November 20, 2009

Review: Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery


You can hardly not feel sympathy of Lady Jane Grey. At the age of seventeen, she was thrust, unwillingly by most accounts, into the throne of England. She lasted, through no fault of her own, for 13 days in that throne and was then imprisoned and later executed by her cousin Mary Tudor. Our sympathy may be heightened by the fact that she was intelligent and thoughtful and took her execution bravely and stoically. But her story is not merely interesting because of the feelings it evokes, but also because of the forces alive in Tudor politics that it illustrates: Jane was a victim but so also were many of the other individuals ranged around her, condemnation after the event seems to have been random rather than calculated. More than that though, the rebellion against Jane was the only successful rebellion against a reigning monarch between the reign of Richard II (1381-99) and Charles I (1625-49). 150 years passed with several notable rebellions- the Pilgrimage of Grace (1536), the rising of the Northern Earls (1567), and several changes of religion- but only Jane Grey between Richard and Charles actually lost her head.

So what went wrong? What Eric Ives does in his book, a biography of Jane and an account of the fatal year of 1553, is suggest that the reasons for the failure of Jane's installation as queen lay not so much with Jane as with the reasons that she became queen. Jane did not push herself forwards for the crown at all. She had the misfortune to be the daughter of Frances Grey and granddaughter- through her mother- of Mary Tudor, Henry VIII's sister. The terms of the succession to the crown of England were established in 1544 by an act of Parliament: Henry VIII had declared that first his son Edward would succeed him and then his two bastard daughters, first the older Mary and then Elizabeth and after them Jane and her sister Katherine. This line of succession established two principles: the first was that Edward would receive the crown next, the second was that legally an English King had established that he could nominate his own successor- part of the crisis of every English reign from Henry's death (1546) until James I's accession in 1601 was that claim in the bill. It is the reason for instance that during Elizabeth's reign, she was constantly troubled by the succession- such matters were not automatically decided by some rule of who was the closest relative but by the monarch themselves.

Edward VI in 1553 decided to change the order of Henry VIII's bill. Until February 1553, everyone at court had assumed that Mary would succeed Edward- as Henry had laid out- but in 1553 Edward for some reason decided to change the law. What Edward did was place Jane and her sister ahead of his illegitimate half sisters Mary and Elizabeth. Ives suggests that Edward did this on his own initiative and did it because for him his half sisters were illegitimate- and illegitimacy under common law afforded no right to succeed. Once he had made that decision- his leading minister John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland stepped in behind it. The reason why Jane was given the crown therefore was that Edward took advantage of the precedent left by Henry and legally changed the succession: the reason why Mary won is because the council including Dudley had had barely weeks to prepare for the change of monarch. Furthermore they relied upon the fact that rebellion in England was not usually successful- their attention was focussed overseas and Dudley spent those final weeks of Edward's life insuring, not against a domestic rising, but against Mary's Spanish relatives (she was the daughter of a Spanish princess) invading England in support of her claim.

Ives sketches out the complicated motivations of those involved. Jane was a bookish young woman, a blue stocking, who corresponded with many of the leading intellectuals of reformist Europe including Martin Bucer and Bullinger. Roger Ascham, Elizabeth's tutor, believed that Jane was a better scholar than the future queen- the best he told a friend in England along with Mildred Cecil. By the time she was sixteen, Jane was reputed to know eight languages- and though that may be exaggeration, she was definitely profficient in Latin, Greek and French and possibly had a working knowledge of Hebrew. She was though a political football as well- in her youth she had been intended as a future bride for Edward VI himself, a bookish 'lure' for him, and her father, Henry Gray, Duke of Suffolk, definitely used her for his own political ends- as any Tudor father would use his daughter. There are other characters here apart from Jane. Mary deserves a mention too- possibly the most sympathetic of the Tudor dynasty and definitely the most defiant.

Perhaps the other characters who dominate Ives's tale though are Dudley and Henry Gray. Dudley is perhaps the more interesting of the two. His father had been executed in the early 16th Century and Ives hypothesizes that Dudley lived under the shadow of that execution for the rest of his life. Ives is keen to dispel a black legend that has gathered around the Duke of Northumberland, portraying him as a devout Protestant and a dedicated monarchist. Furthermore Ives suggests that Dudley was neither a Machiavellian nor a blunderer- he was a politician who sought to preserve his dying master's wishes. Henry Gray gets a much less favourable press in Ives's story- he is seen as bookish but unpolitical, incapable of really seeing what the best political action was. Gray is seen as a blunderer- eventually he blundered so much that his head was separated from his shoulders.

There are many interesting points in this book- and as a micro study of a moment in Tudor history it is both interesting and moving. At times Ives inserts his own feelings too much into the narrative- comparing Jane with Anne Frank is not an obvious move- but his research is meticulous and though his canvass is small and the evidence, particularly concerning Jane is scant, he makes the best of what we have. High political history is always to some extent guess work- we cannot really know what is a press release and what is a genuine statement, which parts of a letter were written honestly and which were not. If I have one criticism of Ives it is that occasionally I got the feeling that his willingness to find evidence outweighed his scepticism about the evidence's ability to show us the internal feelings of his cast of characters. But the story is movingly and interestingly told- Jane Grey's brief reign and Edward's reign too deserve attention.

Afterall as Ives suggests in his introduction one of the most fascinating conjectures in British history is what might have happened had Jane stayed on the throne and the House of Dudley replaced the House of Tudor. As so much of the character of the modern British church and state is of Elizabethan and Stuart date, we cannot know what would have been different but we can know that the world we live in would have been very different.

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.

November 17, 2009

Review: Charitable Hatred: Tolerance and Intolerance in England 1500-1700

Tolerance and its history is a controversial and vast area. Professor Alexandra Walsham of Exeter University tackles this in her latest volume- Charitable Hatred- and brings together a large amount of evidence I was unaware of. What Professor Walsham does is show how subtle and difficult an issue early modern tolerance is- for a start it took many different forms, from the social tolerance that parishioners displayed towards each other to the legalised tolerance of the Proclamations of Oliver Cromwell, Charles II, James II and William III and the philosophical and theological tolerance of Levellers like William Walwyn or thinkers like John Locke. Tolerance had limits as well: Locke and Milton believed that Catholics could not be tolerated nor could Atheists. The first and so far as I know only person to suggest that Atheists could be good citizens was Pierre Bayle whose religious affiliations were uncertain to say the least. Toleration is a complex subject and intolerance and tolerance related on many different levels. The early modern state afterall was not organised with a simple structure; an order from the centre translated into actions in the locality but to some extent local magistrates and officials had the ability to obstruct, interpret and even ignore those orders.

It is in that climate that Professor Walsham establishes her book. Her book runs over two centuries and her approach is thematic rather than chronological. Obviously there are key events in the story of toleration- the reformation, the Edwardian reformation of the reformation,. the Marian counter reformation, the Elizabethan reformation, the Jacobean succession, the Caroline experiment, the English Civil War and the conflicts between Stuart Kings, Tories and Whigs which developed into the long constitutional crisis of the 1680s. What Walsham does is attempt to suggest that there were continuities down the centuries- and that there were cyclical movements in toleration which had an impact on society. She identifies moments like the Spanish match of 1621 or the 1670s when Catholics became more tolerated, and moments when toleration flowed leftwards such as the 1550s and 1640s. Toleration though could enduce popular rage which turned into riot and often destruction: so the 1620s might have been good in terms of leglislation for Catholics, but not so good for those injured when a chapel in Blackfriars collapsed- they were killed by a Protestant mob. Jurisdictions also overlapped and there were immunities: the embassies of European powers maintained Catholic chapels- though these too were attacked by Protestants- and in London and the ports there were stranger churches for Protestant refugees from the continent, created to allow them to practice their religion until they became anglican these became refuges for Dutch and French Calvinists.

Toleration had other dimensions too as had intolerance. Intolerance often took an Augustinian form- as Walsham shows arguments from scripture, particularly the cases of Achan and Phineas, were used to demonstrate God would turn his wrath upon those who tolerated unrighteousness. Intolerance rose at particular moments- the stabbing of John Hawkins by a mad puritan inspired repression of religious nonconformity in Elizabeth's reign, Guy Fawkes or the Popish Plot did the same for Catholics in the 17th Century. Anxiety could be pricked in popular terms by imagery- children in London in the 1650s were found reciting to a playmate whose parents were Catholic, 'Papist, Papist pray to the Pope/ Your neck in a halter, your heels in a rope'. Imagery was equally important: one image Walsham prints shows a Quaker woman being convinced by her inner light a devil to sexual infidelity. Anniversaries mattered to: Sir Humphrey Mildmay a Royalist kept at home during the civil war on Guy Fawkes day. Popular pressure, Walsham shows, often congregated around people who were unpopular anyway- so Alice Tailor of Bisham provoked her neighbour Agnes Miller to give evidence against her by calling her an old fool. Puritans gadding for sermons (moving round the country) or like Thomas Hudson of Aylsham spending three days singing psalms non-stop irritated their neighbours. It is those kind of local details that make Walsham's analysis work- bringing together the anxiety of moments with the hatred of people and a vague intolerance into a sometimes fiery combination.

There is much more here- but I think it is the interrelationship between governmental and popular action that is really where the heart of Walsham's argument about the complicated relationship of tolerance and intolerance lies. There is one last aspect which is worth acknowledging which is the problem of inclusivity: tolerance in the early modern period could mean different things- it could mean as Oliver Cromwell meant it tolerance for the community of the saints, it could also mean tolerance which accepted that everyone else was bound for hell. Contrast puritan ministers who refused to preach to the unredeemed with Archbishop Cranmer or the Catholic Bishop Bonner who might have burnt more, but also attempted to persuade more. Their hatred would have been described as charitable- for they cared for the individual soul rather than excluding it from the communion of the blessed. The last hope of practical intolerance was comprehension- the policy attempted by Charles II to bring all Protestants under the communion of the Church of England- there were even suggestions of a parallel structure of Presbyters and Bishops. This policy would have been universalist and included all Protestants in the British Isles but it would have been intolerant- exiling those outside the border of the universal church into legal apartheid.

Walsham also inquires into the attitudes of those persecuted and notes how toleration in the later seventeenth century accompanied confessionalisation: intermarriage between baptists and non-baptists early on was regular, but by 1668 Baptists were forbidden from marrying outside the church- a prohibition that as far as we can see 96% of Baptists in Sussex kept to right up until 1750, a proportion which slightly diminished afterwards. Intolerance created a number of behaviours- quietist Protestantisms like the Muggletonians and the Familists flourished because they hid their behaviour. The phenomenon of Church papists who conformed outwardly to the Anglican church but inwardly were Catholic worried Puritans. The Convectile Acts of the 1660s meant that any gathering above five outside a family unit was banned: some non-conformist ministers spent days circulating their parishes to avoid it. Understanding these routes to conformity means understanding that they were routes to communication: confessionalisation and multiculturalism were phenomena that emerged when it was no longer neccessary to conform. Indeed conformity may have itself led to intolerance losing its cache- far better to know your enemy and argue than to have him or her hide in the church.

Walsham's narrative has a couple of weaknesses. Stressing continuity is good because it reclaims the period's diversity from Whig narratives and what she does is layer traditional accounts of law and political theory with a social context. But there was a change as she acknowledges- by 1688 roughly more people were worried about atheism than they were about sectaries. The experience of civil war and of the incomplete reformation seems to have changed government attitudes. Politique ideas whether Bayle's or even Hobbes's were around in the late seventeenth century in a way they weren't in the early 16th. She is right to say that there were continuities but there was also a story here, a Whig narrative of Puritan and Parliamentary tolerance is obvioulsy inappropriate- afterall the most tolerant leglislative experiments drafted by Charles II and James II were what Parliaments strove against and she is right to say that many advocates for toleration (and James might be included in this) advocated it because they were weak. But there is a story and that story deserves telling- her work has complicated that story and possibly made it more about the limitations of government, the evolution of social structure (toleration was often justified through increasing trade) and the evolution of theology.

More than anything though what the book does is place at the heart of early modern belief, early modern experience. This works both ways: early modern people made mistakes- in the Gordon riots, a crowd passing over London was called to attack a house filled with Catholics, 'What are Catholics to us' they responded, 'We are only against Popery'. Locke and Jeremy Taylor were responding equally to their own experience of life in the period. Toleration also had odd effects- strengthening confessional divides and making the noise of anti-Catholicism and anti-Puritanism louder. Stressing your ideological differences allowed you in some sense to disassociate from the sin going on down the road. This is a provocative and interesting book- I have derived a lot from it both in terms of social and religious history and I think its one that should provoke thought about what we mean by toleration and how it structurally fitted within the early modern state. It is not enough after Walsham to write simply that toleration was a outgrowth of Protestant Parliamentarianism on a teleological line to Victorian England, the early modern world was complicated and tolerance and intolerance were part of that complication. Disintangling what they meant and we mean by the terms is the subject of a life's work: Alexandra Walsham's book is not a bad place to start from.

November 15, 2009

University Studies

Isaiah Berlin wrote in June 1937 to Alfred Zimmern, then Professor of International Relations at Oxford. The letter is interesting because it lays out Berlin's thoughts about the then PPE course at Oxford: PPE is a course which still survives to this day in which undergraduates study politics, philosophy and economics together. What interests me about the letter is less the specifics of what should happen to the course than what it says about Berlin's ideas about what a university education should supply. Berlin was in favour of what we might call a narrow model of education: he believed that people ought to dive into one or two subjects at university and study them intensely, so for example he tells Zimmern that 'it is a widely recognised fact that practically no one can be expected to devote him or herself to three subjects and hope to be profficient in all of them'. Furthermore Berlin suggested that an extra year ought to be added to the PPE course so that people could further specialise- essentially so that they could do what was in effect a masters.

The other principle difference between some modern thinking on education and Berlin's is his view of languages. 'Languages, which ought, I think to be an integral part of the school since no one should be allowed to go down without some knowledge of at least two languages other than English, could be included..., in the form of set books in German and French.' For Berlin education in a subject was education to a certain depth and that required technical apparatus- much as historians in their first graduate years are sent on paleographic courses- so he thought students of politics and philosophy ought to be capable of mastering the technical details of languages. It is an attitude which survives: Richard Evans, the current Regius, has made clear on many occasions that he thinks all undergraduates and graduates in history ought to have a language. But we must understand this in the context of Berlin's other statements: depth in a subject is the first priority and linguistic skill is a means to achieving that depth and rigour.

Berlin's argument to Zimmern was based upon a shared culture- both men were exceptionally learned and valued the abilities of scholarship highly. For a variety of reasons that value system sometimes seems to decay- but I think what is key to retain within it is the idea that Berlin expressed in his letter to Zimmern: real depth in a subject, real understanding requires hard and intense work- work both on the techniques of scholarship- languages, paleography, analytical skills- and on the subject matter of scholarship. Such an education recognises that it has limits- Berlin as he confesses to Zimmern knew very little economics though we know he did read at least some- but it also allows expansion into other areas. Depth in one area allows the student to recognise what depth and analysis looks like, to detect it in other places and then to separate the obvious charlatan from the scholar (higher degrees of charlatanry resist all but expert analysis). Its this idea though of a quest which does not end, of a knowledge which needs to be sought for and tried hard for that I think lies at the heart of Berlin's letter and at the heart of his concept of a university education- possibly of a certain type of education itself.