Monday, April 6, 2020


Young Surrey / Robin at Court
So my second Tudor novel, tentatively titled A Wider World, involves a character from Songbird named Robin Lewis.

Robin is first encountered at the age of 12. He is a socially awkward, obnoxious but talented chorister. He and Bess, my main character, don't hit it off, and it takes some time for them to reconcile as friends. They become close later, but Robin does a few things which appear to only be in his self-interest and are harmful to others.

I thought that was the end of Robin. It was not. After Songbird was submitted, and I started working on my Great Depression book, Robin spoke up and said he needed to explain himself. He didn't think he was getting a fair shake in my telling of Bess's story.

I decided to listen. He was right. He's got quite a tale to tell, which spans from his childhood as a foundling through the royal court, to Oxford, travels to the continent, a return to the court as an undersecretary to Cardinal Wolsey, and then, in the period of time succeeding Songbird, he works with Thomas Cromwell on the dissolution of the monasteries.

Older (wiser?) Robin
The monasteries were an important part of English life in the 16th century, and had been for hundreds on hundreds of years. I knew about the dissolution going in, because I've read a lot of Tudor history, but I only thought of it in terms of the monks, priests, and nuns who were displaced from their religious houses. I hadn't thought of it in terms of ordinary English people.

It turns out they were at least as affected as the religious themselves. From what I've learned, no village in England was more than an hour's walk from some religious house. The monasteries employed people as farm laborers and servants. Many people's homes were on monastery lands. Boys were educated in monastery schools. People ate food grown on monastery farms, sold at lower prices at the village market. Fisherman supplied all of the meatless days at the monasteries - and there were many. Since there were no hospitals, and few doctors, any healing that could be done was accomplished at the monastery's infirmary.
Robin as secretary to Cromwell

All this vanished in four years. I think people would have been content with Henry's change from Catholicism to Church of England, if the only change had been the removal of the Pope. People were Catholic, but their religion was much more personal, and the Pope was in Rome. The local monastery was in their village.

And suddenly, it was all gone. No jobs, no homes, no education, no medical care, and a sudden influx of poor people - who were formerly the ones who might have cared for them. It gave me a whole new perspective on the dissolution, and it is just one more nail in the coffin of Henry VIII's reputation.

Honestly, the more you know about that man the more loathsome he is.

The illustrations for this post are of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, poet and the last man executed by Henry VIII. He was apparently quite a peacock, having had this many portraits done of himself. He also reminds me, in coloring and attitude, of Robin, and the Holbein portrait and the colorful portrait with the green background, are my inspirations for him.

See what I mean? Peacock. Definitely peacock.

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