To Troll and Be Trolled; Tudor Style.
Forgive me while I digress from the subject of Thomas Cromwell for today’s post. But following a frustrating, mind-boggling, and at times down right terrifying few weeks of debating History on various Facebook groups, I feel that I must say something on this subject. Once again, I am not a lone voice in this. Following This Post on A Nevill Feast, (the owner of which has had an especially torrid time of it), I want to add my two cents worth with regard to Tudor era groups especially.
Following the wildly popular TV series, The Tudors, there has naturally been an exponential increase in interest in the people behind the characters, and the times in which they actually lived. Join any number of them, and the administrators of said pages will assure you that: “all debate is welcome, encouraged, and appreciated” and so on, and so forth. For those of us who have had a genuine, scholarly interest in the Tudor Dynasty, this came as a welcome side effect to the popularity of a TV series that, generally speaking, had us tearing our hair out. It really did seem to get people (who may never have otherwise have heard of the Tudors) interested, and participating in a wealth of debates. However, it all soon started to go wrong.
First came the post on a Facebook page (which will remain nameless), asking us if we thought that “Henry VIII was a serial killer”. Myself and some friends defended Henry, pointing out that he did many good deeds as a King, and cited sources and examples to back up our discussions. We were then banned from the page, accused of having multiple ID s (because, obviously, more than one person could not possibly have a positive, balanced opinion of Henry VIII), and roundly abused by admin of said page. Then, unbeatably, a friend of mine who administrates a few pages of her own, received private messages from this person, warning her about my friends and I.
On another page, I saw a very well respected amateur Historian being berated by the owner of one page in a manner most underhand. Her crime? She had the sheer audacity to point out (very politely, I might add), that one of the pictures the admin had added was not of Mary Boleyn (as stated), but of Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond. Quite how anyone manages to mistake Margaret Beaufort for Mary Boleyn is anyone’s guess, but there you go!
On yet another occasion, it was stated (as an indisputable fact) that it was treason for any woman to refuse to have sex with the King of England. Quite puzzled by this, I asked for a source to cite and back that claim up. Where is the law on the statute books? What year was it introduced/repealed? There would be a myriad of evidence if such a claim were true. I was then accused of being “a notorious troll”.
Amid all the mud slinging on Tudor groups, the others have not been slow to catch up. There was a debate on another historic fiction group about use of the “Akashic records”. From what I can tell, a person sensitive to these “Akashic Records” tunes into them, and they can see historic events being played out like a home movie on atoms floating around in the atmosphere (or something equally far-fetched). Myself and quite a few people of my acquaintance posted our thoughts and feelings on the Akashic Record. We were fairly sceptical (as most people probably would be). The results of these Akashic readings cannot be replicated, measured, or verified in any way, and it is therefore unscientific, and invalid for use in historic research. The OP was extremely unhappy. She took to her blog (deleting the FB thread to stifle any further dissent); copying and pasting the thread with the comments she did not like (ie, ours) edited out because we (according to her) were “unreasonable and insulting.”
A discussion about John of Gaunt turned into a flame throwing competition following the intervention of a man who really is an obnoxious troll. Several of my friends suffered terrible abuse at his hands. Then came the Historic Fiction author who claimed that Simon Montfort was the real father of Edward I, and that it was a hanging offence to mention Montfort’s name for seven hundred years. All nonsense, of course. But we asked for evidence (a request met with dummy-spitting and flouncing off in a huff). Eventually, the thread was deleted, and my friends turfed off the page and blocked. Although, these outrageous claims that Eleanor of Provence cheated on her husband did prompt This Excellent Post over on Sarah’s History Blog.
All of this shit has hit the fan over the course of the last few months. We have been insulted, lied about, and accused of being trolls just for asking for evidence, and it has got me thinking. Is it an indictment of today’s culture that people are no longer able to debate? Or is it that these Page owners/group administrators merely do what they do so they can have everyone fall over themselves to gush about how clever the admin is? Is it feeding some sort of God complex that today’s History Group owners have?
These people hate to be challenged. They perceive it as a threat to their authority. They feel that their word alone should be enough to turn something from a rumour, into an historic fact. They take the word of certain pop historians at face value, and wouldn’t know a Primary Source if one painted itself purple and danced around naked in front of their faces. Any attempt to point them in the right direction, and it’s like that scene from Harry Potter where Professor Snape deducts points from Hermione Granger for being “an insufferable know-it-all”. The rule of thumb now seems to be “say what you like, as long as you agree with me.”
What I would like to say to the owners of the pages I have had run ins with is this: debate is a beautiful thing. If I may, I will bring this around to Thomas Cromwell. Like many other people, I began by thinking of him as a monster. A tyrant lurking in the shadows of Court, waiting to see who’s head he would chop off next, and when he took a break from killing people, he starved Priests and Nuns, and burned crops and stamped on puppies. Then, I began debating with people who knew a lot more than I did. I opened myself up to new ideas that grew up in the midst of all this discussion, and this healthy exchange of views. I discovered a wonderful, misunderstood man, who I am now proud to defend and do so on every occasion (hopefully without fan-girling, too).
Now this is not to say that debate is all about bringing every living being around to your way of thinking; it’s not that at all. It is about being able to engage in a frank, vigorous exchange of views with the possibility of learning something from it. If that something leads to a change of heart, then that is probably an added bonus. But far more importantly than that, it is how history grows as a subject. Robust debates about history is what provides the subject with its dynamism, and to continue to develop. If we censor debaters, stifle discussion, or set limits on what is to be allowed/disallowed then that will cease. That is the ultimate tragedy.
Before anyone else states this, I know that it’s only Facebook. But it’s still a huge platform, and one that many people turn to for information. As such, this worrying trend is all the more worrying still.
All I can conclude with is a few brief points for consideration. Asking for sources/evidence is not an attack. It is what all historians do when presented with a new theory. Disagreeing with a belief/assertion is not trolling (and freedom of speech is a two-way street). Please, bear this in mind before starting up a group and inviting people to join I discussions, because my friends and I are just around the corner, and we’ll carry on defending history and debating as healthily as ever we did!
As a post-script, let me add, anyone here is welcome to disagree with me. I always try to include a full list of sources I have used for all of my articles. If any are missing, do please ask me. I genuinely relish debates, so feel free to do it here. Enjoy!