Book Corner: Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

Fools and Mortals follows the young Richard Shakespeare, an actor struggling to make his way in a company dominated by his estranged older brother, William. As the growth of theatre blooms, their rivalry – and that of the playhouses, playwrights and actors vying for acclaim and glory – propels a high-stakes story of conflict and betrayal.

Showcasing his renowned storyteller’s skill, Bernard Cornwell has created an Elizabethan world incredibly rich in its portrayal: you walk the London streets, stand in the palaces and are on stage in the playhouses, as he weaves a remarkable story in which performances, rivalries and ambition combine to form a tangled web of intrigue.

I have been a fan of Bernard Cornwell since reading my first Sharpe book as a teenager. I have read everything, eagerly awaiting each new book and devouring it within days of its release. So when I was offered the chance of an advance copy of Fools and Mortals – well – I jumped at it.

Fools and Mortals is a major departure for Bernard Cornwell. There are no world-changing battles as in the Sharpe and Last Kingdom books, no ancient legends such as in the King Arthur and Thomas of Hookton series; in fact, this book is all about pretend, following the antics of William Shakespeare’s younger brother as he tries to make his way as a player in Elizabethan England. And it is fascinating.

‘Show me the nightgown!’ the twin whose sword was still scabbarded demanded, and the Percy tossed down the rochet. ‘Oh pretty,’ the twin said. ‘Is this what papists wear to vomit their filth?’

‘Give it back,’ Alan Rust demanded, slightly raising his borrowed sword.

‘Are you threatening me?’ the twin with the drawn blade asked.

‘Yes,’ Rust said.

‘Maybe we should arrest him,’ the twin said, and lunged his blade at Alan.

And that was a mistake.

It was a mistake because one of the first skills any actor learns is how to use a sword. The audience love combats. They see enough fights, God knows, but those fights are almost always between enraged oafs who hack and slash until, usually within seconds, one of them has a broken pate or a pierced belly and is flat on his back. What the groundlings admire is a man who can fight skillfully, and some of our loudest applause happens when Richard Burbage and Henry Condell are clashing blades. The audience gasp at their grace, at the speed of their blades, and even though they know the fight is not real, they know the skill is very real. My brother had insisted I take fencing lessons, which I did, because if I had any hope of assuming a man’s part in a play I needed to be able to fight. Alan Rust had learned long before, he had been an attraction with Lord Pembroke’s men, and though what he had learned was how to pretend a fight, he could only do that because he really could fight, and the twins were about to receive a lesson.

I know that not every Bernard Cornwell fan will be impressed by this new story; if they  are only reading Cornwell for the blood-curdling action, they will be disappointed in this book. But if they read Cornwell because he is THE greatest storyteller, because he can transport you through time and space to a world that is recreated from history and his imagination, they will love this book.

William Shakespeare

I admit I was a little dubious at first, but once you start reading, it is – as usual with a Bernard Cornwell book – impossible to put down. It may be because this is not a war story, is not a crime thriller, and is a totally new departure for the author, that this story works so well. It proves just what an excellent wordsmith he is.

As has come to be expected with one of our greatest authors, the research is impeccable and interwoven in the story are many of the political concerns of the time, the opposition to theatres, the hunt for Catholics and their sympathisers, and even the constant need to impress the aging queen, Elizabeth I. However, Fools and Mortals is not a simple melodrama. There are many threads to the story, the development of professional theatre, love, intrigue, betrayal and sibling rivalry being just a few.

Everything about this book proves why Bernard Cornwell is one of the greatest storytellers of our generation. The writing is of his usual high standard, and keeps you engaged to the very end. The hero, if a complete contrast to Sharpe and Uhtred, is an engaging and entertaining protagonist, with whom the reader can readily invest their hopes and expectations of a great story. Richard Shakespeare is a young man, trying to find his role in life, whilst trying to survive medieval London and negotiate that age-old problem – a superstar older brother!

Any fan of Bernard Cornwell knows that he loves the theatre and the bestselling writer has put all his knowledge and passion into creating this amazing novel. It more than lives up to the high standards we have come to expect in all his work.

Fools and Mortals is released on 19th October in the UK.

*

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

Sharons book cover

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

*

©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Henry by Tony Riches

Bosworth 1485: After victory against King Richard III, Henry Tudor becomes King of England. Rebels and pretenders plot to seize his throne. The barons resent his plans to curb their power and he wonders who he can trust. He hopes to unite Lancaster and York through marriage to the beautiful Elizabeth of York.

With help from his mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, he learns to keep a fragile peace. He chooses a Spanish Princess, Catherine of Aragon, as a wife for his son Prince Arthur. His daughters will marry the King of Scotland and the son of the Emperor of Rome. It seems his prayers are answered, then disaster strikes and Henry must ensure the future of the Tudors.

“A fine end to a superbly researched and well-written trilogy, one I would recommend to anyone with an interest in this period of history.” Best-selling author Terry Tyler.

Henry is the final installment of Tony Riches‘ excellent Tudor Trilogy which has followed the rise of the Tudors from Owen’s relationship with Catherine of Valois, through his son, Jasper, and now to his grandson, Henry, the first Tudor king.

Opening as Henry  is victorious at Bosworth, it follows Henry VII from the moment he becomes king, through the many trials and tribulations of kingship and establishing a new dynasty. This is an enjoyable story of one of England’s least loved and most misunderstood English kings. Tony Riches does an excellent job of giving us an entertaining novel while offering the reader an insight into the life and problems of a man who was not born to be king and who knew little of his subjects after spending his entire adult life in exile in Brittany.

I love the fact that Henry is not the finished product from the very beginning. The author has thought hard about how a man, who suddenly becomes king, may act when feeling his way through the maze of court politics, factions and family divisions, and the actual day-to-day challenges of ruling a country that has suffered 30 years of intermittent warfare and political instability.

Henry paints a portrait of Henry as a man who grew into his role as king, learning from his mistakes and facing up to his insecurities; insecurities arising not from his right to the throne, but from the challenges facing him and not knowing what happened to the Princes in the Tower. Henry Tudor is portrayed as a all-too-human; a man whose decisions about others way on his soul, but are made to ensure the security of himself and his family. He walks a  fine line in an attempt to appease his opponents whilst establishing his authority – and his dynasty.

‘On what grounds do we imprison young Edward Plantagenet?’

Jasper sat in the spare chair and the stubble on his chin as he considered the question. He’d chosen to shave his beard on the journey from Wales. He looked younger clean-shaven, but a beard suited his uncle, and Henry guessed he was already growing it back.

‘King Richard considered the young earl enough of a threat to declare him illegitimate.’

Henry allowed himself a smile. ‘King Richard declared everyone illegitimate, other than himself. Young Edward is a cousin of Princess Elizabeth.’

Jasper returned his smile. ‘Half of England is related to the Woodvilles one way or another.’ His face became serious. ‘We need time, Henry. Time to win over the doubters. We could say it is for young Edward’s own safety?’

Henry picked up his quill and dipped it in Mayor Olney’s inkpot before signing the warrant. ‘We must ensure the boy is well treated – I wish no harm to him.’

Henry is the story of one man’s life and kingship. Moments of crisis and sincerity are interspersed with little moments of tenderness and humour. Tony Riches has taken time to seriously consider the character of his subject, and this comes across in every page of the book. He seems to have spent no less time on the supporting characters. Jasper Tudor and Margaret Beaufort, who have played prominent parts in all 3  book of the Tudor Trilogy are pivotal characters and are well thought out, complex figures. Henry respects them deeply and is well aware of the sacrifices they have made that got him to the throne. Each character in the book is credible, believable, and has his, or her, own unique qualities. The headstrong future king, Henry VIII is wonderfully contrasted with quiet and studious Prince Arthur, while the delightful Mary Tudor steals every scene in which she appears.

thumbnail_Late 16th-century copy of a portrait of Henry VII - Wikimedia Commons
Henry VII

The novel tells the story of Henry and Elizabeth with sensitivity and compassion; charting their life together from the first moments of getting to know each other, through the births and deaths of their children, and the toll that takes on them, not only as individuals, but also as a couple. Indeed, the author seriously considers the effect that being king must have had on Henry’s family life, the compromises he had to make. You get the impression that the poor chap never had enough time in the day to do everything he wanted and that every personal loss takes away a little part of him.

‘I like it here.’ He reached across and took her white-gloved hand in his. ‘We shall make Sheen into a palace fit for a royal family.’

Elizabeth squeezed his hand in agreement. ‘I would like that.’ She gave him a conspiratorial look. This is my most secret place. A sanctuary.’

Henry stared into her bright amber eyes. ‘You spent many months in sanctuary … yet you’ve never spoken of it?’

‘At first I didn’t understand the danger we were in.’ She stared, wide-eyed, into the far distance as she remembered. ‘My mother made a game of it, said it would be a great adventure. Years later she told me my father abandoned us and she thought our enemies might murder us all.’

There are many novels set during the Wars of the Roses. The huge majority revolve around Richard III and the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower. If a novel sees Richard III as a hero, then you can practically guarantee that Henry Tudor is the villain. With Henry, you would therefore be forgiven for expecting the opposite; Henry the hero and Richard the villain.  Richard, of course, gets mentioned, but the story does not revolve around the fallen king and his guilt or innocence, rather it puts him firmly where he was when Henry was king – in the past!

As a novel, Tony Riches has created a fast-paced, enjoyable tale that is virtually impossible to put down – at least until your eyelids are so heavy they need matchsticks to hold them up. It also gives you a deeper understanding of the founder of the Tudor dynasty. I defy anyone – except, maybe, the most ardent of Yorkists – to read this book and not develop a deeper understanding of Henry VII, of the challenges he faced and compromises he made in order to secure peace for the realm and the continuation of his dynasty. Henry is a must-read book for anyone who has a love  of medieval history, the Wars of the Roses and the Tudors.

Although part of a series, Henry can definitely be read as a standalone. Entertaining and insightful, it tells a story that has rarely been told – the one from Henry’s own viewpoint. This is the story of the foundation of, arguably, England’s most famous royal house – and is not to be missed!

*

Ten Things You Might Not Know About Henry Tudor, by Tony Riches

During the four years of research for my trilogy about the early Tudors, I discovered many little known facts about one of our most overlooked kings, Henry Tudor. Here are a few of my favourites:

  1. Instead of Tudor, Henry could have been called ‘Tidder’ or ‘Tetyr’ or even Tewdwr It seems the name Tudor was a simplification used by scribes in the time of Henry’s grandfather, Owen Tudor.
  2. After his victory at the Battle of Bosworth Henry led a procession through the narrow streets of York, where he was attacked by a man with a dagger. His bodyguards saved him but his reign was nearly over before it began – and he later travelled with some fifty ‘Yeomen of the Guard’ for protection.
  3. Henry didn’t invent the ‘Tudor rose’ – the combined red and white roses had long been known as symbols of the Virgin, representing sacrifice and purity – he simply adopted it as his ‘branding’.
  4. Henry loved gambling with cards and dice and lost huge sums more often than he won. He also kept detailed records of who he’d played against (which included his wife, Elizabeth of York)– and how much he’d lost.
  5. As well as lions and other dangerous animals, which he kept at the Tower of London, Henry kept a pet monkey, thought to be a marmoset, in his private chambers. One day he discovered it had torn up his detailed diary, so there is a gap in his meticulous records.
  6. When the pretender Perkin Warbeck was finally captured, Henry was so enamoured of Warbeck’s wife, Lady Katheryn Gordon, that he kept them both in his household – but wouldn’t let them sleep together. He also bought Lady Katheryn expensive dresses and she became a close companion and confidante, even after Henry had her husband executed.
  7. Henry nearly lost his crown to a mob of Cornish rebels, who marched on London in an armed protest against his tax raising. More men joined them on the way and the rebels reached Blackheath before they could be stopped.
  8. Henry kept various ‘fools’ to entertain his court, including one named ‘Diego the Spaniard’ (possibly as a joke at the expense of Catherine of Aragon’s father, King Ferdinand, who failed to provide the dowry he’d promised.)
  9. At Christmas 1497 Henry and his family were woken in the night by a fire in his private chambers at Sheen Palace. They barely escaped with their lives but the old palace was ruined and Henry had it rebuilt as the Palace of Richmond.
  10. Towards the end of his life Henry suffered from a throat disease referred to as ‘the quinsy’ which his physicians treated (unsuccessfully) with a remedy of celandine, fenugreek and hedgehog fat.

Tony Riches is the author of the best-selling Tudor Trilogy as well as other historical fiction set in the medieval era. He lives by the sea in Pembrokeshire, West Wales with his wife and enjoys sailing and kayaking in his spare time. For more information about Tony’s other books please visit his popular blog, The Writing Desk and website www.tonyriches.com and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches.  The Tudor Trilogy is available on Amazon UK  Amazon US and Amazon AU

*

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

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

*

©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Queen of Martyrs, the Story of Mary I by Samantha Wilcoxson

‘God save the Queen! God save our good Queen Mary!’

When these words rang out over England, Mary Tudor thought her troubles were over. She could put her painful past – the loss of her mother and mistreatment at the hands of her father – behind her.

With her accession to the throne, Mary set out to restore Catholicism in England and find the love of a husband that she had long desired. But the tragedies in Mary’s life were far from over. How did a gentle, pious woman become known as ‘Bloody Mary’?

Queen of Martyrs, The Story of Mary I is the final book in Samantha Wilcoxson’s Plantagenet Embers series. It tells the story, in the third person, from the point of view of Mary I. Mary was the eldest daughter of King Henry I and England’s first ever queen regnant. Although part of a series, the book also works perfectly well as a standalone.

Samantha Wilcoxson has a unique writing style which makes her stand out from other Tudor storytellers. She gets into the mind of her main character and writes Mary’s story as if she’s seeing it through the queen’s own eyes. If Mary did not see something happen, then the reader does not know about it until the queen is informed. This distinctive writing style makes the book a personal journey, both for the subject and the reader.

Mary I

Queen of Martyrs, The Story of Mary I tells the story of Mary I, from the time  of Henry VIII’s marriage to Katherine Parr, to her own death.Telling the story through Mary’s own eyes, we follow her personal and  public relationships, through her brother’s reign and the usurpation of Lady Jane Grey until she is sitting on the throne herself.

The novel demonstrates the human side of Mary I, her fears, insecurities and compassion, and her innate need to be loved; by her sister, her husband and her people. It shows her as a child of the Reformation, just as much as Elizabeth I, but on the opposing side. She is a queen struggling to do the right thing by her conscience and her people.

This compassionate portrayal helps to explain how the descent into the burning of protestants was not a plan, but a consequence of cumulative events and Mary’s own fear of displeasing God. Mary cuts a sad and lonely figure, desperate for love and constantly disappointed; by her father, her sister and, ultimately her husband.

With no children of her own, Mary doted upon Edward and Elizabeth in a way their father never would. She made her way now through the small, crowded room to her father’s other bastardized princess.

Elizabeth performed a perfect curtsy for her sister before letting her guard drop and offering a smile.

“I pray you are well, sister.” Elizabeth said with a sincerity of one unaware of the former bad feelings one has had toward them.

“My thanks to you and to God for seeing that I am indeed restored to health and am able to see a good friend and my dear father united in marriage.” As she said it, Mary was surprised to find that she meant it.

“I wish them great happiness,” Elizabeth agreed without emotion.

“You will find Katryn to be a loving mother, and she may be a calming presence for our father,” Mary encouraged her.

“Undoubtedly, you shall be proven correct.”

Sometimes Elizabeth’s habit of saying only what was expected could annoy, but Mary knew that she was simply doing her best to play her part to perfection. It was an effect of the quick succession of stepmothers and the gruesome connection between marriage and death that the young girl had witnessed.

What I love about this book is that it is Mary’s story. Elizabeth is a peripheral figure, making few appearances and always in her sister’s shadow. Philip of Spain is an unsympathetic character, desperate to get away from a marriage that he doesn’t want. The only character who is symbiotic with Mary is her cousin, Cardinal Reginald Pole, she sees him as an equal, in faith and outlook and he’s the only one she seems comfortable with.

Brilliantly researched, this is a sympathetic portrayal of a queen, known in many history books as Bloody Mary, who is often vilified and criticised for the burning of Protestants. Samantha Wilcoxson doesn’t just go with the flow, but manages to examine the queen’s life, loves and personal tragedies. In doing so, she shows us why the name of Bloody Mary is too simplistic for this complex woman who went through so much adversity before she ascended the throne.

Queen of Martyrs, The Story of Mary I is a wonderful, compassionate story of a frequently misunderstood woman. Samantha Wilcoxson’s writing style makes this an intimate portrayal of the Tudor queen, giving the reader a deep, personal relationship with the book and its subject, the queen’s story staying with them long after the last page has been turned.

*

Picture of Mary courtesy of Wikipedia.

*

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

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

©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

The Wedding of the Century by Sean Cunningham

bookToday 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.

Arthur
Prince Arthur in mid-Victorian glass, St Laurence Church, Ludlow

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.

dragon
A dragon, or Wyvern, from an initial illustration on a plea roll in the Court of Common Pleas

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.

arms
Henry VII’s imperial arms form a plea roll of King’s Bench court

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_aragon
Prince Arthur’s bride, Catherine of Aragon

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.

585px-St_Paul's_old._From_Francis_Bond,_Early_Christian_Architecture._Last_book_1913.
Old St Paul’s Cathedral, London

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.

rose
A marguerite rose form a plea roll of King’s Bench court

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.

dragon
Dragon and greyhound from an Exchequer account, 1508

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.

*

SeanDr 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.

*

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

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

*

©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.