November 18, 2009

The life of a Tudor Nobleman

I just came across this quotation from Etienne Perlin, a French cleric, whose Description des Royaulmes d'Angleterre et d'Escosse was published in 1558, translated it reads

For my part (with reverence to my reader) I had rather be a hog driver and keep my head, for this disorder falls furiously upon the heads of great lords (Eric Ives, Lady Jane Grey, 30)

As a quote it sums up something of my own feeling about the Tudor nobility: to see a contemporary say it makes me feel more confident in their view. Under Henry VIII, Edward, Mary and Elizabeth politics to some extent was a blood sport- leading ministers from Dudley in 1510 to Norfolk in 1572 could find themselves kneeling under an axe about to receive the blow. I do not know how this affects politics, but when you look at the behaviour of the Duke of Norfolk who presided over the execution of two of his relatives (Anne Boleyn in 1536 and Catherine Howard in 1540) or Stephen Gardiner who merrily ushered his old friend Thomas Cranmer to the fire, you do wonder whether the psychology of those involved was quite different from the psychology of those politicians unthreatened by the fire or the grisly ritual of hanging, drawing and quartering. Perlin is right: no matter what career I might have chosen as a Tudor Englishman, a hog driver could have been preferable to a nobleman.


Anonymous said...

I think a hog driver had more chances to die before the old age than a nobleman. Overall, not so many noblemen were executed in comparison to their total number.