Shakespeare, Richard Plantagenet was only king for two years and would have been just a minor footnote to his brother’s reign. There is not one contemporary mention of physical deformity, though we know now that his spine was twisted. He would have lived in constant pain, but then so did many active fighting men. There is certainly no record of Richard ever needing a special set of armour for a raised shoulder. Medieval swordsmen, like Roman soldiers before them, would have been noticeably larger on their right sides. A school friend of mine turned down a career as a professional fencer because of the way his right shoulder was developing into a hump from constant swordplay- and that was with a light, fencing blade. Compare his experience to that of a medieval swordsman using a broader blade, three feet long or even longer, where strength and stamina meant the difference between victory and a humiliating death. (Iggulden, 456-457).

Iggulden explores the relationship between the main characters; Edward IV, Warwick, Jasper Tudor, Richard III, George Duke of Clarence, and Henry Tudor, and how the events between 1470 and 1485 radically changed their lives forever. The betrayal of Warwick and George and how that affected Edward and Richard. How Edward and Richard leaving England for a time affected Elizabeth Woodville and her children. When Edward and Richard landed in Ravenspur and marched against Warwick and George at the Battle of Barnet. The final defeat of the Lancasterian cause at the Battle of Tewkesbury and what followed after the death of Edward IV in 1483. And of course, the Battle of Bosworth where Henry Tudor wins the crown and begins the Tudor dynasty.

“Ravenspur” is a well-written and thrilling conclusion to Iggulden’s “Wars of the Roses” series. He was able to combine exciting battle scenes with family drama, internal dialogue, and political intrigue to create a masterpiece of a series. The only problem I had with the book was that I did want more dialogue from Elizabeth Woodville, Elizabeth of York and Margaret Beaufort. They seemed to have been sprinkled in when it was convenient. Overall, I found “Ravenspur” engaging and enjoyable. If you have read the three previous books in Conn Iggulden’s series, I highly encourage you to read “Ravenspur- Rise of the Tudors” as it brings the Wars of the Roses to a dramatic end.

Poetry: When I Was Fair and Young

Since April is Poetry Month, I wanted to focus on poetry that is associated with one of my favorite Tudor Queens, Elizabeth I. There is something special about reading her letters and her speeches since it shows us how she was when it came to interacting with others. However, her poetry is something different. It is a bit more private. This poem, in particular, was not discovered until after her death. There is some question about who was the poet who wrote this poem, but after reading it, I really do believe that Elizabeth I wrote this poem. Who do you think wrote this poem?

When I was Fair and Young

When I was fair and young, then favor graced me.

Of many was I sought their mistress for to be.

But I did scorn them all and answered them therefore:

Go, go, go, seek some other where; importune me no more.

 

How many weeping eyes I made to pine in woe,

How many sighing hearts I have not skill to show,

But I the prouder grew and still this spake therefore:

Go, go, go, seek some other where, importune me no more.

 

Then spake fair Venus’ son, that proud victorious boy,

Saying: You dainty dame, for that you be so coy,

I will so pluck your plumes as you shall say no more:

Go, go, go, seek some other where, importune me no more.

 

As soon as he had said, such change grew in my breast

That neither night nor day I could take any rest.

Wherefore I did repent that I had said before:

Go, go, go, seek some other where, importune me no more.

 

Sources:

https://aslevelliterature.wordpress.com/2014/07/14/when-i-was-fair-and-young-analysis-explanation-2/

http://www.luminarium.org/renlit/wheniwasfair.htm

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45657/when-i-was-fair-and-young

 

Poetry: A Song of an English Knight

I believe that poetry can really help modern readers understand how historical figures and their legacies changed over time. That is why I have decided to start this project, to show poetry that people might not be familiar with to give us a new perspective about different Tudors. I have decided to include the entire poem so that others can read it.

The first poem I found in Sarah-Beth Watkins’ book, “The Tudor Brandons: Mary and Charles- Henry VIII’s Nearest and Dearest”.  According to Watkins, she found this poem in a book called “The Suffolk Garland: or, A collection of poems, songs, tales, ballads, sonnets, and elegies, legendary and romantic, historical and descriptive, relative to that county”, by James Ford. James Ford was an English antiquary, who compiled many antiquarian subjects into books for easy access for the public. This particular book was written in 1818. This poem is just one that he included in this book, but he sadly does not include the author of this poem. We may not know who wrote this poem, but we can take a guess that he might have been a Protestant by the last few lines of the poem. Who do you think wrote the poem and why do you think they wrote it?

A Song of an English Knight

Eighth Henry ruling this land,

He had a sister fair,

That was the widow’d Queen of France

Enrich’d with virtues rare;

And being come to England’s court,

She oft beheld a knight,

Charles Brandon nam’d, in whose fair eyes,

She chiefly took delight.

 

And noting in her princely mind,

His gallant sweet behaviour,

She daily drew him by degrees,

Still more and more in favour:

Which he perceiving, courteous knight,

Found fitting time and place,

And thus in amorous sort began,

His love-suit to her grace:

 

I am at love, fair queen, said he,

Sweet, let your love incline,

That by your grace Charles Brandon may

On earth be made divine:

If worthless I might worthy be

To have so good a lot,

To please your highness in true love

My fancy doubteth not.

 

Or if that gentry might convey

So great a grace to me,

I can maintain that same by birth,

Being come of good degree.

If wealth you think be all my want.

Your highness hath great store,

And my supplement shall be love;

What can you wish for more?

 

It hath been known when hearty love

Did tie the true-love knot,

Though now if gold and silver want,

The marriage proveth not.

The goodly queen hereat did blush,

But made a dumb reply;

Which he imagin’d what she meant,

And kiss’d her reverently.

 

Brandon (quoth she) I greater am,

Than would I were for thee,

But can as little master love,

As them of low degree.

My father was a king, and so

A king my husband was,

My brother is the like, and he

Will say I do transgress.

 

But let him say what pleaseth him,

He’s liking I’ll forego,

And chuse a love to please myself,

Though all the world say no:

If plowmen make their marriages,

As best contents their mind,

Why should not princes of estate

The like contentment find?

 

But tell me, Brandon, am I not

More forward than beseems?

Yet blame me not for love, I love

Where best my fancy deems.

And long may live (quoth he) to love,

Nor longer live may I

Than when I love your royal grace,

And then disgraced die.

 

But if I do deserve your love,

My mind desires dispatch,

For many are the eyes in court,

That on your beauty watch:

But am not I, sweet lady, now

More forward than behoves?

Yet for my heart, forgive my tongue,

That speaketh for him that loves.

 

The queen and this brave gentleman

Together both did wed,

And after sought the king’s good-will,

And of their wishes sped:

For Brandon soon was made a duke,

And graced so in court,

And who but he did flaunt it forth

Amongst the noblest sort.

 

And so from princely Brandon’s line,

And Mary did proceed

The noble race of Suffolk’s house,

As after did succeed:

And whose high blood the lady Jane,

Lord Guildford Dudley’s wife,

Came by decent, who, with her lord,

In London lost her life.

Sources:

https://archive.org/details/suffolkgarlandor00fordiala/page/120

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Ford_(antiquary)

Watkins, Sarah-Beth. The Tudor Brandons: Mary and Charles — Henry VIIIs Nearest & Dearest. Chronos Books, 2016.

Guest Post by Tony Riches – Telling the Stories of the Tudors

tudor books

It began with my research for a novel about the life of Henry Tudor, who like me was born in the Welsh town of Pembroke. I decided to write it as an historical fiction novel in the hope of reaching a wider audience, including those who might never read a textbook about the Tudors. I also enjoy the challenge of ‘filling the gaps’ in the historical record and bringing these men and women to life.

I’d collected more than enough material for a book – and discovered that although Henry features (with varying degrees of accuracy) in many works of fiction, there were no novels devoted to telling his amazing story. I believe this was partly because Henry had been labelled as dull and miserly, when in fact he was an extravagant gambler, who spent a fortune on clothes, knew how to broker peace and brought an end to the Wars of the Roses.

I also discovered there were no novels about Henry’s Welsh grandfather, Owen Tudor, or Owen’s son, Jasper Tudor, who helped Henry become king. The Tudor trilogy provided the perfect ‘vehicle’ for Henry to be born in the first book, ‘come of age’ in the second and become King of England in the third.

I’m pleased to say the books of the Tudor trilogy became best sellers in the US, UK, and Australia, with the final book being the only historical fiction novel shortlisted for the Amazon Kindle Storyteller award. (Henry was a runner up but I won a Kindle Oasis and a bottle of good Champagne.)

The challenge I then faced was how to follow a successful trilogy. I’d enjoyed developing the character of Henry’s daughter, Mary Tudor, and realized the story of how she became Queen of France is little known. (In the TV series ‘The Tudors’ Mary was ‘merged’ with her sister Margaret – and some people understandably confuse her with her brother’s daughter, also Mary Tudor.)

I wrote Mary – Tudor Princess, which become my best-selling book last year, then followed up with my latest book, Brandon – Tudor Knight. Readers are probably familiar with Charles Brandon’s story of how he risked everything to marry Mary Tudor against the wishes of her vengeful brother, Henry VIII. What they might not know is how Brandon found himself seriously out of his depth fighting Henry’s wars in France, or that after Mary’s death he married his fourteen-year-old ward, wealthy heiress Lady Katherine Willoughby.

Now I have two ‘sequels’ to the Tudor Trilogy, with the five books forming a series providing a continuous narrative throughout the reign of the two King Henrys. Where to go next?  All the books are now available as audiobooks and are being translated into Spanish and Italian. I’ve also been recording podcasts about the stories of the Tudors each month, (see https://tonyriches.podbean.com/.)  

I’m now enjoying researching and writing the amazing story of what became of Katherine (Willoughby) Brandon after the death of Charles. Her story deserves to be told – and leads right up to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth I and my planned next series, which will explore the fascinating world of the Elizabethan Tudors.

 

Tony Riches
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About the Author

Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of best-selling historical fiction. He lives in image2Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the history of the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors. For more information about Tony’s books please visit his website tonyriches.com and his popular blog, The Writing Desk and find him on  Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches

 

 

 

 

 

Brandon – Tudor Knightimage3

By Tony Riches

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

 

From the author of the international bestselling Tudor Trilogy comes a true story of adventure, courtly love and chivalric loyalty. 

Handsome, charismatic and a champion jouster, Sir Charles Brandon is the epitome of a Tudor Knight. A favourite of King Henry VIII, Brandon has a secret. He has fallen in love with Henry’s sister, Mary Tudor, the beautiful widowed Queen of France, and risks everything to marry her without the King’s consent.

Brandon becomes Duke of Suffolk, but his loyalty is tested fighting Henry’s wars in France. Mary’s public support for Queen Catherine of Aragon brings Brandon into dangerous conflict with the ambitious Boleyn family and the king’s new right-hand man, Thomas Cromwell. 

Torn between duty to his family and loyalty to the king, Brandon faces an impossible decision: can he accept Anne Boleyn as his new queen? 

 

Book Review: “Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey” by Adrienne Dillard

51LQDgS2-bLThe Boleyn family is one of the most notable families during the reign of the Tudors. When one thinks about this family, people like Anne Boleyn, Thomas Boleyn, and George Boleyn come to mind. However, another Boleyn and her family story have been emerging from the shadows of history in recent years. That is the story of Mary Boleyn, a mistress of King Henry VIII. Mary Boleyn had a daughter named Catherine Carey, who married Sir Francis Knollys and was the mother of 14 children, including Lettice Knollys. Since Catherine Carey was a direct relation to the Tudors, what might have her life have been like? Adrienne Dillard wanted to give readers a possible view of Catherine Carey’s life in her book, “Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey”.

Adrienne Dillard chooses to start her fabulous novel in a unique dream sequence:

The dream was always the same. My feet were filthy. To most children my age this would be expected, something they dealt with every day of their lives as they toiled alongside their parents in the field, usually too poor to afford proper footwear. But to me it spelled disaster. I knew that soon my grandfather would be home and would be very displeased. Instead of swinging me in the air, plying me with affection as he usually did when he returned from Court, he would stare at my dirt-caked toes and say disdainfully, “You are a Boleyn and you should know your place. No Boleyn will ever live like a beggar child, I have worked hard my whole life to make sure of it.” With those scornful words, my heart would be cut in two. I knew I had to find my brother Henry, get back to the house and clean up before our grandfather arrived….I burst through the apple trees into a clearing and saw the scaffold before me. “No!” I shrieked, feet rooted to the ground, I stared on in horror as the sword sliced the head from my aunt’s swan-like neck. The executioner raised her severed head into the air by its long chestnut locks. Anne’s eyes were wide in shock, her lips still moving, the blood formed a river in the dirt. The last thing I remembered before my world turned black was my own scream. (Dillard, 2).

Catherine’s life was full of heartache, in fact, Princess Elizabeth was the one who signed a letter to Catherine with Cor Rotto, which is Latin for “broken-hearted”. With as many deaths that Catherine experienced in her lifetime, including the death of two of her children, she also found a lot of love. Although her marriage to Sir Francis Knollys was an arranged marriage, like so many were back in the time of the Tudors, Catherine and Francis fell in love with one another. It was that love that helped Catherine, Francis, and their family navigates the ever-changing political and religious environment of the royal court.

In this book, Catherine is portrayed as the illegitimate daughter of King Henry VIII. This has been a rumor ever since she was born since her mother was the mistress of Henry VIII, yet it has never been proven. It adds an interesting twist to her story since she was one of the ladies who served Elizabeth I, who if these rumors were true, was her half-sister. Catherine tends to be someone who enjoyed a normal, drama free life, and so she never tells anyone outside her immediate family the truth. Another unique aspect of this book is how Adrienne Dillard portrays when Catherine and Francis took part of their family to Germany during the reign of Mary I, to escape religious persecution. Not much is known about this time so it was rather interesting to read how different their lives could have been like while on the run.

Adrienne Dillard’s book is beautifully written and tells the story of such a remarkable woman. She stayed on the sideline and was able to have a good relationship with every Tudor monarch, which was actually quite a rarity. Dillard was able to portray the love that Catherine had as a mother and wife in a simple and humble way that it felt like Catherine could be a friend. This was my first time reading a book by Adrienne Dillard and I absolutely loved it. She was able to bring the life of a royal and a mother of 14 to life in such a respectful and dignified way. She made you believe that Catherine Carey could have been the illegitimate daughter of King Henry VIII. After reading this book, I want to learn even more about Catherine Carey and her extraordinary family.

If you want a gorgeous book about a wonderful woman who lived during the time of the Tudors, I highly recommend you read “Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey” by Adrienne Dillard.

Biography: Catherine of Valois

Catherine_of_France(Born October 27, 1401- Died January 3, 1437). Daughter of Charles VI of France and Isabella of Bavaria. Married to Henry V of England and Owen Tudor. Mother of Henry VI, Edmund Tudor and Jasper Tudor.

Catherine of Valois was the tenth child of Charles VI of France and Isabella of Bavaria. Her father suffered from mental illness and some believe that Catherine and her siblings were neglected by their parents. When Catherine was young, she was sent to the convent in Poissy to receive a religious education. From a young age, Catherine was on the marriage market. Her first potential groom was the son of Henry IV, the prince of Wales, but the king died before the negotiations could really get started. In 1414, a young Henry V re-opened the negotiations. In May 1420, the Treaty of Troyes was signed between England and France that made Henry V and his descendants the next heirs to the French throne. In order to cement this alliance, Henry V married Catherine of Valois on February 21, 1421.

Henry V went back to France to campaign a few months later, leaving a pregnant Catherine of Valois behind. Henry VI was born on December 6, 1421. Henry V would die from dysentery that he had contracted during the siege of Meaux on August 31, 1422. A few months later, Catherine’s father Charles VI died, leaving Catherine’s baby son both the king of England and France and it left Catherine a dowager queen at the age of 21.

Since Catherine was still young, there was a strong concern that she would marry again, especially to Edmund Beaufort, her late husband’s cousin. That is why Humphrey duke of Gloucester, the Lord Protector and Parliament passed a bill in 1427-1428 that the queen could not get remarried without the king’s consent of her husband would lose everything, except their children would remain legitimate.

Catherine met and fell in love with a Welshman named Owen ap Maredudd ap Tudur, also known as  Owen Tudor. Not much is known about his early life but in 1421, he was in service of Henry V’s steward Sir Walter Hungerford. He then became a member of Catherine’s household as either keeper of Catherine’s household or wardrobe. Sometime between 1428 and 1429, the couple is said to have gotten married, but there is no evidence to support this claim. In May 1432, Parliament granted Owen Tudor the rights of an Englishman. The couple had at least 4 children, at most 6; Edmund, Jasper, Owen, and a daughter Margaret who became a nun and died young. All of their children were born outside of court.

Catherine entered Bermondsey Abbey, possibly seeking a cure from an illness. Three days later, on January 3, 1437, she died. Catherine is buried at Westminster Abbey in Henry V’s Chantry Chapel. Catherine of Valois was the mother of Henry VI, Edmund and Jasper Tudor, as well as the grandmother of Henry Tudor, the first monarch of the Tudor Dynasty.

Book Review: “First of the Tudors” by Joanna Hickson

30646371Historical fiction has always been a genre that I have had a love/hate relationship with. I was a big fan of the genre for a while and I would read every book I could get my hands on about the Tudors, but then I realized that what the authors were writing was not always true to the historical facts. As I moved away from the fictional genre into the historically academic genre, I found myself looking at historical fiction with a more critical lens. Historical fiction became less entertaining for me the more I learned about the people behind the stories. I told myself that I was not going to read another historical fiction book because they were not historically accurate. That was until I read “ First of the Tudors” by Joanna Hickson.

Now when I read the title of this book, my first thought was that it was either going to be about Owen Tudor and how he met Catherine of Valois or Henry Tudor and about how he came to the throne. While both were mentioned in this book, the true hero of “The First of the Tudors” is Jasper Tudor, the son of Owen Tudor and the uncle of Henry Tudor. To me, Jasper Tudor was always the unsung hero of the Tudor dynasty. I mean he kept Henry safe for all those years in exile while his mother Margaret Beaufort was working on a political solution to keep her son safe. He was an outlaw and in a sense a kingmaker.

However, Joanna Hickson decided to add her own twist to the story. In records of the nursery of Henry VIII, Margaret Beaufort brought in a woman named Jane Hywel to take care of the royal children. It would seem very odd that Margaret Beaufort would bring a woman of unknown origins into her son’s household to take care of his children, so how did Margaret know about Jane? In this book, Hickson puts out the idea that Jane was a cousin of Jasper and that he was the one who brought Jane into Margaret’s household to help with the birth of Henry Tudor and to help raise him.  Of course being historical fiction, there is an element of romance between Jasper and Jane that stretches throughout the entire first half of the Wars of the Roses (1455-1470).

Even though Jasper Tudor did marry Catherine Woodville in 1485, I found that the idea of Jasper having a wife or at least a mistress before this marriage a possibility. The idea of Jane adds a different level of intrigue to Jasper’s life, one that many might not expect; that while he was in exile and was fighting for his king and his nephew that he fell in love.

Hickson does an excellent job to navigate the intriguing details of Jasper’s life, both real and fictional. I found myself not caring about the historical facts as much with this book. I couldn’t put this book down. Hickson literally transported me into the world of Jasper and Jane with how she wrote this book. There was a lot of drama and romance mixed with historical facts that kept me wanting more. This was a page turner for sure. It made me re-evaluate reading more historical fiction in the future.  If you want a good historical fiction book about Jasper Tudor and his role in the Wars of the Roses, I highly recommend “ First of the Tudors” by Joanna Hickson.

“Whitewashing” History: Good Idea or Something to be Avoided?

Herodotus, the father of the study of history, once said that the study of history was used “to preserve the memory of the past by putting on record the astonishing achievements both of our own and of other peoples.”(Herodotus, 41). As we study the past, we tend to make our own opinions about what we study and the people who made these “achievements” possible. Unfortunately, there is a trend within the study of history of making historical figures look either perfect (whitewashing) or pure evil (what I will refer to as blackening). So since these are trends in history, are they good or bad?

 

There are those in Tudor history who have been either whitewashed or blackened throughout time; Henry VII, Henry VIII, Mary I, Elizabeth I, and  the most famous example of this is Richard III. We will use Richard III as an example on how “white washing” and “blackening” works.

 

A lot of people nowadays, specifically the Richard III Society, believe that Richard III had his name tarnished by men like Thomas More and Edward Hall. Thomas More is labeled as the man who ruined Richard’s reputation by stating that Richard was “malicious, wrathful, envious, and from afore his birth, ever forward”( Sylvester, 8). However, More was not the only one who blackened Richard’s name as we see with a quote from Hall:

Behold yonder Richard, tyrant worse than Nero, for he has not only murdered his nephew, bastardized his noble brothers and defamed the womb of his virtuous mother, but also employed all the means he could invent to carnally know his own niece under the pretence of a cloaked matrimony….(Dockray, 139).

 

If you read both of these accounts, you can see where the Richard III Society is coming from, yet they argue for a more whitewashed version of Richard III, that he was a victim of propaganda against him. They acknowledge the virtues and ignore the faults; the Tudor historians, it can be argued, do the exact opposite. So where’s the truth? I believe that a contemporary of Horace Walpole named William Hutton, an English poet and historian puts this discussion of Richard’s character into perspective:

 

Richard the Third, of all the English monarchs, bears the greatest contrariety of character….Some few have conferred on him almost angelic excellence, have clouded his errors and blazoned every virtue that could adorn a man. Others, as if only extremes could prevail, present him in the blackest dye; his thoughts were evil, and that continually, and his actions diabolical; the most degraded mind inhabited the most deformed body… (Dockray, 149).

 

Hutton is pointing out that Richard is either all good or all bad, according historians. This seems to be a common theme with historians about any historical figure. Henry VII is either described by Polydore Vergil in his book “Angelica Historia” as “shrewd and prudent”(Ellis, 226) or as Jack Lander writes, “an inexperienced political adventurer; an almost pathetic, rootless exile, in whom the powerful and rich could repose little, if any, confidence.”(Dockray, 176).

 

And it’s not just these two figures in Tudor history that  are seen as being either “white washed” or “blackened”. Henry VIII is viewed as the king who had six wives and the king who split from the Catholic Church, but we don’t see his intellectual side. Mary I is known as “Bloody Mary” for burning Protestants, but we never really understand why she was so strong in her faith. We think of Elizabeth I as a glorious  virgin ruler but we forget about how cruel she could be towards those who were around her. Thomas “The Admiral” Seymour is viewed as a villain who only wanted power, but is there more to his story?

 

These were complex people and yet we see them through either a “white washed” or “blackened” lense. This is the danger of this movement. We don’t see these people as “human” but rather almost like fictional heroes or villains. That’s just the thing. We have to realize that these people were humans and that they were flawed. They have elements of both good and evil inside of them. No one is perfect, yet we tend to think of historical figures at perfect.

 

As historians, amateur or professional, we have a responsibility to show both sides of a historical figure, the good and the bad. Sure we all have our favorite people to study in history and we want to think the best about them but we also have to tell the truth about them. What’s the point about studying the past if we only report about one side of the story? We read about our favorite people from multiple historians and multiple sources to find out what they were really like.

 

We don’t want others to label us so why do we label historical figures? We are humans, just like the kings and queens of the past, so why can’t we see their vices and virtues? Why do we “whitewash” or “blacken” human beings who lived hundreds of years ago?

 

If we “whitewash” or “blacken” a historical figure, we don’t get to see what made them who they are. We don’t see both the mistakes and the triumphs; we only see one or the other. “Whitewashing” and “blackening” history are ideas that should be avoided because we don’t see the full story of the people who came before us. If we let these ideas continue, we lose part of history. We have to tell both sides, the good and the bad because that is what makes us human. We are not perfect and neither were those who came before us.

 

Sources

 

Dockray, Keith. William Shakespeare, the Wars of the Roses and the Historians.      Charleston, SC: Tempus Publishing INC, 2002.

Ellis, Sir Henry. Three Books of Polydre Vergil’s English History, Compromising the Reigns of Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III. London: Camden Society, 1844.

Herodotus. Herodotus: The Histories. New York: Penguin, 1954.

Sylvester, Richard S. St. Thomas More: The History of King Richard III and Selections from the English and Latin Poems. London: Yale University Press, 1976.

 

Guest Authors

Hello my fellow Tudor nerds!
I hope you are all having a good day today. I am wanting to do something special. I want to open up the opportunity for guest authors on this blog. I got my start by doing a guest article for Rebecca Larson on Tudor Dynasty and so I want to help others get their start. If you have an article about this time period (1455-1603) and you want to see it on the blog, please email it to me at adventuresofatudornerd@gmail.com. It can be about anything from this time period that you want. Also include a short bio about yourself and why you enjoy this time period. Happy writing and I look forward to learning with you all.