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

 

Daughter of the Renaissance: The Education of a Christian Princess and future Queen Regnant of England.

Mary I signature Tudor

The myth of Bloody Mary is one of the most enduring myths in history, with some historians and pop culture fans still seeing her as one of the vilest monarchs in history. But is Mary I deserving of this nickname?

The short answer is no. Mary’s actions and views, while despicable to us, reflect her time-period. On top of that, they also reflect the deadly inheritance she received as being a member of a ruling House who wasn’t yet fully established.

The Tudors’ right to the throne was contested by many. And while her paternal grandfather squashed every rebellion and defeated both pretenders, there were still many threats abroad and within her realm. It didn’t help that the wars of the religion had made her position more unstable, and thus, heightened these threats.

Along with this myth comes the assumption that Mary was ignorant. For those of you who are still adhere to this notion, I am sorry to disappoint you but that is simply not true.

Mary Tudor child

“She had clearly an early aptitude for music and dancing and grew to be highly accomplished in both. At the age of four she could play the virginals and she later learned the lute and the regal. Playing these instruments as she grew up, and the comments on her ability seem to have been more than the studied politeness of official observers. Dancing was also a vital accomplishment for royal ladies, and Mary’s enjoyment of it began early. She learned to dance at least as well as any lady at her father’s court. After Henry’s death, her brother Edward VI would criticize Mary for her unseemly devotion to his pastime at which she excelled.
Mary also became an accomplished linguist and had evidently learned some French by 1520, when she so impressed the French lords sent to inspect her. Again this may have been, like the musicianship, a skill inherited from her father, who used it to communicate with the emperor’s French-speaking diplomats throughout his reign. There would have been no need for such a young child to converse at any length, only to demonstrate that she could exchange pleasantries and formal greetings. As an adult she relied on her French for communication with the imperial ambassadors at a time when they were almost her sole support and, later for speaking to her husband. She may have picked up some Spanish from those around her mother, overhearing the conversations of Katherine with people like her confessor and her ladies-in-waiting, but the numbers of those who had, long ago, accompanied Katherine from Spain were dwindling, and the queen did not regularly use her native tongue anymore except with her priests. Mary could, though, read Spanish; in the 1530s, when their worlds changed so dramatically and Katherine needed to be very careful in her letters to her daughter, she wrote to Mary in Spanish. The princess, however, does not seem to have spoken it well, and she did not used it in public.” (Linda Porter, Myth of Bloody Mary)

Mary was a daughter of the Renaissance just as her half-sister was a product of the Reformation. Like her, she tried a middle approach at the beginning of her reign when she issued a proclamation on the 8th of August 1553, in which she stated that everyone was free to practice as they wished, so long as they did it in private. Wyatt’s rebellion however convinced her that was no longer possible. After the executions of Jane Grey and her husband, Guildford Dudley, and her father, Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk and Marquis of Dorset, and her marriage to Philip of Spain (then Prince of Asturias, King of Sicily and Naples), she doubled down on the Protestants.

While the Protestant faction continued to call others to war, Mary I remained invested in re-funding and founding universities that would once again promote the liberal arts and other forms of Humanist thinking.

Linda Porter and Anna Whitelock have written outstanding biographies on her where they deconstruct the many myths surrounding this controversial figure. Anna Whitelock highlights the challenges she faced being the first female ruler of a country who was still unready for a female monarch given that they believed it would end in anarchy. The events of Matilda vs Stephen and the wars of the roses were still fresh on their minds.

Mary ordered the old Humanist curriculum to be reinstated in the universities and like her maternal grandmother, she sought to root out of corruption from the Catholic Church. Using some of the language found in the book of common prayer, she encouraged several Catholic leaders to write religious texts in the hopes that this would make England a Catholic kingdom again. This started with a proclamation she issued in March of 1554, where her stance towards uneducated and incompetent church officials became clear:

“… to deprive or declare derived, and remove according to their learning and discretion, all such persons from their benefices or ecclesiastical promotions, who contrary to the … laudable custom of the church, have married and used women as their wives.”

Mary I and Philip II

Edward VI’s previous statutes had caused division between all academic circles, Mary intended to remedy this by issuing new ordinances and supporting the institutions financially. The dean of Oxford thanked for the endowments she made on this and other institutions of higher learning, as well as founding several under her husband’s name.

Mary’s policies made some of religious officials uneasy. She wanted to be another Isabella, who although despising her unofficial position as head of the Anglican church, meant to have complete control over the church by reforming it from within and appointing leaders who were like-minded as her. Mary might have also seen this as a good strategy against the growing number of Reformists in England. While some Reformists had supported and England still had a large population of Catholics; Protestantism wasn’t going to go away easily. She figured the best way to combat an idea was by giving the people a better idea.

Mary’s interest in education didn’t distract her from her usual pastimes which included gambling, various forms of music, poetry, and art. Humanism played man at the center of everything, and besides higher learning, it was often tied with art, music, and poetry. And being true to this creed, Mary’s court was filled with music, dancing, art, and just about everything that Mary was used to.

Mary I blue background

Today, some of her accomplishments remain overshadowed by the violent aspects of her reign in her final years, and the sorrow she faced following Philip’s departure, and finding out she wasn’t pregnant but was yet again the victim of another phantom pregnancy. Mary I died on November 1558 and was buried in Westminster Abbey, in the Lady Chapel the following month. It didn’t take long for her accomplishments and policies to be forgotten and attributed to her sister. Besides Whitelock and Porter, other historians and biographers have done their part in rehabilitate her by separating fact from fiction, destroying the myth of Bloody Mary, while still being critical of her.

Sources:

  • Lisle, Leanda. Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder. The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. Public. 2013.
  • Duffy, Eamon. Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor. Yale. 2009.
  • Loades, David. Mary Tudor. Amberly. 2011.
  • Whitelock, Anna. Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen. Random House. 2010.
  • Erickson, Carolly. Bloody Mary:  The Life of Mary Tudor. Robson Books. 2001.
  • Edwards, John. Mary I: England’s Catholic Queen. Yale. 2011.
  • Porter, Linda. The Myth of Bloody Mary. St. Martin Press. 2008.

 

A Nice Change of Scenery: Margaret Pole in The White Princess

Margaret Pole TWQ Tudors WH

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.

Meg Pole being separated from Edward

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.

Margaret Pole Portrait
By an unknown artist, this sitter is believed to be Margaret Pole due to her clothing and jewelry.

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.

COA and Meg Pole historical and fictional portrayals
Catherine of Aragon in the Spanish series Isabel (left), Margaret Pole in The White Princess (right).

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.

Sources:

  • 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.

The Sweating Sickness & Greyscale

Sweating sickness GOT

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.

Henry VII BUST

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.”

Sweating sickness death lament

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.

Sweating sickness dance of death
“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:

  1. “A great sweating and stinking.”
  2. Redness of the face and body.
  3. Unquenchable thirst
  4. Headaches
  5. High fever
  6. Breathlessness

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.

Jorah greyscale

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.

game-of-thrones Shireen side face

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.

Sources:

  • 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.
  • “What was sweating sickness?” YouTube, uploaded by The Anne Boleyn Files, 5 May 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwSjvIixzP8
  • “English Sweating Sickness.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 11th, 1910

The Death of Queen Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I collage

On the 24th of March 1603, Queen Elizabeth I died at Richmond Palace at the age of sixty nine. She had ruled England for forty four years and was the longest reigning Tudor monarch, and third longest ruling Queen monarch in English history.
Elizabeth I was the daughter of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. Born on September 7th 1533, she was bastardized three years later following her parents’ annulment and her mother’s execution.

Anne Boleyn with child

It isn’t known whether Elizabeth had any recollection of her mother.

Probably she didn’t given that she was very young at the time. But she spent a lot of time with people who did, most of whom belonged to her maternal family. During her coronation she included the personal emblems of her ancestors, including her mother’s during her coronation (the royal falcon); this small gesture along with the ring bearing Anne’s picture shows Elizabeth’s desire to know about the woman who gave birth to her.

Out of all the English monarchs, Elizabeth was unique in the sense that she never married. She refused to be tied to any nation or any house. This can be due to the emotional trauma she experienced at a such young age when she was demoted from Princess to mere “Lady”, and subsequently saw wife after wife being replaced by her father on mere whim. But there is also the pragmatic aspect that some historians deny and that is that Elizabeth had seen the troubles that a foreign marriage had brought to her half-sister, Mary I. England was not used to having female Kings, and the concept of one would mean she would have to marry someone equal to her, and for that to happen she would have to look elsewhere, beyond her English borders. This would also mean she would have to negotiate some sort of agreement where her husband would have to agree to keep himself and his councilors separate from English affairs; and the possibility of death during childbirth. England had a bad history with boy-kings. The last time, it resulted in the wars of the roses and that was something that was still fresh on the minds of many people.

Elizabeth I armada

“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 … Instead, and more importantly, she was a mistress of language, thinking, in her speech at Tilbury, ‘full of scorn that Parma or Spain or any prince of Europe should dare invade the borders of my realm.’” -David Starkey

Therefore, by refusing any marriage offer –while coyly entertaining every ambassador, making all sorts of promises that she would consider- she abstained herself from such troubles and was able to be her own mistress.

Elizabeth-I-Allegorical-Po

“This morning Her Majesty departed from this life, mildly like a lamb, easily like a ripe apple from a tree … Dr. Parry told me he was present, and sent his prayers before her soul; and I doubt not but she is amongst the royal saints in heaven in eternal joys.” –John Manningham

News of the Queen’s death spread like wildfire, also reaching her councilors’ preferred successor, James VI of Scotland. Weeks before on March 9th, Robert Cecil, son of her late and most trusted adviser William Cecil (Lord Burghley), wrote to George Nicholson, the English ambassador in Edinburgh, informing him that the Queen was ailing and that “her mouth and tongue” were “dry and her chest hot” and that she couldn’t sleep anymore. This is somewhat false. Elizabeth was deathly ill but she was far from helpless as Cecil’s report suggests. She was about her business, walking back and forth in her chambers, pondering on the future that awaited her country once she was gone.
Less than a week later, her condition worsened and she was no longer able to move as freely. Then on the 19th of March she gave a last audience to Sir Robert Carey (Mary Boleyn’s youngest grandson). She held Carey’s hand and confessed to him that she was not well. Sir Robert tried to cheer her up but to no avail. Elizabeth, as the rest, knew that her days were numbered and she wouldn’t live for another week.

On Tuesday, the twenty second she was brought to her bed where she stayed until her death. Her councilors visited her, insisting that she dictate her will so she could leave a successor but she refused. Like before, Elizabeth was always hesitant when it came to the issue of an heir. So many had competed for that position and so many were now gone.
Katherine Grey had married without permission and died nearly half mad in 1568, and ten years later her younger sister Mary Grey -who wasn’t allowed to see her husband because Elizabeth feared she could also produce children and rival claimants- and lastly, Mary, Queen of Scots who lost her head in 1587.
The favorite on everyone’s mind was James VI and one simple word from their queen’s mouth would give his claim even more validity but the Queen, probably not caring or in agony, remained adamant in her position. A story later circulated that Elizabeth I had indeed named James by way of her fingers when the council asked her to move her finger a certain way to mean that James was her successor and she did, but this cannot be corroborated and it is likely false.

Elizabeth I allegory
“Elizabeth was not, primarily, an exceptional woman; she was an exceptional ruler.” -Biographer Lisa Hilton

The death of Elizabeth I marked the end of an era. A bloody, tumultuous era packed with religious and social change. She was not a staunch Protestant but she did push for Protestant reformer on the Church, primarily on the Book of Common prayer, and neither was she a Catholic –though one Pope expressed admiration for her, claiming that if she wasn’t a Protestant, he would support her instead of Philip II of Spain. Elizabeth was a moderate and she took a moderate approach. That is the type of monarch she was. Her laws were just as fierce, if not fiercer in some aspects, than her father’s, grandfather’s and siblings.

Eworth_Elizabeth_I_and_the_Three_Goddesses_1569

The way in which she used her image says a lot about her. In one painting she is standing next to the goddess but if one looks closely it is the goddesses who are standing next to her, leading her to her destiny. Elizabeth was in popular eyes not just an anointed sovereign, but the head of all spiritual and earthly matters.

Elizabeth I Queen tomb

 

Elizabeth I was highly honored by her successor who built a beautiful monument, at the cost of overlooking her predecessor who was placed beneath her. The two sisters lie together with Elizabeth’s effigy being the only one visible and a plaque that reads: “Consorts in realm and tomb, here we sleep, Elizabeth and Mary, sisters, in hope of resurrection.”

Sources:

  • Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey
  • Elizabeth: Renaissance Prince by Lisa Hilton
  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle
  • The Life of Elizabeth I by Alison Weir

Margaery Tyrell and Highgarden: Two sides of the same historical coin

 

Anne COA Highgarden

In the spring of 1536, Charles Brandon and other courtiers visited Anne’s chambers to tell her the news that they had arrested her brother and a handful of other guys, and they were going to take her to the Tower of London. Just three years before, she had lodged in the Tower to await her coronation. Henry VIII chose to crown her with St Edward the Confessor’s crown which was reserved for Kings. It was Anne’s greatest triumph, and it would have remain that way if she had given what Henry wanted (and needed) the most: A son.

The Tudor Dynasty was fairly new and England wasn’t used to the idea of women rulers so the thought of leaving the throne to little Princess Elizabeth after Henry had gone through great trouble to divorce his first wife for the same reason, would’ve been ludicrous. Anne was accused of incest and adultery and high treason and she lost her head on May 19th of that year.

margaeryjpg-a8eaec5b283c8c8b

In the show, Margaery (who coincidentally played Anne in ‘The Tudors’) is arrested after the High Septon (who’s like the pope in this world) accuses her f perjury, lying under oath which is a great sin since you swear to testify the truth and the whole truth under the gods. The equivalent to today’s ‘you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, so help you God?’

In medieval times this was a great deal. And Game of Thrones is a show that prides itself to take inspiration from the middle ages, specifically from the wars of the roses and the Tudor periods.

Margaery’s arrest therefore must be seen within this religious context. However, Cersei was also responsible for her arrest because she knew how much the HIgh Septon hated Margaery, and her family because her family are traditional followers of the Seven and they hate everything that has to do with religious reformation.

Anne Boleyn arrest

This is a great departure from Anne Boleyn. Though she was described as “more Lutheran than Luther herself”, Anne was not a staunch Reformist, and neither was she a martyr for her cause. She favored a lot of Reformist authors and teachings, but it was her father and her brother who believed more in the cause than she did.

During her short tenure as Queen, she did a lot of good charitable works. One of the reasons why she and Cromwell hated each other was because Cromwell couldn’t afford to say ‘no’ to the king given his position, and also wanted to enrich him, while Anne believed that the money taken from the monasteries and other religious houses should be distributed among the people -to build hospitals, centers of education, and to the new churches that would make people more invested on the new church.

COA and Margaery

Margaery like so many of Martin’s characters is based on more than one person, and perhaps it is the author’s way of being ironic and sarcastic that he often mixes two or more characters who were rivals in real life to create unique characters..

Margaery’s family is a perfect example of that.
Highgarden is located on the Reach where there are constant border raids from their neighboring Dorne. This should sound family to history buffs, especially Spanish history aficionados who’ve read on the subject.

Spain at the time of Catherine of Aragon’s birth, was divided into three kingdoms, and though the two Catholic crowns were united thanks to her parents’ union, the third crown which represented the Taifa kingdom of Granada, remained separate. Granada was the last of the once great Taifa kingdoms in the Iberian Peninsula. And there were many border raids between the two peoples. They both believed in God but had different religions, and they borrowed from each other’s cultures (though they were hesitant to admit it).

Secondly, the two neighboring realms hated each other. Isabel never felt bad about lying under oath, and neither did her husband. They pretended to be on Boabdil’s side more than one time, and played both sides against one another, so it made taking their realm an easier enterprise. They finally achieved it on the 2nd of January 1492. She and Fernando stood in front of Boabdil, outside the gates of Granada. The King approached Fernando first and gave them the keys to the city then paid his respects to Isabel.

Isabel y su esposo

Isabel was a ruthless politician -not unlike the Queen of Thorns- and always dressed lavishly, while giving a lot of money to the church and keeping her clerics under a tight leash, raised her children well. Her husband was a skilled warrior who helped her maintain stability in her kingdom, and fight off her niece whom she always maintained wasn’t her brother’s real daughter; and he was also a cunning politician.

Catherine learned well from their example and from a young age she learned everything from the great literary works of the ancient world, to civic and canon law, dance, art, poetry, and most of all, her future role, not only as future Queen of England, but as a politician.

Catherine’s years after Prince Arthur died were anything but easy and her father was embroiled in a battle to control Castile and wrestle it from her sister and her husband. David Loades tells us how he wanted to send her money but couldn’t so instead he made her his ambassador. She was the first female ambassador to England and this increased her status but not as much as she hoped for, so she continued fighting and did what she could to get the next in line to the throne, Prince Henry Tudor of Wales’ attention.

When Henry VII died, his son did something unexpected (but not unprecedented) and chose to follow his heart instead of listening to the council. Fancying himself a knight in shining armor, he married his sweet sister in law and the two were crowned on the same day in June 24th 1509.

Highgarden and Castilla

The books, including the World of Ice and Fire, make it clear just how traditional Margaery’s family is. And there have been a lot of inaccurate and crazy blogs that say that Catherine’s equivalent in the show is likely someone like Selyse or another religious fanatic. But let’s stop and think for a second: If we consider Anne super religious while also being a fashion icon, why can’t we think the same for Catherine? Or are we just too lazy to do research and prefer to believe what someone else tells us or what has become the norm after centuries of story-telling that have become the new history?

England and Castile and Aragon were highly religious yet they enjoyed many past-times. Castile was one of the richest courts in Western Europe, and Isabel loved everything that had to do with fashion, music and art, and she was passionate about her children learning about the latest educational trends such as Humanism and reading classical books.

She was referred by some as sweet, and by others said that she could also be cross.

Catherine had an idyllic childhood, much like the actress Natalie Dormer has said of her character in Game of Thrones.

The two also introduced fashions in their adoptive countries or realms. They loved gossip (Catherine’s mother especially) and they had fierce maternal relatives who never held their tongue. Isabel made sure her children dressed the best, were more educated tha other European princes. There was always music and dancing wherever they went. They also loved to watch plays while they celebrated, and they always surrounded themselves by bright colors. Not just in their clothing but in paintings that Isabel had commissioned for her family where they vibrantly appeared as saints or being blessed by God and the Holy Mother. And they were not afraid to speak against their religious leaders.

Catherine of Aragon wrote a strong letter in December 1531, subtly urging the pope to rule in her favor. And I say subtly because Catherine of Aragon was good at making threats that didn’t seem like threats but more like passive-aggressive rhetoric, the kind you get from a skilled politicians. Margaery does the same thing. When she is smiling, she isn’t really smiling. She is surviving by playing the game of thrones better than her opponents, bearing the same perseverance that Catherine did for seven years.

It should come as no surprise that Catherine’s first motto was ‘Not for my Crown’ and that her second ‘Humble and Loyal’ (which resembled her late mother in law’s) reflected her great understanding of politics. She could appear docile and sweet on the outside, but was a strong and skillful politician like her parents.

Anne Boleyn arrest 1

On the manner of Margaery’s arrest though, the Anne Boleyn persona takes over, especially when you take into account what happens in the book. In the book, Cersei firmly believes that her daughter in law is cheating, and that while her second marriage to her eldest son (Joffrey) wasn’t consummated, the first might have been. Like Catherine, it is a question that will likely haunt Margaery for ages (or less given than everyone dies far sooner in GOT). But instead of annulling her marriage, she wants to humiliate her and her family since she believes Margaery is the young, beautiful queen from the prophecy who will take everything from her.By book 5, is pretty clear that Cersei doesn’t really believe in all the charges, but she is so consumed by rage (after she too has been imprisoned) that she doesn’t care anymore. Margaery is accused of sleeping with her servants and her brother. Like Anne, she isn’t given the benefit of the doubt by the highest authority, which is her mother-in-law, and she seems doomed.

Like both Queens, Margaery’s mistake is not in being of one side or the other, but being politically active, and better at the game than her rival, and not giving the crown what it needs: an heir and complete obedience. The Baratheon dynasty is new and nobody really believes that Cersei’s bastard children are Robert’s, but they are in power and most of their enemies have died, so that doesn’t matter. Nonetheless, they need a male heir to continue the line. Margaery hasn’t delivered because she is way older than Tommen in the books who’s just a kid, and in the show although the two have consummated their marriage, there is no sign of her getting pregnant. And she isn’t one to bow down to Cersei. She is good at playing docile, but she is even better at convincing others to take her side and subtly get rid of Cersei -something the Queen Mother couldn’t forgive and now Margaery is paying the consequences

We will have to see what awaits her. And what awaits Highgarden. If Margaery and Loras die, they will have Willas to take over when their father dies as well, but in the show, it looks as if Highgarden’s golden age is about to end. Could it be a parallel to Spain or to the Trastamara dynasty? After the Catholic Kings lost their precious jewel, Don Juan, Prince of Asturias, they had no other choice but name their daughter Princess of Asturias and after she and her baby died, their second daughter, Dona Juana, Duchess of Burgundy whose strong temperament made them nervous, and whose reckless husband, made things worse.

Sources:

  • Katharine of Aragon by Patrick Williams
  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • The Six  Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • World of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin,  Elio Garcia and Linda Antonsson
  • The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: ‘The Most Happy’ by Eric Ives
  • The Boleyn Women by Elizabeth Norton

Anne of Cleves from Greenwich to Hampton (1540-1541)

Anne of Cleves Stone

On the third of January 1540, the date set for Anne of Cleves and Henry VIII’s first encounter was spoiled by their earlier and much unexpected encounter (at least for Anne) on New Year’s day at the Bishop’s Palace at Rochester. Anne had no idea that the King would be coming, and much less that he would be accompanied by a handful of courtiers playing the part of Robin Hood and his band of merry men. The meeting as we can all recall, went disastrously wrong when Anne rejected his advances. With no knowledge of the king’s love of games, or the art of courtly love, Henry grew disenchanted with his foreign bride and despite her best attempts to make it up by engaging in idle chatter, the King lost all enthusiasm for her.

AOC Six Wives

It was only by some miracle –thanks in part to Cromwell, reminding him of his promise to marry her- that he agreed to go ahead with the betrothal. Two days after that disastrous meeting, Anne traveled to London, arriving at Shooter’s Hill, two miles outside of Greenwich. At midday she made her entrance to the Palace where she was welcomed by the King’s court. Doctor Day who had been appointed as her almoner gave her a welcome speech in Latin. He was followed by the King’s nieces and former daughter-in-law, Ladies Margaret Douglas, Frances Brandon, Mary Howard as well as other “ladies and gentlewomen to the number of sixty five” who “welcomed her and led her into a gorgeous tent or pavilion of rich cloth of gold that had been set up for at the foot of the hill, in which fires burned and perfumes scented the air.” They dressed her in a new gown which was also in the Dutch fashion, and added a new headdress and jewelry then helped her into her horse which was “richly trapped”. As the people caught sight of Anne, they would have largely commented on her fashions which would have seemed to strange to them as Henry’s first Queen’s Spanish ones would have seemed strange to their fathers and grandfathers two generations before when she made her grand entrance to London in November of 1501.

Anne of Cleves Henry VIII and his Six Wives 1972

The French Ambassador, Charles de Marillac says that Anne “was clothed in the fashion of the country from which she came” as well as her ladies which made her look “strange to many.” He also adds that he doesn’t find any of them (including the future Queen) beautiful and “not so young as was expected, nor so beautiful as everyone affirmed.”

Some can take this as proof that the myths surrounding Anne’s appearance but we have to remember that Marillac had an agenda and although the second portrait of Anne had Holbein paint over her elongated nose, by no means it adds credibility to those absurd rumors. At the time of Henry’s betrothal, Spain and France had formed an alliance and to avoid complete isolation, Cromwell devised an alliance with the Schmalkaldic League that could help them offset the balance.
Naturally, Marillac was not going to look well on this union.

THE TUDORS - Season 4

Fast forward to a year later, the same date (January 3rd), Anne and Henry met once again. This time as brother and sister (having received the title of the King’s sister along with various states after their marriage was annulled) at Hampton Court Palace, exchanging gifts with his new queen, her former lady in waiting, Katherine Howard.

Sources:

  • Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • Six Wives of Henry VIII by David Loades
  • On this Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway

Anne of Cleves’ Arrival to England

Anne_of_Cleves,_by_Hans_Holbein_the_Younger

Anne of Cleves had set sail for England on the winter of 1539, arriving on Calais on December 11th and staying at the Exchequer Palace. She was the third of Henry’s Queens to have stayed there (the other two were Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn). Sixteen days later, she arrived at Deal in Kent. From there she would set off to Rochester and then to London where she would meet the King on the third of January but the King was anxious to meet his new bride so he rode with a handful of gentlemen to see her.

While Anne was at Dover, she received a generous reception at Deal Castle and Dover Castle. At Dover Castle she met with Charles Brandon and his wife, Catherine Willoughby, the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk. She then headed to Canterbury and St. Augustine’s Abbey (which had been converted into a royal palace after the dissolution of the monasteries) where she stayed before moving to the Bishop’s Palace at Rochester.

THE TUDORS - Season 4

Anne showed a lot of excite and “was so glad to see the king’s subjects resorting so lovingly to her that she forgot all the foul weather and was very merry at supper.”

It’s a shame that the same can’t be said about her meeting with Henry on New Year. He and his fellow courtiers disguised as bandits. He had done this with his first wife, Katherine of Aragon. His first three wives were used to do this. Katherine had grown in Spain where she was used to tales of chivalry, to plays, and such playful behavior, and was as well-educate as both her spouses. Anne Boleyn had traveled abroad and served illustrious mistresses and as such, was also used to this kind of behavior. Jane might not have been bookish as her predecessors, but being in their services she had learned many things and grew accustomed to court life. The same can’t be said for Anne. She had lived a very sheltered life where her education consisted mostly of domestic arts. She understood royal protocol and courtly etiquette but that was about it.

AOC Six Wives

“Fired by desire, he decided to waylay her, as he had done to Catherine in the Robin Hood impersonations of his youth. It was a silly idea for a man of his age and dignity, and it went disastrously wrong.” (Loades)

When Henry surprised her by barging in her rooms, Anne didn’t know who he was or what his intentions where and when he tried to kiss her, she was naturally frightened and pushed the stranger away and spoke strong words against him. This clearly stung. After he came back, Anne realized her mistake and tried to make things better by engaging in idle chapter but the damage was already done.

Tudor Rose AOC

Henry nonetheless went ahead with the betrothal marrying her that January and true to his nature when he didn’t like something and found something new and more appealing, annulled his marriage six months later. Unlike her foreign predecessor, Anne did not die alone in an abandoned castle for refusing Henry’s generous settlement but his minister did and on the day he was executed, he married his fifth wife who had been Anne’s lady-in-waiting, Katherine Howard.

Anne of Cleves is one of two wives to survive him and the only one to be buried at Westminster Abbey.

Sources:

  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • Six Wives of Henry VIII by David Loades

The Funeral of Queen Mary I -‘She was a King’s daughter, sister, wife and a King also’

Mary I Tudor funeral

On the 14th of December 1558, nearly a month after she had passed away, Queen Mary I of England, Ireland and France was buried on Westminster Abbey. The Queen died on the 17th of November at St James Palace. Her body was laid to rest there in her Privy Chamber under the cloth of state before it was moved to Westminster. The procession began on December 10th. Acting as chief mourner was her beloved cousin Margaret Douglas the Countess of Lennox.

Displaying the banners of the English royal arms, the Queen’s coffin was laid to rest on the Chapel Royal for three days before its final journey to Westminster. With the Countess were the Queen’s household servants dressed in black, the heralds and the gentlemen mourners who walked under the banners of the white greyhound and falcon and of the royal arms.

On the 13th, the procession resumed, men and women walked towards the Abbey, once more dressed in black. The five heralds meanwhile bore the royal coat of arms, the royal helmet, the royal shield, the royal sword and the coat of armor. The queen’s coffin was a draped in purple velvet, with a lifelike effigy depicting the Queen crowned, holding the scepter and orb.

“At each corner of the funeral chariot a herald on horseback bore a banner of the four English royal saints. After the chariot followed the chief mourner, Margaret Douglas, countess of Lennox, and Mary’s ladies in waiting all in black robes, attending her in death as they had in life.” (Whitelock)

westminster-abbey-westminster-abbey-the-quire-5d80fc39167130c59e7395c1fc9a6f47

The procession halted at the great door of the Abbey where it was met by four Bishops and an Abbot who censed the coffin and the effigy before it was taken inside. The queen’s coffin lay there overnight with over a hundred gentlemen and her guard who kept building.

The next morning, a funeral Mass was held and here is where Elizabeth showed everyone who was boss, and that despite showing respect to her sister’s memory, she was still going to include a mention of herself, even if others didn’t consider it relevant.

After all, the yet-to-be crowned, Queen Elizabeth intended her sister to have a funeral worthy of her status and lineage. No expense was spared. The Marques of Winchester was put in charge of funeral arrangements. But changes had to be made. The Bishop of Winchester, John White, was in charge of preaching the funeral sermon. He had prepared a beautiful homage for England’s first Queen titled ‘The Epitaph upon the death of our late virtuous Quene Marie deceased’. Although it was a badly written poem, it extolled the queen’s reign. This isn’t what got Elizabeth to make him change the poem however. It was the fact that there was no mention of her at all:

“How many noble men restored
and other states also
Well showed her princely liberal heart
which gave both friend and foe.
As princely was her birth, so princely was her life:
Constant, courtise, modest and mild;
a chaste and chosen wife.
Oh mirror of all womanhood!
Oh Queen of virtues pure!
Oh Constant Marie! Filled with grace,
No age can thee obscure.”

So he was forced to add the following:

“Marie now dead, Elizabeth lives,
our just and lawful Queen
In whom her sister’s virtues rare,
abundantly are seen.
Obey our Queen as we are bound,
pray God her to preserve
And send her grace life long and fruit,
and subjects truth to serve.”

White delivered the sermon saying very little about Mary’s religious policies which for better or for worse have come to define her reign.

Mary I coronation

“She was a King’s daughter, she was a King’s sister, she was a King’s wife. She was a Queen, and by the same title a King also … What she suffered in each of these degrees and since she came to the crown I will not chronicle; only this I say, howsoever it pleased God to will her patience to be exercised in the world, she had in all estates the fear of God in her heart … she had the love, commendation and admiration of all the world. In this church she married herself to the realm, and in token of faith and fidelity, did put a ring with a diamond on her finger, which I understand she never took off after, during her life … she was never unmindful or uncareful of her promise to the realm. She used singular mercy towards offenders. She used much pity and compassion towards the poor and oppressed. She used clemency amongst her nobles … She restored more noble houses decayed than ever did prince of this realm, or I did pray God ever shall have the like occasion to do hereafter … I verily believe, the poorest creature in all this city feared not God more than she did.”

The last sentence was based on two verses of Ecclesiastes which said the following: “I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive … for a living dog is better than a dead lion”. This and wishing Elizabeth “a prosperous reign” while adding “if it be God’s will” landed him once more into trouble. It was a veiled reference to Elizabeth, alluding to his point of view that Mary had been a great queen and her death left a hole in many Catholic’s hearts, while Bess was not. He was placed under house arrest the next day “for such offenses as he committed in his sermon at the funeral of the late queen”.

As when the heralds had cried when they entered the Abbey to hear the mass, “the Queen is dead! Long Live the Queen!”

Elizabeth and Mary

Before Mary’s death, several courtiers had moved to Elizabeth’s house, courting the new Queen. Now that the last reminder of Mary’s reign was finally laid to rest, the Virgin Queen’s could begin.

Sadly for Mary it was done at her own expense. Mary’s reign as previously stated has been defined by her religious policies and how these were defined by Protestant chroniclers. Over two hundred ‘heretics’ were burned during Mary I’s reign. Linda Porter makes the case point in her biography on her that some of these were done at a local level for which the queen had no control. Even if this is completely accurate, the fact that it happened can’t be overlooked. But neither can the other atrocities committed during her ancestors and successors’ reigns. The truth is always somewhere in the middle, and the reason why we always idolize history and cling to old phrases such as “the good old days” is because we are scared and tired of the times we live in. And so we are taken over by nostalgia, and live in this make-believe world where despite our knowledge of the period, we tend to believe that amidst all the chaos there were a few who were different. Those who were “ahead of their times”. But nobody was. The past, as an author once wrote, is an alien world and these people lived according to the standards of the time. There were some who were more practical and tolerant than others but they still held some kind of prejudice. Mary was no different and neither was her sister.

0Tudor tombs elizabeth mary
“Partners both in throne and grave. Here rest we, two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in the hopes of the resurrection.”

Her wishes to be buried next to her mother, as well as having her mother’s coffin be moved to Westminster, were not respected. After her sister’s death in 1603, James I ordered a great monument for his predecessor. Elizabeth’s coffin was placed on top of Mary’s and only her effigy was visible. Once again, Mary was overshadowed. Perhaps what reads in the plaque gives those who believe some hope, that the two sisters will someday be reunited.

Sources:

  • The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
  • Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen by Anna Whitelock
  • Bloody Mary by Carolly Erickson
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle

The Birth of Mary, Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots in black gown

On the 8th of December 1542, nearly a month after the defeat of the Scottish troops at Solway Moss, Princess Mary Stewart was born on Linlithgow Palace. She was the only surviving child of Mary of Guise and James V of Scotland. Unlike his father who had died in the battlefield, nearly three decades before him, James V died as a result of an illness

“There is no record that James ever saw his daughter, though he might have had time to do so before he was laid low by severe illness.” (Porter)

James V died six days after Mary’s birth, making Mary the first Christ Queen Regnant of the British Isles. She was crowned the following year, being less than a year old. There is a tradition that when James V heard of his daughter’s birth that he said “It came with a lass and it will end with a lass.” But this as Porter points out, given how ill he was, it is highly dubious that he was able to utter such coherent words. But for historical novelists, this makes up for good drama no doubt.

Mary, Queen of Scots as she became known became part of the ‘Rough Wooing’ –this was an aggressive Anglo-Scottish policy that was Henry VIII’s brainchild. He sought to have the Scottish nobles he captured during the battle return to Scotland with the mission to convince the Queen Dowager and the other nobles to his proposal of a betrothal between her and his son (then) Prince Edward.

John Dudley

At one point, when her father’s body wasn’t yet cold, Henry VIII attempted to invade Scotland and there was one man who firmly opposed this and this was none other than John Dudley who’s reputation hasn’t been so good thanks in part to his former allies turning against him when the going got tough following the Jane Grey fiasco and pop culture.

Before Christmas of that year, John Dudley voiced his concerns, saying that “seeing that God hath thus disposed his will of the said King of Scots, I thought it should not be to Your Majesty’s honor, that we your soldiers should make war or invade upon a dead body or upon a widow or upon a young suckling…”

When the King died, a man who continued Henry VIII’s aggressive policy under his royal nephew and new King was Edward Seymour, newly named Lord Protector and Duke of Somerset.

Edward Seymour, by an unknown artist.

Somerset had no intention for diplomacy. A hugely divisive figure as his (later) rival, John Dudley, he was willing to be lenient and do everything in his power to work for the common good (although his policies proved ineffective) but when it came to Scotland he was completely hostile. As far as he was concerned, diplomacy was failing. The Scots could understand he meant business by only one way and that was through fire and blood. Pillaging and heavy artillery. Although this did the trick, planting fear into the Scots’ hearts, it also strengthened Mary of Guise and her allies’ resolve. She decided to stall and secretly sent her daughter, her companions, among them the well-known four Maries, her half brother (Moray, who would return shortly after), to France where she would meet her future spouse, the future King of France, Francois.

Mary Queen of Scots
Mary Queen of Scots during her years of captivity during Elizabeth I’s reign.

Mary, Queen of Scots has a lot of detractors and defenders and seldom any people in between. On the one hand you have this naïve girl who was well-educated, who loved playing sports, and dressed in men’s clothes for that, and was also very beautiful, and had received not a lot of training to be a ruler but more how to be a Queen Consort while she was in France, but on the other hand, you also have a girl who caught on pretty fast and who wanted to reconcile both factions of her country, Protestant and Catholic, and tried her best but failed. And then tried again, using conspiracy to oust her cousin Queen Elizabeth when she didn’t agree to reinstate her. And this last act of hers not only failed but ended with her being sentenced to death. This was extremely painful as her executioner botched it and it took more than one blow to finish the deed.
The truth is likely somewhere in between. Mary was a quick learner, well-learned, fashionable Queen, but at the same time, she was also tired after years of trying and having little to show for it except plotters at every turn who hated her because of her sex and religion and for refusing to give up. When she finally gave up, she tried to rise up but once again she felt defeated and sought her cousin Queen Elizabeth I of England for help and as previously stated, when she realized this was a huge mistake, she plotted against her and this ended with terrible results. She was much a victim of circumstance as of her own actions and rearing.

Sources:

  • Tudors vs Stewarts by Linda Porter
  • Ten Tudor Statesmen by Arthur D. Innes
  • Passion. Murder. Manipulation by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • The Tudors by John Guy
  • Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart by John Guy