a little history

cow parsley

I think ideas are a bit like buses: they all come together in a bunch and you can’t catch them all, and then there isn’t another one along for ages.

Perhaps I could follow that conceit a little farther and talk about double-decker ideas, which have more layers and more space to explore than others, or articulated ideas where one connects directly on to another: the first is essential as that’s where the engine is, but it’s incomplete without the second part.

Well! That really wasn’t the way I expected to begin this blog post, but now it’s written, I think it had better stay there!

In fact, I had thought that since so many other people are talking about royalty today, I would do the same. Except, instead of a wedding, I wanted to talk about a beheading.

cow parsley seed heads

I have been avoiding the press, so I don’t know how many journalists have noted that today is the anniversary of the execution in 1536 of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII.

History was neither my best nor my favourite subject at school. In fact, the things I remember most from my history notebook, are the drawing of the sprig of broom – planta genista – that started the section on the House of Plantagenet, and the Tudor rose, which combined the red rose of Lancaster and the white rose of York.

But I do remember that Bluff King Hal had six wives, as well as the manner of their deaths: divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived. (Well, Catherine Parr must have died eventually, but she managed to survive her royal husband.)

I know there were three Catherines – one at the beginning and two at the end, two Annes, and Jane Seymour (who, somewhat confusingly, was reincarnated as Doctor Quinn, medicine woman).

cow parsley

Perhaps I learned more history through the television and cinema than through school classes. Certainly there was the marvellous BBC series of 1970 The Six Wives of Henry VIII, with its torture scenes that marked me for life.

And it must have been about the same time that I went to the cinema with my mother and sister to see Anne of the thousand days. There were two old ladies sitting in front of us, who talked all the way through the film. When Anne was pregnant with her first child, they were loudly ooh-ing and ah-ing over the beautiful mother and the baby to be: “Do you think she’ll have a boy? Oh I do hope she has a boy…”

If she had, the history of the whole world would probably have been rather different.

cow parsley

Despite my lack of interest in history, I am well aware that the flowers I have woven into this post – “Queen Anne’s lace, Queen Anne’s lace, / You find it growing all over the place” – were not named for Anne Boleyn but for the rather later Queen Anne who succeeded her brother-in-law William to the throne.

And that reminds me of the other source of my limited history knowledge: the unforgettable 1066 and all that. My history classes at school jumped straight from the beheading of Charles I in Jan 1649 to the 20th century, so without the help of W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman, I would know nothing of the times of “Williamanmary” when England was “ruled by an orange”.

Mind you, the book’s full title 1066 and All That: A Memorable History of England, comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates is a little optimistic: the only Bad King I can remember was King John. And even then, the memory has probably been helped by A A Milne’s King John’s Christmas.

cow parsley

Finally, just to bring things full circle, another reason ideas are like buses: if you catch one and keep making connections, you can end up just about anywhere.

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

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