Henry VII and the Merry Tale of his Monkey

By Nathen Amin

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.

The Tudor Christmas of 1487

By Nathen Amin

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.

Greenwich Palace

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 Wales was 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.

 

Book Review – Tudor Book of Days by Tudor Times

By Nathen Amin

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.

10 Facts about the Weapons used in the Battle of Bosworth

By Cassidy Cash

“What, would you have my weapon, little lord?”

Richard III Act III Scene I

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
cavalry.

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.”

Richard III, Act V Scene III, Bosworth Field

______________________________________________________________________________

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

All For Love: Katherine Swnyford and Joan Beaufort

By Sharon Bennett Connolly

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.

Links:

Blog; https://historytheinterestingbits.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Thehistorybits/

Twitter: @Thehistorybits

Book: Amazon UK  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Heroines-Medieval-Sharon-Bennett-Connolly/dp/1445662647/

Amberley: https://www.amberley-books.com/heroines-of-the-medieval-world.html

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1445662647/

Book Review – The Survival of the Princes in the Tower by Matthew Lewis

By Nathen Amin

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.

Let the discussion commence…

________________________________________________________________________________

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.

Mary, Princess of Wales

By Melita Thomas

Mary I, the first queen-regnant of England, also holds a unique place as the only woman to have been treated as Princess of Wales in her own right. In 1525, her father, Henry VIII, sent her to preside over the Princess’ Council for Wales and the Marches, just as her uncle Arthur, and her great-uncle, later Edward V, had done.

The Marches of Wales was a hazy geographical area stretching along the Anglo-Welsh border. When William of Normandy conquered England in 1066, he made no incursion into Wales, whose border was marked in part by the earthwork known as Offa’s Dyke, but he was happy for his barons to attempt to take lands there. Lands conquered by these men were not held directly from the king of England, and were ruled as far as the lord could enforce his power against either the Welsh princes, or competing Anglo-Normans. Marcher law developed separately from mainstream English or Welsh law.

This frontier mentality gave rise to constant low-level warfare, characterised by theft, kidnappings, raids and feuds as the Marcher Lords sought to encroach further into Wales or grab territory from each other. Lawlessness was exacerbated when Edward I conquered the remainder of Wales in the late thirteenth century. The English kings instituted vicious penal laws against the Welsh, particularly in the years following the insurgency of Owain Glyndwr, leading to misery and unrest in the Crown ruled lands, whilst rivalry between the Marcher Lords was a significant contributing factor to the Wars of the Roses.

Aware of the problems in the region, in the 1470s, Edward IV set up the Prince’s Council, to be based in the Marches to maintain order, and increase crown authority. A similar arrangement was made in the 1490s for Henry VII’s eldest son, Arthur, Prince of Wales. On Arthur’s untimely death, the Council continued its work. His younger brother Henry, although created Prince of Wales in 1503, was not sent to Ludlow, and, so far as is known, had no involvement with the affairs of the Marches prior to becoming king in 1509.

That the Marches were still troublesome during the early years of Henry VIII’s reign, is reflected in the numerous commissions that were set up to enquire into rebellions, insurrections, Lollard heresies and so forth. Charles Brandon, later Duke of Suffolk and the king’s brother-in- law, had the office of Chamberlain of North Wales from 1513. The introduction of a man from East Anglia was never likely to have been successful – although the principle of bringing in an outsider is easy to understand. The centuries of local interaction and rivalry could not be grasped by a complete outsider and Brandon was not successful in this role. Further unrest resulted from the execution of Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, in 1521. Buckingham held vast swathes of land around Chepstow and the Black
Mountains, which were subject to Marcher law, not English law, but which now fell to the Crown.

To manage the problem, Henry, with no legitimate son, decided to recreate the Prince’s Council, now to be called the Princess’ Council, and send his nine-year- old daughter, Mary, to preside over it. Unlike her male predecessors, Mary was not formally created or invested as Princess of Wales but the appointments to Mary’s household, and to the Princess’ Council, refer to her as ‘Mary, Princess of Wales’. In July the Council was formed, under the presidency of John Vesey, Bishop of Exeter, and the Princess’ greatly enhanced household came into being on 12 th August 1525.

Mary was to be attended by the greatest in the land. Grand Master of her Household was Henry’s cousin, Thomas, 2nd Marquis of Dorset (although it was an honorary position – Dorset did not accompany Mary to the Marches.) Her Lady Governess was Margaret, Countess of Salisbury, niece of Edward IV, and a countess in her own right. Her great-aunt, Katherine of York, Countess of Devon was also named, but again, this was an honorary post. In all, Mary’s household numbered some 304 individuals, at an annual wage bill of £741 13s 9d. and total costs were around £2,500 per annum. To mark her status, Mary’s attendants wore her own new, green and blue livery, rather than the king’s livery of green and white. Seniority was marked by the quality of the livery cloth – the senior servants received a total of 348 1/4 yards of blue and green damask, whilst lesser servants had cloth of 4s or 3s 4d the yard.

The Keeper of the Great Wardrobe, Sir Andrew Windsor, received orders to provide appropriate furnishings for the Princess’ chapel. This included three altars, two pairs of vestments for the high altar, and four pairs for the other two altars, four mass books, 8 communion cloths with their cases, four cushions, two of cloth of gold and two of crimson velvet. He was also to provide a quantity of bedding and cloth of gold.

The rest of the household gear included everything from cooking pots and a large washing stool, to the ‘true yard of iron, sealed by the standard’ for weighing and measuring. A box of irons and chains was sent as well, for imprisoning malefactors found guilty by the Princess’ Council. Mary had her own riding horse and a litter, drawn by specially trained animals, which were purchased by James Vaughan, her Master of the Horse.

Copious instructions were issued by the indefatigable Cardinal Wolsey to the Council, and to the household. Henry, when he was interested in something, had an eye for detail, so he probably personally approved the ordinances for Mary’s own governance. Lady Salisbury was charged to ‘give most tender regard to all such things as concern the person of the said princess, her education, and training in all virtuous demeanour.’ The Princess was first to observe her duty to God, then to take suitable exercise in the fresh air in places that were ‘sweet and wholesome’ – outdoor exercise was something that Henry and Mary both loved. She was then to practise her music, but ‘without fatigation’. After that, she was to attend to her Latin, her French and her other studies. Mary followed a rigorous humanist educational programem, designed by the European Juan Luis Vives, a friend of Erasmus and other leading scholars.

Henry was particularly interested in matters of health, and this translated into specific orders that Mary’s clothes were to be clean and fresh, and her food ‘pure, well prepared, dressed, and served’. She was to eat amongst ‘comfortable, joyous and merry communication’ and everything about her was to be ‘pure, sweet, clean, and wholesome, and as to so great a princess doeth appertain’. Mary began her journey west in mid-August 1525, travelling from Woburn, where she had been the guest of the Bishop of Lincoln, to Reading Abbey, then on through the Cotswolds to Thornbury Castle, once the jewel in the lands of the Duke of Buckingham. Orders had been given for repairs to be made to Ludlow Castle – particularly for roofing. The cost of the works included a 10d tip for a ‘potation’ for the workmen.

For the next two and a half years, Mary lived largely in the Marches, staying at various times at Thornbury, Gloucester, Worcester, Hartlebury and Tickenhill. There are no definite records of her being at Ludlow itself, but later, some of her chapel accoutrements were fetched from the castle, so we can presume she did reside there occasionally. In May 1526, she visited the court and in September of 1526, she travelled back to Ampthill, to spend a month with her parents. Following this, she wrote the first of her letters that is preserved, to her godfather, Cardinal Wolsey: ‘I count myself much indebted…that it is by your late intercession that I have been allowed to enjoy, to my supreme delight, for a month, the society of the King and Queen, my parents.’

The Princess’ Council was of limited effect – part of the problem was constant interference from London – Wolsey could not let well alone, and, despite the Council having power of oyer and terminer (to hear and determine legal cases), Lord Ferrers of Chartley, one of the Council members complained that ‘Subpœnas, however, are served in Carmarthen and Cardigan shires on many of the King’s poor subjects to appear at Westminster… The inhabitants have been accustomed to pay the King .. 700 marks a year …at Candlemas; but both the shires refuse to do so next Candlemas if they are denied their old liberties. This is the most serious thing that has occurred since I first knew Wales.’

Mary was again at court in May 1527, when she took part in a masque. Her whereabouts for the summer of that year are uncertain, although she was probably in the Marches until November, when she returned to the south-east. In May 1528, it was decided that she should return to reside permanently ‘near the King’s person’. Although her household was reduced in number, she was still referred to as Princess of Wales, the Princess’ Council continued its work, and as late as March 1533, after Henry’s secret marriage to Anne Boleyn, an appointment was made to one John Uvedale to be ‘Clerk of the Signet to Her Grace (the Princess) in North and South Wales’.

It was not until after the passing of the Act of Succession in 1534, that it became an offence to refer to Mary as Princess of Wales. Mary continued to protest until mid-1536, when she was forced to accept the annulment of her parents’ marriage and her own demotion. Nevertheless, she seems to have retained a strong psychological bond with the title. She continued to favour her Welsh servants, particularly David and Beatrice ap Rice and their children and Welsh people figure disproportionately in her almsgiving. As late as 1544, there is a record of a Yeoman of the Guard bringing her a leek to mark St David’s Day, for which he received the extremely generous tip of 15s. We can perhaps
picture her accepting the leek gratefully and allowing her imagination to drift back to the time when she was fêted and deferred to as Princess of Wales.

________________________________________________________________________________

Melita Thomas has loved history since being mesmerised by the BBC productions of ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ and ‘Elizabeth R’, when she was a little girl. After that, she read everything she could get her hands on about this most fascinating of dynasties. Captivated by the story of the Lady Mary galloping to Framingham to set up her standard and fight for her rights, Melita began her first book about the queen when she was 9. The manuscript is probably still in the attic!

Whilst still pursuing a career in business, Melita took a course on writing biography, which led her and her business partner to the idea for Tudor Times, and gave her the inspiration to begin writing about Mary again.
‘The King’s Pearl: Henry VIII and his daughter Mary’ is her first book. She has several ideas for a second project, and hopes to settle on one and begin writing by the end of the year.

In her spare time, Melita enjoys long distance walking. She is attempting to walk around the whole coast of Britain, and you can follow her progress here. https://mgctblog.com/

Book Review – Black Tudors: The Untold Story by Miranda Kaufmann

By Nathen Amin

Black Tudors by Dr Miranda Kaufmann is an ambitious book loaded with little-known Tudor trivia that has long been overdue in the study of 16th century England, and fortunately for the future of this little-explored topic, the result is a fascinating production of the utmost quality that takes a close look at ten individuals who could, quite accurately, be considered Black Tudors.

There is a common-held belief that these British Isles were inhabited by a native, white population before the rise of Slavery, the Industrial Revolution, and the onset of twentieth century globalisation with the voyage of the Empire Windrush from the Caribbean, that people of colour quite simply were unknown to our Tudor-period ancestors. Yet, as Dr Kaufmann shows in this illuminating and extraordinarily in-depth publication, such a view is quite simply nonsense. As the author notes in the blurb, people of colour were christened, married and buried by the church in England, and were paid wages just like any other 16th century person. They formed integral parts of the communities they lived in, and provided services that were often welcomed, and in many cases, essential.

A Black Tudor presence is first explicitly noticed shortly after the arrival of Katherine of Aragon in England for her wedding to Prince Arthur, around the turn of the 16th century. The Spanish princess brought her own servants across the Channel, which included a woman of a Muslim Moorish background named Catalina, whose duty included making the future queen’s bed. Perhaps more famously is the arrival of a trumpeter to the Tudor court who became known, ironically one imagines, as John Blanke, a man who would serve both Henry VII and Henry VIII with distinction, and for which he was handsomely rewarded. Henry VIII even footed the bill for Blanke’s wedding, ordering a gown of violet cloth, a bonnet and a hat as a gift for ‘our trumpeter’

For even the most ardent of Tudor readers and students, there will be much within Black Tudors that you simply didn’t know, and this is where the true value of this work can be found. Dr Kaufmann is not simply covering well-trodden ground, an issue which has often plagued the study of the sixteenth century, but instead is revealing information that most of her audience will be coming across for the first time. The results are astounding.

Who knew, for example, that Africans were the predominant divers of their day, a fact which witnessed the recruitment of an African named Jacques Francis to try and salvage some items from the sunken Mary Rose in 1450s, over four hundred years before the ship was eventually raised from the sea bed. Sir Francis Drake was just one prominent figure of his day who employed a person of colour, in his case Diego, a freed slave from Panama who would go on to circumnavigate much of the globe with his English captain, often working as an interpreter.

Of course, the history isn’t always joyous, as discovered by the tragic tale of Black Maria, a woman aboard one of Drake’s ships who was raped, impregnated and then abandoned on an island when she presumably had outlived her usefulness. We are also treated to the curious tale of a black porter named Edward Swarthye, who in 1596 in rural Gloucestershire was employed to whip a white member of the gentry named John Guye, perhaps an incident unfathomable to our preconceived ideas of enforced black subservience in the past. A particular entry which I thoroughly enjoyed reading involved the wonderfully-named Reasonable Blackman, who was able to take advantage of his freedom in England to become a successful silk weaver in Southwark, counting many wealthy aristocrats and merchants amongst his clientele.

I was also astonished, more through my own ignorance of the subject as it was so poorly documented elsewhere before this book, that although black people existed as slaves in Spain, bought and sold on cathedral steps like inanimate objects, slavery was not recognised in England so that once these men and women arrived in England, they were considered free. For example, when Pero Alvarez, an African man who arrived in England from Portugal during the reign of Henry VII, he was instantly considered a free man, no longer subject to the shackles of slavery. The subject of slavery arose in an English court of law in 1569 when it was comprehensively determined that no man could be subject to slavery upon entering the kingdom, for ‘England has too pure an air for slaves to breath in’. Two decades later, William Harrison noted proudly;

‘as for slaves and bondmen, we have none; nay such is the privilege of our country by the especial grace of God and bounty of our princes, that if any come hither from other realms, so soon as they set foot on land they become as free in condition as their masters, whereby all note of servile bondage is utterly removed from them’

The author is an expert in her field, a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies and an Oxford graduate, where her doctoral thesis was based on the presence of Africans in Britain between 1500 and 1640. The subject couldn’t be in safer hands. Dr Kaufmann’s research is impeccable, and has to be for such a detailed if specific study of those people who for so long have been disregarded by centuries of historians. She treats each of her subjects as individuals in their own right instead of just a community, exploring each life with a delicate warmth and respect that endears those individuals to the reader. We are gripped by their story.

Black Tudors is essentially a fascinating and concise microhistory of a small but important community in 16th century living their everyday lives amidst the much greater socio-political matters occurring around them, from the Great Matter and Reformation of Henry VIII to the threat posed by Spain against Elizabeth I. This book has no filler, and is wholly focused on its objective, a heavily-researched, well-referenced and pioneering, production. At 34-pages, her bibliography is possibly the most exhaustive I have seen. Kaufmann succeeds in her project, and succeeds well.

In her introduction, Dr Kaufmann notes ‘the misconceptions surrounding the status of Black Tudors are part of a wider impression that any African living outside Africa before the mid-fifteenth century, be it in Europe of the Americas must have been enslaved’, further pointing out in her conclusion that Africans were seen and heard across England, from Hull to Truro. This book will hopefully go some way to dispelling this misguided belief that many of us hold. Kaufmann also states confidently “for all those who thought they knew the Tudors, it is time to think again”. She’s right.

________________________________________________________________________________

Dr. Miranda Kaufmann is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, part of the School of Advanced Study, University of London. She read History at Christ Church, Oxford, where she completed her doctoral thesis on ‘Africans in Britain, 1500-1640’ in 2011. As a freelance historian and journalist, she has worked for The Sunday Times, the BBC, the National Trust, English Heritage, the Oxford Companion series, Quercus publishing and the Rugby Football Foundation. She is a popular speaker at conferences, seminars and schools from Hull to Jamaica and has published articles in academic journals and elsewhere (including the Times Literary Supplement, The Times, The Guardian, History Today, BBC History Magazine and Periscope Post). She enjoys engaging in debate at the intersection of past and present and has been interviewed by the BBC, Sky News, Al Jazeera USA and the Observer.

Book Review – Edward IV: Glorious Son of York by Jeffrey James

By Nathen Amin

Edward IV, much like his son-in-law, and political heir in many ways, Henry VII, has often found his position in history obscured somewhat by the mystery over the fate of his two sons, the Princes in the Tower, as well as the towering spectres of his younger brother Richard III and grandson Henry VIII. Whilst there have been several academic publications produced on the life and times of the mighty Yorkist king who reigned in two separate spells between 1461 and 1483, a readable narrative history on Edward is always welcomed. After all, as the author notes in his prologue, ‘few English monarchs fought harder for kingship than King Edward IV’. It’s probably the least he deserves.

Edward IV, Glorious Son of York by Jeffrey James is essentially the story of how one man emerged from the fractious feuding between various noble families to become the most prodigious warrior of his age, winning a crown on the battlefield and ostensibly ending the wars before lapses in political judgement briefly cost him his throne, forcing a return to battle. It’s a captivating, even timeless, tale of a dramatic rise followed by a tough fall, a story of resilient redemption before success itself eventually destroyed Edward’s figure, and in time, his dynasty. A well-worn story it may be, but told so vividly by James it might well sound like the first time you’ve heard it.

The book is written clearly and concisely, covering all main events in Edward’s life, helpfully illustrated with several maps, battlefield diagrams, family trees and a few dozen photographs of the people and places mentioned in the text. James has an extensive knowledge of battles in particular, which naturally receive considerable coverage throughout the text, and I was intrigued by his use of war gaming photographs to illustrate the various battles in Edward’s life, something I have not seen elsewhere.

Written chronologically from Edward’s birth in Rouen, through his rise to the throne, his contentious marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, and on to his final days of excess shortly after his fortieth birthday, James’ book serves an ideal introduction into the life of the first Yorkist king of England. As is always the case with books of this period, and for good reason, the book also covers the wider Wars of the Roses conflict and features considerable supporting roles from figures such as Henry VI, Richard III and the Woodvilles, yet crucially never fails to lose sight of its titular subject. This is Edward’s story, unashamedly told from Edward’s position.

The result is an engaging read that serves as a gateway into further study of Edward IV and the period. His analysis of the complex events is balanced, with little room for wild speculations based on assumptions and presumptions. James systematically deconstructs Edward from the stereotypes he has become reduced to, be it warrior king or promiscuous lover, and reveals Edward the man, who committed both just and questionable acts during his time. There are no outlandish claims or unfathomable theories presented based on flimsy evidence, and therefore Edward IV, Glorious Son of York, crafted upon the known facts and most likely scenarios, is a solid, and enduring, addition to the libraries of any self-respecting aficionado of the Wars of the Roses.

________________________________________________________________________________

Jeffrey James has published numerous articles on military history and is the author of An Onslaught of Spears, a history of Viking attacks on England leading to Cnut’s conquest in 1016, and Swordsmen of the King, covering the exploits of Charles I’s German nephews during the English Civil War. He lives in Southsea, England.

Book Review – Owen Tudor by Terry Breverton

By Nathen Amin

Many will be aware of the work of Welsh historian Terry Breverton, particularly his recent forays into the world of the Tudors. Amongst his recent work has been biographies of Henry VII (2016) and Jasper Tudor (2014) which sandwiched the interesting Tudor Kitchen; What the Tudors Ate & Drank (2015). On the tails of his work on two previous Tudors come this interesting biography on arguably the most fascinating member of this Welsh dynasty that captured the English crown – Owen Tudor.

The book is subtitled Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty and this aptly summarises the life and times of Owen Tudor. He was born around 1400 to a Welsh family torn apart by his uncle Owain Glyndwr’s Welsh Wars of Independence, and migrated to England at a young age to find his fortune. And find a fortune he did, in the form of a queen of England, no less. Owen met, fell in love, and married Katherine de Valois, widow of Henry V and mother of the incumbent king, Henry VI.

His life thereafter is one of the most remarkable tales in English or Welsh history. Through Breverton’s easy to follow, if often blunt, narrative, we learn how Owen survived persecution and imprisonment after his royal wife’s premature death, helping raise two sons who would become earls of the realm as half-brothers to Henry VI, and standing behind one of those sons, Jasper, as the Wars of the Roses erupted in the late 1450s. Owen’s life came to a brutal end during the aftermath of the battle of Mortimer’s Cross between his son’s Lancastrian army and a Yorkist force led by the future king Edward III, a skirmish in which the subject of this biography fought despite being around 60 years old. Owen was captured and led to Hereford where he was mercilessly beheaded on the market square.

Owen Tudor, Founding Father of the Tudor Dynasty, also covers the ancestry of Owen, along with that of the woman with whom he would become forever associated, Katherine of Valois. The book is particularly interesting in that it is often written from a Welsh perspective by a Welsh author, offering insight into the life and motivations of the subject often lacking in English accounts through the ages, ignorant of the importance of Welsh prophecies and legends in helping propel the Tudors towards the throne of these islands. A chapter on Owen’s legacy makes for interesting reading, and naturally leads onto Breverton’s other books on Jasper and Henry Tudor, whilst an appendix uncovering Owen’s appearances in literature discusses his place in numerous fiction works, from a 1600 play called Owen Tudor through to the recent 2016 release by author Tony Riches. Its intriguing to read how Owen has been immortalised having just read his actual life story.

Breverton’s book may at times deviate from its subject, as to be expected from a study of a life of which we don’t know a great deal, but that’s not to say this work doesn’t have worth. Owen Tudor has long been an enigma of the medieval period, a swashbuckling hero almost more suited to romantic fiction than serious academic study. Indeed, the author notes in his introduction that this wasn’t an easy book to research. That being said, Owen Tudor by Terry Breverton is a long-overdue work dedicated to one of the more captivating figures of the Tudor dynasty. It should be remembered that every English monarch post-Henry VII was descended from Owen, not to mention various foreign rulers including five kings of France, several German emperors, kings of Spain, Norway, Greece, Italy, Denmark, Bulgaria and Belgium and even Marie Antoinette. An accomplished effort to conclude Breverton’s Tudor biographical trilogy.

________________________________________________________________________________

Historian Terry Breverton is a former businessman, consultant and academic and is now a full-time writer, having received the Welsh Books Council’s Book of the Month Award five times. He is an expert in Welsh culture and history and has presented documentaries on the Discovery Channel, the History Channel etc. Terry has worked in over 20 countries and has written over 40 well-received books including Richard III: The King in the Carpark; Breverton’s First World War Curiosities; Owain Glyndŵr: The Story of the Last Prince of Wales; Wales: The Biography; Wales: A Historical Companion; Immortal Words; Immortal Last Words; Breverton’s Nautical Curiosities: A Book of the Sea; Breverton’s Phantasmagoria; Breverton’s Encyclopaedia of Inventions; Black Bart Roberts; The Journal of Penrose, Seaman and Breverton’s Complete Herbal.