27 November 2023

Tudor Pietas

From time to time, I remind readers of the dual directions in sense in liturgical texts of the words Pius  and Pietas: each may indicate God's duty, his faithfulness, to us ('loving-kindness') or ours towards him ('true religion'). In the secular politics of the New Testament period, in Augustan Rome, a further game was often played out.

Pius referred to one who fulfilled his duties (Country, Family, Gods,etc.); there was an opposite, Scelestus (derived from Scelus, Sceleris), which meant not simply one who failed to be pius but someone who behaved in the deliberately, categorically, opposite sort of way. 

Vergil's Aeneid is the quintessential literary example of this. Students who have been dumped into a few hundred or so lines of the Aeneid may think that Dido and Lerve are its themes. They are not; it is the last page that offers and resolves the theme. Aeneas has Turnus at his mercy; Turnus is the hubristic killer of the Boy Pallas. Despite everything, Aeneas suddenly has a temptation to clementia. But then he sees the baldric, balteus, which Turnus had ripped from the Boy ... and so,with renewed fury, Aeneas kills Turnus, claiming that it is Pallas who truly is killing Turnus: "Pallas immolat et poenas scelerato ex sanguine sumit". (Beautiful Esses!!)

Vengeance, ultio, is the great Augustan virtue ... the Temple of Mars Ultor is the 'plastic' symbol of this. 'Avenging my Father Caesar' was Octavian's central claim. But killing the killer of ... a boy ... goes even further, yet more resolutely, into virtuous vengeance.  

And this is what made the ideology of Aeneid XII so immensely useful to the Tudors: because Richard III had murdered the two princes , and thus deserved ... etc. ...

If he really had ... I hold no views on this and am expressing no bias.

There are two delightful little books in the British Library, from bang at the start of the Tudor period. The first has beautifully executed greyhounds ... a Tudor symbol. The book must date from between 1486 and 1487, and uses Royal colours blue and red (as well as the white and green Tudor livery colours). All this is to dignify prose and verse by the Italian humanist Giovanni Gigli, 1434-1498, later Bishop of Worcester (I don't thnk he was the sort of bishop you phoned up if you had a leak in the vestry roof), but at that moment a seller of indulgences and ... a revealing combination ... a writer of the purest classicisng Latin verse. He makes it clear that he expects Richard Fox, bishop-designate of Exeter and one of Henry VII's closest buddies, to show his verses to the King. 

The second little book, dating from1485/6, was designed to be be presented to another of Henry's innermost circle, the future Cardinal Morton, and contains a treatise on Canonisation ... which must derive its relevance from the Cause of Henry VI.

Henry VII's position had been less secure than hindsight might assume; it was but months since he himself had invaded the realm and, with very slight title, seized the crown. Gigli, in his epithalamium celebrating Henry's marriage, could find little better with which to buttress this royal coup than the claim that the realm was "owed" to Tudor from his uncle Henry VI and that, in any case, placating the manes of murdered boys entitled the Ultor of such scelera to the kingdom of the tyrannus ... a neatly Gordian way through a knot ... provided, of course, that Richard really was the killer ...

Gigli's verses suggested that the young prince Arthur was destined to be the first monarch of a great new Arthurian dynasty.


J N said...

Henry VII did not rely on his ancestry for his claim to the throne. Henry claimed the throne by right of conquest. He must have known that he could not really claim the throne through either the male or female line.

And this is why he did not marry Elizabeth of York until after his coronation. He was making it clear that, though it was useful to be seen to be combining the Houses of York and Lancaster, his claim was that of a conqueror.

Sue Sims said...

He could theoretically claim through the female line, but obviously any claim based on descent would run up against a large number of people with a better right than Henry - hence the 'right of conquest' approach.

Has anyone seen the Channel 4 programme broadcast ten days ago or so (or the associated book by Philippa Langley), trying to prove that Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck were indeed the Princes in the Tower? Dreadful stuff.

J N said...

It seems that Henry had no claim through the female line because, although the children of John of Gaunt (who were born out of wedlock) were declared legitimate, they were specifically barred from accession to the throne by a decree Richard II.

J N said...

Yes, I saw the programme which was certainly interesting, though it failed to address the questions which a historian would ask.
a) What is the evidence that Simnel claimed to be Prince Edward and how strong is that evidence?
b) What is the evidence that the documents referring to Prince Richard were referring to Prince Richard or simply to someone assuming his name?
c) What is the evidence that those purportedly supporting Warbeck's claim had not been duped?
d) What is the evidence that those supporting Warbeck's claim were acting in good faith and not merely using Warbeck's claim to be the prince as a cover for their own political ambitions?

That said, the histories of both Warbeck and Simnel, as they have come down to us, are very odd, being full of inconsistencies and problems - almost certainly the result of Henry VII's propagandising.

Thomas said...

I have read that Giovanni Gigli was appointed tutor to Princes Edward and Richard by Edward IV. Gigli was by then a 'denizen' naturalized (Oxford spelling 😉) citizen of the Kingdom of England. His family had strong commercial and political connections to the English court from Henry VI onwards. If he was the boys' tutor, that would add considerable animus to his feelings about Richard III and his support for the 'avenging' Henry Tudor