Tag Archives: Reformation

A sermon for Truth Telling Sunday 2020

I was informed by text one September 11th that if I were a good Catholic (instead of a proudly wicked nonconformist) that I would know this day was St Clara’s day – patron saint of journalists and those who write for the truth to be known. Now, I note that there are several St Clara or Claires, but I don’t really care who this saint is and when her day is. I just love what she stands for. As a writer and a truth teller, I was pleased that the church [no big C], which I disapprove of more than ever, has given a day to at least one saint who upholds truth telling and speaking out.

The irony is not lost on me. As I began preparing for this, I watched the Anglican church come out of lockdown and the local diocese’s ordinations. I was aware of acute discrepancies between what the candidates swear to do and be, and what actually happens. The church has conformed to covid controls, and made its own – one in particular was unworthy of its inclusive church pretensions because of its disability discrimination regarding masks and toilet use. Yes, it is the exact opposite of all you’re supposed to stand for. And yet, head touching of multiple candidates was still allowed, because zapping with authority and the apostolic succession is so important to conformist churches.

I noted the church’s use of [no sainting here] Peter’s phrase – the ‘royal priesthood, holy nation’ that I was used to crooning in the 1980s. As a nonconformist, it had never occurred to my younger evangelical self that this quote from 1 Peter 2:9 could mean that the priesthood of any established chain, such as Anglicans, Catholics, or Orthodox, is royal and passed like a bloodline, Reiki master style, or something out of the Da Vinci Code. ‘Royal priesthood’ seems much more of a feature of the old Jewish religion than the new Christian Way that was offshooting from it. ‘Holy nation’ feels like a reference to the Jewish people. Writing as and to those familiar with Judaism, Peter’s words, for me, say: I am equating this new kingdom of God with what we are used to. He also seems to say that Gentiles are included in what had been a closed camp. All believers belong to the holy nation now – it’s not about ethnicity and geography any more. Amen!

But I’m aware of Peter being misused and also that he deliberately took mantles not given to him. I again mention Lauri Ann Lumby’s understanding of Peter in her novel, Song of the Beloved: a Gospel of Mary Magdalene, which draws on extra canonical sources and her own considerable knowledge. I have great respect for Lauri’s work, and she is not alone in the opinion that Peter’s version of Jesus – along with his brother James – is a skewed one, which suits people trying to build another hierarchical ownership system, just like the one they broke away from.

I am seeing this thread in British history, which I hope is meaningful and transferable for all my readers/listeners, wherever you are. I’d like to take 4 points from it and weave these questions:

1) How do we please God? 2) How do we please our rulers? 3) How do we live well? 4) How do we recognise one who lives well and pleases God and his ruler? (They probably do say ‘his’).

And the answer for each is the same – for them. It is not the same for me.

The traditional answer to those four questions is:

For 1-3: keep the law; and 4 is – by ease, wealth and status in their lives.

For the traditionalist, 1&2 are entwined: God leads via those he ordained, in a hierarchy, whose status shows the favour found with God. Hear my duck noise!

Let me start with the Roman empire, which links Jesus and the early church’s day, and the first stop in my land’s history. When I’ve heard historians speak of Rome, it’s often with some admiration. Not: here was an atrocious, hard, ruthless people who ruled much of Europe, the Middle East and even parts of Africa, and tried to squash our indigenous way of life – and charged us for it, calling it ‘protection’.

We seem to admire the people who were organised and tactical fighters with shields that tessellated, who built straight roads and our first towns and lasting buildings. Because they had underfloor heating, we somehow think that if they were technologically ahead, that these people are worthy of our respect. Because they did what we did – rule a vast area with might and wealth, supplanting natives – we quite like our Italian tin and brush hatted not quite friends.

There was a TV and book series: What The Romans Did for Us. It extended to the other eras which I’m going to visit.

My answer to what these people did for (or to us) is similar for each:

They introduced hierarchy and homogeneity (and yes, hypocausts).

Forts and towns followed a pattern; soldiers followed a pattern; residents followed a pattern. It’s called the laws of the New Leadership. Do as you’re told and you may live, even thrive. We’ll rename your geography, bring our uniforms, language, gods.

I note Rome’s own gods, and how Christianity and Judaism often portrays its One True one. Please God (in both senses). God needs obeying and placating. Give up something to him/her. A sacrifice, a present. Praise him; make a promise of allegiance. Offer yourselves. If you want something, a certain outcome in war for example, you must follow these guidelines. If you don’t get what you wanted, your god is displeased. You must work out why and ameliorate before you suffer more.

Another irony is that Rome, who persecuted Christianity, became its headquarters. And Christianity advanced in the way that the Roman Empire did: spread and conquer. Accept this system or die. Even in less aggressive forms, there is something tactical and militant about mission. The Church of England’s tagline is: “A Christian presence in every community.” I’d once have found that comforting, but it now sounds ominous. There’s a sense of ownership of their patch, even of nonworshippers. When a new couple told a minister that they’d just moved into the parish, the minister said, “So that means we own your soul.” It’s just what some churches think.

The were 2 different styles of mission in Britain: one from Ireland, starting at Iona; and one from Rome, starting in Kent. One wanted to supplant the extant Pagan beliefs; the other incorporated them. Whilst I critique both, it’s my understanding that the Celtic way was a less authoritarian and more egalitarian form of faith. Sadly, the Celtic way lost out. Their military leadership may have receded, but Rome found a new way into Britain. Now the church – considering itself worthy of a capital C [snort] – had councils, and made decisions about the Good Book and what was considered acceptable belief. In Northumbria, the Roman way won in another council – the synod of Whitby – and the Celtic church was superseded.

Yet it’s not forgotten, and like Mary Magdalene, it’s enjoying a resurgence.

My next stop is 1000 years on from the Roman invasion. I’m intrigued that when they left four centuries later, Britain returned to its Celtic ways. I’ve seen reconstruction pictures of Canterbury and Colchester – large walled Roman towns – lying in ruin with thatched huts and pigs running round in gardens, where once side by side houses of tile and brick stood. Towns were abandoned with the cessation of the military and central administration.

But then new invaders came, with almost the same name as those in AD 43.

They even copied the architecture of Rome, which is knowns as Romanesque.

Another group from continental Europe, this time from the North.

They had the same game plan: conquer in battle, claim the capital, and then start building – motte and bailey castles instead of milecastles, replace churches with bigger ones, our style. Claim Pagan holy spots with sites of our own.

As I read about Dunfermline in Fife, I was sad to realise that a famous Queen – Margaret – and her son, David, did Scotland what I think is a disservice. Margaret was sainted for her piety, which really meant that she set up monasteries. Both she and David had spent time in England, and they took what they found there to their homeland, instead of the preferable reverse.

Much like at Durham, the largest church yet seen was built on the site of a simpler, older one; and a palace complex was mixed in with the monastic accommodation and leadership. (David did the same at Edinburgh). Kings started being buried at Dunfermline abbey, as they were at contemporary Westminster. It tied secular and sacred power together; it made a statement via a building, towered in both senses. God is mighty, we are mighty. Masonry might costs. You might want to think about that when visiting, and contribute whilst you contemplate how vast and untouchable God is in the long dark space where words of another tongue will be said amidst flashes of colour and smelly mist (what the Welsh call incense). Hence God is mysterious, and those who enact his mysteries are to be revered because of the glorious robes they wear, the words they utter that you don’t understand, the ceremonies that they do – although they’ll be behind a screen, and you can’t see.

Just like the Jews had wrongly taught that God’s name is unsayable – lest its power be accessed by all; just like the Bible wasn’t in the common tongue and could only be read by priests; now they said: God is at the altar, and the altar is very far away. You won’t be able to get to the High one (of course, there are hierarchies – the ones in the nave you use aren’t as holy as the one up the far end for the important people, where all the gold is).

As a cathedral lover, I’m struck by how reprehensible this view of God is, and how unlike the New Testament, and the God of my understanding.

Margaret introduced the Benedictine Rule (note the word, it’s true in both senses) – more Italian monopoly, like the board game, for this was the predominant monastic system which also was about hegemony and homogeneity. These buildings had a set shape, as did their service patterns, and their trappings of worship, familiar today but alien and offensive to those of nonconformist and Celtic understanding.

Thus queen and king imposed a foreign way which was part of the conquerors’ world, to a place that wasn’t even conquered. This was the era of private ownership. This was the time that both Scotland and England had a unified single sovereign each over the whole land, which had hitherto been a group of tribal kingdoms. I note that early abbots and bishops were Norman or Italian – thus preserving and imposing the nationality and ways of the incoming nation.

They brought back walls, in all senses. They brought in feudalism.

So what did the Normans do for us? They reintroduced a system, secular and sacred. They were even prepared to fight so-called holy wars to defend territory from other would-be acquisitive and not dissimilar religions of the book with theocratic rule and proselytising tendencies. Now sacred and secular were really muddled.

My next stop is half a millennium later. At last rid of being someone else’s empire, we began to make our own, which continued for half a millennium. The Church – for there was but one way allowed to worship God – badly needed reform, as much of Christendom recognised. But we didn’t really reform here, we just changed its name and its head. It drowned all music but its own, including adherents to the extant version, and those would-be more radical reformers. This was an opportunity to reset, to develop anew, but it was missed. Hitherto church wealth went into private hands. You might call it redistribution, but it was just another group having unequal power, another group who felt that conformity and homogeneity – and surveillance – lead to safety. You can have the Bible in your own language, and services, but there are only state approved ones. Anything else is forbidden, and will be punished. Whereas Britain now stood alone from continental rule, it was making itself insular and ruled by another tyranny. (Familiar?) Whereas those powerful rich monasteries might have been corrupt and unaccountable, the real issue was that they didn’t answer to bishops or the king, and they also preached to the community, things which might have given the populace freer ideas. However, despite further attempts at tightening and persecution, by the end of the next century, new Christian groups prevailed and had at last a modicum of freedom…

But it took until my last stop – the 19th Century – for full emancipation. Catholics and Unitarians had to wait until Regency times to practice legally; under George IV, Celts were freed to speak their language and wear their dress, and the first new university in England was founded, finally ending the stranglehold of Oxbridge. That same decade – the 1830s – the Reform Bill was passed; and our Houses of Parliament were burned. By the end of the century, under Victoria, we had a new set. And what did they say? We are the head of an empire, with buildings which reflect the start of it. We are a wealthy nation, thanks to our expanded territories and industry. We try not to think about the inequalities in our land. Some of us do, and we call the generous endowments ‘philanthropy’ – but how much love of fellow humans is there really in these foundations? For it means that rich individuals, church, and state control more – education, welfare, health – whilst puffing up the name of the endower, as medieval sponsors did with their fat cat tombs and almshouses (read: get out of Hell card). Look at the offices, banks, town halls of this era, and how the railways stations and factories have cathedral-like qualities, which say: we are proud of where we’ve come from and where we will go.

What can I say of the Victorians? Another opportunity missed; a time of two halves. A time where technology and growth were put before equality, and attempts at righting the balance were avuncular and patronising at best; a time when dangerous new health practices were begun. Hysteria is homogeneity, and straight jacketing is metaphorical. Yet it was also a time of broad spiritual resurgence.

The next century soon started breaking down the strata so proudly preserved by the Victorians and ensuing Edwardians. The Empire fell apart; women got the vote and increasing equality. Conservatism was shaken by left wing ideas and flower power. Welfare was born, of the non workhouse variety. Yet as improvements seemed to be made, strictures tightened elsewhere, and ominious new structures were created.

The 20th Century was a roll towards the Age of Aquarius – or God’s New Kingdom. Still the prevailing beliefs are that hard work and productivity please your rulers and your God, and each other; that sacrifice is at the heart of life as much as faith; that rule keeping is right action, endorsed by the judiciary as much as Judaeo-Christian belief; and that wealth and health are signs of God’s blessing – in the New Age thinking as much as the Prosperity Gospel. Hence, we’ve not moved far.

And we need to – for it’s not truth. God is love, not fear; love does not need placating. God doesn’t care about status – She rather likes upending that value.

Shaken pillars are now being dismantled. We are at a very exciting time, a real watershed moment. I’ve often wondered how close to those previous moments – when an army is coming, when new scary laws come in – are the times we live in. Would we recognise it and what could we do? Not live another 400 years in their thrall, that’s something I’m certain to not let happen. And although we must be responsible with what we say, I’m aware that so-called alternative or conspiratorial ideas are being censored, whilst newspapers – yes, even you, Guardian – are not truth telling. (And yes despite a crap attempt at a dissemination website, I note that there’s a correlation between Gates funding and how outspoken you are.) We need truth tellers, so thank you to all those websites and other channels who have spoken out – but mind that you don’t keep us in fear. I’m wary of double agents.

I am practising truth telling, as I hope I always do, in my blog and elsewhere; but truth telling also means speaking positive truth, and I hope that when I call into question and affirm our worth and sovereignty, that my readers and audience feel empowered, as I do writing and speaking it.

I’m seeing lots of links, and that the things I write about – from tipping to television licences to antiterrorism to tracing and testing – all have a similar undergirding. There is an imbalanced contract, where the few are not really giving us a service, but tacitly expect us to serve them. There is a cost to the ‘service’ – which is fiscal, and/or compliance. It’s time that we woke up from the deep state, deep church (I note that the Anglican church is one of the world’s richest ‘endowers’ – a corporation set up in 1948.) We are not in bond, we are free.

Sept 12th is St Elspeth’s day, according to role playing. She watered through a long drought, knowing that plant was not what it seemed. There’s also a warrior Queen Elspeth who fights injustice. I hope that I embody both. Whether your birthday is around now – and I’m aware of two local people in office I’ve mentioned in this blog with a birthday whose behaviour clashes with the saint of that day – this is a time for you to start truth telling, standing in your truth, and making sure that history won’t look back on this era as a going back to what was worse, or allowing the advancement of technology or keeping us safe to really be about the advancement of the interests of the few. Let us move back and forward, to the best of what was, and innovate something we’ve not yet dared try, and push out of this broken, fear based system for once and for ever.

Listen here: https://yourlisten.com/BetweenTheStools/a-sermon-for-truth-telling-day

I’ll have more to say on all this.

The next sermon is the last Sunday of the month for something harvest and equinox

1 Comment

Filed under history, spirituality

Anne Boleyn – champion of free thinking

Although Anne is the mother of Elizabeth, for me – Elizabeth begat Anne.

When Elizabeth (1998) became my favourite film, I wondered who “your mother the whore” was, and gradually took a step back in time to the previous generation – and there found an equally, if not even more remarkable woman. 

The first time I read about Anne Boleyn was in 2002 and I came to her almost in ignorance. I dismissed people in my lunch hour, saying I was in 1533 and not available. As I read Philippa Gregory’s novel about Anne’s sister, I suddenly remembered the rhyme about Henry’s wives and what was going to happen. 

By the time Gregory’s venomous pen had done depicting this conniving, hard, brutal woman, I was willing Anne to be executed; but by the time I picked up Vercor’s book, I wanted to put flowers on her grave. 

Vercors  is a photographer’s pen name, whose novelised biography says that the evil, grasping concubine did not make sense; and that underneath the deliberately etched layers was a heroine – for women, for  England – but most of all, free thinking believers. And strangely, it took a Frenchman trying to make sense of our independence from Hitler in the second world war to see it. 

Just as Joan of Arc was resurrected at a time of resurgent nationalism in France, it seems Anne Boleyn is ripe for a similar rediscovery on many levels – yet she has not really been used. 

The harsh view of Anne prevailed over four centuries, but there seemed to be a concurrent re-imagining in the 1980s. Professor Eric Ives, historic fiction writer Jean Plaidy, and Vercors all published in around the same year. Theirs was a different Anne to what had gone before – a maligned woman of sympathy, talent – though complex and potentially with a hard streak. And except for Philippa Gregory, books all have followed this portrayal since – whether they be fiction or academic – but not yet on the screen. Howard Brenton’s recent play is all about the debt that King James  and his Bible owed to the supposed strumpet a hundred years earlier.                    

Joanna Denny’s focus is summed up by her idea that Anne was a neo-Esther, something Anne herself propagated by having her chaplain preach on this in front of the royal court. Likening Anne to Esther recalls not wicked grasping Jezebel but another Old Testament queen, chosen by the king, which gave her an opportunity to save her minority group of endangered religious people. Denny emphasises Anne’s controversial new beliefs and her daring work to use her position to promote them when such beliefs were persecuted. Denny sees Anne as wooed against her wishes and morals, and argues that the portrait (quite literally) was deliberately obscured by her enemies. The dark features, mole and sixth finger are traits attributed in the 16th C to diabolism which were invented to destroy the memory of this powerful woman. 

Professor Ives and Joanna Denny write about her faith extensively, the latter making it Anne’s principle driving force.  

I’ve read in fiction and academic sources of Anne’s forbidden religious book (The Obedience of a Christian Man by William Tyndale) being stolen by Wolsey and given to Henry. Anne uses this opportunity to discuss the book’s radical ‘New Learning’ contents with Henry, and so influence him with protestant beliefs. 

Henry was not interested in reforming the church. After Luther pinned his 99 points on that church door, Henry wrote an impassioned, I think quite immature letter to defend the catholic church. It was his advisor Thomas Cromwell who is understood to have used Henry’s marriage and pope dilemma to allow divergence of belief to come openly and safely into England, and I believe that Anne and Cromwell initially worked together on this. 

What Anne’s beliefs were and how to term them might need some clarification. She has been called evangelical. The term ‘evangelical’ – not quite as we understand it –  was less radical than the Lollards, and not really heretical. It was not the same as being Protestant. The key features of evangelicalism, as today, were reading the bible for oneself; accessing God direct and not through a priest; being against superstition; and on one’s personal relationship with God – which are not unlike Unitarian principles. Anne is said to have exposed the fake miracle at Hailes abbey of Christ’s flowing blood (actually provided thought a duck’s blood dispensing machine). Anne has been spoken of as Lutheran .Yet Karen Lindsey and Ives claim that Anne’s faith was not wholly opposed to the established church, and that she had a confessor and took mass, and did not denounce transubstantiation – only its trappings. 

It might occur to some that if Anne had a reformed faith, that scheming involving adultery, wealth and power are incompatible with it. Ives says that 16th C didn’t see God’s and personal glory as incompatible; as some people today feel wealth is part of their spirituality.

Something which is not readily emphasised about Anne is her moral household –  and her generosity to the poor which went beyond the usual royal favour.  She expected her ladies to sew for the poor, and was likely to be behind a poor reform bill of 1536. She was also a patron of schools and universalise, and rallied for her patronees. Being a reluctant focus of passion and harassment is very different to pursuing Henry purposely – and she did refuse to be his mistress. 

Belief is a choice, and is ultimately, I believe what appeals rather than on argument and proof alone (that subject is another article). So I choose to see Anne as an Esther, a renaissance woman of power, taste and intellect, and I take particular interest in her reformed faith. Anne’s faith was of intellect and heart with practical outworking. And it allowed divergence into non conformism.

I therefore with others think that it was not Henry, and not really William Tyndale that caused the English reformation – but Queen Anne Boleyn of England, the Moost Happy [sic], who was crowned (depending on which calendar you use) this week, 480 years ago.

 

1 Comment

Filed under history, spirituality

Anne Boleyn at the Globe

I am having a summer of Tudors. I have had many such summers as I have studied these over a period of 11 years, but I even when I spent a year studying their popular depictions, I have never seen so many plays on Elizabeth I and Anne Boleyn in a few months.

I have just seen the production at the neo-Elizabethan Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London, on its opening weekend – a new play which sold out last year, as was the performance to which I went.

In his introduction to his script, playwright Howard Brenton quotes the views of historians David Starkey and Antonia Fraser, reflecting the likely opinion of the public. He does not mention Prof Eric Ives and Joanna Denny whose prominent books depict a very much more positive Anne. Joanna especially – as does Karen Lindsey – writes of the systematic demonisation of Anne’s character. All three remind that our few historical contemporary sources are chiefly Anne’s enemies, none of whom featured in Brenton’s play. Books – both novels and academic – have been ahead by 30 years in showing Anne as a national heroine, but stage and screen still cast Anne as the ambitious, hard siren. Philippa Gregory’s 2002 novel and ensuing films have done much to reverse this positive literary view, which has become in vogue again with most recent publications.

Brenton’s 2010 play promised a view closer to the one I adopted: the Reformist queen, as Joanna Denny calls her: ‘Esther not Jezebel’ – a title I borrowed for my 2006 dissertation. American author Robin Maxwell had Queen Elizabeth reading her mother’s words in her novel The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn; Howard Brenton has King Authorised Bible James reading Anne’s annotated Christian book and realising his connection to the fallen queen of two generations ago who suffered the same fate as his mother. (I never use the phrase that the blurb does – his debt. As you’ll see from my Justice in Banking blog on this site, I have strong views against debt culture). Note too that being executed does not denote failure, but rather a brutal signal of mission accomplished.

I was interested that a play was picking up the religious theme, as often theology is seen as too heavy and dull for entertainment, particularly when we are a multi and often no faith society. But the themes of tolerance and violence and faith recur, and spirituality is again popular though not always in established, orthodox ways. And this 16/7th C period is a seminal one in our history in which the burgeoning of new beliefs is central.

I was drawn to the play because it was written by a man who evidently could see Anne’s merits, significant as I felt anne appealed most to women. But it was Eric Ives in 1986 who said that Anne was an appropriate vehicle for feminism – though few have picked up that gauntlet – and it’s women who have written many of the works which fuel popular imagination that recast her as Jezebel.

It may seem obvious given its performance setting, but I didn’t expect Howard’s play to feel so Shakespearean, in the rowdy audience, bawdy and earthy kind of way. The experience of the Globe merits a few lines – booking fees, standing without umbrella or stick for £5 or, of if you pay £15-37 for a seat, there’s charges for cushions (and the wooden seats have lips which I think are designed to make you need one – but I managed without);- and a foreign group behind me who whispered throughout (translating to a child who was too young to be there) and put their feet on the seats. The atmosphere was closer to comedy than serious theatre, though there were both elements in the play. King James romps in a dress with ‘interesting stains’ with a male courtier whom he kisses; the ghost of Anne brings her severed head out in a bag; and it ends with an all cast jig.

James (Garnon/Stuart) perhaps was the most charismatic character on the stage, his strong Scots accent mixed with a tick, his camp manner helped by his shoes and beard. While we’re on accents – I am infuriated that the country folk once again got that generic West Country which is insulting and ignorant. There are many Eastern and southern counties accents, all quite distinct, and they sounded no more convincing than the Worzel’s Combine Harvester song, which was at least meant to be comedic. It’s like getting all North American or Celtic accents muddled. Actors and dialect coaches, take note!

I was not pleased at Anne’s physical appearance. She is famous for being dark, though Joanna Denny believes this is part of the demonisaton programme as ‘swarthy’ skin was seen as a sign of diabolism – appalling as that notion is. Denny believes that Anne was dark auburn, as per the most likely genuine contemporary portrait of Anne – but nowhere have I heard of her as blonde. Couldn’t Miranda Raison have dyed her hair or worn a wig? And couldn’t Henry be red haired? And why did Cardinal Wolsey have a beard?

I did not like the gore lust of the opening but I did like that Anne begins by assuming the knowledge of her death – which we never see – and by establishing a rapport with the audience. I liked the originality and pertinence of linking her and King James and the amount of material covered in an engaging way. Anthony Howell made a positive King Henry, kind instead of raging over the birth of a girl; but the man who had so many butchered in his name is relieved of too much of his violent, cruel and inhuman side. My favourite Henry remains Ray Winstone, whose complex depiction was the first to show me a man whom I could weep for as well as despise. Sometimes in Howard’s version, earthy comments – such as what Henry really wishes to say in his letters to Anne – mar the real point – the vulnerability of Henry’s enduring, consuming passion which must extend further than his tights to have raged so long and moved so much to be with her.

The audience was too quick to laugh at anything. The person who called out ‘ah’ in sympathy with broken Cardinal Wolsey was more correct that those who giggled, but either response turned this into a panto rather than the moment of pathos. When an important theological tenet dawns on Henry – that he could be king and head of the church without need of the pope and thus have his new wife – again, there was laugher. But it wasn’t the point; it was the turning point of the play and British history. We spent too much of the play in Caliban mentality rather than the Prospero and Ferdinand.

My gripe had been til this weekend that no-one has explained Anne’s swift demise satisfactorily. Brenton shows something I have not found in my research or other books – I hope to discover where he found it. But if it is true, it does account for the scheme to scaffold that in 3 weeks had the most powerful woman in the kingdom’s head in a basket. If Anne knew that Cromwell was embezzling ex monastic funds meant for charity, she had the key in which to bring about his downfall as Wolsey and More. (No temperate, cuddly Mr Northam here; this [absent] More is a torturer). Cromwell would take his advice to Anne earlier in the play, and strike before struck. The charges of multiple adultery and incest – treason in themselves – seem ridiculous, but perhaps an insecure king who could love and hate in equal measure could be persuaded in a very intense period to sign the death warrant.

But the frustration is that Brenton potentially closes one mystery but leaves something else unsatisfactory. The villain we focus on, particularly after Wolsey leaves, is Thomas Cromwell. The slippery faced multi officed politician always features heavily in Tudor plots, and he is usually credited as being the man who brought Anne’s death about. I have not seen him before portrayed as a fellow in faith, aiding illicit Reformist texts and their author’s passage out of the country. Yet his secret Protestant beliefs clash with his vile practices of threats and spying. They also don’t prevent Cromwell’s clandestine bond with Anne turning sour very suddenly and without enough explanation. One moment, they are sharing a prayer; suddenly he’s arresting her, banning her from speaking to or seeing her husband, and making up charges against her. The play – as with many other stories – does not say that Cromwell is executed during Henry’s reign, rather less efficiently than Anne’s French swordsman.

The jaunty dance at the end ruined the power of the ending. It should have ended with the ghost of Anne taking James’ hand – a quiet, poignant gesture. Instead the 150 minutes is augmented by cheering stamping dances that aren’t even fitting, and those final moments are quickly forgotten in their wake.

Ultimately, I am a little disappointed, but that is because it didn’t show my Anne; but that is good, because it leaves the way open for me to do so myself.

1 Comment

Filed under history, theatre