Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Still fascinating after all these years...

...all 500 of them. Yes, it's the Tudor's. I'm re-reading the book that really started my interest in them, Margaret George's "The Autobiography of Henry VIII, with notes by his fool, Will Somers". Absolutely gorgeous writing...get over the sheer size of the book (it's over 900 pages) and dig in, the pages just fly by. But why? Why, oh why? Of all of England's kings and queens, why does the Tudor era stand out? Was it the politics of the time? Was it the church reform? Was it simply the sheer number of wives Henry had? Or, conversely, the lack of husbands his daughter Elizabeth had? Yes, yes and yes! Tudor England had it all. The greatest story-tellers in the world couldn't come up with as many interesting characters in an equivocal time of political and religious turmoil. Debate still rages over who these people really were. Katherine of Aragon...often portayed as a devout, religious, stubborn old-fashioned woman. How many Jane Averages, dabbling in history look to who she was before Henry wanted her cast aside, desparate for a male heir? The daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, arguably the most dynamic and powerful ruling couple in Europe's history. When you look to her upbringing, Katherine of Aragon goes from a boring old woman to an intreguingly strong young lady.
And of her successor, Anne Boleyn? Sometimes cast as a witch, sometimes cast as a wronged symbol of feminism. Both women very different...but both women very strong and powerful, but women unable to deliver the desparately needed male heir, to take a shaky throne.
Looking to the wives of Henry the eighth is just the begining. What of the rest of the supporting cast? Thomas More, Cardinal Wolsey, Charles Brandon...what an amazingly diverse lot the surrounded the king.
And as for the man himself? Intended for the church, put on the throne after his brother's untimely death. Tall, handsome, and dynamic. Longing to make England a powerhouse of Europe. I'm surprised that Margaret George's Book (written from Henry's perspective) wasn't longer.
Oh sure, the Tudor's have an edge of cool on them once again, thanks in part to Showtime's new series, and Philippa Gregory's fiction. Both storytold well, but with significant historical flaws. But truly, where else in history are you going to find a better real-life soap opera. Intreguing and compelling.

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