MNC Book Report: The English Court, ed. David Starkey

I think my brain is melting.

This is another one of those books that you don’t pick up unless you have specific need for the concrete facts it contains. If you aren’t already familiar with Tudor politics, you’ll be lost within a few pages; hell, even I gave up on the first article after the introduction, which concerns the politics of the fifteenth century royal household, and is therefore way out of my period. But, like with the Hampton Court book, I started out by reading the chapter on Elizabeth, then had to backtrack to earlier pieces in order to understand what the hell I’d just read.

Having gone through the sections on Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Mary, though, I now understand a lot better just what the Privy Chamber was, and what the various titles in it meant. (I also have seven pages of notes on who was in what post when.) I can tell you the differences between the Ladies of the Bedchamber, the Gentlewomen of the Privy Chamber, the Chamberers, the Maids of Honour, and the Ladies Extraordinary of the Privy Chamber; I can tell you what happened to the Gentlemen of the Privy Chamber, the Grooms of the Privy Chamber, and the Gentlemen Ushers when a female monarch took over. It’s a palimpsest, again; one cannot understand these things without reference to previous reigns.

Also? I may never again be able to play in a LARP focusing on noble politics; now that I have a better sense of how they really work, the vague attempts we make in those games will probably frustrate me more than they already did. (I’m not sure it’s possible to play such a game without putting in seventeen times more effort than anybody wants to, because ultimately those things don’t hinge on the big decisions. It’s all about the accretion of little favors and offices and insults and rewards and rivalries and family relations and other things that, like Rome, cannot be built in a day. Also, anything really important in politics takes weeks, months, or years to play out.)

Anyway, taking notes on the Elizabethan chapter as I went through it for the second time melted my brain, so now I’m going to go do something that doesn’t require me to think.

0 Responses to “MNC Book Report: The English Court, ed. David Starkey”

  1. jimhines

    Dumb question, but what is the Privy Chamber?

    I’ve been writing goblin stuff, which includes the mandatory allotment of privy jokes, so my first read of this post was a little odd…

    • Marie Brennan

      Heh. <g> “Privy” in that era meant “private” or “secret.” So the Queen’s Privy Council was a selection of her closest and most trusted ministers, while her Privy Chamber was her most private quarters, to which only a very select few people would be admitted: staff of the department (all the positions I listed off in the post), and anybody the Queen had chosen to grant entrée to, which was a mark of extremely high favor.

      • jimhines

        Ah. Thank you! That makes sense.

        And hey, I could use that to make privy puns in the next princess book! 🙂

  2. aswego

    What did happen when a female monarch took over?

    –A (who must catch up on the readalong)

    • Marie Brennan

      Power shifted radically toward the Privy Council, whereas in Henry’s and Edward’s reigns a lot of influence had rested in the Privy Chamber (because personal access to the monarch was about the most valuable commodity going). There was traditionally a division of the Privy Chamber between the King’s Side and the Queen’s Side; Elizabeth of course expanded the Queen’s Side, but sharply limited what kind of politicking her ladies were permitted to do, while the King’s Side was reduced down to a token crew presided over by the most important nobleman at Court at any given point in time.

      There are more detailed changes that happened (like the duties of the Groom of the Stool mostly being divided up among the Chief Gentlewomen of the Privy Chamber, while the Groom’s duties as Keeper of the Privy Purse and the Dry Stamp passed over to Cecil, who was both private secretary and Secretary of State), but those are the big trends.

      • aswego

        Thank you; this is fascinating! Before reading it and your above comment, I hadn’t even really realized that the Privy Chamber and the Privy Council were really different (though I am guessing that there tended to be more overlap with male monarchs). It sounds as though, by shifting that focus to the Council, Elizabeth was also able to create a comparatively private space for herself within her personal quarters that might have been at least a little relief.

        • Marie Brennan

          Bingo. This book actively contrasts the “distant” governments of Henry VII and Elizabeth I with the “participatory” models of Henry VIII and James I. VII and Elizabeth both rigorously defended their privacy, for different reasons; it’s part of why Elizabeth wouldn’t tolerate politicking above a certain level from her ladies. (That, and her apparent desire to be the only petticoat politician on the board.)

  3. kitsunealyc

    I gave up trying to run noble politics after my first year of Changeling. Everything after that was a compromise that seared my being from my body and made baby Jesus cry.

    Makes one a little more sympathetic to the resurgence sidhe. All that intricate beauty lost, or even worse, hammered into joyless bureaucracy.

    • Marie Brennan

      Except that’s part of what bugged me: the sidhe left in the fourteenth century, which is yet a different (and simpler) model of governance from the kind of intricacy we’re talking about here. Medieval, not Renaissance, and what tends to get played when gamers try to do politics is neither.

    • Marie Brennan

      BTW, you should give me a call. I think I need to get away from research for a while.

  4. sapphohestia

    Your research sounds like so much fun (in the brain melting kind of way).

  5. sorceressgirl

    I hope this isn’t a cheeky question but I’d really like a copy of your research, I love that kind of thing and came up against a blank when I tried to write politics for the last game I wrote. (Ok that’s a terrible sentence and I’m rambling).

    It did sound liek you had lots of fun, I’d love to do that sort of thing!

    • Marie Brennan

      I wouldn’t call it a cheeky question, but it is a little puzzling; I’m not sure what you mean by “a copy of my research.” I don’t have an organized set of notes anywhere that I could share with anybody else, if that’s what you were hoping for; I’ve got incoherent notes scattered across several locations, and a whole mess of stuff packed into my head, none of which is particularly share-able.

      The best I can do is to say, check out the “midnight never come” tag on this post, and go through the things you find there; the “MNC Book Reports” should all be there, with short-ish blurbs about what I’ve been reading, which will at least give you an idea of what the books are like. Then you can go search out anything that seems interesting and read it yourself. (If it’s politics your after, this book and the Haigh one I covered some posts back are probably the best, but keep in mind that they’ll be confusing if you don’t already know who Burghley and Leicester and Hatton and Hunsdon and so on are.)

      One of these days I’ll go through and collate those posts into a set of bibliography links on my website, but I’m holding off on that until I think I’m done with my research. (At which point I’ll find more research to do, of course — but I’d rather not do the bibliography work piecemeal, if I can.)

      Is that at all useful?

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