Monday, April 30, 2007

17: Henry Ate

Hence the stomach.
Before Henry VIII there were lots of turbulent times, collectively known as the Hundred Years War and the Wars of the Roses. The Hundred Years War was a succession of arguments over who owned France, the English or the French, the answer to which may seem intuitive but in a way the French owned it either way since they still owned England, sort of, as our landlords were all descended from William the Conqueror's cohorts. It all gets so muddy after a while you wonder why they bother arguing over it in the first place. The wars of the Roses were a succession of quarrels over who owned England if it wasn't the French. (As it turned out, it was Henry VII, who might have saved everyone a lot of trouble by turning up about fifty years earlier.)
His offspring Henry VIII was one of those ruler-by-accident types, who never expected to get the job when he was younger and threw his considerable weight about after he did get it. My own impession of the gent - and it should be clear by now that this is based on minimal actual knowlwdge - is that he wasn't one to suffer fools gladly or to tolerate a situation he wasn't happy with. Being unhappy with his first wife, Henry decided to divorce her. The problem was that the Catholic Church, which was generally agreed to be the one power in Europe over and above its assorted kings, didn't approve of divorce and vetoed the idea.
Henry, quite sensationally, responded by vetoing the Catholic Church and setting up the Church of England. Who needs popes anyway? Since nothing in the Western world at this time had a longer pedigree than the Church, one can easily imagine that this seemed just like rejecting God himself so it's scarcely surprising that we are still feeling the ripples of this act to this day, in Northern Ireland for instance - though how much of some religious conflicts are simply facades for political ones is a debate I might like to join in one day when I know what I'm talking about.
But back to Henry VIII: his dismissal of the Catholic Church had the incidental effect of dissolving all the long-established monasteries, but it seems there was widespread support for this on account of the popular image of monks as having a rather cushy lifestyle - no wars to fight, nice accommodation, and always plenty to eat, hence the caricature of 'Friar Tuck' in the Robin Hood stories.  By modern standards a medieval monk's life probably sounds rather austere, but I wonder how well they kept to their vows... If I was a medieval monk, I've got a pretty good idea what I'd be doing while the big tough local farmers were off fighting the crusades.... especially if I had nice high monastery walls plus the power of the church to hide behind when they got back.  (Incidentally I wonder if the name "Friar Tuck" name is a deliberate Spoonerism.)

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