Announcement – New Book Coming Soon!

As someone who lives near Hastings and the battlefield, I am proud to say that my latest book 1066 & The Battle of Hastings in a Nutshell will be released on 12th May! You can preorder it in either paperback or kindle from Amazon here.

Blurb: MadeGlobal’s History in a Nutshell Series aims to give readers a good grounding in a historical topic in a concise, easily digestible and easily accessible way.

In 1066 & The Battle of Hastings in a Nutshell, Charlie Fenton discusses one of the most important events in English history.

Many recall the story of William the Conqueror sailing over from Normandy, going to battle with King Harold and the latter supposedly dying of an arrow to the eye. However, few know the details of why the battle happened and how Harold really lost his life, and even fewer know what happened afterwards, during the early reign of William the Conqueror.

Charlie Fenton, a specialist in Medieval and Early Modern History, uncovers the truth…

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Six Wives with Lucy Worsley – Episode 3 Review

Lucy Worsley’s Six Wives series has finished as quickly as it started, confusing quite a few who have asked me on social media “how is it the last episode if there are six wives?”. Due to the lack of information we have on these wives and how brief their times as queen were, this episode somehow seems less rushed than the one before it (Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour), despite the fact she now has to cover three wives.

Worsley starts with Henry’s surprise visit to Anne of Cleves in Rochester before going back to explain how the decision to marry her came about. The scene contrasts well with the first scene in episode one, in which a young Henry VIII surprises Katherine of Aragon by dressing up as Robin Hood. However, Henry has become very old and overweight by this time, which is shown by how he struggles to get up the stairs to meet her, and Anne does not know this English game of courtly love, so it very quickly heads for disaster.


The fact that she didn’t recognise him and act accordingly, as well as her rejection of him, immediately puts Henry off his new bride and, as Lucy explains, is the reason why he does not want to marry her, not because of how she looked. Most historians believe that that is the reason why now and that Henry only said she was ugly because his pride was wounded. He would have said anything to soothe his embarrassed male ego. It was only Henry who said she was ugly, which is more evidence for this theory.

After an awkward bed scene with many courtiers watching, Worsley quickly moves on to show Anne watching Henry VIII with his new love, the fifteen year old Katherine Howard. She is prepared to let her marriage go, much to the ambassador’s dismay, but will get what she is owed from it. I have never seen this depiction of Anne before and I am not sure as to how true it was, from what I read she did put up a bit of a fight (at least more than what is shown in this series), but settled with what Henry offered eventually. She knew from the experiences of the previous wives that Henry would get his own way.

Henry is soon married to Katherine Howard, a 15 year old in this series, although Worsley does say we do not know for certain how old she was, just that she was the youngest of his wives and a teenager (not that they thought of them as teenagers back then, they were adults). Worsley does seem to contradict herself with Katherine, stating that she believes she was a victim of child abuse, which I personally am inclined to believe with Mannox and Dereham but not with Culpepper. Katherine’s guardian, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, should have protected her from her music teacher and then the likes of Dereham. Worsley states how Katherine could just be telling Culpepper what he wanted to hear in her letter to him, yet the scene with Katherine and Culpepper clearly show that Katherine was in love with him. She backs this up by saying that Culpepper raped a farmer’s wife and only got let off because he was one of Henry’s favourites, which is true, but this very easily could have been more like a crush on Katherine’s part, even perhaps starting before her marriage to the king. What Worsleg says and what the drama shows doesn’t quite add up.

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Katherine Howard and Thomas Culpepper

Katherine’s past relationships with Dereham and Mannox are soon found out and she is interrogated by Thomas Cranmer (in yet another of his very brief appearances). She is visibly distraught, but complies, and the actress does a great job of portraying Katherine’s fear and borderline hysteria at what could happen to her, especially as Anne Boleyn was her cousin. After a few words from Worsley about how her affair with Culpepper was soon found out too, we are cut to the scene of her practicing on the block. I am disappointed that Jane Boleyn, who was also beheaded with Katherine, didn’t make an appearance in this, however she is often portrayed particularly badly in anything she appears in, so maybe that is a good thing. We also don’t see Katherine’s execution, which I found a little strange as it is often shown, but again I put this down to time constraints.

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Katherine Howard practicing with the block

Katherine Parr’s time then comes, with Worsley focusing on her relationship with Elizabeth and her religious views, although unfortunately there is a brief hint at her being a nurse to Henry, which is a bad stereotype, as well as no mention of her being regent during his time in France. There is a touching Christmas scene at first, in which Elizabeth presents Henry a book of translations she did of Katherine’s own work. This sends Henry into a rage at the heretical nature of this work, breaking the atmosphere, but he is quick to reassure Elizabeth that he does not blame her, making it clear that it is Katherine he blames.

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Henry VIII, Katherine Parr and Elizabeth

Katherine Parr’s enemies then swarm and convince Henry to arrest her for heresy. Before the arrest is carried out, Katherine gets word of this and, in a stroke of genius, manages to convince Henry that she is not going against him and that she only engages in debate so that she can learn from him, not because she believes in these heretical views. Just as she manages to convince Henry, the guards with the warrant for arrest arrive and the king quickly (and angrily) dismisses them.

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The warrant for Katherine’s arrest arrives

Not long after, Henry VIII dies, yet Worsley’s story does not end with him, it ends with Katherine. She describes how Katherine finally married the man she loved, Thomas Seymour, and was allowed to look after Elizabeth (cleverly omitting her involvement in Seymour’s harassment of the Princess) and fell pregnant. Sadly, like many Tudor women, she died in childbirth.

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Worsley talking about Katherine’s death

This episode was better than the last, mainly because Anne Boleyn’s story had so much more to tell in the last, however it was still odd Worsley explaining events such as Anne of Cleves’ marriage without the likes of Cromwell. As I have said in each review, I would have preferred four episodes, as then it would have been perfect and closer to five stars. Saying that, the actors and of course Lucy Worsley herself still did an excellent job with what they had to work with. The first episode is still the best one as it only really focuses on one wife, which allowed the actress time to shine as Katherine of Aragon and Worsley to really explain things.

Rating: 3.5/5


(All pictures taken from BBC iPlayer)

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Six Wives with Lucy Worsley – Episode 2 Review

After last week’s Katherine of Aragon centred episode of Lucy Worsley’s new Six Wives series, I was both excited and nervous about watching the second episode. As I mentioned in the first review, my concerns were for how Lucy would be able to go through the remaining five wives in just two episodes and, unfortunately, these problems came through in this episode.

This episode starts with Anne Boleyn moving in to the royal palace at Greenwich, so now Katherine and Anne are essentially living together. Worsley does not dwell on this for long and once again she goes travelling with Katherine’s portrait (which doesn’t get any less weird no matter how many times I see it), giving us a quick run down of events in the early 1530s. She skips a lot of the information due to time problems, yet still manages to cover the personal events, such as Katherine and Mary being separated and unable to see each other.

After Henry and Anne’s wedding, we see their first argument onscreen. Worsley picks a notorious one, which was documented by the likes of Chapuys, in which Anne is not happy with Henry having mistresses. He then tells her to “shut your eyes and endure, as more worthy persons have done” as he could “lower her as much as he had raised her” or, as it is shortened in this series, to “look away”.

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Anne Boleyn arguing with Henry over his mistresses.

The Princess Elizabeth is born not long after and Worsley makes a point of saying how besotted Anne is with her, despite her not being the son Henry wished for and Anne needed. Time passes very quickly in this series as, despite it in reality being two years later, we fast forward to Katherine of Aragon on her deathbed. It is a very moving scene in which Maria de Salinas (one of Katherine’s original Spanish ladies) writes Katherine’s letter to Henry for her, despite her objections to her giving the king her forgiveness. I am glad to see Maria mentioned, as most just mention Katherine’s main supporter being Eustace Chapuys and ignore the fact that Maria went against Henry’s wishes to visit her in 1536.

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Katherine on her deathbed with Maria de Salinas

Jane Seymour comes onto the scene soon after and for once in a documentary she is acknowledged as being Katherine of Aragon’s lady in waiting as well as Anne Boleyn’s. We are shown Henry flirting with Jane with her on his lap and Anne seeing them two together, as shown in several shows, and have Worsley tell us about Anne’s second miscarriage (not mentioning the first). She puts it down to Anne’s heart breaking after seeing Jane and Henry together, which some sources do state, yet does not mention the other possible reason, the 1536 jousting accident. Several sources and historians state that this was the actual reason, the news given by the Duke of Norfolk having shocked her. Either way, Worsley does not give the alternative explanation.

The infamous ‘dead men’s shoes’ scene is shown next, with Worsley spying on Henry Norris and Anne Boleyn during a pageant and explaining the implications of her words. She had imagined the king’s death, which was treason, yet was just trying to play the game of courtly love and, perhaps in her distress over recent events with her miscarriage and the rise of the Seymours, took it a step too far.

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Anne Boleyn and Henry Norris talking about why he has not married her cousin yet

She is shown trying to explain away these words and begging the king to understand that she did not mean it, yet the damage is done. Henry no longer trusts her and her fall is swift and brutal.

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Anne Boleyn’s last confession in the Tower of London

Jane Seymour’s time as queen in this series is very short, perhaps only a maximum of 15 minutes in total. Worsley does briefly mention her relationship with Princess/Lady Mary and how she tried to persuade Henry to have mercy on those involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace, resulting in a harsh warning from the king to “remember what happened to my last wife and queen”.

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Jane then gives birth to Prince Edward and, after a brief visit to the Chapel Royal in Hampton Court Palace, we learn that she is dying. There is a scene in which Henry is tending to Jane and showing them their newborn son, it is one of the few affectionate scenes shown of the couple, with the king lamenting what he did to deserve this.

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There are two main problems with this episode, although one is more down to the structure of the series overall. The problems are lack of time to cover the queens properly and the fact that Worsley focuses on the personal side of the six wives, cutting out as much of the political side as possible, which ultimately makes the story feel rushed and disjointed. The first episode had the perfect balance as it included events such as the Battle of Flodden and Katherine’s reaction, yet this one cuts out major figures such as Thomas Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell. Cranmer does have a brief mention as he is Anne Boleyn’s confessor in the Tower, but that is his only appearance so far. This means that Worsley struggles when she explains the Pilgrimage of Grace and its importance to Jane Seymour, she talks about the Dissolution of the Monasteries but with no mention of Cromwell.

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Lucy Worsley exploring ruins as she talks about the Dissolution of the Monasteries

Overall I did enjoy the episode, yet the amount of details that had to be left out entirely due to the timing issue distracted away from the engaging narrative of Lucy Worsley and the brilliant acting throughout. Worsley seems to have had to pick just the famous events to show and the ones that are absolutely vital to the story, such as the ‘dead men’s shoes’ incident and Henry warning Jane about what happened to Anne Boleyn. Due to the fact that it did feel rushed, I do have to knock a star off of what was a solid four stars last week. If this was a four episode series, I am certain Worsley would have been able to go at a comfortable pace and include the likes of Thomas Wolsey, Cromwell etc.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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My edit of the six wives of Henry VIII as portrayed in this series.

(All pictures taken from BBC iPlayer)

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Six Wives with Lucy Worsley – Episode 1 Review

The story of the six wives of Henry VIII has been told many times now, some argue too many times, yet somehow we still crave more. Lucy Worsley begins her new series by promising a new take on this familiar story, not an easy promise to make, but does seem to fulfil this in just the first episode.

Worsley does not just wander around palaces telling the story of the six wives, instead she inserts herself into their world, blending both documentary and drama into one. Throughout the episode, we see her appear lighting the fires, watching the scenes unfold and it is a novel, if unusual, new way of telling what otherwise is an old story.

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Lucy Worsley as a lady in waiting to Katherine of Aragon

She starts at the beginning of Katherine of Aragon and Henry’s marriage, showing them as a happy and loving couple, unlike some documentaries that are all too eager to focus on the end of their relationship and the emergence of Anne Boleyn. She leaves little clues as to Henry’s character and what influences his later relationships, such as Henry’s love of disguises and courtly love, which will heavily influence his relationship with Anne of Cleves later on.

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The loving couple after Henry surprises Katherine of Aragon.

The costumes in this series are beautiful and surprisingly accurate, although there have been reports that they used the same costumes from Wolf Hall, which would explain this. Most documentaries use cheap costumes and actors that look embarrassed to be playing their parts, but the BBC have gone a step further with this in providing a good looking and non-cringeworthy series for once. The actress who plays Katherine of Aragon played her particularly well as she showed her as both a loving wife and mother and a formidable warrior queen (like her mother) too.

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Katherine disappointed that she was only given the King of Scots’ coat, not his head after the Battle of Flodden

 

Some scenes in the episode, however, are more than a little confusing and do not seem to serve much purpose. When Worsley is talking about Henry’s relationship with Mary Boleyn, she also mentions the Chateau Vert pageant, yet somehow this is a cue for a scene of Princess Mary and Katherine watching Henry and Mary Boleyn. This seems a little odd and, although she is pressed for time, I think Worsley could have shown them some other way, without Princess Mary and Katherine.

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Princess Mary watching Henry VIII and Mary Boleyn before Katherine takes her away.

Another mistake I and several others spotted is Worsley mentioning that Anne Boleyn was engaged to Henry Percy. We are not sure exactly the full extent of their relationship, however it is unlikely that they were engaged and Anne was contracted to marry James Butler. I am still glad that Henry Percy was mentioned, he is often left out of documentaries and dramas, yet I think she could have made the doubts about their relationship clearer.

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Lucy Worsley talking about Anne Boleyn and Henry Percy.

One thing that I personally was excited to see was the primary sources of both Henry’s jousting tournament in celebration of the birth of Prince Henry:

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Henry jousting in celebration of the birth of his son by Katherine of Aragon

and Henry’s love letters to Anne Boleyn, in which Worsley is the first person who has been given permission to film them. Both sources are amazing to look at and this redeems this episode somewhat, taking it back along the documentary route instead of just a pure drama series.

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The letters of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn

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The famous AB in a heart 

Some may now be bored of the story of Henry VIII and his six wives and wonder why there is another series on it, however some people (like me) can never get bored of this story. We are fascinated by tales of romance, violence and tragedy, which I think is why the public are always so drawn to this period of history. As always Lucy Worsley is an engaging and entertaining presenter and her innovative way of telling the story is one in which may draw in even those who claim to be sick of the tale. I am eager to watch the next episode, but I am curious as to how the remaining five wives (we only had a glimpse of Anne Boleyn) will fit into the two remaining episodes. Most series on the topic tend to have four episodes minimum, not three, with Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn having their own episodes and the remaining four sharing two episodes. This format has worked well for the likes of David Starkey’s Six Wives series and the more recent series by Suzannah Lipscomb and Dan Jones, but I will try to remain optimistic as I await the next episode.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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My edit of the six wives of Henry VIII as portrayed in this series.

(All pictures taken from BBC iPlayer)

Posted in Katherine of Aragon, TV Series/Movie/Documentary Reviews | 1 Comment

Illustrated Kings and Queens of England – Guest Post by Claire Ridgway

I am delighted to be part of Claire Ridgway’s book tour, in which she will be visiting various blogs and discussing the Kings and Queens of England for her new book.  For your chance to win a paperback copy of her book, simply leave a comment after this post between now and 29th November 2016. The giveaway is open internationally and don’t forget to leave your name and a contact email. A winner will randomly be selected and contacted by email shortly after the competition closes.

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10 Memorable Monarchs

Thank you so much to Charlie Fenton for inviting me here today on day 4 of my virtual book tour for Illustrated Kings and Queens of England. I do hope you enjoy this guest article.

“Why do you weep. Did you think I was immortal?” are said to be the last words of King Louis XIV of France in 1715. Well, royalty is immortal in one way, in that kings and queens will never be forgotten. Some monarchs are remembered as tyrants, others as heralding in golden ages or improving society, some as warriors, and others as peacemakers. Other monarchs are simply known for the myths, legends and stories connected to their names.

King Alfred and the cakes

King Alfred (849-899) was the first king to claim to be “King of the English” or “King of the Anglo-Saxons” and although he should be remembered for his hard work in promoting literacy by establishing schools and bringing law to his people, and the way he encouraged the building of “burhs” (fortified towns) for defence, he is more often remembered for burning cakes. According to legend, while King Alfred was hiding from the Vikings in the Somerset marshes a peasant woman asked him to keep an eye on some cakes that she was baking. Unfortunately, he forgot and the cakes burned. The woman, having no idea that Alfred was her king, gave him a good scolding!

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Alfred the Great

King Cnut and the waves

King Cnut (c. 995-1035) was a strong, effective leader and patron of the Church, but say his name to people on the street and all they will know is the story of King Cnut and the waves. According to the 12th century historian Henry of Huntingdon, King Cnut rebuked his flattering courtiers and showed his humility by sitting on his throne near the sea and commanding the incoming tide to stop. The tide continued to come in, soaking the King’s feet and legs, and Cnut declared “Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth and sea obey by eternal laws.”

Harold I, son of a cobbler?

According to the 12th century monk, Florence or Florentius of Worcester, King Harold I (c.1015-1040) was not really the son of King Cnut and Queen Aelfgifu. The monk alleged that Queen Aelfgifu deceived her husband and that she had actually adopted Harold, who was also known as Harold Harefoot (fleet of foot), as an infant. The chronicle told of how Harold was actually the son of a cobbler, while his brother, Svein, was a priest’s illegitimate son. This is now thought to be a tale spread by Emma of Normandy, King Cnut’s second wife, to discredit Harold.

St Edward the Confessor

King Edward the Confessor (c. 1005-1066), who ruled over England from 1042 until January 1066, is an actual saint! He was canonised on 5th January 1161 by Pope Alexander III and was considered England’s patron saint until 1552, when St George became the patron saint. His feast day was celebrated on 13th October every year. But why was he canonised? Well, he was a pious king, and his reign was one of peace and prosperity, but there were also miracles associated with him. In 1102, his remains were examined and found not to have decayed, and William of Malmesbury recorded that a man’s sight had been restored after his eyes had been touched with water used for washing Edward’s hands. The idea that monarchs had the gift of healing and the tradition of “touching for the king’s evil”, a king laying hands on those suffering from scrofula, is said to date back to Edward the Confessor. A whole cult grew up around Edward’s story and reign.

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Edward the Confessor

Henry II and Thomas Becket

Although King Henry II (1133-1189) should be remembered for his legal reforms, many only know him as the king who caused the death of Thomas Becket, his Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1170, Henry II had an argument with Becket, who also served as his chief adviser, over church-state relations. According to tradition, the furious king cried out in rage, “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?”, or, according to another source, “What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?” Four knights, Reginald FitzUrse, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy and Richard le Breton, were happy to oblige the king by getting rid of the cleric, and Becket was cut down on 29 December 1170 in Canterbury Cathedral. Becket was promptly declared a martyr and was canonised by Pope Alexander III in 1173.

Richard I

King Richard I (1157-1199) has gone down in history as Richard the Lionheart, or Richard the Crusader, due to his time crusading in the Holy Land and his reputation as a warrior king, but he was also known by another nickname in south-west France. This name, “Ricart Oc-e-No”, meaning “Richard Yes and No” in Occitan, was alleged to have alluded to the King’s curtness.

King John

King John (1167-1216) is known as one of history’s baddies. Not only did he take advantage of his brother King Richard I’s four-year absence while on crusade by declaring that his brother was dead and plotting to take the throne, but he was also rumoured to have ordered the murder of Arthur of Brittany, his nephew and a rival claimant to the throne of England. Arthur disappeared in 1203 after being captured by John’s barons in August 1202 and being imprisoned. Arthur’s fate is unknown.

John is also seen as a greedy, cowardly, cruel ruler and he has been depicted as such in films and stories like those of the Robin Hood legend. It’s easy to forget that his reign was also that of the famous Magna Carta, which is regarded as the first written constitution in the history of Europe.

The Tudors

With my background being in Tudor history, I can’t exactly forget the Tudor monarchs (I’ll count them as one!): the miserly Henry VII, the tyrannical and much-married Henry VIII, sickly boy-king Edward VI, the Nine Day Queen Lady Jane Grey, Bloody Mary I and the Virgin Queen of a golden age. All monickers which aren’t exactly true or fair. Henry VII should be known for uniting the kingdom and bringing peace after decades of civil war, and for reforming and modernising government and the legal system; Henry VIII should be remembered for founding the English Navy and the Church of England, his promotion of Parliament, his remodelling of government and taxation, the translation of the Bible into English, his major rebuilding programme and his patronage of the Arts; Edward VI’s reign was one of huge religious change, and he was a boy who knew his mind; Lady Jane Grey should be remembered for the way she fought for what she saw as her destiny and for her strong faith; Mary I maintained the navy and reformed the militia, she established the gender-free authority of the crown and paved the way for her half-sister, she strengthened the position of Parliament and the administrative structure of the church, and she was the first queen regnant of England; and Elizabeth I defeated the Spanish Armada, continued improving the navy, increased literacy, expanded England overseas, helped the poor with her poor laws, ruled in her own right, founded the Church of England as we know it today, and promoted the Arts.

Charles II, the Party King

Well, that’s how my children know him after learning about him on “Horrible Histories”! While his father, Charles I, is known for being deposed and executed, King Charles II (1630-1685) is known for the restoration of the monarchy and for being the “Merry Monarch” who brought joy back to England after the austerities of the Puritan Oliver Cromwell’s protectorate. He was witty and tolerant, his court was licentious, and he had a collection of mistresses, causing him also to be ‘christened’ “Old Rowley” after one of the stallions in the royal stud! Good times and women, that’s what this king has gone down in history for, although his reign also saw the rise of the arts and science.

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Charles II

Mad King George

George III (1738-1820) was immortalised in Alan Bennett’s play, and the subsequent film starring Nigel Hawthorne, “The Madness of King George”. The real King George suffered some kind of mental breakdown in 1788/9, forcing him to leave things to his prime minister, William Pitt the Younger, and then suffered further mental collapses in 1801, 1804 and 1810. In 1811, a regency act was passed making his eldest son, George, Prince of Wales, regent and the King spent his final years in seclusion at Windsor Castle. It used to be thought that his mental collapses were due to porphyria, a genetic blood disorder, but recent research suggests that the King suffered from bipolar disorder.

 

 

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About the author:

Claire Ridgway is the author of best-selling books including:

  • ON THIS DAY IN TUDOR HISTORY
  • THE FALL OF ANNE BOLEYN: A COUNTDOWN
  • THE ANNE BOLEYN COLLECTION
  • INTERVIEWS WITH INDIE AUTHORS: TOP TIPS FROM SUCCESSFUL SELF-PUBLISHED AUTHORS
  • THE ANNE BOLEYN COLLECTION II
  • GEORGE BOLEYN: TUDOR POET, COURTIER & DIPLOMAT
  • TUDOR PLACES OF GREAT BRITAIN
  • ILLUSTRATED KINGS AND QUEENS OF ENGLAND

Claire was also involved in the English translation and editing of Edmond Bapst’s 19th century French biography of George Boleyn and Henry Howard, now available as TWO GENTLEMAN POETS AT THE COURT OF HENRY VIII.

Claire worked in education and freelance writing before creating The Anne Boleyn Files history website and becoming a full-time history researcher, blogger and author. The Anne Boleyn Files is known for its historical accuracy and Claire’s mission to get to the truth behind Anne Boleyn’s story. Her writing is easy-to-read and conversational, and readers often comment on how reading Claire’s books is like having a coffee with her and chatting about history.

Claire loves connecting with Tudor history fans and helping authors and aspiring authors.

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Claire Ridgway

Make sure to visit QueenToHistory.com tomorrow for the last stop of the tour!

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Margaret Pole: The Countess in the Tower – Book Review

The character of Margaret Pole has risen in popularity recently since the likes of The King’s Curse novel and other fictional portrayals, however there are still few biographies on her. Many only know about Margaret’s execution in Henry VIII’s reign, not the rest of her life. Susan Higginbotham aims to remedy this and uses evidence well to piece together Margaret’s precarious life as the niece of Edward IV, a Yorkist and Henry VIII’s distant relative.

Higginbotham starts with a brief description of the Wars of the Roses and the events leading up to Margaret’s birth in a clear but concise way. She does not dwell on the subject too long but still provides the reader with enough background information in which to understand the world Margaret was born into.

‘It was against this backdrop that Isabel, Duchess of Clarence, gave birth to Margaret on 14 August 1473 at Farleigh Castle. Three years before, she had given birth aboard ship while fleeing with her parents and husband into an uncertain future. This time, whatever pains Isabel suffered in bringing her daughter into the world, she could take comfort in the fact that she was labouring in the comfort of her own bedchamber’

The author explains how Margaret’s early life was a tragic one, losing her mother and then her father in quick succession, her father’s memory now tarred with that of an attainted traitor. ‘Margaret’s status had abruptly changed from that of a duke’s daughter to a dependent orphan niece.’ Higginbotham examines the theory that Margaret’s father, George Duke of Clarence, drowned in a vat of malmsey wine. She uses one of the supposed portraits of Margaret to support her theory, as the woman in the portrait is wearing a bracelet with a charm of a barrel.

However, the death of Edward IV and the subsequent rulers significantly changed Margaret’s life. It has been proposed that Margaret and her younger brother, Edward, had better claims to the throne that Richard III, as they were the children of the second York brother (Richard was the third). Yet there have been other arguments, which state that they did not have a claim because they were the children of a traitor. Once again Higginbotham proposes a logical and thought provoking argument for why the children of George did have a claim and were a real obstacle to Richard’s plan:

‘There were two more obstacles to Richard’s taking the throne, however: Warwick [Edward] and young Margaret, his nephew and niece. Were the line of succession strictly followed, Warwick, as the son of Clarence, should have been king once Edward IV’s children were disqualified. Richard, however, claimed that due to Clarence’s attainder, his children were barred from taking the throne. In fact, as Hazel Pierce points out, the attainder did not mention the claims of Clarence’s children, and in any case Parliament could have obligingly reversed the attainder if Warwick were put on the throne.’ 

Higginbotham also proposes several reasons as to why Margaret’s brother Edward, Earl of Warwick, was treated differently to the Princes in the Tower. Whatever the reason, he would not be so lucky in Henry VII’s reign and Margaret would experience the first significant loss in her life (she would have been too young to remember her parents) with his execution.

Margaret’s marriage to Richard Pole and children are explored next, as well as her generally happy life during Henry VIII’s reign, which goes against the public’s stereotypical view of Henry disliking Margaret from the start. The author reminds us that:

 ‘In the wake of her tragic death, it is easy to forget, and is often forgotten, that at the outset of his reign Henry was well-disposed to her – as, indeed, he was to his other maternal relatives. As David Starkey points out, generosity towards his Yorkist relatives helped underscore the new king’s break with his father’s regime’

Unlike some other biographies of prominent men and women in Henry VIII’s reign, Higginbotham is careful not to dwell too much on the King’s Great Matter and his relationship with Anne Boleyn, noting that ‘if one woman in English history needs no introduction, it is Anne Boleyn’. It is easy to get sidetracked with events like that, but she manages to only refer to these events when it directly affects Margaret’s life. For example, Margaret was no longer allowed to be a part of Princess Mary’s household due to Mary’s change in status.

Higginbotham makes many interesting points when she examines the lives of Margaret’s children and their role in her fall, which I will leave for you to read for yourselves. Margaret Pole was a strong woman and deserves to finally have a biography that shows that. The amount of research the author has undertaken is shown by her scholarly analysis and use of every primary source available to her. For those interested, she has even included at the end of the book an appendix of over 30 pages of written evidence taken in the Exeter Conspiracy (which saw Margaret imprisoned for years before being executed). It is a fascinating and interesting read of a woman who needed her story to be told and this book does that.

Rating: 5/5

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Book available from AmberleyAmazon and other online outlets and bookshops.

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Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was – Book Review

Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was is a newly released biography on the elder brother of Henry VIII and is written by Sean Cunningham (you can read his article on it which was part of the book tour here). Prince Arthur has often only been mentioned in regards to Henry VIII’s Great Matter, in which he argued that Katherine of Aragon and Arthur had consummated their marriage, making her subsequent marriage to Henry void. Cunningham is the first person to write a biography solely on Prince Arthur, a daunting task which he manages with remarkable ease.

Cunningham starts by discussing why the birth of Arthur was so important to the new king and queen, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, and putting it into the context of the time. He discusses the Wars of the Roses and Henry VII’s need to secure his new found dynasty. The birth of Arthur so soon after acquiring the throne was seen as a sign that God approved of the Tudor dynasty and favoured it, especially by providing a boy so early on.

The author then moves to compare Prince Arthur and his younger brother, Henry (the future Henry VIII). He shows how very different their lives were, due to the fact that Henry was essentially the ‘spare heir’ and not expected to be king. This can be seen in the differences in their households and upbringing:

‘Arthur was so important to the continuation of the Tudor dynasty that he had a power base created for him which was staffed by some of the king’s most loyal servants. Henry, on the other hand, remained in the royal nursery at Eltham Palace with his sisters Margaret and Mary and his infant brother Edmund. By the end of the 1490s it was obvious to Henry that he was the regime’s ‘spare prince’.’

After these two topics have been discussed, the book turns into a traditional biography, documenting Arthur’s life from birth to death. Cunningham’s attention to detail is superb and made me question why there has not been any other biographies on the young prince, especially with all this information to hand. He meticulously describes Henry VII’s plans for Arthur’s upbringing, giving many facts and figures:

‘In the first parliament of the reign that met from 7 November 1485, the Lords and Commons had voted £14,000 to the king for the annual expenses of his household. On 1 February 1487 the king ordered that 1,000 marks of this sum (£666 13s 4d) should be assigned for the expenses of Prince Arthur’s household. This was a staggering sum for an infant’s upbringing.’

Cunningham puts this into perspective by explaining how much this sum really was:

‘Even as an infant, Arthur’s income was equivalent to that of a middle-ranking lord, but without the responsibilities of land management, a wide network of followers and crown representation.’

Despite all this information, the author still manages to make his work readable and interesting, which isn’t always easy to do with non-fiction.

Cunningham’s views on Prince Arthur and Katherine of Aragon are arguably what most readers would be interested in, a detailed account of their marriage and whether they did or did not consummate the marriage. I will not spoil the details for anyone, but the author makes some sound and interesting arguments regarding their marriage. He, of course, has to mention Henry VIII’s later Great Matter, due to the fact they are debating that exact topic, and goes over the accounts by Arthur’s friends and servants over 20 years later:

‘When Arthur came out from his chamber he called Willoughby over with the words, “Willoughby, bring me a cup of ale, for I have been this night in the midst of Spain”; then to all of the others present, “masters, it is good pastime to have a wife”. Willoughby assumed that Arthur was telling the truth of the previous night’s intimacies.’

The author does the same with Arthur’s death, evaluating the evidence and even proposing some new theories as to what he died of. Once again, I will not spoil this, although one of the new theories is particularly interesting.

‘The prince died on Saturday 2 April 1502 at Ludlow, between six and seven o’clock in the evening. His chamberlain, Sir Richard Pole, assembled Arthur’s council and drafted letters to the king and court, then at Greenwich Palace. A rider managed to reach the king within two days – as impressive a feat as the transmission of the news of Catherine’s landfall from Plymouth to Richmond in October 1501.’

Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was is a detailed yet readable account of the prince whose marriage caused much controversy in his younger brother’s reign. He was brought up to be king, yet never had the opportunity. He finally has a biography of his own, which I would recommend to anyone interested in Arthur’s life, Katherine of Aragon’s marriages and Henry VIII’s Great Matter. I look forward to reading more from Sean Cunningham.

Rating: 5/5

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Book available from AmberleyAmazon and other online outlets and bookshops.

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