Mary Stuart had a glorious “Fuck you, I’m Queen” mentality, even when powerless and imprisoned. In 1586 at her final trial, she declared, “I am an absolute Queen”, and “My mind is not yet dejected, neither will I sink under my calamity”, of the discovery of the plot to murder Elizabeth Tudor.
Previous plots were nothing to complain of: “May I not ask my friends to help me? I have meant innocently, and if they have done wrong, they alone are to blame.” Her word as a Queen could not be challenged, and her status as Queen made all her acts innocent of wrong.
Elizabeth had a similar attitude: “I am your anointed Queen. I will never be constrained to do anything. I thank God that I am endued with such qualities that if I were turned out of the realm in my petticoats I were able to live in any place in Christendom.”
Henry, on the other hand, did not have the face to pull off his reforms by himself. He would not have tolerated his reforms being refused, but he had his Parliament enact them. So came into being the concept of the “King in Parliament” making law, which we still have. The last Bill not signed into law “La Reine le veult” was the Scottish Militia Bill in 1709. So the Monarchy lost power in exercising it.
That is the kind of detail I want from my history book. As narrative history, Tudors by Peter Ackroyd drags. So many little uprisings, so many manoeuvrings, so dull. I am interested to know where the Church of England comes from. I wrote of “curtseying to the communion table” which makes no sense: the show of respect is Roman, perhaps to the consecrated host on the altar; the words “communion table” are Reformed. Elizabeth steering a middle path between the Catholics and the extreme Reform party fits our Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals today, and my wishy-washy ecumenism between them: I would worship with anyone.
There is not enough detail for the character of Wolsey or Walsingham to emerge, and little detail of the lives of the ordinary people. We learn that, just as now, the price of necessities rose, and the living standards of the common people declined. When Ackroyd says that the “Coach” came into use then, a horse-drawn vehicle for people to ride in, it feels like the first piece of fruit after eating bread and dripping for so long, but my questions of how did the rich ride before then, did they ever ride in carts except to the gallows, is not answered.
From my old Anglican chauvenism, I would like it argued that Mary Tudor and Pole were greater murderers than Henry, Edward or Elizabeth, but I do not have the detail from this book to make the comparison, though Elizabeth might have imprisoned more people, and arguably it does the country no good if a man outside it can tell the King what to do or command the loyalty of some Englishmen.