Saturday 5 September 2009

The real Tudors - the Pilgrimage of Grace

How heartening to see the BBC devoting so much reasonably prime time television in The Tudors to the story of the Pilgrimage of Grace – the great rebellion against Henry VIII in the north of England that began in 1536 in protest at the king’s dissolution of the monasteries. Henry is best remembered for the judicial murder of two of his wives, but his treatment of his northern subjects is a tale of far greater infamy.

Of course, the programme does play a bit of ducks and drakes with history. It was actually the Duke of Norfolk and not the Duke of Suffolk who played the leading role in the suppression of the uprising, but they have got the basics of the story pretty well right – an unremitting catalogue of betrayal, deception and cruelty by the authorities. Today’s politicians think they are awfully modern, but, in fact, lying has long been a favoured tactic of those in power.

I don't want to spoil the rest of the series for anyone who doesn't know the ending, but it is rather satisfying that Thomas Cromwell went to the scaffold himself. Norfolk had been due to follow him on January 28, 1547, but was saved when the king died. Henry VIII, who has the unusual distinction of having happily executed both Protestants and Catholics for their religious views, died in his bed, though tormented by leg ulcers and probably syphilis.

For the story, see A Disastrous History of Britain.

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