The fifth queen series, p.1
Ford Madox Ford
THE FIFTH QUEEN
Ford Madox Ford was born Ford Hermann Hueffer in England in 1873. In 1919 he changed his name to Ford Madox Ford in honour of his grandfather, the Pre-Raphaelite painter Ford Madox Brown, whose biography he had written. Ford was well-known for both his fiction and his criticism. He founded two influential journals, The English Review in 1908 and The Transatlantic Review in 1924, in which he championed many of the leading modernist writers of the day. His most famous novels include the tetralogy Parade’s End and The Good Soldier, which are still ranked among the greatest literary works of the twentieth century. Ford died in 1939, at age sixty-five, in France.
A. S. Byatt is the author of numerous novels, including the quartet The Virgin in the Garden, Still Life, Babel Tower, and A Whistling Woman; The Biographer’s Tale; and Possession, which was awarded the Booker Prize. She has also written two novellas, published together as Angels & Insects; five collections of shorter works, including The Matisse Stories and Little Black Book of Stories; and several works of nonfiction. A distinguished critic as well as a novelist, she lives in London.
ALSO BY FORD MADOX FORD
AVAILABLE IN VINTAGE CLASSICS
The Good Soldier
FIRST VINTAGE CLASSICS EDITION, OCTOBER 2011
Introduction copyright © 1984 by A. S. Byatt
Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division
of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by
Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
Vintage is a registered trademark and Vintage Classics
and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places,
and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination
or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons,
living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
The introduction to this work was first published in 1984 by
Oxford University Press, London, as part of The Fifth Queen and
is reprinted here by permission of A. S. Byatt.
The three works which comprise this trilogy were originally
published separately as The Fifth Queen (1906), Privy Seal (1907), and
The Fifth Queen Crowned (1908).
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Ford, Ford Madox, 1873–1939.
The fifth queen / by Ford Madox Ford ; with an introduction by
A. S. Byatt. —1st Vintage classics ed.
1. Catharine Howard, Queen, consort of Henry VIII, King of England,
d. 1542—Fiction. 2. Cromwell, Thomas, Earl of Essex, 1485?–1540—Fiction.
3. Queens—Great Britain—Fiction. I. Byatt, A. S. (Antonia Susan), 1936–
Cover: detail from painting by Master John, 1544 © National Portrait Gallery, London.
Cover design: Megan Wilson
About the Author
Other Books by This Author
Introduction: A. S. Byatt
THE FIFTH QUEEN
The House of Eyes
The King Moves
The Rising Sun
The Distant Cloud
THE FIFTH QUEEN CROWNED
The Major Chord
The Threatened Rift
The Dwindling Melody
The End of the Song
A. S. Byatt
‘Ford’s last Fifth Queen novel is amazing. The whole cycle is a noble conception—the swan song of Historical Romance—and frankly I am glad to have heard it.’ So, somewhat ambiguously, wrote Joseph Conrad (to whom The Fifth Queen is dedicated) to John Galsworthy in 1908. Ford’s Tudor novels have often been discussed as a nostalgic exercise in an already outdated form. I think that their ideas, and their techniques, are much more interesting than that. For Ford, the past—the English past, the European past, his own past—was an integral part of present experience and understanding. This is not to say, either, that he uses the Tudor Court as an allegorical portrait of Edwardian England or of Ford Madox Ford. He was more subtle than that.
Ford published eighty-one books between 1891 and 1939, when he died. His father, Francis Hueffer, was German; his English grandfather was the painter, Ford Madox Brown. Ford grew up in Brown’s house amongst artists and artistic debate; Graham Greene sees the imposing figure of Ford Madox Brown with his irascibility, fear of plots, enthusiasm, and melancholy behind the looming figure of Henry VIII in these novels. Ford’s early books include a life of Brown, a study of Rossetti, and a book on the Pre-Raphaelites; in 1905 he published a monograph on Holbein. Some of the great set-piece descriptions in The Fifth Queen are reminiscent of the composition—and lighting—of Madox Brown’s historical paintings of Chaucer at the court of Edward III, or Oliver Cromwell—talking to Milton and Marvell or brooding on a white horse amidst farmyard muddle. (Compare Thomas Cromwell on his barge, the carefully composed interior portrait of Anne of Cleves, the farmyard muddle surrounding Mary Hall or Lascelles.) Katharine Howard herself is often described stretching out, or dropping her arms, in hope or despair, like a posed figure ‘caught’ by the painter at a historical crisis. Ford preferred Brown’s historical paintings to his ‘decorative’ work. ‘As a Teuton, I like to think—and I feel certain—that whatever of Madox Brown’s art was most individual was inspired by the Basle Holbeins.’ The virtue of Brown’s best work derived from ‘the study of absolute realism and of almost absolute minuteness of rendering’.
This word, ‘rendering’, is a central word in Ford’s many and varied discussions of the art of the novel. During the period of his collaboration with Conrad, the two of them discussed the techniques of narrative, the importance of ‘accurate letters’, and developed a set of ideas which Ford referred to, on the whole, as Impressionism. ‘We saw’, he wrote in his memoir of Conrad, ‘that Life did not narrate, but made impressions on our brains. We in turn, if we wished to produce on you an effect of life, must not narrate but render … impressions.’ Their masters were Stendhal, Maupassant, and above all Flaubert, with his insistence on le mot juste—a crafted, exact, descriptive language from which the author, both as rhetorical stylist and as moral commentator, should be absent. In English, both novelists turned to Henry James, who in his essay on ‘The Art of Fiction’ (1884) spoke of ‘the air of reality (solidity of specification)’ as ‘the supreme virtue of a novel’ and used the word ‘render’ and the analogy with painting to illustrate his meaning. ‘It is here that the novelist competes with his brother the painter in his attempt to render the look of things, the look that conveys their meanings, to catch the colour, the relief, the expression, the surface, the substance of the human spectacle.’ ‘Rendering’ tends to be concerned with evoking surfaces, especially visual surfaces. In Ford’s work it usually carries moral connotations of authorial reticence, non-interference, impersonality. Here his ideas can be related to Eli
His book on Holbein, unlike his book on Rossetti or his life of Brown, is written with moral and aesthetic passion. He opposes Holbein to Dürer on its first page in a way that directly prefigures the opposition of the two forces that battle for the soul of Henry VIII (and England) in the Fifth Queen novels. The painters are ‘the boundary stones between the old world and the modern, between the old faith and the new learning, between empirical, charming conceptions of an irrational world and the modern theoretic way of looking at life’. Dürer ‘could not refrain from commenting upon life, Holbein’s comments were of little importance’. It seems that Dürer is greater. ‘Dürer had imagination, where Holbein had only vision and invention—an invention of a rough-shod and everyday kind.’ But it is Holbein whose accuracy Ford is praising. Praising Samuel Richardson’s ‘craftsmanlike’ approach to the novel, Ford said he was ‘sound, quiet, without fuss, going about his work as a carpenter goes about making a chair and in the end turning out an article of supreme symmetry and consistence’. He compared Richardson to ‘the two supreme artists of the world—Holbein and Bach’. He had already compared Holbein to Bach in the Holbein book itself, after praising Holbein’s depiction of Henry VIII as ‘an unconcerned rendering of an appallingly gross and miserable man’. ‘Holbein was in fact a great Renderer. If I wanted to find a figure really akin to his I think I should go to music and speak of Bach.’
Ford, it seems, was interested in Holbein’s art and in Henry VIII’s court and the politics of Thomas Cromwell because of their ‘realism’—and the word ‘realism’ draws together here both moral attitudes and aesthetic priorities. In the Fifth Queen novels Katharine Howard is presented as a virtuous, highly intelligent woman who wishes to reverse the political and religious changes worked by Thomas Cromwell, Lord Privy Seal—to reintroduce the old faith, feudal values, monastic virtues. This figure bears little relation to what evidence we have about the real Katharine, although Ford teases the reader delicately and inconclusively about the truth of his Katharine’s early relations with her alarming cousin, T. Culpepper. Ford himself was a Roman Catholic, of a kind (with more or less fervour at different times of his life), and liked to refer to himself as a ‘radical Tory’. He argued for the independent smallholder, old continuities, aristocracy, against the depersonalizing effects of modern machinery and democracy. This has led critics of The Fifth Queen, almost universally, to see Katharine as its heroine. Arthur Mizener’s comment, in his biograpy of Ford, The Saddest Story, is typical. ‘In the end Ford’s romantic need to turn her into an impossibly ideal figure makes her unconvincing.’ Robert Green, who wrote a good and thoughtful book on Ford’s ‘prose and politics’, noticed that Ford, in his non-fictional writings, praised Cromwell as a ‘genius’ and ‘the founder of modern England’, but says that he is portrayed in the novels with ‘near-total disfavour’. Ford ‘attempts to vilify’ Cromwell, and idealizes Katharine’s idealism. I think this view, both of what Ford intended to do, and of what he achieved, arises from a kind of stock response to the ‘historical Romance’ as a genre, and from a failure to appreciate Ford’s scrupulous ‘rendering’ of his world and his characters’ consciousness.
It is very illuminating to look at the books, collected as England and the English, that Ford was publishing during the same years as the Tudor trilogy. The Spirit of the People: An Analysis of the English Mind appeared in 1907 in the same year as Privy Seal, and a year before The Fifth Queen Crowned.
In this book, Ford claims that England’s greatness ‘begins with the birth of the modern world. And the modern world was born with the discovery of the political theory of the Balance of the Powers in Europe’. The Fifth Queen is concerned with sex, love, marriage, fear, lying, death, and confusion—it is also concerned with the idea of the balance of power as a real force in men’s lives. The Ford of The Spirit of the People leaves us in no doubt about his admiration for the Cromwell who was ‘the founder of modern England’. He describes Henry VIII’s ministers as ‘Holbein’s type’, the ‘heavy, dark, bearded bull-necked animal, sagacious, smiling, but with devious and twinkling eyes’. He goes on:
And indeed a sort of peasant-cunning did … distinguish the international dealings of the whole world at that date. Roughly speaking, the ideals of the chivalric age were altruistic; roughly speaking, the ideals of the age that succeeded it were individual-opportunist. It was not, of course, England that was first in the field, since Italy produced Machiavelli. But Italy, which produced Machiavelli, failed utterly to profit by him … England did produce from its depths, from amidst his bewildering cross currents of mingled races, the great man of its age; and along with him it produced a number of men similar in type and strong enough to found a tradition. The man, of course, was Thomas Cromwell, who welded England into one formidable whole, and his followers in that tradition were the tenacious, pettifogging, cunning, utterly unscrupulous and very wonderful statesmen who supported the devious policy of Queen Elizabeth—the Cecils, the Woottons, the Bacons and all the others of England’s golden age.
The Tudor age, Ford said, was ‘a projection of realism between two widely differing but romantic movements’. That is, the feudal-Catholic times were romantic because of the altruism, heroism, and chivalry of their ideals. In Ford’s view, the post-Stuart times, the days after William III and the glorious Revolution, were paradoxically ‘romantic’ in a deeper sense than the ‘picturesque’ romanticism of the Stuart cause.
For in essentials the Stuarts’ cause was picturesque; the Cromwellian cause a matter of principle. Now a picturesque cause may make a very strong and poetic appeal but it is, after all, a principle that sweeps people away. For poetry is the sublime of common-sense; principle is wrong-headedness wrought up to the sublime pitch—and that, in essentials, is romance.
Consider this opposition: ‘the sublime of common-sense’/ ‘wrong-headedness wrought up to the sublime pitch’. It has much in common with the opposition, in these novels, between Cromwell and Katharine—the realistic Machiavellian with his belief in England, the King, the health of the country, and the in many ways ‘wrong-headed’ Katharine, unprepared to come to terms with the greed of the nobles who have acquired the lands of the dispossessed monasteries, the venal nature of servants, or the distress of Margaret Poins who cannot be married in Katharine’s restored Roman Catholic dispensation. There is a further twist to this opposition. Later in The Spirit of the People Ford blames Protestantism for ‘that divorce of principle from life which, carried as far as it had been carried in England, has earned for the English the title of a nation of hypocrites’. Katharine’s Catholicism is like the ‘female’ Catholicism which Ford says these islands have discarded: the female saints, the Mother of God, ‘an evolution almost entirely of the sentiments and of the weaknesses of humanity’. Katharine calls on the saints and on the Virgin throughout this book. But she also calls on the great classical moralists for what Ford would have called ‘principles’, and Throckmorton sums her up, in this context, shrewdly, as a Romantic puritan as well as a romantic Catholic woman: ‘in all save doctrine this Kat Howard and her learning are nearer Lutheran than of the old faith.’ (We remember that Ford, in his Holbein book, describes Holbein’s portrait of Katharine’s ‘bitter, soured and disappointed’ uncle, Norfolk, as ‘rigid and unbending in a new world that seemed to him a sea of errors’ and pointed out that it was Norfolk who said, ‘It was merry in England before the new Learning came in.’) Katharine’s appeal to Henry is essentially romantic: they speak of the Fortunate Isles and bringing back a golden age. And her morals have the absolute quality of Ford’s ‘principle’, against which the despairing cynicism of Cicely Elliott is set. Cicely Elliott says, ‘God hath
A novel, Ford wrote, was ‘a rendering of an Affair: of one embroilment, one set of embarrassments, one human coil, one psychological progression’. That the world of this novel is seen through Katharine’s eyes more than any other has tended to make her appear to be a ‘heroine’; but this, as I suggested earlier, is partly the result of Ford’s attempt at what he called authorial ‘Aloofness’. I believe she is morally judged, but she is judged by juxtaposition (another favourite term of Ford’s, who admired Stendhal and Jane Austen for their gifts of dramatic juxtaposition of incidents which changed the reader’s view of what had gone before). The moral work is done by the reader. We do not see so much of Cromwell, or Throckmorton, as we do of Katharine, and the King, passionate, bewildered, cunning, desiring virtue, dangerous, generous, cruel, is seen almost—not entirely—from the outside, a looming body at the end of dark corridors, behind doors. We guess at their motives, with Katharine, but not through her view of them. In his later masterpieces, The Good Soldier and Parade’s End, Ford used bewildered innocent minds to depict the muddle, the horror, the endless unsatisfactory and painful partiality of knowledge of human motive, of what has ‘really’ happened, or why. This novel is not so subtle, but it is recognizably by the same man. Ford as a writer was always preoccupied with the effect of lies, and the nature of worry and anxiety—they are his great themes, public and private. The Good Soldier and Parade’s End are inhabited by grand, terrible liars. In The Fifth Queen, Udal’s little lies run into Throckmorton’s politic and murderous ones, as the sexual lies of Tietjens’ wife in 1914–18 run into the public lies behind the Great War. In The Spirit of the People Ford wrote that the English are ‘a nation of hypocrites’ because Protestant virtue divorced principle from life. In The Fifth Queen he displays the workings of the divorce.