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.

Guest Post and Book Give away: Amy Licence on Elizabeth of York

I’m delighted to be the final stop on Amy Licence’s Virtual Book Tour and to present an excerpt from her book Elizabeth of York and host a give-away for a copy of the book! Amy is the author of several books on the Wars of the Roses and Tudor period including In Bed With the Tudors and Richard III: The Road to Leicester among others. Check out Amy’s author site for more information on all of her books.

If you wish to be entered in the drawing for the book, click over to the form and leave your email address: “Elizabeth of York” book give-away (The contest will be closed on Sunday May 18 at noon US central daylight time.) [Update: the drawing is now closed.]

Married Life

England now rejoice, for joyous may thou be
To see thy King so flowering in dignity.

Henry VII has a reputation for austerity. Writing in 1622, Francis Bacon claimed that ‘for his pleasures, there is no news of them’. The popular stereotype prevails of the thin-faced, careworn king poring over his account books, looking sidelong out of later portraits with his thin lips, suspicious eyes and grasping hands. This enduring image makes it difficult to imagine him dancing, laughing or jousting like his colourful son, Henry VIII. But Bacon was wrong; plenty of evidence exists to suggest that, although Henry was careful with money, especially at the end of his reign, the life Elizabeth would have known with him was one of pleasure and patronage. She would have known a very different man, more in line with Leland’s ‘king so flowering in dignity’. Their court was filled with musicians, poets and actors and Henry spent lavishly on a programme of building to create and modernise a number of pleasure palaces and retreats for his family to enjoy. This rumoured austerity has also been extended to his marriage. Bacon again asserts the king was ‘no very indulgent husband’ due to his aversion to the house of York, while the pro- Ricardian, Horace Walpole, writing in the 1760s, felt able to state with certainty that ‘Henry was a tyrannic husband and ungrateful master’. Even some of the king’s contemporaries formed this opinion, with the Spanish envoy writing in 1498, that Elizabeth, a ‘very noble woman’,5 was kept in subjection by her mother-in-law, while some modern historians assert this was a deliberate policy on Henry’s behalf to keep his wife from meddling in politics as her mother supposedly had.

To what extent is this a true reflection of their marriage? Although cultural expectations of marital ideals survive, it is impossible now to disentangle and apply the ingredients of what constituted a ‘happy’ marriage in the late fifteenth century in any realistic sense. We simply do not know how Elizabeth and Henry felt. Nor can we assume their emotions were constant; no doubt, as with all marriages, they experienced their own version of ‘for better or for worse’. Although the Ballad of Lady Bessie describes the pair as ‘lovers’ during the reign of Richard III, this is far from the truth; actually, they had probably not met, or else met years ago as children. Like most fifteenth-century couples, they did not commit their emotions to paper and their actions were open to interpretation from those who saw them only from the outside. Their status created an almost impenetrable distance and obstacle to interpretation, then and now. However, Privy Purse accounts make clear that Elizabeth certainly enjoyed considerable pleasures and benefits from her union. Small pieces of evidence suggest that the couple were far from estranged and while it is anachronistic to expect such a union to be a love match, the royal marriage contained many companionate elements and appears, on balance, to have been mutually beneficial. ‘Love’, by the varying definitions of any era, was not considered an essential requirement for success. Of course there is more to a ‘happy’ marriage than material continuity and security; the pursuit of the question as to whether the queen was ‘happy’ fails to take account of the specific circumstances of her rank and the formation of the union. The expectation and definition of a ‘happy’ marriage would vary between couples and over the duration of the match. On a personal level, its subjectivity is dependent on the individual, often unspoken, expectations of any man and any woman across time. Even to ask the question of whether Elizabeth of York’s marriage was a ‘happy’ one is misleading, yet the issue must be addressed due to the persistence of claims made to the contrary.

Gradually Elizabeth would have become aware of the character of the man she had married. Little personal glimpses of Henry emerge from the accounts of others: in 1488 the Spanish ambassador noted his habits: ‘the king, according to his usual manner, took his bonnet off his head, and said the most flattering things’ and later thought the ‘speech of the king was like precious jewels’. The ambassadors also observed Elizabeth herself at this time who, once again, did not disappoint in terms of courtly expectation: ‘we also went at an unexpected hour to the queen, whom we found with two and thirty companions of angelical appearance, and all we saw there seemed very magnificent, and in splendid style, as was suitable for the occasion’. In 1497, the Milanese envoy was shown into Henry’s presence as he stood absolutely still behind a chair of cloth of gold and found him ‘wonderful’, in a ‘most rich’ collar of rows of pearls and gems. He judged the king to be ‘cautious and reflects deeply all his proceedings’, ‘hard of credence’ and suspicious of unsubstantiated news.8 The pair were not thrust into close proximity at once; Henry’s early absence in the north was essential to consolidate his rule and establish peace in the realm; the new king must see and be seen. The list of his travels that year is exhaustive: March saw him in Ware, Royston, Canterbury, Peterborough, Stamford and Ely, while in April he was at Lincoln, Nottingham, York and Doncaster, allowing for a few days’ travel between. From September onwards, though, his presence in Winchester was increasingly noted as he awaited Arthur’s birth: he was in the city and presumably with Elizabeth, from the first to the sixth of the month, again for ten days at the end, on 4 October and between the 13th and 24th, coinciding with his son’s arrival.

For a while, this busy, energetic man may have seemed distant to his wife. Much of the time they spent together during this early stage would have been in the company of others, or restricted by protocol or the conditions of pregnancy. Kings and queens also had separate establishments within the same palaces; they might be under the same roof but their dining, living and sleeping quarters were individual to them. To come together and share a meal in private or spend the night together required a degree of foresight and planning; their lives were not so closely lived as those of modern couples. The Great Chronicle captures them in 1492, dining at the same stone table decorated with napery (linen) and lights, while being served separate messes or portions.9 This distance may either have helped or hindered their union but it meant Elizabeth had time to adjust to her role as wife. The question of her happiness or loneliness, the hints of the individual behind the royal front are almost impossible to capture: as a queen, Elizabeth would never have been alone. Surrounded by her ladies, with her devotion to religion and her children, as well as the bustle of court life and petitions from subjects, she was busy enough. This degree of physical distance between man and wife should not necessarily be taken as evidence of coldness or dislike; her increasing pregnancies and his wish to be with her during times of duress indicates that the couple did desire each other’s company. Such arrangements were part of the nature of kingship: Elizabeth had witnessed that in her own parents’ match.

Sunday Short Takes

Quick round-up again this week since I have been out showing the sun (safely!) to visitors to the Texas State History Museum all day. :)

* What Does History Mean to You? – Guest post on On the Tudor Trail from a teacher who needs help from Tudor History enthusiasts and historians. I’m not really in much of a position to help, but I can at least spread the word!

* Wolf Hall TV cast to include Damian Lewis and Mark Rylance – More casting updates on the TV adaptations of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.

* No mod cons: Fitted kitchen? Chuck it. Bathroom suite? Swap it for a lead-lined tub. Meet the man whose DIY makeover took his home back 500 years – I don’t know that I would want to live in a home like this, but I would certainly love to stay a few days and nights to try it out!

And finally…

* Sir David Attenborough helps Bradgate Park campaign – (Warning – autoplay video at the link) The Leicester Rotary Club has launched a campaign to construct a visitor center for the park, which includes the ruins of Bradgate House, childhood home of Lady Jane Grey. You can find out more at the the Facebook page for the campaign.

Upcoming Books and Exhibitions for May 2014


One book of interest that I missed that came out in April is Richmond Park: From Medieval Pasture to Royal Park by Paul Rabbitts.

And Digging for Richard III: How Archaeology Found the King by Mike Pitts was originally listed to be released in early May in the UK but managed to sneak past me and was released in mid-April. The US version will be out in November with a slightly different title – Digging for Richard III: The Search for the Lost King.

And in just under the wire, Claire Ridgway of The Anne Boleyn Files and co-author Clare Cherry have released George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier and Diplomat.

And now for an actual May release: Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and the World of Elizabethan Art by Elizabeth Goldring looks really interesting, but a little out of my price range! It is due out on May 19 in the US and May 31 in the UK.

New events and exhibits

* Treasures from the Royal Archives opens 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.

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

* And this isn’t technically new, but the Royal Shakespeare Company will be moving their plays of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies to London to run from May 1 to September 6.

Continuing exhibitions and displays

* Closing soon: Strange Beauty, an exhibition on painters of the German Renaissance (including Hans Holbein) opened at the National Gallery in London on February 19, 2014 and runs through May 11, 2014.

* 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.

Sunday Short Takes

A variety of links this week:

* Clippers and coiners in 16th-century England

* What happened to William Shakespeare’s theatres?In London, no purpose-built theatres survive from his day. Where did they all go?

* BBC History Magazine’s May Issue features a cover article by Jessie Childs on Catholics under Elizabeth I

* Routledge is offering a limited free trial to English Historical Documents online through May 11. Try it here!

And finally:

* Shakespeare’s Schoolroom and Stratford’s Guildhall is raising funds for conservation to open to the public for the first time. See Michael Wood’s short film about the schoolroom and guildhall in support of the project, which is embedded below.