This extract is taken from the end of 1529, just before the Reformation parliament meet, illustrating how the marriage was under tension but Catherine was still fighting back.
Catherine was permitted to return for the Christmas season, which was traditionally presided over by the King and Queen together. And Henry was not quite ready to dispense with traditions, either religious or marital; he would need a couple more years for that. Hall related that the season was observed “in great triumph… with great plenty of viands and diverse disguisings and interludes, to the great rejoicing of his people” but it was definitely not a triumph for Catherine. To observers, it seemed that Henry was being pleasant to Catherine, showing his wife “more consideration than was his wont,” and with Anne not making an appearance. However, all was less than harmonious behind the scenes. On Christmas Eve, after her return, Henry had told Catherine that even if the Pope declared their marriage lawful, he still intended to divorce her and he would get his way, as the Church of Canterbury was more important than Rome and he would declare the Pope a heretic. Something must have broken in Catherine to hear this. She had, related Chapuys “lost all hope of bringing him to a sense of right and duty” never could think that her affairs would fall so low as they are at present. She always fancied that the King, after pursuing his course for some time, would turn away, and yielding to his conscience, would change his purpose as he had done at other times, and return to reason.” She had been wrong.
Yet the Queen had also been working behind the scenes. She might have been down but Catherine was nothing if not an indefatigable fighter, so she was not yet out. In the knowledge that Henry was hoping for the French and Italian universities to confirm his view of his marriage, Catherine set out to counter his efforts. She was more than a match for him intellectually and in terms of character, but in her present restricted circumstances, there was little she could do, being excluded from the political process as the Reformation Parliament met for the first time. Appealing to the universities was something positive that she hoped might influence the Council. The same Edward Lee, Henry’s almoner, had informed the king that nobody in Spain apart from the Emperor, “cared a straw” whether or not the marriage was dissolved, so Catherine asked Charles to ask the Spanish Universities to write in her defence, along with her niece, Empress Isabella. She hoped that if the Archbishop of Toledo could gather their responses, “her case might be considerably improved.” She also wrote to Margaret of Savoy with the same request, and “wherever else it may be considered expedient” as it was the only thing now she thought might “stop the King in his course.”
Catherine feared that her husband was “so blind as passionate in these matters, that it is much to be feared that one of these days he will take steps which may perhaps induce his people and the Commons… to consent to the divorce.” She begged Henry for permission to consult her Council of advisers, and was granted permission for them to attend her at Richmond. However, this kindness may have only been conferred “in order to discover whether she had received a recent dispatch from Rome.” In fact, Henry’s new Parliament would not yet discuss Catherine and her marriage in its coming session, instead they were setting about the process of undermining the ties that bound England to Rome.
I would like to congratulate Amy on a fabulous Blog Tour, and thank her for asking History…the Interesting Bits to be a part of it. You can find out more about Amy Licence on her website, and this amazing, definitive, biography of Catherine of Aragon is available from Amazon.
If you’d like to catch up with the previous stops on Amy’s Blog Tour, simply click on the day: Monday; Tuesday; Wednesday; Thursday.
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Catherine of Aragon continues to fascinate readers 500 years after she became Henry VIII’s first queen. Her life was one of passion and determination, of suffering and hope, but ultimately it is a tragic love story, as circumstances conspired against her. Having lost her first husband, Henry’s elder brother Prince Arthur, she endured years of ill health and penury, to make a dazzling second match in Henry VIII. There is no doubt that she was Henry’s true love, compatible with him in every respect and, for years, she presided over a majestic court as the personification of his ideal woman.
However, Catherine’s body failed her in an age when fertility was a prerequisite of political stability. When it became clear that she could no longer bear children, the king’s attention turned elsewhere, and his once chivalric devotion became resentment. Catherine’s final years were spent in lonely isolation but she never gave up her vision: she was devoted to her faith, her husband and to England, to the extent that she was prepared to be martyred for them. Banished and close to death, she wrote a final letter to her ‘most dear lord and husband’. ‘I pardon you everything… mine eyes desire you above all things.’ The fidelity of this remarkable woman never wavered.
Catherine of Aragon, an Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife by Amy Licence is one of those incredible books that you can’t get away from. Days after you’ve finished it, your mind is still pondering the twists and turns in the incredible story that has unfolded before you. And yet, this is not a gripping novel, it’s a biography … a real-life story of one of England’s most famous queens, told in an expert, accessible fashion by one of today’s most prominent historians of women’s history.
The level of detail in this book is incredible, Amy Licence has looked into every corner of Catherine’s life-story. It paints a wonderful, vivid picture of the life of a Renaissance princess. From even before her earliest years, the author charts Catherine’s life in its entirety, giving us a complete picture of the world that surrounded the young princess from the moment she was born to the moment of her death.
Plans for Catherine’s marriage started early. As far back as the spring of 1489, Ferdinand and Isabella had received a delegation sent by Henry VII of England, seeking her as a bride for his son. That March the royal family were at the castle of Medina del Campo, a blockish red medieval fortress situated on a mound dominating the town, to hear the culmination of a year’s worth of offers and promises, conditions and stipulations, about the futures of two small children. Catherine was then three years old, a small sturdy princess with auburn hair … Her prospective husband was barely out of the cradle. Henry VII’s eldest son Arthur, was the first-born child of a new dynasty, and nine months Catherine’s junior …
Not only does the author retell the events of the life of Catherine of Aragon, chronologically, but she also highlights the influences that affected her decisions and actions throughout that life. From her parents and the reconquest of Spain, through her marriage to Arthur and the lonely years following Arthur’s death, we see the events that influenced and shaped Catherine’s life as Queen of England and wife of Henry VIII.
Catherine of Aragon, an Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife discusses the personalities and character of those who had a major effect on Catherine’s life, giving us an unprecedented, detailed view of those who surrounded her at various stages in her career as princess and queen. Catherine’s marriage to Prince Arthur is thoroughly examined, giving an insight into the relationship of this young couple, a relationship that would eventually change the course of English history. We see the good and bad of the men who were to decide Catherine’s fate, in her father, Ferdinand, and father-in-law, Henry VII, and learn of Catherine’s struggles to stay positive in the face of the two kings trying to get the best deal for themselves in Catherine’s marriage. And we see an intriguing biography of Henry VIII as he grows from being Catherine’s saviour and a magnificent Renaissance prince, to being her jailer and tormentor.
Amy Licence places Catherine’s life firmly within the Europe of the time, displaying a brilliant understanding of the Reformation, and its progress from central Europe to Henry’s court. Moreover, despite the eventual failure of the marriage, Amy Licence paints a glittering picture of the court of Henry and Catherine at its height, when this young, formidable couple were the superstars of Europe.
The most revealing part of the book is in the character of Catherine herself. The author has researched every aspect of Catherine’s life and personality, providing a portrait of a formidable woman navigating her way through a male-dominated world while trying to hold true to her deeply ingrained Catholic principles. And with this comes the realisation that it must have taken an inordinate amount of personal courage to face down Henry and his demands, and the overriding fear for her own personal safety.
Of course, the latter part of the book focuses on the divorce. I am no great fan of Catherine of Aragon and have often wondered at her stubbornness and why she was so unmovable in the face of Henry’s desperate need for an heir. Amy Licence explains Catherine’s viewpoint with absolute clarity; the reasons she stuck to her guns at the risk of her own safety and that of her daughter. The author’s theories and arguments are well though-out and incisive, giving an unprecedented insight into the mind of this amazing queen and evoking empathy in the least sympathetic of readers, I’m sure.
I have no doubt that Catherine of Aragon, an Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife will be seen as the definitive biography of Catherine of Aragon. It is an impressive, essential complement to any Tudor library.
Amy Licence has been a teacher for over a decade. She has an MA in Medieval and Tudor Studies and has published several scholarly articles on the Tudors. She is an author and historian of women’s lives in the medieval and Tudor period.
Catherine of Aragon, an Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife is available on Amazon in the UK from 15th October and in the US from 14th March 2017.
Of the many executions ordered by Henry VIII, surely the most horrifying was that of sixty-seven-year-old Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, hacked to pieces on the scaffold by a blundering headsman.
From the start, Margaret’s life had been marred by tragedy and violence: her father, George, Duke of Clarence, had been executed at the order of his own brother, Edward IV, and her naive young brother, Edward, Earl of Warwick, had spent most of his life in the Tower before being executed on the orders of Henry VII.
Yet Margaret, friend to Katherine of Aragon and the beloved governess of her daughter Mary, had seemed destined for a happier fate until religious upheaval and rebellion caused Margaret and her family to fall from grace. From Margaret’s birth as the daughter of a royal duke to her beatification centuries after her death, Margaret Pole: The Countess in the Tower tells the story of one of the fortress’s most unlikely prisoners.
Margaret Pole: the Countess in the Tower tells the story of an amazing woman who navigated two eras of history. Born into the Medieval world, during the reign of her uncle, Edward IV, she survived the change of dynasty and prospered during the reign of Henry VII; marrying and starting a dynasty of her own. During the reign of Henry VIII, she was accorded the title of Countess of Salisbury in her own right, and given the charge of her cousin’s most prized possession; his only daughter and heir, Mary Tudor.
Susan Higginbotham tells Margaret’s story in great detail. Starting with a childhood marred by her father’s attainder and execution by his own brother – Edward IV – the reader is drawn into Margaret’s life and family. From the highs of being governess to the princess, through the lows of her years of imprisonment in the Tower, and eventual execution at an age – 67 – when she should have been allowed to spend her days in quiet retirement, surrounded by her grandchildren; Susan Higginbotham tells a fascinating story of family tragedy, national politics and religious upheaval.
What Margaret thought of the death of her uncle Richard III we cannot know, but as she rode south on the orders of the new King Henry, she must have done so with some trepidation. Orphaned, with her closest relative a boy younger than herself, she had no powerful male relations to speak up for her, nor could her female ones be of much help. Her paternal grandmother, Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, was the mother of a defeated king; her maternal grandmother, Anne Beauchamp, Countess of Warwick, had been stripped of her lands during Edward IV’s reign….Thus, young Margaret’s future rested largely in the hands of a man neither she nor most other people in England had even met.
Engaging and sympathetically told, Susan Higginbotham’s narrative is a joy to read. It draws you in to Margaret’s life, relating her fears and hopes – and a deep and enduring love for her family.
Susan Higginbotham has undertaken an incredible amount of research for this book, an endeavour which shines through on every page. The author has reconstructed Margaret Pole’s life and death, using every primary source available. Highlighting contradictions and explaining omissions, she takes the countess’s story from her earliest days to her final, dreadful moments… and beyond. Included at the end of the book is an appendix of over 30 pages of written evidence taken in the Exeter Conspiracy; a conspiracy involving at least 2 of her sons, which would see her imprisoned in the Tower for years before she was sent to the executioner’s block. It made for some absorbing reading late into the night.
All the key players in Margaret’s story are discussed, their actions and influence on Margaret’s life analysed and assessed. From Henry VIII to Princess Mary and Margaret’s own children. Susan Higginbotham’s analysis is unrivalled, her words painting vivid portraits of all the main characters who had a part to play Margaret’s life and explaining her relationships in detail.
Moreover, Margaret’s story is firmly placed in the wider context of English and European politics of the time; and in the great upheaval of the Reformation. Where there is contention, the author presents all possible arguments, before giving her own opinion and explaining her reasoning. She makes clear where information is lacking and highlights where she is providing her own theory and opinions.
In my recent interview with her, I asked Susan Higginbotham if she saw Margaret as a victim or a heroine, and she replied:
I would say a heroine, because she had strong beliefs which she maintained in the face of pressure, and she conducted herself with courage and dignity throughout adversity. I don’t think she would like to be remembered as a victim.
This biography of Margaret reinforces Susan Higginbotham’s statement. Margaret is portrayed as a strong, independent woman, who had raised a large family single-handed, following the death of her husband. Margaret had a strong faith and demonstrated great loyalty to the Tudor dynasty. Her courage and strength of purpose shines through on every page – as does her intelligence. Margaret Pole was no meek and feeble woman, she stood up for her beliefs, herself and her family, while always maintaining her loyalty to the crown.
Susan Higginbotham treats Margaret Pole with great compassion and dignity, telling her story – and that of her family – in such an engaging manner that the book is impossible to put down. Knowing how events will eventually play out makes it no less compelling.
It is a fascinating story and – ultimately – a sad one; however, it’s also a story of faith, courage and perseverance. Margaret Pole: the Countess in the Tower is a wonderful read – shining a light on the life of a woman whose story deserves to be told.
Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia
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Today I would like to welcome author and historian Sean Cunningham as part of his amazing blog tour. Celebrating the release of his new biography, Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was, Sean has written a wonderful article on the wedding of Arthur and Catherine of Aragon – just for us!
The Wedding of the Century: Prince Arthur, Catherine of Aragon and the Politics of a Teenage Marriage in 1501
The private and public lives of England’s late medieval royal families were no-doubt as fascinating to their subjects as the Windsors are to many citizens today. In a world without social and other media or mass literacy, however, popular discussion of the visibility of the fifteenth century royals is almost completely hidden from modern view. We do know from the propaganda produced by competing sides in the Wars of the Roses that public opinion mattered to the ruling elites. Since rivals for the crown were basically cousins who shared royal blood in more-or-less equal degrees, appeals to popular support were important in the search for political advantage.
Records of royal progresses, visits, formal entries and days of estate stand out in civic records of towns and cities because it was rare for the ruled to see their rulers in close proximity within public spaces. For that reason, we might expect evidence of more ambitious manipulation of London’s concentrated population in spectacular set-piece events like royal marriages. It is not found in the fifteenth century. Lancastrian and Yorkist leaders seem to have shied away from public view when they took their wedding vows.
Joan of Navarre was a thirty-three-year old widow when she married Henry IV at Winchester in 1403; a comforting arrangement, not necessarily to increase numbers of royal children. Henry V’s marriage to Catherine de Valois at Troyes in 1420 was a quiet soldier’s wedding, which very few English people witnessed, despite its massive political implications (or maybe because of them). Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou had a low-key ceremony at Titchfield Abbey in April 1445. Edward IV became Elizabeth Woodville’s second husband in a secret service in 1464. Richard III had married the widowed Anne Neville within Westminster Palace while he was duke of Gloucester in 1472. Henry VII’s own wedding did not occur until January 1486, despite the certainty that many of his supporters had followed him only because of his promise to marry Edward IV’s daughter, Elizabeth. It was not a state occasion, and received far less interest from heralds and chroniclers than King Henry’s first royal progress the following spring.
Political circumstances, cost, and the uncertainty of factional politics and civil war account for some of these understated royal weddings. Henry VII had no such reservations about the match of his son and heir, however. The series of events surrounding the marriage of Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon in November 1501 were carefully planned and stage-managed for maximum public impact on an international scale. The marriage reveals a great deal of what the king, his mother and their family thought about themselves and what they wanted their subjects to remember as key messages relating to Tudor power, right, ancestry, and fitness to rule.
In terms of its ambition and complexity, the marriage of Arthur and Catherine was planned as one of the greatest spectacles ever seen in England. Catherine would have a ceremonial journey from her place of landfall to London; pageants of welcome to the city and on the river would explore symbolism and allegory as well as being fantastically entertaining displays by human actors and mechanical devices; the interior of St Paul’s had been reconfigured to present the wedding service as a ceremonial royal performance; the public would enjoy a never-ending wine fountain near the west door of the church; tournaments in the rebuilt tiltyard at Westminster Palace would show off the martial skill of Henry VII’s courtiers; the wedding feast would be served on gold and silver worth as much as the crown’s annual income from taxation; lodgings within the royal palaces and other public spaces had been repaired and refreshed for over two years in preparation for a few days of occupancy; gifts, jewels and paintings were purchased from around Europe to be given away as a demonstration of the king’s magnificence. As the public face of England’s alliance with the Spanish kingdoms of Aragon and Castile the marriage was Henry VII’s single-minded statement of intent about the future of Tudor power.
Henry VII could aspire to build Arthur’s future in this way because 1500-01 was the high-point of his reign. Perkin Warbeck, the pretender to the crown, who had disturbed Henry VII’s sleep for most of the 1490s, was dead. His scaffold confession in November 1499 that he was an impostor (whether forced or genuine), was meant to remove all belief that the sons of Edward IV had survived the reign of their uncle, Richard III. The earl of Warwick – son of Edward IV’s other brother, George, duke of Clarence – was beheaded in the same month as Warbeck. He was the last male Plantagenet of lineal descent from Henry II. These executions made Henry VII’s queen, Elizabeth, the sole direct heir of the House of York. Emphasising that fact strengthened Prince Arthur’s position as inheritor of her ancestry and family loyalties. By 1500, it looked like the Tudor king had finally thrown of the shackles of the Wars of the Roses. Only when England was free from these lingering threats, did the Spanish monarchs agree to start preparations to dispatch Princess Catherine in the summer of 1501.
The nature of Henry VII’s reign meant that things were not stable for long. Indications soon emerged that the king’s dynastic struggles might recur. Henry’s failure to expand the ranks of his allies meant that he soon felt the effects of deaths within his circle of old friends. Two long-standing supporters, John Morton, archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor, and John, Lord Dynham, Treasurer of England, had helped to shape Henry’s power since 1485. They died in September 1500 and January 1501 respectively. This problem would accelerate after 1502 and was magnified by other factors.
More alarmingly, Edmund de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, one of the queen’s nephews, fled overseas in spring 1501. With the help of Sir James Tyrell, he was contemplating launching a claim for the crown. Tyrell was a rehabilitated loyalist of Richard III. His defection and the seeds of another attempt to start a pro-Yorkist conspiracy can only have filled the Tudor royal family with dread. Suffolk’s departure might have been prompted by the certainty that Arthur and Catherine’s marriage would strengthen Henry VII’s power even further. Evidently he felt it was worth taking a risk to secure foreign help before that happened. Although he was persuaded to return, Suffolk soon fled again to the protection of Maximilian Habsburg, Archduke of Austria and ruler of the Low Countries. He became another pretender intent on deposing the Tudor family. King Henry moved quickly, therefore, to finalise the preparations for the wedding of his son with Princess Catherine while the political situation remained in his favour.
Ferdinand and Isabella were able to exert pressure on Henry to demonstrate that England was a stable place for their daughter’s future because their nation was a rapidly-rising world power. With little prospect of recovering former lands in France, the Tudor regime in England had recognised almost as soon as it came to power that the Spanish should be wooed as a new centre of gravity in European diplomacy. In 1501, it was less than ten years since the Columbus had discovered a new world for the Spanish monarchs. Later voyagers were only just beginning to realise the potential of the Americas, but at that time the Spanish had no rivals (following the Treaty of Tordesillas with Portugal in 1494). The reconquest of Granada at the very start of 1492 also allowed a unified Spain to begin a new focus within Europe. By the end of 1494, King Ferdinand had entered the alliance against France which soon drew many European states into the Italian wars. In the years since 1489, when Henry VII had opened negotiations for a marriage alliance, it was clear that Spanish influence was under transformation. A European superpower was emerging and the English king put himself in exactly the right place at the right time to take full advantage.
Catherine left Corunna on 17 August 1501. Storms and delays meant that she landed in Plymouth and not Southampton, as planned, on 2 October – a month later than expected. She therefore had to endure a far longer land journey towards London; but that did give more people the chance to see her on the road. Henry VII was annoyed by the disruption this caused to his arrangements, but could do little until Catherine got nearer to his base at Richmond Palace. Records suggest that genuine excitement travelled ahead of the princess and down the road to London as she, her massive and exotic entourage, and the English nobles and gentry accompanying her crossed southern England.
At the centre of all of this complex activity were two teenagers. When looking at the lavish and elaborate events that were part of the marriage, it is really important to remember that Arthur and his bride had only just met. Sixteen-year-old-Catherine had been in the country for six weeks by the time of her wedding on 14 November. She had barely paused for more than a few days after a direct journey of almost two hundred miles from Plymouth to London.
This was an arranged marriage, too. Although both young people had been bred and trained for a demanding public life, nerves and perhaps shyness must still have been part of their first meetings. Language was certainly an issue – even conversational Latin was tried. Having seen England’s future queen, Henry oversaw a renewal of the couple’s marriage vows in person at Dogmersfield in Hampshire on 6 November. The king and Arthur then headed for London. Catherine stayed in Lambeth until 12 November when she was met by Prince Henry, the duke of Buckingham and many other lords in St George’s field, south of London Bridge, for the start in earnest of her wedding festivities.
The king and his council had worked with the mayor and aldermen of London for almost two years to devise and to build pageants of welcome. The first was at the south side of London Bridge. It depicted the story of St Catherine and St Ursula. Actresses playing those saints flattered Catherine’s virtue and honour as part of an astrological allegory on the constellations of Ursa Minor and Arcturus. At the other end of the bridge, a second setting contained a castle covered in Tudor badges and imagery – the Castle of Policy. Catherine was presented as the evening star whose noble presence spontaneously opened the castle gates. A third construction on Cornhill was a mechanical zodiac that placed Arthur and Catherine in heavenly proximity to God. Arthur was depicted as an ideal knight in splendour on the heraldic fourth pageant on Cheapside; while the fifth, outside the Standard Inn, was even more celestial. God’s throne and a representation of heaven presented a dazzlingly-armoured Arthur as divine Justice. At the sixth pageant, by the entrance to St Paul’s churchyard, the Seven Virtues guarded empty thrones awaiting Arthur and Catherine next to an actor representing Honour. The clear message was that honour could only be reached by virtuous living.
Much of the level of detail would have had little impact upon the mass of onlookers. It was meant to be visually stunning but not necessarily understood in all of its allegorical complexity. The constant use of badges and beasts like the red rose, portcullis, red dragon, and greyhound made for a quick visual association between the spectacle and the king’s authority. Ramming home the message that Arthur and Catherine were deserving inheritors of this extravagant power was vitally important. This need continued on the wedding day itself.
Arthur and Catherine were meant to be seen together. This marriage was a union of two people and an alliance of two nations. The setting of the church and orchestration of the ceremony reflected that. A raised platform built from thousands of deal planks formed a walkway that stretched along the interior of St Paul’s. Henry and Queen Elizabeth watched from a small closet so that they did not detract from the focus on the married couple. The bride and groom wore white satin. Catherine was escorted towards the altar by Arthur’s brother, Henry. Her Spanish style of verdugeo dress and highly fashionable hood were noticed by the herald’s keen eye. Before the service, a formal exchange of agreements and documents took place. They guaranteed Catherine’s status and income and firmly endorsed Ferdinand and Isabella’s alliance with Tudor England. The most notable moment in the ceremony came when Arthur and Catherine, now married, turned at the door of the choir to look back down the body of the church. It is easy to imagine their dazzling outfits and the faces of hundreds of people, who then spontaneously began to shout in celebration.
Outside another strange pageant was constructed like a mobile mountain, complete with rocks, trees, herbs, fruit and metal ore. A river of wine confirmed this as the allegorical source of all the things that the king’s subjects needed. It was the riche-mont, a pun on Henry’s former title of earl of Richmond. The presence of the Christian Nine Worthies placed Henry VII and Arthur in the same category of ruler as Charlemagne, King Arthur and Godfrey de Bouillon.
The magnificent wedding banquet then followed in the bishop of London’s palace. Spanish and English lords and ladies intermingled as the king’s chefs excelled themselves in inventiveness. It was also remarkable that the feast was served on magnificent silver and gilt plate while another set of dishes and jewelled chalices remained on display within the room. Henry’s proclamation of his wealth was hard to miss. The feasting and drinking lasted for most of the afternoon. In the early evening, chambers were prepared for the wedding night. What happened next (and its implications), is another part of the story and one that requires longer discussion elsewhere.
Here we must leave Arthur and Catherine at the end of their exhausting wedding day. In the full glare of attention and with a weight of expectation around their shoulders, it would be no surprise if a good sleep was all that the couple managed that night. They had time on their side and in the middle of November 1501, the future for Tudor England looked to be strong and dynamic. Henry had spent a fortune in coin and energy in ensuring that the political dimension of his son’s wedding was achieved spectacularly and flawlessly. No-one could have expected that within fifteen months the regime would once again be creaking on the point of collapse as both Prince Arthur and Queen Elizabeth were dead in their tombs. The wheel of fortune had turned once again for Henry VII. How he recovered would depend on a radically different strategy to rescue control over the succession of the crown, then reliant on the survival of his only surviving son, Prince Henry.
Dr Sean Cunningham, has worked at the UK National Archives for over twenty years, where he is currently Head of Medieval Records. He is the author of several works on late medieval and early Tudor history, including Henry VII in the Routledge Historical Biographies series and the newly-released Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was, for Amberley. Sean is about to start researching for a major funded project on the private spending accounts of the royal chamber under Henry VII and Henry VIII. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and co-convenor of the Late Medieval Seminar at London’s Institute of Historical Research.
Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was is available from Amberley, Amazon and other online outlets and bookshops.
Pictures of Catherine of Aragon and Old St Paul’s are courtesy of Wikipedia, all other pictures courtesy of Sean Cunningham.
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Maria de Salinas was a lady-in-waiting and close friend to Katherine of Aragon; indeed, she probably 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 the Spanish ambassador complained of Maria’s influence over the queen, especially after she tried to persuade Katherine not to cooperate with the ambassador and encouraged the Queen to favour her English subjects.
In June 1516 Maria married the largest landowner in Lincolnshire, William Willoughby, 11th Baron Willoughby de Eresby. The wedding was a lavish affair – attended and paid for by the King and Queen. It took place at Greenwich Palace and the couple were given Grimsthorpe Castle, in Lincolnshire, as a wedding present. The Queen even provided Maria with a generous dowry of 1100 marks.
Maria remained at court for some years after her wedding, and attended Queen 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 and named after the queen, would be the only surviving child of the marriage. With her father holding over 30 manors in Lincolnshire alone, and an annual income of over £900 a year, Katherine was one of the great heiresses of her generation.
Little Katherine was only 6 or 7 when her father, Lord Willoughby, died in 1526. 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 the 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, who had been made Earl of Lincoln in 1525, and so had a vested interest in a favourable settlement for Maria. Suffolk’s acquisition of the de la Pole estates had given him a prominent position in East Anglia; with properties these added to young Katherine’s lands in Lincolnshire, he would create an impressive power base.
Whether or not the young earl of Lincoln was a sickly child (as he died in 1534) is uncertain; however the marriage was not to be. Suffolk had been married to king Henry VIII’s little sister, Mary Tudor, Dowager Queen of France, but she died in September 1533. The 50-year-old Duke of Suffolk caused a great scandal when, only 3 months later, he married 14-year-old Katherine himself. She was Suffolk’s 4th wife.
The marriage made Suffolk the greatest landowner in Lincolnshire and, despite the age difference, it does appear to have been successful. Katherine and Charles were to have 2 sons. The 1st, Henry, was born in 1535 and the youngest, Charles, was born in 1537.
Although Suffolk pursued the legal case with more vigour after the wedding, a final settlement was not reached until the reign of Elizabeth I. The combined properties of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and Katherine made Suffolk the greatest magnate in Lincolnshire. He added to their properties by purchasing monastic land and built a fine house at Grimsthorpe Castle. His prominence in the county meant Suffolk was instrumental in suppressing the Lincolnshire rebellion in 1536 (part of the Pilgrimage of Grace), a consequence of the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
Along with her mother, Katherine was an official mourner at the funeral of Katherine of Aragon in 1536. Sadly, it was only 3 years later, in 1539, that Queen Katherine’s former lady-in-waiting, Maria de Salinas, Lady Willoughby, passed away.
Katherine served at court, in the household of Henry VIII’s sixth and last queen, Katherine Parr. A stalwart of the Protestant learning, Katherine used her position to introduce Protestant clergy to Lincolnshire, even inviting Hugh Latimer to preach and Grimsthorpe Castle. It was she and Sir William Cecil who persuaded Katherine Parr to publish her book, The Lamentacion of a Sinner in 1547.
In the early 1540s Suffolk played a big part in Henry’s wars with France and Scotland; in 1544 he successfully prosecuted the siege of Boulogne and was rewarded in February 1545 with the lands of Tattershall College, which he was allowed to purchase for less than half price.
Amid preparations for another expedition to France, Suffolk died at Guildford in August 1545; the cause of death is not known. He would have been in his early 60s. Suffolk’s son and heir, Henry, was just 10 years old. Katherine was granted his wardship in May 1546, for the sum of £1500 and he was sent to the household of Prince Edward to continue his studies. It must have been a cause of great pride for Katherine when Henry and Charles were both knighted at Edward VI’s coronation, with Henry having the honour of carrying the orb during the ceremony.
In 1549 Henry and Charles were enrolled at St John’s College, Cambridge, in order to finish their education.
It was in the summer of 1551 that an outbreak of sweating sickness struck Cambridge. Henry and Charles moved to Buckden in Huntingdonshire, in a futile attempt to escape the disease. For it was at Buckden, on July 14th 1551, and with their desperate mother moving between the 2 sickbeds, that the boys both passed away within minutes of each other. Charles became the 3rd Duke of Suffolk when he survived his brother by about half an hour. The boys, who had shown great promise at Cambridge, were buried together at Buckden.
Following the deaths 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 in order to safeguard these, Katherine married her gentleman usher, Richard Bertie, in 1552. This marriage appears to have been made for love and with mutual religious beliefs; unfortunately for the couple, Katherine was unsuccessful in her attempts to gain the title of Lord Willoughby for her 2nd husband.
The couple had a difficult time navigating the religious tensions of the age and, during the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary I, in early 1555, even went into exile on the Continent, travelling through Wesel, Strasbourg and Frankfurt. And at the time of Mary’s death, in 1558, they were staying at the court of the king of Poland. They returned to England the following year. During the reign of Elizabeth I, Katherine resumed her position in Tudor society; however, her relations with the court were strained by her tendency towards Puritanism.
Katherine 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. The couple’s 1st child, a daughter, Susan, was born in 1554 and was still a baby when she went into exile on the continent, with her parents. A son, Peregrine, was born in Wesel in Cleves in 1555, whilst the family was still exiled from England.
Susan went on to marry Reginald Gray of Wrest in 1570. Reginald would be restored to the family title of Earl of Kent in 1572, but died in March 1573. They couple had no children and the Dowager Countess of Kent would marry again in 1581, to Sir John Wingfield, a nephew of the redoubtable Bess of Hardwick. they had 2 sons.
Peregrine Bertie spent his teenage years in the household of Sir William Cecil, a good friend of his mother and Queen Elizabeth’s principal secretary. It was there that he met and fell in love with Mary de Vere, orphaned daughter of John de Vere, 16th Earl of Oxford. Despite opposition from Katherine and the bride’s brother Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, the couple married sometime in late 1577, or early 1578. The marriage appears to have been happy and loving, and produced 5 sons and a daughter.
Peregrine succeeded as the 13th Baron Willoughby of Willoughby, Beck and Eresby on the death of his mother and would serve Queen Elizabeth, both as a soldier and administrator, until his own death in 1601.
Katherine had been a strong supporter of the Protestant faith; numerous books carried her coat of arms, or were dedicated to her, including works by Erasmus and William Tyndale. The family’s adventures on the continent were retold in John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments, and even in popular Elizabethan ballads.
Katherine Willoughby, Dowager Duchess of Suffolk and 12th Baroness Willoughby de Eresby, died after a long illness, on 19th September 1580, at Grimsthorpe Castle. She was interred with a fine, alabaster tomb in Spilsby Church, in her native Lincolnshire. Her husband, Richard, died 2 years later and was buried beside her.
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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia
Sources: Susan Wabuda, Oxforddnb.com; Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger, In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII; Retha M. Warnicke, Oxforddnb.com; England Under the Tudors by Arthur D Innes; In Bed with the Tudors by Amy Licence; Ladies-in-Waiting: Women who Served at the Tudor Court by Victoria Sylvia Evans; The Earlier Tudors 1485-1558 by JD Mackie; The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII: The Women’s Stories by Amy Licence; Elizabeth’s Women by Tracy Borman.
Elizabeth Blount was born around 1500 in Kinlet in Shropshire, to John Blount of Kinlet and his wife Katherine, daughter of Sir Hugh Pershall of Knightley. There is some confusion as to whether she was her parent’s first child, but it is likely that she was their eldest daughter. Elizabeth (Bessie) was born at Kinlet Hall, but probably grew up at Bewdley, Worcestershire, where the family had moved to shortly after her birth.
Her family lived close to Ludlow and several relatives were employed in the household of Henry VII’s eldest son, Arthur, Prince of Wales. It may well be through her family’s connection to the Prince of Wales’ household that Elizabeth achieved her position at court. It is also likely that her distant cousin, Lord Mountjoy affected the introduction.
However it was achieved, it is possible that Elizabeth was at court by the time she was 12 years old, as a Maid of Honour to the queen, Katherine of Aragon. She was definitely at court by Christmas 1514, when Elizabeth partnered the King, Henry VIII, in the entertainments as Queen Katherine was recovering from childbirth and the loss of the child.
Elizabeth was described as golden-haired, blue-eyed, lively and merry. She was an accomplished dancer and able to play and compose music. She is believed to have composed the following lines during her relationship with Henry:
While life and breath is in my brest, My sovereign lord I shall love best.¹
Most historians agree that Bessie’s relationship with the king was most likely of a short duration, probably lasting just a few months in the summer of 1518. In those days, Henry was still hopeful of he and Katherine having a son and heir and so its possible he only strayed from the queen’s bed when she was pregnant, and therefore unavailable.
In October 1518, Elizabeth Blount took part in the festivities to celebrate the betrothal of 2-year-old Princess Mary to the French Dauphin; Elizabeth danced in the ‘mummery’ with the king’s sister, Mary. Possibly already pregnant with Henry’s child, it was to be her last appearance at court.
As soon as Elizabeth’s condition was known, it seems, she was sent away from court and settled at the Augustinian Priory of St Laurence, in Blackmore, near Chelmsford, Essex. Bessie was far enough away to be protected from prying eyes, but close to the king’s manor of Newhall that he would have been able to pay private visits to his mistress. Henry had given his right-hand man, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, charge of the arrangements. Wolsey took care of everything, even standing as godfather when the baby arrived, and ensuring he was baptised Henry, after his father.
Elizabeth’s little boy, Henry Fitzroy, was born in the summer of 1519. He would be raised in his own establishment, being educated as a prince – albeit an illegitimate one. Elizabeth had little involvement in his day-to-day care, although she seems to have been consulted by his tutors, and 2 of her brothers, George and Henry Blount, were given positions in the child’s household. Elizabeth did send her son gifts from time-to-time; in 1531 she sent him a white satin doublet and 2 horses. Her younger sons would also be given young Henry’s cast-off clothes, once he’d grown out of them.
Elizabeth didn’t return to court after the birth; within a few months she was married to one of Wolsey’s wards. Cardinal Wolsey had taken over the wardship Gilbert Tailboys of Kyme when his father’s mental health went into decline. Sir George Tailboys had been declared a lunatic in 1517 and his lands were being administered for him. The Cardinal arranged the marriage with Gilbert, who was only 2 or 3 years older than Elizabeth; they were married sometime in late 1519 or early 1520.
The marriage was a great prize for Elizabeth. The Tailboys were a wealthy family, related to the earls of Northumberland through Gilbert’s mother, Elizabeth Gascoigne, and with lands spread as far away as Northumberland and Somerset – and various places between. The couple settled on the Tailboys family estates in Lincolnshire. King Henry ensured that property from the Tailboys estates, worth £200 per annum, was settled on Elizabeth for her lifetime. The king’s favour continued throughout Elizabeth’s lifetime, by way of gifts and land grants.
By the end of 1520 Gilbert and Elizabeth had their first child, a daughter, Elizabeth. There is some speculation that young Elizabeth could also be the king’s child; however, the fact that Henry never claimed her as his own, when he so readily did with young Henry, seems to suggest that Gilbert was the father. Two more children, George and Robert, were born before 1525.
In 1525 Elizabeth’s son, Henry Fitzroy, now a blond, robust 6-year-old, was created Duke of Richmond and Somerset by his father, the king. It’s not known whether Elizabeth attended the accompanying celebrations, however, but her husband, Gilbert, was knighted at about the same time.
The king was now despairing of having a legitimate son by his queen, and so was looking at strengthening young Fitzroy’s position as his son, if not his heir. Fitzroy was proof that the king could provide male children, even if the queen could not. There was talk of making the young duke King of Ireland and Henry had even sent ambassadors into Europe in hope of finding a foreign princess as a bride for the child.
On 15th April 1530 Gilbert Tailboys died; according to sources, he was buried at South Kyme. Elizabeth was left a widow with 3 small children, although her lifetime interest in the Tailboys estates meant she was financially secure. Her young son, George, inherited his father’s title, becoming Baron Tailboys of Kyme. Young George would go on to marry Margaret Skipwith in 1539, but he died the following year, aged about 18. He was succeeded by his younger brother, Robert, as the 3rd Baron, but he died in 1541, still only in his mid-teens.
The boys’ older sister, Elizabeth, would then become the 4th Baroness Tailboys. She married, firstly, Thomas Wymbish of Nocton. Not only was the marriage childless but it appears to have been an unhappy union and Thomas left his wife little in his will. In 1553 Elizabeth made a more exalted 2nd marriage with Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick and son of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. However, this union was also childless and the Barony of Tailboys of Kyme became extinct on Elizabeth’s death in 1563.
Following Gilbert’s death Elizabeth Blount was courted by Lord Leonard Grey, son of the Marquess of Dorset and cousin to the king. Grey visited Elizabeth in Lincolnshire and, following the visited, wrote to the king’s minister, Thomas Cromwell, asking for him to approach Elizabeth on Grey’s behalf. In 1532 Lord Grey told Cromwell that he would “rather obtain that matter than to be made lord of as much goods and lands as any noble man within this realm”². Despite Cromwell’s backing, however, and the acquiescence of the king, Elizabeth turned him down.
Elizabeth married again on 12th February 1535. Her 2nd husband was Edward Fiennes de Clinton, 9th Baron Clinton and Saye; he was about 12 years younger than Elizabeth and although his family had lands in Kent, he settled on Elizabeth’s Lincolnshire estates.
Only a year after the marriage Elizabeth’s eldest son, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond, died. Richmond had been married in 1533, to Mary Howard, a younger daughter of the Duke of Norfolk, though the marriage was never consummated due to the young couple’s tender ages. Young Henry passed away on 23rd July 1536 after a 2-week illness, aged only 17. The cause of death was a pulmonary infection, possibly tuberculosis. He was buried, with little ceremony, in Thetford Priory; the king did not want to draw attention to the loss of his only son, legitimate or not.
Elizabeth was to have 3 more children with Edward Fiennes de Clinton; all girls. The eldest, Bridget, was born around 1536 and would marry Sir Robert Dymoke of Scrivelsby, Lincolnshire, a nephew of Gilbert Tailboys through his mother, Anne Tailboys. A 2nd daughter, Katherine, was born around 1538 and married William, 2nd Lord de Burgh of Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, former brother-in-law of Henry VIII’s last queen, Katherine Parr. Their last daughter, Margaret, was born around 1539 and would go on to marry Charles Willoughby, 2nd Baron Willoughby of Parham.
Elizabeth continued to receive the king’s favour even into her 2nd marriage; although her husband did not share in the privilege. Land grants were made jointly to Elizabeth and her son George, but excluded Edward. Elizabeth returned to court, briefly in 1540, as lady-in-waiting to Henry’s 4th queen, Anne of Cleves, but seems to have withdrawn to her estates due to illness.
The date of Elizabeth’s death, and the cause of her final illness, remains unknown. Given that her eldest son, George, died in 1540, she may have had to suffer one last bereavement before her own death, sometime in 1540 or early 1541; leaving her teenage children and 3 very young daughters, the youngest possibly still in the cradle. By June 1541 Edward Clinton had remarried. He would go on to marry a 3rd time and gain rewards and titles under Elizabeth I, becoming Earl of Lincoln in 1572.
Elizabeth Blount, widow of Gilbert Tailboys, wife of Edward Clinton de Fiennes, former mistress of Henry VIII and mother of the king’s son, Henry Fitzroy, was laid to rest in St Mary and All Saints Church, South Kyme.
Footnotes: ¹Amy Licence, In Bed with the Tudors: ²Beverley A Murphy, Bastard Prince: Henry VIII’s Lost Son.
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Sources: In Bed with the Tudors by Amy Licence; Bastard Prince: Henry VIII’s Lost Son by Beverley A Murphy; oxforddnb.com; The Life and Times of Henry VIII by Robert Lacey; England Under the Tudors by Arthur D Innes; The Earlier Tudors 185-1558 by JD Mackie.
This book provides a fresh perspective on the lives of Henry VIII’s six wives by embarking on a journey through the manors, castles and palaces in which their lives were played out.
Each location is described in a fascinating narrative that unearths the queens’ lives in documents and artefacts, as well as providing practical visitor information based on the authors’ first-hand knowledge of each site. Accompanied by an extensive range of images including timelines, maps, photographs and sketches, this book brings us closer than ever to the women behind the legends, providing a personal and illuminating journey in the footsteps of the six wives of Henry VIII.
In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of HenryVIII, by Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger, is an absolute treasure trove of pictures and information of the many historic locations associated with Henry VIII’s 6 wives. The book is divided into 7 easy-to-follow sections; the 1st covers the principal Royal residences of the period and the 6 subsequent portions are each dedicated to one of the 6 wives, in chronological order.
The book examines each of Henry’s queens in turn, looking at the locations associated with them, not only when they were queen, but also from their childhood and early life. In each section, we are treated to the queen’s story, her triumphs and failures, told through the palaces in which she experienced them.
In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of HenryVIII takes you on a visit of each location, whether it’s a palace or manor house, the authors give vivid tours, telling you what to look out for, what is still extant – and what is lost to history. In one location, they guide you to a housing estate and point out the walls which once made up the exterior of a Henry VIII’s now-lost palace. You are also provided with a practical guide to the locations covered, giving you visitor information, parking suggestions, details on refreshments and facilities.
With Katherine of Aragon, we visit the magnificent palaces of Spain, while Anne Boleyn takes us from Burgundy to the Loire Valley. Jane Seymour allows us to investigate the renowned Wolf Hall and Anne of Cleves gives us a fascinating glimpse into Germany’s wonderful castles. Jane Seymour The tragic story of Katherine Howard allows us to join Henry’s great progress of 1541, through Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, before the tragic last months of imprisonment at Syon House. Which finally brings us to Katherine Parr, investigating the locations associated with her first 2 marriages, her life with Henry and then her final years with Thomas Seymour.To walk the grounds and corridors of Hampton Court Palace is to walk in the footsteps of all the Tudor kings and queens. Within the Tudor palace’s russet-coloured walls, the present fades into the brickwork and the past emerges to greet us. Although mush of the Tudor palace has, over the years, been modified or demolished and replaced with William III’s and Mary II’s baroque palace, the buildings that survive propel us back through the years to a time when Hampton Court was one of Henry VIII’s most beloved palaces, at the centre of court life and politics.
If nothing else, it is worth reading In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of HenryVIII for the research the Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger have conducted into the Anne of Cleves panels. These wonderful wood carvings are discussed and investigated in detail; their fascinating story told for the first time in its entirety. It is not hard to imagine the feelings of curiosity and, sometimes, disappointment the authors must have felt as they tried to uncover the provenance of these panels, and their associations with Henry VIII’s 4th wife. Their eventual success and discoveries are a testament to the author’s persistence and tenacity.
This book is amply supported by quotes from primary sources, describing the locations as they were at the time the queens lived. The authors have a wonderful habit of discussing the difficulties involved in locating and identifying some of the less famous sites, making you feel part of their investigations.
An abundance of photographs and illustrations are included in the book. These include colourful photos of the sites as they are now, black and white floor plans from the Tudor period and artwork painted through the ages.
Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger have created a wonderful book, which is a combination of history book and travel guide. They have worked so well together it is impossible to see the join; they speak with one voice in this stunning collaboration. The book is produced in a way to make it easy to dip in and out of, making it possible to read only about the locations you are currently touring, or to read from beginning to end in a couple of sittings. But be careful, in just looking up one specific location you may find that you lose an entire hour without noticing.
The only criticism I would have is that there are no footnotes to clarify the source of quotations, which makes it harder to use as a research tool, but not impossible. This fault is partly offset, moreover, by an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources, and in no way detracts from the enjoyment of the book as a whole.
Remarkably, the authors give equal empathy to each of Henry’s wives. It is impossible to discern a bias for Katherine of Aragon or Anne Boleyn (a remarkable achievement). Each property is subject to the same attention to detail, whether it was a frequently occupied palace, or a manor house visited for just a few days while on progress.
In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of HenryVIII is beautifully written and thoroughly engaging. You can practically hear, see and smell the Tudors. The book is a detailed, enjoyable and enlightening read, no matter whether you are intending to travel to the palaces, or visiting them through the book, you are in for a real treat. The authors have an incredible ability to invoke the past and recreate the sumptuous, lavish lives of England’s most fascinating queen consorts. It will be a valued addition to anyone’s Tudor library.
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Amy was also kind enough to answer a few questions for me; about her love of writing and history.
What made you become a writer?
I’ve always been a writer, since I could write, since I could formulate a narrative. I wrote my first story when I was three and I decided that was what I wanted to do when I was eight years old – that was after I rejected the possibility of being a ballerina, an actor, an architect and an interior designer. I sent off my first novel at sixteen – it was rejected, of course! Since then I’ve always written, it was just something I had to do, I don’t feel right it I’m not writing: if I’m breathing, I’m writing. Words – their meaning and rhythm – are how I make sense of the world. I kept doing it all through university, and while I was a teacher, having articles, poems and stories published, but it wasn’t until 2011 that I finally signed a contract!
With young children around, how do you discipline yourself to write?
Luckily for me, it’s not a question of having to discipline myself. Writing is my escape and my relaxation; I feel most myself when I’m writing, so it’s essential for me to do it. Finding the time can be difficult though, so I write by stealth, whenever and wherever I can. It’s not too hard because I love it; I always have a book in my hand to research from or a notebook to jot ideas in. My hands will be changing a nappy while my head is in the fifteenth century. I have to be very organised to divide my time between my children and my work so I choose how I spend my time and try not to waste it. I don’t watch a lot of TV, for example. I have to be able to switch in and out of it quickly, as I’ll be writing and then a plaintive voice will ask for a drink, or for a story to be read, so I’m off for ten minutes then back to finish my thought.
How do you organise your writing day?
Usually it fits around the school day, so it’s balanced between getting my eldest son ready and out on time and playing with my younger one. I manage to do my best work in the morning once I get back, between about 9 and 11, often with my younger boy sitting beside me, drawing or playing. We’ll have lunch together and play in the afternoon. The boys will happily play together for about an hour when we get in from the school run so I sometimes manage another hour then. I’ll try and do some more in the evening too, or at least sit with my family if they’re watching TV with a pile of books and do some research. We try and spend as much time together as we can on the weekend but if I have a deadline looming, my husband will take the boys out for a morning.
How many projects do you have going at once, or do you concentrate on one at a time?
It depends upon my deadlines. I usually have four or five ideas for different things running in my head and work on them at different speeds. Typically, I might have one main book to be written, which I’m preparing for a deadline, and a second in the planning and research stage, plus a couple of novels I’m tinkering with and a number of articles and/or reviews. Each has a different speed. I have two reading piles too; one with books for my writing, which I’m dipping in and out of, and another for escapism reading. I like to have four or five books on the go that are totally different to what I’m writing about – the Post-Impressionists, Ted Hughes, D.H Lawrence and Tolstoy at the moment.
How long do you spend researching your subject before you start writing?
This is an odd one because it has been a slow-burning process. I’m not coming to any of my topics new, so although I’m writing about them now, I’ve been reading about them for 25 years. By the time I was 15 I’d read all the books in my local library about the Tudors and I completed my MA in Medieval and Tudor history in 1995. Since then I’ve been reading everything new about them I can get my hands on. So the general research has been on-going. With each book though, I do more specific “honing” research, which is the trawling through primary sources and that can take between 6 and 9 months.
What do you enjoy most about writing as a career?
I actually enjoy the process of writing! It’s lovely when a book comes out and the reviews start to come in; it’s great to see my name on Amazon and it’s a real buzz to give author talks to people who are interested in my work. Best of all though, is just me sitting down at the computer and writing. It takes me to another place.
What is the worst thing about writing as a career?
That it’s not a viable career. I work long hours, very hard, building on years of perseverance and dedication, overcoming rejections and I get paid less than if I was working in a supermarket stacking shelves.
How long does it take to do a project from start to finish?
Again this can vary, given that the ideas have been brewing for a long time, but the period from signing a contract to submitting the book is usually about a year, sometimes more.
Have you ever considered writing a novel? What would it be about?
Novel writing was my first love. I worked for ten years with a top literary agent and submitted about five novels to them; they loved them and said my writing was beautiful but that the market wasn’t quite right for them. I like to write literary fiction; my heroes are Woolf, Dostoevsky, Gorky and Nabokov but the current market isn’t particularly welcoming for new authors in this style. I have written historical fiction too; while I was at university I wrote a novel about the death of Amy Dudley and more recently, one about a teeth stealer on the battlefield of Waterloo, plus I’m half way through one about Edward IV. It’s just finding the time to finish it!
Who are your favourite personalities from history?
Quite honestly, I get interested in most characters I research. I don’t go for particular sides or affiliations, but I am drawn to people who challenged or defied the rules in some way, either breaking the law or transgressing social boundaries. I’m interested in people’s motivation under duress and the people who really carved out their own niches and made their own luck so I am fascinated by the lives of Edward IV and Richard III.
Which is your favourite and why, the Wars of the Roses or the Tudor era?
I like both very much, I like the century straddling the two, from about 1450 to 1550. I think we tend to perpetuate something of an artificial divide between them and I’ve just submitted a book proposal that covers exactly this period, both Wars of the Roses and Tudors and looks at the continuity. If I had to choose between one or the other, I’d probably go for the court of Edward IV, simply because the Tudors have already received so much attention.
Why Edward IV and Elizabeth? What is it about them that fascinates you?
I think there are so many interesting things about this pair, individually and collectively. The more I research Edward, the more of an interesting figure I find him, in terms of his personal rule, charisma and abilities: he was a supremely able man who conquered the country twice and held it together by force of his personality. I really think he has been overlooked by history. His marriage to Elizabeth and their relationship intrigues me too. I also feel that she has had a very raw deal from historians, almost written up as a caricature, typifying the notions of patriarchal history and “cherchez la femme”, and she deserves to be analysed far more objectively. Despite the initial objections to her background, birth, age and marital history, Elizabeth can be seen as conforming to contemporary notions of ideal queenship; beautiful, fertile, submissive. She is a paradox who has divided historians for centuries, but much of that is the repetition of a patriarchal mind-set that has remained unchallenged until recently.
What era that you haven’t yet written about would you like to get your teeth into?
Good question. Definitely the English Civil War and its aftermath; I’d love to do something on the failed experiment of the radical sects in the C17th, or on Charles and Cromwell, or the period slightly before. I’d also quite like to write about Eleanor of Aquitaine and I’m very keen to do another early C20th book, about some of the makers of Modernism. I have plans in the pipeline for that last one.
A lot of your work has been about women in history. What attracted you to their stories?
I wrote my first published book, In Bed with the Tudors, because I’d just had my first child. I was interested to explore the experiences of women during pregnancy and birth in the past, so I suppose it does have a lot to do with the fact that I am a woman. However, I’m also drawn to write about marginal figures whose stories have been overlooked and I’m fascinated by alternative narratives. In my forthcoming “Red Roses” (The History Press, March 2016) I trace an alternative thread to the male metanarrative that has dominated historiography, connecting the women of the Lancastrian dynasty between the 1340s and 1509 and seeking common themes in their lives. The study of women’s history is comparatively new and it’s shocking how often their lives are simply retold in the same ways, without attempts being made to get inside their heads and see things from their perspectives.
Do you every get writer’s block? If so, how do you get round it?
I don’t believe in writer’s block. If you’re a serious writer, you have to be professional about it and just get on with it. There is always something to be done, even if it turns out not to be perfect. If you’re finding one section difficult, write another part, or go back and revise. If writing is tricky that day, research, read, make notes, collect images or jot down some ideas. You can always go back and change them, or reject them entirely, but it’s a process of crafting and clarification, so the next time you attempt that bit, it will be that little bit better. If you produce nothing, you have nothing to work with, you’re still at step one. My mantras are: “the worst thing you write is always better than the best thing you don’t write” and “the only way to do it, is to do it!”
Do you find social media – such as Facebook – a help or a distraction?
Both. It has been invaluable for connecting me with wonderful, like-minded people from all round the world. I thank them profusely for their friendship and kindness, for sharing their thoughts and research; I’ve made some great friends on Facebook who have inspired and influenced me and kept me sane. It is also my shop-front and without question, has helped me reach a far wider audience and update people about my work and appearances. However, it can be a huge time waster. Sometimes, especially with deadlines looming, I have to step back from it, or else I would get nothing done.
What is your next project?
I’ve signed three contracts and am about to sign one more, to keep me busy for the next couple of years. I will keep some of those projects secret for a while, but can tell you I’ve begun writing a huge biography of Catherine of Aragon. Catherine tends to get often in terms of her gynecological record and marriage to Henry but I want to analyse her as a queen in the context of her childhood and parentage. I want to explore the influence of her mother Isabella – who expelled the Jews from Spain and founded the secular branch of the Inquisition, as well as patronising female humanist scholars – and how this shaped the mind-set of a woman who never forgot she was Isabella’s daughter and resisted Henry’s demands because she felt the higher calling of God. I want to see Catherine as a Renaissance woman in her own right. Henry is definitely taking a back seat for this one.
Last year I took my 9-year-old son and 40-something husband to visit their first battlefield. We were holidaying in Derbyshire and decided to drive down to Leicestershire and visit Bosworth. With all the hype around the discovery and re-burial of Richard III, it seemed a great way to show a 9-year-old the story of a battle.
He, of course, knows a little of the Richard III story. He can identify the king’s portrait and knows he was involved in the Wars of the Roses, but we don’t linger on the Princes in the Tower too much. I don’t think he is as familiar with Henry VII, but he can tell you all of Henry VIII’s queens, in order, and tell you their fate. So taking my son to the battlefield was a way of giving him a place and time where he could visualise the events and the people.
However, what I found surprising was the effect it had on my husband. Hubby is a bit of a computer geek and into all the mod cons. He never had an interest in history before he met me, and even now I can see his eyes glossing over if I talk too much about the past – 15 minutes a day is usually all he can take!
I have visited battlefields before; Waterloo, Stamford Bridge, Hastings and a few others. The calm serenity always amazes me. I expect to hear the echoes of battle, the cries of the wounded, clashes of arms and the shouted orders of the battle’s commanders – and the thunder of the horses hooves during the cavalry charge. At Bosworth, if you close your eyes tight, and listen intently, you can almost hear it…..
The Battlefield trail is a wonderful leisurely walk. It’s not the actual battlefield; they found that a short distance away a few years ago, but it is Ambion Hill. And standing at the memorial you have a panoramic view of the area; you can imagine the 2 sides facing each other, troops in the thick of it and those waiting to engage. My son listened in awe as I described the death of Norfolk and the final, desperate charge of Richard III; and Percy’s men standing, watching and waiting – possibly very close to where we were stood at that moment.
As you walk round the hill and through the woods, there are markers, pointing the way; and viewpoints and information posts telling the story of the battle and explaining the technology and tactics used. One marker explains the use of the longbow, how it dealt death from afar. The marker explained where the archers were positioned during the fighting; you almost expected to look to your right and see them raising their bows to the air.
My son was fascinated by the idea that children as young as he was had already started their knightly training, that there were only about 1,000 knights in the whole of England. And I was amazed to discover that many who could be knights chose not to, in order to avoid the duty and responsibility that came with knighthood; these men were simply called esquires or gentlemen.
It amazed my husband to discover that cannon and handguns were in use in the battle. 1485 seems to be too long ago for men to have used gunpowder. The handguns were large and cumbersome weapons, too large for one hand to use; guns were still very much in their infancy. However, it was a scattering of cannon balls and other small metal objects (such heraldic badges, spur rowels and coins), found by metal detectors, which finally meant the location of the battlefield could be confidently identified.
Although the general battlefield has now been identified, we still don’t know where individual parts of the action took place. We can’t say for certain where the action between Norfolk and Oxford took place, nor where Norfolk fell. We can’t tell where Stanley and his men were standing, watching for that turn in the battle that made him decide to join Henry Tudor’s forces.
But the specifics don’t matter as much as I expected they would. The battlefield provides its own story. And the fact you can’t say exactly where each part of the action happened serves to highlight the confusion of a battle. When you’re on the ground, in the thick of it, fighting for your life and your king, you wouldn’t be looking round to see where on the field you were. You would be looking to your own survival, fighting the man in front of you while watching your back.
So the locations of events are vague, but that they are remembered and commemorated is what matters. Whether the marker is where Richard fell matters less than that there is a marker to the fallen king.
And once you have walked the Battlefield Trail, there is the Heritage Centre to visit. The Centre offers wonderful background to the battle, told through the voices of those involved: a serving girl at a local inn, a mercenary’s wife, an archer. The 2 armoured kings stand watch over you as you view artefacts found on the field of battle and study maps and videos explaining the battle and the troop movements.
The Heritage Centre is very hands-on; children can try on the armour and test out the helmets. You can test your ability to draw a longbow; it’s not as easy as you think. By far the most dramatic display is the little corner dedicated to the Barber-Surgeons. The tools of his trade are displayed and a skeleton depicting the wounds of one soldier from the battlefield. Given the recent discovery of Richard III, and the detailed descriptions of his wounds, this seemed a particularly poignant display.
Walking the battlefield is a humbling experience. So little is known about the men who fought and died in these fields on 22nd August 1485. And, yet, the date marks so much change in English history: the end of one the Plantagenet dynasty and the start of Tudor rule; the end of the Middle Ages and the beginnings of the Renaissance. Just around the corner were the marital problems of Henry VIII and the English Reformation and the subsequent, glorious reign of Elizabeth I. But the men who fought that day would know nothing of the significance of the battle beyond that moment.
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Mother Shipton’s Cave is England’s oldest tourist attraction. People have been visiting since 1630. The area is a beautifully landscaped park, lending atmosphere to an already magical place.
As a child I didn’t know the story of Mother Shipton, just that she was a local witch who lived in a cave. The witch part doesn’t exactly tell the whole story.
As the legend goes Mother Shipton’s real name was Ursula Sontheil. She was the daughter of Agatha, a local girl who found herself pregnant, but unmarried, at the age of 15. When she refused to tell the identity of the father, and with no parents to support her, she was shunned, banished from the village. Poor Agatha found shelter in a cave on the outskirts of Knaresborough by the bank of the River Nidd, below Knaresborough Castle. And there, one stormy night in 1488, with thunder banging, lightening crashing and gales blowing, she gave birth to Ursula.
Shortly after her birth, the Abbot of Beverley took an interest in Ursula; he placed her with a local family. Her mother was sent to a convent in Nottinghamshire, where she died a few years later.
Poor Ursula had a large, crooked nose, her back was bent and her legs twisted. She had to walk with a stick. And although not a handsome child, Ursula was bright and surprised her teachers with her intelligence. However, she only attended school for a short time; she was teased and taunted by the other children. There were claims that Ursula got her revenge; hair being pulled or children being tripped and falling to the ground… when no one was near.
She eventually found her way back to the cave in which she was born, preferring the solitude of the woods. At the age of 24 she met and married a young carpenter from York, Tobias Shipton. Some say she had bewitched him, as she was too hideous for him to be attracted to her. Their life together was short, as he died 2 years later, before they had any children. The name ‘Mother’ Shipton came years later, when Ursula became the oldest woman in the village.
Ursula made a living telling the future and fortunes of those who asked. She soon became known as Knaresborough’s Prophetess.
Ursula’s prophecies became famous. The King sent messengers from London to hear her prophecies but she became a target of Cardinal Wolsey. Wolsey became the subject of one of Ursula’s predictions. She told him that, though he would see York, he would never set foot in it; while Wolsey retorted that when he made it to York he would build a huge pyre on which to burn her as a witch.
As it transpired, Wolsey made it to Cawood, on the outskirts of York; where he was arrested for treason by Henry Percy, 6th Earl of Northumberland. As he made his journey back to a trial in London, Wolsey fell ill and died at Leicester on 29th November 1530.
Mother Shipton is also said to have foretold the Black Death of 1665 and the Great Fire of London that followed it in 1666. Among her other predictions were aeroplanes, cars, the English Reformation, London’s Crystal Palace, the American Civil War and the French Revolution; and, possibly, the internet;
“Around the world thoughts shall fly in the twinkling of an eye”.
And, of course, she predicted the end of the world:
” The world shall end when the High Bridge is thrice fallen”.
The High Bridge at Knaresborough has fallen twice so far….
Mother Shipton died in 1561 at the grand old age of 73. Having being refused burial by the Church her grave is lost to history.
But, of course, we still have Mother Shipton’s Cave and the Wishing well beside it.
For your wish to come true, you have to put your hand in the well’s water and silently make your wish; let your hand dry naturally, and keep your wish a secret until it comes true.
I remember going there as a child, visiting the wishing well and making my wish. I have never quite forgiven Mother Shipton for the fact I asked for a doll’s pram for Christmas – and got a doll’s pushchair instead.
Just before Mother Shipton’s Cave is also the Petrifying Well. The Well is fed by a spring that comes from a natural lake a mile underground. The water travels through a band of porous rock,called an aquifer, in order to reach the surface, and a huge amount of minerals are dissolved. The magical water turns all things to stone; it takes 3 months to transform a teddy bear.
Mother Shipton’s Cave is a wonderful place to visit. With play areas and a trail quiz for the children, wonderful carvings among the trees and even the chance to meet Knaresborough Castle’s Ravens and the Raven Keeper.
Mother Shipton herself will tell you her story and Cardinal Wolsey is not far away, trying to cause mischief and full of threats against the Prophetess. And, of course, there’s always the chance that your wish may come true…..