Another support meeting, based on an idea by Kathryn Warner. The Support Group of Historical People Inordinately Praised in Modern Day Books. It´s about both novels and non-fiction books, and while of course everyone has different favourites, it has occured to me that in many cases, inordinate praise has a lot of unfortunate implications. So here is this rather sarcastic blog post.
(This does not mean that any of the people here didn`t have amazing qualities as well. It just means that they, in a certain sort of book, are portrayed as too good to be true and their bad actions are either ignored or explained as not actually bad.)
Henry V: “Hello everyone, to the Support Group of Historical People Inordinately Praised in Modern Day Books. I will be your chairman for this meeting. Who else would it be; as many books will reliably tell you, I am a born ruler and leader, just downright brilliant at it. Yes, you sometimes need to commit a little war crime or two, but that doesn`t really mean I can`t be praised for a “strong moral compass” despite this, does it? After all, it was for the greater good, me becoming King of France. Which would have been an excellent thing, because after all, their actual king at the time I attacked was mentally ill, and therefore he can be dismissed and mocked.
Henry VII: Hello there! It´s your wife`s grandson. Thanks for letting me join the meeting, although I admit I wasn`t sure if I should attend this one or the one for Historical People Terribly Maligned in Historical Fiction. I`m both; novels portray me as the next thing to a vampire, even drinking blood. But modern day non-fiction will tell you that this is complete nonsense, which of course it is, and that I was Practically Perfect In Every Way. I mean, not that I don`t agree, but some of the things I have been praised for even I did not realise were actually acts of kindness by me. When I imprisoned Thomas Howard and demoted him to Earl of Surrey, rather than letting him inherit the dukedom of Norfolk from his father, simply for not committing treason for me, I thought it was a ruthless but necessary action. But thanks to modern history books, I know now that it was perfectly fine and in fact a special kindness by me to release him after three years and allow him to be at court again. And I`m pleased many modern people realise that me first attempting, then succeeding at invading a country that had been at peace for a decade, killing the sitting king and thereby causing another battle less than two years later, and a number of rebellions as well, actually counts as ending a civil war. I said so all along, but my contemporaries tended to be so stroppy and picky about it, murmuring something about it being re-starting a war.
Edward III: War is just amazing, don`t you see? If you successfully won some battles, history books will be much more ready to insist you were such a great amazing wonderful king or general than they would if you just changed some boring laws to protect some boring people. Look at me - I`m brilliant! Have always been told so. Who cares about me hanging a ten-year-old to convince his father to do what I wanted; it`s a bit mean, yes, but also clearly it`s the ruthlessness needed to be a good leader and as such actually praiseworthy. Plus, we`re all straight, so that helps too. Who cares you used your wife Catherine to disinherit her brother, my dear friend Henry V? It will still be gushed over as a great romance, and you a great prize for her. As is my marriage to Philippa. I loved her, but that`s actually irrelevant. Instead we`re just assured that she loved me. Isn`t it amazing how just being straight can get you praised. My poor father just didn`t get that.
Henry VII: I loved my wife Elizabeth, too, and our marriage has been praised as the best thing ever. Although I must say, I also couldn't help but noticing that her cousin John, Earl of Lincoln, had a rather shapely bum.
Edward III: Hush! Don`t say it!
Henry V: We`re all very straight here. It makes us wonderful people.
Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March: Talking about straight romance? Time for me to butt in, as apparently, I was England`s greatest love machine, the perfect guy to give poor victimised Queen Isabella some good manly loving and save England from all the terribly gayness by deposing Edward II, who was bad because he was gay, and also totally didn`t have an illegitimate child. My wonderful loving relationship with Isabella that is absolutely factually true and not at all invented makes it obvious all I ever did was good. Because after all, it is all that needs to be known about me; such details as me imprisoning children because the city of Chester rebelled against me or throwing doubts on my cousin`s parentage to steal his inheritance, among other similar details, are utterly irrelevant and are not needed to form a complete picture of me. And that bit with me forcing three of Hugh Despenser`s little daughters to become nuns is also irrelevant, because after all, their father was King Edward II`s lover and as such, it was really a good thing to do. After all, I only did it as Queen Isabella`s adoring lover, whom I definitely, 100 percent, was, so who could question it was done for the best of everyone?
Queen Isabella, Consort of Edward II: We were just the hottest and best couple to ever absolutely doubtlessly be a couple, a couple who could do not wrong at all. My wonderful heterosexual reign in my son`s name was just what England was waiting for, wanted desperately, and many many modern books about me will tell you so. How could anyone think a primary source actually said that England began to hate me when I was ruling? Why should they? Certainly not because I spent such a lot of money that when my son finally took power from me, his treasury was almost empty? Or because I took a honking great deal of money from Robert the Bruce to make peace? Why should anyone think that a bad thing?
Edward III: Perhaps, mother dearest, because I never saw a penny of it?
Queen Isabella: Shush, son, mummy is speaking!
Anne Neville: Like Henry VII, I was not sure if I should attend this meeting or another one - in my case the Meeting for Women Constantly Reduced To Helpless Victims in Historical Fiction. I actually chair that one! But it ended early, so I could come here, to tell you all what a wonderful person I am for surviving an arranged marriage. Obviously, not falling over dead from having to follow customs is a massive achievement and very praiseworthy. As is bearing my coronation without complaint. And generally existing. I`m pretty great not for anything I have done, or not done, simply for existing. I`ve been praised for my husband leaving the rule of his lands to me over our son when he was Duke of Gloucester, and I am sure that must have happened and I was amazing and brilliant for it. Who really needs such a thing as evidence this ever happened.
Katherine Swynford: Evidence is for losers. Hello, everyone. Are you bowled over by my beauty yet? I am the most beautiful woman to ever exist. Helen of Troy hides behind me. At least so many modern novels say, with absolute conviction, and they have convinced many people this is the truth, so really, it must be the truth. I am so beautiful, and my extremely beautiful beauty also makes me a good person. Obviously. I`m much better than my lover`s wife. Who isn`t beautiful. I`m also kind, as evidenced by my very existence. My beauty and kindness are dazzling. Have I mentioned I am beautiful? And kind. But mostly beautiful. So therefore me sleeping with a married man is really nothing terrible and there is no reason at all to be funny about it or point out that my studmuffin even had a wife, except perhaps to point out she was nowhere near as appealing and kind and beautiful as I am.
Edward IV: So lovely to meet you, great-grandmother dearest. I too am very very beautiful. I was called the most beautiful prince in Christendom, and the fact that the same was said, by the same person who said it about me, about Maximilian I in my life time is utterly insignificant. I am a very beautiful, golden hunk of a man who just had to kill Henry VI, and anyway you should blame my brother for it. Or possibly my wife`s brother. I might only a bit have been involved but I was really sad about it, so it doesn't change that I was a great wonderful hunk of a perfect king. I was jovial and liked a party and women loved me, so don`t pay any attention to that nasty little rumour I passed on discarded mistresses to my courtiers against the women`s will. You will read almost nothing that pays any attention to it. Or to the fact that I gave my sister Elizabeth and my brother-in-law John the wardship of an orphaned teenager and then punished them for trying to help the boy regain his possessions. And that bit where I married my aged aunt to my wife`s brother so he would inherit when she died is really my wife`s fault, not mine. I`m a wonderful golden giant of a handsome hunk. Everyone says so!
Henry V: I suppose we can only congratulate ourselves and each other for being such perfect wonderful human beings. It`s hard to be as amazing as we are, isn`t it? So much wonderful humanity in one room. We should break up this meeting and celebrate. The meeting is hereby closed.