Sunday, 9 December 2007

Historical Sex

I have been watching The Tudors, a rollicking historical adventure series on Fridays 9pm on BBC2. I am a huge fan of that period of history and my personal heroine has always been Anne Boleyn, a much maligned woman who single-handedly caused the English Reformation and gave us the monarch as Head of the Church, instead of the Pope.

The historical inaccuracies within The Tudors can be intensely irritating for a purist like myself but I can understand the reasoning behind some of the errors. The most glaring one is the combination of Henry VIII's two sisters, Margaret and Mary into just one - Margaret, who the programme makers fictitiously married off to the aging King of Portugal because they had already had Henry meeting Francis of France in the splendid spectacle of the Field of the Cloth of Gold... thus, ruining the true timeline.

In reality, his elder sister, Margaret, was married when she was 13 to the King of Scotland, who was about 30. It was a diplomatic alliance to bring peace with the Old Enemy north of the border. After over ten years of marriage in which Margaret conceived six children (although most of them did not survive beyond infancy), King James promptly tried to invade his brother-in-law's country, whilst Henry was himself out of the country attacking France. He was killed at the battle of Flodden Field, leaving Margaret a pregnant widow trying to navigate the treacherous waters of Scottish politics and rule in her only surviving son's name.

Henry's younger sister, Mary, was forcibly married to the aging King of France, who was 30 years her senior, despite the fact that her affections lay elsewhere. He died after only a few months of poking his lovely teenage bride. She then had to live in seclusion for another two months to ensure that she was not pregnant, all the time being courted by the new young King, the womanising Francis I, who was desperate to bed her but dare not for fear of being supplanted on the throne by his own offspring.

After the required period of mourning had expired, she eloped with her true love, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, the best friend of her brother, Henry VIII. In all the romantic novels of the time, it is said that, when she agreed to marry the King of France, she exacted from her brother the promise that when Louis died, she should be allowed to marry whomsoever she chose. Naturally, the King had forgotten this and was furious at the loss of an important bargaining tool in his international diplomacy. He banished them both from Court, although he later relented because he missed his friend and his favourite sister. It is a wonderful love story in itself and they had three children together. They were also the grandparents of the ill-fated Lady Jane Grey, who later became Queen for nine days due to the political ambitions of her father-in-law which lost both of them their heads.

The writers of The Tudors could have completely ignored Margaret and just followed Mary's story and called her Mary but, since Henry's elder daughter (the future Mary I or Bloody Mary) was also called Mary, it might have confused those less familiar with English history.

The final episode of this series (or Season Finale as you Americans insist on calling these things) starts off with Henry (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), so desperate with desire for Anne Boleyn, for whom he has now been waiting for several years, that he is wanking very convincingly into a covered pot held for him by his servant! On BBC2 at 9.01pm! What is the world coming to :)

It ends with him no nearer to his divorce after four years of legal wrangling and their desire getting the better of them in a leafy glade. Clothing is thrown off dramatically, she rides him bare-breasted as he fondles her. Then he is on top, thrusting into her passionately and you can tell that the pinnacle is drawing near when he suddenly announces 'I'm going to come', at which point she says 'You mustn't' and pushes him off her. All very cheesy - the limp, stilted dialogue has been a bit hard to take in places and I hope the writer will address that in the next series.

I must also complain about the rather strange inclusion of a homosexual relationship for the composer Thomas Tallis but I guess they needed to get all types of sex in there to appeal to everyone in the audience.

It was Rups with his piece on anti-erotica which got me thinking about my own relationship with sexual literature which directly relates to the above series.

My first experience of sex in books was 'Murder Most Royal' by Jean Plaidy. It was about Henry VIII's relationships with Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. Nothing too bawdy, just a lot of heaving breasts with faces buried in them and women getting their heads cut off because of the accusation of adultery. Jean Plaidy could do non-erotic sex very well and it certainly piqued my interest in romanticised historical bodice-ripping type sex, which I'm quite sure had/has an effect on my interactions with men even today. As an 11-year-old, I was very susceptible to the concept of holding out for the one you loved and loving until death, but also the idea of dying for love.

I avidly watched the television serial 'The Six Wives of Henry VIII' with Keith Michelle and, later, the film. There was also one of my favourite films of all time 'Anne of a Thousand Days' with Richard Burton (the best actor ever with the sexiest voice) and Genevieve Bujold, who epitomised how I imagined Anne Boleyn - her appearance, her mannerisms and her French accent. That film focussed on the passion of the love story, the dynastic implications of the need for a male heir, the machinations of court politics which destroyed their love and, finally, the jealousy that caused the King to have the woman for whom he had given up so much murdered.

We also have to remember that the child of that liaison, Elizabeth, inherited so many of their personal talents that she went on to become the greatest Queen in our history, but also experienced great personal torment when it came to the men she loved and she was never prepared to totally give herself to anyone. This phobia can only have come about from the terrible example she had witnessed - her mother's relationship with her father.

My fascination with the whole story has never waned and, although I moved on to more books about other characters in that period and also the same time in French history where things were even less repressed, I always return to it when there is a new book on the subject.

The problem with Anne Boleyn is that we know so little about her. So many of her memories were expunged in a great purge when the King married Jane Seymour. Papers, relics, portraits - all destroyed because no one wanted to admit to having had anything to do with the disgraced adulteress, the enchantress who had cuckolded the King. A few things still remained - a small number of portraits that were hidden away by the remaining members of the Boleyn family, some of the letters Henry and Anne exchanged in their courtship (which had been stolen and found their way to the Vatican), the entwined initials H and A worked into the framework of a palace ceiling or as part of a clock or in some overlooked bedhangings.

There was also a great book that I read recently by Eric Ives with new information which has shed new light on the real woman. Rather than the witch with a sixth finger and unpleasant mole on her neck who bewitched a King, we see the large number of charitable donations, the fervent believer in the New Faith, the intelligence and bravery in the face of a phalanx of enemies who had determined upon her destruction.

Philippa Gregory in her book, The Other Boleyn Girl, puts forward the theory that Anne Boleyn was actually unfaithful to the King in a desperate attempt to try to conceive a child in the face of her knowledge that he was becoming unable to get an erection (possibly due to his syphillis?). The story goes that she slept with her homosexual brother, became pregnant and miscarried of a malformed child. There is a film of this book due out shortly which should be interesting.

Reading historical romances encouraged me to start experimenting with my own writing. I first put pen to paper and realised that I had literary pretensions with the start of a novel. Yup, it was about the adventures of Anne Lea, fictional Countess of Essex who won the devotion of the married King Kevin of England and ended up having her head cut off when he fell in love with someone else. I'm blushing just thinking about the hideousness of the whole thing... but, hey, in this blog you get all my confessions so I might as well let go of that one. Fortunately, the exercise book containing this tome did not survive the cull when I threw away my childish fantasies and moved into my own flat.

When I was in my mid-teens, I was distracted away from history for a while.

I had discovered Harold Robbins and modern sex.

My friends and I used to hang around the local bookshop at lunchtime on schooldays, flipping through the novels and holding books upside down by their spines to see which pages they opened upon. These were always the juiciest bits :)

I am ashamed to say that I was in with the wrong crowd at that time and was encouraged into the world of shoplifting. I'm afraid that 'The Pirate' was the first book I ever stole.

But, what a book!!!!

I can't remember the plot exactly but I know there was lots of swearing and the use of drugs - swallowed, sniffed and poured onto external body parts - to enhance sexual stimulation. I was also introduced to the words fellatio and cunnilingus. All completely alien things to my virginal eyes... but, boy, did I want to get out there and give them a go!

To this day, I remain imbued with a deep longing to feel champagne and some sort of fizzy powder (I imagine sherbet since I'm not into cocaine) poured onto my clit just to experience what it feels like.

Anyone care to elaborate on their own literature-inspired sexual fantasy?


Anonymous said...

Ooh, Jean Plaidy. In the last year of junior school, my best friend and I were banned from reading Jean Plaidy at school. So we sat and read the Brontes, which annoyed our teacher even more. The great thing about Jean Plaidy was that while she didn't go into details, she just gave you the impression everyone was having sex all the time. We were also keen on Georgette heyer, who did a fine line in suggesting all kinds of D/s undercurrents going on between the lines.

Then I discovered Anais Nin, and Fanny Hill (in the school library), and The Story of O, which I bought when I was 14 or 15.

So much of it seems ridiculously tame now, compared to what we read and write about, but the imagination added so much (particularly during the more obscure bits).

Walker said...

I love history and have read alot about lots of it and have thousands of book sagging book bookcases.

Sex was the main tool and weapon throughout history until they invented atomic bombs and tyhe wrangling that was done to gain power through the bedroom.

I think one of my favorites was Anne Boleyn who was basically murdered for not giving Henry VIII a son but she did give him one of the most loved Queens of England.

Don't you just love royal soap operas

Gorilla Bananas said...

Why on earth would Henry need a servant to have a wank? It's plain silly. At least Thomas More is shown as the despicable fanatic that he was. I Claudius will always be No.1 for me.

having my cake said...

Z - I read Fanny Hill and Moll Flanders but never got to Anais Nin. I have asked for The Story of O from Ruf for Xmas - not the sort of book I can leave lying around in my house.

Walker - absolutely. You should have a look at some of the French history of that time - they were even worse in a way because they got rid of their enemies with poison. Catherine de Medici, the wife of Henri II and mother to a whole band of Valois monarchs, was a fantastic villainess.

GB - I've enjoyed the more realistic portrayal of Thomas More too. But I Claudius was my first introduction to Roman history and I was hooked from the first stutter. Did you see the recent production of Rome? Very much in the same mould/format as this series of the Tudors. It was a sort of Sopranos in togas.

Native Minnow said...

Well, I'm not much on my history, but as far as fizzy powder goes, have you tried Pop Rocks? That might be too much fizz though.

Manuel said...

Harold Robbins.....oh the memories...mainly of my mother hiding the book...pffft

George said...

I think that most historical series are "loosely" based on fact with an abundance of director's discretion thrown in.

The normal lives of royalty were filled with sexual escapades while the life of the commoner was not.

If their lives were not sexually noteworthy they would be made so by the writer.

moi said...

Heh, I've been avoiding The Tudors for some of the very reasons you mention. Then again, there's something kind of sexy about that Rhys Meyers dude.

Lots of Harold Robbins got passed around by us gals in Junior High, as well as Once is Not Enough.

BenefitScroungingScum said...

It was all about Judy Blume's Forever when I was about 8 that introduced me to the idea of sex in books (far too early!)
I've just started The Story of O, Cake, it's interesting!

Gypsy said...

That kind of history really doesn't do it for me I'm afraid but I do love Australian history about the convicts and the settling of the colonies.

As a teen I loved Harold Robbins and Jacqueline Sussan. Got most of my sex education through those books.

ArtfulSub said...

Congratulations on your "comment whore" victory. Don't have any sexual fantasies, lit-inspired or otherwise. Unless the old Vampirella comic-book series counts.

VampiRELLA not VampIRA.

VampIRA sucked.

Pixie said...

Wonderful post.
Have always loved history and devored JP, and then discovered bodice ripers..oh how exciting they were to my young mind.

Nowadays darling I just read your posts, and a few others to get my literay kicks!

having my cake said...

NM - What on earth are Pop Rocks?

Manuel - LMAO. You will enjoy my post called Busted back in August I think...

George - I think you're right. Didnt they spice up the lives of both Beatrix Potter and Jane Austen in films recently?

Moi - Jonathan Rhys Meyers has definitely got something going on - I cant tell if it's just his eyes or if I have a thing about his mouth too :)

BG - *Sticks fingers in ears and goes lalalala* Dont tell me the ending :)

Gypsy - Id forgotten Jacqueline Susan. Wasnt she Valley of the Dolls?

ArtfulSub - I think I must be showing my age because Im not familiar with either of those two Vampire types :)

Aw, Pixie, thank you x

Old Knudsen said...

I think Anne Boleyn was a right minger compared to Catherine but its all about the sons, if only Henry knew that its the male who decides the sex of the baby. TV, Holywood and even history itself just makes up shit like Elizabeth in armour on a horse giving a speech. History is written by the victors and thats the problem. They should ask me cos I was there.

Loving Annie said...

I love, love, love English tudor history !!!

The inaccuracies drive me wild too, and I can't agree with you more on how you roll your eyes and that and think "hello - it's NOT what happenned !"

You mentioned some of my favorite movies and authors, though.
Anne of 1,000 days was lovely - poor Anne and Harry Percy; while Philippa Gregory's are are wonderful, as are the novels of Susan Kay, Norah Lofts, Margaret Barnes, etc...

Mary Queen of Scots and Bothwell fires up my sexual imagination... Elizabeth Byrd wrote an excellent book about them called Immortal Queen...

I think Henry Tudor was mostly impotent by the time he was with Anne after Elizabeth was born...
Rememeber how when her brother George was quizzed after he and she were arrested, and he said that Anne has said Henry was "neither capable of, nor had an aptitude for pleasure" ?
Henry was an asshole - couldn't have a boy and so pretended she was cheating on him and cut her head off for spite. Grrrr.

ALF said...

Found your site from djkirkby's - just stopped by to say hi!