Michael Thornton, Tudor Apologist (and idiot)

An article in today’s Daily Mail has sparked outrage on the net and quite rightly, because the man who wrote it is either still working for Henry Tudor or he knows no more history than William Shakespeare did. I’m going to take the points in the article one by one:

  • ‘The grotesque televised travesty’ was actually a beautiful and suitably solemn occasion in which the people of Leicester and others literally from around the world, came together to pay homage to a king.
  • Richard, says Thornton was ‘without question one of the most evil, detestable tyrants ever to walk this earth.’ This is such nonsense that words here almost fail me and I cannot find enough space to compile a list of people more evil than Richard.
  • The ‘shameful and outrageous cost of more than £2.5 million’ which Thornton says could have ‘fed and housed a multitude of homeless’ was actually raised privately.
  • I don’t know who the spectator was whom Thornton found who regarded the whole thing as ‘an undignified, money-grabbing pantomime’ and one wonders why he was there at all. Attendance was not compulsory!
  • Thornton’s take on the Battle of Bosworth would make my Year Seven students howl with laughter – that leading a charge against a much larger enemy was somehow the work of ‘a murderous pragmatist’. That must have been the motive for every deed of heroism by a British army since its formation in 1685.
  • No, Cardinal Vincent Nichols has not, as Thornton would have it, ‘temporarily misplaced his marbles’. His eulogy was balanced and fair. Almost everything that Henry VII did during his government was pinched directly from Richard III.
  • The execution of Lord Hastings was, by our standards, summary and unjust but not, by the standards of the time and if we try to apply our norms to those of Richard, it simply won’t work. Why, for example, didn’t the king open bridges and go skiing at Klosters? Thornton has not only misunderstood the 15th century, he has no idea what went on.
  • Rivers, Grey and Vaughan were all executed because they, along with the rest of the Woodville family, were conspiring to remove the Princes from Richard’s care, even though Richard had been appointed their protector by the boys’ father, his brother Edward.
  • Because we now know that Shakespeare’s description of Richard has some basis in fact because of his scoliosis, Thornton assumes that Shakespeare is right about everything else as well. Shakespeare got his ‘facts’ from fiction writers like Ralph Holinshed. Gullible politicians like Thomas More and enemies of Richard like Cardinal Morton.
  • Richard did not have Henry VI murdered – his brother Edward did.
  • Richard did not brutally murder Edward Prince of Wales, he was killed in the rout after the Battle of Tewkesbury.
  • There is no hard evidence to suggest that Richard murdered the Princes in the Tower. He emerges as the most likely candidate, but by no means the only one – think Henry VII, the Duke of Buckingham etc.
  • Thornton should also look up a definition of what a serial killer is, because by no sense of that definition can Richard be accused.
  • Thornton says Richard ‘slaughtered 27 of his subjects’ (a figure even larger than Shakespeare claimed) and equates this with Adolf Hitler (responsible for the murder of millions) and Vladimir Putin, who, rather like Richard, has been accused of murder but never tried in a court of law.

‘If we can turn a child killer into a national hero for children to cheer and admire, then just about anything seems possible.’ – even that the Daily Mail should give Michael Thornton a job.


Oops – sorry!

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, has apologised for the bombing of Dresden. Now, call me an ill-informed historian with a First from Cambridge but I don’t recall Justin Welby being at No. 10 in 1945; neither was he at the Air Ministry or in Bomber Command. So in what sense can he apologize? He didn’t do it! To say he is sorry that it happened is a different proposition; it is not an apology. And I hope to his God that he is equally sorry for the Luftwaffe’s bombing of London, Coventry, Plymouth, Hull and all the other cities flattened by the Nazis 70 years ago – including, I might add, Justin Cantuar’s own city of Canterbury.

Dresden was a beautiful city, but it wasn’t just making lovely porcelain in the days of the Reich; it was a vitally important railway junction through which men and materiel were funneled to continue the German war effort. was Bomber Harris’s attack justified? Millions of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and millions more living under Nazi occupation would have said a resounding ‘Yes’!

In 1933 the people of Germany (including Dresden) had the chance to resist Hitler – they didn’t, perfectly content to go along with the myth of Aryan supremacy and to tolerate the arrogant obscenities that followed. bleating about the loss of 25,000 people in Dresden is more than a little rich bearing in mind the total casualties in the Second World War. for years, historians referred to this as Hitler’s War. It wasn’t. It was a Nazi war. More than that, it was a German war. The people of Dresden will have to live with that and so will the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Historical fiction? Fiction, certainly – not so sure about the history though …

Catholic bishops have branded Wolf Hall inaccurate and anti-Catholic. Quite right. So far, half the viewers think the series is marvellous and half of them can’t follow the plot or see in the dark (which is more or less the same thing) and a million such viewers have gone off to make a cup of tea and never came back.

The fault, dear Brutus, lies not with the TV adaptation but with the book itself. Hilary Mantel (not an historian, alas) wrote it (incomprehensibly) in the present tense, which meant that, far from being unable to put it down, I could barely pick it up. Some time ago I asked a class of Year 9 students to write up the situation in Germany in the 1920s from the point of view of Adolf Hitler. One girl said she couldn’t because she couldn’t get inside the head of such a misfit with so much blood on his hands. I sympathised. Historians, I told her, are supposed to be unbiased, even-handed, fair. But some individuals stand out as being, to use a technical term much bandied about where scholars gather, utter shits. Thomas Cromwell, Dame Mantel’s (how did that happen?) hero is one such.

If you doubt this, take in Leo McKern’s brilliant portrayal of him in A Man For All Seasons. More historically, have a look at Hans Holbein’s portrait of Cromwell in the National Portrait Gallery – the thick neck, the piggy, shifty eyes; it’s all there; psychopathy writ large. He is an anti-hero and literature is full of them. The problem comes when fiction passes as fact. What’s the betting that desperate History teachers will soon be using the DVD of Wolf Hall as a classroom aid? It then, to undiscerning kids, becomes fact. It’s not going to happen in my classroom!

Hysterically inaccurate … sorry, that should be ‘historically’!

Inevitably, as an historian, I am drawn to TV programmes that deal with the past. There’s an awful lot of hype re Wolf Hall (let’s hope it’s better than the book!). And dear old David Starkey is about to give us his take on Magna Carta. Starkey says (quite rightly) that it is surprising that the Prime Minister, expensively educated at Eton, did not know what it meant. What is even more surprising is that Starkey calls the misunderstood old document the Magna Carta, which is 100% incorrect as the definite article in Latin was rarely used and never in the context of Magna Carta.

Which brings me on to the Musketeers. Producer Colin Wratten, writing in the Weekend Mail hopes we’re all enjoying it and thinks they’ve all done a pretty good job of recreating 17th century France. It’s not the backdrops that are flawed, Colin; it’s everything else. It looks a little bit like the Wild West has come to Paris, France. The broad-brimmed hats are lifted at the side like stetsons. In PR stills the boys all stand around with legs apart like wannabe John Waynes. And when they whip out their six-shooter – er – sorry – wheel-lock pistols, they never miss, even at an impossible yardage. In this series, we have a black Spanish general – there were so many of those in the 17th century! Leave it to Alexandre Dumas, Colin, there’s a dear!

So, with my love of the past, it is just as well everything on the TV is a repeat!

Dancing in the Dark – no, nothing at all to do with Bruce Springsteen!

The Mem and I are huge fans of the various CSI programmes on satellite and Freeview TV. The intrepid teams of brilliant scientists, who also manage to look ravishingly attractive/handsome at the same time, solve the most gruesome and complicated murders in (allowing for the ads) 47 minutes. When there are two cases being run, 23.5 minutes. Superb, I hear you cry. We can all rest easy in our beds.


They could halve even that solve-time if they put the bloody lights on! They go into a house where a perp might be lurking, so its Koch automatics out and … torches!


No, we can’t, the programme makers would say – because that would give the perp too easy a target. Fair enough. But in the labs? There’s no excuse there. They are examining the most minute stuff under lenses, microscopes and powerful lamps because they don’t have any overhead lighting in the laboratory!

Go into any real lab and you’ll be hit by neon in all directions. That’s how you solve crimes. Maybe, though, it’s all down to expense. William Petersen, Ted Danson, David Caruso – I bet they don’t come cheap. So something has to go. I know, let’s make those savings on the lights.

Let’s just all chill out and smell the coffee – have you got an hour to spare?

I was queuing in a coffee shop the other day, kid glued to hip. He can walk, of course, but he’s so pampered he doesn’t have to – thank you, Alan Bennett for almost providing that line. I won’t mention the name of the coffee shop, but the founders pinched it from a character in Moby Dick. So there I am, in Queequeg’s, waiting to be served. And waiting. And waiting.

Now, I am not singling out Queequeg’s, because the problem is universal. The lads and lasses behind the counter are working their a***s off but the machinery is Stone Age. You have to switch it on, switch it off, adjust the milk, wipe the nozzle, put the cup under it, adjust the water, add the brown stuff and make those pretty patterns in the froth. You then have to ask the customer if they want chocolate on the top. I won’t even go into the resulting backlog when someone can’t decide. It’s chocolate. Have it. You’ll love it. Move on.

A nuclear explosion could have wiped us all out before we got served. But because I had an extraordinary amount of leisure time, I perused the menu and wondered aloud why the Italians have cornered the coffee market. Did they invent it? No. Did they discover it? No. So why did we let them invent silly names for it?

Now, don’t get me wrong. Some of my best lessons have been about Italians – Julius Caesar, Cesare Borgia, Garibaldi and Mussolini. Italians have contributed hugely to the culture of the world – think the Roman Empire and the Renaissance for example, not to mention about a million different shapes of pasta … I will probably be revisiting pasta at a later date – it is all the same stuff with different names, isn’t it? Thought so. But, what they have not done is earn the right to muscle in on coffee. Latte? Do what? Cappuccino? They’re monkeys, aren’t they? Espresso? That used to be a fast train.

There’s only one Italian word we should be using of modern coffee shops – lente.


Christmas Music … did I say music?

What was it about Christmas 2014? A hundred years ago, at some parts of the Western Front, a few of the lads from the British and German trenches played football and for a few brief hours, it looked as if sanity would prevail and the First World War really would be over by Christmas.

But that’s not how it turned out and we all know the rest. So, fast forward to Christmas 2014. There was a kind of reflection of the Football Truce but there was something altogether more ghastly and less uplifting. it seemed as if every shop and advertiser in the country had slipped back to the 1950s.

Now, don’t get me wrong. That was a great decade. I learned to read and write during it (so you can have the benefit of my words of wisdom now); there were blue bags of salt in crisp packets (the first time round, of course) and planes went bang as they passed through the sound barrier (oh, yes, they did!). But it was also the decade of the laid-back crooners in awful jumpers, who sat in front of a studio Christmas tree and … well, let’s be quite open about this … crooned.

All right, we had Dennis Lotis, Dickie Valentine and David Whitfield, but the Americans had Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and Perry Como. They all sounded identical (except Frank, who couldn’t hit a note dead on if his life depended on it) and they were all very, very, slooooow. And suddenly, only weeks ago, all the retail outlets formed a conspiracy to bring them all back while we were Christmas shopping – and to do it at speeds of far less than the 331/3 they were designed to be played at. Sheer torture – and you thought the Inquisition was over!