Sunday 30 May 2010

The Mitfords and Marie-Antoinette

The Mitford girls have to rank alongside the Boleyn sisters, the Lennox girls and the Brontës as amongst the most famous sibling units produced by the English upper-classes. Born between 1904 and 1920, the six sisters were the children of Tory country squire, Lord Redesdale, and his wife, Sydney, and each was to lead an extraordinary life and to capture the attention of high society and the tabloid press. Their lives have been immortalised on screen, on stage and in musicals, with their childhood being memorably lampooned by the scathing wit of the eldest sister in her fabulous best-selling novel, "The Pursuit of Love." One sister is today the personal heroine of J.K. Rowling, the creator of Harry Potter, another (the only still living, sadly) is the curatrix of one of the most splendid private homes of the British aristocracy and another is a regular player in inaccurate and wild conspiracy theories that Hitler had a secret love child. There was also a brother, Tom, born between Pamela and Diana, who had a school-time fling at Eton with the future acclaimed architect, writer and socialite, James Lee-Milne, before becoming something of a ladies' man and who was tragically killed on active service in Burma in 1945.

Friday 28 May 2010

A fascinating look inside the Vatican archives

The Daily Telegraph reports on the opening of the Vatican archives in Rome.

Although conspiracy theorists may point to the fact that the withholding of any documents pertaining to events after either 1922 or 1939 obviously points to a massive cover-up, it's really not much different to the British Government's policy of suppressing sensitive documents for over a century after they are written, in order to protect the identities of those mentioned and their immediate family. Although it would of course be interesting to know the exact state of the Vatican's affairs during the terrible years of the Holocaust, rather than having to rely on either the panegyric or venom of hindsight.

On another note, the petition from the English upper-classes requesting that the Pope speed up the divorce of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon was partly organised by Sir William Brereton, whose later life you can read about here.

Wednesday 26 May 2010

An Interview with the fabulous Laura Schwartz, author of "Eat, Drink and Succeed"

Below is an interview on American television with my wonderful, fabulous friend, Laura Schwartz, author of the new book "Eat, Drink and Succeed," which is a phenomenal book based on Laura's incredibly popular series of lectures about the importance of social networking - the does and the don'ts - and it bears out Laura's brilliant personal maxim that whilst a job is 9-5, a career is 24/7.

Laura and I first met when she was speaking at the Oxford Union and visiting the area for the first time. I offered to give her family a tour of the city and I'm pleased to say we all hit it off and have been friends ever since. A fantastic weekend with some fantastic people!

Apart from being incredibly fun and a very dear friend, who has been incredibly supportive about my own book, "Popular," which is due for release in the UK in February 2011, Laura is also intelligent, gracious and unbelievably good at what she does. This blog's American readers may recognise her from her articles which have appeared in the likes of the New York Times and USA Today, or her appearances on Fox News, MSNBC, Larry King, the CBS Early Show and the Lehrer News Hour. International readers may have seen her on BBC World News, Newsnight, GM:TV and Al Jazeera's Frost over the World, with Sir David Frost. Today, Laura is an author, a media personality and the creator of the events, media, political and message consultancy firm, White House Strategies, which is based in Chicago. She is also the veteran of three presidential campaigns in the US and she was the Midwest Press Secretary, then White House Director of Television and finally White House Director of Events and Special Assistant to the President of the United States, during the Clinton Administration. Check this interview out and there's a link below for those of you who are interested in Laura's amazing book, which I'll be reviewing on this blog in more depth very soon - but consider it a firm recommendation!

You can order "Eat, Drink and Succeed" from, here.

A Question of Sources

Over the course of the last three weeks, I have received many kind e-mails, comments and Facebook messages on this blog's day-by-day account of the fall and death of Queen Anne Boleyn (1536.)

Firstly, I would of course like to say a huge thank you to those who took the time to tell me of their enjoyment (more than one person has wondered if this was the right word!) of my series and also to thank those who came back every day to read it. A special word of thanks must go to Claire Ridgeway, creator of the superb Anne Boleyn Files, which was also running its own excellent series on the Queen's demise, but who still linked several of her posts to mine and vice-versa. I am both incredibly flattered and incredibly pleased, although I am sure more of the credit belongs to Anne Boleyn, rather than to myself!

Secondly, I would like to acknowledge the comments and supports left by a very worthy assembly of some of the finest writers of historical fiction currently in print - some of whom linked to my Anne Boleyn series from their own blogs, others who read, commented or e-mailed me. These fantastic authors included Elena Maria Vidal, author of the novels Trianon, Madame Royale and The Night's Dark Shade; C.W. Gortner, author of The Last Queen, The Confessions of Catherine de Medici and The Tudor Secret (2011); Catherine Delors, author of Mistress of the Revolution and For the King ; Michelle Moran, author of Nefertiti, The Heretic Queen, Cleopatra's Daughter and the forthcoming Madame Tussaud and, finally, Robin Maxwell, whose book The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn was the first book a young me ever read cover-to-cover about the ill-fated queen. Miss Maxwell is also the author of a prequel, called Mademoiselle Boleyn, and the novels Virgin, The Queen's Bastard, The Wild Irish, To the Tower Born, Signora da Vinci and O, Juliet. The historical writer, Stephanie A. Mann, who is the author of the non-fiction book, Supremacy and Survival: How Catholics Endured the English Reformation, was also a reader! To all of you, a huge, huge thank you for your comments and support, particularly to Elena Maria Vidal, one of this blog's earliest and most supportive readers!

Thirdly, many readers have asked about what sources I used in writing the 1536 series and if I am planning to one day write a biography of Anne myself? The answer to the latter is - yes, I would very much like to and over the last few months, I have been having great fun researching the background of her family and researching the less-analysed personality of her mother, Lady Elizabeth Howard. However, it will be several years before I'm in the position to even think about publishing it, because in the meantime I am working on an incredibly fun series of novels about the life of fictitious socialite, Meredith Harper, and her posse of fabulous friends. The first installment, Popular, is due to be be published by Puffin in February 2011. I'm incredibly excited by this and hope you'll all pick up a copy when the time comes - I had the biggest amount of fun writing Popular, creating the characters and am thrilled to now be working on its first sequel. More information about the Popular series will be posted on the blog, as and when it's available!

Friday 21 May 2010

May 19th, 1536: The Execution of Anne Boleyn

"A burden is shed from the soul,
Doubt swiftly disappears,
Belief returns, and so do tears,
And all is light and clear."

- Mikhail Lermontov (1814 - 1871)

When it came to it, Sir William Kingston, usually so efficient and so conscientious in the execution of his duties, found the task of telling the Queen that the guards had arrived to escort her to the scaffold, unexpectedly difficult. The good Constable began to stammer and trip over his words; the Queen, who had just finished eating a light breakfast after hearing morning Mass, calmly told him not to worry – she was ready. She seemed devoid of fear - although she kept nervously smoothing imaginary wrinkles in her outfit - and she stuck to her own quip, made in happier times, that no Christian ought to fear Death. We do not know if her childhood governess was with her on that day, as she had been for the previous few days, but if she was, it must have been a terrible thought for Mrs. Orchard to reflect that she had been with Anne Boleyn from the cradle to the grave.

The Queen, accompanied by four young women of her own household, left the apartments where she had been both crowned and condemned, and walked down the long corridor and the flight of stairs to the outside and in to the fresh May morning air. She wore a low-cut dress of black, pinched in at that famously tiny waist, with another crimson kirtle. Black, the colour of death, and crimson, the colour of martyrdom; had Anne been intending to convey a similar colour-coded message to a modern audience, she may as well have been wearing white, á la Delaroche’s Jane Grey.

Tuesday 18 May 2010

May 18th, 1536: The Threshold of Eternity

"She does not confess anything, and does not resist strongly, almost wanting to be delivered from living here, to go and live in Heaven, and hope is surmounting so much in her that she no longer cares about dying."
- Lancelot de Carles, Bishop of Riez (d. 1570)

The last sunset of Anne Boleyn's earthly life on May 18th, 1536 was a glorious one, promising a long, hot summer's day ahead, a day that she would have little experience of. On that evening, the Queen of England (for she still bore that title) sat in her apartments waiting, almost impatiently, for the sun to set and dawn to come. 

At times, Anne seemed anxious lest anyone interpret her eagerness as a sign that she despised God's gift of life and she rather piously informed some of her ladies that this was not so, simply that she had every confidence that God would give her the courage to die bravely. Had she had any possibility of living with honour, she would undoubtedly have taken it. After all, she was still relatively young and she had a mother and a daughter whose lives were about to be destroyed by the events of the morrow. Yet, after what had happened the day before, it is not difficult to see why Anne Boleyn might finally have looked upon death with something akin to affection. Seeing her in this mindset, her gaoler wrote admiringly: "I have seen many men and also women executed, and that they have been in great sorrow, and to my knowledge this lady has much joy in death."

"Popular" teaser

As some of you may know, my first novel "Popular" is being published by Puffin (Penguin) in the UK in February 2011. It is supposed to be the first in a series based in a fictional grammar school in Malone, south Belfast - Mount Olivet Grammar School. Today, I received what's called the "cover copy" (i.e. "the blurb") from Sarah Kettle at Puffin, so here's a teaser of what to expect from the back-cover of "Popular"!


MEREDITH HARPER is rich, popular, manipulative and almost unnaturally beautiful. At the age of sixteen, she’s already a social legend.

IMOGEN DAWSON, beautiful and sexy-chic, she’s Meredith’s best friend and a total bombshell. And doesn’t she just know it. Then there’s . . .

KERRY DAVISON, daddy’s little princess with a passion for pink and a penchant for Fabulous Induced Breakdowns. Now meet

CAMERON MATTHEWS, six-feet tall, blue-eyed and the most popular guy in school.

Together they’re unfathomably gorgeous and like, totally beau. But under the glamorous surface of parties and spa-days is a wealth of comforting lies and convenient silences, bitching, break-ups and scandal.

Let the games begin . . .

May 17th, 1536: The Deaths on Tower Hill

"Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the sea; they live in one another still. For they must needs be present, that love and live in that which is omnipresent. In this divine glass they see face to face; and their converse is free, as well as pure. This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal."
- William Penn (1644 - 1718), "More Fruits of Solitude"

Thousands upon thousands gathered on the balmy spring morning of May 17th, 1536 to see the five men accused of having cuckolded the King of England meet their fates on a tall scaffold on Tower Hill in London. The writer, Crispin de Milherve, waiting in the crowd near the scaffold was not alone when he later recalled, secretly, that all five “suffered a death they did not deserve.” From the Bell Tower within the nearby fortress, Sir Thomas Wyatt who might have been joining his former friends and colleagues upon the scaffold had things gone differently, watched on in horror as his childhood playmates and drinking partners were scythed down for a crime that he and half of England knew they had not committed. Elsewhere in the same tower, or perhaps in the nearby Byward Tower, the Queen of England also watched. 

For some years, there has been confusion about whether or not Anne did actually witness the executions as romantic legend states – the Constable's letters do not mention it, but there are gaps in the narrative thanks to the 1731 fire at the Cottonian Library, where the papers were held. It is clear that she could not have seen the hill from her present rooms in the Tower, but the Spanish ambassador was quite insistent that she saw the five men die and he had an interview with one of the Queen's compansions, Lady Kingston,  in the days immediately after the executions. What cannot be right is the story that the Queen was forced to witness the butchery of her brother and her friends – to have coerced her across the Tower from her rooms to the Byward or the Bell Tower would have required significant force and created a scene that neither Cromwell nor Kingston wanted. It therefore seems clear that Anne wanted to watch – or, perhaps more accurately, felt that she should watch. Nothing in her life had prepared her for what she was about to witness.

Executed in order of rank, it was the Queen’s brother, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, who died first – the handsome, arrogant, charming Adonis of the Tudor court. Far from the sobbing, blubbering wreck we see in The Other Boleyn Girl, George Boleyn addressed crowd in a loud, clear, confident voice that carried across the crowd for the duration of his fairly lengthy speech. Like his co-accused, he hedged around the issue of his own guilt, for to rage against the injustice now would only bring further dishonour on his family and possibly further government repercussions. It also showed a lack of Christian resignation in the face of death and George’s mind was very much on religion that morning. “Christian men,” he began, “I am born under the law, and judged under the law, and die under the law, and the law has condemned me.” The law then, not his own actions, were to blame and those listening, particularly his fellow aristocrats, knew what George was trying to say without actually saying it.

Monday 17 May 2010

May 16th, 1536: Preparations

"I saw a royal throne where justice should have sit,
But in her stead was one of moody, cruel wit.
Absorbed with righteousness as of the raging flood;
Satan in his excess sucked up the guiltless blood."

- Anne Askew, Protestant martyr (1521 - 1546)

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.

As Kingston was escorted towards the Royal Apartments, he must have noticed that the palace was quieter than usual for a Tuesday morning. There were two reasons for this eerie quiet - the first was that with the disbanding of the Queen's Household three days earlier, her two hundred or so servants were now "at liberty to seek service" elsewhere. Secondly, upon hearing news of the Queen's condemnation on the previous day, the rest of the courtiers knew that there was absolutely no chance of her being restored to favour and dozens were now journeying to Chelsea to pay their respects to Jane Seymour and her family. Crowds of spectators had also been travelling to wait at the gates of the former London home of Sir Thomas More, in the hope of catching a glimpse of the woman who everyone expected would soon be their new queen. One of the courtiers also brought a gift and a letter to Jane from her royal lover, informing her that Cromwell had still not apprehended the pamphleteers mocking their impending marriage. If anything, the Queen's extraordinary performance at her trial the day before had only made matters worse: -

Saturday 15 May 2010

May 15th, 1536: The Trial of Anne Boleyn

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - that's all."

- From Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll (1832 - 1898)

Above photograph: Actress Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn in the television series The Tudors (2007 - 2010)


May 15th saw the trials of both Anne Boleyn, Queen of England and of George Boleyn, Lord Rochford. However, the trial of the viscount will be dealt with on tomorrow's post, rather than today, in order to avoid the post becoming overly-long. An excellent analysis of the second Boleyn trial can be read on Claire Ridgeway's The Anne Boleyn Files.



Friday 14 May 2010

May 13th, 1536: The Disbanding of the Queen's Household

"So much the more
Must pity drop upon her. Verily,
I swear, 'tis better to be lowly born,
And range with humble livers in content,
Than to be perk'd up in a glistering grief,
And wear a golden sorrow."

- William Shakespeare's "Henry VIII," Act II, Scene III

With the Court still adjusting to the news that four of their rank had been condemned to death on the spurious charge of being the Queen's lovers and with many mourning the fates of Henry Norris and Francis Weston in particular, the government moved through Sir Edward Baynton, the Queen's Chamberlain, to notify her household that their services were no longer required. They could go home; the Household of Queen Anne Boleyn was no more. It had been formally disbanded by order of His Majesty the King. It had been eleven days since the Queen had been plucked from amongst her servants, dressed in crimson and gold and jewels, surrounded by sobbing retainers still clutching the silver plates from which Her Majesty ate; it had been eleven days and she would not be coming home.

So, the ladies and the grooms, the priests, the shoe-makers, the milliners, the seamstresses and musicians, poets, tutors, scholars, jesters, fools, stable-hands, cooks, valets, ushers, guards, maids and laundresses returned to their homes. The Queen they had served was no more; the Queen they would serve, officially, did not yet exist.

Thursday 13 May 2010

May 12th, 1536: The Trial of the Queen's Concubines

"So we'll live and pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh at gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues talk of court news; and we'll talk with them too- who loses and who wins, who's in, who's out- and take upon's the mystery of things as if we were God's spies."
- From William Shakespeare's "King Lear," Act V, Scene III

On Friday, May 12th, 1536, Sir William Kingston, Constable of the Tower of London, escorted Sir Henry Norris, Sir William Brereton, Sir Francis Weston and Mark Smeaton into Westminster Hall where, three years earlier, Anne Boleyn had been honoured with a lavish Coronation banquet at the height of her triumph.

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.

Tuesday 11 May 2010

May 11th, 1536: The Queen and the Council

Above photograph: Actress Merle Oberon as Anne Boleyn in the movie The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)

"Beautiful she is, sir! Lovely! Sometimes like a great tree in flower, sometimes like a white daffadowndilly, small and slender like. Hard as di'monds, soft as moonlight. Warm as sunlight, cold as frost on the stars. Proud and far-off as a snow mountain, and as merry as any lass I ever saw with daisies in her hair in springtime."
- Sam Gamgee from the novel The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkein (1892 - 1973)

As the embers died in the fireplace of his Privy apartments, Henry VIII watched as the nervous faces of his councillors and advisers were ushered into his presence. They had just been to the Tower to interrogate the Queen, with strict instructions to extract some kind of confession from her or at least make her accept a sentence of partial guilt without trial. There seems to be some confusion about what date this interview occurred on, since there is a gap in the records of the Queen's imprisonment, thanks to some of Sir William Kingston's letters being damaged by a fire in 1731. However, we do know that the King ordered the trials of the Queen's four common-born "lovers" to go ahead at Westminster for May 12th and the Council's visit has all the characteristics of a last-minute attempt at a plea bargain, which suggests to me that it took place on the evening of Thursday, May 11th, the ninth day of the Queen's imprisonment.

Bowing low, the councillors began by telling the King that their initial visits - to Sir Henry Norris, Sir William Brereton and Sir Francis Weston - had yielded nothing. They all refused to confess that they had been the Queen's lovers. Calling on Lord Rochford in the Martin Tower, the councillors reported that the viscount was in the grip of a strong religious zeal and that when they had asked him about the charges of incest and treason facing him, he had raised his eyes to Heaven and denied everything.

Monday 10 May 2010

May 10th, 1536: My Lord of Rochford's Conscience

"At certain revolutions all the
Damned are brought and feel
By turns the bitter change
Of fierce extremes"

- John Milton (1608 - 1674), Paradise Lost

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; his friend, Thomas Wyatt, would later write that if only George had not been so arrogant, he would have been more sincerely mourned. As an extended member of the Royal Family, George had been given free use of the King's palace at Beaulieu in Essex and despite the slightly strained state of his marriage to Jane Parker (we have no idea how strained), the two had thus far managed to maintain a convincing façade in public and were known for their fine-living and extravagance.

George was close to his youngest sister, the Queen, although there is nothing to suggest that their relationship was in any way inappropriate, much less incestuous. The two siblings shared a deep interest in politics, France and theology. However, Anne’s personal religion was much more ‘catholic’ than her brother’s – over the last two years, as George became more radical, they had quarrelled, at least once, about the issue of Transubstantiation. (George thought it was open for debate; Anne didn't.) George was also moving closer and closer to the Lutheran doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone, whilst Anne still believed emphatically in the essentialness of good deeds in achieving Salvation. The Queen also found the long sermons of the more radical Protestant preachers favoured by her brother to be insufferably boring, and she was deeply devoted to the liturgical ceremonies and splendour of the medieval Church - the "smells and bells," if you will. George looked upon the fire and zest of the Reformation with tingling excitement - at last, they were about to sweep away the old superstitions and Catholic nonsense to replace it with the true religion of Christ's gospel. Anne, looking on with increasing unease at this reformist zeal, was now beginning to panic that they were running the risk of throwing the baby out with the bath-water and that the Reformation was turning into a hydra which nobody could control. Increasingly, the only thing the Queen and her brother had agreed upon theologically was their antipathy towards heresy trials and death by burning, their hatred for the Vatican and their deep commitment to having the Bible available for all to read in their native language.

Sunday 9 May 2010

May 9th, 1536: The King Wills It

“Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.”

- W.H. Auden (1907 – 1973), Epitaph on a Tyrant

On Tuesday, May 9th, 1536 Henry VIII strode into one of the vast audience chambers at Hampton Court Palace and took his seat before 22 bowing aristocrats and 27 bowing gentlemen-in-waiting. Near his throne, like a dutiful raven, stood Secretary of State Thomas Cromwell, waiting to assist his royal master in the formal notification to the aristocracy that the Queen of England had been arrested and would stand trial within the week for multiple counts of sexual perversion and intended treason. Earlier that day, the cumbersome legal proceedings against the Queen had been commenced as the Grand Jury of Middlesex prepared to meet in Westminster to organise the mundane details required for a treason trial, now that the main ground-work of evidence gathering had been completed by Cromwell. The foreman of the jury, Giles Alington, a stepson of the late Sir Thomas More, remarked that as far as he was concerned there was no need for there to be a trial at all - the Queen should be put to death at the first available opportunity.

In his slightly high-pitched voice, the King proceeded to outline the Queen’s heinous crimes which were “such great and weighty matters as whereupon doth consist the surety of our person, the preservation of our honour, and the tranquillity and quietness of you and all other our loving and faithful subjects”. He pointed out that although Norris, Brereton, Weston and Smeaton would stand trial in London on Friday, the Queen and Lord Rochford, as members of the Royal Family and aristocracy, were legally entitled to have a trial before their peers – that is to say, more or less everyone now clustered into the King’s presence. The King's presence reminded them that every man was expected to their duty for “the preservation of our honour”; there was not to be another unfortunate and unexpected acquittal of an accused traitor, as had happened with Henry Norris’s father-in-law, Lord Dacre, two years earlier.

May 8th, 1536: Radix malorum est cupiditas

"For they that will become rich, fall into temptation, and into the snare of the devil, and into many unprofitable and hurtful desires, which drown men into destruction and perdition."
- 1st Timothy, Chapter 6, Verse 9

After breakfast on May 8th, 1536, the 16 year-old Duke of Richmond sat down in one of his London mansions to write a letter to the Bishop of Lincoln. The young duke - christened Henry FitzRoy - was King Henry VIII's only acknowledged illegitimate child, the product of a love affair between the king and a pretty young lady-in-waiting, Elizabeth Blount, carried out at the end of the 1510s. The royal bastard was one of only three men to hold the coveted title of a duke - the highest rank in the English aristocracy - the others were the Queen's uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, and the King's former brother-in-law, the Duke of Suffolk; a fourth, the Duke of Buckingham, had been executed for treason in 1521. As well as being Duke of Richmond, the teenager was also Duke of Somerset and Earl of Nottingham - thus making him, unquestionably, the highest-rank aristocrat in the kingdom.

Slim and handsome, throughout the scandal surrounding the Queen, the Duke of Richmond deftly avoided commenting on his stepmother's presumed guilt, except when in his father's presence. It was not just that his marriage to Lady Mary Howard, the Queen's cousin, had been arranged at the Queen's behest three years earlier, but Richmond had also been politically involved with one of her accused lovers, Sir William Brereton, and another, Sir Richard Page, had been in his service for half a decade.

Saturday 8 May 2010

May 7th, 1536: The Faith of the Prisoner

"Of body small,
Of power regal,
She is, and sharp of sight;
Of courage hault,
No manner fault
Is in this falcon white."

- A ballad for Anne Boleyn's Coronation, written by Nicholas Udall (1504 - 1556), Headmaster of Eton College


I would like to apologise for the day-long delay in getting the May 7th post up. Yesterday was my birthday supper and I spent the day in the kitchen cooking a steak and guinness pie, followed by malteser and toblerone cheesecake, with a few friends - Kerry, Lucy, Natalie, Dean, Grace and Aisleagh - stopping by at 7:30. It all turned out very well, so I was very pleased, and like the Queen of England 474 years earlier, on May 7th I had "a great dinner". Unlike her, however, that was because of the company, not despite it!


May 7th, 1536 was the first Sunday the Queen had spent in prison. The day before, Saturday, Thomas Cromwell had visited the fortress to consult privately with Sir William Kingston about the prisoners and the Queen in particular. As a result, Kingston had not made his customary visit to the Queen’s Apartments, nor had he taken his supper with her as usual, as a mark of respect for her royal status. Given how much she detested many of the servants now assigned to watch over her, Anne had missed Sir William’s company and enquired to one of her maids - perhaps the inoffensive Mrs. Stonor or Mrs. Orchard - why he had not visited her the day before, as usual.

Thursday 6 May 2010

May 6th, 1536: The Mystery of the Queen's Letter

“At the close of life, thoughts hitherto unthinkable rise into the mind of one who meets his fate with resignation; they are like good spirits that diffuse their radiance upon the summits of the past.”
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832)

On the fourth day of her imprisonment, legend has it that Anne Boleyn wrote a letter to her estranged husband, King Henry VIII, in which she asked for a fair trial, mercy for her fellow prisoners and hinted at Jane Seymour being the reason for her downfall. This letter was allegedly found amongst the papers of Thomas Cromwell, after he was executed for treason in 1540 – which implies that if the letter is in fact genuine, it was intercepted by Cromwell and never reached the King. Scrawled across the top in what seems to be Cromwell’s handwriting: “To the King from the Lady in the Tower”.

In his The Reformation in England, J.H. Merle d’Aubigny wrote admiringly of the letter, “We see Anne thoroughly in this letter, one of the most touching that was ever written. Injured in her honour, she speaks without fear, as one on the threshold of eternity. If there were no other proofs of her innocence, this document alone would suffice to gain her cause in the eyes of an impartial and intelligent posterity.”

Wednesday 5 May 2010

May 5th, 1536: The Final Arrests

“In satisfying her carnal appetite she fled not so much as the company of her own brother besides the company of three or four others of the gallantest gentlemen that were near about the king’s proper person.”
- Sir William Thomas, Clerk of the Privy Council (d. 1554)

Friday May 5th marked a difficult day for the Queen of England. Having finally understood the terrible truth that her brother, George, had been arrested on a charge of adulterous incest with her, she spent much of the morning crying and at one point nearly fainted, screaming, “My brother will die!” After lunch, she seemed to have reined in her hysteria and instead began to worry about the fates of the other men who were also sharing her prison – she feared that they might not be looked after properly and asked if anyone was making their beds for them. (Perhaps to find out if they even had beds or were being held in one of the Tower’s more horrible locations.) One of her ladies-in-waiting cattily responded that it was her interest in such obscene matters as what gentlemen's beds were like which had brought her to her current calamity.

It was apparently this latest act of wholly unnecessary bullying which marked a change in Anne Boleyn’s attitude the ladies around her. Having previously hoped that they might eventually feel sorry for her, she now realised that this was not going to happen. Far from sympathising, they were in fact taking great pleasure in adding to her misery at every available opportunity - taunting her with unwelcome information about her co-accused or moralising about the reasons for her destruction. The two worst offenders were Anne’s aunt-by-marriage, Lady Boleyn, and Mrs. Coffin – they refused to answer any of the Queen’s queries about where her father was (had he been arrested too?) and how had her mother taken the news of her arrest? Faced with this treatment, Anne decided that she was not going to give the two women an opportunity to do it again and she used the only weapon she had left in her arsenal – etiquette.

Tuesday 4 May 2010

May 4th, 1536: The Public Reaction

“A cruel story runs on wheels, and every hand oils the wheels as they run.”
– Marie-Louise de la Ramée (1839 – 1908)

In the early afternoon of May 4th, two days after the Queen’s arrest, Sir William Brereton was arrested as the fifth of Anne Boleyn's alleged lovers and conducted to the Tower.

Of all Anne’s lovers, it was Brereton who seemed the least plausible candidate - with the obvious exception of her brother. Mark Smeaton had been noticeably attracted to the Queen physically, Henry Norris had constantly been in her company and Francis Weston was a known womaniser; Brereton, on the other hand, was neither close to the Queen personally, nor particularly attractive. Writing several years later, a palace servant spoke for many when he said, “If any of them was innocent, it was he.”

Monday 3 May 2010

May 3rd, 1536: The Lady in the Tower

“She hath wept bitterly in the night, and her tears are upon her cheeks: there is none to comfort her among all them that were dear to her: all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, and are become her enemies.”
- The Book of Lamentations, Chapter 1, verse 2

Unlike poor Marie-Antoinette two centuries later, Anne Boleyn did not spend her final days in deprivation. In fact, by most normal standards she spent them in great luxury. Whilst Marie-Antoinette would shiver in a dank cell in the Conciergerie prison, with holes in her shoes and the revolutionary guards shouting obscene comments at her as she changed her menstrual linen, Anne Boleyn was housed in rooms which, only three years earlier, had been re-decorated for her Coronation week to the equivalent of £1.28 million ($2 million.) Furthermore, almost £9,000 ($13,700) was soon forwarded to the Tower by the government to finance the Queen’s food and clothes during her imprisonment. 

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.

Sunday 2 May 2010

May 2nd, 1536: The Queen's Arrest

"And down the river's dim expanse
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance --
With a glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott."

- Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809 - 1892), The Lady of Shalott

On the morning of May 2nd 1536, Anne Boleyn awoke as usual in her luxurious four-poster bed, with its silken sheets and golden tassels imported from Florence. Despite her husband's abrupt departure from the Mayday jousts the day before, there was no sign that this day was going to be different from any other.

The Queen's ladies of the bedchamber were already waiting to dress her in the morning’s preliminary outfit – a long robe, a bit like a dressing gown, was placed over a relatively simple linen dress and the Queen ate breakfast in the privacy of her rooms before a screen was erected in front of her for Mass. Since she was in her dishabille, it was customary for the Queen to hear the morning service from behind a screen on days which were not holy days or great festivals. So, with a mantilla draped over her head and her prayer book in her hands, Anne heard one of her chaplains celebrate the Mass, before she retired back to her bedchamber to be dressed properly.

Noted for her interest in fashion, as well as for her extravagance, Queen Anne usually spent about £12,000 ($18,000) on clothes in an average month – not counting expenditure for great events of State, when her outfits were famously breathtaking. Even on "normal" days, like this one, she was always immaculately coiffed and styled and even one of her most hostile critics described her as "the glass of fashion."

Saturday 1 May 2010

May 1st, 1536: Mayday

Part of a series of posts beginning today on the downfall of Anne Boleyn

“For her, my lord,
I dare my life lay down and will do't, sir,
Please you to accept it, that the Queen is spotless
I' the eyes of heaven and to you; I mean,
In this which you accuse her.”

- William Shakespeare's The Winter’s Tale, Act II, Scene I

On a warm Mayday afternoon in 1536, Henry VIII and his queen, Anne Boleyn, took their places in the royal box outside the red-brick banqueting house of Greenwich Palace, the king’s favourite river-side home.

Mayday – the first day of May – was one of the English Court’s annual social highlights. It marked the beginning of the summer “Season”, in contrast to the relative restraint imposed by Lent, which had ended a few weeks earlier. At Court, the day was traditionally celebrated with a series of afternoon jousts, in which the most athletic of the male courtiers would compete against one another in the tilt. Ordinarily, the sporty sovereign took great pride in being the centre of attention at such events, but this year – for the first time – Henry was not competing following a particularly dangerous fall from his horse back in January. The King’s injury meant that the most celebrated of the day’s jousters consisted of the Queen’s brother, Lord Rochford, the handsome playboy Sir Francis Weston, the poet Sir Thomas Wyatt and the King’s Master of the Horse, Sir Nicholas Carew – along with a host of other well-born competitors.

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.

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