The adjective "hydromedusan" when used to describe a person?

What does it mean? My dictionary defines it as “having the characteristics of the medusa form of a hydrozoan coelenterate”, which I find less than illuminating.

Is it just a pretentious way of describing the person as spineless?

It would seem so. A hydromedusan is more commonly known as a jellyfish.

What was the context?

I’d guess, Politics.

I’d guess that it had more to do with dreadlocks.

Sort of. And religion too.

The quote comes from page 214 of the book Catherine of Aragon by Garrett Mattingly (Jonathon Cape Ltd, London, 1971). After describing Cromwell as one of the two tools that Henry VIII would use to replace Cardinal Wolsey, Mattingly goes on to describe (rather unflatteringly) the other “tool”, Cranmer:

The phylum of Cnidarians encompasses both polyp-type species, such as hydras, and medusa-type species, which float - the jellyfish. So it was probably a very fancy way of saying “like a jellyfish”.

As an aside, Cnidarians have gastrovascular cavities but not discrete mouths and anuses - thus, the waste products of food are regurgitated through the oral cavity. So shit comes out the mouth. Not sure the author knew this but if he did that could be an aspect of why he chose that descriptor.

(Smart factual stuff from Campbell and Reece’s Biology.)

In addition to spewing shit from the mouth, they also have hunting/feeding habits that might be compared to some people. They don’t move around much, and they sting or kill anyone who comes near.

Yep. I can see that as a high-falutin sort of insult for the over-vocabularied.

But, to me, it brought to mind a long haired lady floating on her back, hair all a-swirl about her head. At first.

That’s certainly what I was thinking too until I went to the dictionary.

How is the book? I’ve been looking for some well-written stuff about Henry’s reign, etc. (that time period, at least).

It was pretty good. Quite detailed but still easy to read. Fairly partisan in the end towards Catherine.