Book Review – The Hollow Crown/The Wars of the Roses by Dan Jones

Sorry I’ve been missing folks! It comes with good reasons!
This is a review of a book I’m adding to my list right now, thanks to his synopsis!

By Nathen Amin

The Wars of the Roses is a period of English history that is very much in vogue at the moment, a situation undoubtedly bolstered by the Wars’ inclusion in a plethora of recent historical fiction releases by various preeminent authors. Their entertaining, if often disturbingly inaccurate, portrayal of the epic fifteenth century tussle for the crown has satisfyingly been equalled by a variety of releases by academic historians putting forward the ‘true’ story. Dan Jones’ new release ‘The Hollow Crown’ (published as ‘The Wars of the Roses’ in the US) is the latest welcome addition to this field.

As the best-selling author of the critically-acclaimed ‘The Plantagenets’, Dan Jones’ latest effort can be considered a natural sequel to his previous work. The Wars of the Roses were a complex and confusing period in English history and Jones succeeds in simplifying the conflict without omitting any detail detrimental…

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The Lincoln Roll – the Princes’ Death Certificate?

Interesting evidence in the mystery of what happened to the “Princes in the Tower.” I hadn’t thought to look at the Lincoln Roll in such a way!

By David Durose

The Lincoln Roll – the Princes’ Death Certificate?

This article is about the family tree that belonged to John de la Pole, the Earl of Lincoln and what it says about the fate of the so-called Princes in the Tower – Edward V and his young brother Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York. It provides an approximate date for the death of Edward V and disproves the idea that either of the Princes might have survived. It also puts the actions of Lincoln, his younger brothers and Margaret of Burgundy in a new perspective.

While this new evidence supports the ‘traditional’ view held by most historians that Richard III ordered the killing of his nephews, it also completely revises the narrative provided by the various contemporary chroniclers and Thomas More. It supports a view of Lincoln – and by extension, his uncle Richard III – as ruthless…

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“The Borgias” vs. “Borgia” – Which was better?

“Borgia” vs. “The Borgias”

Canal+ vs. Showtime

Which was better?

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS

I was very excited when Showtime announced that it had been working with Michael Hirst, of “The Tudors” and “Elizabeth I” to produce a show about the Borgia family, because I knew it would be visually beautiful. Nobody does costumes, sets and props better than Hirst. His actors are always top-notch, and this was no exception, with the inclusion of Jeremy Irons as Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI.

Between the first and second seasons of the Showtime production, I signed up for Netflix Streaming service. I saw a production called “Borgia,” and thought it was Hirst’s. It was not. A completely different approach to the story of the Borgia family, it was produced by Canal+, a European company. It was and still is amazing.

The actual Borgias were a Spanish family, and when Rodrigo’s uncle became Pope Calixtus III he was made into a Cardinal. In 1492 he became pope himself, taking the name Alexander VI. He was popular with the common people, but deeply resented by the clergy, and his family was hated. He had at least six children, including the four that both shows represent, with a few more that are uncertain with later mistresses. Rumors spread about him and his children, including that he slept with his daughter Lucrezia and was the father of her children. The worst and most continually pervasive rumor was that his son Cesare killed his brother Juan because they were both sleeping with their sister and grew jealous. Cesare was deeply hated, known for his leaving a position as a Cardinal to attempt military campaigns, which killed him in the end. He was known to be cruel and unbending, harsh and arrogant, and may have been the inspiration for Machiavelli’s “The Prince,” as the two were friends. He was a patron of Leonardo da Vinci, who dreamed up weapons for him.

Cesare is more of the main character in both series, and with good reason. There is more information about him, and he is a very interesting character to use with as a writer. Pope Alexander is the next primary character, then Lucrezia and the rest of the family and their friends. Some historical information both shows got right, and some both got wrong.

When it came to casting, both shows seemed to have different objectives. Showtime’s series went after the best actors they could find for the parts, wither the actors resembled the portraits of the actual people or not. For example, the real Alexander was a large man, both in height and weight, but Irons is a thin man, and bares no resemblance to the pope. Every character was played with an English accent. Canal+ seems to have focused on appearance first. Each character looks like the portraits and other sources we have which show the appearances of these people. As for the accents, the producers of Canal+’s series pointed out that at that time Rome was a melting pot. They hired actors from all over and allowed them to, mostly, keep their accents. This works well in the Vatican and on the streets, but not so in the Borgia family. Rodrigo is played by an American, as was Jofre, the youngest; Cesare is played by an Irishman who takes an English accent; Juan was French; Lucrezia was Russian; their mother was the only one played by a Spaniard even though she was actually an Italian.

When it comes to the supporting cast, Canal+ covers them well. It presents the full compliment of cardinals, dukes, clergy, mistresses and friends, again with an array of accents. In Showtime’s production these are given only a cursory glance. We know that Alessandro Farnese is the brother of the pope’s mistress, Julia, but other than a few brief scenes we never see him. Farnese also became a pope, Paul III, and had a lifelong mistress named Silvia Ruffini and many children and grandchildren. We see him in an episode of “The Tudors” with the cardinals and his grandson, but in “The Borgias” we barely know who he is.

Lucrezia’s first husband and marriage are very misrepresented by Showtime, and more accurately shown by Canal+. She was only 13 when she was married to Giovanni Sforza, an illegitimate member of the Milanese family. Showtime has him taking Lucrezia to his home, where he rapes and beats her until she runs away. The reality is that she never left Rome, and the marriage was later annulled due to lack of consummation, which is shown by Canal+.

The final very important secondary character to be altered by Showtime and correctly represented by Canal+ was the “villain” Cardinal Giuliano Della Rovere. Showtime has him running all over Europe, constantly looking for ways to kill the pope, who he resents for getting the papal throne which he believed he was due. While Della Rovere was never friends with Alexander, shortly after his election they began to work together, and he stayed in Rome. He was a political adversary, not a terrorist. After Alexander’s death, Cesare worked with Della Rovere and helped him become Pope Julius II. Canal+ shows them going from anger to friendship, which is never achieved by Showtime. In both shows he is an active homosexual, which he may have been.

Alexander himself is played better by John Doman, even though is not as talented an actor as Jeremy Irons. Beyond his physical similarity to the actual Alexander, Doman plays the pope as a politically active, conniving man who has one singular purpose, to further the causes of his own family and his friends. Irons plays him as a mainly innocent man, who is bent by the wind of his family’s actions, nearly clueless as to the cruelty they inflict. In the first season he seems surprised that the other cardinals do not like him. In Canal+’s production we see more of who Alexander was, because the series opens with Rodrigo in his position as Vice-Chancellor for the previous pontiff, Pope Innocent VIII, who then dies and opens the path for him. Showtime starts with the election, so we only see Rodrigo as Alexander.

Cesare is a very different man in both series, and this is one place where I think that Showtime excels. Firstly, they correctly place Cesare as the eldest of Rodrigo’s children with Vannozza de Cattanei. I do not know why Canal+ swapped him and Juan in birth order, except perhaps because it seems odd that the elder brother would be forced to go into the church while the younger would carry a title. It only makes sense once you realize that Cesare was not the eldest son of Alexander, and that their family was one built on the church. The eldest son was Pedro Luis, from Rodrigo’s relationship with an unknown mistress, as well as the eldest daughters Isabella and Girolama. They remained in Spain, and Pedro Luis had the title of Duke of Gandia, which was passed to Juan upon his death.

In Canal+’s show, the Cesare of the first season is whining, tortured and weak. He acts out of desperation and lives in regret, constantly complaining and committing harsh acts of penitence for his previous actions. In the second season, now seeing the way to free himself from the church, he becomes more calculating and less reactionary, and the true hardness of the actual Cesare begins to show. In Showtime’s production, Cesare is constantly calculating, willing to do anything at anytime so that he can further his and his family’s interests. He makes the harsh choices without regret, owning everything he has done. In my opinion, this cold and brutal man is more in line with the historical Cesare.

Lucrezia is a different woman in both shows. In Canal+’s production, she is just as calculating and cruel as her brothers, in some cases worse than they are. In Showtime’s she is a gentle, innocent girl who just wants equality with her brothers. The real Lucrezia had as much political savvy as her brothers, and knew how to position herself and her family to their benefit. She was the subject of many, many rumors, including affairs and illegitimate children, which are not believed to be actually hers. I believe she is more like Canal+’s character and less like Showtime’s.

There is one major plot point difference between the two shows. While the siblings in Canal+’s show flirt and proclaim their love, physical love nearly happens once, but it does not go far and none of the children are lovers. Showtime decided to take the rumor of Lucrezia and Cesare being lovers and make it real. In the 3rd season, they sleep together, and act like lovers at all times afterward.

While the costumes and sets for the Showtime production were beautiful, Canal+’s were a bit more honest. When you see the cardinals in Canal+’s show, their robes are different, varying colors and fabrics, which is more realistic. Not every cardinal was wealthy, and some may not have been able to afford the fabric dyed as richly as others, nor of materials of equal luxury. They seemed to have used fewer costumes and jewelry, and you see the same gowns repeatedly, which is also more honest. Even the very wealthy could not afford to only wear a garment once. The makeup is very natural, and I was surprised to learn that many of the characters are wearing wigs- the quality is very good, and it’s hard to pick out who is wearing one without already knowing. The only character whose hair I do not like is Lucrezia, who is played by an actress with red hair when she was a blonde.

In the end we will have three seasons of both shows, but because Canal+’s moves much faster I hope that we will have the total story of the family, at least to the point of Alexander’s death, if not after. Showtime pulled the plug on “The Borgias” close to the end of the 3rd season, and the story was never really finished. I have wondered if their choice to give credence the incest rumor led to the downfall of the viewers and support for the show.

Both programs use nudity and violence, but Canal+ does not make the violence humorous, nor the nudity illicit. It uses more nudity, and nearly every actor in the production has removed their clothes, but it is properly situational, and natural bodies are celebrated. The violence is brutal, but very realistic and accurate. There are several criminal executions, which I cannot watch because they are exactly as they were done at the time.

Each show chose a different culprit for the murder of Juan Borgia. I will not give it away, but as the murder was never solved, I like the direction Canal+ took for its creativity alone. Both show Lucrezia having an affair with a boy, who impregnates her and is killed, in Showtime’s by Juan and in Canal+ by Cesare. This did not happen, though there was a rumor that she had an affair with Pedro Calderone, shown in Canal+’s show, but while the rumors say that Giovanni Borgia was her son, it is believed that he was in fact Alexander’s son.

Both shows have wonderful opening titles. The music used in the first season of “Borgia” is an outstanding piece of work in its own right, and the second season and all seasons of “The Borgias” have wonderful music as well. In the first season of “The Borgias” several pieces from “The Tudors” and other Hirst productions were mixed in with famous paintings that had been slightly altered, which I found both lazy and distracting. You see Henry VIII stroke Anne Boleyn’s neck, and all I could think was that Hirst needed filler. The first season of “Borgia” contains a bit of nudity, the heaving chest of Julia Farnese, but it works so well with the music and show to not be offensive. I have to give the edge to Canal+.

So, in the end, which is the better show? They are equally inaccurate, in different ways. Just as Showtime gave us a show that was practically rose-colored, Canal+ gave us a show that was gritty and dark. In the end, it is Canal+’s production that I watch over and over again, which I enjoy every time. I cannot wait for the 3rd season to come to Netflix, so I can watch the end of the story.

Both shows are available on Netflix Streaming, and are available on DVD.

My main sources for the history were:

Bradford, Sarah. “Lucrezia Borgia.” 2004. Viking, New York.

Hollingsworth, Mary. “The Borgia Chronicles; 1414-1572.” 2011. Metro Books, New York.

And my husband, who found this family perpetually fascinating and devoted much study to them.

 

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The Tudors: Season One, Episode Two

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS

There is a lot going on in this episode, which covers the Field of the Cloth of Gold, the arrest and execution of the Duke of Buckingham, the birth of Henry Fitzroy, and the affair between Henry VIII and Mary Boleyn. I am going to focus on a few points there were either accurate or inaccurate about this episode.

I became very distracted at the Field of the Cloth of Gold by the actions of Charles Brandon. This event happened at Calais in June of 1520. I will go more into the difference between the historical Brandon and the fictional one in future episodes, but at this time he was not some roaming stud looking for French women. Why not? Because he was married to Henry’s sister, Mary, in 1515, and she didn’t die until 1533. I went into this in the first post, but for me it was just hard to move past while I was watching.

While in France, King Francis I points out Mary Boleyn to Henry, and calls her his “English Mare,” because he “rides her so often.” Henry becomes jealous that a member of his court is sleeping with Francis, and sends for her himself, beginning an affair with her. Mary may have been Francis’ mistress, but she did not become Henry’s mistress at Calais. She had returned to England in 1519, when she was married to William Carey, and was in the household of Queen Katherine. We don’t know when she became Henry’s mistress, but estimates have their affair starting in 1521, after the summit. Later in the episode, Henry tosses her away seemingly out of nowhere- “leave.” In reality their affair ended sometime between 1524 and 1526, though since it was never publicized we do not know the exact date. We do know that it was longer than a few months. We know there was a relationship because when Henry petitioned the pope for a dispensation to marry Anne Boleyn in 1527, the reason that was given as to why a dispensation was needed was Henry’s familial knowledge of her sister. And we all know how that turned out…

When they all return to England, Henry is furious because Charles V of Spain has been named the Holy Roman Emporer. This is out of the timeline. In reality Charles was made Emporer in 1519, a year before the summit.

As well, when they return to England Bessie Blount gives birth to Henry Fitzroy, the king’s bastard son. This is juxtaposed against the treason of Buckingham, as the noblemen are giving Henry his Christmas gifts when she is in labor. The real Fitzroy was born in June of 1519, a year prior to the summit in Calais. In comparison, the Duke of Buckingham was executed in 1521, which is shown later in the show, and seems to be in the correct time.

One of the biggest errors that drives me nuts is the interaction between Charles Brandon and Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk, when Brandon presents him with his father’s ring and makes a vague threat against him and his son’s futures if he fails to give the verdict of guilty against Buckingham. Norfolk says that his father was executed by Henry VII. There were two Thomas Howards that were the Dukes of Norfolk, the 2nd and the 3rd Dukes, father and son. Because Anne Boleyn later calls him “Uncle,” this makes him the 3rd Duke of Norfolk. It was the 2nd Duke who presided over Buckingham’s trial, and it was the last thing he did before retiring from court.

So here are the actual facts- The 1st Duke of Norfolk, John Howard, died at Bosworth in 1485. It was his death that may have pushed Richard III into his “suicide run.” His son, the 2nd Duke, was restored to the peerage by Henry VII, and died in 1524. This was Anne Boleyn’s grandfather, the father of her mother. The 3rd Duke was Thomas Howard, Anne Boleyn’s uncle, who was active in court before and after she was queen. He was also a Catholic, who put his other niece, Catherine Howard, forward as Henry’s future mistress and queen. Henry VII did not execute any of the Dukes of Norfolk, and it was not Anne Boleyn’s uncle who presided over the trial of the Duke of Buckingham. Therefore, this entire interaction makes no sense. There seems to be an inability of TV shows to put forward the line of the Duke of Norfolk accurately. The 1st Duke was left out of “The White Queen,” and in the “Six Wives of Henry VIII” he inaccurately states that his father was executed by Henry VII as well. I do not know if this is because the 2nd and 3rd were both named Thomas, or if the Howards are just disliked, but these little changes do not make any sense to me.

I am not sure which pope is supposed to be shown dying in this episode, because none died in 1521. The pope at that time was Leo X, Giovanni de Medici, who reigned from 1513 to 1523. When the cardinals speak of how the next pope must be an Italian, it confuses the issue further, because the following pope, Adrian VI, was Dutch.

One of the best moments in this episode happens in two parts. It starts with Cardinal Wolsey telling Sir Thomas More about how he will have to give up what he treasures most to keep the love of a king. It culminates at the end of the episode when Wolsey and Henry are approaching Wolsey’s new palace and Henry pushes the cardinal to give it to him. Clearly it was what Wolsey treasured, and to keep the king’s affections he had to give it away.

There was a lot to comment on in this episode, so I had to explain the parts that bothered and impressed me the most. Was there something that bothered you, that I failed to mention? Please leave a note in the comments!

 

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Henry VII, the King Maligned as a Miser

This is one topic I want to squash, especially because of the upcoming “White Princess” TV show. Did Elizabeth of York have to repair dresses instead of purchasing new ones? Yes, and so did every queen! The amount of time, labor and expense in a woman’s dress, especially a queen’s dress, was massive. Getting a hole or a stain, or having a seam give and repairing it was commonplace, not throwing it out as some do today. He donated money to charities and colleges, commissioned great building projects, invested his personal income into the trades. Because he didn’t squander his wealth we are to believe he’s a bad king? Come on now…

By Nathen Amin

History has not been kind to Henry VII of England. The first Tudor king has often suffered from long-held accusations that he was a dark and greedy monarch, a man of such a suspicious disposition that his reign was a tyrannical period for England centred on the King’s grasping nature.

It could be argued that the one adjective used more than any other when describing Henry Tudor is ‘miser’. One needs to only witness the character assassination that accompanied the recent documentary ‘The Winter King’ by historian Tom Penn to understand this phenomenon. Amongst a plethora of speculative descriptions of the king in this overwhelmingly negative portrayal was “terrifying”. Penn further stated that Henry utilised ruthless methods to control England, whilst ‘money was dearest to his heart’. Are such accusations justified? It would appear by referring to the sources that the prevailing attitude of many historians, both…

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Could Roland de Veleville’s Death Have Influenced the Execution of Anne Boleyn?

Anne Boleyn was executed on May 19, 1326. That she was executed at all is one of the reasons we remember her and King Henry VIII so well. Before this, unwanted queens had been sent away or forced to go into nunneries, as evidenced by Louis XI of France’s first wife, Joan, and Henry’s own attempts to divorce Katherine of Aragon by sending her away. The change in personality and behavior that Henry exhibited just prior to and after Anne’s execution have become a very hotly debated topic- was he justified because she was cheating on him? Did the fall from his horse damage his brain and cause his changes? What sparked such a venomous hatred?

I have one idea which may not have been thought of before. Roland de Veleville died the year prior, in June of 1535, as evidenced by his replacement as Constable of Beaumaris Castle with Sir Henry Norris, a man executed as one of Anne Boleyn’s lovers.

Even if we ignore the evidence that Roland was Henry’s illegitimate older brother, he was a man who had considerable influence on the king. His words were enough of a threat to Henry’s counselors that he was sent to Fleet for speaking against them. He was often in the personal presence of the king, despite his “criminal” mouth. He had an unparalleled and hard to understand connection with Henry.

That connection started in Henry’s childhood, as Roland lived in the royal apartments and was a dominant figure in Henry VII’s personal life. He personally attended on Henry VIII, and was part of his entourage at some of the most important points of the young king’s life, including the Battle of the Spurs and the Field of Cloth of Gold. He mourned the loss of infant Prince Henry with the royal house. Even though he had been sent to Wales in 1509 (which I have my own theory about), he was never far from the king’s mind, and was consistently called back to court.

His influence on Henry VIII cannot be understated. Even though we have no information on it, I cannot believe that Henry took Roland’s death lightly. If we re-insert their family connection, his death becomes even more of a tragedy for the king. Roland was his last living brother, and since his sister Margaret was in Scotland and his sister Mary had died in 1533, Roland was his last sibling at court.

Roland’s opinion of Anne Boleyn and Henry’s denouncement of the Catholic Church are not known. Having spent so much time in the company of Henry VII could have made him a Catholic supporter, and since he had known Katherine of Aragon since she arrived in England he must have had a good relationship with her. But he does not seem to have been a conservative man, having lived with his wife prior to marriage and was known to be a gambler and drinker. Having no son of his own, he may have understood Henry’s drive to marry Anne and further their family. Or he may have not supported Henry’s turn from the Pope and casting aside of Katherine, and it may have contributed to his infrequent trips to court before his death. In either case, his opinion and counsel may have been valued by the king, even if it wasn’t in support for his actions.

With Roland’s death, Henry was very much alone. While we see Roland as a fun-loving and hot-tempered jouster, perhaps Henry’s older brother was a stabilizing influence on his life. Roland spent more time with Henry VII in a much more familiar way than Henry did, and perhaps he learned more of that style of governance from him, which he passed along to Henry. Henry called Roland to his side often, and especially at times where he was in need of counsel. Then Roland died. This must have been a shock to Henry’s stability.

Most of this is speculative, but based on information we do know. If Roland was a treasured counselor who Henry relied upon, his death may have sent Henry into an emotional and moral tailspin. Not only did he no longer have the advice or opinion of his brother, he no longer had anyone to be held accountable to. Roland may have been the last tie to Henry VII, and advice similar to what their father would have given. What would his brother have said if he had executed Anne while he was still alive? Would he have told the king to send her away, and been disgusted at the idea of killing her? Would she have been treated differently?

We may never know the real reason Henry turned so suddenly and violently against his wife, but this new idea may give a little more insight into the mind of the king who killed the woman he worked so hard to have.

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How Could Henry Do It? Six Perspectives

An excellent post from The Creation of Anne Boleyn. Enjoy!

The Creation of Anne Boleyn

Henry Eats the Swan During the episode of The Tudors in which Anne Boleyn is executed, scenes of her suffering in the Tower are punctuated with the image of Henry, gazing contemplatively at two beautiful swans nuzzling in the pond outside the palace.  His mood and thoughts are left deliberately ambiguous; perhaps, the viewer imagines, he is thinking back over his love for Anne and the life they shared together, perhaps he is having regrets, feeling sorrow for the beauty that is about to be lost?  No.  After the execution scene, we are immediately taken to the King at his table, looking forward to his breakfast, which is being brought to him in a large gilt tureen on a silver platter.  The lid is lifted, and the servants and nobles surrounding Henry gasp and applaud in delight.  There on the platter is one of the swans, roasted and decorated with its own beautiful wings…

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An Argument for the Authenticity of Anne’s May 6th Letter to Henry

As I now can return to “The Tudors,” I find Susan’s post about this possible letter of Anne’s very fitting. Enjoy!

The Creation of Anne Boleyn

593247a6507a28554f3e1acbebff9b72 From the time she was taken to the Tower, Anne’s moods, according to Constable Kingston, vacillated wildly, from resignation to hope to anxiety. She had always had a wicked sense of humor, and no irony was ever lost on her. When taken to the Tower, she had asked, “Master Kingston, shall I die without justice?” He replied, “The poorest subject the king hath, had justice.” Hearing this, despite her fear, Anne laughed. She was too sophisticated and savvy about the dispensing of royal power to swallow the official PR.  Even the night before her execution, her sense of irony held as she wryly remarked that her enemies would remember her as “la Royne Anne Sans Tete” But until very near the end, she also seized on any glimmer of hope. She was the queen, after all, and no one in England had ever executed a queen.  Isabella of Angouleme and…

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Game of Thrones and English History

To mark the occasion of the season 4 premier of HBO’s Game of Thrones, I have decided to write down some of the general comparisons of the plot with English medieval society and history.

Game of Thrones is an awesome television show, based off of books written by George R. R. Martin, which my husband tells me are awesome (he has read them multiple times; I have not). The characters stir up emotion in the audience. You cry for the characters you like when they are killed and hate the evil characters with a fiery passion. With dragons, magic and living dead people the show is soundly in the realm of fantasy fiction. But there are hints of actual history alive in the show.

When the show opens, the first things we are treated to is the map of Westeros, a fictional country bordered on three sides with ocean and to the north with ice. The map itself is very similar to the map of the English Isle, if you remove the North, though Westeros seems to be much, much bigger. The Wall, where the men of the Night’s Watch protect the south from enemies coming down from the north, is similar to the boarder with Scotland, where for several hundred years skirmishes and battles broke out to keep the Scots from invading England, and vice-a-versa. London is located where King’s Landing is. The Isle of Mann is located where the Iron Islands are. Even the English Channel is similar to “The Narrow Sea,” and the cities where Daenerys Targaryen travels remind me of the different duchy’s of France, though the culture and language are more like the Middle East.

In Westeros each noble house is easily identified by their “sigil,” a badge worn on clothes or held as banners, which makes all the “bannermen” easily identifiable. They are easy to compare with both coats of arms and medieval banners. Even the sigil animals are similar to those used in Britain. England is a Lion, since the first Plantagenet king Henry II, while Scotland is a unicorn and Wales is Dragon. Edward IV used a sun, Richard III used a boar, Richard II was a stag. Stags, wolves, dragons, lions, and more animals are seen in Westeros. The “bannermen” are the lords who are sworn to uphold another lord’s cause in times of war, which is exactly what English nobles were expected to do throughout the medieval period.

While watching the show it is easy to see how the armor and fashion which are taking their cues from medieval England, as is the food, boats and litter carriages. The only character which wears clothing in a more modern style is Margaery Tyrell, as it is way too revealing and even Cersei Lannister complains about it showing too much skin. The citizens of Westeros have the same entertainments and work as medieval society, such as needlepoint, music and tournaments. They engage in warfare that is exactly like what was around during the medieval period, except without the “wild fire” that killed so many at the “Battle of the Blackwater.”

Most characters have a version of the English accent, some with an Irish or Scottish twang to it, and in the case of the beautiful, red-headed Wildling soldier Ygritte, my husband just informed me that my guess that she was using a Yorkshire accent was correct. Listening to the actual accents of the actors in interviews is enlightening, especially in regards to Nikolaj Coster-Waldau who plays Jaime Lannister, because even though you hear no hint of it when he is acting, he is actually Dutch and talks with a strong Dutch accent when he is being himself. There are other accents of course, such as the German accent of Shay, Sansa Stark’s maid and Tyrion Lannister’s lover, as she is an immigrant to Westeros. Much like London, the highest variety of accents is in King’s Landing, because it’s a bastion of trade, immigration and class distinctions.

King Robert’s Rebellion mirrors the rebellion of Henry IV against Richard II, and the current warfare Westeros is going through is very similar to the Wars of the Roses. While Henry VI was not as unpopular, distanced and hated by the people as Joffrey, Rob Stark, the “King of the North,” is very similar to Edward IV, a younger man fighting because his father was killed (though in battle, not execution) and he believes he is the rightful king. Balon Greyjoy had called himself the “king of the Iron Islands,” and prior to 1485 the Stanley family had been the Kings of the Isle of Mann, with Thomas Stanley downgrading the honor to “Lord of Mann” so as not to offend his stepson, King Henry VII. In England there were fewer sides, but there were many battles and the interchanging of nobles, titles and the throne.

I am not sure how much of these similarities are intentional, but the more I start to ponder the more I find. Have you seen any that I have missed in this post? Please leave a comment and let me know!

If you haven’t seen Game of Thrones yet I urge you to give it a try. There is a reason it is so wildly popular, even though it’s a costumed drama that has no problem killing off its main characters and is heavy in both violence and sex. That’s because the plots, the characters, the sets, the special effects, the romance and the drama are unmatched. It airs on Sunday nights at 9pm EST, on HBO. If you can, watch it in HD because the costumes, sets and and visual textures can be missed in standard definition.

The show is based on a series of books, collectively known as “A Song of Ice and Fire,” written by George R. R. Martin. Five are currently available in bookstores, A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, and A Dance for Dragons. There are two more novels to still be written and released. The show is currently midway through the third book. We should be seeing several more seasons before we learn who will finally sit on the Iron Throne.

You can purchase the books on Amazon.

For more information, please check out A Wiki of Ice and Fire.

 

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Modern Politicians can Learn from Henry VII

This post is different than my normal posts, because I am going to talk about politics a bit. It is hard to watch what is happening in the American government and not think about how far from the law we are, and how much more freedom the English people had under a king than we Americans do now.

In the minds of most Americans the British monarchy is synonymous with King George III. We hear the title “king” and our gut reacts like George Washington’s- “It will be Mr. President.” We think our government of “for the people, by the people,” this quasi-democracy, is the best it can ever get. And why not? A little less than half of the population gets their way and we’re supposed to all be happy.

The modern politician is an amalgamation of a fast-talking snake oil salesmen and a mini-tyrant. We’ve heard Former-Mayor Bloomberg telling us that he knows what we should eat and drink and will force us to comply. We’ve heard President Obama brag about being able to write laws unilaterally because he has “a phone and a pen.” This is all acceptable to them because under their logic the people voted for them, so any action they undertake is what the people want, or at least what they signed on for, by electing that politician. And, the logic follows, if we don’t like the policies or laws that one administration creates, once their term is up we can get in a new person to undo the damage. Let’s be clear: The damage is never undone and with each consecutive bad politician the policies get worse and the law oversteps into individual rights.

The US Constitution was based on a mix of the Magna Carta and the ideas of liberty that came from the Enlightenment. A major grievance of the colonies was that parliament and the king were ignoring the rules of law set forth in the Magna Carta, saying that it only gave protections to the people who lived in the British Isle, not to the citizens in the colonies. When the war was won and the US had to make its own laws, they took a great deal of direction from the Magna Carta itself. It was there that limits on taxation were first penned. It was there that personal protection from the government originated. It was there that due process under the law became standard. This comes back to the difference between a Limited Monarchy verses an Absolute Monarchy and how that difference effects the lives of the citizens of a country. France was an Absolute Monarchy and its people starved. England was a Limited Monarchy and its people thrived and grew wealthy. The Magna Carta, and the Constitution, both limited the powers and rights of the government, not of the people. A king is the personal embodiment of a government, and though not elected still has to keep the needs of the people in his focus or lose their support.

My plea for politicians to act more like Henry VII.

No, Henry was not a greedy miser who taxed the common people nearly to death. It was not possible for a king to enact taxes that were not approved of by parliament, and Henry was not in a solid position with parliament. There were still Yorkists who wanted him gone and dead, and other nobles who wanted to take the throne. Without parliament’s approval a king could not collect taxes, and the taxes that they approved had to fulfill very strict criteria. Unlike our modern system of taxes, taxation under the Magna Carta had to be for a specific purpose- a war or building project for example- and had to have a specific start and stop date. Taxes could not just give the monarch more money to spend however he wished, and could not be open-ended. Henry VII could not get around those rules, not even to attack France, the normal enemy of the English. When he asked for the taxes to do so parliament refused. And he had no choice but to work with them or give up. He couldn’t just say that all Englishmen must give him this much money every year indefinitely.

So how did Henry get such a full treasury, if he couldn’t tax the people in such a way? He was a shrewd businessman who invested his private money to support trade, which increased the amount of tariffs the crown received from such trade. He also managed the royal lands better than his predecessors, taking a personal interest in the management and cutting out waste. At the end of his reign the royal lands had produced 10,000-pounds under Edward IV, compared with 42,000-pounds per annum.

There was an increase in business due to the increase in security Henry VII fostered. He reigned in relative peace, while Richard III, Edward IV and Henry VI all reigned under violent civil war. This peace created a safer situation on the roads and on trade routes. As well, Henry VII extended the crown’s justice in the realm, so that disputes could be resolved quickly and fairly in his name. Security for the people breeds more income for the government.

“But wait!” I can hear you say. “He made lots of money by creating laws which forced noblemen to pay fines for keeping standing armies and made them bond each other, so he could get rich!” It may be a surprise to hear, but Henry VII did not create those laws, nor did he enact them often. The laws against Retaining and for supplying “Recognizances” were on the books prior to Henry’s reign and were used by both Edward IV and Henry VI. The laws against retaining had to do with noblemen paying for and keeping standing armies in times of peace. In war time every noblemen must bring an army to the field or else pay for it later, but in peace time they could not keep that army to fight among themselves with other nobles or be threatening the king. Under Henry VI and Edward IV it was illegal to do so, but with the constant warfare it wasn’t as enforced as it should have been.

“Recognizances” were a different system. One nobleman was found to be a “risk” to the crown and country, so one of his noble friends would promise to pay a sum of money to the crown if the first nobleman was found to be guilty of treason. If his friend turned on the king in rebellion the nobleman would have to pay the crown for the offense. In a time of warfare this system could have provided a nice income for the crown while giving the nobles a reason not to commit treason. But just as the laws against retaining were rarely enforced, prior to 1485 “recognizances” were rarely used as well.

It is true that Henry used them more, but he did not fill his coffers with these fines, taking an income from them that was only slightly higher than Edward IV’s. Because he was still very precarious on the throne, Henry preferred to have the noblemen feel indebted to him. When a nobleman was found guilty of breaking these laws the penalty would be levied by the courts and was expected to be handed over to the crown. But Henry forgave more of these offenses than he collected on, preferring to seem generous and forgiving and to give the noblemen an example of fair treatment. By forgiving the debts Henry made the noblemen thankful to him for their continued prosperity, and more likely to defend him if rebellion did stir up. He appeared to be merciful and gracious in his actions, and gained more support for his seat on the throne.

Henry VII knew that you catch more flies with honey. By taking actions to keep money in circulation and increasing trade with investment and peace in his realm, Henry gained more revenue than he could have if he had been allowed to increase taxation with a heavy fist. His time as a “beggar earl” in exile made him thrifty and never wanted to be at the mercy of others’ monetary support again. He made the mechanics of government more efficient and cut waste, and knew how to encourage the country to make money for themselves, which in turn made money for him in legal and fair ways.

This is something that is lost on our modern government, who believe that increasing fines and taxes will increase their own funds. It won’t. Instead of cutting waste and operating at a minimum expense they continue to pay for and encourage waste. We focus on things like the fact that some people make very large sums of money while others do not, instead of focusing on how high the standard of living is for even the very poor. The politicians promise to make income equal, instead of focusing on what we already have and how blessed we are. Our lives today are better than Henry VII’s- heat, AC, plumbing, TV.

Judge John Fortescue knew that a limited government made the people wealthy and happy, and that absolute government strangled the people, keeping them poor and miserable. Somehow this message has been ignored. And only by returning to it can we continue to have the freedom and standard of living that made this country a destination for the “troubled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Resource:

Grant, Alexander. “Henry VII.” Lancaster Pamphlet. 1985. Routledge: London & New York.

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