Richard III by Matthew Lewis

Another biography on Richard III I hear you say? Well I can tell you that this is not just any other book on Richard III! While books in the past have focused primarily on the last few years of Richard’s life, specifically during his Kingship and  ultimate death, Matthew Lewis focuses on Richard’s whole life, from birth, through his formative years to the events leading up to his time as King.

Lewis focuses a great deal of attention on Richard’s youth and time growing up during the turbulent Wars of the Roses. It is often assumed that Richard, Duke of Gloucester, the future Richard III, was a man during the period of the famous Wars of the Roses – however Lewis points out that this is clearly not the case. Born in 1452 Richard was a boy and then a teenager when Henry VI lost control of his rule and Richard’s father, Richard Duke of York, became protector. Throughout this period Richard saw his father and older brother killed and then another brother fight to become Edward IV. It is clear that for Richard this was an extremely impressionable time, growing up in the image of his heroic father and mighty older brother.

Lewis details the trials and tragedies that Richard faced as well as the great pressures put upon his young shoulders. It was fascinating to read and learn just how Richard was formed as a man and the influences that affected his life and ultimately his decisions. It is through these valuable years that Lewis creates a picture of who the real Richard III was. Not a hungry blood thirsty old tyrant hell bent on taking the English throne, but a man who had weathered much during his early years and who through this formed a strong moral compass based upon what he believed to be wrong and right.

At the foundation of Lewis’ book is a wealth of research. Gone are the myths and legends that have been built up around Richard III over the last five hundred years, instead Lewis pulls upon primary sources and contemporary evidence to detail the intricate life of Richard III. There are no assumptions within this book, no sweeping statements or grand illusions, only thorough research based on facts. Where the evidence is lacking, as is in some years in Richard’s life, Lewis openly admits to the lack of evidence and simply details what is known.

At a whopping 464 pages Lewis’ book may appear intimidating but I promise you that once you pick it up you will not be able to put it down! The length and depth of research within this book only serves to give credit to how dedicated Matthew Lewis is to accurately covering Richard’s life. This is a new and refreshing look at the life of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, King Richard III. Thoroughly researched and written in an engaging and captivating style Lewis’ book is an absolute must read!

Richard III by Matthew Lewis

The Mythology of Richard III

By John Ashdown-Hill

John Ashdown-Hill’s book is not another account of Richard III’s rule, rather it is a new look at a man who is shrouded in mystery and myth. Ashdown-Hill’s book sets out to present the fables and myths that have built up around Richard III from the moment of his death until now. Over the last five hundred years Richard III has been slated as a usurper, a tyrant, a man responsible for the death of his wife (not to mention both of his nephews the famous ‘Princes in the Tower’). He’s been reported to have a vicious temper as well as a hunched back and a withered arm. Ashdown-Hill addresses all of these myths and many more and provides evidence to challenge them.

John Ashdown-Hill was involved with the discovery of Richard III’s skeleton in 2012. Unfortunately from his writing it is clear that he held an issue with the University of Leicester and although sometimes justified, this does come out throughout his book in some of the comments that he makes. However putting this aside the book is thoroughly researched, drawing upon contemporary or as near as possible evidence to bust many of the myths that have built up around Richard III. It is clear that Ashdown-Hill has a strong understanding of not just who Richard III was as a man and a King but also about the wider world in which he lived.

I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone that is interested in English history or Richard III. Although I would suggest that as his is not a biography of Richard III’s life it may pay to read a little on the man before delving into the myths that surround him.

The Mythology of Richard III

Everyday Life in Tudor London by Stephen Porter

I thoroughly enjoyed Stephen Porter’s book ‘Everyday Life in Tudor London’, so much so that I found once I picked it up I didn’t want to put it down! Porter explores what life was like for the people of London during the Tudor age, examining both the people and how London itself changed in terms of the buildings, streets, churches and trade.

Throughout the book Porter details the types of jobs that people did, how the Church dominated so much of people’s lives and then how the Reformation changed the way people practiced their faith. He explored what people ate, the types of entertainment they enjoyed, the epidemics that swept through London during the age and how people dealt with sickness. Porter also explores the changing laws and how the Monarch and the government affected the ruling and happenings within London.

I also really enjoyed how Porter examined the multitude of trade that went through London, to and from the ever expanding city. He discussed in detail the different people that came to London from all over the world, especially during times of upheaval in Europe and how this influx affected the common Londoner. I very much enjoyed learning about the markets in London, where people could buy different types of items and how these markets changed throughout the century.

Porter’s book also provides a large number of first hand examples from people who lived in London, looking at primary documents and letters to provide these examples. It was fascinating to read what people thought of the ever expanding city, their worries, concerns and what they enjoyed.

Well researched, easy to read I highly recommend Porter’s book. It provides a fascinating and compelling look at what London was really like during the Tudor age.

Everyday Life in Tudor England by Stephen Porter

Sir William Kingston

On the 2nd of May 1536 Anne Boleyn was ordered to present herself to the Privy Council. Standing before the Duke of Norfolk, Sir William Fitzwilliam and Sir William Paulet, Anne Boleyn was arrested for committing adultery with three men, Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris and an unnamed man.

After lunch Anne was escorted from Greenwich to the Tower of London. Common stories say that Anne entered into the Tower of London from the Thames through the ‘Traitors Gate’. However researchers and historians suggest that she would have arrived through the Court Gate near Byward Tower – which was the common entrance for people of nobility and royalty. Here she was met by Sir Edmund Walsingham, the Lieutenant of the Tower and escorted inside.

Anne was then met by William Kingston, Constable of the Tower, and taken to the very same lodgings that she stayed in on the night before her Coronation three years previously.

Sir William Kingston was instructed by Thomas Cromwell to report back on everything that Anne Boleyn said and did during her time in the Tower. To assist in this Kingston’s wife was placed as one of three ladies to serve the Queen and no one was to speak to Anne unless it was in front of Lady Kingston.

It is thanks to William Kingston’s letters to Cromwell that we know a great deal about what Anne Boleyn did and said during her imprisonment in the Tower of London. On the 3rd of May Kingston wrote to Cromwell about Anne’s arrival at the Tower…

“On my lord of Norfolk and the King’s Council departing from the Tower, I went before the Queen into her lodging. She said unto me, “Mr. Kingston, shall I go into a dungeon?” I said, “No, Madam. You shall go into the lodging you lay in at your coronation.” “It is too good for me, she said; Jesu have mercy on me;” and kneeled down, weeping a good pace, and in the same sorrow fell into a great laughing, as she has done many times since.

She desired me to move the King’s highness that she might have the sacrament in the closet by her chamber, that she might pray for mercy, for I am as clear from the company of man as for sin as I am clear from you, and am the King’s true wedded wife. And then she said, Mr. Kingston, do you know where for I am here? and I said, Nay. And then she asked me, When saw you the King? and I said I saw him not since I saw [him in] the Tiltyard. And then, Mr. K., I pray you to tell me where my Lord my father is? And I told her I saw him afore dinner in the Court. O where is my sweet brother? I said I left him at York Place; and so I did.

“I hear say, said she, that I should be accused with three men; and I can say no more but nay, without I should open my body. And there with opened her gown. O, Norris, hast thou accused me? Thou are in the Tower with me, and thou and I shall die together; and, Mark, thou art here to. O, my mother, thou wilt die with sorrow; and much lamented my lady of Worcester, for by cause that her child did not stir in her body. And my wife said, what should be the cause? And she said, for the sorrow she took for me. And then she said, Mr. Kyngston, shall I die without justice? And I said, the poorest subject the Kyng hath, hath justice. And there with she laughed.” (Letters and Papers Vol 10. 793).

William Kingston was appointed to Constable of the Tower on May 28th 1524. As well as Anne Boleyn, Kingston was responsible for a number of high profile prisoners such as Thomas Cromwell and escorting Thomas Wolsey to the Tower. As Constable of the Tower Kingston was responsible for the general running and maintenance of the Tower of London as well as the prisoners held within the Tower walls. An added bonus of being Constable of the Tower was that Kingston could lay claim all debris from boats and ships found in the Thames!

William Kingston’s origins are murky at best. He was born sometime before 1476 and was married three times, although the order of his first two marriages remains unclear. By 1534 he had married his third wife Mary, daughter of Richard Scrope. Kingston had one son named Anthony.

Although little is known about his early years or personal life there is some information available about his life at court. William Kingston began to make a name for himself in his early twenties when he was appointed as a Justice of the Peace for Gloucestershire around 1506. He was then granted the title of Sheriff of Gloucestershire. Kingston was a yeoman of the chamber to Henry VII from 1497 to 1509. He was also present at Henry VII’s funeral as a gentleman usher.

Kingston moved on to serve the late King’s son, Henry VIII. He served in the young King’s military campaigns in 1511, 1513 and 1523. In 1513 he fought in the Battle of Flodden Field against the Scots and was knighted in October for his services. He was also selected as one of four knights of the body in the privy chamber with an annual salary of £100. However in May 1519 the privy chamber was reshuffled and Kingston lost his position. Records show that after this time he was responsible for the King’s jewels and plate and in 1521 he was one of the King’s carvers.

In 5121 Kingston was part of the Grand Jury which found the 3rd Duke of Buckingham guilty of treason and sentenced him to death. Upon Buckingham’s execution Kingston was created steward and bailiff of Buckingham’s belongings in Gloucestershire, as well as being created the Constable of Thornbury Castle and Master of any hunts that took place in Gloucestershire.

When the dissolution of the monasteries swept through England Kingston obtained the site and possessions of the Cistercian Abbey of Flaxley in Gloucestershire. In 1539 Kingston was made Comptroller of the King’s Household and on the 23rd April of the same year he was installed as a Knight of the Garter, the highest order of Chivalry in England. Then in 1540 when Thomas Cromwell was arrested for treason and sentenced to death, Kingston purchased Cromwell’s manors at Painswick and Morton Valence for £1000.

Sir William Kingston attended his last Privy Council meeting on the 1st of September. He died at his manor at Painswick on the 14th of September 1540.

William Kingston

Source:

Ives, Eric 2005, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.

Kirk, L.M and Dale M.K  Kingston Sir William 1476-1540, The History of Parliament Trust 1964-2015, viewed 7th April 2016, <http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1509-1558/member/kingston-sir-william-1476-1540&gt;.

Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, 1509-47, ed. J.S Brewer, James Gairdner and R.H Brodie, His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1862-1932.

Weir, Alison 2009, The Lady in the Tower The Fall of Anne Boleyn, Jonathan Cape, London.

Historic Royal Palaces 2015, The Constable of the Tower of London, viewed 7th April 2016, <http://www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/history-and-stories/past-uses-of-the-tower/the-constable-of-the-tower-of-london/&gt;.

 

 

I would like to say a very big thank you to Melanie V. Taylor for her kind review of the talk I gave on Mary Tudor, dowager Queen of France and Duchess of Suffolk…..

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On Thursday 9th August, St Mary with St Peter’s Church, Bury St Edmunds, was the setting for a talk on Mary Tudor, dowager Queen of France & Duchess of Suffolk (1496-1533) by author Sarah Bryson.

An enrapt audience learned how Mary was brought up and educated and expected to obey the male head of her family. In this instance the head of Mary’s family just happened to be the king of England. We learned how as a young girl Mary was first betrothed and married by proxy to the much younger Prince Charles of Castile (later the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V). This marriage was later annulled. Then at the age of eighteen Mary was married off to the fifty two year old Louis XII, King of France. Ms Bryson brought the luxurious extravagance of the English court to life with her description of Mary’s journey to her French husband and revealed how Henry VIII spared no expense on Mary’s gowns and jewels for her trousseau and also her dowry.  The analysis of Mary’s journey through the French countryside gave us a glimpse of what it must have been like to have been present at a sixteenth century European royal wedding. The sums of money lavished on banquets and tournaments were eye watering even for those days.

Louis died on 1st January 1515: this marriage had lasted a mere eighty-two days.

The widowed now French queen was required to go into seclusion for forty days, during which time she was obliged to wear white hence the soubriquet of La Reine Blanche, and forty days being sufficient time to prove whether or not she was pregnant.  If Mary had been pregnant and had produced a boy, then he would have been the next king of France.  As it was, the French crown passed to Francis I a member of a cadet branch of the Valois family and heir presumptive since 1498 on the death of Charles VIII and the accession of Louis XII, and also the husband of Louis’s daughter, Claude, by a previous marriage.

Before embarking for France Mary had made her brother promise that should Louis die before her, then she had the right to choose her next husband. This story has long thought to be apocryphal, but Ms Bryson has found a letter from Mary to her brother reminding him of this promise, thus proving the veracity of the myth.

Henry VIII’s best friend, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk (plus two further aristocratic companions), was sent to France to bring the widowed English Tudor princess back to England. Before leaving England Henry VIII told Brandon specifically not to think of marrying Mary without royal permission, which seems an odd thing to say. Ms Bryson’s analysis of the letters from both Mary and Brandon to Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey reveals that a secret marriage took place some time between 27th January and 3rd February 1515.  So secret that not even Francis I knew about it and despite long hours of research, no record has yet been found.

These letters reveal just how Mary was a very accomplished and educated woman, very able to play politics at a high level and how Brandon realised he had to plead for his life for going against Henry VIII’s direct instruction. Unfortunately, in the absence of any letters from Henry VIII we have to decide for ourselves whether or not he was planning to renege on his dockside promise to allow his sister to choose her next spouse and was indeed planning to marry her off for another advantageous political alliance. By the time the couple returned to England, they had first been married in secret, then shortly after wedded in a more public ceremony in Calais – we should remember that Calais was still English at this point. Then in addition, on their return to English soil were married for a third time in front of Henry VIII and his wife Queen Catherine of Aragon. Clearly there was no doubting that this couple were married in both the eyes of the Church and the English king.  However, the couple had to ‘punished’ for their ‘crime’ of being marriage without royal sanction, and a massive fine was imposed on them. This debt was never repaid, and certainly Henry did not pursue them for regular payments, but nevertheless payments were made now and again.

The Brandon marriage lasted eighteen years and as well as living in Suffolk Place, Southwark, they built Westhorpe Hall, only a few miles from Bury St Edmund’s, at a sixteenth century cost of £4,000 – approximately £4million in today’s money. It was here they raised their family. If their son Henry had survived to adulthood he would have had a claim to the English throne after the death of Edward VI.  As it was it was their grand daughter Lady Jane Grey who would go down in history as England’s Nine Days’ Queen.

In addition to the details of Mary’s life, we learned much about her loyalties and character; how she played the political game and was as wily in many respects as that other Suffolk worthy, Cardinal Wolsey. In an age when women were supposed to be subservient, meek and more importantly, silent in the presence of their menfolk, Mary made her presence and her opinions known and most importantly, got her own way.  Mary remained loyal to her sister-in-law Katherine of Aragon, and was an opponent of her brother’s marriage to Anne Boleyn. While her husband officiated at the marriage celebrations of Henry VIII to Anne at the beginning of June 1533, Mary was conspicuous by her absence. This was not because of her opposition to her brother’s second marriage as is often thought, but because she was seriously ill, possibly suffering from some form of kidney complaint. Mary Tudor died on 25th June 1533 aged thirty-seven and was much mourned by the people of Suffolk. Her original resting place was in the abbey church of Bury St Edmunds, but at the dissolution of the abbey in 1539 her body was removed to its current resting place on the north side of the altar of the parish church of St Mary and St Peter’s. Clearly the king’s Vicar General and general all round administrator, Thomas Cromwell, thought it good policy to remove the body of the beloved sister of the king to a suitably high status church rather than leave it to become forgotten and untended.

Ms Bryson’s book, La Reine Blanche: Mary Tudor, a Life in Letters, is the culmination of her ten years of research into the life of this often neglected Tudor princess and is rich with details of Mary’s life before and during her marriages. What becomes apparent is that the story of the marriage of Mary, Queen of France & Duchess of Suffolk and Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, was clearly a love match.

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Sarah Bryson’s book, La Reine Blanche: Mary Tudor, A Life in Letters, is published by Amberley and is available through bookstores and of course, online at Amazon.  ISBN 978 4456 7388 2 (hardback). If you are in Bury St Edmunds there are some signed copies available for purchase at the church.