Does Art Imitate Life or Life More Often Imitate Art?


In recent years, several excellent historical drama series have emerged that depict the life and times of ancient peoples and cultures.  We sit back comfortably in our chairs, on our couches, or even lay back on our bed pillows and watch in high definition color on our flat screens as peoples’ thirsts drive them forward at any and all costs in their quests for political and social stature, and even designs of world dominance.  And, whether dramatic art or in the reality of our own world today, we see individuals and groups wrestling for social and political power and world sovereignty.  I’d like to know who was right;  Aristotle, the Greek Philosopher (384 BC – 322 BC), who viewed art as an imitation of life; or the author from Ireland, Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), who believed that life imitates art far more than art imitates life.  These series like The Tudors, Reign, Marco Polo, Medici-Masters of Florence,  Hell on Wheels, The Hatfields and McCoys, West Wing, and House of Cards, in fact, have inspired my subsequent research into the real stories behind them and to root out the naked truths.

In Art – Let’s start with The Tudors:

The Tudors included 38 episodes over four seasons and followed the life of Henry VIII from the time of his crowning until his death. His personal and political struggles and victories.  It also detailed his paranoia, his scandalous life that included many marriages and extramarital affairs, and his changes to the Catholic Church to create the Church of England–all for his own personal benefit.

Next – there was Reign:

Reign ran for four seasons and 78 episodes. Reign followed Mary, the dainty but fierce 15-year-old from Scotland, as she re-entered French court after spending her adolescence at a convent. She was torn between her duty to Scotland and her Scottish family’s political aspirations for her to marry Prince Francis, future King of France; and her blossoming love for this man, Francis, who she was betrothed to as a child and had spent much of her childhood with him as playmates.  Yet, throughout her life, even Mary had to remain ever-vigilant due to social and political threats against her life and crown.

In Reality – Executions at Tower Hill Ordered by British Royalty

What I quickly learned from these historical dramas and my subsequent research is that everyone had to be ever vigilant.  Their harsh realities–there were few who could be trusted loyal friends and many unknown enemies who were more than willing to strike them down in whatever fashion in their attempts to get ahead–and this scenario was especially true among the royals and their “closest” associates!

I found a couple of interesting resources: 1) Capital Punishment UK and 2) British Royal Family History. I used both of them when generating this Google Sheet that covers the “Executions on Tower Hill by English Kings and Queens (1377-1820).” As you can see, it spans nearly 500 years; seven ruling families; and, 18 blue-bloods who decided who amidst them would advance within the royal ranks and who they would execute at their sole discretion because they had in some way become “inconvenient” to them rather than genuine traitors.

The majority of these beheadings were at the behest of royalty and took place at the Tower of London. It is a 900-year-old castle and fortress in central London that is notable for housing the crown jewels and for holding many famous and infamous prisoners.

It seems the history of these beheadings by British Royalty goes back to early medieval England’s Anglo-Saxon times (about  450 A.D. to 1066 A.D.) and that beheading was widely used in Europe and Asia until as recently as the 20th century.  Even today, as barbaric as it is, we still are witness to political-based and/or jihad-inspired beheadings by peoples primarily on the continents of Asia and Africa in places like Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Jordan, Saudi-Arabia, and Boko-Haram.  But among the British Royalty, beheading with a sword or axe was considered a more honorable and less painful form of death than other execution methods used at the time. (And, like hanging, it was a cheap and practical method!)

Throughout its history, the tower was used to imprison a wide range of prisoners, from deposed monarchs to more common criminals. Prisoners included Lady Jane Grey, who was queen for about a week in the 16th century before she was deposed by Mary I.

Also imprisoned there were two princes, Edward and Richard, ages 12 and 9, who were the sons of Edward IV (died 1483). They appear never to have left the tower alive and some thought they were killed by Richard III, their uncle who took the throne for himself.

Another notable prisoner was Guy Fawkes, who in 1605 attempted to blow up the House of Lords and the monarch by detonating gunpowder in the cellars below. He was imprisoned in the tower and tortured.

And, of course, King Henry VIII, one of the more notorious members of the House of Tudor, who ruled for about 38 years.  He had all but 5 his 31 “treasonous” country-men/women beheaded on Tower Hill.  If fact, he imprisoned two of his wives, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard and later executed them. It also was Henry, who turned England into a Protestant country, and in doing so had a number of his dissenting clergymen committed to the tower and later killed, including his former counselor Sir Thomas More.

In all, just within the Tower of London or on an ancient scaffold on Tower Hill, 122 people were put to their deaths–many after also spending torturous times imprisoned within the walls of the Tower.

Of those executed:

  • 94 were beheaded
  • 12 were hanged
  • 11 were hanged and drawn and quartered
  •   3 were killed by firing squad
  •   2 were burned at the stake

You also can see on my google sheet that from the years 1649-1660, that 11-year-period between the reigns of King Charles I and King Charles II, that the British parliament and government ruled the Kingdom, and even then eight persons were beheaded for various “treasonous plots” against the Royals or their armies.  Included among them was British Monarch, Charles I–the only monarch ever to be executed by Parliament, but not in Tower Hill. He was beheaded on Tuesday the 30th of January 1649 on a raised scaffold in front of the Palace of Whitehall. He had been convicted of High Treason and “other crimes” for his activities during the civil war against the Parliamentarians led by Oliver Cromwell. An act of parliament had to be passed to set up a means to try him before a special court composed of Commissioners. The trial began on the 20th of January 1649 and the king refused to recognize the court or to enter a plea. In Charles’ case, the executioner was skilled and managed to sever his head with a single blow–unlike so many others put to their deaths by beheadings and orders of the blue-bloods.

So where does this leave us on the art imitating life or life imitating art question?  I’m not sure I am qualified to say.  If I’m to be honest (like TV personality Simon Cowell often says), we’ve each seen examples of art imitating life and life imitating art.  I guess it’s safe to say it’s like the chicken and the egg story–which came first?

 

 

“A Tale of Two Bostons “


The_Wash,_Heacham_beach

The Wash from Heacham Beach

The Wash Neighboring Areas

The Wash Neighboring Areas

When corresponding with those from “across the pond,” or elsewhere in the world, I sometimes find it necessary to do side research within our topic of discussion. Quite often, I experience an “Aha moment” of enlightenment. Today was such the case. Here’s a part of the message that I didn’t quite grasp: “Last summer 2013 Boston Council across the WASH refurbished their oldest pub/inn called INDIAN QUEEN, their town legend in Lincolnshire, says is named after Pocahontas…”

I guess I’m just not as worldly as I sometimes imagine myself…

Anyway, the long and the short of it is “across the WASH” references a square-mouthed bay and estuary on the northwest margin of East Anglia on the east coast of England, where Norfolk meets Lincolnshire. It is among the largest estuaries in the United Kingdom and is fed by the Rivers Witham, Welland, Nene and Great Ouse. Owing to deposits of sediment and land reclamation, the coastline of the Wash has altered markedly within historical times; several towns once on the coast of the Wash (notably King’s Lynn) are now some distance inland. Much of the Wash itself is very shallow, with several large sandbanks—such as Breast Sand, Bulldog Sand, Roger Sand and Old South Sand—exposed at low tide, especially along its south coast. For this reason, navigation in the Wash can be hazardous for boats.

While overcoming this little lack of knowledge hurdle (“across the WASH”, and “which Boston?”), I once again stumbled onto a very interesting and cleverly written page by Brandon Gary Lovested on iBoston.org, out of London, England.  The iBoston site in general is very attractive, user friendly, and intuitively designed, but I digress.  So, I copied a portion of Brandon’s article to show you, my readers, just how his opening text really drew me in.  I hope if you like the intro page that you will want to read the remainder of this historic timeline at: A Tale of Two Bostons – iBoston.  It really ties up several elements of England’s and New England’s history (religion, politics, rebellion, puritans, and pilgrims), into a nice bow from St. Botolph in 654 to Oliver Cromwell in 1645.

I hope you enjoy.

iBoston Article

The Tudors and Taylors: My British Connection


The TudorsThe Tudors

Two years ago, we watched on Netflix, almost incessantly, 38 streamed episodes of Showtime TV’s monumental, award winning series The Tudors.  The Tudors originally aired from
April 1, 2007 to June 10, 2010. It starred the 35-year-old Golden Globe award-winning Irish actor, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers,  (2nd from left in the photo), and this year’s 30-year-old, British born actor, Man of Steel star, Henry Cavill, (bottom right in photo),  and many More.

The timeline of the historic Tudor dynasty began in 1485 with King Henry VII (Henry Tudor), the first of the Tudor monarchs.  He had a claim to the throne through his mother, Margaret Beaufort who was the great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt (son of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault). Henry’s Lancastrian forces defeated those of Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth and Richard III was killed. Henry seized the throne and married Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV, uniting the Houses of Lancaster and York, represented in the Tudor Rose.  This is also about the time that King Henry VII and my Taylor ancestors came to meet each other for the very first time.
The TV show starred Jonathan Rhys Meyers as King Henry VIII, a charismatic and notoriously amorous figure with a lust for life, and for the beautiful women at court. His dutiful wife Catherine had served him lovingly for more than a decade, but the wife of a king in 1520 must do more than serve – she must produce an heir. As the young monarch contended with each advisor playing their own interest in the threat of war with France, fear over the security of the Tudor line grew steadily in his mind, so much so that he became involved with the bewitching and ambitious Anne Boleyn.  This scenario sets off a chain of events that would change history – igniting an onslaught of tumult and intrigue that would rage on for years, serving as the catalyst for political divide, religious war, and romantic betrayal. John Taylor’s biography that follows links and interwines his life, education, and professional accomplishments to both monarch’s (Kings Henry VII and VIII) and many of prominent “notables” of his day. Many of these fellow men and women were portrayed in The Tudor TV series.  The series was rife with notables of the day–very few of them were what I would consider honorable men.  In fact, as history has it, many of them were despicable men and women out for personal gain and power at whatever the cost to God and country.  Hmmm…

The British Connection

But, little did I know when viewing the intrigue of The Tudors  with all of its history that my ancestors would be directly in the throes of their power, politics, love, religion, and blasphemy and probably aligned with the most controversial royal line ever among England’s monarchical dynasties. You might ask; “Well, just how did this British Connection begin?”  And there’s just one answer.  The Taylor’s were connected by time, geographic proximity, and quite frankly and most importantly, the anomaly of a multiple birth that bore healthy triplets–an extraordinary event 500+ years ago.  

The Taylors
Cottage_in_Needwood_Forest_by_Joseph_Wright_1790About 1477, in Barton-under-Needwood, a large village in Staffordshire, England, triplet sons were born to Joan, wife of one William Taylor who was employed as a game warden in the Forest of Needwood.  John Taylor, the first born of the triplets, along with his brothers Rowland, Nathaniel and their sister Elizabeth lived in a cottage to the north-east of the Church Lane, where several of the village’s timber-framed cottages stood. Members of the Taylor family had lived in Barton since 1345, and William Taylor and his wife, Joan, took possession of their cottage in 1471.  To the best of my knowledge, local maps of today’s Church Lane in Staffordshire, Stafford, England appears to be about 30 or so miles from Buckingham, where today’s Queen Elizabeth resides.
It was this John Taylor (1477-1534) who was son of William Taylor (1450-1477) and Margaret De Fairsted (1457-1546) of Shadoxhurst, Kent, England that is my 13th paternal great grandfather. 
King Henry VII (1457-1509)

King Henry VII (1457-1509)

The story of the triplets’ life had a folk-tale quality to it.  Robert Plot’s History of Staffordshire 1686) tells of three babies being presented to King Henry VII because of the rarity of multiple births.  However, Henry VII  took the throne in 1485.  So,  it’s likely that the King saw the triplets as three young boys.  It is rumored that he also envisioned them as a symbol of the Holy Trinity.  It was then that King Henry VII promised to educate the three boys if they survived into manhood and he kept his word.

Additionally, the triple birth, inspired Queen Victoria’s Royal Bounty for Triplets which remained in effect until sometime during Queen Elizabeth II’s reign that began in 1952. All three boys were educated at a University ‘beyond the seas’, probably in France or Italy.

John Taylor’s Biography

About 1503 John Taylor was ordained Rector at Bishop’s Hatfield. Soon afterwards he often went abroad on official business.  He was, in fact, a  House of Tudor civil servant. In 1504, he became Rector of Sutton Coldfield. By 1509 he had become Prebendary  (similar to a non-residentiary Canon) of Eccleshall in Lichfield Cathedral and was one of the Royal Chaplains at Henry VII’s funeral.

IKing Henry VIIIn the same year, the new King Henry VIII appointed him King’s Clerk and Chaplain and two years later he was made Clerk to the Parliament and given other positions. The detailed diary of a French campaign he undertook with the King is preserved in the British Museum. He wrote Royal Speeches, met Ambassadors and was rewarded by more ecclesiastical promotions, including that of Archdeacon of Derby in 1515 and later Royal Ambassador to Burgundy and France and Prolocutor of Convocation. In 1516 he also became Archdeacon of Buckingham. He was incorporated by virtue of his degrees of Doctor of Civil Law and Doctor of Canon Law at Cambridge in 1520 on the occasion of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey’s visit there and shortly afterwards in 1522 at Oxford, also.

1520:  The Field of the Cloth of Gold – Meeting between France and England

Field of the Cloth of GoldThe famous meeting between Henry VIII and Francois I of France called took place in June 1520 in Northern France. It was intended to strengthen peace ties between France and England. Masterminded by the great Cardinal  Wolsey, each king and Court strove to one-up  the other. Henry was accompanied by 5,000 people and spent in excess of £13,000 on the splendor of the occasion. In attendance were ten chaplains, including John Taylor. The King ordered each priest to be clothed in damask and satin and each to be followed by his own attendants, not exceeding ten persons and four horses. The English built a palace-like pavilion of wood and canvas with expansive windows. The Flemish glazier Galyon Hone created the windows. Fine wines flowed from drinking fountains.

The first church built in 1157 was a chapel of ease in the parish of Tatenhill and was possibly situated near to the present Church in a field called Hall Orchard, the location of Church Lane. A chest from that medieval church dated from between 1100 and 1300 is all that remains. John Taylor inherited his father’s land and endowed his new church there. Work commenced in 1517, as carved on the south side of the tower, with completion in 1533 the year before John Taylor died. The register dates from 1571 in the reign of Elizabeth I. The church is a rare example of a church being completed in one lifetime. It was originally dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene but when things Catholic fell from favor in the middle of 16th century the church changed its name to St. James. The church has a three-sided apse, a rare form in this county, part of the John Taylor design. Inscriptions over alternate pillars of the nave tell of John Taylor’s career, together with representations of his coat of arms, the head and shoulders of three children and a Tudor rose.

It was begun in 1517 which date appears on the tower. Inside, inscriptions over alternate pillars of the nave tell of John Taylor’s promotions and illustrious career, between these are representations of the coat-of-arms he adopted.

By the time the Tudor Church was finished and dedicated in 1533, John Taylor was already a sick and troubled man. In 1527 he had become Master of the Rolls, the peak of his appointments, he was travelling to and from France on Royal business and he had been appointed one of the commissioners to try the validity of the King’s marriage to Lady Catherine of Aragon. It seems possible that Cardinal Wolsey had used John Taylor in a vain attempt to find a suitable French princess for a future Queen of England should the divorce be granted. His dread of Anne Boleyn was well-known.

In 1528 he became Archdeacon of Halifax. At the peak of his career Taylor was suddenly under pressure to surrender his prebend at St. Stephen’s, Westminster, another of his appointments, and he was suffering badly with a diseased leg. Whether his health failed or he incurred Royal disfavor is not known, but he wrote his will and resigned as Master of the Rolls, and Lord Thomas Cromwell (doomed also to fall from Royal favor) was his successor.  John Taylor died in 1534. The place of John Taylor’s burial has not been traced, though there is thought to have been a monument to him in St. Anthony in London’s Threadneedle Street.

There is a touching sentence in his will (in Latin of course) “nothing in the world is more fleeting than human life and that nothing follows more certainly than death, and that nothing is more uncertain than the hour of our death and how transitory are the worldly goods provided for us by the goodness of God”.

He left various bequests to churches at Shottesbrooke in Berkshire and Bishop’s Hatfield and Lincoln Cathedral. His servants and his sister Elizabeth, his executors, nephews and cousins shared the contents of his considerable household in his home at Bethnal Green.

References:

Field of the Cloth of Gold; http://tudorhistory.org/glossaries/f/field_of_cloth_of_gold.html
Barton-under-Needwood; http://www.barton-under-needwood.org.uk/
http://www.tudorplace.com.ar/Bios/JohnTaylor.htm
http://www.luminarium.org/encyclopedia/taylor.htm