I love reading historical mysteries. (I love reading all mysteries, in fact, and I like Scandinavian noir too, but for the purposes of this blog post I will be sticking to historical mysteries!) In any case, often people recommend to me Hilary Mantel’s work. I know about it, of course, and most people in the UK do or at least come across at some point, but I can’t bring myself get through her work. Anyone would thinking that I would actually like her work due to my mild obsession with English history and historical mysteries. The problem is this however: I am writing up a bit of research from that time period.
Why on earth would that matter? I am looking at a document that records the oral testimonies and depositions of a variety of locals who, just after the time of the dissolution, took items from the former monastery of Hailes. This is an unusual document, but one that has been written about only a few times. At least 50 people took hundreds of items big and small in the months after closure of the institution. These people are smiths, chaplains, ministers, and farmers. They lived through the protestant teachings of Latimer, the removal of the Holy Blood of Hailes, the changes brought on by the cessation of pilgrims to Hailes. It was a time of upheaval as reflected through the many plays, books, and novels written about the subject. However these people are a bit different.
First and foremost, they are my people. They show up in tax documents and on manorial courts. They live in towns that don’t exist anymore. They travel with horses or on foot. And they remove items of iron, lead, and wood from Hailes Abbey. They aren’t a part of a greater plan or a part of ‘the system’. They are local people from all walks of life who are benefiting in some way or acting in a certain way so as to attain their goals. It is likely that only the commissioners themselves, who undertook the interviews for the testimonies, met Cromwell. It is unlikely that those inhabitants around Hailes would have ever met him.
Cromwell is a larger than life figure and a much discussed man. There is no doubt about that, but I live with the reality of the dissolution that was more present in England at the time than Hilary Mantel will ever write about. There are many of us who find our little corner of history and live with those that others forgot. Though both Cromwell and the people around Hailes played their own roles in history, I’d rather stick to my people running around with glass and even “swarms of bees” rather than read yet another book about Cromwell.