Saturday, 25 February 2012

Walking In The Footsteps of the Ancient Romans, and the Borgias

It has always been a dream of mine to visit Rome, right from having Primary School history lessons on Ancient Rome, learning about Gladiators and having pretend Roman banquets. Of course more recently I have developed a huge interest (say rather...obsession) with the Borgia family who had a huge part to play in the history of Renaissance Rome. We all know the stories of the Borgia family, the scandalous rumours of murder and incest that swept not only Rome, but the world also, at the time. And now, I have the chance to walk the streets of Rome, to see the sites that the Borgia family would have seen and known. And I am beyond excited.

Yes, that's right. I'm all booked up to go to Rome.

Of course whilst we are there we will be having a look at the sites of Ancient Rome including the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Forum, Baths of Diocletian and of course the Catacombs. I haven't read anything on Ancient Rome for a very, very long time so will certainly be doing a bit of extra research into these sites before we go - after all at this moment in time my knowledge is made up of bits and bobs from a rather uninspiring university module as well as various bits of information picked up from who knows where. So I'll certainly be picking up a few books on Ancient Rome in the run up to the summer.

Of course, the area I am most looking forward to visiting, thanks to its links with my favourite Renaissance family, is the Vatican and St Peter's Basilica. Not only that but the history of the Vatican has close links to Tudor history - with the refusal to grant Henry VIII's annulment. That however, is a different story for a different day. I am seriously looking forward to visiting the Vatican, wandering around its museums (because it has a good few!!) and seeing the Sistine Chapel. I remember being told some years ago by my Grandmother that gazing at the Sistine Ceiling, painted by Michelangelo and commissioned in 1508 by Pope Julius II - he worked on the ceiling between 1508 and 1512, but was called back to do more painting in the chapel when he was over 60 years old and commissioned to paint The Last Judgement by Pope Clement VII (just before this Pope's death in 1534). The Last Judgement is still considered to be a masterpiece.

I'm sure by the time we go, you'll all be utterly fed up with my going on about it. But this city has so, so much history and I am so excited to walk in places that people would have walked hundreds of years ago, if not thousands. As I say, I have a lot of reading to do on the parts of Rome's history that I'm not so hot on but that's all part of the fun. And if anyone knows of any good books then please do let me know. I'm also slowly learning the language which is proving to be fun, if a little challenging - and I now know how to ask for an ice cream and bottle of white wine, which will probably be the thing I end up saying the most while we are there!

Photo credits:

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

And The Winner Is

We've done it! The facebook page has hit the magic 100 likes! I'm sure you'll all remember that I said I'd be giving away a copy of Christopher Hibbert's "The Borgias" as soon as we hit it.

And the winner is...April Renn! Now I have already announced this on facebook, but I wanted to do a quick post about it too! Please email me at to claim your prize, and I'll pop it in the post.

The next giveaway will be when the facebook page hits 300 likes! So do get sharing guys :D

Monday, 20 February 2012

Review [In Brief]: Tudor Survivor by Margaret Scard

A few months back I was wandering around the bookshop in town and saw a little sign. It read "Margaret Scard Book Signing - This Saturday" and had a picture of the front cover of her book on it. The title interested me greatly, "Tudor Survivor: The Life & Times of William Paulet" - I had heard of this man and had an inkling that he had been pretty important; so off I toddled downstairs and picked myself up a copy. The sales assistant reminded me that the author was doing the signing on Saturday and I told myself I would pop in on the way home from work. And pop in I did.

Margaret Scard was an absolutely lovely lady and we had a really nice conversation about Edward Seymour and Edward VI and she told me that Paulet had been around during that time period. She then signed my book and said she hoped I enjoyed it. I can't remember how long I was in the shop talking to her, but it must have been a while because I was much later home from work than I intended to be!

Now then, it has taken me a while but I have finally gotten around to reading this little gem. And from the moment I picked it up I was blown away. This is the story of William Paulet, Marquis of Winchester and a man who lived until at least his 80's (if not longer, which was super, super old for those days!) - he served five monarchs and I include Lady Jane Grey in this because he did serve her, and he survived in a world where many of his colleagues fell victim to the axe. And when he was asked how he had survived it, he answered "by being a willow, not an oak" - I guess in a way this was true because he did bend and sway with the different monarchs, changing as they changed. But at the same time he really could have been like the Oak, standing steadfast through the changes, and sticking to his guns. As I read about his life, I was just blown away by everything he saw, everything he took part in. The man rose through court mostly on his own merits and he survived into old age; Elizabeth I even said if he were younger she would marry him!

I honestly don't want to go into too much detail because I'm afraid I won't do this wonderful book justice. But if I'm honest I would recommend this to anyone interested in the Tudor reign, as it is full of interesting information on the different reigns, how royal visits were arranged and even got right down to the nitty gritty of how Paulet ran the King's household. It is honestly astounding, and you can tell that a heck of a lot of research went into this book.

This book will certainly be one of the ones that I will come back to again and again. Plus, it really didn't read like a history text at all, particularly with how Scard mixed it up with passages that were written as if they were fiction, but well written fiction. You could tell these bits as they were separated from the rest and written in Italic, but honestly it was just so well done. A highly enjoyable and well researched book which I shall certainly be going back to!

Friday, 17 February 2012

Southampton - A Perfect Place for the History Enthusiast

I've been struggling for a few days to think of anything to write for the blog, and can only describe this lull as some kind of writers block. There are book reviews to be written and shared but if I'm honest I wasn't sure if my readers would want to read about me going a little crazy about the latest amazing book I've read on the Medici family. So I'll save that for another time. Instead as I was sat on my lunch break today I realised that I live in a city surrounded by history, so maybe it was time for me to write a little something about the city where I live. Southampton - everywhere you walk there is something historical associated with it, and I love it for that sheer reason. So below are the interesting places in and around the city, with a bit of history too!

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Tudor House - this house, pictured above, is probably one of my favourite places in Southampton and I had the honour of taking part in some archaeological work in their gardens as the house was undergoing it's recent massive renovation work. It is one of the oldest buildings in Southampton, with over 800 years of history. Built in around 1495, the site originally belonged to John Whytegod, a wealthy merchant who owned part of the building known as King John's Palace as well as other properties in the area. And Blue Anchor Lane, which runs alongside Tudor House, was at that point known as Whytegod Lane. The house went through a number of owners. It was John Dawtrey who joined the three buildings on the original site together to make one massive house - John was an important man following the victory of Henry VII at the Battle of Bosworth, becoming Overseer of the Port of Southampton and Collector of the Kings Customs. Dawtrey also worked for Henry VIII, working to provide money for the navy whilst at sea and oversaw the building of many ships in the area including the famous Mary Rose. Following the death of Dawtrey, the house passed into the hands of the Lyster family - a wealthy Tudor family who often entertained regally. There is a wonderful rumour that Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn stayed at Tudor House, and that a lost love letter between the couple lies somewhere in the house. Could this have been when the Lyster family owned the house? Richard Lyster himself worked closely with the court, and took part in many of the famous and important events that have come to us through history including the trials of Bishop Fisher and Sir Thomas More; and he took part in Anne Boleyn's Coronation Procession in 1533. Today a monument to Richard can be seen in St Michael's church opposite Tudor House, which his wife Lady Elizabeth had erected following his death.

The Bargate - The Bargate is one of the city's most prominent monuments, and I always make a point of walking through it if I pass through town on the way home from work. I don't know why I love doing this, probably because when it's quiet in town and there's no one else around I imagine the thousands of feet that have trudged through that huge stone archway, imagine the swish of ladies skirts as they walk through it, the trundle of carts as they're ridden through on the way to town, the sounds of beggars asking for coins. That's probably me just romanticising things a little too much but I really do love the Bargate. The gate itself is very old and as you walk through and look up, right in the centre you can see the oldest part. The stonework is much, much different than everything surrounding it. The original gate was built in around 1180AD, with additional stonework being added as the years went on, and it was the main gate into the City for many hundreds of years. Despite what we see in these modern days, with the town being on the street known as "Above Bar", Southampton actually used to be "Below Bar" - the area that has today's town was actually an area rife with crime, and lined with taverns. What is today known as "Below Bar" was in fact the main town. The second floor was added much later and used for many different reasons including the town's guildhall in the 1700's and a prison in the 1800's.

Medieval Merchant's House - this little beauty is really hidden away, and I have never yet seen it open and been able to have a look around it. I remember a discussion with some archaeology colleagues about this little house and talks of the spooky goings on. As I've never been, I can't comment on that, but it is certainly a quirky little building tucked away in the back streets of Southampton. The house was built by John Fortin in around 1290 and it served as both a residence and a place of business. It was fronted by a shop, and in its cellar was housed wine and merchandise. According to the English Heritage website (who own this house), behind the shop was a two storied hall which lead to the principle living room as well as a first floor gallery and bedrooms. This is one of the earliest examples of a surviving medieval merchants house and always takes my breath away when I walk past it. I cannot wait to visit it, and really must make the effort to get myself down there when it's next open.

West Quay Shopping Centre - now then, I know the picture above doesn't look very historical but believe me when I say it is. This massive shopping centre is built upon the remains of part of the Saxon settlement of Hamwic, which later became Hamtun (see what's happening with the names here?), and there was an absolutely massive archaeological excavation on the site a few years back. Sadly this was long before I joined the local unit as it was apparently an absolutely fascinating dig which found a heck of a lot of stuff. You would never know it these days, but as the citizens of Southampton go about their shopping, they are rushing about on top of the remains of the original town. And sometimes it makes me feel a little sad.

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The Red Lion - the pub in the picture above is probably one of the most historically important buildings in Southampton. I know it doesn't look it, with its faux Medieval frontage. But inside it is breathtaking, despite its bar it retains a lot of its 15th Century building works including a rickety staircase and low ceilings. The building itself is particularly important in the history leading up to the famous battle of Agincourt. Men due to fight at the battle joined up in Southampton, but that is only a part of the story. The Red Lion saw a trial which even now chills my bones to read. There is a room in the pub known as "Henry V's Court Room" which was used for the trials of Richard Earl of Cambridge, Lord Scrope of Masham and Sir Thomas Grey of Heton; men who conspired against the life and throne of Henry V right before he left for Agincourt. The trial is a huge landmark in English History, even being mentioned in Shakespeare's "Henry V" - the men were all found guilty of high treason and sentenced to death. Richard, Earl of Cambridge was sentenced to beheading due to his royal blood, Thomas Grey was beheaded due to him being a Knight of the Garter and Lord Scrope was hung, drawn and quartered. The heads of Richard and Thomas were gruesomely presented to Henry V at the Bargate prior to his departure for Agincourt. Now I'm not going to lie, this building is probably one of the most chilling I have ever stepped foot in and I was afraid to go up to the toilets on my own. I don't know whether this was because of knowing the history of the building or not, but it certainly does give out an air of creepiness as you walk towards the eerily quiet toilets. Still, it has an exceptionally interesting history and almost always makes me smile as I walk past it on the way to work knowing that such a massive historical event took place within its walls.

This is only a very brief post on the history of Southampton, but I hope I have shown just how much history this humble city has to offer. Not only does it have what I have spoken about above, but it also has the fact that the Titanic sailed from its docks as well as historical landmarks close by including the city of Winchester, and Netley Abbey (a building which I have recently read about in Scard's biography of William Paulet and had a huge part to play in Tudor history). Hampshire honestly has an abundance of history about it, and I couldn't think of anywhere better to live! If any of my readers ever get the chance to visit the county of Hampshire and have a look around some of our historical cities and towns then I would definitely recommend it as it is certainly worth doing! You don't even really have to step foot into any of the big towns before you come across something historical!


Tudor House Museum 2001, (accessed 17th Feb 2011)
British Archaeology, Great Sites: Hamwic, 2002, (accessed 17th Feb 2012)

disclaimer - much of the information in this post comes from my own knowledge and lectures on the history of Southampton from my Uni days. Thus it is information from my mind, and alas I cannot quite remember citations for them. I had a quick nosey through my lecture notes whilst writing this piece - if anything is incorrect please do not hesitate to let me know and I will amend quick sharp11

Monday, 13 February 2012

On This Day In History: 13th February 1542

Picture source

I have written extensively on Katherine Howard in my "Inspirations from History" series, so please do feel free to check that out.

On this day in history, 13th February 1542, the young Katherine Howard and Lady Jane Rochford were beheaded upon Tower Green where 6 years earlier Katherine's Cousin and Jane's sister in law had lost her head. But why were these two executed, the young Katherine who was once Henry VIII's "Rose Without A Thorn" and a woman who had been part of the Boleyn circle?

We all know the story of course, young Katherine Howard and her affair with Thomas Culpeper; with their rendezvous being helped along by the apparently scheming Lady Rochford - and an incriminating letter from Thomas Cranmer being found by Henry VIII in his chapel pew. Because of this letter Katherine's pre-marital activities came to light resulting in the arrest of Dereham and Mannox and of course Thomas Culpeper. All three were executed for their part in the affair and it is said that on her way to the Tower she passed beneath the heads of these men which were on display on Tower Bridge. Did she see them? Was it like in Showtime's The Tudors when Katherine saw the severed head of Culpeper and broke down? Probably not.

The night before her execution, Katherine asked that the block be brought to her prison room in the Tower so she could practice how to place herself properly. It seemed she wanted to make sure that in her last moments, she knew exactly what to do and act composed.

The next morning, on Monday 13th February 1542 Katherine made her last walk to the scaffold where she made her final speech. Folklore states that she spoke the following "I die a Queen, but I would rather die the wife of Culpeper". This is completely apocryphal and was not spoken at all. Execution speeches had to follow a set script as it were, and this sort of thing would not have been done. Following her speech, she laid her head on the block and it was removed in one swift stroke. She was followed out by Lady Rochford, the woman who had helped her in her trysts with Culpeper. She had gone mad whilst imprisoned and Henry had to pass a special law allowing the insane to be executed for treason. Yet as she faced the crowd, the axe and the remains of the former Queen being wrapped ready for burial she seemed composed and was able to give a final speech before she too, lost her head.

Both women were buried in the nearby Chapel of St Peter Ad Vicula, where today their resting places are marked with simple tiles. Previously those buried there lay forgotten, including Katherine's cousin Anne Boleyn, until Mary I had Katherine's act of attainder reversed as it never bore the signature of the King. Now visitors can see the final resting place of the young Queen. When I visited last year I found the little chapel to be very moving, knowing especially that this young woman was buried there, this woman who was vilified for so long as a whore, an adulteress. Personally I see her as a naive girl, pushed into marriage with an aging obese king, and I think she did what she did because she needed to feel loved. You can of course read more on this in my previous post on Katherine which goes into much more detail (and is much much longer!)

Sunday, 12 February 2012

On This Day In History: 12th February 1554

On this day in history, Lady Jane Grey was executed on Tower Green following the execution of her husband Guildford Dudley.

Lady Jane Grey, who personally I believe should be known as Queen Jane I, is famously known as the Nine Days Queen however Eric Ives in his wonderful book "Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery" states that the correct figure for her reign is more like 13 days (Ives 2009, 2). Jane's story is one of the saddest in Tudor history, she was written into the succession by Edward VI in his "advice for the succession" and came to the throne upon his death, something which she did not want. The story goes that when she was told she was now Queen of England, she collapsed in tears, and that she refused to wear the crown. Shortly after she and her council received news that Mary had been proclaimed Queen in Norfolk and was on her way to London to take her throne. And it didn't take long for her council to desert her completely and go over to Mary. Support for Mary was widespread, and Jane found herself imprisoned in the Tower along with her husband Guildford.

After being proclaimed Queen, Mary deliberated over having her young Cousin executed but found herself increasingly under pressure. But it was Wyatt's rebellion in 1554 that sealed Jane's fate, when her father took part in the attempt to remove Mary from the throne. Following the rebellion, Mary had the death warrants of Lady Jane and Guildford signed, realising that she could not risk any more threats to her throne, and people rallying to Jane's course especially since her father had been involved in the failed rebellion.

And so, on 12th February 1554, Lady Jane Grey walked to the scaffold on Tower Green. There she gave her prayer book to the Lieutenant of the Tower, having written a note inside it for him:

Forasmuch as you have desired so simple a woman to write in so worthy a book, good Master Lieutenant, therefore I shall as a friend desire you, and as a Christian require you, to call upon God to incline your heart to his laws, to quicken you in his way, and not to take the word of truth utterly out of your mouth. Live still to die, that by death you may purchase eternal life, and remember how the end of Methuselah, who, as we read in the scriptures, was the longest liver that was of a man died at the last: for as the Preacher says, there is a time to be born and a time to die; and the day of death is better than the day of our birth. Yours, as the Lord knows, as a friend, Jane Dudley (Ives 2009, 275-276)

According to Ives, Jane was highly composed as she gave her final speech to the crowd whereas her ladies were weeping. Her nerves began to show as she turned to the executioner and asked, "Will you take it off before I lay me down?" and the executioner answered simply, "No Madam". Then as she knelt, blindfolded she reached out panic stricken and unable to find the block and cried out "What shall I do? Where is it?". A bystander lead her gently to the block and it was over. Lady Jane Grey, Queen Jane I, was no more and England was ruled by Mary. Hours later, Jane's headless body still lay on the scaffold, and according to Ives the Tower was "drained...of all resolution". She was eventually buried in the Chapel of St Peter Ad Vicula, where today her grave can be seen marked by the altar.

Jane Grey is one of my favourite Tudor women, and I see her as a pawn in a bigger political game. To me, and to many others I am sure, she was an innocent and her death was a terrible tragedy, she was a victim. There are certainly others who see her as more of a warrior, a woman who called an army to her to try and stop the onslaught of Mary, that Jane had a hand in everything that happened - for example De Lisle notes that when she noticed her councillors becoming discontent she continued sending out letters to Sheriff's and Justices Of The Peace demanding their allegiance, as well as ordering further guards around the Tower and the gate keys be brought to her at 7pm each evening (De Lisle 2008, 120-122). But whatever your view of the young Queen, her end was certainly a tragedy, and this poor girl deserves to be remembered not only for her short reign and terrible end, but for her brilliant mind. I will be working on a post about her life at some point, as part of my "Inspiration" series so please do keep an eye out for that. Until then I really recommend checking out Eric Ives "Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery" as it is an absolutely fantastic book and meticulously researched. Another good one, although written with a much more different viewpoint is "The Sisters Who Would Be Queen" by Leanda De Lisle, whilst I did not enjoy this one quite so much it is still a pretty good read if you are looking for an overview of Jane's life as well as that of her sisters.

Ives, E, 2009, Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery, Wiley-Blackwell, Sussex
The Anne Boleyn Files, accessed 12th February 2012
De Lisle, L, 2008, The Sisters Who Would Be Queen: The Tragedy of Mary, Katherine & Lady Jane Grey, Harper Press, Oxfordshire.
Photo credit: The Execution of Lady Jane Grey by Paul Delaroche from, accessed 12th February 2012.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Review: Ordeal By Ambition by William Seymour

I wrote this review about a year ago, and was reminded about it after a conversation I had on twitter last night and picking up the book to try and answer a question on the author. This book is written by a direct descendant of Edward Seymour, and an absolutely fantastic read! I definitely recommend it to any one interested in the Seymour family

When I first picked this book up, I almost put it down again in sheer frustration. The first chapter, or the Prologue, describes how the Seymour's came to power through Anne Boleyn's fall. However, William Seymour made so many mistakes in describing Anne Boleyn's fall that it was unreal, and I almost gave up. I will say only this, Seymour mentions that when Anne Boleyn was arrested and taken to the Tower of London she was taken through Traitor's Gate. She was not. But I can forgive that, as for the longest time that was believed to be what actually happened and since this book was written we know a lot more now than we did back then.

Anyway, moving on. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It read very easily and there were times where I forgot that I was reading a history text. The stories of the three Seymour children were told wonderfully and colourfully and I now have a more profound respect for all three of them, even Jane Seymour who has never been my favourite Tudor Queen. However, over the past few months this family has become of great interest to me and reading their stories in greater depth has proven incredibly enlightening.

The main reason I read this book was to gain a greater understanding of Edward Seymour and his wife, Anne Stanhope. Yet again though, there is very little mention of Anne but what I did read made me hop around with excitement. She is often talked about as a haughty woman and a woman who had little love for her husband. However, how can a woman who went to the Tower with her husband be one who did not love him? Not only that she bore him 9 children. They really seem to have been a force to be reckoned with, after all, Anne was the one who refused to give Katherine Parr her rightful jewels back. What a woman. Yet, the stories are abounded in sadness. Both brothers ended their careers thanks to the axeman's block, and it seems through Seymour's writings that these careers were ended through very little evidence. Edward in particular lost his life through a charge of treason and felony and all on trumped up charges and lies brought against him. Thomas however, went down in history as a notorious womaniser who tried to bring about his brothers downfall.

The chapters on Jane Seymour took up only a very small proportion of the book whereas the huge careers of both Thomas and Edward took up a huge majority. After all, Jane's career as Queen was very short lived whereas her brothers lived through two Tudor reigns. I found the stories evocative and thrilling and found out facts I never knew before. I read stories of the brothers participation in various wars (The Battle of Pinkie being one I had never known of before) and how through sheer hard work both climbed their way from humble beginnings at court to the heights they finally reached. For instance, Edward Seymour started out humbly as Master of the Horse to Henry VIII's bastard son Henry Fitzroy before being employed as an Esquire of the Body in Henry VIII's Privy Chamber and working his way up from there. Now that's working your way up the ladder!!

There is a line at the end of the book where Seymour describes how his ancestor was buried in the chapel of St Peter Ad Vicula next to Anne Boleyn, and how this woman with her wonderful sense of humour would not have lost the irony of the situation. There, one of the main players in her downfall, lost his life the same way she did. He met the same fate as her, and like her, on trumped up charges. Towards the end, I was almost in tears reading the account of Edwards execution.

William Seymour shows his ancestors as loved by the people, who only fell because of the work of factions in court. Edward Seymour was known as the Good Duke, and a man beloved by his people. He even had to calm the people down who were there to watch his execution. In the end, this man only wanted to run the country to the best of his ability and hand over a peaceful country when his nephew came of age. But unfortunately this was never destined to come through.

I found I could not put this book down, it read so easily and was written very, very well. This book will forever stay on my shelf as my bible of the Seymour family. And despite the lack of Anne Stanhope mentions, there is enough in there to keep me going and will help hugely in the years to come