Friday, July 20, 2012

Thoughts on Wolf Hall and My English Ancestors

Yesterday I began reading Hilary Mantel's Booker Prize winning book, Wolf Hall. It's a fictionalized historical novel set during the tumultuous time of the 16th century in the early days of Tudor England. Henry VIII is on the throne. Major characters in the novel are historical figures we recognize--Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas More, the Boleyn family, and Thomas Cromwell.

While I'm not quite at the halfway point (at the time of this writing), I know quite a bit about the real cast of characters from a church history class on the Protestant Reformation that I took when I was a seminary study. In that class, we read a book entitled Two Early Tudor Lives which consisted of George Cavendish's biographies of Wolsey and More. Cavendish had actually served Wolsey so he knew that period quite well and wrote about a lot of the same things that Mantel addresses. Mantel's work is written in a more contemporary form of English. The characters' dialogue is not Tudor period English.

As I have been reading the book, I have wondered how my English ancestors felt about the changes that they saw and how they felt about the King's divorce and establishment of the Church of England. Were they sympathetic with the Roman Catholics? Were they glad of the change? Were they ambivalent? Were they apathetic? I do know that the Perkins family had once been fairly influential in their parish in Hillmorton. Some of the earlier known ancestors of this line were buried under the rood of the church.

My known ancestors who would have lived in this turbulent time included Thomas Perkins and his wife Alice Kebble, William Sawbridge and his wife Elizabeth, Thomas' father Henry Perkins, and Henry's father Thomas Perkins and wife Alys de Astley. Thomas, husband of Alys, would have died early in the time period and not seen the eventual result of the turmoil. His wife Alys would have seen parts of it. Henry and his wife (whomever she may have been) would have been about the same age as most of the players in the drama that was unfolding before their very eyes. Thomas, Alice, William, and Elizabeth would have been born in the midst of this change, having to rely on their parents for information on what life before the changes in England were made.

I hope that I can one day locate information that may shed light on the feelings of my ancestors. It was Thomas' and Alice's grandson John Perkins who along with his wife Judith Gater immigrated to New England nearly 100 years after this novel opens, making their home on Cape Ann in the Ipswich area.

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