If you follow me on Instagram or my page on Facebook you would have seen my news a couple of weeks ago that I have signed a contract with Pen and Sword books for my second book, which is incredibly exciting!
As many guessed from the above image, my second book will look at executing the Tudor nobility which is something that I’ve been researching and thinking about for a while so it’s particularly exciting to write about something that I’ve been researching for so long and, of course, it will include a chapter on my favourite Tudor figure – Anne Boleyn. Others will include Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, and Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, along with many others.
My first book, Elizabeth Rebellions: Conspiracy, Intrigue and Treason is currently with the editor, and we are aiming for a January 2023 release. I have also today received a proof for the jacket cover, which is so strange, to see my own name on a book cover! It still feels quite surreal to be honest; I’m quite nervous to see what people think of it, but I really hope it goes down well because I’m so proud of the work that’s gone into it.
Big thanks once again to my friends and family who have been so supportive during this process and continue to amaze me with their support and encouragement. I couldn’t be writing without them.
I’ve been so busy recently it’s taken me a while to get round to putting this up on my blog – back in November when I was in London, as well as going to the Tower of London, Natural History Museum, and on a Jack the Ripper walking tour I, of course, had to find time to visit the British Library to see their exhibition on Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. This was just perfect timing, given that I was writing my first book on Elizabethan Rebellions which Mary was a huge part of.
There was so much to see and take in during the exhibition: portraits, books, letters, papal bulls, and jewellery. It was a real insight into the minds of these women and how they were trying to negotiate the murky political waters of the sixteenth century. Here I’m going to talk about just a couple of things in the exhibition which made a huge impact on me.
The first is the letter from the Privy Council agreeing to the execution of Mary Queen of Scots. The original warrant long ago went missing, so this is the closest thing that we have. To see the signatures of William Cecil, Henry Carey Lord Hunsdon, Francis Knollys, and Charles Howard demonstrates just how willing these men were to go over and above their Queen and threaten the very idea of divine right in order to safeguard Elizabeth I’s throne. Mary was just too dangerous to be allowed to live and Elizabeth wouldn’t be safe while she did.
The second was the Babington ‘gallows’ letter which Mary Queen of Scots sent to Anthony Babington in 1586 during the Babington Plot and which led directly to her own execution the following year. The original was written in code and then burnt by Babington once he’d read it. This is a copy made by Walsingham’s codebreaker, Thomas Phelippes. When Phelippes realised that the letter incriminated Mary Queen of Scots in treason he drew a gallows on his copy before sending it onto Walsingham as evidence, hence the name ‘gallows letter’.
The final two things I’m going to talk about, I’m going to do together as they are related to one of my favourite Tudor people – Anne Boleyn. The exhibition included the written announcement of the birth of Elizabeth I in 1533 which was amazing to see, and the famous Chequers ring, which has portraits of Elizabeth I and, allegedly, Anne Boleyn, though this has never been conclusively proven. It seems likely, however, as Elizabeth wore it and never took it off until her death. It’s a stunning piece, smaller than I had imagined but absolutely beautiful. It links the two women together and helps us to consider what Elizabeth might have thought about her mother, who had been executed by her father when she was just 2 years old.
If you want to catch the exhibition before it closes, it is on at the British Library for another week, until 20th February 2022, or you can do a digital tour online.
I really enjoyed reading this book. Reading it as part of my research for my own book puts a different perspective on it, I’m realising. I focus more on the sections that I myself am writing about rather than the overall work. But Williams writes really clearly and concisely and it’s easy to get pulled into the narrative she’s telling. There are plenty of primary sources discussed throughout, which gives an insider view on what people were thinking and feeling at the time.
The title perhaps is a bit misleading as it suggests that Mary Queen of Scots’s downfall was due entirely to Elizabeth, but that simply wasn’t the case. There were a lot of circumstances that combined to cause Mary’s downfall and execution, not least her own desperation and stupidity. The book does discuss Mary’s mistakes and how she created her own mess.
However, the book as a whole was very cohesive and explored the deep and complicated relationship between the two female monarchs, Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots, which lasted across decades although the two never met in person. It is an intriguing and at times convoluted relationship which does require a lot of explanation at points, especially regarding the rebellions which surrounded Mary and impacted Elizabeth greatly. This does get confusing at points, and I did have to go back reread to make sure I understood what was going on.
Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots come across as women in their own right, not just as queens, who had their own wants, hopes, dreams, thoughts, and feelings. Sometimes historical biographies can treat their subjects as objects rather than living people (or dead people now, but who were living and real, to be more precise). Kate Williams didn’t fall into that trap with her retelling of the relationship between the two.
The book is thoroughly well-researched and cited, and I must thank Kate for her excellent research which has pointed me to several other sources which I can use myself. One of the best and most interesting books about the tumultuous relationship between Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots you’ll ever read.
I was sent a very interesting article this morning which I thought I’d share with you all.
It is about a Tudor warrant book in the National Archives, “but this one has an extraordinary passage, overlooked until now, which bears instructions from Henry VIII explaining precisely how he wanted his second wife, Anne Boleyn, to be executed.”
The warrant book reveals that Henry VIII planned Anne’s execution down to the last detail, even choosing the exact spot where she would die, but this instruction at least wasn’t followed as Anne wasn’t executed on Tower Green as Henry instructed, but actually opposite the Waterloo Barracks.
Most historians believe that the charges against Anne Boleyn were false, and she was executed simply for failing to give Henry VIII a son and heir, which he so desperately wanted.
The article also reveals that there is an upcoming series with Tracy Borman on The Fall of Anne Boleyn, due to be broadcast on Channel 5 in the UK in December, where the warrant book will be discussed in more detail.
In the Tudor world, the month of May tends to be seen as Anne Boleyn month where the internet (and me, I have to admit!) goes a bit bananas over Henry VIII’s second wife. Of course, she was executed on the 19th of the month in 1536 on what is now generally accepted as fabricated charges of adultery, incest and treason. Those hellish weeks were immortalised in verse by Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger:
“These bloody days have broken my heart.
My lust, my youth did them depart,
And blind desire of estate.
Who hastes to climb seeks to revert.
Of truth, circa Regna tonat.”
Thomas Wyatt, ‘Circa Regna Tonat’
Those chilling last words translate from the Latin to “thunder rolls around the throne” – well it certainly did when Henry VIII was sitting on the throne.
But what else happened in May in England in the Tudor period?
3rd May 1544 – Thomas Wriothesley was made Lord Chancellor of England
4th May 1547 – Katherine Parr married her fourth husband, Thomas Seymour
6th May 1541 – Henry VIII ordered a new Bible placed in every church
8th May 1559 – Elizabeth I assented to new Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity
9th May 1509 – Henry VII’s body was taken to St Paul’s Cathedral from his place of death at Richmond Palace
10th May 1533 – The Dunstable enquiry opened under Archbishop Cranmer which resulted in the annulment of Henry VIII’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon
11th May 1500 – Birth of Reginald Pole, later Archbishop of Canterbury under Mary I
13th May 1516 – Henry VIII’s sister, Mary Tudor, married Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk at Greenwich Palace
15th May 1567 – Mary Queen of Scots married James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell
16th May 1532 – Thomas More resigned as Lord Chancellor of England
17th May 1521 – Execution of Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, for treason
19th May 1499 – Katherine of Aragon was married by proxy to Prince Arthur, elder brother of Henry VIII
19th May 1554 – Mary I released Princess Elizabeth from imprisonment in the Tower of London
25th May 1553 – Jane Grey married Guildford Dudley
26th May 1520 – Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon met the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at Dover
27th May 1541 – Execution of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, for treason
29th May 1543 – Katherine Parr’s ‘Prayers’ or ‘Meditations’ was published
30th May 1529 – The court at Blackfriars opened to try the marriage of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon
30th May 1536 – Henry VIII married Jane Seymour
So why Anne Boleyn?
With all these other events happening in May, why the focus on Anne Boleyn? Possibly because her fall was so spectacular and her execution so unexpected. Never before had an English queen been executed, and there was so much controversy surrounding the charges and the men accused with her. I mean, incest? And not just adultery with one man, but five, one her own brother? Unparalleled and shocking and still so many unanswered questions which draw historians back to her time after time, year after year.
Fascination with the unanswered and inherently shocking will never go away, no matter how old the mystery, and this one is now 484 years old.
Other posts which discuss Anne Boleyn
Undergraduate Dissertation Chapter – Why Did Anne Boleyn Fall from Power?
Although we shouldn’t look at the 16th century through 21st century eyes, people today still seem to be able to connect with Anne Boleyn because many of her decisions, emotions and feelings we can still sympathise and empathise with today. Many of things that she went through still happen today, though on a much smaller and less deadly scale. The idea that she shaped her own destiny is not one we often associate with Medieval and Early Modern women; the idea still prevails that women were at the mercy of their men folk – their fathers, brothers or husbands. Anne Boleyn demonstrates that not all women fell into that mould, some stepped out and made their own futures. Continue reading “In Memory of Anne Boleyn”→
This book describes a selection of people caught up in the turmoil that presaged the reformation – a period of change instigated by a king whose desire for a legitimate son was to brutally sweep aside an entire way of life. The most famous and influential of the victims were the two people closest to Henry VIII. His mentor, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, a great churchman and a diplomat of consummate skill. The other was to be the King’s second wife, Anne Boleyn. These two adversaries, equally determined to succeed, had risen above the usual expectations of their time. Wolsey, of humble birth, became a price of the church, enjoying his position to the full, before coming into conflict with a woman who had no intention of being another passing fancy for the king. She would become the mother of one of the greatest and most famous of England’s monarchs. They were brought down by the factions surrounding them and the selfish indifference of the man they thought they could trust. Though they succumbed to the forces aligned against them, their courage and achievements are remembered, and their places in history assured. [Description from Pen & Sword]
Thanks to Pen and Sword Books for the chance to read this in exchange for an honest review.
This book doesn’t really cover the victims of the Reformation, so much as it focuses on the lives of two of them: Thomas Wolsey and Anne Boleyn, so it only really covers up to 1536, which is really when the Reformation picked up pace. This means that there is nothing really about Katherine Parr, Anne Askew or the Pilgrimage of Grace, two key figure and one key event in the history of the Reformation, and it doesn’t go into the reign of Edward IV or Elizabeth I, or the counter-Reformation under Mary I, so the title is a little misleading.
There were also a few errors. For example, the Duke of Buckingham executed in 1521 was at a few points referred to as George Stafford, when he was actually called Edward. At one point it was also claimed that Henry VIII acceded to the throne in 1501 when he actually came to the throne in 1509. A good proof-reader would have caught and resolved these problems. They don’t, however, detract from the good tone and writing of the book in general.
I didn’t like that there were no chapter titles, as if you are looking for a particular year, especially when the book is written chronologically as this one is, it should be easy to find a particular period of time. The chapters also don’t always seem to finish where it feels natural that they should. The index is incomplete – for example the pages listed about Anne Boleyn don’t include when she was elevated to the peerage, or about her imprisonment and trial. Continue reading “Book Review – ‘Tudor Victims of the Reformation’ by Lynda Telford”→
Anne Boleyn was arrested on 2 May 1536 and sent to the Tower of London, accused of adultery, incest and treason. She was tried and found guilty of all charges against her on 15 May 1536 with the sentence pronounced as burning or beheading at the king’s pleasure.
Anne’s so-called lovers were executed on 17 May – Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris, William Brereton, Francis Weston and her brother, George Boleyn. All had been found guilty of adultery with Anne. Richard Page and Thomas Wyatt were arrested but never charged with anything. They were released after the executions.
It is generally accepted that Anne Boleyn wasn’t guilty of the charges against her. Perhaps she had been a little reckless in her speech, and a little too flirtatious, but that doesn’t automatically convert to adultery. From what I have read, the only historian who thinks it possible that Anne was in fact guilty was G.W. Bernard, though I personally don’t buy his arguments.
Anne was beheaded on Tower Green within the Tower of London on 19 May 1536 by the swordsman of Calais, rather than the more cumbersome English axe, and was buried in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula within the Tower grounds. There is a memorial slab commemorating her place of burial there today.
Paul Friedmann, Anne Boleyn (1884)
Eric Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn (1986)
Retha Warnicke, The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn (1989)
Alison Weir, The Lady in the Tower: the Fall of Anne Boleyn (2009)