As I’m plodding through ‘Wolf Hall’ at the moment I thought I’d have a wander round the Tower of London again to absorb some Tudor atmosphere. It’s not difficult to find yourself sucked back down the centuries in this place, and it has always been one of my secret ambitions to spend a night here as it’s apparently pretty densely populated by spooky presences.
Traitors’ Gate was an obvious draw for me as both Anne Boleyn and Thomas More went to their deaths through it. Thomas Cromwell comes out of the novel quite well, whereas Anne Boleyn seems to have been what would nowadays be called a ‘pushy cow’ and would probably have made a very good and highly admired female CEO had she been born a few centuries later.
I’ve known and loathed quite a few women managers who were just like her, at least in the book. One of them was called Vanessa and another Beverley. They made my life hell but I admit that I probably deserved some of it. I’ve never liked being told what to do (timesheets), being checked up on (performance reviews) or being punished and threatened (disciplinary procedures). I’m not, I’m afraid, a good team player and my office career was, looking back, doomed before it even began.
Henry VIII of course will always be a porcine bastard, but he was not so exceptional for a Renaissance ruler. Look at the Borgias, for god’s sake – compared with them he comes across as even a bit of a softie. Thomas More was canonised a second time for a 20th century audience by Robert Bolt, but I’ve read all about his intolerance and bigotry and how he hounded poor old William Tyndal to death just because he wanted the English public to be able to read the Bible in their own language. God preserve us from self-righteous bigots of whatever persuasion who make it their mission in life to inflict their ignorant views on everyone else.
When characters like Cromwell and More are popularly painted as all devilish or all saintly it’s clearly time for a spot of revisionism. Richard III, buried under a municipal car park and slag heaps of damning propaganda by the Tudors, is another case in point. Things are rarely as they seem.
Imagine if, when your own endlessly complex life has slipped into the past like theirs’, you somehow get to see a biography of yourself written by some future historian centuries from now.
Your jaw would probably drop and hang open throughout. You’d keep saying, like J. Alfred Prufrock, ‘That is not what I meant at all. That is not it, at all.’