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The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

Fourth Estate, 2020, 889 p, including 4p Author’s Note and 1 pAcknowledgements, plus ii p Contents, vi p Cast of Characters and ii p Tudor and Plantagenet descendant family trees.

The Mirror and the Light cover

As we have come to expect of Mantel this is exquisitely written. Each word, it seems, has been chosen with care, the prose burnished to perfection. At nearly 900 pages, though, it is not a quick read.

This final instalment of Mantel’s Tudor trilogy is bookended by two executions, that of Anne Boleyn and Cromwell’s own. Despite the reader’s knowledge of its narrator’s ultimate fate (surely no-one coming to this book could be unaware of it?) there is no sense of tension defrayed. We are in the moment – often in his past moments – with Thomas Cromwell in his efforts to serve Henry VIII and to frustrate the king’s enemies both at home and abroad (and for Cromwell to climb the greasy pole as high as possible while incidentally enriching himself, his family and his entourage.)

The Tudor dynasty is still on insecure ground, its already tenuous claim to the throne threatened by the lack of a male heir, Catholic pretenders (the Poles and the Courtenays) intriguing against Henry with the Spanish Emperor’s envoy and with the Pope, gossiping and insinuating against Cromwell but in the aftermath of Anne Boleyn’s death the most urgent task in the king’s households seems to be to chip out the HA HA insignia from all the heraldic emblems on the walls and to unstitch them from the embroidered cushions. Meanwhile the king’s latest marriage – to Jane Seymour – goes well, bringing benefits to the Seymours and Cromwell both, not least the marriage of Cromwell’s son into the Seymour family. Then, after producing a legitimate son for Henry, Jane dies; and, though Prince Edward thrives, everything is thrown into the air again.

This is an easy to absorb foray through the history of the times as seen through the eyes of one of its prime actors; the uprising against the King’s religious policies in the North of England that became known as The Pilgrimage of Grace, allayed by worthless promises and later crushed by the Duke of Norfolk; the diplomatic dance surrounding the marriages of James V of Scotland with French heiresses; the dissolution of the monasteries and the bounty that brings, both to the crown and to its servants; the arm’s length negotiations for Henry’s marriage with Anne of Cleves; that project’s dismal failure on the pair’s first sight of each other; the insinuation by the Duke of Norfolk of his flighty niece Katherine Howard into the King’s orbit; rumours that Cromwell seeks to marry the King’s first daughter, the Lady Mary. All goes well for Cromwell until suddenly it doesn’t, things he said in innocence are twisted against him, hoist by his own petard.

There are some quotable moments. Thinking of his dead wife, Cromwell remembers, “She kept a list of his sins, in the pocket of her apron: took it out and checked it from time to time.” (She needed to write them down?) Under questioning by Cromwell, Margaret Pole comments on the position of aristocratic women, “‘I have noticed’” she says, “‘common men often love their mothers. Sometimes they even love their wives.’” At one point Cromwell reflects that, “men pay for crimes, but not necessarily their own.”

However, at times I found myself struggling to concentrate on the text, perhaps due to this third Cromwell book’s length (or even its weight) or that I was reading it during lockdown with other things on my mind.

It is obvious in retrospect, though, that the whole trilogy has been the thoughts of Cromwell on the scaffold, scrolling through his life as he awaits the axe.

Overall, this trilogy is a tour-de-force, a great feat of evoking another time, of imagining another mind, and a brilliant achievement.

Pedant’s corner:- “her family sweep in” (sweeps in.) “None of them have kept their looks” (None of them has kept her looks.) “‘I am sure you she remembers you’” (no need for the ‘you’, or else ‘I assure you’ was meant,) burger (x2, burgher,) dottrels (dotterels.) “‘Did you not use to be’” (Did you not used to be’,) “lands at the town of Fife” (Fife is not a town, it’s a county, though it’s still sometimes referred to as the Kingdom of Fife.) “His party travel” (His party travels,) pyxs (pyxes,) “to see that that” (only one ‘that’ needed,) “spout it from their maws” (a maw is a stomach, not a mouth.)

Kotlin Island, Gulf of Finland

Kotlin Island (Ко́тлин) lies in the eastern part of the Gulf of Finland, where the Neva Bay opens out to the Gulf itself. Its position made it a strategic point for the defence of St Petersburg from sea attack. It now acts as an anchor point for two arms of the St Petersburg Dam project, which carries the western arm of the St Petersburg ring road.

Kotlin Island, St Petersburg

The island is the site of the city of Kronstadt (Кроншта́дт) and its Naval Base. Note dome of Russian Naval Cathedral:-

St Petersburg, Kotlin Island

Cathedral dome and part of navy yard:-

Naval Cathedral and Navy Yard, Kotlin Island, St Petersburg

Kronstadt was the centre of a rebellion by naval personnel (hitherto staunch revolutionary supporters) against the Bolshevik regime in 1921. It was unsuccessful, crushed by the Red Army.

Russian Naval Cathedral, plus part of Kronstadt Navy yard:-

Russian Naval Cathedral, Kotlin Island, St Petersburg

Leningrad Hero City Obelisk, St Petersburg

In the centre of Vosstaniya Square, St Petersburg, is the Leningrad Hero City Obelisk erected in 1985 to commemorate the fortieth Anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over German forces in the Great Patriotic War (World War 2.)

Leningrad Hero City Obelisk, St Petersburg

WW2 Monument, St Petersburg, Russia

WW2 Monument, St Petersburg, Russia

Another connection of St Petersburg to the Great Patriotic War is the old trams which still ply the city’s streets along with more modern counterparts. Despite their rattling and rolling the city’s inhabitants venerate the old models as they kept going all through the siege of the city.

Old Tram, St Petersburg

Bronze Horseman, St Petersburg

One of St Petersburg’s iconic images is this equestrian statue of Peter the Great:-

Bronze Horseman, St Petersburg

The inscription is Peter I, Catherine II, 1782:-

Bronze Horseman Profile, St Petersburg

The statue has obviously suffered damage at one time as there’s a large repaired crack in it. Possibly in war-time?

Right Profile, Bronze Horseman, St Petersburg

Eternal Flame, Field of Mars, St Petersburg

When I first saw this (from a distance) in the Field of Mars, St Petersburg, I thought it would be a Great Patriotic War Memorial.

Eternal Flame, Field of Mars, St Petersburg

It isn’t. Not exclusively. The original memorial is a Monument to the Fighters of the Revolution. The flame in the centre, however, commemorates the victims of various wars and revolutions.

From east:-

Eternal Flame Enclosure, Field of Mars, St Petersburg

Trees in one corner:-

Tree, Eternal Flame Enclosure, Field of Mars, St Petersburg

Eternal Flame:-

St Petersburg Eternal Flame, Field of Mars

Commemoration block:-

Eternal Flame Memorial Plaque, Field of Mars, St Petersburg

Video of eternal flame:-

Video, Eternal Flame, Field of Mars, St Petersburg

Some of the dedications. Translations of the dedications are here:-

St Petersburg, Eternal Flame, Field of Mars, Dedications

Eternal Flame, Field of Mars, St Petersburg, Dedications

Eternal Flame Dedications, Field of Mars, St Petersburg

Dedications, Eternal Flame, Field of Mars, St Petersburg

The Cruiser Aurora, St Petersburg

The Cruiser Aurora is now the Russian Navy’s Ship No 1. It’s anchored by the Petrogradskaya Naberezhnaya (Petrograd Embankment) on the Bolshaya Nevka River, an offshoot of the River Neva, in St Petersburg. (The embankment link has a cracking aerial photo.)

The cruiser fired the blank shot which signalled the start of the October Revolution in 1917. It was also one of only three Russian ships to survive the Battle of Tsushima in the Russo-Japanese War.

I was really looking forward to seeing it again. I don’t remember the green paint at the waterline from when I visited in the 1960s, but we did hear someone say it had recently been repainted. It’s looking in very good nick.

Stern of Aurora:-

The Cruiser Aurora

Saltire:-

Saltire flown on the Cruiser Aurora

Gangplank and public access. There was a big queue at the ticket gate but we had only a short time at the quay anyway before we had to reboard the coach:-

Gangplank and Cruiser Aurora

Looking towards bow:-

The Cruiser Aurora Looking Sternwards.

View showing bow:-

Aurora

Flag at prow. It looks like a bit like a reconfigured Union Jack. It’s the Jack and fortress flag of the Russian Navy:-

Aurora flag

Aurora memorial stone on the quayside:-

Cruiser Aurora Memorial Stone

The St Petersburg Naval Academy is also on the embankment opposite the Aurora. This statue outside the St Petersburg Naval Academy is of the famous (in Russia) Admiral Pavel Stepanovich Nakhimov, for a further picture on the net see here:-

Statue of Admiral, St Petersburg Naval Academy

Just round the corner on the the Petrovskaya Embankment was this monument to the three-hundredth Anniversary of the Russian Navy. Cruiser Aurora to right and Naval Academy in background in first picture:-

Russian Navy Three-Hundredth Anniversary Monument, St Petersburg

St Petersburg, Russian Navy's Three-Hundredth Anniversary Monument,

THe plaza between it and the Naval Academy had a nice fountain. The lamp standards are a good design too:-

A Fountain, St Petersburg,

Great Patriotic War Remembrance, St Petersburg

I was glad to have gone to St Petersburg in early May. This is the time of year when Russia remembers the great sacrifices it – and the Soviet Union of which it was a part – made during World War 2 (which in Russia is known as the Great Patriotic War.) It is salutary to think that without that sacrifice the war against Germany would have been a much greater struggle for the Western Powers than it was. It is not too great a statement to make that the war in Europe was in fact won by the Soviet Union.

Britain’s contribution to overcoming Nazi Germany is much over-estimated by many in these islands. It really amounted to not losing – or at least not admitting to, and therefore not giving up. From the Normandy landings onwards it was even overshadowed by the US (which of course – British victories at Kohima, Imphal and Burma notwithstanding – won the Pacific War more or less by itself.)

St Petersburg in early May 2019 was covered in banners commemorating the Victory Day in 1945.

1945-2019 Remembrance. (Unfortunately seen through rainy coach windows):-

1945-2019 Remembrance St Petersburg

Corner of Palace Square:-

palace , St Petersburg, Russia

There are 1941-1945 banners in front of this building in Palace Square:-

Palace Square  , banners

Close-up view of banner:-

1941-1945 banner

More banners in Palace Square. (St Isaac’s Cathedral in distance):-

Palace , St Petersburg, Russia

1941-1945 Remembrance Banner, Nevsky Prospekt, St Petersburg:-

1941-1945 Remembrance Banner, Nevsky Prospekt, St Petersburg

St Petersburg (i)

This was the big one. I had been to St Petersburg before – when it was Leningrad, on a school cruise back in the heyday of the Soviet Union when we were shown the bullet holes on buildings’ walls still left over from the siege of the city during the Great Patriotic War (as World War 2 is called in those parts) – but my wife hadn’t, and with her interest in Russian history it was a place she had always wanted to see and was the reason we chose to go on this cruise at all.

The city straddles the River Neva (and a bit beyond) which therefore appears in many of our photographs. It is also home to some magnificent architecture, beautiful palaces from the time of the Tsars (in stark contrast to the conditions in which ordinary folk lived, sometimes ten or more to a room in pre-revolutionary days.)

The Winter Palace, St Petersburg, from across River Neva:-

The Winter Palace, St Petersburg

The Winter Palace is part of the famous Hermitage Museum another part of which – along with a couple of ferries – is seen below:-

The Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

Other buildings on River Neva frontage-

Frontage, River Neva, St Petersburg

I got a closer view of the Naval Academy:-

Naval Academy, St Petersburg

The Peter and Paul Fortress, lies on an island:-

Peter and Paul Fortress, St Petersburg

Closer view seen through rainy coach windows:-

St Petersburg, Peter and Paul Fortress

I couldn’t get far enough back to get all of this building in. In St Petersburg terms it’s fairly unremarkable:-

A Building in St Petersburg

A gilded tower in the city centre. (Note saltire flag in blue on white – St Andrew is Russia’s patron saint as well as Scotland’s, besides other countries.)

A Gilded Tower, St Petersburg

Riverfront builidings and St Isaac’s Cathedral beyond:-

St Isaac's Cathedral,St Petersburg from Across River Neva

As If We’re Not Suffering Enough

What with no football to fill your Saturday afternoons with dread or joy or … meh.

What with having to stay at home on a beautiful day.

What with wall-to-wall pieces on the TV cobbled from social media feeds or interviewing their so-called “stars”.

What with being depressed enough by the news.

Then after said news on Channel 4 tonight the announcer said next on was a film starring Vera Lynn! We’ll Meet Again, no less.

We’ve now definitely disappeared down a plughole into a bizarre altered reality.

Just to get it straight, guys. We are not in a real war. We’re not in any sort of re-enactment of the 1940s.

The UK is certainly not being led by people with any of the competence of those in the wartime coalition (even if one them was supposed to have “much to be modest about,” a remark belied by his subsequent achievements.)

This is a pandemic – an inevitable pandemic, one that was coming down the line sometime; they always do – for which leaders obsessed with lowering taxes and balancing budgets failed to prepare.

If you want a Second World War analogy, it is those same politicians who occupy the place of the 1930s appeasers of fascism. I hope the public remembers and doesn’t forgive them. History certainly won’t.

Scone Palace

Scone Palace isn’t actually a palace but an old house, near the village of Scone itself near Perth, Perth and Kinross.

The name palace derives from the site being that of an Abbey with its accompanying Abbot’s Palace.

The Palace’s grounds contain the ancient coronation site of the Kings of Scotland where the Stone of Destiny, also known as the Stone of Scone, was situated on Moot Hill.

Scone Palace from drive:-

Scone Palace from Drive

Closer view:-

Scone Palace

Old gates. These are not on the main drive but nevertheless a few years ago some delivery driver tried to get through them and knocked the cebtral stones down. The arch has been well restored:-

Scone Palace Gates

Chapel on Moot Hill:-

Chapel on Moot Hill, Scone Palace

Chapel and Stone of Destiny, Moot Hill. You have to look really yard from this angle to see the Stone:-

Chapel and Stone of Destiny, Moot Hill, Scone Palace

Stone of Scone replica (or is it?) There have always been rumours that the stone Edward I of England removed to Westminster Abbey and on which the monarchs of England and, from 1701, the UK have been crowned was not the original:-

Stone of Destiny, Moot Hill, Scone Palace

Scone Palace is also renowned for its peacocks (and peahens):-

Peacocks, Scone Palace

They are reasonably tame and will eat out of your hand:-

Peacock Feeding, Scone Palace

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