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So it got me thinking about villains

(31 Posts)
Magrathea Wed 06-Feb-13 21:36:09

So with the whole hoo ha around Richard III and a re-appraisal of his image as a historical villain, it got me thinking about who in British history is a true, prove able, dyed in the wool villain. It struck me that there aren't that many really as most of the time it comes down to perspective, context and generally being a product of their times. However, in thinking about a list, in no particular order and absolutely open to challenge, I came up with -

Mary "bloody Mary"
Thomas Howard uncle of Anne Boleyn - ruthlessly ambitious
Oliver Cromwell - certainly for his Irish campaigns
Matthew Hopkins - "witch finder General"

These are just a starter for 10. So, any more we can add to the list?

porridgeLover Wed 06-Feb-13 21:52:02

Cromwell was first into my head.
Henry V111?

mummytime Wed 06-Feb-13 22:04:43

I know people who seem to think Oliver Cromwell was a bit of a hero. After all if we consider the Irish situation lots more were pretty villianous eg. Queen Elizabeth.

I think they all have good and bad bits. Richard I was quite liked, but maybe just because he pretty much ignored England.

Magrathea Wed 06-Feb-13 22:21:23

Henry certainly had his villainous streak and I think that he has less claim to be responding to circumstances than some of his predecessors because his crown was secure and he really had no other claimants to the throne or over mighty nobles looking to topple him but......some would say there was merit in his dissolution of the monasteries because the Catholic Church had become too powerful and this was just a response to his position at the time.

I think on balance, on the St Francis of Assisi to Jo Stalin scale of meanies, Henry is definitely nearer to Stalin.

Cromwell let the power go to his head and pretty much cancelled Christmas.

My gut feeling with Elizabeth is to put her more in the "product of her time " category than out and out villain but I accept her deeds were no better in Ireland than Cromwells

Richard I seems to me to be much overrated as a King of England and a bit of an egotistical knob but a bit neutral as a hero or meanie

Ponders Wed 06-Feb-13 22:23:16

King John was not a good man...

AnyaKnowIt Wed 06-Feb-13 22:29:19

King James I (VI) and his witch trials

Magrathea Wed 06-Feb-13 22:38:46

Ahhh..I'd forgotten about James I, all round unpleasant piece of work by all accounts, and dribbled a lot as well.

Hmmm..King John, weak, manipulated by his mother and with a cruel streak BUT maybe more a product of the chaos left by the bankrupt kingdom following the crusades and misrule of Richard, not excusing John but very much the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Magrathea Wed 06-Feb-13 22:40:08

Actually, I think there is a revisionist history coming out on John, I'll try and find a title

Magrathea Wed 06-Feb-13 22:43:47

King John: An Underrated King Graham E Steel

BoysAreLikeDogs Wed 06-Feb-13 23:12:58

I was going to say King John, but am open to dissuasion

Ponders Wed 06-Feb-13 23:30:22

I was merely quoting a a milne grin

I know nothing about John (apart from him losing the Crown Jewels in the Wash???)

Ponders Wed 06-Feb-13 23:31:37

(& the Magna Carta was because of him? he annoyed the barons or something?)

Ponders Wed 06-Feb-13 23:32:04

1066 & All That has a lot to answer for

ZebraOwl Thu 07-Feb-13 03:57:18

Surely, though, they're ALL Products Of Their Times - "a true, prove able [sic], dyed in the wool villain" is a hard creature to find. As the programme on Richard III showed so well, there will be people ready to vilify someone others will passionately defend.

"Bloody" Mary Tudor: her heretic-burning was on a miniature scale compared to antics on the Continent; persecution of Catholics under later monarchs was far more widespread & systemic than Mary's (admittedly v dramatic & unpleasant!) antics; she was motivated by feeling she had a duty to ensure England remained a Catholic country after her death; she was operating within a society where brutal physical punishment was the norm.

Thomas Howard was hardly alone in ruthless ambition. Made more famous by Philippa Gregory's books, maybe?

Cromwell I do consider to be A Villain but lots of that's because to my grandmother "Cromwell" was the c-word wink There is a possibility his religious fanaticism was the result of a nervous breakdown, which casts a different light on things. Absolute crushing of dissent was broadly agreed to be the only was to gain & maintain political & social stability. Brutality & violence was completely normal at this point in time. With regard to the Irish campaigns it is worth noting that the Irish were considered by many to be sub-human - popular contemporary understanding would have been more pest-control than massacring other humans. He remains very popular in some circles, having been lauded by C19 historians as A Great Man etc.

Matthew Hopkins - again, very small beer compared to continental efforts. Surely the greater villainy is the context in which he was operating? People believed in - & were terrified of - witches. Plenty of people were tried & convicted without his involvement. His actual power wasn't all that impressive: were the people who listened to him & magistrates who tried & sentenced "witches" not in fact the more villainous?

Henry VIII did still have a need to secure his power, albeit not such a struggle as previous monarchs had had - hence his fixation on the subject of the succession. You can see his Reformation as part of the broader context of religious change. While gluttony, lechery & avarice are a long way from desirable character traits, do they really make him a villain? More a deeply flawed human being, surely?

Elizabeth was incredibly self-absorbed & rather power-crazed. Also had a touch of Wonderland's Queen of Hearts about her, no? wink She had a need to demonstrate authority (of a peculiar gender-constrained type) & had to face things like the Armada.

Agree with Magrathea's assessment of Richard I & John. Have a certain sympathy for James the 6th & 1st though: it's fairly clear/sure he couldn't help dribbling. It's thought he had incredibly bad hayfever. His obsession with the paranormal did lead to a lot of awfulness, but again, that sat well within the broader context of the time. The King James Bible was a massive achievement, too.

So yes. We are all products of time & circumstance & context & chance, historical figures no less so. Up until recently brutality; discrimination against/vilification of certain groups; fixation on a certain world order in the interests of Pleasing God; & in general a very harsh world was completely normal. Unlikely to produce lovely fluffy leaders/figures of prominence...

TunipTheVegedude Thu 07-Feb-13 09:37:03

I'm going to speak up for Thomas Howard here. After the Pilgrimage of Grace he was in charge of the crackdown and Henry ordered him to carry out 'dreadful execution' across the entire north; in fact it only really happened to the degree Henry wanted in a few places.

My criterion for a true villain is that they have to be malicious, not just ruthless. I don't think Bloody Mary was but Matthew Hopkins, yes probably.
And Henry VIII was, of course, a complete bastard.

Magrathea Thu 07-Feb-13 13:02:05

Henry was a complete bastard - if only four of his wives had had Mumsnet for advice to LTB eh grin

Zebra does re-inforce the point that it is hard to find a true villain, in fact, there is probably a far longer list of those who are often held up as heores that had a very nasty side if you look a bit closer, Elanor of Aquitaine, Thomas More.

I think I agree with Turnip that malice has to be a factor and that is not always evident.

One more who comes to mind is Hugh Despenser - weasled his victims out of their lands and money before visiting his particular retruibution on individuals - couldnt even claim to be really defending his social position.

Magrathea Thu 07-Feb-13 13:04:14

Ponders - not necessarily 1066 but the consequences of it and Stephen and Matilda's equal lust for power and violence makes them good candidates, but again......products of their times?

TunipTheVegedude Thu 07-Feb-13 13:05:45

Henry would have been on here with lots of sockpuppets going 'Yes, definitely leave him!' on the Katharine of Aragon threads.

Ponders Thu 07-Feb-13 13:36:27

1066 & All That

a scary amount of my historical "knowledge" is from this, unfortunately, Magrathea grin

"Hengist was thus the first English King, and his wife (or horse) Horsa, the first English Queen (or horse)"

Magrathea Thu 07-Feb-13 13:44:50

ROFL at Turnip - instead of having a smile he would have had crossed axes

Ponders - sorry hon, didnt get the reference, too much glee in finding the MN history club and getting carried away in a puff of my own seriousness. Someone slap me if you see that happening again please!!

ZebraOwl Thu 07-Feb-13 23:53:31

I love the idea of Henry VIII with sockpuppets. Both the internet kind but also the real kind. A little puppety pal or possibly making his courtiers put on plays with them. I have a slight urge to stage a pageant of historical sockpuppets. Possibly at Hampton Court. (The sleep deprivation continues. Am quite pleased with the coherency level of my ungodly o'clock post, actually...)

It's the eternal problem of being able to uncover WHY people did things & how they really felt, no? All we ever really get are tantalising glimpses of the past from which we have to build whole worlds & people them. Lesigh.

I do miss Doing The History Thing quite a lot. I am slightly distressed to find myself thinking fondly of HAP. If I ever get nostalgic for my Special Subject I'll know I am in Real Trouble.

TunipTheVegedude Fri 08-Feb-13 11:43:58

In H.M. Castor's teenage historical novel about Henry, 'VIII', the toddler Henry VIII has a 'raggy' (comfort blanket). It's very poignant.
Definitely if Henry was posting on Mumsnet he would demand that all his courtiers also posted to back him up in all the arguments. If someone was rude to him and MNHQ didn't delete it fast enough he would send swordsmen to MNHQ and demand they divulge the poster's details or he'd put them in the Tower. Gina Ford would be a picnic by comparison.

Ladytron Fri 08-Feb-13 13:33:04

I'm going to say Warwick the Kingmaker. Did his evil best to get Edward IV on the throne whilst poor Henry VI was ill, then turned sides to put Henry back on the throne again, married both his daughters to the York princes to ensure at least one would be queen. Promoted George duke of Clarence as king but got his comeuppance in the end.
<in a nutshell>

Magrathea Fri 08-Feb-13 19:27:22

Arf at the thought of Elizabeth of York trying to get Henry's "raggy" off him to get it in the wash

Magrathea Fri 08-Feb-13 19:32:35

I think Warwick is the classic example of an over mighty noble. Overplayed his hand and by changing sides like he changed his pants put doubt in everyone's mind leading to his ultimate downfall. Definitely a ruthless meanie but was it ambition rather than malice?

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