Friday again – where did the week go? I'm chatting on the phone to my sister when my friend appears with more wool and a fruit cake! How kind! We chat a while, at a distance and out in the sun, catching up on news of our families and also some of the tough things that are happening to people who need treatment or support at a level that's not available just now. It's great to see her in person, even though I'm feeling well-sustained by the phone calls and messages that keep me in touch with everyone.
I've finished my book, The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantell. It's history, so I knew it ended badly for Thomas Cromwell but I've been alongside him through all three books of Mantell's stunning trilogy and I admired his tenacity, if not his methods. He was remarkable for the time, the son of a blacksmith who treated him violently, trained in his uncle's trade as a cook, he rose to the highest public office in England. Through his political skill and acumen with money, he became Cardinal Wolsey's right hand man and then, with the downfall and death of Wolsey, was indispensible to Henry VIII for seven years, actioning Henry's religious and social 'reforms', all focussed on Henry's obsession with getting a legitmate male heir - hence the marriages and trumped up excuses for executing or divorcing his wives – and Cromwell's concern to avoid war because war is expensive (a point that should be appreciated still.)
As the ending of the book makes clear, important men resent owing favours, especially if those around them have prospered in the process. Henry grows disillusioned with his fourth wife, a match Cromwell has negotiated, and he listens more and more to his courtiers who create suspicion by pointing out that Cromwell has got above himself, becoming immensely rich and well-loved by his households and is, they say, positioning himself to replace the king. It's interesting to note that Cromwell's great-great-nephew Oliver does in fact do just that after the beheading of Charles I, but Thomas continues to declare that he only wanted to serve the king and carrry out his wishes. It's intriguing to see how every action can be twisted to the accuser's ends and Cromwell's motives disputed. Knowing where it was leading, I kept putting the book down, until at last the author's depiction of Cromwell's acceptance of his fate led me to read about his dignified end.
I couldn't help making links with other, more current, stories. I've been watching the series The Crown which shows how emasculated the role is by the 20th century. The Queen is restrained by the constitution from even uttering an opinion on political matters, while her role as head of the church sets up rules around the private life of herself and her family. Divorce, which Henry fought for to free him from two of his wives, is now so frowned upon that the Queen's uncle was forced to abdicate and her sister Margaret denied the man she wanted to marry, while the series shows Elizabeth and Philip coming to terms with a tensely unequal relationship, which he resents with all the sexism of the fifties, knowing that they cannot separate. The opulence and 'baubles of office' have not lessened (how many lavish houses?) but to my eye they are ridiculous and a wasteful extravagance in a country with so many challenges.
And when I watch the satires about Donald Trump I can't help feeling he's seen, not The Crown but the Tudor movies (or possibly more topically and more fictionally Game of Thrones) and believes he is the head of a dynasty and should have Divine Right to rule as he sees fit. His allies and advisors fall like flies when they displease him and it's a great relief that he is not in a position to order 'off with their heads'.
A lot to ponder as I end the day with a walk in the rain, around a deserted waterfront.