Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Right to Reply - The Tudors

This year I am launching a series of what I hope will be monthly posts, where three authors will give me their opinions on a particular era. Some will be quite 'civilised' whereas a future debate about the 'Dark Ages' promises to be a riot of 'flyting' (boasting in the Mead Hall!) Sometimes the authors will agree, sometimes not. But all are experts on their particular period, so all opinions are valid. First up, authors Gayle Hulme, Deb Hunter (who writes as Hunter Jones) and Judith Arnopp have their discussion about the Tudor age:

The first question I put to them all was:
Who is the greatest figure from Tudor history, and why?

Gayle: My favourite Tudor is Anne Boleyn.  She was able to hold to her principals and refused to become Henry’s mistress.  However when marriage was finally offered she used every ounce of her considerable charm, courage and wit to get the process over the line.  Although she was a very able and educated woman for her time, she had her vulnerabilities as all humans do.  On one hand she would react furiously when under threat or attack, but was also a woman with devout christian faith and charity.

Deb: That is such a fantastic question! Honestly, I don’t know how they are measured historically, and the answer may vary according to the person you ask. The era was filled with so much drama, and intrigue, you have a wealth of characters to choose from. 
Henry VIII is larger than life ( really bad pun? ) and his love affair with Anne Boleyn still captivates us. I agree with Gayle, but for me, the main character is Elizabeth I. She overcame so many obstacles yet became the English Monarch that sets the standards for the British Crown even today. The advances in arts, science and warfare during her reign opened the doors for our modern world. 

Judith: I agree with Deb that the achievements of Elizabeth I probably entitle her to the label of The Greatest Tudor, but I’d like to say a few words in defence of her father, Henry VIII. On his death, Henry left an unfinished canvas for his successors to complete. Without her father, Elizabeth would never have been ‘great.’ Henry is the king of England everyone remembers; he is the monarch that sparks the interest of school children and launches them into further study. Most people on the street can easily identify him from his portraits. His instantly recognisable image keeps history alive.

Henry was so much more than the caricature butcher king we are all familiar with. In his early years he was athletic, intelligent, and creative. He had a vast interest in the world around him, from politics to the arts. One of my favourite stories is of a New Year’s gift he received from the Archdeacon of Rochester; of a map of England, the ‘Angliae Figura'. The Lord High Admiral noted that Henry had become ‘marvellously inflamed’ by it, and I can just imagine the king bending over it, stabbing it with his stubby forefinger as he excitedly pointed out small details. 

Recorded instances like this illustrate that he wasn’t just ‘evil’ as he is so often described; he was humanly flawed, horribly disappointed with himself for his failure to provide more than one male heir.  Henry made huge improvements to the navy; he allowed the bible to be translated into English, and he was a huge patron of the arts. I think it is a shame that his good points are so often overlooked. Yes; he treated his wives abominably, even for the period. Yes; many wonderful abbeys and churches were destroyed in his name but who among us would want to be remembered only for their darkest hour? 
To understand Henry, one has to understand the age he lived in, his childhood experiences; he was flawed, he was sometimes ruthless, he was human. Historians and psychologists will never resolve the enigma of Henry’s deterioration from a golden Renaissance prince into a vindictive despot, and so he will continue to enthral us and to dominate historical debate, possibly forever.

The second question was:
If you could change one event/incident - which would be the most urgently in need of change, and why?

Gayle: If I could change one event it would be the stillbirth at Hampton Court that Anne experienced in July/August 1534.  Anne’s future looked bright at that point.  She had married the King, had a glittering coronation, given birth to Elizabeth, and although the sex of the child was a disappointment, both mother and child had survived and Anne had quickly conceived again.  I believe this incident was the first tiny pin prick in the bubble of Henry and Anne’s relationship.  It rocked and shattered their confidence that all they had done had been God’s will.

Deb: The world would be different if Henry VIII would’ve had a milder temperament. I wish he would’ve sent Anne Boleyn to a convent instead of murdering her. That is such a chilling, brutal moment in history. Again, I agree with Gayle’s answer, but, I have to look at the daughter of Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I. As a hopeless romantic, I really wish Elizabeth could’ve married Robert Dudley. Her mother didn’t get the happy ending we wanted her to have and neither did her daughter—at least in her love life. Although, Elizabeth did get the sweet taste of revenge by becoming Gloriana. 

Judith: I used to answer this question by opting to change the outcome of the Battle of Bosworth but if I altered that, I would not be able to write about the Tudors so I shall adjust my answer. I would erase the mystery of the Princes in the Tower; I’d have them grow up well-documented, in a safe, obscure part of Europe, happily disinterested in taking back the English throne. This would remove the vast number of cut-throat, pointless arguments I see on Facebook every day and call a halt to the continuing war of the roses.

And finally:
You're playing 'Top Trumps' - which is the best aspect of Tudor life, and why?

GayleI think it would be terms of the court and how Henry VIII managed to do such a great PR job on himself  He used his clothes, his sporting prowess and charm to create a glittering spectacle wherever he went.  It was this in the early days that inspiring loyalty and love.

Deb: Being American, I’m not certain what Top Trumps is (*giggle*) but the best part of Tudor life—if you were fortunate enough to be wealthy, which Henry VIII definitely was—has to be the clothes and gloves! He played the role of King and used all the theatrical techniques available to ensure that his Court and Realm knew he ruled by the Divine Right of Kings. Gayle is absolutely correct in saying that he set the stage early in his rule with his looks, his vigor and his finery. 
(Personally, I love the colors, rich velvets and damasks. Gloves are one of my favorite things, and the Tudor Era gloves are as swoon worthy as the apparel. It would be fabulous to dress in such fabulous, sumptuous attire!)  

Judith: It has to be the Renaissance. These days we are snowed under with images, ideas, and innovation, yet in the Tudor period everything was fresh, energetic and vibrant. The influx of new ideas from Europe included art, invention, philosophy, music, dancing and religion. The fifteen century saw the dawning of a new a world where the introduction of affordable printed books brought access to learning and new philosophy, offering fresh and radical ways of seeing the world. Who would not want to be part of that?

[Digital image of Anne Boleyn created for Hunter S Jones by Alexei Gural of Athens, GA.]
Images of Henry and Elizabeth Public Domain

Thank you so much, ladies, for a fascinating - and polite - discussion. I would love to know what other people think about this, so please do leave a comment below. Meanwhile, you can find out more about these authors:

Judith: Website

I'm also thrilled to announce that since we had our little chat, it has been confirmed that our book, In Bed with the British, will be released by Pen & Sword Books later on this year. It also includes contributions by Jessica Cale and Regina Jeffers and Samantha Wilcoxson.


  1. The outcome of Bosworth has always been a great 'what if' moment as great, if not greater, than 1066 (another possible collaboration project, Annie??) for the possibilities are endless: however, I do believe that one thing would not have changed and that was the advancement in knowledge, the arts etc ie the Renaissance, ehich just happened to take place during the times of the Tudors and, in my opinion, should not be so universally attributed to them!

    1. A collaboration for someone else, I suspect, Richard - my knowledge of the Tudors really only extends to what I learned during my 'A' levels. But yes, I agree - the Renaissance happened all over the place, not just in England, so it's unlikely the Tudors could have put a stop to it, even if they'd wanted to...

    2. I totally agree Richard, the Renaissance was not restricted to England, it was still an aspect of Tudor life though which was the root of the question. To be honest, it was quite difficult to think of a positive aspect, art and learning was the only thing I could think of. :)

  2. Love the blog! It's a fantastic idea & gives food for thought. Thanks so much for including me!

    1. Thanks so much for your input - and for getting the series off to such a flying start :)

  3. Great blog. I love hearing everyone's differing opinions. It really does make you think & to want more!!! Great job ladies!!

    1. Thanks Robin - I really enjoyed hearing the answers and 'listening' to the discussion. I'm so glad you did, too :)

  4. I love this. As Robin mentioned, loved hearing everyone's opinions and thoughts. This is one of the reasons I have said that history is living. Anxiously awaiting for more.

    1. Thanks Sid, glad you enjoyed it - we have more planned, spanning a lot of periods :)

  5. Poor old Henry VII is often overlooked due to his more famous descendants. He engineered victory at Bosworth, ended decades of civil war, settled his dynasty firmly on the throne, agreed favourable treaties with the European powers and left his son a peaceful, prosperous realm and a full treasury.

  6. You're right Bob - I was always more interested in studying his reign than his son's, and what I learned has stuck with me. I don't seem to be able to post a live link in the comments here, but there's a previous post that might interest you:

  7. Henry VIII might have started the Church of England, but he died a Catholic. It was his son and daughter who really made it happen. I will never understand how he didn't handle the dissolution of the monasteries differently and more effectively. The poverty that ensued cost the country so much in so many ways. The hospitals and care for the dying and elderly and the teaching of healing etc plus the amazing wealth of the libraries, not to mention the architecture all destroyed. And the money squandered often on a failed war for example. Breathtaking sadness and loss.
    Thank you for this blog it is amazing and I look forward to buying more of your books which I wouldn't have known about other than this site. Thank you for all your hard work.

    1. Thanks for your lovely comments Deborah. You make some good points about Henry. Indeed, my teacher was always at pains to point out that he considered himself the head of the church *in* England, not *of* England. Glad you enjoyed the post - I love it when guest authors generously give their time to write on the blog :-)