Christine Hartweg's biography of John Dudley is, to me, a very useful book. She has noticed some things that I definitely have not, and there are places where her scholarship - her willingness to challenge a well-worn anecdote by investigating the provenance, for example - reveal things that my reading would not (or indeed could not) have. She has surveyed a lot of the same sources that I have used, expanding on them with a lot more digging into the originals than I would ever have the time to do, and reached the broad conclusion that John Dudley, also known as the Earl (or earl, depending on house style) of Warwick and the Duke (duke) of Northumberland (as well as Viscount Lisle earlier on), was a pretty decent bloke who fought hard against some much less decent people to steer the realm through a fairly tricky time. The assessment of Edward Seymour as the 'Good Duke' is unwarranted, and the parallel assessment of Dudley as the 'Bad Duke' is equally flawed. I agree, up to the point that Edward Seymour was nowhere near as good as he is supposed to have been, and Dudley perhaps not quite so bad.
I think there is a slight tinge of disingenuousness about the (sub)title that Hartweg has given her book: she chooses to refer to Dudley as the father-in-law of Jane Grey, who may be a more bankable, famous name but plays only a thin part in the story as we are told it. Indeed, it is striking how little of the book deals with this most tragic of stories, and that is not intended as a criticism. I'm not sure that I can sustain my belief in the essential honesty and probity of John Dudley through the specifics of the last days of Edward's reign and the few weeks after his death, although I will take into account the point made throughout by Hartweg that it is possible that Edward himself was responsible for the devise for the succession, that he drove the shifting of the crown away from his own biological sisters and towards his cousins, and that this was about Protestantism rather than a Dudley bid for power. I don't think Dudley can be absolved of the accusation of manipulating the young king, and I don't think that marrying his son to the girl destined to become queen was a morally neutral event; I also cannot conceive, given what else is said, written and known about queens at the time, that Dudley didn't naturally expect Guildford to be king within a short while. John Dudley had a go at securing himself as the power behind the throne, and it all went very badly wrong. My inclination - as will no doubt be clear to readers of These Matters - is that he had an eye for power throughout Edward's reign, and a depth of cunning that is not part of Hartweg's assessment of him.
So there you have it. Apart from some minor details of editing (dates seem to flash around in some passages), and an odd phrase here and there that seems out of place in a professional history book (by comparison with others; not because those phrases are inapt), this is an excellent book that combines scholarly effort with an easy, fluid style. It's something you can read profitably at bedtime, but equally it's worth a second go at several of the chapters for depth of historical insight. I don't find myself agreeing with some of the conclusions, but it was good to hear what a pro-Dudley has to say.
The title promises 'swimming'. I couldn't find an easy segue, so instead, let's just have it as an observation. Taking children swimming is one of the great privileges of being an adult, especially when the small one isn't involved. The waterslides at Ponds Forge are every bit as good now (as a creaky and cynical adult) as they were when they first opened (when I was a naive and probably disgustingly enthusiastic kid). Going on one for the first time must be a bit frightening, but it definitely was worth it. It seems to be a thing that you're not really supposed to like as an adult, but the world would probably be a better place if people spent more time on waterslides.
And for those for whom this is the last weekend of freedom, good luck next week! The cycle goes on and this last Sunday before the return of the chaos, the thrills and delights, the frustrations and sadnesses of term time is always a tough one. For me this time life will be irretrievably different, although this is not necessarily a negative thing. There are things and people that I will miss, desperately in some cases, and things that are better left behind. There is no remedy for the sad things, some, but by no means all, of which I have written about on here and elsewhere, but that in the end is not the goal, to be cured of the sadness. Sometimes it threatens to overwhelm, and I find that is often on Sunday afternoons and evenings when resilience is hard to come by. Sometimes it is on the proverbial random Tuesday, or even a Friday lunchtime, which should be a time of robust heartiness. I suppose, to pick up my own thought, the goal is to be able to feel the sadness without it being overwhelming, to have some kind of hope (Esperanto! Hope! Hope defeats despair. The despair squid...) that is itself enough to shield you from the difficult bits. Even just to accept that the sad thoughts can pass, just as anything else does, makes them easier to let go. It won't change the past, or bring back a time that has gone, or open up an opportunity to say that one last thing or ask that one last question. That, I suppose, is the nature of the hope that sustains people's belief in an afterlife ("You will meet them again... but not yet!") and why there's such a wrench involved in letting go of that belief.
Anyway, that might come across as a bit bleak for a Sunday lunchtime. But it's not: "We must have felt what it is to die, Morrel, that we may appreciate the enjoyments of life. All human wisdom is contained in these words: wait and hope!"
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When to the sessions of sweet silent thought