Tudor Society in Lincolnshire

Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s 6thh queen

In 1485 England was a small kingdom, the whole country consisted of a population of less than 3 million people, with 60,000 living in the capital, London.1 The Wars of the Roses was very much a recent trauma in the national memory. The country was a predominantly rural society, with local loyalties to local landowners – such as the Percies in Northumberland – taking precedence over national considerations. Noticeable regional differences varied in speech, diet, cloth, farming methods, the shape of church towers, and even the veneration of the saints. In Tudor Lincolnshire the Fens were yet to be drained, few roads were well-maintained and even they could be treacherous in heavy rains. Lincoln itself had been effected by the decline in the wool trade, and with a shrinking population, its size and prosperity were also decreasing.

A distinction was also rising among the aristocracy of the county and that of the royal court. In the regions, the minor nobility served the king as sheriffs, escheators and justices of the peace, or representing their county in parliament. The greater aristocracy, however, were looking for positions and influence at court; for themselves and their families. The Tudor court was a micro-world in itself. It set the standards in manners for the whole country. Service to the monarch was the primary concern. Most courtiers were related to each other, marriages were negotiated between the prominent families and service to the queen was the highest position a lady could aspire to.

At first glance you would think there was very little interaction between the nobility of Lincolnshire and the Tudor court. However, as we delve deeper we can see that, not only was there movement between the court and the county, it was not only one-sided, but fluid and travelling in both directions. When looking at this over the Tudor period – of over a hundred years of history – we notice the subtle changes in the interactions between the county and royal court, not only based on the progress of the time, but also the personalities involved and their personal experiences.

For some ladies, marrying into a member of the Lincoln aristocracy was a way of getting away from the glare of the court. For Elizabeth (Bessie) Blount, lady-in-waiting to Katherine of Aragon, a former mistress of Henry VIII and the mother of his illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy, Earl of Richmond, it was the chance at a normal life. Born in 1500, Bessie Blount married Gilbert Tailboys in 1519, following her affair with Henry VIII and just months after the birth of the king’s son. The marriage was probably arranged by Henry as a ‘reward’ for Bessie. The couple settled on Gilbert’s family estates at Kyme in Lincolnshire. And despite being far from court, Bessie was not forgotten by the king. She continued to receive Henry’s favour, with various grants between 1522 and 1539 and New Years’ gifts throughout her life; in 1532 Henry sent her a gilt goblet with a cover weighing over 35 ounces.2

Effigy of Elizabeth Blount

Bessie and Gilbert had three children together, Elizabeth, George and Robert, before his death in 1530. Gilbert Tailboys had settled part of his Lincolnshire estates on Elizabeth, giving her an annual income of £200 a year for life. Following his death, Bessie appears to have been happy to stay in Lincolnshire instead of returning to her Shropshire roots, or an unwelcoming royal court. In 1535 she married again, to the soldier Edward Fiennes de Clinton, 9th Baron Clinton and Saye, who was 12 years her junior. Although de Clinton had his family seat in Kent, they settled on Bessie’s Lincolnshire estates. They had three daughters together, Bridget, Katherine and Margaret, before Bessie died sometime before June 1541 (when Clinton remarried). While Elizabeth appears to have stayed away from court, Clinton’s marriage to the king’s former mistress brought him royal favour; he attended on the king at Calais and Boulogne in 1532 and acted as cup-bearer at the coronation of Anne Boleyn in 1533. Following the Lincolnshire Uprising of 1536, one of several rebellions which formed the Pilgrimage of Grace, Clinton was rewarded for staying loyal to the king – most Lincolnshire gentlemen had joined the rebellion – with the dissolved monastery of Sempringham.

Lincolnshire aristocratic families were often very closely related. Elizabeth and Edward’s daughter, Bridget, married Sir Robert Dymoke II, son of Sir Edward Dymoke and his wife Anne, who was the daughter of George Tailboys and the sister of Elizabeth’s first husband, Gilbert. The Dymoke family held Scrivelsby in Lincolnshire, through which tenure they were king’s champions; Sir Edward was champion at the coronations of Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. Sir Edward’s sister, Margaret, was born in Scrivelsby around 1500 and served several of Henry’s queens. After first marrying Richard Vernon of Haddon Hall, Derbyshire, she then married Sir William Coffin, Anne Boleyn’s Master of Horse. Margaret had been one of Queen Katherine of Aragon’s gentlewomen at the Field of Cloth of Gold and would also serve Henry VIII’s two subsequent queens.

Margaret, however, was not a favourite of Henry’s second queen, Anne Boleyn. She was one of the women who attended the disgraced queen in the Tower of London. Anne was recorded as complaining to her jailer, Sir William Kingston, “I think much unkindness in the king to put such about me as I never loved.”3 Margaret Dymoke, Lady Coffin slept on a pallet bed in the Queen’s bedchamber during her time in the Tower. In her desperation the queen confided in Margaret, unaware that she was acting as a spy for the state. Master Kingston reported to Thomas Cromwell that “I have everything told me by Mistress Coffin that she thinks meet for me to know.” 4 There is also a possibility that Margaret was not only a spy for Kingston, but also for the Imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, who wrote “The lady who had charge of her [Anne] has sent to tell me in great secrecy that the concubine, before and after receiving the sacrament, affirmed to her, on the damnations of her soul, that she had never been unfaithful to the king.”5

Anne Boleyn in the Tower by Edouard Cibot

Following Anne’s execution, Margaret joined the household of Queen Jane Seymour. Lady Coffin was in high favour in Jane Seymour’s establishment and acted as intermediary for several families who had hopes of placing a daughter in the royal household. Margaret remained with the queen until the end, and was among the mourners who attended the late queen’s body as it lay in state, keeping vigil and attending masses for her soul. Margaret was in the funeral procession that accompanied Jane’s body to her final resting place in St George’s Chapel, Windsor. She rode in the third carriage and bore Princess Mary’s train at the requiem mass; Mary was chief mourner and rode on a horse trapped with black velvet.6

There were several ladies associated with the Tudor court, who married into Lincolnshire society. The most famous must surely be one of Henry VIII’s own queens. Henry’s sixth wife, Katherine Parr was the daughter of Sir Thomas Parr and his wife, Maud Green Parr, a lady-in-waiting to Katherine of Aragon. When Sir Thomas died while Katherine was still a child, Maud took it on herself to arrange her daughter’s future. After a failed proposal to marry Katherine to the son of Lord Dacre, In 1529 Maud turned to another of her late husband’s relatives and arranged for Katherine to marry Edward Burgh the eldest son of Sir Thomas Burgh, Baron Burgh of Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. Sir Thomas’s father, Sir Edward, had been declared a lunatic and Sir Thomas, himself, was renowned for his violent outbursts and wild rages (possibly due to an inherited mental instability in the family) and had a tyrannical control over his family. The first two years of the marriage, spent at Sir Thomas’s new Hall at Gainsborough (now known as the Old Hall), was an unhappy time for Katherine. She wrote, regularly, to her mother of her unhappiness and it seems the situation was only resolved following a visit by Maud Parr, who persuaded Sir Thomas to allow Edward and Katherine to move to their own, smaller, house at Kirton-in-Lindsey, a few miles outside of Gainsborough.

We do not know whether Edward was a sickly individual, or whether or not he succumbed to a sudden illness, but their happiness was short-lived, as he died in the spring of 1533, after only 4 years of marriage. Having no children, Katherine was left with little from the marriage, and, with her mother having died the previous year, she was virtually alone in the world; possibly as a remedy to her isolation, Katherine married her second husband, Lord Latimer, in the same year as she lost her first. There is no record that Katherine served any of henry VIII’s queens. Her first appearance at court seems to be in 1542, when she became a lady-in-waiting in Mary Tudor’s household, before she caught the King’s eye. She does not seem to have forgotten her time with the Burgh family, however, and when she became queen Katherine paid a pension from her own purse to her former sister-in-law, Elizabeth Owen, widow of her husband’s younger brother, Thomas. Poor Elizabeth had been accused of adultery by her domineering father-in-law, Sir Thomas, and her children were declared illegitimate by Act of Parliament in 1542.

Lord Burgh’s third surviving son, William, born in the early 1520s, would eventually succeed his father to the barony. He married Katherine Fiennes de Clinton, daughter of Edward Fiennes de Clinton – the future Earl of Lincoln – and Bessie Blount, demonstrating the interlinking relationships between the various great Lincolnshire families.

Where Katherine Parr was linked to Lincolnshire before joining the royal court, others saw Lincolnshire as a place of retirement. Maria de Salinas was a lady-in-waiting and close friend to Katherine of Aragon; indeed, it seems that she came to England with the Spanish princess in 1501 for the marriage to Henry’s older brother, Arthur, Prince of Wales. Katherine and Maria were very close and by 1514 Caroz de Villagarut, ambassador of Katherine’s father, Ferdinand of Aragon, was complaining of Maria’s influence over the queen after she tried to persuade Katherine not to cooperate with the ambassador and encouraged the Queen to favour her English subjects.7 In June 1516 Maria married the largest landowner in Lincolnshire, William Willoughby, 11th Baron Willoughby de Eresby. The King and Queen paid for the wedding, which took place at Greenwich, and gave them a wedding gift of Grimsthorpe Castle, in Lincolnshire. The Queen even provided Maria with a dowry of 1100 marks.

Grimsthorpe Castle, Lincolnshire

Maria remained at court for some years after her wedding, and attended Katherine at the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520. Henry VIII was godfather to Maria and William’s oldest son, Henry, who died in infancy. Another son, Francis, also died young and their daughter Katherine, born in 1519, would be the only surviving child of the marriage. Lord Willoughby died in 1526, and for several years afterwards Maria was embroiled in a legal dispute with her brother-in-law, Sir Christopher Willoughby, over the inheritance of the Willoughby lands. It seems William had settled some lands on Maria which were entailed to Sir Christopher. The dispute went to the Star Chamber and caused Sir Thomas More, the king’s chancellor and a prominent lawyer, to make an initial redistribution of some of the disputed lands.

This must have been a hard fight for a newly-widowed Maria, and the dispute threatened the stability of Lincolnshire itself, given the extensive lands involved. However, Maria attracted a powerful ally in Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and brother-in-law of the King, who called on the assistance of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Henry’s first minister at the time, in the hope of resolving the situation. Suffolk had managed to obtain the wardship of Katherine Willoughby in 1529, intending her to marry his eldest son and heir Henry, Earl of Lincoln, and so had a vested interest in a favourable settlement for Maria. This interest became even greater following the death of Mary Tudor, Suffolk’s wife and Henry VIII’s sister, in September 1533, when only three months later the fifty-year-old Duke of Suffolk married fourteen-year-old Katherine, himself. Although Suffolk pursued the legal case with more vigour after the wedding, a final settlement was not reached until the reign of Elizabeth I. Suffolk eventually became the greatest landowner in Lincolnshire and, despite the age difference, the marriage does appear to have been successful. Katherine served at court, in the household of Henry VIII’s 6th and last queen, Katherine Parr. She was widowed in 1545 and lost her two sons – and heirs – by the Duke, Henry and Charles, to the sweating sickness, within hours of each other in 1551.

As duchess of Suffolk, Katherine was a stalwart of the Protestant learning and used her position to introduce Protestant clergy to Lincolnshire, even inviting Hugh Latimer to preach at Grimsthorpe Castle. It was she and Sir William Cecil who persuaded Katherine Parr to publish her book, The Lamentacion of a Sinner in 1547, demonstrating her continuing links with the court despite her first husband’s death.

Following the death of her sons by Suffolk, Katherine no longer had a financial interest in the Suffolk estates, which went to the heirs of Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister. However, Katherine still had her own Willoughby estates to look after and it was in order to safeguard these that Katherine married her gentleman usher, Richard Bertie. The couple had a difficult time navigating the religious tensions of the age and even went into exile on the Continent during the reign of the Catholic Queen, Mary I. Following their return to England, on Elizabeth’s accession, Katherine resumed her position in Tudor society; her relations with the court, however, were strained by her tendency towards Puritan learning. She used her position in Lincolnshire and extensive patronage to help disseminate the Puritan teachings. The records of Katherine’s Lincolnshire household show that she employed Miles Coverdale – a prominent critic of the Elizabethan church – as tutor to her two children by Bertie; Susan and Peregrine.8 Unfortunately, Katherine died after a long illness, on 19th September 1580 and was buried in her native Lincolnshire, in Spilsby Church.

Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk by Hans Holbein the Younger

Katherine’s mother, Maria de Salinas, Lady Willoughby, had died in 1539 and had stayed loyal to her mistress, Katherine of Aragon, throughout her married life and widowhood. Indeed, when Katherine was reported to be dying at Kimbolton Castle, Maria applied for a license to visit her ailing mistress, but was refused by Sir Thomas Cromwell, the King’s chief minister at the time. Despite this setback, Maria set out from London to visit Katherine at the beginning of January 1536 and contrived to get herself admitted by Sir Edmund Bedingfield by claiming a fall from her horse meant she could travel no further. According to Sarah Morris and Nathalie Grueninger, Katherine and Maria spent hours talking in their native Castilian; the former queen died in Maria’s arms on 7th January 1536. Katherine of Aragon was buried in Peterborough Cathedral on 29th January, with Maria and her daughter, Katherine, attending the funeral.9

The composition of the Tudor court changed under Elizabeth I. The new queen valued loyalty and most positions went to members of her extended family; the Howards and Careys among them. Throughout the forty-five years of Elizabeth’s reign, only twenty-eight women were appointed to salaried positions in the privy Chamber. Positions in the Bedchamber, Privy Chamber and Presence Chamber were highly sought after and mainly given to ladies from the same families, who were assigned positions based on their social status. The senior positions were those of the Chief and Second Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber, these were followed by the Ladies of the Bedchamber, the Ladies of the Privy Chamber and the Ladies of the Presence Chamber, in descending order. Unmarried young ladies were given positions as maids of honour and were supervised by the Mother of the Maids.

Elizabeth Fitzgerald, a great granddaughter of Elizabeth Woodville, had entered Princess Elizabeth’s household in 1539, possibly as a maid of honour but ostensibly to be raised alongside her cousin. She was only nine or ten years old at the time. Elizabeth Fitzgerald 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. Elizabeth Fitzgerald must have been quite a beauty as Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, 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 love.10

In 1542 Elizabeth married her first husband, Sir Anthony Browne, but he died in 1548 and their two sons died in infancy. In 1552 she married again, this time to Edward Fiennes de Clinton, 9th Baron Clinton and Saye; the same Baron Clinton who had married Bessie Blount in 1535. Clinton had remarried in 1541, after Bessie’s death, to Ursula, daughter of William, 7th Baron Stourton; Ursula was a niece of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland during 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. With the accession of Elizabeth I, Clinton was appointed a privy councillor and his wife, Elizabeth Fiennes de Clinton, 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).

Elizabeth Fitzgerald, painted by Steven van der Meulen

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 able to use her influence at court to benefit her family, affecting the restoration of the Fitzgeralds to their blood and lineage, which they had lost when Elizabeth was a child. Suits made to Elizabeth as Countess of Lincoln demonstrate that she was believed to have influence with the queen, who she served until 1585. 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, in an attempt to overturn his father’s will, 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 herself appears to have withdrawn from court following her husband’s death and when she died in March 1589 was laid to rest beside her husband in the Lincoln Chapel of St George’s Chapel Windsor.

The court and society were both in a state of change during Elizabeth’s reign. Local Lincolnshire lords, such as the Burghs of Gainsborough, were increasingly absentee landlords, preferring to stay in their southern properties closer to the royal court and leaving their estates to run themselves. The Burghs increasingly resided mainly at their residence in Surrey, Sterborough Castle. Lord Thomas de Burgh fell heavily into debt in service of the Queen and was in failing health when his wife, Lady Frances begged Queen Elizabeth that he be relieved of his position as Governor of the Brill in the Netherlands. Sir Robert Sydney is quoted as saying in November 1595 “God send lady… better success than my lady Borow [Burgh], whose desire was absolutely denied and the Queen took it very ill that in such time he could desire to be from this government.”11 When Lord Burgh died in 1597 he asked the Queen, in his will, to protect his wife and family, who were now living in poverty due to his having spent his patrimony in Elizabeth’s service. The Queen, however, devised a a way of avoiding the duty imposed upon her, by requesting that whoever was appointed to Lord Burgh’s now vacant post, as Governor of Brill, should give £500 a year to his widow for her maintenance.

Religious divisions were becoming more pronounced as Queen Elizabeth’s reign advanced, not only between Catholicism and Protestantism, but within Protestantism itself. With the encouragement of Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, ministers with Puritan leanings had been appointed to various churches throughout Lincolnshire. Several of the Pilgrim Fathers, who sailed to America on the Mayflower, would come from the region, including William Brewster and William Bradford. Families with strong ties to service at the Tudor court, such as the Burghs of Gainsborough, were moving south, closer to London and the person of the Queen, while other families were moving north. The Old Hall at Gainsborough was sold to William Hickman, a wealthy merchant who was the grandson of Sir William Locke, Henry VIII’s Royal Mercer, and the son of Lady Rose Hickman.

According to Lady Rose her father, Sir William Locke, a merchant with strong links to Antwerp, had smuggled ‘herectic’ Protestant writings from abroad for Queen Anne Boleyn herself. Lady Rose had long been familiar with the new learning and wrote in 1610: “My mother in the dayes of King Henry the 8th came to some light of the gospel by means of some English books sent privately to her by my father’s factor from beyond the sea: where upon she used to call me with my 2 sisters into her chamber to read to us out of these same good books very privately for feare of troble because these good books were then accepted hereticall…”12

Gainsborough Old Hall, home to the Burghs and then the Hickmans

The Hickman family had become known for their Puritan leanings; Puritans were those who wanted the ‘purer’ church as envisaged in the reign of Edward VI, rather than the compromise established by Elizabeth I. In 1593, in order to curb the activities of such religious dissidents, Elizabeth I’s government had approved the ‘Act Against Puritans’, whereby it became illegal to become a Puritan or encourage others to that tendency.  As a result, official appointments at court, for those known to have Puritan connections, suddenly dried up. Lady Rose’s son Walter, deeply entrenched in court circles and an old hand at brokering appointments for friends and family (usually with a financial incentive) discovered the implications of the new stance in 1594. The Cecil Papers show that Walter was refused when he applied for the position of Receiver of the Court of Wards for his brother William, despite offering an inducement of £1,000.13 The increasing hostility towards Puritans, and the possibility of escalating religious persecution, may well have persuaded William to move his family north; away from the prying eyes of the authorities and into Lincolnshire, a county with strong Puritan leanings thanks to the efforts of Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk.

In the early years of the Tudor dynasty, the counties of Lincolnshire and Yorkshire were still greatly associated with the old Yorkist dynasty. Henry VII made a progress through the counties only a year after his accession, keeping Easter 1486 at Lincoln and making a great show of regal pomp. His son, Henry VIII, also saw the need to show himself to his northern subjects. Following the defeat of the Pilgrimage of Grace and its forebear, the Lincolnshire Rising, Henry made a great progress through Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. He spent several days at Gainsborough Old Hall in August 1541, holding meetings of the Privy Council there on the 14th, 15th and 16th of August.  At Lincoln Henry and his young queen, Katherine Howard, made a great show of royal majesty; “The King and Queen came riding into their tent, which was pitched at the furthest end of the liberty of Lincoln, and there shifted their apparel, from green and crimson velvet respectively, to cloth of gold and silver…”14

Henry VIII’s children, however, did not venture north. Although Elizabeth I had intended to visit York at various points in her reign, she stayed within the Home Counties, venturing no further north than East Anglia. This may well have contributed to the changing nature of Tudor Society in Lincolnshire, where the influence from court circles appears to have waned as the years progressed.  Lincolnshire towns, such as Gainsborough and Boston, provided such families with the opportunities of, to some extent, religious freedom while also allowing them to continue with their merchant activities, due to navigable rivers that would take goods to the East coast ports and on to the Continent. Whereas those who saw the government as a hindrance to their personal liberties ventured away further from the centre of power; those who saw their futures in the person of the monarch, and whose duties at the Tudor Court were taking up more and more of their time, saw the need to move closer to London and the centre of power,



1 Neville Williams, The Life and Times of Henry VII; 2 Beverley A Murphy, Bastard Prince: Henry VIII’s Lost Son; 3 Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of Henry VIII, Volume 10, note 797; 4 Ibid; 5 Ibid; 6 Letters and Papers Volume 12, Part 2, note 1600; 7 Retha M. Warnicke, Oxforddnb.com; 8 Susan Wabuda, Oxforddnb.com; 9 Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger, In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII; 10 H. Howard [earl of Surrey], Poems, ed. E. Jones (1964); 11 Quoted by Sue Allan in A Guide to Gainsborough Old Hall; 12 Religion and politics in mid-Tudor England through the eyes of an English Protestant Woman: the Recollections of Rose Hickman; 13 Quoted by Sue Allan in A Guide to Gainsborough Old Hall; 14 Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of Henry VIII, 1541


Courtesy of Wikipedia except Grimsthorpe Castle and Gainsborough Old Hall, which are ©Sharon Bennett Connolly


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; Oxforddnb.com; A Guide to Gainsborough Old Hall by Sue Allan; The Life and Times of Henry VII by Neville Williams; Bastard Prince: Henry VIII’s Lost Son by Beverley A Murphy; In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII by Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger; H. Howard [earl of Surrey], Poems, ed. E. Jones (1964); The Earlier Tudors by J.D. Mackie; Religion and politics in mid-Tudor England through the eyes of an English Protestant Woman: the Recollections of Rose Hickman; Tudorplace.com; 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; Ladies-in-Waiting: Women who Served at the Tudor Court by Victoria Sylvia Evans; The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII: The Women’s Stories by Amy Licence.


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Book Corner: The Last Berserker by Angus Donald

The greatest warriors are forged in the flames

Two pagan fighters

771AD, Northern Europe. Bjarki Bloodhand and Tor Hildarsdottir are journeying south into Saxony. Their destination is the Irminsul, the One Tree that links the Nine Worlds of the Middle-Realm. In this most holy place, they hope to learn how to summon their animal spirits so they can enter the ranks of the legendary berserkir: the elite frenzied fighters of the North.

One Christian king

Karolus, newly crowned King of the Franks, has a thorn in his side: the warlike Saxon tribes on his northern borders who shun the teachings of the Church, blasphemously continuing to worship their pagan gods.

An epic battle for the soul of the North

The West’s greatest warlord vows to stamp out his neighbours’ superstitions and bring the light of the True Faith to the Northmen – at the point of a sword. It will fall to Bjarki, Tor and the men and women of Saxony to resist him in a struggle for the fate of all Europe.

I have read Angus Donald’s books since the first of his Robin Hood series, Outlaw, came out many moons ago. And I absolutely adored his series set around the 1688 Glorious Revolution with unlikely hero Holcroft Blood. But there is always a risk when an author starts a new series; will it live up to previous stories?

Well, with The Last Berserker there is no need to worry. From the first few lines you are reassured that Angus Donald starts as he means to go on; with an action-filled storyline that will take the reader on a breathtaking journey through the turbulent years of the 8th century. It is quite the adventure!

The story derives from the many tales of the berserkers, men who went wild in battle, killing dozens at a time. Angus Donald has created a world in which the berserkers were not just mad men, but legendary fighters who honed their skills through belief, training and discipline. They were heroes who used their unique talents to lead men into battle and deliver victory after victory. Set in the time when the great Charlemagne was waging his campaign of conquest against the German tribes, The Last Berserker tells the story of Bjarki Bloodhand, who joins the fight to defend his homelands.

‘How about you, son? You look like a strapping fellow. Care to try your strength? Bjarki realised the tall blond man was speaking to him.

He shook his head.

‘No need to be afraid. I’ll tell Black Svein to go easy on you.’

‘I’m not afraid,’ Bjarki said.

‘Then come inside the hazel square and prove it.’

Bjarki shook his head. He smiled.

The straw-haired man turned away. ‘There must be one or two here today who are not snivelling cowards,’ he said, his back turned to Bjarki.

Bjarki stopped smiling. He felt suddenly cold. He took a step forward.

‘He’s not a coward,’ said a voice at his elbow, a cool hand there, too, restraining him. ‘He just doesn’t want to fight your friend today. And calling him one won’t change his mind.’

The straw-haired man turned back and looked at Bjarki – and Tor, who was now standing beside him.

‘You his girl then?’ he said. Then to Bjarki: ‘Aren’t you a one – getting your little girlie to speak for you. I see now why you won’t fight.’

‘He won’t fight your friend,’ said Tor, ‘but I will. You said you had quarterstaffs? Yes? All right then, I accept your challenge.’

The straw-haired man was nonplussed. This scrawny young woman, with arms like kindling sticks, was about half of the weight of Black Svein – and a head shorter than him too. It was a ridiculous match.

‘You can’t fight him,’ he said.

‘Oh yes? Why is that? Is he afraid of me?’

That started a howl of laughter from the crowd, which had thickened considerably by now. The straw-haired man flushed pink with irritation.

‘You cannot fight him, girlie. It would not be a fair contest.’

‘What if I go really easy on him?’ said Tor. ‘I promise I won’t hurt him all that much – hardly at all. I’ll be as gentle as a lamb with the poor idiot.’

Angus Donald weaves together, myth, legend and history to recreate a world where the berserker not only flourished, but was revered as a great warrior.

As an author, Donald is very adept at creating unique, interesting protagonists. Holcroft Blood was an autistic officer who had a knack for uncovering spies and a skill in artillery that was unrivalled. Robin Hood was a vicious killer, not the cuddly Robin Hood from legend. And with Bjarki Bloodhand, we have another individual who is not, at first sight, your typical hero. He is a rather dull, awkward boy; quite unassuming in fact. He comes across as naive, a little too trusting and not overly ambitious. He is, however, loyal to ahis friends, a good fighter and as brave as they come. He doesn’t shirk from a fight, but doesn’t necessarily seek it out. And he is incredibly likeable.

Bjarki’s sidekick, for want of a better word, is Tor, a slip of a girl with an attitude that belies her size. A born fighter, she is always looking to prove herself. Tor is a fascinating character who has secrets of her own to hide and ‘issues’ to work through. The two make an unlikely pairing but a firm friendship that helps them through their many trials.

Angus Donald wonderfully recreates the world of 8th century central Europe, from the landscape and the natural borders that separate the various nations, to the contrasting religious beliefs – both Christian and pagan – that lie at the centre of the conflict. A natural storyteller when it comes to warfare, Donald vividly evokes the song of battle, with seax, sword, axe and shield. The frenetic energy of the battle scenes leave the reader breathless and eager for more. The intricacies of the story, with its various twists and turns, some rather surprising, keep the reader on the edge of their seat throughout.

The Last Berserker is a truly enthralling story, not easy to put down – and a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience. It is one book that is not to be missed!

The Last Berserker by Angus Donald is available in paperback and ebook from Amazon.


About the Author:

Angus Donald is the author of the bestselling Outlaw Chronicles, a series of ten novels set in the 12th/13th centuries and featuring a gangster-ish Robin Hood. Angus has also published the Holcroft Blood trilogy about a mildly autistic 17th-century English artillery officer, son of notorious Crown Jewels thief Colonel Thomas Blood. Before becoming an author, Angus worked as a fruit-picker in Greece, a waiter in New York City and as an anthropologist studying magic and witchcraft in Indonesia. For fifteen years he was a journalist working in Hong Kong, India, Afghanistan and London. He now writes full time from a medieval farmhouse in Kent.


My books

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.


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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Ladies of Magna Carta Online Talk

This month I will be joining forces with the Nottinghamshire Local History Association to present a talk on the Ladies of Magna Carta.  Focusing on the roles, influences and experiences played by the women of the great baronial families of England in 1215 and beyond, I will be looking at the entire scope of the subject whilst paying acknowledgement of the place of Nottinghamshire in the story of the birth of this most famous document.

It’s Tuesday 16th February, at 7pm GMT and is available worldwide.

It’s free.

And it’s online.

If you would like to join me, simply click here to book your ticket.

About Ladies of Magna Carta:

Magna Carta clause 39: No man shall be taken, imprisoned, outlawed, banished or in any way destroyed, nor will we proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land.

This clause in Magna Carta was in response to the appalling imprisonment and starvation of Matilda de Braose, the wife of one of King John’s barons. Matilda was not the only woman who influenced, or was influenced by, the 1215 Charter of Liberties, now known as Magna Carta. Women from many of the great families of England were affected by the far-reaching legacy of Magna Carta, from their experiences in the civil war and as hostages, to calling on its use to protect their property and rights as widows.

Ladies of Magna Carta looks into the relationships – through marriage and blood – of the various noble families and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. Including the royal families of England and Scotland, the Marshals, the Warennes, the Braoses and more, Ladies of Magna Carta_focuses on the roles played by the women of the great families whose influences and experiences have reached far beyond the thirteenth century.

To book your ticket for the 16th February Ladies of Magna Carta free online talk in association with Nottinghamshire Local History Association, click here.

See you there!


My books

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.


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

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly.