I’d like to welcome Katherine Longshore, author of Gilt and Tarnish to Good Books And Good Wine today. She’s got a fascinating guest post on why Tudor England is a dystopian society. So listen up! ALSO! There’s a contest at the end. Yay!
It’s not just the future that holds its citizens hostage to an authority willing to sacrifice the needs of the many for the elevation of the few. It is not a new concept (or a future one) that wishes to control the minds, bodies, actions and reproduction of the people. We—as humans—have been creating dystopian societies for centuries, which is perhaps why we are so good at imagining a future world where they have taken over.
The word utopia was invented during Henry VIII’s reign by Sir Thomas More, Henry’s advisor and confidant. It means an imagined place where everything is perfect. Interesting that More was the one to think of it, as he was one of the victims of the opposite—the Tudor dystopia.
Dystopian societies are usually fictional. They are often societies run by a totalitarian government that dehumanizes its citizens and views love as an inconvenience. The community is characterized by squalor, oppression, disease and overcrowding. Aside from the “fictional” aspect, any and all of these ideas can be identified in Tudor England.
Like the peasants, who worked their asses off to feed their children, but also had to feed the rich, the church, and the unceasing wars.
Or the priests and monks, who thought they had entered a life of spiritual endeavor, fed and supported by the faithful, only to be thrown out on the streets when Henry decided that system of religion no longer worked for him.
Or the city dwellers, forced to live in crowded conditions along streets lined with refuse and excrement and teeming with plague-bearing rats. Even the river reeked from rubbish and dross.
If you look at the dystopian novels of today, you can see ringing similarities to the lives of the Tudors.
In Delirium, Lauren Oliver writes of a world in which there is a cure for “love”, and that emotion has basically been eradicated. The Tudors lived in a world where love was unimportant, where they had no choice who they would marry and where parents gave their children up at a young age to be raised by others. One of the tragedies of Oliver’s world was that parents didn’t bond with their kids. I can’t help but think that certain Tudors had the same issue.
Megan McCaffrey creates a future world in Bumped where teen girls are prized for their ability to reproduce. In Tudor times, a woman’s worth was tied to her womb and her ability to bear children—especially boys. Girls as young as twelve were given to older men in order to ensure this happened. And, as Henry proved, a woman who failed to get pregnant could be easily expendable.
Tudor girls had to accept the man their parents—or guardians, or society—chose for them, just like Cassia in Ally Condie’s Matched. So what happened when they fell in love with someone else? Anne Boleyn faces this problem in Tarnish.
In The Way We Fall, by Megan Crewe, an epidemic kills indiscriminately. The Black Plague was a huge fear for the Tudors—often wiping out entire communities. So were tuberculosis, smallpox, and something called the “sweating sickness” that these days we no longer have to fear. Anne Boleyn got “the sweat” in the mid 1520s and almost died—Henry was so afraid of contagion that he wouldn’t even visit her. And her daughter, Elizabeth, was scarred by small pox. Even for the rich and relatively sheltered, it was a very real fear.
And in many dystopian novels (including The Hunger Games and Divergent), people are partitioned into specific districts or factions based on wealth, skill, class, evolution or simple luck. We modern Westerners like to think we live in a classless society, but even we can see echoes today of Tudor England (and beyond), where position and family meant everything and woe betide the person who tried to break free. Once within the confines of the court, a girl was living basically inside a walled city. Her actions and interactions were dictated to her and she was required to spend all day every day in service to someone else.
In Tarnish, Anne Boleyn is trying to break free of the shackles of her dystopian society by using her wit, charm, intelligence and sex appeal. She may not be able to wield a bow and arrow like Katniss or kick ass like Tris, but she operates within her own set of standards and pushes back when necessary.
In any society—modern, historical, or futuristic—it is difficult to break out of the pigeon holes people place us in. The true heroes are the ones who try. Whether or not they succeed is up to history.
“Anne Boleyn is the odd girl out. Newly arrived to the court of King Henry VIII, everything about her seems wrong, from her clothes to her manners to her witty but sharp tongue. So when the dashing poet Thomas Wyatt offers to coach her on how to shine at court—and to convince the whole court they’re lovers—she accepts. Before long, Anne’s popularity has soared, and even the charismatic and irresistible king takes notice. More than popularity, Anne wants a voice—but she also wants love. What began as a game becomes high stakes as Anne finds herself forced to make an impossible choice between her heart’s desire and the chance to make history”
Katherine Longshore grew up on the northern California coast. At university, she created her own major in Cross-Cultural Studies and Communications, planning to travel and write. Forever. Four years, six continents and countless pairs of shoes later, she went to England for two weeks, stayed five years and discovered history. She now lives in California with her husband, two children and a sun-worshiping dog.
1 winner will receive A pair of Anne Boleyn inspired earrings and a signed Hardcover of Tarnish
2 winners will receive signed copies of Tarnish
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