Monday, May 18, 2009

The Sort of Thing That Consumes My Thoughts

I am obsessed with the Tudors. Not the Showtime series that makes me want to take Jonathan Rhys Meyers and do naughty things with him all while telling him how historically inaccurate his show is. No, the history, the drama that was Henry VIII, his wives, his parents...the whole story.

My obsession started with a healthy respect for Elizabeth I. Yes, she was the beginning of English Imperialism, and thus perhaps responsible for some very reprehensible history, but she was an amazing woman, nonetheless. She did not bow to the church or to a husband as so many women of her era would have, and as indeed, her sister before her did. She sacrificed the comfort of family and children to rule as she saw fit. She was ages ahead of her time in terms of feminist ideals.

I've spent hours reading history and learning as much as I can about the players in this drama. It is such a fascinating story, such compelling reading. Henry VIII has this iconic standing, and is considered to be one of England's greatest monarchs, which puzzles me endlessly. The evolution of Henry, from sheltered, spoiled second son, to spoiled heir apparent, to newly emancipated monarch coming out of the shelter of his father and grandmother is fascinating. If he had stayed the kind of man he was when he honored his betrothal to Katherine of Aragon, I could see making the case for him as a great king. As a young king, he was concerned about his people, strong in his faith, desirous of governing his people in a humane way, allowing for justice to prevail. But, over time, he became a monstrosity, both physically and psychologically. His reformation of the church was little more than thievery. He twisted the law to define justice as his whim. He persecuted anyone who dared utter an opinion different from his own. This is hardly the kind of man one wants to call a great leader, and when you evaluate him on a human level, his relationships with the people he loved personally make him even more monstrous. Yes, there is the execution of two "beloved" wives, but while that's sickening, it is his execution of his dearest friends that show him as the monster he was. In modern times, he'd be sitting in a prison cell, accused of serial murder, and yet historians want to hang this title of "greatest monarch" on him.

I spend an inordinate amount of time imagining what it must have been like to be one of his wives, the terror that must have lurked in the back of the mind of each woman who knew what he had done to his first and second wife. How could you slip into bed beside this man knowing that if his eye wandered to one of your friends you could be exiled from friends and family at best and imprisoned and murdered at worst? How could a mother or a father stand and watch this man court a daughter knowing the danger inherent in the situation?

I could go on and on when it comes to Tudor history (and I will at the slightest provocation). Every time you think you understand all the undercurrents of politics and religion and intrigue, there is something new to discover, a new element to consider. It makes today's politics seem so dry, so tame. I tell you, if this was the kind of history they'd taught while I was in school, I'd have never missed a day.

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