It's all there: walking moodily towards the camera, the talking heads, the fog and the crows of history, the NYPD Blue camera-work. If you were looking for them, the tropes of history-on-TV are all there. John bloody Redwood is in it. This is narrative history at its most dramatic, with the drama acted out by appropriately-costumed re-enacters, although they don't speak. Well, fine. I appreciate that I am possibly not quite the target audience for this series. I had briefly tried to find one of these grand dramas that Netflix is supposed to be good at, only to find that the period in which I am interested is grossly under-represented, as though no one feels they can do much good with Tudors because the definitive programmes have already been made. Perhaps they have; I have watched many, and curiously I haven't appended them to the 'other folks' fictions' page on this website. I wonder if this is pure prejudice: some of them certainly stand as more comprehensive, detailed and realistic versions of the history than some of the novels.
What do I want in a history programme on TV? Tricky, because if it's about the mid-Tudor period, I probably know more of the details than would be appropriate for a one-hour documentary. If it's about another period, I want atmosphere, impressive buildings, tapestries and paintings, experts. But my own special interest is almost thereby not worth watching anything about, because I end up shouting at the TV. The dramas - as with the novels - generally focus on the big characters, rather than setting imaginative fiction in amongst the history. I will accept that book IV of These Matters is, more so than any of the others so far, bound tightly to the real historical story and has perhaps been longer in the making for this exact reason. But I don't particularly engage with the novelisation of history, preferring if I can get it the Dumas / Walter Scott version with the imagined hero doing all the work behind the scenes. No one who has read Twenty Years After could settle for the prosaic version. The villainy of Mordaunt and the oh-so-nearly heroism of the Musketeers just is affirming, exciting, better in some real way than the actual history.
For whatever reason, I have been buying and reading a new set of books for research, and I will review a selection of them on this news feed in due course. I think perhaps a change of scene in my main work has driven it, leading to a reigniting of the desire to tell this story that bubbles inside me all the time and sometimes even makes it onto the page. With that in mind, here's an excerpt from an existing story for (hopefully) reading pleasure:
“That Sudeley had Strelley killed? The baron went too far with me, in the garden. Do you know about that?” Ascham tilts his head, non-committal. Elizabeth frowns. “The day after that, Strelley was gone. Then we hear that some merchant has dragged his body out of the river.”
“The baron saw the body himself?”
“He went all the way to St Paul's to see it. Sudeley hated Strelley, because Strelley had no respect for his nobility.”
“Is that really why?” Ascham rests his chin in his hand.
“No, that's not it.” Elizabeth struggles to regain her control. “Of course it's not. Sudeley hated Strelley because Strelley was... because he thought I...”
“So you see, we both begin to understand more clearly. Baron Sudeley is not a man to be trusted, and so he is a man to be feared. He is ambitious, far beyond his ability, and he is uncle to the king. That his brother is Lord Protector drives him mad with jealousy.”
“You knew all this before you arrived.”
“Of course. But I did not know where his next move might be.”
“And you do now?”
“Sudeley has been removing the barriers to his getting close to you, has he not?”
“What are you suggesting?”
“Madam, you are not so innocent as that, surely? Sudeley plans to make you his wife.”
“Baron Sudeley is married.”
“Baron Sudeley is not one to let such a trifle get in his way. Catherine was once queen. You may yet be queen. Which do you think is more attractive to him?”
Elizabeth holds her hands up, fingertips touching. Her breathing is noticeably heavy, and she does not look directly at Ascham.
“Why would you be on my side?” she asks him.
“Master Grindal was a great friend of mine. He spoke very highly of you. He loved you as a father loves a daughter. And Master Strelley... His memory deserves my dedication. He had a reputation as a great thinker at the University.”
“He was sent down.”
“He was sent down for being ungovernable, not for being incapable.”
“Did you know him?”
“I taught him. A little. He soon surpassed me in his reading of ancient and foreign languages.”
“You knew him?” Elizabeth repeats the question unnecessarily.
“I knew him well. I did not find him an easy student to teach, but I saw that he was a good man struggling to deal with his gift.”
“What do you mean? His gift?”
“More a curse, perhaps. His mind would not accept any conclusion, not without endless probing and questioning. He found it very hard to understand the need for faith.”
“You mean he had no faith?”
“I do not know. I pray for him, too. You see we are neither of us consistent with your brother's law. Cranmer would tell us that our prayers for intercession are so much wasted breath.”
“Only their own faith could have saved Strelley or Grindal.” Elizabeth nods, understanding. “That is well. At least one of them went to his grave truly believing in God.”
“Indeed,” Ascham says. Elizabeth returns to her page, and as she looks away from him, Ascham smiles broadly, one eyebrow raised.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought