It wasn't unexpected at all, but it's the type of death that makes you feel a big part of your life has just become history.
It wasn't unexpected at all, but it's the type of death that makes you feel a big part of your life has just become history.
A Butch Too Far: about the movie itself, compared to the historical events.
Saturday Night is all right for fighting: about the five other riot nights the movie skips over, and why they're important.
There's got to be a morning after: what followed the Stonewall Riots.
And some short fanfiction in various fandoms:
Caution: in which Admiral Hennessey and Alfred Hamilton have a little chat. Great missing scene.
Reasonable Sacrifice: meta-story which offers both good Anakin characterisation and a good explanation for force ghost Anakin's switching appearances in the various editions of Return of the Jedi.
Agent Carter or Captain America or MCU in general:
Loneliness and his friends: in between missions conversation between Howard Stark and Steve Rogers, with Peggy the main subject, well written for what Howard doesn't say as much as for what he does in the light of Agent Carter's season 1 finale.
Meanwhile, have some fanfic recs:
Three Adventures Belladonna Took Never Went On : great, endearing portrait of Bilbo's famous mother Belladonna. Her relationship with Gandalf reminds me a bit of Amy Pond and the Eleventh Doctor here. (You'll see what I mean when you read it.) And, something I haven't seen in fanfiction, there's a dead-on take on the narrator voice Tolkien employed in The Hobbit.
Richard III, Shakespeare version:
Under a Hog: darkly hilarious American politics AU of Shakespeare's play from the pov of Richard's campaign workers. Bonus point for not needing Henry Tudor at all and making Lizzie Woodville his rival instead, campaigning for her dead husband's seat.
York Tetralogy: and history:
The Daisy Queen: what formed Marguerite d'Anjou. The author superbly uses actual French history, most of all Marguerite's hardcore grandmother Queen Yolande.
There were over 20 000 refugees coming from Hungary to Munich over the weekend, though by now a part of the travels onwards to other German provinces; there were similar receptions at the Düsseldorf, Frankfurt and Dortmund train stations. Here's a short English language reporting:
Here are the novels in question, their plusses and downsides in the opinion of your humble reviewer:
The Margaret of Ashbury trilogy:
1. A Vision of Light: introducing our heroine, Margaret, who dictates her memoirs to a monk and lives in the time of Edward III., but is totally not Margery Kempe, honest. Mostly not, I suspect, because Judith Merkle Riley wanted Margaret to enjoy sex more and be a bit more down to earth. But Margaret does have visions and chats with the Almighty, in between going through a vivid medieval life, including an encounter with the plague, becoming a midwife, marrying twice (spoiler: in this volume), and having the ability to befriend tremendously interesting people. Margaret is a delightful heroine, and like I said, not the novel's sole carefully drawn woman. You get a sense of how clichés are avoided/twisted around early on when he drunken father remarries, a not-attractive-anymore widow with two sons of her own who at first glance doesn't seem to care for Margaret. But no, we're not going the Cinderella/Evil Stepmother route; instead, Margaret due to an incident starts to see her stepmother as a human being and bonds with her (not to mention that Mother Anne teaches her the highly useful skill of brewing excellent beer). Later, when Margaret's mentor, the midwife Hilde, shows up, you think: mentor figure! Midwife in novel set in the late middle ages! She'll die! But no. Hilde is still happily alive and living with her trickster type companion at the end of the trilogy. And so forth.
If A Vision of Light has a downside, it's that the ending, the last 50 pages or so, are basically a set up for the next volume rather than a conclusion to this one. If there had been no more novels, I would gone "Hang on! Am I to believe this abrupt shift in their relationship will make either of them happy? But - but..." Knowing what will come, I'm fine with the twist.
2.) In Pursuit of the Green Lion: perhaps my favourite of the trilogy. Margaret and SPOILER have to deal with the fallout of that set up, and Judith Merkle Riley executes one trope I enjoy if well done - ( Spoilery trope named ) - in a convincing way. Also there's lots of sarcasm at the expense of the nobility, and two bickering ghosts. (In future books, Merkle Riley sometimes lets the supernatural elements go overboard, but here it's just in the right doses, plus one of the ghosts is someone Margaret loved and lost in the past, and the book makes the point that loving someone in the present doesn't mean all that came before wasn't as important, or, conversely, that having loved someone truly means you can no longer love anyone else. In short, it's the anti One True Love No One Else Counts trope I still wish was more common. Yay! This is also the first book set in France for a considerable part when Margaret & friends are undercover as pilgrims, giving us a wry and amused look at the Avignon era of the Church. Oh, and it features the first bunch of Merkle Rileys satanists; there's a Gilles de Rais type around...who has it in for Margaret's love interest because said love interest satirized the count's poems. Which is a very Merkle Riley twist.
3.) The Water Devil: a bit of a let down compared to the first two. Not that it's a bad book per se; by itself, it's a perfectly entertaining adventure novel, Margaret & friends are still a captivating lot. But the villainess is a paper thin cliché, and the story itself doesn't really add anything new to Margaret's development, as opposed to the first two. Ah well.
The Serpent Garden: set during the early reign of Henry VIII., and highly unusual already because it has nothing to do with his marriages. The most prominent Tudor in it is his sister Mary, since her brief marriage to the French king and subsequent one with Charles Brandon form part of the plot, but Mary is only a supporting character. Our heroine here is Susanna, soon widow of a morally no good painter and an accomplished painter of miniature portraits herself, who first becomes a part of Wolsey's entourage and then a part of Mary's. This novel has both a third act and a supernatural problem; for two thirds of it, Susanna is a fine plucky heroine using her talent in world that keeps underestimating her, plus the book offers a take on Wolsey during the height of his power. (No Cromwell in sight, though Cavendish shows up as a flatterer and Anne Boleyn as a teenage girl in France.) But Susanna's no good husband who dies at the beginning has been involved in supernatural treasure-hunting, and during the last third, the book gets dominated by an angel versus demon struggle with Susanna only playing a small part, and it's just not what I signed up for.
The Oracle Glass: My favourite of the standalones! Set in Paris during the Reign of Louis XIV, with the famous "Affair of the Poisons" playing a central role. Our heroine is Genevieve, clever, a book worm, but also handicapped, which is why her mother hates her. Genevieve gets thrown out after her father's death and gets picked up in the streets by Catherine La Voisin, the most (in)famous "witch" of Paris, soothsayer, abortionist, master poisoner, con woman and head of a whole network of women who have at least one of said skills as well. Genevieve gets a new identity as the 150 years old Madame de Morville and becomes a successful soothsayer, which works out well for her for a while, but if you know at least a bit of French history, you know La Voisin has a date with destiny. She, btw, is perhaps Merkle Riley's most successsful female villain/ambiguous character (sometimes one, sometimes the other), practical, ruthless, and basically a female Don Corleone, seeing herself as simply a very successful business woman with marketable skills. (Which she is, and has the business folders to prove it.) Genevieve's attitude towards her is a mixture of respect, (justified) distrust and some awe.
Meanwhile, Genevieve's blood family is dastardly rotten, except for her grandmother (whom she models her Madame de Morville persona after) and her sister, Marie-Angelique, who is another great cliché refuter, because she's the pretty blonde one to Genevieve's intellectual brunette, but she is also Genevieve's one good family member and consistently loving towards her, instead of being a mean girl (tm). Then there's Genevieve's maid Sylvie (who gets paid a lot to spy on her by various parties and cheerfully admits to it every time to Genevieve while keeping the cash), and the other ladies of La Voisin's network. This novel is just bursting with women who are interesting and have interesting relationships with each other. And I'm okay with the romance, too. Highly reccommended.
The Master of All Desires: alas. This one has the dullest heroine of the lost, Sibille, despite her being a writer (a poet). She gets completely overshadowed by two other ladies, Catherine de Medici and Diane de Poitiers, since this novel is set in France, 1556. The title refers to the novel's McGuffin, a mummified head who can fulfill wishes but specializes in fulfilling them in a way that ruins everything for the wishing person. Catherine and Diane both want it, Sibille by accident has it, and Nostradamus tries to deal with the head in a way that avoids bringing on the apocalypse. This is a novel with a good premise, but it can't quite decide who the main character is - Catherine, Nostradamus or Sibille -, and Sibille, alas, is the most colourless of Judith Merkle Riley's OCs. Also Nostradamus having issues with poetry in general gets repetitive. Worth reading for the way Merkle Riley twists events at the end of Henri II.'s reign and after to be the result of ill-considered wishes by Diane and Catherine (let's just say wishing crowns for all your children is a baaaaad idea if you don't clarify three of them aren't supposed to get the same one), and for a take on Catherine de Medici which is traditional but also avoids the monster cliché (this Catherine has the potential but doesn't go there yet). Also if you enjoy twists on the "evil wish fulfiller: how to outthink them?" trope. But as a novell, it belongs with the "Serpent Garden" to those I think could have used a complete redrafting and/or different focus.
Well, you just know why Henry Tudor's German book tour got cancelled. No, not just the royalties. :) He clearly demanded a guarantee he'd get a better audience than Luther did, and then Korn & Berg looked at the difference in sales and realistically replied they couldn't guarantee that, Martin L. being outsold only by Albrecht Dürer prints. They did offer Henry a public discussion with Luther and a joint signing session afterwards, though. Except then Luther said he doubted Henry (he said Childe Hal, not Henry - "Junker Heinz" being his nickname for The Guy In Question) could write anything, including his own name, without Thomas More holding his pen, and the moment Henry heard THAT, he decided to create a country and linguistic culture hostile to translations from the German. Clearly.
Sunshine and Rain: a lovely friendship and comfort vignette between Elrond and Bilbo, shortly after the Ring got destroyed.
If certain pop culture clichés about the Spanish Inquisition ever amused and/or annoyed you, here's an excellent post (triggered by a movie I haven't seen, The Headsman, but really only taking its use of an Inquisitor as a starting point, and thus perfectly understandable for everyone) dissecting and clarifying what the Spanish Inquisition actually was, versus what pop culture thinks it was:
Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.
Famous last words, etc. The end result was one of the longest things I've written outside Yuletide, and I don't regret a single thing. Eleanor of Aquitaine will do that to you. The prompt asked for an AU, which got me thinking not of one AU but several. Well, there's a certain format for this. I've repeatedly written "Five Things..." tales about fictional characters; there was no reason not to do it for a rl one. Especially since said format, at least in the way it works for me, also provides the opportunity to portray the main character "in canon", so to speak, via several angles.
So, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of France, Queen of England, survivor extraordinaire who still travelled across the Pyrenees on political missions when in her 70s, something that would be remarkable even today, let alone in the Middle Ages. Her life was often so unlikely that fiction couldn't trump it. However, of course there were plenty of opportunities where with just one circumstance changed, her resulting existence would have been just as remarkable (imo), if in a different (or not?) way. After mulling it over (and reading one of the newer biographies, since the last time I did research on Eleanor was more then 20 years ago), I came up with five scenarios which each became its own story. You can read all five here:
Time and Chance (16069 words) by Selena
Fandom: 12th Century CE RPF, When Christ and His Saints Slept - Sharon Kay Penman, Devil's Brood - Sharon Kay Penman, Historical RPF, Henry II Trilogy - Sharon Kay Penman, The Lion in Winter (1968)
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Eleanor of Aquitaine/Henry Plantagenet, Eleanor of Aquitaine/Louis VII of France, Eleanor of Aquitaine & Thomas Becket, Eleanor of Aquitaine & Matilda I of Boulogne, Eleanor of Aquitaine & Raymond of Antioch, Peter Abelard/Heloise (background)
Characters: Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry II of England, Thomas Becket, Bernard of Clairveaux, Petronilla de Chemillé, Mahault of Anjou, Matilda I of Boulogne, Stephen of England, Eustace IV Count of Boulogne, Louis VII of France, Robert de Dreux, Raymond of Antioch, Melisande of Jerusalem - Character, Thierry Galeran, Henry the Young King, William X. of Aquitaine, Petronilla of Aquitaine
Additional Tags: Alternate Universe - Historical, POV Female Character, Female Friendship
Five lives which Eleanor of Aquitaine never lived.
A few more remarks on those five roads not taken: ( Hidden under a cut. )
Really late in my part of the world, but I've been waiting ever since posting my story, as one does, i.e. weeks, so what are a few hours more? I'm too tired to read much tonight - that's what I'm looking forward to tomorrow - but I had to (delightedly) read the one written for me, which is:
À chaque jour suffit sa peine (707 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: Historical RPF, 17th Century CE RPF
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: Charles II of England
Charles has three kingdoms, and can't go back to any of them. So he does his best to keep himself amused in France instead.
Thank you so much, writer!
No prizes for guessing my story (i.e. the one I wrote) - I think it's fairly obvious, but then I always do. I had a blast writing it and will ramble about it post reveal.
Amusing especially if you know your Elizabethan history:
21 Things only kids who grew up in the 1590s will understand
hey good looking, what's cooking (12363 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: Agent Carter (TV)
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Peggy Carter & Angie Martinelli
Characters: Peggy Carter, Angie Martinelli, Edwin Jarvis, Anna Jarvis, Jack Thompson, Daniel Sousa
Additional Tags: Female-Centric, Feminist Themes, Period-Typical Sexism, Undercover, Bechdel Test Pass, Espionage, Domestic
Dottie Underwood has been spotted again. Now they just have to find her.
Case fic! With Jarvis in it! And Anna! At last! (Not that I'm against case fics involving Peggy and the SRR team solely, but to really love it, I need my Jarvis(es) included.
The Hunger Games:
Vid: In the 99 (48 words) by cosmic_llin
Fandom: The Hunger Games (Movies)
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Katniss Everdeen & Effie Trinket
Characters: Effie Trinket, Katniss Everdeen
Additional Tags: Video, Fanvids, Social Justice, Inequality, Female Friendship, Epiphanies
Effie, Katniss, the Districts and the Capitol.
Coulld also be called "The Education of Effie Trinket". The movies, both due to Elizabeth Banks' performance and the script giving her more to do and to react to than the novels, made Effie from comic relief/symbol of Capitol glamorization of the Games into someone I really care about. Here in this vid, the contrast between Effie doing the reading of names at the start of the story and Effie reading Katniss' one and a half movies later is especially startling.
So there will be a prequel theatre play about James and Lily Potter? More about the Lily-Petunia relationship sounds promising, and otoh I just know this will restart dozens of fannish wars....
Here are ten of his most famous film scores.
I couldn't join Remix this year. (Though I did provide my stories to Remix Madness, if someone wants to have a go.)
But over the weekend, I finished my story for the History Exchange 2015, and the beta just came back, so I edited and posted it. Checking, I realised there are only 13 participants in the exchange, which makes it the anti Yuletide, I suppose! Ah well, hopefully the stories resulting will be read by a few people more. I'm very much looking forward to the other 12 stories! Incidentally, in order to brush up on my canon knowledge for my story, so to speak, I read one of the newer (i.e. published since the last time I did research) biographies on the subject. By Desmond Seward, and ended up being very annoyed indeed about him pulling out that old chestnut, "it's totally X's fault that her son Y was gay, because she was a strong personality and had a close relationship with him! Mothers with strong personalities who are close to their sons make men gay! And did I mention? She totally ruined hm for all other women and made him gay!" In a biography published in 2011, no less. That's it, Seward, I'll read no more biographies from you.
On a less backwards note, Sense8 icons! And very beautiful ones, too.
And a link:
A great conversation between Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro about fantasy, genre, Samurai movies versus Errol Flynn swashbucklers, Stevens the Butler as a monster, and Doctor Who, among other subjects.
And another: Why it's time to let Edward Snowden come home. From my part of the world, Obama's quick embrace of the NSA and all the utter invasion of privacy the Patriot Act granted the government is one of the biggest dissappointments of his presidency, along with the non-closing of Guantanamo and the persecution of whistleblowers (not just Snowden) in general.
It was a riveting presentation, and afterwards of course someone asked our main author, Christiane Kohl, who wrote about this (her book has already been made into a tv movie which I haven't seen yet), why the hell the first director of the Gestapo wasn't among the prisoners instead of being a wined and dined witness. ("Wined and dined" isn't an exaggaration; as opposed to the rest of the country, where the food situation was what you'd expect it to be in the wake of total destruction, both the witnesses and prisoners in Nuremberg had three to four full meals a day.) She said it was mainly because in 1945, many of the Third Reich documents hadn't been processed or even found - the protocol of the Wannsee Conference, for example, didn't turn up until 1947 -, so the prosecution had to rely on affidavits and living witnesses, and Diels was one of the few Nazi insiders willing to testify for the prosecution - he was referred to as an 1a witness - and swear to the fact that knowledge about the Holocaust hadn't been limited to a very few. Still: it's incredibly galling to imagine that this man due to his testimony not only got away scot free but was working in the Allied administration from 1948 onwards. Afterwards, he was thoroughly enjoying his life, getting a pension, living on an estate, and dying of all the things in a hunting incident. (He had an unsecured gun in the back of his car, the dog jumped on the gun, and that was that.) Actually, he was even enjoying his life during the Nuremberg trials; being good looking, he had many affairs, including with the landlady of the "Zeugenhaus", who was an Hungarian countess put in charge by the Americans because they thought "aristocrats have natural authority". God help us.
No wonder that Josef Ackermann wrote that "I chocked" when seeing this man on the other side of the table. Christiane Kohl says she was first alerted to this bizarre situation when coming across the guest book (yes, there was a guest book) of this house, where the victim witnesses, if they signed, signed solely their names, while the perpetrator witnesses signed with either long sentimental or long self pitying eloges on the note of "in a time when the whole world is against you, it's great that there is one place where you are treated with kindness and dignity". I suppose pragmatically speaking putting them in the same house was probably because with 98% of Nuremberg destroyed in 1945, there weren't that many houses where you could stash a bunch of people, but still. Surely there could have been a different solution that would have spared the victims having to house with Gestapo bosses? At any rate, you wouldn't dare to make something like this up. Reality beats fiction in sheer bizarreness every time.
Tracy Borman: Thomas Cromwell: The untold story of Henry VIII.'s most faithful servant.: Well written biography, both if you're already well versed in Tudor lore and if you aren't. Definitely reccommended if Mantel's novels and/or the tv show have made you curious. Not least because while Borman is sympathetic to his subject, he doesn't edit out Cromwell's less savoury deeds the way Hilary Mantel does, nor does he suffer from an urge to vilify Cromwell's opponents as a way to make said deeds look better. His Cromwell comes across all around as more human - for example, definitely loyal to Wolsey after Wolsey's fall (and long after: Borman mentions Cromwell having an argument about Wolsey, defending him, in the last year of Cromwell's life), but also exasperated and irritated with Wolsey near the end of the Cardinal's life, when Wolsey was bombarding Cromwell with messages precisely because Cromwell was the only one who'd still listen, and being increasingly terse in his replies. (This doesn't lessen the rarity and admirability of said loyalty, I hasten to add.)
Unlike Mantel, Borman both has Richard Rich perjure himself in the More trial and presents the Anne Boleyn trials (i.e hers and those of her supposed lovers) as a public relations disaster for Henry & Cromwell. (As well he might; if someone as hostile to Anne Boleyn as the Imperial Ambassador thought the charges were unconvincing and that both Anne and George Boleyn came across as couragous and plausible by contrast, the propaganda value must have been zilch.) Interestingly, in the question as as to whether making Anne's death - as opposed to another annulment - the end game was Henry's or Cromwell's idea, once Anne's third miscarriage settled for Henry he wouldn't get any more living children from her, Borman goes with Cromwell, as opposed to a lot of other historians I've read. Borman thinks Cromwell went for broke in that regard as a matter of survival, because a living Anne might, just might have managed to win Henry around again, in which case Cromwell himself after their breakup would have been doomed. (Speaking of that, Borman goes with Ives about the argument re: the money distribution from the dissolution of the monasteries as a primary reason (though not the only one) for the Anne-Cromwell fallout. Said argument is another thing Mantel leaves out altogether, probably her Anne is so relentlessly self absorbed she'd never want the money to go to organized charity instead of the royal coffers, and her Cromwell far too reform minded and noble to want the money to fill the royal coffers instead of going to the poor.)
Cromwell's own downfall makes for harrowing reading. It also filled in something for me I hadn't known before. I mean, I had known that one reason, probably the main reason, why Gregory Cromwell survived his father's fate in a far better fashion than next of kin to condemmed traitors usually did had been because his wife was Jane Seymour's sister, but what I hadn't known was that said sister, Elizabeth, did all the paperwork distancing herself and her husband from her father-in-law (with whom she'd gotten on very well before) in terms of letters to people left in charge, denouncing TC. It was the pragmatic thing to do - and Elizabeth comes across as a far more capable survivor than her two famous brothers, Edward and Thomas -, but it still makes for somewhat chilling reading.
Julia Fox: Jane Boleyn: The Infamous Lady Rochford.: one of those biographies which can be considered as something of a game changer given it challenges accepted wisdom about a historical subject in a pretty radical way. Mind you, as a biography it suffers from the same problem biographies of other Tudor supporting players like, say, Mary Boleyn do, to wit, there isn't much first hand material about the primary subject, only one or two letters from her, and not much contemporary material about her, either; you get the impression that Julia Fox went over everything with the finest of combs and still mostly came up with statistics, so to speak; court masques Jane participated in, pageants she took part in, the terms of her jointure (= Tudor era pre nup, so to speak). Said statistics allow for some interesting conclusions - more about that later -, but they still are a vastly different basis for a biography than the one which Borman had for Cromwell, where there were a lot of conversations between Cromwell and other contemporaries reported, letters from Cromwell galore, etc. This means a lot of the book consists by necessity of events Jane witnessed, with Jane herself as a shadowy "Jane must have thought", and "Jane could see that..." type of presence.
However, while this is frustrating (and unavoidable, given the premise), it doesn't mean Fox' book doesn't contain both new and valuable information. What made the book so new and unusual when it was published (and still pretty unusual; Borman, in a book published only last year, for example, still mentions Jane "eagerly" supplying Cromwell with the incest accusation without even in his footnotes mentioning what Fox pointed out, that there is zero contemporary evidence for this) was that in its last third it demonstrated that accounts blaming Jane as the source of the incest accusation against Anne and George Boleyn don't start until Elizabeth's reign, when historians had the problem that on the one hand, the Queen's mother had to be innocent, but on the other, the Queen's father couldn't be blamed for her death, either, so clearly Henry had to have been misled by that stalward trope, evil advisors and false witness. Due to the way Jane died (executed for concealing and abetting the adultery of another queen), her reputation made her the ideal scapegoat, and the story took off from there: Fox shows how "Jane gave Cromwell the accusation" becomes Jane forging entire letters a few accounts later becomes Jane raging with jealousy and being a madwoman a century later and so forth. Whereas, and Fox was the first to point this out, all the accounts during and after Anne's trial and death do not mention her sister-in-law as the source of the incest accusation at all; instead, they name the (conveniently dead and supposedly having made a death bed confession) Lady Wingfield and the alive and owing money to Anne Countess Worcester as the sources.
(Btw, you can immediately see why even after Fox' book, novelists by and large stuck with Jane instead of going for Ladies Wingfield and Worcester. A jealous sister-in-law and/or neglectd/abused wife makes for a good story, especially considering she ends up executed herself a few years later. Two ladies-in-waiting, one of whom isn't even alive anymore, and neither of whom comes to a dramatic end, and who would have to be introduced to an already large cast without getting any type of narrative pay off? Not very satisfying dramatically. Ah, the messiness of real life.)
Fox, as well as pointing out there is no contemporary account reporting the Jane/George marriage to have been unhappy (it may have been, for all we know, but even a gossip hound like Chapuys who reported every bit of of news about Anne and her immediate relations he could find - for example, when Anne's sister Mary showed up pregnant and married against the will of the family to a commoner, it immediately went into the next dispatch to Spain - never mentions it), makes a good case for the Jane and Anne relationship to have been harmonious and even close. Not only for the pragmatic reason (Anne was the family star on which their fortune depended), but that's where the statistics come in useful: Jane had a far better and closer to her position during Anne's coronation than her sister Mary (this was before Mary's second marriage), she was constantly around Anne (who was notoriously short tempered during her queenship and not shy of banishing people from her presence she didn't like), when Henry was getting involved with someone else again for the first time in his marriage with Anne, Jane and Anne conspired together to get rid of the lady in question (according to Chapuys who again reported the whole thing, was gleeful about Henry turning on Jane for her trouble but certainly did not have the impression Lady Rochford and her sister-in-law were anything but allies). And then there's the old "cui bono?" question - who benefitted from Anne's fall and her and George's execution? Not Jane, who went from being sister-in-law to the Queen and one of the richest women in the country to being a traitor's widow whose property was, of course, confiscated by the crown and who had to fight for her jointure with her father-in-law. (Eventually, she had to ask Cromwell for help. Fox quotes from the letter which certainly doesn't read as "I did my bit, now cough up the cash!" but as standard "please help a poor widow!" groveling, and points out Cromwell got an almost identical letter from Bereton's widow - whom he also did help. Bereton, for non-experts, was one of the five men executed as Anne Boleyn's supposed lovers, and the outsider among them because he was over 50 and not even that often at court; most likely, he was on the hit list because he was feuding with Cromwell due to having judically executed one of Cromwell's men in Wales.)
The one statement which Jane did give Cromwell and which he used against the Boleyns, as testified by Chapuys and other contemporaries, ironically also points to both the closeness of the sisters-in-law and to Jane and George having at the very least the type of marriage where one shares confidences: it has nothing to do with incest and instead was about Anne having told her Henry had problems with impotence. (Which Jane in turn told George, who was asked "did your wife tell you your sister said...?" at his trial.) Which was damaging information, definitely, but whether it was provided voluntarily and at once or after Cromwell put on the pressure, nobody knows. What we do know, otoh, is that Jane was the only Boleyn family member to contact George when he was in the Tower. (We know because she gave the governor of the Tower, Kingston, a message for George who apparantly was glad to have it; at least, so Kingston promptly reported to Cromwell, which is how we know.) Neither of his parents did. Speaking of whom, another interesting statistics tidbit is that some years later, after Thomas Boleyn's death, and after Jane managed to get her jointure renegotiated again, with the net result of having her finances considerably improved, she got Henry's people to return her marriage bed with the Rochford insignia that had been confiscated along with the rest of George's property.
Of course, the main reason why Jane had the reputation she did for centuries isn't so much what she did or didn't do re: Anne Boleyn but because she died along with Katherine Howard. Here Julia Fox of course has to deal with the question anyone asks when coming across this part of history: why would Jane, who had better reason than most to know what even suspected adultery in a Queen could result in, aid and abet Katherine Howard's trysts with Thomas Culpepper? What was Jane thinking? She has to speculate along with the rest of us (the "why?" wasn't a question asked by the interrogators), and her idea is that once Jane made the mistake of obeying a command to carry a message to Culpepper and thus became co-culpable, she wasn't able to extricate herself anymore and thus went along with the rest of it. Fox argues that even had Jane reported the initial order, it would have been her word against that of Henry's much beloved new queen, and that she made the wrong survival call. Which is arguable; as Fox herself acknowledges, Jane was by that time wealthy enough again to retire to the country, which would have been one way to remove herself from a rapidly escalating situation without denouncing the queen. Here, Fox argues character: Jane had literally grown up at court (she'd been still a child when her father, Lord Morley, first brought her there), she'd lived there for most of her life, and she might have found it impossible to let go and live anywhere else. Whatever was the case, it led to her death.
In conclusion: not so much a biography in the classic sense as it is an historical argument - but a captivating one.
The actual documentary is more differentiated than that, but the credits speech had me coughing like a madwoman each time. Aside from the blatant jingoism and playing on current day anti Europe feeling, I mean. First of all, "little"? England under Edward III? Secondly, if you're dong the invading all the time, no matter under which Salic law pretense, you don't get to play the "refusing to back down" card. And thirdly, in which dimension was 14th century France the No.1 European superpower of that era? I mean, not to pull the Empire card, but I'm totally going to pull the Empire card. Seriously though, the Habsburg emperors ruling the Holy Roman Empire which covered today's Germany, Austria, parts of Poland and Checheslovakia as well as parts of Italy would beg to differ.
(Sidenote: 17th century France duking it out with Spain & Habsburg relations for Main European Superpower and winning is a different issue, of course. But in the 14th century? No way.)
Hearing about Edward III the fearsome warrior is also a bit odd if you primarily associate him with Bobby Godwin in Susan Howatch's The Wheel of Fortune, but that's not the documentary's fault. :) It also gets across well how immensly profitable all that pillaging and scorched earth devastating of France was for the English nobility, and why they were aghast when Richard II. made it clear he wasn't interested in following Granddad's footsteps in that one (but still wanted everyone to pay taxes. It also reminded me of something else - the enduring Agincourt complex Henry VIII. later seemed to have, as in: he wanted one, and absolutely didn't get it. One thing the later Shardlake novels bring out well is how ruinous and pointless Henry's French wars were to the English people. Novels aside, they really seem to have been conducted for no better reason than Henry having an Agincourt complex and gigantic penis envy when it came to Francois II. And yet the fact he more or less kept losing, on a personal - that wrestling match with Francois in the Field of Gold - and political level alike doesn't seem to have shaken his public image (which is bad on account of the wife and councellors killings, but not because of his foreign politics). Probably because Edward III. introduced the idea of warring with France as the ultimate test of kingly manliness and everyone kept buying into it for centuries to come?
The poem by Carol Ann Duffy written specifically for the reburial at Leicester, read by Benedict Cumberbatch
The detective novel that made the case for a generation: Josephine Tey is hardly Shakespeare, but if there's one work of fiction that has reliable acted as the pro-Richard counterpoint and for many first introduction to the controversy for more than half a century now, it's that short and entertaining volume, "The Daughter of Time". (By now the research she used is outdated, of course, but it's still an immensely readable book.) The New Yorker article describes how it came to be written, and which effect it has.
Since I've been reading up on my Tudors in recent months: Imperial Ambassador Chapuys dissed Henry VIII. in his dispatches by comparing him to Richard III. not once but twice. Or rather, the first time he reports others doing the dissing:
"Every day I am visited by people of quality, who break my head with speeches and writings, giving me to understand that King Richard, the last of his name, was never so much hated by his subjects as this present king is, and yet that he was dethroned by two or threethousand Frenchmen under the leadership of a prince hardly known in this country."
Far from getting his head broken, Chapuys seems to have taken note, because some time later, he used the Richard comparison himself in a direct conversation with Henry as a stealth insult. This was during another round of arguments about Henry's treatment of Katherine and Mary. Henry said that since Archbishop Cramner had declared his marriage to Katherine null and void, he was legitimately married to Anne now, and Mary could no longer considered or be treated as his legitimate daughter, surely Chapuys could see that. Upon which the Empire struck back (sorry, I couldn't resist), telling the King:
"With regard to the sentence pronounced by the Archbishop of Canterbury on the divorce suit, he ought to make as little of it as that of which King Richard caused to be pronounced by the bishop of Bath against the sons of King Edward, declaring them bastards."
This was a particuarly masterful burn because of course Bishop Stillington, the bishop of Bath mentioned, who swore he'd witnessed a contract between Edward and Lady Eleanor Butler which automatically rendered the Edward/Elizabeth Woodville marriage null and void, had by his testimony not just declared Edward's two sons bastards, but all the children of that marriage. Including the oldest daughter, Elizabeth of York, Henry VIIII.'s mother. In other words, Chapuys wasn't just saying "you're behaving just like your family's arch nemesis, the guy your dad called an ursurping tyrant", he also said "if your daughter is a bastard now, then so was your mother, which means the Pole family has a far more legitimate claim to the throne than you".
To give credit where due: Henry wasn't bad at the stealth insult game himself. Contrary to his image, he didn't shout back at this but told Chapuys magnanimously he could send him several books which would explain why Mary was a bastard now and couldn't inherit. (Chapuys was a highly trained lawyer.)
Following 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.
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.
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.
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 t( his 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.