Sunday 4 November 2012

Elizabethan Taffia

A weekend of exercise - two gruelling hours in the gym on Saturday and 12,000 steps recorded on the pedometer while walking in the Towy valley on Sunday morning (see above) - after which on Sunday afternoon I settle down as the rain and wind take hold outside to finish reading A.N.Wilson's The Elizabethans undisturbed by the cats who are to hand but entirely supine.

Wilson's book is great. I've read a lot of stuff on the Tudors but this explores some surprising sources (new to me) and overall has a refreshing and slightly provocative approach which is sometimes very amusing, a contrast to the work of, for example, David Starkey who is owed our thanks for invigorating history after years of Marxist tedium but is still rather self-important - he is condescending to his subjects and leaves you in no doubt that if he had been them he would have made better decisions.

By contrast Wilson respects the key players, not least Elizabeth herself, and gives a convincing analysis of their strengths and weaknesses. One intriguing theme in the book is the notion that a Welsh Taffia (Wilson uses the term) was quietly running the kingdom.

Wilson is evidently one of those rare English people who respects the Welsh and their place in history (whereas Starkey has said that Welsh history is just English history if you start from any date that matters!). Wilson points out that the Queen was very Welsh herself, not that she had a lot of Welsh blood but that's not the point of course - she was like her grandfather Henry vii who was cunning, far from headstrong, indeed slow to make decisions except when forced to (as at Bosworth; Elizabeth's equivalent was the Armada), cautious in the extreme with his resources, prepared to play the long game, but in the end courageous. This is mostly the opposite of the stereotypical English character but the underlying point which Wilson makes is that the approach actually worked for both monarchs.

At the heart of the Taffia were the Queen herself and (each side of the "work-life balance") the Cecils (father and son) who were essentially her prime ministers plus Blanche Parry (the Cecils' cousin) her Chief Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber who was a Welsh-speaker and an influential confidante on matters well beyond the household.

Of course the Queen had other influences, not least her tutors appointed from fellows of St John's College, Cambridge, who helped her to become an accomplished classicist who could hold her own easily with the leading academics of her day; and she learnt a little Welsh too - so I'd call that a good all-round education. It is a happy and entirely plausible thought to imagine the Queen cracking discreet jokes in Welsh with Blanche during formal audiences.