Wednesday 29 August 2012

The Tower of London:the Bloody Tower still bloody after all these years

Had an interesting day at the Tower of London today. As I wandered about in the usual summer dreamlike state with young children in tow, I find that I don't gather my thoughts immediately. Toilets and ice-creams come first and a raven eating a big chunk of chicken breast rates as a highlight. Because it's a place I must have been to between ten and twenty times since I was about five, there's also a way in which the experience is also a nostalgia trip where past and present merge. Was Walter Raleigh locked up in there? I asked. No, no, says the Beefeater, over there with the rest of them. I let myself suggest that he didn't really do anything wrong and the Beefeater dives in to tell us that Walter Raleigh was a fool who was tried and found guilty in a court of law. Three times. So that deals with that one. But where, I wondered was the execution block that used to fascinate me and my friends when we came here as children? That's on the second floor inside the White Tower.

My children don't seem as desperately keen to stare at the Crown Jewels as we fifties children were but we shlepped through the darkened rooms to stare at chunks of gold pressed into plates and maces by the score and of course the crowns encrusted with rocks hewn out of African mines in conditions I don't dare imagine. A film of the coronation seems to excite the non-Brits walking through. Again, my own children were excited by the moving pavement that whisked us past some of the big'uns.

We went into the torture room, which is about a billion times more moderate in tone than the publicity of the London Dungeon (somewhere I haven't been to yet). We contemplate the idea of being stretched, squashed, and hung upside down. I start muttering about the fact that it's still going on but by the time I get to waterboarding, they were off wanting to get to the shop.

Ah the shop.

Perhaps it's the shops at Heritage sites where the real business of teaching goes on. That's to say, it's through the things that people take away, that the ideological work really kicks in. Royal teaspoons, plastic skulls, embroidered hankies, a cut-out execution kit....I move instinctively towards the books, thinking that I needed to gen up on the latest views of just what all that concentration of power and wealth was all about. Loads of Starkey and Plowden and Mantel. I start to wonder what I know or remember about the Normans. A French woman who was buying a book about Londres, tells me that the Normans weren't French. They were Norman. I said that they did speak French, though. She shrugged as if that was some kind of error either on my part or theirs. How did the Normans get a grip on the courts and establish feudalism across England and Wales? I picked up a couple of booklets.

But then the Tudors. Yes, the Tudors. When I was writing my books on Shakespeare - the one for adults: 'Shakespeare in his times, for our times' (Bookmarks) and the one for children now called 'What's So Special About Shakespeare' (Walker) - the book that excited me the most was Curtis C. Breight, 'Surveillance, Militarism and Drama in Elizabethan England'. (Palgrave Macmillan 1996). So, would there be anything tasty, I wondered in the bookshop here? Something a bit tacky or sensationalist about the Tudors hacking their way to power through the English aristocracy, putting down rebellions and massacring Catholics and chopping down Anabaptists...? Not that I could see.

In the children's section the noble Terry Deary was doing his best with Terrible Tudors, More Terrible Tudors and Terrifying Tudors, but I found myself wondering just how many people did the Tudors execute between 1485 and 1603? What was the human cost for all that grandeur and glory which is paraded in front of us at every opportunity? Nothing in the bookshop gave me a clue.

Back home, some hefty googling (including google books and google scholar) gave me a text book by Cochrane, Marsh and Melville ('Criminal Justice: an Introduction to Philosophies, Theories and Practice'). On page 62 they say that the average death by execution in the Tudor period was about 1000 a year, and in the years 1530-1630, 75,000 people were executed in 'England' - did that mean England AND Wales? And leaves out Ireland? Or includes Ireland? Not sure. Estimated total population of England (really England) in 1600 was 4.6 million.

Whatever the exact details, a fair amount of state killing, state terror was going on. From the top aristocratic families down to the people the Tudors called 'vagabonds'. I read that some 5000 of such people - presumably mostly homeless men - were executed in this period, vagabondage itself being a crime of some sort.

So apart from Terry Deary - who would not say of himself that he was a scholar, no matter how accurate he makes his books - what could I find using google that might beef up my perception of this period in relation to how the state created itself, asserted itself and ruled? After all, hadn't I spent the best part of a late summer afternoon, walking round and through one of the world's largest material manifestations of that power, whether that be through its stones, towers and battlements or through the orbs, sceptres, maces and crowns lovingly displayed inside?

I found this website:

which is interesting but I think underestimates the Tudor persecution of radical Puritans.

And after a bit of scouting and scouring I've made up this little list:

You save:£0.65 ( 5%)

Treason In Tudor England: Politics and Paranoia - Professor Lacey Baldwin Smith; Paperback
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PS This looks interesting!

Religious Radicals in Tudor England

 By Joseph Walford Martin