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

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Review: The Medici by Paul Strathern

A dazzling history of the modest family which rose to become one of the most powerful in Europe, The Medici is a remarkably modern story of power, money and ambition. Against the background of an age which saw the rebirth of ancient and classical learning, Paul Strathern explores the intensely dramatic rise and fall of the Medici family in Florence, as well as the Italian Renaissance which they did so much to sponsor and encourage. Strathern also follows the lives of many of the great Renaissance artists with whom the Medici had dealings including Leonardo, Michelangelo and Donatello; as well as scientists like Galileo and Pico Della Mirandola; and the fortunes of the Medici family who achieved success away from Florence, including the two Medici popes and Catherine de’ Medicis who became Queen of France and played a major role in that country through three turbulent reigns.

When I first received this book through the post, I put off reading it. I had known that the Medici family had been a banking family and as I work for a bank myself I kind of wanted to distance myself from that world. However at the same time I knew that the Medici played a very important role in Renaissance Italy and had done so much to enhance the Renaissance in Florence. It was that which made me bite the bullet and pick this book up. I am so glad I did because from the get-go I was hooked. Although I did not get through this book particularly fast due to the heavy subject matter in many of the chapters, I found it to be exceptionally interesting and despite the fact that I was a little iffy about the banking side of it, I found that bit really interesting too. Because it seems that in those days, banking was full of corruption instead of being governed by all of these stringent rules like it is today.

First of all, Strathern has a wonderful writing style. I found that once I began reading that I was hooked and his text flowed. There were times that it felt as if I were reading a historical fiction, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s not often with historical non-fiction that I can actually visualise what’s happening as I read it but in this book, I did. I honestly cannot fault Strathern and his writing style at all.

Strathern runs through each of the Medici family in turn, telling the reader of their birth, life and death. But before even then we are show the origins of the family, how they were, according to family legend, descended from a man who slew a giant. The balls shown on the Medici insignia were said to have come from that story after the giant used the balls on his huge mace to smash the Medici shield to pieces. It seems more likely however that these golden balls are insignias of money. The Medici in fact came from the Mugello, twenty-five miles from Florence and it was not until the thirteenth century that the family moved to Florence to try their luck. In the first chapter, we are given a brief overview of the Medici family and their rise to power from the thirteenth century onwards and how members of the family made their way to becoming gonfaloniere of the city and how the Medici bank began. After a huge revolt in the City and the death of Salvestro De Medici in 1388 the bank was taken over by Vieri who skilfully handled another revolt in the city but died that same year, ending the senior line of the family. Following this we are told of how a secondary branch of the family took over the banking business and Giovanni De Bicci took over. It is from this branch of the family that the most famous Medici are descended including Cosimo and Lorenzo the Magnificent. And it was under Giovanni that the bank began its rise to becoming one of the largest banks in the world with branches stretching throughout Italy and even ending up as far away as London. Yet it was with Cosimo that the Medici really got going, and from this man was descended Lorenzo the Magnificent – these two would make the Medici great at the height of their power. Yet sadly the Medici would go into a sharp and steady decline following the death of Lorenzo.

I thoroughly enjoyed the section on Lorenzo De Medici, also known as “Il Magnifico”. Previous to reading this book I had no idea that Lorenzo had so much to do with the famous artists of the time. Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo are just two of the artists who he commissioned. Lorenzo was an incredibly popular man, although his magnificence “could sometimes degenerate into arrogance or pure show”. Nevertheless Lorenzo seemed to be a good man, he was good at poetry and spent an inordinate amount of time encouraging artists and even scientists. One of the saddest parts of the whole book was, for me, the story of the murder of Lorenzo’s brother Guiliano inside the Cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiore. This conspiracy was the work of the Pazzi family who had become increasingly jealous of the Medici and their power and so Francesco De Pazzi stabbed poor Guiliano over 19 times. Francesco ended up being arrested for his crimes and condemned – he was hung naked from a window of the Palazzo Della Signoria. Strathern also tells us how, when Savanarola came into power within the church, things began to decline for the Medici family.

Savanarola was a priest, a Dominican friar, who found himself as leader of Florence. The Medici had at this time been overthrown and Savanarola began to look after Florence, or rather rule it as a “City of God”. It was he who held the Bonfire of the Vanities, the burning of books and artwork that were seen to be evil and heretical. And it seems that for a while the people of Florence loved it, they had become disillusioned of the Medici rule. But soon enough they became tired of Savanarola and his fanatical preaching, and Savanarola was hung in the Piazza Della Signoria, the very same place where he held the Bonfire. Soon after this the Medici were back, but they were no longer as powerful as they had been and would go into a swift decline.

In 1512 the Medici came back to Florence, and those descended from Cosimo ruled again on and off until Alessandro De Medici was assassinated in 1537 by Lorenzino De Medici. Strathern describes the life and death of Alessandro wonderfully, and Alessandro comes across as a young, fun loving young man who unfortunately took things too far. Indeed he took things so far as to have his cousin Ipollito De Medici poisoned! Lorenzino, another member of the Medici clan, made an outward show of friendship towards Alessandro but was in fact plagued with jealously. In 1537 Lorenzino murdered Alessandro whilst he was sleeping, leaving his body in the blood stained bed sheets to be found later. And of course the question then arose of which Medici should rule Florence, and there were no legitimate male members of the family left (save Lorenzino who had disappeared). After this point, it was Cosimo De Medici, son of Giovanni De Medico Della Bande Nera, who had more interest in the military than anything else and was a man who had a foul temper alongside it.

I have to admit that towards the end of the book, after Alessandro, I lost interest. I don’t know why, but to me the later Medici and their eventual downfall just did not interest me as much as the earlier Medici had done. I had to force myself through the chapters of Cosimo and Catherine De Medicis (Queen of France) and thankfully there wasn’t much there. And yes, whilst Catherine changed the face of French cuisine (her portraits only attest to that!) she didn’t really seem to do much! That’s not to say that Strathern did anything wrong in his telling of the story of the later Medici family, I just found much more interest in the earlier family through the Renaissance. This family certainly did a lot for Italy, through their powerful banking and working with famous artists as Brunescelli, Leonardo and Michelangelo as well as their work with scientists such as Galileo. This book is certainly a fascinating story (almost) right up to the end; they did so much but at the same time lost so much. But they made such a mark on Renaissance Italy and particularly in Florence that their name is still known today, and so many Medici treasures are still preserved in museums in Florence.

The only fault that I have with this book is the huge inaccuracies about the Borgia family! It did not make up a huge part of the book, rather just a few lines but I was shocked to read Strathern say that Cesare Borgia had his brother poisoned and I would love to know where he came by this information. Cesare Borgia certainly did not have his brother poisoned although rumours did circle at the time that he was responsible. In fact, Juan Borgia was found stabbed in the Tiber! There was also the mention of Lucrezia and incest, although here at least Strathern did say that she was “suspected” of it which makes up for it somewhat.

Despite this, I cannot really fault this book and recommend it as a book for anyone interested in an overview of the Medici family, for someone just starting out in their reading or for anyone who knows a lot about them too.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Finding The Real Assassins Creed

I'm a huge fan of the Assassins Creed series, I'm sure you know the deal. Hidden blades, Templars vs Assassins and pieces of Eden. And I'm sure you all know that despite the fact these games are based on historical fact they take certain...liberties. It was the original game that got me interested in the Crusader era and I've been doing quite a bit of reading in and around the Crusades as well as visiting a few Crusader castles in Portugal.

And when I found this little beauty on Amazon I just had to buy it. I knew that the Assassin sect had existed in Medieval Islam but I honestly had no idea that there were books out there about them because after all, these sort of sects tended to be pretty secretive. And what do I see when I'm flicking through the pictures (I ended up getting the illustrated version!)? A picture of Masyaf, the Assassin stronghold that is so prevalent in the first game. I may have gotten a little excited when I saw that, as I had no idea it was a real place and more so I had no idea that the stronghold was still standing. It seems that the game developers have based a lot of the games story on what actually happened and you can even compare the character of Al Mualim (the assassins sect leader in game) to the Old Man of the Mountain (the leader from real life). A coincidence? I think not.

By any means I am very much looking forward to reading this book. I don't imagine that the real life Assassin order is anywhere near as exciting as it is in the game, nor will they go off hunting for pieces of Eden related to strange futuristic gods from the past but I imagine that the history of the sect is pretty much the same. Did they use hidden blades? Probably not. Did they perform crazy leaps of faith from the top of churches? Again probably not but hey, let's leave that to the games and start learning a bit of the true history behind this secretive sect. Real life is often far more exciting than the made up stuff anyway!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Revisiting Hampton Court Palace (March 2011)

Following on from my post about our visit to The Tower, earlier this year my partner and I took a trip to Hampton Court. It was next on my list of Tudoresque buildings to visit after the Tower and I loved its links to the ghost of Katherine Howard. I had known that originally the palace had belonged to Cardinal Wolsey, and passed into the Kings hands later but I had no idea of the scale of the place and just how beautiful it was. Unfortunately, it was raining on the day we went (I have this unfortunate knack of picking the days to visit places that have the worst weather) so I ended up having to shell out on an expensive Hampton Court brolly. It has since become my favourite brolly in the world however!

Anne Boleyn's gateway, just inside the entrance to the palace. So called because as you walk through the archway there are still the HA insignia carvings from when Henry and Anne were married. These insignias were overlooked after Anne's execution and as Henry rushed to have all evidence of Anne removed.
Anne Boleyn's gateway from the other side. This clock is an astronomical clock commissioned by Henry VIII in 1540, which shows the time of day, phases of the moon, the quarter of the year, the date, the sun and star sign and the high water at London bridge!

The day we were there there was a huge display of costumed reenactors. As we arrived we were presented with a what's on guide which told us the time and place of events that were going in but promptly forgot about it and went on our way through the palace. As we were walking through the Haunted gallery however, my partner was coerced into attending a meeting of the Privy Council by a man who later turned out to be none other than Thomas Seymour! And I, lowly woman that I was, was told to go to the Great Watching Chamber and see Frances Grey, the King's niece. This was an absolutely fantastic portion of the day, all of the staff members played their roles so well and I had a great talk with the lady playing Frances about how the little Prince Edward was getting on before we went to the Privy Council to inform the King. Later on as we were in the Great Watching chamber having a look, who should turn up but King Henry VIII in time for his petitions! The room got quite full very quickly but we were relatively near the front and sure enough, Frances Grey takes my arm and asks how my "sister is getting on" because she recognised me and remembered the letter I had written her about getting my sister married off. I ended up being taken before the King (it was very VERY scary, I was pretty much lost for words!) to ask him to help out my sister and find her a good marriage. There was a bit of banter between myself and Thomas Seymour after that too. And yes, that is me in the photo above! Great fun, finished with Henry answering lots of questions from the children who were there on a school trip. It made the experience very hands on, and I loved it. A great way to make the history that little more interesting and hands on to those younger generations and those who are only just finding an interest in the period.

Next we took a further sojourn down the Haunted Gallery and saw some of the most famous Tudor portraits:

The top one there is the famous Tudor family portrait showing Henry, Prince Edward and Jane Seymour (although she had long been dead by the time this was painted) and Henry's two daughters Mary and Elizabeth. In this portrait Elizabeth is wearing a necklace with the letter "A" around her neck, a stark reminder that she is Anne Boleyn's daughter. The lower photograph is of course little Edward VI, the young king who was used as a stepping stone to power for so many and who unfortunately died before he could reach his majority.

Now this portrait got me a little excited. It's probably the most famous portrait in the world of Charles II, the man who restored the monarchy of England after the tyrannical rule of Oliver Cromwell. And he was certainly a man who liked to party. I was astounded at the size of this portrait, as we walked into the room where all the Stuart portraits were hung this one dominated the room. I stood there for what seemed like an eternity drinking in this beautiful portrait and it was really very hard to drag myself away. Charles II is one of my favourite historical figures and a man who deserves a lot of respect. And this portrait just exudes power and majesty and dominates the room, as I think the character of Charles would have done in life.

Hampton Court really is an amazing place, so full of so many different periods of history. The majority know it just for its links to the Tudor dynasty but there really is so much more. Yes, Henry VIII spent a lot of time here and yes, Katherine Howard was arrested here after it was found out that she had been "unfaithful" but there are astounding Stuart links here as well as Georgian (although after George II, no monarch ever resided there - George III linked it to a rather embarrassing moment where his father struck him) and it was during the reign of Victoria that it was first opened to the public. I definitely recommend Hampton Court as it is a fantastic day out and really not too expensive! Just make sure you get there early enough to do everything - we arrived rather late (closer to lunch time) and so didn't have time to do the gardens or the maze, although saying that with the weather as rubbish as it was it was probably best that we stayed inside! It's definitely somewhere that we will be looking to go back to!

Next on the agenda however is Westminster Abbey and Westminster Hall!

Friday, 7 October 2011

The Tower of London

As we're heading off to London in a couple of weeks to have a look around Westminster Abbey I thought I'd do a couple of posts on my previous visits to historical places in London. My first post will be on our visit to the Tower of London, with lots of photos so be prepared.

We went to the Tower almost a year ago and it is still one of my favourite places for it's historical importance. A number of high profile prisoners were executed here including Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey and Edward Seymour. I found the chapel of St Peter Ad Vicula to be possibly the most moving place on earth, and I sat in front of the chapel in silence looking at the graves of so many innocent people. Under the floor of the altar lie the bodies of Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard and Lady Jane Rochford, all of whom executed on trumped up charges of treason. It was such a sad place, especially knowing that both Katherine Howard and Jane Grey were so young when they lost their lives to the axe, all of them innocent. It was in this chapel that I began to think more and more of the young Katherine Howard, and I fell in love with her character. It prompted me to read more about her life, and thus I am now sure that although she may have been guilty in some way of adultery, she was just a naive little girl who wanted to be loved.

Below are some photographs that I took of our trip.

The famous traitors gate. The beefeater guides at the Tower love to tell tourists that Anne Boleyn was brought through here when she was arrested and incarcerated here at the Tower but she wasn't. As she was still Queen she was brought in through the main gate and given all due honour as Queen. I had to bite my tongue when I heard the beef-eaters telling poor unfortunate tourists that Anne was brought through here - the board in front of the gate even says that she was!!

The chapel of St Peter Ad Vicula (meaning St Peter In Chains). In here are buried so many important individuals who were executed at the Tower including Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey, Edward Seymour, Jane Rochford, George Boleyn, Thomas More and John Fisher. I found it to be an incredibly moving place and as I sat there I found myself almost in tears (sad I know) but this is certainly somewhere I will be visiting in future, and I would love to take flowers there on the anniversary of Katherine Howard's death.

The Jewel House, in which are housed the Crown Jewels. This is also the site of the scaffold upon which Anne Boleyn and a few years later Katherine Howard lost their lives. This is nowhere near the monument which says the scaffold was on the site of the green (something alas made up by the Victorians, and another thing that the beefeater's love to tell the tourists!)

This is one of the Ravens housed at the Tower of London. There is a wonderful prophecy that says if the Ravens ever leave the Tower then the White Tower will fall and it will be the end of the world. There have always been Raven's at the Tower, and Charles II was the man who said they should always stay - after an argument with the astrologer who said they were getting in the way! This prompted the beginnings of the Observatory at Greenwich! I'll admit now that this particular Raven scared me something chronic as he settled on the railings and gave me the evil eye!

This book, "The History Of The World" was written by Sir Walter Raleigh during his imprisonment at the Tower, and is now housed in the room that he was held in!

Graffiti on the walls of the Beauchamp Tower. Here you can clearly see the name "Jane" carved - possibly carved by a supporter of Lady Jane Grey who was imprisoned here. There is also the insignia of Anne Boleyn carved on these walls, but the falcon is minus its crown signifying her downfall.

And finally here is a suit of armour that once belonged to King Henry VIII, currently on display in the White Tower. I was in awe of the size of this armour, he certainly was a big man with very broad muscular shoulders! This suit of armour was before Henry got fat (for want of a better word) and there is another suit of armour on display which is much bigger to fit his large girth!

I thoroughly enjoyed our trip to the Tower and it's certainly somewhere I am looking to return to in the future. There really is so much there to see, and although we got around most of it there were certain parts we just didn't have time to get to. I definitely urge anyone interested in Tudor history to get themselves to the Tower (and indeed if you're interested in earlier stuff also - there are the ruins of Roman walls in the grounds!) as it certainly makes for a wonderful day out!