A review of Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen, by Anna Whitelock

This is a book about kings, queens and popes. Between the royal pregnancy in the United Kingdom and the Pope’s resignation, social pressure around issues of these ongoing institution tests one’s belief in a possible new social organisation based on a fairer, more rational basis. It may sound a bit sad, but I think in reading this, I tried to take refuge from current affairs and turn to queens and popes I can understand: the long dead ones who will never return.

Obviously, I was also attracted by its focus on strong women characters, mainly Catherine of Aragon and, obviously, Mary herself, who reigned despite her tendency to just menstruate all over the country. Whitelock actually writes

“It is likely that Mary’s illness was the onset of menstruation, with recurrent pains and melancholy exarcebated by distress and anxiety. It was a condition from which she would suffer repeatedly.”

I will not make any of the compulsory joke about her nickname of Bloody Mary here, out of deference for the excellent cocktail of that name.

It is quite an interesting bit of the history of Europe, going through all of Henry VIII’s wives and the unrest caused by his death. The incorporation of original letters makes the political intrigue all the more captivating. Maybe I am more sympathetic to the character of Lady Jane Grey myself, and her being brushed aside to make marry the first queen makes me a bit sad, but it is quite an enjoyable read. Just do not think of the fact that the monarchy incomprehensibly still exists today. It made me give a try to the TV series about The Tudors, we’ll see how that goes.

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Anniversary of E.P. Thompson’s The Making of The English Working Class

Apparently, it has been 50 years since The Making Of The English Working Class was first published, or at least so says Ian Bone. I read my parents’ copy a while back (10 years ago, o dear), and keep on referring to it. When my dad gave me L’Insomiaque’s new book on the Luddites (which I strongly recommend, but as it is in French, I have not written about it), I was quite excited that it largely draws from E.P. Thompson’s book, as it guarantees an interesting approach to the Luddites (compared to works in which they are described as out-dated romantics or eco-warriors before their time).

The Making Of The English Working Class does what it says on the cover: instead of centering on the industrial revolution as the birth of capitalism, it centres on the violent process of creating an industrial working class. Sadly, I don’t have a copy around, for which I have no excuse as it is one of those Pelican major classics that can be picked up from many charity shops. It is a pretty long book, and it does have an interest to read it in its continuity, but even if you only read a couple of chapters about what interests you more particularly, it will still be worth it.

I am always highly suspicious of Marxist historians, but E.P. Thompson’s work is as far as I can tell entirely intellectually honest. I would say that its development about how the working-class was made has consequences for people who wish to ‘un-make’ it and dream of a classless society which largely contradicts orthodox Marxist views (and some anarchists’ views as well, to be fair).