Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Tudors by G J Meyer ****

If you associate Tudors with a golden age of progress in 16th century England, with the English Reformation led by King Henry VIII, and the Shakespearean triumphs of Elizabethan England, G J Meyer would like you the consider the history, not the "propaganda." As I read this modern history, I was often more reminded of contemporary history than the 16th century.

The reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I included such modern innovations as the dismantling of the public safety net for the poor and sick, along with restricting opportunities for education of those who could not afford the cost. Of course there were no public schools or hospitals, or unemployment insurance in the 16th century. These functions belonged to the (Roman Catholic) church, which had been performing these functions admirably for centuries until King Henry VIII closed and confiscated church properties and institutions to fund the crown and benefit his friends.

During this time, while the gap between the rich and the poor widened, the poor were no longer the responsibility of society, but people to be scorned and punished. Those out of work were branded V (for vagrant), and if this didn't convince them to get a job in a declining economy, anyone could collect them and brand them S (for slave) and put them to work.

Throughout this period, anyone who disagreed with the King or Queen and their cronies, could be accused to being unpatriotic and executed - literally thousands. It was a crime to have different religious beliefs than the government approved. During this time torture was justified to track down enemies of the state. Taxes were cut for the rich and the economy suffered. Foreign wars were started and the debt increased.

However, the most sobering thought is that this period has been seen as a golden age leaving one to wonder what will be taught in charter schools a hundred years from now. G J Meyer's The Tudors: The Complete Story of England's Most Notorious Dynasty is a fascinating read where the historical narrative chapters are interspersed with background chapters on 16th century life and issues of the day. A fascinating read, if you can ignore that it seems so much like political satire in the tradition of Gulliver's Travels, Brave New World, and 1984.

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