Tuesday, 18 March 2014

The bogeyman, the king, his wife and his lover

Who's your favourite King? Mine is a toss up between Richard III and Charles I II. Oh and George III. Also Francis I of France was pretty cool.

But the king who has fascinated me for the longest is Henry VIII. He was a bogeyman to me when I was about ten. While school was skipping all the good bits of history I got my hands on a Jean Plaidy book called Murder Most Royal. Jean Plaidy, for those who don't know, was a historical fiction writer before it was cool. Very focused on all the sex and cruelty, which at that tender age seemed from not just another time but another universe.

I read in horror about the huge demon like figure who killed his wives. And his friends. And who went through life wiping people out.  The worst kind of despot. Abandoning his wife after 22 years. Abandoning his children as and when he wanted to. And the woman who slept with her brother to get this monster a child.

I had to close the book half way through I was so terrified. All of them, Wolsey, Cromwell, Cranmer... They were all so grotesque and cartoon-like. Henry became the bogeyman in my nightmares.

As I read on and found out what he did I began to think that just thinking about him might conjure him up. Him and the ghosts of all the friends and enemies he killed. He scared me more than Freddy Krueger.

As I got older my understanding of human nature and Tudor politics cleared up some of the dread he instilled in me until I suddenly saw him for what he was. A giant, petulant, indulged dickhead who thought with his dick and rationalised bad decisions by blaming other people. A bit like my ex boyfriend.

Only problem was his rationalising involved torture and cruelty and killing. Because of who he was and when he was.

He's been a life long semi obsession so when Wolf Hall was released I avoided it. I don't want to read something that  bastardises the truth as I see it. I am  sick of people taking the Tudors in vain. That HBO series was an embarrassment and Philipa Gregory had managed to dumb the entire period down until it's a soup of heaving bosoms and stupid theories.

I want something that will treat the players with the respect they deserve. Anne Boleyn,  for example, was not a witch. She did not fuck her brother. She played the must dangerous game you can think of and, in the end, she won. He may have killed her but it was her daughter who lit up the Tudors.

And so I finally read Wolf Hall. And it's perfect. Finally a voice for Cromwell that sounds plausible. Finally a way through this alien world and aan understanding of what it might have been like.

Everyone, from Mary Boleyn to Mark Smeaton is brought to life in a way I have never come across before. It's awe inspiringly good.

I'm coming up to the hard fall of Anne and I kind of want to stop. Before she dies. But I won't because without her fall there would be no rise of Elizabeth.

And that's what this man, this fat, bloated, ginger bully left in the end. After all the scheming, killings and machinations to get a prince and he ended up with a girl as his legacy. Far more than he deserved.

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