Sunday, 29 May 2011

May 27th, 1541: The Execution of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury


Today marks the anniversary of the tragic and hideous execution of Margaret de la Pole, Countess of Salisbury, a sixty-seven year-old aristocrat born into the royal House of York and thus Henry VIII's relative on his mother's side, but who he sent to her execution in 1541. Born in 1473, Margaret was the daughter of Edward IV’s younger brother, George, Duke of Clarence and his wife, Lady Isabella Neville, who was the elder sister of Richard III’s wife, Queen Anne. Both of Margaret’s parents may have died violent deaths, with her father being famously drowned in a barrel of malmsey wine by his brother’s henchmen and her mother very possibly having been poisoned two years earlier. (Although, as with all stories of political poisoning at the time, it's best to treat the tale that Isabella was rushed to her death with a large, indeed frankly enormous, pinch of proverbial salt.)

The countdown to the elderly Margaret's execution had started at Easter, although she had actually been kept in the Tower for sometime, thanks to the inconvenient amount of royal blood running through her veins. At Easter, as rumours circulated that Henry's fifth queen, Catherine Howard, might be with child, news arrived in London that there had been another minor pro-papal rebellion in the north. One of the rebellion’s leaders was a distant cousin of the Nevilles, Margaret's maternal family, and, when Henry discovered this, he flew into a vindictive rage. Despite the fact that Margaret had about as much to do with Henry's uprising as Jane Grey was to have with Wyatt's in 1554, Henry ordered the old woman's immediate execution, without the possibility of a trial or pardon.

Despite her Plantagenet ancestry, Margaret had always been a Tudor loyalist and she had been a favourite of Katherine of Aragon, which shows the extent of Margaret's ability to forgive since it was Katherine's parents who had insisted on the execution of Margaret's brother Edward in order to rid England of rival claimants to the throne before they sent their daughter there. In the early days of the reign, Margaret's loyalty had been so certain that no-one raised any objection when she was made the governess to Princess Mary. Although opposed to the Boleyn marriage on personal grounds, the countess's opposition to it had never been treasonous. It was only after her son, the devout Cardinal Reginald Pole, launched a blistering attack on the Great Divorce, safe in exile in Italy, that Margaret had fallen from favour and into suspicion. 

Since Reginald's foolish proclamations, Margaret had been Henry's prisoner in the Tower for the last two years and her eldest son, Baron Montacute, had been executed on Henry’s orders in 1539. Her other son, Geoffrey, had been forced to testify against his brother and later allegedly attempted to commit suicide rather than live with the guilt. Queen Catherine Howard pitied Margaret's fate and when she heard that the countess no longer had adequate clothing to protect herself, she was distressed. She summoned her personal tailor and ordered an entire new wardrobe for the prisoner, which was delivered to the Tower within days. Catherine’s gifts to the old woman included a bonnet, a petticoat trimmed with fur, two nightgowns (one trimmed with fur and the other lined with satin), a warm kirtle, four pairs of shoes, four pairs of stockings and a pair of slippers. 

The queen’s generosity towards the countess alleviated the physical pain of her last few months, but it could not save her from the king’s irrational wrath in the wake of the northern uprising. Early in the morning of May 27th 1541, the Constable of the Tower woke Margaret out of her sleep and told her that she must die in a few hours. Naively, the countess replied in shock that no crime could be proven against her. She failed to realise that such things no longer mattered in England where Henry VIII was cutting scythes through the upper classes, whether rebellious or simply annoying, with rigged trials or, increasingly, by ignoring the rule of law entirely and simply employing the act of attainder.

When she was lead out to the scaffold a few hours later, a small crowd had gathered, mostly of political professionals and Tower staff. As with the execution of Anne Boleyn five years earlier, which took place on the same spot, the government were keen to limit the number of witnesses to what they knew would not be a very edifying spectacle. Undoubtedly that is why they took the unprecedented decision to execute the countess with no advance warning.

However, there the similarities between the deaths of Anne Boleyn and Margaret Pole come to an end. Where Anne's had been so slickly carried out that it seemed practically choreographed, Margaret's was anything but. The countess of Salisbury may have been fragile and sick, but she was not pathetic and she certainly had no intention of going quietly into the night. According to eyewitnesses, the old girl refused to put her head on the block and she had to be forced onto it. The novice executioner brought in to carry out the countess's last minute dispatch panicked and the execution was a hideous affair, with the axe swinging into Margaret's head, neck and shoulders for several minutes. After ten or eleven blows, she was dead and another imagined threat to Henry VIII's rule vanished. For many who see Henry as a flawed but strong monarch, his treatment of the countess of Salisbury is perhaps the greatest sign not of strength, but of weakness. And certainly of cruelty.

She was survived by three of her five children and in the reign of Henry VIII’s daughter, Queen Mary, Reginald would be invited back from exile, becoming the last Roman Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury. Her daughter, Lady Ursula Stafford, lived into old age and her daughter Dorothy became a close friend of Queen Elizabeth I. In 1886, in recognition of her Catholic faith and unfair death, Margaret was beatified by Pope Leo XIII and became Blessed Margaret Pole. Her feast day is celebrated the day after her actual death, since the twenty-seventh of May, was the feast of Saint Augustine of Canterbury.


Thursday, 26 May 2011

Cameo Consorts


After yesterday's post on Britain's longest-serving royal consorts, it seemed only fair to include the top ten shortest serving. Unsurprisingly, five of Henry VIII's six unlucky wives made the list.

1. Lord Guildford Dudley (13 days) The controversial husband of Jane Grey, Dudley was married off to her as a teenager as part of his father's attempts to retain power if the young King Edward VI died without heirs. The Dudley family's attempt to preserve the Protestant monarchy by placing their teenage daughter-in-law on the throne ended in abysmal failure when Mary Tudor seized the throne with popular support. Jane and Guildford were both executed a year later, both still teenagers. Traditionally Guildford has been presented as a weak and self-indulged character, with a teenage fondness for wine and women. An account of his execution was posted on this blog in February.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Prince Philip and the long-lasting consorts


Last night, ITV broadcast a very interesting interview with His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, who turns ninety this year and who is now also the longest serving consort in the British monarchy's history. Born Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark in 1921, Prince Philip married Princess Elizabeth after serving in the British Navy during the Second World War. When she succeeded her father as Sovereign in February 1952, he thus became the first male consort in the Crown's history since the death of Prince Albert in 1861. With a consortial tenure of fifty-nine years, today Prince Philip is the patron of over eight hundred charitable organisations, as well as being the founder of the acclaimed Duke of Edinburgh Award, a three-tiered physical activities programme for young people aged between fourteen and twenty-four. After watching the interview, I thought I'd profile the other "top ten" longest serving consorts in British history.


1. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (59 years) The handsome Greek prince and former officer in the British Navy had many family ties to England when he fell in love with the heiress to the throne, Princess Elizabeth, during the Second World War. A keen supporter of modernising the monarchy, he has served as consort since 1952.

2. Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (57 years) A conservative and conscientious German princess who married King George III in 1761, the year after he became king. A pen-pal and admirer of Marie-Antoinette's, Queen Charlotte remained steadfast during the enormous pressures of her husband's kingship, including the American Revolution, the overthrow of the French monarchy, the 1798 rebellion in Ireland, the war with France and, of course, the King's long battle with mental illness.

3. Philippa of Hainault (41 years) An elegant and demure Dutch princess who married King Edward III in 1328, she deliberately set herself up to be a model of royal dignity and restraint, in contrast to the unhinged glamour of her mother-in-law, Isabella. When she died in 1369, her confessor wrote, "She gave up her spirit, which I firmly believe was caught by the Holy Angels and carried to glory in Heaven for she had never done anything by thought or deed which could endanger her losing it."


4. Eleanor of Provence (36 years) The notoriously extravagant younger sister of the Queen of France, Eleanor was blamed for crippling the medieval monarchy's financial and political credit by her lavish lifestyle and constant intriguing. However, she also showed herself to be a resilient and tenacious tactician when it came to defeating the rebellions against her husband, Henry III.

5. Eleanor of Aquitaine (35 years) Eleanor married the future King Henry II of England after having only recently divorced her first husband, the King of France, a few weeks earlier. The marriage was tempestuous and ended in a civil war. Beautiful, ruthless and courageous, she was already a legend by the time she died in her mid-eighties. (Her early life is profiled in my blog-post, Daughter of Riches.)

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge meet the President and First Lady


Thanks to Lord Belmont for posting photographs on his blog about the meeting between Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who recently returned from their honeymoon, and the President and First Lady of the United States, who are visiting the United Kingdom.

The meeting took place at Buckingham Palace, earlier today.

Monday, 23 May 2011

The past is a foreign country: The Queen's speech in Dublin


There are moments when you are aware that we are all living through History and that it can happen very quickly. At an almost bewildering rate, something which once seemed impossible and best left to the imagination of fiction writers suddenly becomes hard fact. One such moment was the speech given by Her Majesty The Queen at the official state dinner in Dublin to mark Her Majesty's visit, along with His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, to the Republic of Ireland last week. It was the first time a British Sovereign had visited the republic and the first time a British monarch had set foot on southern Irish soil since the Queen's grandfather, King George V, visited Dublin in 1911, one hundred years ago. By the time King George returned to Ireland, it was to Belfast in 1921 to formally inaugurate the new Northern Irish parliament and mark the partition of the island, the only solution available to prevent civil war - a tragedy which was not avoided in the south, where many republicans attacked the new Irish government for accepting the partition of the island.

The ghosts of Partition and civil war lingered in the air during the Queen's visit, but not too much. The ghosts, too, of those slaughtered in thirty years of Troubles in Northern Ireland, including the Duke of Edinburgh's uncle, Lord Mountbatten, murdered by an IRA bomb in 1979, could not be totally ignored. But, with the Queen and President Mary McAleese, herself born in Northern Ireland, visiting the Garden of Remembrance where the President laid a wreath for those who had fought for the independence of Ireland and the Queen laying down a wreath of poppies for the Irish men and women who had given their lives for the British Empire and for Ireland in the First World War, the ghosts of the past did not seem to make themselves heard too loudly. Which made a pleasant change. Like Argentina, Ireland has a notorious inability to let go of the past and an alleged refusal to undergo any form of historical exorcism. Sometimes, I think, forgetfulness can be no bad thing. Especially here. We're a religious country, apparently, but for many years we haven't really embraced the biblical teaching that you shouldn't blame a child for the sins of his ancestors. We cling too much to what went before us, with dates like 1641, 1649, 1690, 1798, 1847, 1912 and 1916 all spoken about as if they are moments in the recent past. And all of it carrying the dangerous, unspoken warning of "careful it doesn't happen again!" Protestant women and children might once again lie slaughtered and dashed off the rocks, Irish families will once again endure famine and be forced out onto the moors to starve. Magdalene Laundries will spring up the length and breadth of Ireland or the Black and Tans will sweep through the streets again. Who stole what from whom, who started which conflict, who has the right to be here and who doesn't, who lied, who cheated, who bombed where and when. For some reason, given the horrors that stalked Irish history, we don't like to forget. We cling too much to that which went before us. Ireland's past was, until last week, the eternal present.

And then, all of a sudden, you feel goose pimples shoot up and down your arm when the Queen begins a speech in Irish. It's then that you realise that the world has changed and that Ireland isn't a place of  ghosts, rebels, blood and loyalists. It's 2011 and it's a great place to live. It's a small country, one of the smallest of the English speaking nations, and yet its national saint's day is a holiday in one of the largest; Irish charm, hospitality, friendliness, ease of living, inappropriate sense of humour and the indefinable quality of craic is known and praised throughout the world. On both sides of the border, despite the south's current economic crisis, high standards of living are enjoyed and in the north, economic prosperity is made all the more remarkable when, as the Queen reflects, it's been just over a decade since it emerged from what was one of the most vicious political conflicts in western Europe after the Second World War. In Ireland, everyone's supposed to know what you are, who you vote for, what sports you follow and which type of passport is sitting in your bedside drawer. Our identities have all been very clearly drawn, right down to the way you pronounce the letter "h." We're pros at telling through a dozen subtle signals what type of church you pray in on a Sunday and, based on that, which national anthem you'll stand for. And then, the Queen of England speaks Irish.

The "wow" of President McAleese was pretty much my reaction too. Any attempt at staying jaded had vanished. Both ladies deserve tremendous applause for their work last week and in fostering Anglo-Irish relations. We're neighbours, not enemies. Garret Fitzgerald, the man who served as Taoiseach of Ireland in the 1980s, and who had striven to improve relations between northern and southern Ireland as well as between England and Ireland, died during the Queen's visit, but Irish newspapers are reporting that before he died he had the opportunity to see the Queen dining with the Irish President. I certainly hope it's true.

Throughout her visit, the Queen acted with grace and charm, as did President McAleese and the vast majority of the Irish public, who were keen to show the visiting British royals the (rightly) world famous Irish hospitality. The finest local produce (Guinness obviously included!), the major sites of Dublin and the Irish countryside, the premier politicians from both north and south of the border and welcoming crowds helped drown out the protests of those thirty or so hardline

The Queen's speech in Dublin was the highlight of her visit and it made me very proud of both identities I hold, as a British subject and as someone born on this side of the Irish Sea. You can, finally, feel to be both. This speech, for me, is one of my favourites and one of the Queen's best. I hope people enjoy it.

Friday, 20 May 2011

"Popular": publication update


I'm really excited to announce that my first novel Popular will be published in the United Kingdom and Ireland on July 7th 2011 and then in Australia and New Zealand on August 29th!

Popular is profiled on Puffin Australia's blog Between the Lines, HERE.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

The Fall of Anne Boleyn (Day 19): The Last Curtsey


Above: A later woodcut showing Anne Boleyn's execution in the French style. In the corner, the artist depicts the betrothal of Henry VIII to Jane Seymour within the next twenty-four hours.
"So here he was – the last man in her life. In her time, she had known men of great faith, men of towering intellect, of compassion, purpose, charm, chivalry and sangfroid; she had also known men of cruelty, of ego, ruthlessness, duplicity, hypocrisy and vice. There had been men who had loved her, men who had hated her, men who desired her, men who feared her and there had been men who had done all four. Now, at the very last, it was this complete stranger who was to participate in the final tragedy of Anne Boleyn and to give her a death that would buy for her an immortality that many other queens might envy. Looking at him, Anne saw a quiet, respectful angel of death, a man a million miles removed from the macabre, gothic fantasy of a leather-clad, mask wearing exterminator; he, for his part, saw a fragile and rather lovely young woman, who no more looked like the strumpet, the harpy or the harlot than his wife, his sister or his daughter."
For this blog's full account of Anne Boleyn's execution, click HERE.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The Fall of Anne Boleyn (Day 18): Preparing to die


Above: British actress Merle Oberon in the role of Anne Boleyn in the Oscar winning The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933.)
"... As London slumbered and the summer stars twinkled over the head of the vast metropolis where so many of her family's triumphs had once been celebrated, the remarkable life of Anne Boleyn was drawing quietly to its close. All that was left were the events of the morrow, which would ensure that as her life ended, her legend began and the story of Anne Boleyn would thus commence its long, powerful course through British culture, history and national myth, carrying with it potent, intoxicating images of love, betrayal, lust, drama, religion, obsession, death, hope, deceit, power, wealth, tragedy and the final blood-soaked finale on the Tower Green."

May 18th was the last full day Anne Boleyn spent alive and I blog about it, HERE

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The Fall of Anne Boleyn (Day 17): "The executioner was weeping"


Today in history the five men accused of being Queen Anne Boleyn's adulterous lovers were publicly executed on Tower Hill in London. For a full account of the executions, click HERE.
"As Wyatt wrote and the Queen wept, the city buzzed with the news of what had just happened. In Vienna, the Empress Isabella heard later that the bodies of Mark Smeaton and William Brereton were quartered and displayed around London, to advertise their hateful treachery in violating the Queen. Perhaps the Empress’s informers were correct, but if they were, at some point the heads at least must have been returned to the Tower for burial in the same churchyard that Henry Norris and Francis Weston now lay in. It was a poor and ignoble resting place for such men - particularly Henry Norris. As an aristocrat, George Boleyn’s body was taken into the Chapel of Saint Peter-ad-Vincula and interred beneath the High Altar where, forty-eight hours later, his body would be joined by that of his royal sister. 

It had been a grim, hideous, bloody day even in the long grim, hideous and bloody reign of Henry VIII and it is not difficult to see, when one considers the dark, terrible and repugnant events of May 17th, why Charles Dickens would later describe Henry VIII as a spot of blood and grease on the pages of English history. For the Queen, all that was left now was to die and die well."

Above: Actress Genevieve Bujold in the Oscar winning biopic Anne of the Thousand Days (1969.)

Monday, 16 May 2011

The Fall of Anne Boleyn (Day 16): Preparing for the Queen's Murder


"On the morning of May 16th 1536, Sir William Kingston, Constable of the Tower of London, arrived at the Palace of Whitehall for an audience with the King. Being one of the few people allowed into the King's presence during the period of his wife's imprisonment, the Constable made his way through the opulent and recently re-furbished corridors of the palace which had once belonged to Cardinal Wolsey and then to Anne Boleyn. If ever there needed to be a more potent reminder of the turning of Fortune's wheel, then it lay in the gilt and marble corridors of Whitehall."

With the trials of the Queen and her co-accused now completed, the government began to make arrangements for the executions.  Click HERE for my full account of this, including an interview between Anne's husband and her gaoler.


Above: British actress Dame Dorothy Tutin in the role of Anne Boleyn in the BBC television series The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970.)


Sunday, 15 May 2011

The Fall of Anne Boleyn (Day 15): The Queen's Trial


"On May 15th 1536, twenty-six peers of the realm congregated in the King’s Hall of the Tower of London to serve as judges in the trial of Anne Boleyn, Queen of England... In the centre of the Hall, a chair had been placed on a raised platform before a bar. Nearby, glistening in the light was the Queen’s crown – probably the one made of gold and decorated with sapphires, rubies and pearls with crosses and fleurs-de-lis around the rim, which the Queen had ordered for her coronation three years earlier. In the specially constructed stands placed all around the Hall, two thousand of the citizenry of London had gathered to watch. Their hubbub died away as the Crown’s commission was read aloud and the Duke of Norfolk announced,"Gentleman Gaoler of the Tower, bring in your prisoner." 
The Queen entered the room, accompanied by the Yeoman Gaoler of the Tower, carrying his axe, with its blade turned away from her face to signify that she had not yet been condemned. Dressed elegantly in a gown of black velvet with a crimson damask petticoat, and small cap with black and white feathers, the Queen bore all the hallmarks of her education as an honorary member of the French nobility – elegant, sophisticated, imperious and very grand. Behind her followed her remaining ladies-in-waiting, headed by the wife of the Constable of the Tower, Lady Kingston, and the Queen’s estranged aunt, Lady Boleyn, who led four young women of the Queen’s own disbanded Household who had, finally, been allowed to join her in captivity. Watching this procession, the French Bishop of Riez, ensconced in the viewing gallery above, was impressed by the Queen’s behaviour: "She walked forth in fearful beauty," he wrote later, "and seemed unmoved. She came not as one who had to defend her cause, but with the bearing of one coming to great honour.""

For an account of Anne Boleyn's dramatic trial, within the precepts of the Tower of London, click HERE.


Above: A seventeenth century miniature of Anne Boleyn painted by John Haskins, believed to have belonged to the royal collection of King Charles I (r. 1625 - 1649.)

The Fall of Anne Boleyn (Day 14): Jane Seymour is brought out of hiding


Above: Emilia Fox as Jane Seymour in the two part British television drama, Henry VIII (2003).

"... in all fairness, it seems as unnecessary to blame Jane for Anne's unhappiness as it is to blame Anne for Katherine of Aragon's. The unifying factor, after all, is not Katherine, Anne or Jane, but Henry, whose persecution of his eldest daughter, Mary, actually got worse after Anne died and he married Jane, which suggests to me that the old Spanish-propagated chestnut that Anne was responsible for Mary Tudor's misery whilst Jane was responsible for her restoration is at best wishful thinking, at worst outright lies... Jane Seymour was, quite simply, a woman of her times who found herself unexpectedly hand-picked by the King of England to succeed his disgraced wife in a time of chaos and intrigue almost unprecedented in British history and, whatever one might think about her background or accomplishments, she was apparently the woman best-suited to become Henry VIII's third queen in the terrible summer of 1536. How happy she was to be in the days after she was waited on hand and foot in her Chelsea mansion, however, is another matter entirely."

In the post I wrote last year on Jane Seymour's return to London, I stated that Anne Boleyn's use of crimson clothing throughout her downfall was deliberate and a nod at medieval colour coding of martyrdoms. Looking back on it now, I take the point of a friend that I may have been wrong and the Queen may, quite simply, have liked the colour. I don't know, but it's good to be reminded that sometimes we can look too hard at history. 

Anyway, here is the post for May 14th 1536.

The Fall of Anne Boleyn (Day 13): The Disbanding of the Queen's Household


"She had surrounded herself with socialites and priests, poets and philosophers, rogues and prudes. Evangelicals had knelt as she passed and wept, proclaiming her to be the new Deborah, the new Esther, God's Nymph; ambassadors had leaned in to present her with gifts and assure her that their masters sent nothing but the very best of wishes; petitioners and peasants had kissed the hem of her skirt as she passed; poets and musicians had sighed in the most exquisite agony to receive so much as a glance from her and women in silks and diamonds and pearls whispered delicious intrigue in her ears."

On May 13th, eleven days after her arrest, the government formally dismissed the two hundred servants who had constituted the household of Anne Boleyn. For the full account of the end of an era, click HERE.


Above: Anne Boleyn (in an Oscar-nominated performance by Geneviève Bujold) with her ladies-in-waiting in the 1969 Oscar winner, Anne of the Thousand Days.

Friday, 13 May 2011

The Fall of Anne Boleyn (Day 12): The Trial of Anne Boleyn's "lovers"


Above: A portrait that may be a representation of Sir Francis Weston, a twenty-five year-old knight accused of being one of Queen Anne Boleyn's lovers in 1536.

"Built during the reign of King William Rufus, who had ruled England from 1087 until 1100, the Hall would now play witness to one of the most extraordinary and shameful trials in British history. Thomas Howard, 63 year-old Duke of Norfolk, sat as presiding judge and the King's representative over the four men accused of having committed treasonous adultery with Queen Anne Boleyn. According to the indictment created by the Grand Jury of Middlesex who along with the Grand Jury of Kent had jurisdiction over the trials (they were the closest two to London and thus the easiest to control and organise from the Crown’s perspective), the men had been partners in the Queen’s “frail and carnal appetites” and insultingly referred to them as “her adulterers and concubines”. Grim-faced and self-righteous, the Duke ordered the trial of the four men who had dishonoured their king to begin."

For this blog's account of the trial of the four men, click HERE.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The Fall of Anne Boleyn (Day 11): An attempt to bully the Queen


May 11th marks the day, I think, when Henry ordered the Privy Council to visit Anne in prison to try and intimidate her.
"Escorted into the imprisoned Queen's rooms by Sir William Kingston, the councillors perhaps expected to see her dishevelled, miserable or contrite after nine days of captivity. Instead, they were confronted by the sight of a waif-like brunette with cold, glittering eyes, regarding them with haughty disapproval. She had spent much of the day in prayer, but once told of the Council's impending visit, she had gone to get ready. The Queen knew the importance of appearances better than anyone and she had been waiting for the Council to come to her for over a week. Her would-be interrogators walked in to see Anne sitting on something very like a throne in her Audience Chamber, dressed immaculately, with some of her remaining jewels glistening from her fingers, wrists, ears and throat. "She did not give up her greatness," wrote an admiring chronicler, "and spoke to the lords as a mistress"."
Click HERE for the full account of the meeting.

Above: Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury (1489 - 1556), who was the Council's delegated spokesperson.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The Fall of Anne Boleyn (Day 10): The Queen's Brother


"32 year-old George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford, currently being held in the Martin Tower of His Majesty’s Tower of London, on a charge of incest with his younger sister, Queen Anne Boleyn, had been – until his arrest eight days earlier - a generally well-liked figure at the royal Court. Tall, muscular, wealthy, powerful, funny, confident, intelligent and impossibly handsome (the comparison to Adonis has been made before), it was difficult not to like him, at least on first impressions..."

Click here to take a look at my post "My Lord of Rochford's conscience," examining the imprisonment of George Boleyn on the charge of incest with his royal sister. 

Above: (Left) Padraic Delaney as George Boleyn in the Showtime series The Tudors, opposite Jamie Thomas King as Sir Thomas Wyatt. 

Monday, 9 May 2011

The Surviving Jewels of Marie-Antoinette


Via Tea at Trianon comes an article about the few surviving fragments of Marie-Antoinette's legendary jewel collection.

For this blog's post on the fashion preferences of the Queen, click HERE.

The Fall of Anne Boleyn (Day 9): The Blame Game


Historians still continue to debate about how far Henry VIII was involved in his second wife's murder. It may surprise many who are not well-acquainted with the academic debates surrounding Henry's personality to learn that in many modern histories he is presented as an essentially weak sovereign, who was easily manipulated by those around him. In this scenario, the chief culprit for orchestrating Anne's downfall becomes Thomas Cromwell, the King's chief adviser and her one-time ally turned mortal enemy. I do not agree with this interpretation of events and it seems to me that the arguments put forward by J.J. Scarisbrick and Derek Wilson, that Henry was the main architect of what happened.

"For me personally, however, the missing third of this tragedy is not Thomas Cromwell, but Henry VIII. It was, after all, Henry who signed the death warrants and whilst it may have been Cromwell who organised the interrogations, arrests and trials, it frankly beggars belief that Henry could have been so easily duped into believing in his wife’s guilty. As far as I’m concerned, Henry was neither a participant nor a victim in what happened in 1536 – rather, he was the chief architect and the author of the tragedy. Cromwell certainly organised the details and oversaw the execution of the plot, but under no circumstances could he have dared act so audaciously – and so manically (the entire thing was a swift, brutal mess, without any of Cromwell’s usual slow, brilliant, relentless tactics) – without having been told to do so, in so many words, by Henry and to do so quickly."

Click HERE for the post on Henry's role from last year.

Above: Australian actor Keith Michell as Henry VIII in the television series The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1971.)

Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Fall of Anne Boleyn (Day 8): Rich Pickings


"In his study at Westminster, Thomas Cromwell was beginning to feel the pressure of the case against the Boleyns. His visit to the Tower two days earlier, coupled with the daily reports coming in from Sir William Kingston, must have shown him that whilst the Queen had wobbled, she had not cracked like they might have hoped. The tactics of surrounding her with unfriendly faces, withholding information about her friends and family, refusing to give her the full details of what she would be tried for and denying her access to her own servants had certainly upset and occasionally infuriated her, but it had not made her any more afraid of the government, or inclined to co-operate. If anything, she seemed to be taking it as some kind of challenge. There was also the issue of the logistics of the trial - only Cromwell, and possibly Sir William Fitzwilliam, knew the full details of what was true and what wasn't and so it was vital that he kept on top of things. The trial of Sir Henry Norris, Sir William Brereton, Sir Francis Weston and Mark Smeaton were due to take place on Friday and the Grand Jury, the evidence, the alleged dates of their adultery and treason, all needed to be arranged without drawing too much attention to the gaping holes in the Crown's case. Cromwell also had a rising tide of public disapproval about the Queen's imprisonment to quell and various pamphlets lampooning both the King and Jane Seymour were beginning to circulate in the city; if the King found out, he would be furious. And added to all this, Cromwell also had to continue fielding the dozens of letters arriving asking that when the money and jobs of the Queen's so-called lovers were divided up, Cromwell would use his "good mediation and furtherance" to help his friends and supporters, all of whom were now declaring their inviolable loyalty to him in the same fulsome terms they had once used in letters to Anne Boleyn."
This blog's look at the upper-class reaction to the Queen's downfall and the opportunity it presented for the lands, titles and fortunes of her alleged lovers to be carved up amongst Thomas Cromwell's supporters. Click HERE.

Above: Hans Holbein's portrait of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's chief adviser for most of the 1530s, and who organised the logistics of the Queen's downfall. Historians are still divided today about what role he played in the events of May 1536 and if deposing Anne was his own idea or whether he was simply following orders. 

Saturday, 7 May 2011

The Fall of Anne Boleyn (Day 7): Her Majesty would like to pray


The fifth day of Anne Boleyn's imprisonment was the first Sunday she spent in the Tower and the Queen's demand that she be allowed access to her priests and the Sacrament provoked yet another spat between the imprisoned royal, her gaolers and the government.

"... the Queen’s repeated insistence that the Sacrament be brought to her rooms ... posed a plethora of problems for the government. Since she had not performed penance for her abominable crimes, it would have been highly inappropriate for an adulteress to have the Host displayed in her rooms. The Queen, on the other hand, did not consider herself tainted by sexual sin and therefore, she could not understand why the Sacrament was not being brought to her, as requested. Aside from the fact that he did not like the visual of the Queen prostrate before the Sacrament, which would conjure up unwelcome images of a doomed, pious heroine, Cromwell also could not run the risk of being forced to answer awkward questions about the display of such a holy object in the room of someone who – officially – was still an unrepentant harlot. If Kingston brought the Sacrament to her, as asked, there were bound to be questions about why he had been allowed to do so and it would make the government’s case against the Queen even weaker, certainly in terms of the public relations’ war being waged for the hearts and minds of the ever-cynical Londoners."

For the full post about the spiritual dilemma of May 7th, click HERE.

Above: British actress Merle Oberon in the role of Anne Boleyn in the movie The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933.)

Friday, 6 May 2011

The Fall of Anne Boleyn (Day 6): The Queen's Last Letter?


Reading back over my post from last year, when I analysed the debate over whether or not the letter (above) allegedly written by Anne Boleyn to the King on the fourth day of her imprisonment, I think perhaps that I should have been slightly harder on it. I still agree fundamentally with my conclusion that there probably was a letter, but that it's since been lost or accidentally destroyed. However, I think I was wrong to suggest that the May 6th letter probably contains authentic sayings from a lost-original. I tend to agree now that it's either entirely genuine (extremely unlikely) or a complete, if sentimental, forgery. And in the comments section for the original post, many thanks to Little Miss Sunnydale for putting forward Professor R.M. Warnicke's theory about how such letters were forged in Elizabethan school rooms. I think it's an excellent theory and could potentially explain a lot about the letter's origins. To quote from my original article: -
"The letter's authenticity has been the subject of debate therefore since the earliest days of Tudor historiography. Writing his biography of Henry VIII in 1649, Lord Edward Herbert believed it was probably a forgery, perhaps penned by a pious devotee of Anne’s sometime in the reign of Queen Elizabeth; on the other hand, Gilbert, Bishop of Salisbury, writing his 7-volumed History of the Reformation of the Church of England thirty years later was convinced that it was genuine. Having spent a lifetime compiling the Original Letters of Henry VIII’s reign in the mid-19th century, the archivist Henry Ellis positively gushed about the letter’s style, panache and validity and pointed out that there were always some alterations in Anne Boleyn’s handwriting depending on her mood. There are, for instance, considerable differences between the letter she wrote to her father from the Hapsburg Empire in 1514, that penned to Cardinal Wolsey after the plague epidemic of 1528 and one she dispatched to her friend, Lady Wingfield, in the summer of 1532. The unsentimental and sombre giant of Victorian historians, J.A. Froude in his The Divorce of Catherine of Aragon and History of England, accepted Ellis’s arguments and believed that all clear documentary evidence pointed to the letter being authentic."

For the full post I wrote last year discussing the debate over whether the letter is real or not, click HERE.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

The Fall of Anne Boleyn (Day 5): The Arrest of the Gentleman Poet


Above: An incomplete sketch by Hans Holbein the Younger (d. 1543) believed to show Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder (1503 - 1542), a Tudor courtier, diplomat, politician and adventurer, who is perhaps best known nowadays for being one of sixteenth century England's most influential poets. He was arrested on May 5th, 1536 under apparent suspicion of being Queen Anne Boleyn's sixth lover. He was a close friend of her brother, Lord Rochford, "a tall, muscular, multi-lingual Oxford graduate with a passion for poetry, power and Protestantism," who was also currently a prisoner in the Tower.

"... Sir Thomas Wyatt, was a 32 year-old poet, who had known the Queen since her arrival in England as a debutante fourteen years earlier. His sister, Lady Lee, was one of the Queen’s chief ladies-in-waiting and in the days before she had come to Henry VIII’s attention, Wyatt had apparently been in love with Anne Boleyn, “this new beauty.” By the accounts of all those who actually knew them, this love was unrequited and we have some haunting poetry from that time expressing Wyatt’s pain at the situation. Upon hearing of Anne’s betrothal to the King, he had returned to his rooms, packed his bags and gone to Italy for several years on a diplomatic mission to the Vatican. The kind of overblown and melodramatic gesture one might expect from a poet and an indication of why he made so many women go weak at the knees - all except Anne, of course, and his own wife, who openly despised him."
For this blog's full account of the day on which Wyatt was arrested and escorted to the Tower, click HERE

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

The Fall of Anne Boleyn (Day 4): A Tudor Sex Scandal


A look at the public's initial reaction to the news that Anne Boleyn had been imprisoned in the Tower and the arrest of her fifth "lover," Sir William Brereton.

"By May 4th, the news that the Queen had been arrested and was imprisoned in the Tower was spreading rapidly throughout London and its surrounding areas. It was known that several men had joined her in captivity, although there was some degree of confusion about who they were and if they were all charged with the same thing. Some assumed that the Queen was accused of treason, not adultery, and that she had been caught attempting to plot the assassination of her husband. In a letter to his brother in Wales, the London lawyer, Roland Buckley, incorrectly asserted that the Queen had been imprisoned on a charge of High Treason, along with her father, the Earl of Ormonde, her brother, Lord Rochford, her friend Sir Henry Norris and several of her favourite ladies-in-waiting."

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The Fall of Anne Boleyn (Day 3): The First Day in Prison


Today marks the anniversary of the first full day that Anne Boleyn spent as a prisoner in the Tower of London.

"The last time she had frequented these palatial Tower rooms, Anne had been on the cusp of her greatest triumph and the rooms had played host to a series of elaborate parties to celebrate. The Queen’s audience chamber, her dining room, her bedroom, her bathroom and her private oratory were all as she remembered them – the last word in luxury and style. However, this time there were no flashing jewels and smiling faces as the Queen entered the apartments, instead only the grimly disapproving faces of those who had been assigned to watch over her throughout her captivity."


For my full account of May 3rd, 1536, click HERE.

AboveBritish actress Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn in Season Two of the Showtime series The Tudors.

"I don't care about the Royal Wedding. So I'm going to complain about it constantly."


Elena Maria Vidal, author of Trianon, Madame Royale and The Night's Dark Shade, comments on the interesting (I'm playing fast and loose with the word) phenomenon of Royal Wedding killjoys.

"I found it rather amusing how so many people on Facebook, Twitter and around the internet kept proudly proclaiming: "I don't care, I don't care, I don't care about the royal wedding....I happened to be up at 5 am and turned it on for a few minutes but I REALLY don't care. I'm an American and I'm above such medieval nonsense and besides...who cares? Have I told you that I DON'T care?" And so on and so forth. Finally, someone on Twitter said: "I am really not interested in the fact that you are not interested in the royal wedding.""

For Elena Maria's full article, click HERE.

Monday, 2 May 2011

The Fall of Anne Boleyn (Day 2): To the Tower


Today marks the anniversary of Anne Boleyn's arrest at Greenwich Palace and her transportation into prison in the Tower of London (above.)

"As she sailed into captivity, the cannons of the Tower fired out a salvo to announce the incarceration of a great personage within its walls and it was this sound, coupled with seeing the imposing walls of the Tower rise up around her, which finally shattered Anne’s preternatural calm. Henry VI and Edward V had both vanished into the Tower, never to emerge - as had several of Anne's opponents in days gone-by."

For this blog's full post on the events of May 2nd 1536, click HERE.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

The Comeback of Calling Cards


Thanks to Elena Maria Vidal for this excellent series of links on the come back of calling cards. I'm currently looking for engravers in London or Dublin to get mine done, along with a set of business cards. So if anyone knows of any they would recommend, do let me know. Business cards are a great idea in the modern age and Laura Schwartz's book Eat, Drink and Succeed has a fantastic section on how to personalise them and make the most of their potential through modern networking and social events. If you're wondering how to capitalise on business cards, both in terms of aesthetics and impact, check Eat, Drink and Succeed out.

However, I'm also a big fan of calling cards for more personal or social situations and I'm looking into have a batch done either with Smythson's in London or, potentially, with Dempsey and Carroll in the United States. Although I'm sure I must be able to find one closer to home!

"And a personalized card acts as a quiet rebuttal to the white noise jabber-jawing of Twitter and Facebook. A rectangular symbol of restraint, the well-conceived card provides its recipient with just enough information."

For Elena Maria's post on calling cards, click HERE.

The Fall of Anne Boleyn (Day 1): The Last Day of Freedom


"Sitting next to one another, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn still cut an attractive – even a magnificent – pair. Admittedly, the King was no longer the “perfect model of manly beauty” that he had been when he came to the throne twenty-seven years earlier, but neither had he degenerated into the monstrous, sweating man-mountain of his later years. In 1536, the muscles on the 6ft 2ins monarch were only just beginning to turn to fat; with the boyish good looks gone but the repulsive obesity still some way off, the 44 year-old King looked every inch the absolute monarch."

Today is the anniversary of Anne Boleyn's last public appearance as a free woman. For the full anniversary post, click HERE.


Above: A portrait of Henry VIII painted by Joos van Cleeve sometime around 1533, when the King was forty-two years old. In his hand, he holds an extract from the Gospel according to Saint Mark.
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