Who were the Landsknechte?

By Heather R. Darsie

In the 16th century there existed powerful groups of soldiers-for-hire in the Holy Roman Empire called “Landsknechte,” which literally means “country servants.” The singular form of the word is, “Landsknecht.” The word was frequently Anglicized into “lance knights” and Gallicized into “lansquenet.” These mercenaries developed into formidable, well-trained soldiers in the late 15th through early 16th centuries.

The Landsknechte were formed due to the need of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I to maintain control over his dominions, including Burgundy which he acquired by the right of his marriage to Mary of Burgundy. Georg von Frunsberg is considered the Father of the Landsknechte. Georg von Frunsberg was born 24 September 1473 in Memmingen, Germany. At the age of roughly 26, Frunsberg was part of the Landsknechte who fought the Swiss knights-for-hire, the Reisläufer, in 1499. Frunsberg also went to Milan to protect the duchy from French invasion. Frundsberg rose to the rank of commander, and participated in campaigns against the Empire’s enemies in 1504, 1509, 1513, 1514, 1521, 1522, and 1525. He passed away on 20 August 1528 in the same place he was born, Mindleheim Castle in Memmingen, Germany.

Maximilian I was elected King of the Romans-Germans on 16 February 1486 and almost immediately set to work gathering Landknechte mercenaries. These foot soldiers were equipped with halberds, pikes, and swords. A small percentage of each regiment was equipped with harquebuses and two-handed swords. They would fight in phalanxes, repelling cavalry attacks. The Landsknechte were trained by Swiss Reisläufer who Maximilian I was able to hire for such purposes.

The mercenaries themselves came from all different backgrounds. Some were criminals, others peasants or nobles, all with different motivations stemming from enjoying the adventure to being forced into action by their lord. The Landsknechte had loyalty to no one. They fought for whoever paid them, even if it meant attacking their place of origin. Anyone hiring the Landsknechte always risked mutiny or abandonment if payment was not timely. On top of that, the Landsknechte were known to pillage the victims if they were unhappy with their pay, or force sieges and battles before their money ran out.

The Landsknechte traveled in large groups of attendants and women, often wearing flamboyant clothing because the Landsknechte were exempt from sumptuary laws. It is thought that the style of dress adopted by the Landsknechte influenced European fashion to an extent. The women were an important part of each Fahnlein, or 400-man company, and carried out specific tasks. The women acted as laundresses, seamstresses, cooks, midwives, and money-handlers. The women were assigned hard labor as well, which included digging trenches. The women participated in pillaging, too.

The Landsknechte were very well-organized in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. A Landsknechte regiment was comprised from ten, 400-man Fahnlein, making a regiment approximately 4,000 persons. Each Fahnlein was made up of multiple Rotten, the number of which depended upon the types of soldiers in each Rotten.  Each regiment was led by a colonel, who received his commission from the local lord. A contract was drawn up between the colonel and the lord, spelling out the pay for the soldiers and what the duties of the hired Landsknechte were. Each unit had a leader, and the Landsknechte were known to dispense their own justice amongst their ranks.

The Landsknechte were at their most formidable during the Sack of Rome in 1527. A mutinous force led by the Duke of Bourbon, the pitiless mercenaries chose to march on Rome after not being paid by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V for their role in his 1525 victory at Pavia. The Landsknechte entered Rome on  6 May 1527 through St Peter’s and the Borgo Santo Spirito, and they with other groups of mercenaries murdered everyone in sight. It did not matter whether the victims were soldiers or civilians. Pope Clement VII barely escaped St Peter’s Basilica for the safety of Castel Sant’ Angelo. This Swiss guard tasked with protecting St Peter’s lost a substantial number of their force in the carnage. Allegedly most of the Swiss Guard were murdered on the high altar within St. Peter’s Basilica. Pope Clement eventually surrendered to Charles V in June 1527.

The Landsknechte continued to be a threatening force throughout the mid-16th century. By the end of the 16th century, the Landsknechte were no longer as well-regulated. Due to lack of work and other economic factors, the numbers wishing to join the Landsknechte grew while the utility of mercenary troops fell because of the advancement of gunpowder, cannon, and firearms. The mercenaries devolved into little more than roving groups of bandits and sellswords before finally petering out at the end of the 16th century.

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Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’ by Heather R. Darsie is released 15 April in the UK and 1 July in the US. If you live in the US and cannot wait until July, you can order a hardcover from the UK Amazon.

The book can be purchased here:

UK Hardcover: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Anna-Duchess-Cleves-Beloved-Sister/dp/1445677105/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=darsie&qid=1553980680&s=gateway&sr=8-1

UK Kindle: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Anna-Duchess-Cleves-Beloved-Sister-ebook/dp/B07PNQKR77/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1553980680&sr=8-1

US Hardcover: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1445677105?pf_rd_p=1cac67ce-697a-47be-b2f5-9ae91aab54f2&pf_rd_r=3N5CGT7W6TPG1X0AF7PZ

US Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/Anna-Duchess-Cleves-Beloved-Sister-ebook/dp/B07PNQKR77/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

 

Sources & Suggested Reading

  1. Darsie, Heather R. Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’. Stroud: Amberley Publishing (2019).
  2. The Editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica. “Georg von Frundsberg.” Published 20 September 2018. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Georg-von-Frundsberg Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  3. The Editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica. “Landsknecht.” Published 2 December 2015. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Landsknechte Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  4. Bunting, Tony. “Sack of Rome.” Published 23 May 2018. https://www.britannica.com/event/Sack-of-Rome-1527 Retrieved 13 April 2019.
  5. Erben, Wilhelm. “Maximilian I. Und Die Landsknechte.” Historische Zeitschrift116, no. 1 (1916): 48-68. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27603166.
  6. Rabe, Georg, Sigmund Feyerabend und Weygand Hanen Erben. Herrn Georg und Herrn Caspar von Fründsberg. Frankfurt am Main (1568).

Book Review – John Morton: Adversary of Richard III and Power Behind the Tudors by Stuart Bradley

By Nathen Amin

John Morton may not be a name familiar to the casual observer of English history, but few men were as integral in establishing the Tudor Dynasty upon the English throne as this son of Dorset who rose steadily through the church ranks to become an archdeacon, bishop, archbishop, and finally in 1493, a cardinal.

In his introduction to this fascinating project ‘John Morton, Adversary of Richard III, Power Behind the Tudors’, Dr Stuart Bradley declares the subject of his biography to have been ‘a man of immense ability’ whose story deserves to be brought ‘from the obscurity where for too long he has remained hidden’, and by the end of this concise study, it is clear to the ready he has done exactly this.

Morton was born around 1420, and received his first appointment of note when he was made a Rector of Shellingford, Berkshire, in 1453. Within two years, however, this rising churchman’s career was impeded by the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses, and having pledged his support towards the Lancastrian cause, was captured by the Yorkists in 1461. Though he escaped captivity and fled into exile, by 1471 Morton was reconciled to the House of York under Edward IV, and served this king until his death in 1483.

Opposing the rise of Richard III, during whose reign he became an ‘agent provocateur and master spy’, Morton played a ‘major role in coordinating the rebellion and ongoing subversion throughout Richard’s reign and in the machinations that resulted in the accession of Henry VII’. It was thus Morton became the ‘power behind the Tudors’ as described in the book’s subtitle. One of the few men the new king had utter trust in, Morton ‘gritty doggedness’ thereafter, as Archbishop, Cardinal and Chancellor, helped establish the fledgling dynasty, refilling the royal coffers and, with pen and parchment rather than sword and shield, helping fend of repeated challenges to the Tudor ascendancy.

The book is clearly the work of an author who really understands the period he is writing about, with extensive use of source material such as chancery documents, diplomatic correspondence and chronicler accounts, with insightful analysis to bolster his argument – an unusual but appreciated inclusion is the occasional use of tables within the text to support a claim, for example on page 38 which shows a breakdown of the amount of Patent Rolls issued for each month between 1476-1485, allowing the reader to really see for themselves how the conflict of the day affected government business. Rather than just make the point, Bradley invites the reader to see just how he arrived at this deduction.  The level of research is not lacking, either; chapter 6, for example, has 123 instances of endnotes.

It was the opinion of the 17th century antiquarian George Buck that Morton was ‘a stern and haughty man, odious at court and more generally so in the country’, an ‘evil spirit transformed into an angel of light and wearing the habit of religion’; any reader will put Bradley’s work down full informed this caricature of the cardinal was not a fair statement, and does not stand up to scrutiny. As the author himself declares, ‘the arguments of Ricardian apologists are difficult to reconcile with the evidence’, and that particular king exempted, Morton was nothing other than ‘the exponent of faithful loyal service’ to the other kings he served, namely Henry VI, Edward IV and Henry VII.

I am presently unaware of any other biography of Morton, certainly not a modern publication, so Dr Bradley’s book is a welcome addition to 15th century study, bringing, as he intended, this intriguing royal servant out of the shadows. Though only 135 pages (with another 75 as an appendices), it is not long, but covers everything that is known about Morton’s life, using all surviving source material and commendably avoiding the common trap of merely padding out a biography with semi-relevant fluff that may or may not be pertinent to the study at hand. Bradley never loses sight of his subject, and the result is truly a scholarly study with a fresh angle. Morton was ‘a man whose story deserves to be told’, and here, Bradley has made a highly admirable attempt to do so.

Book Review – La Reine Blanche: Mary Tudor, A Life in Letters

By Nathen Amin

It is never easy to emerge from the considerable shadow of Henry VIII, but it’s fair to say that during her brief life, the mighty king’s younger sister Mary tried her damndest to seize at least some of the attention. Unlike Elizabeth Woodville, as recent fiction work might have you believe, Mary Tudor truly was known as the White Queen during her lifetime, referred to by the French for the colour of her mourning clothes after the death of her husband Louis XII in 1515, and it is this particular Tudor queen that author Sarah Bryson chooses to explore in her latest work ‘La Reine Blanche; Mary Tudor, a Life in Letters’.

The author notes in her introduction that the Tudor age was a period dominated by men, but there were nonetheless many strong, independent and intellectually gifted women, one of which she asserts was Mary, the youngest daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. As this book, a chronological biography, progresses, it is difficult to argue otherwise with Bryson’s opinion.

La Reine Blanche covers Mary’s life, and in fact pre-life in the case of the opening chapter exploring the origins of the Tudors, following her early life as part-princess, part-martial pawn, including a commendably detailed look at her childhood betrothal to Archduke Charles, before exploring her brief tenure as Queen of France after she was married at eighteen to the elderly Louis XII in October 1514. The union was part of a treaty between Mary’s brother Henry VIII and her new husband, but the French king only lived three more months. Mary, however, was proud of her rank as Queen of France, and in fact, Bryson tells us, she never stopped referring to herself as such, despite a subsequent marriage.

That remarriage was her controversial decision to wed Charles Brandon, her brother’s close friend and the parvenu Duke of Suffolk, shortly after King Louis’ death, behind the back of the English king to whom they were forced to beg for forgiveness after the fact. What does this impulsive act say about Mary Tudor, a renowned beauty? Bryson tells us it proves it was an “opportunity to show the strong, self-willed, determined woman she had always been”, and this is an understatement. It was a remarkable decision, followed by a fascinating period in which she was forced to beg her brother’s forgiveness through a series of letters.

It is these letters where Bryson’s book has particular worth. Too often narrative history books only carry the odd line or two of contemporary sources, and often even then it is a famous excerpt that is repeated across the board. Bryson has utilised scores of letters written to and from Mary, or involving matters relating to her, and more often than not has included them the source in full, which is refreshing in allowing the reader to formulate their own opinion on the topic in question. In short, we are treated not only to Mary’s story in Bryson’s words, but also Mary’s story in Mary’s words.

We also discover, through these letters, just how wise Mary was, conjuring up all her wiles to convince her brother to forgive her marriage to Brandon, flattering him until he submitted. Bryson is astute when she notes that Mary “was able to manipulate the men around her, to convince them of her loyalty and to gain her heart’s desire by playing the weak female. She wept, she feared for her life, she worried and played herb role perfectly, all the while manoeuvring the men to her purpose; a marriage of her own choosing”. Tudors more often than not got their way, and Mary was no different, even when the person she was up against was her own flesh and blood. How many others went against Henry VIII and lived to tell the tale?

In short, La Reine Blanche is a passionate and detailed account that is a welcome addition to the Tudor genre, in which Sarah Bryson does justice to the extraordinary life and times of Mary Tudor. Essential reading to gain a fresh perspective of the early years in the most famous royal court in English history.

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Sarah Bryson is a researcher, writer and educator who has a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education with Honours. She currently works with children with disabilities. She is passionate about Tudor history and has a deep interest in Mary Tudor, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and the reign of Henry VIII and the people of his court. She has run a website dedicated to Tudor history for many years and has written for various websites including ‘On the Tudor Trail’ and “QueenAnneBoleyn’. She has been studying primary sources to tell the story of Mary Tudor for a decade. Sarah lives in Australia, enjoys reading, writing and Tudor costume enactment.

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!

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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 – 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.

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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 – The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence

By Nathen Amin

Some may argue that the topic of Henry VIII and his six wives is a subject that has suffered oversaturation in recent decades, with innumerable works produced analysing every possible aspect of the Tudor king’s relationship with the women in his life. The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence, however, proves to be another worthy addition to the genre, taking a fresh look at an old subject as has become the author’s trademark in recent years.

Subtitled ‘The Women’s Stories’, this gives you an indication of what to expect from an author well-known for her work on the female gender of 15th and 16th century England, and this isn’t a negative thing. As with her previous, and probably future, books, this isn’t a work written by woman that is only intended to be read by women. Licence’s goal is to discuss the subject of Henry VIII and his tumultuous love life from the perspectives of his female companions, a varied and intriguing array of women whose voices have sometimes become obscured by the drama that surrounded this larger-than-life monarch. Even the most casual of observers is generally aware of Henry’s wants, needs and desires, noting how he infamously ploughed through several wives to satisfy his thirst; indeed, it has been documented time and time again.

In this particular work, however, Licence sets out, and succeeds, in her objective to bring sometime-queens such as Katherine of Aragon and Catherine Howard back to life, using contemporary sources to support her conclusions, some of which are mainstream and others which are innovative in their deduction. Where Licence’s book has worth, however, is in her thorough accounts of the lives of Henry’s lesser-known lovers, from Bessie Blount to Mary Boleyn, and from Elizabeth Carew to Jane Popincourt, women often reduced to a mere sentence or two in other works.

It soon becomes apparent that this isn’t a biography of Henry VIII, and true to her intention, the book is rather divided into sections documenting the life and times of the women, with each chapter and sub-section introduced with a contemporary quote, a nice touch. Part 1 of Six Wives covers the life of Catherine of Aragon, from her birth in 1485 to 1509, the year Henry VII died and Henry VIII became king, as well as her husband. Even so, Henry was powerful, handsome and lusty during the early years of his marriage, and Part 2 looks at Queen Catherine’s rivals in the Tudor court between 1510 and 1515, including Anne Hastings, the little-known Flemish maid Etiennette de la Baume, and the aforementioned ladies Popincourt and Carew. Etiennette, in particular, is an interesting addition as even well-read Tudor aficionados may not be aware of Henry’s French conquest, or another known mysteriously only as ‘Madame the Bastard’. Part 3, meanwhile, documents the king’s affair with Bessie Blount, the only woman with whom he had an acknowledged bastard, whilst parts 4-9 cover his remaining wives.

I particularly enjoyed the brief description of a man named William Webbe who cried vengeance against the king for Henry’s liaison with a woman described in official records as a ‘wench’, and whom he installed in a property for the purposes of adultery. I wished we knew more about Webbe, for it must have taken considerable courage to accuse the king when other men remained tight-lipped in such scenarios, out of fear no doubt.

What is evident from Licence’s study is that the women in Henry’s life were, as simply as it sounds, just that; living, breathing women, full of the same hopes and fears for their future as any woman walking the planet today. This may seem like an obvious statement, but too often in books relating to the Tudor era are the women reduced to caricatures – the proud woman, the scheming woman, the flirty woman and so on. The human mind is far more complex than this, shaped by circumstances both within and without each person’s control. Whilst we have the benefit of hindsight in knowing how their actions would shape their destiny, these women didn’t have that luxury. Licence attempts to explain those she is studying with this concept in mind, and in my opinion is successful in her endeavour.  The myth, in essence, is stripped away until we’re faced with the reality.

Amy Licence is unquestionably one of the most popular Tudor authors of her generation, a reputation created from her clear style of writing, attention to detail and refreshing takes on a well-worn subject. The blurb for The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII pointedly asks “What was it like to be Mrs Henry VIII?”. After finishing this book, you will have a much better idea. A valuable addition to the study of both Tudor and female history.

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Amy Licence is the author of several books on the Tudor dynasty and the Wars of the Roses, including In Bed With the Tudors (‘A fascinating book examining the sex lives of the Tudors in unprecedented detail’ Daily Express), Anne Neville, Elizabeth of York and The Six Wives & Many Mistresses of Henry VIII, all published by Amberley. Amy has written for the Guardian, The Times Literary Supplement and BBC History Magazine and has appeared on BBC radio and television. She lives in Canterbury with her husband and two children

Book Review – Catherine of Aragon; An Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife by Amy Licence

By Nathen Amin

I’ve said in previous book reviews for Amy Licence, that she is unquestionably the most prolific historian writing today. Her output of books in recent years is incredible, the culmination of a life’s fascination and study of the subject, and this continues with her latest offering, Catherine of Aragon, an Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife.

My first thought upon receiving the book, is that it’s MASSIVE. It’s a seriously thick book, comprising 560 pages split across 7 separate parts. Covered are Catherine’s birth and childhood in Spain, her marriage to Prince Arthur, her widowhood, her early marriage years to Henry VIII, her life as Queen of England, the downfall of her marriage and her final, tragic years. It’s fair to say, this may just be the definitive account of the life of Catherine of Aragon.

Licence’s speciality is the study of the Tudor women, as women in their own right, not as mere decorations of their husbands, fathers or brothers, and it is this expertise she applies to Catherine of Aragon, the foremost Tudor woman for the first quarter of the sixteenth century.

The author leaves no stone unturned, and covers the entirety of Queen Catherine’s life, not just her more infamous moments. Anyone with a passing interest in the Tudors will know of Catherine’s doomed marriage to Arthur, followed by her second union with his brother, Henry. This does not, and should not, define Catherine, however, and the author does a great job in examining the early life of the Spanish princess, from her birth in 1485 to her upbringing amongst the fascinating and colourful royal court of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, Europe’s renowned Catholic Monarchs. Catherine’s later devoutness and stubbornness did not come from nowhere, it was imbued in her as a product of this illustrious Spanish union.

14591841_1222548391146094_4556601838587401747_nParticularly fascinating, and crucial to Catherine’s life, is the detailed account of her 1501 wedding to Arthur, particularly the subsequent ‘did they, didn’t they?’ bedding ceremony, or ‘the most famous bedding ceremony of all time’ as Licence aptly puts it. Intriguingly, Licence offers a third, graphic, scenario as to what happened on that fateful night, a compelling theory that may just make you blush.

We are also treated to an in-depth insight into Catherine’s life in between her marriages. It is often overlooked that this span of time was eight years, that is almost a decade of character growth which is often disregarded in other books on the subject. It is these insights into the lesser-known minutiae of the queen’s life that make Licence’s book a worthwhile purchase. In fact, I’d argue it’s a necessity for anyone who wishes to study, or gain greater knowledge, of the first half of the Tudor century of rule.

As expected perhaps from the leading Tudor historian on female matters, this book is sympathetic and understanding of its subject, but that’s not to say in a biased or predisposed way. Licence comes to her conclusions about Katherine through sheer research of her character, her influences and her actions, and puts forward a compelling case of a pious and courageous woman who only sought to serve her god, and serve her husband, in the manner she thought best. This is a compassionate and positive portrayal of Catherine, but that is only because it is the least the woman deserves.

Quite simply, there doesn’t appear to be anything more said on the subject of Catherine of Aragon, that what Amy Licence has covered in her colossal biography.