Judging Henry VII: Historians’ Two Cents on the first Tudor King

Henry VII posthumous old
Henry VII of England PAINTINGS Perréal, Jean (attributed to) French, ca. 1455-ca. 1530 ca. 1500?25 Tempera and oil on panel 12 5/8 x 9 in. Bequest of Catherine Jean Quirk (M1989.63)

Prominent historians and biographers weigh in on Henry Tudor with cited primary sources on his appearance (be careful with this, because they all describe him differently. In some he is dark haired, others he is blond and others he is brown haired, but all agree he was pale or fair of face and with blue eyes).

The man behind the austere caricature in popular fiction:

Henry VII badass TWP

“England’s new king was a mysterious figure. In Hall’s chronicle Richard criticizes Henry as ‘a Welsh milksop, a man of small courage and less experience.’ The chronicler himself was more impressed though; Tudor rode about giving ‘gentle’ words of encouragement to his men before the battle; ‘for he was a man of no great stature but so formed and decorated with all gifts of nature that he seemed more an angelical creature than a terrestrial personage.’ According to Hall ‘his countenance and aspect was cheerful and courageous, his hair yellow like the burnished gold, his eyes gray shining and quick, prompt and ready.’ This contrasts quite sharply with the description of Henry from the ‘Ballad of Lady Bessie’ which has him wearing black velvet as he practices shooting at the butts, with his long pale face marred by a red wart. Other sources have him as dark-haired crisply curled in the European style, with a cast in one of his pale blue eyes that made him look as if he had a squint. Vergil described him as ‘remarkably attractive’ but with a sallow complexion and bad teeth, although by the time of his writing, Henry’s hair had turned thin and white. At the time of accession though, he was 28, tall slender and reserved, dressed in subdued, elegant foreign fashions, having spent the last fourteen years at the court of Francis II, Duke of Brittany.” (Licence)

“At twenty eight, Henry Tudor was not longer a pretty lad. In looks he was still personable, but an itinerant and uncertain youth had shaped a cautious personality. He was not a man who took anything for granted. The immense challenge of ruling the larger of the two realms that formed the island of Britain lay ahead of him. He had come by his crown in blood and battle.” (Porter)

The events of the fifteenth century were to be fashioned into drama, with Hall’s chapter on Richard’s own reign being titled ‘The Tragical Doings of King Richard the Third’. It was a compelling tale of the Tudor’s inexorable rise, contrasted against the downfall of the houses of Lancaster and York, inspiring William Shakespeare to transform it into blank verse for popular audiences who devoured his history plays, the power of which defined for generations the wider view of what became known in Sir Walter  Scott’s famously invented phrase, ‘the Wars of the Roses.’ The reality of Henry Tudor’s ascent to the throne -his narrow escapes from death, his failures and anxieties, complete with constant uncertainty of his situation and the compromises that he had been forced to make, including the support from France and his former Yorkist enemies gaining the crown -was a far less welcome tale. It remains nonetheless just a remarkable; against all the odds, at Bosworth Henry achieved a victory that he should not have won. For Philippe de Commynes, who had met Henry as a fourteen-year-old when he arrived as an exile at Duke Francis’s court in Brittany in 1471, knowing exactly how Henry, who had told Commynes to his face how he had been a prisoner all his life since the age of five, had ‘suffered much’ having ‘neither money, nor rights, so I believe, to the crown of England, nor any reputation except what his own person and honestly brought him’, there could be no other explanation. Writing his memoirs, Commynes wrote simply, ‘A battle was fought. King Richard was killed on the battlefield and the Earl of Richmond was crowned king of England on the field with Richard’s crown. Should one describe this as Fortune? Surely it was God’s judgment.’” (Skidmore)

King Henry, Seventh of his Name, the first years:
Uniting the White and Red Rose

The White Princess 2017

“The coronation began on 28 October with Henry taking formal possession of the Tower. The next day he was processed to Westminster before the London crowds. Heralds, sergeants-at-arms, trumpeters, esquires, the mayor, aldermen, and nobles, preceded the king dressed in their rich liveries …The king rode under a canopy fringed with twenty eight ounces of gold and silkl, carried by four knights on foot. He was bare-headed, his light brown hair reaching his shoulders, a rich belt slung across his chest, and a long gown of purple velvet furred with ermine on his back … On Sunday 30 October Henry was crowned and anointed at Westminster Abbey. In November Henry sought for his rule the necessary approval of Parliament. It duly confirmed that ‘the inheritance of the crowds of England and France abide in the most royal person of our sovereign Lord King Henry VIII and the heirs of his body’. Elizabeth of York, in turn was being given an opportunity to get to know her husband to be, and she found Henry could be good company. In Brittany he had enjoyed gambling, music, dancing, poetry and literature. He was quick to smile, with an exceptionally expressive face, but his years of vulnerability had made him a man anxious to be in control of every detail of his environment.” (de Lisle)

eoy-and-henry-vii-shadow-in-the-tower

“A thin face with high cheekbones framed a long thin nose, a feature shared by his mother, Margaret Beaufort. Round, somewhat hooded eyes formed a tight triangle with his thin, downward sloping mouth, and dark wavy hair tumbled down almost to his shoulders. Having barely lived in England, his preferred language was French. But he had already adopted the style and bearing of a crowned king …Philippe de Commynes described him as being ‘without power, without money, without right to the crown of England.’ Nevertheless, on Sunday, August 7, 1485, this unlikely claimant to England’s Crown landed at Mill Bay near Milford Haven, waded through the salt water onto wet Welsh sand, knelt and kissed the ground, and uttered the words of Psalm 43: ‘Judge me, O Lord, and plead my cause’ … Accounts of the coronation were drawn up by Sir Robert Willoughby, and they spoke of a flurry of activity among the goldsmiths, cloth merchants, embroiders, silkwomen, tailors, laborers, boatmen and silk in royal purple, crimson and black, which were then run up into beautiful jackets, hose, hats, robes, wall hangings, cushions and curtains. Henry’s henchmen were ordered hats plumed with ostrich feathers, boots made from fine Spanish leather and striking costume of black crimson. Even the horses were smartly dressed: their stirrups were covered in red velvet, while tassles and silk buttons adorned their halters … The coronation went off with appropriate pomp, with the most prominent roles carried out by the small group of English nobles whom Henry could count as his intimates … Henry had sworn a solemn oath in 1483 that he would marry Elizabeth of York. Now that he was king, he was bound to make good on his word. On December at Henry’s first parliament, the speaker Thomas Lovell requested that the king’s ‘royal highness should take to himself that illustrious lady’ … The wedding as to be held on January 18, 1486 … The wedding was celebrated in the customary fashion, with ‘wedding torches, marriage bed and other suitable decorations.’ followed by great magnificence …” (Jones)

Later Years: Economic Policies & Final Legacy

Henry VII Tudor old

“The first Tudor king was still only 28 wen he came to te throne, having spent most of his adolescence and early adulthood in Brittany, living precariously as a political exile. He had the most unsettled upbringing of any king of England, something that helped shape his character. According to the author Philippe de Comines (1447-c.1511), the king himself once declared that “from the time he was five years old he had been always a fugitive or a prisoner”. It was a life lived “continually between hope and fear”, as Edward Hall described it in Hall’s  Chronicle, something which spurred Henry on to action when his moment came. Although treated well in Brittany, he was never able to forget his lack of freedom or status, growing into a suspicious but highly intelligent young man. He was tall, thin and dark. Surviving portraits tend to show the king in his later years: narrow-faced and thin-lipped. In 1498, when he was in his early 40s, the Spanish ambassador Don Pedro de Ayala wrote a letter to Ferdinand and Isabella of  Spain in which he said that the king looked “old for his years, but young for the sorrowful life he has led”. Nothing came easily for the young Henry Tudor and retaining the throne and building a stable dynasty were the desires that drove him, above all else, throughout his reign … Henry VII had never been a charismatic king and his death went largely unlamented in England. Instead, people looked towards his 17-year-old son, who resembled his Yorkist mother and grandfather in appearance.” (Norton)

“Early in his reign, Henry substantially increased the royal lands (and thereby the revenues from rents) by having Parliament backdate his reign to the day before the Battle of Bosworth Field. By this device he turned all those who fought against him at the battle into traitors, enabling him to claim their estates as forfeit for treason. Through efficient administration of his royal lands, Henry increased their value, and by the end of his reign they were yielding him around 35,000 per annum.
Another important source of income for Henry was customs revenue from foreign trade. After persuading his customs revenue from foreign trade. After persuading his first Parliament to grant him customs revenue for the whole of his life, Henry went about encouraging trade through international diplomacy, substantially increasing customs yield. Finally, by expanding the reach and effectiveness of his courts, Henry could rely on a steady income from the ‘profits of justice’ -in other words, fines.
All these policies led to a rise in royal income from an average of 52,000 per annum in 1485 to 142,000 per annum by 1509 … Henry has been described by some of his biographers as cold-hearted, and it is true that he was not generally given to extravagant displays of emotion. Yet he surprised his courtiers with his intense grief on the death of his son Arthur, and when his wife Elizabeth died in childbirth in 1503 he fell into a deep depression and, according to one chronicler, ‘privily departed to a solitary place and would no man should resort unto him’ … Henry left his kingdom strong, at peace and, by past standards, wealthy. Hhis sober and efficient statesmanship had enhanced England’s standing among the major European powers. At home, he had greatly strengthened the position of the monarchy in relation to the nobility, creating a powerful centralized administration. In so doing, he had laid the foundation for a successful dynasty.” (Woolf)

“If Edward V had been allowed to live, Henry Tudor would be a footnote in history. He had been in captivity of one sort or another for all but four of his twenty-eight years, and his reign was to see constant threats to his life, despite his incredible generosity (for these times) and forgiveness to his former and new enemies. He never felt secure on the throne, and, never having any family except his uncle Jasper (he was separated from his mother until he became king), came to rely upon those who were with him in exile and who supported at Bosworth. He made sensible choices, marrying the eldest daughter of Edward IV, Elizabeth of York, to consolidate his position further. However, the new king remained reliant upon the wise counsel given to him by trusted friends. He never stopped travelling the country and retained the same close circle of advisors. Sadly, towards the end these men began to die around him and his own health grew progressively worse. He lost his beloved wife and all but three of his children, including Prince Arthur, upon whom rested his real hope for a wise continuation of the new Tudor Dynasty … Henry, also devout like his mother, often stayed at monasteries and churches. He probably spent more time in prayer or with ecclesiastics than any other English king. We are fortunate to have the king’s personal accounts for 1492 to 1503, and those of the queen for 1502 and 1503 which supplement other sources, but there are still some gaps or anomalies in his whereabouts. Ailing, worn out from overwork (an attribute rarely seen in English monarchy over the centuries), the deeply religious king saw nearly all his close friends die, and was beset with financial problems, a fact ignored by modern biographers. His attempts in his declining years to prevent another costly international war or invasion drained his finances, and his more effective tax-gathering was hated by the nobility and growing middle classes. The financial aspect is more important in understanding his reign. To solidify the monarchy after generations of fighting and infighting was vitally important to the future of a stable Britain. Henry was not ‘greedy’, ‘avaricious’ or ‘venal’, all recent accusations, but towards the end of his reign, because he was suffering with ill health and depression at the loss of so many around him, the king was not much as in control of the finances as he once had been. He turned to God and left his son enough money to secure a peaceful succession, but this gift was soon expended.
Henry’s army of Bretons, Sscots, Ffrench, English and Welsh travelled unopposed through ales, Shropshire, Staffordshire and Leicestershire in 1495, gaining many English supporters, and won at Bosworth. Henry did not follow the Plantagenet path of executing his rivals, a practice which had almost wiped out all claimants to the crown, but was now plagued by a series of pretenders to the crown … Henry died in 1509, leaving a peaceful succession in a solvent country.” (Breverton)

Henry VII Tudor portrait in frame

“More pertinent, and more feasible perhaps, is to consider how far Henry VII succeeded in obtaining revenue in excess of expenditure. There is enough evidence, mainly from the chamber accounts surviving -and these accounts, after all, came to include the great bulk of revenue and expenditure- to show that Henry VII did become solvent quite early in the reign, and was able to secure some considerable surplus annually during his later years. The cessation of short-term loans by 1490 suggests that the government no loner had need of hand-to-mouth methods. The chamber accounts at the end of September 1489 appear to show a surplus of 5,000. From 1492 at least Henry found himself able to put by substantial sums in the purchase of jewellery, plate, cloth of gold and the like, and to spend money on buildings … Henry VII did, then, no doubt enjoy ‘the felicity of full coffers’ for the last few years of his reign but the other Baconian tradition that he left behind him a surplus of some two million pounds cannot be maintained …
He was interested in bringing commercial interests into his diplomatic relations with other countries; he was interested in reforming the coinage and in encouraging shipping, exports, and maritime exploration. He took some initiative in these matters; he gave his assent to a variety of measures for the regulation of merchant companies, trade, wages and prices, weights and measures, for the restraint of enclosures, and the treatment of vagabonds and beggars. Some of these measures were precedents for more far-reaching governmental action in later decades, but many though not all these appear to have been initiated by others than the government in Henry VII’s time, and how far the mere giving of assent to proposals for minor regulations amounted to acceptance as serious government policy a matter for speculation rather than dogma. We can scarcely accuse Henry VII of adopting ‘paternalistic’ attitudes. Whatever else Henry VII was, he was essentially an opportunist and sought to achieve few broad or far-reaching aims in either economic or social matters. We may well attribute to Henry VII especially the characteristics that have been attributed to the Tudor monarchs generally -perhaps too generally. Of him we may well believe that ‘economic problems were always secondary, and that economic measures often served non-economic ends. The paramount aims were peace and security. His policies always remained primarily political, not economic, and any economic aims that he may have cherished (other than the strengthening of his own economic position) were subordinated to his political and diplomatic objectives …” (Chrimes)

Henry’s first year in government was bound to be turbulent. His mother cried when she saw her son cried because having lived through various reigns, and surviving every king, she knew that as the founder of a new dynasty, his troubles were far from over. After Henry defeated his enemies, he became more obsessed with bringing peace to England. He formed an alliance with Scotland where the two kingdoms agreed that to avoid further conflict, Henry would marry his eldest daughter to James IV, and establish a series of law courts where border raiders would be judged by a jury of their peers which consisted of half Scots and half Englishmen (to avoid any accusations of favoritism). Henry kept much of Edward IV’s economic policies, including the Star Chamber, which he perfected, and added new measures that made England into a prosperous nation by the time his son took the throne in 1509. Overall, Henry’s legacy is in the eye of the beholder but one thing no one can deny is that he did more than any other monarch before him in that century. He nearly worked himself to death, and even when he was ill, he refused to let others do his work. It is also important to note that Henry is one of the few English monarchs who managed to heal the wounds of internal conflict by making allies of his former enemies, including those abroad who had not only nearly cost him his throne, but also put his family at risk.
Ironically, it was his paranoia, which got worse after he lost his son, wife and baby daughter, that enabled him to turn England into one of the most peaceful nations at the time, and prevent his dynasty from going the way the York and Lancaster had gone. In doing so, he also rewrote history, providing us with an alternative and simplified tale of the wars of the roses, where he comes out on top because he was the last Lancastrian scion and descendant of Arthur Pendragon and other Welsh (turned English) heroes, who had been chosen by god to be England’s king and restore law and order to a war-torn country. His marriage to Elizabeth solidified his claim, and helped promote the idea that as the last Lancastrian scion and she as the eldest daughter of the first Yorkist King, had put an end to the dynastic civil war, by uniting both houses of York and Lancaster. This was beautifully represented in a symbol known today as the “Tudor rose”, which has come to embody his dynasty.

Sources:

  • Breverton, Terry. Henry VII: The Maligned Tudor King. Amberley. 2016.
  • Chrimes, S.B. Henry VII. Yale University Press. 1999
  • de Lisle, Leanda. Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. Public Affairs. 2013
  • Porter, Linda. Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots. St. Martin’s Press. 2014.
  • Skidmore, Chris. The Rise of the Tudors: The Family that Changed English History. St. Martin’s Press. 2014.
  • Jones, Dan. Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors. Faber and Faber. 2014.
  • Licence, Amy.  Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen. Amberley. 2013.
  • Woolf, Alex. The Tudor Kings and Queens. Arcturus. 2016.
  • Norton, Elizabeth. Tudor Treasury. Andre Deutsch. 2014.

Medieval Child Marriage: Richard, Duke of York & Anne de Mowbray

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The union of Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York and Anne de Mowbray took place at the St Stephen’s Chapel in Westminster Palace in London, on January 1478, two years after her father, John de Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk passed away.
Anne belonged to two of the most prominent aristocratic families in England. Besides the de Mowbray clan, she was also a Talbot through her mother, Elizabeth Talbot. After her father died, she became one of the most desired brides as well.

John de Mowbray Coat_of_Arms_of_John_de_Mowbray,_4th_Duke_of_Norfok,_KG
John de Mowbray, 4th Duke of Norfolk’s coat of arms.


England had just experience over two decades of internal conflicts, and despite the Yorkist regime coming on top, Edward IV wanted to heal the wounds that his marriage, and later his cousin, Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick’s rebellion and after that, the Lancastrian Readeption, left on the country. Many of the noble families who had supported his claim felt betrayed after he married Elizabeth Woodville, who had no royal connection and brought nothing to the table except her extended family. Edward IV thought of marrying them to his in-laws whom he was sure they would be loyal because whom else did they owe their ascension or depended but him? This turned out to be a terrible miscalculation on Edward’s part, and it furthered the divide between him the and the old nobility.

Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville 1
Edward IV and Elizabeth in portraits and in the White Queen (2013) played by Max Irons and Rebecca Ferguson.


They began to blame the Woodvilles and before long, they sided with his enemies, first Warwick, then the Lancastrian queen exiled across the narrow sea, Margaret of Anjou and her son, Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales.
After the Lancastrian Readeption, England was finally at peace. But tensions were still high. The wedding was a public display of unity and also an opportunity for the crown to gain her family fortune.
Richard and Anne were just five. Marriages like these weren’t common but they were not frowned upon either. James II of Aragon married his wife when he was a pre-teen, and Edward I of England married Eleanor of Castile when the two were teenagers, with Eleanor being three years younger than him. And let’s not forget Richard’s namesake, his grandfather, also Duke of York, who married Cecily Neville when the couple were teenagers.


It was recommended that for couples this young to wait until they mentally and physically mature enough to consummate the marriage. Given that the newlyweds were infants, the first years together, they spent them as cousins and friends rather husband and wife. The legal age for consummation varied between the ages of 12-14; so until that day came, Anne would be under the crown’s watchful eye, enjoying every privilege of being wife to the King’s youngest son.


Unfortunately, the two never got to know each other as husband and wife since Anne died when she was eight at Greenwich Palace in London. Two years later in 1483, Parliament decided to transfer her family fortune to her husband instead of her cousins.

Sources:

Queen Elizabeth I’s Treatment of Veterans

Elizabeth I Veteran affairs

Queen Elizabeth I has gone down in history as one of the world’s greatest monarch. And she certainly is, but as with every monarch, there is a dark aspect to her reign that’s often neglected by novelists and some historians.

Elizabeth Struggle for the throne

In his critically acclaimed biography on Elizabeth I, Dr. David Starkey, praises her good administration while also critiquing it when it comes to handling Irish affairs, and looking after her Veterans, which is one of many aspects, that is representative of the last years of her reign. As he writes below, her desire to be loved nearly undermined her, but her eloquence, being cautionary to a fault in matters of religions and her determination are what saved her and enabled her to become England’s most successful monarch.
“Like Mary, Elizabeth had begun well. But would she be any better in the long run? At first sight the signs were not all that good … from the point of view of practical government, was the distinction between the Queen’s two wills: her private will and her public will. Her private will was what she actually wanted to do. Her public will was what, after taking due counsel and advise, she ought to do. Elizabeth promised to respect this distinction … But doing what we ought rather than what we want comes easily to none of us … The Elizabeth Church, as we have seen, was a Goldilocks settlement: neither too hot nor too cold. As such, it pleased neither the orthodox Roman Catholics, for whom it went far too far, nor the hotter sort of  Protestants, later known as Puritans, for whom it did not go nearly far enough. Indeed, among the elite, it probably only pleased Elizabeth … For her policy was founded on a careful combination of principle and expedience. After her own experiences under Mary, she was not, she insisted, in the business of forcing men’s consciences. That alone made her reluctant to seek the death penalty. But she was also reluctant to make martyrs per se … To do nothing ‘to the loss of any of her dominions’. That was the promise, and Elizabeth stuck by it. It was the source of the best and worst in her reign. If accounts for the terrible punishment she inflicted on the north in the wake of the rebellion of 1569 and her still more savage vengeance on the Irish rebels at the end of her reign … her determination to preserve what was hers also turned her into a great war leader against Spain. She was not a general in the field nor an admiral at sea, of course, though she did wear a pretty pretend breastplate at Tilbury in 1588. Instead, more importantly, she was a mistress of language, thinking, in her speech at Tilbury, ‘full scorn that Parma or Spain or any prince of Europe should dare invade the borders of my realm.'”

Although Elizabeth’s navy succeeded against the Spanish Armada -thanks in part to their smaller size as opposed to their enemies’ larger vessels which made them slower, and the weather which helped the English sink them faster- victory came at a high cost.

Elizabeth I Glenda Jackson 2

The wages she had promised her soldiers never came ad as you can expect from men who had risked their lives, in service of their country, they took the streets to peacefully protest. A small amount organized larger riots, believing that it was the only recourse available to them, to get their queen to listen to their demands. But Elizabeth had no intention of submitting herself to the pleas of the mob -even if those mobs were her loyal subjects.

Henry Carey, Lord Hudson, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and a handful of other courtiers sought ways to help the soldiers make ends meet and lessen the Queen and her advisors’ anger towards them.

The day that the veterans rioted alongside a rabble of young unemployed men, the mayor of London, Sir William Webb, saved the day by ordering the arrest of the ringleaders (much to the dismay of the protestors). This could have gone much worse, with the troops using full force against the entire group, causing more disgruntled veterans to join other fringe groups after feeling more betrayed by their sovereign.

“Writing to Burghley next day, he argued for leniency, claiming that the spark had been an apprentice’s wrongful arrest. Debt collectors had burst into the man’s lodgings with daggers drawn and dragged him off to the Marshalsea in front of his terrified landlady, who stood clutching a baby in her arms. The rioters had planned to storm the prison and free the inmates. Webb believed the best way to calm the situation was to rectify the injustice done to the young man as quickly as possible.” (Guy)

But Sir William Webb’s pleas went unheard. These men had rebelled against the crown -even worse, they dared to demand. Something that no subject should ever do against an anointed monarch, and more importantly their spiritual governor, God’s representative on Earth according to the Anglican Church.

While this seems deeply unreasonable to us, and a treacherous act on Elizabeth’s part, it is not. As Ian Mortimer points below:
“… there are only five thousand men in the army. The remainder is dead-pay, which goes straight into the captain’s pockets. You might think that this is even worse than bribery and nepotism. Neverhteless, in 1562 it becomes official government practice when it is proposed that for every ninety-five soldiers provided, the government will pay for one hundred.”

The privy council agreed to this, and even before this became standard practice, we must not forget that the era preceding the renaissance wasn’t exactly fair either when it came to soldiers’ wages. Elizabeth I’s grandfather, Henry VII, eliminated private liveries which meant that every noble family in England could no longer raise an army from their tenants. This effectively helped Henry keep the realm under his control and prevent pretenders like Perkin Warbeck and Cornish rebels from being successful.
In the medieval age, soldiers were expected to fight for their sovereign or their lord. If they did not, they were severely punished, or branded cowards. It was their duty.  The Renaissance had changed many things, but the sole duty of any man to serve his lord and master without question remained.
Nevertheless, after Elizabeth I had done an outstanding job marketing herself as England’s savior and the only one who stood against the might of the terrible armies of Spain and its Catholic allies -aka, foreign invaders who sought to strip England from its lawful sovereignty- the common soldier felt betrayed. After everything they had done, they were just expected to go back home and start again. Find some new trade, or job that would save them from begging in the streets (which was punished by branding or whipping in major cities like London).

Her cousin continued to try his best, attempting to convince the Virgin Queen by appealing to her emotional side, telling her of the horrors these men had to face while being confined in small spaces, not knowing whether their ships would sink, or they’d die by other means.

“The infection is grown very great and in many ships, and now very dangerous, and those that come in fresh are sooner infected. They sicken the one day and die the next.” (Hilton)

Elizabeth I Glenda Jackson 5

Elizabeth remained unmoved. When the protestors walked barefooted through the streets of London that day, expecting this exaggerated display of misery would get their message across, arrests were made. As it has been established, the mayor of London did his best to lessen their punishment by drawing focus on the leaders. Cecil and the Queen however thought that a better way to stamp out the cells of future rebellion, was by stomping on most of them, letting the rest know what happened to those who rebelled against the crown.

Social hierarchy was not something that could be easily cast aside. Since Edward III had passed the sumptuary laws, that dictated what men and women could and could not wear, there was a stronger emphasis on maintaining the social order. These laws were the result of the black plague or the black death which killed many people, including one of Edward III’s daughters when she was on route to Spain. People became disgusted and in the same fashion that their descendants would centuries later, they would let that hate fester, making it possible for the rising middle class and heretic preachers to convince them to join their cause, and break their wheel of their oppression. This resulted in the Peasant’s Revolts during Edward III’s successor’s reign, his grandson Richard II. Richard II was only a teenager but he was old enough to understand that if he didn’t do something quickly, the violence would keep escalating until there would be no monarchy left. So when the leaders of this rabble led their guard down, Richard II acted quickly. He ordered them to be put to dead and to the rest, he told them smugly that “vileins” (peasants) they were and peasants they would remain.
Oddly enough, Richard II is one of those pitiful figures in history who was too young to know what he was doing, becoming a despot in his later years. Yet for someone who Elizabeth who believed in the supremacy of Kings, he was someone she could idolize and lament -a man who had been the victim of lesser men.
Naturally, Elizabeth I, taking these lessons to heart, wasn’t going to let these rabble-rousers upset the social balance in her country, and she sure wasn’t going to go the way that Richard II went, by giving into their demands.

The end result is a sad state of affairs where Elizabeth I was more successful than Richard II, sending a message across the British Isles, that no matter how much she may sympathize with their cause, or how popular it was among their peers, she wouldn’t be moved. She would remain resolute, presenting herself as their ruler, her country’s spouse and her subject’s mother and like any good mother, she would not be afraid to exact punishment on her children if they were being too loud.

William Cecil 2

 Every vigilant, her principal adviser, William Cecil, Lord Burghley, imposed martial law.
“All soldiers, mariners and vagrant persons” who were found wandering around the countryside or spoke about their missing wages would be apprehended at once.

A soldier’s duty was to his ruler. He was there to protect the realm and his sovereign, not to seek riches or popular acclaim. Again, this may seem like a slap in the face to all those brave men, but in the context of the sixteenth century, and given Elizabeth I’s belief in royal supremacy, it makes sense.

Elizabeth I Anne Marie Duff 3

And there is also another reason, one that is not fully acknowledge: Debt. Elizabeth had curried favor with many foreign Protestants -many of whom she did not agree since they supported a Republican government instead of a royal supremacy. Nevertheless, they kept her enemies distracted and weakened. This meant that a lot of money had been spent on covert missions. Some of which ended in failure. Then there is also the mater of her favorites and the new aristocrats. To keep them happy and in her pocket, she had lowered their taxes and granted them many manors, and exemptions that she wouldn’t have done for anyone else. All of this drained the royal coffers and while she attempted to remedy this by issuing a series of laws that meant to give some form of aid to the lower classes -while also raising taxes to continue to pay for covert operations and the ongoing war with Spain- it still wasn’t enough.

Debt collectors became more hated than ever. These veterans and unemployed men began to blame many of the queen’s evil councilors -in the same fashion that many rebels did in the past when they were displeased with their king’s actions- and the increasing number of foreigners coming into the country. Elizabeth I’s enthusiasm to admit more refugees didn’t help. These migrants helped boost the economy. Many of them were professionals and skilled workers who aimed their best to please their new overlords, but their adherence to their customs and their native tongue upset many Londoners.

But, as her motto, Elizabeth I’s subjects learned to adapt to their never-changing situation, remaining always the same. The pen and the sword proved mightier than their pleas.

Sources:

  • Guy, John. Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years. Viking. 2016.
  • –. The Tudors. Sterling. 2010
  • Mortimer, Ian. Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England. Viking. 2013.
  • Hilton, Lisa. Elizabeth: Renaissance Prince. Houghton Mifflin. 2015.
  • Starkey, David. Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne. Harper. 2001.
  • Jones, Dan. The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens who made England.
  • Picard, Liza. Elizabeth’s London: Everyday Life in Elizabethan London. St. Martin’s Griffin. 2003.

Surviving Edward VI: Lady Mary Tudor’s Courage through her brother’s reign

Mary Tudor Blue Beautiful
Mary I played by Sarah Bolger

Mary’s courage throughout her brother’s reign is often forgotten, but it was during this time that Mary showed dexterity and valor that would characterize her in later years.
From December 1550 to August of 1551, Mary was in grave danger. She had come under her brother’s councilors’ radar after he issued the Book of Common Prayer in June 1549. The Book of Common Prayer caused many rebellions which are largely overlooked in this young boy’s reign because his reign itself is not considered important, but at the time of the break with Rome, their father was prosecuting both Catholics and Protestants. Anyone who stood against the old king’s authority was in grave risk. Not so much for the latter with his young son who was a devout Protestant due to the tutelage he received under equally staunch Reformists and his last stepmother who was a strong advocate of the new religion herself (and a successful author).

Edward VI portrait 1

Edward VI’s beliefs contradicted many of the still conservative population in his country, namely those who didn’t speak English. The Cornish rebels were angry that the Book of Common Prayer offered no service in Latin, a tongue they were more familiar with in Mass; nor in their language which was still Gaelic. Many didn’t understand what was being said in the Mass or what was written and with their idols being taken from them, as well as banning most of their practices, many rose up in rebellion. This mass rebellion spelled the doom of the Protectorate under the Duke of Somerset, Edward VI’s uncle and namesake. He had issued pardons to some of the rebels which many of his peers saw as weakness, and his unwillingness to enact harsher punishments on them, as well as his sympathy to some of their demands, made many of rising gentry angry and later that year after he attempted to take the king hostage -under the pretense that the nobles wanted to poison him- he was forced to surrender and his nephew and former captive, signed his arrest.

Mary Tudor in the Tudors

During this time, Mary was trying to keep a low profile refusing to abandon her religion but without making her sympathies for the rebels public. Nevertheless, it came to the attention of the council that many in her household still heard mass and when she was summoned that December in 1550 to explain her actions, she turned the tables on them instead by insisting to speak to her brother in person. She forced her young brother to listen in an act reminiscent of her mother when she forced Henry VIII, Mary’s father, to sit back down when he attempted to get up after she pleaded with him and his entire council that she had been a virgin without the touch of man when she married him. Mary too used her tears and urged Edward to look to his conscience and reminded him of all she had done for him, and just like that she had moved her brother to tears. But things didn’t get better for Mary, she became openly defiant, refusing to listen to the council’s warnings and in March of the following year she was forced back to London for another dressing down, but she wasn’t traveling alone. Knowing full well what dangers she could face, she brought with her ‘fifty knights and gentlemen in velvet coats and chains of gold afore her, and after her four score gentlemen and ladies.’ Each of them were instructed to carry their rosary beads out in the open and to ignore the reprimands they might receive from the Protestant lords. Defiant to the last minute, Mary refused to step down and listened attentively to everything they had to say, taking it all in. At last, when her moment came she replied curtly that they were to respect her as befitted her rank. This did not intimidate her enemies who months later sent representatives to tell her to desist or else she would be punished accordingly.

Mary Tudor c.1544

Mary knew how to play the game of politics, she had been schooled since she was an adolescent when her world had turned upside down and she was no longer allowed to call herself ‘princess’. She had written a letter at the beginning of the year chastising the council for prohibiting the mass and adding that “My general health and the attack in the head from which I am suffering do not permit to answer the letters in detail, sentence by sentence”. Using her “poor health” as an excuse, she had avoided any responsibility, but things were going too far, after she had visited the king in March, urging her ladies to wear the rosary beads, the council was pressed to act. The opportunity came during Easter when several of her friends were arrested and later in August the 28th she received the king’s men, Rich, Petre and Sir Anthony Wingfield who gave her the king’s letters. Mary dropped to her knees and told them she was the king’s faithful subject then kissed the letters but proceeded to add that she did not to “the matter contained in them” because it “came from you, his council.” After that she exclaimed “Good Mr. Cecil took much pains here” and added that if she were to die, they would all go down with her because she would name them as the cause of their death and as they left her, she went to her top window from where she shouted that she wanted Rochester back and that she had suffered too much under Edward’s regime, so much that she had learned how to make a “bushel of wheat. My father and mother never brought me up with baking and brewing, and, to be plain with you, I am weary with mine office.”

Her pleas went unheard and later the Imperial Ambassador, Jehan Scheyfve spoke on her behalf, but he too was ignored. Warwick and Northampton (the late Katherine Parr’s brother) said that her suffering was her own doing and that the ambassador no longer allowed to call her princess of England but just lady Mary.

Sources:

  • Porter, Linda. The First Queen of England: The Myth of Bloody Mary. St. Martin’s Press. 2007.
  • Whitelock, Anna. Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen. Random House. 2010.
  • de Lisle, Leanda. Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. Public Affairs. 2013.
  • –. Sisters Who Would be Queen: Mary, Katherine, and Lady Jane: A Tudor Tragedy. Ballatine. 2009.

Jane Grey, the early years: An Outstanding Prodigy & Evangelical leader in the making

6804,Lady Jane Dudley (née Grey),by Unknown artist

There is no question that Jane Grey was for all intent and purposes a prodigy, even for her times. Today we expect children to learn the basics. But back in the sixteenth century, things were different, especially for noblewomen, who were expected to make their families proud by finding a suitable husband who’d make a powerful ally. In the case of Jane Grey, being the eldest of her sisters, meant she had to meet most of society’s expectations. Having royal blood, and being related to the King through her mother, meant that she had to work harder than Katherine and Mary, and just as hard -if not more- than her bastardized cousins, Ladies, Mary and Elizabeth Tudor.

Jane Grey HBC black and white 1

But Jane Grey exceeded everyone’s expectations, especially her father whose continual indulgence made her appreciate him more than her mother who was stricter. When her thirst for knowledge became evident, she became a ward in the Parr household. Queen Dowager Kathryn Parr had recently remarried, for the fourth and last time to her true love, Sir Thomas Seymour, Baron Sudeley. The couple’s manor, Sudeley Castle, became a safe haven for many intellectual curious girls like Jane. Among them was Jane’s cousin, and Kathryn’s favorite royal stepdaughter, lady Elizabeth Tudor. Elizabeth Tudor was nearly Jane’s equal, but after she fell from grace, Jane took her place in Kathryn’s heart.

Jane lamented the Queen Dowager’s death, and after she was returned to her parents, she berated them and begged them to send her back. She wrote how unfair they were treating her. Several historians and novelists have taken this as ‘proof’ that Jane Grey’s mother was a wicked woman and her husband, an indolent fool, or her partner-in-crime who saw their daughter as nothing more than tool in their quest to gain more power. As easy as it is to turn this into a dualistic tale of good and evil, heroes and villains and so on; the truth is that her parents were neither of these things.
Lord Henry Grey, Marques of Dorset and (after the fall of Somerset) Duke of Suffolk, and Frances Brandon, were self-serving aristocrats. This is not unusual given that a family’s number one interest was in promoting their children to other courtiers in the hopes that they would marry into equally or more powerful families to further their riches. Family mattered more than everything else, and this is where religion comes into play as well because it was believed that the best way to raise successful wives and lords, was to instill the fear of god in them. As a result, Jane’s intelligence became highly by Reformers in England and abroad.

Jane Grey black and white 3

Soon after, she became one of the leading figures in the Evangelical movement. In 1552, shortly after Somerset’s execution, her family gained more prominence. Renown Protestant figures like the pastor Michael Angelo Florio whose congregation looked after Protestant exiles, praised her and held her as an example for other Protestant women to follow. He wasn’t the only one, older women like William Cecil’s wife, Mildred Cooke, thought the same. In a letter she wrote in Greek, she compared the adolescent girl to the fourth century bishop of Caesare, Basil the Great, and gave her a copy of one of his many works. Her former tutor Bullinger introduced her to the works of Theodore Bublinger who had translated the Koran -this has led some historians to believe that she might have also been taught Arabic. As her popularity among scholars grew, Jane’s self importance also grew and so did her arrogance. Her father, by this time Duke of Suffolk, together with the Marquis of Northampton (William Parr -Katherine Parr’s brother), and John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, supported the King in his reissue of the prayer book which completely outlawed the mass and introduced more radical reforms inspired by Swiss and German reformers such as Bullinger and Ulm. There were few opponents in Edward’s council to these new reforms, but among them was Archbishop Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury who had been a good friend of the “Good Duke” (Edward Seymour) and believed these reforms were too radical and too soon to be implemented. Also in this year, Henry began to make plans for his eldest daughter and heir’s betrothal. Jane was not he first bride her father in law had in mind for Guildford. Margaret Clifford, another descendant of Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon was his first choice but her father said no since Guildford was only a fourth son and in spite of his pleas and the king’s, the earl’s mind remained unchanged. As the king’s health got worse the following year, he gave his blessing to Northumberland and Suffolk to wed their four teenage offspring. In a triple marriage ceremony in May 25 1553, Jane was married to Guildford, Katherine to Lord Herbert, and Catherine Dudley to Lord Hastings. With the pieces set, it was only a matter of time before Edward’s passing led to their final move.

Sources:

  • Lisle, Leanda. Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder. The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. Public. 2013.
  • –. The Sisters who would be Queen. Harper. 2009.
  • Ives, Eric. Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery. Wiley-Blackwell. 2009.
  • Whitelock, Anna. Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen. Random House. 2010.
  • Porter, Linda. The Myth of Bloody Mary. St. Martin Press. 2008.
  • Borman, Tracy. The Private Lives of the Tudors. Grove Press. 2016.

Book Review of ‘The Most Happy’ by Helen R. Davis

Anne Boleyn helen davis 2

The Most Happy is an alternative history, in short it asks the important question of ‘what if?’ What would have happened if Anne Boleyn had not been executed and she would have had more than one child. All this and more is explored in this book.

While historical fiction seeks to fill in the gaps in the historical records and to make the story more enticing to its target audience, alternative history delves further by rewriting it. And while it may seem as the two have nothing in common, I beg to differ and I suspect you will too once you read the book.

Novelists take this genre seriously, and it wasn’t surprising to find many things from this era come alive in Davis’ book.  I remember when I read her other book, that is also alternative history, Cleopatra Unconquered and felt like I was transported to Ancient Egypt. That is the feeling I got when I read ‘The Most Happy’. From start to finish, the intrigues that history buffs are used to reading about the Tudor court, don’t stop. This book perfectly captures the dangerous time period that Anne Boleyn lived in, and how high the stakes were, not just for her, but for her enemies as well.

This was a period of great change. The Renaissance was not all that different from the medieval era, but there were many aspects of it that were still the same, one of it being the violence and fanaticism (now emboldened with the religious wars); throw in a dynasty that is not well-established and a queen whose religious affiliation is not with Rome -and is not recognized by the Vatican as such- and you have almost absolutely chaos. And I say almost because the protagonist doesn’t come off as a victim or a villain, but rather as a strong, intelligent woman who is determined to make things work.

Anne grows in her new role as Queen and mother to England’s future king. She is not afraid to take charge, or shy away from enforcing the rule of law when needed. She’s also proud, and can be vindictive but this behavior can be understood given the circumstances of her situation.

Fans of Tudor History and Historical fiction who are worried with how the iconic Tudor queen is portrayed in the media will love this novel. This is the one that has come the closest to capturing Anne Boleyn’s spirit in the past decade without the author shying away from her flaws or sugar-coating the complexities of this period. If this is your first time trying alternative history, you won’t be disappointed.

Dorne and Burgundy: Unbent, unbound, unbroken and hell bent on revenge

Margaret of York Ellaria Doran
Revenge is a dish best served cold, but for some people, it sets them off on a more dangerous path where they end up deceiving themselves to justify their actions. That is how I perceive Ellaria/Doran’s actions in the TV show, books and their historical counterpart, Margaret of York.
Dorne has similarities with other influential kingdoms in Western Europe from the middle ages and early modern era, but for the current events in game of thrones/ a song of ice and fire, it has taken on the role of Burgundy during the early Tudor era.
Margaret of York couldn’t accept her brother died in battle. He gambled, he lost and -I am sorry for Oberyn fans (I love him too but let’s be fair)- the same is said for the Red Viper.
Oberyn’s death was horrible, but he lost fair and square. Sorry for his widow (or lover, whatever you want to call her) and his daughters, but that’s life, especially in game of thrones.
But Ellaria can’t come to terms with it and what does she do? She goes down on a dangerous path where she is willing to make alliances with former enemies (the Tyrells and the Martells have always hated each other) and support people she doesn’t fully trust just so she can see the Lannisters burn.
She is determined to have her revenge through any means necessary -even if it means killing her family.
Like Game of Thrones’ Ellaria, Margaret was a ruthless woman. This is a strong comparison to Margaret of York, Duchess Dowager of Burgundy who became in charge of the duchy after her husband died and her stepdaughter became the new ruler. Mary of Burgundy grew very close to her stepmother and recognized her intellect early on -like her father. She trusted her stepmother to take care of business, doing her best to learn from her and as time went on, the two ensured the duchy’s independence and protection from France.
Though she never killed anyone, she did finance many plots led by Yorkist sympathizers to dethrone Henry VII, even though he was married to her niece and already had children with her.

Margaret had seen the ascension of her dynasty and heard of its fall. Like most in her family, she had high hopes for the future, she took Richard III’s death pretty heard. It didn’t matter if the people claiming to be her nephews were real or not, all that mattered was that Henry was out of that throne and if possible, his family pushed to the end of the food chain.

We can only imagine what would’ve become of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York’s offspring, if the last pretender, Perkin Warbeck, had succeeded. Would Margaret have gone along, as well as her supporters, that he was Richard of Shrewsbury for long before it came to bite her in the ass? Would she have disposed of him (not necessarily kill him but cast him aside after she ‘discovered’ the truth and pulled ‘I didn’t know I had been deceived so I have to do what is right and support someone else who descends from Richard, Duke of York to take on the mantle of King’)? It is possible that she would have because a woman as cunning and meticulous as Margaret would have wanted to cover all her bases. There were others supporting these pretenders who were also descendants of the Duke of York via her older sisters. The throne would have likely passed on to them.
But again, what about Henry and Elizabeth’s children? Would they have gone on to suffer a similar fate like the Princes in the tower? Or would they have been placed under protective custody like their cousin, the Earl of Warwick, during their father’s reign?
It is possible that the latter would come true for the boys while the girls would be raised in separate households with their paternal relatives.

Ellaria stabs Doran

In the show, Ellaria is murderous and not the careful planner that Doran is since Doran has become useless. She kills Doran, rules in her stepdaughters and daughters’ names, and sets the former to do her dirty work against her nephew, Prince Trystanne. While Margaret of York never went this far, she was willing to act against her own family to restore the Yorkist dynasty on the throne. It didn’t matter that Henry VII had married her niece or that they had children. She wanted him gone and supported an impostor and pretender to achieve her means. Both attempts failed but she never stopped plotting against him until her nobles basically went ‘enough is enough’ and she realized she had a good run acting as the all powerful mastermind but her time was up and if she continued to act like this, she was going to lose everything so she backed down.
Perkin confessed that he wasn’t the youngest prince in the tower, and later he and Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick (whom the first rebellion Margaret supported, where Lambert Simnel claimed to be him) were sentenced to die. Both were hung and that was that.

“Elia Martell, raped and murdered and you did nothing. Oberyn Martell and you did nothing. You are not a Dornish man. You are not a Prince … Weak men will never rule Dorne again.” -Ellaria to Prince Doran Martell, ruler of Dorne after she stabs him.

Clearly, the show has taken many liberties but the storyline with Dorne remains the same, except that instead of supporting Young Griff (since they’ve written him out of the show), they are supporting Dany and whoever else that shares their agenda. Like Margaret of York, as long as Ellaria calls the shots, Dorne will continue to plot against the throne until someone comes and says enough is enough making her back down or someone else to take her place. As for the books, if Young Griff doesn’t win, it will be the end of Dorne. Not now or in a few years, but that principality’s days are numbered. It is sad since Dorne has many good tales of warrior princes and princesses, and conniving politicians who bested the Targaryens, not one but many times and even killed a dragon! But their last rulers’ gamble has not paid off.

Princess Arianne Martell
Fan rendition of Princess Arianne Martell, firstborn and heir of Prince Doran.

Prine Doran tells Arianne in a sorrowful voice that he never hated her but wishes she would be cunning like him and knew how to win the people over like Ellaria with her smile and her cousin Tyene with her fake sweetness and apparent religious devotion. His tone changes as he remembers his siblings and tells Arianne that his first plan to put Viserys on the throne failed, and had it not, she would have been his Queen and manipulated events around her, so their final champion would have become King and restored Dorne to its former glory.

Perkin_Warbeck
Perkin Warbeck, a man who acted, walked and talked like a prince. Surely he must’ve been what he claimed? One of the lost princes in the tower, right? Not quite.

Throughout the entire series, it is not clear whether the Martells truly believe that Aegon, the supposed prince who escaped the Lannister and Baratheon purge is the real deal or he’s fake. Given that Martin has been inspired by medieval and early modern history, it’s safe to say that his Aegon is his version of Perkin Warbeck which like the real one, is often alluded to being fake.

Young Griff
Young Griff, the alias that Aegon Targaryen goes by to avoid arousing suspicion. He acts, walks and talks like a Prince so he must be a Prince, right? Unless we remember Dany’s vision about the mummer’s dragon and how suspicious his story sounds.

In ‘A Clash of Kings’, when Daenerys goes into the house of the undying she is given a warning through her visions and before that by the Quaithe, who tell her that she will be betrayed three times, and she will be approached by cunning men. She should not trust either of them, and one of the men she is warned against is Varys and his pretender. She sees a vision of the mummer’s dragon, a young man acclaimed by the people whose strings are being pulled by a deceptive figure.
Martin has created his own version of Perkin Warbeck and just like his historical counterpart, no intelligent person believes his BS.
Aegon was rescued from the Mountain by some loyal servant who exchanged him with a servant’s baby (which nobody happened to notice) and has been in hiding all these years. And then, when the world is going to hell, he comes out of hiding to reclaim the throne and set things right.

Yeah … not buying it.

 

The first person to point this out is Tyrion Lannister who realizes who he is but doesn’t believe Young Griff (fake Aegon’s alias) story but knows that he does. Unlike Perkin though, Young Griff was raised from birth to be the perfect prince. He was taught how to sing and dance, act like a prince and that kingship was a responsibility and not a right. Naturally the poor young man believes what he has been fed all these years.

Similarly, Perkin was taught everything from philosophy, etiquette, and given new clothes that deceived many people and made them believe that he was one of the lost princes in the tower, youngest son of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, and rightful king of England. But if there is one thing that history has taught us, is that things seldom go as planned.

Doran is eager to see his ‘nephew’ on the throne, but the last book gave clues that he might not be entirely sold on the idea that he is his nephew. It could be that like Margaret of York, he and Ellaria want to see their enemies suffer so badly, that they don’t care about who they are supporting anymore.

Meg of York GOT Ellaria

My advice to Doran and Ellaria is to hold on to their seats and be prepared to be disappointed (again) because not only did the Perkin Warbeck fiasco fail, it forced Margaret to withdraw her support and forget about the whole shameful ordeal lest she wanted to lose her hold over the duchy and it strengthened the Tudor Dynasty.
This is lamentable because Dorne has a rich history and I for one would love to see some of it being shown in the upcoming spin-offs, but as for now, it seems that their days are numbered. If Aegon doesn’t get to be King, then Dorne will lose whatever independence it has left.  Its customs, riches, and authority will wither away in time until it becomes one of many other realms ruled by the Crown. If Ellaria has some common sense left, she will stop plotting now and tend to make Dorne, to make her principality great again before one of Oberyn’s daughters inherits a crippled state.

Sources:

  • Martin, George R.R. A Song of Ice and Fire (1-5). Bantman. 2012.
  • Martin, George, et. al. World of Ice and Fire: The Untold History of Westeros. Bantam. 2014.
  • Henry VIII: Mind of a Tyrant presented by David Starkey, directed by David Sington, BBC, 2009.
  • Lisle, Leanda. Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder. The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. Public. 2013.
  • Chrimes, S.B. Henry VII. Yale University Press. 1999.
  • Jones, Dan. The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors. Penguin. 2014.
  • Weiss, Daniel Brett and Benioff, David, creators. Game of Thrones. HBO. 2011-?
  • Gristwood, Sarah. Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses. Harper Collins. 2012.

Book Review: Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen by Samantha Wilcoxson

Plantagenet Princess Tudor Queen collage with real ones

Looking for a good historical fiction to read that is true to Elizabeth of York and the tumultuous era she lived in? Look no further, the Plantagenet Princess is all this and more!

It is very hard to find a good historical fiction that is appreciate of Elizabeth of York, without downplaying on her strengths or ignoring her weaknesses.

Many novelists think it’s better to alter their female subjects, the ones who aren’t deemed “interesting” or “strong” in order to sell more books, by marketing them as progressive or ahead of their times.

This wouldn’t be a problem if novelists were honest with their audience but as it happens, they are not. So you can imagine my sigh of relief when I read this book and found an author who honored Elizabeth by staying as true as possible to her silent -yet strong- demeanor.

There is strength in silence and that is something that Samantha Wilcoxson emphasized on every chapter where Elizabeth comes out as an observant, proud, and pragmatic young woman who is aware of her importance, and is determined to be treated with the respect she rightly deserves.

As the firstborn of Elizabeth Woodville and Edwar  IV, Elizabeth was well aware of her value. To quote from Susan Higginbotham in her biography on Elizabeth’s maternal family: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that an unattached young king must be in search of a wife.”
And a man like Henry who’s claim to the throne was more tenuous than Elizabeth’s father, he needed a good marriage to keep himself in power.

Elizabeth is a caring young woman who is witty and at times outspoken, someone who has learned from her relatives’ mistake, has had to endure loss, but never feels sorry about herself. Her strength lies in knowing who to trust, her religious devotion and faith in herself. Sounds trite, but this is as close as you will get to time travel and meeting the real Elizabeth in historical fiction. The book is beautifully written, highly descriptive and character driven, with Elizabeth being not the only character that shines from this tale, but those are there with her at the end of her journey.

If you are a history buff who’s read plenty on the wars of the roses, and is fascinated by Elizabeth of York’s story, this is the book for you. If you are new to this era but wish to know more about the story behind the White Princess, this is the book for you too. Well researched, masterfully written, highly descriptive, Plantagenet Princess: Tudor Queen brings back the wars of the roses and the early Tudor era back to life, and gives justice to a figure who’s been easily discredited, altered, and her queenship dismissed.

They say that the good you do won’t do you any good. Sometimes this is true, but for a woman who had seen many kings deposed, murdered and killed in battle, and queens’ reputations dragged through the mud, sweetness and piety became her greatest strengths and her fertility a shield against anyone who’d think twice about her harming the new Tudor Dynasty.
Experiences shape us, and they certainly shaped Elizabeth but as I’ve previously pointed out, it is often our willingness to get back up despite how many times we’ve been brought down that makes all the difference. And Elizabeth never gave up. Although her weapons were invisible they were no less effective and as it happened, they guaranteed her success. She went down in history as one of the most successful English consorts, and gained a cult-like status.

Alliances & Marriage Treaty: Charles V’s visit to England (1522), Part II

Henry VIII Charles V KOA Mary Charles visit to England

On the 11th of June Charles and Henry VIII traveled to Windsor Castle. They stayed there for nine nights until they departed on the 21st, setting for Farnham.

The first four days on Windsor were uneventful. On the 16th things became more interesting when the two monarchs discussed the terms of the treaty between Spain, the Holy Roman Empire and England. Although this meeting was merely a formality since the treaty was published that same day.

Mary Tudor and Charles V portraits
Mary Tudor as a child wearing a brooch/insignia that says Emperor, symbolizing her betrothal to Charles (pictured on the right).

On the 19th, Henry and Charles got straight to business, and discussed another matter and signed another treaty.

“This one was to remain secret” Patrick William wrote in his biography on Katharine of Aragon, “for it committed them to the marriage of Charles to Princess Mary within eight years.”

In her biography on Mary I, Linda Porter explains that this marriage treaty stipulated that in the event that Katharine and Henry had no sons by the time this marriage came to be, the couple’s eldest son would inherit Henry VIII’s crowns, thus becoming King of England, lord of Ireland and King of France (in theory). In turn their second son, or daughter (if they couldn’t have any more sons) would inherit Spain and selected territories Charles ruled over.
Thirdly, since Mary and Charles were related in the second degree of affinity, the two monarchs would ask the pope for a special dispensation. And lastly, the matter of her dowry was settled and Charles promised that he would stay true to his betrothed and honor every part of the treaty.

Thomas Wolsey
Cardinal and Archbishop of York, Thomas Wolsey, Henry VIII’s right hand man at the time Charles’ visited England.

On the 20th, Cardinal and Archbishop of York, Thomas Wolsey, convened a legatine court and asked the two monarchs to reaffirm their agreements with one another over the marriage treaty. The event had many important witnesses, among them Henry, Count of Nassau, Imperial Chancellor Gattinara, Pedro Ruiz de la Mota, Bishop of Palancia, Thomas Ruthall, Bishop of Durham, the Earls of Shrewsbury and Worcester, George Talbot and  Charles Percy, Cuthbert Tunstall, the Bishop of  London, and Sir Thomas Boleyn.

There is no need for spoilers beyond this point because we all know how this turned out. Henry VIII didn’t want to pay the full dowry after he felt betrayed by Charles V during their joint enterprise against France, and Charles V used this excuse to break the marriage treaty and marry his other first cousin, someone whom he didn’t have to wait for her to grow up because they were almost the same age, the Portuguese Infanta, Isabel of House Avis.

We do not know how Mary felt. Given that she was a child at the time the marriage broke, and her father felt betrayed yet again by her maternal family, she probably didn’t brood too much of it (if she did at all) and instead focused on her studies. Her mother would have been another case entirely as Katharine would have wanted both nations to be tied together against what she perceived to be their natural enemy, France. Had things gone differently, Mary’s situation would have been like Matilda, although probably less bellicose. As it happened, Mary would go on to be betrothed to countless more kings and princes and then when she was a bastard, minor royals in an effort to cement an alliance, but due to her gender, her lineage and her religious affiliation nothing would come out of it.

In the meantime, both parties were happy celebrating their alliance and the future marriage between Charles and Mary. Just as his daughter had previously showed off her artistic talents to their Spanish guests, Henry VIII did the same when he wrote to Charles an elaborate letter where he expressed deep gratitude for his arrival, and the amicability he’d showed to his ministers, including Cardinal Wolsey.

Sources:

  • Porter, Linda. The Myth of Bloody Mary. St. Martin Press. 2008.
  • Whitelock, Anna. Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen. Random House. 2010.
  • Williams, Patrick. Katharine of Aragon: The Tragic Story of Henry VIII’s First Unfortunate Wife. Amberley. 2013.
  • Fox, Julia. Sister Queens: The Noble Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of  Castile. Ballantine Books. 2012.
  • Weir, Alison. Henry VIII: The King and his Court. Ballantine Books. 2001.

 

Dead Men tell no Tales: The black legend of Henry VIII

It is easy to see why people have a hard time differentiating from the jolly old monarch, bluff king Hal/good king Hall, or the murderous, lecherous psychopath that came centuries later, to the real Henry VIII, who was as complex as everyone else during this era.
I have been guilty of viewing him through a twenty first century lens.
This is not going to be some excuse-making post about him, Henry VIII did a lot of things that were atrocious but when you want to have a serious discussion about him, you have to look at his reign in the proper context and the proper context is looking at it from a 16th century standpoint.
Henry VIII was no saint but neither was he a mustache-twirling villain, what he was, was a Humanist Prince whom everyone started to adore, ignoring the people he executed because they happened to be people they hated (Empson and Dudley) until one day he overstepped his boundaries, broke away from the church, threatened the livelihood of farmers and traders who relied on the monastic system that people went ‘okay this is going too far.’ The fat that he also wanted to annul his marriage to his wife of many years who was beloved by the English people, also played a part in people rising up against him. But even as they rebelled, they always made sure to point out that it wasn’t against him directly but their ministers.

The Forgotten Monarch:

Henry VIII young and old
Henry VIII as a young man (left) and later in his reign (right).

It is easy to see why Henry VIII is seen as a villain. From a twenty-first century standpoint he does seem amoral, but we forget that the past is a different country and the Tudor era can’t easily be divided into good and evil. History is not a morality tale and if we want to have a serious discussion about the infamous monarch, we have to get to the heart of the story and see how the black legend of lecherous, murdering bluff king hall came to be.

 In the following paragraph from The Wives of Henry VIII, Antonia Fraser says the following about Henry regarding the judicial arrest and later murder of Anne Boleyn:

“It is true that the workings of the King’s conscience followed the dictates of his heart amazingly conveniently. But this did not mean that he did not have a conscience. On the contrary, it was a likely and important part of his nature. The coincidence between passion and conscience was more apparent to outsiders than it was to him, a useful capacity for her self deception being another of his attributes … This is not to absolve Henry VIII of guilt concerning his second wife’s destruction, let alone the deaths of the innocent courtiers, some of them his close friends. On a rational level, the sovereign who agreed on 24 April to sign the commission of investigation into unknown treasonable conspiracies must have had a fair idea of what was going on. And even if that signing could be regarded as a purely routine administrative matter, the King went on a few days later to sign the documents necessary for summoning parliament … It is merely to observe that Henry VIII found it easy enough to absolve himself.”

Fraser and several other historians have pointed out, Henry wasn’t a dastardly being.

Deep down, to quote historian Robert Hutchinson, “he believed that what he wanted was what God wanted.” And it will be easy to point out his hypocrisy, but before doing that, his religiosity must be addressed.

“Most people have seen the famous painting of the bloated, middle-aged King, standing with his fists anchored pugnaciously to his hips, wearing sumptuous cloths covered in embroidery and jewels. The force of his personality can still be felt, even more a two-dimensional depiction in oil … His appearance thoroughly matches his reputation as a brutal thug who murdered women when he tired of them … Henry is popularly remembered as a fat, covetous, and womanizing lout, but this image is less than half the story.  The aged King, with his cruel disdain for others and his harsh authoritarianism, is very different from his younger self.  When Henry ascended to the throne, he strove to bring harmony and chivalry to his court; he was not to contentious and brutal man he was to become …  As a young man, Henry was a handsome, genial, and a rational ruler. The youthful King was described, in the private letters of more than one foreign ambassador or other court contemporary, as having incredible physical beauty. His hair was red, he had very fair skin, and his face was as lovely as that of “a pretty woman” (Scarisbrick, 1970:13) … In addition to his physical accomplishments, the King had a brilliant mind. Henry’s intellect impressed many of the most famous thinkers of his day.”

In her book, Blood Will Tell, medical historian Kyra Cornelius Kramer illustrates Henry’s youth and background before she talks about the possible illnesses that affected him.
She also spends a good deal dispelling myths surrounding Henry, starting with the notion that he was a lecher whose mood changes were the result of venereal diseases from countless sex partners.

“Had it been suspected that Henry had syphilis, word of his condition would doubtlessly have circulated in European courts. The fact that he was the English monarch would not have stopped the doctors from reporting his disease, any more than it stopped royal physicians from making the King of France’s condition common knowledge.”

In her book, Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII, women’s historian Amy Licence, contests this notion, saying that there might be a bit of truth in legends, although she also maintains that in comparison to other kings, Henry was far more discreet and a prude.

Young Henry: The Man that Time Forgot

Henry VIII young
Henry VIII by the Venetian Ambassador who was impressed with the young King’s physique and pursuit of knowledge: “The handsomest potentate Ii ever set eyes on; above the usual height, with n extremely fine call to his leg, his complexion very fair and bright, with auburn hair combed straight and short, in the French fashion, and a round face so very beautiful, that it would become a pretty woman.”

Henry VIII grew up in a strict environment. It was all fun and games until his brother died and his father, worrying about his last remaining male heir, was forced to do some adjustments to his schooling and outdoor activities. Basically, he wasn’t allowed to go out much. His father enjoyed playing cards, joking with friends when he was abroad and watching jousting tournaments. Naturally, his son wanted to do all that and more but his father didn’t let him. Henry was allowed to have friends but he wasn’t allowed to engage in any sort of sports that might hurt him.
In the twelfth century, Louis VI of the Capetian Dynasty, aka Louis “the Fat”, of France lost his eldest son due to horse riding. And jousting was far more dangerous, especially for a young boy, so that was out of the question.

Courtiers thought that Henry would grow up to be someone they could easily control but he surprised them when he told them he’d choose his bride, concocting a sentimental lie how it was what his father asked of him before he died. Rescuing Katharine of Aragon from near penury, Henry VIII saw himself as Sir Lancelot to her Guinevere. At times the two engaged in elaborate masques where they would each play different roles, with Katharine as the damsel in distress and Henry as her knight in shining armor. In her documentary series, the Secrets of the Six Wives (Six Wives in the UK), Lucy Worsley spent the first half hour of the first episode showing how deeply in love Henry and Katharine were and that they were equal in looks, stubbornness, and their educational backgrounds.

I am not going to spend to be discussing Katharine’s background, I have done that already in other posts which I’ve linked down below. I will say that when it comes to Henry, his background is often ignored to the point that all people can think of -when they think of Henry- is this disgusting gluttonous lecherous idiot. That was not always the case and this perception is a perfect example of how the shifting religious landscape affected people’s views on a man who was once hailed by the Venetian ambassador as the true embodiment of Humanist principle.

The origins of the Black Legend & the truth about his childhood

In his biography on Henry VIII, the late David Loades had this to say on the Good King Hal:

Pro … defensione was the first round in the creation of that ‘black legend’ of Henry VIII which thereafter dominated all those records of English events which emanated either from Catholic Europe or from the English Catholic community. One of the most vitriolic was Nicholas Sander’s De origine ac progressu schismaticis Anglicani published at Cologne in 1585, which attributed Henry’s actions in the 1530s entirely to unbridled lust, both for Anne Boleyn and also for the wealth of the Church. This was a line also taken by Robert Parsons in his treatise of three conversions … which was issued at St Omer in 1603. Modern historians in the Catholic tradition have been far more judicious, not only because polemic no longer serves a useful purpose, but because the debate has broadened to embrace the King’s whole style of government. Cardinal Gasquet in 1888, while not abandoning the lust and greed interpretation, was more concerned to set the events in context and to admit that there might have been some justification for the King’s extreme reactions. In the twentieth century Philip Hughes, while pointing out that Henry had a tendency to alter the law to suit his own convenience, also proposed that there was much amiss with the late medieval Church, and particularly the monasteries, which invited the King’s intervention. This concession has been repudiated by more recent scholars, notably Jack Scarisbrick and Eamon Duffy, who have argued that the Church was in rude health and that Henry’s success was primarily the result of his exercise of crude force. It was by executing dissenters on both sides of the confessional divide that the King enforced his will, using fear and intimidation as his principal weapons. Meanwhile, for historians of a Protestant persuasion the reformation was a change waiting to happen. Without denying the importance of the King’s actions, they proposed a model of a Church corrupted from within by superstition and idolatry, a tottering edifice awaiting a decisive push. Unfortunately Henry’s push had been anything but decisive, as they admitted.
John Foxe, standing at the head of his tradition, was frankly puzzled by Henry, who seemed to blow both hot and cold on the reformers -often at the same time.”

David Loades’ assessment on the second Tudor monarch, is probably the fairest.

EOY and Henry VIII signatures
“Henry’s handwriting has always been a bit of a mystery. The ‘Y’s with that little back loop. The ‘R’s look much like ‘z’ in modern handwriting and the ‘H’s are quite unlike the handwriting of Henry’s known teachers. On the other hand, it is rather like this.’ David Starkey motions to show a book listing other primary sources that contains a letter written by none other than Henry’s mother, Elizabeth of York. ‘And this is one of the very few surviving specimens of the handwriting of Henry’s mother. ‘This book is mine. Elizabeth, the King’s daughter.’ It says. It is only eight words and thirty-nine letters. And yet it is characteristic enough in weight, rhythm and letter forms to prove conclusive (I think) that Elizabeth herself was the first teacher of her daughters and her second son, Henry. It’s a charming picture, Henry the little prince and a loving family.” He described this as unusual “for sixteenth century monarchs.” And it certainly is but I think that has to do with the simple fact that he was the second son, the “spare”. Given that Arthur was destined to be King and going to receive a top-notch education, Elizabeth of York probably felt her other children, including Henry, could be more carefree. It must have felt terrible for the young boy when he lost his mother and his father (with good reason) became paranoid. Henry VII felt he had to protect him at all cost and until his father died, there was little indication of what Henry wanted. What Henry VII said, his son did. When he became King, he realized the enormous power that he had and how quickly he could win the people over by showing them that he was the opposite of his father. Like his mother, he was amicable, surrounding himself with people of low and high stature. And like his maternal grandfather, he was eager to be loved.

In his documentary on Henry VIII, as well as in his biography on him, David Starkey stated that Henry had a deep connection with his mother. To prove his point, he showed viewers to copies, one of his mother and the other of Henry. The handwriting is similar and given that he was the spare, it makes sense why he and Elizabeth became close. Further proof of this lies in Henry’s words. He said to one of his colleagues that his mother’s death was one of the hardest moments of his life, and something he had never gotten over with.

But Henry’s idyllic childhood didn’t last. As previously stated, it ended when his brother died and his father became overprotective of him. In her recent biography on the Tudors, The Private Lives of the Tudors, Tracy Borman says that Henry VIII’s descent into madness can be traced back to his childhood. By the time he became King, he had grown into a “highly strung, impulsive and vain young man with a terrifying and unpredictable temper. Those who served him would soon learn how swiftly his favour could be lost.” She is referring to Empson and Dudley, his father’s dreaded tax-collectors whom he put in prison as soon as he came to the throne and less than a year later, had them executed. Some historians take this as proof that Henry was bloodthirsty from the beginning and people only turned against him when he attacked their privilege and their beloved church.

Henry VIII: The Politician & Trying to Solve the Puzzle

Henry VIII full body red and grey classic portrait
An older Henry VIII at the end of his reign. By this time, he had become obese, the ulcer in his leg had worsened and it is possible he was suffering from other illnesses. His over-eating and desire for glory, as well as his position as head of his church, wishing to secure his legacy, didn’t help. Yet, aware of the power of words and images, he made sure that he’d become immortal through them, especially with the latter. His pose is perfect and can be seen in other paintings where his expansive clothes help cover up his weight and give the impression that he is all-powerful. Portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger.

Certainly, Henry VIII was a good masker, but what monarch wasn’t a good liar. In his infamous book, The Prince, Machiavelli posed the question if it is better for a prince to be loved or feared. Machiavelli, like Henry VIII, gets taken out of context. He didn’t favor the monarchy and his other text on a Republican government better illustrates where he stood politically. Nevertheless, eager to win back the favor his masters, The Prince was a step-by-step manual on how to be an effective ruler. Machiavelli held that it was better for a monarch to be feared -since a good ruler had to be aware that he could never please everyone. But relying on fear alone, just as on love, didn’t work because eventually the people would rise up in anger and everything the ruler built -whether good or bad- could go down the drain. Therefore, he added another element to the equation: respect. Winning the people over was a good technique and for that a ruler had to be affable and seen as just -even when he wasn’t.
Henry was good at this.  And not just because he was an evil mastermind who relished in people’s suffering but because he truly believed that what he was doing, was in everyone’s best interest.

Call it delusion, or self-con, but that is how Henry’s mind worked -and how most monarchs’ minds worked, especially the ones the ones that are widely revered.

Of course, as Henry VIII’s behavior became erratic as he got older. If Kyra’s theory that he suffered from Kell Blood Positive syndrome, as well as Suzannah Lipscomb in her book, 1536, where she said that the fall from his joust in that year caused him head trauma that altered his personality, are true then this along with his leg ulcer, and his urgency to father another male heir to secure the Tudor Dynasty, can explain this.

Even though victors get to rewrite history -and Henry did rewrite many things about his reign- sometimes writers decide that the truth is not interesting enough and they spice things up. This is what has happened to Henry. Amidst the myths and legends, the real one gets pushed into the background in favor of a caricature.
It is true, dead men tell no tales, but facts do and even when firsthand accounts are bias, they paint a clearer picture of who this man was and what fueled his actions. While the puzzle will never be solve, the deeper we dig, the closer we come to discovering who the real Henry VIII was.

Sources:

  • Borman, Tracy. The Private Lives of the Tudors: Uncovering the Secrets of England’s Greatest Dynasty. Hodder & Stoughton. 2016.
  • Kramer, Kyra Cornelius. Blood Will Tell: A Medical Explanation of the Tyranny of Henry VIII. Ash Wood Press. 2012.
  • Henry VIII: Mind of a Tyrant presented by David Starkey, directed by David Sington, BBC, 2009.
  • Loades, David. Henry VIII. 2011.
  • “Divorced.” Six Wives with Lucy Worsley, written by Chloe Moss, directed by Russell England, BBC, 2016.
  • Katharine of Aragon’s education
  • Katherine and Henry VIII’s marriage & their joint coronation