Full bore revisionism: The Tudors and the Borgias

The Tudors The Borgias










I love revisionist history, almost as much as I am addicted to new ways of exegising biblical texts. Don’t tell me what I already know, I plead; tell me something I don’t know.

Completely satisfying my appetite, I have just finished listening (thanks to the marvels of a modern local library system that offers free borrowable and downloadable audiobooks to my iphone) to two works by journalist-cum-author G. J. Meyer: “The Tudors: the complete story of England’s most notorius dynastery” and “The Borgias: the hidden history”. Both histories are firmly in the ‘revisionist’ camp, and a good thing too. The Tudors needed taking down a peg – or twenty; and if what he reveals about the Borgias is historically true, then an apology is owed to the Catholic Church (if not to the Borgias themselves) for years of defamation on the basis of no evidence at all.

What he reveals is that 15th Century Italy and 16th Century England would both have been horrible places to live for the likes of such as you and me. But the Borgias (Popes Calixtus and Alexander, and perhaps even their relative Ceasare) appear to have done what they could not only to survive, but to make the Italy of their time a more secure place in which to live, while the Tudors, in order to survive, made England a hell hole for anyone of sincere faith, Catholic or Protestant.

Both books firmly squash the ‘Whig’ histories of both dynasties, intended as they were (and at which they were quite successful) to bolster the Protestant myth of a corrupt church that needed to be purified by the strong hand of the Reformation. At one point in “The Tudors”, Meyer makes positive and admiring reference to Eamon Duffy’s work “Stripping of the Altars” which covers much the same period. While not in quite the same league of historical scholarship, one gets the impression that Meyer is fully on Duffy’s side of history. For Catholic apologists, it might be worth knowing this side of history, next time your detractor mentions the Borgias or Bloody Mary along with the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades as infamous black marks against the Catholic Church. A friend at work recently lamented that one of her friends had named their daughter “Lucrezia” – fear not, as it turns out she was a virtuous and dutiful (if not necessarily loving – but with the husbands they chose for her, how could she have been?) wife.

As for reviews, here is one on “The Borgias” with which I solidly agree, and here is one that I came across about “The Tudors” which demonstrates exactly why this particular (verging on) popular history has been long required. If you have an intelligent, even if (like me) amateur, interest in these periods of history, you will get much out of these two books.

Now, for his history of World War I – although I don’t think they have done an audio version of that yet.

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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5 Responses to Full bore revisionism: The Tudors and the Borgias

  1. Schütz says:

    Actually, out of interest, a friend just sent me a link to an interview in which the Pope recently said something pertinent to the question of revisionist history. Talking of assessing Pius XII, he said:

    One thing worries me, and I’ll be honest with you – the image of Pope Pius XII (the Pope at the time of World War II).

    “Ever since Rolf Hochhuth wrote the play, The Deputy, in 1963, poor Pope Pius XII has been accused of all sorts of things (including having been aware of the extermination of the Jews and doing nothing). I’m not saying he didn’t make mistakes. He made a few. I get things wrong often too. But prior to the release of the play, he was considered a big defender of the Jews. During the Holocaust, Pius gave refuge to many Jews in monasteries in Italy. In the Pope’s bed at Castel Gandolfo, 42 small children were born to couples who found refuge there from the Nazis. These are things that people don’t know. When Pius XII died, Golda Meir sent a letter that read: ‘We share in the pain of humanity. When the Holocaust befell our people, the Pope spoke out for the victims.’ But then along came this theater performance, and everyone turned their backs on Pius XII.

    “And again, I’m not saying that he didn’t make mistakes. But when you interpret history, you need to do so from the way of thinking of the time in question. I can’t judge historical events in modern-day terms. It doesn’t work. I’ll never get to the truth like that. Prof. Benzion Netanyahu, the father of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, once gave me a copy of the book he wrote about the Inquisition. I read it studiously. I’m not saying we should justify the actions of the Inquisition, but we need to investigate this period with the right tools and only then pass judgment.

    “Did Pius XII remain silent in the face of the extermination of the Jews? Did he say all he should have said? We will have to open the archives to know exactly what happened. But to judge the actions, we will also need to understand the circumstances under which he was acting: Perhaps it was better for him to remain silent because had he spoken, more Jews would have been murdered? Or maybe the other way around? I don’t want to sound petty, but it really gets my goat when I see that everyone is against the Church, against Pius XII – all those detractors. And what about the Allies during the war? After all, they were well aware of what was going on in the death camps and they were very familiar with the railroad tracks that led Jews to Auschwitz. They had aerial photographs. And they didn’t bomb those tracks. I’ll leave that question hanging in the air, and say only that one needs to be very fair in these things.”

    See here: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4597267,00.html

  2. “15th Century Italy and 16th Century England would both have been horrible places to live for the likes of such as you and me.”

    What do you mean by this, Mr. Schütz?

    • Schütz says:

      Well, ordinary folk such as myself rather than exalted men of the Church such as yourself, your Eminence. Although I remember that you had a rather lucky escape, dying within a few hours of your royal Mistress. And your old Ma’am caught the raw deal from Henry VIII, and some of your siblings too? Never a good thing to be too closely related to royalty in 16th Century England.

      Seriously, though. In terms of Italy in 15th Century, to be anyone, high or low, was to live a precarious state of life, where your future depended on which warlord was currently your local boss and whether he was a mad sadist, a power hungry, feuding despot, or (that very rare occurance) a benevolent tyrant. From what I gather, Italy was torn by constant warfare between the various cities and states. England in the 15th Century wasn’t much better as far as wars went, but at least the Church was a reasonably stable institution that provided for the needs of the very poor, and unemployment was rare. That all changed in the 16th Century with the abolition of the monsteries and the enclosure of large sections of land by the nobility. Hery VIII actually reintroduced slavery for the vagrant poor at the end of his reign. And worst of all, to be any kind of concientious believer in 16th Century England was to risk disfavour with the current Tudor tyrant.

  3. matthias says:

    Thanks for this review David , I have always felt that there was never a proper explanation from my staunch Protestant parents (my mother brought up Sydney Anglican) as to why Henry VIII set up the Anglican church,corruption ,- probably only those nearest to the throne.
    As for Your Eminence,if you had become Pope-a Plantagenet in the Vatican- then along with your Spirituali comrades,there may have been no Reformation,as the church would have been Reformed under a potential Pole papacy.
    Good to hear form both of you-it has been lonely skulking across the Catholic cyber space,heightened by the death of Richard Collin of LINEN ON THE HEDGEROW blog recently.May he rest in peace
    By the way David my love of the Recusant catholics has been increased by Stephanie Mann’s most excellent web site SUPREMACY AND SURVIVAL and I am going to read Eamon Duffy’s STRIPPING OF THE ALTARS

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