Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Carry on Henry

King Henry VIII:        Her figure's all right. What about her face?
Thomas Cromwell:     I am assured, sire, it is the fairest in all Normandy.
King Henry VIII:        What about her... [indicates hourglass figure]
Thomas Cromwell:     The fullest in all Normandy.
King Henry VIII:        Has she been chaste?
Thomas Cromwell:     All over Normandy.

However good Damien Lewis and Mark Rylance were in the BBC's adaptation of Wolf Hall, I think we can all agree that Sid James and Kenneth Williams gave us the definitive versions of Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell. I have been to see Dr David Starkey lecture on Henry VIII., where disappointingly, and despite his being a distinguished historian, he made no mention at all of either Marie of Normandy or Bettina, buxom daughter of the Earl of Bristol. I intended to challenge this omission in the Q&A afterwards, but unfortunately the great man's gaze never fell on my raised hand; instead we had to put up with eager sixth formers asking about the dissolution of the monasteries.

Other than that small oversight he was an informative and entertaining speaker, and notably one who didn't seem to alter his approach despite speaking to a largely non-academic audience. He was also rather charming and happy to sign books and chat in a way that put a lot of musicians I could name to shame. Perhaps as a nod to his reputation for being the rudest man in Britain he did have digs at several people including Prince Charles (easy target), Gordon Brown (not exactly au courant), feminists (yawn), people who study their family history (it is apparently the second step on one's way to one's dotage)  and Bartok's opera "Duke Bluebeard's Castle" (I disagree and have very fond memories of Sir John Tomlinson in Opera North's semi staged version in 2005).

I won't attempt to summarise what he said - read his books. He subscribes to the theory of French pikemen at Bosworth, but offered no evidence to support it. He touched on the subject during a very amusing and thought provoking diversion onto the parallels between the Reformation and Britain's exit from the EU on the one hand and radical Islam on the other. The previous lecture that I attended was marred by members of the audience taking to opportunity to disagree politically with the speaker and this was a refreshing change; at least it was until the first question, which was whether Dr Starkey thought he would be able improve his historical analysis by adopting a Marxist perspective. Spoiler alert: he didn't, and also took the opportunity to be gratuitously rude about Max Weber as well.

1 comment:

  1. Deliciously rude academics of a certain vintage are wonderful to see in action. Much as I loved Wolf Hall, I know need to see Kenneth Williams and Sid James in action.