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The tudor dynasty is one of the most famous in the history of England, thanks mainly to the reigns of Henry VIII and his daughter Elisabeth I. This was the period when the throne was freed from the influence of the Pope, in the midst of the Reformation, and when England began to expand overseas, coming up against the great power of the time, Spain. The other rulers of the Tudor dynasty are less well known, yet they too deserve our attention. Liliane Crété's book is a good way to have a global vision of the Tudors and to get to know each other.
A pivotal dynasty?
In her introduction, Liliane Crété returns to the reputation of the Tudors, in particular Henry VIII and Elisabeth I, but she insists on the importance of the other rulers of the dynasty and on its place in the history of England. . First the recurring problem of legitimacy, with the accession to the throne of Henry VII following the War of the Roses, then how the Tudors brought England into modern times, statesmen while the Plantagenets were first and foremost soldiers.
The work, rather than a series of biographies of these sovereigns therefore always tries to keep the coherence of a very hereditary dynasty and relatively homogeneous in its practice of power and especially its imprint on English history, despite the very different personalities sovereigns.
The plan chosen by Liliane Crété is therefore chronological, but also thematic, and does not only follow the reigns.
The book logically opens with the accession to the throne of Henry VII (1485), after his victory over Richard III, while stepping back in time to explain the context. Then comes the story of a rather skillful and wise reign (the author speaks of a “peaceful and parsimonious” king), which leaves a kingdom in good condition to Henry VIII, even if the favorite son was Arthur, who died prematurely. .
Immediately, the young Henry VIII left his mark on what was to be a long and eventful reign (which began in 1509). He is worshiped by the people, the kingdom is prosperous, and even foreign observers are impressed, albeit suspicious (including Spain, already, when Henry is married to Catherine of Aragon). The King of England, rocked by the romances of chivalry, then ventured to launch a military operation on the continent to help the Pope caught up in the wars in Italy. It is a success, since the English take Thérouanne from the French, and even capture Bayard! Above all, the event allowed Henry VIII to enter the court of the great. The young king then knows how to surround himself with skillful advisers, such as Thomas Wolsey, Thomas More or Thomas Cromwell during his reign, even if they will experience varying fortunes.
If the first part of the reign of Henry VIII is rather a success, the difficulties arise with what Liliane Crété calls a "storm", the Lutheran Reformation ("A Church in need of reforms"). A specialist in Protestantism, she devotes an entire chapter to the emergence of the Reformation in Europe, then to its reception in England, in particular by the king, who then approached Pope Leo X and wanted to be a defender of the faith. It also evokes the seminal work of More, utopia.
In the next chapter, "Between war and peace", the author is mainly interested in the rivalry and the complex relations between Charles V, Francis I and Henry VIII, who practices a "pendulum policy" between the two rulers of the continent. But it is also in this context that the King of England begins to get impatient with not having male offspring with Catherine of Aragon. Then comes the meeting with Anne Boleyn and the beginning of the problems ...
"The great affair of the king" began in 1527. The fight to annul his marriage, the break with Wolsey then More (and his execution), that with the Pope (and the excommunication of Henri), the marriage with Anne, … And its execution, etc., the author includes in this single chapter everything that goes from this date of 1527 to the marriage with Jane Seymour in 1536! The following part, "Pope in his kingdom", is in the same spirit, dealing with the period confirming the break with Rome, with so much agitation within the kingdom, the joy of the first son given by Jane Seymour marred by death. of this, the failed marriage with Anne of Cleves, and finally the fall of Thomas Cromwell. Chapters seven and eight announce the chaotic end of Henry VIII’s long reign, with his fifth and sixth marriages and the confirmation of his Protestantism.
Chapter nine, "The New Josiah," deals with the short reign of Henry VIII’s only son, Edward. Very young, he was under the tutelage of Edward Seymour and John Dudley, who had to manage an England that Henry VIII did not leave unscathed (still divided by religious quarrels), and serious tensions with Scotland. The late king, in his will, then designated Mary, then Elisabeth as his heirs. But Edward VI ill, Protestants put pressure on him to disinherit his half-sisters and prefer Jane Gray to them. However, upon the death of Edward VI, the poor young girl reigned only for a few days and was executed along with the conspirators. Then succeeds him "Bloody Mary", Marie Tudor, to whom Liliane Crété devotes a chapter, one of the most interesting as is the story of the one who was not even a princess (unlike Elizabeth) and who is became "the scourge of Protestants" by re-establishing Catholicism.
It is in chapter eleven of the work that the reign of Elizabeth I begins. "The new Deborah" begins with the Thomas Seymour affair, quite symptomatic of the queen's relationship with men (which will lead to her myth of the "virgin queen"), and ends with her ambiguous relationship with Lord Dudley. Liliane Crété also discusses the beginnings of the reign and the first bars of the queen, whose sex bothers many people, especially after the episode Marie ...
The following chapter, "The Virgin Queen" does not deal specifically with Elizabeth's relationship with men and the problem of succession, but more with the significant events of the first part of the reign: the reluctance to help the Protestants of the continent. , the Marie Stuart problem and the queen's management of religious affairs with the promulgation of the Thirty-Nine Articles in 1563. Chapter thirteen, meanwhile, is focused on the practice of power by Elisabeth, surrounded by a court and favorites that she knows how to manage. It is also an opportunity for the author to evoke the cultural and intellectual influence of the Elizabethan period.
The next three chapters, "The great maneuvers", "To decrease the Spanish" and "Open war" describe the second part of the reign, darker and more difficult, between internal plots (execution of Marie Stuart) and international tensions, in particular with Spain. Elisabeth turns out to be more angry and indecisive, also more alone despite new marriage plans. Fortunately, this is also the time of maritime expansion, of the exploits of Drake, of victory over the Invincible Armada (1588).
Liliane Crété makes this victory the last turning point in Elisabeth's reign, as she ends her work with two chapters, including "The Second Reign of Elizabeth". It’s the time of Essex which, unfortunately for the Queen (and especially for him!), Ends up betraying her. And that of strong tensions with Ireland. The end of the reign is also the end of the dynasty.
In what can be considered an epilogue, "Posterity", Liliane Crété takes stock of the Tudor dynasty, putting it in perspective with the following dynasty, that of the Stuarts, which is less successful. To explain the popularity of the Tudors, she therefore invokes this disappointment vis-à-vis the Stuarts, in particular in literature (Shakespeare in the lead), but also the exceptional personality of these monarchs appreciated by their people, including during their lifetime. An English people that Liliane Crété integrates into the aura of Tudor England.
The book reads straight away, like a good novel, and is therefore very pleasant. We must also salute a useful chronology, and above all a bibliography that allows us to go further. Because The Tudors should undoubtedly be seen above all as a good introduction to the history of this dynasty, a means of getting to know each other before taking a deeper interest in these kings and queens who benefit from an abundant literature. Indeed, the book is sometimes curiously cut up, and its relatively short format requires it to pass very quickly on a number of fundamental but complex subjects. The Tudors has however one great merit: it does not fall into the "soap", unlike the television series of the same name ...
The author, Liliane Crété, has a doctorate in Anglo-American civilization and literature, a specialist in modern Protestantism. She has published among others Coligny (Fayard, 1985) and The witches of Salem (Julliard, 1995).
- L. Crété, The Tudors, Flammarion (coll Au fil de l'histoire), 2010, 291 p.