Sunday, 21 August 2011

If I sound like an old woman, I probably am one

After years of failing to coordinate ourselves to be in the right place at the right time on this very special weekend, we finally arrive.

We go to a field to watch the dear old reenactors run about dressed in wool and armour, sweating hard to bring to our minds a battle which changed history.

But I'm stopping there to complain. I shall say, I bet most schoolchildren outside of Leicestershire don't know about this battle.

Well, if they don't, they should.

Okay, I am now officially one of those scary old crones smelling of mothballs and wee. The type who wears a feathered hat and blocks your way in the street to harangue you while stabbing at your face with a withered finger.

But what is going on in the history lessons of today? Tell me, is the Battle of Bosworth on the National Curriculum? Or years of Henry VIII and then inexplicably the Second World War? It's shocking. We need to get back to basics. Be quiet. I was on my way to the Post Office but I must say this.

I think the way Henry VIII has dominated the school curriculum says a great deal about our times. Yes, I agree he is probably the most significant king I can think of, but it is not enough simply to be told how someone is important.

You cannot know his significance unless there is some understanding of what went before; what culture and thinking there was guiding the Plantagenets and seeing them through the Wars of the Roses. Then we need to know how Henry Tudor started to change everything when he bashed Richard III at Bosworth. And Henry VIII hasn't even been born yet.

Well of course I have opinions about why Henry VIII is given to children as a model of history, apart from the narratives of religion, sex and violence. (Those same themes are in Mortimer and Isabella, and Stephen and Matilda, but no-one seems to study them.)

I think a telling of Henry VIII presents a story of irrefutable male power in all matters institutional, religious, political and sexual; gives us a straightforward character on which to hang elements of English identity; reaffirms a national and Londoncentric plotline which can be used to reduce the significance of local powers; and creates an easily-themed image of England that is marketable for overseas tourists. Something which you cannot do quickly with the messy plots and duplicitous players cavorting around the shires in the Wars of the Roses.

You school-based people should stop it for a day with the Henry VIII and the Second World War (which I'm sure some kids think happened one after the other), and you should take all the mini-people to a day out at Bosworth Heritage Centre. Walk one of their excellent guided battlefield tours, listen to an informed lecture about the location of the battlefield, see the splendid exhibition, and watch the reenactment, always as close as they can get it, about the third weekend in August.

Right, that's it. Now I have to buy cat food for Tiddles.


Kelly said...

Fabulous. I have no more to say. Just fabulous.

Grit said...

but we are already converted, kelly!

clearly, there is much work to be done. let us put on our feathered hats and take to the streets together. xx