Inspired by Mississippienne’s medieval villainsthread.
One of my big irks about shows like The Tudors and the umpteen thousand novels and movies and plays and other works about Henry VIII and Elizabeth I is that in addition to telling stories everybody knows (especially the ones about Henry’s marriages) it overlooks some truly fascinating people who lived at the same time and who have seldom if ever been treated in the fictional retellings. Here are two- please by all means feel free to add more. Concentration is on Tudor Stuart England so that’s roughly 1485-1688, though we can be flexible on both date and geography.
Mary Boleyn (c.1499-1543) While she has been dealt with, her most recent solo ventured being perhaps The Other Boleyn Girl, she’s usually background and rarely gotten right. If I were to put her in a novel I would picture her something like an Emperor Claudius type character: “quality of wits may be more important than quantity”. There’s no doubt she was Henry’s mistress before her sister was, there’s much speculation he may have fathered one or both of her children (here’s a portraitof her son Henry), but she never benefitted or apparently sought to benefit from the relationship like other royal mistresses in England and elsewhere did. OTOH, while she never received the fortune and titles that her sister got, she was unique among her siblings in that she died a natural death: her sister and brother both rose much higher only to die by beheading, her father was jailed and in fear of his life, her brother’s widow was later beheaded for helping Anne and Mary’s first cousin Katherine commit adultery while queen, and of course cousin Katherine and several other Howard relations and in-laws got the axe as well.
Mary was widowed by her first husband, married for love the second time even though it meant she lived in poverty (by choice) rather than the comfort of an arranged second marriage, and kept a low profile. She ultimately died in relative wealth from the inheritances she received from her headless and disgraced relatives.
The main reason I mention her here even though she has been in movies is that my mother used to hold her up as a role model. Why, you ask?
“Because she got royally fucked with nothing to show for it, but through it all managed to keep her head.”
John Dee (1527-ca. 1608)- I’m going to link to his wikibecause there’s far too much to go into here so I’m just going to hit a few of the highlights. John Dee is one of those figures who if you wrote a novel about him people would claim you were going way too over the top for believability.
Dee was a true Renaissance man and not just because of when he lived. He was the son of a nouveau riche Welsh family who rose when the Welsh-when-convenient Henry VII became king and he had an incredible memory and intellect that could not be filled. He read everything he could and became an expert on, among other things, astronomy, astrology, navigation, building, chemistry (both alchemy and the legitimate-as-then-known chemical sciences), drawing, history, mathematics, and- increasingly and eventually to the point of obsession- magick.
He served as an advisor to Queen Elizabeth I and to other monarchs and wealthy patrons all across Europe and was one of the best traveled Englishmen of his time. He lived hand-to-mouth at times and was rolling in coin at others but almost all of his considerable earnings over the years went into his research and the accumulation of the largest library in England (larger by far than the queen’s) and one of the largest in Europe- depending on the source somewhere between 4,000 and 8,000 volumes, well into the double digit percentages of all titles then in print and in fact many he published or translated from other sources.
And speaking of things he translated, that’s where it gets really interesting: centuries before Joseph Smith, Mr. Dee was taking mystical dictation from angels and using crystals and stones to translate it. His main occupation for the last decades of his long life was his talks with angels, particularly the archangel Uriel who revealed many things to his pen pal, among them the Enochian language, all kinds of insiders guides to heaven and its workings, and even the sigil of God Himself (drawing). Uriel, Gabriel, and other recurring characters from Supernatural communicated in mysterious ways including outright appearances, possession of certain objects, crystals and other seeing stones, and by possessing Dee’s third wife. Uriel was an advocate of wife swapping, incidentally, so Dee and his associates (particularly his chief psychic advisor John Kelley) sometimes traded off wives, thus leading probably to a lot of “who can really say for sure?” genealogies since Dee and Kelley’s wives both had lots of children.
Anyway, Dee also was an early advocate of a New World empire and may have coined the term Britannia. Certainly he was an imperialist and, for all his travels from eastern Europe (where he may have tutored a young Elizabeth Bathory) to Paris to Scandinavia and back again to England, he remained a very patriotic Englishman first and foremost.
There’s a lot more to his story of course, but this should get us started. Hopefully somebody else will add (I’m currently rubbing what the man at the flea market swears is Mississippienne’s sigil) and I have a couple for later myself.