19 January 2013

The Birth of Elizabeth I

Chaste Women in a Landscape, 1480's
by Gherardo di Giovanni del Fora
Pregnancy and childbirth has been a natural and extremely important component of the lives of every human being who has ever lived. However, until relatively recent history, childbirth held a particular kind of importance, (if not terror,) especially for the woman who was to give birth. The Tudor period was exceptionally dangerous for mothers and their infants. Medical care was of little true value, and its practices ranged from futile to dangerous. For example, the practice of persistently bleeding a patient for seemingly any malady from depression to fever, caused or at least contributed to the deaths of countless people in this time frame. Superstition abounded, and pregnant women often relied on bizarre folk tales and remedies.

There can be little doubt that Anne Boleyn, like any expectant mother of her day, would have had deep concerns and perhaps fears as the days approached her expected delivery date. To add to her anxiety, Anne had a special worry. Though she seemed confident enough, and even boasted publicly, Anne might have harboured a secret fear. Would the child in her belly be a boy?

The importance of the gender of her awaited child cannot be underestimated. By time of the birth of Elizabeth, Henry had lost some of his ardent infatuation with Anne Boleyn. Finally married, new tensions and dynamics were arising in Anne and Henry's relationship. The king was now using a different tone with his queen. Worse, during the later months of Anne's pregnancy, Henry had a brief affair. It seems that much of the court knew about the affair, with some of Henry's men having actively promoted it to spite the hated new queen. Anne was openly jealous, and Henry found it very annoying. Catherine had only rarely opposed him, and Henry was unacquainted with such aggression in a queen--especially his queen. What he may have viewed as an attractive feisty edge when Anne was his sweetheart, was now viewed as shrewish behaviour coming from his wife. Anne had lost the allure of having been the unattainable sweetheart. Now, as the two settled into the daily monotony of marriage, Henry's feelings toward his new queen were changing. Expectations were changing. Henry was not young and idealistic, as he had been the first time around with Catherine, a whole lifetime ahead of him. Henry was in his 40's, and knew from experience how small the window actually was in which healthy pregnancy and childbirth were most likely. Henry knew that only a few years existed in this window, and that time was of the essence. To add to the mix, there were also endless miseries between Henry and Anne and the Lady Mary. Henry demanded that Mary show the respect due his wife, and his daughter flatly refused him. Mary was simmering with resentment toward Anne especially. Initially, Anne had made a few attempts to invite Mary to court, if she was willing to demonstrate a satisfactory level of respect due Anne as queen. 

"I know of no other Queen of England, save my mother. "
--Mary Tudor
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Mary gave her now-famous response that she knew of no other queen than her mother. Henceforth, Anne would nurse a vengeful hatred toward her stepdaughter, and the feeling was mutual.

Still, even with other problems settling into the new marriage, Anne's first pregnancy was mostly a time of elation for the couple. It seemed that love was rekindled while Anne and Henry awaited the birth of their first child. It was a time of gaiety, and happy planning. Anne was given sumptuous accommodations, and a very valuable bed was presented for her delivery. However--Henry was expecting a son. And thus, his euphoria was not simply based on Anne's pregnancy. What really mattered was that Anne would present Henry with a son. Finally having the woman he had once been deliriously in love with was not nearly enough by that point.  Anne had promised Henry during their courtship that she would be the mother of a prince, preferably princes, and not merely a "useless daughter,"as Catherine of Aragon had been. (Catherine had given birth to a baby boy; he would only live for a few weeks.)

It is perplexing as to why Anne was so certain that she would give her king sons. Almost since the inception of their relationship, Anne had carried herself with a haughtiness that is quite astonishing. Astonishing in the fact that for all the love and attention Henry showered on his sweetheart, he was still married. And most of his subjects would not forget for a second that their king was still married to their beloved queen, while carrying on an open affair with Anne Boleyn. Catherine had come to England as a rosy adorable youth, and the English people had fallen in love with the petite smiling girl. Her years as queen had only increased the love and loyalty the English people held for Catherine. Many of Henry's subjects were infuriated with his rejection of their queen, and many were surprisingly bold about their feelings. Though the king would severely punish some of those who openly opposed him, the hatred directed toward Anne took its toll on the couple. Anne had been so outspoken in her response, (perhaps hurt,) she had adopted an stunning new motto, which she displayed Christmas 1530.  Ainsi sera, groigne qui groigne translated to:  That is how it is going to be, however much people may grumble. It was a provocative slogan, and it did little to warm the people toward the new queen. The new motto and attitude was the polar opposite of Catherine's presentation of humble submission. (Of course Catherine was not always humble, nor submissive, but she did defer to Henry when and wherever possible.)  The disparity between the two queens was not lost on the English people, and it inflamed their dislike of Anne Boleyn.

Though Anne had often flaunted a proud, and sometimes outrageous attitude, motherhood was an entirely different and new frontier for her. And surely the intelligent queen must have known that simply willing her body to produce a son was not a sure way to achieve the hoped for result. And yet Anne did carry on as though she knew she carried a prince in her belly. Had she thought that following the advice and rituals of divining women would give her the desired outcome? Perhaps she believed that she would be the 'blessed' queen, and as her reward Anne would be the mother of the king's son. Even Henry's former mistress Bessie Blount was given a good degree of honour and reward for delivering a son. Henry Fitzroy was only a bastard, but he was a boy. Bessie Blount would have received no such special privileges, such as her new title as Mother of the King's Son, if she had borne a daughter.

The diviners and astrologers who visited the king and queen assured them that Anne carried a son. Whether they were sincere in their predictions, or just behaving like any other sycophant who wanted to flatter the king is impossible to say. Henry's own expensive personal physicians had also assured him that Anne carried a prince. It does seem that Henry was confidant his second queen would give him the son he had waited for all those years. Perhaps he could not abide even the thought that Anne would give him a another daughter.  A son would be a wonderful reward for the miserable years of battle with Catherine and the church, over the divorce. It would have made up for all the frustrating years of delays before Henry and Anne could be married. Yes, a boy would have made all the difference in the world as far as the king was concerned.

On 26 August Anne entered her time of confinement. On 7 September 1533 Anne's labour pains began. One attendant reported that the labour and delivery had been an extremely painful one.  But at the end of it, Anne gave birth to a healthy baby. The child with the signature Tudor red locks was born at three o'clock in the afternoon. The new royal child was said to be beautiful. But it was not the son promised by the astrologers, diviners and physicians. Anne's new baby was a girl. Henry was the father of a second daughter.

Anne was very disappointed; Henry was angry. The mood of the birthing chamber can only be imagined. Finally, the king would pay his queen and new daughter a visit. Henry commented that they were both still "young," and that "boys would follow." Actually, both comments were overly ambitious, and in time would prove to be entirely incorrect. Henry was certainly not "young," at that point. And relative to the age she lived in, Anne was no longer what could be described as youthful. Tudor lifespans were short; and a woman in her 30's was considered past the bloom of youth. The marriage had been postponed for years, and unfortunately Anne was past the optimal age for childbearing. This would be proven, for after Elizabeth's birth, Anne would never deliver a viable child again.

Though Princess Elizabeth was given a beautiful Christening, and the king did warm up to Anne again sometime after the birth, the disappointment in the birth seems to have left a permanent tear in the fabric of the relationship. Elizabeth's birth was perhaps the beginning of the end of her parent's marriage.

09 January 2013

Out Goes Anne: In Comes Jane

As human beings will reap what they sow, all too often they find themselves in the same cold place that they have caused another to exist in.

Such was the case of Anne Boleyn.

When the tide began to turn against Anne Boleyn, it must have seemed to her that only a short time had passed from that when she was the object of Henry's adoration. Anne had been the young sweetheart, full of promise, contrasting Henry's unwanted wife. Now it was Anne that stood in that unenviable position; now she was the rejected wife, desperately clinging to her husband. Anne had aged visibly in her remaining last years, and was now described by Eustace Chapuys as a "thin and old" creature. And just like Catherine, Anne had been unable to give Henry the sons she had promised him. She had borne her husband a girl, one who would one day become Gloriana*, but in those bleak days, and in Henry's eyes especially, Anne had given him a useless girl. The idea of a 'useless girl,' is most detestable. However, the Tudor monarchs viewed the birth of a daughter almost as a punishment. Pity the poor royal wife who proved unable to provide male heirs. The woman bore full blame for this failing, as though she had knowingly and willingly chosen to withhold sons from her husband.

Anne was now walking in Catherine's old shoes, and finding the experience to be most miserable. Far from her days as the Most Happy, Anne was living in a state of misery and dread. Anne had been cruel and gloating toward Queen Catherine, and had been exceptionally unkind to Mary. Still, it is difficult to withhold sympathy from Anne Boleyn, as her sufferings were so marked.

Jane Seymour was now the king's sweetheart, the fresh new damsel that Henry was basing his hopes upon. She also served as one of Anne's ladies in waiting, and Jane's daily presence must have been excruciating for Anne.

Despite Anne's previous guilt and malice toward Catherine and her daughter, it didn't stop her from reacting with uncontrolled fury when Jane Seymour began to take her place. There is the famous story that Anne had ripped a locket from Jane's neck with such force that it sliced through her own fingers. Whether that report is true or not, Jane Dormer said there were frequent outbursts of physical violence "between the queen and her maid." Shockingly, Anne had frequently struck and/or scratched Jane. If this is true, Anne had sunk to a low point, indeed. (Interestingly, her daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, often resorted to vicious physical violence when one of her ladies angered her enough.) Given Anne's well-documented propensity for aggressive arguing, and how she managed to occasionally alienate her own blood relatives, the idea that she physically battered a woman who was actively courting her own husband may not be so hard to believe.

Historically, Jane has been portrayed as a passive paragon of womanly virtue. The bare facts, however, somewhat collide with that popular view of Henry's third queen.

Jane Seymour was known as an upright sort of woman. And the lady was quite proud of her 'goodly reputation,' and pointed it out, albeit in a clever way, when she modestly refused a purse of money the king tried to give her while they were courting. At least, this is how Jane was perceived, as a good woman, before her involvement with King Henry. She did not have the propensity for arguing, nor did she possess the foul temper that Anne Boleyn was noted for. Still, it must be remembered that Jane was actively involved with a still-very-married-man. Moreover, she was likely complicit in the horrifying downfall of Anne Boleyn. Chapuys, who had never been a fan of Anne Boleyn, and would have been more objective, described Jane Seymour as being very haughty. At the very least, Jane Seymour watched with a chilling passivity as her mistress inched closer and closer to the scaffold. Soon Anne would die, dispatched by a hired Calais swordsman. Anne's body would have hardly been cold in an arrow chest when Jane took up her place as queen. Henry's new love stepped right into Anne's place with scarcely a glance behind her. It seems that as soon as Henry heard the sound of the Tower guns marking the end of Anne's life, he and Jane proceeded with their new lives together as though Anne had never existed. Little Elizabeth was all but entirely forgotten. Lady Bryant was forced to practically beg Cromwell for funds to pay for a desperately needed new wardrobe for the little girl. But now that Elizabeth was branded a bastard, as Mary had been before her, her clothing was of little importance to the king. Elizabeth was almost hidden away, apparently out of sight--out of mind. Given what we know about Henry, his callousness is hardly surprising. It is Jane, as former mistress to Anne Boleyn, and a woman, that might give one pause.

Henry's court seemed to rejoice and believe that the good old days had returned, (or at least they pretended to). Privately though, many of Henry's subjects were appalled at how quickly Anne had been erased, and by the haste of the king's  marriage to Jane Seymour.

But any hope of the golden days, if they had ever been such, was not to be realized. Though the king's new queen would conceive a child, dark clouds were looming over the kingdom. There were the ever-present political and religious problems, and of special concern was the plague. The plague was posing a horrible threat to the English people, and Queen Jane was developing a awful phobia of the dreaded sickness. Every precaution was taken but nothing seemed to calm Jane's fears of the plague.

Was it only the plague that was tormenting Jane, or was she afraid of more than that? Were the memories of her former mistress, and the manner of her cruel death haunting the new queen? Was Jane afraid of the age-old fear of dying in childbirth?

Tragically, Queen Jane's worst fears would be realised. For soon she would follow her former mistress, Anne Boleyn, to the grave.

*Elizabeth I would be called "Gloriana" by many of her subjects, as a term of endearment, respect and admiration.

08 January 2013

Mary Boleyn's Mysterious Relationship with Henry VIII

Mary Boleyn--Sister of Anne Boleyn Queen of England

I've often wondered what the relationship between Mary and Anne Boleyn was like. These were two sisters, close in age, and both seriously involved with a king, though not at the same time, (fortunately.)  For wouldn't such a tangled web create dramatic problems between two sisters!

And yet the two sisters each had shared a part of King Henry's life.  Of course Anne was Henry's queen, mother to Elizabeth I.  However, historians are not in agreement about Mary's exact relationship with Henry. She was a long term mistress. But Mary Boleyn may have been more than a mistress--she may have been mother to one, or even two of Henry's children. Were Catherine and Henry Carey the biological children of Henry VIII? Some historians believe this is unlikely; others believe the Carey children were in fact sired by the great king.  Although it is a fascinating possibility, making a true determination of the parentage of the Carey children is difficult, to say the least. There is evidence which leads to opposite answers. Elizabeth favoured the Boleyn Family in looks, though not in colouring. Anne Boleyn's daughter had the fiery red hair of the Tudors. The colouring of the Carey children could suggest Tudor blood, but like Elizabeth, they  too favoured their Boleyn ancestry. In fact, Elizabeth looked as though she could have been a full blooded sibling of the Carey children. Those had been strong genes, the traits that were carried by the Boleyn Family.

Back to Anne and Mary's relationship as sisters--they had not been close in later years. Did this have anything to do with Mary's previous involvement with the king? My thought is that this later distancing between the sisters was related to Mary's previous position as mistress to Anne's husband. That would cause at least a temporary rift between the closest of sisters, no doubt. And if Mary had borne the king's children, or child, there would be added complexities to an already delicate situation. For many different reasons, it would have been to Anne Boleyn's benefit to distance herself from Mary Boleyn and her children. A sad thing to consider, but probably one that Anne found positively necessary considering the bizarre triangle formed by herself, Mary and Henry.

 George Boleyn seems to have favoured Anne over Mary, with George and Anne very close in the years before their deaths. Perhaps George and Anne had never been close to Mary.

Mary's first husband, William Carey, was a favourite at court. He was a member of the King's Privy Chamber, an Esquire of the Body to the King. Carey was an important man at court, and a rather handsome one at that. Of course, Mary would not have chosen William, even if he had been the husband she had hoped for. The match would have been arranged between the parents of the couple.  And there seems to be evidence that the king approved, as he was in attendance at the wedding. This may be an ironic footnote, as Mary was later to become his mistress.

By the beginning of the involvement between Henry and Mary, Queen Catherine was prematurely aged, and had gained a significant amount of weight. François I cruelly famously described Catherine as "old and deformed." As well as being extremely distasteful, Francis' comments were very unfair. Catherine was ahead of Henry in age, by over half a decade, and her body had taken a beating. To add to the disparity, Catherine was old for her age, physically and emotionally. At this point in his life, Henry was the opposite, vibrantly healthy, almost supernaturally strong. Catherine had never enjoyed very good health, and over the years she had been pregnant time and again, exacerbating her frail constitution. Though perpetually pregnant, save for Mary, these all ended in disappointment. The queen tended to have miscarriages, stillbirths, or weak infants that would not survive for long.  Catherine had also endured many painful hardships. She was widowed very young, then virtually stranded in a foreign country with an uncertain future. And though Catherine was finally married to Henry who she loved dearly, he had caused her not a few heartaches. If Catherine was looking worse for the wear, it can hardly be surprising.

Though Mary was Henry's mistress for what seems to be a fairly significant period, she would never make much of an impression on the English court. Mary simply did not have the verve, charisma, the enchanting dynamic to her person that her sister, Anne would have. Mary may have been beautiful, and the likelihood is that she was. As king, and at the time a young and very handsome king, Henry would have had his pick of many beautiful women. Henry had Elizabeth Blount as his mistress, and by him she had borne Henry's son, Henry Fitzroy. Elizabeth Blount was generally regarded as a stunning beauty by the male courtiers. Not only was Blount gorgeous, she was graced with talent and charm to spare. That relationship had lasted at least four years. Given these factors, it would probably take an exceptional beauty to engage King Henry, and Mary likely fit the part. However beautiful she may have been, Mary lacked Anne's dazzling feminine mystique. In fact, it seems that once Anne made her grand début at the English court, and in Henry's heart, she would leave the memory of Mary in the dust. 

If Mary's children were in fact Henry's children, it was still not enough ,apparently, to even approach Anne's effect on Henry. And of course, Mary Boleyn was married. It is likely that Mary did not expect much from her time as mistress, and it seems she was right to assume the relationship would fade into nothingness.

Information on Mary Boleyn is rather scarce.  If you would like to read more about this elusive Tudor lady, I highly recommend two fine works for you:

  Wilkinson, Josephine: Mary Boleyn (Stroud, 2009).
Weir, Alison: Mary Boleyn (Ballantine Books, 2011).

Both books are non-fiction biographies on Mary Boleyn,  exhaustively researched, and absolutely fascinating!

William Carey--First husband of Mary Boleyn
Henry Carey--Son of Mary Boleyn
Catherine Carey--Daughter of Mary Boleyn

07 January 2013

Catherine of Aragon Dies: 7 January 1536

On this day 7 January 1536, Catherine of Aragon Queen of England would die, and pass into eternity. She was the first queen of King Henry VIII, and the mother of Queen Mary I of England. Queen Catherine was the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain.

 Even as her earthly life left her, minute by minute, Catherine was thinking of the man she still considered to be her husband. Catherine gave Henry her full forgiveness for all the agony he had inflicted on her, and prayed for him. She worried for Henry's spiritual well-being even as her death was imminent.  Henry had inflicted emotional torment on Catherine for years by the time of her death, and his treatment of the wife of his youth had shocked the world. Catherine had been separated from her only living child, Mary, for several years prior to her death. This caused the queen untold anguish.  Never having enjoyed very good health, there is little doubt that Catherine's sufferings contributed to her early death. Catherine died at Kimbolton Castle. Kimbolton was a desolate place, a cold, unhealthy habitation far from those she loved most. And those Catherine loved most had been, and would always be her husband Henry, and her adored daughter Mary.

After Catherine's death, some feared she might have been poisoned at the command of Anne Boleyn. Catherine's attendants reported that she drank a large draft of Welsh beer and had declined almost immediately after consuming the drink. Poisoning is extremely unlikely, and largely dismissed by most historians.

Catherine had been sick a long time prior to her death at Kimbolton. Initially, her last illness was not a cause for any unusual concern. Chapuys had been worried about Catherine's health, but her doctor reported that she was relatively stable.  However, on 29 December the same doctor would send Chapuys a frightening message: Catherine had relapsed and Chapuys should head for Kimbolton as soon as possible. Henry again declined a begging request from Chapuys to allow Mary to visit her mother. Upon his arrival, Chapuys would find Maria de Salinas, one of Catherine's oldest and most dearest friends, at Catherine's bedside. She had devised a method of visiting the queen. Maria de Salinas (Lady Willoughby) was determined to be with her former mistress in her time of sickness. Maria would find Catherine desperately ill. Catherine was in an extremely weak state, and had been unable to eat or drink for days. Maria provided comfort and loving care to the queen, and Catherine's health would improve somewhat, though very briefly. After a few days, Chapuys felt confident enough to set back for London.

Catherine was troubled in her mind and heart those last days. She worried and wondered aloud if she had blame in the incredible events that had followed Henry's petition for a divorce.  Were any of the miserable consequences of the huge rift her fault? Had Catherine been wrong, she wondered, to stand so steadfastly against Henry?

On 6 January, Catherine had been able to sit up, and even arranged her own hair. However, by evening Catherine was growing restless. By midnight Catherine knew she was imminently near death. She dictated a letter to Henry giving instruction on how to proceed with her goods, and asking that she be buried in the chapel of the Observant Friars.

With death approaching, Catherine prayed, asking pardon for her soul. By two o'clock in the afternoon of 7 January 1536, Catherine of Aragon had taken her last breath. She was 50 years old at the time of her death. Victoria Sackville-West


WHAT time the meanest brick and stone
Take on a beauty not their own
And past the flaw of builded wood
Shines the intention whole and good,
And all the little homes of man
Rise to a dimmer, nobler span;
When colour's absence gives escape
To the deeper spirit of the shape

--Then earth's great architecture swells
Among her mountains and her fells
Under the moon to amplitude
Massive and primitive and rude:

--Then do the clouds like silver flags
Stream out above the tattered crags,
And black and silver all the coast
Marshalls its hunched and rocky host,
And headlands striding sombrely
Buttress the land against the sea
--The darkened land, the brightening wave--
And moonlight slants through Merlin's cave.

By Victoria Sackville-West

06 January 2013

Margaret Beaufort: Mother to King Henry VII

Margaret Beaufort was a dynamic woman. A natural leader, she rather took charge of every setting she found herself in. In fact, prior to Catherine of Aragon's departure for England, Margaret sent her a bundle of written instruction to the young princess on life at the English court. It may be strange that this tutorial wasn't sent by her mother-in-law to be, Elizabeth of York.  But Margaret Beaufort Countess of Richmond functioned as Queen Mother in the court, and it was just as well for Elizabeth of York was a mere child of 12 years when she became bride of King Henry VII. Elizabeth very much needed her strong and organized mother in law. Margaret Beaufort understood Elizabeth's situation better than most, as she bore Henry VII at the shocking age of 13. Margaret would never again bear a child and it would thought that such early childbearing may have caused some permanent damage to her.

In our current age any physician would be aghast at such early motherhood; but the Tudor royal marriages were dynastic. People were certainly more fatalistic, and death in childbirth was no stranger to any family. Everyone knew someone, or was related to someone who had died in the birthing bed. It seems the fear of early childbearing, in Tudor days, was that a woman would permanently lose her figure if she bore children at such a young age.  It may be possible that Margaret did sustain some injury, since she was married a total of 4 times, and never again bore a child after her son Henry.

Margaret Beaufort was an exceptionally pious woman, and her son Henry had a great respect for her.  Margaret rose from bed at midnight to attend the Matins of the friars. She spent mornings in her chapel, and typically wore a St. Francis habit beneath her robes. Margaret kept a yearly Maundy, a practice which Catherine of Aragon would imitate. This was the old custom of royal persons washing the feet of the poor, and after this distributing a purse of money to those unfortunates.  (Anne Boleyn would also keep the practice of the Maundy. And some recipients noted that she was more generous in her distribution than had been Queen Catherine.)

For generations thereafter, Margaret Beaufort Countess of Richmond would be considered a fine example of piety, and of a new tradition of learning and study for women.

05 January 2013

Lady Jane Grey: Queen for 9 Days

Lady Jane Grey was scarcely more than a girl when she came to the throne, unwittingly, and quite unexpectedly.  When she was later accused of treason by Queen Mary Tudor, Jane explained that she truly had never desired queen-ship, and that the events which precluded her coronation were not of her own desiring.

Jane was resting in Chelsea, trying to get over a stomach flu when a daughter of Northumberland arrived to spirit her off to Syon House. And there Jane was given the shocking and unwanted news that she would be queen. This may be the stuff of many a young girls' dream, but Jane Grey really wasn't the queenly type. Lady Jane Grey was an extremely serious girl, and likely the victim of severe child abuse. Jane was a pious child, who loved to study and learn. She might have lived the duration of her life doing just that, perhaps marrying--that is marrying someone more suitable to her person than the man who she was forced to marry--and raising a family. Instead she was used by ambitious, greedy individuals, and eventually branded a traitor, and died a traitor's death.

Interestingly, the Grey girls, Jane's sisters, would be the objects of great favour by Queen Mary. Mary would later make generous gifts to them, and gave the girls coveted positions at court. Did Mary feel guilt over the death of the young Jane, or did she truly love the Grey girls, close relatives of hers?  Conversely, Queen Elizabeth despised the Grey girls and would give them no such favours. In fact, she would distance herself from Jane's sisters soon after becoming queen.

Lady Jane Grey was born around the spring of 1547, daughter of Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk and Lady Frances Brandon. Lady Jane Grey was the granddaughter of Mary Tudor, Queen of France, sister of King Henry VIII.  Jane was a tiny girl, painfully thin and very short.. She had the red Tudor hair so prominent in her bloodline.

Jane's mother, Francis, seems to have been cold and entirely lacking in affection toward her daughter. Francis was a selfish, indulgent woman, and seemed to inherit none of the grace and beauty of her mother Mary Tudor, Queen of France. Jane is thought to have suffered from abuse inflicted on her by her parents. Jane gave a nightmarish description of her home life to her tutor, Roger Ascham.

"For when I am in the presence of either Father or Mother, whether I speak, keep silence, sit, stand or go, eat, drink, be merry or sad, be sewing, playing, dancing or doing anything else, I must do it, as it were, in such weight, measure and number, even so perfectly as God made the world, or else I am so sharply taunted, so cruelly threatened, yea, presently sometimes with pinches, nips and bobs, and other ways, (for which I shall not name, for the honour I bear them), so without measure misordered, that I think myself in hell."

Tudor parents were noted for being harsh with their children, but Jane's complaint was so chilling that Ascham felt disturbed for his pupil, who he regarded as an exceptional child, brilliant and of kindly character. Frances did not enjoy a good reputation amongst her contemporaries.  Francis' father, Charles Brandon, was infamous in his day, considered quite the libertine, and was likely a bigamist. Some feel that Francis' reputation was unfairly slandered by her enemies, which were not a few. However, and given Jane's chilling description of her life with her parents, it does suggest that Francis may have well deserved her reputation.

Once Jane was informed of her imminent duty, events would follow at dizzying speed. From Syon House Jane was taken to the Tower of London to live as queen. For this, her mother Francis carried her train and fawned over her daughter. People were gathering to watch.  Between the strange events and her mother's sudden over-affection, Jane must have felt the whole spectacle to be surreal. Jane, already married, rather unhappily, had her husband Guildford Dudley walking alongside her. Sadly, and though it would have been a comfort for a girl who found no soft place in her own mother, she also did not get on well with her in-laws. Within the two families, there was a mix of euphoria, then frustration, then euphoria again when it seemed Jane would accept the crown. When Jane had demurred, Guildford and his mother had thrown tantrums. But Jane would finally do as she was told.  But Mary did not take this move passively. She lay in wait, and organised an army to strike at the opportune moment. Mary had never, not for a second, accepted Jane as queen, and had rejected this as soon as it had been reported to her. Her response was that she was queen, and if her subjects were loyal, Mary warned, they had better align themselves with her.

The people, for the most part, were solidly with Mary on who should be crowned. Mary was exceedingly careful to give no indication of what her plans were for the Protestants in those all-important and uncertain days. The English people in their honest loyalism believed that Mary, as Henry VIII's next remaining heir, should naturally succeed  Her subjects had no idea of the horror and anguish which awaited them under the reign of Queen Mary Tudor.

Jane was eating in the Tower when the duke of Suffolk swept in to inform his daughter she was no longer queen. Jane's colours were removed, and with Mary's accession, Jane was left entirely in the cold.  Mary ordered Jane's house to be emptied and inventoried.  The Greys and Dudleys were likely left in a state of thick dread, knowing that their actions would almost certainly have severe consequence under the new queen. And they would, with the guilty and the innocent brought on charges of high treason.

Jane's mother Frances, was understandably panicked and begged to speak with Mary as soon as possible. What is less understandable, is that Frances wished to beg for mercy only for herself and her husband. Jane was now Mary's prisoner, but Francis, never having had a maternal bone in her body, did not surprise, and now wholly abandoned her daughter. Mary flatly refused to grant the duchess an audience. No soft touch, even a hint of treason was something Mary Tudor would never abide. Frances now began a letter writing campaign, pleading with those who had access to the queen to spare herself and her husband. Frances would be spared; Jane Grey would not.

Jane and her husband, Lord Guildford Dudley were both charged with high treason.  Jane, having been found guilty of signing documents as "Jane the Queen," received a sentence which read that she would "be burned alive on Tower Hill or beheaded as the queen pleases." Though Renard urged Mary to have Jane executed, Queen Mary said she would not, that she would spare the young girl.  But Mary was demonstrating herself to be as arbitrary as her father had been, and even more capable than he had been at instilling terror in her subjects. After the Wyatt rebellion, Mary decided that she had been far too kind to those she regarded as traitors and rebels. Over 100 of those who had participated in the Wyatt rebellion were beheaded.  Some of the convicted men had appealed to Mary for mercy. Without exception, she refused to pardon them. However, her council, worried about her public image, managed to convince Mary to make a public show of mercy so as to appear more benevolent. About 400 prisoners who had not been prosecuted for treason were directed to to the courtyard of Whitehall. Mary appeared at the balcony and  pardoned the prisoners.  Lady Jane would not be amongst the lucky who were given pardons.

Mary decided to go back on her own word, and have Lady Jane and her father executed.  On 12 February 1554, Jane's husband Guildford was taken from the Tower to Tower Green and beheaded. Jane screamed out Guildford's name from her rooms when she saw his corpse as it was carried on a horse and cart below. Now would come Jane's turn and she was escorted to Tower Green. After climbing unto he scaffold she gave her death speech.  Then the young girl recited Psalm 51, handing her gloves and kerchief to her maid. She blindfolded herself, after which she could not find the fearful block and cried out "Where is it?  What shall I do?"  A deputy guided her to the block, and then Jane commended her spirit to her Lord Jesus Christ. And so was Lady Jane Grey dispatched into eternity, into a far better world, I trust, than she had known in her earthly life.

Jane had been queen from 10 July 1553-19 July 1553.

04 January 2013

Earl Of Surrey: "A Night Discharged of All Care"

The Earl of Surrey seemed to have a particularly accurate understanding of his fellow man, and what it is that ails us all. Before this brave man was executed, another victim of Henry VIII's paranoiac rule, he penned a heart breaking and utterly poignant poem.  Listen to his brilliant summation of mankind:

02 January 2013

Lady Salisbury: Unjustly Put to Death

I hesitate to use the word execution for the manner of Lady Salisbury's death. For that word implies some sort of orderly judgement, some semblance of procedure, implies guilt, perhaps.  But none of these terms can ever be applied to the shameful and cruel death of Countess Margaret Pole.

Margaret Pole The Blessed, was one of the last remaining Plantagenets. Born on 14 August, 1473, she was the daughter of George of Clarence, who was brother to King Edward IV and King Richard III.

Lady Salisbury was known as a gentle, serious woman.  She was studious, known for her pious character.  Lady Salisbury had a delicate, long face, very much reminiscent of her Plantagenent roots.

The countess played a very important role in the life of Princess Mary Tudor, and served first as her godmother for her christening, and then as Governess of the Household for Catherine of Aragon's home. Her son Reginald would be a close friend of Mary's throughout her life.  Amazingly, Reginald and Mary would eventually die only 12  hours apart.

King Henry VIII had long since developed a severe case of paranoia for anyone who had royal blood and claims to his throne. He and the Duke of Buckingham were at heated odds until Henry found it necessary to have Buckingham put to death. Buckingham was quite arrogant and refused to be a flattering courtier to the king, feeling instead that he should be king, as a descendant of Edward III. Buckingham had carried himself like the king he felt he should be, and dressed himself magnificently. Wise courtiers knew that to outshine their monarch was a decidedly dangerous thing to do. Not only did the Duke of Buckingham walk around like a proud peacock; he also dared to verbalise his resentments, and loudly.  In a court filled with spies and overly ambitious courtiers, Buckingham might as well have signed his own death warrant. Predictably, Buckingham was arrested and taken to the Tower in April 1521, executed a mere month later.  After Buckingham came tumbling down, the Pole family would also feel the king's wrath. Lady Salisbury was promptly demoted from her position as Governess to Princess Mary. Her son, Lord Montague was sent to the tower. Arthur Pole was booted from court, and it was made quite clear to Reginald Pole, who was in Venice, that he was equally unwelcome at court. It was not enough to incarcerate, or kick the Poles out into the cold.  The arbitrary Henry wanted any threat to his throne done away with. And because the king could not be satisfied until even the possibility of a Plantagenet claim to his throne was removed, worse was still to come.

After all the years of trouble for the Pole family, Lady Salisbury was still holding on, even as she spent the last two years of her life in the Tower. Suddenly Henry issued a stunning order; the tower was to be cleaned of prisoners of state. At the same time he issued the order for execution of the countess. That the king could issue such an order for this particular woman was evidence of how hardened Henry's heart had become. It was a depraved act against a lady who had been like family to his own, who had lovingly cared for his wife and daughter throughout the years. She was his daughter's very own godmother.   On 27 May 1541, the gentle lady was told she must die. Lady Salisbury was nearly seventy years old and was about to endure a shameful, and agonizing death.  Chapuys would report the bloody scene with horror; a completely inexperienced youth had been hired to wield the axe! A successful decapitation, if such gruesome fate can be called such, required a strong, experienced executioner. A mere child with no such macabre work history would never be able to adequately and quickly dispatch the condemned, and one must wonder who hired the unfortunate youth for the job.

There would be no clean decapitation; the helpless lady would be butchered to death.

The death of Lady Salisbury was almost immediately considered to be that of a martyr, and would come to be known as one of the blackest blots on the reign of King Henry VIII.

George Boleyn: Viscount Rochford

George Boleyn had shared a very close relationship with his sister Anne. The two siblings had always been close, and eventually excluded their sister Mary.  But what might have then been a painful estrangement for Mary would later save her very life.

The infamous character of George Boleyn, popularized in modern media is likely exaggerated. George was probably not the vicious misogynist of the series, The Tudors, portrayed by the handsome Padraic Delaney. However, George was known in his days as an inveterate womaniser, and he didgive some indication of youthful riotous living in his poignant scaffold farewell speech.  But he probably was not the nasty creature who used woman and brutally mistreated his wife, as he is commonly portrayed. 

In reality, it is most likely his wife, the villainous Lady Rochford who deserves such notoriety.

To be certain, Lord Rochford and his Lady had no love lost between them. It was a most unhappy marriage. Lady Rochford would demonstrate her depth of hatred for her husband when she made a monstrous accusation against him to Cromwell. The lady's horrific complaints against George may have been encouraged, prompted, or even created by the increasing anti-Boleyn faction at court. But in any case, Lady Rochford stood on her incredible claims, and did not back away from them full knowing that her testimony would likely cost George his life.

The icy Lady Rochford would have her own date on Tower Greene in a few short years. It is likely that she would then recall her own unjustly put to death spouse, with more than a little anguish.

A birthdate for George Boleyn is difficult to determine as most historians are not entirely in agreement as to the actual birth order of Anne, George and Mary.  George may have been born around 1500, possibly as late as 1504. George Boleyn was likely born and raised at Blickling Hall, the otherworldly beautiful mansion which is just short of two miles north west of Aylsham. Blickling Hall is a place of fairy tale beauty, surrounded by lush green woodlands, and old garden parks. It can be imagined that George, Anne and Mary spent many happy moments of childhood in such dreamy surroundings. This halcyon setting couldn't have given the Boleyn family an inkling of the tragedy which lay in wait for all of them, save Mary. Though Mary died not die with Anne and George, she had to have been deeply affected by the brutal end of her brother and sister. They had not been close those last years, but she likely loved her siblings dearly.

 Two other sons had been born to Thomas and Elizabeth Boleyn,  Henry and Thomas. In fact, Elizabeth Boleyn was rather fertile. Her husband once commented, (or complained,) that his wife brought him every year a new child. But George was the only male child to reach maturity. The Boleyns were likely very proud of their only son. Interestingly, Thomas was not one to teach his daughters to speak only when spoken to, and take a quiet back seat to men as many fathers instructed daughters in Tudor times. Of course, his ambitions for his daughters were not entirely honourable and it seems he rather used them for his own personal promotion.

It is hard to imagine what George Boleyn may have looked like, as so little remains in terms of portraiture of the Boleyn family. By the end her life there was such hatred for Anne Boleyn, (or fear,)  that nearly every image of her had been destroyed. Given Anne's dark features, it is possible that George also had Anne's shining black hair and flashing dark eyes. Or he may have been fair complexioned with light eyes, as Mary is assumed to be. But these are only assumptions, and save for Anne, of which precious little imagery remains, it is difficult to determine how George and Mary Boleyn may have looked. (Given Mary's long term position as King Henry's mistress, and possible mother to one or two of his children, it is probable that she was anything from fairly attractive to beautiful, whether olive coloured or blonde.)  George's popularity with the ladies could indicate he wasn't hard on female Tudor eyes.  Perhaps his allure rested in the fact that he became very powerful at court when his sister was queen, as women have always been attracted to prestige and power. But given contemporary descriptions, (excepting a few of those of her detractors,) of Anne as very attractive, and the fact that Mary had a lengthy tenure as the mistress of the king, it may be assumed that the Boleyn girls were beauties increasing the likelihood that George was also a handsome man.

Much like Anne's, George's fall was meteoric. At one time George was one of the king's close confidants, and when Anne would reduce the huge king to tears, he often resorted to asking George to intervene with his sister, or Thomas to talk some sense to his daughter. It must have been a harrowing sensation when George first began to realise that the tables were turning against the Boleyn faction. As brother-in-law to the king, George had enjoyed incredible fortune and prestige. And he struggled mightily to hold onto his gain, as did his father Thomas, until it became obvious that all had been lost. For even as Jane Seymour was visibly eclipsing his sister, Lord Rochford tried to give every indication that all was well with the Boleyns. He was likely hoping against hope for a positive turn in their fortune. George was likely under intense pressure, trying to be a supportive brother to his miserable sister, and also dutifully following his demanding father's instructions.

On 18 April, Chapuys arrived at court and Rochford greeted him with such saccharine friendliness as to be off-putting to Chapuys. There had long existed a relationship of mutual loathing between the sharp Spaniard and the Boleyns. So the sudden magnanimous display on the part of Anne's brother and father was telling. Chapuys was acutely aware that something was amiss in the English court. And there was. George was living under threats that were following the Boleyn family, and these were growing more menacing by the day.

And soon enough Lord Rochford would find himself tottering at the edge of destruction, accused of some of most vile of offences.