28 September 2010

Bad King Tudor ... or good?

While in Cornwall, Pam and I have been spending the evenings in our usual way when down that way: reading some texts in the Cornish language. The current Cornish Nationalist and Awareness Movements are predominantly secular; but, amusingly, they have to pay lip service to the relics of the old Cornish language and literature. Yet these are as predominantly Christian and Catholic: religious plays written in the Middle Ages by the Canons of Glasney College to be put on in dramatic festivals (spread over two or more days, held in the round 'Playing Places' remains of which can be found in various parts of Cornwall); or else are Cornish sermons done for the Catholic education of the people in the reign of or soon after Good Queen Mary (largely translated from sermons of Bonner).

A recurrent motif of the plays is Bad King Tudor ('Teutharus' in the mss.; rendered nowadays as Tewdhar). In the quite recently discovered Life of S Kay, the Saint bamboozles the Bad King; Tudor, after sundry mistreatments of Kay, has promised that the saint can have as much land as he can impark while the king is in the bath. But the sorceress Owbra, who lures the king into the bath with expectations that he will be able to 'launcya' her (lots of loan words in Middle Cornish) therein, contrives by her potions that he will not be able to get out of it. "Wicked woman! For a thousand pounds I would not wish to see thee, by the Mass (ru'n oferen)! Through thee I am bewitched! Here I am stitched and stuck to the tub!"

Bad King Tudor appears in the literature of Cornwall much earlier, in the Latin Vita Sancti Petroci published by the Bollandist Fr Grosjean. The big question about the Glasney plays is exactly how they relate to the Cornish experience of the Tudor dynasty. Did they contribute to the Cornish backing of Pretenders in the time of Henry VII? Are they connected with the Cornish rebellion of 1497? With the religious discontent felt in Cornwall under Henry VIII and Edward VI?

A bit later I will recount the metamorphosis of King Tudor by a spin doctor of Henry VIII.

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