Inspired by a Twitter conversation about this Guardian article, I recently visited “The Tudors: Passion, Power, and Politics” exhibition at the Holburne Museum in Bath. The article is headlined: ‘Beginning of modern Britain’ and the text talks about a compelling period of “British history”, and relations between “Britain” and European countries. Whilst it makes for a compelling headline (especially in the context of Brexit), it was immediately obvious that the portraits mentioned were all English, and the article made no reference to the fact that Scotland was a separate kingdom in the 16th-century with its own politics and international relationships.
Contrary to the impression given by the article, the exhibition does not erase the Scottish experience of the 16th-century by equating it with “Britain”. However, if you are looking for an exhibition that explores the experiences of the different nations that make of the British Isles, you will not find it here. As the title says, this is an exhibition about the Tudor dynasty. The only non-English figures to feature are Mary, Queen of Scots (in the context of Queenship and conflict with England); Katherine of Aragon (in the context of her marriage into England); Gerlack Flicke (who worked largely in England); and (arguably) half-Welsh Henry VII, though little reference is made to his Welsh roots.
Having established what the exhibition is not, what was my experience of it?
The Battle of Flodden was fought between the armies of England and Scotland on 9th September 1513. The English army was led by Thomas Howard, earl of Surrey (future 2nd duke of Norfolk), with support from Lord Admiral Sir Thomas Howard (future 3rd duke of Norfolk), Sir Edmund Howard, Lord Dacre and Sir Edward Stanley. However, although Surrey had been entrusted with the military defence of the realm, it was Katherine of Aragon who had been appointed Regent while Henry VIII was campaigning in France. She had the authority to raise an army and a council headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The TV Series Spanish Princess depicted a pregnant Katherine taking to the battlefield. Whilst this is a complete fabrication, what was the extent of her involvement with the battle? Was she just a passive figurehead or did she play an active role as Regent?
“Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, behind, survived.” It is a familiar rhyme, used to help remember the fates of the six women who married Henry VIII. So, why am I saying that he only had three wives? After all, he had six marriage ceremonies. The answer lies in the definition of an annulment which declared a marriage null and void, as if it had never happened, as opposed to a divorce which dissolves a valid marriage. Which of the women would Henry have considered to be his wife? Continue reading “The Three Wives of Henry VIII”