Selling the Tudor Monarchy: Authority and Image in Sixteenth-Century England

Diarmaid MacCulloch writes:

Kevin Sharpe’s subject is the considerable range of devices which the Tudor family employed as a distraction from their unconvincing genealogy: public pronouncements such as proclamations and preambles to parliamentary legislation, literature, architecture, painting, artefacts of all sorts. Many of their subjects proved anxious to help, and in the process, over more than a century turned England from a dowdy, unfashionable outlier on the European cultural scene into the country of Shakespeare and William Byrd. Byrd is indeed an exemplar of Tudor success: a Roman Catholic who in his religious outlook represented that diminishing but always significant minority which did not buy into the Protestant project of the last of the Tudors, and yet was still the chief ornament of Elizabeth’s Chapel Royal. Sharpe is as concerned to represent those disloyal to the dynasty as he is its supporters.

Sharpe’s writing is vigorous and his overall picture convincing and informative. He is judiciously sceptical where he needs to be, for instance about the exaggerated account of Henry VIII’s consistency recently provided by George Bernard, and his keen eye ranges over a rich variety of sources, both visual and literary.

(LRB 19 November 2009)

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