Sifting through history for interesting ladies!

Earlier this week, it was a pleasure to drop by Anna Belfrage‘s blog and have a chat about Heroines of the Medieval World and my love of history in general.

Anna posed some very interesting, thoughtful questions and finished off with a wonderful review of ‘Heroines’ – for which I am still smiling.

Here’s a taster of the interview:

Why this passion for history?

I honestly don’t know. I have always loved history – I just can’t get enough of it. The stories and the mysteries are so compelling. I love the ‘what ifs’. And it is something that is everywhere – you can go to Scotland, France, Russia, Canada and there is history.

Have you ever wished you could travel back in time to say hello to some of your favourite medieval heroines?

I would love to – so long as I can come back, I wouldn’t want to live in the past. I like my creature comforts too much. But it would be nice to sit at a table with Agnes of Dunbar and Nicholaa de la Haye and find out what made them so formidable. Or Eleanor of Aquitaine’s daughters and ask them what they really thought of their mum and dad – oh, that would be so interesting.

If you would like to read the entire interview and review, simply click here.


My Book:

Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.


©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Elizabeth FitzGerald, ‘Fair Geraldine’

Elizabeth Fitzgerald, painted by Steven van der Meulen

Elizabeth Fitzgerald, a great-granddaughter of Elizabeth Woodville, had been born in Ireland in about 1528 and was the second daughter of Gerald Fitzgerald, 9th Earl of Kildare. Her mother was Lady Elizabeth Grey, daughter of Sir Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset and only surviving son of Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV’s queen, and therefore 1st cousin to Henry VIII.

A wealthy, cultivated family, her early childhood was spent at the Kildare’s stately home of Maynooth, in Ireland, with her father acting as the king’s Lord Deputy in Ireland. However, in 1533 the earl was summoned to court to answer complaints against him. Claiming illness, he initially sent his wife, in hope that she could appease the king, but his presence was demanded and in 1534, the ailing earl left for England, leaving his son, Lord Offaly, as his deputy in Ireland. The Earl of Kildare was charged with treason and imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he died of illness in August 1534. His son had come out in open rebellion against the king and would himself be executed at Tyburn in 1537.

The rebellion caused the downfall of the House of Kildare; the title forfeit and their estates confiscated. Lady Kildare and her children sought assistance from her brother, Lord Leonard Grey, settling on his estate at Beaumanor in Leicestershire. Her eldest son and the Kildare heir, Gerald Fitzgerald,  fled to exile on the continent, protected from Henry VIII by both Francis I of France and Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor.

Lady Kildare’s family connections to the king meant that young Elizabeth Fitzgerald was able to enter Princess Elizabeth’s household in 1539, possibly as a maid of honour but ostensibly to be raised alongside her cousin. She was only 9 or 10 years old at the time while the princess was about 6-years-old. While in the princess’s household, Elizabeth made an impression, it seems, particularly on Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, who wrote a sonnet, From Tuscan cam my ladies worthi race in praise of her as his Fair Geraldine;

Bewty of kind, her vertues from above; Happy ys he that may obtaine her love¹.

Elizabeth’s 1st husband, Sir Anthony Browne

In 1542 Elizabeth married her first husband, the wealthy courtier Sir Anthony Browne, who was Henry VIII’s Master of the Horse. The marriage meant that Elizabeth now had the means to restore the family fortunes, applying for military command for her brother, Edward. Her older brother, Gerald returned to England in the reign of Edward VI; he was knighted and his lands restored. In 1554, during the reign of Mary I, Gerald married his sister’s stepdaughter, Mabel (Sir Anthony Browne’s daughter by his 1st wife, Alice Gage).

Elizabeth was widowed in 1548 her two sons by Sir Anthony, Edward and Thomas, had both died in infancy.

In 1552 Elizabeth married again, this time to Edward Fiennes de Clinton, ninth Baron Clinton and Saye; the same Baron Clinton who had married Elizabeth (Bessie) Blount in 1535. Clinton had remarried in 1541, after Bessie’s death, to Ursula, daughter of William, seventh Baron Stourton; Ursula was a niece of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland in the reign of Edward VI. She died in 1551 and Edward married Elizabeth the following year.

Sir Edward Fiennes de Clinton had led a very successful military career and in May 1550 he had been appointed a privy councillor and lord high admiral of England. He was made a knight of the garter in April 1551 and, later in the same year, was given the former Howard property of Tattershall Castle in Lincolnshire, which he made his principal residence. Clinton was an adept political survivor; after being involved in the plot to put Jane Grey on the throne he was imprisoned for a short while, but managed to win Queen Mary’s trust and was active in her military campaigns.

Tattershall Castle, Lincolnshire

With the accession of Elizabeth I, Clinton was appointed a privy councillor and his wife, Elizabeth Fiennes de Clinton, the queen’s childhood friend, was appointed Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber ‘without wages’ (this indicated her high-born status, as salaried members were drawn from the lower ranks of the nobility).

In 1572 Baron Clinton was rewarded for his service with the earldom of Lincoln.  Elizabeth had practically been raised with the new queen since she was ten years old and was thought to have considerable influence; she regularly received petitions and suits from others requesting she intervene with Elizabeth I on their behalf. She was also able to use her influence at court to benefit her own family; in 1569 Elizabeth and her brothers, Gerald and Edward, and sisters, Margaret and Cecily, successfully petitioned Queen Elizabeth for  the  restoration of the Fitzgeralds to their blood and lineage.

Edward trusted his wife considerably, and made her executor of his will, bequeathing Semprigham to Elizabeth, and Tattershall to his eldest son, Henry (his son by Ursula). Edward, Earl of Lincoln, died in 1585 and just before his father’s death, his son Henry had written to William Cecil, Lord Burghley, accusing Elizabeth of attempting to deprive him of his inheritance, and of maligning him to the queen. However, Henry’s tactic failed and the will was confirmed in 1587.

Elizabeth Fitzgerald, by an unknown artist

Elizabeth herself appears to have withdrawn from court following her husband’s death. When she died in March 1589, the ‘Fair Geraldine’ was laid to rest beside her husband in the Lincoln Chapel of St George’s Chapel Windsor.

Although one of the greatest noble ladies of her time, with her only 2 children having died in infancy, Elizabeth’s legacy is in the poetry left by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey;

Do not deface them than wyth fansies newe, Nor chaunge of mindes let not thy minde infect.¹


Footnote:  ¹H. Howard [earl of Surrey], Poems, ed. E. Jones (1964)

Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia, except photo of Tattershall Castle, ©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Bibliography: Accounts of the Chamber and Great Wardrobe Public Record Office; Howard [earl of Surrey], Poems, edited by E. Jones (1964); John Leland Leland’s itinerary in England and Wales 1535-43 edited by L Toulmin Smith (1906-10); Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII 1509-47 edited by JS Brewer, James Gairdner and RH Brodie, HMSO London 1862-1932; Privy Purse Expenses of King Henry VIII from November MDXIX to December MDXXXII edited by Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas 1827; Religion and politics in mid-Tudor England through the eyes of an English Protestant Woman: the Recollections of Rose Hickman edited by Maria Dowling and Joy Shakespeare; Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, 1980 & 1982; A Guide to Gainsborough Old Hall by Sue Allan; Bastard Prince: Henry VIII’s Lost Son by Beverley A Murphy; Elizabeth’s Women by Tracy Borman; England Under the Tudors by Arthur D Innes; Henry VIII: King and Court by Alison Weir; In Bed with the Tudors by Amy Licence; In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII by Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger; Ladies-in-Waiting: Women who Served at the Tudor Court by Victoria Sylvia Evans; The Earlier Tudors 1485-1558 by JD Mackie; The Life and Times of Henry VII by Neville Williams; The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII: The Women’s Stories by Amy Licence;;


My Book:

Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.


©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner – Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire by Amy Licence

Anne Boleyn’s unconventional beauty inspired poets ‒ and she so entranced Henry VIII with her wit, allure and style that he was prepared to set aside his wife of over twenty years and risk his immortal soul. Her sister had already been the king’s mistress, but the other Boleyn girl followed a different path. For years the lovers waited; did they really remain chaste? Did Anne love Henry, or was she a calculating femme fatale?

Eventually replacing the long-suffering Catherine of Aragon, Anne enjoyed a magnificent coronation and gave birth to the future Queen Elizabeth, but her triumph was short-lived. Why did she go from beloved consort to adulteress and traitor within a matter of weeks? What role did Thomas Cromwell and Jane Seymour of Wolf Hall play in Anne’s demise? Was her fall one of the biggest sex scandals of her era, or the result of a political coup?

With her usual eye for the telling detail, Amy Licence explores the nuances of this explosive and ultimately deadly relationship to answer an often neglected question: what choice did Anne really have? When she writes to Henry during their protracted courtship, is she addressing a suitor, or her divinely ordained king? This book follows Anne from cradle to grave and beyond. Anne is vividly brought to life amid the colour, drama and unforgiving politics of the Tudor court.


Reviewing such a book as Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire by Amy Licence is a daunting prospect. How can one do justice to a book which may well be the definitive biography of Anne Boleyn? Well, I suppose Amy had the same issue when writing it – how to do justice to Anne Boleyn’s story while avoiding falling into the bias of having a favourite between Anne and her rival, Catherine of Aragon? Having already produced a stunning account of the life of Catherine of Aragon, this is the second in a series which will hopefully include all 6 of Henry VIII’s wives, and presents Anne Boleyn as she was; a woman like any other, with loves, hopes and fears, rather than as the foil and ruin of the married bliss of Catherine and Henry.


However she did it, Amy Licence has managed to produce a balanced, fair assessment of this much hated/loved (depending on which side of the fence you are on) queen. Telling the story from the very beginning, from the rise of Anne’s predecessors through the guilds of London, through her childhood and early years in the courts of Burgundy and France to her dominance of Henry VIII’s court. The book strips away the veil of malice and rumour surrounding her, providing a new and in-depth analysis of Anne the woman and Anne the queen. It shows her as a growing and developing individual, reacting and responding to the forces around her, rather than the historical fiction view of a scheming harridan out to displace Catherine and take the throne for herself. It demonstrates that the Tudor world and Anne’s life, was constantly fluid, developing and responding to situations as they present themselves.

Amy Licence is a wonderful writer and historian – her books are always accessible and enjoyable reads, bringing back to life some of the most fascinating characters of history. And Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire is no exception. Beautifully written, it presents Anne’s story as never before seen, with a balance rarely achieved when it comes to telling Anne Boleyn’s story. Anne is presented neither as a tragic victim, nor a scheming temptress. Her story unfolds as it does for all of us, with events and actions influencing her decisions and demonstrating that her life was a long winding road; the direction neither predetermined nor inevitable. It shows how Anne’s experiences, both in England and the continent, helped to shape Anne the woman,  her outlook and her destiny.

Amy Licence achieves a balance between presenting the everyday domesticity of Henry VIII’s life and court and the national and international politics of the day. I  love the little snippets of domestic life interspersed in the deeper issues, such as Henry’s dog, Ball, getting lost in Waltham Forest. She demonstrates the influences of the Reformation on Anne and Henry, and on the country at large, but also highlights the reactionary nature of the Reformation against church abuses. Rather than presenting it as ‘Henry wanted a divorce so he broke with Rome’, but as one cog in a very complex wheel of reactionism and Reformation; showing it in its wider context, not only in England but across Europe, and how both Henry’s and Anne’s attitudes were changed and shaped by the wider European movement of reform.

Anne Boleyn by Hans Holbein the Younger

At twelve years old, Anne Boleyn left her home at Hever, travelled to Dover and embarked for Calais. It was to be the start of the education that gave her the air of sophistication and poise that would attract Henry, a unique edge, and the cultural polish and confidence to hold her own in the courts of Burgundy,, France and, eventually, England.  in fairy-tale castles that outstripped any buildings she knew from home, hung with the most exquisite Flemish tapestries, in libraries housing the best illuminated manuscripts, where leading artists worked and musicians played, Anne absorbed the latest and best of the northern European Renaissance. Her exposure to its religious and cultural thinking made her something of a ‘new’ woman, part of a generation who would question the old ways and faiths, emboldened to reject centuries of Catholic ritual, the efficacy of saints and the pope, a different world to the England in which she spent her early years.

Amy Licence has managed to write a book about Anne Boleyn, giving us the character of the woman and showing how she grew into her role as queen, but showing her as human, a woman who made not only loyal friends and achieved a position she was never born to, but also a woman who made enemies and mistakes and whose downfall was one of the most tragic, staged events in English history. With the use of primary sources, including letters, court documents and accounts, Amy not only recreates the world of Anne and Henry VIII, but also the personalities and politics of the people and countries surrounding them. Where there is disagreement or controversy , she presents all sides of the argument, using her excellent analytical skills to dissect the story, present the facts and explain her own theories, reasoning and conclusions.

Not only does Amy Licence expertly dissect the character of Anne, but also the personalities associated with her story, from her own family to Henry, Catherine and Cardinal Wolsey. She provides a deep analysis of Anne Boleyn, her character, strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures. She does not shy away from the negatives in Anne’s character, such as her pettiness towards Catherine of Aragon, but manages to convey how Henry’s pursuit of her, the lengthy divorce proceedings and long years of waiting must have affected her.

Anne Boleyn in the Tower by Edouard Cibot

Amy Licence’s unique, intimate writing style draws the reader in and provides an engaging, perceptive analysis of one of the most enigmatic women of the Renaissance period. Whether you love or hate Anne Boleyn, Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire will give you new perspectives of this polarising, iconic woman and help to demonstrate the complexities of Anne’s life and career. While being sympathetic to Anne Boleyn the woman, but not afraid to criticise, Amy Licence provides a balanced analysis of Anne Boleyn’s life, influence and legacy.


Amy Licence is an historian of women’s lives in the medieval and early modern period, from Queens to commoners. Her particular interest lies in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, in gender relations, Queenship and identity, rites of passage, pilgrimage, female orthodoxy and rebellion, superstition, magic, fertility and childbirth. She is also interested in Modernism, specifically Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group, Picasso and Post-Impressionism.

Amy has written for The Guardian, The TLS, The New Statesman, BBC History, The English Review, The Huffington Post, The London Magazine and other places. She has been interviewed regularly for BBC radio, including Woman’s Hour, and made her TV debut in “The Real White Queen and her Rivals” documentary, for BBC2, in 2013. She also writes historical and literary fiction and has been shortlisted twice for the Asham Award.

Her website can be found at

Anne Boleyn: Adultery, Heresy, Desire is available from Amberley Publishing and Amazon. It will be available in the US from Amazon on 1st April 2018.


Heroines of the Medieval World:

Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.


©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly