Interest in the life and times of the Tudor monarchs is as strong as ever, and so finding new ways to take a fresh look at a well-studied dynasty is always a difficulty for the historian wishing to bring something new to the table. As individuals, Henry VIII and his eldest surviving child Mary I have incurred considerable attention in recent years, but in The King’s Peal by Melita Thomas, the author has focused on dealings between father and daughter, and the result is an accomplished study of a complex and often fractious relationship that helps us understand better Mary the queen.
It is Thomas’ opinion that Mary, ‘a pearl of the world’, was a gambler – a headstrong force who risked everything she had in 1553 – her life, freedom and religion, in bidding for the throne, and this bold if reckless rise to become queen had its roots in her dealing with her father Henry, who both ‘loved and bullied’ his daughter throughout her youth. Recent re-evaluation of Mary’s reign has started to portray a queen who was more tragic than bloody, a victim of her father, but as Thomas exhibits throughout her work, their relationship was more complex than that – Mary was unquestionably doted upon by Henry when a girl but not so much when she developed into an obdurate teenager who questioned his setting aside her mother for Anne Boleyn.
When Mary continued to refuse to recognise Henry as the Supreme Head of the Church after both her mother and Anne’s deaths, matters reached a head in 1536, by which point father and daughter had been estranged for 4 years, when the king wrote to his daughter advising if she didn’t accept his will he would take leave of her forever, thinking her the most “ungrate, unnatural, and most obstinate person living”. Harsh words indeed, and just an insight into the tumultuous relationship of the pair.
And yet, as Thomas explores in The King’s Pearl, Mary remained the only figure to ever publicly clash in such a manner with the mighty king and not be destroyed. Wives, mentors and friends came and went, yet Mary remained, if at times firmly out of favour. Henry could willingly destroy any and every one, but he could never bring himself to wholly ruin his daughter, although it must be speculated upon how much such behaviour later affected her outlook.
Although the father-daughter personal relationship was complex and often confused by external political factors, Thomas’ book retains a gripping narrative throughout, never short on detail but always engaging. Well-referenced and commendably impartial, Thomas succeeds in not treating Mary or Henry as stereotypical two-dimensional parodies, and doesn’t take an obvious side in her study, preferring to present the evidence with reasoned commentary.
The book is a thought-provoking read that will help contextualise the later reign of Mary I, and perhaps explain the decisions taken by pearl who would, against the odds, one day become queen. Mary was far more her father’s daughter than is sometimes presumed, as this book superbly highlights.
Melita Thomas is the co-founder and editor of Tudor Times, a repository of information about Tudors and Stewarts in the period 1485-1625 http://www.tudortimes.co.uk. Her first book ‘The King’s Pearl: Henry VIII and his daughter Mary’ is available now.
We live in a curious age in which the term ‘fake news’ has become part of our everyday language. For those of us interested in studying the past, we have perhaps long been aware of the idea of ‘fake history’. Whereas many incorrect ideas, myths and legends of the past rarely received attention, the rise of the internet, and social media in particular, has unfortunately blown the doors wide open, and many instances of ‘fake history’ are increasingly gaining traction amongst groups of like-minded individuals unwilling to entertain factual-based arguments which contradict their inflexible opinions. These individuals, and they are rife on the periphery of the study of any period of history, may not be able to tell you how or why they stand by a misguided view, but they will ardently hold on to their belief in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Unsurprisingly, Henry VII is but one subject who has come under fire in recent years due to the rise of social media, with academic study of several centuries of standing casually abandoned, or even ignored, and new ‘facts’ established on little sound basis. There is a degree of irony to this, as it is Henry’s predecessor Richard III whose reputation has suffered from many half-truths in the past. It seems as one legend about Richard is dispelled, another about Henry receives new attention.
I do wish to address two common, animal-related, ‘facts’ however, that I often witness online being raised to cast Henry VII in a negative light. They are the mischievous monkey he supposedly, and the dogs he apparently ordered ruthlessly hanged. What is the evidence that either of these events occurred?
First, the monkey. The story goes that King Henry had a pet monkey that he couldn’t control, and one day the infuriated monarch discovered the monkey had ripped his beloved accounts to shreds. Now, such an incident occurring isn’t completely unfathomable, for monkeys were known to be present in the later Tudor court. Due to their rarity, owning a monkey was considered a high-status symbol, and one prominent Tudor personality who probably owned one was Katherine of Aragon, who was painted with one in the 1520s. In the famous painting of Henry VIII family painted around 1545, the king’s fool, probably Will Somers, is shown in the background with a monkey perched on his shoulder. According to an early twentieth century account of the history of Magdalen College, Oxford, meanwhile, Henry VII’s own son Prince Arthur was supposedly shown some marmosets whilst vising the college’s lodgings, which greatly amused the child. The source for this, however, is not given, which is not necessarily to deny it happened, of course.
And yet, there is no known contemporary reference to Henry VII owning a monkey, much less keeping one in close proximity as a pet. Needless to say, there are consequently no known records of a monkey running riot in the king’s chamber and tearing up his work. Vergil, Andre, Hall, Fabyan or any other early Tudor chronicler fail to make mention of the king’s pet. So, where does this story stem from?
The answer appears to be the pen of Francis Bacon and his seminal work The History of the Reign of King Henry VII, an autobiographical account completed in 1622, almost 113 years after the death of its subject. Francis Bacon was a lawyer, ambassador, philosopher and member of parliament during the reign of Elizabeth I, who rose high in favour during her successor James I’s reign, becoming Lord Keeper in 1617 and Lord Chancellor in 1618. In 1621 Bacon was made Viscount St Albans, although he fell out of favour that year when accused of bribery. He was fined, imprisoned and banished from London, at which point he focused on his writing during his enforced absence from court. Between June and October 1621, using only the sources available to him from his own library, Bacon composed The Reign of Henry VII, which he hoped would return him to royal favour.
Bacon’s work is a masterpiece, arguably the first genuine attempt at an autobiography where the author has attempted to analyse the motivations and character of his subject. His Reign of Henry VII isn’t merely a list of dates and events, but a wider discussion of why Henry acted as he did, looking at what precisely drove his decisions. Despite being one of the first of its kind, however, Bacon’s work is not perfect, and is similar in respect to work produced in the modern day – some of the author’s deductions appear wide of the mark, or merely the opinion of but one man. Some are embellished, without source. It’s narrative history, which if written in 2018 rather than 1622, would be read with a sceptical eye. One such topic is the aforementioned monkey tale. Bacon states that the king kept a journal of his innermost thoughts, going on to say:
“There is to this day a merry tale; that his monkey, set on as it was thought by one of his chamber, tore his principal notebook all to pieces, when by chance it lay forth; whereat the court, which liked not those pensive accounts, was almost tickled with sport”.
With no extant mention of this in the intervening century, one must wonder if this wasn’t just a tale conjured up in the creative mind of Bacon. And yet, the merry tale does indeed persist, used on social media as a proverbial stick to beat the pensive, brooding Henry VII with – the secretive despot hunched over his journal. Bacon is no more a primary source than you or I, and until a more credible contemporary source comes to light, the account must be viewed with suspicion.
What about the king’s apparent penchant for hanging dogs, to prove a point about loyalty? To the modern, animal-loving reader, raised to love dogs, what an horrific crime it would be slay dogs in such a ruthless manner. The claim goes that Henry, often beset by worries of treachery amongst his wayward nobility, wished to make a point about enforcing the natural order of society, and thus arranged for some dogs to combat one of his lions. When the dogs overwhelmed and killed the lion, against the king’s expectations, Henry was infuriated that the ‘king of beasts’ had been defeated, and duly hanged the dogs as a warning of what happens to traitors. It is a fanciful allegory that could have been straight out of a Shakespeare play, and suffice to say, again there is no known contemporary evidence to suggest such an event took place.
The earliest record I have found of this story is by a clergyman known as a William Harrison, who in 1587 composed a chapter titled ‘Of Our English Dogs and their Qualities’ as part of a revised edition of Ralph Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland. Harrison’s work is likely to have been inspired by Arthur Fleming’s 1576 offering ‘Of English Dogs’, and both are written seven decades after the death of Henry VII. More importantly, their work is intended to proclaim all the positive virtues of English dogs, with Harrison unabashedly noting in his introduction: “There is no country that may (as I take it) compare with ours in number, excellency, and diversity of dogs”.
The ability for an English dog to slay a lion was clearly beneficial to this narrative. In Harrison’s works: “King Henry the Seventh, as the report goeth, commanded all such curs to be hanged, because they durst presume to fight against the lion, who is their king and sovereign”. Now this may very well have been a popular report by the 1580s, but that is not necessarily to say it was true, particularly in light of any earlier reference and Harrison’s penchant for descriptive, perhaps embellished, prose. It should be noted that Shakespeare is believed to have used the Holinshed Chronicle heavily for his own work, much of which has since been criticised for its lack of accuracy.
I hope I have shown with these two examples how easy it is to repeat something one has read repeated through history as fact, when the reality is that such facts have uncertain origins. Of course, such is the genius of the original writers, and our own tendency to accept we have been misled, I doubt this will stop such half-truths from being uttered to further one’s agenda to criticise Henry VII.
Let it be said, however, if anyone does have contemporary evidence of either of the above events taking place, please do share it in the comments section below. Although unlikely to have occurred, both stories are, undoubtedly, fascinating little stories of a period that continues to fascinate.
Nathen Amin is the author of the first full-length biography of the Beaufort family, ‘the House of Beaufort’, released in 2017 and an Amazon #1 Bestseller for Wars of the Roses. He is currently working on his fourth book, Pretenders to the Tudor Crown, due for release in 2019.
Nathen is also the founder of the Henry Tudor Society and has featured discussing the Tudors on BBC radio and television, as well as in print and online media across the UK. He has a degree in Business and Journalism and now lives in York, where he works as a Technical Writer.
Although Christmas traditions in the UK appear set in stone, for example the tree, the songs and the food, it’s very much been an evolving process since the earliest days we started marking the birth of Jesus Christ. The way the Tudors celebrated Christmas, quite literally ‘Christ’s Mass’, was quite different to the way we do today, although the core concepts of family and feasting are still very much visible.
So how did Henry VII mark the Christmas period in 1487, 530 years ago? Thanks to the antiquarian John Leland (1503-1552), who transcribed a collection of manuscripts in his work Collectanea (1533-1536), we do have some insight into how Christmas was celebrated that particular year. The key thing to note is that, unlike today, the Christmas festivities truly began on Christmas Day, and lasted until 6th January (the Feast of Epiphany), hence the Twelve Days of Christmas. The Tudors definitely weren’t preparing for Christmas as early as October as we do today.
1487 had not been an easy year for Henry VII; his crown, even his life, had come under severe threat from hostile forces within and without his kingdom, although the resilient king ultimately succeeded in punishing his enemies’ ‘unrighteous fury’, as Bernard Andre triumphantly put it. Henry had spent the first six month of the year preoccupied with the Lambert Simnel conspiracy, finally defeating his adversaries at the Battle of Stoke Field, before focus shifted to solidifying the Tudor crown through the agency of the November parliament. A key part of securing his position was to order the coronation of his wife Elizabeth of York, ‘for the perfyght love and syncere affeccion that he bare to his queen’.
Rebellions, battles, parliaments and coronations, one imagines Henry VII looked forward to the Christmastide that year, which began in earnest when he departed Westminster around 18 December for Greenwich Palace ‘wher he kepte his Cristemasse ful honorably as ensueth’. The preceding few weeks, from the first Sunday after St Andrew’s Day (27th November), had been spent fasting three days a week, known as Advent, as each person spiritually prepared for Christ’s ‘Second Coming’ on Christmas Day. One imagines that by the end of this period, the court were ready to let loose for Christmas, the one-time of the year the strict protocols in place in Tudor society relaxed somewhat. That said, religious duties were always observed carefully. Leland’s manuscript goes on to recount how:
‘on Cristemasse Even our saide Souveraigne Lorde the King went to the Masse of the Vygill in a riche Gowne of Purple Velvett furred with Sables, nobly accompanyed with dyvers great Estats, as shal be shewde herafter. And in like wise to Evensonge, savyng he had his Officers of Armes by or hym. The Reverend Fader in God the Lorde John Fox did the dyvyne Servyce that Evensong, and on the Morow also’.
Lord John Fox appears to be an erroneous reference to Bishop Richard Foxe, Bishop of Exeter and a churchman who Henry VII had first encountered during his exile in France. Henry had also rewarded Foxe early in his reign by appointing him his first Secretary of State, and also Lord Privy Seal. The following day, which was Christmas Day, the king celebrated with a dinner in the ‘great Chambre nexte the l. Galary’, whilst ‘the Quene and my Lady the Kings Moder’ with their ladies had their meals in the Queen’s Chamber.
What followed were several days of festivities, with musicians, pageants and plays entertaining the court at Greenwich. Although not mentioned in Leland’s Collectanea, 28th December was the Feast of the Holy Innocents, marking King Herod’s decree in the Bible to slaughter all babies born within three days of Christmas, and traditionally this was commemorated with the merriments that included role reversal. A Lord of Misrule was typically selected from the commoners to act as king, overseeing a night of rowdy drunkenness and revelry to the entertainment of the court. Although the custom would eventually be banned under Henry VIII, his father Henry VII was fond of the occasion, and although payments to a Lord of Misrule appear in his household accounts from 1491, there is every possibility such a spectacle took place in some capacity during 1487.
Other activies known to have been enjoyed during this period were playing the harp or lute, and games such as backgammon, chess and cards. There is evidence Henry VII lost money playing cards during his reign, so we know he enjoyed the pursuit, although whether he enjoyed losing his money is another matter. The Croyland Chronicle criticised Richard III for the raucousness of his Christmas court in 1484, but there seems little reason to suggest Henry VII didn’t follow in a similar manner. The Croyland Chronicler was, after all, a churchman, who may have looked unfavourably upon the court letting loose with wild abandon.
The Collectanea is sadly lacking in regards to what food was enjoyed this particular year by the king and his court, but boar’s head garnished with rosemary and bay leaves was a popular fifteenth century dish at Christmastime. As with the rest of the year, however, the season and weather often dictated what was available to eat, and typical winter fare during the middle of December would have included other meats such as beef, pheasant, partridge, venison, goose, duck, and rabbit, along with cheese, bread and a variety of sweetmeats and spiced cakes. One notable dish available was known as frumenty, a pudding made from boiled wheat, cream, mace, nutmeg, barley, eggs and milk often flavoured with almonds, currents and the like.
On New Year’s Day, meanwhile, the traditional day of gift giving in the Tudor court rather than Christmas Day like today, the royal family, their household and much of nobility congregated in Greenwich Palace’s Great Hall. King Henry, ‘being in a riche Gowne, dynede in his Chamber’ before, ‘of his Largesse’, or generosity, he oversaw the gift-giving ceremony, the recipients of whom this year appear to be his Officers of Arms.
According to the Collectanea, the king himself granted gifts to the value of £6, with the queen providing an additional 40 shillings, Lady Margaret Beaufort 20 shillings, and Jasper Tudor, the king’s uncle and duke of Bedford, also providing 40 shillings. Others followed suit in giving monetary gifts of varying amounts, including the Duchess of Bedford, Bishop Foxe, the Earls of Arundel, Oxford, Derby, Devon and Ormond, lords Welles and Strange, and Sir William Stanley. Thereafter, ‘on Newres Day at Nyght ther was a goodly Disgysyng’, whilst it was noted that ‘this Cristmass ther wer many and dyvers Playes’
Christmas Day and New Years’ Day were two of the three big feasts of Tudor Christmastide. The third took place on Twelfth Night, or 5th January, to celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany the following day, which commemorates the adoration of the Magi before the baby Jesus. The evening before, King Henry went to Evensong ‘in his Surcoot outward, with Tabert Sleves, the Cappe of Astate on his Hede, and the Hode aboute his Showlders, in Doctors wise’. For this particular service, the king was the only person robed, with the religious duties handled by his close confidante John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury.
On the morning of 6th January, Henry rose early for Matins prayers, and this time all his nobility were resplendent in their finest surcoats with hoods, following the crowned king and queen in procession. Margaret Beaufort also bore ‘a riche Coronall’ whilst Jasper Tudor was handed the honour of bearing the Cap of Estate before the king, alongside which walked the earls of Derby and Nottingham, Earl of Derby, with the duke of Suffolk and Giles Daubeney following close by. John de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, meanwhile, was afforded the honour of bearing the king’s train wherever he went. Following thereafter including members of the royal household, including the Garter King of Arms, the King’s Secretary, and the King’s Treasurer, along with many other employees such as Officers of Arms, Heralds, Pursuivants and those of more menial positions such as carvers and cupbearers.
Once Mass was observed by all, King Henry returned to his chamber for a period, possibly to refresh and change clothes, before returning to the Great Hall, where:
‘He was corownede with a riche Corowne of Golde sett with ful many riche precious Stonys, and seated under a merveolous riche Cloth of Astate, having the Archbishop of Canterbury on his right Hande, and the Quene also crowned under a Cloth of Estate hanging sumwhat lower than the Kings, on his lift Hande’.
Waiting on the king during the subsequent feast was the earl of Oxford, whilst the earl of Ormond kneeled between the queen and Lady Margaret, the king’s mother. Sir David Owen, the king’s paternal uncle, acted as the king’s carver throughout the day. After the second course of food was completed, and once the minstrels had finished playing, the Officers of Arms descended from their stage and the Garter ‘gave the King Thankings for his Largesse, and besought the Kings Highnesse to owe Thankings to the Quene for her Largesse’.
Elsewhere in the Great Hall, in the middle was a table which sat the dean and other churchman associated with the King’s Chapel, who after Henry had completed his first course ‘sange a Carall’. On the right-hand side of the hall was another table headed by Jasper Tudor, who was seated alongside Giles Daubeney, the duke of Suffolk, the earls of Arundel, Nottingham and Huntingdon, the king’s half-uncle Viscount Welles, Viscount Lisle, and an array of other barons and knights. On the opposite side of the hall was another table, headed by the queen’s sister Lady Cecily, who was accompanied by the countesses of Oxford and Rivers and many other ladies and gentlewomen.
Another ancient tradition likely to have been observed during this 1487 Christmas was wassailing. The act of wassailing took place during Twelfth Night, and involved the lord offering his guests a drink from a communal wooden cup, typically cider, beer or a warm spiced ale known as lambswool. Just seven years later, the act of wassailing was included in Henry VII’s household ordinances, detailing how:
“and as for the wassell, the Steward and the treasurer shall come forward with their staves in their hands, the King’s swere and the Queen’s next, with their towells about their necks, and noe man beare noe dishes but such as be sworne for the mouthe”.
It was further declared that “when the Steward comethe in at the hall doore with the wassell, he must crie three tymes, wassell, wassell, wassell”. There seems little reason to doubt that this took place during the 1487 Christmas.
Once everyone had eaten, been merry and entertained to their hearts content, the end of the evening brought the Christmastide festivities of 1487 to a cheery close, a Merry Christmas having been had by one and all. The following morning, however, thoughts returned once more to the more tedious aspects of governing the realm, at least until the next holiday of note. Not unlike the modern day, one must imagine!
Nathen Amin grew up in the heart of Carmarthenshire, West Wales, and has long had an interest in Welsh history, the Wars of the Roses and the early Tudor period. His first book Tudor Waleswas released in 2014 and was well-received, followed by a second book called York Pubs in 2016. His third book, the first, full-length biography of the Beaufort family, the House of Beaufort, was released in the summer of 2017 and quickly became a #1 Amazon Bestseller for Wars of the Roses.
You won’t forget the first time you hold the Tudor Book of Days, that’s for sure. What a remarkable publication this is from the folk who run the ever-growing Tudor Times empire. Solidly bound with a stunning cover featuring depictions of embroidered Tudor roses, I fell in love with the book before I’d even opened it up.
But first, some context – what exactly is a Book of Days? Well, its based on the Book of Hours, a literary item often owned and used by the great and good of the medieval and renaissance period to aid lay people in practicing their religion to utmost of their ability, such as serving as a remainder of important feast days or to collect biblical texts, liturgies or prayers that could be used by the owner throughout the day. These books were very much a much-revered and highly sought-after fashion accessory at the uppermost levels of society, and were often individually commissioned, bearing the owner’s coat of arms or other family emblems. They were then passed through the generations. They were annotated when important events occurred, such as Margaret Beaufort marking in her Book of Hours when her namesake granddaughter was born in 1489.
What the Tudor Times have done here, is replicate the idea of a Book of Hours but with a more useful, modern twist, coming up with the Book of Hours, creating a composite publication suitable for the 21st Century. It is a perpetual calendar in planner format, allowing you to mark important recurring events, birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, meetings etc on the date they occur. This is a key selling point of the planner – days of the week (i.e. Saturday) and years (i.e. 2017) are not included, just the date (i.e. 15 January), allowing you to keep using this Book of Days for many years. It is not designed to have a 12-month shelf life, just like the original Book of Hours.
Each page of the planner, therefore, has the date (e.g. 1 November), the feast day if one happens to fall on that date (e.g. All Hallows’ Day), a fact of history relating to that date (e.g. Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, died 1456) and a space to jot down any thoughts or events you want marked yourself. At the start of each month is a summary of all historical facts for quick reference, and a section to write down all birthdays, anniversaries, reminders, project, occasions, festivals etc you want to note.
Other helpful additions to the book, aside from its main section, are a page to input your personal details that you may refer to regularly, and an index of each figure featuring in the titbit of trivia throughout the book with short biographical details.
In short, what the Tudor Times have produced here is a masterpiece, a unique but incredibly useful planner that will help any Tudor enthusiast navigate through the quagmire that is their day-to-day lives. An absolute must on the wish-list of any organised 16th century aficionado, and one I will personally be putting to very good use hereon in.
Tudor Times is the place to go for a wide variety of information about the Tudor and Stewart period 1485 – 1625. On the website you can find material on People, Places, Daily Life, Military & Warfare, Politics & Economics and Religion. It features Guest Articles from well-known Tudor & Stewart historians. The site has a Book Review section, with author interviews and a book club. It also has comprehensive family trees, and a ‘What’s On’ event list with information about forthcoming activities relevant to the Tudors and Stewarts.
The Battle of Bosworth was immortalized for posterity in Act V, Scene 3 of William Shakespeare’s The Life and Death of Richard III. While dramatically depicting a fierce battle that resulted in the start of a historic family dynasty, what the play does not tell you is that the weapons Henry Tudor used to win that classic battle were equally as intense.
When it came to using weapons in battle, Henry Tudor’s army was well equipped with some of the finest swords, longbows, daggers, and fighting implements of the time. Here’s a look at ten facts about the weapons Henry used at the Battle of Bosworth that were just as fierce as his army.
1. Many of the men were armed with small daggers.
Called a “rondel” and used to dispatch soldiers that had been dismounted or in hand to hand combat, we know they used this particular weapon due to triangle shaped wounds in the skulls uncovered by archaeologists.
2. The Longbow was indispensable.
Known to military history as the English longbow, this iconic medieval weapon was usually 6-7 feet in length and enabled a skilled bowman to launch up to 12 arrows per minute. The longbow was the primary, dominant, and most favored military weapon of this period.
3. The halberd is thought to have killed Richard III.
A combination of a spear and a battle axe, contemporary records combined with modern exhumation of Richard’s body, tell us that Richard III was disposed by a team of Welsh soldiers armed with halberds.
4. Excalibur type swords were real.
Perhaps the most iconic of medieval weapons, the sword actually varied greatly in length and the type of blade. War swords were standard military issue for knights before the 1300s, and remained in use through the 16th century.
5. Spears were used to fight of advancing armies on horseback.
An “old standard” of medieval weaponry; the spear had a diamond shaped head and sometimes a crossbar. It could be used to cut or stab, but the butt of the spear could also be buried in the ground at an angle to stop an advancing
6. Those spiked balls you see in movies were real, and used at Bosworth.
Long poles, or strings of chain, with a spiked metal ball at the end were called Maces. Clergymen who fought in the battle used maces because they were forbidden from drawing blood. The maces would break the bones of their victim inside their armor and were more effective against armored knights than swords because of their crushing power.
7. Handguns made one of their first appearances to history during this battle.
The original handguns were very inaccurate and used mostly to frighten people in order to gain the advantage during battle. However, it was during the War of the Roses that develops on the handgun were made allowing it to be safer to use and more accurate. It would go on to replace the longbow over the next hundred years.
8. The Battle Ax was a hand held weapon used by horsemen.
This particular weapon looked like a modern day hammer or nightstick with a short handle and the head of an ax. Horse riders used a leather strap attached to the handle to keep the weapon attached to them while they rode into battle. Richard III is said to have lead his troop into battle carrying his battle-axe.
9. The Arbalest was last used at the Battle of Bosworth.
During the reign of Henry VII’s son, Henry VIII, crossbowmen would rise up to form the vanguard of the army, but during the Battle of Bosworth, these specialized crossbows made of steel and quite large, could shoot with greater strength than their successors.
10. Farm equipment helped against the cavalry.
Soldiers would often use a common farm implement called the billhook during the War of the Roses to pull riders off their horses where they would then be executed by dagger.
It’s truly formidable the battle implements of the medieval period. When we look at Shakespeare’s plays, it provides a great context for his works when we consider how the real environment in which these stories were set was at once so unmerciful and unforgiving a climate. Masters of these great weapons was truly an art.
“Conscience is but a word that cowards use,
Devised at first to keep the strong in awe:
Our strong arms be our conscience, swords our law.”
Cassidy Cash is a writer, YouTuber, and educator who believes understanding Shakespeare’s life and times is key to interpreting his plays. She writes about William Shakespeare, creates a weekly “Did Shakespeare” video on her youtube channel, and runs a membership group for Shakespeare enthusiasts from her blog at www.cassidycash.com
Many of the Heroines in my book are linked by family connections; sometimes their stories are there for completely different reasons, but sometimes the similarities are intriguing. Katherine Swynford’ s story is in my chapter on Mistresses and is unique in that she eventually married her prince. Katherine’s granddaughter, Joan Beaufort, also made it into the book, in that she was one half of, arguably, the greatest love story of the middle ages. I say arguably, of course, because many would say that Katherine’s was the greatest.
You may not consider a mistress as a heroine, seeing her as ‘the other woman’ and not worthy of consideration. However, women in the medieval era had little control over their own lives; if a lord wanted them, who were they to refuse? And even if they were in love, differences in social positions could mean marriage was impossible – at least for a time.
Katherine was born around 1350; she was the younger daughter of Sir Payn Roelt, a Hainault knight in the service of Edward III’s queen, Philippa of Hainault, who eventually rose to be Guyenne King of Arms. Her mother’s identity is unknown, but Katherine and her older sister, Philippa, appear to have been spent their early years in Queen Philippa’s household. By 1365 Katherine was serving Blanche, Duchess of Lancaster, the first wife of John of Gaunt and Katherine was married to Sir Hugh Swynford of Coleby and Kettlethorpe, Lincolnshire, shortly after. The couple had two children, Thomas and Blanche, who was named after the duchess. John of Gaunt stood as little Blanche’s godfather and she was raised alongside his own daughters by Duchess Blanche.
Following Blanche’s death in 1368, Katherine was appointed governess to the duchess’s daughters. In September 1371 John of Gaunt was remarried, to Constance of Castile; Constance had a claim to the throne of Castile and John was soon being addressed as King of Castile. In the same year, Katherine’s husband, Sir Hugh Swynford, died whilst serving overseas and it seems that within months of his death, probably in the winter of 1371/72 Katherine became John’s mistress. Their first child, John Beaufort, was born towards the end of 1372. Over the next few years, three further children – two sons and a daughter – followed. John’s wife Constance also had children during this time – she gave birth to a daughter, Catherine, (Catalina) in 1373 and a short-lived son, John, in 1374.
We can only guess at what the two women thought of each other, but it can’t have been an easy time for either. In 1381, following the unrest of the Peasants’ Revolt and the hefty criticism aimed particularly at John and his relationship with Katherine, John renounced Katherine. Giving up her position as governess, Katherine left court and returned to Lincoln. Her relationship with John of Gaunt and, indeed, his family, remained cordial and the duke still visited her, although discreetly. In 1388 Katherine was made a Lady of the Garter – a high honour indeed. And in 1394 Constance died. In January 1396, John and Katherine were finally married in Lincoln Cathedral; Katherine had gone from being a vilified mistress to Duchess of Lancaster. Her children by John were legitimised by the pope in September 1396 and by Richard II’s royal patent in the following February, although they were later excluded from the succession by Henry IV.
Sadly, Katherine’s marital happiness with John of Gaunt was short-lived; John of Gaunt died in February 1399 and Katherine retired to live in Lincoln, close to the cathedral of which her second son by John, Henry, was bishop. Katherine herself died at Lincoln on 10 May 1403 and was buried in the cathedral in which she had married her prince. Her tomb can still be seen today and lies close to the high altar, beside that of her youngest child Joan Beaufort, countess of Westmorland, who died in 1440.
Although it seems easy to criticise Katherine’s position as ‘the other woman’, her life cannot have been an easy one. The insecurity and uncertainty of her position, due to the lack of a wedding ring, must have caused her much unease. However, that she eventually married her prince, where so many other medieval mistresses simply fell by the wayside and were forgotten, makes her story unique. What makes her even more unique is that Katherine’s own granddaughter was part of one of the greatest love stories of the middle ages.
Joan Beaufort was the only daughter of Katherine’s eldest son by John of Gaunt, also named John. The story of King James I of Scotland and his queen, Joan Beaufort, is probably the greatest love story of the medieval era. He was a king in captivity and she a beautiful young lady of the court of her Lancastrian cousin, Henry V. The son of Robert III of Scotland, James had been on his way to France, sent there for safety and to continue his education, when his ship was captured by pirates in April 1406. Aged only eleven, he had been handed over to the English king, Henry IV, and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Within a couple of months of his capture, James’s father had died, and he was proclaimed King of Scots, but the English would not release their valuable prisoner. James was closely guarded and regularly moved around, but he was also well-educated while in the custody of the English king and became an accomplished musician and poet.
Probably born in the early 1400s, Lady Joan was the daughter of John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset. She was at court by the early 1420s, when James first set eyes on her. The Scottish king wrote of his love for Joan in his famous poem, The Kingis Quair. According to Nigel Tranter, James was with the court at Windsor, when he saw Joan for the first time; she was walking her little lapdog in the garden, below his window. The narrow window afforded him only a limited view, but the Lady Joan walked the same route every morning and James wrote of her;
Beauty, fair enough to make the world to dote,
Are ye a worldy creature?
Or heavenly thing in likeness of nature?
Or are ye Cupid’s own priestess, come here,
To loose me out of bonds
One morning James is said to have dropped a plucked rose down to Lady Joan, which he saw her wearing the following evening at dinner. Nigel Tranter suggests Lady Joan grieved over James’s imprisonment and even pleaded for his release. Written in the winter of 1423/24, the autobiographical poem, The Kingis Quair, gives expression to James’ feelings for Joan;
I declare the kind of my loving
Truly and good, without variance
I love that flower above all other things
James’s imprisonment lasted for eighteen years. His uncle Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany and Guardian of Scotland in James’s absence, refused to ransom him, in the hope of gaining the throne himself. He never quite garnered enough support, but managed to keep the Scottish nobles in check. However, when he died in 1420, control passed to his son Murdoch, and Scotland fell into a state of virtual anarchy. With Henry V’s death in 1422, it fell to his brother John, Duke of Bedford, as regent for the infant Henry VI, to arrange James’ release. The Scots king was charged 60,000 marks in ransom – ironically, it was claimed that it was to cover the costs for his upkeep and education for eighteen years. The agreement included a promise for the Scots to keep out of England’s wars with France, and for James to marry an English noble woman – not an onerous clause, given his love for Lady Joan Beaufort.
James and Joan were married at the Church of St Mary Overie in Southwark (now Southwark Cathedral) on 2 February 1424, with the wedding feast taking place in the adjoining hall, the official residence of Joan’s uncle Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester. Finally united – and free – the young couple made their way north soon afterwards and were crowned together at Scone Abbey on 21 May 1424. James and Joan had eight children, seven of whom survived childhood. Their six daughters helped to strengthen alliances across Europe. The royal couple finally had twin sons on 16 October 1430; and although Alexander died within a year of his birth, his younger twin, James, thrived and was created Duke of Rothesay and heir to the throne. He would eventually succeed his father as James II.
On his return to Scotland, James immediately set about getting his revenge on the Duke of Albany’s family and adherents; executing some, including Murdoch, Albany’s son and heir. Two other claimants to James’s throne were sent to England, as hostages for the payment of his ransom. James and Joan ruled Scotland for thirteen years; James even allowed Joan to take some part in the business of government. Although the Scots were wary of her being English, Queen Joan became a figurehead for patronage and pageantry. The English hope that Joan’s marriage to James would also steer the Scots away from their Auld Alliance with France, was short-lived, however, and the 1436 marriage of their eldest daughter, Margaret, to the French dauphin formed part of the renewal of the Auld Alliance.
James’ political reforms, combined with his desire for a firm but just government, made enemies of some nobles, including his own chamberlain Sir Robert Stewart, grandson of Walter, Earl of Atholl, who had been James’s heir until the birth of his sons. Sir Robert and his grandfather hatched a plot to kill the king and queen. In February 1437, the royal couple was staying at the Blackfriars in Perth when the king’s chamberlain dismissed the guard and the assassins were let into the priory. The king is said to have hidden in an underground vault as the plotters were heard approaching. There is a legend that the vault had originally been an underground passage, however, the king had ordered the far end to be sealed, when his tennis balls kept getting lost down there. Unfortunately, that also meant James had blocked off his own escape route. The assassins dragged the king from his hiding place and stabbed him to death; Joan herself was wounded in the scuffle.
And one of the greatest love affairs of the era ended in violence and death. The plotters, far from seizing control of the country, were arrested and executed as the Scottish nobles rallied around the new king, six-year-old James II. Joan’s life would continue to be filled with political intrigue, but her love story had been viciously cut short, without the happy ending her grandmother had achieved. Katherine and Joan led very different lives, although the similarities are there if you look for them; they both lived their lives around the glittering court and married for love. Joan’s happy marriage only achieved because her grandmother finally got her prince; if Katherine had not married John of Gaunt, the Beauforts would have remained illegitimate, their futures seriously restricted by the taint of bastardy.
Sharon Bennett Connolly has been fascinated by history for over 30 years now and even worked as a tour guide at historical sites, including Conisbrough Castle. Born in Yorkshire, she studied at University in Northampton before working in Customer Service roles at Disneyland in Paris and Eurostar in London. She is now having great fun, passing on her love of the past to her son, hunting dragons through Medieval castles or exploring the hidden alcoves of Tudor Manor Houses.
Having received a blog as a gift, History…the Interesting Bits, Sharon started researching and writing about the lesser-known stories and people from European history, the stories that have always fascinated. Quite by accident, she started focusing on medieval women. And in 2016 she was given the opportunity to write her first non-fiction book, Heroines of the Medieval World, which was published by Amberley in September 2017. She is currently working on her second non-fiction book, Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest, which will be published by Amberley in late 2018.
The Princes in the Tower is possibly the UK’s most enduring historical mystery, certainly up there with the disappearance of Lord Lucan and the Jack the Ripper murders, one which the author probably rightly believes is as hotly debated today through social media as it was in contemporary taverns during the 15th century. Thanks to the remarkable pen of Shakespeare and the many incarnations of his play on stage and silver screen, many people still hold the princes’ uncle Richard III responsible for the murder of the boys shortly after he placed them in the Tower of London. The dastardly, wicked uncle, consumed by ruthless ambition and all-encompassing evil, barely hesitating before murdering a pair of innocent souls. But what if the boys actually survived?
In Matthew Lewis’ latest offering, the author asks us to momentarily forget what we think we know about history’s greatest cold case, and open our minds to the intriguing possibility that we may have been led astray all along, initially as part of a concerted propaganda effort by supporters of the Tudor succession and thereafter by generations of scholars and historians who failed to interpret the source material without their innate bias. The result is a fascinating read that grips from start to finish, readable investigative history that engages the mind. Murder, Mystery and Myth is a most appropriate subheading.
Now, lets get the burning question out of the way – Lewis has not solved the mystery of the Princes in the Tower, nor, to his credit, does he claim to have done so. This book is about putting forward a different idea, to deconstruct the myth surrounding the case and to get the reader to reassess the sources that they may already be familiar with and ask the question – “what if the princes survived?”. Surprising, the evidence, or what is left of it, does not work against such a possibility as perhaps first thought. As he wittily notes, there is ‘no smoking gun, or longbow’, that satisfactorily solves the case.
Lewis opens his book with a fitting quote from the 17th Century French philosopher Pierre Bayle, stating ‘the antiquity and general acceptance of an opinion is not assurance of its truth’, and it is this very idea that the reader must consciously retain as they turn each pages of the book, to focus on interpreting primary and secondary sources without the learned bias each reader often brings to the table.
It is satisfying to note shortly into the book that Lewis states he has no intention of solving the mystery of the Princes’ fate, one which must remain unsolvable due to the lack of evidence which has survived. What the author intends to do in this work is put forward an alternative theory as to the eventual fate of those princes initially locked in the Tower in 1483, one that imagines their survival. His rationale is sound – if we have been able to speculate of the two boys’ death for 500 years, despite a palpable lack of evidence outside innuendo and rumour, why not flip matters on their head and entertain the idea they survived?
Now, one may be tempted to treat any book which seeks to answer the question “were the Princes in the Tower murdered at all?” as yet another tiresome attempt to restore the reputation of Richard III, but Lewis’ book doesn’t fall into the trap of extolling the virtues of ‘good king Richard’ and shouldn’t be written of as such by sceptical readers. As early as page 22, after all, Lewis accepts Richard had the means, motive and opportunity to slay the princes, something often denied by his most ardent supporters. Lewis’ argument, of course, not only absolves Richard of the blame, but also by extension Henry VII, and it is also satisfying to note the author not ascribe to the frankly preposterous belief that Margaret Beaufort was either a religious zealot or had plotted for the crown throughout the life of her only child. This is not a book just for Ricardians.
Lewis works systematically through contemporary sources such as Polydore Vergil, Croyland Chronicle, Dominic Mancini and Bernard Andre, providing historical context to their production and revealing much of the bias behind their writing. He is not wrong to believe that when we focus our mind on accepting for one moment that the princes survived, the sources themselves do not immediately contradict such a notion. We must also try and account for other facts such as how Thomas More, famous for much of the anti-Richard ideas that persist, ceased working on his ‘History of Richard III’ shortly after writing about the Princes in the Tower, with Lewis speculating this may have been because he found holes in the theory they had been killed (More’s worth was later continued by a different writer).
Other facets of the mystery Lewis discusses include the supposed discovery of the princes’ bones in the Tower of London during the 17th century, which the author notes have yet to be satisfactorily subjected to rigorous scientific testing, whilst prudently noting they were conveniently unearthed at a time when Charles II was keen to deflect his detractors by pointing to England’s past tyrants, in this king Richard III who ‘killed’ such innocent children. He also deals at length with the rebellions of Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck, who he speculates may have been the princes, before ending with another thorough account of the life and times of Doctor John Clement, a member of Thomas More’s household who has been alleged to be one of the princes based on an analysis of a family painting that wouldn’t be out of place in a Dan Brown novel.
The Survival of the Princes is a book that will undoubtedly divide opinion, with some unfairly writing it off before even turning a page. The main issue Lewis faces is that the reader, including myself, will come to the subject with their own bias. Those who are convinced Richard III killed the princes will be looking for holes in his theory, whilst supported of that same king will be more emboldened by the work, all whilst reading the very same words. I can only reiterate that the author, to his commendable credit, does not himself feed into the biases and makes no grand claims either way. It is my personal opinion that Richard III was likely the cause of the princes’ disappearance, and subsequent death. However, I can’t prove this, and this is where Lewis’ book comes into its own – if death of the princes’ cannot be proven, then surely survival must also be considered.
This book is a much needed addition to the subject of the Princes of the Tower, putting forward an additional logical theory without becoming trapped in nonsensical arguments about ‘good king Richard’ or ‘evil Margaret Beaufort’. The best compliment I can pay Matthew Lewis is that whilst I can’t prove that the Princes survived, even after reading his carefully constructed and well-thought out argument, neither can I prove they were killed. And despite what you may read elsewhere, most vociferously online, neither can anyone else. The Survival of the Princes, therefore, is a worthy read, regardless of the side of the fence you sit on in matters of the 15th century. This is a book anyone with an interest in historical mystery must pick up.
Matthew Lewis is the author of two histories and two historical fiction novels about Richard III and the Wars of the Roses. The medieval period is a particular passion of his, which he hopes to spread through his blog. He is dedicated to teaching and discussing this period, operating two history podcasts and providing bite-sized facts to his Twitter and Facebook following. Wars of the Roses, the Key Players in the Struggle for Supremacy, Medieval Britain in 100 Facts and Richard, Duke of York; King by Right are all available on Amberley Publishing, with Survival of the Princes in the Tower; Murder, Mystery and Myth from the History Press.