Henry promises to marry Princess Elizabeth of York

0Henry VII and EOY

On Christmas day, 1483, Henry VII solemnly swore that he would marry Elizabeth of York at Vannes Cathedral, among many of his fellow exiles in Brittany. Other sources say it was Rennes. According to Polydore Vergil (who placed it at Rennes), the event went as follows:

“The day of Christ’s nativity was come upon, which, meeting all in the church, they ratified all in the church, they ratified all other things by plighting of their troths and solemn covenants and first of all Earl Henry upon his Oath promised, that so soon as he should be King he would marry Elizabeth, King Edward’s daughter; then after they swore unto him homage as though he had already been created King, protesting that they would lose not only their lands and possessions, but their lives, before they would suffer, bear, or permit, that Richard should rule over them an heirs.”

0Rennes Cathedral
Rennes Cathedral

Henry knew that time was running out. Earlier that year, his mother had sent a messenger telling him about the state of affairs in England and Buckingham had written to him, telling him he would switch sides, plan an insurrection so Henry could become King. The full details of what motivated Buckingham to switch sides is still unclear and isn’t likely to be solved anytime soon. But failure to destabilize Richard III’s reign, was a massive halt to Henry Tudor’s plans. After the Duke’s execution in October, Henry was ready to set sail with a great fleet that was funded by his ally and jailor, the Duke of Brittany, but they were quickly blown away by “a cruel gale of wind” which drove them back to Brittany. Which was the more reason why he made this pledge in front of all his fellow exiles, among them staunch Lancastrians and Edwardian Yorkists. With this vow he secured the latter’s support. And they paid homage to him as if he were already king, and declared him so less than a month later in November 3 at Bodmin.

“…in addition to the Duchess of Brittany herself. The premier minister, Pierre Landais, was also present and through him Henry obtained Duke Francois’ solemn promise to support and assist in the cause. Henry had entered into a pledge which he could not turn back from. If his invasion of England was successful, he would marry Elizabeth of York. It was in effect a marriage by proxy.” (Breverton)

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Vannes Cathedral

When Richard III heard of this, he acted quickly. Parliament passed a bill entitled “Titulus Regius” on January the 23rd which officially declared the marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville null and void under the assumption that he had been betrothed to one Eleanor Butler months before. Not surprisingly, nobody in his regime could dispute that given that both of the three people in question were dead. Henry Tudor, acted quickly as well, obtaining a papal dispensation on March the 27th and moving out of Brittany that summer after one of his spies at Richard’s court told him that the King was hot on his trail.

Tudor Rose

Four months after his triumph at Bosworth Parliament would remind him of his pledge, and he would swear one more time that he would honor that pledge and marry the Princess Elizabeth.

The couple were married a month later in January of 1486, after the papal dispensation was signed, sealed and delivered, making their union official. And just as he promised, their union would come to represent the union of two houses, Lancaster and York, symbolized in the new device Henry had created to embody this: the Tudor Rose.

Sources:

  • Blood Sisters by Sarah Gristwood
  • Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
  • Henry VII by SB Chrimes
  • The Woodvilles by Susan Higginbotham
  • Jasper Tudor: Dynasty Maker by Terry Breverton
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The Coronation of Elizabeth of York

EOY red and SOT

On the 25th of November 1487, over a year after her marriage to Henry VII, Elizabeth of York was crowned Queen of England at Westminster Abbey. Her ceremony superseded that of her husband’s. It began two days before on Friday, the twenty third when she and a select number of ladies and courtiers traveled by barge to the Tower of London. Elizabeth received a great reception and was greeted by almost every Londoner who had come out to see their beloved princess. Her father was greatly remembered after his many victories and regaining the throne, following the Lancastrian Readeption; not to mention that the Commons also remembered her mother’s passive response during that time. She hadn’t asked them to rise up in arms, or disobey their new overlords. Instead, she sought sanctuary at the Abbey and lived off the charity of the Abbot and others nearby.

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Furthermore, Elizabeth was widely loved in the North as the eldest Princess of York. And her marriage to Henry symbolized the union of the two warring branches of the Plantagenet House from which they both descended: Lancaster & York. It was important that Henry gave his wife a ceremony to be remembered in years to come. Image was everything and the Tudor Dynasty was new, and it needed this kind of splendor and rhetoric to convince the people of its legitimacy in order to survive.
One of the many symbols that would have graced the palaces and the Tower would be the Tudor rose, a white rose in the middle of the red. The white symbolized the House of York. The red stood for Lancaster. Roses were very popular symbols during the middle ages. They symbolized the Virgin Mary, in the case of the red rose as Leanda de Lisle explains:

“The simple five-petal design of the heraldic rose was inspired by the wild dog rose that grows in English hedgerows. As a symbol it had a long association with the Virgin Mary, who is sometimes called the ‘Mystical Rose of Heaven.’ But although the King’s grandfather, Henry IV, had once used red roses to decorate his pavilion at a joust, their use as a Lancastrian royal badge was not widespread before the advent of the Tudors.”

Or (in the case of the white rose) the five wounds inflicted on Jesus Christ when he was nailed to the cross. After Edward IV’s victories, the white rose became one of his personal symbols. It was soon associated with his House, and although there is record of some using the red rose as a form of opposition to the Yorkist House, it was not the official symbol of said house. Nonetheless, it became popular that Henry took it as a symbol for Lancaster and because it was also easy and very iconic, used it to create this new symbol for his dynasty. One which would also give the people a new narrative in which the war was over thanks to him, who had come to save the day and whose marriage had stopped the bloodshed.

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Besides this, according to John Leland’s “Collectanea” (which is based on old notes he’d taken from monks’ books that included important events such as coronations), “the mayor, sheriffs, aldermen and many out of every craft attended [the Queen] in a flotilla of boats freshly furnished with banners and streamers of silk richly beseen with the arms and badges of their crafts” and rowed by liveried oarsmen. Alongside Elizabeth’s barges were others “garnished and appareled, surpassing all others”, containing the model of the “great red dragon” –which was none other than Cadwaladr, the same red dragon that he took as his personal standard during the Battle of Bosworth and that was no part of the royal arms- that “spouted flames of fire into the Thames.” Everything else from “music of trumpets, clarions, and other minstrelsy” formed part of the entertainment that accompanied the Queen on her road to the Tower of London which had housed so many of her predecessors, and was the traditional destination before their coronation.

Tower of London

 The following day, on the twenty-fourth, she made her state entry into London. Dressed splendidly, wearing a kirtle “of white cloth of gold of damask, and a mantle of the same suit furred with ermine, fastened before her breast with a great lacel curiously wrought of gold and slik and rich knots of gold at the end, tasseled.” Her hair was set loose with only a “caul of pipes over it.” This, biographer and novelist Alison Weir explains, consisted of a coif “cross-barred with a network gold cords, a fashion popular in France and Italy.”

Emerging from the Tower, with her sister [Cecily] carrying her train, she climbed into a litter richly hung with white cloth of gold damask. Eight horses pulled the litter and new Knights of the Bath carried a large canopy above her. As before, Elizabeth toured the city of London, only this time on land. Crowds showed the same enthusiasm as seeing their queen-to-be and beloved Princess, as the day before. And that joy would be doubled the day after when she was finally crowned.

The day was no mere coincidence as it fell on St. Catherine’s day who as Elizabeth had been a King’s daughter, and was widely revered for her intellectualism and her piety. It is known that Elizabeth was educated as expected of a lady of her station, with a love for chivalry and a strong piety which no doubt was instilled by her mother and her paternal grandmother, the Duchess of York –Cecily Neville aka “Queen by Rights”. According to Tudor chronicler, Edward Hall –writing in the sixteenth century- Henry did this as proof of his “perfect love and sincere affection” for his consort.

“Elizabeth went to her coronation on sumptuously attired in a kirtle, gown, and mantle of purple velvet, furred with ermine bands, and the same circlet of gold garnished with pearls and precious stones that she had worn the day before. This circlet was probably a gift from Henry; from the late fourteenth century at least, it had been customary for the crown worn by a queen in her coronation procession to be given to her by the King.” (Weir)

With her sister carrying her train once more, Elizabeth traveled to the Abbey dressed in a mantle of purple velvet, furred with ermine brands. And as was customary for queens on their coronation, her hair was loose with only a circlet of gold with pearls and other precious stones on it. Above her was a canopy that followed her all the way to the church. With her, were also her aunts the Duchesses of Bedford and Suffolk, and her cousin Margaret Pole. Notably missing was her mother, the Queen Dowager. Some historians take this as evidence that Henry suspected her involvement in the Lambert Simnel rebellion, others –like biographer and novelist, Susan Higginbotham- take a middle approach and point out her eldest son’s (the Marquis of Dorset, Thomas Grey) arrest which “soured her relations with the King.”

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Elizabeth was anointed twice on the breast and head, then had the ring placed on her fourth finger, followed by a golden crown on her head, a scepter and rod of gold on each hand. Following this event, she and her party traveled to Westminster Hall where a great banquet awaited her.

“An observing herald recorded the arrangements and menu of the occasion. First, onlookers were cleared away by horseback riders, to make way for the guests: lords, bishops and abbots; barons, knights and nobles, beside London’s mayor, aldermen, merchants and distinguished citizens, were seated either side of the dais on which Elizabeth would be served, flanked by the Archbishop of Canterbury, her aunt the Duchess of Bedford and paternal grandmother Cecily Neville. Another two noblewomen sat under the table at her feet the whole time to assist her discreetly.” (Licence)

Following tradition, like her father during her mother’s coronation, her husband was not visibly present for hers. He and his mother, the Countess of Richmond, watched the event from a private spot.

As for the courses: Dishes such as hart, pheasant, capons, lamprey, crane, pike, carp, perch and custard were served *“followed by an elaborate ‘subtlety’, decorative dish that was as much a feast for the eyes as it was for the mouth.” Furthermore, the seating arrangements were as followed: Her maternal grandmother, Katherine Woodville, the Dowager Duchess of Buckingham and Bedford was seated at her left hand with her uncle’s widow, the Countess Dowager of Rivers and the Countess of Oxford kneeling at either side of her. The new Queen of England would have also been entertained by music and ballads made for this occasion.

Elizabeth of York remains an elusive character. Some historians and novelists have taken her actions during the Ricardian regime out of context to convey a sinister and manipulative aspect that is neglected by their predecessors; but by doing this they are doing the same mistake. You can’t judge Elizabeth of York by modern standards. She was a woman of her times, and one who was born a Princess. She believed it wasn’t only her right, but her divine right to marry someone of her same station or above her. In case of the latter, this depended largely on what would benefit her family. During her uncle Richard III’s reign, after he vowed that he wouldn’t harm her, her mother and her sisters, she and Cecily were invited to court where they attended Anne Neville. Some have taken her actions during that Christmas, when she and her aunt wore similar clothing as proof of her scheming –so like her mother- to snatch Richard from Anne so she could be Queen and her family would be back in favor. But this narrative follows the same myths regarding her mother and the rest of her maternal family –the Woodvilles- that they were power-grasping and didn’t think things through. Elizabeth’s actions as that of her maternal family might seem so to us at first, but in an era of uncertainty, it was very common for people, especially the high-born, to change allegiances. Elizabeth and her mother had already risked too much, and who knew how long Richard would last in power? There was no guarantee that Henry Tudor (then) Earl of Richmond would come back to defeat Richard. The odds were not in his favor; Elizabeth and her family had to do what was best for them. There is no evidence however that Elizabeth lusted after her uncle or vice-verse. Richard III was already planning a dual marriage for the both of them to Portuguese royals so whatever you might have seen on TV or read in fiction, take that out of your minds.

Henry VII and EOY
Henry VII and Elizabeth of York tomb at the Lady Chapel located in Westminster Abbey.

Elizabeth’s marriage to Henry had the advantage that the two had come to know during that five month interim, from late August to January.
Elizabeth of York’s affected Henry. After he died in 1509, he was buried alongside her. Elizabeth of York remained a model for perfect queenship, a model which her son would judge all of his queens.

Sources:

  • Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen by Amy Licence
  • Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and her World by Alison Weir
  • The Woodvilles: The Wars of the Roses and England’s Most Infamous Family by Susan Higginbotham*
  • Tudor: Passion. Murder. Manipulation by Leanda de Lisle
  • Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones

The Battle of Bosworth Field

Henry VII Bosworth

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 iii
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.

“Backwards we cannot fly: so that here we stand like sheep in a fold circumcepted and compassed between our enemies and doubtful friends.”
“Backwards we cannot fly: so that here we stand like sheep in a fold circumcepted and compassed between our enemies and doubtful friends.”

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.

Henry VII in the
Henry VII in the “White Queen” placing the bloody crown on his head.

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.

Sources:

  • 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

The End Game for Richard III and the Plantagenets

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On the 22nd of August 1485, the Tudor Dynasty began and although Henry VII traced his reign the day before so he could judge those who fought for Richard traitors, the reality was that it began on the day that Richard died. I have done a special article on Bosworth Field and what it meant for the Tudors and mentioned Henry VII’s amazing journey. But I feel it is only fair that I do one on Richard. Whatever popular opinion is of him, he was a King and the last one of two dynasties: Plantagenet and York. With his death, died an entire era.

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According to various sources, the priests were unprepared to give Mass as Richard requested it, they could not find bread or wine, and the cooks were not rise yet to prepare breakfast. This goes in accordance to Shakespeare’s much later colorful tale of Richard waking up early because of his nightmares. Certainly, the Crowland Chronicles made mention of this, but we can’t know for sure what was going through Richard’s mind. Most likely he was nervous as Henry Tudor had been two days prior and was showing the first signs of doubts, this was after all The decisive battle. Richard’s words that day as he prepared his men for battle were:
“And you Lord, who reconciled the race of man and the Father, who purchased with your own precious blood the confiscated inheritance of paradise and who made peace between men and the angels, deign to make and keep concord between me and my enemies. Show me and pour over me your grace and glory. Deign to assuage, turn aside, destroy, and bring to nothing the hatred they bear towards me … Stretch out your arm to me and spread your grace over me, and deign to deliver me from all the perplexities and sorrows in which I find myself … Therefore Lord Jesus Christ son of the living 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 against them, and deign, Lord Jesus Christ, to bring to nothing the evil plans that they are making or which to make against me … By all these things, I ask you, most gentle Lord Jesus Christ to keep me, thy servant King Richard and defend me from all evil, from the devil and from all peril present, past and to come, and deliver me from all the tribulations, sorrows and troubles in which I am placed, and deign to console me.”
Richard took Thomas Stanley’s eldest son, Lord Strange to guarantee of his loyalty. Several historians, among them Chris Skidmore in his recent biography of Bosworth, stipulates that Strange must’ve gotten himself free, or fled from his captors as soon as everything got in disarray, Henry’s armies had surprised everyone, they arrived to Ambion Hill earlier than had been expected. Henry Tudor sent a messenger to his stepfather Thomas Stanley reminding him of his loyalties but for obvious reasons Thomas and the rest of his men stayed put. If George did escape as has been suggested, it makes sense then why as soon as Henry’s standard bearer (Brandon) fell, Stanley and his men moved against Richard. The weather and the sun shining bright on everyone’s shield and armor made possible for a greater confusion as some men started to retreat minutes before Stanley moved in; Northumberland’s troops stayed inactive the whole time. The reason for this is because they had previously rebelled against their lord and many were not happy with the regime, therefore Northumberland spent the entire time controlling them. If worse came to pass, he would not be blamed by either monarch if his troops attacked either one.

Richard III
After Richard was unhorsed, Henry’s men struck deadly blows which shortly killed him. He was stripped from his armor and put back on his horse with barely anything to cover his genitals … While Henry’s victory has been criticized for its inhumane treatment of Richard’s body, one thing these critics often forget is that this was a common medieval practice. In fact Richard along with his brothers the Duke of Clarence and Edward IV, had done the same to the Earl of Warwick (Anne Neville’s father). Had Henry lost the battle, he would’ve received the same treatment.

Sources:

  • Richard III: Journey to Leicester by Amy Licence
  • Richard III by David Baldwin
  • The Rise of the Tudors by Chris Skidmore
  • On This Day In Tudor History by Claire Ridgway

King Henry VII’s Burial: Reassesing the first Tudor Monarch

Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, their effigies at the lady Chapel in Westminster and the symbol that their union created which has endured in the imaginations of historians and avid readers when they study the Tudors.
Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, their effigies at the lady Chapel in Westminster and the symbol that their union created which has endured in the imaginations of historians and avid readers when they study the Tudors.

On the 11th of May 1509 Henry VII was laid to rest in the Lady Chapel that he built for himself and his wife, at Westminster Abbey. Their effigies can be appreciated, as well as the effigies of his other descendants (also buried here). Westminster was no strange place to Henry. Three months after his coronation, he married the beautiful Elizabeth of York here. The wedding as Suzannah Lipscomb describes in her book A Journey Through Tudor England “was cause for celebration indeed. It marked the coming together of the warring houses of York and Lancaster: an end to the bloody Wars of the Roses that had torn England apart on and off for over thirty years. A strikingly attractive and intelligent woman, with long golden hair, Elizabeth wore her finest robes for the wedding –described as glowing ‘with gold and purple dye’- and a necklace ‘framed in fretted gold.’ She carried symbolic white and red roses.”

Their marriage also gave birth to a new symbol: The Tudor Rose. Yet the red rose of Lancaster and white rose of York joined together in matrimony was nothing more an illusion. The Yorks and Lancasters sported more devices than just one rose each. Their origins as Leanda de Lisle states:

“The simple five-petal design of the heraldic rose was inspired by the wild dog rose that grows in the English hedgerows. As a symbol it had a long associated with the Virgin Mary, who is sometimes called the Mystical Rose of Heaven. But Henry IV had once used red roses to decorate his pavilion at a joust, their use as a Lancastrian royal badge was not widespread before the advent of the Tudors.”

In the five hundred and sixteen years after his death, he remains a figure of controversy, everything from he was a miser, or not a good enough king, or his mother killed the princes in the tower, has been said about him, but the truth is we think this way of Henry because he spent more time behind a desk, overseeing his country’s development, and his family’s welfare for that matter, than in becoming popular. We usually remember the monarchs who were once young, energetic, and handsome and who despite causing so much trouble afterwards, still dressed splendidly and spent their money on huge frivolities. And it is because of that, that we tend to overlook the more serious and less romanticized monarchs. Henry’s life story however is just as interesting as all of these other monarchs. And the fact of the matter is that regarding the princes’ disappearance, is something we will never know. But just as Richard’s defenders say that you cannot condemn him based on little evidence, you can use the same argument for Henry and his mother. There are ‘perhaps’ ‘could haves’ but never any certainties. Just as kings were known to be pious, they were also known to be cruel and Richard was not any different. The facts don’t lie, to secure his power, he executed Lord Rivers (Elizabeth Woodville’s brother), Richard Woodville (hers on), and Hastings and imprisoned others that he considered were also a threat. His brother and father had been brutally killed when he was very young, and being exposed to violence at a very young era, no doubt, had an effect on him. The same can be said for Henry Tudor who saw from an early age the destruction of his mother’s house, the Beauforts, and his uncle’s, the Lancastrian. And when he became a target of Edward IV (who feared he would be perceived as the new hope for the lase Lancastrians) he and his uncle Jasper fled the country.

This alone makes his story one of the most amazing found in English medieval history.

“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 hiss former Yorkist enemies in gaining the crown- was a far less welcome tale. It remains nonetheless nonetheless just as remarkable; against all the odds, at Bosworth Henry achieved victory that he should have not on” (Skidmore)

As the royal procession reached Westminster Abbey on that fateful day, people could see the massive wax tapers weighing over twelve hundred pounds. As his coffin was lowered down to be placed next to his wife, the choir sang ‘Libera me’: “Deliver me, O Lord, from death eternal on that fearful day … When thou shalt come to judge the world by fire.”

Despite his miserly attitude after the death of his son and wife, he kept corresponding with his eldest daughter whose affection for her was clearly evident as he consoled her in one of their first letters when she told him that she was feeling homesick. On his deathbed, Henry had made provisions so 10,000 masses would be said to aid his soul’s journey into the afterlife, and the other half to religious gifts and charities. When his son ascended to the throne he posed an important question which perhaps still resonates today when we hear debates about which Tudor King (of the first two) mattered the most. In the Dynasty portrait made in the last decade of his reign, Henry VIII had Holbein put him and his father on the right with their respective and favored wives, Elizabeth of York and Jane Seymour on the left. Separating them is this huge monument that reads “The former often overcame his enemies and the fires of his country and finally gave peace to its citizens but the son, born indeed for greater tasks, drives the unworthy from the altars and brings in men of integrity. The presumption of popes has yielded to unerring virtue and with Henry VIII bearing, the scepter in his hand, religion has been restored.” The message is clear, ‘my dad was great but I am greater.’

The Tudor Dynasty Portrait. Henry VIII is showing in his imposing self, below his father who is leaning towards the central altar, at the opposite side is his mother and Jane Seymour -the consort he asked to be buried with for the simple reason that he'd given him his long awaited for son.
The Tudor Dynasty Portrait. Henry VIII is showing in his imposing self, below his father who is leaning towards the central altar, at the opposite side is his mother and Jane Seymour -the consort he asked to be buried with for the simple reason that he’d given him his long awaited for son.

There is no doubt that Henry VIII did change the course of English history by separating from the Roman Catholic Church and commissioned a new bible in English by Miles Coverdale which made it easier for people to have access to; but his father (a man who triumphed against all odds) was just as great.

 

Sources:

  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder by Leanda de Lisle
  • The Tudors by Peter Ackroyd
  • The Rise of the Tudors by Chris Skidmore
  • Henry VII by SB Chrimes
  • The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
  • Richard III: The Road to Leicester by Amy Licence
  • Tudor Treasury by Elizabeth Norton
  • Winter King by Thomas Penn

Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones.

Hollow Crown/Wars of the Roses

Chronicling the heraldic rise of the houses of Lancaster and York to the house of Tudor, the Hollow Crown is a tale of glory, betrayal, triumph, sadness, and lastly rewriting history.
Dan Jones wasn’t kidding when he said this is the real game of the thrones. In one of the chapters he includes the gruesome detail of a band of brigands fighting during the English occupation in France, kidnapping, murdering, torturing and raping women and one scene was so vivid that (believe me!) surpasses anything seen on television.

Bishops, archbishops murdered, noses cut off, widows wailing as their loved ones are hacked to pieces and last but not least a mother takes her two children hand in hand as she goes on to plead for the warring Queen, Margaret of Anjou (who has issued warrants against her sons, husband, brothers and nephew) for mercy, trying to escape the danger of the villages near Ludlow as she sees many more women being despoiled of their goods and others of their dignities right in front of her and her two sons, George and Richard. Cecily Neville, Duchess of York had the good fortune of enjoying a good relationship with the Queen yet nothing could save her husband and second eldest son and two brothers when they returned to England and forced parliament and the king to name the Duke of York, Henry VI’s heir.

On December 30, a day that would live in infamy for the Yorkists, their patriarch Richard, his son Edmund and his most important brother in law, the earl of Salisbury and his younger brother, were caught by surprise by Lancastrian forces. The way Dan Jones narrates this chapter is done in such a way that you are in suspense as you are reading of Edmund Plantagenent trying to make his way to sanctuary alongside his tutor and priest, only to be caught by one of the men whose father Edmund’s father killed and in something reminiscent of the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones, the man (Lord Clifford) stepped down from his horse and sent his dead father’s regards “As your father slew mine” then “drew his dagger thrust it through his heart. The blood debt of St. Albans had been paid”. There are more examples of his merciless bloodshed from Henry VI mysterious death -which was likely murder under the command of Edward IV, to weeks before the gruesome battles that wiped out all the Lancastrian threats -except for one- Barnet and Tewksbury where the King’s cousin and former staunch supporter, the earl of Warwick had been killed and then stripped down of his clothing and paraded naked through the countryside and Edward of Wesminster (who was proving himself to be like his grandfather, the great Henry V) and Edmund Beaufort Duke of Somerset killed in the latter battle with Edward and his brothers breaking the rules of sanctuary and dragging Edmund and his associates from the church he was hiding in and mercilessly executing him. And yet, the wars of the roses is also a story of great things and good intentions gone awry. Richard Duke of York believed he was more entitled to the privilege and positions bestowed on Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou’s favorites (de la Pole and Beaufort) and that he could do a better job than them, unfortunately his good intentions were lost when he became mad with power and believed that the only way he could rescue England from perdition was by declaring himself king (a bad move which even his closest associates thought was ridiculous); after her partially got what he wanted, Margaret (a formidable woman whose appearance in the book is tremendous, a well educated, and capable leader who had the great example of both her grandmother and mother taking positions of power during her father’s absence or imprisonment, and likewise she wanted to do the same with the same good intentions for her husband’s House) turned the tables on him by defending her only son’s right to inherit his father’s crown and her forces slew him and in his in laws. But this only provoked the Yorkist and what happened afterwards as they say is all history. Likewise, Richard III, proved to be his father’s son. The youngest of Cecily and Richard’s three surviving sons, he believed it was his right to govern the realm in his nephew’s minority and saw the favors bestowed upon the Woodvilles (who, despite their good administration and military leadership) as inadequate and unfair. He was the late king’s loyal brother and had stood by him in all things, when their cousin Warwick and brother George rebelled against him, he didn’t and he had waged war against Scots forces, defending the English borders but his brother’s will (which is now lost to us) appointed the Woodviless to equal positions of power, he was justly angry. He intercepted Rivers and Richard Woodville (Elizabeth Woodville’s second eldest son by her first marriage) and then along with others had them killed but as his namesake he faced a great problem in a king who wasn’t going to bend to his will. 

Richard’s decision to depose his late brother’s brood by declaring the illegitimate through his priest Shaa the previous man was the first of his many acts that mirrored his brother’s ruthlessness of disposing of rival claimants. The princes likely were murdered by Richard, though not by himself, someone closest to him -as they began to be seen less and less to quote from contemporary sources after the summer of ’83 until they disappeared altogether in the autumn of that year. Unfortunately for Richard, this created a lot of hostility towards his reign and after his son and wife died, the way was clear for Henry Tudor who, in ordinary circumstances, would have NEVER been considered as a serious claimant to the throne but Richard III’s accession and the loss of his son and wife changed everything.

The battle of Bosworth fought at Ambion Hill has gone down in Tudor history as a sign of divine providence and perhaps it was but more than that, it was thanks to Henry’s uncle’s supporters in Wales where he had build a power base and angry Edwardian Yorkists, Woodvilles and staunch Lancastrians and of course the Stanleys that helped him win the crown. What came after that was a Tudor creation -the double rose or Tudor Rose. Red and white to symbolize the union of both houses of Lancaster and York and the end of the bloodshed but the bloodshed was far from over. When Henry became more insecure after his son and later his wife and newborn daughter died, he turned his eye on the de la Poles whose Yorkist came through their mother Elizabeth Plantagenet (second eldest daughter of Richard and Cecily Neville) and two of these who escaped were actively engaged in plots against the king whom they had previously served. It wasn’t until his son, Henry VIII that the “White Rose” as the last de la Pole nicknamed himself, was squashed during the battle of Pavia when he fought alongside Francis I . The end of the last “white rose” would have brought stability to the Tudor monarchy had it not been for the religious squabbles that became a large part of the sixteenth and first half of the seventeenth century. The more powerful white rose descendants were through Margaret Pole (daughter of George, Duke of Clarence and Isabel Neville) and when they decided to remain loyal to their faith, they came under Henry’s radar and it wasn’t a matter of whether they were guilty or not as Jones supposes, but the fact that their faith and their Yorkist blood posed a threat to the king. They too tasted the cruel fate that befell their previous ancestors when he last granddaughter of Richard Duke of York was hacked to pieces in 1541.

Dan Jones explores the myth behind this artifice of Tudor propaganda, a successful device that conjured the illusion of peace and the union of two warring dynasties. But the truth as he exposes in his book, is that this conflict was far more complex and it did not start at all dynastic. Furthermore, the red rose was never the official symbol of the Lancastrian royals, and the white rose -although it did become for the Yorks- wasn't the only device they used. With these two however, a new term arose:
Dan Jones explores the myth behind this artifice of Tudor propaganda, a successful device that conjured the illusion of peace and the union of two warring dynasties. But the truth as he exposes in his book, is that this conflict was far more complex and it did not start at all dynastic. Furthermore, the red rose was never the official symbol of the Lancastrian royals, and the white rose -although it did become for the Yorks- wasn’t the only device they used. With these two however, a new term arose:
“The exact phrase the wars of the roses does not appear before the nineteenth century but the image is there virtually from the 1480s clear in the Tudor Rose (this red and white rose) that’s supposed to show York and Lancaster united. Is there in the front piece of books in the royal library, it’s there at Elizabeth I’s coronation where she turns to Penchant Street during her procession from the Tower to Westminster Abbey. The first pageant she sees are rosebushes with the red and white roses united, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn and the rest of the Tudors as the ones that fixed the wounds of the sixteenth century. So the idea is there ‘the wars of the roses’.” (BBC Podcast interview)


Dan Jones’ style of writing is very provocative starting by his introduction, detailing Margaret Pole nee Plantagenet’s execution to the epilogue when Elizabeth I, proving to be her grandfather and father’s granddaughter and daughter respectively uses the same motif once more for her coronation and has an epic poem telling the crowds that the Tudors are not just the product of the union of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York but a different dynasty altogether favored by God and thus then as the bard would say, they get to tell their tale.

18 JANUARY 1486: The Union of the Red and the White Rose

Their union formed the Tudor rose, a heraldic symbol of the union between two warring factions: Lancaster and York that were now at an end. The reality however, was much more complex. Nonetheless, their illusion did give a lasting impression of peace and helped the country heal. For the both of them, it was the realization of their dreams and ambitions.
Their union formed the Tudor rose, a heraldic symbol of the union between two warring factions: Lancaster and York that were now at an end. The reality however, was much more complex. Nonetheless, their illusion did give a lasting impression of peace and helped the country heal. For the both of them, it was the realization of their dreams and ambitions.

On January 18th, 1486 Henry VII married Elizabeth, Princess of York, eldest surviving daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. There is a not a lot of information regarding the wedding ceremony.  Henry VII had swore he would marry Elizabeth when he had been in exile in Brittany, at  Vannes Cathedral, three years prior. A lot had happened since then though. The papal dispensation that their mothers had secretly plotted to get had to be reissued. The papal dispensation covered the Earl of Richmond and the natural daughter of Elizabeth of York (meaning the Lady Elizabeth, not the legitimate daughter and heiress of Edward IV). It was vital that the couple married under the good eyes of the church. The fifteenth century had descended into chaos when two branches of the Plantagenet House had annihilated each other, their descendants had married off to other noble houses and as a result (after Bosworth), Henry claimed the crown. But he was not blind, conquering and ruling were two different things. He needed stability or at the very least, give the illusion of it to the people to put down civil unrest. Therefore he needed to marry Elizabeth who was the eldest living descendant of the first Yorkist King. The papal dispensation took time, and meanwhile Henry had to establish himself as the realm’s ruler. He established his claim to the throne through his “right of conquest” and his mother, Margaret Beaufort whose family descended from John of Gaunt via his third marriage to his mistress, Katherine Swynford. Nevertheless, his claim to the throne was still seen as weak, which was why parliament asked him on December 1485, two months after he had been crowned, to keep his promise to marry the Princess Elizabeth, and strengthen the claim of his descendants.

"Marrying Edwards eldest daughter was essential to holding that support and trying to restore some stability to the English royal line." (Jones)
“Marrying Edward’s eldest daughter was essential to holding that support and trying to restore some stability to the English royal line.” (Jones)

The pope had finally granted the dispensation at the beginning of the year, and it was confirmed in England by the papal legate, the Bishop of Imola on 16 January, two days later the coupe were married.

The wedding ceremony was officiated by the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Bourchier. Given the statement that Henry wanted to make, as it was mentioned earlier, about their union; the Abbey would have been filled with Tudor imagery that Henry had created that gave a new interpretation of the dynastic conflict that is now known as the wars of the roses. By intertwining the white rose of York (Edward IV’s favorite symbol besides the sun in splendor) with the red rose, Henry VII’s union with Elizabeth meant to give a powerful message of peace. Illusory as this was, its impression lasted and their descendants continued to use this device and celebrate the union of their ancestors, Henry and Elizabeth. The building would have been decorated by royal colors such as “purple and gold, silk, ermine and delicate cloths of tissue.” And the bride, adds Licence: “would have been splendidly dressed and adorned with jewels, lace, brocade and ribbons.” She would not have worn white, given that white was not a color worn for wedding dresses.(The first royal bride who did was in fact her daughter-in-law, Katherine of Aragon, when she married Prince Arthur). Elizabeth would have likely worn purple as it symbolized royalty, or taken one of her many new gowns.

After the archbishop placed the golden ring on Elizabeth, the couple said their vows. Following royal custom,  Elizabeth promised to take Henry as her husband “for fairer, for fouler, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to be blithe and amiable, and obliging in bed and at board” till death do them part.

“The wedding was celebrated in the customary fashion, with “wedding torches, marriage bed and other suitable decorations,” followed by “great magnificence … at the royal nuptials … Gifts flowed freely on all sides and were showered on everyone while feasts, dances and tournaments were celebrated with liberal generosity to … magnify the joyous occasion.” (Jones)

Besides the expenses, that no doubt would have been great, Elizabeth would have seen the new rose, the Tudor rose in every corner as well as her husband’s other badges. By intertwining the white rose of York (Edward IV’s favorite symbol besides the sun in splendor) with the red rose, Henry VII’s union with Elizabeth meant to give a powerful message of peace. Illusory as it was, its impression lasted and their descendants continued to use this device and celebrate the union of their ancestors, Henry and Elizabeth.

In recent fiction the two have been portrayed as an unhappy couple, pushed into the marriage by their shrewish mothers, but this is an interpretation based on secondary sources that have come many years (more than a century in fact) after the even took place. Francis Bacon writes very colorfully of Henry, and negatively of his mother but Francis was writing a century after the events took place and the two George Bucks themselves wrote even later. It is very easy to believe these sources, but if we want to look at the couple, we just have to look at their actions, at what they faced and what moral attitudes people had in this period.

"For women of all social classes in the late fifteenth century, becoming a wife marked a significant change in status ... As the wife of the King, although not yet crowned in her own right, Elizabeth was the highest-ranking female in the land but still subject to her husband's rule" (Amy Licence)
“For women of all social classes in the late fifteenth century, becoming a wife marked a significant change in status … As the wife of the King, although not yet crowned in her own right, Elizabeth was the highest-ranking female in the land but still subject to her husband’s rule” (Amy Licence)

A young woman such as Elizabeth would not have missed the opportunity to regain her status as Princess, and much less to be Queen. After being bastardized, and forced into hiding at Westminster, then in the midst of intrigue in the Ricardian court (with rumors -whether they are true or not, we will never know- that her uncle wanted to marry her shortly after his wife’s passing and he later recanted after people protested at such an idea that he began to look elsewhere for a bride, and a spouse for Elizabeth); she would have no doubt welcome this new change in status. Elizabeth was a Princess-born, she had at one point been betrothed to the heir to the French Crown. She could not accept no better offer than to be a Queen, as it would also bolster her family’s position as well and it did. Henry VII rewarded the Woodvilles. Richard Woodville as the third Earl of Rivers lived comfortably, Elizabeth Woodville kept some of her dower properties and when she was present, she always took precedence. Even Margaret Beaufort had to walk behind her as the older woman was Queen Dowager whereas Margaret was just a Countess -a Countess in her own right but a Countess nonetheless. Sir Edward Woodville, Elizabeth of York’s uncle who took after his late eldest brother, was a highly pious and adventurous individual who proved his loyalty many times and was favored. The  Catholic Kings themselves spoke very finely of him after his death. The set of ordinances that Edward IV had made for princes and that Anthony Woodville had supervise for Elizabeth’s brother, Prince Edward, was kept and used for Arthur’s upbringing. And Elizabeth herself was not left behind.

“Like her parents, Elizabeth was a patron of William Caxton and his successor at the  Westminster printing press, Wynkyn de Worde.” (Weir)

Furthermore, as Queen, she ruled over her own court and her own properties (some of which had previously belonged to her aunt, Isabel, Duchess of Clarence).  
As for Henry, this was also a personal triumph. Born to Margaret when she was thirteen (a birth that scarred her immensely. She would have no more children). Given as a ward to William Herbert who was given his uncle Jasper’s earldom of Pembroke, and raised to be the perfect Yorkist to neutralize the threat he might pose in the future, he was then sent into exile after the Lancastrian Readetion failed and every member of the royal house was eliminated. Henry lived in a period of uncertainty, danger, and now it was all over. He was King. And he could also boast of having one important advantage. Many royal couples did not have the luxury of getting to know one another. They were married to this person or that, and whether or not they liked each other, they were expected to fulfill their duties. 

Being King was a realization of his ambitions, and rewarded his supporters well. He allowed for Elizabeth's maternal family to be present. Sir Edward Woodville especially was the epitome of chivalry, and he proved himself in battle many times. He also rewarded his immediately family such as his uncle Jasper and his uncle and childhood playmate, David Owen (his grandfather's illegitimate son) who had been made commissioner of the peace in Sussex and was married off himself to a wealthy heiress. Henry also had the advantage of getting to know his bride (a luxury many royals did not have).
Being King was a realization of his ambitions, and rewarded his supporters well. He allowed for Elizabeth’s maternal family to be present. Sir Edward Woodville especially was the epitome of chivalry, and he proved himself in battle many times. He also rewarded his immediately family such as his uncle Jasper and his uncle and childhood playmate, David Owen (his grandfather’s illegitimate son) who had been made commissioner of the peace in Sussex and was married off himself to a wealthy heiress. Henry also had the advantage of getting to know his bride (a luxury many royals did not have).

Fortunately, Henry  did no have this problem. In the five month period that they waited for the dispensation to come, the two got to know each other. So when they walked down the aisle, they were not complete strangers.

After the ceremonies ended, came the consummation. Elizabeth proved herself an exemplary Queen, living by the virtues of the day and this,  as well as her fertility, made her well-remembered and loved. She would not be crowned until the following year, after “she proved herself” by giving Henry a male heir that autumn, less than nine months after their marriage. Given the speed in which they conceived, it is possible that the marriage could have been consummated before (since being betrothed was as good as being married. And the pope had given his approval, they knew it was only a matter of time before the bull came). But there is also the possibility that Arthur could have been premature.

Henry and Elizabeth’s marriage would remain strong, and the two would later rely on the other when tragedy came.

Sources:

  • Elizabeth of York The Tudors’ Forgotten Queen by Amy Licence
  • Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and her World by AlisonWeir
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle
  • Blood Sisters by Sarah Gristwood
  • Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones

14 JANUARY 1559: ELIZABETH’S GLORIOUS PROCESSION

Elizabeth's procession. A day away from her coronation, she began her progress and was met with glorious pageants.
Elizabeth’s procession. A day away from her coronation, she began her progress and was met with glorious pageants.

On the eve of her coronation, Elizabeth Tudor left the Tower of London at three o’clock in the afternoon to start her procession. She was carried in a litter, and rode through London, telling her men to stop at every pageant she encountered to appreciate the artistry behind them.

The streets she passed and five pageants are as follow:

  • Gracechurch  Street –The first pageant that greeted Elizabeth referred to Elizabeth’s genealogy. Her Tudor forefathers, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York and was compared to the latter who was praised for bringing unity and peace when she married Henry VII.
  • Cornhill -A stage was erected where it depicted  Elizabeth’s government governed by the four virtues: True Religion, Love of Subjects, Wisdom and Justice.
  • Soper’s Lane -The Beatitudes were orated for her ‘”lessed are the poor, Blessed are the meek. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake”. An allegory to Elizabeth’s plight at the hands of her sister.
  • Little Conduit, Cheapside -This pageant also attacked her sister, calling her reign “a decayed commonwealth” and portraying Elizabeth’s future one as a “flourishing” one. Further jest and jabs were made when Mary’s motto ‘Truth the daughter of time’ was deconstructed as Time’s daughter emerged carrying an English Bible which was labelled “Word of Truth” and pointed towards Elizabeth, symbolizing her as the true daughter of time and truth.
  • Fleet Street -This pageant delivered the most powerful tribute to Elizabeth, depicting her as the powerful prophetess Deborah.

After her eldest sister, Elizabeth was the second Queen Regnant in the history of  England, and the third in the British Isles. The iconography in each of these pageants is amazing. Dan Jones who wrote the Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors, talks about how the Tudors invented a mass propaganda machine to turn the war into their favor, and symbolize that their rise to power was pre-ordained. Elizabeth’s ascendance therefore, used the same type of spectacle her grandfather and founder of their dynasty, used.

Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Elizabeth I's paternal grandparents.
Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Elizabeth I’s paternal grandparents.

“At the corner of Fenchurch Street and Gracechurch Street a large stage was erected across the street, “vaulted basements and built on “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 te House of York enclosed with a white rose … Out of the 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.” (Starkey)

After she thanked the performers she turned to the people gathered around her who, as always, were eager to catch a glimpse of their new monarch. Elizabeth Tudor had always been a pragmatic, witty, and highly intelligent young woman. With her smile she had won over hundreds, now it won her the popular acclaim of the entire city.

Elizabeth played by Cate  Blanchett in "Elizabeth" (1997)
Elizabeth played by Cate Blanchett in “Elizabeth” (1997)

“At Cheapside she smiled happily when someone called out to her ‘Remember King Henry VIII’ … and at Conduit (also in) Cheapside, she saw one of the performers holding up a copy of the English Bible which people had been imprisoned for reading in the days of old King Henry VIII. She asked what that boo was, and when they told her that it was the English Bible, she said that she would oftentimes read over that book’. She asked to have that book … When she received it, she took it in both hands and pressed it to her breast.” (Ridley)

After she reached the city limits at Temple Bar, another child came. Like the child who handled her the bible and she rewarded him with a kind gesture of devotion to the new religion, Elizabeth did the same, as the poem depicted her as Deborah -the mighty and indomitable biblical woman who fervently defended her people and fought the heathens. Elizabeth was the people’s chosen Queen, the blood of Lancaster and York united. Two roses from which sprung the glorious Tudor House, now produced from their descendant Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn (who was depicted gloriously as Henry’s rightful Queen), their next monarch, Elizabeth I.

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn played by Damien  Lewis and Claire Foy. They were an integral part of their daughter's coronation procession. They were presented in a glorious light.
Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn played by Damien Lewis and Claire Foy. They were an integral part of their daughter’s coronation procession. They were presented in a glorious light.

“Henry sat at his second wife, Anne Boleyn and on the stage above them sat a final figure representing Elizabeth I herself “crowned and apparelled as the other princess were.” The whole pageant was garnished with red roses and white and in the forefront of the same pageant in a fair wreath was written: ‘The Uniting of the two houses of Lancaster and York.'” A great play was made on Elizabeth’s name: like Elizabeth of York who brought unity to the realm through her marriage, it was explained he new Elizabeth would “maintain the same among her subjects.”” (Jones)

The people gathered would have had public access to these plays and seen these beautiful images. There is no question that the union between the Houses of Lancaster and York was a brilliant device crafted by her grandfather that gave England the illusion of peace and it worked so well that it protected him and his heirs throughout their kingdom. Threats remained -they always would, no matter what the dynasty- but this imagery was so evocative that it became the official language of history and monarchy. Now we know that the red rose was not the official Lancaster symbol, and that both sides used white roses; however we must see these symbols in the context of when they were used and how they were used.

Elizabeth’s coronation progress is one of the most symbolic royal progresses. Everyone was mesmerized, and Elizabeth returned their joy by these small acts of kindness, and made contact with every man and woman she encountered. At the last pageant there was a poor woman who had nothing great to give her except a sprig of rosemary and she was probably fearful that Elizabeth would not accept it, but she did and she was seen holding it firmly in her hands until she reached Westminster. Her next great moment, the one she had been waiting and wishing for secretly during her sister’s reign would come the following day, on Sunday January 15 when she would return to Westminster to be crowned.

Sources:

  • Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey
  • Elizabeth I by Jasper  Ridley
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Wars of the Roses and Rise of the Tudor  Dynasty by Dan Jones