King’s Curse

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The King’s Curse by Philippa Gregory is about Henry VIII. It was published in 2014. Despite knowing this, I kept checking the publication date because of passages like this:

Dear God, I’d never tell the truth to this king… He has become a man quite out of control of his teachers, of the priests, perhaps of himself. There is no point giving the king an honest opinion, he wants nothing but praise of himself. He cannot bear one word of criticism. He is merciless against those who speak against him. (p. 495)

In 2019, two years into US President Donald Trump’s reign, The King’s Curse reads like subversive allegory. That is unintentional of course. It was written pre-Trump. Also Philippa Gregory is a historian, and keeps her imagination true to historical likelihoods.

A passage in her author’s note, about “how easily a ruler can slide into tyranny,” is chilling, though. And it applies equally to those born to the position or elected.

Because no one effectively defended

As Henry moved from one advisor to another, as his moods deteriorated and his use of the gallows became an act of terror against his people, one sees in this well-known, well-loved Tudor world the rising of a despot. He could hang the faithful men and women of the North because nobody rose up to defend Thomas More, John Fisher, or even the Duke of Buckingham. He learned that he could execute two wives, divorce another, and threaten his last because no one effectively defended his first. (p. 603)

Henry VIII just wanted people to like him. He was a breath of fresh air at the beginning. Accomplished in everything he did, young and handsome, in love with his Queen Katherine. But then it went wrong. His moral compass, it seems, centred on himself. The belief system and welfare of the country took second place to what he needed. And he needed a son. So began his complete upheaval of everything sacred and secular in Britain. For Henry, the political was extremely personal.

Lady Margaret Pole

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possibly Margaret Pole, National Portrait Gallery

The King’s Curse tells Henry VIII’s story from boyhood, when he was the “spare”, to midway through his six wives. Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, tells the story. She is a York from the Plantagenet line of British monarchs. The Yorks wore the white rose in the War of the Roses, opposed to their cousins, the Lancasters, whose emblem was the red rose.

Henry VIII’s father was the first Tudor king. Henry VII took the throne after defeating Richard III, the last Yorkist king, in battle. So Henry VIII was desperate for a son to ensure the continuation of the still new House of Tudor. But it lasted only to the next generation. First the brief reign of his young son Edward VI, then his daughter Mary, and finally Elizabeth I. She fulfilled her father’s dreams of empire but, having no children, the Tudor dynasty died with her.

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Tudor Succession: Mary, Henry VIII, Edward, Elizabeth (detail) National Museum Cardiff

The King’s Curse is the last in The Cousins’ War series by Philippa Gregory. It also fits in with her Tudor Court novels (philippagregory.com). Despite it being late in the story, you could easily start her books with this one. It stands alone and touches on much of what is in the other novels. For more on those, see my Reading History.

pagination from Touchstone paperback ed. 2014

Weatherfield Brexit

future_homemakers_War-Ration-Book-NARA_ca-1943-FDR-Library-wikicommonsAre people in Weatherfield stockpiling water, tinned food and toilet tissue? They are in real life Britain, according to news reports. People fear shortages, due to goods tied up at customs when Britain leaves the EU. Entrepreneurs are rising to the challenge. You can buy a Brexit Box, a 30 day supply of freeze-dried food. At £295, they are moving briskly.

Since hearing about the Brexit Box, I’ve been imagining Kirk jumping on that bandwagon. What would he see as essentials for survival? But there’s no point in my going back to the Street in hopes of such a storyline. Coronation Street, Emmerdale and EastEnders decided in 2016 not to deal with Brexit, according to the Daily Star. Already all over the news, so not something their viewers wanted to see in their soaps as well.

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Brexit Box, from emergencyfoodstorage.co.uk – tins, packets, water filter and fire starter

Brexit stories

Perhaps saying nothing was the right decision. The Archers, a BBC radio serial on air since 1951, had its farming family talk about Brexit – like they would be. But complaints poured in: enough about Brexit in the news, didn’t want it in their show too.

And yet what a perfect venue for discussion of such a monumental decision. The Archers, Coronation Street and all UK continuing serials. Each is set in a different part of the country, each has characters who would be affected in different ways by staying in the EU or leaving. Fans know the characters well. Like their audiences, leaving the EU would benefit some and hurt others.

The characters’ history and circumstances provide a way to look at the economic, political and societal aspects of Brexit. Maybe it’s Liz popping over to Spain to see her son Andy, Underworld worried about getting materials, or the corner shop facing emptied shelves as the tinned beans are snatched up. What would the McDonalds, or Connors, think about the question of the border between Northern Ireland and the south? Having already been the target of racial abuse, would Alya fear further attacks?

Britons face these questions now, and uncertainty has caused divisiveness. It is a shame, I think, that Coronation Street has not laid out some Brexit scenarios for its characters The long arc storytelling of soaps is ideal for this.

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How to build a fallout shelter FEMA ca 1957

And unlike North American daytime soaps, British serials are part of personal and public discourse. If it happens on Coronation Street, it’s in the news the next day. Looking at Brexit through Dev’s eyes, or Carla’s, can only help get all aspects out there in a real but non-confrontational way.

Spotted Dick and Custard

Coronation Street is often criticized for showing a Britain of the past. For not reflecting the ethnic and socio-political diversity in what is no longer a nation of (white) shopkeepers, at their best during the war. Maybe this would be a time to use that to show that Britons have been through worse, and survived. That there was a UK before the EU. That immigration and diversity have always been part of the British Isles. Conflict too. But they did survive.

Maybe the oldies need to gather the young’uns in the Rovers. Have Rita lead a singsong of The White Cliffs of Dover. Ken can quote Percy Sugden: “When you’ve prepared spotted dick and custard for one hundred and fifty of ’em under heavy artillery fire and not allowed one lump in that custard, you can do anything.”

Half a ton of pet food

Day 27 of the US government shutdown. Food banks are helping feed furloughed federal employees. Animal shelters are helping feed their pets. This is short-term desperate need. These are people with jobs. Many are still working, but not getting pay cheques. So volunteer and community groups are trying to minimize the damage. Here’s my St. Thomas Dog Blog post from March 13, 2011 on ten weeks into operating a pet food bank. A bit of inspiration, I hope.

dog and cat kibble bags, with cat

Ten Weeks = 1,071 pounds of kibble

Ten weeks, nine donation boxes and a town of 35,000 people equals over 1,000 pounds of dog and cat kibble. That’s what’s been donated to the Caring Pet Cupboard so far, plus cans and treats. I am absolutely astounded – and delighted and proud.

In 2½ months – from the end of December to March 12 – we have received 1,071 lbs of dog and cat kibble for the Caring Pet Cupboard. There’s also been 97 cans of dog and cat food, packages of treats, a box of litter, and some dog toys. Plus there’s more that has been taken directly to the St. Thomas Food Bank. And food has been taken to Tabby’s Treasures where Pat distributes it.

There has been very little advertising of the project. We had an article in the St. Thomas/Elgin Weekly News (thank you very much). It’s been written about here, on the main STDOA site and the St. Thomas Blog and that’s pretty much it. No significant Facebook presence, no tweets, not even much in the way of flyers.

cat trying to raid pet food bagIt’s just people buying a bit extra when they’re in a pet store or vet clinic. Pet food suppliers have also contributed food that hasn’t been purchased rather than throwing it out. People have donated partial bags that their dog or cat wouldn’t eat. There’s nothing wrong with it, just little Miss Finicky doesn’t like it, so why throw it out?

Expansion plans

If the success of this project continues, we are looking to expand our collection and distribution to nearby towns and organizations.

bagging up food bank cat food, with cat helpIn a time of economic downturn, with layoffs and people having a hard time of it, it’s wonderful to see people helping other people and their animals. So if you happen to hear “oh, people in St. Thomas are so…” just think of this and finish the sentence with “kind-hearted,” “willing to help”. Over half a ton of food in 10 weeks. Not bad, St. Thomas!

At this point. our pet food bank was a two-person operation (plus 3 cat and 2 dog “helpers”). Pick up from donation bins, rebagging in smaller portions, then delivery to the food bank and other distribution points. So it can be done quickly. You need collection bins and bags and labels for rebagging. After this government shutdown is over, there will still be a need for pet food banks. So if you can get one up and running, why not keep doing it?

Maybe a good time to mention Freekibble also – your click gives kibble and litter to shelters. Almost 4 billion pieces of kibble in 10 years – that’s a lot of cat and dog meals!

Harness Racing Mabees

Looking into a branch of the Mabee family led me to harness racing in Tillsonburg during the early decades of the 1900s. Three names stood out: Jack M. Climie, Charles Henry Mabee and Dudey Patch.

Jack M. Climie was everywhere – as a driver, race starter and caller at Tillsonburg track 1945-standardbredcanada.ca_news_8-14-10_sc-rewindthe harness racing track at the Tillsonburg Fair Grounds. A plaque in town honours his service to the Tri-County Agricultural Society, hosts of the annual fair. Then, in my search results, Dudey Patch in connection with J. M. Climie. What’s this about?

Dudey Patch

Dudey-Patch-canadian-horse-racing-hall-of-fameJ. M. Climie drove five year old Dudey Patch in his first ever race, in Tillsonburg in 1936. Dudey Patch, I thought, must be related to Dan Patch, the American harness racing superstar of the early 1900s. Yes, a grandson. His sire was Gilbert Patch, Dan Patch’s son, and his dam unknown.

Dudey Patch moved on to Prince Edward Island and trainer Joe O’Brien. With Mr. O’Brien, he broke pacing records until he retired in 1941. He was named to the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1998.

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Dudey Patch 1931 by Gilbert Patch out of unknown mare (allbreedpedigree.com)

Mabee cousins

Jack Climie was married to Marie Ailene Mabee. She was a first cousin of Charles Henry Mabee. His father, George Henry, was the eldest of Oliver Pitt Mabee and Mary Laur’s ten children. Marie’s father, Frederick, was the youngest.

Their lineage intersects with my grandmother’s four generations back, with half brothers Frederick and Silas Mabee. Charles and Marie’s line comes from Frederick, son of Simon Mabee and his first wife Marie Landrin. My grandmother Murel Mabee Anger was the great-great granddaughter of Silas, son of Simon Mabee and his second wife.

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Chart showing Charles Henry Mabee and cousins – click/tap to enlarge

Charles Henry Mabee’s five siblings all died in their teens or younger. He married Frances Elizabeth Bradburn and they had three children. He died at age 45, after an accident at the Tillsonburg track in May 1916.

Bert Newman, in More Reminiscences About Tillsonburg, writes:

I believe the man who was best known in Tillsonburg horse racing circles was Charlie Mabee. He was a former mayor of Tillsonburg, and he kept a string of horses. He drove all his own horses, too. I remember his boys and I went to school with one of them, Basil. One day Charlie was working a horse on the track when it stumbled or something. He was thrown over the sulky and fell onto the track, breaking his neck. He died right there on the race track. [1987:24]

Tillsonburg Race Track

Mr. Newman describes the Tillsonburg track and races at the time:

Right across from the grandstand was the judges’ stand, with the wire stretched across in front. All the judges would be in there – three or four of them. The starter would have a big Nov 24-2018-standardbred canada-rewind-starters-horn-photo-Gary-Foerstermegaphone in his hand and his duty was to get these horses off to an equal start. It was very difficult in those days because sometimes they’d come down to the wire all scattered out. Many times I saw the judge call them back. They would try again, sometimes three or four times…

In later years all the trouble with getting horses started was eliminated by the use of a starting gate. I believe Art Whitesell and Jack Climie had much to do with inventing a starting gate to use on the Tillsonburg track. [1987:23]

My googling also turned up a recent book about Tillsonburg’s history. It’s Tillsonburg Album: A photographic history by Matthew Scholtz, available in Tillsonburg or on this website.