Today we welcome author CW Gortner to talk about why we love the Tudors!
It’s been more than four hundred years since Elizabeth I’s death, yet for many of us she—and the rest of her dysfunctional, electrifying family—remain as fascinating as ever. Compare this, with, say, the ten minutes of rapt attention we’d allocate to the latest antic by the latest film actor in need of rehab and you can see that Elizabeth and her clan have lasting star power.
But, why? Why are we so fascinated by them? What is about their drama and upheaval that so entrance us? While impossible to pinpoint for certain, or even to generalize, it’s safe to assume that our obsession with the Tudors reflects the fact that they were, to a certain extent, the 16th century’s equivalent of our modern-day celebrities— physically beautiful; wealthy and powerful, jettisoning from palace to palace, bedecked in jewels and velvet, they strode across the stage of their Renaissance world wreaking havoc in their wake, enthralling, repelling, and entertaining their contemporary audience much as they entertain us today, hundreds of years later.
Few dynasties boast such larger-than-life characters: Henry VII, parsimonious, sour-faced patriarch of the clan, who leapt out of exile to literally snatch the crown from the last Plantagenet king’s head; his golden heir, Henry VIII, the Adonis of his age, who transformed into a grotesque parody of himself and killed two of his six wives, or three, if you count the one whose heart he broke; and his children, tight-lipped and short-lived Edward VI; the Catholic fire-brand, Mary, whose reign of terror earned her the sobriquet of ‘Bloody’; and finally, the enigmatic Elizabeth, whose triumphant accession after years of danger ushered in an era of unparalleled glory, when Shakespeare composed his famous verses and England became a beacon of refuge for those fleeing religious excesses.
And it is Elizabeth, of all of them, who most intrigues. We who live in an era bombarded by commercialized sexual innuendo find it almost impossible to believe that anyone save a nun could live without carnal intimacy yet Elizabeth claimed lifelong virginity. Paradoxically, she surrounded herself with exquisite men who went bankrupt vying for her affections; not given to female confidences, she terrorized her ladies; she dressed to impress and evaded years of intrigue against her person— she was glamorous, intelligent, and contrary, the perfect amalgam of her father’s might and her mother’s allure. She was, in many ways, the Angelina Jolie of her age: the most coveted and idealized icon of her time. Captured in a hundred portraits from every angle, usually looking far less realistic than a fantasy, styled for our imagination, Elizabeth epitomizes our enduring fascination with the Tudors. She stares at us through those narrow sloe eyes from her confection of pearls and platter-sized ruff and cornucopia wig, and she dares us to pigeonhole her, to reduce her with the banal ease of our modern age. She is the past that evades and entices; she is the muse of our most romantic flights.
This is why we love her and why we love the Tudors. Because despite our culture of facile celebrity, or perhaps because of it, England’s most famous family has earned its time-honored distinction. Luminaries across centuries, they remind us in their own inimitable ways that while movie stars and reality-TV may come or go, kings and queens live forever.
CW Gortner is the author of The Last Queen and The Confessions of Catherine de Medici. His latest release is a historical mystery set in the court of Elizabeth I, The Tudor Secret, the first book in the Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles. The Tudor Secret is available
Don't forget that we are currently giving away a signed, personalised copy of this book along with a gorgeous Elizabeth I hand mirror. For all the details see our giveaway post here.