I’m happy to be the final stop on the blog tour for Natalie Grueninger and Sarah Morris’ newest book: In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII, following their previous fantastic title, In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn. In this post, Sarah will share her top five locations that left an imprint on her. I don’t think that Sarah knew I’m a life-long Star Wars fan but I got a little thrill when I saw the title for her guest article. 🙂
By Sarah Morris
Over the last three to four years, I have been privileged to travel to around 130 locations associated with each of Henry VIII’s queen consorts. A little like people one meets through life, some pass you by, leaving no more than pleasant memories to accompany you on your journey, and others leave a much more enduring impression. Like Mary I once famously said of her fated relationship to Calais, they remain ‘engraved’ in your heart. But why?
One of the peculiar and indeed unpredictable things that both Natalie and I have noticed during our travels is how some locations have a ‘vibe’ that draws you in – and this is not always associated with the most complete, or obvious, locations. Certainly on more than one occasion, when Nat and I were visiting ruins or simply just earthworks in a field, we would look at each other with that knowing look – ‘the force’ as we came to know it was palpable, seeping out of the bricks and mortar, even the very earth itself.
On day one of this blog tour, Nat touched on this phenomenon; it seems that for some reason certain locations are able to connect with us at a deeply emotional level. Some would argue that this is a figment of an overactive imagination, but others might say that these places hold the energetic imprint of people and events long after they have passed. Could it be that in some subtle way we are able to tap into that? I’d like to think so.
So in this penultimate entry, I thought I would share with you five, short, thumbnail sketches of less well fêted locations that still hold the power to move me in the way I have described, even though our encounter was often all too fleeting. So, here is the countdown in reverse order:
5. Pontefract Castle, Yorkshire
A Model of Pontefract Castle
In its day, Pontefract Castle was a behemoth, renowned as being a key strategic fortress, and one which was virtually impregnable to boot. Images of the castle, captured before its destruction following England’s Civil War, convey its might and austerity. The castle’s sinister history of royal incarceration and aristocratic execution arguably makes Pontefract second only to the Tower of London in terms of its infamy. Today only ruins remain perched high upon a rocky outcrop of land. Pontefract Castle is way off the usual tourist trail. So when I visited, it was all but deserted, leaving me alone with only ghosts for company. The commanding views once enjoyed by the castle are now obscured by trees surrounding its perimeter, but the imprint of the royal apartments remains outlined in the ground.
Inside the ruined bailey of Pontefract Castle
Pontefract was one of the locations specifically cited for Catherine Howard’s indiscretions with Thomas Culpepper during the summer progress of 1541; the queen sending one of her ladies to watch the back door (probably of the Queen’s Tower), so that Culpepper could gain entrance to the queen’s privy chambers unnoticed. Before my visit, I had read eye witness accounts from the interrogations of the queen’s ladies, and through these it is not hard to see Catherine was tense, snapping at her ladies-in-waiting, threatening them with her displeasure. Clearly the queen sensed she was treading very dangerous ground indeed. And yet, as daylight fades, the rugged brutality of the place is replaced by the passion and warmth of a young woman’s desire for her lover. Bathed in flickering candle light, it was at Pontefract that the lovers entwined, Catherine writing to Thomas whilst at Pontefract that she would be his for ‘as long as life endures’.
4. Schloss Burg an der Wupper, Solingen, Germany
Burg Castle as it appeared in the sixteenth century
Burg Castle was once the childhood home of Anne of Cleves. If you wish to understand the secrets of Anne’s heart, there is no better way than to make the pilgrimage sixty miles or so east of Anne’s birthplace of Dusseldorf, into the wooded valleys of the Rhine. The castle has been recreated to reflect its appearance at the zenith of the renaissance, when it served as one of the principal lodgings for the ducal family. Murals painted following the rebuilding of the castle tell the story of the Dukes of Cleve and the key events of the castle’s history, including the betrothal of Anne’s parents when they were just young children of five and six.
The Knight’s Hall (Rittersaal) of Burg Castle
The grand hall in which great public ceremonies took place (including the feast to celebrate the imminent nuptials of Anne’s elder sister, Sibylle), makes it easy to see through the veil of time and recreate Anne’s past. Yet, it was in one single room, the Kemanate that all my research on Anne’s early years became fused with her presence. I am not sure quite what acted as the catalyst. Perhaps it was the stories told by my American guide about life at the ducal court as we wandered around the castle, or perhaps it was simply standing in the room in which Anne would have spent much of her time during daylight hours. However, there is no doubt that for me, it was there that I finally felt I understood the young woman who I would later follow all the way to her grave.
3. Kimbolton Castle, Kimbolton, Cambridgeshire
The Interior of Kimbolton School and the room in which
Katherine of Aragon reputedly died in January 1536
Katherine of Aragon’s struggle with Henry and the English nation was truly a saga of epic proportions – and it changed a nation’s history. It is utterly impossible not to be deeply moved when one stands in the very room in which she died, as well as in the nearby chapel, where it seems likely that her body lay in state for three weeks before her burial at Peterborough Cathedral. Although now a school, with the interiors having been entirely remodelled in the late eighteenth century, the echoes of Katherine’s defiant last stand remain audible – if you have an ear to hear. Nowhere have I felt closer to Henry’s proud, Spanish wife.
2. Wolf Hall, Wiltshire
Watercolour of the current Wolfhall farmhouse, thought to incorporate
elements of the Seymour’s original mansion (copyright Gillian Bathe)
Standing atop a plateau of land in the heart of rural Wiltshire, surrounded by green fields, cow sheds and a rather run down looking farmhouse, it should be nigh on impossible to tap into any sense that you are amidst the remains of a building that has passed into immortality. Yet strangely quite the opposite was true for me.
Popularised in recent literature, Wolf Hall was once the provincial country home of the Seymour family. Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII stayed as guests of Sir John and Lady Seymour for a week during the summer progress of 1535. Although we are deeply sceptical of the long-term legend that it is here that Henry’s eyes first fell on Jane, the Seymour’s eldest daughter, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that something of significance did indeed transpire here, and that as Anne Boleyn strolled through one of its many gardens, her time as Henry’s ‘most beloved wife’ was fast running out. The place continues to haunt me to this day, some three years after my first visit.
1. Charterhouse Square, London
Charterhouse Yard from the Agas Map of 1560. The Latimers’
residence is circled in the top right hand corner of the square
Some of the most fascinating locations for me are those that take you by surprise – and this was certainly the case with Charterhouse Square. Once laying just outside the ancient city walls of London, it was a desirable spot for the Tudor elite. John Latimer, Katherine’s then husband, explains why in a contemporary letter to Cromwell; the Yard (as it was then known), stood ‘in good air, out of press of the city’. It was the Latimers’ favoured London residence.
Here, I was to track down Katherine Parr at one of the most interesting junctures of her life. Sir John and Lady Latimer lived in Charterhouse Yard during the fall of Catherine Howard; the scandalous break up of Katherine’s brother’s marriage to the adulterous Anne Bourchier, and the death of Lord Latimer himself.
The author outside the site of the Latimers’ London home,
currently occupied by No10. Charterhouse Square.
Today, the imprint of the Square is little changed from its medieval origins; an irregular pentagon with its central green looked onto in the north by the remains of The Charterhouse itself, with imposing buildings lining its remaining edges. Although the medieval / Tudor houses are mostly gone, it retains a sense of being a veritable time capsule, little visited by tourists. And yet, you will not be alone during your visit. For as you stroll past No.10 (the site of the Latimer’s residence), you might find yourself nodding your head in silent greeting to Katherine’s neighbour, the Tudor antiquarian, John Leland, as he sets off on one of his many travels; or maybe you might catch a fleeting glimpse of Katherine’s brother, who also lived on the Square; and if that were not enough remember the 50,000 souls whose bodies are buried beneath the green, as a result of perishing during the outbreak of the Black death in 1349.
As I left, I couldn’t help but think about Katherine’s final departure from Charterhouse Yard; was she leaving there to become Henry’s wife? Did she sense that her life was about to change forever and that she was one small step away from immortality?
Natalie and I hope you have enjoyed our blog tour and we wish you many happy hours retracing the footsteps of these six, unforgettable women.
About the Authors
Natalie Grueninger is a researcher, writer and educator, who lives in Sydney with her husband and two children.
She graduated from The University of NSW in 1998 with a Bachelor of Arts, with majors in English and Spanish and Latin American Studies and received her Bachelor of Teaching from The University of Sydney in 2006.
Natalie has been working in public education since 2006 and is passionate about making learning engaging and accessible for all children.
In 2009 she created On the Tudor Trail, a website dedicated to documenting historic sites and buildings associated with Anne Boleyn and sharing information about the life and times of Henry VIII’s second wife. Natalie is fascinated by all aspects of life in Tudor England and has spent many years researching this period.
Her first non-fiction book, co-authored with Sarah Morris, In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn, was published by Amberley Publishing and released in the UK in late 2013. Natalie and Sarah have just finished the second book in the series, In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII, due for publication in the UK on 15 March 2016 and on Amazon US on 19 May 2016.
Dr Sarah A. Morris
Sarah is a creative soul, as well as an eternal optimist who generally prepares for the worst! She is an advocate of following the heart’s deepest desire as a means to finding peace and happiness. To this end, her writing is a creative expression of her joy of both learning and educating.
Drawn by an inexplicable need to write down the story of Anne Boleyn’s innocence, she published the first volume of her debut novel, Le Temps Viendra: a novel of Anne Boleyn in 2012; the second volume followed in 2013. That same year, her first non-fiction book, co-authored with Natalie Grueninger called, In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn, was also published. Hopelessly swept away by an enduring passion for Tudor history and its buildings, her latest book, the second of the In the Footsteps series entitled, In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII, is due to be published by Amberley Publishing in the UK on 15th March 2016 and in the US on 19th May.
She lives in rural Oxfordshire with her beloved dog and travelling companion, Milly.