Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Charmed Royal Life

by Anne O'Brien

Henry Bolingbroke, later Duke of Lancaster, son and heir of John of Gaunt, became King Henry IV of England in September of 1399 after seizing the crown from his cousin Richard II and being acclaimed king by the English lords. It was to be a short and eventful reign, Henry dying in March 1314 at the relatively young age of 45 years, from longstanding ill-health rather than violence.  I knew about this when I first started writing about Joanna of Navarre, Henry's second wife.  What I did not know was that in the first five years of Henry's reign seven attempts were made on his life, either directly or indirectly.  It was astonishing that he survived at all.

This is a contemporary image of Henry from an illuminated letter in the Great Cowcher of the Duchy of Lancaster, made in 1402.  Probably far more accurate than the above portrait of Henry, which was painted much later in the century.

1400 The Epiphany Rising

In the first months of Henry's reign when the deposed Richard was still alive, imprisoned in Pontefract Castle, this rebellion, sometimes known as the Revolt of the Earls, was planned by a group of lords sympathetic to Richard's plight and led by the Duke of Exeter, Henry's brother-in-law.  The plot was to assassinate Henry and his four sons at Windsor on the occasion of the celebratory tournament, planned by Henry to honour the Feast of the Epiphany on 6th January.  Richard would be restored as King.  Details of the pot were leaked to Henry and, because London remained loyal to Henry, the plotters, who fled, were subsequently captured and suitably dealt with.  A bloody beginning to the reign.

Here, easily recognisable, is Windsor Castle where the deed was to have taken place.

1400 The Owain Glyn Dwr Rising

Glyn Dwr claimed the title of Prince of Wales and vowed to kill Henry and his eldest son, becoming a permanent thorn in Henry's flesh, raiding along the Marches and into England.  The threat became more serious when he allied with the Percy family and Edmund Mortimer whose claim to the English throne could be considered stronger that Henry's except that it came through a female line.  Glyn Dwr ultimately failed in his bid, but in the early years of Henry's reign he appeared to be a serious threat to English security and Henry's life, forcing Henry into numerous Welsh campaigns, and ultimately into the Battle of Shrewsbury, as illustrated below.

1400 the affair of the poisoned saddle

One of the more exotic attempts on Henry's life.  Henry's saddle was said to have been smeared with some poisonous substance that would cause him to swell up and die before he had ridden ten miles.  Fortunately for Henry, the plot was discovered before Henry mounted his horse.  The perpetrator of this imaginative scheme is not on record.

1402 the Friars' conspiracy

Another plot to kill Henry and his sons and restore Richard.  Although Richard had now been dead for two years, the rallying cry "Richard is Alive" was widely used to win supporters to any insurrection against Henry.  Rumours were particularly rife that Richard was at large in Scotland, waiting for the call to resume his crown. Once again detail of the plot was leaked, and on this occasion, the church was involved in the planned uprising.  Eight friars were put on trial and condemned as being central to the plot.

1403 the Percy Rising

The powerful northern family that had been so instrumental in bringing Henry to the throne in 1399 turned against him, complaining of lack of financial appreciation for their efforts on Henry's behalf.  They joined forces with Glyn Dwr to increase their power in England.  This rebellion culminated in the Battle of Shrewsbury in which Henry and his eldest son fought.  It ended with the execution of the Earl of Worcester for treason, the death of Harry Hotspur on the battlefield and the arrest and imprisonment of the Earl of Northumberland.  This was the battle in which the prince (the future Henry V) was struck in the face by an arrow, which left him badly scarred.

Henry knew that the sole purpose of his enemies on that day at Shrewsbury would be to kill him.  Therefore  he took the precaution of asking two of his knights to wear his livery, to confuse the issue.  Henry survived what was to be a blood-bath with thousands dead.

This is the impressive Battlefield Church of St Mary Magdalene which stands, now unused but still consecrated, in open countryside on the site of the Battle of Shrewsbury of 1403.  Its building was authorised by Henry in the years after the battle and it is said that it stands over a grave pit holding many of the thousands who died there.

1404 Countess of Oxford

This lady was first cousin to the Percys and mother of Richard II's erstwhile favourite Robert de Vere, who had been forced into exile by the five Lords Appellant, so she had a vested interest in revenge against Henry who had been one of the Lords Appellant as well as responsible for the Percy downfall.  She invited the Duke of Orleans and the Count of St Pol to invade England with a French army and march on Henry in the name of King Richard.  It was proposed that Richard, alive and well, would meet with Glyn Dwr at Northampton, thus making the most of Glyn Dwr's continuing antagonism, before joining with French invaders.  It did not come to pass.  No one was in favour of French troops on English soil.  French attempts to land at Dartmouth and on the Isle of Wight were effectively repulsed.

1404 Assassination at Eltham

Details are vague for this attempt to remove Henry from the scene, but Lady Constance Despenser, Henry's cousin, accused her brother the Duke of York of plotting an assassination.  The assassins were to scale the walls of Eltham Palace or waylay Henry on the road when he went to spend Christmas there with his wife Joanna and his family.  Whether this was true or not is open to debate, but certainly York and Lady Constance were involved in the plot to take control of the two young Mortimer heirs and deliver them into the hands of Glyn Dwr as a focus for the rebellion against Henry.  The plot never came to fruition, and the escape of the Mortimer boys in the company of Lady Constance was foiled.

The affair of the metal contraption.

The strangest of all.  Rumour said that it was planned to place a metal contraption in Henry's bed, that would spear his vitals and kill him.  There appears to be little truth in this, but it shows the atmosphere of the time that such rumours should be spread.  A man who took the crown from the Anointed King must accept that many of his subjects would feel aggrieved when the country was suffering from high taxes.

The tomb of Henry IV and Queen Joanna
in Canterbury Cathedral.

What a violent few years this was in English history with no comfortable corners to give sanctuary to any player in the game. Henry survived these many and various attempts on his life, sadly to succumb to a most painful and debilitating skin complaint that caused his body to waste away so that ultimately he could neither walk nor ride.  It was said by contemporaries to be leprosy.  Today it is considered not to be, but it brought Henry to an early death three weeks short of his forty sixth birthday.


My website gives up to date news of my books, signings and talks.  Do drop by. My novel, The Queen's Choice, about Joanna and Henry will be published in November 2015.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Religious persecution and Glorious revolution

by Anna Belfrage

Louis XIV
In 1685, Louis XIV of France revoked the Edict of Nantes, thereby indirectly laying the foundation to what would become the so called Glorious Revolution in England.

“Eh, what?” I hear some of you say, brows rising as you consider just how the revocation of the Edict of Nantes could lead to the events that ousted England’s rightful king. Well, dear people, as so many events in the 17th century, it comes down to religion – or rather, to religion as a political instrument.

Louis XIV was, as we all know, French. King since childhood, he was a firm believer in the divine right of kings and in his own capacity to rule. He was equally determined to expand French interests and territories and therefore promoted an expansive – aggressive – foreign policy. Plus there was the ever present issue of religion, a hot potato that had temporarily been set on a back-burner by Henri IVs 1598 Edict whereby all Frenchmen were allowed to worship according to their own conscience.

Louis was no big fan of this tolerant approach to heretics. It irked him that there should be close to a million such heretics living in his France, a country that should in its entirety belong to the Holy Church. (Here dear Louis was being somewhat hypocritical, turning a blind eye to the fact that France, this oh so Catholic nation, had happily bankrolled the Swedish Protestant Army under Gustav II Adolf as it laid waste to the Holy Roman Empire during the Thirty Years' War. Bygones, he probably said, waving a perfumed handkerchief...)

To Louis, his Protestant subjects were a personal affront – they should take heed, listen to their King and convert. And when milder forms of coercion didn’t help, Louis launched the dragonnades in the early 1680’s whereby dragoons were forcibly billed with Protestant families, there to constantly persecute them and hound them until the poor people either converted or fled. Many of them fled, and the surrounding European nations saw a huge influx of Huguenot refugees.

And yet, Louis was not satisfied. Egged on by his pious wife, Madame de Maintenon, he took the drastic step of revoking the Edict of Nantes, thereby making it illegal to adhere to any other faith than the Catholic one. Over the coming months, France suffered a major brain drain as an entire generation of Protestant tradesmen, merchants, and skilled labourers left – no doubt to Louis’ personal joy. By early 1686, less than 2 000 Protestants remained in France.

For Protestants in the surrounding countries, Louis XIV’s measures just went to prove the point that Catholic rulers were dangerous, intolerant creatures. In countries such as England, the anti-papist sentiments that were a constant presence throughout the 17th century were further strengthened by the terrifying stories told by the Huguenot refugees. Unfortunately – at least in the eyes of some of the more bigoted Englishmen – the English king was a Catholic. Even worse, James II was Louis XIV’s cousin, and as we all know, blood will tell…

James is second from the left
James II didn’t begin his life as a Catholic. His father, Charles I, was raised an Anglican, remained an Anglican, and ensured his children were raised as Anglicans, no matter their Catholic mother, Henriette Marie of France. As we all know, Charles I hit the dust in 1649 – in his case almost in the literal sense, given that he was beheaded. At the time, James II was not quite sixteen, and he was to spend the coming decade in either the French or the Spanish army where he served with distinction - and came into contact with various men of Catholic faith.

Like his older brother, James had an eye for pretty women. In 1659 he seduced Anne Hyde by promising to marry her, and to his credit he followed through on his promise, even if no one expected a prince to do so. Sometime during his marriage to Anne, James and his wife converted to Catholicism, even if he kept this secret. His surviving daughters by Anne, however, were raised as Anglicans as ordered by their royal uncle, Charles II.

Mary of Modena
When the English Parliament introduced a new Test Act in 1673, it became impossible for James to keep his conversion a secret. The Test Act was one in a series of laws put in place to stop Catholics from holding higher office, either in government or the military, by requiring all such officers to take an oath by which they disavowed certain central tenets of Catholic faith, and also to take communion under Anglican rites. James refused to do so, stepping down from his post as Lord High Admiral. He didn’t exactly improve his popularity ratings when he then went on to marry Mary of Modena, a fifteen-year-old Catholic Italian princess.

Over the coming years, Parliament and King were locked in a constant power struggle, with Charles II adamantly refusing to sign anything that would potentially exclude his brother from the line of succession, the so called Exclusion Crisis. When tensions were at their highest, James was recommended to leave the country, which he did, spending a number of years in Scotland.

In 1685, Charles II died – and a pretty awful death it was. On his deathbed, he converted to Catholicism, allowing himself the privilege to die professing the faith he must have held to in secret for years. With no legitimate heirs of his body, Charles was succeeded by James, and the powers that were in England were not pleased – at all.

It was unfortunate that in this self-same year Louis XIV upped the persecution of the Huguenots by revoking the Edict. It was also unfortunate that James II lacked that streak of pragmatism that had always guided his older brother. Had James but taken the time to stop and think he would have realised that for a newly crowned Catholic king in a country so mistrustful of Catholics, it made sense to take things slow. Instead, the man immediately set off on his own personal crusade to revoke all legislation that made it impossible for Catholics to hold office. Not, to put it mildly, a popular move.

James II
At the time, James was accused of wanting to return England in its entirety to the Catholic Church. These days, historians agree that James’ purpose was to create a more tolerant approach to his co-religionists. They also agree that James was somewhat inept – call it heavy-handed – in his attempts, thereby alienating former supporters. Whatever the case, while Parliament may have grumbled and Protestant Peers protested, there were never any plans to depose James. Deposing kings was simply not done, and the English public did not want a repeat on the royal execution not quite forty years ago.

So, what have we here? On the one side, a disgruntled English populace, angry with their king for promoting his Catholic friends, even angrier when he initiated a massive conversion campaign. On the other, a bewildered monarch, who didn't understand why everyone misinterpreted him so. (A simplification, of course. And I haven’t even touched upon James’ attempts at fiscal reform, but seeing as most people find taxes boring, let’s not go there…)

On the other side of the Channel, Louis XIV was more than thrilled to see his Catholic cousin on the English throne, while further north William III and his wife Mary, James’ oldest daughter, bided their time. Unless James had a son, the English crown would revert to their staunchly Protestant hands upon his death. The probability of James ever having a son was deemed as low. So far, Mary of Modena and James had been singularly unfortunate when it came to children. She’d been pregnant close to ten times, but as yet there was not one surviving child. And yes, I do feel this is a good moment to feel sorry for poor Mary – and her husband.

It was indicative of how out of touch James was with his people that throughout 1686 he tried very hard to influence the Anglican faction into accepting his more lenient approach to Catholics. England was a hotbed of anti-papist emotions, nurtured over several decades, first by the Parliamentarian forces, then by the Restoration government and their anti-Catholic legislation. Well, if we’re going to be quite correct, the anti-papist sentiments went back further than that, to the reign of Elizabeth I and onwards. No, in England of the 17th century a good Catholic was a dead Catholic – or at least a Catholic who had the sense to stay well away from the green fields of fair England.

In 1687, a frustrated James decided he needed new allies to pursue his political ambitions, and so he started flirting with the Protestant Dissenters so as to undermine the Anglican Church. To win their support, in April of 1687 he announced a Declaration of Indulgence whereby all penal laws and the Test and Corporation Acts were suspended. Suddenly, religious freedom raised its head in England. Suddenly, one could openly be a Quaker, or a Baptist, or a Presbyterian – hang on, even a Presbyterian? Hmm. James was no major fan of the Scottish Kirk, but yes, they were also included, albeit after some pressure – or a Catholic. We rarely give James II the credit he deserves for this attempt at creating a society where people could worship as they pleased. Was it self-serving? Of course it was, but for the thousands upon thousands that had been oppressed by the Anglican Church, the Declaration of Indulgence provided quite a breath of fresh air.

This innovative piece of legislation was not greeted with spontaneous outbursts of joy. Most people were sceptical of the King’s motives, and besides, there was a bigger concern. The Queen was pregnant, and should she be delivered of a healthy boy child, England would face a succession of Catholic kings. The Protestant nobility gulped. Combining a potentially healthy baby boy with the King’s recent legislation would, over time, erode their power base. No, this needed to be stopped before it went too far, and where else to go for support than to William of Orange in the United Provinces? After all, should the Queen be delivered of a boy child that would not be good for William’s aspirations.

It was a boy. Delirious with joy, James wanted to embrace the entire world. A son, he had a son, and even the cruel stories whereby it was insinuated that the boy was a changeling, smuggled into the royal apartments in a warming pan, could not quench his joy – even if it must have hurt that his elder daughters were implicated in this gossip-mongering. James Frances Edward Stuart was born on June 10th of 1688 – less than six months later, the baby would begin his lifelong exile.

On June 30th, seven protestant grandees sent a letter to William III, inviting him to invade – not to depose James, but to curb his policies. All the same, the letter signed by Edward Russel, the earls of Shrewsbury, Devonshire and Danby, Bishop Compton, Lord Lumley and Henry Sidney cannot be described as anything but high treason. However, the large majority of the political establishment in England did not support this move. Yes, they wanted to restrain James, but far too many had far too recent memories of the consequences of plunging England into a civil war to risk taking up arms against their king.

This is where we have to return to Louis XIV and his revocation of the Edict of Nantes, this in an attempt to understand William’s motivations in invading England. If we’re going to be honest, no one does know the man’s motivations – William was a man who mostly kept his own counsel. One thing that is very apparent, however, is that William’s lifelong ambition was to halt France’s expansion, especially into his own territories. He found little support at home for his bellicose activities – the Dutch states depended on trade with France and saw no reason to antagonise this huge market, no matter that it was nibbling at the borders of the United Provinces.

Spain was no help at all, the Holy Roman Empire had its hands full with the Turks, and William all on his own was no match for Louis XIV. However, should one combine England with the United Provinces, well then…Whatever the case, as long as the pacifists remained in power in the United Provinces, William was without the funds required to do more than gnash his teeth when the French took Strasbourg (1681) and Luxembourg (1684) And then came the revocation.

Horrified Dutch Protestants opened their homes to the refugees from Louis XIV’s France. They listened, aghast, to stories of bloodshed, to being forced to leave all their wealth behind (with which the wealthy Dutch traders could more than relate), to being beaten and whipped, murdered even, by angry Catholic mobs. Which is when William coughed and said “ahem”. Now he was given funds – plenty of funds. Even more fortuitously, the Holy Roman Emperor beat off the Turks and was more than happy to join the coalition against France. Only England, ruled by Louis XIVs cousin, remained loyal to France. The invitation from the seven grandees therefore came at an opportune time. By invading, William hoped to strong-arm his father-in-law into supporting his efforts to contain France. Whether his initial ambitions extended beyond that, we don't know.

William landed in Torbay on November 5, 1688. William was hailed as a liberator. James dithered, uncertain as to what to do – William was family, and James was more than aware of how much his eldest daughter loved her husband. Besides, he was unnerved by the last year’s outbreak of violent anti-Catholic riots throughout the north of England, and he definitely did not want to be the one who started a new Civil War – he was as beset by spectres as his peers.

On November 23, James took the decision to retire to London rather than meet William on the field. A capable military leader, an experienced battle commander, James could probably have held his own – and his was the larger force. So why did he retreat? Why did he attempt to flee to France rather than defend his crown? We will never know – but chances are that had he stayed and fought, he would have carried the day, thereby rewriting history as we know it. But then, history is full of ‘what if’s’, isn’t it?

Mary II
Captured by William's troops in December of 1688 while making for France, James then managed to escape - and one suspects he was allowed to escape - and fled to his powerful French cousin. In 1689, William and Mary were confirmed by Parliament as the new King and Queen.

James made one serious attempt to regain his throne that ended at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. His son would go on to make his own attempts, as would his son, the famous Bonnie Prince Charlie who for a short while in 1745-46 actually seemed to be carrying the day. Until the disaster at Culloden, that is.

These days, James II is often considered a parenthesis, a king who is remembered mainly because he lost it all. I do believe the man deserves a somewhat grander epitaph than that, however ineptly he handled the single most momentous event in his life. James Stuart was a loyal son, a loyal brother. He was brave and honourable, served his country as well as he could and was allowed to. He was a loving father – doting, even – a caring husband and a man who stood by his friends and his word. He was also a Catholic, and somehow the matter of his faith overshadows all his qualities. After all, it is because of his faith and his pig-headed efforts to make life easier for his co-religionists that he lost his throne. A high price to pay for his faith, although personally I think James considered his daughter’s betrayal and defection the far heavier price. The lesser me must admit to hoping Mary suffered endless sleepless nights as a consequence, but on the other hand, her life was not exactly a bed of roses either, and who are we to sit in the comfort of hindsight and judge those that went before?

The events of 1688 and 1689 play an important role in the recently released To Catch a Falling Star, the eighth book in The Graham Saga.


Anna Belfrage is the successful author of seven published books, all of them part of The Graham Saga. Set in 17th century Scotland, Virginia and Maryland, this is the story of Matthew Graham and his wife, Alex Lind - two people who should never have met, not when she was born three centuries after him.

Anna's books have won several awards and are available on Amazon US,  Amazon UK, or wherever else good books are sold.
For more information about Anna and her books, please visit her website. If not on her website, Anna can mostly be found on her blog.

Giveaway! Stolen, by Sheila Dalton

Sheila is giving away five .mobi copies for Kindle. You can read about the book HERE. Please comment below on this post to enter the drawing.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Beauty and Georgian Society

by Grace Elliot

What is beauty?

In the 18th century, according to the Morning Post, a true beauty not only had good looks and a pleasing figure, but wit, grace, sensibility, elegance, good sense, expression, and principle. (Note: Modesty is absent from the list, but perhaps this falls under good sense or principles.) Indeed, in October 1776, the paper published a ‘Scale of Bon Ton’ that listed 12 of society’s most fashionable women as ranked by a point-scoring scheme.

Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire

In case you are wondering, the Duchess of Devonshire topped the list, hotly followed by the Duchess or Gordon, then the Countess of Derby.  Ranking beauties against one another was very popular, and only the month before the London Chronicle had published its own ‘Scale of Beauties’ – again with the Duchess of Devonshire ahead of the rest.

There’s no denying that the majority of these women were indeed attractive, but more than that, it was difficult for a woman not of noble blood to be a beauty in the fullest Georgian sense of the word, because they simply didn’t have the breeding. The concept of beauty was closely tied to ideas of behaviour and manners such that someone with good looks but lacking the correct social niceties  was left sadly short of that vital ‘something’ that made her acceptable as a society beauty.

All of which is as good as any yard stick to base the concept of ‘beauty’ on, since it is such a subjective thing. Even at the time, people debated (as they have done since time immemorial) the essence of beauty. A poem, written in 1733, titled ‘Beauty and Proportion’ extolled the virtue of symmetry with ‘a roman nose, high turn’d forehead and well-set eye.’

But someone with a good appreciation of beauty, the artist William Hogarth, writing in the mid-18th century, argued that disorderly style in the form of curved lines and uneven structures was a greater delight to the eye.

From the Harlot's Progress, by William Hogarth
Hogarth was well known for his cutting observations on social manners

A little later in 1795, the Dictionary of Love catalogued beauty in 28 points or of which the foremost was ‘Youth’. Understandable then, that some women turned to cosmetics to cheat the clock and make them appear younger. But this too was frowned upon, not least because makeup could be purchased by anyone to create the illusion of beauty and thus cheat the viewer.

Part of the problem with makeup was that it was so thick that it obscured many blemishes and imperfections. Whilst a noble lady was cossetted and often protected from some of the diseases that could devastate a complexion, a lady of lower birth was not. Therefore a perfect skin was a badge, a mark of superior rank. However, the use of makeup blurred this boundary and made it less clear for all to see.

It was argued that titled women should avoid ‘paint’ because it lowered them to the level of ‘inferiors’. This is all very well, for many young women in society who needed to make a good marriage but with average looks, the clever use of makeup seemed a Godsend to make them more attractive.

Maria, Countess of Coventry

At the time, much makeup contained lead, so perhaps there was wisdom (but for a different reason) behind avoiding artificial props. Perhaps one the most famous cautionary tales is that of Maria, Countess of Coventry, who rose to fame because of her stunning looks, but died because of lead poisoning from her makeup. Such was the pressure to maintain her status as a beauty that the means of maintaining an outward appearance of loveliness was ultimately her end. A salient lesson indeed.


Grace Elliot is a veterinarian and writer.  
To find out more, visit her blog:

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Murder of Katherine Howard

By Nancy Bilyeau

Katherine Howard is the dirty joke of the Tudor era.

The second of Henry VIII's wives to be executed, she is a tragic figure, but there is not the same level of outrage over her fate. Many who have studied the life of Anne Boleyn believe that the charges of adultery and incest and treasonous conspiracy were false, concocted by Thomas Cromwell to free Henry VIII of a woman he had come to hate. Queen Katherine, some 30 years younger than her ailing and obese husband, took lovers before and after her marriage, it is commonly believed. She was guilty.

Wasn't she?

A miniature portrait believed to show
Katherine Howard, perhaps 18 when she married

I believe that Katherine Howard was guilty but not of what you may think. Whether she was unchaste before marriage is not her chief crime. Her struggles to hide her premarital past from her husband and his councillors--and her mysterious meetings, perhaps adulterous, with Thomas Culpepper after her marriage--were just the excuse seized on to effect her removal.

It could be argued that her alleged misdeeds were echoes of the mistakes in judgment Anne Boleyn made, in her flirtatious banter with Henry Norris and Francis Weston. Queen Anne was the victim of a politically motivated coup, and I would argue that her cousin Katherine Howard was too.

Anne Boleyn, first cousin of Katherine Howard.

To read the books written about Katherine Howard is to plunge into a vat of scorn, contempt and disgust: "empty headed," "good time girl" and "juvenile delinquent."

There has, recently, been a shift of opinion. In his excellent book Katherine Howard: A New History, Conor Byrne makes a convincing case that Katherine, whose mother died when she was very young and whose father was the black sheep of the Howards, was the victim of sexual predators while living with her step-grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. And Thomas Culpepper's attentions may have veered into blackmail.

In this post, though, I would argue that the crime she was actually guilty of—the reason Katherine Howard died—was not her morals, or lack of. It was her effectiveness as queen. She was the wife that Henry VIII was visibly most besotted with, according to contemporary records: his "affection was so marvellously set upon her." And, most critically, she was more than a mere plaything. She was the effective center of a power base.

What? people scream. But Catherine was promiscuous, frivolous, semi-literate, immature, grasping and heedless, right? That's what the miniseries depict and the books all agree on, even those that are supposedly sympathetic.

I would like to present some facts of Catherine's life and reign as Queen.

* Within the span of not more than six months, she was able to convince Henry VIII that she should be his next queen, rather than his mistress, even though he was married to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, when he "first set eyes upon her." Jane Seymour  is credited with shrewd managing of Henry VIII in similar circumstances. But Jane displaced a wife who was most likely pregnant when she began her relationship with King Henry, and is not known to have balked at Anne Boleyn's execution to make way for her. Katherine, in contrast, replaced a queen who never consummated her arranged marriage, and Anne of Cleves received a divorce and large settlement, not the axe. Moreover, Katherine went to great lengths to treat her predecessor, Anne of Cleves, with kindness and respect in public after the divorce.

* Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, was more than 60 years old when arrested and confined in the Tower of London, charged with treason. Henry VIII considered her son, Reginald Pole, his greatest enemy, but the religious scholar lived in Italy and France, safe from the English king's grasp. So the king wiped out his family: brother, nephew and, finally, mother. Her imprisonment was not only terrifying but physically rigorous. Katherine arranged to have a set of warm clothes sent to Margaret Pole in the Tower, including a satin-lined nightgown, shoes, and slippers. It was an act of incredible bravery.

* Katherine persuaded her husband to pardon at least three people who could easily have been executed were it not for her intervention, including Thomas Wyatt. In 1541, Wyatt was arrested and sent to the Tower of London, accused of corresponding with Cardinal Pole, and referring to the prospect of Henry VIII's death. Katherine's actions led to his freedom. This success sets her apart from Jane Seymour, who when she attempted to dissuade Henry VIII from dissolving the monasteries, was told never to meddle in his affairs, and from sixth wife Catherine Parr, who was very nearly arrested after haranguing the king over religion. Although considered a 16th century "bimbo," Katherine was an effective political player.

* Katherine managed a relationship with a man in ill health, possessing volatile emotions and holding high expectations of a wife. After a "honeymoon" of several months during which Henry VIII appeared rejuvenated, his health problems returned and he was often in pain--and highly irritable. Ambassador Eustace Chapuys reports rumors that Henry VIII refused to see his wife for a long stretch of days, and even considered divorce briefly. Rumors flew throughout the marriage that Katherine was pregnant, though it is unlikely she ever was. This must have been a source of considerable stress to Katherine, since the king continued to be obsessed with begetting male heirs. Yet Katherine was able to solidify her hold on the king's affections. When they returned from their progress in late October, the king proclaimed his wife a "jewel."

Less than two weeks later, Katherine was being investigated. What happened?

It is a story often told that Anne Boleyn said of Mary Tudor, her husband's daughter, that "she is my death and I am hers." As it happened, it was not her stepdaughter who killed Queen Anne. However, that same phrase could be used for Katherine Howard and Thomas Cromwell. She was his death. Many historians believe that Cromwell stalled in obtaining the king a divorce from Anne of Cleves because he didn't want a Howard queen, but that stalling was fatal.

Yet in a chilling way, Cromwell, executed on the wedding day of Henry VIII and Katherine Howard, was the cause of her death 20 months later.

The Duke of Norfolk and his heir, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, openly gloated over the destruction of Cromwell. Their ally, Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, returned to the King's council and a leading role. But what is not often written about is how this faction tried to wipe out Cromwell's supporters. The arrest of Sir Thomas Wyatt was part of their "clean up operation," as was the arrest of Sir Ralph Sadler, Cromwell's protegee. (Sadler, too, was eventually released.)

Thomas Audley

Other Cromwell allies, like Thomas Wriothesley and Richard Rich, jumped to the winning side, no matter how they felt about the Howards, to survive. Thomas Audley, who had shared many of Cromwell's religious and political views, accommodated himself to the winners at court, but he was not fully trusted by Norfolk. Audley was lord chancellor, though--too useful to destroy. For now.

Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury

The man in the kingdom left most exposed was Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury. He was the only one to publicly lament the fall of Cromwell, in a distressed letter to the King himself. Some at court expected Cranmer to follow Cromwell into disgrace. But the Archbishop survived, protected (as much as one could be) by King Henry's esteem. He retreated from the forefront of court affairs.

Bishop Gardiner, Cranmer's triumphant rival, left the court in the fall of 1540 to represent England at a German meeting of many religious and state leaders determined to resolve the question of religion, including the Emperor Charles V and John Calvin. Gardiner had instructions from Henry VIII that should a way be found for the Pope to welcome England back into the fold, he should not rule out such a possibility. One can only imagine how Cranmer felt about this summit and his relief when the Diet of Regensburg failed in the summer of 1541. But there was no doubt that Gardiner would continue to lobby for a return to Rome.

Katherine's husband, Henry VIII

In the coming year, the Howard-Gardiner faction did what they could to return the kingdom to the "True Faith" and repeatedly tried to move against former Cromwell allies. Those men they targeted must have been frightened. And frightened men make passionate enemies. It was unwise to alienate men who were capable of striking back. With the King entranced by his teenage Queen, the Howards felt invincible.

They weren't.

When Henry VIII and his Queen went on their historic progress to the North of England, three men were left behind. One was Thomas Cranmer. Another was Thomas Audley, with whom he had a friendship. The third was Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, who quietly shared their evangelical views and quite possibly worried that the Seymours were endangered, especially if Queen Katherine had children. There might have been occasions for this trio of men to meet and speculate about their future.

That is the moment when a man entered the picture who set the match leading to the horrible deaths of four people: Katherine Howard, Jane Boleyn, Thomas Culpepper, and Francis Dereham. His name was John Lascelles, and he was a fanatical evangelical, someone who would do anything for the Protestant cause. He had once served Thomas Cromwell. He hated Thomas Howard and Bishop Gardiner (he would die himself five years later, burned to death for heresy). His sister, Mary Hall, had served in the household of the dowager Duchess of Norfolk, and she saw and heard things about Katherine Howard's past. Scandalous things.

Lascelles found his way to the Cranmer-Seymour-Audley group and told them what he knew. The opponents of the Howards had found a fatal weakness. If they played this card, it could bring down the Howard faction, but it could also devastate King Henry. What should be done? Shortly after Cromwell was arrested, Katherine Howard had personally sent a note to Thomas Cranmer, reassuring him he was safe from harm. She was perhaps 20 years old when she returned with her doting husband from their northern progress; she had never done Cranmer any harm. But what if Lascelle's story were to reach the King's ears some other way?

On All Souls' Day, as King Henry left his devotionals in Hampton Court, his Archbishop of Canterbury handed him a letter and urged him to read it...

So ends Part One. In Part Two I will continue the story of Katherine Howard.


Nancy Bilyeau is the author of the award-winning Joanna Stafford trilogy, set in the reign of Henry VIII. The Tapestry, published on March 24 in North America and April 24 in the United Kingdom, includes the characters of Katherine Howard, Henry VIII, Bishop Gardiner, and Thomas Howard.

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Saturday, March 21, 2015

A Life of Catalina, Katherine of Aragon’s Moorish Servant

by Lauren Johnson

In 1501 a girl set out for England. She had come from the fertile coastal strip surrounding Motril, on the southernmost point of the Iberian peninsula. She traveled with a small household, leaving the heat and Moorish architecture of Granada to cross dusty plains and steep mountain passes until she reached the port of Coruna in Galicia. Taking ship – probably for the first time – she endured fierce storms in the Bay of Biscay, thunder and lightning off the coast of Brittany and was blown far off course in the English Channel. By the time she arrived, the journey had taken four months.

The girl’s name was Catalina.

This is not another story of Katherine of Aragon, referred to in Spanish documents as Catalina. Nor is it a tale of one of her many noble ladies who shared her name. It is the forgotten story of the life of Catalina of Motril, an enslaved Granadan who journeyed with her mistress to make the princess’s bed and attend to other intimate services of her private chambers. And Catalina was to play her part in the most seismic events in English history.

Malaga, George Braun (wikimedia commons)
Catalina probably first entered her mistress’s household as a result of the Reconquista of Granada by the king and queen of Aragon and Castile in the last decades of the Fifteenth Century. These ‘Catholic Monarchs’, Ferdinand and Isabella, were Katherine’s parents and with crusading zeal they had swept through the Andalusian territories of their Moorish neighbours, murdering and enslaving as they went. The city of Malaga (95 kilometres from Catalina’s hometown of Motril) resisted their attack so the monarchs ruled that every single person within its walls should be enslaved when it inevitably fell. The centuries-old customs and culture of Granada were conquered – and, over the following decades, destroyed.

Of course, Catalina’s entry into royal service may not have been a result of the war with Granada. Some Moors found themselves enslaved as punishment for crimes: pleading for alms without a permit, illegally leaving the country, gathering together in groups of more than four, or as a result of capital offences when punishment was commuted to slavery. Other Moors were seized by Christian pirates as ‘the goods of war’, like the Motrilian labourer Faraig Benali; dragged from a coastal path into a life of slavery. But it seems most likely that Catalina was installed in the royal household as a consequence – and symbol – of royal control over Granada.

Ferdinand and Isabella had a number of slaves in their service, including those reaped from their recently claimed territories in the Canary Islands and the New World. They enjoyed converting their slaves to Catholicism, and to serve so intimately upon the infanta Katherine, Catalina must also have been baptized a Christian. Perhaps in the process her name was changed. Slaves commonly took the name of their master or mistress, and alongside the infanta there were several other high-born Catalinas in Katherine of Aragon’s household. Catalina may have been named for, and originally in the service of, any one of them. Indeed, Catalina was one of the most common names for a slave in the Valencia region of Spain.

Catherine of Aragon, Michael Sittow c.1502
(wikimedia commons)
However she entered her mistress’s service, Catalina was regarded highly enough to be chosen as part of Katherine’s household when she left behind her homeland to begin a new life in England in 1501. Katherine was to marry the heir to the Tudor throne, Arthur, Prince of Wales. When she entered London in November, Katherine ensured her Spanish heritage and her parents’ conquest were foremost in people’s minds. Alongside English ladies wearing their own fashions, Katherine and her servants wore their native costumes, which were considered ‘busteous and marvellous’ by the English. Catalina was probably dressed in the native clothing of Granada. Thomas More was among those who witnessed the incredible procession, and he described with some bemusement the ‘undersized, barefoot, pygmy Ethiopians’ who accompanied Katherine. In all likelihood he was looking at young adolescent moors like Catalina, wearing sandals such as those commonly sported in Granada. His words suggest that Catalina endured curious stares and insensitive comments from onlookers that day, although she was far from the first black person to live in the British Isles

On Katherine and Arthur’s wedding night Catalina was in attendance. It was her duty to ensure the royal marriage bed was properly prepared, the expensive linens and silks scented and warmed for the young couple’s arrival. The next morning, she would have been the one to carry the bedding away again. Catalina fulfilled this role throughout Katherine’s marriage, accompanying her to Ludlow to begin her life as Princess of Wales. But barely four months later, tragedy struck. Arthur fell seriously ill at Easter 1502, and a week later he was dead.

Katherine and her household were recalled to London. There, it emerged that not all of her marriage portion had been paid by her family, meaning her in-laws felt under no obligation to provide access to her dower. Stripped of her claim to her late husband’s vast estate she was forced to live with unwelcome frugality. At first it seemed that Katherine would marry Arthur’s younger brother Henry but the certainty of it waxed and waned with the vagaries of international diplomacy. For seven years Katherine’s future hung in limbo – and with it, the lives of her attendants. They no longer enjoyed palatial comforts. Katherine had to pawn her jewels and plates just to keep them in her employ, and even then they walked around ‘in rags’. She wrote to her father Ferdinand in despair, pleading to be allowed to enter a convent. If she had had her wish, Catalina’s future would have been very different.

The Coronation of Henry VIII & Catherine of Aragon
(wikimedia commons)
But in April 1509 Katherine’s prospects changed considerably for the better. Her father-in-law Henry VII died. His seventeen-year-old son succeeded to the throne as Henry VIII, and one of his first acts was to reinstate his betrothal to Katherine. They married in May and on Midsummer’s Day (24 June) were crowned together at Westminster. Was Catalina part of the great celebrations that greeted this joint coronation? She was certainly there on Katherine and Henry’s wedding night, fulfilling the same role she had carried out for her mistress’s first wedding. Did anyone ask Catalina if Katherine came to the marriage a virgin? At the time people did not seem much to care.

For over twenty years, Katherine was queen of England. And during those initially happy and then increasingly wretched years Catalina disappears from the records. She was there for the joy and hope of both of Katherine’s weddings, and she appears again when her mistress’s second marriage had crumbled into misery and recrimination. By 1530, Henry VIII had convinced himself that his marriage was cursed, that he had displeased God by marrying his brother’s widow and that his now-menopausal wife was really nothing more than a sister-in-law. He insisted that she be set aside. Katherine, meanwhile, insisted that her first marriage had been no true union – that she had come to Henry’s bed a virgin. Since Arthur could not answer to the truth of the matter, other witnesses were called. Among them was Catalina.

By then the woman who was ‘once the Queen's slave’ had left royal service. She had evidently been gone some time. Her life can only be reconstructed from the notes of Spanish examiners eager to find her and glean her testimony on the marriage, for ‘she (was) said to be well informed’.

Catalina had led an itinerant life since departing England. Quite when she had braved a return journey across the storm-lashed seas is unclear, but she broke her journey in Valdezcaray in northern Spain, and there married a Moorish crossbow-maker called Oviedo.

Morisco family, Christoph Weiditz's Trachtenbuch
(wikimedia commons)
Together, Catalina and Oviedo returned to Granada, to live in Malaga. Perhaps they had family there or perhaps they hoped that as Moors they would have more opportunities in this once great Granadan city. Catalina gave birth to two daughters before Oviedo passed away in Malaga, and then she moved once more, taking her daughters back to her hometown of Motril. Her life had come full circle.

Had Catalina been given her freedom by Katherine, to enable her to move around Spain in this manner? Sometimes freedom was granted when a slave married, sometimes on payment of a sum of money. It is possible that simply by living in England Catalina had to all intents and purposes been freed – at the time the only recognized form of slavery in England was native ‘villeinage’, the enslaved status of serfs. The freedom of the Portuguese slave Pero Alvarez was upheld, even when he returned to Portugal from England.

Morisca mother and daughter, Christoph Weiditz's Trachtenbuch
(wikimedia commons)
And there, like so many historical lives, Catalina’s story is left hanging, the archives falling frustratingly silent. We do not know if Katherine’s agents ever found her. We do not how long Catalina lived, or if she knew of her mistress’s eventual divorce and death. We do not know what became of her daughters. It is worth being reminded that we may not even know her real name.

The unknowns of Catalina’s life vastly outweigh the knowns, and even this reconstruction is just one version of the slim facts of this forgotten woman’s story. But we can gather enough from the gleaming shards in the archives and the rich context of the history through which she lived to create a Catalina whose story can be told and remembered.

I created this speculative life of Catalina as research for a play that will tell another version of her tale: Catalina by Untold (written by Hassan Abdulrazzak) will be performed at Colchester Arts Centre at 2.30 and 8pm on 31st March, and at Ovalhouse Theatre London from 1st to 4th April at 7:45pm daily.

There are post-show discussions of Catalina’s life on 31st March (after the 8pm show in Colchester) and 2nd April Ovalhouse London.


Lauren Johnson is the author of The Arrow of Sherwood (Pen & Sword Fiction) an origin story of Robin Hood, rooting the myth in the brutal, complex reality of the twelfth century. She is currently working on a history of the year 1509 (when Henry VIII came to the throne), to be published by Head of Zeus in 2016.

Amazon US
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Friday, March 20, 2015

By Any Other Name: Historic Roses

by Margaret Porter

Gallica roses, J.S. Holtzbecher
Google Art Project
The rose is one of the oldest plants in cultivation. It appears on frescoes found in Crete. On cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia. For many thousands of years it has been grown in China. It turns up in Greek mythology--Aphrodite anointed herself with rose oil. Herodotus mentioned a 60-petalled rose, and Epicurus had a rose garden. In Roman times, roses were omnipresent, requiring large-scale cultivation to supply demand. They were most famously used at the festival marking the ascent of 14-year old Emperor Heliogabalus (AD 204-224), who repeatedly showered his guests with roses.

In Christianity the rose became emblematic of the Virgin Mary and is found in many Madonna paintings. In Medieval times roses were grown in monastic gardens. They feature in courtly poetry--Roman de la Rose in French and Geoffrey Chaucer's Middle English translation of it. Medicinal gardens contained roses. They were used for hedging and enclosures. And they show up in English heraldry, stained glass, statuary, and coinage.

The following categories would certainly be familiar to characters in our historical novels:

Species roses. England's native roses are rosa canina (the dog rose), which has a distinctive apple scent, eglantine (often mentioned by Shakespeare), and various Scotch or burnet roses. These are still found growing in hedgerows. Over time they moved into the garden to be cultivated and were used medicinally. They tend to be extremely thorny!

Rosa canina, dog rose

Double Blush Burnet, Scotch rose

Rosa gallica, Provins Rose. An ancient type from the Middle East and Europe, grown and described by Pliny the Elder. Officianalis came to be known in England as the Apothecary Rose, and is mentioned in Culpeper's Herbal. It was used in conserves, perfume, and medicines. The Red Rose of Provins was chosen to be the Rose of Lancaster. Its striped sport, Rosa mundi, supposedly bears the name of King Henry II's mistress Rosamund. Another popular form is the Velvet Rose, also mentioned by Gerard, dating from before 1596.

Rosa gallica officianalis, Apothecary Rose

Rosa gallica violacea, Old Velvet Rose, La Belle Sultane

Rosa gallica versicolor, Rosa mundi

Rosa alba. This rose grew in Greek & Roman gardens, and like other types eventually arrived in Britain. King Edward IV designated Alba semi-plena as the White Rose of York. A notable pink version is Great Maiden's Blush, dating from before the Renaissance, both fragrant and beautiful, and possibly the same rose Botticelli presents in The Birth of Venus and other paintings. Alba maxima gained fame as the Jacobite rose, connected by legend with Bonnie Prince Charlie and Flora MacDonald.

Rosa alba semi-plena, White Rose of York

Rosa alba incarnata, Maiden's Blush

Rosa damascena. Its most ancient form is Semperflorens, mentioned by Virgil and grown in Pompeii--for centuries this was the only known re-blooming rose in Europe. It was variously referred to as Autumn Damask, Four Seasons Rose, or Quatre Saisons. Long before the Crusades, when they found their way to England, damask roses grew in Persia and the Mediterranean. This type is still used for making attar of roses and other perfumes in the Middle East and Bulgaria. In the 18th century, Celsiana was a popular damask variety.

Quatre Saisons, the Autumn Damak

Celsiana, damask rose

Still Life by Maria von Oosterwijck, 1689
Wikimedia Commons

Rosa centifolia. Other names are Cabbage Rose, Rose de Peintres, or names incorporating 'Dutch' or 'Belgic'. It is distinguished by its abundance of petals, fine pink colour, and high fragrance. Its popularity increased as a result of its prevalence in 17th century Dutch and Flemish still life paintings as well as 18th century French art by Fragonard, Boucher, and others. The miniature form, Rose de Meux, was very popular in the 18th century.

Portland rose (also known as Damask Perpetual) prior to 1775. Reportedly 'discovered' in Pasetum, Naples. Associated, perhaps erroneously, with Margaret Cavendish Bentinck (1715-1785), Duchess of Portland, who studied natural history and botany and was a plant collector. At some point she supposedly received from Italy the Scarlet Four Seasons rose, eventually known as the Portland Rose or Duchess of Portland. Over time it gave rise to an entire class of repeating damask roses.

The Portland Rose

 Frustratingly, some roses defy categorisation. A favourite of mine, Shailer's Provence, aka 'Gracilis,' dating from 1796, is variously defined as: a centifolia, an early Boursault rose, a variant of chinensis, or possibly descended from rosa indica. It doesn't matter to me, I love it for its beauty and because I obtained the original cutting from my mother.

Shailer's Provence

When did roses bloom in England in past times? Gardening and horticultural books reveal exactly when certain specimens flowered.

May: cinnamon rose, monthly rose, damask rose, burnet-leaved rose, Scotch rose
June: damask rose, white rose, red rose
July: musk rose, monthly rose, American rose (perhaps the Virginia or Pennsylvania rose)
September and October:  musk rose, monthly rose

Where could one obtain roses? If you were extremely patient, you could grow roses from seed. Normally cuttings were taken and rooted in soil. Or one could dig up and transplant a specimen. Or you could buy young or established plants from a nursery garden, which might be as large as 50 to 100 acres. With the rise of nurserymen in the 18th and 19th centuries, catalogues of their entire stock were printed, and in them we find many plants familiar to us today. Here are some prices for types of roses mentioned in this article:

William & John Perfect, Yorkshire, 1777
Blush Belgic 1s
Damask 4d.
               Dutch hundred leav'd 1s.          
  Maiden's Blush 1s.
  Rosa mundi 4d.
Semi-double Velvet 1s.
Single Yellow 6d.

What might the purchaser do with the roses? Plant them, obviously, but in what manner? During the 17th and 18th centuries the rose was merely one of numerous garden specimens, typically planted in combination with other flowering shrubs and evergreens. In 1791 Richard Twiss designed a rectangular bed edged with box. Within this enclosure was a ring of low-growing roses--moss rose, musk rose, white Provence rose, Austrian copper, de Meux, centifolia varieties. These surrounded evergreens and other flowering shrubs (lauristinas, hibiscus, kalmia, azealea, tulip tree, and cherries).

Rose beds as a separate garden feature didn't arise until the importation of the recurrent Rosa chinensis from China, and the various hybrids produced from it. Extended flowering meant that the rose could take centre stage and it swiftly achieved prominence over all other flowers.

Celsiana by P.J. Redouté,
Wikimedia Commons
Empress Josephine's gardens at Malmaison in France are regarded as the world's first modern-stye rose gardens. Her innovative style, referred to as jardin a l'Anglaise, not only consisted of beds filled with shrub roses or standards (tree roses). Long-caned varieties clambered over pergolas, pillars, obelisks, and trellies. Her passion for roses inspired many a hybridiser, as well as the famous rose painter Pierre-Josepsh Redouté of the Netherlands, who immortalised the Malmaison collection in his monumental three-volume work Les Roses.

New discoveries, such as re-blooming Bourbon roses, brought about the great rose revolution in Victorian England and 19th century France, when hybrids were created by the hundreds. Tea roses, floribundas, and other later varieties all descend from the very earliest roses grown by our ancestors.

Rose Photographs: My own gardens


Twelve Months of Flowers, Robert Furber, 1730
The Gardeners Kalendar, Directing the necessary works to be done every month in the Kitchen, Fruit, and Pleasure-Gardens, as also in the Conservatory and Nursery, Philip Miller, F.R.S., 1775
Every Man His own Gardener, Thomas Mawe 1784
The Roses: The Complete Plates, Pierre-Joseph Redouté, 2007
The Flowering of the Landscape Garden: English Pleasure Grounds, 1720-1800, Mark Laird
The Love of Roses: from Myth to Modern Culture, Graham Rose and Peter King, 1992

March 2015
Margaret (Evans) Porter is the award-winning and bestselling author of several historical fiction genres, and is also published in nonfiction and poetry. A lady landscape designer and rosarian is featured as the heroine of her novel The Proposal. Margaret studied British history in the UK and the US. As historian, her areas of speciality are social, theatrical, and garden history of the 17th and 18th centuries, royal courts, and portraiture. A former actress, she gave up the stage and screen to devote herself to fiction writing, travel, and her rose gardens.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Thought for Edward VI on a Difficult Day for Him

by Janet Wertman

Despite his enormous promise, Edward VI was a tragic figure, on so many levels.

The first level involves the wrongs his father did to get him. Henry VIII firmly believed he needed a male heir. When his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, proved unable to fulfill this obligation after twenty years of marriage, Henry abandoned her. That the Pope disagreed didn’t matter – Henry abandoned the Catholic Church as well, founding the Church of England to seal his right to remarry. Then when Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, birthed only a daughter and experienced several miscarriages, Henry had her executed on trumped up charges to pave the way for the third wife who would finally give him the son he craved. Jane Seymour, Edward’s mother, is often said to have “walked through Anne’s blood” for her title. In Jane’s defense, we must remember that she paid for the privilege with her life.

The second level involves the circumstances of Edward’s youth. His mother died in childbirth, and his first two stepmothers were little involved in his life. Edward got lucky with his third stepmother, Katherine Parr, who finally gave the five-year old prince a real experience of family life. Life further opened up to him as other children were brought into his household to share his life and his education.

Barnaby Fitzpatrick, the son of an Irish peer, became his whipping boy (since Edward’s teachers could not in good conscience administer corrective beatings to “this whole realm’s most precious jewel”). Still, the fear that surrounded the young prince must have been oppressive: Henry was terrified that something would happen to his only son. Very few people were allowed to visit Edward’s household out of fear of the plague. All of his food was tasted. Every servant was schooled in the rigorous standards of security and cleanliness that Henry imposed. Such constant caution would inevitably be deeply internalized.

Even when Edward acceded to the throne, things did not improve by much. He was so young, only nine years old. This is wonderfully captured in many of the unintentionally poignant entries in his Chronicle (which was, in the words of Wilbur Kitchener Jordan, “in part private diary, in part an educational exercise, and in part considered notes on policy and administration”), like the one he wrote about his coronation, in which he proudly described how he had dined with his crown on his head. Yet the real power belonged to his uncle, Edward Seymour Duke of Somerset, who was named Lord Protector to rule while Edward was still a minor. Importantly, this went against Henry VIII’s wishes – Henry hadn’t wanted anyone to be in a position to divert power from his son: he had envisioned a “Regency Council” that would rule collectively. Nevertheless, Somerset was able to quickly seize control thanks in large part to a last-minute “unfulfilled gifts clause” added to Henry’s will under the dry seal that allowed the executors to distribute lavish gifts to their friends.

Unfortunately, Somerset was not as respectful of his young nephew as he should have been. Somerset was proud and self-interested and kept the young King dependent on him for as much as he could. This encouraged Somerset’s younger brother, Thomas Seymour, to hatch a scheme to replace Somerset as proxy ruler. In the middle of the night on December 16, 1549, Seymour tried to break into the sleeping King’s apartments at Hampton Court Palace. He made it into the privy garden (he had keys), but one of the King’s pet spaniels started barking. Seymour shot and killed it, which brought guards running. There was no defense for being outside the King’s bedroom in the middle of the night with keys and arms – and using them both. It was alleged that Seymour’s plan was to kidnap the King, perhaps force him to marry Lady Jane Grey (Seymour’s ward); this was treason enough. It was suspected that he might himself marry the King’s sister Elizabeth then kill the King and seize the throne. There could be no mercy. Thomas Seymour’s was the first death warrant that Edward VI had to sign, and today is the anniversary of Seymour’s execution (a topic I have covered in a companion post on my own blog, I hope you’ll visit!).

And as if sentencing one uncle to death wasn’t bad enough, less than two years later the not-even-fifteen-year-old King had to do it again. John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, engineered a coup d’etat against Somerset. The charges were less clear than the ones against Thomas Seymour, but no less deadly. Edward himself summarized them in his Chronicle as "ambition, vainglory, entering into rash wars in mine youth, negligent looking on Newhaven, enriching himself of my treasure, following his own opinion, and doing all by his own authority, etc." Although Somerset survived this plot, he tried to fight back against Warwick (who had by then become the Duke of Northumberland) – and lost. That was fatal. To use Edward VI’s own words again, on January 22, 1552 "the duke of Somerset had his head cut off upon Tower Hill between eight and nine o'clock in the morning".

The next year was a good one for Edward VI – Northumberland made every effort to incorporate him into the running of the government. But then the young King fell ill from what is now believed to have been tuberculosis. As death approached, the fervent Protestant grew terrified at the idea that his staunchly Catholic sister Mary would inherit his throne. He created his own Devise for the Succession which bypassed both his sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, and settled the crown on his cousin, Lady Jane Grey. It is not clear whose idea this was, but we do know that Northumberland stood to benefit greatly from this arrangement: Lady Jane Grey was married to his son. Regardless, the Devise failed when England rallied behind Mary as the next rightful heir (in case you were wondering, Northumberland was the first person executed during Mary’s reign).

Tragic all around.



Wilbur Kitchener Jordan, England’s Boy King: The Diary of Edward VI (1966)

Wikipedia, Luminarium


Janet Wertman is a freelance grantwriter by day and a writer of historical fiction by night. She is currently working on a novel of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife, which is expected to be released in 2015. She regularly blogs about the Tudors and what it’s like to write about them – please visit her website: