Friday, 20 December 2019

A Tudor Christmas

If we were to travel back in time to any Christmas during the Tudor period, we’d recognise a few of the traditions but there were others that would certainly surprise us. Religion of course played a huge part in all aspects of Tudor life and at Christmas time fasting and mass took precedence over gift-giving and carousing. 
Alonso Sánchez Coello [Public domain]
Christmas was a time of prayer and feast; the spinning wheel which occupied a corner of most homes, sat idle until the first Monday after epiphany (Plough Monday) when work would be resumed. While we adorn a tree, they decorated the spinning wheel with evergreen boughs, holly and ivy, a remnant of a ritual from pagan times.

medieval singers mary evans picture library

Another tradition that preceded Christianity was the Wassail in which a wooden bowl containing hot ale, spiced apple, sugar and other spices, was carried from door-to-door. Neighbours were invited to drink in exchange for a coin. For the more formal Wassail held at court, a bowl was passed around by royal stewards, the king being served last. 

So now is come our joyful'st feast,
Let every man be jolly.
Each room with ivy leaves is drest,
And every post with holly.
Though some churls at our mirth repine,
Round your foreheads garlands twine,
Drown sorrow in a cup of wine,
And let us all be merry.
George Wither (1588-1667)

The yule log, a huge trunk or bundle of faggots (depending on the size of one’s hearth) was brought in from the forest. It was burned for the entire twelve days of the Christmas celebration, and it was considered lucky to keep charred remnants to start off next year’s yule fire. Aspects of this tradition are still in use today, although our log tends to consist of cake and chocolate and icing sugar.

As part of the festivities in royal houses, a boy or a fool would be ‘crowned’ the Lord of Misrule. Under his command normal order was overturned and the fool became king, and vice versa. 
For the entertainment of the court, the Lord of Misrule could command anybody to do anything. It was a time of total chaos and one that escapes my usually fertile imagination, for I cannot imagine Henry VIII allowing anyone to make a public mockery of him, let alone a fool … but apparently, he did.

In Survey of London, published in the first year of James I rule, John Stow says:
In the feaste of Christmas, there was in the kinges house, wheresoeuer hee was lodged, a Lord of Misrule, or Maister of merry disports, and the like had yee in the house of euery noble man, of honor, or good worshippe, were he spirituall or temporall. Amongst the which the Mayor of London, and eyther of the shiriffes had their seuerall Lordes of Misrule, euer contending without quarrell or offence, who should make the rarest pastimes to delight the Beholders. 

In 1525 Henry VIII appointed not only a Lord of Misrule for his own household but also one for Princess Mary’s – the ensuing chaos must have been considerable and we know from records that things often got out of hand. There was even an ecclesiastic version of misrule when boy bishops were elected, often known as ‘Fool Bishop’ or ‘Fool Abbot’. John Southworth says in his book Fools and Jesters at the English Court:

‘What followed over the next few days is commonly described as burlesque, a turning upside down of the normal liturgy; it is more accurately seen and understood as the literal acting out of the Magnificat, in which the ‘nobodies’ among the clergy, as represented by the fool and his assistants, were exulted as a salutary foretaste and prophetic anticipation of the Last Judgement.’ (Southworth: p.70)
By Elizabeth’s reign, presumably having run out of ideas for inventive mischief, the practice had almost died out. 

Feast of Fools

All this unbridled excitement clearly gave the Tudors an appetite, for the Christmas menu seems more outrageous (to us) than their behaviour.

Poorer folk feasted on umble pie – pastry filled with the chopped and minced heart, liver, lungs and kidneys of a deer, but the affluent gorged on richer fare. Along with the traditional Christmas dishes of swan, peacock and dolphin (yes, I know) Henry VIII was the first monarch to introduce turkey to the royal table, but there were other … stranger things.

Christmas pie – sounds yummy – was rather like a Russian doll but with poultry, and consisted of a turkey stuffed with a goose, stuffed with a chicken, stuffed with a partridge, stuffed with a pigeon. This pie was served in a pastry case, surrounded by joints of hare, small game and wild fowl. May not be as yummy as it sounds then – I think I will be sticking with my nut roast this year.

And if that sounds weird, Cockenthrice was weirder still. Most of us have seen the grotesques in the margins of medieval manuscripts, strange half-beasts comprised of different animals – a rabbit with a man’s head or a lion with a dragon’s head, or a snail with the head of a cat. Well, it didn’t stop at the drawing stage. The Tudor table benefitted from dishes that were constructed in a similar inventive manner. Cockenthrice was comprised of a sucking pig, sewn to the back end of a goose (or something similar) – there are some gruesome pictures on-line - google it, I dare you!

Mince (or minst) pies might sound familiar but these were not made by Mr Kipling (other pies are available) and consisted largely of prunes, raisins, dates, powdered beef, butter, egg yolk, flour, suet or marrow, and minced mutton and seasoned with salt, pepper and saffron – these thirteen ingredients represented Christ and the apostles, all baked in a pie crust shaped like a manger to symbolise the holy birth.

Like the Christmases of today, everyone celebrated differently. Our Christmas has merged with winter celebrations of other religions, and new ideas and traditions have evolved but the Tudor Christmas is still detectable. While the Tudors brought in greenery to decorate their homes, modern homes are largely in tinsel and plastic and lights that can be seen from space. Tudors fasted until Christmas day, Christmas Eve being especially strict with no meat, cheese or eggs. This meant that come Christmas Day everyone was ready to gorge themselves and records show that royal households consumed as many as twenty four courses! Although we don’t tend to go that far today, lots of us diet desperately to fit into a little black dress and then blow it all by over eating on the big day! 

Now, as it was then, Christmas remains a time to be spent with family and friends, and however you spend yours, traditional or otherwise, celebrating with loved ones or working, make sure it is a good one, and after you’ve toasted the queen, don’t forget to raise a glass to the Tudors.

All of Judith Arnopp's books are available in Paperback, Kindle and some are on Audible. For more information click here:

The Heretic Wind: the story of Mary Tudor, Queen of England is available for Pre-order NOW!

Tomorrow is Tim Hodkinson's turn - click here to go to his blog.

Sunday, 17 November 2019

The death of Mary Tudor

Mary Tudor - Wikimediacommons

In November 1558 Mary Tudor died at St James’ Palace at the age of 42. By the standards of today, that is a horribly young age to die but Mary had suffered a hard life and was prematurely aged, and very sick.

Everyone is guilty of something. In most cases we are remembered for our good deeds, our happiest days, and our kindest actions but Mary, as with her father, Henry VIII, is only remembered for cruelty.

Personally, I think it would be awful if at my funeral people only spoke of my sins and overlooked my goodness (and there have been one or two occasions when I’ve been kind). The burning of heretics sounds dreadful to us because we live in a (ahem) tolerant society but in the 16th century burning was the standard punishment for heresy. Mary didn’t dream up the idea for the satisfaction of her monstrous soul.

While I am in no way seeking to excuse or white-wash her actions, I think she deserves a fuller picture. When you take into account the tragic childhood, her adult disappointments, her frustration then it is easier to understand her. There was much more to her than cruelty.

There are many recorded instances in which she was kind and generous, and I think she was terribly well-meaning. She adored her subjects and envisioned leading her people to salvation but things didn’t turn out as she intended. Her reign was far from benign.
Coming soon

While researching for The Heretic Wind I discovered Mary Tudor to be a sad, isolated and desperate woman whose intention was to be a good and loving Queen. The fact things turned out rather differently were mostly due to exterior forces. Her conviction that the Catholic faith was the only faith is difficult for us to understand but we don’t have to look very far to find other religious zealots. It doesn’t begin or end with Mary.

 In The Heretic Wind, the mortally sick and embittered Mary looks back on her life and explains to some extent, the reasons why events unfolded as they did.

Rest in Peace, Mary.

Short blurb of The Heretic Wind – Coming soon!

Adored by her parents and pampered by the court, the infant Princess Mary’s life changes suddenly and drastically when her father’s eye is taken by the enigmatic Anne Boleyn.

Mary stands firm against her father’s determination to destroy both her mother’s reputation, and the Catholic church. It is a battle that will last throughout both her father’s and her brother’s reign, until, she is almost broken by persecution. When King Edward falls ill and dies Mary expects to be crowned queen.

But she has reckoned without John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland, who before Mary can act, usurps her crown and places it on the head of her Protestant cousin, Lady Jane Grey.

Furious and determined not to be beaten, Mary musters a vast army at Framlingham Castle; a force so strong that Jane Grey’s supporters crumble before a blow is struck, and Mary is at last crowned Queen of England.

But her troubles are only just beginning. Rebellion and heresy take their toll both on Mary’s health, and on the English people. Suspecting she is fatally ill, and desperate to save her people from heresy, Mary steps up her campaign to compel her subjects to turn back to the Catholic faith.

All who resist will face punishment for heresy in the flames of the Smithfield fires.

The Heretic Wind will be available on Kindle and in Paperback.

Judith Arnopp is the author of twelve Historical Fiction novels:

The Heretic Wind; the life of Mary Tudor, Queen of England
Sisters of Arden
The Beaufort Chronicles: the life of Lady Margaret Beaufort (three book series)
A Song of Sixpence: the story of Elizabeth of York
Intractable Heart: the story of Katheryn Parr
The Kiss of the Concubine: a story of Anne Boleyn
The Winchester Goose: at the court of Henry VIII
The Song of Heledd
The Forest Dwellers

To discover more visit Judith’s website or author page

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Great news! The Second Book in Lynn Bryant's Manxman Series is OUT NOW!

 Lynn Bryant

31st October 2019 sees the publication of the second book in Lynn Bryant’s Manxman series. The first book, An Unwilling Alliance was recently shortlisted for the Society for Army Historical Research 2019 fiction prize. Its sequel, This Blighted Expedition, tells the story of the Walcheren campaign of 1809.

Hugh waited, feeling oddly nervous. He had last seen his son as a small baby of four months. After their marriage in Denmark almost two years earlier, Roseen remained with him, even when his ship, the Iris, was sent to Gibraltar as part of a squadron to defend the island, which was a major supply base for the war against Bonaparte in Spain.

Roseen adapted to shipboard life with typical Manx practicality and Hugh loved having her with him although the times he had to leave her on shore worried him. Gibraltar was known to be an unhealthy place with regular outbreaks of disease and after Roseen’s brush with death on a fever-ridden ship going to Denmark, Hugh was permanently on edge about her health. Hugh was overjoyed when Roseen announced that she was with child and she had sailed through both pregnancy and childbirth without difficulty but Hugh knew that his wife and son could not remain with the Iris or on the fever-ridden shores of Gibraltar.

Parting from her tore a piece from Hugh’s heart, and he had lived the last eight months waiting for her letters and dreaming of her at night. He was shocked at how much his happiness had come to depend upon her, but the knowledge that she was safe and well back on Mann was a comfort through the long months.

Orders had brought Hugh back to England, ready to join a new expedition. There was no official destination yet, although navy gossip suggested it was likely to be somewhere in the low countries. Hugh, who had his own sources of information, summoned his first officer and asked for news.
“It’s not official yet, sir,” Lieutenant Durrell said.
“Clearly not, or I’d be telling you, not asking you. Sit down, pour the wine, and remove the stuffed owl expression from your face, I’m not going to write to the London Gazette with the information. Where are we going?”
Alfred Durrell folded his lanky frame into the chair in Hugh’s dining cabin and poured for both of them. “The island of Walcheren,” he said. “My brother writes that the government wishes to support Austria in its new campaign against Bonaparte, with more than just money.”

The Walcheren campaign was the largest British operation of the war, with 40,000 men and around 600 ships heading to the Scheldt for a lightning strike against Bonaparte’s dockyards at Vlissingen and Antwerp, yet most people have never heard of it. Possibly this is because it turned out to be one of Britain’s greatest military disasters. Vlissingen was almost destroyed by a bombardment, but the progress of the operation was so slow that the French had time to pour in reinforcements while the navy spent a good deal of its time pegged down by contrary winds. By the time Lord Chatham’s army was ready to march on Antwerp, the French had improved their defences and the British army were beginning to show signs of the dreaded Walcheren fever which killed over four thousand men and left many more on the sick list for years to come.

This Blighted Expedition follows the story of six people through the horror of the Walcheren campaign and its aftermath. Captain Hugh Kelly of the Iris, the Manx hero of An Unwilling Alliance is enjoying a brief reunion with his wife and baby son when he receives new orders to join the expedition on the south coast, along with his first lieutenant, Alfred Durrell. In the meantime, the second battalion of the 110th infantry is waiting to embark for Walcheren. Among them are a young lieutenant of the seventh company, Giles Fenwick, who is a permanently broke younger son of the aristocracy and Captain Ross Mackenzie, who is recovering from the tragic deaths of his wife and daughter and has recently transferred in to command the light company. Meanwhile, in Walcheren, Katja de Groot, a young Dutch widow is raising three children while managing her husband’s textile business, and worrying about the impact of a British invasion on her workshops, her family and her home.

The interaction of these six people with each other and with a host of secondary characters, both fictional and real is at the heart of the novel. In particular, Lieutenant Durrell finds himself torn between old family loyalties to the Earl of Chatham, who commands the army, and the clever, manipulative Sir Home Popham who serves the interests of the navy – and himself.
I love every one of my six protagonists. Hugh and Roseen are old friends, and it has been fun to revisit them two years into married life and in particular, to see how much Roseen has grown up from the shy, awkward tomboy that Hugh fell in love with. It is also interesting to see how much Hugh still has to learn about his wife.

Ross Mackenzie and Katja de Groot are both new characters, and have a lot in common. Both are widowed and have experienced the loss of a child to illness and both have become used to managing alone, not sharing their feelings. They are on opposite sides of a war, and the book explores what that means to them and whether friendship can develop in spite of it.
Giles Fenwick is the hero of The Reluctant Debutante, and features in the Peninsular War Saga and in one of my short stories, An Exploring Officer. I’m going back in time with Giles here, exploring his early history with the regiment, before he arrives in Portugal and it’s fascinating to be able to weave in his story to show how Giles became the man he is in later books.

But of all my characters, this book belongs to Alfred Durrell. Durrell was a secondary character in the previous book, a gangly, awkward young man who provided a comic foil to Hugh’s Manx directness. Durrell had the education and the political connections while Hugh was the man of action who “had the reputation of a man who could snatch a prize out of thin air and could keep any leaky old bucket afloat.”

Durrell isn’t a typical hero, but Walcheren isn’t a typical campaign. He’s very intelligent, well educated and very confident in his own abilities, but has no idea how to gossip, flirt or stop talking once he’s started. While Hugh Kelly managed to kiss Roseen on their second ‘date’ poor Durrell is more likely to give a girl a lecture on the physiology of crying. What Durrell has is integrity, and honesty and a good deal of kindness. He is incapable of being a bystander, he’s always the man who steps up and takes responsibility. Your brother and sister would take the mickey out of you if you brought Durrell home for dinner, but your Mum would be very pleased.

This Blighted Expedition is available on Amazon kindle here and will be out in paperback by the end of November. 

To celebrate publication, the first book, An Unwilling Alliance is available from 1st to 5th November 2019 FREE on Amazon here.

In the meantime, I am about to embark on book six of the Peninsular War Saga. It’s called An Unrelenting Enmity and to give myself a kick start with the writing process, I am attempting NaNaWriMo for the first time ever. 

To follow my progress why not join me on my blog over at Writing with Labradors, or on Facebook or Twitter? 

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Welcoming author Sally Spedding to the blog

I am very pleased to have Sally Spedding on the blog today. She is the author of multiple spooky crime noir novels. Tell us about your work Sally.

In 1997, having moved from rural Wales to Northampton, because of my late husband’s new job, I used a ruler to find the nearest coast, where Norfolk is divided from Lincolnshire by the River Nene. These atmospheric flatlands became the setting for ‘Wringland’ where a new housing development is haunted by a woman hanged in public in that very place.

Published in 2001 in a two-book deal with Pan Macmillan, this was the start of a journey where settings are paramount. Where characters don’t change, they just reveal themselves, and now with ‘The Devil’s Garden,’ set near Tulle in France, published by Sharpe Books as part of a seven-book deal, wannabe gendarme, Delphine Rougier faces a truly dangerous crisis.   

About the book

DI John Lyon Thriller - Book 1
One false move is all it takes...
France, April 1986.

John Lyon, newly retired Detective Inspector from Nottingham, breaks off his holiday in the eastern Pyrenees when he encounters Karen Furst.

This attractive, wheelchair-bound woman with a new name and nationality, soon draws him into her world. Karen is the product of a tragic past, a past which is slowly but surely catching up with her.

Yet the woman's story doesn't entirely add up. John suspects that Karen is lying to him. And how much is he lying to himself about how he feels, what he thinks?
Karen will soon be targeted - and John with her - by unseen enemies.
Only La Chasse, a hunt to the death in wild scrubland, will reveal the truth.
Blood will be shed.
The Nighthawk is a dark, enthralling novel that grips from start to end.

Recommended for fans of Gillian Flynn, Bernard Minier and Manda Scott.


‘Sally Spedding has been credited with being a latter-day Du Maurier.’ Crime Squad

‘Sally Spedding is a font of creepy stories, the kind of tales which wheedle their way into your mind days and weeks later.' Western Mail

‘Sally Spedding has unquestionably got what it takes.’ Crime Time

‘No-one does evil like Sally Spedding.’ Thorne Moore


Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Katherine - Tudor Duchess
New from Tony Riches, Author of the best-selling Tudor Trilogy
Available in eBook and paperback from Amazon UK and Amazon US
(Audiobook edition coming in 2020)

Attractive, wealthy and influential, Katherine Willoughby is one of the most unusual ladies of the Tudor Court. A favourite of King Henry VIII, Katherine knows all his six wives, his daughters Mary and Elizabeth and his son Edward.

When her father dies, Katherine becomes the ward of Tudor knight, Sir Charles Brandon. Her Spanish mother, Maria de Salinas, is ueen Catherine of Aragon's lady in waiting, so it is a challenging time for them all when King Henry marries the enigmatic Anne Boleyn.

Following Anne's dramatic downfall, Katherine marries Charles Brandon, and becomes Duchess of Suffolk at the age of fourteen.After teh short reign of young Catherine Howard, and the death of Jane Seymour, Katherine and Brandon are chosen to welcome Anna of Cleves as she arrives in England. When the royal marriage is annulled, Katherine's good friend, Catherine Parr becomes the king's sixth wife, and they work to promote religious reform. Katherine's young sons are tutored with the future king, Prince  Edward, and become his friends, but when Edward dies his Catholic sister Mary is crowned queen. Katherine's Protestant faith puts her family in great danger - from which there seems no escape.

Katherine's remarkable true story continues the epic tale of the rise of the Tudors, which began with the best-selling Tudor trilogy and concludes with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

Author Bio

Tony Riches is a full time UK author of best sellng historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the history of the Wars of the Roses and lives of the early Tudors. Tony's other publishedd historical fiction novels include: Owen -Book one of the Tudor Trilogy, Jasper - Book two of the Tudor Trilogy, Henry - Book Three of the Tudor Trilogy, Mary - Tudor Princess and Brandon - Tudor Knight. For more information about Tony's books please visit his website: and his blog, The Writing Desk and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Sir Thomas Wyatt: Diplomat, Poet, Lover

Thomas Wyatt by Holbein the younger
Thomas Wyatt’s portrait suggests he was a discontented fellow. His eyes are troubled, mentally tortured even, his mouth down-turned, his cheeks sagging, as if he is tired of life and living.

But maybe we are swayed by the stories we’ve all heard of his unhappy marriage, his unrequited love for Anne Boleyn, his lovelorn poetry, his enforced exile, false imprisonment. But what do we really know?

Was Tom Wyatt really the tortured poet and lover that we like to think he was? There are plenty of known facts about him, placing him in a certain place at a certain date, clues we can pick up and learn from. There is the aforementioned portrait by Holbein, various letters and papers, a biography of Anne Boleyn, written by his grandson, George Wyatt…and, closest to his heart of all, there is his poetry.

Born in 1503, Thomas Wyatt was destined for life in the royal court, his father remained in high favour since his support of Henry VII at Bosworth, and Wyatt’s first recorded presence is in the entourage of the christening of Princess Mary. (A future queen, incidentally, who would one day be responsible for the beheading of Wyatt’s son after the Lady Jane Grey affair in 1554.)

In a dynastic power match Wyatt was married to Elizabeth Brooke in 1520, a union that, despite the birth of Thomas Wyatt the younger, proved both unhappy and unsuccessful. In later years Wyatt, after accusing her of adultery, parted company with his wife to live openly with his mistress, Elizabeth Darrell.
Henry VIII - the Chatsworth Portrait
One of Henry VIII’s esquires of the body, he became one of the King’s intimates, entering into the courtly pastimes--jousting, hunting and dancing. Like Henry, Wyatt wrote verses, an important component of the courtly love games that were so popular among the royal household. These poems were often left where a girl could find them, or offered as tokens; sometimes the poems were altered or embellished by another hand before being passed on. They were not published in his lifetime and in all probability never meant for close interpretation. Due to Wyatt’s central role in the story of Anne Boleyn however, history has decided otherwise.

It must have been during this carefree period of Henry VIII’s reign that Wyatt’s romantic interest in Anne Boleyn was first piqued. As part of Queen Katherine’s household Anne would have been fair game for Wyatt’s attention but, when it became clear that Henry had set his sights on the same target, Wyatt either withdrew or was sent by the king on a mission that took him away from court.  
Anne Boleyn: the Hever portrait
Most historians seem to agree that some sort of an attachment existed between Thomas and Anne but we can only guess at the extent of it. Some read a physical involvement into the poems but it seems to me to have been one sided.  Although there seems little doubt in the depth of Wyatt’s involvement, at the time he first began to make reference to Anne, she was engaged in a liason with Henry Percy, an affair that was quickly nipped in the bud by Cardinal Wolsey.
I am not skilled enough to judge the quality of Wyatt’s poetry but his particular choice of words and nuances of meaning can leave no doubt as to his state of mind. This is love if ever I saw it. A riddle, punning on the name ‘Anna’, points to the possible identity of his secret lady.

What word is that that changeth not,

Though it be turned and made in twain?

It is mine answer, God it wot,

And eke the causer of my pain.

It love rewardeth with disdain:

Yet is it loved. What would ye more?

It is my health eke and my sore.

It could, of course, be another Anna, it was a common enough name. It is not until you read all the poems as one unit that the argument for the object of his passion being Anne Boleyn becomes stronger.

The following poem is believed to have been written later, and the lines were altered at some point to make them less dangerous.  The line "Her that did set a country in a roar" was changed to read, "Brunet, that set my wealth in such a roar".  Obviously the initial reference to Anne was far too explicit, after all, what other ‘brunet’ of his acquaintance had ‘set the country in a roar?’
     If waker care, if sudden pale colour,

    If many sighs, with little speech to plain,

    Now Joy, now woe, if they my cheer disdain,

    For hope of small, if much to fear therefore;

    To haste to slack my pace less or more,

    Be sign of love, then do I love again.

    If thou ask whom; sure, since I did refrain

    Her that did set our country in a roar,

    Th'unfeigned cheer of Phyllis hath the place

    That Brunet had; she hath and ever shall.

    She from myself now hath me in her grace:

    She hath in hand my wit, my will, my all.

    My heart alone well worthy she doth stay,

    Without whose help, scant do I live a day.

Taken individually, Wyatt’s poetry could refer to anyone, it is not until you come to the most famous verse of all that arguments against it being Anne  begin to collapse. It could, I suppose, have been poetic licence or wishful thinking but surely, the words are too personal for that.  In my opinion these lines can only have been written by a man who has lived them and it is this poem that endorses all the others. There is no need, I think, to explain the meaning, Wyatt speaks as clearly now as he did then but he also illustrates, quite clearly, that the attachment was one-sided and, at least by the time that this verse was written, Anne belonged to Henry:

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,

But as for me, alas, I may no more,

The vain travail hath wearied me so sore.

I am of them that farthest cometh behind;

Yet may I by no means my wearied mind

Draw from the Deer: but as she fleeth afore,

Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,

Since in a net I seek to hold the wind.

Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,

As well as I may spend his time in vain:

And, graven with diamonds, in letters plain

There is written her fair neck round about:

Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am,

And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.

Another poem, possibly written after Noli Me Tangere shows Wyatt trying to reconcile himself to the fact that he has lost, trying to convince himself (and others perhaps) that his affection had been nothing but folly. But, all these years later, are we convinced? Or do the words smack of bravado? How many of us have shrugged our shoulders and said, ‘I never loved him anyway’?

Some time I fled the fire that me brent

By sea, by land, by water and by wind;

And now I follow the coals that be quent,

From Dover to Calais against my mind.

Lo how desire is both sprung and spent!

And he may see that whilom was so blind,

And all his labour now he laugh to scorn,

Meshed in the briars that erst was all to-torn.
Wyatt continued to serve the king. He was made High Marshal of Calais and Commissioner of the Peace of Essex.  In 1532 he accompanied the King and Anne, who was by then the King's mistress, on their visit to Calais and when the royal divorce was finally granted Anne Boleyn married the King in January 1533. Wyatt served in her coronation in June and in 1535 he was knighted but a year later, when Anne’s fortune turned, Wyatt’s former attachment for the queen almost dragged him down with her.

 It is said that he witnessed Anne's execution, from the window of his prison in the Bell Tower, writing a lengthy elegy to the men who died alongside her, and making no secret of his broken heart. He also remembered her in another verse, although he still does not dare to mention her name.

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. (around the throne it thunders)

The bell tower showed me such sight

That in my head sticks day and night.

There did I learn out of a grate,

For all favour, glory, or might,

That yet circa Regna tonat.
Some say it was thanks to Cromwell that Thomas Wyatt escaped execution, but he may well have suffered the more for surviving. A diplomat as well as a politician, his subsequent career took him back to Europe where he became involved in intrigue and espionage, leading to his capture and ransom by Spain. His involvement in the attempted assassination of Reginald Pole led (somewhat ironically) to an accusation of treasonable contact with the king’s enemies and a second spell in the Tower.

 As a diplomat (some say spy) Wyatt was in constant danger, and wherever he travelled, he will have taken his memories with him. He doesn’t seem to have achieved happiness and some biographers have accused him of revelling in poetic misery. That may be a little harsh. It is easy to sit in our secure, warm environment and judge those who lived in tougher times. I think we can say Thomas Wyatt was a man who, although unfortunate in love, understood love. I think we can say he suffered for his love, and I think we can say he was a victim of the times he lived in – yet another victim of Henry VIII. He died of a fever in 1542, just six years after Anne and in a letter written to his son in 1537 he described his life as "a thousand dangers and hazards, enmities, hatreds, prisonments, despites and indignations"

A full account of Anne Boleyn's life, featuring her relationship with Wyatt can be read here.

I explore the relationship between Anne and Wyatt Here

Judith is the author of eleven historical fiction novels and is currently researching and writing the life of Mary Tudor, Queen of England.

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

What did Anne Boleyn really look like?

Anne Boleyn, National Portrait Gallery

I am often told that readers are fed up with Tudors.  They know the stories, they’ve heard it all. The need for Tudor novels is over. But the reading public doesn’t seem to believe that. Since I first became an author of historical novels the most recurrent question has been, “Have you written any Tudor books?”

It seems to me that the reading public, both in England and especially overseas, cannot get enough of Henry and his wives. I think the reason for this is not just the glitz and the danger of Henry’s court; it is the many different interpretations we can put upon the stories and the people that inhabit them. There are more explanations for what went on than there are stars in the skies, and there are novelists enough to encompass them all. Added to that of course is that new generations are emerging all the time; a new batch of people who know nothing about the Tudors.

Anne Boleyn remains the number one favourite; the wife that everyone loves to read about. She has been depicted in many different ways; a schemer, a witch, a victim, a whore. She has been demonised by some novelists, and sanctified by others but how close to we ever come to the real Anne? We can never really know the truth about her, we can only piece little snippets together to make up a shadow of the real woman. That is what makes history, and enigmatic figures like Anne, so irresistible. Anne Boleyn was, and still is, a fascinating woman who deserves after all this time a fair reappraisal of her life and death.
In his nonfiction book The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Eric Ives,  now sadly passed on, reveals a credible figure. He has done the hard work for us, demolishing many of the myths that in the space of several centuries have solidified into fact, and illustrating that what remains is an intelligent, ambitious, but God-fearing woman who happened to win the love of a king.

It is refreshing to discover that perhaps Anne was not a scheming witch with a penchant for sleeping with half the court, (her brother included). Nor was she a woman who gave birth to a monster and plotted the death of the king. Ives’ research reveals someone more sinned against than sinning, and a woman whose mistakes were human ones. Anne was a queen who failed to produce an heir, and a woman who fell foul of the King’s most powerful advisers.  The woman that emerges from Ives’ research is the Anne Boleyn that walks the pages of my novel The Kiss of the Concubine.

To be honest, the real Anne is so obscured by myth and legend that we know much less about her than we think we do. We are not even sure what she looked like. We think of her as dark haired and thin but the familiar portraits we see of her are not contemporary; the originals were lost long ago. Experts disagree, but the oldest 17th century portrait now in the National Portrait Gallery is likely to be a copy of an original, and is favoured by Eric Ives as being the one that comes closest to a real likeness.

There are several written descriptions from her contemporaries and, while none rate her as a great beauty, none remark upon any physical failing either. The fact that she doesn’t emerge as breathtakingly beautiful is refreshing, and illustrates that Henry may have been more taken with the personality within, than with an alluring or fashionable face and figure. 

Brantome, a courtier from France, wrote in his memoirs that Anne Boleyn was ‘the fairest and most bewitching of all the lovely dames of the French court.’ (Weir, p. 151) And Lancelot de Carles stated that she was beautiful with an elegant figure and was ‘so graceful that you would never have taken her for an Englishwoman, but for a Frenchwoman born.’ (Weir, p. 151)

This is praise indeed, perhaps a little too flattering to be true, and many eyewitnesses agree that her looks were unfashionable and not to every one’s taste. As Francesco Sanuto, a Venetian diplomat, illustrates with his description of Anne as  ‘Not one of the handsomest women in the world; she is of middling stature, swarthy complexion, long neck, wide mouth, a bosom not much raised and eyes which are black and beautiful.’ (Ives, p. 40)

It is only after her death that the really detrimental reports begin to emerge. Writing in the reign of Elizabeth I, Catholic supporter, Nicholas Sander, describes Anne as, “rather tall of stature, with black hair and an oval face of sallow complexion, as if troubled with jaundice. She had a projecting tooth under the upper lip, and on her right hand, six fingers.  There was a large wen under her chin, and therefore to hide its ugliness, she wore a high dress covering her throat. In this she was followed by the ladies of the court, who also wore high dresses, having before been in the habit of leaving their necks and the upper portion of their person uncovered.” (Ives. P.39) 

 attributed to John Hoskins [Public domain]

But, although there are common factors when it comes to colouring and bone structure in all these descriptions, I think we can dismiss the idea that she was seriously disfigured in any way. The 16th century was a superstitious time and the characteristics described here all point to witchcraft. It is a clear attempt by Sander to demonise the former queen. Even had the king not been superstitious, I cannot image Henry VIII, who had the pick of the court ladies, finding a woman disfigured in this way to be even remotely attractive, let alone spend seven years of his life trying to get her into his bed. You can read a more in depth look at Anne’s appearance on an earlier blog I wrote for the English Historical Fiction Authors here.

Anne was accused of adultery, incest, high treason, and plotting to kill the King, and she died for those crimes. Yet none of these charges would stand up in a modern day courtroom. Eric Ives states that it can be proved that she was elsewhere on at least twelve of the occasions when she is supposed to have been committing adultery. The only actual ‘confession’ came from her musician Mark Smeaton, who we believe was subjected to torture in the Tower. Although Anne’s sister in law, Jane Rochford, gave evidence against Anne and her husband, George, she later retracted it in February 1542 before she herself faced execution for her involvement with Katherine Howard’s downfall.

While Anne was imprisoned in the Tower, Henry had his marriage to her annulled on the grounds of his former relationship with Anne’s sister, Mary. This made their daughter Elizabeth illegitimate. In truth, this should also have made the charge of adultery invalid, but this was Tudor England when justice was anything but just.

So, those are the bare facts. We can assume Anne was dark, and had attractive eyes and an oval face. We know she was intelligent and witty; even her detractors credit her with that. We know she was pious and refused to be Henry’s mistress, holding out until he promised marriage. That could make her a schemer, but equally it could make her chaste. During her marriage to Henry she tried and failed to produce a son, suffering several miscarriages and providing the king with just one daughter, later to become the greatest queen that has ever lived, Elizabeth. We also know that Anne worked in tandem with Cromwell and others toward church reform, and we also know that at a later stage there was a disagreement between them, and Anne’s downfall followed swiftly after.

Most novels of Anne I have read (but I confess I haven’t read them all) hold Henry alone to blame for Anne’s downfall. They show him as falling out of love with Anne, and place Jane Seymour as the sinister ‘other woman’ whose presence at court and her influence over the fickle king makes Anne’s fall inevitable. There is little evidence to suggest this and perhaps there were other reasons; perhaps another agenda came into play. Perhaps it was politics and not passion that killed her.

In writing The Kiss of the Concubine I have worked closely with the writing of Eric Ives and other prominent Tudor historians to come up with a less clichéd reason as to why Anne Boleyn had to die on that bright May morning in 1536.

The Kiss of the Concubine is now published with Sharpe Books and is available on Kindle and Audible or you can read FREE with Kindle Unlimited.

Further reading

Lispcombe, Susannah, 1536: The Year that Changed Henry VIII, 2009.
Fraser, A. The Six Wives of Henry VIII, 1992.
Ives, E. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, 2004.
Weir, A. The Six Wives of Henry VIII, 2007.
Weir, A. Mary Boleyn, 2011.
Weir, A. The Lady in the Tower,2009.
Fox, J. Jane Boleyn, 2007.
Denny, J. Anne Boleyn, 2007.