The names of things: ‘Tudors’?

CSL Davies has an article in the TLS on ‘The Tudor delusion’. The argument is that ‘the Tudors’ and the people they governed did not themselves use the expression ‘the Tudors’ to describe the dynasty, let alone their society as a whole, and therefore: “We must learn to do without the Tudors”.*

Elsewhere in the article (ie, when he’s not going for a final-sentence rhetorical flourish) he seems to be arguing only the need to use the term with care, because you just can’t do history if you limit yourself to using the language of the people you study.

It is impossible to discuss, say, economic development meaningfully while only using language comprehensible to Shakespeare. But contemporary vocabulary imposed limitations on sixteenth-century people attempting to discuss economic affairs; their efforts to formulate even the straightforward connection between the quantity of money in circulation and price levels, for instance, were painfully slow. “Tudor” is a term too deeply entrenched to be banished from our vocabulary, but we should be aware that it, too, is an anachronism, creating a similar barrier to our understanding of contemporary thought.

Anachronisms are dangerous. But they’re often necessary and useful. The article is well worth reading.

* Well, in fact, as he notes further on in the article, some of the Tudors’ subjects did call them the Tudors. But they were the Welsh ones, so obviously they don’t count. /snark

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