Elizabeth – The Forgotten Years of John Guy

Elizabeth – The Forgotten Years of John Guy

Myths are best served exploited, otherwise they can be over-inflated and thus hide the substance of any dish. And if that dish is the national conscience or the identity of a nation, then that excess of eggs should be avoided, lest it become the overly elaborate norm.

In recent times the Tudors have become the currency of entertainment, and not only in the British media. From TV series to historical novels to feature films, we’ve seen a plethora of offerings, mostly Henry VIII and Elizabeth stories, it has to be said. These often degenerate into period dramas or political intrigue whodunits, where precision is stripped out of the story to create the kind of simplistic plot cliché that mass markets are seen to demand. “Based on a true story,” that overworked and internally contradictory phrase, is now so overburdened that it might be better to omit it. “Built around historical names” would be better. And while there is nothing wrong with fiction, since it often allows for interpretations that defy received wisdom, there are real difficulties when that fiction becomes a myth whose acceptance becomes so widespread that it cannot be questioned. It could be argued that the connotations associated with terms like Good Queen Bess, Golden Age, or simply Elizabethan are in danger of relying more on fiction than fact. Or perhaps these are nostalgic labels for contemporary ideal states thought to be missing in our own times.

And then what an absolute delight it is to find a book like Elizabeth – The Forgotten Years by John Guy. This is a book that is truly based on true stories, as this academic historian from Clare College, Cambridge references and describes any sources the reader might need to support any point. The deadlines are not stretched, the statement is supported by facts and the mystery can only obscure the facts when there is no evidence.

The forgotten years of John Guy’s title refers to the latter part of Elizabeth’s reign. The first years that preceded the Armada in 1588, with their multiple plots, propositions, matchmakers and conspiracies, are the ones that serve as a backdrop for most of the fictions. These later years were characterized by war, economic difficulties, and political intrigue. Perhaps they were dominated by considerations of succession, since Elizabeth, of course, had no heir. It is worth noting here, however, that John Guy, by virtue of a discursive style that deals with themes rather than a chronologically ordered mix of events, provides much background material relating to the years before 1588 as context. supposedly a selective encounter with the last years of Elizabeth’s reign contains a very complete and detailed description of her entire reign.

John Guy makes several assumptions that should guide our understanding of the period. In the 16th century, he says, status did not prevail over gender. Elizabeth was a woman, and that meant that many of the men at court had little or no respect for her, other than recognition of her birthright. And, because her mother was Anne Boleyn, whom her father married after denying her a divorce, even that was questioned by many, especially those of the old faith, who also would have wanted to do more than simply undermine this Protestant queen. . The author, by the way, is not implying that gender issues are or have been different in other centuries. As a professional historian, he is simply defining the scope of relevance that should be attached to his comment. Second, because Elizabeth was a single woman, the issue of succession had to dominate her reign. In her early years, this meant several struggles to find her a husband in the hope that she could materialize a male heir. But later, in the period covered by John Guy’s book, Elizabeth was too old to have children anyway. The succession discussion, therefore, shifted from matchmaking into more strategic and political territory.

In Elizabeth – The Forgotten Years, the queen is portrayed as a fundamentally medieval monarch. She saw herself as a descendant of God, a sure kin to all others who shared this enthroned proximity to the Almighty. She therefore dared not sign the death warrant for Mary Queen of Scots, believing that anyone’s decision to kill a royal would legitimize the practice, and who might be next? receive it in the neck? And since this was by definition a direct attack on God, it also brought damnation as a consequence. Hence Isabel’s duplicity in making it known that she wanted to get rid of María and, at the same time, denying any responsibility for the act, which requires that the person who enacted her wishes be arrested for treason. These medieval royals were above reason, it seems, as well as the law. And messengers, it seems, have always been fair game.

This unwillingness to sign a death warrant was not a weakness that plagued Elizabeth very often. It seems that the mere breath of a plot or conspiracy quickly resulted in all odors being masked by the smell of fresh ink that made up her signature on an invitation to the Tower. John Guy’s book regularly takes us to the gallows with these condemned people, usually men of course, and offers details of their fate. One particularly memorable phrase, specifically suggested by the queen, had a doomed man hanged by a single movement of the rope, so that he could then be cut up and, still alive and still conscious, witness his own guts and beating heart being placed on the ground. land next to him. In an era that still believed in the resurrection of the mortal body, these traitorous criminals had to be dismembered and their parts separated to ensure that their souls were never saved. It may have been the will of God, but it certainly was that of his reigning representative on earth.

This Good Queen Bess, by the way, was in the habit of conveying similar fates quite regularly. She also refused to pay the salaries of the soldiers and sailors who fought for her, dressed in finery while her war wounded received no assistance or pension and were forced to sleep outdoors. She turned a blind eye to the disease and epidemic that ravaged her forces and her population. Isabel, the patriotic heroine, also and perhaps deceitfully sued for peace with Spain, offering Felipe II conditions close to surrender if she and he could agree to divide the economic interests between them.

He handed over monopolies to his brokers and lobbyists in exchange for a cut of the profits. A real strength of John Guy’s book is the insistence on translating the values ​​of the Elizabethan era into modern terms. The resulting multiplication by a thousand reveals the extent to which national finances were shared out by elites. Although she was parsimonious when others had to receive, Elizabeth for herself only demanded the finest and most expensive treatment. It was, after all, her Right.

Elizabeth also had an English economy that elevated robbery on the high seas to a strategic objective. And her courtiers treated the expeditions as capitalist enterprises, with ministers and the like participating in the enterprises in exchange for a share of the booty. And much of this would be stolen before it was declared or when it was landed by handlers or simple thieves who clearly learned their morals and behavior from the so-called better ones. The market was apparently free, but those who operated it risked jail time.

Therefore, Elizabeth – The Forgotten Years will be a complete revelation for anyone who has absorbed the popular culture representation of this era. John Guy’s book identifies the very human traits displayed by this pious queen and absurdly posits them along with the attitude of her contemporaries that she was a mere worthless woman.

There aren’t many figures in John Guy’s wonderful book who come out unscathed, either in reputation or in body. Nor is it out to destroy anyone’s reputation. As a historian, he presents evidence, evaluates it, and then offers an informed and balanced opinion. This, however, is healthy, since in today’s climate populism is too often allowed to infuse its own version of history into its message. He does it to gain some control of a contemporary agenda through myth-making, and Tudor melodramas are no exception to this rule. Elizabeth – The Forgotten Years demands that we accurately remember our royal past in all its madness, and in doing so destroy many dangerous myths.

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