Saturday, April 18, 2009

Question from Alex - Edward VI and animals

I have read something that when Edward VI was king he was nasty to animals and i'm not sure if it's true of not???


Foose said...

I don't think he was cruel to animals in general.

There is one story about him treating an animal cruelly, but it is highly politicized. Edward's sister Mary had asserted her right to hear Mass; Edward and the Council wanted to deny it to her and force her to conform. Mary's powerful relation Charles V weighed in with menaces; the Council wanted to back down, to Edward's fury - he took the hardest line against the Mass.

The Imperial ambassador, Simon Renard, reported from court gossip that Edward had "plucked a falcon, which he kept in his private chamber, and torn it into four pieces, saying as he did so to his governors that he likened himself to the falcon, whom everyone plucked; but that he would pluck them too, thereafter, and tear them in four parts." (Related in Chris Skidmore's Edward VI: The Lost King of England).

This plucking-a-falcon story is also related of the youthful Emperor Charles V, when as a minor he heard that his own "governors" had broken his betrothal to Edward's aunt, Mary "Rose" Tudor. I find it intriguing that Renard, who would surely have known the earlier story, and was reporting to Charles V himself, reported the same story emanating from Edward's court. The possibilities are:

1) The plucking may or may not have happened, but possibly it was a cultural "trope" (a persistent image or theme) about kings who were minors and surrounded by guardians popularly perceived to be greedy and not really acting in the young ruler's interests;

2) The gossip that Renard is reporting was deliberately fed to him, perhaps as a warning to be conveyed to the Emperor; just as Charles ultimately asserted his authority over his councillors, so Edward would when he achieved his majority -- and the Mass would be suppressed.

PhD Historian said...

Cruelty to animals is a very modern concept. Remember that a chief entertainment in Tudor England was bear-baiting: restraining a bear on a chain and causing a pack of dogs to attack it, the object being to see how many dogs it took to kill the bear ... or how many dogs the bear could kill before succumbing itself. It is therefore entirely anachronistic to attempt to judge whether or not someone was "cruel" to an animal using modern standards. We should judge only by the standards of the subject's own era. And havng read the Renard account, I am not aware that Renard considered Edward's supposed action "cruel." Rather, he considered it instructive.

Foose said...

There may have been a few people at the time who disliked bear-baiting and other animal bloodsports on principle. However, Sir Thomas More, whom Erasmus observed was "very fond of watching animals," was probably alone in his views expressed in Utopia:

"They look on the desire of the bloodshed even of beasts as a mark of a mind that is already corrupted with cruelty, or that at least by the frequent returns of so brutal a pleasure must degenerate into it."

Foose said...

I recall that Charles IX of France, another boy-king and near-contemporary of Edward (he ruled 1560-1574; Edward died in 1553) has a historical reputation for cruelty to animals. However, he and his brothers, the last of the Valois dynasty, were unpopular and are traditionally depicted as degenerates, so it may be a smear.

What is interesting is how Charles' cruelty to animals is distinguished from the ordinary, everyday cruelty to animals that was a part of the culture. On one St. John's Day, for example, there were 24 cats publicly burnt in a kind of festival, with the king, court and people participating. There's no implied criticism about this activity, it's depicted as rather a jolly occasion.

However, Charles was alleged to suffer from fits of madness in which he personally dismembered domestic animals. Other accounts say his tutors carefully conditioned him from childhood to indulge in torturing animals. This is related in a tone of strong disapproval. However, I suspect (in agreement with phd historian) that the issue was not cruelty to animals per se, but the perceived loss of control by the king (a king must be self-controlled at all times, according to Renaissance manuals for kingship), the lack of dignity in such behavior, the ominous nature of the behavior as portending incipient madness, and possibly the alarming symbolic value of the activity -- i.e., if the king behaves this way with animals, he will probably graduate to treating men like this.

I haven't been able to nail down a specific source on Charles' behavior. There is the possibility that Huguenot propaganda has also complicated his reputation -- a fairly innocuous and culturally approved love of hunting could have been inflated into an indiscriminate and monstrous craving for inflicting pain on "inoffensive animals," foreshadowing Charles' authorization of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew.

Bearded Lady said...

Alex, I have read the falcon story in several sources but whether or not is true remains to be seen.

Edward was reportedly very upset when his Uncle shot his guard dog. So he may have showed some affection for his dogs. Growing up in such a sterile environment may have led him to form a strong attachment to his dogs.

I would also add, that cats and dogs were viewed very differently. Cats were one step above rodents and it most cases were viewed as witch's familiars. At her coronation, Elizabeth I had cat burned in a wicker basket to symbolize the releasing of demons. You will find stories of cats as pets but very view in Tudor England.

Foose said...

It's an interesting point about the kittehs, Bearded Lady. There was a story about the poet Wyatt's father being imprisoned in the Tower under Richard III, and every day a friendly cat brought him a pigeon - "ever after he would ever make much of cats, as other men will of their spaniels and hounds" runs the account, suggesting that this was a very unusual preference.

I wonder if perhaps Henry Wyatt made up the story about the cat with the pigeons to excuse and make acceptable his odd liking for cats to a society of dog enthusiasts.