Monarchs in the mirror

September 30, 2010

Clive Bloom argues that "the Tudors provide a dream of origination and harmony" ("The six wives and nine lives of Henry VIII", 23 September). He is right in that Tudor history has long provided us with a powerful perspective on contemporary politics: Elizabeth I's struggles against Spain was a favourite topic during the Second World War; David Starkey's view of politics during the reign of Henry VIII was little more than a reflection of the contemporary political world of Margaret Thatcher; and the interest shown during the early 1990s in the fall of Protector Somerset mirrored the Iron Lady's plunge.

However, Bloom appears to have missed Sir Geoffrey Elton's comment that the Tudor period was a good one to study because there was neither too much nor too little written evidence for the historical researcher to cope with. The era allows us to use our imagination because it is far enough away from most of our experiences to be a "foreign country", yet close enough to feel somehow familiar.

Although some of the modern depictions of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I are difficult to stomach, the construction of new, younger, more virile interpretations in literature and film are not so ridiculous as we might think. Contemporary Tudor imagery did much the same: youth and virility were a core part of the Renaissance notion of Magnificence. Both monarchs were Magnificent rulers in every way. Perhaps we should thank Philippa Gregory for a new-look Tudor dynasty?

James Williams, Senior researcher, Faculty of Education, Law and Social Sciences, Birmingham City University.

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