Following in the Footsteps of the Princes in the Tower

by Andrew Beattie

First and foremost, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by this book. Often books that look at the famous ‘Princes in the Tower’, Edward V and his younger brother Richard of Shrewsbury focus on the boy’s disappearance and what could have happened to them. They discuss the potential people that could have ordered the young boys’ deaths or possibly if and how they escaped. Beattie’s book took a completely different path. Within the pages of this book is a look at the lives of the sons of King Edward IV and the places they lived.

Beattie explored the various castles, manors, places etc. that the Princes lived and or visited from the time of their respective births to their last confirmed sighting in the Tower of London. He details the boy’s relationship to each place, how many times they might have visited, when or how long they lived at each place. He discusses the history of each location e.g. When castles were built and by who and how they came to be a place the Princes lived.

Beattie then moves on to discuss what the castles or places look like today, some of which sadly either no longer exist or are little more than remnants. He also discusses where and how people can see these famous locations today.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it was a refreshing way to learn about the famous Princes in the Tower; to focus on their lives rather than just their death. This is a fabulous resource and one a person could bring along with them when visiting England. If you’re looking for a different look at the Princes in the Tower and their lives then this is most certainly your book!

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The Tudor Murder Files

by James Moore

Despite the seemingly gruesome title, this was actually a brilliant book full of fascinating information about an area of Tudor history that is not often discussed. As the title suggests Moore explores a large variety of murders that took place during Tudor England, from 1485 to 1603, providing details pulled from first-hand sources.

I was genuinely surprised to learn that the murder rate during Tudor England was greater than today. I would have thought that with such strict religious beliefs people would have refrained from such violent acts – but it seems not. The first part of this book Moore describes the various means in which when a person had been found guilty of committing a murder they were put to death. These means included being hanged, burnt at the stake and even the horrific death of being pressed by large rocks until you were quite literally squished to death!

Moving on Moore then details a large number of murders that took place during the reign of the five Tudor monarchs. He details people who died from eating poison pancakes, a man who was hanged by a silk scarf, another man was found in a cask, the first assassination by a gun, a man who was killed for poking a man’s nose and even a woman who died after having sex! These were quite incredible and drastic means of murder and although gruesome the author retells these stories by focusing on the information rather than passing judgement. Each story was so unique, so strange and yet utterly fascinating that once I began, I just wanted to keep reading.

Moore’s book on murders that took place during the reign of the Tudor’s is definitely a must read!

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On the 23rd March 1538 Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial Ambassador at the English court, wrote to the Queen of Hungry explaining that: ‘On the same day, the 18th, the painter returned with the Duchess’ likeness, which has pleased the King much, and put him in much better humour. He has been masking and visiting the duchess of Suffolk.’

The fact that the King visited and entertained with Katherine Willoughby has been used to suggest that he was romantically interested in her from as early as 1538. It should be pointed out that in the previous sentence Chapuys informs the Queen of Hungry that the painter (Hans Holbein) returned with the Duchess’ likens which pleased the King much. The Duchess in question was Christina of Denmark, Duchess of Milan who Henry VIII was investigating as a potential fourth wife. Even Chapuys states that the King liked the appearance of the Duchess, confirming his further interest in her for a bride so it makes little sense that he would then go and romantically pursue Katherine Willoughby.

Imperial ambassador, Francois Van der Delft, wrote to Charles V telling him of rumours he had heard about the King and Katherine Willoughby:

‘Sire, I am confused and apprehensive to have to inform your Majesty that there are rumours here of a new Queen, although I do not know why, or how true it may be. Some people attribute to it the sterility of the present Queen, whilst others say there will be no change whilst the present war lasts. Madame Suffolk is much talked about, and is in great favour; but the King shows no alteration in his demeanour towards the Queen, though the latter, as I am informed, is somewhat annoyed at the rumours.’

It must be noted that this letter was written on 27 September 1546 over a year after Brandon’s death. The letter also states that the King is annoyed by these rumours which suggest that he was not romantically interested in Katherine Willoughby or at least he was not seeking to cast off his sixth wife and replace her with a seventh.

In all, there is very little to suggest that Charles Brandon’s widow was in any danger from the King’s attention or that he was seeking to make her his wife after his friend’s death. Perhaps the King sought to spend time with Katherine as a means to reminisce and remind himself of happier memories after Brandon’s death.

Catherine Willoughby

 

Sources:

Baldwin, David, Henry VIII’s Last Love: The Extraordinary Life of Katherine Willoughby, Lady-in-Waiting to the Tudors (Gloucestershire: Amberley Publishing, 2015).

Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 10, 1550-1552, (London: British History Online) <http://www.british-<history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/spain/vol10/pp225-237&gt;.

Gairdner, James, Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, 1509-47 (United Kingdom: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1862-1932).

An Alternative History of Britain: The War of the Roses 1455 – 85

By Timothy Venning

The Wars of the Roses was one of the most turbulent times in England’s history. Over a period of thirty years England saw four different King’s sit upon the throne, a King deposed, become King again and then deposed and the last English King to be killed in the field of battle. Fierce wars raged killing thousands, political upheaval swept through the country and lines were drawn. We can look back now, over a span of over five hundred years, and learn about the events that formed England’s history, but what if things had been different?

Timothy Venning’s book examines the hundreds of possible ‘what ifs’ throughout this turbulent time in English history. What if Henry VI hadn’t had a breakdown and Richard, Duke of York became protector? What if Margaret of Anjou had given birth to a son years before she did? What if Warwick, the famous Kingmaker, had not turned upon Edward IV? What if the outcome of Towton or Tewkesbury had been different? What if Edward IV hadn’t married Elizabeth Woodville? What if Richard III did not become King but taken up the position as royal protector for Edward V? So many possibilities, events that unfolded all hinging upon a singular moment in time.

Venning’s book provides some possible outcomes to all the above questions and many, many more. He does a wonderful job of detailing the events that happened during the 15th century in England and then providing multiple possibilities of different outcomes. He discusses the possible reasons why decisions and choices were made by the key players in the Wars of the Roses.

I thoroughly enjoyed Venning’s book, it was an interesting and thoughtful look at the possibilities of what could have happened during this tumultuous time in England’s history.

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Mary Boleyn: A Great and Infamous Whore?

Mary Boleyn was the older sister of Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII and Queen Consort of England. Mary was born in approximately 1500 at Blickling Hall, the first child of Thomas Boleyn and Elizabeth Howard. Mary’s childhood is relatively unknown but it is assumed that she was educated with the qualities and skills needed of a young woman of the time and was raised in the Catholic faith.

In 1514, at the age of fourteen, Mary obtained a position as a maid of honour to Mary Tudor who was to become the future Queen of France. Mary travelled from Dover to France as part of Mary’s entourage and was most likely present when the English Princess married King Louis XII. However, Mary’s time as a lady in waiting was to be short as after only a few months Louis XII died. After the death of the French, Princess Mary married Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk before returning home to England. There are several trains of thought regarding Mary’s whereabouts between this time and 1520 when she was recorded as being in England. Some historians suggest that Mary also returned with the Dowager Queen to England and became a lady in waiting to Queen Catherine of Aragon. While others propose that Mary, as with her sister Anne, stayed in France to serve the new King’s wife, Queen Claude. In her latest book ‘Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings’ Alison Weir proposes that Mary was not at court as a lady in waiting to Catherine of Aragon, nor was she retained in Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk’s attendance once she returned to England. Weir suggests that Mary’s father Thomas sent her to Brie-sous-Forges (nowadays known as Fontenay-les-Briss), a house in France owned by the new King, Francis I’s cupbearer. Here, while still in France, Mary could finish off her education and polish all the necessities needed to be a noble lady.

It is here in France during the latter part of 1514 or the early part of 1515 that Mary Boleyn reportedly gained the reputation of being a “great and infamous whore”. It has been alleged that Mary became the mistress to Francis I, the new King of France and through this affair she gained a reputation as being ‘a great wanton and an English mare’.

Yet I would like to challenge this accusation that Mary Boleyn was a “great and infamous whore”. In fact, in this article, I propose that Mary Boleyn was anything but a great whore and that there is speculation that she even had an affair with King Francis I. If she did have a liaison with Francis I then certainly it was only short and her activities were not enough to create such a scandal as to be labelled a great whore.

When the facts and details about this allegation are studied in detail one finds that there are only three pieces of evidence which refer to Anne and Mary Boleyn’s sexual activities in France. Of these three only one single piece of evidence actually speaks about Mary Boleyn’s sexual activities.

The piece of evidence used to state that Mary Boleyn had been the mistress of Francois I is a letter written by Rodolfo Pio, Bishop of Faenza on March 10th 1536. In his letter he writes that:

“Francis said also that they are committing more follies than ever in England, and are saying and printing all the ill they can against the Pope and the Church; that “that woman” pretended to have miscarried of a son, not being really with child, and, to keep up the deceit, would allow no one to attend on her but her sister, whom the French king knew here in France ‘per una grandissima ribalda et infame sopre tutte.’” – “a great prostitute and infamous above all”.

When looking at this letter there are some statements that need to be questioned. First, how could Mary have been with her sister when Anne miscarried in 1536? Mary Boleyn was banished from court in 1534 when she dared to marry her second husband, William Stafford, without the permission of her father, her sister the Queen or the King. It would be extremely unlikely that Mary would have been banished and then returned to court and then banished again as there is not a single mention of her during Anne Boleyn’s fall and execution which happened less than four months after Anne’s miscarriage. Already this inaccuracy in Pio’s letter casts a shadow over the authenticity of his words.

Secondly, I would like to point out that Pio writes that “that woman pretended to have miscarried of a son, not being really with child”. We know for a fact that Anne Boleyn was pregnant and that on January 29th 1536 she did miscarry a male foetus which was believed to be approximately three months. Even Eustace Chapuys, the Spanish Ambassador to the English Court, and well known for his dislike of Anne Boleyn, wrote to his master Charles V that Anne had miscarried a male foetus.  For a second time in one letter, Bishop Pio is proved to be inaccurate.

Thirdly it should be noted that the letter was written twenty-one years after Mary Boleyn was in France. This quote came a long time after Mary Boleyn’s stay in France. Much can happen over the course of two decades. The relationship between England and France was sketchy at the best of times and it is clear from the tone of this letter that Francis I had little opinion of the happenings in England or of Queen Anne Boleyn. With such a sour tone who is to say that what he was boasting about Mary Boleyn is the truth? He could have simply made the statement to blacken the name of both Mary and more so of her sister Anne.  In addition to this Bishop Rodolfo Pio was a Catholic and may have thought very little and even been quite critical of the Boleyn’s who were sometimes seen as quite Evangelical.

Fourthly how can we even be sure that what Bishop Pio wrote is the exact words that King Francis I spoke? Second-hand sources always have the disadvantage of being tainted by the person’s own thoughts, feelings and beliefs. It could very well be that Francois I was not even referring to having slept with Mary, he may have just meant that he believed Mary to have been a whore. It depends on how one interprets the word ‘knew’ in the statement. Perhaps Francois was saying he had known her in a carnal way, or perhaps he was just saying that he believed, from other sources, that Mary was a whore. Once again with second or third-hand sources and a lack of direct evidence it can only be proposed that Francois and Mary had any sort of relationship at all.

The next two pieces of evidence that have been used to support the idea that Mary was a great and infamous whore are books written after Mary Boleyn’s death and more importantly are not even about her life!

The first of these two pieces of supposed evidence was written by Nicholas Sander in his 1585 book ‘Rise and Growth of the English Schism’:

“Soon afterwards she appeared at the French court where she was called the English Mare, because of her shameless behaviour; and then the royal mule, when she became acquainted with the King of France.”

In this statement, Sander is actually referring to Mary Boleyn’s older sister Anne and not Mary herself. Sander was a staunch Catholic and this book was written during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I when England was considered to be a Protestant nation. Queen Elizabeth was the daughter of Anne Boleyn and these words were quite obviously written in an attempt not only to discredit and blacken the name of Anne Boleyn but also in doing so to blacken the name of Queen Elizabeth.

It should also be noted that Sander wrote that:

“Anne Boleyn was rather tall of stature, with black hair and an oval face of sallow complexion, as if troubled with jaundice. She had a projecting tooth under the upper lip, and on her right hand, six fingers. There was a large wen under her chin, and therefore to hide its ugliness, she wore a high dress covering her throat. In this she was followed by the ladies of the court, who also wrote high dresses, having before been in the habit of leaving their necks and the upper portion of their persons uncovered. She was handsome to look at, with a pretty mouth” (Ives 2004, p. 39).

Most certainly we can state that Anne Boleyn did not look as though she was troubled with jaundice or that she had a projecting tooth under her upper lip. We also know that she did not have six fingers on her right hand or a large wen under her chin. From descriptions of Anne Boleyn during her life we know that she was:

‘not one of the handsomest women in the world; she is of middling stature, swarthy complexion, long neck, wide mouth, a bosom not much raised and eyes which are black and beautiful’ (Ives 2005, p. 40).

In her book The Lady in the Tower, Alison Weir describes Anne as being ‘slender and dark’ (Weir 2009, p. 16)

I find it hard to believe that King Henry VIII would have been interested for so long in a woman that had a projecting tooth, looked like she suffered from jaundice, had six fingers on her right hand and a large wen under her chin. Perhaps Anne Boleyn was not the most beautiful of women to have ever lived, but certainly, she was enchanting and had dark and beautiful eyes which were able to capture the attention of Henry VIII.

Also, I must point out that Sander’s description of Anne Boleyn was written forty-nine years after Anne Boleyn’s execution and most certainly would have to have come from second-hand knowledge. Once more with the passage of time and knowledge descriptions can change. In addition to this as I have previously, stated Sander was a staunch Catholic who was extremely prejudiced against Anne Boleyn and her daughter Queen Elizabeth I. If he was writing such false lies about what Anne Boleyn looked like, how can we believe anything else he had to write?

The second piece of alleged information was a book written by Lord Herbert of Cherbury in 1649, entitled “Life and Raigne of King Henry the Eighth”. In this book Lord Herbert quotes William Rastall, author of a biography of Sir Thomas More (c1557), who wrote of how Anne Boleyn was sent to France where:

“she behav’d herself so licentiously, that she was vulgarly call’d the Hackney of England, till being adopted to that King’s familiarity, she was termed his Mule.”

Once again this piece is referring to Anne Boleyn as being called a Hackney of England and suggesting that she was ridden by Francis I like a mule. William Rastall was a Catholic and the nephew of Thomas More. Thomas More was beheaded for not supporting Henry VIII’s resolve to seek an annulment of his first marriage so he could marry Anne Boleyn and for refusing to sign the oath which supported Henry VIII’s determination to become Supreme Head of the English Church. With his uncle’s execution tied up with Anne Boleyn, it is not surprising that these words were written to discredit Anne and taint her memory. It would appear that over the years these words have unfortunately been mixed up with Mary Boleyn when in reality they are not even about her.

With only three pieces of very doubtful evidence, how can it, therefore, be claimed that Mary Boleyn was the mistress of Francis I and that she was a great and infamous whore? In a court of loose morals whose King regularly enjoyed the entertainment of the fairer sex, a woman would have to do something truly outrageous to be known as an infamous whore, and yet at the time and for over two decades later nothing, not a single word, was mentioned about Mary Boleyn’s behaviour or actions at the French court. More so, if she was so well known to have jumped into the bed of Francis I, would Henry VIII still then have taken Mary to be his mistress? And if so why was no comment made about her actions?

So the question is, did she or didn’t she? Was Mary Boleyn the mistress of King Francis I for a period of time? Or was she able to keep her chastity and return to England as a maid? The evidence which suggests that Mary did become the mistress of Francis I is very sketchy at best. I ask how can only two pieces of information, written by men of the Catholic faith who were trying to discredit and blacken the name of Mary’s sister Anne, and Anne’s daughter Queen Elizabeth I and also the second quite a period of time after Mary’s death, be used as factual evidence to prove that Mary Boleyn was a ‘great and infamous whore’? When I look at the evidence I cannot help but wonder if this hearsay and second-hand talk would really hold up in say a court of law?

It is often said that a man should be given the benefit of the doubt until proven guilty, and yet why are so many people so quick to judge Mary on such little evidence? I think to judge Mary Boleyn and call her ‘a great and infamous whore’ based on such poor and not credible evidence is to do a great injustice to the woman that Mary was.

Personally, I believe that she may have had an encounter with the French King, how deep or sexual or even how long this encounter lasted I simply cannot say. I do not find any truth in the texts written by Nicholas Sanders or William Rastall, and I strongly challenge the details that Rodolfo Pio, Bishop of Faenza wrote in his letter. I also find it notable that nothing at all at the time was said or written about Mary’s alleged affair, nor for some twenty-two years later. But on the other hand, I do question what Francis I meant by having “known” Mary Boleyn and why he would refer to her as a great prostitute and infamous above all.

So the great question is, was she or wasn’t she?  Unfortunately, unless another letter or account is discovered we shall never know, but for me, I do not wish to judge a person guilty without the evidence to support the claim. Perhaps Mary Boleyn did have an affair with Francis I, but the claim that she was ‘a great and infamous whore’ I certainly think not.

Mary Boleyn Signature

Mary Boleyn’s signature after her marriage to William Carey – Mary Carey (from google images)

Sources

Catholic Encyclopedia 2012, ‘St Thomas More’, viewed 26th January 2012, Available from Internet < http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14689c.htm> .

Jones, P 2009, The Other Tudors: Henry VIII’s Mistresses and Bastards, Metro Books, New York.

Hart, K 2009, The Mistresses of Henry VIII, The History Press, Gloucestershire.

Ives, E 2005, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Australia.

Ridgway, Claire 2011, ‘Mary Boleyn – Was She Really The Mistress of Francis I?’, viewed 26th January 2012, Available from Internet < http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/15870/mary-boleyn-was-she-really-the-mistress-of-francis-i/&gt;.

Wikipedia 2011, ‘Nicholas Sander’, viewed 12th November 2011, Available from Internet < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicholas_Sanders&gt;.

Weir, A 1991, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Grove Press, New York.

Weir, A 2011, Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings, Ballantine Books, New York.

Wilkinson, J 2010, Mary Boleyn The True Story of Henry VIII’s Favourite Mistress, Amberly Publishing, Gloucestershire.