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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Nobody Sees Our Hearts Break...Or Our Mental Trauma

I must admit, I took a break from history last week and travelled into the future while reading The Hunger Games series.  I think I am still reeling a little from shock and the raw emotion the books brought out in me.  I was so horrified, so intrigued, so angry, and so absolutely devastated.  For anyone who has not read this series, (and you need to read it now!) it is about a distopian future where two teenagers from each of the twelve districts that the United States has been divided into after a civil war are required to participate in The Hunger Games.  Basically they are thrown into an arena, which could be anywhere, a desert, the plains, mountains, and they must fight to the death.  It is a celebrated annual event in the Capitol.  Some of the tributes have trained their entire lives to fight, others have not since they are chosen randomly in a ceremony known as the reaping.  The entire thing is televised and it is required viewing for the whole population.  The main character, Katniss, defies the Capitol and becomes a symbol for the people's revolt against the horrors which have been inflicted on them.  It is an amazing look inside the head of someone suffering from the nightmare of PTSD and how they must keep coping in order to keep living, even when more violence is forced upon them.  At the end of Mockingjay, which is the last book in the series Katniss's terror is still palpable after almost 15 years.  Her fear for her children, both because of the world they live in and because of her psychological wounds is so intense and so real that it leaves you stunned. 
This video is what really got me hooked and why I started reading the series.  The beginning of it scares me to death, and the end, mmm...I think you just have to see it.  I wish the girl in this video had been chosen to play Katniss instead of the too hot blond babe actress with big lips that Hollywood chose.  This is Katniss and will always be for me.

Now, since I must throw something Tudor into every blog entry I am posting another video that I liked this week.  It does a good job of showing just how many people Henry had executed during his reign, and by that I just mean people he knew personally, it doesn't include all of those he didn't know that he had put to death.  I think the parts with Wolsey and Cromwell hurt the most.  I liked the way James Frain portrayed Cromwell.  He was sort of a frightened little man who liked to appear as if he was in total control of everything and seemed to have no feelings at all until the end of his life.  I feel like Cromwell was much more ruthless in real life but I liked the acting in The Tudors.  You get a good sense of how badly Henry treated everybody in his life, and how it ate at him. Trauma of a different kind, the self inflicted kind, but the scars are still there.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Henry was a Borderline, How Did I Miss That?

I read a really interesting article today on author Susan Bordo's blog questioning how Henry could bring himself to execute Anne Boleyn.  You can read it here: (it is actually an excerpt from her upcoming book on Anne Boleyn.)

I thought that the best part was the exploration of Henry as someone with Borderline Personality Disorder.  As I was reading her description of his behaviors I was thinking "He is a Borderline," and I have to say I was thrilled that she addressed this issue.  I have discussed some of Henry's behavior on this blog before but I really want to look at him and his behavior using the checklist for Borderline Personality Disorder from the DSM IV.  The DSM V is condensing several personality disorders into "types" one being Borderline type.  This is because people who have this disorder usually exhibit symptoms of more than one type of disorder.  You can read about that here:

Previously I have looked at Henry from the standpoint of other authors such as Suzannah Libscomb (also mentioned by Susan) who theorize that Henry went off his rocker after the horrible events of 1536.  (These being the deaths of Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, and his illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy as well as Anne's unborn child.)  I don't discredit this theory, I was not there and I have to admit that it did not occur to me that Henry was a borderline personality until I was reading the description of Henry's behaviors on Susan's blog.  It sort of slapped me in the face and my inner voice was saying "Duh, how did you miss that one?".  Borderline Personality Disorder usually manifests in young adults and some who study it effectively think that people "grow out of it."  I do not agree.  People who truly develop the traits of a borderline do not grow out of them.  It can be controlled, managed, repressed, but it does not go away.  If not correctly medicated the borderline traits re-emerge.  Cognitive behavior therapy is usually recommended but is not always helpful. * I wanted to add that BPD is not usually found to be responsive to medication. Nell Gavin, author of "Threads" pointed this out to me.  In the comments below she talks about her own experience with BPD.  But for some, with symptoms of BPD in conjunction with depression medication is an option and it does help.  For a long time it was the kiss of death as far as psychological diagnosis.  Patients labeled as borderlines faced a lifetime of a disorder that no one effectively knows how to treat.  Then "Girl Interrupted" was made and it became trendy to have BPD.  Now, according to the DSM V it does not exist and is only one disorder among many that patients may exhibit symptoms of simultaneously.  I wish someone would loan me the magic wand that made it disappear.

So, the checklist and Henry,  I am only covering the first three criterion in this entry because there are nine, and that makes for a blog entry that is too long to read. So here goes-the symptoms of BPD are:

1.Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. Note: Do not include suicidal or self-mutilating behavior covered in (5).
I do not believe that this behavior is usually a conscious thought process.  I don't think that people affected with BPD generally go around thinking "I must not be abandoned!".  It is more subtle than that.  Let's examine Henry's treatment of Cardinal Wolsey.  Wolsey was his friend and chancellor for many years.  He more or less ran the kingdom while Henry played.  When Wolsey could not do what Henry wanted, that is he could not procure papal approval for his divorce Henry turned on him.  In his mind Wolsey was betraying him, emotionally abandoning him and Henry could not take it.  A person with BPD cannot deal with pain.  They are often described as having no emotional skin.  Anything that hurts hurts so badly that it must be eradicated.  Often this pain turns to anger and the person who caused pain suddenly becomes a total anathema to the borderline.  (See #2 below.)  This pattern repeated throughout Henry's life with people such as Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, and most obviously Anne Boleyn. 

Henry's whole courtship of Anne was one desperate ploy after another to keep her from "abandoning" him.  When he could not have her as his mistress he tried to divorce his wife rather than lose her.  When that failed he declared himself head of the church of England and married her anyway.  Anything to get what he wanted and to keep her from losing interest and marrying someone else.  Not that anyone else would have been willing to marry her, everyone knew that she belonged to Henry and that to touch her would mean they would forfeit their life. "Noli me tangere (touch me not) for Ceaser's I am."  These words were written by Thomas Wyatt, acknowledging that Henry had won Anne's heart and that he knew she was off limits to him.

One person who seems to have survived and avoided Henry's rage was Katherine Parr.  This is undoubtedly because she discovered her arrest warrant by accident and came to Henry to beg his forgiveness before it was signed.  This much is well known.  But if you look at this incident through the lens of Henry having BPD you see that Katherine Parr avoided death by seeking Henry's emotional companionship.  She wanted his forgiveness, his approval (so she could keep her head) and was therefore not abandoning him.  His tactic seems to have been one of striking first.  If he decided to abandon someone then it was his choice, they did not abandon him.  This would have made sense to him, but probably not to anyone else.

2.A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation. This is called "splitting."

Anyone looking at Henry's life as a whole can see the pattern repeating itself over and over.  Katherine of Aragon was the perfect queen, a storybook princess and he was her white knight.  Fast forward 17 years and she was an old, unwanted wife and a stubborn, unreasonable woman.  She was perfect and then suddenly she was the most horrible creature in England.  His second marriage held true to this pattern as well.  Henry destroyed his reputation with the Pope and threw his country into religious turmoil all to marry Anne Boleyn.  She was his ideal woman, perfect.  In one of his early letters to her in which he is bemoaning her absence from court he says that because of "the great love I bear you" he cannot stand to be "kept at a distance from the person and presence of the woman in the world I value most."  After three years of marriage, when he heard rumors of her alleged indiscretions (emotional abandonment to him) he turned on her, having her executed.  It was a shocking betrayal since she was most likely not guilty.  Sure there were issues between the two of them before this but Henry's love turned to hatred in an instant.  Poor Catherine Howard went from being Henry's "Rose without a thorn" to being banned from his presence and was also sent to the scaffold.  Although she most likely was guilty of adultery, Henry idealized her from the start putting the girl on a pedestal that she fairly dived off of.  Idealization and devaluation-are there any more clear cut examples than these?

3.Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.
Although they are likely to hide it from others borderlines do not think highly of themselves.  Their self image changes frequently and is unstable.  Though most of us go through changes in our self image throughout our lives we do not have life size paintings of ourselves put on the walls of our houses.  Holbein's portrait of Henry VIII, the most famous of the many portraits of him shows Henry as the ideal man.  He is handsome, burly, strong, and confident.  His stance (hands on hips) is defiant and a challenge to all who look on the painting.  His gaze dares those who meet it to question his manhood.  Today many pictures of superheros are drawn showing the subject standing in the same way; hands on their hips, challenging the world.  This painting was commissioned and completed after the scandal with Anne Boleyn in 1536.  If Henry in fact believed that he had been cuckolded by his wife then he would have inwardly been questioning his manhood.  The painting was created as a sort of propaganda piece, letting the world know that his manhood was not in question despite what his wife had done to him, if only in his own mind.
Henry's marriage to Catherine Howard is another situation in which we see that Henry's self image was not a steady one.  Henry was around 50 when he married Catherine, who was somewhere around 17.  She was an ornament to him, a signal to his courtiers that he was not the aging old man that they saw, but that in fact he was still manly and virile.  This was pure fantasy of course because Henry was aging, fat, and had a stinking sore on his leg.  None of these things are manly and would not have pleased Henry.  He most likely married Catherine in an effort to shore up his confidence and reassure himself that he was not as old or disgusting as he thought.

Looking back I'm sure we could identify many people who rose to power who had mental health issues, many worse than BPD.  Henry was a tyrant, but was not the worst of them.  So it again brings about the question does power make one crazy or does the desire for power come from being crazy?  The video above gives you a pretty good idea of how ruthless Henry was once he turned on you.  I find it interesting that in the background someone is yelling "You don't care for me, you won't be there for me!"  Maybe it's his conscience trying to justify his actions.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Whiskey Lullaby and My Favorite Couple-I'll Love Her Til I Die

I came upon this video yesterday (scroll to bottom to watch video first)  while I was looking for something for a forth coming blog entry but I couldn't pass this up.  It was too beautiful not to mention.  The video goes through the lives of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn and tells the story of the end of their marriage and the subsequent consequences for Henry.  My favorite scene is where they mention that Henry spent his whole life trying to forget and you get a flash of all of his wives.  Just perfect, absolute magnificence, that's all I can say.  These videos are not the easiest things to make either, I have made one.  My hat is off to those who do this so well.

But, it brings up the theory that Henry did not in fact know that Anne was not guilty, that he was totally destroyed by the idea that she had been unfaithful to him.  That perhaps he did spend his whole life trying to forget and find happiness again.  But I do not think he ever again met his equal, at least until Catherine Parr came along.  But the difference was that Catherine Parr did not want to be there and Anne did.  At least I like to believe that she did.  It would be a horrible thing to endure the life that Anne endured for a man that you did not love.

I don't claim to be a historian, in fact I want to be a fiction writer because I love the romance of the period, but my theory is that Henry was made to believe Anne had been unfaithful to her.  I think that Anne's downfall was plotted by Cromwell because Anne was getting in the way of his "reformation" of the abbeys and monasteries and all the money he was getting from these religious houses.  I think that Cromwell set it up and once the words are out, once the seed is planted in the mind, suspicion is always there.  It is true of all couples, if someone tells you that your husband or wife has been unfaithful, and that person is a trusted friend, would you not believe them or at least wonder and look into it? 

In her book "1536; The Year That Changed Henry VIII" Suzannah Lipscombe argues that this one horrible year changed Henry forever and it is a theory that I very much agree with.  In this one year Henry lost his first wife Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn lost a child, Anne herself was executed and Henry's son, Henry Fitzroy died of consumption.  All of this between January and July of that one fateful year. So much death, not to mention the commoners were getting riled up about the destruction of religious houses and about to launch the Pilgrimage of Grace, which would force Henry to execute hundreds of his people. That's a lot to deal with for one person, King or not!

I think (and this is just my personal opinion and theory) perhaps Cromwell saw that Henry was emotionally vulnerable after the death of Catherine of Aragon and the loss of Anne Boleyn's premature son.  He used this as an opportunity to plant the seeds of doubt in Henry's mind concerning Anne's love and faithfulness to him.  When Smeaton was tortured into a confession and Henry Norris confessed under duress and most likely threat of torture it was as if the evidence had been thrown right in front of him.  It was right there, undeniable, no matter what Anne claimed.  I'm sure Cromwell did not mention exactly how he got these confessions.  Anne of course denied the accusations, but there was no way Henry would believe her, especially after the Norris confession (which was later recanted) because Norris was a close friend of Henry's.  He was after all the groom of the stool, which means he got to wipe the King's behind, but it was an "honor" reserved for king's intimates alone.  It's not a job I would want, and maybe it was Henry's way of embarrassing Norris, it is rather demeaning to be honest.  But, times were different back then.  Also, Anne had had strange conversations and confrontations with both Norris and Smeaton in the days before she was arrested and I am sure that this was further evidence against her in Henry's mind.

So, Henry believes Anne has lied to him and has been unfaithful.  His Anne, the woman he broke with the church for, the woman he exiled his daughter for, the woman he alienated himself from his people for, this woman had cuckolded him?  Oh hell no!  In that instant, when he realized how humiliated he was going to be his love for Anne turned into a white-hot hatred.  That is the only way I can understand passionate love turning to violent hatred so quickly.  They had been arguing and things were not great between them, but Henry still loved her. He even forced Chapuys to acknowledge her only the week before her arrest.  Why would he do that if he was not planning on keeping her around? 

We all know the rest of the story, Anne is arrested and executed.  But what about the aftermath?  I don't care how hard Henry tried to hide it there had to be emotional fallout.  He had killed his one great love, his intellectual equal, his soul mate.  Her supposed betrayal of him had to wreak some sort of havoc in his head.  That sort of thing does not leave a person, it festers.  I am sure that for the rest of his life he looked upon his wives with an unyielding suspicion.  Katherine Howard gave him good reason to and I am sure it got even worse after that.  His paranoia and tyranny in his later years is well known.  He would have had Catherine Parr arrested if she had not intercepted a message about the plot and gotten to Henry first.  If Anne had infiltrated Cromwell's coup would it have made a difference?  Probably, after all, his accusations against her were false and easily proven so and Anne was a woman who seemed to hold sway over people, especially her husband. 

At this point in their marriage though, she was afraid she was losing her grip on him.  She had caught him cheating with Jane Seymour and had become so hysterical that she miscarried the child she was carrying only hours later.  If she found out that Cromwell was trying to get rid of her after this I can only imagine the scene that would have ensued between Anne and Henry.  It would have been explosive and who knows, Henry might have been angry enough to let Cromwell go about his business.  But I doubt it.  Henry loved Anne, even at the end.  His hiring of a French swordsman for her execution instead of using an English headsman was, to me, his last gesture of love and mercy.  He even delayed the execution when the swordsman was stuck in Calais overnight.  He could have just had the tower executioner go forward and been done with it.  But he didn't.  Perhaps he didn't hate her as much as he claimed.
Henry had all evidence of Anne obliterated after her death, as if he did not want to remember anything about her because if he did, he would have to face what he had done.  Even if he did believe her guilty of infidelity he did not just exile her, he killed her.  I think all of the other heartbreaks, on top of this one just caused him to flip his wig.  But no matter how badly he wanted to forget her, I don't think he ever did.  Elisabeth looked just like her, he had to have seen it.  We see him seeing it in "The Tudors" and I am sure that scene was repeated many times in his life.  I hope thoughts of Anne followed him and tormented him for the rest of his life.  I would bet big money that they did, too bad we can't prove it!

Friday, August 26, 2011

An Inside View of a Tortured Heart - A Book Review of "Rivals in the Tudor Court by D.L. Bogdan

D.L. Bogdan made a wise choice when she decided to chronicle the lives of Thomas and Mary Howard, the Duke of Norfolk and his daughter as up until now there has been almost no fictional material available about those who played such an important role in the Tudor court.  Norfolk was the uncle who helped raise Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard to the precipice that was queenship, and it was this same uncle who stood by to condemn them when they came crashing down.  Poor little Mary Howard served both of her cousins and was married to Henry Fitzroy, Henry VIII's illegitimate son.  Until now most novels have stayed away from these characters.  Bogdan paints a beautifully illuminated portrait of their lives.

"Rivals in the Tudor Court" is a prequel to Bogdan's firsts novel "Secrets in the Tudor Court."  Bogdan's premier Tudor novel is a first person account of the life of Mary Howard, the daughter of the Duke of Norfolk and a chronicle of the twisted relationship Mary had with her father.  She so wanted his love so badly, but never seemed to be able to gain it, yet he wanted her under his control and by his side and she never understood why.  In the second book we find out what is behind Norfolk's strange and cruel love for his child as well as others in his life.  I cannot say enough about how well Bogdan brought out an understandable and even likable personality in such a difficult and unlikeable character as the Duke of Norfolk.  The book was magnificent in it's scope of the many years of Thomas Howard's life.  His life was filled with so many losses, so many changes, so many families.  But he is so knotted up inside because of the death of his first family that he destroys everything and everyone else around him for the rest of his life.  This book was beautifully written and took me on a sweeping emotional ride.

The young Duke of Norfolk was first wed to Anne Plantagenet, a princess of the blood, a younger daughter of the former King Edward IV and sister to the current queen Elizabeth Plantagenet.  Her brothers were the young princes who disappeared into the Tower of London and were never seen again.  From the first moment that Anne and Norfolk set eyes on each other they are in love.  He falls hard for her, and she, in her guarded but peaceful way loves him.  She deals with her grief for her lost brothers by believing that they have been taken to faery (British spelling) country.  She is not overt about it and her beliefs are not an issue within her marriage and are viewed by her husband as her form of escapism.  He halfway believes that she herself is not of this world, that there is something fey about her.  Together they have four children and over the years all four die of various diseases.  When his Princess dies too Thomas is almost mad with grief.  He hardens himself against everyone, but especially children and vows never to let them into his heart again.

He marries again quickly to the Duke of Buckingham's daughter Elizabeth.  She is young and dark and the total opposite of his "Princess" but Thomas chooses her all the same.  They have several children together and four reach adulthood before dying.  The Earl of Surrey, Norfolk's oldest son is executed for treason and his oldest daughter dies from the sweat or some other plague of the times.  This leaves him with his son Thomas and his daughter Mary.  It is Mary who is the focus of Bogdan's first book and finally we find out what is really between them from Norfolk's point of view.  The first book is fraught with Mary's confusion about her feelings for her father, her need for his approval and her simultaneous hatred of him.  We discover in this latest novel that Norfolk's feelings for his daughter are just as contradictory as her feelings for him.  When she is born Norfolk sees a flash or vision of his Princess.   He is in the middle of some sort of nervous breakdown because he is afraid he will lose his new wife and child because the labor is going badly.  He drags her from the house and attacks her with a knife and is only stopped by the vision of his former wife.   When the baby finally arrives he is at once horrified and thrilled to see that she looks just like his first wife, Anne Plantagenet.  This fact strikes fear into his heart because he has no idea how to deal with his feelings about the child.  Every time he looks at her he sees his Princess, but she is his daughter.  It is as if God has taken revenge on him in some sick way by giving him back his most beloved wife, the one thing he wants most in the world, in the form of his child who is forbidden to him.

He hardens himself against his daughter and keeps her at a safe distance for much of her life.  When he is called to court upon the ascension of his niece Anne Boleyn he takes Mary with him to wait on her cousin.  His hard heart enables him to stand firm during Anne's execution three years later and his hardness serves him well in the 1540s when he brings another niece, Catherine Howard to court.  He pretends to love and adore the girl, lavishing her with gifts and predictably turns his back on her when she is accused of adultery and executed.

During the intervening years Norfolk has kept his wife Elizabeth a virtual prisoner in their home and brought his mistress Bess Holland to court.  He warns her not to get pregnant as he wants no more children as they die and only serve to cause heartbreak.  Bess disobeys him and gives birth to a daughter that she names Jane.  Norfolk refuses to see her and sends her to live with a foster family.  He finally breaks down and decides to see the little girl and is disturbed at how much the baby's eyes look like those of his niece Anne Boleyn.  Poor Bess nurtures her anger and sadness and turns it into a hatred strong enough to allow her to testify against Norfolk some time later when he is arrested and accused of treason for his role in the Catherine Howard affair.  While in prison he is visited by the ghosts of those he has lost, his father, his Princess, his lost brothers in-law who disappeared so many years ago, and his executed nieces.  Bogdan makes the astute observation that Anne Boleyn's eyes are filled with accusation and amusement at his imprisonment while Catherine Howard's are filled only with astonishment at being betrayed.  Norfolk observes that Anne knew what game she was playing and the risks involved.  Catherine Howard however was young and naive and was shocked at the severity of her punishment for taking a young lover.  Catherine grew up a somewhat sheltered young lady (as far as cout politics were concerned) and Anne grew up serving at the French court, where intrigue was a part of daily life.  The child Catherine should have learned from her cousin's example. But maybe she did.  Anne died an innocent woman.  If one was to be accused of taking lovers one might as well be guilty so perhaps she then took her pleasure where she would knowing in the end that guilt was of little import. 

 Norfolk is eventually released after the death of Henry VIII and finally goes home to die.  He is attended by his estranged wife and his daughter Mary, who is deathly ill herself.  He dies calling for his Princess.  Peace at last.  This novel was a beautiful interpretation of the life of Thomas Howard, one of the most reviled and perhaps misunderstood characters in Tudor history.  He was a man who condemned two nieces to death to save his own hide, plotted against his enemies and rejoiced in their downfall.  But before all of that, perhaps Bogdan is right, perhaps he was someone else.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Book Review-Three Maids For a Crown

I just finished the most wonderful book, "Three Maids For a Crown" by Ella March Chase.  The book chronicles the lives of the Grey Sisters, Jane, Katherine and Mary.  As we all know Jane Grey was beheaded after her family tried to deny Queen Mary Tudor of her right to the throne and crown Jane in her place.  The book covers this, but since there are many books on this topic I found the portrayals of the other two sisters, Katherine (Kat) and Mary much more interesting.  The characters were so well developed that I grieved at every heart-wrenching turn in their lives right along with them.  Their tragedies of their lives are not as famous as their sister's bloody end but I think Jane may have been the lucky one.  Her end was quick and her pain short lived.  Kat and Mary had a lifetime of heartache to endure. 

Being born royalty is not all it's cracked up to be, especially if you are a threat to the current ruler.  The general rule of thumb in Tudor times was to eradicate all possible rivals to the throne like the Duke of Buckingham, the de la Pole family, the Plantagenet pretenders, Mary Queen of Scots, all of them were executed simply because they had a claim to the English throne and the Tudors were not about to lose their hold on it.  Jane Grey, being the next Tudor heir after Mary and Elisabeth was executed after the failed coup planned by her parents and the Duke of Northumberland.  Her sisters however, were spared. 

Jane and Katherine had been married in a double wedding to Gilbert Dudley, a son of the Duke of Northumberland and Henry Herbert, the son of another nobleman.  Kat is thrilled to be married and is totally in love with her husband, as much as any twelve year-old girl can be.  Her sister is not so happy about being married to Guilford Dudley so the girl's wedding day is bittersweet, one sister delighted to become a wife, the other beaten into submission.  Katherine's happiness does not last long however, when the plot to grab the crown fails Katherine's marriage is annulled.  She is devastated.  She is forced to serve as lady in waiting to Queen Mary, the cousin who had her older sister executed and daily sees her former husband.  All of his devotion and professions of love for Kat stopped the minute her sister lost the crown.  She grieves for him as any adolescent will do for a lost love.  Her shame and sadness color the next several years of her life.

Mary Grey, the youngest of the three was born a hunchback, her spine curved and her shoulders uneven.  This on top of the fact that she was born a girl made her utterly useless in the eyes of her parents.  But this child, who spent her days staying out of sight so that no one would remark on her ugliness, she grew adept at eavesdropping.  During her life she overhears plots of poison, treason, regicide, and the personal agonies of many at court.  She hides in the shadows, seeing and hearing everything, but saying nothing.  When the poor girl finally finds love during the reign of her cousin Elisabeth it is short lived.  She and her husband Thomas Keyes are imprisoned because they did not get the queen's permission to marry.  Her sister Kat and her second husband are similarly imprisoned and separated with their two sons.  Her second husband, who was the nephew to the former queen Jane Seymour, makes Kat's claim to the English throne even stronger.  She also already had two sons, something Elisabeth would never have.  With these two boys as heir England would not have fallen under Stuart rule.  Elisabeth could stand for no one to be happy in love if she was not to be, especially those who could claim her crown.  In spite of all of the wonderful things that Elisabeth I did, she did some very ugly and cruel things as well.  It was a trait she held in common with both of her parents.  All three had the capability to do great good, or great harm, as we all do.  But in a world where your every whim is a command the power for great good or great harm is all too real.  Elisabeth locked her cousins away leaving them no chance for a happy life.  I wish that her mother Anne Boleyn, who I believe learned from her mistakes at the end, could have been there to give her daughter some sound advice about the way you should treat your family and those others around you.  If she had lived, maybe the Grey sisters could have lived too.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Mistress of the Art of Death

I just finished reading a great book, the first in a series called "Mistress of the Art of Death" by Ariana Franklin.  The book centers around Adelia Aguilar, a female doctor from Salerno (the medical hub of the world at the time) who is called to England by Henry II to investigate a series of child murders.  As female doctors were unusual during this time and risked being labeled as witches Adelia must pretend to be an assistant to Mansur, an Arab who is really her servant and bodyguard.  As Arabs are also unusual in medieval England attention is invariably drawn to the two of them, so their "secret" mission soon becomes a very public one.

The murders have taken place in Cambridge and are horribly sadistic and frightening.  The first child to disappear was named Peter and when his body was found it was immediately claimed by the local convent of St. Radegund's.  The Prioress declared the child a saint and claimed that touching his bones could bring about healing and miracles.  The convent soon becomes a pilgrimage site and begins to grow wealthy from the pennies paid by those seeking to be healed. 

Meanwhile the town's Jews have been blamed for the murder as the first child's body was thrown onto the lawn of a rich moneylender after it was dead and was seen being secreted into the cellar by the family so that it could be gotten rid of under the cover of darkness.  It was common for Jews to be blamed for almost anything at the time, plague, bad harvest, why not child murder?  They were the eternal scapegoats of Christendom.  After it became known that the body of "Little Saint Peter" was in the house of a prominent Jew riots begin and the family is killed.  The rest of the Jewish population of the city is locked up in the town Castle for protection.  By the time Adelia and Mansur arrive they have been locked in for over a year.  The bodies of the other three children show up the morning after Adelia and company arrive in Cambridge.

Also traveling with the female doctor and Mansur is a man called Simon of Naples, he too is a Jew and a brilliant doctor.  The three set up house in the abandoned home of a Jewish pawn broker and are immediately swamped with patients.  They go about their investigation quietly, Simon talking with the Jews in the castle about who may have owed money to the dead money lender and would therefore have benefited from his death.  (The written tallies conveniently burned up in a fire on the night of the first murder.)  Adelia, who is a medieval medical examiner, examines the bones of all four dead children and determines that they died savagely, the marks of a sharp instrument having left deep grooves on their pelvic bones.  She also discovers that all four children were buried or kept in chalk, which is common throughout the region. 

After much investigation with the help of Ulf, the grandson of the housekeeper assigned to Adelia by the local Prior, Simon and Adelia determine that the monster's lair is somewhere in the region of Wandlebury Ring, a local chalk hill where sheep graze but people avoid.  Superstition surrounds the place and it is believed that old, evil spirits inhabit it.  Wandlebury is close to the town, but far enough away that screams would not be heard.  It is isolated, made of chalk, rife with tall grass and deep pits.  A perfect killing ground.

One of Adelia's suspects is Sir Rowley Picot, a crusader and tax collector for the king.  After several coincidental encounters Rowley tells Adelia that he has been following the killer all the way from the Holy Land, and that a trail of dead children has been left in his wake.  The killer was a crusader, a warrior for God who really worked for the devil.  Rowley and Adelia join forces, but they are both shaken by the murder of Simon of Naples and realize that the killer is now after them as well.

But who is the killer?  Who is luring the children to their deaths?  An Arab candy called a jujube is found tangled in the hair of one of the dead children.  The children are being led away by the promise of sweets, and by someone they trust.  Cambridge is not a large city at this time so most people know each other and they find it hard to believe such a person as a child killer could live in their midst.  The last three killings also took place almost a year after the first.  Seven years before that a herd of sheep was slaughtered in the same manner as the children, increasing the town's fear of Wandlebury ring.  The clues begin to add up and Adelia, Simon, and Mansur begin to construct the profile of a killer.

He is male
He is full of rage
He went on crusade
He is seemingly harmless and charming to children

I won't spoil the end of the book, but I will say that the killer was not working alone and that he  meets a fitting end.  His accomplice is walled up in a room, a fate that is at once horrifying and satisfying after what was done to the children of Cambridge.  I could hardly put the book down, it was a wonderful read.  I highly recommend it and the other four books in the series.  Sadly, the writer has passed away so there will be no more books forthcoming which is truly a shame.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Small Moments Make up a Life

Yesterday I found this and I thought it was beautiful.

Absolutely, totally beautiful.  A beautiful tribute to "The Tudors" but more than that an amazing compilation of "small hours" from Henry's life.  I wonder if that's really the sort of thing that went through his head towards the end of his life when he was ill and knew he was going to die.  Did he dream of the wives and friends he had lost?  When he closed his eyes did he see Katherine in all of her quiet dignity?  Did he see the beautiful young princess he had married or the old woman she became?  I'd like to think that he remembered the best of her, when she was young and sweet, and he was in love with her.  Did he see Anne, standing regally on the scaffold?  Did he see Catherine Howard smiling and dancing?  Was he haunted by the quiet martyrdom of Thomas More, the pleading of Cromwell or the tears of Wolsey?  God I hope so.

I think what gets me so much about this video is that when you watch it you see how odd Henry's life really was.  He had so many different "lives" and "families."  Who does that?  Generally, when you look at the course of a person's life, even a king's life, they have one person who was their mate for life, maybe two or three, but not six.  If you take the time to think about it, how strange must it have been for him to go from being married for twenty years and being sure of your wife and who your child is to a new wife and a new daughter, and then another wife and another child?  I was talking to someone a few years ago and at some point they said to me that something they had done "was with another wife and another family."  I remember thinking at the time how odd it was, you have one life that you are used to and one set of children, and then, 20 years later, you have another?  Something about seeing Henry's whole life strung together like that made me so very sad.  You can really see how he made some people truly happy, and how he was so viciously cruel to those same people in the end.  It has always broken my heart how he turned on his closest friends and most loyal servants, More, Wolsey, and Cromwell.  I don't know that I would have liked these men in life, but their sadness when he turned on them is painful.

I hope, after Henry became the evil man that he was when he died that every time he slept he dreamt of someone he had wronged.  I hope his last memories caused him to feel regret.  I love that the last thing he dreams of in this video is three of his wives begging him for mercy, for that must be a truly horrible thing to remember, especially little Catherine Howard screaming his name while running towards the chapel in a desperate bid to gain his forgiveness.  Since her ghost is said to repeat this scene almost daily it obviously left an emotional impression somewhere in time, either in the minds of those who recorded the scene or on the veil between this world and the next.  Somehow though, I think those he rid himself of got the last laugh, as they watched his spirit moving in a decidedly downward direction!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

In Memoriam...Katherine Howard

Today in 1542 Henry VIII executed a second wife, his infallible "Rose Without a Thorn" Catherine Howard.  My heart goes out to this child who walked out to her death on Tower Green on a cold February morning.  She had been abandoned by her husband, what little family she had, and her lover Thomas Culpepper had been executed.  She was truly alone, and left the world with a reputation as a harlot. 

Lady Jane Grey was executed in the same spot several years later, on February 12 1554, completing a trio of queens executed on the lawn of the royal palace turned prison.  Jane left this world under Henry's fanatical daughter Mary, and died with the reputation of a sainted martyr.  She too, however, was alone.  Her husband had been executed and her parents had gone back to the country, leaving her to die.  Her father, fool that he was, more or less brought down the axe on her head by trying to raise a second rebellion in her name after she was imprisoned and Mary had been declared queen.

Two girls, near to each other in age, who died a day and 12 years apart in the same spot, and yet they were so different, but found themselves in similar situations.  Catherine had a reputation as an empty-headed wanton and Jane was a pious scholar.  Both were trapped in marriages that they probably did not want, at least in the sense of loving their husband.  I think (and this is just my opinion) that Catherine loved Henry in some sense, but not with the passion and exhilaration that a young girl feels when they first fall in love.  That first blush of infatuation and the crazed things that teenagers will do for it most likely was not for Henry, but for Culpepper, Catherine's alleged lover.  Jane was forced into marriage by her ambitious parents and married Guilford Dudley, the son of Edward VI's chief counselor.

But this article is not about Jane, it's not that I do not feel sorry for her or do not admire her faith and strength to the very end, but Jane was all that she should be as a young woman of her time.  She was learned, obedient, and a faithful protestant. She  had lived for a time with Katherine Parr, Henry VIII's last wife and had been educated for several years with her royal cousins, Edward and Elisabeth. She was an exemplary young woman and her death was a tragedy.

Catherine Howard, however, was not all that she should be.  She was raised by her grandmother, the dowager Duchess of Norfolk, and was quite experienced in the love of men for her young age.  Some say she was sexually abused, which perhaps she was, but girls married and became mothers at such a young age in Tudor England that perhaps she considered herself of an age to experiment sexually.  At any rate, she was young and pretty and most likely wanted attention from men as her own father had left her to be raised by the Duchess upon the death of her mother.  Today we talk about the importance of a father figure in a young girl's life, and we know that without that guiding influence many young girls seek attention in all manner of unhealthy ways.

I'm not sure that Catherine was empty-headed either.  Though we will never know one way or the other, I think she was a typical teen, and she still possessed the idea of "it won't happen to me."  Teenagers today think that pregnancy won't happen to them, that car accidents will not happen to them, that alcohol poisoning will not happen to them.  They think this because they are so young, and death is such a foreign idea to them.  The mind of an adolescent is till growing and changing, so rational thought is not always something they have the ability to produce.  Catherine simply thought she would not be caught when she had an affair with Culpepper.  She was probably in love, and felt that she would do anything to be with him.  Who among us cannot remember sitting by the telephone, praying that it will ring and that special boy or girl will be on the line?  The euphoria that came with that phone call beat out all other feelings did it not?  I'm sure it was the same for the doomed young queen, contact with Thomas thrilled her, and she threw caution to the wind.  Poor child, she thought her crazy, tyrannical husband would forgive her anything, that he adored her that much.  She was wrong.  She should have taken the example of her cousin Anne to heart.  A wife that caused trouble for this king, especially in any way that unmanned him had only one fate.  Death.  The video below shows Anne Boleyn's spirit watching over Catherine, and I like that idea.  If Anne was with her, then she was not alone.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tudor Vampires?

I know with the release of the Twilight series came plethora of vampire books, but I am not sure what I think of Anne Boleyn as a vampire and Elisabeth as a slayer. I think that maybe just takes it a little bit over the top for me. But, who am I to criticize published authors right? I read their books and they made money off of it so hey, I guess they are one step ahead of me. The book advertised at the top of the blog entry "The Secret History of Elizabeth Tudor, Vampire Slayer" is, in my opinion actually pretty good for what it is. It is well written, with subtle hints at Anne Boleyn (Elisabeth's mother for those of you who don't know) and a very well developed main character. Weston's Elisabeth has believable feelings and desires, and she does a good job of portraying the farce of queenship. Always having to smile, always having to appear entertained by every idiot ambassador who comes through the door when really she wants to die from boredom. The plot of the book is well thought out and based in the mythology of King Arthur.

Arthur's son, Mordred made a pact with a group of vampires that came to England during his father's reign. He agreed to let them rule England with him as their king if they would help him fight off the Saxon horde. Mordred is in love with Morgaine, the daughter of a knight who died in Arthur's service, but she becomes a vampire slayer, and therefore, cannot be with Mordred. Morgaine dies fighting him and hundreds of years later she visits Anne Boleyn in the chapel at Saint Peter ad Vincula to tell her that the child she is carrying is not a prince, but a girl who will inherit of all of Morgaine's slaying powers. Anne eventually ends up being buried in Saint Peter's and her daughter is taken there on the night off her coronation where she is visited by Anne and gains her slayer powers. She then goes on to be both attracted and repelled by Mordred. She knows she must defeat him, that is her destiny, and so on. I won't reveal the ending, but the book is worth reading. I liked that Elisabeth got to have a small moment with Anne, the mother she most likely could not remember. Since she wore a ring all of her days as queen that secretly carried her mother's portrait in it I'm sure she longed to know her. She could never say it in public, for that would be acknowledging that she was the daughter of a convicted traitor, but Anne was her mother, and no matter what she would have loved her. I have always wondered what Elisabeth was told about Anne. Henry tried so hard to eradicate anything that would remind him of her, but he could not dispose of the daughter who grew to look more and more like her with each passing year. In fact, as the most famous portrait of Anne has now been determined to have been painted within living memory of the dead queen, and commissioned by someone who knew her, Elisabeth may have looked more like her mother than anyone ever knew. Check this out:

Honestly, though I don't want to imply that I wanted Henry to think ill of his daughter, I hope it galled him until the day he died. She was every bit her mother's child in temperament and intelligence and she had her black eyes, though she had Henry's red hair. A living reminder of the woman he had loved so fiercely, and so cruelly destroyed.

But I digress, the topic of this blog entry is Tudor vampire books. The second of this strange new literary genre that I read was "Boleyn, Tudor Vampire" by Cinsearea S. This book has Anne Boleyn hanged instead of beheaded so that she can reawaken in her grave as a vampire. She then digs up her brother George, who is more like a zombie than anything else and he becomes her undead servant. Next she raises Mark Smeaton, who decides that does not like bumbling about the country as a zombie who is falling to pieces, so she reburies him and he returns as a ghost. Anne and her crew spend the next year or so terrorizing Henry, Charles Brandon, and anyone else they run across. Thomas Wyatt is their willing accomplice and he himself becomes part vampire. I have to admit, I loved the idea of Anne, Mark, and George doing things to purposely annoy and torment Henry after what he did to them, it satisfied my need for revenge in terms of wanting fairness for everyone, and really, revenge is just plain fun at times, isn't it? The book is pretty gory and I would not recommend reading it while eating. Don't expect a great story, but if you want a sort of ok zombie-vampire read, it will suffice. It's not great literature, but then, what do we expect of Boleyn vampires and zombies?