History

Mock Tudor

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I hated the 1998 movie Elizabeth, and I don't expect to think much of the sequel, Elizabeth: The Golden Age. So I'm pleased to report that Turner Classic Movies will be airing an antidote tonight: John Ford's Mary of Scotland, based on Maxwell Anderson's play of the same name. I'm not ordinarily a fan of Ford's Old World pictures, and I can't say this one is a particularly good film in itself. Nor is it very accurate as history. But it's the one Hollywood movie I'm aware of that presents Elizabeth I as a villain, an approach so rare that I'll recommend it on those grounds alone.

I figure that as an Irishman, Ford hated the English. Either that, or he decided deriding a beloved English heroine might make up for all the roles he would give to Victor McLaglen, the Steppin Fetchit of Irish America.

Mary of Scotland airs at 8:00 p.m., Eastern Time, when it kicks off 24 hours of historical biopics. But if you're a hard-core Elizabeth-hater, you should turn off TCM when the movie is done and rent the second season of Blackadder, with Miranda Richardson playing the queen as a ditsy twit.

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  1. Indeed…I have a CUNNING plan…

    Baldrick is the best sidekick ever.

  2. That was my favorite of The Blackadder series.

  3. Or should I say “favourite”?

  4. just watched the BlackAdder season II Dvd from netflix last week.

    Heads is my probably my favorite episode of the whole series.

  5. To libertarian eyes, which monarch was not a villain?. Her predecessor, Mary Tudor, burned at least 300 heretics for holding that bread and wine was symbolic of Christ, not actually Christ. If anything, I think the Brits are happy with Elizabeth having kept England independent of the Catholic French and Spainards by ultimately refusing to marry one or another Princes put forward for her.

  6. I like the Stuarts. Scots who came down and undermined the English monarchy. On purpose, if you ask me.

    Elizabeth I was a fascinating historical character, but she was an absolutist. Just like her dear Pa-Pa.

  7. A villain compared to which available alternative, Jesse?

    You surely know by now that politics being the art of the possible, she can only be judged a villain if the alternatives were better.

  8. I saw “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” last week. Don’t waste your money. It was either not historical enough or not fictional enough — and either way, it wasn’t good writing nor good acting.

  9. Jesse Walker,

    Congratulations, I’m glad to hear you support the legitimate, Catholic queen Mary Stuart over the heretical usurping bastard Elizabeth

  10. Either that, or he decided deriding a beloved English heroine might make up for all the roles he would give to Victor McLaglen, the Steppin Fetchit of Irish America.

    goid bliss ye, mistar wawker!

  11. At best Elizabeth I ran what would be called a “police state” these days.

    Pro Libertate,

    The Stuarts have a mixed record; for example, at times as his fortunes changed Charles II was either a champion of religious liberty or its opponent. Of course it could be argued that the radical Whigs forced Charles’ hand, that he would have much rather tolerated a far greater degree of religious liberty than many elements of British (a problematic term even at this point) political society would have ever allowed for.

  12. Mary Stuart

    1) Murdered her husband.
    2) Made war on her people
    3) Participated in at least three plots against Elizabeth during her exile in England.

    Elizabeth Tudor:

    1) Made war on the Irish.
    2) Oppressed the English Catholics
    3) Had her last lover’s head cut off.

    Neither of them very nice.

    OTOH:

    Elizabeth was an effective ruler who took over a country on the verge of civil war and made it one of the great powers of Europe. England prospered during her reign.

    Mary caused civil war in her country, lost her throne and essentially turned Scotland over to the rule of the Presbyterian church. The Scots Liards were virtually unchecked during Mary’s reign.

  13. Blackadder‘s second “series” (i.e. season) is fun. But the third series has libertarian food for thought. The prince regent, the future King George IV (Hugh Laurie of House), loves to go to the theater. But he’s so stupid, he always thinks the murder and mayhem on stage are real, not made up. It seems to me that claims that video games make people violent, porn causes rape, advertising causes materialism, etc., treat us all like stupid Prince Georges.

  14. Of course Elizabeth was a bloody-handed absolutist – it was the 16th century. But until we have a national leader who is a religious moderate by the standards of their contemporaries, doesn’t start wars they don’t need to, and goes light on the judicial torture, perhaps we shouldn’t throw stones, yes?

  15. …and made it one of the great powers of Europe.

    England was a second-tier power at her death. Basically Spain was still the primary European power.

  16. As someone said at Hollywood Elsewhere, they were waiting for the moment in the trailer of Elizabeth: The Shower of a Golden Age for Elizabeth’s hand to be cut off in battle, and for her to replace it with a grenade launcher.

    Fortunately, an antidote is no further than the HBO two-part Elizabeth with Helen Mirren, which does a great job of showing her as teetering atop a constantly shifting court jockeying for position, and torn by the conflict between her emotional needs and the fact that people like Essex who got close to the woman invariably got drunk on the prospect of power instead and went down in flames. Not sure if that is any truer than all the other Elizabeths, but it seemed new next to all the icy virgin queens before her.

  17. And now, Part 1 of “The Death of Mary, Queen of Scots”…

    “Are you Mary, Queen of Scots?”

    “I am.”

    *thunk, rattle, hammer, saw, clank*

  18. Mike G,

    I liked the HBO miniseries as well. I thought the portrayal of Elizabeth was much better than in other recent efforts.

  19. A point of clarification / disagreement:

    Victor McLaglen is NOT the Steppin Fetchit of Irish America. Unlike Steppin Fetchit, who is reviled by most African-Americans, McGlaglen was (and is) generally well-liked.

    That damnable, silly leprechaun mascot of the University of Notre Dame is reviled as a disgusting stereotype, and is probably the closest equivalent.

  20. “And then that disgrace to humanity, that pest of society, Elizabeth. Who, murderous and wicked Queen that she was, confined her cousin, the lovely Mary Queen of Scots, for nineteen years, and then brought her to an untimely, unmerited, unscandalous death. Much to the eternal shame of the Monarchy, and the entire kingdom.” – Fanny Price, Mansfield Park (the movie*)

    *I don’t recall this particular passage being in Jane Austen’s wonderful novel.

  21. Basically Spain was still the primary European power.

    By Elizabeth’s death, Spain was in severe decline. Parma had retired in 1592 and Medina-Sidonia had known that the Armada was incapable of destroying the English fleet. The expulsion of the Jews and Moriscos in 1492 had deprived Spain of much of its middle class. The gold of the Americas had gone into the hands of the Church and the Nobility and the inflation that resulted had completed the job of decimating the Spanish middle class. The Dutch became independent. After 1600, Spain did have some influence in Italy for a time, but even that quickly faded. By 1650, Spain was no longer a major power.

    The primary power was France, which had been ably restored by Henri IV – who was, incidentally, a fervent admirer of Elizabeth’s abilities as a monarch.

    The English were rising, but were not yet the dominant power. The Dutch and Sweden were also rising. Due to the interference of the French and the Austrians, the Italian states were divided and no longer played a major role.

    The primary rival the French was the Austrians, but they were preoccupied with the Turks, so the French were essentially unrivalled at the time.

  22. Pro Libertate | October 15, 2007, 10:25am | #

    I like the Stuarts. Scots who came down and undermined the English monarchy. On purpose, if you ask me.

    I agree, although I doubt it was intentional. For sheer stupidity, ineptitude and feeklessness, the English Stuarts have few rivals. Their lack of ability allowed Parliament to gain supremacy and set the stage for the English Bill of Rights.

    The one merit the Stuarts did have was that they were tolerant (for their time.)

  23. OOPS.

    Forgot to close the tag.

  24. If I didn’t think certain habitues of this board proud of their Scottish heritage would blow a gasket, I’d characterise the Stuarts as a wimp who sold out to the Spanish, a fool who deservedly lost his head, a fool who sold out to the French and a mediocre admiral. But I won’t.

    The Eighty Years’ War is one of the classic cases of a superpower enthusiastically cutting its own throat. Too bad our current makers of foreign policy studied polisci instead of history…

  25. I’m proud of my Scottish heritage, and I think the Stuarts were poor rulers. Unless my joke about them trying to screw up the English throne was actually true.

  26. Nah, I think they were just incompetent. Although they did contrive to inflict the House of Hanover on the English, which was a pretty diabolical stroke. (Poor Anne; five children, none who lived into their teens, and twelve – twelve! – still-births.)

  27. . . . that disgrace to humanity, that pest of society, Elizabeth. Who, murderous and wicked Queen that she was, confined her cousin, the lovely Mary Queen of Scots, for nineteen years, and then brought her to an untimely, unmerited, unscandalous death.

    Elizabeth didn’t *want* to kill Mary; she was hoping that someone would take the hint that Mary needed killing, like the similar hint that Henry II let fall regarding Thomas Becket, and that Mary would just end up dead. Unfortunately for Elizabeth, no one in her court wanted to provide her with plausible deniability for this particular killing, so she was forced to sign Mary’s death warrant to get the result she wanted.

  28. Miranda Richardson is so hot.
    Even (especially?) when she’s saying things like, “Daddy always let me take my little friends to the executions. If I wanted any of my little friends executed.”

  29. Oops. I meant to italicize the first paragraph of that last comment.

  30. Aresen,

    By Elizabeth’s death, Spain was in severe decline.

    I do not agree. It was only with the Treaty of the Pyrenees that France becomes the chief European power. If one had been living in Europe in 1603 Spain would have looked and would have been the most important power; able to throw armies up all over the continent and present mortal danger to the Protestant powers.

  31. If I didn’t think certain habitues of this board proud of their Scottish heritage would blow a gasket, I’d characterise the Stuarts as a wimp who sold out to the Spanish, a fool who deservedly lost his head, a fool who sold out to the French and a mediocre admiral. But I won’t.

    Peachy

    You needn’t worry. My Scots ancestors were MacDonalds. The Stuarts were d****d Lowlanders.

    😉

  32. James I and Charles II were quite competant monarchs, particularly the latter given the near state of rebellion he was constantly living in.

    Seamus,

    It is a quote from a movie.

  33. In other words, that Charles II was able to maintain him crown until his death was in large part due to his own craftiness as a ruler. He was rather shrewd and had learned some significant lessons from the fate of his father as well as his experience fleeing from the New Model Army.

  34. Of course it is also true that numerous of his subjects did not feel like living through the Civil War again or the dictatorship that eventually followed it.

  35. Aresen,

    I’m with you. Godforsaken Lowlanders.

    S of S,

    I find the Stuarts as a group unimpressive. James I was arguably the best of the bunch, but he had some serious weaknesses and was coasting on the goodwill and success of Elizabeth.

  36. Pro Libertate,

    Well, it depends on which “school” one belongs to on the matter of his reign. I think in general he was rather good for the kingdoms that he ruled.

  37. One particular oddity is that the Stuarts produced two of the most religiously tolerant monarchs during the Reformation, but the judgment of history most often goes with the “winners” (who weren’t the Stuarts).

  38. I’m waiting for Elizabeth III: Elizabeth Goes to Washington

  39. Unless you were a witch.

  40. S of S

    Spain may have had the appearance of being a great power, but its army was rotten. The Spanish economy was in tatters, reliant on gold and silver from the Americas to support the Crown. They were rebuilding their navy, but it never seriously rivalled the English again. The Treaty of the Pyrenees was merely the certification of the decline that had already taken place.

    To borrow Mao’s phrase, Spain was a Paper Tiger by 1600.

    I agree that the Stuarts were tolerant. The Roundheads were far more bigoted and, once Cromwell was in power, oppressive. James II basically lost the throne because of ongoing Protestant bigotry in addition to his own ineptitude.

  41. Pro Libertate | October 15, 2007, 2:29pm | #

    Unless you were a witch.

    Peasants:
    Burn the witch! Burn the witch!

    Arthur:
    Put the accused in a scale balanced by a feather. If she rises, she is a witch, if she sinks she is not.

    Witch is placed on scale. She rises.

    Arthur:
    Very well, you may burn the witch.

    Peasants:
    Burn the witch! Burn the witch!

  42. Aresen,

    A paper tiger is not feared the way Spain (and the Hapsburgs generally) was feared in 1603 (the fact that numerous felt the need to gang up on Spain illustrates that). Indeed, if one were involved in the first phase of the Thirty Years’ War one would have assumed that it would gone in the favor of Spain and the Hapsburgs.

  43. Ditsy twit she may be, but never forget that she had THE STOMACH OF A CONCRETE ELEPHANT!

  44. Aresen,

    Anyway, we are in apparent agreement that the decline gets underway in the 17th century, I just see it as a result of Spain (and the Hapsburgs generally overstretching themselves during the Thirty Years’ War). Then again, the war was more of a success for Catholic forces than for Protestant, since it brought Catholicism back to numerous regions of Europe which largely or partly turned Protestant.

  45. S of S

    Yes, the French and English did gang up on Spain. But I still think the strength of Spain was only apparent, not real. There were just too many fundamental weakenesses in Spain for them to prevail.

    The fear was real, due to Spain’s notorious intolerance and the brutality of their forces. (The French and English were just as brutal, but – typically for warring powers – each side only paid attention to how evil the other side was.)

    FWIW, the French hatred of the Hapsburgs continued right down to Marie Antoinette – who was long after the apex of Hapsburg power. Her Hapsburg ancestry was one of the reasons she was hated.

  46. Syloson of Samos | October 15, 2007, 2:42pm | #

    Pro Libertate,

    FWIW, James I’s career as a witch-hunter differs when it comes to where he reigned.

    I read James I’s (VI’s if you are a Scot) Daemononlogie when I was doing my final year of English Lit. It shows clearly why he was called “the Wisest Fool in Christendom.”

  47. I’m waiting for Elizabeth III: Elizabeth Goes to Washington

    Also known by the alternate “Its Always Sunny In Philadelphia” title. “Elizabeth gets Croatan all over everybody’s ass”

  48. Aresen,

    The English weren’t formally involved in the Thirty Years’ War. Now France and Sweden (and some more minor powers) did eventually wage war against the Hapsburgs, but that was deep into the Thirty Years’ War when Spain and the Hapsburgs were still garnering significant military victories.

    Anyway, it is a point of debate and I’ll leave it at that.

  49. I’m going to split the difference here.

    Spanish power may have peaked as early as 1580-1585 (annexation of Portugal to capture of Antwerp and Treaty of Nonsuch), but its resources were so far out of everyone else’s scale that it took several decades of relative decline to lose its leading position. (I would say Spain dropped the baton sometime between Nordlingen and Rocroi.)

    On the other hand, the Stuarts get nothing from me. (Except for Anne – I have a sneaking fondness for her, for some reason.) James I reduced the fleet to a shell, which wrecked the now unprotected merchant marine, which cut deeply into revenue; a process which pissed away all the gains made in the previous reign, hamstrung English power in his own, and created the basis for disaster in the next when Charlie boy tried to build a new navy without any money in the treasury. One sorry specimen of a Scot.

    (My own heritage is largely Irish Catholic, but I can’t get too worked up over the Tudor oppression of the island – it was my Cambro-Norman ancestors who planted the English flag there to begin with.)

  50. S of S

    OK

    How about, instead of a rational debate, we fight about it?

    Say, arquebuses at dawn?

    😉

  51. Aresen,

    As long as I can bring some hardy Swedes. 😉

  52. Lad, either challenge him with a claymore or with a rock. Anything else is unmanly.

  53. There’s nothing unmanly about a culverin. If you’ll stand real close together now, not too far away…

  54. Aye, that’s acceptable, provided that you bludgeon your opponent with it.

  55. Miranda Richardson is so hot.

    At least there is one uncontestable statement in this thread.

    And if you do contest it, I’ll chop your block of, won’t I, Nursie?

  56. Let me take this opportunity to recommend these books about the world of Elizabeth I and James I & VI. Fictional, but using mostly actual characters and quite entertaining. The two out of print Druid books are good, too, but unrelated to the topic.

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned the old BBC series Elizabeth R starring Glenda Jackson. My father, a history professor, always recommended that one as the most accurate film or TV version of Liz. It shows both the human and the monarch. I’m especially fond of the first two episodes that show her survival skills during the reigns of her brother and sister. It’s the most fascinating period in English history to me; recent enough to still have discernible effects, but far enough in the past to be a really different world. Oh, and read the recommended books. I’m still waiting hopelessly for another in the Robert Carey series.

  57. Karen,

    I saw that. It beats the heck out of most portrayals of Elizabeth.

  58. I choose to fight like a sensible man – with heavy artillery. Only fools and Scots get down in the muck with edged steel, forsooth.

    (Although someone bludgeoned with a culverin would be very, very dead – and I’d hate to meet the creature that did the bludgeoning.)

  59. I am actually curious to hear Jesse expound on his reasons for disliking Elizabeth. As a Catholic, I despise Elizabeth’s religious policy and the innocent people who suffered and died because of it (and I would love to see an Edmund Campion movie, as Mel Gibson was once supposedly contemplating making; Campion is a far better poster child for Catholicism than the flightly and overrated Mary Stuart). On the other hand, I can’t help but be impressed by a monarch of notable courage and skill who presided over one of the few genuine Golden Ages of literature and chivalry. I tend to agree with Pope Sixtus V himself, who was rather in awe of Elizabeth and complained that if only she had been a Catholic she would have been the greatest monarch in Europe. (He also said, probably with tongue in cheek, that if only he and Elizabeth could have married, their children would have been so intelligent and clever that they could have taken over the world.)

  60. “Sixtus V” is the best named Pope ever. I told my husband when we married I might consider converting if JPII were succeeded by Sixtus VII.

  61. During a reign of forty-five years, the Elizabethan government executed approximately 200 Catholics for treason, mostly due to involvement with Mary Stuart or Spain or both (the majority of deaths being in the peak crisis years 1581-1593.) It executed 4 for being Catholics.

    If you “despise” a religious policy with that kind of body count, are there words to do justice to your feelings about the policy of Philip II?

  62. Mary Stuart always impressed me as showing what a dingbat could do if given royal power. She had to really work at getting overthrown and executed.

  63. Syd Henderson

    Let’s not forget Nicholas II of Russia, Peter II of Russia, Louis XVI, Edward III, Caligula and others too numerous to mention.

    The only reason George III and IV didn’t go to the block is that, by their reigns, Parliament was too firmly in control and found them useful as figureheads.

  64. OOPS

    Wrong Edward.

    Edward II, who took it in the back end, not Edward III, who checked out from the back end.

  65. peachy: There certainly were genuine plotters against Elizabeth who deserved punishment, but whatever the official charge may have been, most of the executed were not involved in such plots – e.g., Campion, or the poet Fr. Robert Southwell, or the obscure Yorkshire laywoman Margaret Clitherow, the most famous of several laywomen specifically charged with “harboring priests” as their primary crime (and also, after accused Salem witch Giles Corey, the most famous victim of peine forte et dure). And I never said anything nice about Philip II (or Mary Tudor), but there is certainly no shortage of books and movies portraying them in a bad light.

  66. I think we’re arguing from different points. You’ve been focusing on the specific injustices; I’ve been focusing on the general theme of state security. And under the circumstances – with a papal bull of excommunication and deposition hovering in the background, multiple plots against the Queen’s life, and an increasingly hot war against the very Catholic super-power of the age – one can understand a policy that led to Douai trained priests and those associated with them getting the short end of the stick… without necessarily endorsing it, mind you.

  67. If the Popes had had the common sense to keep their big pie holes SHUT about the English succession, I don’t think Elizabeth would have bothered the Catholics.

    Frankly, I blame Henry I—Henry the Lion. If he’d named his intelligent, talented bastard son Robert Fitzroy as his successor after the White Ship went down with his only legitimate son, William the Aetheling, instead of dragging his harridan of a daughter home from Germany, where she was happy and contented as a dowager Empress (and far, far away from Daddy) to marry her off to a man she despised, the precedent for a bastard succeeding to the throne would have been well set. If the Church objected, Henry should have told them that since _he_ didn’t have any input as to who got to be Pope, they could keep their d*mn flytraps shut about who was to be next King of England and Duke of Normandy. Among other things, this would have prevented the Anarchy—“when Christ and his saints slept.”

  68. Technomad: Interesting point, but since William the Conqueror himself was a bastard and no one (as far as I know) suggested that this precedent had any relevance 500 years later, I don’t know if a second precedent from time immemorial would have done much good. (Of course, if Robert Fitzroy had succeeded to the throne, the whole history of England and royal marriages would have been different and Henry VIII and Elizabeth I would most likely never have existed, let alone succeeded to the throne.)

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