Thomas Cromwell (1532-1533) by Holbein the Younger
Wolf Hall, a BBC production on PBS based on books by Hilary Mantel, has reignited my fascination with English Tudor history. This interest began in 1968 when I took courses about Tudor and Stewart history from a marvelously sardonic British professor. She resembled Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple. It was a class I would never cut, no matter how heavy my work load as a premedical student.
The 15th and 16th century in England are a bloody lesson in family values. Family, as it is now, was the key to power and wealth. Family and government were intertwined, as we are still experiencing to a lesser degree in the U.S. with Bushes and Clintons. Family justification for murder and mayhem still existed in 2003 when Bush the Younger rushed into Iraq in part to finish what Bush the Elder had started in the Gulf War.
Thomas Cromwell is the antihero of Wolf Hall. A blacksmith's son who rises to become Lord Chamberlain of England and falls to beheading over his dabbling in failed royal marriages. Cromwell, in response to a courtier asking him if he is a Lutheran, responded, "I am a banker." How relevant to these times of religion in politics!
Understanding the aristocratic history of England leads to understanding the patriarchal underpinnings of American social and political culture. Cooing suburbanite housewives adulate the Duchess of Cambridge and her womb's issue. The more bourgeois, the louder the cooing. The concept of social ascendency trumps the concept of social responsibility in the U.S., perhaps more than it now does in the U.K..