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.