It occured to me that the number of internet surfing people familiar with the Charles Laughton movie I mentioned the last time might be low, so just in case, this is Laughton as Henry, in one of the most famous scenes, and you see why the performance became iconic:

Following [personal profile] rozk's advice, I read Ford Maddox Ford's trilogy on Katherine Howard, The Fifth Queen. The individual volumes are titled "The FIfth Queen: How she came to court", "Privy Seal: His last Venture" and "The Fifth Queen Crowned". Privy Seal, in case you're wondering, is Thomas Cromwell; it's what people in this trilogy call him in two third of all cases, which can be a bit irritating at the start. But then you accept it as part of Ford's version of the Henrician world. He actually pulls of plausible 16th century English in his characters' dialogues (lots of thees and thous are the least of it, the rhythm of it feels right, which is the hardest thing to imitate, and the language all round, descriptions and all, is drop dead gorgeous. The man can paint with words.

On the downside, the main character is an OC. (Original Character.) I'm not exaggarating. You know those fanfiction AUs which take it so far that all the characters share with the originals are the names, because, say, Magneto instead of a Jewish Holocaust survivor is suddenly captain of the football team on an American High School? Ford's Katherine Howard takes it that far. Down to the externals - historical Katherine was small and on the plumb side, Ford's Katherine is tall and slender. Historical Katherine loved to dance, loved dresses and if the Royal accounts are anything to go by was the most gift receiving of Henry's queens who wore a new dress practically every day; Ford's Katherine never dances, refuses most gifts and wears only three dresses (after she arrived in rags in the first place). Only one letter from historical Katherine Howard survives, this one, in which she comes across as a young girl in love who makes the occasional grammar mistake and seems to find writing painful. Ford's Katherine Howard, on the other hand, is such a scholar of Greek and Latin that her tutor, supposedly best in the realm, freely admits she surpasses him, and she has such a gift of languages that she learns German in only a few months. Speaking of her education, historical Katherine Howard grew up at her stepgrandmother's the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk's place in Lambeth, in circumstances which kinder historians have compared to a high school dormitory and more hostile ones to a high class brothel, because the girls were visited by the male members of the household there at night all the time, leading to much "puffing and blowing" (description from witness against poor Katherine later). You can actually easily make a case for sexual abuse there because Katherine was eleven or twelve when her music master Henry Manox first laid hands on her. Ford doesn't exclude the Duchess of Norfolk's house (that's impossible because of the role it played in her death) but refers to it as a brief interlude in Katherine's childhood, after which she grew up in the North in splendid isolation and with her tutor teaching her all the knowledge of the ancients. Historical Thomas Culpepper (the guy the one surviving letter is addressed to) was a young member of Henry's household; he was responsible changing the dressing of the king's leg every day. (Henry was suffering from ulcers by then, and the leg stank horribly),; Katherine only met him when she came to court. He also had a less than savoury past; he raped a woman and killed a man, which the King forgave him for. Ford's Thomas Culpepper, on the other hand, is Katherine's cousin who spent years of that Northern adolescence with her; he's a drunkard, has an explosive temper and not entirely sane, but he's utterly devoted to Katherine, and has no affair with her after her marriage. Historical Katherine came to court as Anne of Cleves' lady-in-waiting and quickly caught Henry's eyes; Ford's Katherine comes on her own initiative to London and ends up in the Lady Mary's household, not in Anne of Cleves. And so forth, and so on. Now Ford's Katherine actually is a good character in her own right; but except for the name, she has nothing to do with Katherine Howard.

I was briefly wondering why Ford didn't just write about Katherine Parr when he wanted to write about one of Henry's queens who was a scholar. (Katherine Parr even wrote and published books.) Or about Anne Boleyn (not a scholar, but definitely very well read and due to those seven years in France at least bilngual). Either of them also qualify as queens with a definite religious agenda. And then it dawned on to me: they were both reformers. Ford's Katherine Howard, otoh, is a faithful Catholic who tries to bring Henry and England back to Rome. (This is actually not outside the realm of possiblity in that most of the Howards - though not all - were religiously conservative and anti reformist; certainly Ghastly Uncle Norfolk and Bishop Gardiner were pushing the Catholic agenda during the time of Katherine's queenship. What religious opinions Katherine herself held is simply not known, one way or the other.) Ford's famously a Catholic writer, though he's too subtle to play the reiligious divide entirely black and white. Ghastly Uncle Norfolk and Gardiner are both repellent and egotastic; Katherine is quickly disillusioned with them, and they contribute to her downfall when they realise her idea of bringing the Catholic religion back also includes everyone who profited from the Dissolution giving all that money back as well. Otoh the Reformers are mainly presented as bible thumping somewhat hilarious fanatics, by Archbishop Cramner who is written an ineffectual, sometimes well meaning coward, and by Cromwell who is pro reform not for religious conviction but because it's useful as a force against France and Spain and to remodel England into an absolute monarchy.

Cromwell is also hands down the best character in the trilogy. I hadn't expected him to be around much at all, given he died on Katherine Howard's wedding day, but she doesn't agree to the marriage until the end of volume II, so for the first two volumes he's not just around but the main antagonist. This is Cromwell as a villain, but hands down the most entertaining villain!Cromwell I've yet encountered either on the page or on screen. He's also quite plausible (minus those 700 spies he commands - did someone do a headcount or where did they get that number from?). The fun kind of villain, smart, gregarious, very affable (when he's around, even people who loathe him, including our heroine, find him oddly compelling), and like Mantel's Cromwell a modern man in a world decidedly unmodern he's trying to transform, only in Ford's universe this is not a good thing, but a bad one. (He's not just anti modernist here; inventing the absolute monarchy, what Cromwell calls kingcraft, has an obvious downside. Not only if your monarch is Henry VIII.) He almost reaches Worthy Opponent territory, and when he does fall, Katherine never stops to regret that he's charged with treason because she knows he's innocent of that charge, and wanted him to fall for the right reasons (i.e. lots of dead and ruined people), in a just trial. Henry to this says the Tudor equivalent of "you sweet summer child". Anyway, Cromwell and Katherine in this trilogy are the two characters who truly have world changing ambitions - she wants to turn England back to the idealised place she imagines it was pre-Anne Boleyn, he wants to turn England into a modern dictatorship, essentially, with everyine functioning as a cog in the wheel - as opposed to everyone else, who isn't in it for the big picture but more for what they personally can get, or in Mary Tudor's case for vengeance on her father for all he's done to her and her mother. (Mary, btw, is also a plausible interpretation on the woman, though not mine, and she has some excellent scenes with Katherine and with not so dear old dad.) They're the two visionaries, and you get the sense that Ford is really really sorry he can't do what the Spanish Chronicle did and keep Cromwell around longer, making him into the one who brings Katherine down. Reluctantly, he does kill him off on schedule but not before Cromwell hands over his very own copy of Il Principe by Machiavelli to Cramner's sidekick Lascelles and tells him to keep up the good work; Lascelles in the third volume becomes the character mainly responsible for providing the testimonies against Katherine. (Which in the Ford-verse are false or falsified.)

However, the ultimate responsibility comes down to Henry himself, and this is something very well foreshadowed in the first volume where Katherine starts by seeing him as misled by evil advisors and as basically a pitiable bottle of emotions, and at the end has to realise he cold bloodedly planned and executed the main intrigue of the novel. In direct contrast to the scene usually in every telling of the Katheirne Howard story - Katherine, about to be arrested, tries to reach Henry on the great gallery of Hampton Court and fails, her screams providing today's tourist guides with a ghost, here Katherine's final confrontation with Henry is quiet and seething, yet dignified, on her side as by that point she's thoroughly disillusioned and rips him a new one with an absolutely scathing speech, which includes the information that she'd rather die than be with him any longer (that's where Ford uses the "I die a queen but I would rather have died the wife of Thomas Culpepper" legend of Spanish Chronicle fame). It's Henry who runs and screams after her.

On the one hand, this is emotionally satisfying. Ford isn't the only fictionalizer of the Tudor saga who gives in to the temptation of letting one of Henry's wives tell Henry just what she and a good deal of posterity think of him. (Maxwell Anderson's Anne Boleyn in Anne of the Thousand Days does it twice, once early in the play when he first makes a pass and she actually means her No, emphatically so, making her point by declaring: "I've heard what your courtiers say and I've seen what you are. You're spoiled and vengeful and bloody. Your poetry is sour and your music is worse. You make love as you eat with a good deal of noise and no subtlety." And the other time in the Tower, in a fictional encounter, the "Elizabeth shall be queen" speech you'll find on Youtube.) On the other hand, it, like any of the Katherine scenes in the Fifth Queen trilogy brings me back to the essential problem I have. Now Katherine Howard in Tudor fiction usually comes across in one of two variations: either she's a good natured stupid good time girl, or she's a bad natured stupid good time girl. (Mean girl Katherines are rarer, but they exist, including the Cat in Katherine Longshore's novel Gilt who feels like she's directly ripped off Philippa Gregory's Anne Boleyn, as a manipulative selfish monster to contrast with the saintly exploited heroine.) I would have welcomed a take on Katherine Howard which offers a third interpretation! If it had been provided in a way that makes me believe the character as Katherine Howard. Instead, it feels as if the author in order to write her as "good" felt he had to take away everything not compatible with a laterday Saint Joan, including her love of dancing and dresses, or her lack of education compared to Henry's previous (and subsequent) wives or her early sexual experiences (if you want to use a neutral term for what really sounds like abuse at least in the Manox case - Franices Dereham when she was a bit older sounds more consentual), when the fact that subsequently Henry had parliament pass a law that made it high treason for any woman marrying the king to NOT tell him her entire sexual history within 20 days says so much about Henry (not Katherine). It doesn't make me feel that Ford is defending Katherine Howard. It makes me feel Ford looked at Katherine Howard, found her unworthy to be a lkeable heroine, and replaced her by a completely different character, and so joined the ranks of her judges.

(Though at least I have a suspicion as to why he changed Katherine so thoroughly. I'm a bit mystified about what he did with Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford. Instead of being Anne's thirty something sister-in-law, she's Anne's really old cousin with a wrinkly face, white hair and gout, barely able to move and eternally frightend by her cousin (not sister-in-law) Anne Boleyn's fate. She's also supposedly in charge of Mary Tudor's household but in reality incapable of handling Mary's wilful ladies who run circles around her. Katherine later, when becoming Queen, takes her into her own household because she feels sorry for the old dear. When her enemies try to set her and Culpepper up by planting a drunken Culpepper in her rooms so the King can catch them, Katherine, thinking quickly, tells old Lady Rochford to stay because that way she'll be able to prove she was never alone with Thomas Culpepper. (Who is her cousin. In conclusion, cousins.) Which is about the most original explanation for the Katherine Howard - Thomas Culpepper - Lady Rochford situation I've ever encountered. Now on the one hand, this makes Ford's Lady Rochford a rarity - a non villainous Jane Rochford written before Julia Foxe's biography came out. On the other hand, ????? How on earth did Ford even get this idea, based on just about any source he could have had? Where does Grandma!Rochford come from?) (There's also an old knight Rochford, a good guy, no Boleyn relation, who marries one of Mary's maids just for extra confusion, so there are two Lady Rochfords about. The other one is called Celia.)

All this being said? These are still three fascinating books. And while Ford's Katherine is essentially a tragic saint, he also has a sense of humor about her; Katherine's early frustration when everyone in the Lady Mary's household thinks she must be Cromwell's spy (which Cromwell totally has counted on, which was why he was very obvious about planting her there), with her every protest only confirming everyone's conviction that she must be working for him, is a case in point. And his entertaining Machiavellian Cromwell is just what you need if Mantel's Flawless Cromwell has grown a bit too much. Finally, as mentioned: it's always emotionally satisfying to have one of the wives give Henry a "the reason you suck" speech. You can download all three books for free at Gutenberg.
Some weeks ago when we briefly talked about a modernisation of the Tudor tales in the comments, one thing tat came up is how hard it is to put someone like Henry VIII. in a present day setting and still let the story play out the same way - not only because killing your wives lands you in jail these days (yes, unless you're very rich and privileged and have a good lawyer, but you still haven't got the same kind of ultimate social power Henry had over his wives), but also because divorce is more easily obtainable, the stakes in religion aren't there anymore (for both sides), wanting a man who bullies his first wife and daughter the way Henry did also reflects differently on a modern day second wife, and so forth.

But brushing up on my fictionalized Tudors and contemporaries also reminded that even within his own historical context, Henry is a tricky one to present in a a believable, plausible way. Not coincidentally is this managed most effectively by Sansom in the Shardlake series, where Henry is off stage for all but two books, and even in those has only short (but highly memorable) appearances; the effects of his reign on both fictional and real people of all classes are what interests the author (and those results in turn do of course reflect on who Henry was). THat's something you can do in a series of mysteries starring a fictional detective, but if a novel focuses on someone in Henry's reign who by defnition has a lot of interaction with the king - be it a wife or a key government official like Cromwell - , you don't have that luxury. (Although Hilary Mantel also keeps Henry off stage as much as she can.) Now, you can always take the Charles Dickens approach; Dickens, gifted wordsmith that he was, called Henry "blot of blood and grease upon the History of England", and the phrase certainly has merit, but if you do Henry-as-ogre and aren't writing about the later wives, who had little choice in marrying him (women turning Henry VIII. down did so from the safety from abroad, like Christina of Milan who supposedly said she'd marry him, if she had two heads), you have the problem that not only did wives 2 and 3 go to some effort to get married to him, but wife 1, ill treated as she was, wrote from her deathbed "mine eyes desire to see you above all things" and kept blaming anyone but Henry for what had happened (Wolsey/ Anne Boleyn/ Cromwell were misleading him!). Now of course you can write a Katherine of Aragon who wants to keep the position of queenship, not Henry himself, and a Anne Boleyn who never cared for anything but, with Ogre!Henry being the unappetizing means to get/keep said queenship. But it's just not very satisfying dramatically to see strong-willed, intelligent women interact with an evil buffoon all the time.

There have been Henry-friendly fictional presentations, of course, but these usually either take Katherine of Aragon's approach and present him as mislead/corrupted by *insert character of choice* and originally a golden boy, or they heavily edit out actions that are less well known than the rolling heads but no less difficult to stomach. Take his reaction to Katherine of Aragon's death. Which was very similar indeed to his reaction later to Anne Boleyn's death, only with Anne the Anne-hostile fiction usually takes the out of declaring her guilty of everything she was ever accused of. (Margaret George does this in "The Memoirs of Henry VIIII", and the movie - though not the series - "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" does it as well.) Whereas with Katherine of Aragon it's hard to present her as a villain (even Protestant chroniclers in Elizabeth'S time didn't try); there's no way of getting around that this was a woman Henry was married with for decades, who was not only a dutiful and affection queen consort but also ruled England in Henry's absence for a while, managing to beat the Scots while he was losing against the French, so you'd think at the very least he'd be capable of showing some respect once she was gone (and thus no longer an obstacle who refused to acknowledge the annulment). But how did Henry react? According to Imperial Ambassador Chapuys, he did this:

"You could not conceive the joy that the King and those who favour this concubinage have shown at the death of the good queen, especially the earl of Wiltshire and his son, who said it was a pity the Princess [Mary] did not keep company with her. The King, on the Saturday he heart the news, exclaimed “God be praised that we are free from all suspicion of war”; and that the time had come that he would manage the French better than he had done hitherto, because they would do now whatever he wanted from a fear lest he should ally himself again with your Majesty, seeing that the cause which disturbed your friendship was gone. On the following Sunday, the King was clad all over in yellow, from top to toe, except the white feather he had in his bonnet, and the Little Bastard [Elizabeth] was conducted to Mass with trumpets and other great triumphs. After dinner the King entered the room in which the ladies danced, and there did several things like one transported with joy. At last he sent for his Little Bastard, and carrying her in his arms he showed her first to one and then to another. He has done the like on other days since, and has run some courses at Greenwich."

If you'rve read or watched a few fictionalizations of the Henry & wives saga, you may remember this - only with Anne, not Henry, as the yellow-wearer and celebrating party thrower. Here is a fascinating account on how first the emphasis, then the entire blame got shifted from Henry to Anne through the centuries. Even Anne friendly fictionalisations tend to give her the "let's dress up in yellow and party" idea, if for no other reason than that Anne gloating over the death of her rival (which would actually signal the beginning of her end as well) is easier to stomach and explain than Henry in jubilant mood. (As he would be again once it was Anne's turn. Writes Chapuys: "Although everybody rejoices at the execution of the whore there are some who murmur at the mode of procedure against her and the others, and people speak variously of the king; and it will not pacify the world when it is known what has passed and is passing between him and Jane Seymour. Already it sounds ill in the ears of the people, that the king, having received such ignominy, has shown himself more glad than ever since the arrest of the whore; for he has been going about banqueting with ladies, sometimes remaining after midnight, and returning by the river. Most of the time he was accompanied by various musical instruments, and, on the other hand, by the singers of his chamber, hich state of things was by many a one compared to the joy and pleasure a man feels in getting rid of a thin, old, and vicious hack in the hope of getting soon a fine horse to ride—a very peculiarly agreeable task for this king."

(Chapuys also has a great cynical line in his report about the aftermath of Katherine Howard's death, when Henry wasn't in a partying mood but grieving - not for Katherine, for himself, because he was betrayed etc.. He said of course Henry was sad, since this was the first time he lost a wife without having a replacement lined up already.)

It's this unabashed gloating about two dead women that makes fictionalizers who try to make him into someone more than a complete monster balk; it's usually replaced with at least some secret tears for Katherine of Aragon (as in The Tudors), chewing out of Anne for wearing yellow (how dare she? He himself is of course dressed in black!), and some signs of contemplation and gloom before and during Anne's execution("Anne of the Thousand Days") even if he heads towards Jane Seymour in the next scene. (Incidentally, since Thomas Cromwell's execution was followed by Henry marrying Katherine Howard immediately after, it was party time then as well.) Not to mention that fictional more dimensional Henries usually have some regret later on for a least one of the dead wives (other than Jane Seymour, whom documented Henry did express grief for; considering she was the one who delivered the longed for boy, this is not surprising). Now I could be wrong, but as far as I know Henry VIII. never expressed regret about any women he had destroyed; his few documented regrets about his own victims were all reserved for men. Both Wolsey and Cromwell had the dubious honor of having Henry loudly regret their demise a few weeks later, calling them "most faithful servants" and what not. Considering both Wolsey and Cromwell were workhorses and workoholics, and Henry never, post-Cromwell, found an official with the same capacity again, instead dispensing Cromwell's various tasks on different courtiers, more than one historian concluded the regret was entirely practical in nature. (Arguably the sole candidate for "person whom Henry had great affection for, never lost his affection for, and who died in bed decades later" is a man as well, Charles Brandon, Henry's best friend and brother-in-law.)

So, what did anyone see in this guy, other than his crown? Was it all just court flattery from the beginning? Chances are he did have charisma; he was the spare, not the heir while growing up, but managed to impress ambassadors and Londoners alike more than his older brother Arthur did. Of course, once Arthur was dead and he WAS the heir, there was plenty of hope invested in him, and he got a lot of credit from the start for not being his father but a young, handsome prince who people could believe would start a new age. He loved music enough to dabble in it with at least one evergreen as the result (bad pun intended), he loved books and poetry (and the people who produced both), he seems to have had an easy-going manner (again, a contrast to his father), he jousted well and before his weight explosion certainly looked the part of a dazzling athletic king; and when you were in his favour, no matter in which capacity, he comes across as singlemindedly focused. (Not just in the romantic sense. Despite the wish for male heirs, Mary, as a little girl, was made much off by her father and called his pearl; of course, that made the contrast later all the crueler.) But while undoubtedly Henry's temper got worse as he aged (that ulcer in his leg post tournament fall which soon had to be dressed daily didn't help), I can't buy into Henries who start out innocent, so to speak. Henry at age 18 started his reign by locking up his father's two chief taxmen and having them executed for treason in a naked bit of popularity. Which worked. Everyone hated the guys whom Henry VII.'s extortionist tax policies were blamed on. What everyone was prepared to overlook was that it was judical murder, because not only did these men simply do what they had been tasked to do by the king (which, before anyone says "Nuremberg!" , did not include murder), but they definitely didn't commit treason. But he had a false accusation drawn up and had them killed because it suited him, just as years later it would suit him for wives and ministers alike.

It's not surprising that most fictional Henries focus on only some of these aspects. As far as screen representations are concerned, the earliest really memorable one is Charles Laughton in The Private Life of Henry VIII. - this is Henry as party animal, alright, Bluff King Hal, and Laughton is probably the first and last actor playing Henry VIII in a film where Henry has a central role who actually has the weight of at least middle years Henry (late Henry was something else again), which is especially a glaring contrast to the screen Henries of the last two decades who, no matter when in his life the story is set, are studly hunks. However, the film is mostly a comedy (despite opening with the death of Anne Boleyn and focusing on Katherine Howard), with the key scene and later often quoted set piece the Anne of Cleves sequence in which Laughton and his wife, Elsa Lanchester (who playes Anne of Clevers) show their superb comic timing together. It never tries to get the chilling people destroyer part of Henry across. (Charles Laughton reprised Henry VIII. later in "Young Bess" - with Jean Simmons as Elizabeth - and there despite Henry only getting a few minutes of screen time you do get the chilling part; there's a highly effective scene where he strokes Katherine Parr's cheek in just the same way he stroked Katherine Howard's, and young Elizabeth, who remembers the gesture, gets the full implication when she watches.) Other memorable Henries include Keith Mitchell (twice), who played him in the BBC series "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" and in the film of the same name, and while he captures Henry's intelligence and cold ruthlessness (in the series, though not the film, which whitewashes Henry as much as it can), the party animal aspect is gone. Richard Burton in Anne of the Thousand Days had a script that allowed for a lot of aspects (relaxing with courtiers, spoiled monarch incredulous at being told no, obsessed lover, killer), and Burton had enough of his own charisma to make one of the central conceits of the play believable (that Anne, despite all good intentions ot the contrary - originally, she's after the power - and despite being warned by her sister that Henry only loves what he can't have, eventually does fall in love with Henry, which is of course the very moment he starts to fall out of love with her). But you can't see his Henry arguing theology or seriously believing himself the instrument of god, whereas Mitchell's Henry would. As far as the latest screen Henries are concerned, as mentioned they share the trait of being studly (I'm sure Henry VIII would have loved this type of presentation! Otoh, he would be incredibly offended that at least two laterday screen Henries also are rapists - of the many, many things you can blame Henry VIII. for, this really isn't one, and given the almost seven years it took him to have sex with Anne Boleyn, one can argue it's severely ooc). They also tend to be brooders (at least Henry's tendency for self pity is captured), but other than the sex scenes, the party animal aspect which Laughton started the memorable screen Henries with is almost gone. And they definitely are easily led by *insert character*. (One thing about Jonathan Rhys Meyer, though he's the most notorious about the studly, mysteriously thin remaining - until the last possible moment - Henries: The Tudors ultimately held Henry himself responsible for the gruesomeness. And despite JRM always looking wrong, there were at least two scenes where I could believe he was playing Henry VIII.; one at the end of season 2, when he ate the swans he'd been observing through the episode, partying just after Anne's execution, and one in season 4, when he saw Charles Brandon the last time, knew they were both very ill, but declared he'd use the healing power of the king's touch to cure CB, which is just such a Henry VIIII. thing to do.) The newest Henry, Damian Lewis in Wolf Hall, goes from easy going and, as the tv critics called it, hen-pecked to absolutely chilling in the last episode with only a few scenes, but the story he's in blames Anne for such a lot before the last episode that it still feels as if Henry's left off the hook.

In conclusion: I'm still waiting for the ultimate, definitive fictional Henry.
selenak: (Young Elizabeth by Misbegotten)
( Mar. 4th, 2015 08:20 am)
No more Agent Carter this week, woe. Also, no Midwives for me, due to, err, technical problems. So, have some Tudor history links, both of the lighthearted and the serious type.

The Head that Launched a Thousand Books is a great site about all Anne Boleyn centric fiction, from obscure 17th century French novels to current day bestsellers, and best of all, it has a sense of humor about it. (Which isn't true of many history related websites.) A great example is this post:

Support group for maligned queens: Henry VIII edition, in which all six of Henry's wives have a witty go at their presentation by novelists.

In a similar vein, from a different blogger and author, here are the hilarious Fifteen Aids to Grey, aka Rules for Writing About Lady Jane Grey. (You'd think Jane Grey, aka the Nine-Day-Queen, had a tragic enough fate in real life, what with being executed at age 16, but fiction has tried its best to make it worse, and this post has a well deserved go at some of the most favourite clichés, puncturing them.

Same blogger, different queen:

Jane Seymour's Christmas 1536 Newsletter. ("Marriage was a big adjustment for both of us (well, maybe not so much for Harry), but I’m happy to report that both of us are settling in now.")

Now, after the parodies, a serious link:

The man who died with Cromwell: no, I hadn't known he wasn't executed on his own, either. Nor did I know that the guy in question, Sir Walter Hungerford, had been charged with ""the abominable and detestable vice and sin of buggery" according to the Buggery Act (which had been sponsored by none other than Thomas Cromwell himself, and passed by Parliament in 1533; this certainly didn't make it into Wolf Hall, either book or tv, either). Hungerford seems to have had a nervous breakdown en route to the scaffold, and Cromwell, about to die (horribly) himself, was kind enough to calm him down and comfort him, which speaks well of Cromwell in his last hour of life. (Mind you, given that Hungerford then had to watch the incompetent executioner making a butchery out of Cromwell's execution, I doubt Hungerford managed to stay calm and comforted.
Now I've watched the last episode, which I thought condensed the second part of the novel it's based on, Bring Up The Bodies, well and contained good acting. Historically, err, welllll, more about that in a moment. What I was most curious about in the tv version was how they would handle something the novel did, and the theatre plays based on it didn't, not least because I couldn't see anyway to do it in a visual medium without letting Mantel's Cromwell do something utterly OOC for him and speak these thoughts out loud. The theatre version of Mantel's two Cromwell novels does what Bring Up The Bodies the novel doesn't, it ends on a note of triumph (Theatre!Cromwell gets to square off against an intimidated Stephen Gardiner). What the novel does is different. After having build a case against Anne and her supposed lovers based on nothing but gossip and innuendo, and inventing thought crime while he was at it (one exchange between Norris and Cromwell the tv version leaves out), Cromwell suddenly starts to wonder about his own late, much mourned and missed wife. How does he know she was faithful? That his daughters were his daughters? And the thought can no longer be unthought. The memories he cherishes, which gave him strength, are now tainted. It's the start of karmic retribution, but since it's all happening in Cromwell's head, and he really would not talk of this to anyone, you can't invent a dialogue to get it across. The tv series doesn't do voice overs. So, would it go like the play for triumph instead?

As it turns out, it didn't. Nor did it find a way to get Cromwell's mind applying what he did to his own memories across. But it does come up with something else, which turns out to be a absolutely brilliant ending and sublime foreshadowing, and since it's unique to the tv version, I will cut for this one ).

Now for the comparisons of tv show versus history. As I expected, and as the novel had done, they cut Anne's speech at her trial (which you can read here), but unlike the novel, they reinstalled Anne's scaffold speech. (Hilary Mantel deprived Anne of both speeches, just as her More doesn't get to say any of the things he did at his execution, either. Though Anne's execution is still a moment of pathos in her novel - Cromwell thinking/murmuring "put down your arm" is in both.) They even found a way to include one of the key sentences of the novel - "He needed guilty men, and so he chose men who were guilty, if not necessarily as charged" by letting Cromwell say it to Henry Norris in the first person. Both novel and tv show, however, make it look at least likely some adultery happened, which is historically highly questionable (because the court case was really lousy, see last entry on this; no one but Mark Smeaton - the only commoner, and hence the only one who could be threatened with torture - ever confessed, and none of the accused was ever confronted with witnesses testifying against them). Of course, neither the book's nor the novel's Cromwell really care whether or not it happened; his choice of these particular five men to die with Anne is due to them participating in the masque mocking his patron and father figure, Cardinal Wolsey, after Wolsey's death.

This is one of Hilay Mantel's key inventions in the entire Cromwell saga. The "Cardinal Wolsey goes to hell" masque did happen; it was commissioned and paid for by Thomas Boleyn (stay classy, Thomas!), at this point Earl of Wiltshire, and his brother-in-law the Duke of Norfolk and staged at Thomas Boleyn's house at a dinner for the new French Ambassador. How do we know this? Because Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial Ambassador, mentioned it in one of his dispatches. Quoth he:

“Some time ago the Earl of Wiltshire invited to supper Monsieur de la Guiche, for whose amusement he caused a farce to be acted of the Cardinal (Wolsey) going down to Hell; for which La Guiche much blamed the Earl, and still more the Duke for his ordering the said farce to be printed. They have been ever since [Jocquin’s departure] entertaining the said gentleman most splendidly, and making the most of him on every occasion, and yet I am told that however well treated by them he still says very openly what he thinks of them, and laughs at their eccentricities in matters of government and administration.”

In other words, Daddy Boleyn and Ghastly Uncle Norfolk wanted to impress upon the French Ambassador that now that the Cardinal was dead, they were the go-to men at the English court, and he wasn't impressed at all. Note who isn't mentioned as being present on that occasion? Henry VIII. and Anne Boleyn. (And you can bet that Chapuys would have mentioned it if they had been; he would have reported it as eagerly as he reported Henry's river parties during Anne's trial and execution, or Anne wearing yellow when Katherine of Aragon died.) Guess who also wasn't there? Norris, Weston, Bereton and Smeaton. George Boleyn may have been, but it's very unlikely he'd have been one of the participants; that's what his father hired professionals for.

Now it's pretty obvious why Mantel invented this and why the tv show kept it. Least of all because it's visual (which it is), but it gives Cromwell an understandable 21st century type of motive against these five particular men, in addition to political expediency. (In fairness, Mantel and the tv show also bring up a genuine historical motive for Cromwell re: Bereton, the later's hanging of one of Cromwell's men. But that's not mentioned on the tv show before or after, so the "avenging the Cardinal" motive still prevails.) Revenge for Wolsey is this, but when Mantel plotted the novels, it must have occured to her it's tricky to justify especially for Henry Norris, because historical Henry Norris, far from having been mean to the Cardinal during the later's fall, is actually on the record for his kindness towards Wolsey. For this, the witness is none other than George Cavendish (who shows up as a character in Mantel's novels and in the tv show - he's the guy wo spots Cromwell crying in the first episode and whom Cromwell tells at the end that God won't have to avenge the Cardinal, he will), whose Life of Wolsey Mantel names as one of her key sources at the end of Wolf Hall. It’s Norris whom Cavendish shows us bringing Wolsey the King’s ring as a sign of continued favour (and to whom Wolsey gave his piece of the True Cross by way of thanks) and earlier, it was “Gentle Norris” who saw to it that the displaced and out of favour Wolsey had a place to stay. Cavendish reports that when the papal legate, Campeggio (aka the one who DIDN'T give Henry his annulment), was on his way to King Henry to take his leave, travelling together with Wolsey, per royal order Wolsey was humiliated by not being given rooms while Campeggio did. At which point:

"And by way as he was going, it was told him that he had no lodging appointed for him in the court. And therewith astonished, Sir Harry Norris, groom of the stool with the King, came unto him (but whether it was by the King’s commandment I know not) and most humbly offered him his chamber for the time, until another might somewhere be provided for him. “For, sir, I assure you,” quoth he, “here is very little room in this house, scantly sufficient for the King; therefore I beseech your grace to accept mine for the season.” Whom my lord thanked for his gentle offer, and went straight to his chamber."

Good on Henry Norris. (Who seems to have been a stand-up guy otherwise, too. The tv show hints at something which it doesn't show,and which actually happened, that Henry VIII. after having been informed by Cromwell's men of Mark Smeaton's "confession" had Henry Norris, who was a firm favourite with him, accompany him and asked him point blank for confirmation of these stories. Possibly a deal was offered; Cavendish thinks so, but Cavendish had left the court at this point and thus, as opposed to the Wolsey tales, is no longer an eye account witness. At any rate, Norris refused to confess and confirm and went to his death proclaiming Anne's innocence.) But you can see the problem for Hilary Mantel in having to present THIS man as being mean enough to the Cardinal to justify Cromwell putting him on his hit list. And thus "Gentle Norris" becomes Dragging-the-Cardinal-to-Hell Norris.

Now book and tv show, like 90% of Tudor novels, present Anne's sister-in-law Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, as the source of the incest accusation against her husband and Anne, and as a primary source of the "Anne has lovers!" stories, full stop, and presents her as having a catastrophcally bad relationship with her sister-in-law, who bullies her, and with her husband. Hilary Mantel in the tv show are in a firm tradition here; because it was the universal depiction, I had never questioned it myself until Julia Fox in 2006 presented her Jane Boleyn biography which among many other things unearthed the interesting facts that no contempory source names Jane as the source of the incest and other adulteries charge, or depicts her relationship with Anne as bad, or with George. Says Fox: "And, significantly, two contemporaries, John Husee and Justice Spelman (who was on the bench at Anne’s trial) named two different women entirely. John Husee felt information had come from the Countess of Worcester; Spelman said it came from Lady Wingfield. One man, or both, clearly had it muddled, but neither mentioned Jane." The very popular story that at her own execution eight years later, Jane declared she'd falsely testified against her sister-in-law and husband out of jealousy, has no contemporary source, either. She definitely didn't profit form her actions; since George Boleyn was executed as a traitor, his lands and other sources of income reverted to the crown. (Jane Boleyn had to write a begging letter to Cromwell to get him to help her compell her father-in-law for some money; that letter still exists, and makes no mention of Cromwell owing her anything, which you'd think it would if she'd been his key informant.) (BTW this wasn't the first time Cromwell was begged to help getting Thomas Boleyn cough up some cash for an income-less female relation. Mary Boleyn, cut off by her father for marrying commoner William Stafford some years earlier, did the same thing, and that letter is about the only document allowing for a glimpse at Mary Boleyn's personality that we have.) Fox makes her case for Jane in condensed form in this post, if you're interested.

(Since 2006, a few non-villainous Jane Boleyns have showed up in fiction; in Howard Brenton's play Anne Boleyn, she is presented as Anne's friend instead of her enemy and is bullied by Cromwell into a panicked testimony. Even Julia Fox doesn't claim she never told Cromwell anything at all, because there is one thing we know she did say, which is brought up at George's trial, according to Chapuys: "I must not omit that among other things charged against him as a crime was, that his sister had told his wife that the king was impotent. This he was not openly charged with, but it was shown him in writing, with a warning not to repeat it. But he immediately declared the matter, in great contempt of Cromwell and some others, saying he would not in this point arouse any suspicion which might prejudice the king's issue." (Note the tv show and Mantel's book make two changes here: instead of Anne making that indiscreet remark about Henry not getting it up to her sister-in-law (which btw implies the two women must have gotten along), who tells her husband (George), George is asked whether Anne told him this directly. The other change is that the tv show, like the novel, lets him panic after having read it out loud, whereas Chapuys' first hand account lets him - after reading it out loud (I guess George at this point must have known he'd die anyway and must have thought, fuck you, Henry) - remark "in great contempt of Cromwell" (not in a panic) that he wouldn't have spread such gossip since it obviously casts doubt on the paternity of the king's (and his sister's) children.)

Anyway, in the end we don't know much about Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, other than her involvement in Catherine Howard's fate a few years later, which as opposed to her role (or lack of a role) in Anne Boleyn's fate is better documented. That one makes her look none too bright at the very best (covering for a girl married to Henry VIII. when she's meeting a young man when you're an experienced courtier and have better reason than most to recall what happened the last time a Queen was accused of adultery is nothing short of suicidal, surely), but it doesn't say anything, one way or the other, about what she did and didn't do during her sister-in-law's fall. Her role in the tv version is convenient - it means Ladies Worcester and Wingfield don't have to be introduced and given motive for informing on Anne (Hilary Mantel does include Lady Worcester at least, in the novel) -, but it does a bit more than just follow the Evil Lady Rochford tradition; it also, by letting her approach Cromwell as opposed to the other way around, absolves him of coming up wiith the adultery & incest tales to begin with; they're given to him on a silver tablet. Before that, Jane also serves for yet another occasion to present Anne Boleyn as a Mean Girl (when Anne slaps her); going by the tv show and Mantel's novels, you could be forgiven if you assumed Anne Boleyn, when not "selling herself by inches" to Henry VIII., did nothing but bully her ladies-in-waiting. The justification for this on Mantel's part is that some of them informed on her for Cromwell, and therefore she must have done something to deserve their hostility. Given that most of Anne Boleyn's ladies in waiting used to be the much beloved Catherine of Aragon's ladies in waiting, and given that - as was shown by Jane's fate later with Catherine Howard - a lady-in-waiting accused of having covered up the queen's adultery risked execution herself,I don't think it needed any invented yelling and slapping on her part to explain why some of the women told Cromwell what he wanted to know. In any case, since he didn't produce any of them as witnesses at the actual trial, he either must have thought them not convincing enough, or must have struck a deal as to not embarrass them by letting them testify in public. Or maybe he remembered how the Richard Rich testimony had gone down at Thomas More's trial. As opposed to the tv show, which only shows Rich testifying and More unconvincingly denying, at the real trial after More's scathing defense speech about Rich's reliability as a witness the two other men who'd been in the room when the alleged conversation had taken place, packing up More's books, were called in, and, according to chronicler Edward Hall: therefore (Rich) caused Sir Richard Southwell, and Mr. Palmer, who were in the same Room with Sir Thomas and Mr. Rich when they conferred together, to be sworn as to the Words that passed between them. Whereupon Mr. Pal­mer deposed, what he was so busy in thrusting Sir Thomas’s Books into a Sack, that he took no notice of their Talk, And Sir R, Southwell likewise swore, that because his Business was only to take care of conveying his Books away, he gave no ear to their Discourse.

(In other words, they folded and gave the 16th century equivalent of "I did not hear nothing, guv!" Very embarrassing for Rich and Cromwell, that one had been. Imagine if a witness against Anne had similarly folded. Even with the outcome in no question, it would have displeased Henry.)

The tv show lets Anne hope until the last moment there will be a reprieve, that her husband will be merciful. The novel has Cromwell wonder whether she hopes for this but doesn't make it a certainty. The actual records, due to the Governor of the Tower, Kingston, writing down everything Anne said and reporting it to Cromwell, present her resigned to her fate at this point. (She still had hope early on but certainly not anymore after the five men were executed.) Since this was tested by the French executioner being delayed, which must have meant another day and night of nerve wrecking (she was ready to go when Kingston had to tell her, twice, that there was a delay), her self composure really must have been remarkable. In the tv show, she's barely holding it together. Which I think is meant as sympathy inducing - Anne for most of the tale is presented relentlessly as unsympathetic, so making her very vulnerable at the end is a counterpoint - but still doesn't fit with the woman "brave as a lion" (historical Cromwell on her behavior) in the face of her own death, even in extremis. So I conclude with the report Kingston made to Cromwell on that extra day Anne got due to the executioner's delay:

This morning she sent for me, that I might be with her at such time as she received the good Lord, to the intent I should hear her speak as touching her innocence always to be clear. And in the writing of this she sent for me, and at my coming she said, "Mr. Kingston, I hear I shall not die afore noon, and I am very sorry therefore, for I thought to be dead by this time and past my pain ". I told her it should be no pain, it was so little. And then she said, "I heard say the executioner was very good, and I have a little neck", and then put her hands about it, laughing heartily. I have seen many men and also women executed, and that they have been in great sorrow, and to my knowledge this lady has much joy in death. Sir, her almoner is continually with her, and had been since two o'clock after midnight.
selenak: (Elizabeth - shadows in shadows by Poison)
( Feb. 24th, 2015 02:45 pm)
This week in Wolf Hall, it's - historical spoiler omg! - Anne Boleyn's turn to die. Since Bring up the Bodies, the novel on which the last two episodes are based, doesn't include either Anne's speech at her trial nor her scaffold speech (as with More's cut utterings, I suspect this is because they don't fit with the author's concept of the character), I thought I might as well at least one of them here: whatever you think of Anne Boleyn, they show her bravery and eloquence. (Elizabeth clearly didn't inherit it all from the Tudor side of the family.) This is what she said after she'd been condemmed to death:

"My lords, I do not say that my opinion ought to be preferred to your judgement; but if you have reasons to justify it, they must be other than those which have been produced in court, for I am wholly innocent of all matters of which I have been accused, so that I cannot call upon God to pardon me.

I have always been faithful to the King my lord; but perhaps I have not always shown to him such a perfect humility and reverence as his graciousness and courtesy deserved, and the honour he hath done me required. I confess that I have often had jealous fantasies against him which I had not wisdom or strength to repress. But God knows that I have not otherwise trespassed against him.

Do not think I say this in the hope of prolonging my life, for He who saveth from death has taught me how to die, and will strengthen my faith.

Think not, however, that I am so bewildered in mind that I do not care to vindicate my innocence. I knew that it would avail me little to defend it at the last moment if I had not maintained it all my life long, as much as ever Queen did. Still the last words out of my mouth shall justify my honour.

As for my brother and the other gentlemen who are unjustly condemned, I would willingly die to save them; but as that is not the King's pleasure, I shall accompany them in death. And then Afterwards, I shall live in eternal peace and joy without end, where I shall pray to God for the King and for you, my lords.

The judge of all the world, in whom abounds justice and truth knows all, and through His love I beseech that He will have compassion on those who have condemned me to this death."

So was Anne guilty or innocent? You still get passionate debates, and this was the case even with her contemporaries. Anne was never popular (mostly due to Katherine of Aragon having been beloved), but the Lord Mayor of London, who attended her trial, went on record with: I could not observe anything in the proceedings against her, but that they were resolved to make an occasion to get rid of her at any price.

Even the Imperial Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, Katherine's loyal champion who hated and despised Anne, was impressed by George's and Anne's behaviour during their respective trials and executions, and by contrast distinctly unimpressed by Henry's (and by the way the trials had been conducted). His account of Anne's - and her supposed lovers' - trials and deaths is among the most vivid, and coming from a hostile witness, all the more valuable:

"Master Norris, the king's chief butler, Master Weston who used to lie with the king, Master Brereton gentleman of the chamber, and the groom of whom I wrote to your majesty by my man, were all condemned as traitors. Only the groom confessed that he had been three times with the said whore and concubine. The others were condemned upon presumption and certain indications, without valid proof or confession.

The concubine and her brother were condemned for treason by all the principal lords of England, and the duke of Norfolk pronounced sentence. I am told the earl of Wiltshire was quite as ready to assist at the judgement as he had done at the condemnation of the other four. Neither the whore nor her brother was brought to Westminster like the other criminals. They were condemned within the Tower of London, but the thing was not done secretly, for there were more than 2,000 persons present. What she was principally charged with was having cohabited with her brother and other accomplices; that there was a promise between her and Norris to marry after the king's death, which it thus appeared they hoped for; and that she had received and given to Norris certain medals, which might be interpreted to mean that she had poisoned the late queen, and intrigued to do the same to the princess. These things she totally denied and gave to each a plausible answer. Yet she confessed she had given money to Weston, as she had often done to other young gentlemen. She was also charged, and her brother likewise, with having laughed at the king and his dress, and that she showed in various ways she did not love the king, but was tired of him. Her brother was charged with having cohabited with her by presumption, because he had once been found a long time with her, and with certain other little follies. To all he replied so well that several of those present wagered 10 to 1 that he would be acquitted, especially as no witnesses were produced against either him or her, as it is usual to do, particularly when the accused denies the charge.

I must not omit that among other things charged against him as a crime was, that his sister had told his wife that the king was impotent. This he was not openly charged with, but it was shown him in writing, with a warning not to repeat it. But he immediately declared the matter, in great contempt of Cromwell and some others, saying he would not in this point arouse any suspicion which might prejudice the king's issue. He was also charged with having spread reports which called in question whether his sister's daughter was the king's child. To which he made no reply. They were judged separately and did not see each other. The concubine was condemned first, and having heard the sentence, which was to be burnt or beheaded at the king's pleasure, she preserved her composure, saying that she held herself ready to greet death and that what she regretted most was that the above persons, who were innocent and loyal to the king, were to die for her. She only asked a short time for confession.

Although everybody rejoices at the execution of the whore there are some who murmur at the mode of procedure against her and the others, and people speak variously of the king; and it will not pacify the world when it is known what has passed and is passing between him and Jane Seymour. Already it sounds ill in the ears of the people, that the king, having received such ignominy, has shown himself more glad than ever since the arrest of the whore; for he has been going about banqueting with ladies, sometimes remaining after midnight, and returning by the river. Most of the time he was accompanied by various musical instruments, and, on the other hand, by the singers of his chamber, hich state of things was by many a one compared to the joy and pleasure a man feels in getting rid of a thin, old, and vicious hack in the hope of getting soon a fine horse to ride—a very peculiarly agreeable task for this king. He supped lately with several ladies in the house of the bishop of Carlisle, and showed an extravagant joy, as the said bishop came to tell me next morning, who reported moreover that the king had said to him, among other things, that he had long expected the issue of these affairs, and that thereupon he had before composed a tragedy, which he carried with him; and so saying the king drew from his bosom a little book written in his own hand, but the bishop did not read the contents. It may have been certain ballads that the king had composed, at which the whore and her brother laughed as as foolish things, which was objected to them as a great crime."

(BTW: making fun of Henry's song writing = death sentence. Here's artistic sensibility for you!)

Thomas Crammer, one of the few contemporaries who was fond of Anne Boleyn - she'd been his patron and ally in the reform cause, after all, and unlike Cromwell, he hadn't had a falling out with her - wrote to Henry VIII, carefully not to offend him but still making his disbelief clear: And if it be true, that is openly reported of the queen’s grace, if men had a right estimation of things, they should not esteem any part of your grace’s honour to be touched thereby, but her honour only to be clearly disparaged. And I am in such a perplexity, that my mind is clean amazed: for I never had better opinion in woman, than I had in her; which maketh me to think, that she should not be culpable. And again, I think your highness would not have gone so far, except she had surely been culpable. Now I think that your grace best knoweth, that, next unto your grace, I was most bound unto her of all creatures living. Wherefore I most humbly beseech your grace to suffer me in that, which both God’s law, nature, and also her kindness bindeth me unto; that is, that I may with your grace’s favour wish and pray for her, that she may declare herself inculpable and innocent.

Since historians now have access to papers her contemporaries didn't, we know what Anne actually couldn't have committed adultery, even if she had wanted to, on several of the occasions listed by the persecution: As her biographer Eric Ives notes, "In twelve cases Anne was elsewhere or else the man was". Two more can be ruled out as Anne was almost certainly with Henry at the time, who was not in the place alleged. Soliciting Smeaton at Greenwich on 13 May 1535 can be ruled out, since it was linked to adultery there on 19 May when Anne was in reality at Richmond. The location is correct for October 1533 (soliciting and committing adultery with Norris), but Anne would have been in confinement waiting to be churched following the birth of Elizabeth. (After childbirth, women "in confinment" were not allowed to see any men at all until their official "churching".) This eliminates sixteen out of the twenty specific allegations, and the only remaining charges are in November 1533 and Christmas 1535/6. In other words, the locations are only correct near the birth of Elizabeth and celebrations - times when everyone might be expected to remember where they had actually been. The attempt to inject plausibility where it would be noticed and the glaring errors elsewhere makes the indictment so suspect that it can be safely dismissed. This doesn't mean she couldn't have had sex with other men on other occasions, of course. You can't prove a negative. And maybe the legal shoddiness of the case was because Cromwell was in a hurry; Henry had made it clear to him he wanted to be free to marry Jane Seymour poste haste. In the end, when Henry wanted you dead, you died. And he definitely wanted Anne not just gone but dead.
selenak: (Peggy and Jarvis by Asthenie_VD)
( Feb. 18th, 2015 11:11 am)
Only one more episode to go, woe. This series has been such a treasure.

Read more... )

And a couple of links:

Reasons to love Agent Carter (what she says)

For the historical interested, related to my last entry on Wolf Hall, some side chapters of Tudor history:

The strange life of Elizabeth Barton: aka the "Holy Maid of Kent", who actually was a well known figure before Henry decided he wanted a new wife.

The Execution of Margaret Pole : still wins for most gruesome in Henry's gruesome reign.
Having now gotten around to watching Wolf Hall episode 4, aka the one where they reach the ending of the first novel, I was reminded again of one of the most gruesome events of the Tudor era. No, nothing about More or Cromwell. I mean the fate of Margaret Pole, the countess of Salisbury. Her arrest is very minor matter in the episode, but typical of how Mantel, at least in the first Cromwell novel, avoids or rewrites anything which could make Cromwell actually look bad. In the episode, Margaret is presented as part of a group of several aristocrats who use Elizabeth Barton, aka the maid of Kent, in preparation of boosting their own claims for the throne. (It's mentioned briefly in dialogue, but in a blink and you'll miss it way: Margaret Pole was Margaret Plantagenet, the daughter of the Duke of Clarence, niece to Edward IV. and Richard III.; which made her and her children and grandchildren the last scions of the previous dynasty. Not a safe thing to be with the Tudors in general.) In the episode, Margaret & Co. are depicted as foolish conspirators Cromwell easily traps by having used several of their servants as spies, overhearing treacherous conversations. There is also no mention of them having had any trouble with Henry VIII. before the current era. In reality, the family had been in and out of favour for a while. Margaret, who'd served as Princess Mary's governess, was very loyal to her and when Mary's household was broken up had asked to serve her at her own cost, but had not been permitted. Her son Reginald Pole, destined for a career in the church but not yet ordained, was busy making trouble from abroad/taking a principled position, depending on your pov. In 1531, he warned of the dangers of the Boleyn marriage. The Imperial ambassador, Chapuys, suggested to the Emperor Charles V that Pole marry the Lady Mary and combine their dynastic claims. Chapuys also communicated with Reginald through his brother Geoffrey. Now Pole replied to books Henry sent him with his own pamphlet, pro ecclesiasticae unitatis defensione, or de unitate, which denied Henry's position on the marriage of a brother's wife and denied the royal supremacy. (BTW, that pamphlet makes the point that Henry's sole justification for ditching Katherine of Aragon is that she's his brother's wife, while he simultanously pursues, then marrieds a woman whose sister he has already bedded, which says something about how well known the fact Henry used to have an affair with Mary Boleyn before Anne was at the time.) Pole also urged the princes of Europe to depose Henry immediately. Henry wrote to the Countess Margaret, who in turn wrote to her son a letter reproving him for his "folly." This did not save her. Margaret and her other sons were arrested. The evidence Cromwell then produced wasn't servants' talk. It was a tunic bearing the Five Wounds of Christ, supposedly symbolising Margaret's support for Roman Catholicism and the rule of her son Reginald and the king's Catholic daughter Mary. Incidentally, as opposed to the series, by now we're already past Anne Boleyn's own execution, so no, Anne really couldn't be blamed for this one. But a shirt that looks like a classic frame would not look like clever spying and more like something every thuggish and corrupt police officer in a film noir would do.

What makes Margaret Pole's fate gruesome, though, had nothing to do with Cromwell anymore as she survived him. (Which did not help her.) She lived for the next two and a half years under a death sence in the Tower, and the only thing known about her life there is that Henry's wife No. 5, Katherine Howard, took pity on her and sent her some furred clothing for the winter. And then, when she was 67, Henry did have her executed. The execution was famously botched, even worse than Cromwell's own had been. According to Ambassador Chapuys, her executioner was a "blundering youth" who "hacked her head and shoulders to pieces". There's an even worse account, not from Chapuys, in which she refused to put her head on the block, and that's why the first stroke hit her shoulder, with ten more blows necessary until the old lady was finally dead. (A century later, there were legends that she got up and the executioner had to chase her around the block, but this is definitely fable.) There was no reasonfor her execution on Henry's part other than to punish her son Reginald abroad (a Cardinal by then), and/or lingering anger for the support she'd shown Mary. And there hadn't been a reason to arrest her in the first place other than to put pressure on the absent Reginald (didn't work). Oh, and of course monetary gain; she was the fifth richest noble in England. But there's really no way to spin her arrest and execution in a way to make the men involved in it look good - unless you do the "foolish aristo/wannabe conspirator" thing and have Cromwell advise her to ask the king for mercy, without mentioning subsequent events.

Meanwhile, the meat of the actual episode is More's downfall, and here I have again the same old problem I had from the novel onwards. The show kept the line from the novel where Cromwell tells More "I respected you, I respected you all this time", but neither book nor show have given Mantel's Cromwell any reason to do so, as Mantel's More is stripped of all More's virtues and retains only More's dark side. What, in Mantel's version, was there to respect? The actual blame for going after More (and Fisher) is shifted entirely to Anne, which is at the least questionable. Mind you, I really liked the scene where Damian Lewis' Henry tells Cromwell "do you think I keep you for your company?", making it clear just what he expects of Cromwell, and we see for the first time a despot unleashed. Though I found it frustrating again that the show gives Cromwell a fictional line comparing Henry to a lion when talking with More but avoids one of the more famous More quotes, that one should only ever tell the king what he ought to do, not what he could do; for if the lion knows his own strength, no man could control him. (As Thomas Cromwell would eventually find out in a lethal way.) Fisher's death isn't in the episode (he was so old and fragile that he had to be carried in a chair to the block), but I don't recall it being in the novel, either, so I'm not surprised. (Also since Fisher hasn't been built up as a boo-hiss villain before, it might look our hero bad.) What I hadn't remembered but looking up is straight from the novel is the spin on Richard Rich's role in More's trial. Now both More and Cromwell have their partisans, but Richard Rich (reallly his name!) doesn't; the man was one of the most gifted turncoats of the era, always knowing exactly which way the wind was blowing and whom to follow. He would later dump Cromwell the moment Cromwell started to lose Henry's favour and go over to the conservative Catholic faction led by Gardiner and Norfolk. And how. Other than his testimony in More's trial, the other thing Richard Rich is most famous for is torturing Anne Askew after she'd already been condemmed to burn. (Why, yes, England under Henry continued to burn heretics.) This was regarded as particularly revolting even for the hardened contemporaries because a) the woman had already been condemmed, b) two noblemen - Rich and Henry Wriothesly, aka Call-me-Risley from Wolf Hall doing the torturing instead of leaving this to the people whose job it was in the Tower was highly irregular, and c) the political motivation was blatantly obvious. (What Richard Rich and Henry Wriothesly wanted Anne Askew to admit was that she'd had direct contact with Queen Catherine Parr and her ladies. Catherine Parr was definitely aligned with the reformist cause and Stephen Gardiner was trying to get rid of her, hence Rich doing his dirty work there.) Since it didn't work, Richard Rich, ever the survivor, reviewed his options and went over to the reformers again just in time for Henry's death and Edward Seymour becoming Lord Protector. And of course under Mary, he remembered being Catholic once more, and so on, and so forth. The man made it all the way to the top, became Lord Chancellor and died in bed, arguably the best profiting political survivor of the Tudor age. But nobody ever suspected him of having had any principles whatsoever - this makes him a very effective recurring villain in the Shardlake novels, btw - , which is why the question as to whether he told the truth or perjured himself in the More trial continues to be debated. How to make look More bad in this one? Why, by depicting him as a snob towards poor Richard Rich as part of a general pattern of More snubbing people (hence also the invented backstory of young More snubbing young Cromwell). (BTW, since Rich later also was one of the chief witnesses against Cromwell, I wonder what the reason there will be in the third novel. Surely not snobbery?)

More's death sequence (silent, no jokes with the executioner as opposed to history) cross cut with the boy Cromwell looking longingly at boy More and being rejected makes it look as if in the Mantelverse, poor Cromwell had a life long unrequited crush, which would definitely work for me if More had been shown in any way as someone worthy to be crushed on. But he wasn't. (Which, now that I think of it, is on a par with Anne being shown as charmless and harsh towards everyone, so just why not only Henry but a lot of other people found her incredibly compelling is something of a mystery.)

However, speaking of crushes: this reminds me, after concluding last week it's really tricky to find a historical, non-fictional person in that particular age who wasn't a religious fanatic (or a sell out a la Rich) and made it to fame I belatedly remembered that there was such a man: Erasmus (of Rotterdam), the most famous humanist and scholar of the age. In fact what bad press Erasmus got then and now is precisely because he thought that Luther had some good points (and said so) but still didn't side with the emerging Protestants and instead believed in reform from within the Catholic church. He, gasp, suggested compromise. Which was as dirty a word then as it is to today's American Republicans. Luther, who was a really good hater and had gone from venerating Erasmus to calling him a coward for not declaring hiimself pro-Luther, famously said "he who squashes Erasmus squashes a bug which even stinks when dead", while on the other hand the Pope said that Eramus' mockery had done more damage than Luther and put a lot of Eramus' work on the Index. (This was so not the age for someone who could see both sides' pov.) Erasmus, of course, did have a crush on More (and vice versa); there's a famous letter of Eramus to Ulrich von Hutten (von Hutten later, like Luther, went from admiring Eramus to hating hiim for not declaring himself Protestant) about Thomas More which is about as positively biased a depiction as Wolf Hall's More is negatively biased, leaving out anything negative. But it is a contemporary and very vivid account of More, and written while More was still alive (so there's no martyr's death sentiment in it; the bias is rather that towards a living friend). Now the man Erasmus describes actually does sound worth crushing on, so here are some excerpts of what's basically a (completely biased) love letter to a third party:

"You ask me to paint you a full-length portrait of More as in a picture. Would that I could do it as perfectly as you eagerly desire it. At least I will try to give a sketch of the man, as well as from my long familiarity with him I have either observed or can now recall. To begin, then, with what is least known to you, in stature he is not tall, though not remarkably short. His limbs are formed with such perfect symmetry as to leave nothing to be desired. His complexion is white, his face fair rather than pale, and though by no means ruddy, a faint flush of pink appears beneath the whiteness of his skin. His hair is dark brown, or brownish black. The eyes are grayish blue, with some spots, a kind which betokens singular talent, and among the English is considered attractive, whereas Germans generally prefer black.

"His countenance is in harmony with his character, being always expressive of an amiable joyousness, and even an incipient laughter, and, to speak candidly, it is better framed for gladness than for gravity and dignity, though without any approach to folly or buffoonery. The right shoulder is a little higher than the left, especially when he walks. This is not a defect of birth, but the result of habit, such as we often contract. In the rest of his person there is nothing to offend. His hands are the least refined part of his body.

"He was from his boyhood always most careless about whatever concerned his body. His youthful beauty may be guessed from what still remains, though I knew him when be was not more than three-and-twenty. Even now he is not much over forty. He has good health, though not robust; able to endure all honourable toil, and subject to very few diseases. He seems to promise a long life, as his father still survives in a wonderfully green old age.

"I never saw anyone so indifferent about food. Until he was a young man he delighted in drinking water, but that was natural to him (id illi patrium fuit). Yet not to seem singular or morose, he would hide his temperance from his guests by drinking out of a pewter vessel beer almost as light as water, or often pure water. It is the custom in England to pledge each other in drinking wine. In doing so he will merely touch it with his lips, not to seem to dislike it, or to fall in with the custom. He likes to eat corned beef and coarse bread much leavened, rather than what most people count delicacies. Otherwise he has no aversion to what gives harmless pleasure to the body. He prefers milk diet and fruits, and is especially fond of eggs.

"His voice is neither loud nor very weak, but penetrating; not resounding or soft, but that of a clear speaker. Though he delights in every kind of music he has no vocal talents. He speaks with great clearness and perfect articulation, without rapidity or hesitation. He likes a simple dress, using neither silk nor purple nor gold chain, except when it may not be omitted. It is wonderful how negligent he is as regards all the ceremonious forms in which most men make politeness to consist. He does not require them from others, nor is he anxious to use them himself, at interviews or banquets, though he is not unacquainted with them when necessary. But he thinks it unmanly to spend much time in such trifles. Formerly he was most averse to the frequentation of the court, for he has a great hatred of constraint (tyrannis) and loves equality. Not without much trouble he was drawn into the court of Henry VIII. (...). By nature More is chary of his liberty and of ease, yet, though he enjoys ease, no one is more alert or patient when duty requires it.

"He seems born and framed for friendship, and is a most faithful and enduring friend. Neither is he afraid of that multiplicity of freinds, of which Hesiod disappproves. He is easy of access to all; but if he chances to get familiar with one whose vices admit no correction, he manages to loosen and let go the intimacy rather than to break it off suddenly. When he finds any sincere and according to his heart, he so delights in their society and conversation as to place in it the principal charm of life. He abhors games of tennis, dice, cards, and the like, by which most gentlemen kill time. Though he is rather too negligent of his own interests, no one is more diligent in those of his friends. In a word, if you want a perfect model of friendship, you will find it in no one better than in More. In society he is so polite, so sweet-mannered, that no one is of so melancholy a disposition as not to be cheered by him, and there is no misfortune that he does not alleviate. Since his boyhood he has so delighted in merriment, that it might seem jesting was the main object of his life; yet he does not carry it to buffoonery, nor had ever any inclination to bitterness. When a youth he both wrote and acted some small comedies. If a retort is made against himself, even without ground, he likes it from the pleasure he finds in witty repartees. Hence he amused himself with composing epigrams when a young man, and enjoyed Lucian above all writers. Indeed, it was he who pushed me to write the "Praise of Folly," that is to say, he made a camel frisk.

"In human affairs there is nothing from which he does not extract enjoyment, even from things that are most serious. If he converses with the learned and judicious, he delights in their talent; if with the ignorant and foolish, he enjoys their stupidity. He is not even offended by professional jesters. With a wonderful dexterity he accommodates himself to every disposition. As a rule, in talking with women, even with his own wife, he is full of jokes and banter.

"No one is less led by the opinions of the crowd, yet no one departs less from common sense. One of his great delights is to consider the forms, the habits, and the instincts of different kinds of animals. There is hardly a species of bird that he does not keep in his house, and rare animals such as monkeys, foxes, ferrets, weasels and the like. If he meets with anything foreign, or in any way remarkable, he eagerly buys it, so that his house is full of such things, and at every turn they attract the eye of visitors, and his own pleasure is renewed whenever he sees others pleased.

"When of a sentimental age, he was not a stranger to the emotions of love, but without loss of character, having no inclination to press his advantage, and being more attracted by a mutual liking than by any licentious object. He had drunk dep from Good Letters from his earliest years; and when a young man, he aplied himself to the study of Greek and of philosophy; but his father was so far from encouraging him in this pursuit, that he withdrew his allowance and almost disowned him, because he thought he was deserting his heridatary study, being himself an expert professor of English Law. For remote as that profession is from true learning, those who become masters of it have the highest rank and reputation among their countrymen; and it is difficult to find any readier way to acquire fortune and honour. Indeed a considerable part of the bility of that island has had its origin in this profession.

Methinks Erasmus wasn't pro-lawyers per se. Incidentally, while that letter is never critical, he does include information from which a present day reader can find material for a look at More's darker sides if one wishes, as in this explanation as to why More didn't become a priest, which he for a while wanted to be as a young man:

(...) Meantime he applied his whole mind to religion, having some th ought of taking orders, for which he prepared himself by watchings and fastings and prayers and such like exercises; wherein he showed much more wisdom than the generality of people who rashly engage in so ardous a profession without testing themselves beforehand. And indeed there was no obstacle to his adopting this kind of life, except the fact that he could not shake off his wish to marry. Accordingly he resolved to be a chaste husband rather than a licentious priest.

In other words, he knew he wouldn't be able to live without sex and he didn't want to be a hypocrite breaking vows, so he remained a layman. At least one modern biographer speculates that feeling guilty for not becoming a priest may be part of the root of More - who as a younger man like Erasmus did see need for reform within the church - in his later years, once the battle with Luther & Co. was on, throwing himself into first pamphleteering and later, once he had the power to do so, into the persecution of heretics with such a vengeance. Incidentally, what did Erasmus make of his easy-natured friend turning zealot? There's no direct surviving direct quote from Erasmus to More, but in June of 1523, Cuthbert Tunstall, now bishop of London, had written to ask Erasmus to join the battle against Luther; Erasmus replied urging moderation:

In Luther's writings are some things I hear reproved which, in sober debate among the learned and the honest, might strengthen the spiritual and evangelical life from which the world has surely fallen as much as it can.

(Luther, as I said, wasn't impressed by this. He wanted compete and unquestioning support, or nothing.)

There isn't a direct More to Erasmus quote surviving re: Luther, either, but there is one from More to Tyndale when Tyndale charged that More attacked those who were trying the very ills Erasmus had exposed in "In Praise of Folly" (aka the earlier mentioned Erasmus work which is dedicated to More and which More had encouraged him to write). Wrote More back: "I have not contended with Erasmus my darling, because I found no suche malicious entente with Erasmus my darling, as I fynde with Tyndall."

When More was executed, Erasmus was horrified and declared it was as if he'd died with More and Fisher. He didn't survive them by many years, and even in death refused partisan claims on himself: he died as a Catholic priest in the Protestant city of Basel.
selenak: (Elizabeth - shadows in shadows by Poison)
( Feb. 10th, 2015 11:07 am)
Snippet reviews and thoughts due to Darth Real Life: Wolf Hall ep 2 and 3: like it without being enthusiastic about it, which is the reaction I had to the original novel as well (will be interesting to see if my feeling changes correspondingly once we get into Bring up the Bodies territory with the plot. BTW, as with the book, the characterisation of Thomas More is so hopelessly over the top that you keep waiting for the "and then Thomas More kicked a puppy!" scene, but what I had forgotten is that while there isn't a kicked puppy (about the only thing there isn't re: TM in Wolf Hall), we do get a scene where Thomas Cromwell cradles a kitten. Oh, Hilary Mantel. Seriously though, seeing this book played out on screen hammered it in fo rme that I actually prefer Sansom's Shardlake novels when it comes to this period and these characters, because Sansom's Cromwell, while a sincere reformer as opposed to Just Looking Out For No.1, is actually allowed to make mistakes and be in the wrong a couple of times, and there's an equal amount of sympathetic Protestant, Catholic and just-trying-to-survive-Henry's-ever-changing-opinions characters around.

(BTW, one last thing re: Evil!More in Wolf Hall, book and tv series, perhaps the most unnecessary change/omission both Mantel & Kominsky (unnecessary because you could have shown More as the orthodox enemy of heresy versus Cromwell the champion of Protestantism while including it) made is the utter lack of a sense of humor. And you can't really have a plausibly historical More without the wit. I mean, this was a man able to joke on his way to the scaffold and cheer up his executioner. To quote from the most famous contemporary account, Hall's chronicles: “About Nine he was brought out of the Tower (...) (A) Woman came crying and demanded some Papers she said she had left in his Hands, when he was Lord Chancellor, to whom he said, Good woman, have Patience but for an Hour and the King will rid me of the Care I have for those Papers, and every thing else. (...) When he came to the Scaffold, it seemed ready to fall, whereupon he said merrily to the Lieutenant, Pray, Sir, see me safe up; and as to my coming down, let me shift for myself. Being about to speak to the People, he was interrupted by the Sheriff, and thereupon he only desired the People to pray for him, and bear Witness he died in the Faith of the Catholic Church, a faithful Servant both to God and the King. Then kneeling, he repeated the Miserere Psalm with much Devotion; and, rising up the Executioner asked him Forgiveness. He kissed him, and said, Pick up thy Spirits, Man, and be not afraid to do thine Office; my Neck is very short, take heed therefore thou strike not awry for having thine Honesty. Laying his Head upon the Block, he bid the Executioner stay till he had put his Beard aside, for that had commit­ted no Treason. Thus he suffered with much Cheerfulness; his Head was taken off at one Blow, and was placed upon London-Bridge, where, having continued for some Months, and being a­bout to be thrown into the Thames to make room for others, his Daughter Margaret bought it (...).)

(BTW, same chronicler, i.e. Edward Hall, on Thomas Cromwell's execution a few years later, recording Cromwell's death speech: "I am come hether to die, and not to purge my self, as may happen, some think that I will, for if I should do so, I wer a very wretche and miser: I am by the Lawe comdemmned to die, and thanke my lorde God that hath appointed me this death, for mine offence: For sithence the tyme that I have had years of discretion, I have lived a sinner, and offended my Lord God, for the whiche I aske him heartily forgiveness. And it is not unknown to many of you, that I have been a great traveler in this world, and being but of a base degree, was called to high estate, and sithes the time I came thereunto, I have offended my prince, for the whiche I aske him heartily forgivenes, and beseche you all to pray to God with me, that he will forgive me. O father forgive me. O son forgive me, O holy Ghost forgive me: O three persons in one God forgive me. And now I pray you that be here, to beare me record, I die in the Catholic faith, not doubting in any article of my faith, no nor doubting in any Sacrament of the Church. Many have slandered me, and reported that I have been a bearer, of such as have maintained evil opinions, whiche is untrue, but I confess that like as God by his holy spirit, does instruct us in the truth, so the devil is ready to seduce us, and I have been seduced: but bear me witnes that I die in the Catholic faith of the holy Church. And I heatily desire you to pray for the King's grace, that he may long live with you, may long reigne over you. And once again I desire you to pray for me, that so long as life remains in this flesh, I waver nothing in my faith."

And then made he his prayer, which was long, but not so long, as bothe Godly and learned, and after committed his soul, into the handes of God, and so patiently suffered the stroke of the axe, by a ragged and Boocherly miser, which very ungoodly performed the Office."

(Re: "I die in the Catholic faith", Cromwell is using "Catholic" as in "universal" - the original meaning of the term - , not "Roman-Catholic; he uses the term in the same sense as Luther, Melanchthon and Thomas Cramner did when they spoke of the "Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church" of the New Testament. Cromwell having the bad luck of an inept executioner who "very ungoodly performed the Office" rubs it in that as cynical as it sounds, Anne Boleyn getting that expert sword executioner from Calais actually was a mercy. Mind you, for the swordsman from Calais to arrive in time to execute Anne he must have been sent for before her trial ever started, which tells you something about good old Henry. No swordsman for Thomas Cromwell, though, and no trial, either; at that point Henry didn't even bother anymore.)
This is the most extensive article on the upcoming tv adaption of Hilary Mantel's Cromwell novels I've read, and the first one which mentions a significant change between source material and tv version. To wit: Straughan the scriptwriter and Kominsky the director ship Thomas Cromwell/Anne Boleyn, which Hilary Mantel did not. To quote from the article:

Nevertheless, in condensing a thousand pages into a six-part drama, Straughan had to give weight to certain strands over others. He chose a revenge plot as the spine of it – Cromwell avenging the death of Wolsey – and complicated that by making the relationship between Cromwell and Anne central. Where the books – which will become a trilogy with the eventual publication of Mantel’s third volume, The Mirror and the Light – trace the relationship between Cromwell and Henry, Straughan’s adaptation has a slant of suppressed sex and power.

This shift is so marked that when I ask Kosminsky if he wishes he had waited until all three books had been written, he barely hesitates before saying no. By way of illustration, he shows me an early cut of a pivotal scene in episode three (the episode that ends with Anne’s coronation). Anne and Cromwell observe Henry from a window in Whitehall as Thomas More hands over the chain of office. Cromwell is watching her. He looks at her chest rise and fall as she breathes. He imagines kissing her neck. The moment is brief but the electricity and complicity in it are extraordinary. ‘Although Henry hangs over the whole thing as the superpower,’ Kosminsky explains, ‘for me, the drama is about the evolution of the relationship between Cromwell and Anne Boleyn, which ends with her death.’

You know, reading this, I'm on board with the change. (Though it cracks me up when everyone in this article mentions The Tudors as an example of a "bad" historical tv series - not that I disagree, but The Tudors may be the first version to introduce some UST between Anne and Cromwell as they go from allies to enemies, and guys, give inspirational credit where due. You didn't get this idea from Hilary.) Anyway, the reason why I'm on board with it is that it makes Cromwell a bit more fallible and less chess master supreme if he has an unspoken attraction to Anne even while condemming her. (And I certainly prefer it to getting constant snide asides about how Anne is losing her looks in the second novel.) The actress playing Anne Boleyn also in the article is quoted with a spirited defense of her:

When Claire Foy read Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, she loved the books. Yet she soon found that her position as a reader was no use to her as an actress. ‘I understood it from Thomas Cromwell’s point of view,’ she explains. ‘So if they’d asked me to play Thomas Cromwell I’d have said, “Yes!” But because you only ever see Anne observed by him, you only have his impressions of her – that she was pinched and mean, gnarled and nasty. But she’s not like that, it’s just how she seems to him. So I had to do the research for myself.’

Eventually, Foy says, she felt angry on Anne’s behalf. ‘She could have been remembered as one of the greatest women in history. Where she came from to become Queen of England was extraordinary. She was clever, she was bright, she was vivacious, she was witty, she was political. But she was also slightly manic, irrational, emotional. And those characteristics were perfect for a political figure at the time. As a woman I felt she was blighted by her reproductive system.
selenak: (Breaking Bad by Wicked Signs)
( Dec. 26th, 2014 10:40 am)
Just a first bunch, I still have so much more to read.

Breaking Bad:

These lifeless things: Skyler post show, looking back, trying to find a forward, with an emphasis on the Skyler and Marie relationship: as devastatingly intense as the show itself.

Dune: (Or rather, the tv version)

In the first days: Irulan and the twins. I've always had a soft spot for Irulan, one character I thought the tv version did do better by than the books, and here we see how the twins, and what happens with Leto in God Emperor of Dune, affect her.

Galaxy Quest:

Galaxy Gals : in which Gwen and Leilari give an interview, and it's not about their uniforms. As with all the Gwen centric GQ fanfiction posted in Yuletides past and present, this is great, and I love the look we get at how Leilari adapts to Earth. (And the art of lying acting.)

Historical Fiction:

Come the good peasant to cheer: AU. Edward the Black Prince--now Edward IV of England--has been king for four years. Now the peasants have rebelled, the Black Prince wants to declare war on them all, and his stubborn, determined queen, Joan of Kent, is desperately trying to prevent utter disaster. Great AU, and extremely entertaining historical fiction.

Hallowmas, or Shortest of Days: Richard II.'s second queen, Isabelle, was a child (something Shakespeare's play ignores); here she meets the ghost of her predecessor, Anne of Bohemia, and the result is amazingly endearing.

Penny Dreadful:

Aside from the stories I received, which I already recced:

Teranga: Sembene! This is the backstory of Sembene which the show hasn't given us (yet). Fantastic world building, and it's awe-inspiringly good.

A breath to notice: the unfolding Ethan and Vanessa friendship. Which I guess will become a romance in season 2, because I recognize set up when I see it, but in the meantime, I can enjoy them as platonic friends as in this story.

Twin Peaks:

Through the woods and far away: in which Audrey Horne rescues Agent Cooper from the Black Lodge. This is so my headcanon now.

West Side Story:

If it's sewing, she sews: Maria puts her life together, stitch by stitch. I love stories about grief and yet moving on, I tell you, and this is a fine one, taking full advantage of the fact that Maria, unlike her predecessor Juliet, doesn't die.
selenak: (Sternennacht - Lefaym)
( Nov. 30th, 2014 07:33 pm)
...related to the nuclear bomb project, that is, not the part of New York City. [profile] merry_maia, you're going to love this. Via [personal profile] nwhyte, I just discovered a blog by a historian about the Manhattan Project. After some cursory browsing, here are some of the intriguing entries:

Tokyo versus Hiroshima: But I depart from the standard comparison in two places. The first is the idea that since the atomic bombings were not original in targeting civilians, then they do not present a moral or ethical question. As I’ve written about before, I think the question of morality gets more problematic. If the atomic bombings were one-off events, rare interventions to end the war, then it might (for some) be compelling to say that they were worth the price of crossing over some kind of line regarding the deliberate burning of civilians to death en masse. But if they were instead the continuation of a well-established policy of burning civilians to death en masse, then the moral question gets much broader. The question changes from, Was it morally justified to commit a civilian massacre two times?, to Was it morally justified to make civilian massacre a standard means of fighting the war? I want to state explicitly that I don’t think, and I don’t want my phrasing to imply, that the answer to the above is necessarily an unequivocal “no.” There are certainly many moral frameworks that can allow for massacres (e.g. ends-justify-the-means). But I prefer to not dress this sort of thing up in euphemisms, whether we think it justified or not. Massacre means to deliberately and indiscriminately kill people. That is what you get when you bomb densely-populated cities with weapons that cannot distinguish between civilians and members of the military.

Oppenheimer and the Gita: analyses the context of the famous quote, and comes complete with a Youtube link to Oppenheimer discussing it in the 1960s, shortly before his death.

The worst Manhattan Project leaks: no, not Klaus Fuchs, but the press which published an article naming Los Alamos (complete with geographical description), Oppenheimer and Groves in 1944. Their guess as to what was actually being made there was wrong (though I like the death ray taking out German air planes idea, it's very comics-like), but given the correctness of much other info, I'm just saying this is why any dangerous German WWII spy is clearly fictional. Apparantly German intelligence couldn't even read American newspapers. Though Russian intelligence could. Which brings me to:

Photos and stories from the Soviet bomb project. Complete with thank you letter the scientists had to write Stalin and Stalin complaining the German scientist among them hadn't signed it.
While preparing another book review, I got sidetracked by musings which have nothing whatsoever to do with the novel in question or its plot, so they get their own entries. To wit: the differences in pop cuture memory/reputation/novelistic and tv use of two guys who were, at different times, Henry VIII.s brothers-in-law. In one corner we have Charles Brandon, later first Duke of Suffolk. Best remembered for marrying Henry's sister Mary (and getting away with it) after her brief stint as Queen of France, and for being the closest thing Henry had to a life long best buddy. Charles as far as I could see usually ends up as a romantic hero in Tudor era fiction.

In the other corner we have Thomas Seymour, brother of Jane (aka wife No.3 to Henry), married to Catherine Parr (Henry's widow, wife No.6 ), and probably best remembered for how he ended (messing with teenage Elizabeth, losing his head). While there have been attempts to turn Thomas Seymour into a romantic hero as well (Young Bess comes to mind, the film version of which starred Jean Simmons as Elizabeth, Deborah Kerr as Katherine Parr and Stewart Granger as Tom Seymour) by interpreting him as a man who can't help loving two women,these are rare, especially in recent years. His image both in biographies and pop culture these days is rather dark. At best, he's a a none too bright playboy who's just too sexy for his and everyone else's good (Susannah Dunn in both The Sixth Wife and The May Bride); at worst, he's an ambitious ruthless sexual abuser (with Elizabeth) and faithfless ambitious cad (with Katherine) who ruined Katherine Parr's well deserved happy ending against the odds, broke her heart and sent her to an early grave (Patricia Finney comes to mind).

Now here's what interests me: if you look at Charles Brandon's marital history, he comes across as easily one of the most ruthless go getters at Henry's court. There was:

1.) Anne Browne; Charles was engaged to her, which was binding, and it wasn't a platonic engagement, either, as it produced a daughter. However, she also had a very rich aunt. So.

2.) Margaret Neville. The aunt. Yes, one of those Nevilles, niece to the Kingmaker. Charles temporarily ditched Anne and married her. This did not make the Browne family happy, who went to court. Ultimately they won, the Neville marriage was dissolved, and Charles married Anne officially. They had another daughter, and then Anne died. Then there almost was:

3.) Elizabeth Grey, eight years old orphan and heiress of Lord Lisle. Also Charles' ward. (Buying wardships was immensely profitable in Tudor times and beyond.) (Keep the ward thing in mind, this isn't the last time this will happen.) Charles became engaged to her, at which point his good friend Henry VIII. transferred the title of Viscount Lisle to him. However, Elizabeth upon reaching the age where she could become legally married (which if I recall correctly in this era was 13) refused to marry Charles (good for her). (She later married Henry Courtenay.) Charles kept the title, though.

4.) And then there was Mary Tudor. Who got married by her brother to old Louis XII of France which she agreed to under the condition that she could pick her next husband by herself. At this point, she was already in love with Charles, who duly showed up as soon as Louis bit the dust. They had to pay fines to Henry (and Mary's entire dowery that she'd been given when marrying Louis), but otherwise, as mentioned, they got away with it. There were four children, two sons - who died young, more about one in a moment - and two daughters. Then Mary died. Which brings us to:

5.) Catherine Willoughby. This young girl would turn out to be one of the most colourful women of the Tudor era. Her mother had been Spanish, Maria de Salinas, Katherine of Aragon's best friend, but Catherine her daughter would turn into a fierce reformer who'd even go into exile when "Bloody" Mary Tudor came on the throne. But back to her youth. Catherine, a very rich heiress, was Charles' ward, grew up in his household with him and Mary as parent figures, and it was planned that she should marry his son Henry. Then, as soon as Charles was a widower again, either because young Henry was already sickly or simply because he wanted more direct access to the cash, Charles married Catherine himself. She was 13 or 14 (I've found both ages given), he was 49. The marriage seems to have been harmonious; at least, no scandal is known, and it resulted in two sons. (Catherine's previous intended having died in the first year of her marriage to his father, her oldest son was also called Henry.) Catherine survived Charles and would go on as the formidable Duchess of Suffolk.

Meanwhile, Thomas Seymour, despite his image as Tudor playboy extraordinaire (he's usually written as the Don Juan in contrast to his brother Edward who gets written as a prig), actually seems to have had no scandals with women attached to his name until he hit the big time. He wasn't married until then, either, which is interesting, because as the late Queen Jane's brother, he certainly should have had plenty of opportunities for profitable matches. Mind you, not that he wasn't also a go getter. No matter how much or little in love with Katherine Parr he was, when Henry showed interest he was prudent (and survival-oriented) enough to step back. And when Henry died, he first tried to marry either of Henry's daughters, Mary or Elizabeth, before proposing to Katherine. (This princess marrying idea was immediately rejected by his brother Edward the Lord Protector, not surprisingly.) He even indulged in the lucrative ward trade, getting young Lady Jane Grey (Charles Brandon's granddaughter, btw) as his ward, with an eye of arranging a marriage to her cousin, his nephw Edward the boy king later on. And whatever went down between him and Elizabeth, he certainly, at the very least, risked her reputation by overly familiar horseplay (waking her up in bed by tickling her, cutting her dress to bits while his wife the queen was holding her) before his wife died when as her stepfather he should have guarded it, and his scheme to marry her when he was a widower behind the council's back could have easily resulted into her dying with him if Elizabeth hadn't shown her survival skills for the first time.

But my point is: anything Thomas Seymour did, Charles Brandon did as well. Charles simply did it more efficiently, and hence died in bed in full possession of all he gained, in an age where most people close to Henry VIII didn't, with Henry even insisting Charles should be buried at Windsor in St. George's chapel (so they'd be together after death). Meanwhile, the nicest thing anything could find to say about Thomas Seymour was Sir Nicholas Throckmorton who described him as "hardy, wise and liberal, fierce in courage, courtly in fashion, in personage stately, in voice magnificent, but somewhat empty of matter", though young Elizabeth's "today died a man of much wit and very little judgment" comment is better remembered. In other words, the guy lacked smarts, which certainly could be lethal in the Tudor age. But as to morals, I see no difference.
selenak: (Undercover (Natasha and Steve) by Famira)
( Sep. 3rd, 2014 12:26 pm)
I reread Sansom's Shardlake series - there will be a new novel this autumn - and concluded again that this might be my favourite current series of mysteries set in a historical era. (Here is an earlier detailed review.) The novels definitely are my favourites set during the reign of Henry VIII. Yes, even above Hilary Mantel's Cromwell novels, possibly because the later give me the sense of Mantel being just a bit too much in love with Cromwell (who shows up in the early Shardlake novels, too, since our hero starts out as a lawyer working for him, and is much thought about in the later novels after his death), or it might be the freedom of not knowing how the main regular characters (Matthew Shardlake, Jack Barak, Tamasin) are going to end up since they're all fictional. Also, Sansom knows his Tudor lawcourts like no novelist I've ever seen and makes being a Tudor lawyer as fascinating to layperson me as The Good Wife does it currently for Chicago lawyering. Speaking of Hilary Mantel's Cromwell novels, though, or rather, the movie versions currently being shot, here's a hilarious picture of Henry VIII, as played by Damian Lewis, taking a selfie. Okay, I should have phrased this "Damian Lewis taking a selfie while in costume as Henry on the set", but who doubts Henry would have LOVED taking selfies?

(Also: is Damian Lewis the first genuine redhead to play Henry VIII?)

From Tudors to Avengers:

The planned (and unused) Hawkeye scene in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Would have been a cool scene, but I can see why they cut it, if that was supposed to be Clint's only appearance in the film. It depends on the audience knowing him for the emotional impact, and strange as it may seem, not everyone watching one or two of the Marvel films has watched all of them.

Incidentally, while pondering why, when I loved Captain America: The Winter Soldier as a movie, Bucky and Steve/Bucky aren't relevant to my interests, so to speak, at one point I thought it was because we don't see much of non-brainwashed Bucky in the movie and what we saw of him in the previous CA film just felt like standard best pal stuff, so there wasn't much for me to get attached to beyond an abstract "poor guy, what a life" level. But then I realised that in terms of screentime, there is even less of Clint Barton, who also walks around brainwashed through most of the only film where he's in so far with any sizable amount of screentime (that one minute in Thor really doesn't count), and yet The Avengers immediately managed to make me emotionally invested in the Natasha and Clint relationship, and in Clint, with all the attachment I can't muster for Bucky and Steve/Bucky. I would say it's because I care about Natasha and that her concern for her brainwashed partner and determination to rescue him moves me on her account, but I care about Steve, too. And yet. *ponders*

Meanwhile, a missing scene set during the first Iron Man movie which celebrates the Rhodey and Tony friendship, lovely to read:

They Don't Know Where We Come From (4699 words) by ladyflowdi
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: The Avengers (2012), Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man (Movies)
Rating: Mature
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: Tony Stark, James "Rhodey" Rhodes
Additional Tags: Hurt/Comfort, Emotions, Arc Reactor, Missing Scene, Medical Procedures, Medicine, Psychological Trauma, Trauma, Recovery, PTSD

“Shrapnel,” Tony says, and alarms go off around his ears and he can’t breathe and the pain is going to eat him up from the head down. “In my heart. I made it. Not the shrapnel. ...Well. The shrapnel too.”

I hiked these last few days, which inevitably means a lot of postings and mail to catch up with. However, I also watched a few things. The audio commentary of Thor: The Dark World told me that while I can hold out against Tom Hiddleston's characters no matter how popular - with my urgent need to see them slapped thankfully fulfilled in canon -, holding out against Tom Hiddleston himself is somewhat more difficult because he's just that charming. On the audio commentary, anyway. Completely into the MCU without any embarassment or need to emphasize he's a serious actor, etc. Full of praise for his fellow actors, not just the famous ones like Anthony Hopkins but also for the guy who plays a guard (whom he knows by name), and this fellow actor complimenting was how I found out that Josh Dallas, currently David/Prince Charming in Once Upon A Time, played Fandal in Thor (but not in The Dark World where his OuaT commitment meant he was replaced by Zach Levy). And he - Hiddleston, not Dallas - sounds distinctly smitten with Chris Hemsworth, so the internet did not lie about that one.

I also finished a miniseries from 1981 which the BBCiplayer is currently showing because of the WWI anniversary, The Life and Times of David Lloyd George, starring Philip Madoc, whom I had previously mainly associated with villainous Time Lords (I first saw him as the War Lord in the Second Doctor adventure The War Games) and Brother Cadfael (he played him in the radio dramatisations), in the title role. The series was written by Elaine Morgan, whom I must check out as a scriptwriter.

Now, here's what I knew about David Llyod George before watching: he was the British Prime Minister in the later part of WWI and thus also one of the Big Three at Versailles, and he was the most famous Welshman not an actor or writer since Wales got conquered. (I have since found out Winston Churchill put it a bit differently in his valediction after Lloyd George's death: "The greatest Welshman which that unconquerable race has produced since the age of the Tudors". This makes me wonder whether or not I count old Henry VII as a great Welshman. He certainly was a very successful one!) I didn't know anything else, which turns out to have been a big hole in my knowledge of British history. Most importantly, I did not know just how many key reforms Lloyd George was responsible for pre WWI, mostly as Chancellor of the Exchequer, laying the foundations of the British welfare system.

Some facts in case you are like me and lack D Ll G knowledge )

I also hadn't known he was both the last Liberal PM and regarded as one of the reasons for the party's decline into insignificance for many decades to come, and nothing whatsoever about his private life.

The Life and Times of David Lloyd George for the most part manages a good mixture of politics and personal life, perhaps only cheating in favour of the later in the last episode, covering the years in decline until death, where the biggest gaffe/embarrassment/sin/however you want to call it which a 20th century politician could make, old Lloyd George visiting Hitler in 1936 and concluding this was the German Washington, is covered (or rather, only alluded to) briefly in dialogue while the big relationship crisis with one of the two women in his life and the death of the other gets main emphasis and key scenes. In earlier episodes, however, many of the previous dramatic events which made me wonder re: their reality did turn out, as some research has shown me, to have been real, for example David Lloyd George resolutely protesting the Boer War in 1901, holding speeches against it everywhere in the country and getting almost lynched by a patriotic mob (32 people in the crowd did die that day) in Birmingham, only surviving because the politice smuggled him out in disguise as another policeman.

Crucially, the (obscured) Hitler interlude aside, I didn't have the impression the series was trying to sell me its main character as prettified. (Mind you, it is careful in the first episode not to mention that David Lloyd George is supposed to be in his early twenties when first making a splash as a young Welsh lawyer taking on the Anglican Church, because Philip Madoc, while made up to look younger, must have been in his 50s at best. But he's so good in the part I don't wish the show had picked a younger actor for the younger Lloyd George of the first two or three episodes.) It shows the two sides of his character traits - that drive and ability to talk most people into anything is great when employed to champion the poor, but he's also shown as a terrible, terrible husband when using them. By which I mean: not only did he apparantly believe fidelity was for other people while jealous himself, but he was great at pulling just about every "you know, this is really your fault" excuse of cheating husbands ever, and it takes his wife Maggie a while to become immune to this type of mindmessing.

Most importantly, the series narrative doesn't play Maggie and the other key woman in Lloyd George's life, Frances Stevenson, against each other. As so many biopics do, going for the "she just was too narrow minded/couldn't understand his genius whereas X was his soulmate" route (Walk the Line, much as I liked the film, did this, and so did the two John Lennon biopics focusing on his relationship with Yoko re: his first wife Cynthia.) Instead, the series presents both Maggie and Frances - who started out as the governess of the youngest Lloyd George daughter in 1911, then became his secretary and his lover in 1913 and remained with him for thirty years while he remained married to Maggie until Maggie's death, basically living in two households until then, whereupon after two years of fierce arguments with his children he married Frances - as sympathetic and three dimensional, and gives narrative weight to both relationships, instead of declaring one as True Love and the other as Lesser. Frances - who was one of the first female secretaries (or as we'd describe her job today, P.A. to a key cabinet member and then the first female secretary to a British Prime Minister - tends to talk more politics with him, but that doesn't mean Maggie is presented as apolitical (we see her succesfully campaign in Wales for Lloyd George when he's busy campaigning in the rest of the country) or without her own opinions (she's completely against him continuing the coalition with the Tories post WWI).

Other than Maggie and Frances, the female characters who get deeper characterisation than a few lines are two of Lloyd George's daughters, Mair (who dies young at age 17) and Megan (after finding out the truth about her father's relationship with her former governess the big Frances hater of the family, and following her father into politics). The important male supporting characters are his uncle Lloyd (Welsh shoemaker and preacher who raised him), brother William (type supportive Faithful Lieutenant) and young Winston Churchill (type Ambitious Lieutenant). It was interesting to me that a show made in 1981 chose to not only use the occasional Welsh but also doesn't subtitle it. (You can usually guess the meaning from the context.) Which is historically accurate - David Lloyd George being to date the only British PM whose first language wasn't English, and a little googling tells me Philip Madoc also had Welsh as his first language -, but that usually doesn't stop fictional depictions to avoid other languages.

Lastly: two quotes about Lloyd George not in the series but which, hungry for more after watching, I found and which struck me as capturing the personality as given by the series:

What Lloyd George failed to understand was no man, however gifted, is a major political power in himself. He can teach, he can preach, he can make a significant contribution, but power politics is a struggle between social forces, not a duel between individuals. Once the war was over the Tories had no more use for him. He was an outsider, an upstart Welsh lawyer who had got above himself. (Jennie Lee, Baroness Lee of Asheridge in My Life With Nye (1980))

David Lloyd George was the best-hated statesman of his time, as well as the best loved. The former I have good reason to know; every time I made a pointed cartoon against him, it brought batches of approving letters from all the haters. Looking at Lloyd George's pink and hilarious, head thrown back, generous mouth open to its fullest extent, shouting with laughter at one of his own jokes, I thought I could see how it was that his haters hated him. He must have been poison to the old school tie brigade, coming to the House an outsider, bright, energetic, irrepressible, ruthless, mastering with ease the House of Commons procedure, applying all the Celtic tricks in the bag, with a talent for intrigue that only occasionally got away from him.
I always had the greatest difficulty in making Lloyd George sinister in a cartoon. Every time I drew him, however critical the comment, I had to be careful or he would spring off the drawing-board a lovable cherubic little chap. I found the only effective way of putting him definitely in the wrong in a cartoon was by misplacing this quality in sardonic incongruity — by surrounding the comedian with tragedy.
(Cartoonist David Low)

Also: as it turned out I knew the theme of the series already, because it was composed by Ennio Morricone and became a breakout hit:

Great news to wake up to: I just heard via [profile] angevin2 that Sophie Okonedo will play Margaret of Anjou in the Hollow Crown take on the York plays. From the way it sounds in the article she'll play Margaret in all four, well, three since they're shortening the Henries, dramas. This is fabulous, because Margaret is one of the all time great female roles in Shakespeare (also one of the few great female villains), but because the Henry VI plays are both less good and less popular than Richard III, most people only get to see Margaret in her final incarnation as prophecy spouting crone. Never mind Cumberbatch as Richard, now I'm really looking forward to It's Hard Out There For a York.

Tangentially related: when I visted England a few months ago and chatted with [personal profile] rozk about alternative histories, one of the ideas I mentioned for an AU which I don't think anyone ever did could be headlined: Queen Juana of England. Because: what if Henry VII., who after the death of Elizabeth of York was in the marriage market again in the last years of his life and actually tried rather hard to get a new bride, had succeeded in securing his favourite candidate for a second wife, who was none other than his daughter-in-law's older sister, Juana of Castile, commonly known as Juana the Mad?

Whether or not Juana actually was mad was is still up to debate. What's not is the ruthlessness of her male relations in assigning that position for her. Background: Isabellla of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon had united Spain via their marriage, but when Isabella died, the crown of Castile did not pass to her widower; instead, it went to her oldest daughter, Juana. Which doomed Juana. First her husband, Philipp le Bel, tried his best to make her look mad so he could control Castile in her place. Then when Philipp died Juana's father, Ferdinand, after some time of dithering played his hand and had her locked up as mad which left him in complete control of Spain again. And when Ferdinand died and Juana hoped her by then grown up son, the Emperor Charles V. would release her, it turned out, of course, that Charles had no such intention because as long as she lived, Castile was legally Juana's. So he kept her locked up until she died.

Now, Juana during the last years of her marriage had actually visited England. Her youngest sister, Catherine (of Aragon), was then already widowed from her first marriage (to Henry VII.'s oldest son Arthur) but not yet married to Arthur's younger brother, Prince Henry (the future Henry VIII.). In part because Henry VII. and Ferdinand of Aragon were endlessly haggling about Catherine's dowery (plus Henry VII. wasn't sure he couldn't secure a better marriage for his son), which was the main reason why Philipp and Juana were dispensed on a state visit to England, together with an Anglo-Spanish trade agreement. Then, I quote from Thomas Penn's biography of the first Tudor king:

Philip had tried to keep Juana as far as away from the English court as possible. On his arrival at Windsor he claimed that 'a small incident' had kept her from accompanying him - even his close attendants claimed not to know where she was staying- and he was keen to avoid her being accorded a reception befitting her status as Queen of Castile in her own right. At his insistence Juana and her entourage entered Windsor unobtrusively, via a side gate. But Henry, his interest undoubtedly piqued by the reports of Juana's celebrated beauty, ignored Phiilip's repeated requests for him not to give Juana an official welcome and waited for her, together with Catherine and Princess Mary. (...) Philip immediately whisked Juana off to his apartments and kept her there. AS far as he was concerned, Juana was at Windsor solely to add her signature to the new trade agreement. (...) As if all this were not evidence enough of Philip's and Juana's estrangement, the king of Castile's attendants were at pains to emphasize quite how mad his wife was. During the storm that had shipwrecked them, they described how she had been a liability, sobbing at her husband's feet, her arms locked fast round his legs. Later, the Venetian ambassador travelling with Philip's party put it rather differently: she had, he wrote, 'evinced intrepidity throughout'. Henry concurred with the Venetian. Reports of Juana's insanity were, he later concluded, groundless. 'She seemed very well to me', he recalled. 'And although her husband and those who came with him depicted her as crazy, I did not see her as other than sane.'

At that point Henry was trying to get Margaret of Savoy as his second queen, but when Philip died, he switched his attention to Juana. Now, obviously however much or little he may have been impressed by that personal encounter, this was all about Juana's claim on Castile, not her looks or spirit. But he was really serious about it, putting heavy pressure on young Catherine and making it clear that he wouldn't let her marry his son unless he himself could also marry her sister. He even offered to go on crusade against the Turks on Ferdinand's behalf if he could marry Juana. The reason why this never worked out is obvious: Ferdinand had no intention to relinquishing Castile to someone who was easily his match in being a Machiavellian wily old bastard, and he wasn't about to be blackmailed with his youngest daughter's marriage, either, because when all was set and done whether or not Catherine married a second time into the new upstart Tudor dynasty wasn't that important to him. And I can't imagine circumstances under which Ferdinand would change his mind there. However, Juana had some months of liberty before she got locked up - the time which is commonly held as the proof for her madness, when she was supposedly travelling with her late husband's unburied corpse around the countryside -, and sometimes melodramatic twists do happen in real life. So let's say Juana gets convinced in time of her father's dire intentions for herself and makes a getaway from Spain to England. Not because of any romantic feelings for old Henry Tudor, but because Henry's actually the one powerful royal male at that point in whose interest's it is to present her as not insane, who has, indeed, publically declared his faith in her sanity when launching his suit. Plus at least in England she'd have her sister at her side. So let's say Juana goes to England, and Henry VII. is only too delighted to marry the heiress of what is the up and coming power on the European continent. (Now with new colonies overseas to exploit.) Let's further say Henry VII. and Juana proceed to have a male surviving baby before Henry VII. dies his historical death. What would happen then?

Henry VIII. would still become King, I assume; he's the older son and an adult, so a baby brother is no rival. But it's at least questionable whether he'd have married Catherine of Aragon. On the one hand, young Henry was a romantic who did see himself in love with his brother's beautiful widow whom his father had shamelessly exploited as bait and trade hostage. On the other, young Henry was also already capable of the Tudor ruthlessness. (His bid for popularity upon coronation was to try his father's two most unpopular officials for high treason and execute them after a show trial. The two men in question had squeezed the population financially dry on Henry VII's behalf, so everyone cheered when they died and overlooked the fact this was judical murder because the accused had only done what Henry had asked of them and had definitely never committed treason. Nobody seems to have clued into what this said about Henry VIII until many years later when Anne Boleyn came along.) And the fact of the atter was that after a Henry VII/Juana marriage, the Tudor's wouldn't have needed Catherine anymore. The only reason I can imagine for Henry VII not sending her back to Ferdinand would be to keep his new wife sweet, and well, Henry VII. never was sentimental. Henry VIII. was, but it didn't keep him from looking out for No.1.

If young Henry VIII. doesn't marry Catherine upon ascending to the throne, the question is whether another wife (whoever would have brought him the most benefits, I'm sure Wolsey would have arranged something) could have given him a male heir and avoided a lot of ruined lives. If he still does - let's say his affection for Catherine who is still in England to be married wins over pragmatism -, him having a younger brother as a back up heir also would have made a big difference. And I think he'd let the kid grow up because of that claim to Castile. (No Tudor would have avoided a chance to grab more power.) Charles, being Juana's oldest son, would have the superior claim, of course - after Juana's death. But in this scenario, Juana isn't declared insane and locked up. So she can, among other things, keep her kingdom of Castile separate from the Holy Roman Empire. She can make her son's succession dependent on his behavior. Moreover, it's questionable whether or not Charles would be elected Emperor. In real life, he was partly because super merchant Jakob Fugger financed the Habsburg bid and partly because the alternate candidates, who included Henry VIII., were deemed to have lesser claims or none. But now the Tudors actually have a blood connection and access to the gold from the newly exploitable Americas to offer.

I'm not saying it would have been a better world (except for Juana, and everyone Henry VIII. ever married in real life), far from it. (Lesser power for Henry VIII = a good thing.) But it certainly would have been a different one. And much as Elizabeth I. is one of my favourite English monarch, I can't help but wonder what an offspring of Henry VII. and Juana would have been like, especially if he'd have ended up on the throne in the end.
selenak: (VanGogh - Lefaym)
( Apr. 6th, 2014 02:45 pm)
On a somewhat more cheerful note, I managed to get my Rarewoman ficathon story done, which meant a return to an old fandom I haven't been writing in for eons, and that proved to be joyful and relaxing. Thus fortified, I started Robert Cara's multivolume The Years of Lyndon Johnson biographies reccomended to me several times over, and so far, Robert Caro strkes me as the best type of biographer: one who sets his subject in the context of the era said subject is living in, and one who while unafraid to show his subject's (massive) dark side also describes, in great detail, amazing achievements. So you get, for example, young LBJ the college election stealing sinister breaker of people, blackmailer and sadist described in detail by former fellow students, while simultanously getting young LBJ the inspiring teacher who (because he had to finance being at college to begin with, took teaching jobs in between terms) teaches Mexican-American kids to speak English and is still remembered with fondness and awe.

I'm also going to watch Cap II again in a few hours, because I was that much entranced by the movie. It feels odd, though, when going through other people's reviews and realise, not for the first time, that 99% of them contain a good deal of capslocking and "feels" (still dislike that word; am a proponent of "feelings" all the way) about Person In The Title, which wasn't what made the movie for me at all. I mean, I'm sorry for SPOILER, given what happened to him, but it's the vague kind of general sympathy that comes with the awful situation of someone whom, as a person in general, you don't have feelings about one way or the other. I seem to be that way with all the Sebastian Stan characters, be they Jefferson in Once Upon A Time, Jack in Kings, or TJ Hammond in Political Animals. As most of the fannish output in the various fandoms tends to be centered around Stan's characters, this puts me always in something of a looking for needles in haystacks position when trying to find fanfic that's not about any of them. One day he and Tom Hiddleston will be in the same film/show, and then there will be nothing for me at all in terms of fic dealing with everyone else whom I'll invariably be more interested in.
So, during the last week we had, in my part of the world, repeated headlines about the senate report on the CIA and its torture practices during the Bush years, mostly focused around the "revelation" that said torture didn't get any results and that what results were achieved by the CIA, they got first, then tortured anyway, then filed reports to make it look better for themselves by reversing the order of events. Then again, there also was apparantly pressure from above to use "enhanced interrogation techniques" against at least some field agent's reccommendations. Various comments to these articles included the suggestion that this was the CIA taking the fall for the government because of course they carried out wishes. The use of torture itself was, of course, old news. It's noticeable that after more than a decade, nobody bothers with the "a few rotten apples" disclaimer anymore which came with both the few army (Abu Ghraib) and the CIA incidents that were reported back in the day.

Meanwhile, also in the news: George W. Bush opens an exhibition of his paintings. The paintings, various reviews inform us, are nicely avarage, neither bad nor particularly good, and Dubya himself just such an affable guy.

This is why political satire has become redundant.

I mean, there never was a chance that Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney would end up in The Hague on trial, but maybe some hope that the distaste of the public for them would last a little longer than that. And, as much as it's a "go after the tool, not the wielder" unfairness, maybe some chance that some of the actual torturers would face charges, but, so the articles on the Senate report reminded us, the Obama government had refused to charge a single CIA agent in this regard. (Undoubtedly aware that doing so would establish precedence and allow some future person to charge agents for what they did during the Obama years as well, which, while not waterboarding, still would include illegal activities.)

I wonder: did a single reporter interviewing Bush about his painting activities even try to ask him how he feels about the going two wars he started, and the fact that under his government, torture became an accepted interrogation method?

(Where is a shoe-throwing Iraqui if one needs one?)
selenak: (Claudius by Pixelbee)
( Mar. 1st, 2014 02:54 pm)
So, of course I returned from England with a lot more books. In brief, my reactions:

Suzanna Dunn: The May Bride. I've liked Suzanna Dunn's previous novels in varying degrees; this falls for me under "interesting, also very frustrating, and I'm not sure what the author really wanted to get at so probably a failure - but one who did hold my attention a lot". The novel is told in first person by Jane Seymour (the third of Henry VIII.'s queens, aka the one who died in childbirth), but isn't about Jane, or her marriage with Henry at all. This isn't new in Dunn's work - for example, her Katherine Parr centric novel is told by the Duchess of Suffolk - but unusual in that the narrator is a far more known figure than the people the story she tells is actually about. Which is something very obscure in Tudor England history, though readers of Hilary Mantel's Thomas Cromwell novels might recall it, because Hilary Mantel brings it up a couple of times, to wit: the first marriage of Jane's older brother Edward (who'd later go on to be the Lord Protector for her son, his nephew, before losing power and head), which ended in a major scandal because his wife supposedly had two sons by his own father, Sir John Seymour. (Historically, the wife ended in a nunnery, the sons bastardized but later re-legitimized - the later Seymours are actually descended from them - , and Edward went on to marry Anne Stanhope.) Now, in Dunn's novel, teenage Jane Seymour is absolutely fascinated by her brother's new bride, downright crushes on her, and is very sad when the ostensible love match gets worse and worse. Also, Dunn, as opposed to Mantel, lets Sir John Seymour be innocent (Mantel in the introductions to the dramatization of her novels, by contrast, points out Jane didn't go to her father's funeral and that having an affair with his daughter-in-law remains the thing he's best known for), and mostly blames Edward's lack of passion and later issue ridden paranoid jealousy; his first wife does have a one night stand with someone but not with his father. Leaving aside historical likelihood, within the universe of the novel it's psychologically plausible enough told, and teenage Jane who only gradually becomes aware of what is actually going on makes for a good narrator. However, the last fifth or so of the novel try to connect all of this with why Jane later marries Henry VIII, and this is where the author loses me. In her version, Jane, feeling guilty for various reasons, but also for not standing up for her sister-in-law when the later was sent to a nunnery, comes to court, serves Katherine of Aragorn as a lady-in-waiting just when Anne Boleyn becomes a factor, identifies Katherine of Aragorn with her former sister-in-law (also called Katherine, btw, Katherine Filliol), and, when Anne's star starks to sink years later, decides to avenge both Katherines by making Henry marry herself. Just how marrying Henry is supposed to be a blow for the sisterhood and revenge on brother Edward (who profits from this marriage along with brother Tom) for putting aside his first wife with an unjust (in the novel) accusation is beyond me. I'm all for Jane Seymour actually having an agenda instead of just being the tool of her brothers and producing Henry's longed for son at the price of her own death, but this one really lacks all logic, emotional or otherwise. What the novel mostly achieved, in the positive sense, is making me interested in Edward Seymour, who is by far the most interesting character in it. It's rare to find him in Tudor fiction that's not dealing with his brother Tom's and the young, teenage Elizabeth, and he certainly had some valuable reforms to his credit while otoh mishandling the Scots disastrously; keeping Henry's favour beyond his sister's life was more than any of the other in-laws of the other wives managed, especially considering Edward was a determined Protestant. But this was all much later, and Dunn's version of a young Edward both very competent and very emotionally mixed up, incapable of handling a bad marriage, was new to me.

The title, by the way, refers both to Katherine Filliol when marrying Edward and Jane Seymour (who of course married Henry VIII immediately after Anne Boleyn's execution - in May). It's just a shame that the author tries to enforce a parallel and motivation which refuses to appear.

Stuart Moore: Civil War. This is a novelization of the Civil War storyline from Marvel Comics; the novelization must have been only relatively recently published (I'll get to why in a minute) whereas the Civil War storyline in comics was published in 2006 and 2007. I reviewed the most important trade collections dealing with it in the following posts: Road To Civil War, Spider-Man: Civil War and Casualties of War/Rubikon, and Civil War: Iron Man; if you're interested in details about the original storyline, what it was about and why it was so controversial, check these out. Suffice it to say here that among various problems it had was that the various authors in this multiple comics characters extravaganza was that the various authors were quite obviously not on the same page as far as the characterisations of the main participants were concerned, nor, in fact, the characterisation of the main issue, the Superhuman Registration Act. So I was quite interested what a single author with years of hindsight would make of it. Given that just about every major Marvel hero and their spin-off had been involved, streightening this out to form a coherent book was not an enviable task. Stuart Moore focused on Mark Millar's main storyline, which I suppose makes sense but still unfortunate in that many of the most interesting and complex chapters of the Civil War saga weren't written by Mark Millar at all. He does include information from some of the tie-in stories, notably JMS' Spider-Man ones, and works them into Millar's main series. The main povs are: Tony Stark, Peter Parker, Steve Rogers/Captain America and Susan Storm. Something that's immediate noticable if you're familiar with the original comic books is novelization did some updates, both within and without the Marvelverse. The original Civil War storyline happened before Peter Parker's marriage to Mary Jane was retconned by editorial fiat into non-existence (on a Doylist level; Watsonian wise, it was retconned by a deal with the devil to save Aunt May, I kid you not). The novelization, however, goes by the new continuity, i.e. Peter never was married to Mary Jane, so Mary Jane accordingly had to be written out of the story she was originally a part of... until the last third, when she does show up again and gets to help Peter and Aunt May. The other within-universe updates are nods to the cinematic versions of the characters; thus, Christine Everhart, a movieverse character, shows up among the reporters interviewing Tony who does remember his one night stand with her (I might add the novel treats her more respectfully than Iron Man II does), and also recalls coming out as Iron Man at a press conference after her questions (which happened in the first Iron Man film but not in the comics - he did come out as Iron Man quite a while before the Civil Wars storyline, but not in the same fashion). Similarly, Peter Parker remembers MJ flirting with him and Harry Osborn when visiting them in the apartment they shared, which sounds to me more like a nod towards the first Sam Raimi film than to the comic book continuity. And then there's one update that's outside the Marvelverse. Now, Marvel comics usually don't have identifiable real life Presidents, they have fictional Presidents. (With exceptions; back when Obama became President there was one Spider-Man story set specifically around his inauguration, not least due to to the fact Obama had called Spider-Man his favourite comic book hero shortly before that.) Nonetheless, back when Civil War was published, many people saw it as a reaction to the Patriot Act and George W. Bush as President. Stuart Moore's novelization, however, sets the story specifically in the current day US, with Obama as President, not Bush. (Obamacare is referenced in dialogue.) The most depressing aspect about this to me is probably the realisation that it works as a story under either President. What with the NSA, the Obama government repeatedly described as the most control-obsessed and paranoid since Richard Nixon's, Guantanomo still not closed and Whistleblowers faring worse, not better, under Obama than under Bush? It works.

Other observations: writing-quality wise this is a good tie-in; not better and not worse than avarage fanfiction fleshing out canon scenes. If Stuart Moore can't sell some things - like Sue's reconciliation with her husband, Reed Richards, at the end - it's the problem of the source. (Mind you, both Mr. and Mrs. Richards fare better here charactersation wise than they do in the original comics, see my linked reviews; Sue, the unconvincing reconciliation at the end aside, is written consistently and sympathetically, while Reed Richards isn't saddled with such clunkers signifying evil as "hooray for MacCarthy!".) What surprised me, given that Millar's main series of which this is a novelization certainly favours Cap's side over Iron Man's, is that Tony Stark emerges as the better written character, not because he doesn't do the stuff he does in the original comics - he does - but because Moore in his pov chapters shows him as emotional, conflicted over what he's doing but convinced it's the right thing and because the alternative is worse (it's also the difference between visual - the comics showed him mainly in armour, thereby emphasizing the threatening aspect - versus the written - we're repeatedly in his head). Whereas Captain America, called "Cap" in his pov characters and never "Steve" which is probably already saying something, is written as in the right but without any interior conflict (not least because Moore doesn't use any of the Cage and Bendis stuff re: the Captain America/Iron Man relationship; we're told they used to be friends but don't see it from Cap's pov, who instead mentally compares punching Tony with punching Hitler). With every other pov character - Sue, Peter, Tony - being conflicted and torn during the course of the narrative - this makes Cap the least interesting, which is a shame. Especially since I guess one reason why this novel gets published now is to interest people who only know the characters from the movieverse in the comics (hence also the movieverse nods). Anyway, this also means that the main emotional breakup happening in the novel is the one between Peter Parker and Tony Stark, not the one between Steve and Tony; which reminds me that relationship actually was interesting before getting retconned out of existence along with Peter's marriage and other signs of adulthood. Oh, comics. You do provide so much engagement and frustration at the same time.

Jo Graham and Melissa Scott: Silver Bullet. The third of these authors' "Order of the Air" series; like its two predecessors, see here , a great adventure novel set in the first half of the 20th century, with an engaging ensemble of characters. By now, we've arrived in 1932 and there are ominous historical rumblings. That one part of the plot is kicked off by a German-Jewish collector of antiquities wanting to sell in order to leave the country is maybe predictable, but far less predictable and very interesting to me was that the bad guys aren't operetta Nazis clicking their heels but various (American) people from the American Legion, and that with the country still suffering from the Great Depression the way some of the rightwing extremist ideas gain traction has uncomfortable present day parallels. (And not just because chief baddie Pelley is talking about a coalition of the willing, borrowing a Dubya phrase.) As in the other novels, there is a mixture of adventures flying and magical peril going on, though in this novel the magical peril is scaled back (though still there - it's clear there will be a long term arc with one of the villain's schemes) in favour of technological peril, since of of the plot MacGuffins is a malfunctioning Nikola Tesla invention at Tesla's old laboratory in Colorado (no, not the invention from The Prestige, she says evilly) which the villains would like to get their hands on, while our heroes manage to recruit the aged Tesla himself. (BTW, this affords the opportunity for a nice Sanctuary in joke when Tesla has to deny he's a vampire.) The flirting between Mitch and the newest addition to the team, Stasi, which started in the previous novel has now reached the serious romance stage, and given Mitch's backstory there are some obstacles which, however, are sensitively dealt with (by the narrative) and gloriously overcome (by the characters). While I still love Alma and Lewis, I must admit Stasi, conwoman, thief and medium, is pushing all my Amanda-from-Highlander buttons and has become my favourite, plus Mitch is very endearing as well, so their scenes were particular highlights. But really, there is no character in the team who doesn't hold my interest and sympathy, and I hope for many more of their adventures to come!
This morning there was an interview with Bryan Cranston in the NY Times, about playing Lyndon B. Johnson in All The Way. It's a good interview, and I knew this was his upcoming project, but somehow I'd missed out on the fact this was a theatre play, not a movie or tv miniseries. Which is great for theatre goes in New York but sad for transatlantic me, who thus won't get to watch Cranston in said role. And I'd love to: Cranston bringing out all the ambiguities, the flaws and virtues of Johnson surely will be awesome to behold.

The other reason why I'd have been looking forward to watching the film or tv product this isn't: it wouldn't, couldn't fall into the two categories American dramas seem to when featuring a President in a prominent role: if Nixon, then a tragic villain, if Lincoln, then a noble saint. Johnson's reputation has had its ups and downs, but seems to have settled for "Great Society Awesome, Vietnam Bad" as far as his presidency is concerned, and "Most efficient Senator and Democratic Leader in the Senate Ever/Totally Not Above Stealing If He Needed To" for the decades before that. I remember Ted Kennedy in his memoirs calling him the best American President post-Roosevelt, but even his enemies seem to agree that Johnson, for good or ill, got things done. The Cranston article summarizes: But in 2014, the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and the War on Poverty, with anniversaries of two other Great Society triumphs, the Voting Rights Act and Medicare, a year away, Johnson endures as something far more interesting and even inspiring: the last and perhaps greatest of all legislative presidents, with his wizardly grip on the levers of governance at a time when it was still possible for deals to be brokered and favors swapped and for combatants to clash in an atmosphere of respect, if not smiling concord. And before that: The story of a ruthless president who got things done — without blinking at the costs and compromises — reminds us that partisan gridlock doesn’t have to be a permanent condition.

There is a pointed if unspoken comparison here to the current President. In all the non-Republican criticisms of Obama (and non-foreign: in my part of the world, he and the entire US government are currently under fire for something else altogether), the constant red thread seems to be that he's too aloof and hands-off to mingle with anyone in Washington outside his inner circle; that something like "the Johnson Treatment" (which, Wikipedia tells me, was the nickname for Johnson's tried and true method of cajoling, intimidating, flattering and terrorizing - whatever worked - Congressmen and Senators alike) would be unthinkable. (Ditto for Clinton-style arm-pressing and socializing.) To which the defense in the recent New Yorker profile of Obama was that in the current climate, with the Republicans so dead set to object to anything from the government, it wouldn't be of use anyway. Which is probably true, but it strikes me that one reason why types like Johnson wouldn't even make it to the presidency these days (except the way LBJ did, i.e. as Vice President taking over from a suddenly dying incumbent) is that both Republican and Democrat candidates harp on presenting themselves as outsiders to the Washington scene. No matter how accurate or not, every candidate spins it like he/she is the noble saviour from outside, untainted by poisonous inside politics and corruption, and voters reward that. That the result isn't change but even more obstruction and inertia isn't really surprising, if you think about it.

Now, the recent Lincoln did show some political manoeuvring and cajoling and showed Lincoln as savvy in addition to being noble, but it still couldn't resist te occasional half profile shot where you expect him to have a halo because of the way he's lighted, and also, being the President who ended slavery and was assassinated means you don't have to convince the majority of the audience he was a good guy. Johnson, otoh, has the Vietnam albatros around his neck, and that's before you get into conspiracy theories about the Kennedy assassination or more reliable tales about his intimidation tactics which make him sound like the Gene Hunt of Presidents. (Phlipp Glennister for Johnson if the play is a success and comes to London?) And then, it's impossible to end his story on a triumphant note for anyone: he leaves office, Vietnman gets even worse, America gets Nixon, and the days of major liberal laws being passed and being put into practice, are over for the next few decades. In conclusion and back to the beginning, I'm really curious about this play, and endlessly frustrated I won't get to see it.
selenak: (Elizabeth - shadows in shadows by Poison)
( Jan. 27th, 2014 08:02 am)
Festivids went live, and there is much to watch. Now, I don't rate The Tudors much as a show, but it did have the occasional good performance, and of course it provides good visual. (Other than Jonathan Rhys Meyer as an ever thin Henry, which, well, enough said.) Vids, however, can do amazing things with flawed sources, and this year there are two good ones using The Tudors. One of them takes the wives and makes the point Abigail Nussbaum eloquently made in her review of Hilary Mantel's Cromwell novels:

One of the reasons that the story of Henry VIII is retold so often is how versatile it is. It encompasses family, politics and religion, and has so many interesting movers and shakers, that you could tell it from almost any perspective and in almost any way--tragedy, romance, soap opera, political intrigue, farce--and end up with a good story. But to me, the story is, at its heart, about women. It would be hard to come up with a better illustration of how patriarchy screws women over, of the zero-sum game they're made to play with other women, of the chutes and ladders a woman must traverse when she sets out to parlay her biology into power, of the inescapable trap that is the virgin-whore dichotomy, than the six wives of Henry VIII. You can play by Catherine's rules, tolerating disrespect and infidelity so long as you get to keep the titles of wife and queen, only to be told that you have to relinquish them, discovering that the protection you thought they offered you has disappeared. You can play by Anne's rules (or rather The Rules), playing the harlot but refusing to give up the goods except for a ring and a crown, but these won't make you any safer than your predecessor, and the power you amassed when your demands for respect were enticing and sexy will melt away as soon as these become grating. If you're unfaithful, you die; if you're faithful, you still die. If you can't bear a male heir, you die; if you do bear a male heir, you still die. And best of all, at no point during this decades-long process will anyone around you stop to consider that maybe the problem here isn't with the women, but with the man who, directly or indirectly, caused the deaths of four out of his six wives. (Actually, the real best part is the surprise twist ending, the fact that all that desperate, bloody scrambling after a male heir results only in the brief, inconsequential reign of Edward VI, while the seemingly unimportant daughter of the ignominiously dispatched Anne Boleyn becomes one of England's most famous monarchs, but most of the characters in Mantel's books will never have the historical perspective necessary to get that joke.)

This vid tells exactly this story

Call the Midwife has an ensemble of endearing characters; I was delighted to find this year's Festivids presents one of them, Shelagh/Sister Bernadette. This vid is a beautiful character portrait of her arc.

And lastly, a Doctor Who fanfic rec, with an awesome Jackie Tyler voice:

Demeter Walks (2395 words) by kaffyrutsky
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Doctor Who
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Jackie Tyler/Pete Tyler, Jackie Tyler & Rose Tyler, Jackie Tyler & the Doctor
Characters: Jackie Tyler
Additional Tags: Missing Scene, Character Study, POV First Person

I walk a lot these days. And I owe it to Rose and himself.

Jackie Tyler talks about love, loss and learning.


selenak: (Default)


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