Tudor Myths

By Terry Breverton

An exclusive extract from the new book ‘Everything you Wanted to Know About The Tudors But Were Afraid to Ask’ by Terry Breverton.


Tudor Myths

HENRY VIII THREW BONES OVER HIS SHOULDER. Tudor etiquette at court and in the great houses was to place one’s leftovers in a common ‘voiding bowl.’ Dogs, to which the bones were allegedly thrown, were not allowed in court.

LADY JANE GREY WAS THE ‘NINE DAYS QUEEN’. She was the de facto ‘thirteen days queen’. Edward VI died 6 July but his death was not proclaimed until 10 July, when she was announced queen. The Privy Council changed sides and announced Mary I as queen upon 19 July 1553, but Jane had been queen since 6 July, or there was a period where England had no monarch.

GREENWICH PALACE WAS IN LONDON. The palace was in Kent until 1889 when the county of London was created.

THOMAS MORE WAS A SAINT. Not to Protestants – he had forty imprisoned and another six burnt alive. In 1529 More became Lord Chancellor on the fall of Wolsey, and ruthlessly persecuted Protestants while strongly opposing the proposed relaxation of the heresy laws. In 1530 a Protestant named Thomas Hitton was burned at Maidstone. With characteristic Christian tolerance, More called him ‘the Devil’s stinking martyr’. According to Samuel Johnson, More ‘was the person of the greatest virtue these islands ever produced.’

ELIZABETH WAS THE LAST OF THE TUDOR DYNASTY. It is always reprted that there was no Tudor successor to Elizabeth I. However, Lady Catherine Grey (The Lady Herbert of Cardiff, 1540–1568) married Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford, for which she was confined by Elizabeth I to the Tower until her death. Seymour was fined the enormous sum of £15,000 for seducing a virgin of the royal blood, and Elizabeth had their sons officially declared illegitimate, although she had no authority to do so. Catherine Grey died without the legitimacy of her two sons, born in the Tower, ever being proven, but this was later established after the death of Elizabeth I. Catherine Grey being dead, her sons should have succeeded upon Elizabeth’s death. Edward Seymour was the elder of her sons born in the Tower of London, where his mother had been imprisoned for secretly marrying his father, against the wishes of the queen. His mother was already pregnant when she entered the Tower, and was given poor living conditions, apparently in the hope that she would either miscarry or die. For many years, her children Edward and Thomas were regarded as illegitimate because no proof could be produced of her legal marriage. Regardless of legal problems, by 1603 Edward Seymour, Viscount Beauchamp was the senior qualified heir of Henry VII’s will, stipulating that the elder line of Stuart, through Margaret Tudor, should be passed in favour of the younger line, through Mary Tudor, his favourite, younger, sister. Edward Seymour’s only possible rival under the will was Anne Stanley, Countess of Castlehaven (1580-1647), who would have been heir if Edward and his brother Thomas were considered illegitimate.

Lady Mary Grey (1545–1578) was like her sisters Lady Jane and then Catherine, next in line to the succession under Henry VIII’s will, as Elizabeth I was childless, but Mary was persecuted by the queen. Upon Mary Grey’s’s death, Margaret Stanley, Countess of Derby, should have been the heiress to Elizabeth. Her son Ferdinando was probably poisoned in 1594, aged 35, and would have been heir to Elizabeth, giving us a King Ferdinando I.

HENRY VIII MARRIED ANNE BOLEYN. There was a secret marriage in Dover Castle in November 1532, and another upon 25 January 1533 in secret at York Place, now Whitehall Palace. Both were bigamous, as his marriage to Catherine of Aragon was not annulled until May 1533. Thus Henry was never officially married to Anne. This is not pedantry. Eric Ives believes that there a ‘commitment’ ceremony in November, quite possibly a binding pre-contract, a watertight legal declaration of intent to marry each other. After such a ceremony had taken place, sixteenth century canon law stated that it was permissible for the couple to commence sexual intercourse with one another. Engagements were thus treated with suspicion by future brides. It was on grounds of such pre-contracts that Henry VIII’s subsequent marriages to Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard were declared invalid. With the pre-contract formally ratified in November, Henry and Anne began sleeping together, and conceived Elizabeth before wedlock.

ANNE BOLEYN COMMITTED ADULTERY. Three days before her execution on charges of adultery, Anne’s marriage to Henry was annulled and declared invalid. Thus she could not have committed adultery, or even been executed for the crime if she had never in law been married to the King.

‘BLOODY MARY’ WAS A DESERVED REPUTATION. This is Elizabethan propaganda. It should have been ascribed to the far, far more bloody reign of ‘Bloody Henry.’  The exact figure may never be known, but according to Raphael Holinshed, the English Chronicler who died in 1580, the number of executions in his 38-year reign amounted to 72,000. This is probably an exaggeration, but many thousands of the poor were executed during the reign of Henry VIII, most for what are now regarded as minor crimes such as stealing.

HENRY VIII HAD SIX WIVES. As his marriages to Catherine of Aragon, Anne of Cleves and Anne Boleyn were annulled, i.e. illegal (Anne Boleyn’s marriage being annulled just before her execution), Henry VIII technically only had three wives. The annulment of the marriage to Catherine of Aragon was on the grounds that she had already been married to his brother, although this annulment was never recognized by the Catholic Church, not his succeeding marriages, so according to the Catholic Church, Henry had one wife. Anne Boleyn was subject to an annulment on the grounds that she had allegedly seduced him with witchcraft and was incestuous and unfaithful. The marriage to Anne of Cleves was annulled as the marriage was unconsummated (and therefore was not legal) and because she had previously been engaged to someone else. The marriage to Catherine Howard was never annulled.  She had committed adultery with Thomas Culpeper, so on 22 November 1541, it was proclaimed at Hampton Court that she had ‘forfeited the honour and title of Queen’, and was from then on to be known only as the Lady Catherine Howard. Under this title she was executed for high treason three months later.

HENRY WAS LOVED AS ‘BLUFF KING HAL’. This is a far later description of the monarch.

ELIZABETH WAS UNIVERSALLY LOVED BY HER SUBJECTS. There were the Northern Rebellion (1569); the Ridolfi Plot and assassination attempts (1571); Anthony Tyrrell’s Plot (1581); the Throgmorton Plot (1583); the Somerville Plot (1583); Dr. Parry’s Plot (1548) the Babington Plot (1586); Dr. Rodrigo Lopez’ poisoning attempt (1594) and the Essex Plot (1601) among the attempts to rid her that we know of.

HENRY VII MURDERED THE PRINCES IN THE TOWER. Why announce his marriage to their sister, when in exile in Rennes, and as a claimant to the throne after their disappearance. Henry was not in the country and had no power in the realm. The conclusive proof of Richard’s murder of the princes can be seen in the Yorkist desertion of his cause when he came to the throne and in this author’s biography of Richard.

ONLY KNIGHTS WERE ALLOWED TO WEAR SWORDS. However, just as with those wearing of armour, not everyone who carried a sword was a knight. The custom, or even the right, to wear a sword varied according to time, place, and changing regulations.

ARMOURED KNIGHTS HAD TO BE HOISTED INTO THEIR SADDLES BY CRANES. Armour worn for jousts, short periods of exertion, was heavier and designed for maximum defence. However, battle armour had to be lighter and more flexible to be able to fight. Most men-at-arms would have been able to put one foot in a stirrup and mount their horse without assistance. A stool or perhaps the help of a squire would have made the process even speedier for the richer knights. Cranes are a 20th-century myth.

HENRY VII WAS A QUARTER WELSH, A QUARTER FRENCH AND HALF-ENGLISH. He was certainly a quarter British, i.e. Welsh, as the genealogies demonstrate through his paternal grandfather Owen Tudor. He was also a quarter French through Owen’s wife Catherine of Valois. Thus on the side of his father, he was a quarter British and a quarter French. His mother Margaret Beaufort was the offspring of the Beauforts and Beauchamps, French families. Many were born in France, e.g. the first Earl of Somerset at the Chateau de Beaufort in Angers in Anjou. Even Somerset’s father John of Gaunt was born in Ghent, and the Angevin and Plantagenet royal families had little English blood. In his bloodline, Henry VII was predominantly French.

PEASANTS FEARED THE BLACK DEATH. This term first appeared in 1755, according to the OED. The plague was known as the ‘Pestilence’ or the ‘Great Mortality’.

HENRY VIII, EDWARD VI AND MARY I WERE BRITISH KINGS. The English were never called British or Britons until Elizabeth’s reign, at the suggestion of Dr. John Dee, basing claims for an empire overseas upon the legends of British kings over foreign realms. The case of the Celts taking Rome under Brennius (the Welsh for king is brenhin, and brennius is its Latin equivalent) seems to have been conflated with Arthur’s expeditions across Europe. Equally the legend of Prince Madog ap Owain Gwynedd discovering America in 1170 was used to justify Northern American expansion.

CHAIN MAIL WAS ARMOUR. Defensive garments composed of interlinking rings should correctly be referred to as mail, from maille armor. The phrase ‘chain mail’ is a Victorian misunderstanding.

TUDORS WERE TINY. Henry VII was 5 feet 9 inches, but his son Henry VIII was 6 feet 2 inches, probably following his mother’s father Edward IV, who was 6 feet 4 inches. Catherine Parr was thought to be around 5 feet 10 inches. The hundred or so skeletons of crewmen recovered from the Mary Rose indicate an average height of 5 feet 7 inches to 5 feet 8 inches tall.

HENRY VIII WAS FAT. However, he only began to put on weight after being unable to play sports or hunt, from his time with Anne Boleyn. He was then 45 years old. He lived to be 55, and it was only in his last five years that he grew into obesity. Henry, however, was merely playing at obesity compared to Queen Victoria. She went from 20 inches aged eighteen (size zero) to something around 56 inches (size 38) with her ‘spilt drawers’ recently auctioned. Having nine children could not have helped. She was just under 60 inches tall, so would have been ball-shaped.

NINE OUT OF TEN PEOPLE DIED BEFORE THE AGE OF FORTY. Statistics can be meaningless, as politicians know full well. Historians believe that average life expectancy at birth was about 35 years in the 16th Century, in other words 50% of people born reached that age. However, high infant and child mortality skews these figures. If one could survive until 21, one had a good chance of living to a good age. A professor of mathematical statistics, H.O. Lancaster, researched mainly aristocratic males in Expectations of Life (1990). In 1500-1550, for 52 males who reached the age of 21, their extra years of life were 50.27, so they would die aged 71. Again, for a 100 males from 1550-1600, they could expect to live until they were 68.25 years.

THE NAME OF THE DYNASTY WAS ‘THE TUDORS’. However, it should have been the Merediths, Maredudds, Meredudds or even Bowens. Henry VII’s grandfather was known as Owain ap Meredudd, Owen Meredith and the like from his birth around 1400, through his time in France around 1421 and when granted letters of English denizenship as ‘Oweyn fitz Meredyth’ in 1432. He was known as Owen Meredith and like names during his imprisonment in Newgate in 1438. As ‘Owen ap Maredudd’ he was in the court party that went to France in 1444 to bring back the young Margaret of Anjou, the King’s new queen. The Owen or ‘Owyn’ Meredith in the royal household between at least 1444 and 1453 is almost definitely Owen Tudor. Then again, it easily could have been the Owen or Bowen (ab Owen) dynasty. Neither of Owen’s sons Edmund or Jasper is noted in the English records as the ‘son of Owen’. Like him, they are called ‘ap Meredith ap Tydier’, in 1437, whereas they should have been called ‘ab Owen ap Meredith.’

HENRY VIII WAS BEARDED. He was clean-shaven during the early years of his reign and first grew a beard only in 1519 as part of a friendly pact with François I of France. He soon shaved it off to please his wife, Catherine of Aragon, but from c.1525 sported a beard, so for only 21 years of his 55 did he have a beard.

THERE WAS A 100 YEARS WAR. Upon 19 October 1453 Bordeaux surrendered, seeing the end of 116-year war which began in 1337. Its end led indirectly to the great barons concentrating upon England and Wales, leading to the Wars of the Roses and the Tudor dynasty.


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.

Breverton’s latest releases are ‘Jasper Tudor: Dynasty Maker’ and ‘Everything You Have Ever Wanted to Know About The Tudors But Were Afraid To Ask’, both published by Amberley.