Posts Tagged ‘Tudors’

Further reading, for those who want to know more about poor Mary Tudor

I’ve recently been doing some freelance history writing. As part of this, I’ve spent time reading and writing about Henry VIII and his daughter, Mary I. It made me feel some surprisingly extreme things, and I want to talk about that experience and how we deal with emotions when writing for work.

Poor Bloody Mary

Lets start with a history lesson.

Henry VIII is generally treated as a hero or a joke in English history – the strong leader with the six wives. But when we look at his personal life, we see something that by modern standards is pretty monstrous. Among other things, he accused his second wife Anne of cheating on him and had her killed because they’d fallen out; had his fifth wife Catherine killed for actually cheating on him, despite his own numerous extra-marital affairs; declared his daughters Mary and Elizabeth illegitimate and largely excluding them from his life because they weren’t boys; bullied Mary into signing a document that went against both her values and her respect for her late mother, out of fear that he’d have her executed; and much more. You can make all sorts of arguments about the necessity of his actions, but that still looks like horrifying domestic abuse to me, whatever the reasons for it.

There’s a terrible irony to the fact that his daughter Mary helped Henry through a period of depression after Catherine’s cheating and execution. Mary’s own understanding of depression came from the fact that she’d suffered it for years thanks to her father. Long deprived by political circumstances of the chance to marry – something she strongly desired – often isolated from friends and support, when Mary finally married she suffered from a neglectful husband and a series of miscarriages and false pregnancies. The death of many Protestants at her hands is appalling, but so is the suffering she endured in her life, for most of which she suffered from poor physical and mental health.

As I say, Henry is mostly remembered as a great leader and/or punchline, Mary as a villain. It appears that memory, like their lives, has little taste for justice.

Feeling History

Reading and writing about Henry and Mary hit me very hard. I’ve suffered from depression. My wife and I have struggled with the long, frustrating process of trying to have a child, only to be robbed of it by a miscarriage. This stuff hit me where I live, and it hit me hard. I’ve worked in schools and for social service, read case files and heard first hand accounts of the vilest treatment dished out to families by abusers. How much worse then to see the effect of a parent who was outright abusive and who is now regarded in the playful and positive light Henry is.

There’s another irony here, and it’s in my attitude. When a king is presented to me as a villain, like King John has been, and I then learn about the other side of them, I can somewhat come to terms with their appalling behaviour. John was responsible for the death of his nephew among others, but because of his troubled upbringing I’ve come to see him in a more forgiving light than the traditional tales of the evil king. I recognise the hideousness of some of John’s actions, but I can step back and put them in context. In contrast, hearing about Henry filled me with near-unbearable bile. I was literally shaking with anger and sorrow.

Part of this is of course about current discourse, not just history. I’m almost as angry at our idolisation of Henry as at his behaviour. A domestic abuser shouldn’t be seen as a hero or the subject of casual jokes.

And part of it is how personal these issues are, not just to me but in a general sense. Looking at the domestic lives of Henry and Mary takes us past the veil of top level politics, something beyond most of our lives, and into the realm of the personal, where we all live. We all have some experience of love, loss and family. Seeing those things warped and broken affects us all.

Dealing With the Pain

There’s a part of me that wants to rationalise away these feelings. To tell myself that I’m getting wound up over something that’s not about me, that I should just calm down and do my job. This is my work, not a place to get emotional.

And to that I give a heartfelt cry of ‘bullshit!’

These are my feelings. This is the way the world affects me. They are a way of drawing attention to something that is wrong. Millions of years of evolution have equipped me to feel these things, and repressing them isn’t just incredibly unhealthy, it’s a waste of part of my human potential. Our feelings have a legitimate place in every corner of our lives, including our work. How else would we ever care about what we achieve?

More than that, this is the work of writing. Words are meant to move, not just to inform. They’re meant to fill our bellies with fire, our eyes with tears, our hearts with rage, sorrow, love and the desire to change the world.

I’m not saying this experience has been good for me. I’m not saying all this grief and anger I’m feeling for long-dead aristocrats is fun. But it’s a part of writing, a part of reading, a part of responding to history. It’s a part of being human, and that’s something to be proud of.

*deep breath*

OK, got that vented, for now at least. In case you hadn’t realised, what you just read was part of my dealing with this.

And now over to you. Are there parts of history or works of fiction that really move you, in happy or unhappy ways? Have they surprised you by doing that? I’d love to read about your experiences in the comments below.

233849776_ca4a1b5497_zLady Joanna thought of herself as well-mannered, but there were times when the world tested her patience. Sending her servants to join Queen Mary’s army at Framlingham had been the just act of a woman aiding her friend, even if it meant having to dress herself. The possibility of raids from the pretender Jane’s supporters instilled fear in her, but pride that they might consider her a worthy target. Discovering that she had been sold a useless mummy, powdered fragments of its wrapping providing no power for her visions, no way to tell how the struggle went? That was beyond the pale.

“A pox on Simon of Ipswich,” she muttered as she reached inside the upright sarcophagus. She should have known that a man that obnoxious would sell false goods.

Scraping pieces of mummia from the wrappings into her mortar, she ground them, tipped them into wine and downed the gritty, bitter results. But no vision came as it had in the past.

A noise made her spin around, eyes wide and staring at the mummy. Something was amiss, but what?

That noise again, a low groaning. Then the mummy’s arms rose, and it stepped slowly out of the sarcophagus, bandaged feet thumping on the tiled floor.

Joanna’s heart pounded – this was not how a corpse was meant to behave. But she was determined not to let her fear show. She straightened her shoulders and looked the creature in the eye.

“I don’t know what you are playing at.” She waved a finger in its face. “But I am having none of it. Your time of moving around has passed. Get back in your coffin so that I can take more mummia.”

Taking another step forward, the mummy reached out toward her.

“I said back.” Glaring did no good.

Joanna was all out of gentlewomanly options, but then serving her own breakfast had been an ungentlewomanly act. The line had been crossed, and there was no sense worrying about it now. Placing both hands on the mummy’s chest, she tried to push it back into the sarcophagus.

“Back I tell you!” It was no good. The creature was far stronger than her, and completely unmoved by the assault.

The thunder of hooves and rattle of gravel announced new arrivals at the house. Rushing to the window, Joanna peered out through the leaded pains. Four ruffians were dismounting and making for her door, swords drawn.

“I will deal with you later,” she said to the mummy as she tried frantically to plan her next step. Could she flee? Probably not, without the stable boy to saddle her horse. Could she fight? She had never used a sword, but how difficult could it be? Except that there were no swords in the dining hall, and the men’s footsteps were already coming close.

The door burst open and the ruffians stomped inside, leaving muddy footprints all over her floor.

“You’re to come with us.” Their leader walked past the stationary mummy and straight toward her.

“Most of this stuff, too.” Another of them started grabbing silverware off the sideboard.

“I will not.” Joanna folded her arms and prepared to argue, but two of the men grabbed hold of her. “Unhand me at once!”

“Not a chance.” The leader’s laughter was as ugly and brutish as he was.

Determination turned to nauseating fear in Joanna’s stomach. She had heard terrible things about what happened to women in times of civil war, even noblewomen.

But the laughter was cut short as a bandaged hand descended onto the ruffian’s shoulder. He jumped six inches into the air and spun around, sword stretched out toward the mummy. It stumbled toward him with slow, steady steps, groaning once more.

“Get back!” The man thrust his sword a few inches into the mummy’s chest, where it became stuck, not budging as he wrestled with the hilt.

The man next to him screamed in terror, dropped a pair of candlesticks and ran from the house. His companions followed suit, the leader sticking around just long enough for the mummy to lunge at him again before he ran, pale and shaking, out onto the drive.

They galloped away in a spray of gravel.

“I’m sorry about that.” Lady Joanna placed one hand on the mummy’s chest, grabbed the protruding sword with the other, and gave it a twist. The blade quickly came free. “I would never normally allow such riffraff into my house, but these are trying times.”

The mummy tilted its head, apparently looking down at the sword and then back to Joanna’s face. It raised a hand, and after a moment’s hesitation patted Joanna slowly on the shoulder.

She sagged with relief, and then offered the mummy a smile.

“Fine, I won’t keep scraping away your wrappings.” She poured a new goblet of wine, this time without any gritty additions. “I could do with some help around here anyway.” She took a sip, and a thought crossed her mind. “I don’t suppose you know how to prepare dinner, do you?”

* * *

This story was inspired by a whole bunch of different little details. I learned about mummia, the dust taken from the wrappings of mummies, while visiting a museum in Dorchester last week. Considered to have magical properties, it was genuinely consumed for medicinal purposes in the sixteenth century, doing far more harm than good.

Lady Joanna is named after one of my incredibly helpful beta readers – huge thanks to that Joanna for her help. Given that ‘Visions of Joanna’ by Bob Dylan is one of my all time favourite songs, putting visions in with that name was almost inevitable.

As for Queen Mary and the pretender Jane, I’ve been doing some freelance work about the Tudors this week, so they were on my mind. The Duke of Northumberland’s attempt to stop Mary Tudor inheriting the crown and instead put his daughter-in-law Jane on the throne was a complete failure, and there was never even a war. Northumberland’s men did do some robbing and burning though.

If you enjoyed this then you can read more of my fantasy stories in By Sword, Stave or Stylus, available as an ebook through Amazon. You can read more of my flash fiction for free here, and get my steampunk collection Riding the Mainspring for free by signing up to my mailing list.

If you’ve got any thoughts on this story I’d love to hear them, and if you’ve got a suggestion for a future Friday story then please leave it below – I can always use fresh ideas!

Picture by a2gemma via Flickr creative commons.