Only posting once a week? Must be getting lazy... Reviewing history in print and on TV, and moaning about parenting...
Well, it's certainly not because of the rapid and sustained progress on book IV. Other matters, as ever, distract me, and only some of it is in my control. The small child has learned to say 'I don't like...', which is entertaining once or twice but starts to get a bit old on the five-hundredth repeat. The big one is a little bit too much like me for my liking, with a few hints of that over-active thinking that leads (hopefully) to creativity and problem-solving skills, but also to dwelling and rumination. Children are a vast sink of time, effort and energy, and yet they are the real legacy we leave. A million-seller would be great, for me, but I wouldn't trade it for the children, even in those 'he's going on eBay' moments when he's woken up for the nineteenth time and has shouted 'watch the singing baby okay!' even though it's half three in the morning.
So what are these reviews, then? I must divert a moment's attention to WK Jordan's rather forbidding second volume of his biography of Edward VI, subtitled 'The Threshold of Power'. His effort and scholarship are undoubtedly in evidence throughout, and I think his conclusions - about the personalities of key figures, about the choices they made, about the right-or-wrongness of those choices - are broadly on the right lines. I mentioned in a previous post that I thought Christine Hartweg's defence of the Duke of Northumberland was perhaps over-generous given the central events that define his time as the main power behind the throne, and I still think that, although I can see how Jordan's continued reference to him as a schemer and as a failure in government could have set off a desire to be on his side. Northumberland is not the Machiavellian, nor is he pure self-seeking evil, in Jordan's view. But he is weak when he needs to be strong, and he is underhand where he could choose to be honest. Jordan also seems in the second volume to come down even more in favour of Somerset, who didn't get off lightly in the first volume (despite clearly being Jordan's favourite over Northumberland) but whose decisions in 1547-1549 suddenly seem to be much better to Jordan in the light of the disaster, as he sees it, of Northumberland's tenure.
Which brings us to Helen Castor' mini-series on Jane Grey, the supposedly forgotten Tudor queen. Let's be honest: Jane Grey is hardly a forgotten figure, and given the relatively minor role she played in the drama of 1553, even up to her execution the following year, she probably gets more consideration than she should, not less. Hers is a fascinating tragedy, because it is almost entirely of someone else's making. So it does make for good TV. They've chosen the format of having the characters represented by actors who earn their place in the programme by being thoroughly hammy, such that we cannot make any mistake as to the character of the person so represented. Dudley is close to Ming the Merciless. One can only imagine that the stage direction says 'look shifty', or 'a man of obvious lack of integrity'. I hope that I give a more subtle view of the man in These Matters, although I do think there can be no doubt that he had an eye on how he might bring power and wealth to himself over the years of Edward's reign. I don't think Somerset was the Good Duke, and I don't think Northumberland was the Bad Duke, but I do think the both of them were self-serving in some aspects. Somerset's essentially humanist governing wasn't very successful, but you can see how it fits with his beliefs. Northumberland seems to be a man without principle, judging by some of his decisions. But then, I celebrate that in Edward Strelley, so why should I denigrate it for Northumberland? I'm not sure. Strelley is in no danger of having to make decisions about running the country, and on the few occasions where his decisions involve others, he seems to want to do the best for them. Perhaps he is not so unprincipled after all.
Here he is, then, in conversation with the priest of Sampford Courtenay at the beginning of the Prayer Book Rebellion of 1549:
Harper looks at him for a long time, eyes working across Strelley’s face. Strelley is perfectly still. Harper says, “I do not want this. I do not want to be the figurehead of a rebellion. Much less to displease my bishop. Less still to displease God.”
“I have no words of comfort. Indeed, I seek your counsel.”
“Yes. When I speak of you, Father, it will be of a man of great loyalty and faith. So I seek your counsel, as I say.”
“On what matter?”
“The Lord has sent you a great trial, Father. I see that. I have had mine. And I fear that I have failed it.”
“What form did this trial take?”
“A woman. That I loved - love - as much as a man can. But I cannot be with her. Her station prevents it.”
“Many of us have loved that which we cannot have.”
“She would have had me, I think.”
“Then you are a good man for not allowing it.”
“I feel as though I could live another fifty years and never enjoy a day. Without her, life is purposeless.”
“Your grief will lessen, in time.”
“That is what Cranmer told me.”
“You have spoken to the archbishop? Of this?”
“That book,” Strelley says, gesturing vaguely, “is as much mine as it is his. I sought his counsel as well.”
“Then mine is redundant.”
“Not so. You are here. He is not. You are a man of the people.”
Harper smiles again. “I thank you for your flattery. All I can say is that God does not punish us for our sins if we repent them.”
“Which is the sin? To deny the love we both feel? Or to break the law?”
“You are a man of great intelligence, Edward Strelley. Here you are, distant from this lady. You have found a reason to travel far away from her. Your conscience says you must not be together.” Harper’s mind catches up with the conversation. “You say that is your book as much as Cranmer’s?”
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought