Book Corner: The Brandon Men: In the Shadow of Kings by Sarah Bryson

Four generations of Brandon men lived and served six English kings, the most famous being Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, best friend and brother-in-law to King Henry VIII. Yet his family had a long history tied closely to the kings of the Wars of the Roses back to Henry VI. Charles Brandon’s father, Sir William Brandon, supported Henry Tudor’s claim on the throne and became his standard bearer, dying at the Battle of Bosworth. Charles’s uncle, Sir Thomas Brandon, was Henry VII’s Master of the Horse, one of the three highest positions within the court. Charles’s grandfather had ties with Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III. These men held important offices, made great sacrifices, walked the fine line between being loyal courtiers and traitors, and even gave their lives, all in the name of loyalty to the king they served. No more shall the Brandon name be an obscure reference in archives. It is time for them to emerge from the shadows of history.

I have been looking forward to reading The Brandon Men: In the Shadow of Kings by Sarah Bryson ever since I heard that Sarah was working on it. I loved her first book, La Reine Blanche: Mary Tudor, A Life in Letters, and was hoping this one would be as good. I was wrong!

The Brandon Men: In the Shadow of Kings is even better. In telling the story of Henry VIII’s best friend, Charles Brandon, and Charles’ forebears, Sarah Bryson writes with a passion that draws the reader in from the very first pages. Sarah Bryson starts the story at the beginning, with the first known head of the Brandon family, Sir William Brandon, born in around 1425. The Brandons rose to prominence during the unsettled times of the Wars of the Roses, their fortunes turning with the tug-of-war between York and Lancaster. Sir William Brandon’s son – also William – was killed at the Battle of Bosworth while protecting the future king, Henry VII. It was this William whose son, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, took the family to its greatest heights, going so far to marry Mary Tudor, Dowager Queen of France and King Henry VIII’s beloved baby sister.

While the rest of the family had a no-less dramatic story, it is Charles Brandon’s which catches the attention. Brandon pursued a thriving career at court, as one of Henry VIII’s closest friends and jousting partners, while at the same time he chased after wealth and land through several scandalous marriages and betrothals. His marriage to Mary Tudor, however, was the icing on the cake; it brought him a beautiful bride, a love story that would last the ages, and the title of Duke of Suffolk as the brother-in-law to the king. It also brought him more trouble than even he could have imagined; whilst Brandon did not lose his head, he got heavily in debt trying to placate the king for his presumption in marrying the king’s sister.

Charles Brandon’s life was also tinged with family scandal, with one daughter being publicly shamed for her extramarital affair, and tragedy; two of his sons died during the duke’s lifetime, with two mores, his sons by Katherine Willoughby, dying within half an hour of each other before either reached their majority. It was Charles Brandon’s granddaughter by Mary Tudor, the tragic Lady Jane Grey, who became Queen of England for Nine Days. The Brandon story is one of the highs and lows of ambition and family; the veritable wheel of fortune that was so popular in medieval culture.

Lacking experience in military action, Henry Tudor appointed the veteran Earl of Oxford to command his troops and to lead the vanguard. Sir Gilbert Talbot took the right wing and was ordered to defend the archers and keep an eye on the battle line, while John Savage was to lead the left wing. Henry Tudor was positioned to the rear of the troops with several French mercenaries whom he had brought with him from France. Standing close to Henry was Sir William Brandon II.

Brandon had been appointed Henry’s standard-bearer. It is unclear exactly why Brandon was chosen to carry one of Henry Tudor’s standards; perhaps it was due to his unfaltering loyalty to the man he hoped would become king, or perhaps it was down to his physical toughness. We have no description of what Sir William Brandon II looked like, but his son Charles grew up to be tall, handsome, well built and extremely suited to physical pastimes such as hunting and jousting – all qualities that he may have inherited from his father.

Facing them, on King Richard’s side was John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, with Sir Robert Brackenbury leading the Yorkist vanguard. Next came a force commanded by Richard III and comprised of his bodyguard and others. In the rear was the Earl of Northumberland and his men.

When the battle cry went up, arrows flew and the roar of Richard III’s artillery filled the air. Oxford’s men clashed with the Duke of Norfolk’s, the two being old foes. Both sides paused to reorientate themselves. Oxford formed his men into a wedge and charged forward. At this second charge, Henry’s French troops attacked Norfolk’s vanguard. Soon Norfolk’s men were in trouble. Many were killed, including the duke. Others fled while some defected to fight on Henry Tudor’s side.

Northumberland and his men did not move into the fight, and it is believed that at some point the earl decided to leave the battle without throwing any of his men into the fray. Amid this chaos, some of Richard III’s supporters begged him to flee, but he declared that he would live or die as a king. Oxford’s men had pushed forward, leaving a gap, and Richard III now saw an opportunity to get to Henry Tudor directly. He charged with his men, aiming to strike Henry down.

As he advanced, Richard III’s lance pierced through Henry’s standard-bearer, Sir William Brandon II, and broke in half. History records that William Brandon ‘hevyd on high [the Tudor standard] and vamisyd it, tyll with deathe’s dent he was tryken downe.’ What was racing through Sir William’s mind in those last few moments as Richard III and his men came thundering towards him? He had given up his property, his land, his wealth, everything he had to support Henry Tudor. He had bid his wife and infant son farewell to follow Henry to England in the hopes of a better life, not just for himself or his family but for England. It was his sworn duty to protect Henry Tudor with his life, and as Richard III’s lance pierced his armour and threw him from his horse, he gave up his life to save the man he believed to be the rightful king of England. Sir William Brandon II had been loyal to his last breath.

In The Brandon Men: In the Shadow of Kings, Sarah Bryson puts flesh on the bones of history; she brings the family, their actions, hopes and dreams, back to life. Concentrating on the human side of their story, Sarah Bryson expertly recreates the world in which the Brandon men and their families lived, from the violence, suspicion and betrayal that personified the Wars of the Roses, to the glamour, intrigue and fear of the court of Henry VIII. Neither does she shy away from the more questionable actions of the family, such as Charles Brandon’s dislike of Anne Boleyn and complicity in her downfall. Sarah Bryson examines the evidence and arguments with a neutral, if passionate, eye, giving us a wonderful portrait of Charles Brandon as a fallible human being whose ambition sometimes gets in the way of his own success. However, and above all, Charles Brandon knew where his loyalty – and his prospects – lie; with the king. He did everything to ensure that his relationship with Henry VIII, and therefore his family’s security, remained paramount in his career.

I was surprised to see that the Brandon story overlaps a little with my own research on the Warennes. Two hundred years after the demise of John de Warenne, the 7th and last Earl of Warenne and Surrey, it seems that some of the Warenne lands, notably Bromfield and Yale in Wales, found themselves in the hands of Charles Brandon – a little serendipity there.

The Brandon Men: In the Shadow of Kings is a beautifully written non-fiction biography of a family that most people have heard of, but of which few know the particulars. Meticulously researched, with substantial notes and an excellent bibliography, it tells the story of the Brandon family and their rise to heights that none of them could have predicted in their wildest dreams. It is a story of war and conflict, love and feuds, with family ambition tempered by family tragedy. It is, above all, a story of service to the crown.

Sarah Bryson is a wonderful writer of non-fiction, whose love of the Brandons’ story comes through on every page, drawing the reader in; engaging, entertaining and enlightening you on every page. It is, in short, a thoroughly enjoyable investigation into the rise of one of the greatest families of the Tudor court, from the origins in later medieval England and the discord of the Wars of the Roses; from humble Suffolk landowners, to the great Duke of Suffolk who owned most of Lincolnshire. The Brandon Men: In the Shadow of Kings is definitely worth reading!

To buy the book:

The Brandon Men: In the Shadow of Kings is available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon

About the author:

Sarah Bryson is a researcher, writer and educator who has a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education with Honours. She currently works with children with disabilities. She is passionate about Tudor history and has a deep interest in Mary Tudor, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and the reign of Henry VIII and the people of his court. She has run a website dedicated to Tudor history for many years and has written for various websites including ‘On the Tudor Trail’ and “QueenAnneBoleyn’. She has been studying primary sources to tell the story of Mary Tudor for a decade. She is the author of books on Mary Boleyn, Charles Brandon and La Reine Blanche. She lives in Australia. –This text refers to the hardcover edition.

My books

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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.

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.

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.

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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

Guest Post: The Infamous Lady Rochford and the fall of Anne Boleyn by Monika Simon

Today it is a pleasure to welcome Monika Simon to the blog. Monika’s debut book, From Robber Barons to Courtiers: The Changing World of the Lovells of Titchmarsh, is out at the end of the month. And on the anniversary of the execution of Henry VIII’s second and tragic queen, Anne Boleyn, Monika has written about the involvement in events, of Anne’s sister-in-law, Jane, Lady Rochford.

The Infamous Lady Rochford and the fall of Anne Boleyn

by Monika Simon

Anne Boleyn, National Portrait Gallery

Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII and mother of Queen Elizabeth I, was executed on 19 May 1536. Reading about the whirlwind prosecution of Anne Boleyn and her fellow accused that lasted not even four weeks, one name comes up inevitably as one of the key witness if not the key witness: Anne’s sister-in-law Jane, Lady Rochford, sometimes cited as the person who may have accused Anne and her brother George of incest.

In short, she has become ‘the infamous Lady Rochford’. But does she deserve her infamy?

Jane was born Jane Parker, the name I continue to use here*, around the year 1500 as the oldest (or possibly second oldest) daughter of Henry Parker, Lord Morley and his wife Alice St John. Her father was the son of Alice Lovell and Sir William Parker, a knight from an obscure northern family. William Parker had made his career in the service of Richard III and it is possible that Alice Lovell’s cousin Francis Lovell had helped to arrange the marriage between Alice and his fellow member of the retinue of Richard, then Duke of Gloucester. Alice Lovell inherited her mother’s Morley estates after the death of her brother Henry Parker, Lord Morley in the battle of Dixmude in 1489. As a boy, Henry Parker entered the service of Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII, and she arranged his marriage to Alice St John, the granddaughter of her half-brother John St John.

Around 1520, Jane Parker became a lady-in-waiting of Catherine of Aragon. To achieve this position she must have been good looking and quite accomplished. In the following years she often participated in the grand pageants at court, including a particularly spectacular one in 1522 revolving around a mocked-up castle, the Château Vert. It was inhabited by ladies dressed as virtues. A mock fight was then staged between boys representing vices and eight gentleman, including Henry VIII, who also bore mottos. Jane was given the role of Perseverance, the king’s sister Mary Tudor was Beauty and a recent newcomer, Anne Boleyn, portrayed Constancy. In the mid-1520s Jane Parker married Anne Boleyn’s brother George, whom she must have known well from court.

The Parkers were estates were situated near those of the Boleyns and the Howards were another noble family whose property was nearby. As is so often the case with aristocratic families, multiple ties existed between these families. Jane’s grandmother Alice Lovell had married Edward Howard after the death of her first husband. Edward Howard’s sister Elizabeth was the wife of Thomas Boleyn and the mother of Jane’s husband George and Anne Boleyn. Thomas Boleyn’s sister Anne was in turn the mother-in-law of Jane’s sister Margaret.

While George Boleyn was profiting from his sisters affair with and marriage to Henry VIII, Jane was able to enjoy the honours and grants that he received alongside her husband. When her father-in-law was elevated to Earl of Wiltshire, George received the courtesy title of Viscount and Jane became a Viscountess.

But Jane’s situation changed drastically when the relationship between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn soured. As lady-in-waiting and sister-in-law to Anne, Jane was one of the women and men who were questioned in the search for incriminating evidence against Anne, her brother George, and the other accused. The brief description of Jane’s life in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography asserts that by this time, she had turned against Anne and that she may have been the source of rumours about George and Anne’s incest and of Henry VIII’s impotence. It is speculated that the reason for Jane’s actions was that her relationship to the Boleyns had been ‘poisoned by sexual jealousy’. As the accusations against Anne and her alleged lovers are almost generally regarded as spurious and just a means to an end, Jane Parker must have deliberately lied and lied in the full knowledge that it would cost her husband, her sister-in-law, and the other accused their lives. Accordingly, she has been described by Diarmaid MacCulloch as a ‘less than grieving widow’ and when she wrote to her husband imprisoned in the Tower that she would plead for his life, Eric Ives states that the letter ‘smells of malice’. Her complaints about her impoverished state after the goods and estates of her husband had been confiscated have been severely criticised as well.

Commemorative Plaque at the Tower of London

But on what evidence is the assertion based that Jane Parker was a main or the key witnesses against Anne Boleyn and the other accused?

The short answer is: not much. Though the proceedings against the accused are fairly well documented, and individual statements are known, what exactly Jane or anybody else said under questioning was not recorded in detail. The one information provided by Jane that we know for certain was used in the trial of her husband George. He was asked to silently read a note he was handed and answer yes or no. George, however, probably knowing that he had already been condemned before the official judgement, decided to read the note out loud. It said that his wife Jane had told him that his sister Anne had told her that the king ‘was no good in bed with women, and that he neither had potency nor force’.

This statement was probably received with embarrassed silence by the assembled Lords, Jane’s father among them, who knew that this was a particularly touchy topic. However tactless it was, the information was neither about adultery nor incest.

Another piece of evidence against Jane is that George Boleyn is recorded to have said, ‘On the evidence of only one woman you are willing to believe this great evil of me, and on the basis of her allegations you are deciding my judgement’. It has often been assumed that the one woman he referred to was his wife. There were however other women who were questioned and according to John Spelmen, one of the judges of the trial, it was Lady Wingfield’s deathbed confession that first revealed Anne’s behaviour.

The third piece of ‘damning’ evidence is the lost journal of Antony Antony, which probably  included the statement that ‘the wife of Lord Rochford [George Boleyn] was a particular instrument in the death of Queen Anne’.

The charge that Jane was the source of incest against her husband is based on a book by Bishop Burnet, writing over a hundred years later, who asserted that Jane Rochford ‘carried many stories to the king or some about him [George Boleyn]’, and evidence ‘that there was a familiarity’. Bishop Burnett had access to sources no longer existing, but what these sources said and how reliable they were cannot be determined today.

Signature of Jane, Lady Rochford

To me this evidence seems rather flimsy, but for many it has been enough to condemn Jane, but there are also those, who like me don’t believe Jane was responsible for the death of Anne Boleyn, her husbands and the other accused notably Julia Fox who wrote a biography about her.

How Jane’s previous and subsequent actions have been interpreted depends on whether the historian in question believes in Jane’s guilt or not.

Three examples show this quite clearly. According to a report by the imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys from 1534, Jane was banished from court as she had conspired with Anne to get rid of a lady who Henry VIII had become too interested in. If Jane is thought to be guilty in the case against Anne, as for example Eric Ives does, this must be an unfounded rumour. If Jane is not seen as guilty, for example by Julia Fox, it is believable that she worked together with Anne to remove a rival.

A year later a crowd of women from London demonstrated their loyalty to Lady Mary, the daughter of Catherine of Aragon, who was saying at Greenwich at this time. Among the mob were two ladies, Lady Jane Parker and Lady ‘William Howard’. Those who think Jane was guilty find this only natural, as she was ‘otherwise known as Anne’s enemy’, in the words of Eric Ives. Others, Richard Starkey for example, point out that the names of the two ladies were later added to the document, and states that Jane Parker would never be foolish enough to participate in such a demonstration.

It is also hard to believe that Anne Boleyn would have allowed Jane to remain her lady-in-waiting if she had been a ‘known enemy’. Ives himself repeatedly stresses how much control Anne had over the personnel at court so she would have been able to have Jane dismissed or at least sent away from court until she learned how to behave herself. Jane’s husband George would have hardly pressed a ‘known enemy’ on his sisters, and Jane’s father definitely had not enough influence to force Anne to accept his daughter as lady-in-waiting if the queen wanted her gone.

Unknown Man, possibly George Boleyn, Hans Holbein

The third example of how Jane’s actions, or in this case possible actions, are interpreted is the report that on Whitsun 1536, two weeks after the executions of Anne Boleyn, Jane, her father and mother paid a visit to Lady Mary. This visit is seen as further proof of Jane’s hostility to Anne. However, the document from which the visit is known is badly damaged and most likely says only that Henry Parker, Lord Morley, his wife and unnamed daughter visited Mary. The daughter in question was, however, most likely not Jane but her sister Margaret. Margaret’s parents-in-law, John Shelton and Anne Boleyn, were in charge of Mary at the time.

What the relationship between Jane and her husband was really like on a personal level is something we can only judge from their actions and as the three examples above show, Jane’s behaviour has been interpreted according to the author’s judgement on whether or not she was responsible for Anne’s death.

In the end, the case against Jane Parker rests on one vague statement by her husband about ‘a woman’, a lost journal that may have included the accusation, and the later report by Bishop Burnett that is impossible to verify. On the other hand, the one definite piece of information we have, that she was told by Anne a very intimate detail about her married life, which Jane in turn shared with her husband, shows that far from being estranged to the queen or her husband, Jane was on good terms with them. Anne surely would not have divulged the problematic state of her relationship to Henry VIII to a woman who was her enemy.

Additionally, if the whole case against Anne Boleyn and her alleged lovers was a farce and falls apart as soon as it is analysed, as Ives states, can Jane even be responsible for Anne Boleyn’s fate? If the trial was only the means to the end of getting rid of Anne and make way for a new queen, what Jane said or whether or not George Boleyn read out the note in court made no difference whatsoever.

Why are so many writers convinced of Jane Parker’s guilt based on this meagre evidence? For most of them this is an open and shut case and has been proved for centuries. The focus of their research was on a different subject and they had to rely on other writers for their information. Diarmaid MacCullough working on his massive and excellent biography of Thomas Cromwell could not let himself be side-tracked by examining in detail every person that happened to come in contact with the subject of his study.

Additionally, Jane Parker, Lady Rochford also became entangled in the downfall of another of Henry VIII’s wives: Katherine Howard. Jane was briefly exiled from court following Anne Boleyn’s execution, but returned to became lady-in waiting to the next three queens. When Katherine Howard’s youthful misdemeanours had come to light, her behaviour as queen was scrutinised and it was discovered that she had become all too friendly with a young courtier, Thomas Culpepper, one of the king’s gentlemen of the Privy Chamber. During the court’s progress through northern England Katherine had secretly met Thomas Culpepper on several occasions, meetings that often lasted for hours. Her lady-in-waiting Jane Parker was incriminated as well as she had helped arranged these clandestine encounters and acted as a chaperon. In their trial, all three, Thomas Culpepper, Katherine Howard, and Jane Parker, naturally tried to present their part in the events in as innocent a light as possible. Culpepper blamed the women for leading him astray, Katherine blamed Jane for encouraging her and enabling the meetings, and Jane said she had only done what Katherine had told her to do. None of them could deny they had been involved and all three were executed.

In the light of her involvement in Katherine Howard’s conviction and death, it was easy to assume that Jane had also been involved in the downfall of Anne Boleyn. By the reign of Elizabeth it was also adamant that the reputation of her mother had to be freed of any doubts about her sexual conduct, but the blame for her execution should also not be put on Elizabeth’s father Henry VIII. Blaming others, like Jane Parker or Thomas Cromwell, had become the prudent explanation of the downfall of Anne Boleyn.

* I generally refer to married women my their maiden names for one to keep their natal family in mind and secondly to avoid confusion. Alice Lovell and Alice St John would otherwise become Alice Parker.

About the book:

Francis Lovell is without a doubt the most famous – if not the only famous – Lovell of Titchmarsh. In 1483 he was he was made a viscount by Edward IV, the first Lovell to be raised into the titled nobility. He is most famous for being the chamberlain and close friend of Richard III, the ‘dog’ of William Collingbourne’s famous doggerel.

Though Francis Lovell is the best known member of his family, the Lovells were an old aristocratic family, tracing their roots back to eleventh-century Normandy. Aside from the Battle of Hastings, a Lovell can be found at virtually all important events in English history, whether it was the crusade of Richard I, the Battle of Lewes, the siege of Calais, the Lambert Simnel rebellion against Henry VII, or the downfall of Anne Boleyn. Over the centuries the Lovells rose in wealth and power through service to the crown, rich marriages, and, to a considerable degree, luck.

The history of the Lovells of Titchmarsh, from their relatively obscure beginnings in the border region between France and Normandy to a powerful position at the royal court, not only illustrates the fate of this one family but also throws an interesting light on the changes and developments in medieval and Tudor England. Several themes emerge as constant in the lives of an aristocratic family over the five centuries covered in this book: the profit and perils of service to the crown, the influences of family tradition and personal choice, loyalty and opportunism, skill and luck, and the roles of women in the family.

About the author:

Monika E. Simon studied Medieval History, Ancient History, and English Linguistics and Middle English Literature at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich, from which she received an MA. She wrote her DPhil thesis about the Lovells of Titchmarsh at the University of York. She lives and works in Munich.

Links:
https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/From-Robber-Barons-to-Courtiers-Hardback/p/19045
https://www.facebook.com/MoniESim
http://www.monikasimon.eu/lovell.html

My Books:

Coming 31 May 2021:

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey will be released in the UK on 31 May and in the US on 6 August. And it is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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.

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  and Monika Simon

Guest Post: Inspiration to Write Essex – Tudor Rebel by Tony Riches

Today it is a pleasure to welcome author Tony Riches back to the blog, talking about the inspiration behind his latest book, Essex – Tudor Rebel. Essex is the second book of Tony’s fabulous Tudor Trilogy, looking into some of the most fascinating characters of the Tudor dynasty. The first in the series, Drake – Tudor Corsair was absolutely fabulous!

Inspiration to Write Essex – Tudor Rebel 

by Tony Riches

Lamphey Palace

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, is one of the most intriguing men of the Elizabethan period. He becomes a ‘favourite’ at court, so close to the queen many wonder if they are lovers. The truth is far more complex, as each has what the other yearns for. Robert Devereux longs for recognition, wealth and influence. His flamboyant naïveté amuses the ageing Queen Elizabeth, like the son she never had, and his vitality makes her feel young. 

I decided to explore Robert Devereux’s story when writing the first book of my Elizabethan series, Drake – Tudor Corsair. Drake is appalled when Essex commandeers a warship from the waiting fleet to sail in the ‘English Armada’ and attack Lisbon. 

Memorial including Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex

To make things worse, Drake knew Queen Elizabeth had forbidden Essex to join the expedition – and he had no experience of naval command or fighting at sea. With typical bravado, Essex leapt from his ship into deep water, causing many of his followers to drown in their attempt to do the same. He then led the forty-mile march to Lisbon, without waiting for supplies, and many soldiers died from hunger, heat exhaustion and thirst. The whole enterprise proved a costly disaster, and set the tone for Robert’s later adventures. 

I wanted to understand why he was so driven to take such risks, when he knew his vengeful queen would be furious. I had access to all his surviving letters, which reveal an intriguing, deeply flawed character, always at the heart of events, the perfect subject for an historical novel. 

Devereux Tower

I particularly wanted to keep his story as factually accurate and authentic as possible, so immersed myself in the dangerous world of Elizabethan London. During my research I was amazed to find Robert Devereux lived at Lamphey Palace, twenty minutes from my home in Pembrokeshire. I also visited the Devereux Tower and Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula at the Tower of London, (where he lies close to Lady jane Grey and Anne Boleyn). 

I hope readers will be able to tell that this book is one I’ve really enjoyed researching and writing, and that I’ve been able to find some of Robert Devereux’s redeeming qualities. 

To buy the book:

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09246T7ZT 

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09246T7ZT 

Amazon CA: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B09246T7ZT 

Amazon AU: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B09246T7ZT 

About the Author:

Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of best-selling Tudor historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the lives of the early Tudors. As well as his new Elizabethan series, Tony’s historical fiction novels include the Tudor trilogy and the Brandon trilogy, about Charles Brandon and his wives

For more information about Tony’s books please visit his website tonyriches.com and his blog, The Writing Desk and find him on  Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches.

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My books

Coming 31st May:

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey will be released in the UK on 31 May and in the US on 6 August. And it is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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.

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 and Tony Riches