Red Ned Tudor Mysteries

Monday, May 14, 2012

Reality and Tudor Hollywood

Or Truth, TV and Tudors

Greetings my well regarded readers, all several of you, I hope that the approach of spring (in the north) fills you with the budding joys of renewed life after the crisp chill of winter.  At any time to restore the balance of the humours unsettled by the changing seasons I can recommend a good measure of brandywine infused with, ginger and pepper as a decent tonic.  I know it helped me regain a lost equilibrium.

I must I fear tender grovelling apologies to all my dear devoted readers it has been months, months, months!  Since my last posting, and I know your all missed me, please no more impassioned letters begging me to return.  For lo your dearest wish is granted!  I can but plead the pressures of the poverty stricken life of a writer with teenage children and several cats.  However all is not grim tidings and woe, not one but two new Red Ned novels are on the way (along with the drafts of four more other associated stories).  In fact the upcoming Fetter Lane Fleece should be freely available from Amazon within the week and for the first month it will be a free download.  The Smithfield Shambles though won’t be ready until late May due to editorial issues, ie my editor said it needed three more chapters and some more ‘word wroughting in the forge of inspiration to make it rock like The Liberties of London.  Be that as it may, the novel will be out soon enough.  In the meantime I’d like to make a heartfelt plea to all my readers, if you liked a book in the Red Ned or Dark Devices series please, on my bended knee I beg you leave a review on Amazon.  As an Indie writer and publisher I cannot (like the big six) pay for any advertising or endorsements, nor do I lean on dear old aunt Florence to leave a glowing review for her favourite nephew.  I need you the reader to leave real feedback, so vote with your keyboard even it is only to say ‘Jolly good work!’  There must be a few of you out there since I’ve sold over five thousand books in the past six months.  Thus hopefully there must be a few of satisfied readers out in the electronic aether.  Stand up for novels and stories you appreciate, rather than being bludgeoned by a slick PR campaign. 

Now on to the meat of today’s matter- Reality or Reality TV.

This subject could fill a hundred blogs nay even a thousand, so I will just stick to one small point in a recent discussion.  For those of you you’ve read my Red Ned novels you will have gained the impression that Sir Thomas More the Tudor politician and writer is not my hero, in truth the more I read of him, his career and his writing the less I like him (and yes I have actually read all his works and I do understand Utopia and its origins).  Now I know that there are whole websites and societies devoted to the hagiography of Saint Thomas More and they do a good job of singing his praises and smiting those who dare to point out a few unpleasant facts of his actual history as a servant of the Tudor crown and vitriolic man of letters.  Be that as it may they are entitled to their opinion, just as I am with mine, though even the most sycophantic More biographer (Ackroyd) has had to admit that Sir Thomas More was the creator of the first English secret police or Stasi whom he used to sniff any trace of heresy or heretical literature.  According to contemporaries his treatment of the arrested and accused was considered pretty grim even by Tudor standards.   This included imprisonment and questioning in the Tower and at his private estate at Chelsea, where it has been suggested More had several whipped and beaten.  Now this is just a very brief indication of some of the official acts of Sir Thomas More against those he disapproved of and doesn’t highlight his other controversial political actions during the first stage of the English Reformation. 

Recently I reviewed John Guy’s book on Margaret Roper A Daughter’s Love see the following:

This is for me a difficult book to talk about, firstly I have studied More for several years and unlike a number of contemporary authors and historians I am not impressed with the Tudor figure now viewed through rose tinted glasses. This is not to say that John Guy hasn’t done a splendid job in highlighting More’s career view the lens of his daughter. Guy is one of the most thorough Tudor period historians and his work on More’s public career is excellent. However I still find it annoying that those points of More’s professional life that deeply tarnish his reputation as a ‘humanist’ tended to be glossed over, such as the Richard Hunne case, his attacks on Luther, his creation of a secret police to hunt heretics and the very strange case of his imprisonment and trial.
So while Guy has done a splendid job I finished the book feeling very unsatisfied. Though if you like the period this is a must read or own for the wealth of background detail alone.

Okay fairly standard a good piece of work by John Guy but as I said I had reservations.  Then I began to receive a few disturbing comments criticising my position on More, once again fair enough except that one of them cited Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons as a source for the amazing, steadfast and compassionate Sir Thomas More.  I must admit to being flabbergasted, its like viewing that abysmal film Pearl Harbour as an accurate account of the 7 Dec 1941 attack or MGM’s 1959 Ben Hur as true Roman and early Christian history.  Now in this media savy age of Youtube, Wiki and a host of quality historical source sites these kind of errors should be less prevalent.  However this appears not to be so, having studied Robert Bolt in High School it is quickly apparent that like Arthur Miller (The Crucible) he used recognisable characters and events from history to highlight the ills and prejudices of contemporary society of the 1950’s.  To claim it as an accurate portrayal for the historical More is rather sad and I fear linked to our growing and current failure to discriminate between fact and fiction in daily life and media.  I also suspect it may also have a lot to do with the cutting of hard core reality subjects like History and Humanities for soft fantasy units such as Business Studies, Economics and Marketing.
I’m also curious if the recent Tudors series has caused a similar array of problems and misconceptions, I must admit to only viewing a few and found them a tad trite and woefully simplistic, in plot, dialogue and melded characters.  With such a wonderful opportunity to build on the glorious Elizabeth R with Glenda Jackson I suspect they’ve opted for the more trashy Dynasty version.  But hey, I read Tudor histories for pleasure and try and write Tudor period novels for a living.  Its just that after Band of Brothers, The Pacific and Downton Abbey I felt historical accuracy for TV series may have been on the rise.

Now as I say in my novels they are a work of fiction, and characters in them may not be as strictly portrayed in historical records.  However my caveat is that I make a valid effort to craft a mostly accurate view of the Tudor Age one that I hope is interesting and accessible to the general reader.  I source as many period accounts, letters, maps, images, histories and physical pieces as possible to give my stories as real life as possible, a written form of reconstruction archaeology if you will.  So if any of my readers find problems or errors in my presentation of the tumultuous reign of Henry VIII, I encourage you to get stuck in and set me straight!  But please remember to quote a better source than a modern film.
Regards Gregory House


  1. Good post, Gregory. Though I should point out that The Tudors came before Downton Abbey.

    I am currently watching The Tudors and view it a historical soap opera more than anything else. They do have a very strong scene where Sir Thomas More is watching as a heretic is burned alive which I think highlights the strength of feeling regarding religion at the time, and shows his not-so-nice side quite eloquently.

    I wonder, is there any indication of whether More's secret police were his idea or King Henry's? Henry was very, very Catholic until he couldn't get the Pope to give him what he wanted. Henry was also viciously critical of Martin Luther. Could you enlighten me on this point?

  2. Thanks Kate for your comment good point on Downton Abbey, I had included it as a comparision on the hopeful direction of historical TV series. Of course it came well after that wonderful soap opera of the Tudors. As for Thomas More, I have endeavoured to separate his writing from his politcal career, which in these modern times isn't easy. As for his secret police the indications are that he thought them up himself though possibly with the support of the Bishop of London amongst other senior clerical officers.
    When we come to Henry and Luther the waters as they say muddy somewhat. The official royal title Defender of the Faith was bestowed on Henry by the Pope as a reward for his Assertio slamming Luther's writings. There is still some debate regarding how much Henry wrote and whether More did the bulk or just polished it up. As for the attacks on Luther the most vicious and persistent came from the pen of More. Henry though had a more 'political view' when it suited Luther was a vile heretic and should be burned. Otherwise he was politely courted or studiously ignored depending on how important the support of the protestant german princes was for any of Henry's schemes.

  3. Excellent article. It has always annoyed me that when someone like Cromwell does things that are unethicial in the cause of religion he's a wicked man but when people like More do it's because he has high moral standards. It is always amazing the extent of misguided sentiment there is in historical study.