Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The Improbable Heirs

I'm a second year history student at university and I love just about anything to do with history; I love the hidden stories of individuals who have been hidden from view by greater and more prominent historical figures. I like to find the 'forgotten' and smaller individuals and find out their story; how they lived, what they did and what made them special.
My favourite historical period is the Tudor era of England. I just love everything about this family; where they came from, what they achieved, how they behaved, and what they ended up creating. My obsession with them started when I was 14 and I was given the book 'The Constant Princess' by Philippa Gregory, by a friend of mine who had read it and thought I'd like it - biggest understatement of my life. I still have this book and it is still one of my favourites; it tells the story of a young Catherine of Aragon when she is sent to England to marry Prince Arthur Tudor and follows her life for the years after. There were so many things I loved about this book; primarily, the way that instead of just having this person written down in a family tree as the wife of a great man, her life was made entirely her own and she was given a voice - the journey she made from her home, how she felt, the small things that happened in her life which are often forgotten in the attempt to give the wider public an understanding of historical events. Secondly, the fact that this book was written by a woman and had given a fresh breath of life into this centuries dead woman was an inspiration to me; much of history is encased into large textbooks written by men with emotions omitted in order to present the facts. After reading this book my personal ambitions changed; up until this point I still maintained that I wanted to be a guitarist in a band, and while this did stay with me a while longer, the idea of being an author of historical fiction was one that really stuck in my head. The feeling that I had when I first read that book is without a doubt the reason why, six years later, I am still studying the Tudors and have no plan to stop doing so.

To me, the Tudor family seen to be one that rose to prominence with a lot of luck and chance as so many things were unplanned, not technically legitimate or questionable. It says a lot about the strength of Henry VII that when he claimed the throne he was able to hold it. In all theory concerning royal legitimacy, there is no way that it could have been foreseen that Henry Tudor would ever be on the throne of England. Henry Tudor was descended from royalty however this was not a close nor legitimate link; his grandmother was Queen Katherine of Valois whose possible secret marriage to Owen Tudor, that had produced Henry's father Edmund, was never confirmed or the children permitted to be legitimized as royal heirs. There was also the same predicament on Henry's mother's side as Margaret Beaufort was a descendant of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford; the children were born outside of marriage and were not legitimized until the couple finally wed later in life and even then the question still stood as to them having any claim to the throne of England. Henry Tudor was Welsh, not English, and was raised in France, not England, therefore he did not garner a support base in England as other possible heirs might have.
There is a lot of luck, it seems, that went into the result of Henry Tudor becoming king of England, and it this reason that makes me admire the Tudors as they were the unlikely heirs of a chance situation, something which becomes a pattern in their reigns.

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