Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Marriage and Divorce in Thomas More's Utopia

When Henry VIII approached Thomas More for advice about his Great Matter, he was perhaps aware that More had already explored the subject of marriage and divorce in his book,  Utopia.
Here, we find that the inhabitants of this island republic are ‘contente everye man with one wife a piece.’ Marriage is broken only by the death of one of the partners, adultery or the ‘intollerable wayward maners of eyther partie.’ In either of the last two circumstances the injured party can obtain a licence to divorce their spouse and remarry. This is in contrast to the practice in More’s England, as in every other Catholic country, where couples could separate but were forbidden to marry elsewhere. This is because marriage is one of the seven sacraments and, as such, the marriage bond is indissoluble.

Under no circumstances would a Utopian man be allowed to divorce his wife merely because ‘some myshappe is fallen to her bodye,’ that is, she is no longer able to bear children. For old age, according to Utopian philosophy, ‘both bryngeth sycknes with it, and is a sycknes it selfe’, and therefore is a time when everyone is in most need of help and comfort.

On the other hand, should a man and his wife find that they cannot live together in harmony and happiness, and both parties have found another with whom they hope to live ‘more quyetlye and meryly’, they may apply to the council for authority to divorce. The council, however, will not agree to divorce unless the couple have thoroughly examined their situation. Even then, the council would be ‘loth to consent to it bicause they knowe thys to be the nexte waye to breke love betwene a man and wyfe, to be in easye hope of a newe marriage.’

The punishment for adultery is bondage and divorce. If, on the other hand, the injured party still loves the offending spouse, he or she may remain married to them, but will be required to follow their partner into bondage. Such bondage need not last forever if the offender is truly repentant. However, ‘if the same partie be taken eftsones in that faulte, there is no other way but death.’ In other words, one might commit adultery once and pay for the offence by becoming a slave for a time, but to commit adultery more than once attracts the death penalty.
In applying Utopian philosophy to Henry VIII’s case, it becomes obvious that the king would not be allowed to put away Katherine simply because she was beyond childbearing age. Rather, it would be Henry’s duty to care for, and comfort, her. Had both Henry and Katherine found new loves with whom they wished to live, they would technically be allowed to do so with the permission of the Council. In practice, though, the Council would probably not grant permission for them to break their existing marriage. On Utopia, therefore, Henry would almost certainly not be allowed to take a new wife: be it Anne Boleyn or anyone else, unless Katherine had also found someone she would preferred over Henry. Finally, Henry had committed adultery more than once, most famously with Elizabeth Blount and Mary Boleyn. As such, he would have been sent into bondage for the first offence and executed after the second. Henry VIII would not have lasted very long on the island of Utopia.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Religious and Personal Symbolism in Richard III’s Jewellery

In two portraits of Richard III, the king wears jewellery that carries both religious and personal meaning for him. In the first, now belonging to the Society of Antiquaries, Richard wears a hat-brooch in the shape of a rose. The petals, formed of black stones, encircle a ruby, which represents the centre of the rose. These black stones could be jet or black agate. Jet symbolises grief and mourning and as such might represent Richard’s continued mourning for his father, Richard of York, and elder brother, Edmund of Rutland. Jet also signifies safe travel: appropriate to one who was called upon to make many journeys, whether to do with going into battle, travelling to or from the court in London, or on prolonged royal progresses.
   Black agate also has attributes appropriate to Richard: courage, boldness, vigour and prosperity. The first three qualities particularly exemplify Richard’s military skills, while the last reflects his personal wealth and that of his family.
   The ruby, which forms the centre of the rose, is a classic symbol of royalty. The brooch could symbolise the White Rose of York, but this jewel reflects a deeper symbolism than the heraldic. In the Christian tradition, the rose represents the flower of Paradise, but it is also one of the icons of the Virgin Mary.
   In the portrait belonging to the Royal Collection, Richard wears a collar that features what are probably roses, in this case four-petalled ones, contained within lozenge-shaped settings. The lozenges are embellished with a pearl on each face and are alternated along the length of the collar with rubies cut into an oval shape. Inside the inner angles of the lozenges are golden fleurs-de-lys. Four-petalled roses represent the four-square division of the cosmos, although it is difficult to see how this fits in with Richard’s theology. More probably, they are meant to depict the Virgin Mary, particularly as they are placed within the lozenge-shaped settings. The lozenge represents the feminine creative principle, depicting as it does, the female reproductive organ. When set alongside pearls, the lozenge reinforces their symbolism of the virgin birth. Pearls also represent purity and spiritual grace.
   The fleurs-de-lys are stylised lilies or lotuses and are one of the emblems of France. They, therefore, symbolise Richard's Plantagenet heritage as well as the English territories of France, some now lost, over which Richard is king. They also represent royalty and the Trinity. However, the fleur-de-lys is also another icon of the Virgin.
   Finally, the oval cut of the rubies contain the same symbolism as the lozenge, while the rubies themselves signify royalty. Perhaps there is a further connection here with the Virgin Mary, who was crowned Queen of Heaven at her assumption.
   Richard, therefore, expresses his royal status and displays his devotion to his house, to the Trinity and, more especially, to the Virgin Mary in the very jewellery he wears.
   Also in the portrait belonging to the Royal Collection, Richard wears a hat-brooch in the form of a Greek cross, with five pearls and a ruby in the centre. The Greek cross is one of the earliest forms of the Christian cross and is often found in conjunction with the ankh, a symbol of life.
   The Greek cross does not represent the cross of the crucifixion. Rather, it signifies the four cardinal points, representing the spread of the Gospel in accordance with Christ’s commission to his disciples (Matthew 28.19-20) and the four elements of earth, air, fire and water. Perhaps even more importantly for Richard, the Greek cross provides the basis of the cross of St George, first brought to England during the twelfth century. This saint is an obvious connection with Richard’s murdered brother, George, Duke of Clarence, and another object of mourning for the king. By the 14th century, St George had been adopted as the patron saint of England and of the Order of the Garter. Here is yet another association with Richard, who was made a member of the Order of the Garter at the age of about fourteen: the order was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Edward the Confessor and St George. This brooch, then, is yet another tribute to St George, whose banner was featured prominently in Richard’s procession at York, alongside that of St Cuthbert. George and Cuthbert are also among the saints after whom stalls are named in Richard’s Collegiate Church of St Mary and St Alkelda at Middleham.

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