Sunday Short Takes

Get ready for a bunch of links this week!

The King Richard III Visitor Centre in Leicester opened this weekend, so here are a few articles related to that:

* Richard III: A look inside Leicester’s new visitor centre – This link from the Leicester Mercury has a short video tour

* Richard III visitor centre in Leicester opens its doors to the public

And in more archaeology news:

* Archaeological dig uncovers Rufford medieval church thought to have been destroyed by Henry VIII

* Help find Tudor mansion in Markeaton Park

Some more interesting stories that came along:

* Henry VIII’s armour returns to Leeds Castle after 500 years

* How Does It Feel?Understanding the emotional lives of people in the past is one of the most difficult challenges facing the historian, argues Suzannah Lipscomb. – I thought this was interesting in light of the “feelings” questions I’ve gotten on the Q&A blog over the years.

* A Tudor-Stewart marriage: oak chest wedding gift for James IV and Margaret Tudor discovered

And some BBC History Extra Tudor podcast goodness:

* Richard III and dirty Tudors – The past week’s podcast

* Top 10 Tudor podcasts – and a round-up of past Tudor-related podcasts you might have missed

Just for fun:

* Could you become a citizen of Elizabethan England? – Another entertaining quiz from BBC History Extra (I always do their weekly quiz – to date I think I have gotten a perfect score on only one occasion)

And finally:

I only recently found the Society of Antiquaries You Tube channel and I’ve embedded one of their recent videos of a short informal gallery talk about Tudor portrait sets. There are more at the channel including a few about their portrait of Richard III.

Sunday Short Takes

Only a few stories this week, but I really felt I should get a post up since I haven’t had one in a few weeks and there won’t be one next weekend since I’ll be traveling for work!

* Petworth dig to uncover King Henry’s historyAn excavation to uncover a house used by King Henry VIII in Petworth is hoped to unearth some hidden mysteries this month.

* Sir Walter Raleigh’s country manor where Elizabeth I once stayed as his guest goes on the market for £1.35 million

* V&A Museum bids for Cardinal Wolsey angels – You can learn more, including how to make a contribution, at the V&A webpage for the appeal.

* Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I returns to Museum of ReadingThe painting recently returned to Reading after several years on display at Kenilworth Castle.

Upcoming Books and Exhibitions for July 2014


Linda Porter’s Crown of Thistles has been out in the UK for some time now (paperback link below) and will be released in the US as Tudors Versus Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots on July 1.

And in new books this month, John Edwards’ Archibishop Pole (part of the Archbishops of Canterbury series) is due out in both the US and UK on July 28. Unfortunately this book has “academic pricing” (i.e. is quite expensive!) but that’s one of the many reasons I love libraries!

New exhibit

Just one opening in July:

The new King Richard III Visitor Centre opens on July 26 in Leicester and will feature the exhibition “King Richard III: Dynasty, Death and Discovery”. The visitor centre is built where Richard III’s skeleton was discovered and you will have an opportunity to visit the preserved gravesite as part of the exhibition.

Continuing events, exhibitions, and displays

* If you missed out on In Fine Style when it was at Buckingham Palace, you can catch it now at the Palace of Holyroodhouse from March 14 to July 20.

* The Society of Antiquaries is holding a free exhibition of some of the Society’s paintings including rare 15th and 16th century portraits of medieval and Tudor monarchs. It opened June 30th and runs through August 1st.

* Hans Holbein Re-made: Copies and versions of portraits from the Tudor court, went on display at the National Portrait Gallery on March 4th and will be up through August 31.

* The Royal Shakespeare Company moved their plays of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies to London to run from May 1 to September 6.

* Treasures from the Royal Archives opened at Windsor Castle on May 17, 2014 and runs through January 25, 2015 and will feature some items from the Archives that have never been on display before.

Guest Post: Kyra Cornelius Kramer on Henry VIII myths

For Henry VIII’s birthday, I’m happy to welcome Kyra back for another guest post, this time doing a little Tudor mythbusting! – Lara

Happy Birthday to Henry VIII, who was born on this day 523 years ago!

As a gift to him, I have devoted this day to debunking a lot of bunk about his life that I had *assumed* was true until I delved deeper during researches for my own book about this infamous King. There is nothing like research to leave you both enlightened and appalled by your former state of unsuspecting belief. Of course, there are myriad myths about Henry and I cannot cover them all, so I’ll just pick one topic for this post.

To wit: Henry VIII split from Roman Catholicism and formed the English Church just to get a divorce from his first wife.

That is an oversimplification to the point of falsehood, that is.

Henry wed his brother’s widow, Katherina (that’s how she spelled it) of Aragon in 1509. To marry Katherina, who was both his distant cousin AND his sister-in-law, Henry had to get a dispensation from Rome which allowed the marriage despite the fact it was incest according to Church Law. Royal families had to spend a lot of time getting the Vatican to allow their marriages, in general, because the inbreeding between the European monarchies was extreme. Only when the Pope had granted the dispensation, could the union of Katherina and Henry be legally binding one in the eyes of the Church.

Over the next 15 years they had multiple children who were stillborn or died shortly after their birth, and one daughter who lived. By 1524 the King knew there was zero chance of a male heir with his wife because Katherina had gone into early menopause, so he physically separated from her and started making arrangements to get a Papal annulment. The fact he had fallen in love with Anne Boleyn was not the main cause of the proceedings. At the time he was just planning on making Anne his “official” mistress. With or without Anne, he was going to end his marriage to Katherina no matter what. He was afraid that his lack of a male heir would make the Kingdom fall back into civil war and anarchy after his death, which certainly wasn’t a far-fetched scenario at the time.

At face value it seems ridiculous that Henry thought he could just snap his fingers and get his marriage declared null and void. He was a devout Catholic and Catholicism has never been reknown for its lax attitude toward the “til death do us part” clause in the wedding vows. Furthermore, Henry’s wife was more authentically connected to the English throne than he was. Her mother, Queen Isabella, was descended through the legitimate children of Edward III’s son John of Gaunt, whereas Henry VIII was descended from the children of John of Gaunt and his mistress Kathryn Swynford, who were only legitimized after John of Gaunt was able to marry their mother. Even then they were expressly forbidden as heirs to the throne, which means that Henry VIII didn’t have a leg to stand on vis-a-vis his claim to the throne, but his wife did. Katherina provided a much needed legitimacy to Henry’s crown. She was also the one with arguably the most political clout, since her nephew, Charles, was such a big deal that he was both the Holy Roman Emperor and the King of Spain.

Nevertheless, Henry had good reason to think that his nullity suit would be resolved fairly quickly. Papal annulments, at least for the wealthy or royal, while not exactly a walk in the park were also not that hard to get.

For example, prior to Henry’s nullity suit in the 1520’s, Louis XII of France had pulled all kind of marital shenanigans. Louis wanted to marry Anne of Brittany, who was the widow of his cousin Charles VIII, for political and economic reasons. Thus Louis petitioned the Papacy to annul his marriage with Joan, who was the daughter of his cousin and predecessor, Louis XI. Louis XII, being something of an asshat, tried to annul the marriage based on Joan’s supposed physical deformities and the witchcraft that had been used to keep him from consummating the marriage. Although she didn’t like Louis in the slightest, Joan was understandably pissed off by his insults and fought the annulment. It was clear to everyone that Joan was in the right, but for political reasons the Pope granted Louis the annulment anyway, and allowed him to marry Anne, who was no fonder of him than Joan had been.

Also in the realm of “things you weren’t supposed to do but royalty got away with”, Henry’s long-standing rival Francis I was married to Louis’s eldest daughter, Claude, even though she was precontracted to Emperor Charles and therefore her marriage to Francis should have been disallowed on those grounds.

Even closer to home, Henry’s sister Margaret, the former Queen of Scotland, got an annulment from her second husband, the Earl of Angus, in 1527.

Unlike Henry, Margaret had grounds for her divorce that were commonly accepted as reasons to void a marriage; the Earl had been precontracted to marry another woman. Nevertheless, in an attempt to make sure her nullity suit was granted, Margaret dredged up rumors that her first husband might be alive, even though he was as really-most-sincerely-dead as the Wicked Witch of the East. The nullity suit was too important to not cover all the bases, no matter how ridiculous some of those bases were. Of course, the real reason she wanted shut of Angus (besides the fact he was on her last nerve) wasn’t that he had been precontracted or that her first husband was back from the dead; it was that Angus had kidnapped her son, who was now king James V, in order to usurp her regency and rule Scotland in her place.

It is clear that royal annulments were not exactly rare, and Henry had no idea just how hard it would be for him to obtain his own. What Henry hadn’t counted on was the fact that formerly compliant and mild-mannered Katherina would fight him, or that her nephew would soon have the Vatican by the short hairs.

In spite of Henry’s attempts to squash her rebellion against him, Katherina used friends to get messages out to her nephew, Charles V. She also got public opinion on her side, which kept Henry on the ropes. Additionally, she used every legal and theological argument she could to eviscerate Henry’s flimsy case against her and wiped the floor with him every time he challenged her in person. In the larger social and political arena, Katherina was often ahead of Henry because she had many, many loyal friends at court who reported Henry’s every plan to her so she could raise a counterattack. Plus, she had a bone-deep royal dignity that was hard to shake, and she was holding herself together so well that Henry actually sent her a petulant message that she must not love him because she was keeping her court cheerful and showed “no pensiveness in her countenance, nor in her apparel nor behavior”.

To make matters worse for Henry, the Vatican was soon put in a position that they couldn’t help him even if they wanted to. In 1527 the undisciplined troops of Katherina’s nephew, Emperor Charles V, sacked Rome and captured the Pope. Charles, who now de facto owned the Pope, wasn’t about to let the annulment go through for two reasons. 1) There was the honor of his aunt at stake and 2) he wanted to piss Henry off and show him that an European Emperor was a bigger deal than an English King.

Ironically, the biggest problem facing the annulment wasn’t Katherina or Imperial control of the Papacy; it was Henry himself. He was inadvertently hampering his own success by his pig-headed insistence that he was morally in the right. And it wasn’t just that Henry wanted everyone to say he was right, but he also wanted the Vatican to admit it had been wrong to have let him marry Katherine in the first place. He wanted the current Pope to say the last Pope had exceeded the authority granted to him by God. Henry actually thought the Papacy would throw the infallibility of the Pope into question, while the Reformation raged around them, just so Henry could marry again and have more kids.

Worse, all of Henry’s chest-beating wasn’t even necessary, since the King’s problems could have been resolved by other means than the papal dissolution of his first union. Before he was captured by Emperor Charles, the Pope was open to *ahem* alternative solutions, such as permitting royal bigamy or legitimizing the offspring of any royal adultery. But no, His Majesty had to be RIGHT in his insistence of the reason for dissolving his marriage. Henry was so concerned about the “discharge of our conscience” that he needed, fervently, to believe himself to be morally impregnable, especially since a king was considered a representative of God on earth. Henry wanted nothing less than an admission from everyone — including the Pope, Katherina, and all those on Team Katherina — that in nullifying his first marriage he was correctly and legitimately following God’s will based on the text from Leviticus.

All the Papal dawdling and Henry’s grandstanding gave Henry’s ladylove, Anne Boleyn, ample time and ammunition to convince him to consider breaking from Rome. Anne, who was an ardent and devoted religious reformist, was already upset by corruption within the Church hierarchy. She put on a steady campaign to get Henry more and more information assuring him that there was no reason for a King to be the servant of the Pope. Anne was hardly alone. Protestantism and the Reformation had already been spreading like wildfire throughout England.

By the time Henry declared himself Supreme Head of the Church of England a decade had passed since he had first separated from Katherina. He and Anne Boleyn had already gotten married, and their daughter Elizabeth had been born the year before. He had already gotten a bill passed through Parliament declaring his daughter Mary illegitimate and Elizabeth as his heir. Katerina had been banished to a dank manor house in the middle of nowhere. The issue had long since moved away from the annulment of his marriage to Katherina and had become a matter of political autonomy. His attempt to dissolve his first marriage may have lit the fuse toward the creation of the Church of England, but it was certainly not the powder keg of religious and social revolution that blew Rome’s influence over English monarchical government to smithereens.

Happy Birthday, Henry.

Sunday Short Takes

* The July issue of History Today features an article by Janet Dickson on the The Final Years of Elizabeth I’s Reign (article preview at link)

* Richard III tomb design unveiled in LeicesterThe wooden coffin will be made by Michael Ibsen, a distant relative of Richard III, while the tomb will be made of Swaledale fossil stone, quarried in North Yorkshire.

And finally, a few more interesting historical houses up for sale for your “what would I do if a had a few quid to spare” dreaming…

* The Norfolk house fit for King Henry VIII – yours for just £2.75m

* 7 bedroom town house for sale in Much Wenlock, Shopshire

* 5 bedroom detached house for sale in Leicestershire

All three properties have some wonderful features, especially for someone who loves exposed beams and woodwork like I do. It would be a tough choice if I won the lottery this week!

Sunday Short Takes

* New dive to wreck of the Mary Rose allows archaeologists to find out more about ship siteExperts described the investigation – the first major dive to the underwater remains of the Mary Rose shipwreck in nine years – as “very successful”.

* The romantic roots of the Tudor dynastyThe beautiful Catherine De Valois, wife of Henry V, had a convention-defying affair with the little-known Welsh squire Owen Tudor

* Tudor monarchs’ treasured possessions to go on display at Portrait GalleryShow will include paintings, books and jewellery, including a ring of Elizabeth I’s containing a hidden picture of her dead mother (Oh how I wish I could see this exhibit!! At least I had a chance to see *the* ring at the 2003 Elizabeth I exhibition at Greenwich.)

And finally –

* Majesty and Mortar: Britain’s Great PalacesFrom the Tower of London to Buckingham Palace, Dan Cruickshank tells the story of a thousand years of palace building, the mystery of why so many have vanished and the magic of the ones that survive. – A new documentary series on BBC 4, starting next week. Short preview embedded below.

Guest Post and Book Give Away: Our Favourite George Boleyn Sources by Clare Cherry and Claire Ridgway

I’m honored to be the next stop on Clare Cherry and Claire Ridgway’s George Boleyn Virtual Book Tour!

The authors have offered a free copy of the book, so click over to the form and leave your email address: “George Boleyn: Poet, Courtier and Diplomat” book give-away (The contest will be closed on Sunday June 15 at noon US central daylight time.) Update: The contest is now closed. More information on the book is available at

Our Favourite George Boleyn Sources by Clare Cherry and Claire Ridgway

People often assume that there is not much primary source information about George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, but that is simply not the case. George was a diplomat, an important courtier, a member of the King’s Privy Chamber and Privy Council, and brother-in-law to the King, so he is regularly mentioned in the state papers in the 1520s and 30s.

We used a whole range of primary sources in researching for George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier and Diplomat but today we’d like to share our favourite ones, ones that we feel give us an insight into what George was really like.

Clare – The Lisle Letters

My personal favourite primary source. where I found a great deal about George as both a public figure and a person, is The Lisle Letters.

The Lisle Letters is a set of volumes containing letters written between England and Calais (to Lord Lisle and his wife), and they include a number of letters written by George Boleyn. These letters provide details of his foreign diplomatic career and six missions to France, and also his position as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and Governor of Dover Castle.

I love reading letters written by George, and this is where the majority can be found. He has a style of writing which is particular to him. His letters are warm and often humorous, and show an enthusiastic young man in the prime of life. They show how he enjoyed the trappings of wealth, such as fine horses and his passion for falconry. His letters, although exhibiting a certain pride, are also always courteous, and offer the recipient to help them if they should ever need his help. They really do give us a glimpse of the man George Boleyn was. He had his faults, of that there is little doubt, but he was essentially a decent young man living in a brutal world, and that shows in his writing. They exhibit his personality like nothing else, and I think they exhibit like nothing else why George deserved a biography of his own.

Here’s a letter from George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, to Lord Lisle from June 1534:

“My very good lord, I heartily recommend me unto you, desiring you to have me recommended unto my good lady your wife: certifying you that I have received your present which I have delivered unto the Queen’s Grace, who thanks you heartily for them and is very glad of them, for they were the first that her Grace had this year. My lord, I understand by your servant that the horse which was Highfield’s is sold, wherein I do desire that your lordship to do me some pleasure, and if it be possible to get him of him that hath bought him, paying for him as he paid, and if the price be reasonable, which I refer to your discretion, to do for me as you would I should do for you in like case. And if you can get him at a reasonable price, then to let him be sent unto me, and I will not only pay for his charges that shall bring him but also I will be glad to do you or any of yours such pleasures as in me lieth. As knoweth God, who send you both long health to your most honourable hearts’ desires.
From Hampton Court, the fourth of June.
All your owne Assurydly to my powre,
George Rocheford.”
(Lisle Letters Volume 2, p175-176, letter 207)

Clare – The Privy Purse Expenses

The Privy Purse Expenses of King Henry the Eighth, from November 1529 to December 1532 give details of money paid out of the Privy Purse by Henry VIII to his favourites over a three year period. George features heavily, regularly receiving large sums for archery, bowls, shovelboard and cards. I spent many happy hours looking through the expenses, and I think they give a wonderful view of all Tudor characters as human beings, at relaxation and play, rather than just names on a page.

Here are some examples of payments made to Lord Rochford from the Privy Purse Expenses:

“Itm the xv daye paied to my lorde of Rocheford for shoting at hunsden ffyve pound in Angell … v li. xijs. Vjd.” (Privy Purse Expenses, 72)

“Itm the xvj daye paied to my lorde of Rocheford upon his bille for that he wanne of the king grace at Shovillabourde … xxxvj li.” (Privy Purse Expenses, 195)

Claire – Les Epistres et Evangiles des cinquante et deux sepmaines de l’an

My favourite source is the presentation manuscript which George had produced for his sister Anne Boleyn in late 1532 or early 1533. It was based on the work by French Reformer and theologian Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples and consisted of the dates of the liturgical calendar followed by the Epistle or Gospel in French and an exhortation, or homily, by Lefèvre. Les Epistres had been banned by the Sorbonne in 1525 because it emphasised the following doctrines: justification by faith alone and the idea that good works did not contribute to a believer’s salvation; salvation by the grace and goodness of God alone; Jesus Christ as the sole mediator between God and man; and the idea that only the Word of God should be preached and taught by the church.

George left the text in French but translated the exhortations into English. We know George had the manuscript produced for Anne because a passage prefacing the dedication was discovered by means of ultraviolet light by James Carley. It read:

“To the right honourable lady, the Lady Marchioness of Pembroke, her most loving and friendly brother sendeth greetings.”

The reason I love this source is because George’s dedication gives us insight into the siblings’ relationship. It is affectionate and very tongue-in-cheek:

“Our friendly dealings, with so divers and sundry benefits, besides the perpetual bond of blood, have so often bound me, Madam, inwardly to love you, that in every of them I must perforce become your debtor for want of power, but nothing of my good will. And were it not that by experience your gentleness is daily proved, your meek fashion often times put into use, I might well despair in myself, studying to acquit your deserts towards me, or embolden myself with so poor a thing to present to you. But, knowing these perfectly to reign in you with more, I have been so bold to send unto you, not jewels or gold, whereof you have plenty, not pearl or rich stones, whereof you have enough, but a rude translation of a well-willer, a goodly matter meanly handled, most humbly desiring you with favour to weigh the weakness of my dull wit, and patiently to pardon where any fault is, always considering that by your commandment I have adventured to do this, without the which it had not been in me to have performed it. But that hath had power to make me pass my wit, which like as in this I have been ready to fulfil, so in all other things at all times I shall be ready to obey, praying him on whom this book treats, to grant you many years to his pleasure and shortly to increase in heart’s ease with honour.”

I bought myself a copy of Lefèvre’s Les Epistres so that I can read what Anne Boleyn was reading and understand the texts which were impacting the beliefs of the Boleyns. It’s a challenge to read, being French and with 16th century spelling, but I love it.

This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday and if anyone wants to read what Anne Boleyn was reading on that day then you can turn to John 14: 23-31.

Claire – The Lamentations of Matheolus

My next favourite source is a manuscript containing a translation in French by Jean Le Fèvre of Mathieu of Boulogne’s thirteenth century poem Liber lamentationum Matheoluli (The Lamentations of Matheolus) followed Le Fèvre’s Le Livre de Leesce (The Book of Joy/Gladness), which is inscribed “thys boke ys myn George Boleyn 1526”. It also contains scribblings and inscriptions by Sir Thomas Wyatt and Mark Smeaton.

Lamentations is a satire on marriage, while Le Livre appears to be a refutation of Matheolus’s work. There is controversy over Le Livre de Leesce, with some scholars taking it at face value as a pro-feminist defence of women and a rebuttal of Matheolus’ misogynistic arguments, while others see it as playful and tongue-in-cheek, with “a heavy dose of make irony” to amuse male readers. Whatever the case, George and his friends obviously passed it around and Wyatt’s verses, which are rather teasing, suggest that it was read with amusement. It shows a lighter side to Henry VIII’s court, ten years before the brutal events of the Boleyns’ fall.

Linda Burke has translated Le Livre de Leesce into English in The Book of Gladness/Le Livre de Leesce: A 14th Century Defense of Women, in English and French, by Jehan Le Fèvre (McFarland & Company, 2013) for those of you interested in reading it.

Clare Cherry and Claire Ridgway

Sunday Short Takes

Just two stories this week, but they’re good ones!

* New 3D representation of Richard III’s spine – Researchers have made a 3-D computer reconstruction of Richard III’s spine from CT images. You can see the reconstruction and move it with your mouse at the link above. They also have a link to the research paper published in Lancet, which has been made freely available but you will have to register to download it.

And the other story this week:

* The Mary Rose Museum celebrates its First Birthday! – The museum had an amazing first year including a boatload (if you’ll pardon the pun) of awards. Congratulations to everyone involved – hopefully I’ll get to see it myself in the next few years!

The Mary Rose museum

Visitors view the hull of the Mary Rose

Upcoming Books and Exhibitions for June 2014

Book news

One book that has already been released in the UK is now out in the US:

John Ashdown-Hill’s book on George, Duke of Clarence will be out on June 1 in the US.

Leanda de Lisle’s Tudor: The Family Story will be out in paperback in the UK on June 5. I don’t have the US paperback release info at the moment, but I’ll update when I find out more.

And similarly, Chris Skidmore’s Bosworth: The Birth of the Tudors will be out in paperback in the UK that same day.

And for new releases, just one this month, and I’m not really sure what the status of it is. I have been tracking Queens Regnant for a while and I have that it is due out on June 1 in the US and UK, but other information has been a bit hard to find. I’ll go ahead and put links below and try to keep tabs on any additional information.

New exhibit

The Society of Antiquaries is holding a free exhibition of some of the Society’s paintings including rare 15th and 16th century portraits of medieval and Tudor monarchs. It opens June 30th and runs through August 1st.

Continuing events, exhibitions, and displays

* Raglan Castle, childhood home of Henry Tudor (later Henry VII), will have a Tudor Weekend on May 31 and June 1.

* If you missed out on In Fine Style when it was at Buckingham Palace, you can catch it now at the Palace of Holyroodhouse from March 14 to July 20.

* Hans Holbein Re-made: Copies and versions of portraits from the Tudor court, went on display at the National Portrait Gallery on March 4th and will be up through August 31.

* The Royal Shakespeare Company moved their plays of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies to London to run from May 1 to September 6.

* Treasures from the Royal Archives opened at Windsor Castle on May 17, 2014 and runs through January 25, 2015 and will feature some items from the Archives that have never been on display before.

Sunday Short Takes

Sorry for the lack of round-ups lately, but here are a few links from the past couple of weeks:

* The Wonder of Birds: Norwich Castle showcases Holbein portraitA “mysterious” painting has returned to Norfolk for the first time in more than 20 years as part of an exhibition spanning more than 4,000 years.

* Want to buy Hampton Court? No, not that one, the other one – The 15th century castle could be yours if you have £12,000,000 to spare

And three interesting articles from History Today:

* A Matter of JudgementAn inherent tension between the past and the present becomes explicit when we make our assessments of historical figures, argues Suzannah Lipscomb.

* The Dreaded Sweat: the Other Medieval EpidemicMost people have heard of the Black Death, which obliterated 60% of Europe’s population during the mid-14th century. Yet there was another medieval epidemic that took many thousands of lives, known as the English sweating sickness.

* Into Battle Over BosworthChris Skidmore praises Colin Richmond’s 1985 article, which offered a new theory, later confirmed, about the true location of one of the most famous battles in English history.