Tuesday, May 29, 2012

'Tudor era' is misleading myth, says Oxford historian

By Sean Coughlan

BBC News education correspondent

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The idea of a "Tudor era" in history is a misleading invention, claims an Oxford University historian.

Cliff Davies says his research shows the term "Tudor" was barely ever used during the time of Tudor monarchs.

There are also suggestions the name was downplayed by Tudor royals because of its associations with Wales.

Dr Davies says films and period dramas have reinforced the "myth" that people thought of themselves as living under a "Tudor" monarchy.

"The term is so convenient," says Dr Davies, of Wadham College and the university's history faculty. But he says it is fundamentally "erroneous".

Missing name

During the reigns of Tudor monarchs - from Henry VII to Elizabeth I - he said there was no contemporary recognition of any common thread or even any recognition of the term "Tudor".

Henry VII was the first of the line of Tudor monarchs Dr Davies, who specialises in 16th-Century history, says "the rather obvious thought occurred to me" of investigating whether there had been any references to "Tudor" during the years of the Tudor monarchs.

His years of trawling through contemporary documents yielded almost no references - with only one poem on the accession of James I (James VI of Scotland) recognising the transition from Tudor to Stuart.

Surprised by this absence of any contemporary usage, he says he expected "clever American professors to come up with examples to prove me wrong" - but so far there has been no such evidence.

There might also be suggestions that the use of "Tudor" was deliberately omitted - as monarchs, always sensitive to rival claims, wanted to assert their legitimacy.

"I do think that Henry VII was defensive about his past and wanted to downplay 'Tudor', which might have been used by his opponents."

He says that in Welsh documents the name of Tudor is "celebrated" but it was "considered an embarrassment in England".

Henry VIII preferred to represent himself as the embodiment of the "union of the families of Lancaster and York", says Dr Davies.

False memory

Dr Davies suggests that the idea of a distinct Tudor period of history was first established in the 18th Century by the historian and philosopher, David Hume.

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote

The word 'Tudor' is used obsessively by historians. But it was almost unknown at the time.”

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Dr Cliff Davies

University of Oxford

This has proved a very "seductive" way of approaching history, he argues. It also helps to create the idea of a separate historical period, different from what came before and after.

But the text-book writers and makers of period dramas should re-think their terminology, as he says that talking about "Tudor men and women" introduces an artificial concept which would have had no contemporary resonance.

If historians aim to "recover the thought processes" of past generations - he says it means understanding how they saw themselves and their own times.

Dr Davies says that in the late 16th Century people in England would have understood the idea of living in the reign of Elizabeth I - but would not have identified her as a Tudor.

"The word 'Tudor' is used obsessively by historians," says Dr Davies. "But it was almost unknown at the time."

More on This Story

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Summer dangerous time for Tudors 03 APRIL 2012, EDUCATION & FAMILY

Related Internet linksOxford University

Around the BBCBBC History: The Tudors The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


1 comment:

  1. I guess I just don’t buy it.

    “Tudor” was the real last name of these monarchs. Certainly it was “used” as such. It is known that Henry VII (Henry Tudor) went to extreme measures to “brand” the Tudor name (See; http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/mar/02/tudors-henry-vii-wars-roses?INTCMP=SRCH) The so called “Tudor Rose” was designed at the beginning of the Dynasty and was used as a emblem throughout (you can see it all over in the contemporary statuary and paintings). What is the point of this article? Surely the Dynasty itself was not a myth. Does the author intend to say that the “historic” stories of the period are mythic, or simply that the use of the term “Tudor,” during the Tudor Dynasty, is a myth?

    Sorry Dr. Davies but just because you can’t find any contemporary references to the name Tudor, is no evidence that it was unused at the time. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, as they say. In this case I think that it is best to trust common sense on the matter. I must say that I find the article to be an example of the failings of modern historians, (there are too many examples of this I‘m afraid,) Oxford trained or not.

    -John R. Salverda