Tudor: The Family Story by Leanda de Lisle.

Tudor by Leanda de Lisle

An excellent book that covers ALL the Tudors! Not just the ones in movies. It starts at the beginning with the event that changed history, Owen and Katherine Valois’ meeting. And goes into all of their descendants’ (and Owen’s illegitimate son) lives, including those we rarely hear about like Meg Douglas and the Brandon sisters, and their place in English history. What I liked most about this book was highlighting the brutality and beliefs of this period that so often are neglected in place of a more clean version.

"The myth of the convivial ‘bluff King Hal’ lived on in national memory into the next century. Samuel Rowley’s Jacobean play, When You See Me You Know Me, which helped inspire Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, depicted a king going out in disguise to mingle with his subjects, getting into brawls and even being arrested. It is impossible to imagine such a play being written about Henry VII. Even today, we still prefer to remember the young and virile Henry VIII to the old, impotent tyrant. The trigger for Henry’s tyranny was – naturally – his anxieties concerning his inability to have a son with Katherine of Aragon. ‘We think all our doings in our lifetime are clearly defaced and worthy of no memory, if we leave you in trouble at the time of our death’, Henry once commented. Certain he was a ‘true’ king, he believed that his marriage must be false, and therefore cursed. After all, having no son was not only a personal blow, it also meant a possible future struggle for the crown, with his sisters and their heirs gaining a new importance in the future of the succession. These were the defining issues of Henry’s reign and the key influences on his rule: the nature of a true king, the importance of securing national concord and a stable future in blood heirs."
“The myth of the convivial ‘bluff King Hal’ lived on in national memory into the next century. Samuel Rowley’s Jacobean play, When You See Me You Know Me, which helped inspire Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, depicted a king going out in disguise to mingle with his subjects, getting into brawls and even being arrested. It is impossible to imagine such a play being written about Henry VII. Even today, we still prefer to remember the young and virile Henry VIII to the old, impotent tyrant. The trigger for Henry’s tyranny was – naturally – his anxieties concerning his inability to have a son with Katherine of Aragon. ‘We think all our doings in our lifetime are clearly defaced and worthy of no memory, if we leave you in trouble at the time of our death’, Henry once commented. Certain he was a ‘true’ king, he believed that his marriage must be false, and therefore cursed. After all, having no son was not only a personal blow, it also meant a possible future struggle for the crown, with his sisters and their heirs gaining a new importance in the future of the succession. These were the defining issues of Henry’s reign and the key influences on his rule: the nature of a true king, the importance of securing national concord and a stable future in blood heirs.”

The period these people lived in was absolutely brutal and yet there are so many things that are so universal to the human experience that as we read their stories we can relate to some of them. The Tudor monarchs get represented in terms of good and bad in the media and that always irritates me because no one is absolutely good or bad, we all have our shades of grey and in a period so divided by dynastic wars and later by religious wars, no one (absolutely no one!) was without guilt or prejudice. The monarchs did some horrible acts that if they lived today, they would be widely condemned. But they don’t live today, they belonged to another era, an era so alien to us that we still have trouble understanding it, so we create our own versions of them. The miser king. The good old Hal and his six wives. Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded and survived. The boy king. The Protestant martyr. The wicked evil Catholic and last but not least, Gloriana -who saved her country from her sister’s evil regime had brought with her a golden age. But these depictions are no more real than the porteayals we see on TV.

"The popular image of Mary I has been greatly influenced by later sexual and religious prejudice. She is often depicted as weak and with little political skill, yet she had raised military and popular support and divided her enemies with stunning success. Advertising her intention to scapegoat Jane Grey’s father-in-law, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, and offering mercy to almost everyone else, Mary promised to deliver the peace and harmony Jane’s regime had failed to do. Mary hoped that by encouraging leading Protestants to go into exile she would be able to go on to restore a united Catholic country, in communion once again with Rome, but with a humanist-reformed vision. It was a devastating blow when, only six months later, Mary was confronted by the Protestant-led rebellion that became known as the Wyatt revolt. As she faced these rebels, she gave a speech on the nature of her ‘true’ kingship. If she had been crowned ‘by the Grace of God only’, so they would owe her, she said, ‘respect and due obedience solely on account of the holy unction’ of the ceremony ... As Mary continued to face Protestant treason she became even more ruthless, with the infamous burnings intended to eliminate what she perceived as a stubborn and destabilising minority. In our context we see Mary’s actions as those of a fanatic. In her context she was eliminating fanatics, and of the most dangerous kind, incorrigible rebels against God and queen. But Mary also had to work positively, to build a future, and this unravelled in the face of her infertility and declining health. She failed in her ultimate duty to produce a child and this meant, once again, that the wider family was key to the future. Mary’s preferred choice as her heir, Margaret Douglas, could not compete with the claims of Henry VIII’s second daughter and, as Elizabeth took note, it was the knowledge that she would succeed her sister that fuelled the disorder and rebellion against Mary. With the loss of Calais in the last year of Mary’s life it would be easy for her enemies to paint the young, Protestant Elizabeth’s accession as a brilliant new dawn."
“The popular image of Mary I has been greatly influenced by later sexual and religious prejudice. She is often depicted as weak and with little political skill, yet she had raised military and popular support and divided her enemies with stunning success. Advertising her intention to scapegoat Jane Grey’s father-in-law, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, and offering mercy to almost everyone else, Mary promised to deliver the peace and harmony Jane’s regime had failed to do. Mary hoped that by encouraging leading Protestants to go into exile she would be able to go on to restore a united Catholic country, in communion once again with Rome, but with a humanist-reformed vision. It was a devastating blow when, only six months later, Mary was confronted by the Protestant-led rebellion that became known as the Wyatt revolt. As she faced these rebels, she gave a speech on the nature of her ‘true’ kingship. If she had been crowned ‘by the Grace of God only’, so they would owe her, she said, ‘respect and due obedience solely on account of the holy unction’ of the ceremony … As Mary continued to face Protestant treason she became even more ruthless, with the infamous burnings intended to eliminate what she perceived as a stubborn and destabilising minority. In our context we see Mary’s actions as those of a fanatic. In her context she was eliminating fanatics, and of the most dangerous kind, incorrigible rebels against God and queen. But Mary also had to work positively, to build a future, and this unravelled in the face of her infertility and declining health. She failed in her ultimate duty to produce a child and this meant, once again, that the wider family was key to the future. Mary’s preferred choice as her heir, Margaret Douglas, could not compete with the claims of Henry VIII’s second daughter and, as Elizabeth took note, it was the knowledge that she would succeed her sister that fuelled the disorder and rebellion against Mary. With the loss of Calais in the last year of Mary’s life it would be easy for her enemies to paint the young, Protestant Elizabeth’s accession as a brilliant new dawn.”
"Where Elizabeth was strikingly original was on the matter of the succession. For her subjects the provision of heirs remained central to the monarch’s duty to provide future security. But Elizabeth took her own path, having learned from the experiences of Mary I and Jane Grey. Elizabeth explained in 1561 that it was from fear of provoking unrest that she had thus far ‘forborne to match with any husband’. That held true thereafter, with Elizabeth further bolstering her position by ensuring that she had ‘no certain successor’. The royal family was, for Elizabeth, not a source of future stability, but of immediate threat. Elizabeth imprisoned her cousins, Protestant and Catholic, from Katherine and Mary Grey, to Margaret Douglas and Mary, Queen of Scots, from Margaret Clifford to Arbella Stuart. She bastardised their children, or sought their murder, she drove them to despair and even madness, so she could die a natural death, as queen, in her bed. And unlike the childless Richard II, to whom she was compared by her enemies, Elizabeth achieved that aim. The last of the Tudors was buried in the same vault as her grandparents Henry VII and Elizabeth of York in Westminster Abbey. Three years later, however, she was reburied in her sister’s vault in the north aisle of the Lady Chapel."
“Where Elizabeth was strikingly original was on the matter of the succession. For her subjects the provision of heirs remained central to the monarch’s duty to provide future security. But Elizabeth took her own path, having learned from the experiences of Mary I and Jane Grey. Elizabeth explained in 1561 that it was from fear of provoking unrest that she had thus far ‘forborne to match with any husband’. That held true thereafter, with Elizabeth further bolstering her position by ensuring that she had ‘no certain successor’. The royal family was, for Elizabeth, not a source of future stability, but of immediate threat. Elizabeth imprisoned her cousins, Protestant and Catholic, from Katherine and Mary Grey, to Margaret Douglas and Mary, Queen of Scots, from Margaret Clifford to Arbella Stuart. She bastardised their children, or sought their murder, she drove them to despair and even madness, so she could die a natural death, as queen, in her bed. And unlike the childless Richard II, to whom she was compared by her enemies, Elizabeth achieved that aim. The last of the Tudors was buried in the same vault as her grandparents Henry VII and Elizabeth of York in Westminster Abbey. Three years later, however, she was reburied in her sister’s vault in the north aisle of the Lady Chapel.”

The Tudors knew how to use propaganda as we’ve been showed by the quote above. They created this image of themselves through expensive clothing, portraits and thanks to the proliferation of new ideas and the printing press since the later half of the 1450s, that they made sure could survive into posterity. Leanda tears through this artistic visage and reveals the Tudors, their cousins and everyone around them for who they really were by using contemporary sources and archaeological evidence. What comes out are extremely complex individuals, filled with prejudice, who plotted against their nearest of kin and (in the case of the monarchs) capable of great mercy and great cruelty and no one was exempt in this. There’s a lot I didn’t know about Margaret Douglas beyondv her marriage and her son, that I found very interesting and I also recommend that once you finish this book, continue with the Appendixes. A lot of good information there.

The two last things I’ll point out is that it dispels a lot of the romantic myths about Elizabeth, Jane Grey, the wives, and so on. Jane was not a hapless victim, she was an extremely well educated youth who knew what was expected to her and in a society where women were supposed to be married to the highest bidder, Jane seems to have accepted this arrangement and bore no resentment. She was alsovery close to her father. Her last letter to him says it all. Like Mary she believed her religion was the true faith and encouraged her father to go fight for her and angrily told her sister and former tutor that if they converted to Catholicism then they would go to hell and called the people to arms.

"Mary didn't want it to be remembered that Jane had once had serious backing, while Protestants were later embarrassed by their treasonous support for Jane against the Tudor sisters -not just Mary but also Elizabeth, far better for everyone to treat Jane's reign as a small aberration engineered by John Dudley in Cambridge."
“Mary didn’t want it to be remembered that Jane had once had serious backing, while Protestants were later embarrassed by their treasonous support for Jane against the Tudor sisters -not just Mary but also Elizabeth, far better for everyone to treat Jane’s reign as a small aberration engineered by John Dudley in Cambridge.”

Mary I received great support, even by some of the Protestant elite and her initial policies were very flexible where religion was concerned but they became strict on the aftermath of the Wyatt rebellion. A lot of her accomplishments with the navy, in education, financing were carrued out by her sister who as Mary I started with a very flexible establishment but became stricter once rebellion broke out. And last but not least she rehabilitates Margaret Beaufort who’s been the subject of endless trashing thanks recent portrayals in the media. Margaret was pious but so was everty other woman in the period known as wars of the roses. Orphaned from her father when she was just a bab, Margaret became very close to her mother and half sibling. Interesting in education, she funded and created colleges and was the patron of many scholars. Her son, the first Tudor monarch was also very learned and in contrast with the skewed image we have of him in fiction, he was a man who loved to laugh, gamble and engage in many lively pastimes.

“Tudor” is an engrossing biography of mammoth proportions. I learned a lot about Margaret Douglas, the other unknown Tudors as well as the lives of their descendants and how close they were to their royal cousins, or in what way they influenced events. But it is ironic, as the author points out, that it all started with an accidental misstep, an accidental meeting between a royal French widow and a handsome, dashing Welsh steward whose romance changed the course of history forever. Spanning over two centuries, this book chronicles the life of every descendant, whether he or she played a major role or not. Unlikely  Kings, Queens, bastard Princesses and pretenders, family intrigue and treachery. This book has it all and although the Tudor line officially died out, it did not die out completely. Mary Queen of Scots married her cousin Henry Stewart. Both descended from Henry VII’s eldest daughter, Margaret Tudor and their son was his grandmother (Margaret Douglas) number one priority, and she and her husband battled for his safety and his rights. Although Mary and Margaret Douglas died, their line lasted. Margaret’s jewel depicts her grandson wearing the crown of Scotland and England, all joined as one -a prediction which came true. Through imagery, the Tudors rewrote history and bolstered their claim and increased their power, and they were also vicious in doing it.

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