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.


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!