Monday, August 27, 2012

Tudors? Part Deux: Periodizing the Early Modern

In my previous noted the discussion generated by Cliff Davies' press release regarding the Tudor myth. ("Is ‘Tudor England’ a Myth?," University of Oxford, 28 May 2012). He had made this claim several years earlier, in Clifford S. L. Davies, “The Tudor Delusion,” The Times Literary Supplement, June 11, 2008. ("The Tudor Delusion: We Are Wrong to Talk About ‘the Tudors’ – After All, Tudor England Hardly Knew the Name Itself," Medieval Material Culture Blog, 11 June 2008). To quote Dr. Davies at length from the latter:
  • As far as the monarchs are concerned, it is salutary to remind ourselves that their own image of themselves was as the undoubted representatives of the traditional English royal house, rather than as a family of Welsh adventurers. Or, in the case of Queens Mary and Elizabeth, that their reference point in their assertion of their royal right was to their father, rather than to their grandfather as “founder of the dynasty”....
  • As for their subjects, the “Tudor” term again implies a degree of self-consciousness, of self-identification, which is excessive. It elevates 1485 as a fundamental break.... [C]oncepts of time, of historical periodicity, were far more fluid than the phrase “Tudor era” would suggest. There was little sense of a break with what we, again anachronistically, call the “Middle Ages”....
  • [In a] fairly typical almanac, for instance, published in 1628..., there is no mention of either 1485 or of 1603.... 
  • We must learn to do without the Tudors.
Should we jettison the concept of establishing "the Tudor dynasty" with which we begin chapter one of our textbook Early Modern England? Moreover, did no one think of a dynasty beginning in 1485? How did the English or even the British periodize their own past? One cannot just look at the years immediately following 1485 of course. Periodization is a way of thinking about and ordering the past; it formulates slowly. Instead, it might be useful to look at how the seventeenth century periodizes the sixteenth.

I recently began my upper division survey with A Brief Cronology of Great Britain, From the first discoveries of this Isle, through the severall Conquests of the Romans, Saxons, Danes, and Normans (1656), a broadside that not only covers all of English history, but a brief history of the Roman Empire and the untimely ends of its rulers. (Ultimately, it is a product of  republican/Commonwealth thought; recall that this is published during the Cromwellian Protectorate. That need not concern us here, except the author is interested in showing how dynasties begin and, especially, end.) Here is the part at length about what we might call the Tudor dynasty:
  • But Henry Plantagenet placed on the Throne. 331 years taken up in the Reigns of 14 Kings of his line; but these branches were torn down by home-bred broyls, till Tender of Lancaster with Plantagenet of Yorke, gave them sap by Marriage, whereby the long dead stem began to bud forth, and five renowned Princes of that name succeeded.
  • The first of them, the richest and wisest King of this Western world; viz. Henry 7.
  • The second, the wonder of the Papal Authority; Henry 8.
  • The third, the hopefullest in pious actions; Edward 6
  • The fourth, servent (sic) for Romes Religion; Queen Mary.
  • The fifth renowned, Queen Elizabeth; under whose Reigns one hundred and sixteen years did compleatly run.
  • And from her in the person of one Soveraign, Britain returned again to the old Britains, and to her old name, viz. King James.
So what do we have? Henry II to Richard III = "14 Kings"; 1154-1485 = "331 years." Henry VII to Elizabeth = "five renowned Princes of that name"; 1485-1603 = 118, what is referred to here as "one hundred and sixteen years." But what was "that name"? It is never mentioned - ending the "home-bred broyls" (the Wars of the Roses), was a grammatically-challenged process by which "Tender of Lancaster with Plantagenet of Yorke, gave them sap by Marriage." The "long dead stem" which "began to bud" reminds one of the frontispiece of The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Famelies of Lancastre & Yorke (in Sources and Debates in English History, see previous posting). In fact, Davies would seem to be correct that "Tudor" was little used, even in the succeeding century, but incorrect to claim that the house was not viewed as a dynasty "Princes of that name," and incorrect to note that 1485 was rarely used to periodize the period.

Except the numbers that don't add up hint at a problem - why 116 not 118 years? Henry VII was crowned, 30 October 1485; and he married Elizabeth on 18 January 1486. Only on 25 November 1487 was Elizabeth crowned queen consort. Did the Protectorate author of the broadside have too tender a conscience to claim this line for the Welsh bastard Twdr line? Did the marriage of 1486 and the crowning of Elizabeth of York in 1487 (which would then be 116 years to 1603), trump triumph on Bosworth Field in 1485? In any case, while Tudor-Stuart periodization might be anachronistic, it dates from well before the era of modern historiography.  (Incidentally, the 1656 image of the Briton, owes a lot to the title page of John Speed's The History of Great Britaine, 1611, left, and that owes its image to John White's images. See Sam Smiles, "John White and British Antiquity: Savage Origins in the Context of Tudor Historiography," in European Visions, American Voices, ed. Kim Sloan, British Museum.)

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