By Christina Alagaratnam
Four hundred years ago, that name alone was enough to strike a man dumb with admiration – and fear. The Tudors were a dynasty that lasted one hundred years and changed the entire course of English history during that lifetime. Through the name of the Tudors we’ve seen a cultural and religious shift in forms of art, science, literature and most importantly – progress. They established the end of a long and tedious medieval period, ending the wars of the roses once and for all, along with House Plantagenet, a dynasty that had ruled England for centuries.
I’m fully aware that there are some types of people who don’t particularly like Henry VIII or the Tudors in general. They spew out names like ‘usurper,’ ‘psychopath’ and ‘murderers.’ But before I have a chance to raise my brow at the mere hypocrisy of it all, (because obviously the previous monarchs of England were such saints weren’t they? William the Conqueror was never an outsider who seized the throne right?) Let’s take a moment to consider just how important – and how amazing, the Tudors really were – and still are.
Now, I ran a little test amongst my friends, asking them to name the first King of England that immediately comes to mind. And everyone – and I do mean everyone, names King Henry VIII. Type into your search engine ‘most famous kings of England’ and hedge bets on who rings up at number one. Whenever hear ‘The Tudors’ the image that soars into the minds of most is that of King Henry VIII. His Holbein painting is imprinted in our memories from the moment we first saw it –Henry, standing tall, bold and unwavering, codpiece and all. Or perhaps we think of his daughter Elizabeth I, the woman with the body of a Queen but a heart and stomach of a King. Over a hundred years, they changed entire course of our history, a kind of history that not only has effected England…but Scotland, Ireland, Wales and most of Europe. The reformation, the Spanish armada, the navy, Shakespeare, need I go on? By doing this, they built England into a country that could function on it’s own. During Henry VIII’s ‘great matter’ when he was trying to get his divorce, he essentially said ‘up yours’ to the Pope. If the Pope wouldn’t give him a divorce then he’d just have to do it himself – and thus the Church of England was born. When Henry VIII broke away from the Church, he knew that England could stand on it’s own two feet and wanted to prove this. Unlike his father, Henry VII, who worked and plotted steadily through most of his reign to inaugurate England into the ‘royal club’ of Europe. Without the support of the European countries like France, Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, England apparently, could not function on it’s own. Not to mention, the Pope. Before the Reformation and Protestantism were thrust upon England, the Catholic Church and it’s teachings wasn’t labelled as such, it was just the Christian religion of England. I’m talking about a different world now, an England peppered with monastaries and monks, swinging lanterns and incense in their wake, chanting a solemn Gregorian hymn.
Of course all of that is long gone now. Destroyed in the Dissolution of the Monasteries, during the more tyrannical portion of Henry VIII’s reign. Idols smashed, property stolen, the buildings of the abbeys ripped limb from limb while thousands of monks and nuns were turned out onto the streets, literally signalled the end of Catholic England.
It is these kinds of actions that place Henry VIII as a psychopath in the minds of some people today. But at that time, Henry had broken away from a church that most of England had grown to resent. They didn’t like the idea that they needed to pay a hefty fine to the Pope if they wanted to marry, christen their child or bury a loved one. They viewed the church as corrupt and wanted out. Henry VIII gave them just that, albeit due to selfish reasons. He had started the ball rolling – and it would keep rolling until King George I ascended to the throne in 1714. Everyone is so quick to call Anne Boleyn a witch or a whore…completely overseeing the fact that she is Elizabeth I’s mother! You know Elizabeth right? Henry VIII’s so-called bastard daughter who fought off the Spanish Armada and successfully ruled England for about forty-five years? The woman whose entire reign was hailed as ‘The Golden Age?’ Say what you will about her, but that’s quite an impressive nickname given to a woman who shouldn’t have ascended to the throne at all. Perhaps the people of England were relived after the reign of terror from her sister, who was nicknamed ‘bloody Mary.’
Now I’m coming to the most important point about the Tudors. Henry VII and Elizabeth of York are the direct ancestors of Queen Elizabeth II and all future monarchs hereon after. You see, while Henry VIII’s lineage ended with Elizabeth I, his elder sister Margaret Tudor married King James IV of Scotland. This betrothal was arranged by her father, who thought that the marriage between England and Scotland will join the two countries in peace. No one could’ve predicted that this marriage between the Thistle and the Rose, would one day see a Scottish King sit upon the English throne. It is Margaret Tudor’s great-grandson King James the VI of Scotland who became King James I of England, who finally solidified the union between the two countries to create one titanic nation – Great Britain.
It is through Margaret that the Tudor blood flows through all the great monarchs, James I, Charles II, George III and Queen Victoria to name but a few. However, we owe her father Henry VII for creating the match in the first place and foreshadowing this entire union, providing us with a rich history in the process as monarch after monarch reigned in their own right.
So, when people next decide to point the finger at the Tudors, point them towards this article. Let them at least try to understand that if it wasn’t for the Tudors, England most certainly won’t be where it is today. Yes, there are all kinds of ‘what ifs.’ ‘What if Edward V had lived, what if Richard III had won Bosworth or what if Catherine of Aragon had given Henry the son he so desired. But all of that is in the past. People who slate the Tudors are unintentionally, slating the current monarchy too! Henry VII is Elizabeth and Charles and William and little Prince George’s ancestor! Need I go on any further?
A good twitter friend of mine, @LariTudor, tweeted recently, ‘It annoys me that Ricardians ask respect for Richard III but they disrespect Henry VII. It’s idiotic! There’s no point in this since we are not in the war of the roses anymore. If there must be respect, it must be both ways, not only one.’ I couldn’t put it better myself. What we’re both saying here is, leave the past in the past. The Tudors happened.
They came, they saw, they conquered… and left an impressionable mark upon all of us. Their name might not be labelled across the monarchy today but their blood still runs through it, as well as Henry VIII’s title – Defender of the Faith. Every monarch since Henry has carried that title through their reign, whether they are Protestant or Catholic. And let’s not forget that little detail of the Tudor rose, England’s national flower and emblem. Look closely at a 20p coin and there you’ll see it. The Tudor rose, ingrained proudly upon the sterling. The Tudors are everywhere we look, their behaviour as monarchs and people, proved to be fascinating history. And this, good people, is why the Tudors will always be remembered and remain immortal.
Christina Alagaratnam was born and grew up in Surrey and has recently graduated from the University of Westminster. She has been writing all her life, including being published in a youth poetry anthology at fourteen and is currently working on her first novel.