Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Blog Tour: A History of the English Monarchy

From the poster above, you can see that I'm stop number two on this blog tour for Gareth Russell's A History of the English Monarchy: From Boadicea to Elizabeth I. Please note that if you want to participate in the book giveaway, leave a comment below: I'll select the lucky winner and arrange to have the book sent to him or her. (UPDATE: the winner has received her copy). I interviewed Gareth who is: "an historian and writer from Belfast, Northern Ireland. He studied Modern History at the University of Oxford and completed a postgraduate in medieval history at Queen’s University, Belfast. He is the author of two novels and three non-fiction books, including his most recent book, A History of the English Monarchy: From Boadicea to Elizabeth I. He is currently writing a biography of Queen Catherine Howard."

Q. What was/is the role of organized religion (Christianity) in the development of the English Monarchy?

A. It’s hard to understate its role, I think. You can of course make the perfectly valid point that monarchy pre-dated Christianity and I start the book by looking at pagan monarchies and their impact on Britain, but I think the medieval English monarchy’s character was fundamentally shaped by its Christian ethos. Its role in inspiring Alfred the Great in his wars against the Vikings was enormous. In the Middle Ages, religion influenced some of the monarchy’s worst actions – particularly Edward I’s treatment of the Jewish community – but it also ameliorated many potential atrocities and created a king’s mentality and the mentality of those who advised or followed him. It encouraged chivalry, how the monarchy patronized the arts and how it dispensed charity, often on a grand scale. Today, I think the Christian influence on Britain is in many ways underestimated and the secularization theory might have been over-stated to a degree, perhaps because the religious debate here is not often expressed in the same open and vocal way as it can be in US politics. The current Queen is devoutly religious and I think the Christian ethos in the monarchy continues to encourage and shape ideas of duty and service, as well as destiny.

Q. Who has a baby (male) and who does not is so essential to the history of the monarchy, as Henry VIII’s reign shows. Which other births—or non-births—are most important in this history?

A. I suppose the obvious example is of course to wonder what would have happened if Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn or Mary I had given birth to sons or, in Mary’s case even a daughter, who outlived them. Another non-birth that really mattered was the lack of child from Henry I’s marriage to Adeliza of Louvain, which I deal with in a chapter called “Beauclerc”, and its consequences – a civil war after 1135 – in the chapter “When Christ and His saint slept”. One birth that happened and stands out in my mind in terms of his ancestry and his future career was James VI’s birth in 1566 to Mary, Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley. He had the ancestry of the Scottish and English royal houses, which enabled him to unite the thrones in 1603 and lay the foundations of Great Britain.

Q. Who is your favorite queen consort, and why?

A. It’s a tough question and the reason why is because there are consorts I love researching and writing about – writing this book I came away with a real sense of admiration for queens I had never given a huge amount of thought to before, like Adeliza of Louvain in the twelfth century and Margaret of Anjou in the fifteenth. Though in both cases, and particularly in Margaret’s, they made some horrendous errors of judgement.In terms of personality, I have a creeping fondness for Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, who falls well outside the parameters of this book. I don’t think she was as “fluffy” as the royal PR machine suggested and I think Hitler’s backhanded compliment that she was “the most dangerous woman in Europe” captures something of her grit, patriotism and charisma, all wrapped up in inimitable and obfuscating Edwardian charm. So in a tough horse race, I’d say the late Queen Mother is someone I admire, am intrigued by and would love to one day write more about.

Q. Other than the development of the Magna Carta, what other significant events effected changes in the balance of power between the monarch and aristocracy?

A. I think in the long-term the Reformation really shifted things and not in the monarchy’s favour. I hope you can see a little in the book’s final chapter why Elizabeth I was so hostile towards fundamentalist Protestantism and her distress when some of those close to her, even the Earl of Leicester, began to sympathise with the Puritan movement. Elizabeth was clever enough to realise that more radical Protestantism was shifting concepts of sovereignty and she had only to look at the damage Presbyterianism had inflicted on Mary, Queen of Scots to appreciate the threat in England.

Q. How important was Marian devotion in the history of the English monarchy until Elizabeth I? Why was England known as Our Lady’s Dowry?

A. It was a huge part of English culture. There’s a lovely little anecdote that I enjoy that marigold flowers got their name from being nicknamed “Mary’s Gold”. Henry V, one of England’s most successful warrior-kings, consecrated the kingdom to Mary’s patronage, which helped foster a patriotic notion that England was a gift to the Virgin. Devotion to her proved far more difficult to eradicate during the Reformation – obedience to the papacy was perhaps one of the things that collapsed quickest in England, at least by 1540 though it later revived in the recusant community, but Mary and prayers for the dead proved a lot harder to dislodge. Well into the seventeenth century, there were Protestant writers who wanted to encourage devotion to Mary in the “new religion” and of course that did happen in the Victorian era, with the emergence of the Oxford or High Anglican Movement. I visited Lincoln Cathedral recently, which is a Protestant church, but in the gift shop the ladies behind the till and the parishioners referred to the Virgin Mary as “Our Lady”.
Q. The Empress (putative Queen) Maud may have been one of the most intriguing figures of the early history of the monarchy. What would have changed if she had successfully reigned as Queen?

A. I don’t know if much would have changed in the long-term, given that her successor would have been the same as King Stephen’s – her son, Henry II. English intervention in Ireland took place after Maud’s death, so again it’s hard to know if that would have changed or maybe delayed even longer if she had continued to reign until 1167, pushing Henry II’s reign back by thirteen years. It may have soothed the fears about a female sovereign, which could then have had a knock-on effect on Henry VIII’s frantic quest for a son after 1509.

Q. You’ve written about the Tudors separately. What difference, if any, did it make to your perspective when you wrote about the Tudor dynasty in the context of a book about the history of English monarchy?

A. What a great question. It didn’t make a difference to my own perspective on them, but it certainly did change how I wrote about them in this particular book. In the sense that I was approaching them as the end of the story, I could discuss their links to their predecessors, which was great – after all, the Tudors did not know they would be seen as the “birth of modernity”. Like all of us, they could only ever look back. So I was able to talk about how Henry VIII used the examples of Emperor Constantine and kings like Henry II and John to justify the Break with Rome and I could rebut the idea that Anne Boleyn was a failed queen because she had too much personality. A brief glance at England’s medieval queens consort shows that fire and character were not things they generally lacked. I was able to set the Tudors more in the context of their inspirations and ancestors.

Q. Do you plan to write the sequel, from James I to Elizabeth II?

A. At the moment, there are no immediate plans to. I’m currently working on a biography of Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife. I tried to make sure that“A History of the English Monarchy” can stand alone as a narrative of the English monarchy and its medieval experience. I think the Stuarts are a topic I’d love to tackle. When you grow up in Northern Ireland, where the legacy of the Glorious Revolution is still so contested, it’s hard not to wonder what the truth behind it was.

More about the book from the publisher, Made Global:

In A History of the English Monarchy, historian Gareth Russell traces the story of the English monarchy and the interactions between popular belief, religious faith and brutal political reality that helped shape the extraordinary journey of one of history’s most important institutions.

From the birth of the nation to the dazzling court of Elizabeth I, A History of the English Monarchy charts the fascinating path of the English monarchy from the uprising of ‘Warrior Queen’ Boadicea in AD60 through each king and queen up to the ‘Golden Age’ of Elizabeth I. Russell offers a fresh take on a fascinating subject as old as the nation itself. Legends, tales and, above all, hard facts tell an incredible story… a history of the English Monarchy.

If you are not the lucky winner and want to read the book, it's available in paperback and digitally here. Remember to make a comment if you want a chance to win--please include your email address in your comment for me to contact you (if you win). Thank you. UPDATE: The winner has received her copy. Thanks for your comments!

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