Recently BBC Radio 4 broadcast a dramatisation of CJ Sansom’s Revelation, a murder mystery set in Tudor England. I remembered buying a few of these novels when they were on offer and immediately dug them out from the pile, dusty and forgotten, but ultimately untouched, and as Easter loomed large, I set about them.
Lamentations was an interesting read, and 700 pages was quickly whipped through. What struck me most, apart from the intriguing whodunnit and the atmosphere of Tudor England, richly detailed and (I assume) authentic, was the fear people lived with under that brute Henry VIII. His whims, his changeable passions and the shambles of vying powers and scheming personalities he had allowed his court to become was truly sickening. Women were wooed, married, thrown aside or worse, beheaded, thanks to dubious evidence obtained by courtiers with an agenda. This fear filtered down through the ranks and made ordinary people, from the wealthier merchants or professionals, to the poorest sections of society, terrified for their lives lest they believed something that deviated from the King’s whim. From Catholicism to the ‘new faith’, separate from Rome with Henry (god help us) at the head of the church, to denying the mysteries of the mass and putting all their hope and belief in the bible, the People were expected to fall in line with him, or be burned at the stake. Whatever my own thoughts on religion are, expecting people to renounce things they have held dear all their lives, passed down through innumerate generations, because the King wants to marry someone else, is the worst kind of arrogance.
And so I finished the book, a little glad in a peevish sense that Henry had suffered in the end thanks to his own excesses, and inspired to produce my own little tribute to those women who had become nothing more than an intriguing list made by a dangerous man. It made me glad to live in this tumultuous century, whatever our faults and problems, and hope that we can do something to change the lot of women still under tyranny around the world.
C. J. Sansom’s books are available to buy here.