I’m just back from a wonderful trip to Cornwall. Of course, being a history buff, a stop by Tintagel was a must. What a fabulous place! Even though I’d seen pictures of it prior to my visit, I wasn’t prepared for how absolutely stunning it is. To say the setting is magical doesn’t begin to cover it. We were there on a slightly cloudy day – it added to the moody atmosphere no end. My imagination ran wild with what it would have been like back in the 1200-1300s on a stormy night. And did I get a story out of it? Of course! Highly recommended.
A couple weeks ago, I toured Leicester’s Building at Kenilworth Castle. Built by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, for Queen Elizabeth I, it’s a square tower block that has recently been refurbished with stair cases such that visitors are able to go right up to the top of the building.
One can stand at floor level in the Queen’s private rooms, imagining her and her ladies at their needlework. Or the Earl and the Queen playing cards – they both loved playing and bet heavily on their games. Or the Queen sitting at the window, contemplating how to get out of marrying one of her many suitors (I imagine she did this a lot)! One has to envision the Great Mere that the Queen would have seen as that has since been drained away, but the views over the countryside are simply stunning.
And on the top floor, a dancing chamber built for a Queen. Here, one can imagine Her Majesty and Dudley dancing the Volta. Or taking refreshment in the room next door, sweaty from their exertions on the dance floor.
It’s a bit difficult to imagine what this building would have cost Dudley to build given that its sole purpose and use would have been to house the Queen on her summer progress. But even today, it’s easy to imagine the Queen’s presence there.
We that live in this land called England are blessed. I’ve lived in other countries of the world, and no place did the plants speak to me like they do here. Perhaps that’s why they are such a big part of my novels. Not only are the hedgerows and fields full of plants that are useful for physical healing, but there are many that provide healing of a different sort.
This last weekend I visited an ancient yew in the churchyard of Compton Dundon.
Estimated to be some 1700 years old, standing in the presence of this elder was magical. Does one walk away the same person from such a profound experience? The energy and peace emanating from this sacred tree touches me even now. With an open and loving heart, you can become a new you at the old yew.
The more research I undertake, the more I read about Lord Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, the favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, the more I think he’s really gotten a bad rap in popular culture that he doesn’t necessarily deserve. I think a lot of the bad press that he got in his lifetime is really a reflection of two things.
Firstly, he was a leading, if not the leading, Protestant figure at the centre of Elizabethan government at the time. That earned him a special place on the hit list of the Catholic Church. Although to this day no one knows for sure who wrote ‘Leicester’s Commonwealth’ it was a smear campaign the likes of which tricky Dick Nixon would be proud. Popularly believed to have been written by a leading Jesuit, the thing to keep in mind is, he wasn’t the only one to be smeared in this way. Similar pamphlets came out against others in the same manner (for instance, see the one commonly referred to at the time as ‘Burley’s Commonwealth’). So should it be taken seriously? Yes, but only for what it was – an attack to undermine a leading Protestant figure.
Secondly, he was the royal favourite. Can you show me one royal favourite who wasn’t reviled? In fact, some of them were so hated that they were murdered by jealous Barons, And the thing I think everyone forgets is – not only was he the royal favourite – but he was so in a unique way that England has never seen before. Why? Because the country had never seen a court the like of that of Elizabeth I before. Only the second Queen in the country’s history, she was unmarried (and liked the attention of her courtiers, mind) and unfettered in a way her half-sister Mary never was, surrounded by a court of testosterone-laden, competitive men? Hmmm, doesn’t take much imagination to see how that’s going to go, does it?
Did Dudley use the patronage system to further his own interests? Was he vane and arrogant? Yes, but I would argue, he wasn’t alone (if you watched Wulf Hall you’d have seen that). Everyone used the patronage system to get as much as they could for themselves – that was the system! And then there was the rumour that he murdered his wife. I believe he was way too politically savvy to have had anything to do with it – he knew very well what the suspicious death of his wife would do to him politically – just read his first letters after he received the news.
So did he make powerful enemies at the time? Just the Catholic Church, the Catholic population of England that wanted to turn the country back to Catholicism, as well as many of the most powerful men in the country.
In the end, the thing I’d say is – lighten up! Instead of just automatically dissing him, read a few of the modern books on Dudley such as the one by Derek Wilson or the essays on Elizabethan politics by Simon Adams with an open mind. Then come back and talk to me about him.