Sunday, June 5, 2011

I'm Not Dead

There have been times in the months since The Big Change at work - new bosses all around - that I have WISHED I had passed on to glory, a.k.a., heaven, but corporeally?  I'm still here.

I have not felt like writing at all because I've either been totally bummed out, exhausted or wanted to write about my job itself, which isn't too smart - so I wrote nothing.

Well - I've had a week off.  My husband had a conference to go to in Naples, FL, so off we went.  We stayed at a beautiful beach resort and I lolled around our room and/or the beach for 4 days.  It was quite literally - heaven.

I downloaded my first e-book on the iPad I inherited from hubby, who bought a newer Acer iPad type thingy.  I read the entire "Wolf Hall" by Hilary Mantel.  Although it was a bit hard to follow at times because, for the sake of the loveliness of the prose, sometimes it wasn't clear who "he" was in various conversations - but after awhile I noticed that it always turned out to be Thomas Cromwell (which is the subject/hero of the historical novel).   She painted a very vivid picture of Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and other assorted Boleyns - and most of all, a very human Thomas Cromwell.  If you look him up in an encyclopedia or on the web, dry history states that he was a brilliant self-made man (he was born a commoner - no nobility) who rose like a shooting star to power as Henry VIII's go-to man.  Cardinal Wolsey had that job first, but as with many Medieval tyrants, if you made a wrong step you didn't just lose your job, you were imprisoned in the Tower (read damp, mildew, disease, filth, rats, etc.) and then you were either beheaded (this was the nicer way to go if the King felt a little remorse over killing you) or you were hung until almost dead and then, while alive, cut down and laid out and drawn and quartered - your belly was cut from ribs to crotch and all your internal organs were pulled out. 

What absolutely astounded me - and would astound me about anyone who takes their chances in such a dicey game - is that once someone fell from power and was murdered, there was always a likely person or really, many likely persons, in line to take their place.  The pull of power and riches and fame must have been the drawing card - but when you see what happens to the losers (and they were all losers - no one pleased the king for more than a few years), you'd think there would be few willing replacements.

Then there is the whole debacle of Henry VIII, who tired of having a docile, plump middle aged queen (Catherine of Aragon, daughter of the famous Ferdinand and Isabella of Columbus fame) and wanted a male heir for his throne.  I did not realize that Henry VIII's father, Henry VII (not much imagination on names) was the first Tudor, who seized the throne by battle with Richard III, a Plantagenet.  The Tudor dynasty only lasted  until Queen Elizabeth I, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn's fiery little daughter - a total of 118 years.  The absolutely ridiculous nonsense Henry trumps up in order to get the Pope to annul his 20+ year marriage to Catherine is laughable, except an entire country was held in thrall while Henry came up with new slants on his basic idea, each more ludicrous than the last.  Until he split England off from the Roman Catholic Church, which upset the people of England very much, but who cares, right?  There was no divorce, but, evidently, annulments were not all that uncommon.  The reasoning is that some trumped up condition would be thought of so that the Pope could rule that the "marriage was never valid".  Most annulments were done within a short period of time - an "oops, made a bad mistake" of maybe at most a few years, but not the over 20 that Henry and Catherine had shared.

Henry had his share of dalliances with the nubile young "ladies-in-waiting" of various royals living in his household.  I believe Anne Boleyn was a servant of Queen Catherine, Henry's plain and pudgy wife. 

Looking at this story from the distance of about 6 centuries and the status of women in the West today, it is hard to imagine actually wanting to get involved with a king of that period.  Women had no rights of their own, so in order to prosper, have pretty things and an easy life, one had to court nobility, and one had to be nobility in the first place, to do that.   Anne Boleyn was well educated, intelligent, sharp witted and, of course, avaricious and ambitious. She was also very attractive, vivacious, very flirty and basically, full of herself.  You'd think she'd have been smarter in her choice.  Actually, she wanted to marry a member of the nobility, Henry Percy, but the king did not give his permission - and this was supposedly before he was attracted to her.  It was Cardinal Wolsey and Henry Percy's father who really nixed the match - the Boleyns weren't high enough nobility to rate marriage to a Percy;  and maybe Henry VIII was behind the whole thing because he wanted Anne.  In any case, she wanted to marry Percy, but when that door was closed to her, she aimed for the very top.  Anne's sister, Mary, had been Henry VIII's mistress for a while, and when Anne saw how he dumped her and the affair didn't benefit Mary in the least, it actually tainted her reputation - Anne decided for marriage and nothing less.  So she was coy and flirty and got Henry all hot and bothered and then said, "I'm a virgin and want to remain that until my marriage."  She drove him to defy the Pope and split from the Catholic Church - and also to murder a lot of people she didn't like or who didn't like her.  What she forgot was the risk - don't give the King a male heir that lives - end up with all the others in the Tower.  When he got tired of her, he didn't waste time.  The day after she was beheaded, he married Jane Seymour, who died in childbirth.

If I were a woman in the early 1500's  in a Western country (God forbid anything else), I would have chosen a nunnery I think.  I bet they were relatively clean, peaceful and no royal machinations could screw up your life.  I have a feeling, though, that you had to be more than a commoner to make it into an abbey as a nun.  So, basically, if you were a female commoner, you stayed a female commoner.  Not so, a man.  Unusual, very talented and driven men like Thomas Cromwell could rise above their humble births.

So let's see, what was the idiocy that Henry VIII tried to convince the Pope to believe (and everyone else in England and the civilized world)?

The main point was that since there was a  passage in the Old Testament,  Leviticus 20:21  "If a man takes his brother's wife, it is impurity. He has uncovered his brother's nakedness; they shall be childless."  Catherine was married for 5 months to Henry's older brother Arthur, who died without having sex with Catherine - there was something wrong with him, but it's hard to figure out what from sketchy records of the time, although in Spanish documents it is claimed he was frail and weak and other documents say he was a full head shorter than Catherine, who was already short.  The OT verse means not to marry your living brother's wife - a.k.a., adultery, but our bright boy Henry thought it meant any kind of brother, even dead - and that marrying Catherine according to this passage meant he had committed incest.  To be fair, when Arthur died, Catherine was a widow for 6 years until Henry VII died.  At that point Henry VIII, at least 6 years younger than Catherine, obtained a special grant from the Pope to marry his brother's widow - so you did need permission from the Pope to marry someone who had already been married into your family.

No one read the Bible back then - not Old Testament or New Testament.  The Church jealously guarded Bibles - only priests or bishops had access to the actual Bible, as opposed to prayer books.  The Church also was the sole decider of interpretation - there was no Bible Study, so to speak. So Henry was totally unaware of the verses in the OT that tell brothers to marry the widows of their dead brothers so that the dead brother has someone to carry on his legacy - or something along those lines.  This was Henry's attempt to prove his marriage to Catherine had never been valid.  No one agreed with him, no one followed his logic, but of course they all told him he was absolutely right and they agreed 100%.  It's either that or the Tower and a gruesome death.  If I had been of the nobility of that time, I would hope that my family would have stayed as far away from the court of the King as east is from west.  Once you were noticed by the king, you had to play the game of puckering up to kiss his royal behind 24 hours out of the day, and you never voiced an opinion that differed from his.  It was hard keeping up, because when he changed his mind and did a turn-around, everyone else had to have that same miraculous re-think.

For years, while Henry chased Anne Boleyn around the castles, the Pope - poor Pope Clement, who really wished he had never become Pope and who didn't want to offend anyone, and was in a tough spot, being the prisoner of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, kept putting off making a decision.  As a matter of fact, Pope Clement never did approve or disapprove of Henry's annulment from Catherine.  Clement didn't want to upset Ferdinand, Catherine's father, King of Spain and he didn't want to offend Charles V, Catherine's nephew, who held Clement hostage. There were suggestions of, 'why don't you just take a second wife like they did in the OT', except Henry would have none of it - he wanted a legal male heir to carry on the (cough, choke) glory of the Tudors - an heir that no one could challenge after Henry VIII was dead.

As we all know, Henry eventually gave up on the Pope and decided he was his own pope in his own land, and he separated the English church from the Roman Catholic Church.  At the time this was absolutely unheard of - the Catholic Church had been around for 1400 years and no one defied them before.  Perhaps if there had been a stronger Pope at the time, one who would have invaded England, Henry would not have proclaimed himself the head of the church in England.  If you think that Henry agreed with the other Reformists, like Martin Luther, you are wrong.  Henry wanted everything the same - he just didn't want the Pope or anyone else telling him what he could or could not do. 
Since I am a Christian, I think I see the hand of God in history, especially from this distance.  I believe that those people we would really look up to and honor are never the wealthy, the famous, the ones that everyone notices.  So there are no books written about historical nobodies, but I'll bet if there had been, the stories would have been a lot better - maybe not so much entertainment value, but perhaps some integrity.  Henry, in spite of his own agenda, performed God's agenda - the first major split of the Roman Catholic Church, so that the Bible could become a commonly read book that everyone could access. 

So.....I give this book, "Wolf Hall" a 2 thumbs up - very well written, even if the subject matter reminded me of the insanity of government both in the past and, of course, today.  I can see how human nature just has not changed one iota - it's still the same game, except, thank God, you just lose your job, not your head or your giblets.

1 comment:

Island Rider said...

I am glad you aren't dead. ;0) Because I have something to send you. Send me your address,