Wednesday, April 20, 2011

History of England Part five

So far the history of England has been largely about kings.  Realistically, the doings of the king were better recorded than any other aspect of life.  And in times past he really was calling many of the shots.

So, what about Parliament?  There was a tradition going all the way back to Saxon days of having an advisory body of older, presumably wiser men to assist the king.  Of course, they were pretty much all upper level nobility with the occasional bishop tossed in.

Under the Norman system this continued, and acquired the name Parliament, derived from the French word for “talking”.  (Parlez vous?).  In the earlier Norman years Parliament was called to meet infrequently.  Usually a really strong king did not need or want their advice.  But, when a monarch lacked a degree of popular support, or needed cash for yet another campaign in France, he would call for a Parliament.

At first this was a rubber stamp situation, but slowly the members of Parliament started nibbling away at royal power. 

Initially the members were all nobility as before.  But the gradual growth of commerce created a mercantile middle class, and soon they started getting a bit of representation.

Parliament later split into two divisions.  Observing that it was mostly the nobility that ended up on the chopping block when things got bad; the non-noble left the actual advising of the king to the earls and barons.  The commoners confined themselves to voting yea or nay on money the king wanted, and over time got to put more and more conditions on same.  Students of American politics will observe some parallels to the current stature of the House of Representatives and the Presidency.

On to the Tudor era, with some ugly marital spats.

The first Tudor king, Henry VII was a serious kind of guy.  He was also a very astute businessman.  He kept the foreign military adventures to a minimum.  He had a couple of likely sons, the eldest of which, Arthur, he set up in a diplomatically favorable marriage to Catherine of Aragon.

But Arthur died before his father, so next in line was the guy who most people envision as the archetype of an English king, Henry VIII.

What to say about Henry 8…well, he was a bigger than life figure.  He could out ride, out eat, out drink and out wench anybody in the kingdom.  In short, he was a Texan at exactly the same time Texas was being discovered by the Spanish.

He was capable of much cruelty, and executed many on real or imagined charges.  But he was also a very capable ruler.

Henry picked a major fight with Rome by confiscating the property of English monasteries and cracking down on various financial abuses by the Church.  This made the Church very unwilling to help out when he, say, wanted a marriage annulled. The issue was whether his marriage to his brother’s widow was legitimate.  The Church said, you betcha.   Not deterred in the least, the king just put the question to various of the new Universities that were springing up in these Renaissance times.  The scholars being smart guys, no doubt accepted some incentives and graded him the way he had hoped.

So, a quick run down of the marriages of Henry VIII with a cumulative GBA (Guy Behavior Average).

#1.  Catherine of Aragon.  This was a diplomatic marriage and lasted for 15 years.  The biggest gripe Hank had was that she did not bear him a son.  Seems sort of petty of him, but recall that the kingdom had just emerged from a generation of dynastic warfare and an unchallenged succession was a matter of national interest.  Still, he treated Catherine and their daughter rather shabbily, sending them to exile when he started making goo-goo eyes at wife number two.  Grade:  D

#2  Ann Boleyn.  A saucy wench and not without blame in the breakup of marriage #1.  Did bear the future Queen Elizabeth, but after a later miscarriage the king wanted little more to do with her and had her arrested on charges of infidelity, plotting to poison him, and probably jay walking.  Found guilty and beheaded at the Tower of London.  Sorry dude, Grade F.

#3 Jane Seymour.  Only married for 18 months, she died after childbirth.  Since, I suppose, we have to regard this as being his fault, he gets points off.  Their son was to become king, but was always frail and sickly.  Grade B.

#4  Anne of Cleves.  Another diplomatic marriage.  Henry was rather disappointed when they actually met, he figured the court painters would have been more honest.  He referred to her in private as “The Mare of Flanders”.  But had the arrangement quickly annulled and set her up in a nice castle somewhere.  Grade D

#5  Catherine Howard.  Henry, Henry, what were you thinking.  This gal was cute but actually was unfaithful to you.  Another quick trip to the block for her.  And another F.

#6.  Catherine Parr.  History recalls that Henry and this Catherine got on well as she nursed him through his final years.  He did gripe a lot about the leg ulcers that finally killed him, so points off for whining.  Grade B.

So, lets tally it up.  Two Bs, Two Ds and Two Fs.  Why this works out to a GBA of……F.

You can tell that I have learned a few things from Henry the VIII, scholars will grade things the way the boss wants ‘em graded.  And I have also not forgotten that this short history of England is being written for two women, one of whom I have a personal interest in not antagonizing!

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