Henry VII and King Arthur: Unifying and Divisive Figures

Henry VII King Arthur collage.jpg

Henry VII, King of England, Lord of Ireland and first monarch of the Tudor Dynasty was a fan of medieval romances. Like most men of the era, he wanted to be seen as the embodiment of the chivalric virtues that his heroes displayed in these tales, primarily King Arthur.

At the time of his birth, a prophecy was made. Its origins lay with an older prophecy that foretold the coming of a king who would unite Britain under his banner and bring order to chaos.

Avid readers of fantasy probably know where this is going. Almost every fantasy writer has used this device. Their protagonists have no idea until they do.  They set out on a dangerous journey where they face every major obstacle known to man, until they fulfill their destiny.  Unlike modern fantasies where the hero almost always wins at the end, medieval romances paralleled Greek tragedies.

The heroes complete their tasks, but it comes at a great cost. Such is Mallory’s take on the Arthurian legend. Prior to its publication, the legend of King Arthur and his knights of the round table was made up of fragments. Storytellers tried to put their own spin on the legend by focusing on one or two characters (at the most). If such a man existed, he must have originated from Wales., where the tale was born. Like many popular folk tales and legends, the conquerors added their own spin to it. After England became united, the tale was absorbed into English lore and Arthur became more than just a Welsh folk tale, but an English hero.

Published fourteen years after his death, Le Morte deArthur remains to this day the definitive account of King Arthur’s reign and the template for many fantasy authors who have continued to add more to this Welsh-Anglicized myth.

Written during the wars of the roses, some scholars believe that it was a political critique meant to reflect the general sentiment towards both warring Houses, Lancaster and York; the disillusionment from the nobles regarding Edward IV’s union with the fair Elizabeth Woodville, widow of Sir John Grey of Groby, and rewarding her family by marrying them to the high aristocracy; and lastly, the author’s own regarding both Houses.

Henry Tudor was fourteen at the time of the author’s death. He would have cared very little about one more former Lancastrian’s death, except for a passing sorrow given that he had fought on their side during the Lancastrian Readeption. Sir Thomas Mallory’s claim to fame came with this mammoth novel. When it was published, the House of York was in shambles.

What was once seen as England’s greatest hope had now become a source of dread. People looked for an alternative and they found one in the form of Henry Tudor, the exiled Earl of Richmond.

Forced to flee England with his uncle following the defeat of his cousin’s armies and his uncle’s death, Henry and Jasper landed in Brittany where they remained for thirteen years before spending their last year of exile in France.

Henry VII King Arthur

THE PRINCE WHO WAS PROMISED

Seeing a window of opportunity with the disappearance of the princes in the Tower, Henry changed his tune from fighting in their name, to fighting in his name. On Christmas of 1483, at Vannes Cathedral (other sources say Rennes), he swore that he would smite the usurper and marry his fair niece, Elizabeth of York, thus uniting both houses and putting an end to the terrible war.

Henry cast himself in the role of the knight in shining armor, the chosen one who had been chosen by God to rule over their realm. Drawing from other Welsh myths and legends, he had the red dragon that represented Cadwaladr on his main standard.

When he was born, Welsh bards sang songs about him. His father, uncle, and grandfather were beloved in Wales, and they saw Owen Tudor’s descendant as part of a prophecy which foretold the return of King Arthur and of another legendary King, which would rule over all the British Isles.

Henry capitalized on people’s superstitions to build his growing legend. He was the exile who crossed the narrow sea; the heir to a once great House, who had come with a ragtag team of soldiers, fledglings, and mercenaries, to fight a greater army led by a tyrant.

These elements were common in every medieval romance. Henry Tudor claimed descent from King Arthur. He was not the first nor the last to do this. His father-in-law, Elizabeth of York’s father, had done this as well. Out of all of them however, it was Henry who pushed the envelope further by portraying his reign as one of peace, unity, law, and order.

Mallory’s version of King Arthur is far from perfect. He remains a flawed character, with Camelot ending up as nothing more than a fair reminder that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The entire story is bittersweet. And therein lies another sad comparison, one that Henry probably thought he could avoid.

Tudor Rose 4

Henry’s device -which became a national symbol of England and a representation of his dynasty- known as the ‘Tudor Rose’ told an alternative tale of the wars of the roses. As with Arthur who had proven his worth by taking the sword out of the stone, having Excalibur granted to him by the lady of the lake, and other magical tokens; Henry Tudor proved himself in the battlefield. He beat Richard, defeated the rebels, and every pretender that came his way. He was the first English King in hundreds of years to sign a peace with Scotland, remaining on good terms with his ancestral rival and neighbor until his death. Henry also financed the first maritime voyages to the new world. Though not successful like those sponsored by the Queen of Castile and King of Aragon, the Catholic Kings (Isabella I and Ferdinand II), they opened the door for future explorers.
Seeing how well the first Yorkist King’s economic policies had worked, he kept some of them, albeit making them better. Like him, he recognized he had to keep the nobles under a tight leash. Instead of marrying them to his wife’s family, he took their private liveries away. Private liveries gave them the right to a private army. Without one, they posed no serious threat.

Henry VII tomb and Arthur's death

THE END OF CAMELOT

But not all was well in paradise. Like his legendary hero, Henry lost most of his loved ones. His uncle Jasper, his firstborn, and his beloved wife and their infant daughter. This last loss broke him. He became a recluse, and like King Arthur, another bitter reminder of what once was and what could have yet might have been.

Survived by his mother, Henry passed away on April 1509. The last book of Le Morte dArthur has Arthur his illegitimate son to the death. Mordred is slain but Arthur is mortally wounded. Seeing the splatter of brains and other body parts, he weeps and laments his reign. One of his men takes him to a barge where he is watched over by three magical queens who take him to the land of Avalon, where he will rest for eternity. The novel ends with a promise. One day Arthur will rise from the grave and come in the form of a just man to make things right again.

Many English Kings did not see the tale of King Arthur as a cautionary tale. They saw Arthur as their role model. Due to his paternal family’s ties to Wales and his peculiar journeys, Henry believed he had more in common with him, and was worthier than his predecessors to take up his mantle.
Henry was right, the year the novel was printed, was the year his reign began. But rather than having celebrated the similarities, he should have been wary of them.

Henry VII’s crown was inherited by his remaining son, Henry VIII. Unlike the terrible state England had been left in by Arthur’s death, Tudor England did not have to worry about that because in our version of the tale, Merlin was still around to help the next generation before he too passed away. In this version, Merlin was not a wise old man but a woman. Henry VII’s mother ensured that her son had a peaceful transition of power. When he reached his age of majority, she retired and passed away quickly.

The age of Camelot had come to an end. Camelot had become a land of nightmares. After the Tudor dynasty died out and the crown was inherited by a Junior branch (that descended from his eldest daughter) chroniclers took a different view of Henry VII’s reign. Henry VII’s last years in power came to define him, with him being portrayed as the miser-king, a dastardly figure whose mother was equally terrible.

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ONCE AND FUTURE KINGS

Like all the Tudors, Henry VII is a fascinating figure. Le Morte dArthur gives us an Arthur we can all root for and empathize with. He is flawed, and it is those flaws that make him relatable because he is human. Similarly, it is (ironically) thanks to all the bashing that Henry VII has received that has made him one of the more relatable monarchs of his dynasty.

They remain the once and future kings. Nobodies who beat the odds to become England’s celebrated figures, but who ultimately were helpless in the face of personal tragedy. Their dream of a perfect kingdom was inherited by their descendants but died with them. Ultimately though, despite his best efforts, his story took a tragic turn. Unlike his hero, he did not die at the hands of his son, nor see his kingdom descend into chaos. He had his Merlin (in the form of Margaret Beaufort) to thank for that; but he did lose many of his loved ones.Over a century later when the geo-political landscape of the British Isles changed, so did his appeal among chroniclers. Chroniclers began to see him in a negative light, painting him and his mother as a stain in English history and shifting the pendulum to the other side when it came to his rivals (primarily Richard).
In a way, this parallels with Arthur’s demise at the hands of his son, Mordred. At the end Mallory’s novel, Arthur regretfully tells two of his knights after he kills Mordred, that his glory has been snatched from him. Though Henry died of natural causes, recent efforts to vilify his name can be seen as a way of destroying his legacy.

Ironically though, novelists and chroniclers’ efforts to make him into a villain, only serve to make him more appealing. Who wants to be interested in a perfect character? Someone who has no flaws and you can’t relate to when you have a man who beat the odds and became King of England?

Subsequent Kings and Queens would delight themselves with tales of King Arthur and his knights of the round table but they were far wiser in how they approached this tale. Instead of seeing Arthur as a role model, they regarded him as a cautionary tale; the perfect example of what happens when someone lets himself be overpowered by his vices.

Sources:

  • de Lisle, Leanda. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. Public Affairs. 2013.
  • Penn, Thomas. Winter King and the Dawn of Tudor England. Simon & Schuster. 2012.
  • Chrimes, S.B. Henry VII. Yale University Press. 1999.
  • Porter, Linda. Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots. Martin’s Press. 2014.
  • Skidmore, Chris. The Rise of the Tudors: The Family that Changed English History. Martin’s Press. 2014.
  • Mallory, Thomas. Le Morte dArthur. 1485.
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Book Review: How to be a Tudor by Ruth Goodman

how to be a tudor lucy worsley

Ruth Goodman weaves a wonderful tale of kings, queens, peasants, artisans, and other groups from the late fifteenth, sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, illustrating how people’s views on sex, religion, childbirth, education and other customs varied, depending on the region they lived and -for those in the middle and at the bottom- how different regimes affected their lifestyle.
As such, issues such as work, immigration, cleanliness, food and clothing are also addressed.

One thing that Ruth Goodman also excels at is tearing down through the myths that people still buy into when they think of the Tudor era. And we can hardly blame fans who do because there isn’t a lot of focus on important factors that dominated people’s lives such as identity, religion, social status, and region.

This is a must have for every history enthusiast and aspiring historian. You won’t be disappointed.

Richly descriptive, beautifully written and highly entertaining, Ruth Goodman does what you’d expect a good historian and someone who’s clearly passionate about her work would do. She relies on primary sources and archaeological evidence and when she has to fill in the blanks, she fills in the blanks based on what she knows, but ultimately she makes it clear that it is up to the reader to decide what he or she believes is the likeliest possibility of the subject she just addressed.
It really feels like you’ve hopped into the DeLorean and gone back in time!

Book Review: Edward III by W.M. Ormrod

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An excellent biography on one of the middle ages greatest kings, Edward III of England. What makes this biography different from others is that it offers a new perspective on Edward without the need of being condescending to other historians and biographers.

Ormrod acknowledges that many of Edward’s policies were innovative, and praises his maverick nature but he points out that much of the former were nothing new. He simply built on what his predecessors had done, altering some of their statues and regulations to ensure a more stable government.

The Edward that emerges from Ormrod’s biography is ambitious, scheming (plotting with the pope and other councilors to get rid of Mortimer) but also pragmatic and a great military commander who had a great team of administrators and above all, a man not afraid to compromise when the occasion called for it. Ormrod also puts his flaws, while a careful administrator and able leader, his taxation crippled many and there were times when he was forced to submit to Parliament’s rule and the commons’ representatives. This is not a sign of weakness, as Edward was a great negotiator and nothing he did came without a price.

The last years of his reign however after his wife and eldest son died, became decadent and this is seen through the demands of the Good Parliament that Ormrod goes over in various sections. I like the narrative, and that he went step by step explaining how each group was relevant in medieval society and how much it influenced or was affected by Edward’s policies. I only wish it had more details, it seemed as if each part was a short summary and he kept repeating himself at times. Nonetheless, it was still a good book.

Book Review: Katherine the Queen by Linda Porter

Kathryn parr linda porter bio
This is an exceptional biography that does justice to the sixth and last consort of Henry VIII. For centuries, Katherine Parr was seen in an auxiliary role. The nurse, the one that survived because she was tactful where two of her predecessors were not, and finally, the surrogate mother.
Out of these three, there is truth to the last two.
The real  Katherine Parr was a reformer. She had an active role in the English Reformation. While Anne Boleyn is credited with being the first royal consort to embrace Protestantism -and she certainly does deserve some of that credit- the truth is that it was Katherine Parr who was England’s first full fledged Protestant queen.
Where Anne believed that religious reformers should thread carefully and still embraced some of her forefathers’ traditions, Katherine Parr wanted to do away with almost every aspect of the old world.
In her view, women were the Protestant Reformation greatest asset. Women were supposed to be -according to the bible- virtuous. For this very same reason, Katherine encouraged her young charges to live up to the highest standard. Among her charges were the ill-fated Jane Grey and the future Gloriana, Elizabeth Tudor.
Linda Porter understands the period and her audience, including those who are new to this era. For this reason, she decides to cut straight to the chase and exclude details that might make newcomers lose interest.In spite of this, she weaves every thread to form a rich tapestry that presents us with a remarkable woman. Out of all of the Tudor consorts, she and Henry VIII’s first wife, Katharine of Aragon whom her mother -lady Maud Parr- served and whom she was named after) were the only queens to be appointed regents in their husband’s absence. Henry VIII saw in Katherine a nobility of spirit and intellect. When he left the country to seek glory in France, he entrusted the well-being of his nation and offspring into her hands. Though he had also left competent men who’d guide her through her new duties, the sole weight of England rested on her shoulders.
Katherine proved to be more than capable.
After having a brief brush with death, she spent her last years building a friendship with many members at court.
Porter is also quick to point out that while she did not want to take any credit for the English reformation, she was one of the de-facto leaders of this religious movement. Her last book, published months one year after Henry VIII died, helped shape Anglican thought.
Aside of her strict moral code, this biography also sheds light on her social life. Katherine fulfilled the other important functions of a consort by being an exceptional hostess. She loved to dance, hear her husband’s minstrels, and dress in rich gowns that would reflect well on the crown.
Porter is not afraid to touch on the controversy surrounding her youngest royal stepdaughter and ward, lady Elizabeth Tudor and her fourth and last husband, Sir Thomas Seymour, Baron of Sudeley.
Since most of our knowledge of that incident comes from sources that were written much later; she tries to be as factual as possible, delivering the most likely scenarios and the reason behind Katherine Parr reacting the way she did.

Lastly, this is one of the few books that paints a more complete picture of her noble ancestry. Out of all the four non-royals that Henry VIII married, her lineage was the most distinguished.
As previous stated, Linda Porter is not afraid of including the darker aspects of her life. In a perfect world, in a perfect time, she would have had it all. A learned and courteous woman, who was recognized for her intellect and her active role in the religious reformation, living happily ever after with a husband who loved and appreciated her with a child that will take after her mother.
 Nevertheless Katherine’s legacy lives through her writings and what she taught through her actions and her self to Elizabeth.

The Myth of Convivencia: Nostalgic Storytelling

medieval convivencia

It is a popular myth that there was a period of religious tolerance among the three Abrahamic faiths during the middle ages which end came with the aftermath of the “Reconquista”. The Reconquista or Reconquest was the Spaniards’ efforts to recover the lands that had been taken by Muslim invaders in 711. At the time that Isabella became Queen of Castile and later her husband and cousin, Ferdinand, became King of Aragon and other territories he inherited from his father; there was only one Taifa (Moorish) kingdom in Spain. It was the last remnant of what some historians refer to as ‘Spain’s golden age’. This is none other than Granada.

While their Muslim invaders tried to do away with their culture, the more committed Spaniards pushed back. The term ‘Andalusia’ as Dario Fernandez-Morera explains in the next paragraph of his book “The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews Under Islamic Rule in Medieval  Spain”, never took hold and in spite of the Christians and Jews submitting to their new masters, they still adhered to their cultural practices.

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“Medieval Christians considered the lands Islam had conquered to be part of Spain, not part of Islam, and therefore not as al-Andalus. Their chronicles refer to “Spannia,” avoiding the Arabic term. The mid-thirteenth century Poema de Fernan Gonzales which signs in medieval Spanish the deeds of a tenth-century Castilian hero, specifies that Castile is the best of the lands of Spannia and that Fernand Ggonzals fought even against the Christian kings of Spannia. In fact,  Christians in the North of Spain initially referred to Chrisian dhimmis in Islami Spain as Spani -that is, as Spaniards. “Until the twelfth century,” the historian Miguel Anel Ldero Quesade writes, “Christians, especially those in the Pyrenean area, frequently called the lands of ‘al-Andalus’ Hispani, and so did the ‘gothicists’ from the kindom of Leon, since they considered it unliberated territory.” Valve Bernejo and fellow historian Reinhart ozy have pointd out that the Latin chronicles by Christians in the North of Spain designated as Spania recisely the land that Muslims had conquered.
Significantly, these political references to the land as Spain occurred despite the fact that in the Midle Ages there was no single “kingdom of Spain.” Nonetheless, in 1077 Alfonso VI of Leon and Castile called himself “imperator totius hispaniae” (emperor of the whole of Spain). Another chronicle calls Sancho II of Leon and  Castile (1036-1072) “rex totius Castelle et dominator Hispaniae” (king of Castile and dominator of Spain.) … Christian historians as early as 754, in the Chronica mozarabica, were lamenting “the loss of Spain.” … Julian of Toledo, a prelate of Jewish origin who became bishop of all Visigoth Spain, wrote a History of King Wamba (Historia Wambae), which has been considered a “nationalistic work” defending the patria and the people of Spain in contrast to those of such “foreign lands” as Francia. Muslims themselves often used the word Sspain rather than al-Andalus … Archaeology confirms this Muslim usage: numismatics tells us that the earliest Muslim coins in  Spain, dating from the first half of the eighth century, a few years after the conquest, show on one side the name Alandalus in Arabic and on the other, for proper identification, the Latin abbreviation SPAN -that is,Spania.”
(Fernandez-Morera, The Myth of Andalusia)

Furthermore, there seems to be some misunderstanding among popular historians, who confuse religious taxation with acceptance of religious minorities. Simply put, there was no such thing as love between any of these groups. While people can point to some exceptions, these were extremely rare. For the most part, when Christian or Muslim rulers accepted peoples of a different faith, especially those the latter referred to as “people of the book” (those belonging to any of the Abrahamic faiths), it was because they offered a financial incentive (i.e. they could be taxed).

The special tax religious minorities, including the remaining few who still practiced the Zoroastrian faith, was known as the Jizyah. It can be found in the Quran, Sura (chapter( 9, section 4, verse 29: “Fight against such of the people who despite having been given the Scripture do not really believe in Allah and the Last Day, and who do not hold unlawful that Allah and His Messenger have declared to be unlawful, and do not subscribe to the true faith, until they pay the Jizyah, provided they cannot afford it, and they are content with their state of subjection …”

Furthermore, Muslim legalist scholar and Jurist, Abu Yusuf added: “After Abu Ubaydah concluded a peace treaty with the people of Syria and had collected from them the jyzya and the tax for agrarian land, he was informed that the Romans were readying for battle against him and that the situation had become critical for him and the Muslims. Abu Ubaydah then wrote to the governors of the cities with whom pacts had been concluded they must return the sums collected from jizya and kharja and say to their subjects: “We return to you your money because we have been informed that troops are being raised against us. In our agreement you stipulated that we protect you, but we are unable to do so. Therefore, we now return to you what we have taken from you, and we will abide by the stipulation and what has been written down, if God grants us the victory over them.”

While this may seem like a ‘fair’ treatment in an otherwise unfair era, you must not let the eloquence of this holy book and this Jurist fool you. In an earlier Surah, it reminds those who follow the path of Islam that they should be merciful to the unbeliever, but after a certain while, if this fails to convert them, they should turn against them and strike them down for rejecting conversion.

Quran Birmingham_Quran_manuscript“Verily, those who conceal the clear evidences and the guidance which We have revealed, after We have explained them to the people in this Book, these it is whom Allah deprives of His mercy and also disapprove all those who can disapprove, except such (of them) as repent and mend (themselves) and declare clearly (the truth which they used to hide), it is they to whom I shall tur with mercy, for I am the Oft-Returning (with compassion and) the Ever Merciful. But those who persist in disbelief and die while they are disbelievers, these are the ones upon whom be the disapproval of Allah and of the angels and of people and (in short) of all of them. They shall remain in this (state of disapproval) for long. Their punishment shall not be reduced for the, and no respite shall be given to them. And your God is One God, there is no other, cannot be and will never be one worthy f worship but He, the Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful.” (Quran, Sura 2, verses 59-63)

In her biography on Isabella, Kirstin Downey mentions the violent end that Jews suffered in Granada in 1066, at the supposed height of Spain’s golden age of religious toleration. As preached in the Quran, if a non-believer refuses conversion, he or she should no longer be treated with mercy. In this case, upon suffering an economic collapse, Muslims looked for someone to blame and who better than foreigners whom all of a sudden, it was forgotten how they were also affected by this crisis, and that in spite of facing continuous discrimination by their Muslim peers, they still followed the law.
Specifically, Muslim commons targeted Jews.

“In 1066, Muslims rioted and destroyed the entire Jewish community in Granada, killing thousands more, in fact, than the numbers killed by Christians in the Rhineland at the beginning of the first Crusade. In the twelfth century, the Muslims expelled the entire population of Christians living in the cities of Malaga and Granada and sent them to Morroco.” (Downey, Isabella: the Warrior Queen)

No Jew was spared. Neither were Christians who were captured in raids and sold off to slavery. Of the few that managed to escape and tell the tale is of Georgius of Hungary. After he became a priest, he wrote a memoir where he revealed the horrific details that he and his fellow Christians went through.

“In all the provinces, just as for other sorts of trafficking, a particular public place is held for buying and selling human beings, and places legally assigned for this purpose. To this location and public selling ground, the poor captives are brought, bound with ropes and chains, as if sheep for slaughter. There, they are examined and stripped naked. There, a rational creature made in the image of God is compared and sold for the cheapest price like a dumb animal. There (and this is a shameful thing to say) the genitals of both men and women are handled publicly by all an shown in the open. They are forced to walk naked in front of everyone, to run, walk, leap, so that it becomes plainly evident, whether each is weak or strong, male or female, old or young (and, for women,) virgin or corrupted. If they see someone blush with shame, they stand around to urge those on even more, beating them with staves, punching them, so that they do by force that which of their own free will they would be ashamed to do in front of everyone.
There a son is sold with his mother watching and grieving.  There, a mother is bought in the presence and to the dismay of her son. In that place, a wife is made sport of, like a prostitute, as her husband grows ashamed, and she is given to another man.  There a small boy is seized from the bosom of his mother, and his mother is separated from him. There no dignity is granted, nor is any social class spared. There a holy man and a commoner are sold at the same price. There a soldier and a country bumpkin are weighed in the same balance. Furthermore, this is just the beginning of their evils …
Oh how many, unwilling to bear the crisis of such an experience, fell to the depth of desperation! Oh how many, exposing themselves to die in various ways, fled into the hills and woods and perished because of starvation or thirst, an there’s also this final evil: taking their own hands against themselves, they either wrung out their own lives with a noose, or hurling themselves into the river, they lost the life of their body and spirit at the same time.”

As noted above in Georgius’ memoir, virgins were in high demand. Many of the Sultans’ mothers happened to be Christian women who rose through the ranks, becoming chief concubine or legal wife of their lord and master, the Sultan. Boabdil, the last Sultan of Granada fought with his father over his new favorite concubine who had been sold off into slavery to the Sultan. As it happened in such environments where women have to compete against one another so they could become the highest ranking woman in the harem, earning power and respect that they would not have otherwise (unless they were born in the aristocracy); Boabdil’s mother, Aixa felt threatened by his father’s (Abul-Hasan Ali) new concubine, Isabel de Solis. A beautiful Castilian who was the daughter of nobleman Sancho Jimenez de Solis, she was kidnapped by border raiders led by the Abul-Hasan Ali’s brother. Being the first to notice her beauty, he gave her as a present to his brother who was captivated with her on the spot. As a result, Boabdil and his mother sought to undermine her influence. When this didn’t work, they sought the aid of the Catholic Kings.

1492 Granada TCK
Conniving and astute, Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, gave him his support, finding it easier to play the Nasrid dynasty against one another so when the right moment came to strike and recover the last piece of lands the Muslims had taken from them, they’d have an easier job doing so.
Their plan worked. As the old saying goes, Isabella and Ferdinand’s arduous campaign and plots paid off. On the 2nd of January 1492, Boabdil, the last Nasrid Sultan of the last Taifa Kingdom in Spain, surrendered to his once allies turned adversaries.
Isabel de Solis returned to Castile, re-converted to Christianity and lived a quiet life. The same cannot be said for other women. Many had to convert to Islam and adapt to their new surroundings. Boys for their part also faced many struggles. Some like Suleiman I -known as Suleiman “Muhtesem”, “the Magnificent”- former slave, Ibrahim, managed to rise through the ranks and become members of the aristocracy and were free to reconnect with their families, even inviting them to live with them. But once again, these cases were rare and the families had to convert and adopt Islamic practices or else, they wouldn’t be allowed to live with them.

As part of this religious harmonious society, Jews,  Christians and Zoroastrians were segregated. If the person was sickly, a priest, old, a woman or child, he or she would be exempt from paying the tax. Able-bodied men -unless they weren’t financially stable or joined the military- would be obligated to pay the tax if they wanted to be left in peace. However, they could not hold certain offices or walk on certain parts of the street or put their business in a place where it competed with local Muslim businesses.
Also, religious minorities were prohibited of living in the same neighborhood as their Muslim peers. The dead were also segregated. Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians had to have separate cemeteries.

One aspect that is often criticized of medieval Europe is the treatment of conversos of Moriskos, that is, Jews and Muslims who had converted to Christianity. Rarely, the same attention is given to the religious minorities that converted to Islam. As their counterparts in Christian Europe, these new converts were always seen with suspicion (and envy whenever they rose higher than their Muslim peers). Ibrahim, the aforementioned favorite of Suleiman I is proof of that. Jealous of his rise, they convinced Suleiman that he was a threat. Suleiman, threatened by his former slave’s popularity, believed them and he ordered his execution.

High or low, converts or still part of the religious minority; regardless of how productive they were or how much they achieved, they were never seen by their Muslim peers as their equals.

In his dissertation, Spanish scholar Eduardo Manzano-Moreno criticizes the proliferation of this myth, stating that it is nothing more than wishful thinking.
“El de Convivencia es un concepto que ha sido poco elaborado.”
(The concept of Convivencia is a concept that hasn’t been fully elaborated.)

He is right. “Convivencia” is a symptom of nostalgic story-telling. It is how some wish to remember the past instead of accepting it as yet another complicated era of human history.

Sources:

  • Downey, Kirstin. Isabella: The Warrior Queen. 2014.
  • Fox, Julia. Sister Queens: The Noble Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile. Ballantine Books. 2012.
  • Fernandez-Morera, Dario. The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain. Intercollegiate Studies. 2016.
  • The Quran (Modern English Translation)
  • Manzano Moreno, Eduardo. Qurtuba: Algunas Reflexiones criticas sobre el califato de Cordoba y el mito de la Convivencia. Awraq n7, 2013. ( http://www.awraq.es/blob.aspx?idx=5&nId=96&hash=ac20943d589408c5a0a3cd2c1e0908a4 )
  • Tremlett, Giles. Isabella of Castile: Europe’s First Great Queen. Bloomsbury USA. 2017.
  • I also recommend my co-author’s blog where my article is linked to her take on this subject. HERE

Richard III’s Thunderous Proclamation against Henry Tudor

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On the 7th of December 1484, Richard III issued a thunderous proclamation against Henry Tudor (then) Earl of Richmond. Richard had sworn to protect his nieces and welcomed the eldest two (the once Princesses, now Ladies) Elizabeth and Cecily of York to court. Henry Tudor had been a nuisance to Richard ever since the Christmas of ’83 when he pledged to take the crown and marry Elizabeth of York, thus uniting both Houses. But for the first time during his reign, after the death of his son, Prince Edward of Wales, Henry had become a serious threat.
Those who criticize Elizabeth Woodville and her eldest daughters for accepting Richard III’s offer of peace, ignore the fact that when he did this, his son was still alive and as far as everyone knew, his reign could go on for many years. The death of his son changed all of this. With no heir and a sickly wife, the threat of Henry Tudor became greater. He had with him not only staunch Lancastrians but Edwardian Yorkists as well supporting his claim.

Henry VII White Queen
The proclamation not only attacked Henry but his allies, including Peter Courtenay (Bishop of Exeter), Jasper Tudor (Henry’s uncle), the notable Lancastrian loyalist John, Earl of Oxford (who was one of the greatest strategists of the age and ally Henry could count on), Thomas Grey (Marquis of Dorset), Sir Edward Woodville, and others as well, stating that
rebels and traitors disabled and attainted by authority of the high Court of parliament” also being accused of being “open murderers, adulterers, and extortioners contrary to truth, honour and nature” in addition to abusing “and blind the commons of this said realm of the said rebels and traitors have chosen to be their Captain one Henry late calling himself Earl of Richmond which of his ambitious and insatiable covetousness stirred and excited by the confederacy of the King’s said rebels and traitors encroacheth upon him the name and title of the Royal estate of this Realm of England. Whereunto he hath no manner, interest, righ or colour as every man well knoweth. And to the intent to achieve the same by the aid, support and assistance of the king’s said ancient enemies and of this his Council of France to give up and release in perpetuity all the title and claim that Kings of England have had and ought to have to the Crown and Realm of France.”

This last part is extremely serious because not only was Richard calling Henry ever nasty name in the book, but he was also accusing him of making a secret deal with the French of giving up England’s claim to the “the crown and realm of France” in order to have that country’s support.
The solution to Henry’s “insatiable covetousness” was supporting Richard who as “our sovereign lord” was a “well-willed, diligent, and courageous prince” who would put “his most royal person to all labour and pain necessary for the resistance and subduing of his enemies.”

Henry VII Richard III bosworth collage

Richard and Henry’s armies would meet the following year, not long after his wife’s death in that same year. The end result would be Richard dying battle and Henry becoming King of England, fulfilling his promise of marrying Elizabeth of York whose parents’ marriage was once again validated.

Cersei I vs Daenerys s7 1

This is why history will always be a major triumph over every fantasy and sci-fi it inspires. It is way more violent and filled with more surprises than fiction can ever come up with. It shows us that the impossible can often become possible, and that as Varys told Tyrion in “Game of Thrones” a small man can cast a “very large shadow”. In the show’s seventh season, Cersei took on the role of Richard III when she issued a thunderous proclamation of her own against Daenerys Targaryen. Like Henry, she was exiled across the narrow sea and come to reclaim the Iron throne, but unlike the Welsh dragon, it is unknown whether she will ever achieve her goal given that the show and the books are amalgams of different eras. Nevertheless, it shows how the past continues to be relevant and serve as a major inspiration.
But whereas Cersei was posh and delicate before the lords, Richard III did not mince his words. As it was pointed out, he didn’t pull back any punches and continued to attack Henry’s character, reminding everyone that the last time someone had a Lancastrian king, England had lost all of its prized possessions in France, and that aside of that, Henry descended from a lowly branch of that house that albeit being legitimized, in the eyes of many, it was seen as a bastard branch of the Plantagenet dynasty.

Sources:

  • Chrimes, S.B. Henry VII. Yale University Press. 1999.
  • Penn, Thomas. Winter King and the Dawn of Tudor England. Simon & Schuster. 2012.
  • Skidmore, Chris. The Rise of the Tudors: The Family that Changed English History. Martin’s Press. 2014.
  • de Lisle, Leanda. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. Public Affairs. 2013.
  • Porter, Linda. Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots. Martin’s Press. 2014.

Book Review: Anne Boleyn, Adultery, Heresy, Desire by Amy Licence

Anne Boleyn by Amy Licence

To understand Anne Boleyn, we have to know about her world first. Her roots, going back to the very beginning, tracing her family story, her role in the shifting religious climate of the Tudor era and finally, the differing views on women. When it comes to giving these women’s a voice, nobody is more suited for this task than renowned women’s historian, Amy Licence. The past comes alive in her new biography on Henry VIII’s second consort, and the mother to one of the world’s greatest female leaders who ruled England the longest out of all her dynasty, Elizabeth I.

Anne Boleyn lived during a time when many changes were going on. Nobody could have predicted her fall, or how far Henry VIII would have gone to have her. Nevertheless, looking back further, some things about her character start to make more sense.

Like her previous biography on Catherine of Aragon, this is a very detailed book. Highlighting the difference in status and the ever-changing cultural norms regarding gender, religion, and ceremony, she pulls the reader in to the 15th and 16th century eras. Another thing that I enjoyed from this book is that she did not shy away from the brutality and prejudices that characterized these time periods.

We often forget that these were people, subject to the same emotional and physical pain, although the later was augmented two-fold given the time and place they lived in, and the large gamble many of the up-and-coming families like the Boleyns took; nevertheless, something set them apart. They viewed the world through dark-colored lens.

The courts where Anne Boleyn served women like the archduchess Margaret of Austria and Queens Mary (her future husband’s youngest sister when she married Louis XII) and Claude of France, and later Henry’s first queen, Catherine of Aragon, valued order above all else. Decorum and class were everything for these people. Everything had to be structured, otherwise, society would come crumbling down and with it, chaos would reign.

Anne Boleyn was aware of this so she chose to follow the rules unlike her spirited sister Mary. But Anne was spirited in her own way. Instead of giving herself freely to men, be it through pressure or for passion, she preferred to shine by showing off her intellectual attributes. Her etiquette, her subtle playful and comely behavior, her occasional defiance, her passion for the new learning and indulging others, including Henry Percy and later the king, in harmless games of courtly love is what made her into one of the most alluring and interesting women at the Tudor court.

But, and this is something that historians still ask (and will likely continue to ask in the many years to come), is this what she intended? Was Anne Boleyn responsible for her fall? Was she a victim, pawn, or villain, homewrecker, or all of these things neatly wrapped together? Amy Licence doesn’t pretend to know the answer and as the book progresses, she is not about to give a definite answer but merely what she believed happened given what we know so far, and leave the rest for the reader to decide.

This is what a good historian. He or she gives the reader as much information as it is available, separates fact from fiction, primary from secondary sources and explaining the why, what, where, and when of the latter- letting the reader come to his own conclusion.

Anne Boleyn was a woman of many faces. She was a woman who might not have started out as the ambitious and unique ‘it’ girl from fiction, but as things got out of hand, she saw no other way but to play the waiting game and indulge the King. Having a strong moral compass -and another one of self-preservation- she did not let him take her virtue just like that. If the two of them were going to be together, he had to propose something grander. And ultimately that was marriage.

The road to the marriage bed was paved with obstacles, and it didn’t become any easier after she was crowned Queen of England. Anne was the first and only consort ever to be crowned with the crown of St. Edward the confessor -meant only for kings and queen regnants. Henry’s choice for this was not merely because of his passion and adoration for her, it was to symbolize something greater. He was not going to let anybody question their unborn child’s legitimacy, hence, his wife was going to have a coronation unlike something that hadn’t been seen before.
This is what the monarchy meant. Displays of force and splendor -and if there was something that Henry loved most of all, was wasting no expense on the latter.

But things turned sour and the rest as they say is history. Anne Boleyn’s story plays out like a Greek tragedy. A woman who chose to take the reins of her own destiny like her ancestors before her and navigate dangerous waters. Her gamble paid off (in the beginning). But she ended up losing everything. Yet, something of her remained, something which has catapulted her to fame. Her daughter. Elizabeth I is remembered as one of England’s greatest rulers. “Good Queen Bess”, “Virgin Queen” “Glorianna”, there is no shortage of titles that history has bestowed on her. But when it comes to Anne, people are still divided.

How do we view her? How do we judge a woman whose moral ambiguity still troubles many? The answer is simple and sometimes the simplest answer is the best: We view her as a woman of her times, a woman of her status, who rose too high and who was brought down by various factors. Some of them her doing, many of them not. Once we do this, a new picture of Anne starts to emerge -the same one which Amy Licence brings back to life in this stunning biography of one of England’s infamous femme-fatale.

Those of you interested in learning more about women’s lives, the struggles they faced, and how they used their different strengths to survive and fight against the rising tide, will devour this book.

Few historians choose to focus on women’s lives, and on the harsh realities that others had to face. And even fewer historians choose not to shy away from the less than flamboyant details that these people had to face, and this includes women’s hygiene, their ordeals during pregnancy, widowhood, and general views regarding these by the old and new church.
Ultimately, this biography is a great addition to our Tudor history bookshelves and more importantly to women’s history as it reminds us why Anne Boleyn is still relevant, and how easy it is for her story to be misappropriated or distorted. It is a product of the ever changing times just as she was a product of hers.

Book Review: Martin Luther, The Man who Rediscovered God & Changed the World by Eric Metaxas

Martin Luther bio by Metaxas

Martin Luther has become a firebrand icon but like so many firebrands, a lot of his story is steeped in myth. It has become another case of fiction replacing history, with novelists and (some) historians choosing that over reality. Eric Metaxas does a good job by deconstructing Luther and presenting us with the real man behind the leader of the Protestant reformation.

Novelists do not have an obligation to their readers, unless they feel they do. Some include author’s note explaining where they drew the line between fact and fiction, where they erred on the side of caution and where they took liberties for the sake of making their story more interesting. Historians on the other hand, do have a responsibility to their readers. Their jobs is to educate, but like Luther, they are trapped by their own biases. And we shouldn’t fault them for that, but we should hold them accountable when they let that take over the historical record to promote their agenda.

Martin Luther was for lack of better terms, a man of his times. Not ahead of them. He did what he did out of conviction and later desperation. His movement is also the product of centuries of heresies and attempts to reform the church that did not go unnoticed by the author.

By painting a vivid picture of the times he lived in, including explaining his background and the different customs in Western Europe, Eric Metaxas draws us the reader in right from the start. You don’t have to be a history buff and if you are but are new to this period, you don’t have to know a lot, to find this book engaging. Drawing on primary sources (and to some extent to understand where the fictional Luther comes from, secondary sources), and citing the archaeological evidence that still remains, Metaxas paints a vivid portrayal of the rebellious German ex-monk.

The man who rediscovered God and who changed the world is an accurate way to describe the figurehead of the Protestant movement -a movement he did not intent to create but like so much of what history has taught us, once things got out of his control, he had no choice but to push forward or to face certain death which would have meant being burned as a heretic like one of his idols, the infamous Dominican friar who also preached against the excesses of the church a century prior, Savonarola.

Ironically though, for better or for worse, Luther has also come to be seen as an icon and a source of inspiration for many political, religious and civic leaders. Some went so far as to change their names, and while others wasted no time placing him in a pedestal. Just as Luther did not intend to break away from the church, he did not intent to replace the cult of saints that he so much detested and railed against. But in the end, not even he would have gone against the power of the pen, nor controlled how he’d be remembered by his followers (or his rivals). And that is, as the author of this book points out, his greatest legacy -a legacy that will continue to be felt for decades to come.

The Ballad of Jane Seymour. Honoring her “sacrifice”.

Jane Seymour part of the Dynasty portrait

The ballad “The Death of Queen Jane” is an English ballad that describes the events surrounding Jane Seymour’s death, while romanticizing her union with Henry VIII. The following is an epitaph that both glorifies and laments her, painting her as the sacrificial lamb who gave her life for a noble cause -giving Henry his longed for legitimate male heir to succeed him after his death.

“Queen jane in labour full six weeks and more,
And the women were weary, and fain would give oer:
‘O women, O women, as women ye be,
Rip open my two sides, and save my baby!’
O royal Queen Jane, that thing may not be;
We’ll send for King Henry to come unto thee’
King Henry came to her, and sate on her bed:
‘What wails my dear lady, her eyes look so red?’
… ‘O royal Queen Jane, that thing will not do;
If I lose your fair body, I’ll lose your baby too’
She wept and she wailed, and she wrung her hands sore;
O the flower of England must flourish no more!
She wept and she wailed till she fell in a swoond,
They opened her two sides, and the baby was found.
The baby was christened with joy and much mirth,
Whilst poor Queen Jane’s body lay cold under earth;
There was ringing and singing and mourning all day,
The princess Elizabeth went weeping away.
The trumpets in mourning so sadly did sound,
And the pikes and the muskets did trail on the ground.”

Jane Seymour gave birth to Prince Edward, later King Edward IV of England and Ireland, on the 12th of October 1537. As it was customary, she and Henry didn’t attend the christening. After the baptism ceremony was over, the two of them received him in the Queen’s chamber. Jane became sick days later. Two days before she died she seemed better, but it soon became evident she wasn’t and on the twenty fourth, twelve days after her son was born, she died.
Henry ordered masses to be said in her honor. During her lifetime, she wasn’t politically vocal as her predecessor. She transformed herself into the perfect domestic wife, the kind of woman that Henry admired and most of his wives wanted to live up.
In her biography “Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII”, historian Amy Licence, states that Henry’s mother, Elizabeth of York, became a role model for these women. After seeing what had happened to her late mistresses, Jane was wise enough to become her late mother-in-law’s mirror image. Had she lived though, historian Elizabeth Norton in her biography of Jane, states that it is highly likely, that another side of Jane would have emerged -one that she would’ve been free to use given that she had succeeded where her predecessors hadn’t
Jane was buried on Windsor. Henry died eleven years later. He planned a big monument for the two of them that was never completed.

Additional sources:

  • Norton, Elizabeth. Jane Seymour: Henry VIII’s true love. Amberley. 2009.
  • Loades, David. Jane Seymour: Henry VIII’s favorite wife: Amberley. 2013.
  • ” “. The Seymours of Wolf Hall: A Tudor Family Story. Amberley. 2014.
  • Seymour, William. Ordeal by Ambition: An English Family in the Shadow of the Tudors. Sidwick & Jackson. 1972.

Queen Mary I bids her husband farewell

Mary I Tudor and Philip of Spain collage 1

On the 29th of August, 1555, Mary bid her husband farewell. After he departed by water from Greenwich to Dover where he stayed for a few more days until the weather cleared up in September, to travel to the Low  Countries. Mary had reluctantly agreed to her father-in-law and cousin Charles’ request to send Philip away, she had previously written to Charles expressing her fears that he would be gone for a long time. In this, she was not mistaken. Philip did not arrive until October of the following year, by then King of Spain and lord of the Netherlands after his father’s abdication. According to the Venetian Ambassador Michieli, Mary had insisted on accompanying Philip in a glorious ceremony through London three days prior and on the day of his departure:

Mary I and Philip of Spain coat of arms

“The Queen really on this occasion showed proper grief for a woman and a woman clothed as she was with royal state and dignity. There was no external manifestation of agitation, although it was evident she was in great trouble, and she chose to accompany the King through all the chambers and halls, as far as the head of the staircase: all the way she had a struggle to command herself and prevent any exhibition inconsistent with her high position from being perceptible to so many persons. But she was affected by the kissing of hands by the Spanish lords and especially at seeing the ladies taking leave of the King in tears, who, according to the custom of the country, kissed them one by one. On returning however to her apartments she lent on her elbows at a window overlooking the river, and there, not supposing herself any longer seen or observed by anyone, it was perceived that she gave free vent to her grief in floods of tears. She did not stir from the spot until she had seen the King embark and depart; looking till the last sight of him; he mounted on a raised and open part of the barge, so as to be better visible as long as he was in sight of the window, kept on raising his hat and making salutes with the most affectionate gestures.”

Michieli’s reports were exaggerated but they did convey a level of truth in expressing Mary’s anguish. Previously, Mary had written a letter to her father-in-law and cousin, Charles, expressing deep concern over Philip’s absence: “I firmly hope that the King’s absence will be brief … his presence in this kingdom has done much good and is of great importance for the good governance of this country.” 

Mary I full view portrait

Mary wanted her country to benefit from the opportunities Spain offered and expand foreign policy, but she also needed Philip by her side to give her a male heir. Philip’s absence and new position complicated things. Boader, his secretary, expressed that he would not return until she agreed to share power with him -Something that our Queen, for all her sentimentalism, was not prepared to do. She was Queen of her realm and just as Philip was going to rule Spain, she was going to be her country’s sole ruler.

This was the beginning of the end for Mary. She would not die deposed or unopposed. As the rest of her family, she’d die as she lived, fighting until her last breath to hold everything together, under no illusions of what awaited her supporters and how she’d be remembered.

PORTRAIT OF MARY TUDOR artist not known but in the style of Flicke, Painted onto wood, found at Anglesey Abbey

Always the pragmatist, but also a woman who was in need of allies and wished to make England one of the greatest nations in the world, as well as secure the Tudor Dynasty, Mary was aware that her union with Philip was becoming more unstable and if she didn’t give the appearance that things were okay then it would give her enemies another excuse to attack.

Sources:

  • Porter,  Linda. The First Queen of England: The Myth of Bloody Mary. St. Martin’s Press 2008.
  • Whitelock, Anna. Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen. Random House. 2010.
  • Erickson, Carolly. Bloody Mary: The Life of Mary Tudor. Robson  Books. 2001.