Have we learned from the Tudors and Storytelling

Long before I ever became a writer, and whilst a student, I embraced history, I would immerse myself into the Tudor era, with many visits to the Tower of London, looking at how these historians interacted with one another, and of course there were the ravens – if the ravens left the Tower, London would fall down, says the myth.
Many people have written on the subject and when you reflect on our ancestors, you start to have revelations that the Tudors actually were no different to our era and everyday life, their tribulations, adversity and problems.
Evidence and a perception of life often paints us an oppression on society, but this can sometimes be an oversimplification of a long life ago where the hierarchical society had complicated times.
There were many tales spoken in the sixteenth century, and let’s not forget the magnificence of work performed by William Shakesphere, these tales have had rework and revision, just like storytelling which is one subject I have written about extensively in my blogs.

Some of the phases of oral culture can be seen as follows:
“There is method in his madness”
Shakespeare used this in Hamlet:
Lord Polonius : Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t. Will you walk out of the air, my lord?
What does it mean today?
Reason behind apparent folly or disorder

“Too much of a good thing”
Shakespeare used this in ‘As you like i’t:
Rosalind: Why then, can one desire too much of a good thing? Come, sister, you shall be the priest and marry us. Give me your hand, Orlando. What do you say sister?
What does it mean today?
Excess may do you harm.

“Wear your heart on your sleeve”
Shakespeare used this term in Othello:
Iago: It is a sure as you are Roderigo, were I the Moor, I would not be lago: In following him, I follow but myself; Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty, but seeming so, for my peculiar end: For when my outward action doth demonstrate the native act and figure of my heart in compliment extern, ’tis not long after but I will wear my heart upon my sleeve for daws to peck at: I am not what I am.
What does it mean today?
Show or display your feelings openly for everyone to see.

“Let your hair down”
During Tudor times it was the fashion for woman to wear their hair up. They usually wore them in ‘wimples’ – those pointed bonnets seen in paintings; their hair was piled high and pinned in these wimples.
The only time it was acceptable for a woman to ‘let her hair down’ was in their private quarters. Hats, wimples and other garments were disposed of. It was a sign of wanton behaviour and abandonment and was only acceptable behind closed doors.
What does it mean today?
To behave in a free or uninhibited manner.

“Sleep tight”
In Tudor times, mattresses were secured on a bed frame with the use of ropes crossed in a grid like pattern. If these ropes were pulled then the mattress would tighten and therefore seemed firmer and more comfortable to sleep on.
Note: the expression ‘sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite’ was an extended expression used later on in histroy.
What does it mean today?
Sleep well

Although we all know these are just words set down simply, they did have significance, and hold the same meaning in the global language today.

The Tudor dynasty is probably one of the best known in history, popularised by the likes of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and Edward VI. But do we really know all there is about this turbulent period?

1) The Tudors should never have got anywhere near the throne
When Henry Tudor defeated Richard III at the battle of Bosworth in 1485, the vast majority of his subjects saw him as a usurper and they were right. There were other claimants with stronger blood claims to the throne than his.
Henry’s own claim was on the side of his indomitable mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, who was the great granddaughter of John of Gaunt, fourth son of Edward III, and his third wife (and long-standing mistress), Katherine Swynford. But Katherine had given birth to John Beaufort (Henry’s great grandfather) when she was still John’s mistress, so Henry’s claim was through an illegitimate line – and a female one at that.
Little wonder that he was plagued by rivals and ‘pretenders’ for most of his reign.

2) School was for the ‘lucky’ few
Education was seen as something of a luxury for most Tudors, and it was usually the children of the rich who received anything approaching a decent schooling.
There were few books in Tudor schools, so pupils read from ‘hornbooks’ instead. Pages displaying the alphabet and religious material were attached to wooden boards and covered with a transparent sheet of cow horn (hence the name).
Discipline was much fiercer than it is today. Teachers would think nothing of punishing their pupils with 50 strokes of the cane, and wealthier parents would often pay for a ‘whipping-boy’ to take the punishment on behalf of their child. Barnaby Fitzpatrick undertook this thankless task for the young Edward VI, although the two boys did become best friends.

3) Tudor London was a mud bath
Andreas Franciscius, an Italian visitor to London in 1497, was horrified by what he found. Although he admired the “fine” architecture, he was disgusted by the ‘vast amount of evil smelling mud’ that covered the streets and lasted a long time – nearly the whole year round.
The citizens, therefore, in order to remove this mud and filth from their boots, are accustomed to spread fresh rushes on the floors of all houses, on which they clean the soles of their shoes when they come in.”
Franciscius added disapprovingly that the English people had “fierce tempers and wicked dispositions”, as well as “a great antipathy to foreigners”.

4) Edward VI’s dog was killed by his uncle
Edward was just nine years old when he became king, and his court was soon riven by faction. Although the king’s uncle, Edward Seymour, had been appointed Lord Protector, he was undermined by the behaviour of his hot-headed and ambitious brother, Thomas.
In January 1549, Thomas Seymour made a reckless attempt to kidnap the king. Breaking into Edward’s privy garden at Westminster, pistol in hand, Thomas tried to gain access to the king’s bedroom, but was lunged at by the boy’s pet spaniel.
Without thinking, he shot the dog dead, which prompted a furore as the royal guard rushed forward, thinking that an assassin was in the palace. Thomas Seymour was arrested and taken to the Tower. He was found guilty of treason shortly afterwards, and his own brother was obliged to sign the death warrant.

5) Elizabeth I owned more than 2,000 dresses
When her mother, Anne Boleyn, was executed, Elizabeth was so neglected by her father, Henry VIII, that she soon outgrew all of her clothes, and her servant was forced to write to ask for new ones.
Perhaps the memory of this humiliation prompted Elizabeth, as queen, to stuff her wardrobes with more than 2,000 beautiful dresses, all in rich fabrics and gorgeous colours.
But despite her enormous collection, she always wanted more. When one of her maids of honour, Lady Mary Howard, appeared in court wearing a strikingly ostentatious gown, the queen was so jealous that she stole it, and paraded around court in it herself

Finally, the Tudor age was the era of the English Renaissance. The monarchs surrounded themselves with brilliant people like Hans Holbein, who was at the forefront of this first age of portraiture (painting the first full-length, life-size portrait of an English monarch), or the poets Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, who wrote the first sonnets in English. Henry VIII was the first king to authorise a Bible in English, and the lyrical phrasing of William Tyndale’s New Testament, which infused the Great Bible of 1538–9 and the King James Bible of 1611, earned Tyndale the title of “architect of the English language”. It was also the age of William Shakespeare. Ben Jonson described him as being “not of an age, but for all time”, and his verse is so timeless and universal, so ingrained in our culture, so globally ubiquitous, that we forget that the bard was of a time: he was a Tudor.

So, one reason we are fascinated by the Tudors is simply because they matter. The other is the sheer weight of character. It is easy to caricature the much-married tabloid king, Henry VIII, or the unmarried virgin, Elizabeth I. Yet, in an age of personal monarchy, the sovereign’s character was of crucial importance, and continues to attract us. There is something about the Tudor combination of bluff, prodigious majesty coupled with deep, abiding insecurity and continual intrigue that creates a sense of awe and suspense, even when we know the outcome of events.

Distrust is, arguably, the defining characteristic of the dynasty, and this quality was pivotal to the successes and failures of the reigns. Suspicion meant that no English king ever shed more blood than Henry VIII; while Elizabeth’s reign was defined by her decision not to choose a successor even on her deathbed! The only Tudor monarch who seems to have escaped this sense of paranoia was the young Edward VI, the only one born to the throne.

The irony is, then, that the great changes of the Tudor period, everything from the birth of the Church of England to the creation of the secret service were a direct result of the inherent weakness of the dynasty: its distrust and suspicion.

As Elizabeth 1st once said in her life letters:

“My care is like my shadow in the sun, Follows me flying, flies when I pursue it, Stands and lies by me, doth what I have done.”

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