Spin is not the province of modern politicians and image makers. The Tudors, particularly Henry V111 and Elizabeth, were immensely conscious of their historical status. Henry because his father’s claim to the throne was rather rocky and Henry Tudor had to lift the crown from his predecessor’s dead head to put it on his own.
Elizabeth because of her own history, inextricably tied to her own father’s marital adventures which had riven the country and caused a break from Rome which echoed through the next two reigns. And people called her mother “The Great Whore” still. So she had a great deal to prove, since the only regnant queens before her - her own sister Mary, who had caused a religious bloodbath and the only previous example, Matilda, had fought a bitter civil war to achieve only being able to be the Regent to her son.
In this turbulent time history was extremely important, made and broken by wars and marriages, by powerful characters like Henry whose very image caused people to quail before it. The use of images was becoming vital now that books could be printed and picture prints could be made and moved with comparative ease around the country and abroad. Loyalties were made by the impact these items had among the people – even if you could not read, there was always someone who could. And now you knew what your monarch looked like!
Bluff King Hal or Monster and Tyrant? Good Queen Bess – Virgin Queen or Gloriana? How were they seen by their own people, and how were their thoughts and actions received at the time? Only the study of the written word and the painted picture lets us know today so that we can make our own judgements too.
Both of these monarchs were immensely conscious of their own impact on both their people and the times they made so much their own.
History needs the images they showed to their people. We will study the paintings and images they have left us to reflect their reigns, thinking always - what do they tell us about the history of the times.
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