The Tudors in Love: Passion and Politics in the Age of England's Most Famous Dynasty

Image of The Tudors in Love: Passion and Politics in the Age of England's Most Famous Dynasty
Release Date: 
December 13, 2022
St. Martin's Press
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“The Tudors in Love enlightens the reader on courtly love as ‘that elusive but overwhelmingly pervasive ideal that dominated the European mind for centuries.’”

Based on books, movies, and television, the greatest soap opera in literature is the Tudors. Nothing comes close to equaling the story of the six wives of Henry VIII. Even the other Tudor intimate affairs fail to compete. Sarah Gristwood skips the pretense of the standard historical political study to get right to the courtly love, begun “as a romantic fantasy,” in The Tudors in Love.

The author argues that the shaky justification for the Tudor rule of England and parts of northern France rested on intimate affairs, “even Arthurian legend and the tropes of chivalry.” Feasts, joists, and pageantry served “a family whose deadly dramas belie the fact they were besotted with the idea of loving.”

Today such celebrity is common, and it did not begin with this dynasty. The author takes this history to more than 300 years before Henry the VIII. The Tudors in Love enlightens the reader on courtly love as “that elusive but overwhelmingly pervasive ideal that dominated the European mind for centuries.”

Courtly love involved repugnance with the Roman Church’s stand against sex for other than reproduction; it had utility in such ways as granting credibility and sympathy; and was a “social ritual, a collective fantasy; a game.” The Tudors in Love contains numerous references to the literature in the centuries before the Tudors but always how those stories also affected public opinions in the great games of thrones.

Passionate ancient poems became popular as well as advice on how to win love or how to obtain sex while avoiding romance. Courtly love “led to no actual, direct improvement of women’s lot.” They remained a commodity, for whatever reason sought, and were treated badly even as obsessions.

Among the Tudors, the two sisters Mary and Elizabeth (both “married” to England) had the most difficult situations as both queens and rulers. The Tudors in Love discusses the struggles of Elizabeth to protect her rule including from her cousin Mary Queen of Scots. “As queen regent she was a figure both masculine and feminine.” Romantic tales grow from such circumstances.

The origin of Renaissance courtly love remains clouded. It may have a connection to the Cult of the Virgin Mary, to the heretical Cathar movement, or to some ancient paganism. The most common explanation is importing it to France from Moorish Spain, “strongly influenced by the culture, poetry and philosophy of the Arab culture.”

The tales of King Arthur celebrated courtly love, and the Tutors used them to argue for the legitimacy of their rule. Henry VII named his first born Arthur although with his wife Elizabeth of York he spun his own tale of their courtly love. Ironically, public perception of these romances of how Camelot failed because of love changed with public perceptions of such real people as William Marshall and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Henry VIII, the spare heir who became the great unintended king, went through six marriages in an effort to produce a legitimate male heir. Each of these relationships—and his known affairs—became a legend. His daughters Mary and Elizabeth” and his sister Margaret Queen of Scots, added more speculation and tales to the genre.

Marriage, romance, and love (or lack thereof) intertwined the royal houses of England and Spain but never really succeeded in making them one. This saga of armadas, crowns, empires, etc., however, takes on new meanings when Gristwood tells the story in terms of courtly love, for example, “match the relationship between Elizabeth and her couriers—explain its nature as nothing else has done.”

Gristwood weaves this familiar epic tale of power with the importance of the romance of the legends of King Arthur that the Tudors so wanted to associate themselves with. The Tudors in Love has “The Many Faces of Guinevere” as an appendix. It does not just retell the familiar stories but adds the great not-so-well-known background, that requires doing so in many pages and words.

For the Tudor history lover, this work will open new views in fast easy prose but thoroughly, and by necessity, with a lot of ground to cover. The Tudors in Love has a notes and sources section.