Since we don’t have time machines, we can only judge historical figures by what others of their time have said about them. When I host discussions on the Tudor Tutor Facebook page, or when I read discussions on other pages, I often see comments to the effect of “So-and-so wasn’t really that bad. All that stuff you read about them was written by the haters.” Similarly, some claim that those in question had a dark side, a very dark side! but because people were hesistant to part with their heads or otherwise be punished, we only hear the good bits.
I think David Starkey makes an excellent point in his book Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII when he approaches Chapuys’ overwhelmingly negative comments about Anne Boleyn by saying:
“Understandably, Chapuys’ open, violent prejudice against Anne has led some historians to dismiss his evidence almost in its entirety. This, however, is a mistake. There is in principle no reason why a person’s enemies should be less likely to tell the truth about him than his friends. The former exhibit one set of prejudices; the latter another.”
Starkey goes on to say that “Chapuys, despite his evident bias, was careful about his sources. He usually gives the names of his informants and they turn out to be an impressive bunch. They include leading councillors and courtiers, and well as intimate hangers-on about the great, including doctors and priests. All were in a position to see and hear the incidents they reported and frequently they corroborate each other.”
The moral of the story, then, is “Talkin’ smack from way back shouldn’t get nearly as much flack.” 😉