I am very excited to announce that from Saturday June 9th to Friday June 15th 2012, I will be leading The Executed Queens Tour, a luxury history-themed holiday organised by the fantastic History Tours of Britain. The holiday will take a group of twenty history enthusiasts around southern England in luxury accommodation to visit sites associated with the four royal women whose lives ended violently in sixteenth-century England - Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey and Mary, Queen of Scots. The six-night holiday costs between £2,100 and £2,600, which is all-inclusive (excluding flights.) We'll be visiting the site of the battle of Bosworth, where the Tudor dynasty first came to power in 1485; Sheffield Manor Lodge (said to be haunted by the ghost of Mary, Queen of Scots); the Tower of London, the legendary fortress where the Crown Jewels are housed today and where Anne, Catherine and Jane all ended their lives, and Hampton Court, the most spectacular surviving Tudor palace, where Catherine Howard was first arrested in 1541. Most excitingly of all (for me, anyway!) we'll also be visiting and staying in Hever Castle in Kent (above), the stunningly pretty castle where Anne Boleyn spent her childhood and where she may very well have been born, too.
Anne Boleyn was the second wife of King Henry VIII and the mother of Elizabeth I. The daughter of the heir-presumptive to the Irish earldom of Ormonde, she has been described by historians either as "the pretty face of the Reformation" or "the English Reformation's historical prime cause number one." One of the most significant queen-consorts in European history, her life and career ended in an unimaginably grotesque miscarriage of justice when she was condemned to death on false charges of adultery, incest and high treason in 1536. Catherine Howard was Anne Boleyn's first cousin and Henry VIII's fifth wife. Nearly young enough to be Henry's granddaughter by contemporary standards, poor Catherine was executed whilst probably still a teenager in 1542 after evidence that she had been inappropriately involved with Sir Thomas Culpepper was taken as proof that she was an adulteress. Her lover, her secretary and her favourite lady-in-waiting were executed along with her. Lady Jane Grey, a fiery Protestant born into the English royal family as Henry VIII's great-niece, became famous as "the nine day queen" after she was used to try and prevent the succession of her Catholic cousin, Mary Tudor, in 1553. The plot failed and Jane was arrested. Offered the chance to live if she converted to Catholicism, Jane refused and she was beheaded at the age of seventeen. The last of the "executed queens," Mary, Queen of Scots, was as famous in Catholic circles as Jane was in Protestantism. Born in 1542, she became the ruler of Scotland when her father died when she was only six days old. Brought up in France by her mother's relatives, she was said to be the most spectacularly beautiful princess of her generation. However, her life began to fall apart when her first husband, the King of France, died as a young man. She went back to Scotland, where she found herself a stranger at odds with the violent sectarianism of the Presbyterian revolution. Forced off her throne after seven years which saw the mysterious murder of her bisexual husband and her notoriously unpopular marriage to the man many people thought had murdered him, Mary fled to England, where she was placed under house arrest by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth. Numerous Catholic plots aimed to murder Elizabeth and put Mary on the throne in her place. How far Mary was involved in these is still a matter of historical debate. She was executed on Elizabeth's reluctant orders in 1587, after nineteen years in England.
For the lucky guests tracing these women's tragic stories, we'll be staying first in Coombe Abbey, a luxury hotel incorporating a twelfth-century Cistercian monastery and an Elizabethan manor house and then the tour will be moving on to have exclusive use of the Astor wing of Hever itself, giving them private access to the Boleyn family home. There, I'll be giving a talk on Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard and discussing my recent dissertation for Queen's University, Belfast on Catherine's household and ladies-in-waiting. The tour's other guest speaker will be Professor John Guy, fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, and author of My Heart is My Own: the life of Mary Queen of Scots, A Daughter's Love: Thomas and Margaret More, The Tudors and Tudor England. He is also the husband of writer Julia Fox, author of Jane Boleyn: the infamous Lady Rochford.
For more information, please contact the tour by visiting The Anne Boleyn Files, e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting the tours' website here.
It's a very exciting opportunity and I absolutely can't wait to be involved!
For this blog's accounts of the executions of the four women, click on the links below: -
For Anne Boleyn's execution on May 19th, 1536 - click here.
For Catherine Howard's execution on February 13th, 1542 - click here.
For Lady Jane Grey's execution on February 12th, 1554 - click here.
And for Mary, Queen of Scots's execution on February 8th, 1587 - click here.