Tudor_dynasty_allegorical_portraitAs it’s Friday, and I definitely need something light-hearted after this rather tiring week, here’s an article written by a regular visitor to The Anne Boleyn Files. A bit of fun…

Why is there such an enduring interest in the Tudors? We had the Plantagenets and the House of York, and later we had the Stuarts, and all those German Georges running around being mad. We’ve even had a toe-sucking Duchess and a bulimic Princess, but nothing that quite captures the public imagination like those naughty old Tudors. So what makes them so sparkly?

Of course it all started with the War of the Roses. There’s nothing like a bloody war to pique the human interest, especially when there are allegations of witchcraft to throw in for good measure. Good, handsome, brave Henry won over twisted, evil, ugly old Richard. Yeah!! Well, Shakespeare may have had a lot to do with that version, but never mind. There’s nothing like a good dollop of propaganda to perk up a story.

So far, Tudors = fairly interesting.

Anyway, good old Henry VII married the fragrant Elizabeth of York, who was an excellent wife when she wasn’t busy with her cauldron. So there’s an old-fashioned love story to add into the equation (it’s like yea olde worlde John and Jackie Kennedy, save that Henry probably didn’t have quite as many affairs). Plus the fact Henry also united the Houses of York and Lancaster after years of feuding, which may have been the main draw in the Elizabeth union, but we’ll never know.

So, Tudors = interesting.

Then we had Henry VIII, and oh boy did he take the Tudors to a different level! Up until then Kings had pretty much done what they were supposed to do: fight wars and bore the pants off history students. But our Henry was different. He obviously got up one morning and vowed that no history student would ever be bored on his watch. How did he do that, I hear you cry? Oh lord, where to begin? He was tall, dark and handsome….well, tall, red and handsome (come on, I didn’t say the story was perfect)! He was athletic and charming as well as being murderous and vindictive. In other words, an all round sort of guy.

Then he decided to get married six times. Admittedly that may not have been a conscious decision when the crown was first placed upon his ginger locks, and as he gazed lovingly at Catherine of Aragon who he’d nicked off his brother. Be that as it may, having a King who wed six times (including his brother’s widow) does heighten the interest factor by quite a lot.

So we now have, Tudors = very interesting.

Then, just as we were all settling down to a nice cup of mead, he went and chopped the heads off two of his wives. Well, what a to do! That’s interesting by any standard, but what made it even more so was that his second wife had committed adultery with one or two men, including the army, navy and most of Henry’s courtiers. Admittedly that’s a slight exaggeration, although not according to Henry. The truth was that she was innocent, and the judicial murder of ones wife definitely takes us into the realms of…

Tudors = very very interesting indeed.

Henry VIII died just in the nick of time before he’d exterminated his whole court. That was a blessing because thankfully there were still enough people around to write about all this. So we then had little Edward, who died early but not before he’d signed the death warrants of his two uncles (his dad would have been so proud). Then we had Bloody Mary (that’s a nickname by the way and not blasphemy). Mary was quite a character, but with everything else that was going on at the time she’s not quite enough in her own right to push the Tudors into the fascinating category. So thanks to Edward and Mary we now have..

Tudors = still very very interesting but gone slightly off the boil.

Then, finally, we got Elizabeth. Elizabeth not only had to cope with her mother being murdered when only a toddler; she also inherited her father’s hair (how unlucky can one girl be?). Therefore, poor Elizabeth got off to a bad start. However, despite the hair, she too decided that no history student would be bored on her watch. She got up one morning and decided she would never get married at all. Again, that may not have been a conscious decision as the crown was placed upon her ginger locks, but then again she may have been thinking about her father at the time. Let’s face it, having Henry VIII as a father probably wasn’t the best advertisement for the sanctity of marriage. Instead, Liz is remembered as being the Virgin Queen, chopping Mary, Queen of Scots’ head off, and for being one of our most celebrated monarchs. Whether being lauded as a great monarch compensated for the celibacy is something only Liz can answer. Personally I think she got the work/pleasure balance wrong, but who am I to question the daughter of a megalomaniac?

So we definitely have, Tudors = fascinating.

It was all a bit downhill from there until Oliver Cromwell decided to make Charles I a foot shorter. So much history is very very interesting indeed, but maybe not quite as fascinating as those naughty old Tudors!

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19 thoughts on “Tudors = Fascinating”
  1. I think Hans Holbein deserves a lot of the credit, as well. Imagine if we had Holbein-esque portraits of the Plantagenets of whatever century — they’d seem so much more familiar to us. There’s a Holbein sketch of a girl with her hair down which looks like it could have been made in the 1970s (well, if you ignore the fashions — but then, she might have been dressing up :)). It’s far easier to become invested in people whom you feel like you know, or at least could recognize if they walked into a room. Of course, the endless marriages and beheadings certainly don’t hurt the drama, but they were hardly the only royal family to do those things.

  2. All of the above and more! The Tudors probably had it all; wild love affairs, wars, treason, plots, prophecy of deliverence, characters that stood the test of time and made their mark on history, a King with six wives and who defied the most powerful force on earth: the Catholic Church or rather Rome; the Reformation, the start of witch burnings and heresy, grusome executions by the bucket full, wild women and raunchy men, and they invented propaganda. They used it to, to its best advantage and had lives that were better than most soap operas today; they were powerful and sexy, had personalities that stood out and the intrigue at the court was explosive. Yes the Plantagenets had their highlights as well, but we see the Tudors as bringing us into the modern age and ending the wars of the roses. We see them as something new; something more sophisticated than the rest. Whether this is true or not depends on how you see the era of the Stuarts, a much less stable one than that of the Tudors or a century of change, revolution and movements towards freedom.

    Film, books, essays, letters, print, drama and TV have helped to form our views and to keep alive our love affair with the Tudor age. Even friends of mine in school and now who did not really like history admit they find the Tudors fascinating in some sense or other. Ask any child a question about history and they all think it happened in the reign of Henry VIII or Elizabeth I mainly because these are generally the two people in history they have heard of. We have PR campaigns for tourists advertising Britain and the capital in particular with pictures of Henry VIII or E I on the front. We have busuit tins with them on the front and so on; it is like a national obsession. But since 2013 have the Tudors not had competition from RIII?

    The Tudor Age could also be said to have been the one that influenced the happenings of the next two ages: the English Revolution in the 1630s and 40s was partly due to the extreme interpretations later monarchs made of the royal supremacy. Henry’s daughter passed laws that increased the authority of the royal supremacy so that it could be use to increase the personal deification of the monarchy. This of course was a personal thing of James I and Charles I who believed in the divine right of Kings and led to the problems that Charles had with his Parliament and one of the causes of the English Civil War. Objections to the increased power and elevation of the Kingship meant that many of the commons wanted more rights and personal freedom; something that had started in the reign of Henry but had been reversed as the the century went on. Varied factions arose during the Civil Wars; Levellers and so on, 5th Monarchists, Sealed Knott and many madder factions, all of whom later influenced the 18th centuries move towards industrial and political reform for ordinary people. But it all had its roots in Tudor England and so the age is seen as being a catalyst for change, not necessarily one that brought great social changes itself.

    What the age did bring, however was religious change. The 15th century had seen the start of grass root religious movements and even within the Catholic Church itself there were what I would call pick and mix religious movements: when you want the traditional with a hint of the best of the new ideas going around as well. The publication of the Image of Christ by Thomas Kempus in the 1450s had given rise in monastic and schools to devotion based on its meditations and Luther’s parents were influenced by this. Luther himself encounted this movement and was partial to it; it taught of a simple life of religious grace in the person of Christ and he may have found some of the latter teachings within his own reformed mind later in life. These less Conservative religious expressions of faith had found popularity with the ordianry people and lesser gentry. Popular religion mixed magic as well and there was a deep anti clerical feeling in northern Europe that carried on well into the 17th century. Personal faith had become an awareness for many people and printing and fuller educational institutions meant that the scriptures and religious books were starting to be read and written across the sexes and the social barriers. All of this contributed to the need and desire for reform.

    The 16th century saw reforms in all of the countries of northern Christianity and to a lesser estate into France and Spain and Italy as well. In Germany there was the reformation by Luther, in Switzaland there was the reforms and new teachings of Calvin and others, in England the teachings came from Germany via the ports and into the streets of the East Angian and cinque port cities as well as the midlands and the city of London. Women were generally becoming interested in books and study and better read and with that new ideas took shape: they became influential in the courts through powerful English noblewomen and through Queens interested in reform. Educated Queens married an educated King; Henry had three well educated Queens: Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Parr and new ideas came to the court with them.

    Religous change was everywhere; orthodox as well as reformed as the Church did its own spring clean and adapted to counter what it saw as radical heretical beliefs and also needed to put its own house in order to enable the faithful to fight back. In England the reformation was pushed forward more by the poliitical need for Henry to have a son and his break with Rome than a desire to reform. Yes, some reform was needed and went on within the Church itself, the abuse of clerical power was a concern even of Thomas More; and the Bible was published in English in 1539 with the approval of the King. With this came the movement for social change as well as political and religious change as people saw movements pointing to equality and justice in the words of the scriptures they now had access to in the common tongue. For this reason, these religious developments that continued and accelarated in the reign of Edward and Elizabeth can be seen as the origins of the social and revolutionary movements of the Stuart era.

    I think it is this last reason that makes the Tudor age the most important of them all as it saw so many changes itselt that it started something that could not be stopped; movements towards a more equal and fairer society. It would take a long time for us to get there, another 400 years in fact, but democracy was born out of the struggles that followed some of the chaotic change the Tudors pushed the country through. It was a pivital age and we have been obsessed with it ever since. Printing was also very important and the Tudors used it to great advantage, making their ideas of new monarchy, explaining the supremacy and the reasons they needed to reform everything; the case for the destruction of the monastic houses and the end of an era; the arguments for the divorce of Henry and Katherine and the commons and scholars used it to publish their ideas about change in the church and in the society they lived in. Books helped Henry to make up his ideas about how he saw the future of the Catholic Church in England: the book by Tyndale Obedience of a Christian Man in print helped him to make his own laws on the divorce and the succession when he married Anne, and print would give voice to all sorts of desires for social revolution and freedoms in the centuries to come.

    Love the personalities or hate them; we have to admit that the Tudors gave us just about every reason in the book to be fascinated by them; we may or may not understand their age, and I have heard them described as the weirdest bunch to sit on the throne; but they certainly made sure we remembered them and talked and studied them forever. In short we made them immortal.

  3. And the Tudors have one thing that really stirs those of us who love to study them – mystery. There are so many things that are only hinted about and that we will never know the truth! Of all the things that make that era interesting, for me, it is the mysteries that enthrall me because I can make them what I want!

  4. *Steps back in shock*

    Claire…who would have thought that you were a “gingerist”? As a member of the Sacred Tribe Of Redheads, (dark auburn in my case) I must protest! Surely, the Tudors are proof that redheads really do have more fun! Henry VIII the most handsome Prince in Christendom in his day, Elizabeth the vibrant, brilliant and vivacious, and cousin Mary Stuart, magnetically attractive, auburn haired and ultimately headless.

    They were, quite literally, colourful! Very hard to hide when you are a coppertop, so may as well be loud with it!

    Dear me, tired self out with that explosion of redhead temper, must get back to my coffin and sleep until dark (yes vampirism is another thing attributed to redheads, probably by those baffled by our pale skins…)

    1. I didn’t write it but I’m no gingerist, having red hair at this moment and having a red-haired mother and red-haired niece. Also, the writer of this article has red hair, so was definitely joking. My Mum used to get called “carrots” at school and she hated it.

      Feel free to explode with red-haired temper though! I never knew about the vampire thing.

      1. I forgot to say that I definitely agree with you about redheads having more fun, that’s why I’ve been dying my hair various shades of red since I was about 14! Do you remember Toners and Shaders, I was always rich mahogany.

        1. Ah yes…I remember the Shaders and Toners, but in my youth I was a natural dark redhead. The peculiar shade of dark red mahogany runs in my late Mum’s side of the family and I am lucky to have inherited it. Our locks are also very abundant and can grow very long. You know, I often look at the famed National Portrait Gallery depiction of our beloved Anne and think that she is not raven haired, she is actually dark red similar to me. I rem ember David Starkey talking in one TV programme about her “wonderful auburn hair”, maybe he saw the portrait the way I did..

          I never got tormented at school, but at one workplace I had a colleague who stated that he hated gingers, although he could not give a logical reason why. I have heard that in various European folklore, vampires are typically red haired and pale. I’ve also been told that legend has it that Judas Iscariot was red haired, thus accounting for a lot of “gingerism”.

    2. I’m a natural blond and a huge fan of redheads! If anyone ever gave you hell in school about your lovely copper tresses, it was probably jealousy. Be proud, and may you be blessed with many children!

  5. Dear Claire: I am a regular Reader, but got backlogged in reading my favorite posts … until today, snowed in over the weekend (and it’s still snowing!) (and I live in the Pacific NorthWest — Washington state, specifically — where we RARELY have enduring snow!) and so have a bonus opportunity to get caught up today (Monday 24 February 2014), while I watching the blowing snow overwhelm my little budding daffodils and hyacinths. What a treat to read this! But who is the guest author (and why doesn’t he or she want acknowledgement? Is he/she the same person as “BanditQueen” who penned the excellent (although occasionally misspelled) extension? With your permission, I’d like to repost this to my Facebook wall — I have some Friends who will doubtless enjoy this article as much as I do! Thanks, and God bless you! Jeanne

  6. Dear Claire, and every other Tudor buff like myself .. I bid thee greetings all the way from Cairo, Egypt .. yep, im Egyptian with no ties to good old England .. this is my first post and first time to log on this site .. I just wanted to express my happiness in sharing this passion for English history, which unfortunately is not shared by anyone I know, as English history is not a big hit where I come from … given the time and resources I would have aimed for a degree in English history! In all cases .. I write to laud you for your effort .. bless u ! hehe

    1. Dear Marwa Ali, It was good to read your post. My comment is probably not for this site, but I am pleased to know in this world there are ” normal” people amidst the chaos. I believe the highest goal of life is to never quit learning. I love this site and whatever brings us all together here, has to be for a better world.

  7. Hi All, To me there actually is a difference between ginger and auburn hair just because one is red with yellow and the other red with brown – and my sister Bronwen, who is a Tudor enthusiast, pointed out that the number of redheads in portraits of that era must be above norm and wondered whether it was the fashion to emulate royalty by ‘assuming’ red hair in pictures? Well, it seems she may have a point. Does anyone know?

    1. Yes I can see that. My natural hair colour was somewhere between a copper beech and Japanese maple before it started to acquire silver streaks and had to be “chemically assisted.”

      It’s possible that people were trying to imitate the Tudor red hair, but there may also be another explanation. The British Isles still has the honour of the highest percentage of natural redheads in the world. However, I am given to understand that the gene for red hair is a recessive one and that redheads will eventually die out unless they keep marrying other redheads. So yes it is possible that there were even more redheads in Britain in Tudor times. Personally this recessive thing has me scratching my head, because my maternal grandmother had the dark auburn hair, married a man with raven black hair and produced one blonde daughter, one brunette daughter and one with the same colour hair as herself. The redheaded daughter, my late Mum, married Dad, a man with black hair, and produced one redhead (aka moi!) and a brunette (my Sis). Obviously our strain of red hair is extremely persistent!

  8. Fascination w/ Tudors vs. other ruling families explained by me:

    Plantagenets: fear of mispronunciation by Americans. Tudor is waaay easier. 🙂

    Stuarts: James was a debauched, sadistic, unpredictable mess as a result of his dysfunctional upbringing, or possibly a genetic component played a part. At any rate, other than having the equivalent of a ROCK STAR MARTYR MUM, he was odd to put it mildly, and so distasteful that it’s hard to get behind studying his family. Exception granted of course to Charles I and his request for warm clothing on the day of his execution, so his people wouldn’t think he was shivering from fear. In America, we call that a baller move – only the best of the best would do it.

    House of York: definitely interesting, especially with those insanely take-no-prisoners ladies on the branches of their family tree. A close second to Tudors in terms of familial self-promotion!

    George(s): interesting, but rather embarrassing. Sort of like living through the 1970’s. Even nostalgia for the period is tinged with cringe. Plus the Regency stuff is hard to keep straight, and the overweight blowsy monarch’s wife is the best of the best in terms of scandalous remembrance.

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