Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Open thread on Starkey's "Virtuous Prince"

If anyone has questions or comments on Starkey's new book on Henry VIII, feel free to put them in the comments! I won't be getting a hold of the book for a while, but I'd be interested in others' opinions and thoughts.

51 comments:

Foose said...

I would like to do my share of this by the book equivalent of "liveblogging" - as I go through the book, posting whenever I come across what I think are the really interesting or egregious or wildly mistaken points that Starkey makes.

First off, this is a 150-page book artfully stretched out to 369 pages by the use of what I call "idiot's font" -- a big font type with a big point size, supported by enormous margins and line spacing. This is a popular dodge in the history trade these days. I think Starkey may well have started out with one book, which the publishers, eyeing the marketing potential on both sides of the Atlantic, have split into two hefty volumes through some underhand work in the layout department.

The pictures are gorgeously reproduced. There are no new pictures of Tudors although I was taken with the picture of teenage Henry, looking positively elvish. There are some good portraits of Continental royalty I hadn't seen before - Margaret of York with a very odd facial expression, Charles VIII of France with an enormous nose, and evidently Starkey has changed his mind about Juan de Flandes' portrait of Juana of Aragon (it's identified as Catherine of Aragon in his "Six Wives").

Tracey said...

Foose...so there are 150 pages of reading material, so to speak? This has then been split into two volumes? What a MAJOR disappointment. I already don't like the book :(

I have "Six Wives", so looked at the description of the Juan de Flandes work of Catherine/Juana. In the "Illustration Notes" it is said that modern scholarship has now identified this portrait to be Catherine. No further information as to how this was determined.

GarethR said...

Starkey has come under considerable criticism before for his portrait identifications - he alone amongst modern experts suggests that Holbein's sketch of a woman in a furred night-dress is Anne Boleyn, for instance, not to mention the controversey he's been involved in over the Lady Jane Grey portraiture. Although his identification of the full-length portrait of her in fawn as actually being Katharine Parr still seems fairly accurate.

I will definitely still be buying Dr. Starkey's book, as I have so enjoyed everything else he's written, but I did notice the font when I perused it in the bookstore earlier.

Foose said...

Tracey, it's about 150 pages stretched to 369 just for this volume. I would guess that the subsequent volume might be a bit longer (since it will cover the Reformation, lots of wives, etc.), but I still think Starkey could have written a one-volume biography. He might be able to justify the division on the basis of the themes he has chosen for the effort: "Virtuous Prince" for Henry's early life, and "Model of a Tyrant" for the second book. "Henry's is a life which naturally falls in halves. Hence my decision to write it in two volumes," Starkey says.

Introduction - Starkey says "[The wars of the Roses] did end when Henry came to the throne. And that they did so was personally and directly due to him...his decisions ...to let bygones be bygones, to knit up old wounds and to restore the surviving members of the house of York ... to their wealth and dignities.

"And, what has been insufficiently appreciated, it worked ... There are later dynastic problems of course. But they are not about York and Lanccaster. They are about religion..."

Yes, but the savagery with which Henry eliminated the Courtenay-Pole-Stafford connection seems to suggest that to Henry it was about more than religion. Possibly Yorkist irreconcilables might have lingered on to trouble the reigns of his children with their claims if Henry had not so thoroughly extirpated them.

Foose said...

The Ryalle Book makes its first appearance on the first page of Chapter I. This "handbook of court protocol" was Starkey's centerpiece in Six Wives,, and I thought he made very interesting use of it in describing Anne Boleyn's coronation. I had never heard of this document until reading Starkey and can't recall other historians referring to it. With its appearance in this book, it seems like it's becoming Starkey's personal property.

The general argument of this short chapter is tha Henry's place as second son determined everything about him in the future. I think this is reasonable.

The writing is lively and attention-grabbing, as one expects from Starkey. Definitely a page-turner.

Lara said...

I'll be curious to hear what he has to say about Henry being groomed for the Church before Arthur's death. I've heard all kinds of different things on this (yes, he definitely was - no, Henry VII wouldn't have have given up a 'spare heir' that way, etc.) and now I'm totally confused as to what the consensus is ... if there is one.

Foose said...

In Chapter 2, Starkey provides a useful overview of previous events - the War of the Roses. There is a very good genealogical chart at the front, with just one error: John of Gaunt's second wife Constance is described as the daughter of Pedro III, King of Castile, while her sister Isabel is identified as the daughter of Peter I, King of Castile.

Nothing really shocking here. The traditional views of Henry VI, Edward IV, Elizabeth Woodville ("arrogant, low-born and grasping" - I am reminded of Elizabeth Bennet's rebuke to Lady Catherine de Bourgh: "He is a gentleman; I am a gentleman's daughter; so far we are equal." Edward IV's right to be king was not all that great, and Elizabeth's mother was a princess.)

Starkey makes the suggestion that the flight of Edward's family to sanctuary during the "readeption" of Henry VI was "among Elizabeth [of York's] earliest memories." (She was four years old.)

Interesting and sympathetic review of Henry Tudor's sojourn in Brittany, where he "learned the ways of courts and men. He became reserved, self-reliant, watchful, suspicious of the motives of others, and trusting -- if he fully trusted anybody -- only the handful of those who had shared the risks and sacrifices of exile with him." Very similar to his granddaughter Elizabeth.

Now we get to the crux, with Edward IV dead, the queen and her remaining children in sanctuary. Richard Duke of York is surrendered to his uncle. "For [17-year-old] Elizabeth of York, the handover of her little brother Richard was probably even more distressing than Gloucester's previous detention of Edward V." Edward had been brought up very separately, while Richard remained with the girls -- "the liveliest and most attractive of brothers."

Then the usual narrative resumes -- conspiracy of Margaret Beaufort - French support for Henry Tudor - failed attempt -- Bosworth - marriage of Elizabeth with Henry.

Foose said...

Chapter III, "The Heir." Arthur is born "and the king idolized him ... He would be more honorably brought up than any king's son in England before." Starkey believes that Henry VII's obsession with Arthur essentially left young Henry free from overbearing paternal micro-management.

In this chapter, Starkey asserts that so determined was Henry VII to link his eldest son with the glory of the King Arthur legend - Malory's Morte d'Arthur was published right before Bosworth; we sneer today at people who name their infants after soap opera characters, but maybe the choice of "Arthur" in this case is similar - that a heavily pregnant Elizabeth of York was moved 60 miles to Winchester, King Arthur's alleged capital and proud possessor of what it believed to be the genuine Round Table. (There's a nice picture of the Round Table in the illustrations; all white and green, I wonder if it was repainted in Tudor colors.) This, he says, may have brought on Arthur's birth prematurely.

The child's christening displays "Henry VII's bold eye for theatre." Listing of wetnurses and lady governesses, with salaries. Interesting discussion of Bishop Alcock of Worcester, a sort of forerunner of Wolsey, clerics learned in the law rather than theology - formerly in charge of Edward V and now chosen to baptize Arthur. Clearly Henry VII was very interested in precedent and using ceremony to confer legitimacy on his new dynasty.

Rustication of Elizabeth Woodville. Starkey offers no opinion on her possible complicity in Yorkist intrigue. "Henceforth Henry would have only one grandmother." Hey, Cicely of York was still alive and running around until about 1495! Treachery of Lincoln. Stoke. Birth of princess Margaret, and Arthur created prince of Wales.

Tracey said...

Any mention of the "Princes in the Tower"? Any speculation offered as to how Elizabeth of York felt about the disappearance of her brothers? Did she believe they were murdered, for instance?

Foose said...

Starkey doesn't really speculate on what people are feeling or thinking unless it fits with the evidence he wants to spotlight. The London Times review intimated that this book would show Elizabeth of York as a political personage in her own right, shaping young Henry's personality and future kingship, rather than the usual portrait of a fecund and amiable hostage for Yorkist good behavior. However, it's not quite that bold.

Chapter 4, "Infancy," demonstrates that while Arthur had a separate establishment, Henry was brought up with Mary and Margaret and the children who died young in a joint nursery. "Henry's world was shaped by his sisters,his mother and her women. And it was as feminine as Arthur's was male ..." One of the queen's ladies, Elizabeth Denton, was in charge. (And Henry was crazy about her, apparently.) "This would point to the closest possible connexions between Henry's nursery and his mother's household; it also suggests that the two were unusually physically close as well."

Yes, but what does it mean? "Elizabeth of York ... may not have been a hands-on mother, but she was close at hand." I think we all assumed that. But here we get to something more interesting; the nursery was set up at Eltham, "a favourite residence" of Edward IV. "By the choice of Eltham, Elizabeth had made sure that her second son would be brought up in the shadow of the grandfather he so much resembled."

This chapter emphasizes the dependence of Henry VII, as a usurper, on precedent, particularly the precedent of Edward IV. He picked poor Edward V's physician to be physician to Prince Arthur, and modelled his upbringing on that of the unfortunate prince. That leaves Henry to understudy the role of his uncle, Richard, Duke of York, which appears to be a central theme in Starkey's book. The Tudor princes are being set up as tanists to their Yorkist predecessors ("as though he had a ghostly mentor in whose steps he was fated to tread"), something that must have provoked some anxiety in the queen's mind. Starkey doesn't say so, though - there really is no evidence about what she thought.

Starkey suggests that young Henry hardly ever got to know Arthur, as they spent their lives apart. "They met only on high days and holidays at their parents' court."

Foose said...

Brief digression for pet peeves.

This book follows the recent trend adopted by many otherwise reputable historians of omitting a bibliography, instead listing sources only in reference to the endnotes. This foul practice must be stamped out!

Particularly in the early part of the book, there are a lot of hyphenated words, which indicate the book was not properly laid out or copy edited effectively. This will probably be cleaned up in the second U.K. edition and the American edition.

Foose said...

In Chapter 5, "Duke of York," young Henry must contend not only with the lingering ghostly presence of his uncle, but a real-life challenger to his title - Perkin Warbeck. "Richard's name, title and inheritance were now in contention. Who would gain them? Henry? Or Warbeck?"

Warbeck winds up with the support of Margaret of York. I would like to see her motives explored; clearly she wasn't planning to move back to England and rule from behnd the scenes like Margaret Beaufort; it must have been obvious to her that Warbeck was no long-lost relation; apart from the rather Pyrrhic victory of pulling down Henry VII and her niece Elizabeth from the throne, what was she hoping to achieve?

Anyway, now there are two Dukes of York on the checkerboard. (I wonder if Henry's early awareness of being "doubled" by a rival led to his later weird personalized competitiveness with Francois I of France?) Henry VII prepares a splendid tournament "to celebrate the forthcoming creation of the real Duke of York, as opposed to the mere pretender of Malines." Henry VII apparently reasoned that since Yorkist agitation was still lively, why not try to redirect it away from Warbeck to young Henry, who looked very Yorkist and would take a Yorkist title.

Henry's creation was gruelling for a 3 and a half year old, and apparently he acquitted himself superbly. Rode through the city on a courser alone. Memorized vast reams of ceremonies. Clearly, a remarkable child. Starkey suggests that what he best remembered was becoming a knight and the joust in his honor, which may have kick-started his later sports enthusiasm.

Foose said...

Chapter 6, "Rival Dukes," addresses to some extent Lara's question about Henry's future occupation as envisioned by his father. It looks like Henry VII at this stage saw Henry as a secular magnate of the realm in the style of Edward III's younger sons: endowing him with a thousand pounds a year; making him heir to the lands of his grand-uncle Bedford; purchasing some of Lord Grey's lands for the prince.

Interesting - "a lord with an income about 1,000 pounds a year would spend about 600 pounds on his household" - I like this sort of useful detail.

Anne of York is married to Surrey, the future Duke of Norfolk - "at the time [the marriage] seemed the most significant in England," marking not only the reconcilation of the Howards with Henry VII but their reconcilation -- as descendants of the Mowbrays -- with the queen's family; her brother Richard of York had been endowed with the Mowbray estates after his Mowbray heiress bride died, provoking the Howards' adherence to Richard III, who awarded the disputed lands to his new supporters. Also, Howard was one of the chief suspects in the princes' murders; Starkey doesn't say what the queen might have thought about her sister marrying the son of her brothers' possible killer.

Some interesting discussion on the Courtenays, in the context of their marrying the next Yorkist sister, Catherine. Henry is made Knight of the Garter. Warbeck turns up in Scotland, acquires funding and an army, and suddenly, separately, the Cornish revolt.

Henry and his mother take refuge in the Tower. "... for his mother these were uneasy days in a place of uneasy memories. Perhaps she told her son about them." And, most dramatically, "...was [Henry] to follow in the footsteps of Richard of Shrewsbury for one, last, terrible time?"

Cue the thundering chords. Luckily Henry is a robust tyke who could probably hear about the likely fate of poor Uncle Richard and still eat a hearty breakfast.

Starkey makes much of an Italian observer's comment once the ruckus was over and the Cornish defeated. The Venetian ambassador calls on the queen: "'on one side of her was the king's mother; on the other her son the prince [Henry] ...'

"Arthur was identified with his father ...; Henry, as always, with his mother, whose family 'name' he bore as Duke of York."

Yes, but Henry also bore his father's Christian name. Plus a father who has lived rough, escaped imprisonment and execution, hung out learning the abcs of intrigue in France and Brittany, then gone out and thrashed Richard III, the Earl of Lincoln, the Cornish rebels, and shortly Perkin Warbeck is hardly a lackluster hero-figure for a young boy.

Foose said...

It just occurred to me that while Starkey covers the marriages of Anne of York and Catherine of York, there's no mention of Cecily of York. Yet her marital career -- apparently as a widow she busted loose from Henry VII's carefully planned marital policies for his Yorkist relatives and married a man of her own choice early in the 1500s -- would be of interest for a historian concentrating on Henry's early influences. Her example may have had an effect on her royal nephew and nieces, who all wound up doing the same thing.

Nasim said...

I attended Starkey’s talk on the book at the Cheltenham Literature Festival last week. I have also read the book (which didn’t take that long to read; the big font is rather notable!), yet nonetheless I found parts very interesting. One thing I found intriguing was the discussion on the idea that Henry was destined for the church and had his brother lived he would have proceeded to acquire a prominent office, even the archbishopric of Canterbury. Within the book Starkey debunks the theory, although at the talk I attended, he was stronger in his rejection of the idea.


I do think though that if someone is well versed in Henry’s life, parts of this book can seem slightly tedious. But within this there are bits of interesting detail.

Tracey said...

Foose, how well is this book written?

Is there minitia detail about various experiences of Henry or the court itself?

Is it a quick skim of reading suppositions, opinions, and Starkey's own conclusions?

Is Henry portrayed as an overly sympathetic character?

Foose said...

Well, Henry is a child for much of the book, who hasn't murdered anyone yet, so the treatment isn't hostile. He definitely comes across as a child who wants his way, though, and as he gets older he acquires certain traits that we are all too familiar with. I don't think Starkey "hero worships" his subject.

I like the book because it adds definite depth to what I already knew about Henry's youth. Much as Eric Ives provided a lot of background and detail to the Anne Boleyn episode, this book - on a much lesser scale -- lends some animation and personality to the various figures of the early Tudor dynasty. It has succeeded in making Henry VII interesting, something I was beginning to think impossible.

It's very readable, especially after first two chapters. Starkey does do a lot of excavatory work on how Henry's family interacted with the English elite and the various challenges to the new Tudor authority. There are periodically interesting minute details that I haven't seen elsewhere. Because there's no bibliography, I can't tell what Starkey has synthesized or utilized except where it's directly linked to an endnote.

Chapter 7 - Education. This is very interesting! Starkey suggests that Henry and his sisters were taught to write by their mother, based on an analysis of their handwriting. It's not earth-shattering, but I like to know this kind of stuff. Unfortunately, Starkey doesn't provide any examples of the writing in question; perhaps you have to be a graphologist to analyze it properly.

John Skelton is appointed as Henry's tutor. "Skelton had a magpie mind, stuffed with curious learning of all sorts." Henry seemed to have had that sort of mind, particularly in regards to theology. Starkey thinks that Skelton passed on to Henry "something of his own sense of language and skill in English verse composition," among other things. "Something of Skelton is also present in Henry's prose; its pungency at best and its prolixity at worst." He cites the famous 1545 speech, with its Mumpsimus and Sumpsimus, which I thought was clever.

Skelton wrote a "Speculum Principis," the usual sort of scholarly advice book to princes explaining how they should live their lives and govern virtuously. Starkey makes a great deal of this. I'm kind of indifferent - you see a lot of these types of books in the Renaissance and as far as I can see they never make a blind bit of difference.

Henry is still living with Mum and his sisters. Starkey points out that those who think Henry's later problems with women stemmed from his upbringing away from them are completely wrong - he was with women all day as a child.

Erasmus arrives and is impressed with young Henry. Mention of the "laughing boy" statue that Lara featured in the blog - this is likely how Erasmus saw young Henry. Finally, a description of Arthur! "... he took after the opposite side to young Henry, and closely resembled his paternal grandmother Margaret Beaufort. He had the same hooked nose and deep-sunk, hooded eyes, which even as a youth, had bags under them." This is borne out by the portraits of Arthur and Margaret in the book. "And, above all, he had the cold Beaufort temperament as well." I think this is a guess too far, frankly.

Foose said...

Chapter 8 - Weddings. This focuses on Arthur's marriage fo Catherine of Aragon. I don't think there's anything much new here - much of this ground has of course been covered by Garrett Mattingley. Starkey does, somewhat obliquely, come down on the side of those who think the Arthur-Catherine marriage was consummated.

Foose said...

Chapter 9 - The Last Pretender. At last we know where Henry was conceived! At Eltham. This comes up in the course of the discussion about Edmund de la Pole, Lincoln's brother and Elizabeth of York's cousin, who now challenges the Tudors for the throne. Henry VII has chopped off Perkin Warbeck's head in vain.

Edmund de la Pole is the "star jouster" of the English court - Henry showed a real animus toward him, and I wonder if an early jealousy of Edmund's prowess is the reason. He's supposed to be the star of the magnificent tournament to celebrate Arthur's marriage, but suddenly does a runner to the Continent, where he asks Duchess Margaret for aid. A very interesting discussion of his possible contacts for treason at the English court follows, many of them Yorkist kin to the queen.

Ah, here we get to more discussion of young Henry's future occupation. The old tale about him being primed for Archbishop of Canterbury came from Herbert of Cherbury; Starkey traces it back from this to a book by Paolo Sarpi on the Council of Trent and from there hazards that Sarpi got his information from an Italian astrologer at the court of Henry VII. Right at this delicate time, after de la Pole's flight and the revelation of a nest of Yorkist vipers at court, Starkey suggests Henry VII may have looked at his Yorkist-looking younger son and felt that with money and land he would only be future trouble to Arthur. Hence the idea of an ecclesiastical career.

Starkey isn't absolutely conclusive about what exactly happened but as Nasim says this is a very intriguing example of historical detective work. This chapter is a must-read.

Foose said...

Chapter 10 - Funerals. I think we all know what this chapter will cover. But first! Henry VII gives young Henry something over 3 pounds ("at least 1,000 pounds in today's money" - I love this sort of thing; it's like when you read Victorian novels and some governess is rejoicing because she's getting 5 pounds a quarter, plus tea.) with which "to play at dice."

Nowadays, of course, he'd buy him a Wii. Starkey considers this the start of Henry VIII's gambling habit.

Margaret Tudor is married. Starkey offers no insights on Henry's relationship with her - they seemed to dislike each other as adults, and I'd like more info on what may have caused this.

Meanwhile, Starkey shows his real opinion of Arthur's marriage: DEFINITELY consummated. "Arthur apparently took to his marital duties with gusto ... Indeed, Arthur's enthusiasm for sex alarmed some of his household." But what of the "cold Beaufort temperament?" Indeed, could not Catherine's lawyers have utilized the "cold Beaufort temperament" defense at Blackfriars?

The subsequent doleful events are covered with not much new: Arthur is dead, Catherine is not pregnant, the queen gets pregnant, the queen dies shortly after childbed. Starkey's interest fastens on the same Italian astrologer who earlier predicted Henry's career as "ecclesiasticus" perhaps in response to Henry VII's waning enthusiasm for rearing up a latent Yorkist serpent in his bosom.

One quibble: in this chapter Thomas More is described as Henry's "friend." Henry is about 11 or 12, More an older (20+) law student and/or lawyer. It's not explained how their friendship came about, or what sort of intimacy developed between them. Perhaps this ground is so well covered in other books that Starkey decided to omit it. But in view of later events, I think tracing the origin and nature of this friendship could be very rewarding.

Lara said...

Thanks for the continuing "live blogging" Foose!

The question of Henry being destined for the Church seems to fit with what I was starting to remember - that Henry VII might have been considering it (before Arthur's death) to avoid future dynastic struggles, but there isn't a whole lot of conclusive evidence one way or the other. Quite interesting!

Nasim said...

Foose – it seems to me that Starkey has slightly changed his mind about the question of Henry being possible trained for an ecclesiastical career. In the book the notion is not out rightly dismissed because, as you mention, Starkey explores the idea that Henry VII may have wished to place his son in the Church, thus ensuring he would not become a powerful magnate in subsequent years and possibly cause dynastic conflict.

However at the talk Starkey appears to have abandoned this theory and completely rejected the idea that Henry was ever destined for the Church (he stressed that he found ‘absolutely no evidence’ for the Henry/Church story and therefore it should be dismissed). An audience member asked what would have happened to Henry had Arthur lived to which Starkey responded that he believed Henry would have remained duke of York and probably become a domineering, troublesome figure. Perhaps, he hinted, civil conflict would have arisen once more...

Foose said...

Nasim, it's interesting that Starkey is retreating from his speculations. I thought they were reasonably presented in the book. My thought was that if Henry VII was as obsessed with precedent as Starkey thinks, what precedent would he have utilized to put Henry into the Church, much less arrange his elevation to Archbishop? Even previous English monarchs with a superabundance of legitimate and troublesome sons -- Edward III, Henry IV, Henry II, William the Conqueror -- seem not to have pursued this option. You see it occur with some dynasties on the Continent, but not in England.

Chapter 11 -- Re-Education. Young Henry must now have a different education for his new station in life. Henry does continue to live with his sisters (Margaret has not yet been exported) and the Brandons manifest their first appearance in the largely feminine household. John Skelton is dismissed -- possibly too much of a fribble for the post of tutor to the Prince of Wales but more importantly, behind the times -- and replaced with John Holt, a solid scholar who's very much in tune with the latest Renaissance scholarship. Starkey says he got the post on More's recommendation -- but why? Who is More to the royal family and why would they listen to his recommendation?

Starkey devotes a good deal of this chapter to Lord Mountjoy, Henry's socius studiorum, who introduces Henry to Erasmus and evidently had a hand in getting rid of Skelton "with his florid Latin" of the 15th century. Mountjoy encourages Henry to model his style on that of Erasmus. Henry acquires a "clear and perfect a sight" of French from his tutor Duwes (cf. his daughter Elizabeth, whom the French ambassador mocked for dragging out the vowels "paaaar maaaaa foi", and Norfolk, one of whose letters is still extant from when he was sent as an envoy to France, complaining that although he is speaking French no one else in the country appears to).

Starkey makes the useful point that the huddle of Erasmians around Henry at this point were not actually "Erasmian" in the sense we think of. The religious concept of Erasmian came much later. "[Erasmus] was an innovative Latin stylist, neither less nor much more either." He saw his mission to turn Henry into an elegant Latinist, rather than "'preparing his mind for the reception of the principles of the Reformation.'"

Foose said...

Chapter 12 -- To Court. At fourteen, the new Prince of Wales joins his father's court although his predecessor at that age had a separate court and council in Wales. We are all familiar with the reports that young Henry was kept close by his father, "like a young girl," but Starkey observes that this came mostly from the Spanish ambassador, whom the king had a reason to keep away from Henry. With Queen Isabella's death, the betrothal to Catherine of Aragon was of much less value and Henry VII wanted to keep his options open and the prince uncommitted.

Still, it's quite possible he was not inclined to fully trust his miniature Yorkling with a full court and council of his own.

But in Starkey's view the king had decided to give his second son a different training from the first. "Arthur had been sent away, to learn to rule experimentally ...; Henry was to be kept by his father's side to learn by imitation and example."

Henry VII did have a mania for security at this time, and Starkey launches into a very interesting explanation of why. With Arthur dead and Henry an unknown, the menace of Edmund de la Pole rises again. The English elite appears honeycombed with wannabe traitors: "What was more usual, and more insidious, was a smug fence-sitting." Once Henry VII dies, all bets are off and the political situation seems primed for another round of the Wars of the Roses. Starkey focuses particularly on Lucy Neville, wife of Anthony Browne, whose correspondence is highly treasonable. It's curious that two of her sons, Fitzwilliam the Earl of Southampton, and Anthony Browne the younger, became such trusted intimates of Henry.

PhD Historian said...

Foose, I really do not want to seem like a “Starkey basher,” but I did see your note in another thread here (on Elizabeth of York and her pregnancy with Arthur) in which you referred to my apprehensions about his work. All I can say is that I have repeatedly had reason to question Dr Starkey's methodologies.

Specifically, he sometimes appears (in my opinion) to be a little too prone to colorful storytelling that is not properly supported by the primary sources. The stories sell books, but I question whether or not they are the highest quality historiography. And he gets away with it, both because of his celebrity and his pugnaciousness.

As an example of what I mean, I repeat here what I have just submitted to the previous thread:

Thanks, Foose, for supplying Starkey's source for the story [that Henry sent Elizabeth on an arduous 60 mile journey to Winchester specifically so that Arthur would be born in Winchester, capital of the legendary King Arthur and site of the medieval replica of the Round Table]. Leland is a fairly credible source, if used properly. The 18th century volume of Leland's work is actually an edited version of the original 16th century manuscript notes Leland (ca. 1503-1552) made while traveling around England and Wales in the 1530s and early 1540s. So it is actually a primary source for the Tudor period.

I say "if used properly" because it appears to me that Starkey may have been a little misleading in his footnote, especially if he cites Volume 4 of the original 1715 edition of Leland's De Rebus Britannicis Collectanea as the source for the story that Henry sent Elizabeth to Winchester for the birth in anticipation of naming the child Arthur and in order to create a closer association between the nascent Tudor dynasty and the Arthurian legends.

On page 190 of Collectanea, Leland begins a very detailed description of the coronation of Elizabeth. There follows a lengthy panegyric poem to Henry VII that compares him to every Biblical and mythological savior-king and warrior imaginable. Leland then describes Henry's progress through Hereford and the attendant pageants, and his subsequent move onward to Gloucester and Bristol (p.199), where he is received by a person portraying Justicia who delivers a lengthy speech that Leland records in full. From there, Henry returned to Westminster on 5 June (p. 202). Then on page 203:

"And sone after the King departed from Westminster towarde the West Parties, and hunted, so to Wynchester, where on St Eustachius' Day the Prince Arthur was born."

And there the chapter ends. The following chapter begins with a lengthy and detailed description of the christening of Arthur.

In short, Leland makes absolutely no mention whatsoever of any effort on Henry's part to send Elizabeth to Winchester in order to associate the birth of Arthur with the Arthurian legends. Elizabeth is not even referred to between pages 192 and 206. Instead, Leland makes it fairly clear that Henry was himself already in the area on a kind of restful hunting holiday following what was no doubt an arduous official progress through the west country. It would appear from Leland that Arthur was born in Winchester simply because the king just happened to be there when Elizabeth reached her term, not because of some colorful attempt to recreate King Arthur in the infant prince.

Starkey was no doubt citing Leland as a source of evidence that Arthur was born in Winchester. He cannot have been legitimately citing Leland as a source for the Arthurian-Round Table story.

But the footnote does not make the distinction clear. And Starkey apparently does not have a primary source for the colorful alternative story he provides ... or at least no such source is referred to in any footnote. The Arthur-Round Table story appears to be nothing more than colorful speculation on Dr Starkey's part and not a sourced account of an authentic event. That is why I so often question his methodologies and why I am repeatedly skeptical of his work.

Foose said...

Thanks, phd! This is exactly the sort of critical counterpoint I was hoping for in doing this. I hope you will look at my other posts on this book and offer some alternate views. I am happy to identify Starkey's listed sources for his assertions.

Foose said...

Chapter 13 - Religion. Here Starkey starts poaching on Eamon Duffy territory.

But first, a propos of Edmund Dudley's gift of a jewelled cross to young Henry, Starkey comments "As both a luxury item and a religious symbol, Henry's jewelled cross would have reminded him of his mother twice over. For Elizabeth of York was as pious as she was fond of the finer things in life." Now, wait a minute! Where is your source, sir? However, it may be reasonable to suppose that a princess once bastardized may have a obsessive interest in purchasing the very best and displaying the symbols of her restored rank -- "the finer things in life." Her granddaughter Mary may have had the same impulse, although it's usually characterized as a lamentable lack of good taste by anti-Marians, who like to pillory Queen Mary Tudor's alleged crimes against fashion.

Elizabeth of York, however, was apparently responsible for Henry's Catholic orthodoxy. Starkey offers insight into young Henry's indoctrination into late medieval piety "with its smells, sounds, miracle-working images and extravagant devotions" through a bede roll apparently belonging to Henry and emblazoned with his badges (and also Catherine's, interestingly). "... [A] long, narrow strip of parchment ... with a series of illuminations of sacred subjects interspersed with prayers and other aids to devotion," the bede roll may have been utilized by Henry in conjunction with William Thomas, groom of his privy chamber, as Henry requested that he "pray for me, you loving master: Prince Henry" in the roll itself.

Catholics might find offensive Starkey's lofty anthropological references to "charms" and "amulets," but I suppose this is au fond the essential nature of the bede roll. The repetition prescribed by the roll, together with Henry's participation along with Thomas, may have constituted what is known as a "spiritual exercise. Like modern physical exercise, it involved endless repetitions, and with the similar purpose of improving tone, endurance and stength -- but of the mind and spirit..."

With Henry so thoroughly grounded in this kind of religion, you have to wonder about his relationship with Edward VI. Did Edward believe Henry to be damned? Was the full extent of Henry's Catholic practice deliberately concealed from Edward (he was very young when Henry died)? Certainly Edward's upbringing included no bede rolls, and you have to wonder how Henry felt about his future heir being more or less cut off from the religion of his own youth.

Moving on, we hear about the "cult of St. Armagil," apparently introduced by Henry VII, who attributed his rescue from shipwreck to this Breton saint. Since there is a signal lack of young men called Armagil in Tudor references, I would assume this importation did not really take.

Foose said...

Chapter 14 -- Philip. Now this is what I've always been very interested in. I always wondered about the sudden visit of Philip of Burgundy and Juana of Aragon to England in the early 1500s. I tended to assume that from this experience Henry learned how women could be kept in their place, by isolating and relegating them.

Also, I've noticed that Philip is traditionally depicted as a handsome galoot, with a certain animal cunning, but Starkey's appraisal repositions him as a more astute politician.

It's Henry's first exposure to Burgundian-style courtly chivalry and ceremony, and he crushes hard on Philip, according to Starkey. After a lifetime spent with Henry VII, it's clear why Philip attracted the young prince of Wales: "...he was young, dashing and sports-mad ... [Philip] became a sort of elder brother to him, and in time a model for his own kingship." Alas for Arthur and his "cold Beaufort temperament"!

Philip is in England basically under duress, however, since his ship was washed up there; he's surly at the first big get-together attended by Catherine, while young Mary shines, but realizes it's in his interests to play affable. Henry VII is bent on extorting a favorable treaty, and drags out the Round Table yet again for its glamour: "'But I hope ... that people will also talk of this table, and that they will say, long after our deaths, that at this table was sealed the true and perpetual friendship between the empire of Rome, the kingdom of Castile, Flanders, Brabant and the king of England.'" Philip is set up to be young Henry's friend when the old king is dead. I wonder if this played into Henry's relationship with Charles V - beyond the commercial importance of the Empire, perhaps Henry felt he stood in a parental role to Charles and was angered when Charles rejected it repeatedly.

Starkey also thinks this meeting gave Henry a taste for future summits, with England playing a prominent role; this would explain why he went bananas every time the Empire and France seemed to be getting on without his input.

There are parties. There are tournaments. Henry VII spends wildly. Philip is very impressed by Henry VII's rebuilt palace of Richmond, with the old king taking him over it himself: Starkey says "No wonder that Henry VIII too would become a great builder." Because the opinion of Continental Europeans is all that counts, apparently.

"[Polydore Vergil]:'He [Philip] was of medium height, handsome of face, and heavily built; he was talented, generous and gentlemanly.' Save for his middling stature, it could have been a description of the young man Henry was soon to be."

After Philip's departure, Henry hastens to write to him: "[Henry is the graphologist's dream: the writing is the man; it is big, bold and rather square." Starkey notes of the letter's content that it is almost like Henry "is asking the king-archduke to be his penpal." And upon Philip's death, when he is notified by Erasmus, Henry responds, "'never, since the death of our dearest mother, hath there come to me more hateful intelligence.'"

I liked this chapter a lot. I was always interested in where Henry got the model for his style of kingship, apart from older people's memories of Edward IV, and I think Starkey answered this question very well.

Foose said...

Quick break for cattiness. The U.K. paper The Observer cruelly had Michael Hirst, screenwriter for "The Tudors," review this book and conclude that Starkey is, like Skelton, already "past it" with his old-fashioned TV specials on the dynasty. He has a point. I'm certainly hoping that the TV docudrama for this book is not the usual presentation of Starkey delivering haughty monologues backlit by flaming torches, while two bored actors slump on thrones behind him.

Foose said...

Chapter 15 -- Jousting. Philip's visit has brought to full fruition Henry's appetite for chivalric sport. Interestingly, Starkey suggests that jousting around 1507 had acquired a reputation for attracting Yorkist traitors (Edmund de la Pole, etc.) and Henry's enthusiasm was consequently suspect. However, people like jousting, and Henry VII -- faced with the fact that the defection of Suffolk and his pals has left his court short of serious jousting talent -- shells out some cash to create the post of "spear," from which future jousters can be recruited. Charles Brandon emerges from this milieu, although he keeps some curious company among the disaffected elements at court. Henry is first relegated to the role of spectator, but eventually in the tournament of 1508 is allowed to "ride at the ring."

Starkey here scores a point off "modern biographers of Henry [who] assert that he jousted -- in the full sense -- as a youth." Henry VII would not permit his only remaining son to hazard himself at the tilt. Young Henry, however, is clearly bug-eyed at the prospect of being able to join in fully once all hindrances have been removed.

Starkey also wonders why Henry VII didn't appear more concerned with the sort of friends his son was making among bully-boys, sportsmen and spendthrifts, all tainted with Yorkist sentiment. He points out that the king "... had never fully been accepted by the nobility ... they did not love him. Did Henry VII want his second son to be different? And did he realize that the rough cameraderie of jousting was the most effective means to that end?"

Foose said...

Chapter 16 -- Dying. Sort of a grab-bag chapter, with Henry VII on the decline and everyone speculating as to the future under young Henry. The Spanish ambassador's remark that young Henry is kept as close as a "young girl" is contrasted with the actual evidence, that the prince of Wales was out and about and talking about jousting and favoring intellectuals and sportsmen; Starkey suggests this is because the Spaniard expected young Henry to turn out like his father, and hence emphasized what he perceived as the secretiveness that surrounded him.

We are introduced to Hugh Denys, old Henry's groom of the stool, who appears to have been vital to facilitating Henry VII's "reign of fiscal terror." Empson and Dudley make their appearance.

I'm kind of disappointed that Starkey didn't address in this book Henry VII's efforts to remarry. I've always wondered whether they were genuine (he needed another son) or if it was an elaborate feint designed to impress upon domestic and foreign elites that the right to inherit the throne was transmitted by Henry VII, not by his wife Elizabeth of York, as clearly a lot of people thought otherwise. With Starkey's concentration on Yorkist disaffection and partisanship, I think this would have fitted well into his thesis.

Also, I'm interested in speculating how young Henry would have dealt with a foreign stepmother and perhaps some half-sibling rivals. And would the English nobility have recognized any younger children's rights to be equal with Henry's? There was a biography that came out a few years ago on the Emperor Charles V, that claimed he got it on with his sexy French step-grandmother when he first arrived in Spain. Who knows what would have happened in view of Henry's fixation on incest?

In addition, it would have been interesting to explore Margaret Beaufort's reaction to a new daughter-in-law. She had the previous one so well under control that I don't think she would have welcomed a new royal princess, possibly a widow who had already ruled (Henry VII was pursuing ladies like Margaret of Austria, Joanna of Naples and Joanna of Aragon). Robert Knecht has indicated that Francois I's mother, Louise of Savoy (another Margaret Beaufort type) seems to have practically died of chagrin when her new daughter-in-law, Eleanor of Austria, failed to grovel to her in the fashion she was accustomed to with her son's previous wife. Henry VII never got anywhere with his matrimonial schemes; maybe Margaret had a hand in squelching them?

Nasim said...

Foose – I agree that in the book the idea is well presented and perhaps (despite the firm rejection at the talk), Starkey is still undecided about the issue. It would be interesting to hear him discuss the matter again. In December I am attending a symposium which Starkey is doing a talk at and if possible I will broach the subject.


I had to laugh about the Hirst review! Rather catty! But then these two men have been engaged in petty spats for nearly a decade now, so I am hardly surprised at this latest saga. Looks like Hirst is getting his own back for Starkey’s recent comments regarding his show. I must say that I agree with Starkey on that one...

Foose said...

Nasim, perhaps you and phd historian should get together and concoct a list of questions that will challenge publicly some of Starkey's confident assertions in this book. The ecclesiasticus erit controversy might be one, and phd historian did some real demolition work in these comments on the story of Arthur's birth.

Foose said...

Chapter 17 - End. A short chapter. At last Henry VII dies, making vast reparations spiritually and financially.

But first the chapter covers the triumph of Princess Mary bagging the future Charles V as her fiance, "'the most notable alliance and greatest marriage of Christendom.'"

As the king continues to worsen, Starkey notes the emergence of Richard Weston (father of Francis, who lost his head along with Anne Boleyn in 1536). Groom of the king's privy chamber, he was an apparently trusted agent of young Henry and Starkey explores his important role in stage-managing the concealment of the king's death for two days while the councillors -- headed by Margaret Beaufort, an experienced behind-the-scenes conspirator -- assembled and made the key decisions. The new king is safeguarded in the Tower and Empson and Dudley arrested, as they will be blamed for much of the old king's "reign of fiscal terror."

Starkey has no real opinion on whether the dying Henry VII told his son to marry Catherine or not.

Foose said...

Chapter 18 -- King. Henry VIII is at last king in an age when it was all about kings. But there is a certain furtiveness about his accession. "Was it an accession? Or a coup d'etat? Or fear of a d'etat?" The Tudor regime's chief props are concerned not just about Edmund de la Pole, locked in the Tower (Philip turned him over to Henry VII as a sort of guest-gift), but Richard de la Pole, still at large on the Continent, and Buckingham, who is a popular choice for king among some of the elite, with talk that he will become "Lord Protector" (an ominous title!). Then there is dissension among the experienced old councillors who are now running the country from Richmond, with a small skeleton group of advisors supporting Henry in the Tower.

Henry VII had proclaimed a general pardon just before he died. Heavily conditioned by Hollywood, one always imagines the prison doors flung open and thousands of debtors, petty thieves, roaring boys and other riff-raff rejoicing. However, Starkey notes, "individuals had to sue out pardons in their own names and to pay the necessary fees in chancery." So it's a little different in real life.

Henry VIII's councillors reissue the pardon with some very warm and friendly language to the City -- whose merchants and business class had been constantly terrorized by the old king's financial predations -- ascribing it to the new king's "good heart." Starkey notes it represents Henry's first official act as king "and the repudiation of his father."

A clean break would appear to have been made between the unpopular old regime and the very popular new. However, Starkey notes that "The truth was that everybody who held real power round Henry VIII had also held it round his father."

Foose said...

Chapter 19 - First Steps. Here we make the acquaintance of Henry Marney, whom I have never come across before in Henry biographies, but was apparently a figure of some significance in the early days of the reign. Starkey is good at tracing this man's career and examining the factors that may have contributed to him emerging as "one of the richest office-holders of the Crown." I have always been interested in the less flashy but solid personalities who served the Tudors and kept the regime running fairly smoothly - the Pagets, Paulets, Tukes and Wottons and all the rest -- so I enjoy this analysis a lot. Starkey notes the one key qualification that makes even the most unlikely courtier a star: "Henry liked Marney, and that was that."

Henry is very liberal as he basks in his new freedom at Greenwich: "He signed his names dozens of times ...and each time he signed, he granted what was desired." The council, not unnaturally, is perturbed. Starkey turns his attention to a rather fascinating description of how suitors actually got their grants from the king turned into actual money and property and offices -- through the royal "letters patent." The council imposes the "long route" for obtaining "letters patent" in hopes of slowing down or diverting the fountain of royal bounty gushing beyond their control.

And what of Catherine? She's been giving the prince of Wales quite a lot of expensive gifts over the years: "a gold collar enamelled with red and white roses; ... a ring with a pointed diamond; ... 'a goodly girdle [belt] of white satin' with a gold buckle of Spanish work." He's her husband, after all; at least in her eyes.

For his part, Henry prefers to regift, passing on to her the presents he apparently doesn't want. However, now that he's king he does want to marry her, and that's what matters.

Starkey goes over the ground so thoroughly described by Mattingley. His own opinion of the reason for the marriage is interesting, as he suggests that the council swung round abruptly to support the marriage to protect their own dominance:

"The council had taken away with one hand in the matter of patronage ...But, in railroading through Henry's marriage, the council gave back with the other... For a married king -- and soon, no doubt, to be the father of an heir -- was an adult king ...

"Indeed, the symmetry is such that it almost looks as though Henry's marriage was a quid pro quo for his acquiescence in the limitations on his patronage."

In practically the last paragraph, Starkey notes that one of the two witnesses to the wedding, William Thomas (groom of the privy chamber) had previously attended Arthur and escorted him to his bedding with Catherine. "What tales did he tell?"

Foose said...

Chapter 20 - "Virtue, Glory, Immortality". A very short chapter indeed (4 pages).

Henry's erstwhile school chum Mountjoy takes center stage as he enjoys the good times of the new reign and writes to Erasmus of "Henricius Octavus" -- "'whom we may well call our Octavius'" (drawing a comparison to Augustus, who inaugurated a golden age in ancient Rome -- after a lot of killin', of course, but that's my observation, not Mountjoy's).

Starkey thinks Mountjoy has a good basic fix on Henry's character when he tells Erasmus that "'Our king does not desire gold or gems or precious metals, but virtue, glory, immortality.'" In Starkey's opinion, while Henry's initial good looks and good humor rapidly deteriorated, "the ambition, the determination to be famous, to make a mark in the world - in a word to be great never altered." I think Starkey is correct here, but I'm afraid some readers might see this as a mere lust for modern vulgar celebrity on Henry's part. I think what he was actually after was what the ancients thought of as "undying fame," like Achilles or Hector.

Foose said...

Chapter 21 -- Coronation. Henry is crowned king, a ceremony preceded by the customary creation of knights of the Bath. Among the postulants is Mountjoy, to whom the new king offers the ceremonial kiss along with the other new knights. I don't know what to make of this sentence:

"Did Henry's kiss linger a little longer on his friend and mentor's shoulder?"

Buckingham appears in the coronation procession in his hereditary role of constable of England, "the most ancient and powerful surviving great office of state" -- but mindful of the threat he poses (not helped by Buckingham's own arrogance and insistence on his prerogative), the letters patent confer the office on him for only that day.

The procession also includes Thomas Brandon (Charles' uncle, master of the horse), Henry's old wet-nurse, and of course Catherine. As for the ritual itself, Starkey believes that the oath-taking and anointing had the most important effect on Henry. The oil used for the anointing was first used for anointing Henry IV, whose son Henry V launched the dramatic conquest of France. Henry VIII sees himself as that heroic king's natural successor, conferred "with the magic of the oil." The oath, which appears to be in English (although maybe Starkey is translating) takes the form of "a foundation charter of [Henry's] kingship, even as a sort of contract. It took a quasi-liturgical form of verses and responses ...

"He had sworn. And he fully intended to keep his word.

"At the time."

The chapter concludes with the death of Margaret Beaufort, after eating a cygnet. Fans of "The Tudors" may recall Henry gorging on swan after Anne Boleyn's execution.

Foose said...

Chapter 22 - "I Saw a New Heaven and a New Earth". This chapter opens with a discussion of More's poems celebrating Henry VIII's accession. I have to say I rather nodded over this part, but essentially More forecast a new age presided over by a young, liberal prince who has received the very best education.

More interesting is Starkey's discussion of how the new king embraces the Yorkists, in sharp contrast to his father's policy: "They were his mother's side of the family, and his own ancestors and blood relations. He was comfortable with them ... and they were comfortable with him." Polydore Vergil is convinced that much of Henry's success with his people is due to his resemblance to his Yorkist grandfather, Edward IV. (Just curious: in the English mind of the time, were there perhaps certain associations with the words "Lancaster" and "York," the way Americans often have certain stereotypical views of Democrats and Republicans? For although they were not political parties but dynastic factions, both York and Lancaster may have had their own "brands" - York, for example, perhaps as peace and prosperity and Englishness, while Lancaster perhaps owning concepts like military glory (Henry V) and piety (Henry VI). It might be interesting to explore this.)

Henry will never reconcile with the De la Poles. "But, for the rest, Henry was eager to offer them an honoured place as memebers of newly united royal family, and they were just as eager to accept." Hence the elevation of Margaret Pole -- previously a nullity to Henry, in Starkey's opinion -- to Countess of Salisbury, the rehabilitation of Henry's uncle Courtenay, the pardon for Dorset, and much cancelling of recognizances: "Henry the elder had kept the English elites in fear by the recognizances he had imposed; Henry the younger would bind them to him with gratitude for the recognizances he had cancelled."

But Henry has an ulterior motive!

Foose said...

Chapter 23 - Breaking Free: William Compton. Henry has been a good boy since becoming king. He has married Catherine. He has acquiesced in the council countersigning his orders. He has presided over, not participated in, his great love, jousting. He has pardoned prisoners and succoured noblewomen and reversed his father's savage policy of reducing the great lords to penury.

Now Henry wants to be on his own, with no old men to hinder him -- whether they are his councillors or Ferdinand of Aragon, whom Catherine, with a singular lack of insight, recommends to him as a second father. It's in this mood that he chooses a new best pal, William Compton.

Ooh -- a dig at Prince Charles! "...Compton was trusted to ride ahead and prepare Henry's chambers ... Henry, as princes of Wales tend to be, was fussy about such things."

In 1510 Compton is already groom of the stool, following a "meteoric rise." (Starkey emphasizes what others have noted, that this court position was extremely valuable and intimate for both monarch and courtier -- it reall makes me wonder afresh what happened to Henry Norris in 1536.) Compton is an able collector of cash for Henry's amusements but Henry loves him most for finally finding a way for the king to actually participate in tournaments -- an activity still banned by his father's councillors. At the January 1510 tournament, Compton arranges for both him and his master to appear incognito among the challengers.

And just like in Ivanhoe and Arthurian courtly romances, they succeed amazingly, much praised by the crowd -- until Compton is knocked down by a Neville and nearly killed. But from now on, with the ice broken, Henry is a determined and open jouster.

Starkey is at his most sneering in analyzing the dynamics of the Compton-Henry relationship, describing it variously as "Jeeves and Wooster," "Sancho Panza and Don Quixote," "Figaro and Count Almaviva," and perhaps most witheringly, "a pantomime horse, in which Compton -- like his fictional counterparts -- had, simultaneously, to play the rear legs and be the brains of the enterprise."

He also thinks it set a dangerous precedent for Henry's reign. Compton's success at getting Henry what he most wanted was amply rewarded -- showing other ambitious courtiers the way to fortune. But Compton also generally confined himself to facilitating the king's pleasures, rather than addressing himself to matters of state. Succeeding favorites were not so scrupulous. "For giving Henry his head would also give them what they wanted: power."

Foose said...

Chapter 24 -- Married Life. While his former tutor Skelton, in exile, pines for Henry and sends him imploring messages for reinstatement, Henry prefers to ignore them and bask in married life -- perhaps setting a pattern for the future, when numerous ex-favorites would send the king their futile missives imploring pardon. Once he set his heart against someone, it was practically impossible to change Henry's mind.

Per Catherine, Starkey believes that Henry "was -- or at least he persuaded himself he was -- seriously in love with her." The couple rejoice in Catherine's first pregnancy, which is ended by a sudden miscarriage (interestingly, on Jan 31, like Anne Boleyn's in 1536) -- although, mysteriously, the queen's stomach continues to swell, leading to suspicions of twins and the continuance of all the ritual attending a queen's confinement.

Starkey traces Henry's beginning of disaffection with Catherine to this false pregnancy, as the mistaken calculations of the physicians kept the queen "in purdah" for several months beyond her due date (rather like her daughter Mary experienced during her mistaken pregnancy). "Henry had been misled into taking part in a very public and humiliating farce." Perhaps more damagingly, the king had been kept from Catherine's bed for several months beyond the norm because of the mistaken diagnosis -- and Compton obligingly came to the rescue by facilitating the king's liaison with Lady Hastings.

Catherine begins to show definite character beyond the usual saintly image. Aside from siding with Buckingham in his attack on Henry (Lady Hastings was Buckingham's sister, and the duke was furious at the dishonor), in Starkey's reading she may have forced out Henry's groom William Thomas: "...did he know too much about Catherine's first marriage with Henry's elder brother Arthur for her to feel comfortable with his presence?"

In sum, she had proven she could be "a formidable and ruthless opponent."

With the birth of the New Year's Boy, a harmonious relationship between the royal couple is temporarily restored. "Never had Henry been so much in love with Catherine as at that moment; never would he be so fully again."

Starkey notes, as have other observers, that Henry went on pilgrimage to Walsingham in gratitude for the boy's birth (his mother had gone apparently a few times), but after the death of the prince he never went again. Although he did make a couple of subsequent pilgrimages to other shrines.

Foose said...

Chapter 25 - Friends and Brothers. Starkey sees the 1511 tournament -- celebrating the birth of the short-lived prince -- as marking the turning-point in Henry becoming a man. His superb performance in the jousting established him as the equal of the glamorous sportsmen who ruled the field. "This was more than joining a club; it was initiation into a gang, a band of brothers ...The godfather was Sir Thomas Brandon, master of the horse." Brandon was clearly tipped for great things in the new reign, but he died suddenly, and his nephew Charles Brandon seems to have inherited Henry's favor.

There is an interesting digression on Lady Jane Guildford, who benefited significantly from Brandon's will. The Guildfords played key roles during Henry VIII's subsequent reign and Starkey's discussion of Lady Jane ("unusually cultured for a woman of her class, speaking French well ...") and her son Henry throws a little light on the origin of their influence.

The Howard affinity is also examined and Starkey makes the point that having held somewhat aloof from the jousting craze previously, the Howards now understand that success in tournaments are key to winning Henry's favor. "A decade of so earlier, when Henry was still a boy, jousting had been more or less monopolized by a Yorkist family clique; now that he was king, it looked like becoming a Howard family preserve." Henry, however, was definitely the boss.

In Starkey's view, Henry's dedication to jousting and devotion to its ethos -- "he fought more often than anybody else, and seems to have outdone even his three star aids" -- has helped Henry realize in his reign what he most wanted, a re-creation of the dream-like world of chivalric romance: "His court was Camelot and he was a new Arthur."

King Arthur, however, had no children by his queen and his kingdom fell to ruin through civil war before his death. Perhaps Starkey is foreshadowing Henry's later concerns through the repeated use of the Arthurian theme.

Foose said...

Chapter 26 (the last chapter!) -- Wolsey. Starkey notes Henry's gift for language: "Henry, as his daughter Elizabeth was to be after him, was a master of language." It's demonstrated in his versification (it's interesting that he hated writing letters, but verse was a delightful leisure activity).

Starkey also traces the Howards' "headlong advance," as old Surrey scoops up the post of earl marshal (for life only), making him recognized as "under the king -- the head and fount of English chivalry." This leads into Starkey's main argument in this chapter, that Wolsey's rise can be linked directly to the ascendancy of the Howards, as the clan's enemy in the council, Bishop Foxe, determines to counter their influence through the instrumentality of Wolsey. Starkey adduces his argument from scrutiny of the 1555 edition of Polydore Vergil (as distinct from the 1513 version, in which the writer was presumably terrified of saying too much), in which he believes that the Italian witness to many of the events of Henry's early reign was "at last free to speak his mind."

There follows a precis of Wolsey's career, distinguishing himself in Polydore Vergil's words as "'bold and absolutely prepared to do anything.'" (Rather like Cromwell later on!) Foxe sees in him the ideal tool with which to unseat the Howards and facilitates his rise to greater and more lucrative posts. One reason for Wolsey's success with the king and the youngish gang that surrounded him is that he did not apparently talk or behave like a traditional churchman; having served as tutor to young noblemen he knew the tone to take: he "'very often played the lute, danced, held many charming conversations, laughed, joked and generally amused himself.'" This is quite different from the usual portrait of a bloated, vainglorious, and essentially vulgar cleric ("the butcher's cur," etc.), touchy about precedence and inordinately haughty to noblemen.

Starkey admits that "we have only Polydore's word for it" but believes that these assertions can be checked and confirmed. He also observes that George Cavendish, Wolsey's gentleman usher and memorialist, appears to support this view as well, but amplifies it: "'[Wolsey's] estimation and favour put all other councillors out of their accustomed favour ...'"

I'm a little dubious about this. It would seem to me the events reported in the 1555 edition of Polydore Vergil would have been touched up quite a bit to meet current popular tastes and prejudices regarding such a famous personage as Henry VIII and his associates, as well as plenty of self-justifying hindsight, and the 1513 edition might therefore be more trusty. However, I haven't read either and would be interested in hearing the opinions of those who have.

In Starkey's view, Wolsey performs the same function as Compton, but while Compton acts as Henry's agent in personal pleasures, like jousting and whoring, Wolsey operates in the arena of statesmanship. "Compton dealt with the personal and petty; Wolsey with power and politics on an increasingly grand scale." It is Wolsey who liberates Henry from the onerous restrictions of the council, making it clear in 1511 to Chancellor Warham that Henry's signature is sufficient for letters patent (i.e., the council's counter-signature is no longer necessary). "Wolsey was teaching Henry a new lesson: to know his own power." Here is an echo of Wolsey's later statement regarding Henry: "be well advised and assured what matter ye put in his head; for ye shall never pull it out again."

Foose said...

On the whole, I liked this book. It moves along at a sparky pace, Starkey's writing is amusing if sometimes unnecessarily dismissive, and many of the conclusions are intriguing, if spottily sourced.

One reason I recommend it is that the academic community will probably be reacting against it for quite a while, either in open broadsides or more indirect attacks on the conclusions, while mentioning no names. (My analogy is that having missed the movie "Pulp Fiction" on its release, I spent 10 years wondering why so many 1990s movies were so crappy and violent and focused on the activities of low-life scum; at last, viewing "Pulp Fiction," I realized what everyone was imitating or modifying or adapting for their own purposes.)

I particularly enjoyed the sections on jousting -- something I have never previously paid much attention to -- and the "back stories" of many of the courtiers. The chapter on Philip of Burgundy's visit was fascinating. I think Starkey did a good job of adumbrating certain themes that will undoubtedly show up in the sequel:

- The Arthurian legend and its influence on Henry's life and career
- The Yorkist ancestry that Henry apparently identified with and its implications for his reign
- His unresolved relationship with his father's approach to kingship
- Henry's innate belief in his own superiority and his insistence on winning fame and glory
- Henry's early reliance on favorites who will get him what he wants
- The continuing importance of jousting, tournaments and sports to Henry's royal authority and image; perhaps as Henry's ability to joust declines, his interest in theology increases -- substituting one obsessive hobby for another
- Henry's determination to assert his independence of tutelage and domination, utilizing alternative channels, collecting his support and then delivering a sudden, ruthless blow to his opponents

One issue I have with the book is that Starkey seems rather contemptuous of Henry -- which I think is actually a dangerous mistake that many of Henry's intimates and contemporaries made. Perhaps the king will regain Starkey's respect when he educates himself into an able theologian and engineers the Reformation, but the condescending tone in this book can grate.

Lara said...

Thanks again Foose for all your comments on the book, I've really enjoyed reading them!

Tracey said...

Foose...do you feel you learned anything new about Henry?

On the whole...

Were there enough contemporary resources/witnesses/ambassador reports to back-up whatever conclusions Starkey to?

Did the dismissiveness which you feel Starkey had for Henry send the book into areas which weren't easily defended by sources...thus giving Starkey the opportunity to feel 'holier than thou'?

I do have to wonder that with all the Henry VII felt like this, Henry VII felt like that...all as it concerned Henry VIII, that the entire question of Hal 7 wanting Hal 8 to wed Catherine of Aragon was totally overlooked. Not even a hint from Starkey as to how he believed Hal 7 directed his son, if he even did so?

Excellent work, Foose. I enjoyed it immensely and now would like you to do the same for John Guy's book on Sir Thomas More and his daughter, Margaret.

Foose said...

Lara, I appreciate the opportunity and your indulgence of my views. Thank you for your kind words. It was a very interesting experience, and compelled me to pay probably closer attention to a Tudor book than possibly in the past. I am sure I will notice more minor or major issues with the book, as well as its good points, as I read both my older collection of books on the topic and the forthcoming ones. I am very eagerly awaiting the reaction of major Tudor historians to "Virtuous Prince."

Tracey, thank you too for your complimentary remarks. I don't know if I learned anything dramatically new about Henry the man, but I felt I learned much more about his milieu as the medieval world gave way to the 16th century, and the influences to which he responded. (Jousting, particularly, and the configuration of the English elite after the Wars of the Roses; also I rather like the discussion of the influence of Malory's Morte d'Arthur. I think phd historian was right to make cats' meat of Starkey's very tenuous theory on Arthur's birth at Windsor, but I do think the legend of King Arthur may well have been a key influence on Henry and many of his courtiers. Some historians think that Anne Boleyn expected to go into a convent, rather than be executed, and at the block "kept looking behind her"; I have wondered if her only cultural model for a queen accused of adultery was Guinevere, who was rescued at the very last second and sent to a convent.)

Looking at Starkey's endnotes, it's hard to tell where he's making a solid argument based on fact or airily throwing out a supposition based on the slenderest clue from the primary sources. Some authors write very comprehensive endnotes, or at least delineate an argument in the text so thoroughly you feel confident of their conclusions (Ives, Loades). You saw what phd historian had to say about Arthur's birth, and I might suspect that much of Starkey's scholarship in this book might be similar. He does trace several very elaborate arguments -- relating to young Henry's education, on Philip of Burgundy, on the importance of jousting, and these seem to be fairly well backed up. But in many cases he seems to want to sacrifice a serious discussion to a cheap laugh. He always wants to be the smartest guy in the room (this is a failing common to many historians and scholars) and this lends a certain antagonism to his attitude both to Henry and his audience.

I liked that Starkey's book is generally accessible to a wide audience, lively and entertaining. But I think there's much that is a glittering facade concealing a somewhat rickety structure, and that the fashion for Starkey may evaporate rather rapidly in a decade or so. Just as Elton now seems fussy and old-fashioned (deadly dull to read, in my opinion, too), I think Starkey will come to be viewed as flashy and lightweight. Still, his work is enjoyable compared to some of the modern studies in Tudor micro-history, with their "discourses" and "metanarratives" and all the other horrible obscurantist and condescending terminology of post-structuralism. I would hate to see Tudor scholarship go the way of 18th-century studies, which are practically unreadable at this point by anyone other than a specialist.

Yes, I was rather disappointed that Starkey did not do more excavatory work on the family dynamics of Henry's youth. He pointed no finger in any direction regarding the Princes in the Tower (probably afraid of the Richard III crowd, who play rough) and he refused to express a view on the dying Henry VII's instructions to his son about Catherine (although he did note that the king was making reparations right and left, and maybe that could be interpreted as the green light for the marriage). Not a peep about Henry's relationship with his sisters or grandmother; some little information on his Aunt Catherine, only. I am surprised he adhered so firmly to Mattingley's account of the marriage to Catherine - why is that source so durable? Other historians rise and fall, but Mattingley remains forever. It's a great book, but time has moved on.

Denise said...

Bravo, foose! I really enjoyed reading this even though I haven't seen the book yet. It is fun to share opinions on something like this. Probably like many others who read this blog, I know of absolutely nobody I could discuss a Tudor book with in this kind of detail face to face.

So what's next? Can we do a book a month? It would be fun to plan ahead so we could all read at the same time.

Tracey said...

It would have been wonderful if Starkey could have persued these two ideas about Henry VII...altho the book was about his son.

1. Some conclusion and/or opinion if Henry VII 'did-in' the two princes. I'd think that would have been a wonderful way to go, seeing that Hal 8's mother was the princes' sister. Perhaps she looked at Henry (her son) differently because of her two missing brothers? Trust me...the Richard III Society would have greatly applauded Henry VII being the culprit.

2. Some conclusion/opinion as to if Henry VII swayed his son, in any fashion, to wed Catherine of Aragon.

Agreed, Denise...a book a month!!

Lara said...

Yeah, we can do this with some other books in the future. I'll post another open thread this weekend asking for suggestions and then work up a schedule. I think I'd rather do 6 a year (so two months per book) rather than 12 just so slower readers have a chance to keep up.

Foose said...

Just a coda -- G. W. Bernard, the anti-Starkey (he's a solid, substantial historian who's very well respected, The King's Reformation, etc.) wrote a review of Starkey's new book for the Literary Review in the U.K. I was rather hoping for a mighty "blast of the trumpet" against some of Starkey's suggestions, but it's actually pretty fair and detached in tone. It's not available online, alas, but some key snippets:

"...the fundamental difficulty is that we just do not know enough in detail about Henry's early years to do more than speculate ... So unavoidably Starkey has to write 'probably', 'perhaps', 'there is also the strong possibility', 'I would guess', 'it must have seemed', as well as asking rhetorical questions."

He's sceptical about Starkey's claim that Skelton's influence can be traced in Henry's speeches, but he thinks that he may be right about Philip of Burgundy's impact on the prince.

Bernard has a good take on Starkey's style:

"...short paragraphs, sometimes only a sentence long (as if conscious that the audience has a lmited attention span), and lovingly detailed descriptions of ceremonies attended by Henry."

It's a critical review, but even-handed and restrained. Bernard is looking forward to the second volume, apparently.