Midnight Rambler (in_thy_bounty) wrote,
Midnight Rambler
in_thy_bounty

I'm working through the discs of 'Simon Schama's History Of Britain', though 'Simon Schama's History Of The English Monarchy' seems more appropriate. Which is largely alright, since I happen to know very little about said monarchs; the Kings and Queens I know of and learned about are little mentioned here at all. Kenneth Macalpin who united Scotland, David, the three Alexanders. Balliol and Bruce are here, but only in as much as they relate to England. Perhaps I have a touchy nationalist nerve after the referendum, but a few things irked me. The first few times were on behalf of the other 'celtic' nations; Wales waits quite some time to be mentioned at all in the series and when it is Mr Schama uses the word 'superior' to describe the English kingdom in relation to it. He is very critical of Robert the Bruce and William Wallace, and describes the various wars of independence of Wales and Scotland as becoming inevitable once those nations start to fight back, not at the point they are invaded by a foreign would-be conqueror. Edward I is treated very lightly here, lionised and promoted as a great visionary leader trying to rightly glorify his reign, at which point much of Scotland begins to cry "get tae fuck, ya bawbag!". Worse is to come in the episode about Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, in which he is practically masturbating over Elizabeth's glory while describing Mary as a "whore".

Is this all just me? Have I become one of Those People? The letters page of The Herald following the original airing of the series certainly shows that others felt the same;
"Interviewed by Rebecca McQuillan (November 18), Simon Schama makes it clear that his view of Irish and Scottish history is that when England wasn't involved, nothing was happening."
and
"Schama is right when he observes that a totemic treatment of the other British countries would have been an insult, and pointless, but in dealing with them as peripheral bolt-ons to what is undeniably a History of England he has also produced a predictably skewed version of the English story"
while that most dangerous of things, a lone blogger, wrote
"However, after 1066 the programme became offensively Anglocentric. Henry II of England, for example: he is introduced as “one of our greatest kings” — sorry, pal, he’s nothing to do with me."
Well, indeed.

The BBC perhaps made an attempt at redressing the balance when they commissioned the 'A History Of Scotland' series. While I'm renting 'A History Of Britain' from Lovefilm, 'A History Of Scotland' sits in a nice personally-owned box-set on my shelf. But even our poor Mr Oliver can't catch a break it seems;
"The BBC spectacular has driven a wedge right into the middle of civic Scotland and its academic elite. On one side are those who claim the series finally offers a genuine – and visually stunning – perspective on the nation's past. On the other, a group of senior historians who claim it commits the ultimate sin: that of pandering to English perspectives."
reports the Independent. Did I miss this? Apparently so;
"Academic advisers stormed out before programmes were completed. Professor Allan Macinnes of the University of Strathclyde resigned from the series' advisory board after its first meeting. "I thought the whole production was dreadful," he said. "The first script I got was so anglocentric I couldn't believe it. It was written on the basis as if Scotland was a divided country until the Union came along and civilised it. At the time, England was divided, France was divided, Germany didn't even exist. I would like to see a wider European context."
and
"Another renowned Scottish historian, Professor Tom Devine from the University of Edinburgh, has revealed he turned down the offer of a place on the board for the programme and took umbrage over the choice of presenter."
Poor Neil. Historians can be a hard bunch to please, perhaps because each gets used to talking about centuries-dead people as if they knew them personally. "Elizabeth knew that...."; did she? Did she tell you that? Or does it just suit the narrative you're trying to impose?

I recall a visit to Dirleton Castle a few years back, where the person on the admissions desk began, without any prompting other than my attempting to gain members entry to said castle, criticising at length every other historian who wasn't him. I contributed very little to this diatribe, for he had that way of people who want to talk at you rather than with you, except when eventually he mentioned in passing Yester Castle. "Oh", I said, interested for the first time, "do you know much about Yester Castle?". Any thoughts that my great patience might now be rewarded with some snippet of interesting information was quickly dashed as he said that yes, he did, but he wouldn't tell me anything about it because it would all be in his upcoming book. Historic Scotland are paying you to be an informative guide! You're a fud, son.

But that's the trouble with history, you can twist it any old way you fancy and the more removed you get from the time period, the less accurate any details are likely to be.

But as I said at the start, I am still able to quite enjoy this series at times because I know so little of the English monarchy prior to the union of the crowns. And who wouldn't enjoy the parade of costumes in portraiture. Perhaps the most amusing revelation was that my present arrangement of facial hair was particularly popular among parliamentarians during the English Civil War, especially the young and dashing out to impress their ladies, and fortunately the style was not sported by Cromwell himself.

As I think further on the sort of person I want to be, I realise that I want to be a well-dressed person. I would rather be abroad in finery than in soft comfort, though the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Dita Von Teese said in her 'Burlesque' book that she never lounges at home in pyjamas or sweatshirts, she must always be full of glamour and allure. It's a lifestyle, a way of being. For a King or Queen it would be no different. I feel my life should be aesthetically pleasing, that is important to me. If my life was to be nothing more than a series of pictures of me looking smart in places that were of my liking, then that might be enough.
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