The Myth of Convivencia: Nostalgic Storytelling

medieval convivencia

It is a popular myth that there was a period of religious tolerance among the three Abrahamic faiths during the middle ages which end came with the aftermath of the “Reconquista”. The Reconquista or Reconquest was the Spaniards’ efforts to recover the lands that had been taken by Muslim invaders in 711. At the time that Isabella became Queen of Castile and later her husband and cousin, Ferdinand, became King of Aragon and other territories he inherited from his father; there was only one Taifa (Moorish) kingdom in Spain. It was the last remnant of what some historians refer to as ‘Spain’s golden age’. This is none other than Granada.

While their Muslim invaders tried to do away with their culture, the more committed Spaniards pushed back. The term ‘Andalusia’ as Dario Fernandez-Morera explains in the next paragraph of his book “The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews Under Islamic Rule in Medieval  Spain”, never took hold and in spite of the Christians and Jews submitting to their new masters, they still adhered to their cultural practices.

Al Andalusia 1024px-La_civilització_del_califat_de_Còrdova_en_temps_d'Abd-al-Rahman_III

“Medieval Christians considered the lands Islam had conquered to be part of Spain, not part of Islam, and therefore not as al-Andalus. Their chronicles refer to “Spannia,” avoiding the Arabic term. The mid-thirteenth century Poema de Fernan Gonzales which signs in medieval Spanish the deeds of a tenth-century Castilian hero, specifies that Castile is the best of the lands of Spannia and that Fernand Ggonzals fought even against the Christian kings of Spannia. In fact,  Christians in the North of Spain initially referred to Chrisian dhimmis in Islami Spain as Spani -that is, as Spaniards. “Until the twelfth century,” the historian Miguel Anel Ldero Quesade writes, “Christians, especially those in the Pyrenean area, frequently called the lands of ‘al-Andalus’ Hispani, and so did the ‘gothicists’ from the kindom of Leon, since they considered it unliberated territory.” Valve Bernejo and fellow historian Reinhart ozy have pointd out that the Latin chronicles by Christians in the North of Spain designated as Spania recisely the land that Muslims had conquered.
Significantly, these political references to the land as Spain occurred despite the fact that in the Midle Ages there was no single “kingdom of Spain.” Nonetheless, in 1077 Alfonso VI of Leon and Castile called himself “imperator totius hispaniae” (emperor of the whole of Spain). Another chronicle calls Sancho II of Leon and  Castile (1036-1072) “rex totius Castelle et dominator Hispaniae” (king of Castile and dominator of Spain.) … Christian historians as early as 754, in the Chronica mozarabica, were lamenting “the loss of Spain.” … Julian of Toledo, a prelate of Jewish origin who became bishop of all Visigoth Spain, wrote a History of King Wamba (Historia Wambae), which has been considered a “nationalistic work” defending the patria and the people of Spain in contrast to those of such “foreign lands” as Francia. Muslims themselves often used the word Sspain rather than al-Andalus … Archaeology confirms this Muslim usage: numismatics tells us that the earliest Muslim coins in  Spain, dating from the first half of the eighth century, a few years after the conquest, show on one side the name Alandalus in Arabic and on the other, for proper identification, the Latin abbreviation SPAN -that is,Spania.”
(Fernandez-Morera, The Myth of Andalusia)

Furthermore, there seems to be some misunderstanding among popular historians, who confuse religious taxation with acceptance of religious minorities. Simply put, there was no such thing as love between any of these groups. While people can point to some exceptions, these were extremely rare. For the most part, when Christian or Muslim rulers accepted peoples of a different faith, especially those the latter referred to as “people of the book” (those belonging to any of the Abrahamic faiths), it was because they offered a financial incentive (i.e. they could be taxed).

The special tax religious minorities, including the remaining few who still practiced the Zoroastrian faith, was known as the Jizyah. It can be found in the Quran, Sura (chapter( 9, section 4, verse 29: “Fight against such of the people who despite having been given the Scripture do not really believe in Allah and the Last Day, and who do not hold unlawful that Allah and His Messenger have declared to be unlawful, and do not subscribe to the true faith, until they pay the Jizyah, provided they cannot afford it, and they are content with their state of subjection …”

Furthermore, Muslim legalist scholar and Jurist, Abu Yusuf added: “After Abu Ubaydah concluded a peace treaty with the people of Syria and had collected from them the jyzya and the tax for agrarian land, he was informed that the Romans were readying for battle against him and that the situation had become critical for him and the Muslims. Abu Ubaydah then wrote to the governors of the cities with whom pacts had been concluded they must return the sums collected from jizya and kharja and say to their subjects: “We return to you your money because we have been informed that troops are being raised against us. In our agreement you stipulated that we protect you, but we are unable to do so. Therefore, we now return to you what we have taken from you, and we will abide by the stipulation and what has been written down, if God grants us the victory over them.”

While this may seem like a ‘fair’ treatment in an otherwise unfair era, you must not let the eloquence of this holy book and this Jurist fool you. In an earlier Surah, it reminds those who follow the path of Islam that they should be merciful to the unbeliever, but after a certain while, if this fails to convert them, they should turn against them and strike them down for rejecting conversion.

Quran Birmingham_Quran_manuscript“Verily, those who conceal the clear evidences and the guidance which We have revealed, after We have explained them to the people in this Book, these it is whom Allah deprives of His mercy and also disapprove all those who can disapprove, except such (of them) as repent and mend (themselves) and declare clearly (the truth which they used to hide), it is they to whom I shall tur with mercy, for I am the Oft-Returning (with compassion and) the Ever Merciful. But those who persist in disbelief and die while they are disbelievers, these are the ones upon whom be the disapproval of Allah and of the angels and of people and (in short) of all of them. They shall remain in this (state of disapproval) for long. Their punishment shall not be reduced for the, and no respite shall be given to them. And your God is One God, there is no other, cannot be and will never be one worthy f worship but He, the Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful.” (Quran, Sura 2, verses 59-63)

In her biography on Isabella, Kirstin Downey mentions the violent end that Jews suffered in Granada in 1066, at the supposed height of Spain’s golden age of religious toleration. As preached in the Quran, if a non-believer refuses conversion, he or she should no longer be treated with mercy. In this case, upon suffering an economic collapse, Muslims looked for someone to blame and who better than foreigners whom all of a sudden, it was forgotten how they were also affected by this crisis, and that in spite of facing continuous discrimination by their Muslim peers, they still followed the law.
Specifically, Muslim commons targeted Jews.

“In 1066, Muslims rioted and destroyed the entire Jewish community in Granada, killing thousands more, in fact, than the numbers killed by Christians in the Rhineland at the beginning of the first Crusade. In the twelfth century, the Muslims expelled the entire population of Christians living in the cities of Malaga and Granada and sent them to Morroco.” (Downey, Isabella: the Warrior Queen)

No Jew was spared. Neither were Christians who were captured in raids and sold off to slavery. Of the few that managed to escape and tell the tale is of Georgius of Hungary. After he became a priest, he wrote a memoir where he revealed the horrific details that he and his fellow Christians went through.

“In all the provinces, just as for other sorts of trafficking, a particular public place is held for buying and selling human beings, and places legally assigned for this purpose. To this location and public selling ground, the poor captives are brought, bound with ropes and chains, as if sheep for slaughter. There, they are examined and stripped naked. There, a rational creature made in the image of God is compared and sold for the cheapest price like a dumb animal. There (and this is a shameful thing to say) the genitals of both men and women are handled publicly by all an shown in the open. They are forced to walk naked in front of everyone, to run, walk, leap, so that it becomes plainly evident, whether each is weak or strong, male or female, old or young (and, for women,) virgin or corrupted. If they see someone blush with shame, they stand around to urge those on even more, beating them with staves, punching them, so that they do by force that which of their own free will they would be ashamed to do in front of everyone.
There a son is sold with his mother watching and grieving.  There, a mother is bought in the presence and to the dismay of her son. In that place, a wife is made sport of, like a prostitute, as her husband grows ashamed, and she is given to another man.  There a small boy is seized from the bosom of his mother, and his mother is separated from him. There no dignity is granted, nor is any social class spared. There a holy man and a commoner are sold at the same price. There a soldier and a country bumpkin are weighed in the same balance. Furthermore, this is just the beginning of their evils …
Oh how many, unwilling to bear the crisis of such an experience, fell to the depth of desperation! Oh how many, exposing themselves to die in various ways, fled into the hills and woods and perished because of starvation or thirst, an there’s also this final evil: taking their own hands against themselves, they either wrung out their own lives with a noose, or hurling themselves into the river, they lost the life of their body and spirit at the same time.”

As noted above in Georgius’ memoir, virgins were in high demand. Many of the Sultans’ mothers happened to be Christian women who rose through the ranks, becoming chief concubine or legal wife of their lord and master, the Sultan. Boabdil, the last Sultan of Granada fought with his father over his new favorite concubine who had been sold off into slavery to the Sultan. As it happened in such environments where women have to compete against one another so they could become the highest ranking woman in the harem, earning power and respect that they would not have otherwise (unless they were born in the aristocracy); Boabdil’s mother, Aixa felt threatened by his father’s (Abul-Hasan Ali) new concubine, Isabel de Solis. A beautiful Castilian who was the daughter of nobleman Sancho Jimenez de Solis, she was kidnapped by border raiders led by the Abul-Hasan Ali’s brother. Being the first to notice her beauty, he gave her as a present to his brother who was captivated with her on the spot. As a result, Boabdil and his mother sought to undermine her influence. When this didn’t work, they sought the aid of the Catholic Kings.

1492 Granada TCK
Conniving and astute, Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, gave him his support, finding it easier to play the Nasrid dynasty against one another so when the right moment came to strike and recover the last piece of lands the Muslims had taken from them, they’d have an easier job doing so.
Their plan worked. As the old saying goes, Isabella and Ferdinand’s arduous campaign and plots paid off. On the 2nd of January 1492, Boabdil, the last Nasrid Sultan of the last Taifa Kingdom in Spain, surrendered to his once allies turned adversaries.
Isabel de Solis returned to Castile, re-converted to Christianity and lived a quiet life. The same cannot be said for other women. Many had to convert to Islam and adapt to their new surroundings. Boys for their part also faced many struggles. Some like Suleiman I -known as Suleiman “Muhtesem”, “the Magnificent”- former slave, Ibrahim, managed to rise through the ranks and become members of the aristocracy and were free to reconnect with their families, even inviting them to live with them. But once again, these cases were rare and the families had to convert and adopt Islamic practices or else, they wouldn’t be allowed to live with them.

As part of this religious harmonious society, Jews,  Christians and Zoroastrians were segregated. If the person was sickly, a priest, old, a woman or child, he or she would be exempt from paying the tax. Able-bodied men -unless they weren’t financially stable or joined the military- would be obligated to pay the tax if they wanted to be left in peace. However, they could not hold certain offices or walk on certain parts of the street or put their business in a place where it competed with local Muslim businesses.
Also, religious minorities were prohibited of living in the same neighborhood as their Muslim peers. The dead were also segregated. Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians had to have separate cemeteries.

One aspect that is often criticized of medieval Europe is the treatment of conversos of Moriskos, that is, Jews and Muslims who had converted to Christianity. Rarely, the same attention is given to the religious minorities that converted to Islam. As their counterparts in Christian Europe, these new converts were always seen with suspicion (and envy whenever they rose higher than their Muslim peers). Ibrahim, the aforementioned favorite of Suleiman I is proof of that. Jealous of his rise, they convinced Suleiman that he was a threat. Suleiman, threatened by his former slave’s popularity, believed them and he ordered his execution.

High or low, converts or still part of the religious minority; regardless of how productive they were or how much they achieved, they were never seen by their Muslim peers as their equals.

In his dissertation, Spanish scholar Eduardo Manzano-Moreno criticizes the proliferation of this myth, stating that it is nothing more than wishful thinking.
“El de Convivencia es un concepto que ha sido poco elaborado.”
(The concept of Convivencia is a concept that hasn’t been fully elaborated.)

He is right. “Convivencia” is a symptom of nostalgic story-telling. It is how some wish to remember the past instead of accepting it as yet another complicated era of human history.

Sources:

  • Downey, Kirstin. Isabella: The Warrior Queen. 2014.
  • Fox, Julia. Sister Queens: The Noble Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile. Ballantine Books. 2012.
  • Fernandez-Morera, Dario. The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain. Intercollegiate Studies. 2016.
  • The Quran (Modern English Translation)
  • Manzano Moreno, Eduardo. Qurtuba: Algunas Reflexiones criticas sobre el califato de Cordoba y el mito de la Convivencia. Awraq n7, 2013. ( http://www.awraq.es/blob.aspx?idx=5&nId=96&hash=ac20943d589408c5a0a3cd2c1e0908a4 )
  • Tremlett, Giles. Isabella of Castile: Europe’s First Great Queen. Bloomsbury USA. 2017.
  • I also recommend my co-author’s blog where my article is linked to her take on this subject. HERE
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Richard III’s Thunderous Proclamation against Henry Tudor

RIII H7

On the 7th of December 1484, Richard III issued a thunderous proclamation against Henry Tudor (then) Earl of Richmond. Richard had sworn to protect his nieces and welcomed the eldest two (the once Princesses, now Ladies) Elizabeth and Cecily of York to court. Henry Tudor had been a nuisance to Richard ever since the Christmas of ’83 when he pledged to take the crown and marry Elizabeth of York, thus uniting both Houses. But for the first time during his reign, after the death of his son, Prince Edward of Wales, Henry had become a serious threat.
Those who criticize Elizabeth Woodville and her eldest daughters for accepting Richard III’s offer of peace, ignore the fact that when he did this, his son was still alive and as far as everyone knew, his reign could go on for many years. The death of his son changed all of this. With no heir and a sickly wife, the threat of Henry Tudor became greater. He had with him not only staunch Lancastrians but Edwardian Yorkists as well supporting his claim.

Henry VII White Queen
The proclamation not only attacked Henry but his allies, including Peter Courtenay (Bishop of Exeter), Jasper Tudor (Henry’s uncle), the notable Lancastrian loyalist John, Earl of Oxford (who was one of the greatest strategists of the age and ally Henry could count on), Thomas Grey (Marquis of Dorset), Sir Edward Woodville, and others as well, stating that
rebels and traitors disabled and attainted by authority of the high Court of parliament” also being accused of being “open murderers, adulterers, and extortioners contrary to truth, honour and nature” in addition to abusing “and blind the commons of this said realm of the said rebels and traitors have chosen to be their Captain one Henry late calling himself Earl of Richmond which of his ambitious and insatiable covetousness stirred and excited by the confederacy of the King’s said rebels and traitors encroacheth upon him the name and title of the Royal estate of this Realm of England. Whereunto he hath no manner, interest, righ or colour as every man well knoweth. And to the intent to achieve the same by the aid, support and assistance of the king’s said ancient enemies and of this his Council of France to give up and release in perpetuity all the title and claim that Kings of England have had and ought to have to the Crown and Realm of France.”

This last part is extremely serious because not only was Richard calling Henry ever nasty name in the book, but he was also accusing him of making a secret deal with the French of giving up England’s claim to the “the crown and realm of France” in order to have that country’s support.
The solution to Henry’s “insatiable covetousness” was supporting Richard who as “our sovereign lord” was a “well-willed, diligent, and courageous prince” who would put “his most royal person to all labour and pain necessary for the resistance and subduing of his enemies.”

Henry VII Richard III bosworth collage

Richard and Henry’s armies would meet the following year, not long after his wife’s death in that same year. The end result would be Richard dying battle and Henry becoming King of England, fulfilling his promise of marrying Elizabeth of York whose parents’ marriage was once again validated.

Cersei I vs Daenerys s7 1

This is why history will always be a major triumph over every fantasy and sci-fi it inspires. It is way more violent and filled with more surprises than fiction can ever come up with. It shows us that the impossible can often become possible, and that as Varys told Tyrion in “Game of Thrones” a small man can cast a “very large shadow”. In the show’s seventh season, Cersei took on the role of Richard III when she issued a thunderous proclamation of her own against Daenerys Targaryen. Like Henry, she was exiled across the narrow sea and come to reclaim the Iron throne, but unlike the Welsh dragon, it is unknown whether she will ever achieve her goal given that the show and the books are amalgams of different eras. Nevertheless, it shows how the past continues to be relevant and serve as a major inspiration.
But whereas Cersei was posh and delicate before the lords, Richard III did not mince his words. As it was pointed out, he didn’t pull back any punches and continued to attack Henry’s character, reminding everyone that the last time someone had a Lancastrian king, England had lost all of its prized possessions in France, and that aside of that, Henry descended from a lowly branch of that house that albeit being legitimized, in the eyes of many, it was seen as a bastard branch of the Plantagenet dynasty.

Sources:

  • Chrimes, S.B. Henry VII. Yale University Press. 1999.
  • Penn, Thomas. Winter King and the Dawn of Tudor England. Simon & Schuster. 2012.
  • Skidmore, Chris. The Rise of the Tudors: The Family that Changed English History. Martin’s Press. 2014.
  • de Lisle, Leanda. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. Public Affairs. 2013.
  • Porter, Linda. Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots. Martin’s Press. 2014.

Book Review: Anne Boleyn, Adultery, Heresy, Desire by Amy Licence

Anne Boleyn by Amy Licence

To understand Anne Boleyn, we have to know about her world first. Her roots, going back to the very beginning, tracing her family story, her role in the shifting religious climate of the Tudor era and finally, the differing views on women. When it comes to giving these women’s a voice, nobody is more suited for this task than renowned women’s historian, Amy Licence. The past comes alive in her new biography on Henry VIII’s second consort, and the mother to one of the world’s greatest female leaders who ruled England the longest out of all her dynasty, Elizabeth I.

Anne Boleyn lived during a time when many changes were going on. Nobody could have predicted her fall, or how far Henry VIII would have gone to have her. Nevertheless, looking back further, some things about her character start to make more sense.

Like her previous biography on Catherine of Aragon, this is a very detailed book. Highlighting the difference in status and the ever-changing cultural norms regarding gender, religion, and ceremony, she pulls the reader in to the 15th and 16th century eras. Another thing that I enjoyed from this book is that she did not shy away from the brutality and prejudices that characterized these time periods.

We often forget that these were people, subject to the same emotional and physical pain, although the later was augmented two-fold given the time and place they lived in, and the large gamble many of the up-and-coming families like the Boleyns took; nevertheless, something set them apart. They viewed the world through dark-colored lens.

The courts where Anne Boleyn served women like the archduchess Margaret of Austria and Queens Mary (her future husband’s youngest sister when she married Louis XII) and Claude of France, and later Henry’s first queen, Catherine of Aragon, valued order above all else. Decorum and class were everything for these people. Everything had to be structured, otherwise, society would come crumbling down and with it, chaos would reign.

Anne Boleyn was aware of this so she chose to follow the rules unlike her spirited sister Mary. But Anne was spirited in her own way. Instead of giving herself freely to men, be it through pressure or for passion, she preferred to shine by showing off her intellectual attributes. Her etiquette, her subtle playful and comely behavior, her occasional defiance, her passion for the new learning and indulging others, including Henry Percy and later the king, in harmless games of courtly love is what made her into one of the most alluring and interesting women at the Tudor court.

But, and this is something that historians still ask (and will likely continue to ask in the many years to come), is this what she intended? Was Anne Boleyn responsible for her fall? Was she a victim, pawn, or villain, homewrecker, or all of these things neatly wrapped together? Amy Licence doesn’t pretend to know the answer and as the book progresses, she is not about to give a definite answer but merely what she believed happened given what we know so far, and leave the rest for the reader to decide.

This is what a good historian. He or she gives the reader as much information as it is available, separates fact from fiction, primary from secondary sources and explaining the why, what, where, and when of the latter- letting the reader come to his own conclusion.

Anne Boleyn was a woman of many faces. She was a woman who might not have started out as the ambitious and unique ‘it’ girl from fiction, but as things got out of hand, she saw no other way but to play the waiting game and indulge the King. Having a strong moral compass -and another one of self-preservation- she did not let him take her virtue just like that. If the two of them were going to be together, he had to propose something grander. And ultimately that was marriage.

The road to the marriage bed was paved with obstacles, and it didn’t become any easier after she was crowned Queen of England. Anne was the first and only consort ever to be crowned with the crown of St. Edward the confessor -meant only for kings and queen regnants. Henry’s choice for this was not merely because of his passion and adoration for her, it was to symbolize something greater. He was not going to let anybody question their unborn child’s legitimacy, hence, his wife was going to have a coronation unlike something that hadn’t been seen before.
This is what the monarchy meant. Displays of force and splendor -and if there was something that Henry loved most of all, was wasting no expense on the latter.

But things turned sour and the rest as they say is history. Anne Boleyn’s story plays out like a Greek tragedy. A woman who chose to take the reins of her own destiny like her ancestors before her and navigate dangerous waters. Her gamble paid off (in the beginning). But she ended up losing everything. Yet, something of her remained, something which has catapulted her to fame. Her daughter. Elizabeth I is remembered as one of England’s greatest rulers. “Good Queen Bess”, “Virgin Queen” “Glorianna”, there is no shortage of titles that history has bestowed on her. But when it comes to Anne, people are still divided.

How do we view her? How do we judge a woman whose moral ambiguity still troubles many? The answer is simple and sometimes the simplest answer is the best: We view her as a woman of her times, a woman of her status, who rose too high and who was brought down by various factors. Some of them her doing, many of them not. Once we do this, a new picture of Anne starts to emerge -the same one which Amy Licence brings back to life in this stunning biography of one of England’s infamous femme-fatale.

Those of you interested in learning more about women’s lives, the struggles they faced, and how they used their different strengths to survive and fight against the rising tide, will devour this book.

Few historians choose to focus on women’s lives, and on the harsh realities that others had to face. And even fewer historians choose not to shy away from the less than flamboyant details that these people had to face, and this includes women’s hygiene, their ordeals during pregnancy, widowhood, and general views regarding these by the old and new church.
Ultimately, this biography is a great addition to our Tudor history bookshelves and more importantly to women’s history as it reminds us why Anne Boleyn is still relevant, and how easy it is for her story to be misappropriated or distorted. It is a product of the ever changing times just as she was a product of hers.

Book Review: Martin Luther, The Man who Rediscovered God & Changed the World by Eric Metaxas

Martin Luther bio by Metaxas

Martin Luther has become a firebrand icon but like so many firebrands, a lot of his story is steeped in myth. It has become another case of fiction replacing history, with novelists and (some) historians choosing that over reality. Eric Metaxas does a good job by deconstructing Luther and presenting us with the real man behind the leader of the Protestant reformation.

Novelists do not have an obligation to their readers, unless they feel they do. Some include author’s note explaining where they drew the line between fact and fiction, where they erred on the side of caution and where they took liberties for the sake of making their story more interesting. Historians on the other hand, do have a responsibility to their readers. Their jobs is to educate, but like Luther, they are trapped by their own biases. And we shouldn’t fault them for that, but we should hold them accountable when they let that take over the historical record to promote their agenda.

Martin Luther was for lack of better terms, a man of his times. Not ahead of them. He did what he did out of conviction and later desperation. His movement is also the product of centuries of heresies and attempts to reform the church that did not go unnoticed by the author.

By painting a vivid picture of the times he lived in, including explaining his background and the different customs in Western Europe, Eric Metaxas draws us the reader in right from the start. You don’t have to be a history buff and if you are but are new to this period, you don’t have to know a lot, to find this book engaging. Drawing on primary sources (and to some extent to understand where the fictional Luther comes from, secondary sources), and citing the archaeological evidence that still remains, Metaxas paints a vivid portrayal of the rebellious German ex-monk.

The man who rediscovered God and who changed the world is an accurate way to describe the figurehead of the Protestant movement -a movement he did not intent to create but like so much of what history has taught us, once things got out of his control, he had no choice but to push forward or to face certain death which would have meant being burned as a heretic like one of his idols, the infamous Dominican friar who also preached against the excesses of the church a century prior, Savonarola.

Ironically though, for better or for worse, Luther has also come to be seen as an icon and a source of inspiration for many political, religious and civic leaders. Some went so far as to change their names, and while others wasted no time placing him in a pedestal. Just as Luther did not intend to break away from the church, he did not intent to replace the cult of saints that he so much detested and railed against. But in the end, not even he would have gone against the power of the pen, nor controlled how he’d be remembered by his followers (or his rivals). And that is, as the author of this book points out, his greatest legacy -a legacy that will continue to be felt for decades to come.

The Ballad of Jane Seymour. Honoring her “sacrifice”.

Jane Seymour part of the Dynasty portrait

The ballad “The Death of Queen Jane” is an English ballad that describes the events surrounding Jane Seymour’s death, while romanticizing her union with Henry VIII. The following is an epitaph that both glorifies and laments her, painting her as the sacrificial lamb who gave her life for a noble cause -giving Henry his longed for legitimate male heir to succeed him after his death.

“Queen jane in labour full six weeks and more,
And the women were weary, and fain would give oer:
‘O women, O women, as women ye be,
Rip open my two sides, and save my baby!’
O royal Queen Jane, that thing may not be;
We’ll send for King Henry to come unto thee’
King Henry came to her, and sate on her bed:
‘What wails my dear lady, her eyes look so red?’
… ‘O royal Queen Jane, that thing will not do;
If I lose your fair body, I’ll lose your baby too’
She wept and she wailed, and she wrung her hands sore;
O the flower of England must flourish no more!
She wept and she wailed till she fell in a swoond,
They opened her two sides, and the baby was found.
The baby was christened with joy and much mirth,
Whilst poor Queen Jane’s body lay cold under earth;
There was ringing and singing and mourning all day,
The princess Elizabeth went weeping away.
The trumpets in mourning so sadly did sound,
And the pikes and the muskets did trail on the ground.”

Jane Seymour gave birth to Prince Edward, later King Edward IV of England and Ireland, on the 12th of October 1537. As it was customary, she and Henry didn’t attend the christening. After the baptism ceremony was over, the two of them received him in the Queen’s chamber. Jane became sick days later. Two days before she died she seemed better, but it soon became evident she wasn’t and on the twenty fourth, twelve days after her son was born, she died.
Henry ordered masses to be said in her honor. During her lifetime, she wasn’t politically vocal as her predecessor. She transformed herself into the perfect domestic wife, the kind of woman that Henry admired and most of his wives wanted to live up.
In her biography “Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII”, historian Amy Licence, states that Henry’s mother, Elizabeth of York, became a role model for these women. After seeing what had happened to her late mistresses, Jane was wise enough to become her late mother-in-law’s mirror image. Had she lived though, historian Elizabeth Norton in her biography of Jane, states that it is highly likely, that another side of Jane would have emerged -one that she would’ve been free to use given that she had succeeded where her predecessors hadn’t
Jane was buried on Windsor. Henry died eleven years later. He planned a big monument for the two of them that was never completed.

Additional sources:

  • Norton, Elizabeth. Jane Seymour: Henry VIII’s true love. Amberley. 2009.
  • Loades, David. Jane Seymour: Henry VIII’s favorite wife: Amberley. 2013.
  • ” “. The Seymours of Wolf Hall: A Tudor Family Story. Amberley. 2014.
  • Seymour, William. Ordeal by Ambition: An English Family in the Shadow of the Tudors. Sidwick & Jackson. 1972.

Queen Mary I bids her husband farewell

Mary I Tudor and Philip of Spain collage 1

On the 29th of August, 1555, Mary bid her husband farewell. After he departed by water from Greenwich to Dover where he stayed for a few more days until the weather cleared up in September, to travel to the Low  Countries. Mary had reluctantly agreed to her father-in-law and cousin Charles’ request to send Philip away, she had previously written to Charles expressing her fears that he would be gone for a long time. In this, she was not mistaken. Philip did not arrive until October of the following year, by then King of Spain and lord of the Netherlands after his father’s abdication. According to the Venetian Ambassador Michieli, Mary had insisted on accompanying Philip in a glorious ceremony through London three days prior and on the day of his departure:

Mary I and Philip of Spain coat of arms

“The Queen really on this occasion showed proper grief for a woman and a woman clothed as she was with royal state and dignity. There was no external manifestation of agitation, although it was evident she was in great trouble, and she chose to accompany the King through all the chambers and halls, as far as the head of the staircase: all the way she had a struggle to command herself and prevent any exhibition inconsistent with her high position from being perceptible to so many persons. But she was affected by the kissing of hands by the Spanish lords and especially at seeing the ladies taking leave of the King in tears, who, according to the custom of the country, kissed them one by one. On returning however to her apartments she lent on her elbows at a window overlooking the river, and there, not supposing herself any longer seen or observed by anyone, it was perceived that she gave free vent to her grief in floods of tears. She did not stir from the spot until she had seen the King embark and depart; looking till the last sight of him; he mounted on a raised and open part of the barge, so as to be better visible as long as he was in sight of the window, kept on raising his hat and making salutes with the most affectionate gestures.”

Michieli’s reports were exaggerated but they did convey a level of truth in expressing Mary’s anguish. Previously, Mary had written a letter to her father-in-law and cousin, Charles, expressing deep concern over Philip’s absence: “I firmly hope that the King’s absence will be brief … his presence in this kingdom has done much good and is of great importance for the good governance of this country.” 

Mary I full view portrait

Mary wanted her country to benefit from the opportunities Spain offered and expand foreign policy, but she also needed Philip by her side to give her a male heir. Philip’s absence and new position complicated things. Boader, his secretary, expressed that he would not return until she agreed to share power with him -Something that our Queen, for all her sentimentalism, was not prepared to do. She was Queen of her realm and just as Philip was going to rule Spain, she was going to be her country’s sole ruler.

This was the beginning of the end for Mary. She would not die deposed or unopposed. As the rest of her family, she’d die as she lived, fighting until her last breath to hold everything together, under no illusions of what awaited her supporters and how she’d be remembered.

PORTRAIT OF MARY TUDOR artist not known but in the style of Flicke, Painted onto wood, found at Anglesey Abbey

Always the pragmatist, but also a woman who was in need of allies and wished to make England one of the greatest nations in the world, as well as secure the Tudor Dynasty, Mary was aware that her union with Philip was becoming more unstable and if she didn’t give the appearance that things were okay then it would give her enemies another excuse to attack.

Sources:

  • Porter,  Linda. The First Queen of England: The Myth of Bloody Mary. St. Martin’s Press 2008.
  • Whitelock, Anna. Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen. Random House. 2010.
  • Erickson, Carolly. Bloody Mary: The Life of Mary Tudor. Robson  Books. 2001.

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

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

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

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

Ellaria stabs Doran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah … not buying it.

 

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

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

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

Meg of York GOT Ellaria

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

Sources:

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

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

 

Charles V’s visit to England (1522): Part I

Henry Viii and Charles V meeting

Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire and I of Spain arrived at Dover, England on the 26th of May 1522, where he was greeted by Cardinal and Archbishop of York, Thomas Wolsey and an entourage of 300 select Englishmen. Henry VIII met with him two days later “with much joy and gladness” while he was still at Dover.

Charles V and Henry VIII WH and CRE and historical portraits collage
Charles V from Carlos, Rey Emperador (2015) opposite an early portrait of Charles as King of Spain. Below, a middle aged Henry VIII and next to him is Damien Lewis who played him in Wolf Hall (2014).

Henry VIII had been eager to meet with his nephew since he saw him as a powerful ally against France, and his vehicle to regain some of the territories his country had lost under Henry VI. Like many Englishmen, Henry VIII had a romantic idea of the past, where he aspired like his namesake, Henry V, whose victory and conquest of France was legendary. Calais was the last of England’s stronghold in France and Henry was anxious to make a name for himself as when he went to war with his wife’s father, Charles V’s grandfather, Ferdinand II of Aragon.

Unfortunately for Henry, once the war started, he would discover that not much had changed and just as before, he would become disillusioned with Catherine’s family.

To seal their alliance, Charles V agreed to marry Henry VIII’s only heir, his first cousin, Princess Mary. Mary was six at the time while Charles was twenty-two. The legal age for men and women to marry would be in their early teens. Given Mary’s age, both parties agreed that it would be better to way until she was twelve or older.

Henry VIII and Charles celebrated the Feast of the Ascension there and afterwards, Henry VIII gave him a private tour on board one of his greatest ships “Henry by the Grace of God” and the “Mary Rose”. Charles V marveled at these two ships, something that The Tudors, despite all its inaccuracies, accurately depicted when Charles tells Henry that it surpasses every ship he owns.

After the naval tour, Henry took his guest and his entourage to Canterbury where they were greeted by the city mayor and the aldermen before they went inside the cathedral, their swords of state carried before them.
On the 31st he was Sittingbourne. On the 1st of June, Rochester, on the 2nd, Gravesend where he traveled by barge to the Palace of Placentia, otherwise known as Greenwich. There, he met what would in alternate universe would have been his future wife, his cousin, Princess Mary.

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

The Holy Roman Emperor was first greeted by his uncle and then at the hall door by his aunt, Queen Katharine and Princess Mary in the Spanish custom -which was Katharine giving her blessing to her nephew to marry her daughter after he had asked for it.
Since day one, Katharine encouraged her daughter’s enthusiasm. This was the union that she always hoped for, and one would that strengthen ties between England and Spain against what she saw as their common enemy -France.
For Henry, this must have felt momentous as well. Since Katharine was unable to provide him with any more heirs. His hope of securing the throne for his descendants now rested “for the birth of a male heir in the next generation”.*

As previously stated, Princess Mary was six-years-old at the time and it is hard to know what she must have felt. Perhaps she felt happy at being betrothed to someone of such importance, or perhaps being the princess that she was and her father’s heir, she put on a plastic smile to please her mother.
From early childhood, she had been taught that one day she would be Queen -until her mother gave birth to a son, that is- and as Queen Regnant she would have to produce sons. And who better than with someone of impeccable royal descent as Charles?

Charles was enchanted with his little cousin. He gave her a pony to ride and a goshawk and she in turn led him to a window so he could see his presents -horses, of the finest breed, she boasted. She then entertained him and his entourage by showing off her musical skills, playing the spinet and performing a galliard (a French dance).

“Perhaps when Charles arrived she wore some of the jewelry that had been specially made for her, an impressive brooch with the name Charles on it, or another with The Emperor picked out in lettering.” (Porter, The Myth of Bloody Mary)

Charles stayed in Greenwich for four more days. On the 6th he and Henry VIII emerged from the Palace of Placentia and rode through London on a magnificent procession that was akin to the Field of Cloth and Gold that had taken place two years earlier between Henry and Francis I of France.
Before arriving to the city they stopped at a tent of cloth and gold where they donned their clothes for something more flamboyant. To demonstrate their commitment and mutual friendship, the two dressed identically in suits of cloth of gold lined with silver decorations. They were preceded by English and Spanish courtiers riding side by side as equals, just as their sovereigns. Sir Thomas More greeted them, delivering a speech in which he praised in a style similar to when he praised Katharine and Henry on their joint coronation.

At Southwark, the two were welcomed by the representatives of the clergy. When they reached King’s Bench, the Emperor asked Henry VIII to pardon as many prisoners as they could. This was similar to what his aunt had done in the aftermath of the Evil May Day Riots, even after some of the rebels protested against foreigners, including the much beloved queen. And just as before, Henry conceded. As they resumed their progress, they were met by nine pageants. One pageant impressed the Emperor. This one features the monarchs’ emblems, next to each were two of the greatest heroes of Greek and biblical mythology: Hercules and Samson. Charles was compared to the demigod Hercules while Henry VIII was compared to the equally strong and fearsome Samson.

Charles V later in life c. 1548
Charles V c.1548, by Lambert Sustris. Although he never married Mary, choosing his other first cousin, Isabella of Portugal, Mary grew to rely on him, at times forcing his hand when he was unwilling to act on her behalf. When she became Queen, she married his son, Philip.

Charles wrote to the Abbot of Najera the following day, describing to him his experience, noting that after seeing Henry’s fleet, he had become convinced that the two could take on France easily.

On the 8th of June, Henry and Charles made their last stroll through the city before they retreated to their respective quarters. It was during his stay at Greenwich and his processions through London that Charles got to know his betrothed and make up for lost time with his aunt, with the two growing very fond of one another.

On the 9th, Charles traveled to Richmond Palace and on the 10th on Hampton Court, which was one of Henry’s favorite residences and one of the architectural jewels from the Tudor era that still survives. Charles V would continue to be greeted by grand ceremony, and move from palace to palace, in an effort to make the young Emperor and King of Spain feel at home. His journey would come to an end on the middle of July, with both parties swearing to honor their agreement by pledging ships, men and a hand in marriage to seal the deal.

Sources:

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

The Death of Queen Dowager Elizabeth Woodville

Elizabeth Woodville portrait

On the 8th of June 1492, Elizabeth Woodville, Queen Dowager of England and mother of Elizabeth of York, the first Tudor Consort, died at Bermondsey Abbey. She had retired to be at peace with her thoughts and true to her religiosity, she asked for a moderate funeral.

Bermondsey_Abbey
Illustration of Bermondsey Abbey.

Some historians and novelists speculate as to why she decided to retire to an Abbey, with the former making assumptions that it was due to her son’s cruelty or his mother’s jealousy, while the latter say that it had to do with her possible involvement in the Lambert Simnel rebellion. Lambert Simnel was an impostor who pretended to be the captive Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick. His rebellion failed and he was relegated to the kitchens with many of the main plotters dying in the field.

Elizabeth’s role in this plot has long been debated and while there is a possibility of her involvement, the more likely explanation (while simple) is probably the correct one. As I’ve mentioned, it had to do with her religiosity -which was a key component of her life.

 

EW Twq and twp
Elizabeth Woodville played by Rebecca Ferguson & Essie Davis respective in the White Queen and the White Princess, which are based on Philippa Gregory’s books of the same name. The series present a ruthless, ambitious, self-righteous and at times, murderous version of the first Yorkist Consort in an effort to make her more appealing to modern audiences.

Elizabeth was discreet, strict with her ladies (when she was queen), and moderate in her spending which is a big contrast to her predecessor -Marguerite of Anjou who often exceeded her royal income- and on top of that, she was very observant of religious doctrine. Her brother, Anthony Woodville, expressed an interest in joining the Catholic Kings in their crusade against the Moors and one of her surviving brothers, following the end of Richard III’s reign and the start of her son-in-law Henry Tudor’s, went ahead and did that.

That religiosity was inherited by her daughters, most notably her eldest and youngest, Elizabeth and Bridget of York. The latter became a nun at the Dartford Priory and it is possible that this was her intended fate since she was a child. After Elizabeth died, Bridget asked permission to leave so she could attend her mother’s funeral.

Her wishes were honored and Elizabeth’s funeral was a modest one. She was interred in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor, next to her second husband, Edward IV. Fun fact, this is the place where her grandson, Henry VIII and granddaughter-in-law, Jane Seymour, were also interred, and so were some of her later descendants, including Anne I of the United Kingdom and one of her infant offspring.

EW hollow crown wars of the roses
Keeley Hawes as Elizabeth Woodville in the Hollow Crown: Wars of the roses based off Shakespeare’s history plays “Henry VI parts 1 and 2” and “Richard III”. Unlike recent portrayals of her in popular media, Shakespeare offered a more sympathetic portrayal of her where she uses her soft power, via her love and domesticity, to gain the upper hand, while still delving into the dark side and launching curses at her enemy (Richard) at the end.

The best way to honor Elizabeth Woodville is by remembering who she was. Besides being a religious matron, devoted mother and wife, she was also a survivor of one of the most turbulent periods in English history.

She was the first Yorkist, married to Edward IV and Sir John Grey before him. Her eldest daughter Elizabeth of York married Henry VII in 1486. Less than nine months later she gave birth to Prince Arthur. On his christening, her family held a special place, ahead of other nobles. Elizabeth Woodville stood as the infant’s godmother, presenting her grandson with a “rich up of gold”.

As previously mentioned, Elizabeth was highly religious. During her time as Queen, Elizabeth Woodville would make special pilgrimages to churches, and stop whenever she could to make a special offering. Her humility during the Lancastrian Readeption earned her the common people’s approval. Queens were supposed to be passive and religious, Elizabeth fit this model very well unlike her predecessor, the Lancastrian Queen, Marguerite of Anjou who was every bit of independent as her female relatives. During her first time in sanctuary, she gave birth to her firstborn royal son, Prince Edward. Baptized in a humble ceremony, she received bread and other provisions from the people who soon heard of her plight. During the reign of Richard III, Elizabeth and her daughters came out of sanctuary after he promised he wouldn’t harm them. To this day historians can’t make up their minds as to what happened to her sons, the princes in the tower. Probably they never will. One thing is for certain though. There was more to Elizabeth Woodville than met the eye. As a consort she fulfilled her duties and obligations by giving the King two male heirs and adhering to the gender norms of the day.

Sources:

  • Higginbotham, Susan. The Woodvilles:  The Wars of the Roses and England’s most infamous family. History Press. 2013.
  • Licence,  Amy. Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen. Amberley. 2013.
  • Okerlund, Arlene. Elizabeth Wydeville: The Slandered Queen. Tempus. 2005.