Saturday, 31 December 2011

Happy New Year

I just wanted to say Happy New Year to each and every one of my readers, facebook followers and twitter followers. Thank you all for joining me on my first few months of history blogging, you've all made it worth it. It is my hope that you will all continue to join me throughout 2012 as I keep on posting about the areas of history that interest me and I hope interest all you as well.

So Happy New Year everyone. I'll see you all in a few days with my next "Inspirations From History" post!

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Happy Christmas

Even Cesare Borgia is trying to get in on the Christmas Spirit

So, it's Christmas Eve and things are getting rather busy as I try and remember all the last minute bits and pieces that we need for the big day tomorrow. I just wanted to write a quick post to all of you to thank you for your support since I started this blog, and to thank each and every one of my facebook followers. You are all fantastic, and have made my first few months of history blogging absolutely awesome.

I hope each and every one of you have a fantastic Christmas and enjoy every minute of it. I shall return in a couple of days with new blog posts and discussions (around the Borgia's mainly, my obsession with them has gotten a little er...intense!) as well as guest posts and posts on some areas of history I wouldn't normally go for, but have developed in interest in anyway.

Happy Christmas everyone! Now, I have last minute gifts to wrap and baking to do...oh and a bottle of Christmas spiced mead to crack open!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Review: The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir (historical fiction)

Recently I've been delving into the world of historical fiction, reading books such as Alison Weir's "Innocent Traitor" and Ken Follet's "Pillars of the Earth". Historical fiction can be great, if it is written and researched well but more often than not it ends up being an inaccurate, awful thing to read. Very rarely do I come across historical fiction that pulls me in enough so that I can read it in a couple of days, the only ones that I have read lately are "Pillars of the Earth" and "Mistress of the Art of Death" although there have been others throughout the years.

I wanted to write today about the latest historical fiction book I've read, and literally finished a couple of days ago. It was a copy of Alison Weir's "The Lady Elizabeth", and I was looking forward to reading it. I am a huge fan of a lot of Weir's non fiction work, and have found a lot of it to be well written and well researched, but with this novel I was sorely disappointed.

The book itself is the story of Elizabeth I's early life, as she grows up through the execution of her mother, her father's countless wives, her bastard status, living in fear as her sister Mary ascended the throne and she spent time in the Tower. Don't get me wrong, it's well written and I loved how Weir wrote how Elizabeth was feeling at certain points in her life, how she cried when she found out about her mother, and how the execution of Katherine Howard made her sure she never wanted to marry. We also see the incident that happened between Elizabeth and Thomas Seymour when she was staying with Katherine Parr, the sexual tension between the young Elizabeth and the much older Seymour, how they were caught in a passionate embrace which made Katherine send Elizabeth away...

It was at this stage I almost put the book down. It seems that Weir thought it would be a good idea to write about the rumours that Elizabeth bore Thomas' child as if it were true. This was never proven and I'm sure that had their been more to the rumours then as historians we would know more. However these days we can deduce that this did not happen, as the rumours came from the anti-protestant factions at court. Now I understand that this is historical fiction and readers like a bit of scandal but this was going too far for me - Elizabeth, later known as The Virgin Queen, pregnant with Thomas Seymour's child, a child that was miscarried and thrown into the fire as soon as it was born? I don't think so. The problem with this is that if someone does not understand the time period, and read this in a novel written by a respected historian, they will believe it and yet again inaccuracies will be placed in the public mindset. Look at the vilification of Anne Boleyn, and the publication of Phillipa Gregory's "The Other Boleyn Girl" - people already believed Anne to be a whore who slept with countless men, believed her to be a witch (which we of course know she wasn't, and that she was innocent of all charges) but when TOBG came out, people started believing it. I have lost count of the amount of times I have heard people say Anne must have slept with her brother and given birth to a deformed foetus and it must be true because TOBG says so. It makes me want to bash my head against a brick wall. As I said above, it's fiction, a story made up by the author and readers like a bit of scandal, but completely changing history in that sense? It's just awful.

However I carried on, however grudgingly, and made it to the end of the book. Weir's writing was good, and flowed nicely, and I have to say she did tell the story well especially the rivalry between Mary and Elizabeth after Mary took the throne, and I felt Elizabeth's fear as she was taken to the tower, felt how scared she was that she would follow the Lady Jane Grey to the block. There aren't many authors that can do that to their readers, and for that reason I'll be marking this book a little higher than I would have done.

This book is a quick read, and a good one to read if you just want to escape into the past for a little while. I do recommend it to those interested in Tudor historical fiction, although I would say go into with an open mind and take the rather huge inaccuracy with a pinch of salt. But if you'd prefer a more accurate portrayal of Elizabeth then I would go for a non fiction book about her, "Elizabeth" by David Starkey or even Weir's non fiction "Elizabeth the Queen".

I think it's time for me to head back to the non-fiction shelves...

Saturday, 10 December 2011

The Execution of Thomas Culpeper and Francis Dereham

We all know the story of Katherine Howard, Henry VIII's young Queen who was executed on charges of treason, and for her affairs with Francis Dereham and Thomas Culpeper. The story is a famous one, with Katherine being helped in her endeavours with Thomas by the infamous Lady Rochford (who was executed along with Katherine) - with Thomas losing his head at Tyburn followed by Francis Dereham being hung, drawn and quartered.

On this day in history, 10th December 1541, both men lost their lives for their part in the whole affair. It would have been a gruesome spectacle, Thomas had been granted beheading by the King as he had once been one of his closest grooms whereas Dereham was given the full traitors death.

Showtime's "The Tudors" showed the execution in all it's gruesome glory, and despite how horrible the scenes I thought it was very well done. I have placed the video below, and warning for the is rather gruesome.

Lastly, apologies for my lack of posts recently. I've been on a funny shift pattern at work which has offered me little time to do anything. Oh...and I blame the video game Skyrim also!!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

A post from the author

I've been thinking all day of what I would write here on this blog when I got home from work. You may have noticed over the past couple of days that this blog has been MIA with a little message that said it had been removed. It's true, I hit the delete button. And there are many reasons for this stemming from issues that are going on in my personal life. I don't want to go into too much detail because a lot of it is rather personal.

When I started this blog, I had no idea that it would pick up so soon and I'm seeing more and more people comment on my posts and join the facebook page which is great. But it was very hard for me to come to terms with the fact that when you start doing things like this you can end up taking criticism, and that stops you from concentrating on the lessons you are trying to learn. It's even harder when you come up with stumbling blocks not only from criticism but also from past incidents too. I started this blog for people to learn from my knowledge, and I enjoy writing about the parts of history that I adore, and it is here for everyone. With everything that has happened recently though I have taken alot of what has happened to heart and for a while I wanted nothing more to do with it. For a while, my love of history took a back seat and I began to hate it all because of the blocks that had presented themselves in front of me. Obviously we benefit from positive feedback, but when things start getting intense and you notice things it can get very upsetting. As I said I'm not going into it in too much detail and it is my hope that I never need to do so.

This blog is here for everyone, and it is my hope that it will be for many years to come. It's a matter of ignoring the haters because you're always going to get hate when you start doing something like this, and rising above it. This has been a learning curve for me and I'm not going to let anything stop me from doing what I love. My readers know that it is my aspiration to become a published historian one day, and I plan on going back to University within the next couple of years to complete my Masters and eventually my PhD. This blog is a stepping stone, a place for me to share my own journey as well as providing all of you with posts that will interest and inspire.

I want to thank those of you who have left me nice comments on these posts and on facebook, you guys are all amazing and because of you I have realised that this blog is a place that people enjoy. May it never change.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Inspirations from History: Lucrezia Borgia

The name Lucrezia Borgia is synonymous with incest and corruption, helped along its way by contemporary reports from anti Borgia factions as well as modern day interpretations of this blonde haired Italian temptress. These days, thanks to the interpretation of the Assassins Creed franchise, we still think of Lucrezia as a woman who enjoyed poisoning people from a hidden ring and who was involved romantically with her brother Cesare. But was this really the case? Or was she merely a political pawn in the games of her father and brother?

Lucrezia Borgia from Ubisofts Assassins Creed 2: Brotherhood

Lucrezia has interested me now for a long time, and I devour books on the Italian Renaissance and the Borgia family. And she inspires me too, as from my reading I can just tell that she was a strong woman who was able to overcome obstacles. After all, she managed to forgive her brother after he had her second husband assassinated and she always maintained her dignity in the face of such obstacles. As well as the picture above, we have seen Lucrezia in the HBO television series "The Borgias" in which she is played by the fantastic Holliday Granger. In the series we see a young Lucrezia who is very close to her brother (there are hints of the incest rumours, but they walk a very fine line with that. For me, the way they show the relationship between Cesare and Lucrezia just shows that they were very, very close) and a girl who is used as a pawn by her father Rodrigo. Yet we also see the beginnings of her guile, when she deliberately makes her first husband slip on a wet floor and we see her agree with her fathers plan to have the pair divorced due to impotence.

Holliday Granger as Lucrezia in The Borgias

But who was Lucrezia Borgia, and why do we still think of her as the evil, incestuous woman from the Renaissance?

Born in around April 1480, Lucrezia Borgia was the illegitimate daughter of Rodrigo Borgia (later Pope Alexander VI) and Vanozza Cattanei. Her three brothers were Cesare, Giovanni (also known as Juan) and Gioffre - Juan was later found dead in the Tiber, and his murder is often linked to Cesare although this may again be based on rumours from the anti Borgia faction. Lucrezia was part Spanish, Rodrigo coming from Spain, and the family was hated due to their Spanish roots. Even when Rodrigo became Pope the family were still the centre of political hatred, scandal and rumour. In 1493 Lucrezia was married to Giovanni Sforza, the marriage completed by proxy and Lucrezia was sent off to Pesaro to live with her new husband. This was a marriage of convenience and politics - the Pope needed the Sforza's on his side, but when the Pope tired of the Sforza's he arranged a divorce for his daughter. The marriage was dissolved on the grounds of impotence, which in itself is laughable. Sforza certainly was not impotent, he already had children from his first marriage and stated firmly that he had known Lucrezia hundreds of times! When the College of Cardinals asked Sforza to prove it publicly, Sforza refused and the marriage was dissolved. This incident, as stated by Sarah Bradford in her book "Lucrezia Borgia" may have been what sparked off the rumours of incest between Lucrezia and her father, as Sforza claimed that the Pope wanted her all for himself!

Lucrezia's name was further dragged into scandal around this time when she became involved with a man named Perotto, and he was found drowned in the Tiber (rumour again stated this was down to Cesare!). Many said the two were having an affair. Lucrezia's second marriage was to Alfonso of Aragon, Duke of Biscelie, and seemed to be a happy one but yet again this would end in disaster. Cesare soon became jealous that Lucrezia was giving the handsome Alfonso all her attention. Early in the marriage Lucrezia suffered her first miscarriage (a pattern that would manifest throughout her life) and on 15th July 1500 her husband was publicly attacked in Rome and was badly wounded. Yet he began to recover, being looked after by Lucrezia and one of her trusted doctors. On 18th August when Alfonso was sat up in bed talking to his wife Michelloto de Corella burst into the room stating that Alfonso's uncle had been taken prisoner and that Lucrezia must petition the pope for his release. When she returned Alfonso was found strangled, dead in his bed. Rumour sparked yet again that this was the deed of Cesare, which seemed likely considering that Michelloto was known to be Cesare's henchman and assassin. Lucrezia mourned the loss of Alfonso heavily, so much so that her father sent her away whilst her father began to get her back on the marriage market. She was soon to become Duchess of Ferrara.

Lucrezia married Alfonso D'Este in around 1502 and lived a comfortable life with her new husband. Whilst the two of them often committed adultery they ended up developing a mutual respect for each other, despite not loving each other. Lucrezia though gave Alfonso many children, and they were happy enough. The mutual respect may have even made way to a kind of love from her husbands side, and they often wrote letters to each other whilst her husband was away, the both of them concerned for each others safety. During this time, the biggest event in Lucrezia's life was to happen: the death of her brother Cesare. He was killed in a battle at Vianna after escaping imprisonment at the Medina Del Campo in Spain, and Lucrezia found out much later. Once again she grieved heavily and despite all the wrongs he had done to her, she still cherished him. On the outside though Lucrezia did not show her grief, it was as if through all her hardships she developed a tough outer shell and was determined not to look weak, a sign of the Borgia strength that she so often exhibited and an asset to her personality.

In July 1509 Lucrezia passed away after developing complications giving birth to her eighth child. Despite clinging to life for ten days she remained very unwell and her doctors were of the opinion that her illness was caused by a buildup of menstrual blood that had become infected. The doctors tried everything for her, from bleeding to cutting off all her hair yet nothing worked. She had just turned 39 when she died, and was buried in Ferrara.

Lucrezia Borgia certainly lived a remarkable life, through the trials of life, love and death. She was the daughter of one of the most influential men in Renaissance Italy so is it any wonder that her name was dragged into scandal? In all of my reading, I have never once come across a credible source that proves she was guilty of poisoning or even incest and thus I will keep believing that she was innocent of these acts until anything new comes to life. Like so many women in history, the name of Lucrezia Borgia has been maligned thanks to propaganda and rumour. After all, people still talk of Anne Boleyn as a witch with 6 fingers who slept with her brother and countless other men despite the fact that all of these have been shown as being untrue. The same goes for Lucrezia, and despite how maligned she has been over the years I will continue to admire her. She had a remarkable life, lived through the scandals of her fathers world, watched those close to her be murdered, had countless stillbirths yet still retained that Borgia strength and dignity which was something to be proud of.


Bradford, S, 1976, Cesare Borgia: His Life & Times, Weidenfeld and Nicholson: London
Bradford S, 2004, Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love & Death in Renaissance Italy, Penguin: London

Thursday, 17 November 2011

A Little Bit About Me

I apologise for the delay in blog posts, my laptop ended up dying on me and so had to be sent for repair. But now it's back, you lot get to put up with me posting again. Hurah! Since being computerless, I've been thinking about posts I could put up here - should it be a book review? a piece on a particular event in history? But then I realised that I've never actually really introduced myself. And now that this blog is getting a little more well known, with it's page views reaching out for 1000 and now over 50 follows on the facebook page I thought it was about time to introduce myself properly.

Me, measuring up a section of an archaeological feature

My name is Sam. Well, it's Samantha but very few people actually call me that these days. I'm 23 years old and currently live in Southampton, UK, with my partner of 4 years. It's quite a nice little life that we live here, in our little flat on the waterfront. I'm not a big fan of my day job in the clerical sector but it pays the bills and for that I'm grateful. Considering as how unemployment is on the rise and everything.

As a child I moved around a lot, as I was an army child and never settled anywhere for long. That was until we moved to rural Wiltshire. There I completed my secondary education and my love for history grew and grew. As I went through GCSE and A-Level I decided I wanted to be an archaeologist and so when the time came I went off to University in Winchester to do my degree. I started off doing a joint course in history and archaeology, but for my sins gave up history after the first year. I wish now that I hadn't, and had given up on the archaeology instead. I had some wonderful lecturers in history whilst I was there and honestly regret not staying on and taking single honours in history. But at that point, my mind was set. I graduated with an upper second class honours in archaeology in 2009 and that's when we moved to Southampton. I was one of the luckier ones in my group, and almost immediately secured a post at the Unit in Southampton whereupon I worked on digs at Tudor House and also a building site next door to a waitrose. We didn't find very much but I loved it, I didn't mind crawling out of bed at 5am on a cold, winters day and getting myself to site. I loved being knee deep in mud, I loved being on a dangerous building site, I loved working with my colleagues. But alas, it wasn't to last and as it had with many archaeologists I lost my contract. I haven't worked in archaeology since.

Instead I have allowed my love for history to take over once again and have started doing research into various historical eras that interest me greatly. My bookshelf has grown and grown within the past few years so now they're full to bursting and I have no more room; and I have decided that I will end up taking this love of history further. I have plans to go back to University and complete a Masters degree in either the history of the Renaissance or possibly early modern (think Edward VI), and one day I hope to have a few books published on my specialist areas - the research of which is being conducted pretty much as we speak. One day I also hope to teach others and to share my passion for history with those who want to learn from me. How this will begin I don't know, but I am looking at ways and means of doing this, but eventually I hope to become a lecturer.

So how did my interest in history begin? I guess I can attribute that to my Aunt who began buying me books on Ancient Egypt. I would read them from cover to cover and watch documentaries on the television and beg my parents to take me to castles. When I was much younger I remember visiting Dover Castle and falling in love with the place and I would spend hours and hours in museums too. Whilst I was at school I can remember too learning about the six wives of Henry VIII, and there being a line of printed portraits on the wall. I was drawn to two of those women: Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard. At the time we were too young to be told the real reasons for their being beheaded - according to my primary school teacher Anne Boleyn was beheaded for being a witch (nooooo!) and Katherine Howard? Well, nothing was really ever mentioned about her. But there began my obsession with the Tudor dynasty which just grew and grew. Henry VIII has always been my favourite Tudor monarch but recently my interests have broadened, so that I have found an intense interest in the short reign of Edward VI. In fact the Tudors makes up the majority of my book collection. Other interests grew out of that, and a few years ago I developed a rather huge obsession with the English Civil War thanks to joining the reenactment society known as the Sealed Knot. In that I played the part of a musketeer, and took part in battle reenactments. I dressed in accurate portrayals of military uniform and learned every single piece of musket drill there was. From there I wanted to know more and more about the period, and the battles; and so specialised in this era during my final year at University - my dissertation was on the landscape archaeology of the Battle of Cheriton in 1644.

But honestly, anything old will always hold my interest - be it something from the Neolithic or a portrait from the Georgian era, I adore the stories that history can tell us. There is something magical about learning how these people lived, how they died, what they used in their everyday lives. And it's a passion that I hope to keep on sharing both here and in my everyday life also.

Friday, 11 November 2011

We Will Remember Them

On this day in history, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the first world war ended. At that moment, the armistice was signed between the allies and Germany in a train carriage in the forest of Compiegne.

As I sit here writing this, we have just had the traditional two minutes silence which symbolises that moment when the guns fell silent. I may not be at work today, but it did not stop me from setting aside two minutes as BBC 1 had their own ceremony as the country fell into silence. And as I sat there I remembered not only those who have lost their lives in the First World War but those who lost their lives in more recent conflicts as well as conflicts dotted throughout history.

The poem quoted below is one that we all know, written by Laurence Binyon in 1914 as he was serving with the army in France, and the fourth stanza (highlighted in bold) is the one that is frequently read at services of remembrance:

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Cheriton 1644: The Campaign & The Battle

After receiving some distressing news health wise this afternoon I thought I would come back home and share some happiness with you all. Hey, it'll make me feel better.

My speciality in both history and archaeology has always been the English Civil War and in particular the Battle of Cheriton which took place on 29th March 1644. When I was working on my BA dissertation, which was a study of the landscape archaeology of the battlefield (I ended up mapping the entire battlefield, looking at both proposed sites and working out that the traditional site was the most likely due to the landscape...which in itself is another post!), I came across a great book by John Adair in my University library. This book, named simply "Cheriton 1644: The Campaign and the Battle" became my bible, I had it out of the library for almost 6 months and used it intensively. And it was a sad day when I had to give it back at the end of my course.

However, looking around online it seemed that this was a rather rare book and only went through one lot of publication, meaning that any available copies were all first editions and thus rather expensive. All copies I found ended up costing between £150-£300, all new and in great condition which obviously was a little expensive. But I was determined on getting myself a copy to take pride of place on my bookshelf between my other rare books. After a lot of searching I managed to find a "used but good condition" on Amazon marketplace for just £28. Guess who snapped it up.

When it arrived I was shocked at the condition. It was perfect, never read. OK so it was a little discoloured due to the age (published in 1973) but other than that it was perfect. No tears, the hardback was almost perfect. The only thing missing was the dustcover. Had it come with that then the price would have rocketed. Not only that it was lovingly parcelled up too, wrapped in protective cellophane and then wrapped like a parcel with a nice note from the seller too!

I'm currently reading this wonderful book again and loving every moment of it. Not only that, it's helping with my research for my Nanowrimo novel (which is even better!) and it's really got me back into this wonderful battle. I fully intend to start back on my work on the battle now, get some pieces written on it and see where I go from there.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Book Give-away!

Apologies for my lack of posts recently everyone, I've been slightly busy with some of my real life stuff - I'm sure you know the deal: work, visits, life. I also made the decision to take part in National Novel Writing Month (again!) which I may be regretting a little. Writing 50,000 words in a month is a bit of a mountain to climb. I have got some proper posts coming, I just need to sit down and actually write them!

I just wanted to let you all know that this blog now has a facebook page! Please do come and like us here, and when we get to 100 likes I will be doing a book giveaway! So please do come over, hit the like button and you may find yourself the lucky owner of The Borgias & Their Enemies by Christopher Hibbert. This is a really fantastic book, and I love the way Hibbert writes about this fantastic family!

So remember, as soon as we get that 100th "like" over on our facebook page, I'll be randomly picking someone to receive this wonderful book! So please do come over and say hello, and spread the word!

Monday, 31 October 2011

The Ghost of Lady Alice Lilse

The Eclipse Inn, on Winchester's "The Square" was my favourite pub whilst I was at University. I mean, just look at it. It's also one of the oldest buildings in Winchester dating from the mid 1500's. Inside it is a rather quaint little pub, with barely enough room to swing a cat but it's the history of this building that gets me particularly given the rather harrowing experiences I've had in there.

This pub, formerly a private residence as well as a rectory, is the last place that Lady Alice Lilse ever saw. She spent her last night on earth in the rooms on the upper floor of this building, having been condemned to death. On the 2nd September 1685, Lady Alice Lilse stepped out from an upper floor window onto the scaffold that had been erected outside, and there she was beheaded. Her supposed crime? Harbouring fugitive cavaliers. The worst part of the whole thing was that Lady Lilse was 71 years old.

The story goes that during the Monmouth Rebellion, Lady Alice had harboured a cavalier by the name of John Hicks. She was betrayed by four townspeople despite claiming that she had no idea Hicks had fought for Monmouth. Alice was arrested by a former cavalier who had a grudge against her husband, a man who had been a strong supporter of Oliver Cromwell. Lady Alice was tried by Judge Jeffries, who according to tradition bullied witnesses so that he would get a successful conviction. He did, and sentenced Lady Alice to be burnt at the stake. However, due to the uproar of the people the sentence was changed to beheading.

The upper floors of the Eclipse, where Lady Alice spent her last nights on earth, are said to still be home to Lady Alice Lilse. In the room where she stayed guests have reported seeing a grey shadowy figure at the foot of the bed which then disappears, ghostly footsteps are heard, people have reported the feeling of being watched and even gently pushed by someone who turns out to just not be there. The corridors and rooms where this all takes place is actually now where the pub toilet is, and there is a distinct feeling on unease as you walk down the corridor. It is also unnaturally cold up there. The first time I ever went up there on my own I was scared out of my wits as the temperature just dropped suddenly, and ever since then I was unable to go on my own. It was one of those moments where if any of us girls needed the toilet, we took someone else with us. Though I never saw Lady Alice up there, I have a feeling that these stories are correct. That poor old woman, condemned to die in the most horrible of ways - perhaps it's that reason why she can't leave the building.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

The Ghostly Re-enactments of The Battle of Edgehill

Given that it's Halloween tomorrow, I thought it might be fun to post some scary stories from history over the next few days both here, and on our facebook page. Today, given that it was recently the anniversary of the Battle of Edgehill, today I thought I would share a rather scary story from the English Civil War, and the immediate aftermath of the battle of Edgehill.

The battle of Edgehill, 23rd October 1642, was the first major fighting in the English Civil War and famously it was seen as a draw. However, as was mentioned in my previous post, despite the fact that no one really won the battle, it offered an important strategic victory for the Royalist forces who ended up holding the road for London.

Losses during this battle were relatively significant. All together, according to various sources, deaths numbers around 1000 between both sides with 2-3000 men wounded. The battle itself lasted only 3 hours and by nightfall all fighting had ceased. The parliamentarian army, lead by Robert Deveraux Earl of Essex, was in bad shape and so withdrew to Warwick, leaving the road to London open for the Royalists. But alas, Charles did not retake London and it was left open once more for the Parliamentarian forces.

The ghostly legend began just before Christmas in 1642 when a group of Shepherds were crossing the battlefield on their way home. As they were crossing the site, they began to hear the sound of drums, the clanking of armour and weaponry followed by the groans of the dying. The men were apparently frozen with fear and just as they had recovered enough to move on, apparitions of fighting began to appear around them with men killing each other, pike pushes, musket fire, men on horseback and the entire 3 hour battle replayed itself before their eyes. When the fighting had stopped, the men hastened to the nearest town to inform the authorities of what had happened and the next day a senior authoritarian accompanied them back to the site where sure enough, it all happened again. Along with them were a crowd of towns people who had heard the story as it filtered throughout the town during the day. As they watched the whole battle replay itself, the townspeople became afraid that they had somehow offended God. When news reached King Charles, he sent two of his men to the site who also witnessed the show. These two men had fought in the battle of 1642, and were shocked to see the ghostly apparitions of deceased friends and colleagues as they fought their way through the three hour battle. Charles then recognised the event and the people that had been seen fighting it, including the Kings Standard bearer Sir Edward Verney.

Today, the sights and sounds of the battle can sometimes still be seen and heard although over the years they have gotten less and less. People who visit the battlefield have reported feeling uneasy, hearing the sounds of the fighting, particularly around the anniversary of the battle. But why do these ghosts haunt the battlefield? Could it be because it was such a pointless loss of so many lives, and neither side won or lost the battle? I guess we'll never know.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Books, Books & More Books!

I may have done a little dance of joy when I got home and found that the postman had delivered me all of these wonderful books! I'm looking forward to getting stuck into these (and would you believe there are more on the way too!). Lady Jane Grey is next on my "to read" list and after that who knows, but three of those books are ones I have been looking forward to for a long time - Lady Jane Grey by Eric Ives, The Winter King by Thomas Penn and The Boleyns by David Loades. I'm sure within the next few weeks you'll be bombarded with book reviews. You'll notice though that the two at the top of the pile are in fact novels - after watching "The Pillars of the Earth" and loving it, I decided I should use the opportunity to take a break from the non fiction and get stuck into a good story!

Below is a list of the books, with a quick typed up version of their blurbs.

The Winter King - Thomas Penn
It was 1501, England had been ravaged for decades by conspiracy, violence, murders, coups and counter coups. Through luck, guile and ruthlessness, Henry VII had clambered to the top of the heap - a fugitive with a flimsy claim to England's crown. For many he remained a usurper, a false king. But Henry had a crucial asset: his queen and their children, the living embodiment of his longed for dynasty. Now his elder son would marry a great Spanish princess. On a cold November day this girl, the sixteen year old Catherine of Aragon, arrived in London for a wedding upon which the fate of England would hinge...

Lady Jane Grey - Eric Ives
Lady Jane Grey is the Queen England rejected. In July 1553, Edward VI, the heir to Henry VIII, died after only a brief reign as a minor. His death left the Tudor dynasty in turmoil. In the aftermath, Jane Grey was proclaimed Queen only to be ousted after thirteen days by Mary Tudor, Henry VIII's bastard daughter. Seven months later she had Jane beheaded. History has portrayed Jane as both a hapless victim of political intrigue and a Protestant martyr, but most of all as an irrelevance, hence the popular but erroneous label, the "nine days queen". Revisiting the sources surrounding Jane Grey's upbringing, Eric Ives challenges these views, presenting Jane Grey as an accomplished young woman with a fierce personal integrity, and England's outstanding female scholar. He teases out the complex evidence of the 1553 crisis and dissects the moves and motives of each of the other protagonists: Edward VI himself, feverishly re-writing his will during his dying days; Mary Tudor, the woman who 'won' the crown; John Dudley, Jane's father-in-law, traditionally the villain of the piece; and her father Henry Grey. As the story moves through the summer of 1553 to Jane's execution, we see these people as agents in Jane Grey's unfolding tragedy and her eventual moral triumph. The result is a new and compelling dissection by a master historian and storyteller of one of history's most shocking injustices.

Nell Gwynne: A Passionate Life - Graham Hopkins
Nell Gwynne, the archetypal tart-with-a-heart, lived the classic rags to riches story: the poor woman who fell in love with a King. Nelly - as she was known - also stole the heart of a nation and has held the affection of generations since. A star of the stage - an accomplished and much loved comedienne - she caught the eye of King Charles II, becoming one of his mistresses and bearing two of his thirteen children. Their relationship lasted over 17 years and only ended with his death in 1685. The story of Nell Gwynne is the story of romance itself. Born into poverty, Nelly progressed from selling oranges in the theatre to performing on the stage itself, becoming the leading comedy actress of her day. Set in the dizzying times of Restoration England you have an irresistible romance between the merry monarch and the woman Pepys called 'pretty, witty Nell'. Confident, mischievous, generous, caring and outrageously funny she became an icon in her own lifetime. Graham Hopkins's passionate account of Nelly's life and times shows us why she remains so today.

The Boleyns - David Loades
The fall of Anne Boleyn and her brother George is the classic drama of the Tudor era. The Boleyn's had long been an influential English family. Sir Edward Boleyn had been Lord Mayor of London, his grandson Sir Thomas had inherited wealth and position and through the sexual adventures of his daughters Mary and Anne, ascended to the peak of influence at court. The three Boleyn children formed a faction at court, making many enemies: and when those enemies secured Henry VIII's ear, they brought down the entire family in blood and disgrace. George, Lord Rochford, left no children. Mary, left a son by her husband William Carey - Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon. Anne left a daughter, Elizabeth I - so like her in many ways and a sexual politician without rival.

Nell Gwyn - Charles Beauclerk
Beautiful, quick witted and sexually magnetic , Nell Gwyn remains one of England's great folk heroines. The story of her exceptional rise from an impoverished, abusive childhood to the wealth and connections that came with being Charles II's mistress is a dramatic mix of lust, money, high politics and love. famously spotted selling oranges in the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, Nell's wit and charm brought her to the attention of one of the theatre's leading actors. Under his patronage. she soon established herself as the greatest comedienne of her day so caught the eye of Charles II, the newly restored 'merry monarch' of a nation in hedonistic reaction to puritan rule. Their seventeen year affair is one of the great love stories of our history, played out against a backdrop of fire, plague, court intrigue and political turmoil

Elizabeth The Queen - Alison Weir
In her highly praised "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" and its sequel "Children of England", Alison Weir examined the private lives of the early Tudor Kings and Queens, and chronicled the childhood and youth of one of England's most successful monarchs, Elizabeth I. This book begins as the young Elizabeth ascends the throne in the wake of her sister Mary's disastrous reign. Elizabeth is portrayed as both a woman and a Queen, an extraordinary phenomenon in a patriarchal age. Alison weir writes of Elizabeth's intriguing, long-standing affair with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, of her dealings - sometimes comical, sometimes poignant - with her many suitors, of her rivalry with Mary Queen of Scots, and of her bizarre relationship with the Earl of Essex, thirty years her junior. Rich in detail, vivid and colourful, this book comes as close as we shall ever get to knowing what Elizabeth I was like as a person.

The Pillars of the Earth - Ken Follet
Set in the turbulent times of twelfth century England when civil war, famine, religious strife and battles over royal succession tore lives and families apart; The Pillars of the Earth tells the story of the building of a magnificent cathedral.

World Without End - Ken Follet (The Pillars of the Earth #2)
On the day after Halloween, in the year 1327, four children slip away from the Cathedral at Kingsbridge. In the forest they see two men killed. As adults their lives become braided together by desire, determination, avarice and retribution. They will see prosperity and famine, plague and war. Yet they will always live under the shadow of the unexplained killing on that fateful, childhood day.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Inspirations from History: Katherine Howard

For my second post on people from history who inspire me, I wanted to do a piece on Katherine Howard, Henry VIII's fifth wife. I remember as I stood in front of the altar in the chapel of St Peter at the Tower of London, it struck me that Katherine was buried there, that young, naive girl who I believe had only did what she did to forget that she was married to an ageing, obese tyrant. These days Katherine is still vilified as an adulteress, but to me she always seems like a fun loving young woman who was pushed into marrying a man so many years older than her. Below is my "brief" overview of her life (when I say brief I mean almost 6000 words long)

Throughout history, Katherine Howard has been vilified as the young bimbo wife of Henry VIII, the wife who cuckolded him by sleeping with his groom Thomas Culpeper. But was Katherine really the bimbo she is so often made out to be, or was she simply a pawn in some higher game of politics and power and a young woman who was foolish and naïve enough to think she could get away with having relationships with other men?

Katherine Howard was the younger daughter of Edmund Howard and Jocasta Culpeper, although her date of birth is completely unknown. There are at least three contemporary resources suggesting that Katherine was unusually young at the time she became Queen in July 1540. Katherine could not have been born after 1527, since her maternal grandmother Dame Isabel Leigh mentioned her in her will dated that year and four years previously Dame Isabel’s husband failed to mention the Howard girls; rather mentioning the brothers instead. This may be pointing to the masculine standards of the day, however, rather than the fact that Katherine had not been born. However, the earlier limit is harder to determine as the marriage of her parents is far from certain itself. If Edmund and Jocasta were married between 1514-15 and her brothers were older than her, then it suggests she could not have been born before 1517-18. There is also evidence stating that she was born between 1518-24, as the French ambassador stated she was 18 when sharing a bed with Dereham, and Dereham’s own confession states that this was between the years of 1538-39. However the ambassador then discredits himself by saying that Dereham was corrupting Katherine from the age of 13! If we accept Katherine as being 18 in 1539, then she must have been born around 1521. Our final clue comes from her marriage portrait, although there is some uncertainty here too. It was painted in 1540-41 and gives her age as being 21, establishing that she she would have been born between 1519-20 (Baldwin Smith 1961, 193). Baldwin Smith (1961, 193) suggests that this is as good a year as any to suggest as we know Mannox was first smitten with Katherine in 1536, when she would have been aged between 13 and 14. This again fits in with the contemporary report of the French ambassador who states she was 18 in 1539, and the suggestion that she was very young to have been made a queen.

Portrait of Katherine Howard, from the miniature by Hans Holbein the Younger

Whilst Katherine’s date of birth is speculation, the home where she spent her childhood is unknown and except for the more lurid details of her childhood preserved in connection with her downfall, we know almost nothing of her early life (Baldwin Smith 1961, 35). Some sources indicate she grew up in London whilst others say she spent her early life at the Howard residence of Lambeth or Oxenheath in Kent, the home of her uncle William Cotton. What is very certain, and authenticated, is that Katherine spent the majority of her childhood with her step-grandmother the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, Agnes Howard neé Tilney in Sussex and Lambeth (Baldwin Smith 1961, 41).

Alison Weir states that these early years spent with the duchess were spent in “impoverished gentility” and the young Katherine was oftentimes neglected by the dowager duchess, and forced to spend her time seeking the companionship of servants and people of lower rank (Weir 2007, 434). When Katherine joined the household of the Dowager Duchess, she was placed in the Maiden’s Chamber, a large dormitory whose inmates largely slept two to a bed. Here Katherine found herself surrounded by other young women of gentle birth, unlike the “people of lower rank” suggested by Weir, all of whom were connected to the Howard family by birth or by marriage. These girls, like Katherine, were there to complete their education and to wait on the duchess. Music masters were employed, clerks to teach the girls how to read and write and of course, plenty of young men were around to teach the girls other things too (Starkey 2004, 646). Here, I think Katherine would have been in her element. She was a young, spritely and a quick learner and would have been able to shine among these other young women. Not only was she a quick developer mentally, but physically also, and it seems it was this that set her on the path to her own destruction.

The first gentleman to catch Katherine’s eye was Henry Mannox, employed by the Duchess in around 1536 to teach the girls how to play the virginals. According to Mannox’s own confession during Katherine’s fall he quickly “fell in love with her” and she with him but Katherine kept the relationship in bounds out of a sense of fierce Howard pride. She told him, “I will never be naught with you…and able to marry me ye be not”. However she did allow him other favours which were often interrupted by the Duchess (Starkey 2004, 646). Katherine herself mentions these in her own confession prior to her execution:

“At the flattering and fair persuasions of Mannox, being but a young girl I suffered him at sundry times to handle and touch the secret parts of my body which neither became me with honesty to permit nor him to require” (Fraser 1993, 391-392).

The second romance for Katherine was with Francis Dereham, a gentleman pensioner in the Duchesses Lambeth household. Unlike her previous tryst with Mannox, this relationship was much more serious and more likely that it was fully consummated. Considering that two of them called each other husband and wife it can be suggested that they were pre-contracted to each other and had reinforced these vows by sleeping with each other (Fraser 1993, 392). Dereham himself was a Howard cousin and thus able to provide Katherine with trinkets and gifts that reflected his social standing, and Katherine thus permitted him access and attentions previously denied the music master, including access to the maiden’s chamber. This room was out of bounds to all men and each night the Duchess would have the keys taken to her room, but Katherine found a way around it using cunning and secrecy that would only become clearer during her later affair with Culpeper. She had the Duchesses maid, Mary Lascelles, “steal the key and bring it to her” (Starkey 2004, 647). This of course, meant admission for Dereham and other young men.

In his book “Six Wives” Starkey states that, driven by jealously Mannox wrote an anonymous letter to the duchess informing her of what was happening:

“Your Grace
It shall be meet you take heed to your gentlewomen for it shall like you half an hour after you shall be a bed to rise suddenly and visit their chamber you shall see that which shall displease you. But if you make anybody of counsel you shall be deceived. Make then fewer your secretary”

The Duchess, having found the letter in her pew at chapel, stormed to the chamber and “declared how she was advertised…of their misrule” (Starkey 2004, 647). According to Fraser, after the Duchess discovered Katherine and Dereham embracing she was “much offended”, hitting out literally at all of those present. However this does not amount to more than Katherine’s own later confession that there was a relationship in which Dereham “used her as a man doth his wife”. It seems that Katherine thought herself betrothed to Dereham and her submission to his sexual advances had nothing terrible about it at the time (Fraser 1993, 393).
Later on when the more intimate details of Katherine and Dereham’s relationship came to light, one witness confirmed that they were “so much in love that they kissed after a wonderful manner, for they would kiss and hang by their bellies like two sparrows” (Baldwin Smith 1961, 55). Dereham became such a frequent visitor to the chamber despite even the Duchess previously finding them. That was until their relationship eventually cooled when Dereham was away in Ireland and Katherine sent away to her uncle’s house. It was here that Katherine first met Thomas Culpeper, a groom of the King’s Privy Chamber. Fraser here states “that her early feelings for Culpeper can only be gauged to her later behaviour towards him, but from her welcoming attitude to him then, one suspects that she was genuinely in love with him in the autumn of 1539” (Fraser 1993, 394). This is a bit of a broad statement to make with no other argument being presented than her suspicions and whilst the two of them met long before the affair actually took place, making the statement of love so early may be going a bit too far.

It was during the time with her uncle, that Katherine caught the eye of another man, and a man who would ultimately prove to be her undoing. King Henry VIII.

From the moment Katherine caught Henry’s eye, her uncle began to plot, to use her as a way of getting the Howard family more power. He hoped to make her the King’s mistress at the very least, or better yet his queen. As Hutchinson (2009, 136) states, Katherine was for all intents and purposes, being pimped out for the king. Henry himself first met Katherine at Stephen Gardiner’s palace in Southwark during the spring of 1540 where she was dancing with other young women. From that moment the king was frequently invited to banquets and entertainments at Lambeth by the Dowager Duchess, and Henry cast a fancy at the young, fashionable, giggling Katherine. Did Katherine understand that she was just a pawn in the political games of her uncle? We cannot truly know the answer to this but we do know that Katherine accepted Henry’s attentions and his expensive gifts of jewellery and land. It seemed the King had fallen head over heels in love with another one of Norfolk’s nieces who would ultimately walk to the same fate that Anne Boleyn had gone to four years previously (Hutchinson 2009, 136-137).

At this moment it is important to put Katherine Howard into context a little by looking briefly at what was happening in court, and how she ended up coming into power as Queen. By this point, Henry was more than unhappy with his fourth wife Anne of Cleves and he was desperately searching for a way to be rid of her. The story is well known; Henry was unable to do his marital duties with Anne having informed Cromwell after the wedding night that he judged her to be “no maid” and thus the marriage was never consummated. He clearly did not like the way she looked, nor her “unpleasant airs” and claimed it was this that stopped him sleeping with her. But of course, as is typical of Henry, he cannot have been the problem and he claimed that he had “duas pollutions nocturnas in somno” (ejaculations or wet dreams) and would be able to perform with others, just not Anne (Hutchinson 2006, 28-29). Henry had been urging Cromwell to find him a way out of the marriage since he first laid eyes on Anne but time had run out. Cromwell was arrested at a Privy Council meeting on 10th June 1540 and Anne was sent away on 24th June for her health. The marriage was annulled on the grounds of non-consummation and Cromwell provided one last service to the king, writing a testimony confirming that the king’s case was true. Thomas Cromwell was condemned by act of attainder on 29th June and the marriage formally ended on 9th July. Just 19 days after the annulment of his marriage to Anne of Cleves, Henry married Katherine Howard at Oatlands Palace on 19th July. Ironically, this was the same day that Cromwell lost his head on Tower Green by a clumsy and unskilled axe man (Hutchinson 2006, 34-37).

Henry was understandably infatuated with his new bride and had, it seemed, found a new wife who embodied all of the qualities that he admired in women – beauty, charm, pleasant disposition, obedience and virtue. But was Katherine as elated with her new husband as he was with her? Indeed Katherine was young and Henry was much older with an ever increasing girth and a wound on his leg that refused to heal. But for all outward appearances she displayed a loving manner towards her husband. On 8th August Katherine appeared for the first time as Queen at Hampton Court, dining publically under a cloth of estate (Weir 2007, 431-433).
Henry doted on his new wife and provided for her everything that she wanted. Every day she wore new gowns ad new jewellery, Henry had never been so extravagant with any of his previous wives and this earned the disapproval of many older people at court. This included the Lady Mary who never treated Katherine with the same respect as she had done to Jane Seymour or Anne of Cleves. After all Mary was at least 9 years older than Katherine and there may have been an element of jealousy in Mary’s treatment of Katherine; Mary was after all unmarried at the age of 24! Of course having all of the riches at her disposal and all of the servants at her beck and call would have gone to Katherine’s head. She had never known such a lifestyle growing up with the Duchess and her innocence would leave her open to the compromising situations that would eventually prove to be her downfall (Weir 2007, 433-434).

Despite the gifts of gowns, jewels and land, Katherine was expected to receive petitions, listen to requests to influence her husband, administer her household and behave like a good wife should. But Katherine did not do this (I can always imagine her wrinkling her nose when someone suggested she had to go and listen to petitions!) and spent the majority of her time dancing (Baldwin Smith 1961 136-137). It cannot have been easy for the young Katherine to live up to the Kings ideals although she may have tried. Her own motto “no other will but his” must have seemed natural to Henry with his new, perfect wife ready to do his will.

However despite Henry’s renewed vigour, his moods and health soon waned. He had already given up jousting but ignored his physicians when it came to hunting and his moods could change hourly. In March 1541 the ulcer on his leg closed and the court thought he would die. But he recovered his moods soured and nothing could please him, not even his wife (Baldwin Smith 1961, 139). Just before the summer progress of 1541 that would prove her downfall, Katherine herself was in a sulk quite unlike her normal, cheerful self. She believed that she was pregnant but sadly it came to nothing. Katherine may have been mistaken or may have suffered from an early miscarriage but whatever the case; it cast the king once more into a black mood (Weir 2007, 140). It was after this that Katherine found her own spirits low, having heard that because of her failure to become pregnant that he was looking for another wife. When Henry asked her what was wrong she said that she had heard rumours that he would take Anne of Cleves back. After Henry assured her of his undying love she was back to her normal self. That was until she noticed the ladies of the court paying more respect to the lady Mary and in a fit of pure spite; Katherine had two of Mary’s ladies removed from service (Baldwin Smith 1961, 140). Katherine’s own changing moods just go to show how young she really was and how inexperienced in worldly matters, and that she would stoop to fits of spiteful vengeance just to get her own back on her step daughter.

On 28th May 1541 one of the greatest atrocities of Henry VIII’s reign happened. A member of the Plantagenet house by the name of Sir John Neville began a rebellion to restore the old Catholic religion. Margaret Pole, a member of that ancient house and with a valid claim to the throne, was at that time imprisoned in the Tower. Facing rebellion, the King believed that Pole was a threat to security and ordered her death despite Katherine’s pleas for mercy. Pole was aged 68, and on the morning of 28th May was lead out to Tower Green having only had a few hours to prepare herself for death. There, she was butchered to death by a young, inexperienced executioner (Weir 2007, 440-441). It left the realm secure however, and on 30th July 1541 the King and Queen left on a progress to the north with the intent of formally pardoning those who had taken part in the Pilgrimage of Grace. The progress made its way north into Yorkshire and as far as Newcastle. Whilst on the journey news reached Henry that Spain and France were on the brink of war but it did little to dampen his spirits. Indeed little could dampen Katherine’s high spirits either, at least until whilst staying at Pontefract, someone from her past showed up (Weir 2007, 442). Previously, Katherine had filled her household with Howard girls and relations. For instance Joan Bulmer, a girl from the days at Lambeth was found a place within the Queen’s household. And it was at Pontefract in August 1541 that Francis Dereham showed up bearing a letter of recommendation from the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. Here Katherine made a huge mistake, and fearing that if she did not take him in to her household he would tell everyone of their former love, she made him her private secretary (Baldwin Smith 1961, 142-143). Dereham came to Katherine obviously with information that could severely harm her reputation. Was this why she took him in to service, rather than because the Duchess asked her to? In any case Dereham proved unsuitable, he was rude with a violent temper and often clashed with members of the Queen’s household.

The progress returned to London on 26th October 1491 where bad news awaited Henry in droves. His sister Margaret had died and his son, the four year old Prince Edward was severely unwell with a fever. But after his son began to recover and Henry planned a service of thanksgiving, there came a piece of news that would shatter Henry’s marriage and prove disastrous for Katherine (Weir 2007, 443-444).

The crisis came in a tale told to Thomas Cranmer by John Lascelles, a man whose sister Mary had once served the Dowager Duchess at Lambeth. The tale confirmed to Cranmer that Katherine may have been pre-contracted to Francis Dereham which made her marriage to the King invalid. And the news had to be broken to the King. On 2nd November at Hampton Court, a letter was given to the King telling all. At first Henry did not believe what he was reading but this was just the calm before the storm and at this moment, all the evidence pointed to Katherine’s behaviour before her marriage to the King. But of course, witnesses to what Katherine had been up to during the progress soon came out of the woodwork. To start with Dereham was taken to the tower and there he made sure that Culpeper’s name was dropped into his confession, that he heard a rumour that Thomas Culpeper had “overtaken him in the Queen’s affections”. He said as much, hoping to save himself and Culpeper was soon arrested (Fraser 1993, 422-423). The truth was indeed now out, Katherine was not as innocent as she had made out and like the King had believed. Henry flipped, he blamed his council for suggesting that he marry her before breaking down in tears, calling for a sword so he could kill her himself. In a way the King felt he had been tricked into believing she was a virgin, that he had been cuckolded and everyone knew it.

Katherine was then called to questioning, having been locked in her rooms at Hampton Court. She was confronted by Thomas Cranmer who “found her in such lamentation and heaviness” Her attendants told him of her wild moods which only his visits could calm, especially when he delivered a message of “grace and mercy” which was more than she could have expected. Cranmer himself saw the pre-contract with Dereham as heaven sent, a way he could easily get Henry out of the marriage and pronounce it as invalid. That way Katherine could be disgraced and put away. But the evidence for the pre-contract was sparse, based on a shaky betrothal and the Queen in her terror could not grasp that admitting to a pre-contract would have her life. Instead she made excuses, saying that Dereham had forced her into a sexual liaison. She certainly was not as clever as her cousin Anne Boleyn had been, nor as well educated and she had no one now left to advise her (Fraser 1993, 425). Prior to Katherine being taken to Syon the Lady Rochford, wife of executed George Boleyn and sister in law to Anne Boleyn, knew that she was in danger. She had aided and abetted Katherine’s affair with Thomas Culpeper and “was seized with a raving madness”. Katherine and Rochford were confined together and many thought that they would share the same fate. Meanwhile at Lambeth the Dowager Duchess heard reports of Katherine’s misconduct and knew it had happened under her roof. She took a more rational view of the situation, knowing that nothing could be done to Katherine for something that was done before her marriage, yet still she began searching the house for evidence knowing that if Katherine fell, all of the Howard family would fall with her (Weir 2007, 449).

Whilst still held at Hampton Court, Katherine played into Cranmer’s hands during questioning, when she mentioned Thomas Culpeper, the name of her distant cousin and the man whom had so recently been arrested. Dereham had mentioned to Cranmer a rumour that the two of them would marry, which Katherine vehemently denied “what should you trouble me thereabouts, for you know I will not have you; and if you heard such report you know more than I” (Weir 2007, 455).

On 7th November 1541, Cranmer sent Katherine’s confession to the King and Katherine received a visit from the Privy Council to help her write a plea for forgiveness. After Henry received this he felt happier, for she could not have been unfaithful and he knew at this stage that he could get away with a divorce (Weir 2007, 457-458). That was until further evidence came to light about Katherine’s affair with Thomas Culpeper and Henry had Katherine moved from Hampton Court to Syon Abbey, there to await her fate. Katherine was removed from Hampton Court on 14th November to Syon; she would never see King Henry again. He himself had left Hampton Court previously and did not return until she had been moved to Syon. At this stage her harboured a deep resentment of Dereham, the man who had, spoiled his “Rose without a thorn” and it was a greater resentment than he held even for Culpeper who was accused of the worse crime of adultery. He would invoke treason against them both, accusing them both of adultery with Katherine and all three of them would die for it (Fraser 1993, 425-426).

More evidence began coming forward as Katherine was held at Syon, tales of her trysts with Culpeper which could only be taken as adulterous. Despite the fact that Culpeper kept denying the fact he had carnal knowledge of the Queen, what else could she be doing with him in her chambers two nights running and up the backstairs in Lincoln until two in the morning? Culpeper himself admitted to night-time rendezvous in Greenwich, Lincoln, Pontefract and York. Many witnesses also mentioned Lady Rochford who attempted to show that she was little more than an innocent bystander, somehow at the other end of the room where Katherine was meeting with Culpeper and not knowing what was happening. Katherine reversed it, saying that Rochford had tempted her with the meetings and Culpeper said she provoked him into a relationship with the Queen. But whatever else, all three of them were involved and far too deeply (Fraser 1993. 427-428). Regarding Dereham, his appointment as secretary gave the Queen’s accusers what they were after. He was tortured; condemned as a traitor and on 10th December was hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn. Culpeper died on the same day, but due to his rank and mercy from the king his sentence was changed to beheading (Fraser 1993, 428). In the same month, a number of other people were arrested for having concealed Katherine’s past, including the Dowager Duchess. Katherine’s uncle Norfolk however was spared imprisonment by distancing himself from his niece (Fraser 1993, 430).

On 24th November Katherine, who had been demoted from Queen ship two days previously was incited for having led “an abominable, base, carnal and voluptuous life…like a common harlot with divers persons…maintaining however the outward appearance of chastity and honesty”. Now it was a matter of waiting, and Katherine was seemingly ready to accept her fate. On Friday 10th February 1542 Katherine was transferred from Syon to the Tower, whereupon in a moment of blind terror she refused to go. Eventually the Council bundled her into the waiting barge, which was enclosed. This was just as well, as they sailed beneath tower bridge which held the still rotting heads of both Dereham and Culpeper. Katherine had in fact at this stage been condemned to death by an Act of Attainder, although the document was still waiting for the King’s signature. No execution could take part without him signing the form however and in the end it was signed with the Great Seal to save the King more distress. It was read in Parliament on Saturday 11th February which meant the execution could now go ahead, but not on a Sunday. Katherine gained a day’s grace, and on the Sunday she asked that the block be brought to her rooms so she could practice how to place herself, mindful of conducting herself properly in her last moments. Executions after all were important moments, and it would do well for her to know what it was she must do.

On Monday 13th February 1542 Katherine was lead out of her rooms to Tower Green where 6 years earlier her cousin had been executed. She mounted the scaffold where she prayed for her husband and admitted that she deserved punishment. Folklore states that she spoke the following, “I die a Queen, but I would rather die the wife of Culpeper”. This is apocryphal and Katherine did not say this. She then placed her head on the block as she had practiced and her head was removed in one stroke (Weir 2007, 479-481). Lady Rochford followed her out, still in a frenzy. Henry had to have a special act passed to allow the execution of the insane before he could have her removed for her part in the scandal. But, faced with the axe and with Katherine’s remains being wrapped in a blanket, she recovered her reason enough to make her last speech before she too lost her head (Weir 2007, 481-482).

Grave marker of Katherine Howard within the chapel of St Peter Ad Vicula

Katherine’s body was taken to the nearby chapel of St Peter Ad Vincula where she was laid to rest in an unmarked grave near to her cousin Anne Boleyn. And there she lay forgotten until 1553 when Queen Mary had the act of attainder reversed as it had never borne the signature of the King. There Katherine rests still, her name marked on a tile by the altar although no one knows whether Katherine herself rests beneath it. Her name is still very much vilified as Henry VIII’s ‘bimbo queen’, his adulteress, as opposed to the young naïve girl that she truly was.

Katherine Howard died young, the victim of a bitter struggle for power on the part of her uncle Norfolk and the Howard faction. She was little more than a naïve girl, desperate to be loved when she had a husband who was so much larger than she was, and so much older. I do not believe it fair to say that Katherine deserved what she got for her affair with Thomas Culpeper or indeed her pre-marital trysts with Mannox and Dereham; in fact I believe that she was naïve and a girl who had no idea of the mess that she was getting herself into. Having been a part of that huge Howard family, she would have known what had happened to her cousin Anne Boleyn all those years before, the rumours that she had affairs with other men including her own brother and would have known that Anne went to her death because of it. And yet Katherine still walked the path she did, unknowing of the mess she was getting herself into. It is unfair to label her as an adulteress and Henry’s empty headed bimbo queen for she was much more than that. She was young yes, and not so well educated but in the end I think that all Katherine Howard wanted was to be loved and in the end that proved to be her downfall.

Baldwin Smith, L, 1961, Catherine Howard, Amberley Publishing: Stroud
Fraser, A, 1993, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Vintage: London
Hutchinson, R, 2006, The Last Days of Henry VIII, Phoenix: London
Hutchinson, R, 2009, House Of Treason: The Rise & Fall Of A Tudor Dynasty, Phoenix: London
Starkey, D, 2004, Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII, Vintage: London
Weir, A, 2007, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Vintage: London.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

On This Day In History: 23rd October 1642

On this day in history, 23rd October 1642, the first major battle of the English Civil War was fought in Warwickshire between the armies of the Earl of Essex for Parliament and the Royalist army. This battle is often seen as indecisive, but in fact the King gained a huge advantage during this battle. As Essex could not break through he had to retreat northward to the security of Warwick. This meant that the Royalists had command of the all important road to London - and control of London was the key to the war.

As the majority of the battle site now lies within Ministry of Defence land, much of the site is inaccessible including the monument to the site within Graveyard Coppice.

Photo course: The Battlefields Trust
Map Of Edgehill (accessed 23rd October 2011)

Friday, 21 October 2011

Westminster Abbey 20th October 2011

Westminster Abbey has been on my list of places to see for quite some time now, due to it's links with Tudor and Stuart history; and after I found out that some of my favourite historical monarchs and one great Lady in particular were buried there I knew that the visit had to happen soon. So a date was set and on the very cold morning of 20th October we set off. It had to be the longest journey ever, as the train I had booked was a cheaper alternative to the normal one we get to Waterloo. This one took two and a half hours to get into Victoria and stopped at what seemed like every train station from here to Edinburgh. But when we arrived in Westminster and turned the corner past the Houses of Parliament, the cold and the travel became worth it in an instant.

I was completely astounded by the beauty of the architecture of the abbey, with it's gorgeous carvings around the doorways, the flying buttresses, the intricate carvings upon the towers. It was just breathtaking and it always amazes me how these huge, beautiful buildings were built all that time ago. But one thing is for sure, long before the impressive monument we see today was built, there was a church on this site for hundreds of years previously. No one knows the exact date when the first church was built but there are many stories from the monks who later claimed the church as a benedictine monastery, as a way of saying their church was older than St Paul's. Nevertheless, in 960 Dunstan, Bishop of London brought twelve Benedictine monks from Glastonbury to found a monastery at Westminster and 100 years later Edward the Confessor founded a church on the site, and the church was consecrated in 1065. Edward the Confessor died the same year and was buried in the church, which the Bayeux Tapestry depicts - the tapestry also tells us what the abbey looked like at the time.

As you can see in the photograph above, from the national archives, the church had a central tower, pillars and round arches. There is also a weather vane being placed on the roof by a workman showing that the church had just been finished. Archaeological work, which has found the remains of Edward's church under the floor of the present one, has show that Edward's church was almost as big as the current one! A shrine for Edward, now known as St Edward the Confessor, was began in the 1200's and can still be seen today although in a different location. The church kept on being added to and changed through the centuries and the distinctive towers were added in 1745. The abbey we see today also bears the scars of destruction from the English Civil War whereupon Cromwell's puritan troops ransacked the Abbey and destroyed altars, religious images and even the organ!

When we arrived at the Abbey, we saw that the opening times had changed to 1.30pm. That meant we were very early. Two hours early in fact. So while we waited we took a quick trip into St Margaret's Church next to the Abbey. This church, although small, was breathtaking. And inside I saw the burial memorial of Sir Walter Raleigh, a man whom had been great friends with Elizabeth I but a man who had been beheaded in 1618 for attacking a Spanish outpost!

After we had a spot of lunch in a small cafe just down the road from the Abbey, we still had some time to wait so ended up sitting on the railings just by the front door. As luck would have it, this is where the queue was to get into the Abbey. This is when the cold really hit! But an hour later, the doors opened and in we went. Regrettably photography is not allowed inside the Abbey, and I'm sure if it had been I would have taken literally thousands of photos of the tombs I had gone there to see as well as the beautiful architecture. Instead I have my little guidebook now which is full of beautiful photographs. When we were in there to start with it was so quiet as we were literally the second people inside and as we made our way to the Henry VII chapel to see those who we had come to see, we were the only people in that part of the Abbey. The first tomb we saw was that of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York and whilst it was such a beautiful monument we couldn't see too much as it was surrounded by the huge iron bars. It is said that the images of Henry and Elizabeth are as close to real life as they could have been and that, to me, is just astounding.

Next we made our way into the silent side room of the Henry VII chapel and in there I had one hell of a moment. Laying there, in utter silence, was the tomb of Elizabeth I and Mary I. The tomb amazed me, and I won't lie - I had a bit of a moment as I gazed on the face of the best monarch that this country has ever known. Lying there, next to her half sister Mary, was the body of Anne Boleyn's daughter. Little was Henry VIII to know that Elizabeth would prove to be the son he had wanted so badly, that she would be the best known monarch this country ever had. There is a beautiful inscription on the floor in front of the tomb imploring people to think of those who had been affected on both sides of the reformation, and it really did make me think. Despite their differences in religion and the pain that Mary put Elizabeth through, they were still together in death. As well as that, above the tomb in Latin is a very prominent and moving inscription: "Partners both in throne and grave, here rest we two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in the hope of the Resurrection". Very moving and very thought provoking.

Just over the way in the room where both Mary Queen of Scots and Margaret Beaufort are, is a small slab on the floor. On this slab is the name "King Charles II" and the date "1685". This simple slab marks the burial place of another of England's great monarchs. This man, although best known for his many mistresses and his fun loving ways, delivered England from the tyranny of Oliver Cromwell as restored the monarchy to Britain. I found it so sad that this great man, this man whom I have a huge amount of respect for, has nothing more than a slab on the ground whereas in the same room a woman who had been beheaded for "treason" had been given a huge, beautiful tomb. Who knows why poor Charles has nothing, maybe he was too busy having fun to really think about having a tomb made, or maybe there just wasn't enough money. It defies belief but I did feel incredibly sad as I stood there gazing at this slab, where such a great man and a man who I respect greatly, had been buried. The photo below, found online, just shows how simply this great man is memorialised.

The last tomb we came specifically to see was the one that had the biggest effect on me, and we stumbled across it completely by chance. I have wanted to see where Anne Stanhope, Duchess of Somerset, was buried for a very long time now and I knew she was inside Westminster. But when we came across her tomb I was blown away by the magnificence of it:

I stood in front of her tomb for what seemed like forever, tears starting to fall as I tentatively reached out and touched the cold marble of her coffin. Laying there was a woman whom I have been fascinated with for a very long time, a woman I have spent time researching and pouring through Tudor books to find any mention of. I have argued that she was not the hellish, evil woman that so many still believe her to be and I have put up with hatred from those who are not prepared to look at other arguments about Anne. Anne Stanhope, Lady Hertford and Duchess of Somerset is such a fascinating character; a woman who loved her husband and went to the Tower with him, a woman who watched her husband die on the scaffold, a woman who tried so hard to protect her son Edward from making the mistake of taking a royal marriage with Katherine Grey, a woman who watched the same son go into the Tower as his father had. Not only that she was a key player in the reformation. She may have hated Katherine Parr, and Katherine may have hated her - the name calling and Anne's refusal to bear Katherine's train are stories that are always repeated on both sides - and Anne may have had a thirst for power but at the bottom of everything she was a woman who loved her husband, her children and believed in what she did. This woman, her strength of character, is a source of huge inspiration to me and I often look to Anne if I need strength in my day to day life. I often think "what would Anne do?" and thinking of this amazing woman gets me through. It is my hope to continue my research on her, find out as much as I can and take it forward. I think I owe it to her. It is for these reasons that I stood in front of her tomb in the Abbey for what seemed like forever, the reason I found myself crying, the reason I reached out and touched her (I know, I probably shouldn't have...but it is the closest I have been to this remarkable woman and I will always remember it). And as I stood there, a woman came up beside me and said to her friend, "This is the grave of the Earl of Hertford", I turned to her with tears in my eyes and shook my head, "No, this is his wife Anne Stanhope. A remarkable, brave woman". This lady looked at me as if I were mad, said a small thank you and hurried away. In that moment, I felt as if Anne were there and gave a quick smile of thanks.

After this, we saw so much. We had a look around the museum and saw the wax effigy of Charles II, and went and sat in the beautiful gardens just off the cloisters. These gardens were so peaceful, whilst at this point the Abbey was teaming with people, the gardens were so very quiet. We sat on one of the benches in front of a fountain for a while, just enjoying the quiet before taking a few photographs (they were allowed out here).

It really was a perfect place to sit and think for a while.

After this we finished up our walk around the Abbey with a quick wander back around the first part of the Abbey (fighting through the hundreds of people now there), had a look at the slab marking the burial place of Edward VI (this surprised me, as I had read he was buried in an unmarked grave by his uncle, but I guess that's what happens when you read history books written in the 1800's!!) and had one last look at Elizabeth I, Charles and Anne before heading for the exit. And it was at the exit we saw something wonderful, the Coronation chair that every monarch has sat on since 1308. It was on display behind glass as members of staff were undertaking conservation work. Seeing that chair and watching the love and care that was going into the conservation was just breathtaking, and thinking of the hundreds of Royal bottoms that have graced it even more so! And as we left also we stood by the grave of the Unknown Soldier, said a very quiet thankful and made our way outside to the shop and our walk back to the train station.

Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed our trip and saw things that I never thought to have seen, I honestly feel that I won't revisit the Abbey. It is one of those things that I consider to be once in a life time (at least for now, my mind may change when I eventually have children and want them to see this jewel of England), not least for the price they charged to get in. £16 is very expensive for a couple of hours walking around and you certainly couldn't spend a whole day there. Although after reading that the Abbey receives no help from the government or Crown I can understand why they charge so much - it must take a lot of money to keep that building running smoothly. I do however recommend visiting the Abbey, and believe that everyone should visit at least once to see the final resting places of so many of this country's monarchs, as well as site where early every monarch has been crowned and has seen hundreds of Royal Weddings. All in all, a great day out and highly recommended.

Wilkinson J, 2011, Westminster Abbey: A Souvenir Guide, Scala Publishers: London

Photo credits:
Gardens & Abbey exterior photographs taken by myself - please do not use without permission
Bayeux Tapestry - National Archives ( accessed 21st October 2011
Anne Stanhope's Tomb, photograph taken by Bernard Gagnon and accessed through Wikimedia Commons (21st October 2011)
Charles II Tomb, photograph taken from accessed 21st October 2011