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.
While The White Queen has taken many liberties and has been advertised as an accurate portrayal of fifteenth century courts, it has done a good job bringing attention to Margaret’s story –something that other shows have failed to do. The Tudors and Wolf Hall tried but were unsuccessful. The first only focused on a minor part of her later story and the latter depicted her as an active conspirator, making it seem as if she deserved her later fate.
There is a scene where she is with her brother and he is suddenly being taken away by Henry VII’s solders. The scene is absolutely heart-wrenching and it was done in such a way that you really feel for the poor girl.
Margaret is one of the most tragic figures of the wars of the roses and the Tudor era. She survived her father’s downfall and afterwards the fall of the fall of the York dynasty. The same cannot be said for her little brother, Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick. After Richard III usurped the throne, the throne should have passed to him instead but due to their father having been executed as a traitor, he and Margaret were excluded from the line of succession.
Following Richard III’s defeat at the battle of Bosworth, Henry began the proceedings to overturn parliament’s ruling regarding his future bride and her remaining royal siblings. Richard III’s claim rested on the invalidity of Elizabeth and her sisters, which rested on the argument that Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV were never truly married because he had previously been pre-contracted to another noblewoman. Shaky as it may seem, given that the two people involved were dead and the Woodvilles were unpopular among many aristocrats, this stuck. But now that he was gone, it was time for Henry to validate his own claim and the only way he was going to do that was by saying it stemmed by right of conquest, his mother’s Lancastrian ancestry, and his union with Elizabeth.
While he didn’t marry Margaret’s cousin right away, he was quick to secure the last legitimate male Plantagenet. At only ten years old, Edward was moved to the Tower of London where he lasted until 1499. By that time he was described as simple and for lack of another better word, insane. He was easily tricked into conspiring with the pretender, Perkin Warbeck, and before long the two were charged with treason and hung.
Margaret Pole was twenty four at the time, having been born two years before him. We do not know what was going through Margaret’s head at the time, but given everything she suffered, we can only imagine that it must have been a terrible –but not so unusual- ordeal for her.
In The White Queen, there is a scene where she is with her husband, shortly after the two are married and she tells him that rejects her last name ‘Plantagenet’ because it has brought her nothing but sadness. Philippa Gregory’s last book in the cousins’ war series is titled The King’s Curse and it deals with events from the first two Tudor monarchs’ reigns from Margaret’s point of view. For those of you who haven’t read the book, I recommend it. It has some memorable scenes, some that were very touching and others that seemed repetitive. While it focuses on Melusina’s curse, an invention of Philippa Gregory to account for Prince Arthur and many other Tudor princes’ deaths, the book’s title can also be seen as an apt description for Margaret, a woman whose life must have seemed like a curse.
A portrait by an unknown artist that has been identified as Margaret Pole shows that she never forgot about her roots and personal tragedies. She wears a bracelet with a butt malmsey hanging from it, a clear reference to her father who was executed during her uncle, Edward IV’s reign, for treason.
The eldest daughter of George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence and Isabel Neville, eldest daughter of Richard Neville “the Kingmaker”, Earl of Warwick and Salisbury among other titles, and Anne Beauchamp; sought to survive by seeking favor with the royal family, especially the future queen of England, the Spanish Infanta, Katherine of Aragon.
It was this friendship that earned her the title of Countess of Salisbury. This was a big deal since not many women were title holders in their own right. As suo jure, Margaret became one of the richest landowners and influential courtiers in England. She also became Princess Mary, Katherine and Henry VIII’s only surviving child, governess and the two forged a strong friendship that would last a lifetime.
But not all was well in paradise. In spite of her friendship with the Queen, and the Queen’s patronage of Humanists and popularity with the people, her influence with the King was waning and following her last miscarriage, Henry’s eye began to wander again and it wasn’t only before it was set on her lady-in-waiting and former mistress’ sister, Anne Boleyn. After his marriage to Katherine was annulled, his daughter was bastardized and his union with Anne as well as her pregnancy became public, Margaret’s life was turned upside down. She chose to stay loyal to her best friend and former charge and unfortunately, this along with her royal blood and her son Reginald’s outburst against the King, became her undoing.
A book that I highly recommend that gives a hauntingly beautiful description of Margaret Pole’s ordeals is Dan Jones’ Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors. Here is a small snippet from it:
“At seven o’clock in the morning on Friday, May 27, 1541, within the precincts of the Tower of London, an old woman walked out into the light of a spring day. Her name was Margaret Pole. By birth, blood and lineage she was one of the noblest women in England … Margaret’s life had long been exciting. For twenty-five years she had been the countess of Salisbury, one of only two women of her time to have held a peerage in her own right. She had until recently been one of the five wealthiest aristocrats of her generation, with lands in seventeen different counties. Now, at sixty-seven –ancient by Tudor standards- she appeared so advanced in age that intelligent observers took her to be eighty or ninety. Like many inhabitants of the Tower of London, Margaret Pole was a prisoner. Two years previously she had been stripped of her lands and titles by an act of parliament which accused her of having “committed and perpetrated diverse and sundry other detestable and abominable treasons” against her cousin, King Henry VIII. What these treasons were was never fully evinced, because in truth Margaret’s offenses against the crown were more general than particular … As she walked out into the cool morning air, Margaret Pole could therefore have reflected that, although she was due to beheaded that morning, she would at least die wearing new shoes.” ~Dan Jones, The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors
The Imperial Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys who’d become very attached to the late Queen, Katherine of Aragon and her daughter, the lady Mary, wrote that Margaret was confused about her sentence. She wasn’t sure what her crime was, or how was it possible that she was easily convicted when there was hardly any evidence of an alleged treason. During these hard times, Henry VIII’s queen, teenager Kitty Howard and ironically Anne Boleyn’s cousin, sought to make her stay at the tower more comfortable by appealing on her behalf to her husband and sending her tailor so he could take her measurements and Kitty could order new clothes for the Countess. She also convinced Henry to send her new shoes. But in the end, nothing could save her from the same inescapable faith of her father and brother.
“At first when the sentence of death was made known to her; she found the thing very strange, not knowing of what crime she was accused, nor what she had been sentenced; but at last, perceiving that there was no remedy; and that die she must … walked towards the midst of space from the Tower, where there was no scaffold erected nor anything except a small block. Arrived there, after commending her soul to her Creator, she asked those present to pray for the King, the Queen, the Prince and the Princess, to all of whom she wished to be particularly commended, and more especially to the latter, whose godmother she had been. She sent her blessings to her, and begged also for hers …”
Chapuys added after her bloody execution had been carried out, that he wished that “God in his high grace pardon her soul”. Her execution was carried out by an inexperienced and rough youth who hacked her to pieces. An apocryphal account has her running away from her executioner, pleading for help only for him to chase her down and butcher her. Margaret had no reason to run away. Her speech is an indicator that she was ready to die and like so many present, she had no idea that her fate would be so gruesome. Like almost every other secondary source, especially one written centuries later, it should not be taken seriously.
If you want to read a full length-biography of her, I recommend the one by Susan Higginbotham who has also written one on the Woodvilles and plenty of historical fiction. Her book really brings to light the woman, the courtier, the mother and most of all, the survivor. I highly recommend it.
Like Anne Boleyn and so many others, sensing the end, Margaret Pole began to contemplate her own mortality and when she finally made peace with her fate, it is believed that she etched this poem on the stone walls of her cell:
“For traitors on the block should die; I am no traitor, no, not I! My faithfulness stands fast and so, Towards the block I shall not go! Nor make one step, as you shall see; Christ in Thy Mercy, save Thou me!”
It is a sad end for a woman who had prided herself in being a survivor for most of her life. Two years before, her son and his alleged co-conspirators were executed. It must have been a terrible experience for her and at one point she must have thought she was cursed or that she would never be free of family tragedy. As previously stated, Margaret had lost her mother in childbirth, her father was found guilty of treason and executed by being drowned in a butt of malmsey and to top it all off, after Henry VII became King, her little brother was moved to the tower of London and fourteen years later executed. Margaret must have felt like she had avoided such fates by currying favor with the monarchy through the Spanish Princess, Katherine of Aragon but after Henry split from Rome,and Reginald’s words against him, Margaret’s family once again became a target and the rest as they say … is history. She begins her journey in The White Princess as a young woman who has no choice but to follow those in power and curry favor with them to stay alive and as a result, she becomes the most interesting and complex character in the show.
Ridgway, Claire. “The Execution of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury.” The Anne Boleyn Files, 17 May, 2010, https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/the-execution-of-margaret-pole-countess-of-salisbury/5592/
Gregory, Philippa. The White Princess. Touchstone. 2013.
—. The King’s Curse. Touchstone. 2015.
Jones, Dan. The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors. Penguin. 2014.
Higginbotham, Susan. Margaret Pole: The Countess in the Tower. Amberly. 2016.
Mackay, Lauren. Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the writings of the Spanish Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys. Amberly. 2014.
There is great book by Claire Ridgway that I recommend if you are new to the Tudor era or just new to some of the diseases that were plaguing the population during that time. The sweating sickness is by far one of the greatest mysteries of the Tudor era because no one knows exactly how it originated, although many scientists and medical historians have a good idea given some of the contemporary records.
“A remarkable form of disease, not known in England before, attracted attention at the very beginning of the reign of Henry VII.” (Encyclopedia Britannica)
“It was referred to by many different names, including the Sweat, the Sudor Anglicus or English Sweat, the Swat, Stup-Gallant, Stoupe Knave and Know thy Master, Sweating Sickness and the New Acquainance.”(Ridgway, Sweating Sickness in a Nutshell)
Claire Ridgway makes the distinction that she is not a doctor but has done a great deal of research on this topic (and she has also made a video on this topic which is a shorter version of the book) and has come to several conclusions, the main one being that this disease could have been the result of several things, including lack of hygiene in universities, homes and other places.
“Erasmus, in a letter to Francis, physician to the Cardinal of York, wrote of how English houses were not constructed to make a through-draft possible and that their rush floors were unhygienic because sometimes they were not renewed for around twenty years and so they allowed “spittle, vomit, dog’s urine and men’s too, dregs of beer and cast-off bits of fish, and other unspeakable kinds of filth” to fester. Oothers blamed the damp, foggy English climate and Caius mentioned flooding: “rot in the groundes after great flouddes, in carions, & in dead men”, but these factors are unlikely to have caused such an epidemic.” (Ridgway, Sweating Sickness in a Nutshell)
She goes on to elaborate on other possible factors such as this being a new strain of influenza or a combination of various factors that made it possible for this to spread so fast and kill so effectively.
One thing she does dispel is that this was NOT brought over by Henry’s soldiers. This is something that is still perpetuated in some novels and while it makes for entertaining read, it is simply false. There are records of the disease before Henry and his army of mercenaries, disaffected Edwardian Yorkists and staunch Lancastrians landed on Milford Haven. In fact, one such account that she gives more details about in her book reads as follows:
“The disease was obviously known in England before the Battle of Bosworth because, according to the Croyland Chronicle, when Richard III called on Thomas Stanley to travel from his home in Lancashire to Nottingham, after news of Henry Tudor’s landing had broken, Stanley “made an excuse that he was suffering from an attack of the sweating sickness, and could not possibly come”. It appears therefore, that Henry Tudor and his forces cannot be blamed for its introduction.”
The Luminarium project website has an article on this subject that is straight from the Encyclopedia Britannica, third edition that dates back to 1910, leaving it clear that the disease hadn’t been brought to England by Henry’s soldiers but that it was already native to England.
“It was known indeed a few days after the landing of Henry at Milford Haven on the 7th of August 1485, as there is clear evidence of its being spoken of before the battle of Bosworth on the 22nd of August. Soon after the arrival of Henry in London on the 28th of August it broke out in the capital, and caused great mortality. This alarming malady soon became known as the sweating-sickness.”
The symptoms according to Thomas Forrestier, a French physician, who lived in London and wrote a treatise on the disease, were the following:
“A great sweating and stinking.”
Redness of the face and body.
English physician John Caius was more detailed in his description of the disease, adding that the muscular pain would be accompanied by redness, abdominal pain, cardiac palpitations and dizziness.
Game of Thrones, being partly based on the wars of the roses and the era after it, has sided with many novelists by having Ser Jorah on the show and Young Griffin’s (fake Aegon –sorry guys but I don’t think he is the real deal) guardian in the books be the ones that bring a horrible disease back to Westeros.
The show and books could surprise us by having these two characters finding some sort of miracle cure that stops it from spreading –sort of like what happened to Shireen- but it is unlikely. And it might be that the Stonemen’s disease or Greyscale, be Martin’s version of the sweating sickness in Westeros.
This would certainly make things difficult for Dany. The sweating sickness certainly did for Henry as it prevented him from going to certain places, or traveling alongside his wife years afterward. The sweating sickness was more deadly on England, killing many people and making no distinction between rich and poor.
Henry VII’s surviving son and heir, Henry VIII, could have come this close never to marrying Anne Boleyn because she happened to be one of the victims of this sickness. Thankfully for her and her family, she recovered. Other members of the nobility and the royal family weren’t so lucky. Take the Brandons for example. Charles Brandon’s last wife, Catherine Willoughby gave him two sons who survived infancy but didn’t live beyond that. During the reign of Edward VI they died, leaving the poor Duchess devastated.
The sweating sickness would go on to hit again with the last recorded incident in 1652 in Leipzig. This new variant of the disease would also be seen in other parts of the globe such as in France, Spain in Holland during the nineteenth century.
There were many attempts to cure it or control it with Henry VIII, who like his paternal grandmother, had a fascination with the natural world, keeping a detailed journal where he came up with several tonics and remedies to combat this disease.
In Game of Thrones we aren’t given a full explanation as to how Shireen’s father managed to stop the disease from spreading. Season five just reveals that Stannis hired every physician and magician from across the known world to come to Dragonstone so they could stop the disease from taking over and transforming her into one of the hideous creatures we saw that reside in Old Valyria. Like lepers in the ancient and medieval world, Stannis was advised to send his daughter away to live the rest of her life among the other people infected but he chose not to because he was convinced that she could be saved. It could have been a combination of his obstinacy (because Stannis is a proud man) and his love for his daughter that prevented him from making a poor decision that would see his only heir being sent to live the rest of her days as an animal. (Unfortunately, he would go on to make a worse mistake when he listened to Melisandre, and sacrificed her, believing that Shireen’s death would bring him victory.)
Daenerys sends Jorah away to find a cure. Some fans believe that Jorah will find himself back to the Quaithe, the mysterious masked figure viewers were introduced to in season 2 and whom book readers have long speculated about since we were introduced to her in ‘A Clash of Kings’. The first trailer for season 7 shows us as a disgusting looking arm with ridges, dried up blood and stone looking skin which leads us to believe it is Jorah and that maybe (like Shireen) he has found a way to stop the disease from spreading or that he hasn’t and like the rumors surrounding Henry’s men bringing the sweating sickness to England, he will bring a deadlier strain of the disease to Westeros, causing more deaths and more additions to the army of the undead.
Ridgway, Claire. The Sweating Sickness: In a Nushell. Made Global. 2014.
Lisle, Leanda. Tudor: Passion. Murder. Manipulation: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. Public Affairs. 2013.
A Song of Ice and Fire is rich with detail and characters that are as complex as the world they live in, and the faith they practice. The war of the five kings which was based on the wars of the roses is over. We have come to the Tudor period with strings of the last stages of the wars of the roses.
Henry Tudor failed to invade England in his first attempt. Buckingham’s Rebellion was supposed to destabilize the government but it did nothing of the sort. Henry didn’t give up and in his darkest hour he vowed that once he won, he’d marry Elizabeth of York, uniting the two houses of York and Lancaster and bringing peace to England.
It is unclear if the book series or the TV adaption will follow history but given that the latest trailer has made the similarities between the two more obvious, it is safe to say that it will come close.
We don’t know what Dany’s exact reaction is when she finally arrives to Westeros, specifically to Dragonstone. Dragonstone is the equivalent to Wales in the world of ice and fire.
Rhaegar was Daenerys’ older brother and thus, the crown heir and Prince of Dragonstone. Like his historical counterparts, the Princes of Wales, he was tasked with carrying out the King’s justice and ensuring that his subjects’ would stay loyal to the crown. Crown heirs as young as twelve would be sent here and like the princes of Wales, they would have their own household with a governor and tutors which would help them with the task of ruling and administering their principality.
After Rhaegar died at the battle of the Trident, many people saw his siblings as the sole heirs of the Targaryen dynasty. Like Henry Tudor, Daenerys was forced to flee along with her brother and seek refuge across the narrow sea. Her claim to the throne has been described as slim because of her gender and her father’s reputation as a tyrant, not to mention her older brother’s actions with Lyanna. But Daenerys insists that she, and only she, is the rightful heir to the throne and there is nothing she won’t do to get what she wants.
The Ones who were Promised
Daenerys is also seen as a savior by the followers of the red god. Coupled with the myriad of sell-swords, former slaves, hordes of Dothraki and disenfranchised aristocrats from her homeland, it is no surprise why she’s become the biggest contender.
The way Dany looks up in the latest trailer of season 7 after she lands in Dragonstone (way to make it obvious who these people are based on, am I right?) in an almost reverential manner is so similar to Henry’s reaction when he arrived to England after fourteen years in exile.
Besides claiming descent from the legendary Welsh King, Cadwallder, Henry also claimed to be a descendant of King Arthur, through his father, Edmund Tudor, who claimed to descend from Welsh Princes that went all the way back to ancient times. Henry Tudor adopted the symbol of the red dragon of Wales as his main banner, and as soon as the Welsh heard of his arrival, they began to sing songs about him, claiming that he was the one who had been promised.
According to the chronicler Robert Fabyan, upon arriving to Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire, Wales, on the 7th of August 1485, Henry “kneeled down upon the earth, and with meek countenance and pure devotion began this psalm: judica me deus, and discern causmam.” (Psalm 43: Judge me, Oh God, and distinguish my cause.) Then Henry kissed “the ground meekly, and reverently made the sign of the cross upon him.”
Daenerys hasn’t shown herself to be pious but like her historical counterpart she has a strong sense of purpose. She believes that it is her right to rule because of her bloodline and her actions towards the slavers at the former slaver’s bay (now renamed Dragon’s Bay). But will that be enough to vanquish the forces of evil and more importantly convince the people to join her cause?
Only time, and in this case, shorter time (since the clock is ticking) will tell. Henry’s defeat of Richard III didn’t end the dynastic conflict, though he made it seem when he married EOY as if it did. And assuming that the theory of Dany marrying Jon Snow is correct, that won’t guarantee Westeros any peace as there will still be plenty of factions looking for ways to undermine their reign and gain the upper hand.
Another thing I noticed is Dany’s new look which mirrors Henry in his later years. Contrary to popular opinion, Henry didn’t always dress so dour. In her latest book, historian Tracy Borman talks about how he closely guarded his money and his possessions but he still spent a significant amount on clothing.
“… he had a more light-hearted side. His household accounts reveal that he was fond of playing cards, even though he regularly suffered heavy losses … Physically fit from his years of campaigning, he held regular jousts and liked to play tennis. The latter was a particular favourite with the king and was commended by a contemporary expert on courtly refinement as a “noble sport which is very suitable for the courtier to lay … for this shows how well he is built physically, how quick and agile he is in every member” … Miserly he may have been, but Henry Tudor was shrewd enough not to repeat this mistake. A man’s clothes –far more than those of a woman –were of great symbolic importance … Henry spent the greatest sums on his apparel during the early years of his reign, when he felt most insecure on his newly won throne.” (Borman, The Private Lives of the Tudors)
Dany’s latest appearance mirrors that of Henry during the last years of his reign after he’d lost nearly all of his loved ones, including his wife and son.
Daenerys has this rich apparel with jewels and expensive fabrics, and she is finally wearing her house colors, but in contrast to previous seasons and other contenders, she appears more reserved. Even Cersei boasts of more jewelry and outlandish headgear than her! It could be that as Dany attempts to make her final claim at the Iron Throne, she wants to be seen more as a protector than a bejeweled tyrant.
Game Changers & Altering History
So after everything that I’ve written, you might be asking: Does this mean that Daenerys will end up as Henry Tudor? Beloved savior turned miserly female king who loses nearly all of her loved ones? As I previously stated, given that this is Game of Thrones, it is hard to figure out what the outcome will be but one thing is certain and that is that Daenerys as Henry Tudor have changed the rules of the game. As she told Tyrion in season four, she isn’t determined to be another spoke in the wheel, she wants to break it. “Lannister, Baratheon, Tyrell, Stark … they are all just spokes on a wheel … On and on it goes … I am not just going to change the wheel, I am going to break it.”
This is an allusion to the wheel of fortune. A medieval concept that can be simplified to good luck vs bad luck. Either you were favored by God, or you weren’t (in which case you were pushed to the bottom of the wheel). Henry’s candidacy as the last scion of the House of Lancaster changed all that. If we looked critically at this claim, and forget about the outlandish tales he and his descendants weaved about his dynasty, we see someone who rose to power thanks to the in-fighting that was going on at England at the time and the tragedy of the princes in the tower, and who through his wit and cunning, won many people over, and who in spite of living on the run for most of his teenage and young adult life, grew up to be a very determined and cautious individual.
Daenerys says that it is her destiny to rule. Henry swore before an audience of disaffected Edwardian Yorkists and staunch Lancastrian loyalists at Vannes Cathedral in Brittany that he would bring them victory and peace by defeating Richard III and marrying Elizabeth of York. The way he spoke and interacted with his new allies, convinced them that he was a man worthy to follow. Over a century later, William Shakespeare wrote the conclusion to his history plays on the wars of the roses, ‘Richard III’. Richard III is filled with Tudor propaganda where he drew from plenty of sources written during Henry’s reign and his successors, that painted Richard as a hunchback and a twisted individual. It is no different than what we see Tyrion or Cersei being depicted at. While Cersei borrows the worst qualities assigned to Queen Regents and Queen Regnants during the Tudor era, the role she is playing in Daenery’s story is similar to that of Richard III.
There have been many fan theories that speculate that while the book series are told from different characters’ point of view, and we see this being expanded on the show, the whole story might not be nothing more than a single person’s take on these events. Someone who has interpreted these events based on what his best friend has told him, or how he wishes them to be remembered. Of course, I am referring to Samwell Tarly. The season 6 finale closed the chapter on Samwell’s story with him and Gilly and her son arriving to Old Town where they meet one of the grand maesters. He is examining a document with a special lens and as he guides Sam to the main library, we see the astrolabe which is largely featured at the beginning of the credits. Could it be that this story is showing Jon Snow and Daenerys in such a light, because that is how Sam prefers the population to remember it?
Let’s recall what Varys told Tyrion in season 2: “A very small man can cast a big shadow.”
Indeed, he can. If there is one thing we have learned from history is that it is bias and whoever is victorious, gets to control the narrative. The pen is mightier than the sword, and it might be that Varys’ sermon about how power is nothing more than “a trick, a shadow in the wall” and the greatest trick of all is the one that changes people’s perception to the point that their view of the world is whatever you tell them.
This doesn’t undermine Daenerys and Henry VII’s respective rise to power. On the contrary, it only highlights their genius and their ambition. Henry’s claim rested on his mythical roots to King Arthur and Cadwallder, his right of conquest (which was valid and was also claimed by his and the Plantagenets’ ancestor, William the Conqueror), and finally from his mother who was a direct descendant from John of Gaunt, 1st. Duke of Lancaster, albeit from an illegitimate branch. While Richard II had legitimized John of Gaunt and his former mistress, Kathryn Swynford (who was his wife by then), his successor, John of Gaunt’s oldest son, had undermined their legitimacy by adding a new clause that barred them from the line of succession. Henry’s victory made many of his supporters forget this little detail, but not the Yorkist remnants who continued to wage war against the Tudors -a war that escalated when Henry VIII broke away from Rome and created his own church.
Without a doubt, Henry and Daenerys are two of the best examples that the people who start off as the most inconsequential can become the most important players of the game and through a number of misfortunes and strokes of luck, break the wheel, and true examples that destiny is what you make of it.
“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 in gaining the crown- was a far less welcome tale. It remains nonetheless just as remarkable; against all the odds, at Bosworth Henry achieved a victory that he should not have won.” (Skidmore, Rise of the Tudors)
Ironically, even when Henry VIII tried to outdo his father in the Tudor Dynasty Portrait that has him, Henry VII, leaning next to a monument while their respective wives, Elizabeth of York and Jane Seymour (who was dead at the time this was painted) are on the other side, claiming that his achievements were better than his father; he had to admit that without him, none of that would have been possible.
Decades later, during Elizabeth I’s coronation, Henry VII was featured once again, this time through the device he created after his union to Elizabeth, that symbolized the union of their two houses, the Tudor rose. Elizabeth I would often invoke the past to justify her actions and lend validity to her claim. Like her grandfather, she saw herself as the rightful heir to the throne, not just because of her father’s will, but because her mother had been an anointed queen and like her paternal grandmother and namesake, she viewed herself as a symbol of unity who was destined to pull England out of darkness and into the light.
“On Saturday, January 14, 1559, at about two o’clock, Henry VIII’s youngest daughter, Elizabeth, rode through London, from the Tower down to Westminster, on the eve of her coronation. As usual, a great series of pageants had been organized to illustrate the many ways in which the new queen’s majesty was righteous and worthy. At the corner of Fenchurch Street was Gracechurch Street a large stage was erected across the street, “vaulted with battlements” and built on three separated levels. The official record of the procession recorded that “on the lowest stage was made one seat royal, wherein were placed two personages representing king Henry the Seventh and Elizabeth his wife, daughter of king Edward the Fourth … [not] divided but that the one of them which was king Henry processing out of the house of Lancaster was enclosed in a red rose, and the other which was Queen Elizabeth being heir to the house of York enclosed with a white rose … Out of which two roses sprang two branches gathered into one, which were directed upward to the second stage … wherein was placed one, representing the valiant and noble prince king Henry [VIII].” … Buildings were decorated with the Tudor roses and other associated emblems of the dynasty. Great stained glass windows installed in churches during the sixteenth century blazed with red and white petals. Anyone who had been lucky enough to brose the books of the royal library would have found the exquisite illustrations on the pages decorated with roses red, white and Tudor –in many cases these were added to books that had been inherited from earlier kings- particularly Edward IV. Other books, too, were emblazoned with the simplified dynastic story of the Wars of the Roses … By Elizabeth’s reign, the mere sight of red and white roses entwined was enough to evoke instantly the whole story of the fifteenth century: the Crown had been thrown into dispute and disarray by the Lancastrian deposition of Richard II in 1399; this had prompted nearly a century of warfare between two rival clans, which was a form of divine punishment for the overthrow of a rightful king; finally in 1485, the Tudors had reunited the families and saved the realm. It was that simple.” (Jones, Wars of the Roses: Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors)
Perception is everything and it is more effective when the person twisting historical events is full of conviction and if there was one thing the Tudors had was plenty of conviction -something their founder’s fantasy counterpart also has.
The last book in the series will be called ‘Dreams of Spring’ and given how Shakespeare’s Richard III ends with Henry Tudor being crowned and promising a new beginning for England, it can be inferred that the last book’s title refers to a bittersweet closure to the song of ice and fire, with the war ending, some form of peace being achieved but at a great cost. And perhaps it is revealed at the end, that this was nothing more than someone else’s view of these events, leaving many questions (as with the wars of the roses and the era after it) unanswered.
Martin, George, et. al. World of Ice and Fire: The Untold History of Westeros. Bantam. 2014.
Lisle, Leanda. Tudor: Passion, Manipulation, Murder. The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. Public Affairs. 2013.
Chrimes, S.B. Henry VII. Yale University Press. 1999.
Skidmore, Chris. The Rise of the Tudors. St. Martin Press. 2014.
Porter, Linda. Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots. St. Martin’s Press. 2014.
Borman, Tracy. The Private Lives of the Tudors. Grove Press. 2016.
Jones, Dan. The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors. Penguin. 2014.
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Richard III. 1592.
Weiss, Daniel Brett and Benioff, David, creators. Game of Thrones. HBO. 2011-?
I also recommend all the other books in the Song of Ice and Fire saga, including the latest spin off “Dunk and Egg” which expands on this world.
A Very Happy Birthday to Henry VIII’s first Queen Consort, Catherine of Aragon who was born on the 15th of December 1485, in Alcala de Henares, Spain. The Palace was located over twenty miles to the North of Madrid and the local seat of the archbishop of Toledo. It dated all the way back to the thirteenth century and it was likely *“decorated in the Mudejar style of elegant white filigree carving, tile work and ornamental metals set around gracious courtyards.” It must’ve been a sight to behold in its time.
She was the youngest daughter of the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. The two had made Spain one of the greatest kingdoms in Western Europe and received their titles years later after their achievements during the Reconquista and the expulsion of the Jews and Moors who refused to convert to Christianity.
Catherine was named after her ancestress, her great-grandmother, the daughter of the first Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt and St. Catherine who was an intellectual, defender of the Christian faith and Princess. Like the latter, Catherine was one of the most educated women of her time. Her mother didn’t learn Latin until she was an adult. Although she received an education expected of highborn women, she could not speak Latin fluently, something she regretted and didn’t want her daughters to experience. Ferdinand was a warrior born and bred and like his wife, he wanted their children to receive the best of the best.
Cunning, conniving and ambitious, Catherine took after them. Physically though, she took after her mother. She had a nearly round, heart-shaped face, auburn hair, blue eyes and fair skin. When she arrived in England and met her father-in-law-to-be, King Henry VII weeks later, he was pleased with what he saw. She was everything they expected in their future Queen. When she married her second husband, Henry VIII, the two were jointly crowned in June of 1509.
Catherine was a patroness of education and widely praised by many scholars including Juan Luis Vives who wrote a long dedication to her and Sir Thomas More who said she was an example for all women. She was also a fashion icon in her day introducing the farthingale or vertugado which was a hooped, bell-shaped skirt into England.
Out of all Henry’s marriages, his marriage to Catherine was the longest, with him naming her his Regent in 1513 (the only other of Henry’s wives to be named Regent was Katherine Parr who was likely named after her) while he was away fighting in France in what became known as the battle of Spurs. Under her leadership the English won of the most significant battles against Scots and gave death to their king, James IV of Scotland who was her brother-in-law through his marriage to Henry’s eldest sister, Margaret Tudor.
Although Parliament and the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, declared their marriage null and void in May of 1533 (just one month before Anne Boleyn was crowned Queen of England) to many Catholics she remained their Queens of Heart. She died less than three years later on the first week of January of 1536. She was given the full honors of a Princess Dowager and buried on St Peterborough.
Isabella: Warrior Queen by Kirstin Downey
Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence*
Catherine of Aragon by Garrett Mattingly
Sister Queens: The Noble and Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile by Julia Fox
On the 10th of December 1485, Henry VII swore before parliament that he would marry Elizabeth of York. He had first sworn this during the Christmas of ’83 when he was still in exile at Brittany. But when he won the crown, he wanted to make it known that he was king based on right of conquest and his lineage alone and no through his wife. Parliament however felt differently, and reminded him (through its speaker, Thomas Lovell) of his promise and the importance behind their union.
“Your Royal Highness should take to himself that illustrious lady Elizabeth, daughter of King Edward IV, as his wife and consort, whereby by God’s grace, many hope to see the propagation of offspring from the stock of Kings, to comfort the whole realm.”
The wedding was scheduled for the following year on the eighteenth of January.
Their union became symbolic of the two warring houses of Lancaster and York which had plunged the country into civil war for over thirty years, coming together as one. The next generation would come to embody that, using this powerful symbol in all of their coronations as proof of divine providence.
Winter King by Thomas Penn
Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
On the thirtieth of October 1485, two months after his unlikely triumph at Bosworth, Henry Tudor, formerly the Earl of Richmond, was crowned at Westminster Abbey. His uncle Jasper had the honor of holding the crown while his stepfather, Thomas Stanley, carried the sword of state. The two men had been amply rewarded days before when they’d been created duke of Bedford and Earl of Derby respectively.
The ceremony was performed by the John Shirwood (Bishop of Durham) and Robert Stillington (Bishop of Bath and Wells), supported by Courtenay (B. Exeter) and John Morton (B. Ely). Although the Archbishop of Canterbury didn’t play a prominent role, as the head of the church in England, it still fell on him to anoint the King and place the crown on his head.
As with every monarch, when he was formally proclaimed as King of England, the ministry asked the crowd if they accepted him as their new monarch, to which everyone chanted: “Yea, yea!”
It was an expensive ceremony fit for a king, especially one who was doing everything in his power to convince his new people that he, and no other, was chosen by God to rule England.
“Accounts of the coronation were drawn up by Sir Robert Willoughby, and they spoke of a flurry of activity among the goldsmith, cloth merchants, embroiders, silkwomen, tailors, laborers, boatmen and saddlers of London. Instruction went out for yards of velvet 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 costumes of black and crimson.” (Jones)
As for the King himself, his mother was determined that he would outshone his Yorkist and Plantagenet predecessors. And he certainly did. Not only were the courtiers dressed for the occasion (as was their new King), but the Abbey itself was filled with splendor. Margaret’s confessor wrote that upon seeing her con crowned “she wept marvelously.” And she a lot to be happy for, but her tears weren’t of joy but of fear. Margaret had lived through a tumultuous time we now know as the wars of the roses. Kings and Queens were humiliated, deposed, and it had turn everyone against each other. Henry, for all she knew, could be just another passing King. Historians such as Norton and Lisle make a point, that Margaret did become a force to be reckoned with, in her son’s reign. “What power she would have” Lisle writes, “would be behind the throne.” But in the meantime, all their worries were left behind, as Henry enjoyed this moment of triumph.
Following the Mass, Henry returned to the Tower of London for the coronation banquet. Jasper took precedence over the other nobles, riding ahead of them, his horse trapped with cloth of gold trimmed ermine. After the first course, Henry’s champion, Sir Robert Dynmock came in, issuing the customary challenge, demanding who would challenge the King’s authority. There were more performances to be found that day, among them the iconic representation of the royal arms of England and France along with those of their new king emphasized his Welsh ancestry. But more prominent among them was the Tudor rose. Henry Tudor was a religious man, and as those that came before him, he chose a rose because of its religious significance. The red rose was a symbol of Christ’s passion, while the five petals corresponded to the five wounds Christ had suffered on the cross. Roses were ones of the most notable symbols on the Abbey, and on the courtier’s clothing.
But it wasn’t just the red rose, it was the white one as well which became representative of the late House of York. The York dynasty had relied on other symbols to represent their dynasty. Although it was a preferred symbol of Edward IV, he had also used the Sun in Splendor, to commemorate one of his victories, and his youngest brother, Richard III had opted for the white boar. Henry used this because it was simple and because it represented a new era –one in which Lancaster and York would be united and were there would be no cause for war.
While this wasn’t entirely true, it still worked because for many people, centuries afterwards, the Tudors would come to represent the union of these two warring houses, and become one of the most famous dynasties in world history. Ironically, before Henry became King of England, when he was just a child, the bards sang songs in honor of his late father (Edmund Tudor) and predicted that great things awaited his son. When he landed on Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire, Wales, the bards sang louder, praising now his uncle as well, saying “Jasper will breed us a dragon” claiming that Henry was the chosen one, the prince that was promised, of an ancient Welsh prophecy. Never forgetting who was responsible for his rise, he rewarded many of his Welsh supporters with lands, titles and offices.
Henry VII would go on to reign twenty five years. On his death, he was succeeded by his son, Henry VIII whose reign would eclipse his father’s, and to prove his greatness, he commissioned one painting known as the ‘Dynasty portrait’ where he asks viewers an important question. Who was better, the son or the father? He acknowledges his father’s achievements but says they pale in comparison to his. While Henry VIII is the most famous of the three Tudor kings, it is unfair to leave Henry VII behind. As a kid, his future was always being negotiated by his mother, uncle, and his caretaker (William Herbert), and as a teenager, he spent his teenage years and most of his young adult life in hiding, fearing for his life. When he finally came back, the odds were stacked against him and still, he won. As King, he continued to fear for his life, and although he was a good husband and father, he became a shell of his former self after his son died, followed by his wife and baby daughter a year after that.
Buried at Westminster Abbey, next to his wife, at the chapel he constructed for him and his descendants, is a testament to the appeal this dynasty has had -and no doubt will continue to have in many years to have.
Henry VII by SB Chrismes
Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle
Margaret Beaufort by Elizabeth Norton
Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
On the 22nd of August 1485, the battle of Bosworth Field was fought, making the end of the Plantagenet Dynasty and the start of the Tudor one. When the two armies met, Richard III had the advantage, mustering more than 10,000 men. Henry’s armies barely numbered 5,000. They consisted mercenaries (French, Scottish, German) and loyal Welsh and English noblemen. Previously, Richard had been woken up early requesting a Mass to be said, the rest of his men were startled by the arrival of Henry’s troops, which had arrived earlier than expected.
Richard’s last prayer before engaging into battle was: “God deign to free me thy servant King Richard from every tribulation, sorrow and trouble in which I am placed and from all the plots of my enemies… and defend me from all evil, from the devil and from all peril present, past and to come.” Shortly after, the two armies clashed.
Henry’s loyal supporters also included the Queen Dowager’s closest relatives, Edward Yorkists, and the Earl of Oxford (John de Vere) who was a renown Lancastrian loyalist and saw Henry as the last scion of Lancaster. He was a well seasoned warrior who studied from the best military books in history, from Roman Generals to Christine de Pizan who had also written extensively on the art of warfare. He knew how to push the enemy to the point of exhaustion and that’s exactly what he did with Norfolk’s forces. After driving a wedge through his vanguard, he allowed Henry’s infantry to push right through and slay most of his men. In addition Richard III’s ally, the Earl of Northumberland faced desertion from some of his men, and others had rebelled the day before prompting the Earl to keep himself neutral during the whole ordeal. But nothing proved more decisive than the Stanleys who switched sides the moment William Brandon -Henry’s standard bearer- fell.
Before the battle began, Henry gave his own motivational speech which comes from a secondary source, the Edward Hall Chronicle written nearly seventy years after the event, but it’s likely true. Thomas Stanley was reminded of his oath the day before, his brother William, promised him that they would join. Now both stood still, watching as the two armies clashed. According to the ‘Ballad of Bosworth’, a much later account, William scouted on ‘a mountain full high’ where he looked down ‘into a dale full dread’, waiting to see what happened. While Henry doubted his stepfather’s loyalties, Richard had no reason to. He had taken his eldest son, Lord Strange, hostage. This guaranteed Stanley’s neutrality, however some historians like Chris Skidmore have stipulated that in the confusion, George Stanley must’ve fled his captors or either they were killed in battle, which would make sense why as soon as Henry’s standard bearer (Brandon) fell, he and his brother’s forces moved in to aid him.
According to various sources, when Richard saw Stanley’s men galloping down from the hill to join Henry Tudor he cried “Treason! Treason! Treason!” He was unhorsed and killed then stripped off all his clothing and put on a horse for everyone to see.
The story that his crown was found in a thornbush is a myth, it was picked up by William Stanley who handed it to his brother Thomas who “unto the King Henry then went he, and delivered it, as to the most worthy to wear the crown and be their King.”
Henry VII’s rule would last twenty nine years, his son would go on in history as one of the most infamous kings, dividing historians in their opinions as to whether he was a good or bad king, and his granddaughter would become one of the greatest female monarchs in history. But it all started with the first Henry Tudor, an obscure boy who was born in an uncertain time but who was destined for great things.
Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots by Linda Porter
The Rise of the Tudors by Chris Skidmore
Henry VII by SB Chrimes
Foundations: England from its Earliest Beginnings to the Tudors by Peter Ackroyd
On the 18th of August Henry’s army did a detour, heading south east instead. Richard III feared he would be heading through London so he quickened his army’s pace. Leaving Nottingham for Leicester on August 19, he reached Leicester on the twentieth. Richard III’s forces now surpassed 60,000 (according to the French Chronicler Molinet). Richard III had issued proclamations threatening every man of property on pain of death and loss of his lands if they did not march with him, he also issued proclamations ordering every town to close their doors to their invader, Henry Tudor’s forces.
“Leicester had been important since Roman times, with the Normans building a castle, around which it developed into a medieval market town with an abbey and three friaries, as well as a number of active guilds. The city had Lancastrian connections earlier in the century; Henry IV had passed through it on his way to claim the throne … In Richard’s short reign, he had already paid two visits there, staying in the castle, from where he had mustered loyal troops to defeat Buckingham in 1483. Vergil relates that on that August day, he marched into the city at dusk, as the sun was setting over the town’s spires and rooftops.” (Licence)
This did not deter Henry however. He kept on marching and so did Richard. Spending the night at the Blue Boar Inn, bringing his own bed with him, he resumed his journey the following day. Richard III’s last night on this earth was uneasy. According to Shakespeare’s play he saw the ghosts of those he had killed. There is no evidence that he poisoned his wife or that he was the mustache twirling villain in his play and many other versions that came during the Tudors’ regimes. But given that he knew that the battle was only days away, he must have felt some dread. Though he was the more experienced fighter, Richard III was a soldier first and foremost. He knew that nothing was certain when it came to battle. It could swing both ways. One sixteenth century chronicler said that there was a tale about somebody from Henry Tudor’s camp pinning a jest on Norfolk’s tent mocking him and Richard, and warning of their impending doom. “Jack of Norfolk be not to bold, for Dickon they master is bought and sold.” Polydore Vergil (another sixteenth century chronicler) said that Richard also slept badly and that the following morning, hours before the battle, he complained of “a multitude of demons” making his face “even more pale and deathly.” The Crowland Chronicle reported that his ill dreams made him rise up early and search for his chaplains for an early Mass.
It is hard to make assumptions on this subject when most sources are from much later, however given that Richard III was a very pious man who had previously expressed interest in going on a crusade and had forced his brother’s mistress Jane Shore to do harsh penance –by walking on the streets barefoot wearing only a chemise and carrying a lamp- it is very possible that he spent his last night praying to God for victory. A Spanish mercenary commander named Salazar returned to his native country after the battle was over to report what the last words spoken to him by the King to the Catholic Kings (Ferdinand and Isabella). When he warned Richard that his men would betray him, Richard told him: “God forbid that I yield one step. This day I will die as a king or win.”
With his men assembled near Fenn Lane, between the villages of Dadlington, Sutton Cheney and Shenton, Richard III prepared to meet his enemy. Henry, Vergil also says, was “somewhat appalled” and worried that Stanley would not make true on his promise, but appearing as stoic as the Plantagenet King, he marched on. The fight would be over in two hours. As Richard III had predicted, he would die a King or win. And Henry would gamble everything as well. But in the end, it would be Henry who would be left standing, taking Richard’s crown and becoming the founder of a new Dynasty that would eclipse the once powerful Plantagenets.