Archive for the ‘Tudors’ Category

SeymourThis Week’s Question:

Jane Seymour, who married Henry VIII on 30 May 1536, was descended from what other English king?

Previous Question:

What’s unusual about one of the ghosts said to haunt Athelhampton House in Dorchester?

Answer:  It’s not human. In fact, it’s not even an animal native to the UK: one of the ghosts is said to be an ape. Sadly, I have no idea what the story is behind that. The other two ghosts are said to be a cooper and the grey lady, who I guess is on extended holiday from Hogwarts.


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On May 28, 1588, the ill-fated Spanish Armada started sailing out of Lisbon, heading for the English Channel. The fleet, which consisted of 151 ships, 8,000 sailors, and 18,000 soldiers, was so huge it took two days for the whole thing to make its way out of Lisbon. The English attempted some last-minute diplomacy, but when that failed they battened down the hatches and sent their own, less well equipped fleet, to wait for the Spanish to arrive in Plymouth. Although the English had more ships, they had only half the firepower of the Spanish.

The Armada hit bad weather that forced five of its larger ships to leave the fleet, and they didn’t come within sight of England until July 19, when the Armada was sighted off Cornwall. The news was quickly relayed to London through a series of beacons, but the English fleet was trapped in Plymouth by the tide and couldn’t leave to engage the Spanish. Some of the Spanish commanders hoped to ride into Plymouth on the tide and incapacitate the English ships while they rode at anchor, but King Philip of Spain had forbidden such an action, so the fleet continued toward the Isle of Wight. As the tide turned, 55 English ships left Plymouth under the command of Lord Howard of Effingham and Sir Francis Drake.

The English engaged the Armada on July 21 near the Eddystone Rocks. The Spanish, with their superior firepower, would have the advantage in close-quarter fighting, but the English ships were faster and more agile, a fact they used to their advantage as they bombarded the Spanish from a distance. The day resulted in a draw, although the Spanish were forced to abandon two ships after they collided. Drake looted them for gunpowder and gold, but while doing so, he failed to guide the rest of the English fleet, which ended up scattered and in complete disarray by daybreak. It took them an entire day to regroup, but their speed allowed them to catch up with the Spanish relatively quickly. The two fleets engaged again on July 23, but once again nothing was decided.

The Spanish made their way to Calais in an attempt to pick up an army of 16,000 men led by the Duke of Parma. The army was not prepared to depart, so the Armada was forced to wait for them, leaving the fleet vulnerable. The English took advantage of this by sending eight fireships in amongst the tightly packed Armada vessels. Most of the ships scattered in a panic, and the English closed in, ready for battle.

The two fleets meet again near Gravelines, part of Flanders in the Spanish Netherlands. The English managed to provoke the Spanish into firing, even though the English ships were still out of range. The English fleet then closed in, firing away and damaging many of the Spanish ships. The Spanish lost many of their gunners, and the other soldiers didn’t know how to operate the complex cannons, effectively taking most of them out of the conflict. After eight hours of fierce fighting, the English ships began to run out of ammunition. By 4 p.m., they were forced to pull back. The Spanish lost five ships, and several others were severely damaged.

Despite having almost no ammunition, the English pursued the Armada all the way up to the Firth of Forth in Scotland. By then, the Spanish were suffering from exhaustion and thirst and had no choice but to return to Spain by a very hazardous route.

By September, the Armanda had managed to sail around Scotland and was in the North Atlantic, near Ireland. The ships were battered after their long journey—some only made it because their hulls were literally tied together with cables. The Gulf Stream carried the fleet closer to the coast than they planned, and they were caught in powerful gales that drove many of the ships onto the coastal rocks. Many sailors who weren’t killed by the ships hitting the rocks died of cold in the unusually chilly storms. More than 5,000 men were lost during the gales, and only half of the Armada made it back to Spain. A mere 10,000 men returned to Spain, and many of them were near death from disease, so casualties were even higher after their return home. The English lost a grand total of 50-100 men, with 400 wounded. Not a single one of their ships were sunk.

The defeat of the Spanish Armada marked the rise of England and the beginning of the decline of the mighty Spanish empire. It was also a significant turning point in the history of naval warfare, as gunnery became more important. The Armada’s defeat fed the legend of Queen Elizabeth, who was on hand to bolster the spirits of her troops waiting on shore for a Spanish land invasion that never came, and it’s thought that the defeat also gave heart to the Protestant movement across Europe, as many Protestants believed God himself had intervened to scatter the Armada and save England.

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On May 13, 1515, Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor, Queen of France, were officially married at Greenwich Palace, more than two months after marrying in secret in France following the death of Mary’s first husband, the French King Louis XII.

Mary, who was extremely close to her elder brother, Henry VIII, was reputed to be one of the most beautiful princesses in Europe. Her marriage to 52-year-old Louis was brokered by Cardinal Wolsey, Henry’s right-hand man, and she was not happy about it at all. Nonetheless, she married the king in October 1514, when she was 18 years old. One of her maids of honor was Anne Boleyn, her future sister-in-law. The marriage lasted all of three months; Louis died on January 1, 1515, allegedly worn out from his exertions in the bedchamber.

Mary had been in love with Charles Brandon, the first Duke of Suffolk, since before her marriage to Louis took place. Henry allegedly knew of her true feelings but wanted her marriage to be politically advantageous to her. He nevertheless sent Brandon to France to fetch Mary home in late January 1515, making the duke promise not to propose to her. Charles ignored his promise and married Mary on March 3, technically committing treason by marrying a royal princess without the king’s consent. Henry was outraged when he received the news, and only Wolsey’s interference saved Brandon’s head. Instead of being arrested or executed, Brandon was made to pay a hefty fine.

The Brandons had four children, and she spent most of her time in the country, especially after she and Henry fell out in the 1520s over his decision to annul his marriage to Katherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. She died in 1533 at the age of 37, and her husband went on to marry 14-year-old Catherine Willoughby. Her two sons died young as well, but one of her daughters, Frances, married Henry Grey, 3rd Marquess of Dorset, and was mother to the unfortunate Lady Jane Grey.

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In exactly one week, at 11 a.m. 30 November, The Reading Hour will begin. Part of Book Week Scotland, it’s a single hour in which everyone is encouraged to drop what they’re doing, pick up a book, and read. Just an hour out of your day, no big deal, right? But the question is, what will you read? Well, if you’re a fan of the shows on this blog, here are a few recommendations:

Downton Abbey

Fiction: The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin. Life as Cora would have known it—a young American woman marrying into the English aristocracy. Hell, the main character’s name in the book is even Cora; it’s like it was meant to be.

Non-Fiction: I wrote a whole blog about Downton-related reading, but my personal pick would have to be The Perfect Summer by Juliet Nicholson. This incredibly addictive read covers the whole span of society, from aristocrats to servants and everyone in-between and follows their scandals, heartbreak, hopes, and dreams during one lovely pre-war summer.

The Tudors

Fiction: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. This is my pick for The Reading Hour. The way Mantel uses words astonishes me (it’s no wonder she won the Booker for both this and its sequel, Bringing Up the Bodies) and it’s nice to see Thomas Cromwell, an oft-maligned historical figure, treated so sympathetically.

Non-Fiction: The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir is one of my all-time favourite non-fiction titles. Weir (a much better historian than fiction writer, just so you know) delves deeply into the lives of the women who defined Henry’s reign.


Fiction: A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. The sex may not be there, but the black humour sure is. These books are seriously dark and incredibly hilarious. Plus, they’re quick reads, perfect for an hour-long break. If you want dark humour with sex, I’d recommend Candide by Voltaire.

The Paradise

Fiction: This one’s already based on a book—The Ladies’ Paradise by Émile Zola, which is now more widely available thanks to the series.

Non-Fiction: Shopping, Seduction & Mr Selfridge by Lindy Woodhead tells the story of Moray’s real-life counterpart, Harry Selfridge, who founded his eponymous luxury store in London before spectacularly crashing and burning. For those who want to get more into the nitty gritty of early department store commerce, Selfridge wrote a book himself called The Romance of Commerce. Sexy!

Game of Thrones

Fiction: This one’s based on a book as well (actually, a series, as I’m sure you know). If you’re not currently enmeshed in it, I hear The Wheel Of Time series is excellent. And, for those who don’t mind trading dragons for giant worms, there’s Frank Herbert’s Dune series.

Non-Fiction: You want interfamilial love, enemies around every corner, paranoia, backstabbing, and gore? Pick up pretty much any book about ancient Rome and its rulers.

Boardwalk Empire

Fiction: For a less harrowing glimpse of the era, try Carry on, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

Non-Fiction: Also based on a book (makes it easy, doesn’t it?). There are a slew of Prohibition-era reads to go along with it, including Last Call by Daniel Okrent, and, for those Chalky White fans out there, The Northside: African Americans and the Creation of Atlantic City by Nelson Johnson

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Having recently secured the English throne after the Battle of Bosworth Field, Henry VII fulfilled his promise to marry Elizabeth of York on January 18, 1486, thus uniting the warring houses of York and Lancaster.

As royal marriages go, this one was fairly successful. The couple had seven children, four of whom lived to adulthood (or close to it); their eldest son, Arthur, was born almost exactly nine months after their wedding. Elizabeth kept herself out of politics and was reputed to be gentle, kind, and generous. The royal pair were genuinely fond of each other, and after Prince Arthur died Elizabeth rushed to her grieving husband’s side and comforted him.

She became pregnant again after Arthur’s death and gave birth to a daughter named Katherine in Februarly 1503. The baby died after only a few days, and Elizabeth followed her to the grave on February 11, her 37th birthday, thus ending the royal partnership. Her husband sincerely mourned her and gave her a splendid funeral. He never remarried and was buried at her side in Westminster Abbey.

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Happy birthday, Queen Elizabeth! On September 7, 1533, the new queen, Anne Boleyn, gave birth to a baby girl who would unexpectedly grow up to be one of England’s most celebrated rulers.

Despite being born to royalty, Elizabeth’s life wasn’t an easy one. Her mother was executed less than three years after her birth and her father had her declared illegitimate, neglecting her to such an extent that her nurse had to beg his chancellor for money to buy young Elizabeth new clothes. Things improved a bit as Henry got older, and she received an excellent education, becoming known as the best-educated woman of her generation. By the time Henry VIII died in 1547, Elizabeth and her older half-sister Mary had also been restored to the succession, following their younger brother, Edward.

Elizabeth’s last stepmother, Katherine Parr, quickly remarried to Thomas Seymour and took Elizabeth into her household. What happened at the house has been the subject of much debate amongst historians ever since. Thomas Seymour immediately began paying the young princess a lot of attention and behaving in a way everyone except his wife deemed wildly inappropriate. It’s possible the two had an all-out affair, but this has never been proven. Katherine finally lost her patience when she found the two embracing, and Elizabeth was sent away in May 1548. Katherine died that September, shortly after giving birth to her only child. Many historians speculate that the deaths of Anne Boleyn, Katherine Seymour, and Elizabeth’s fifth stepmother, her mother’s cousin Katherine Howard, gave Elizabeth a lifelong aversion to marriage. That didn’t stop Seymour from trying to marry her after his wife’s death. After that plan failed, he attempted to take control of the young king, and he was arrested and executed for treason in 1549.

Edward died in 1553, and after a brief interlude with Lady Jane Grey on the throne, Mary I was named queen and rode into London with Elizabeth at her side. Devoutly Catholic, Mary set out to return England to “the true faith” and destroy Protestantism. Elizabeth, who had been raised as a Protestant, outwardly conformed to Catholicism, but she quickly became the focus of Protestant uprisings throughout the country. After Wyatt’s Rebellion in 1554, she was imprisoned in the Tower of London, and then placed under house arrest for a year. After coming to the throne on a wave of popularity, Mary’s support ebbed sharply, and when she died in 1558, many in the country rejoiced to see Elizabeth become queen.

Despite being a Protestant, Elizabeth was no zealot. She refused to embrace the radical Puritans and instead opted for a church that had the monarch as its head but retained many Catholic elements. She quickly repealed the heresy laws passed by Mary and used to persecute dissenters.

The question of marriage soon became an important one. Elizabeth was young and was the last of the Tudors. Several European princes and noblemen vied for her hand throughout her reign, but she avoided marriage her entire life, instead skillfully playing her suitors off one another for political gain. Fearing a political coup, she also refused to name an heir to her throne.

The most likely heir was Mary, Queen of Scots, a great-granddaughter of Henry VII. But Mary was Catholic and Elizabeth was reluctant to bring her closer to the English throne. After Mary was forced to abdicate and flee to England, Elizabeth had her imprisoned for nearly 20 years. Mary became the focus of Catholic plots against Elizabeth’s life, and finally Elizabeth had her executed.

Unlike her father, Elizabeth was reluctant to engage herself in foreign military squabbles. She did, however, send an army to aid Protestant Dutch rebels against Philip II of Spain in 1585, kicking off the Anglo-Spanish War, which lasted until 1604 and was highlighted by the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Elizabeth instead focused on establishing trade with other countries, including Russia, the Barbary states, and the Ottoman Empire.

Elizabeth became increasingly paranoid in her later life, cracking down on Catholics and executing Mary of Scotland. The country started going through a difficult time: crops failed and taxes rose to pay for ongoing wars with Spain and in Ireland. She also unwisely started handing out monopolies like Halloween candy, which led to price fixing and even more resentment.

Still, the latter part of her reign wasn’t all doom and gloom. It was, perhaps, one of the greatest moments in English literary history, as Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, and Christopher Marlowe were all active, and Elizabethan theater finally came into its own.

Even as she aged, Elizabeth refused to name an heir to her throne. By the turn of the century, her chief advisor, Robert Cecil, took matters into his own hands and started secretly negotiating with James VI of Scotland. He coached James to humor and flatter Elizabeth, and James obeyed, to Elizabeth’s delight.

Elizabeth remained in good health until the autumn of 1602, when several deaths amongst her friends pushed her into a depression. She fell ill in March 1603 and died on March 24 at Richmond Palace. A few hours after her death, Cecil and the council proclaimed James VI of Scotland king of England, and the Stuart dynasty began.

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After 40 years of civil war, the Wars of the Roses culminated with the Battle of Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485, which resulted in the defeat of King Richard III of York and the accession of Henry Tudor, who became King Henry VII.

The Wars of the Roses started in the mid-1440’s and seemed to end in 1471 when the Yorkists were defeated at the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury. In the aftermath of the battle, the pious King Henry VI and his only son, Edward, were both killed, leaving no direct heirs to the House of Lancaster and the usurping York king, Edward IV, in command. Henry Tudor and his uncle, Jasper Tudor, had a very weak claim to the throne through Henry’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, who was a distant descendant of John of Gaunt through a previously illegitimate line. The Tudors fled to Brittany, where they were taken into custody by the duke, Francis II.

When the Lancastrian king Edward IV died in 1483, he left his 12-year-old son, Edward V, king, with a second son, Richard of Shrewsbury, as backup. The king’s council, fearful that the dowager queen, Elizabeth Woodville, and her family might try to seize power, turned to the young king’s uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and asked him to assume the role of Protector and de facto ruler of the country during Edward V’s minority. Richard did so, took Edward V into his custody, and arrested and executed several members of the Woodville family. He then set about convincing parliament to declare Elizabeth Woodville’s marriage to Edward IV invalid, rendering their children illegitimate and therefore disqualifying them from the throne. He was proclaimed King Richard III on June 26, 1483. The former Edward V and his younger brother were confined to the Tower of London and disappeared. Many believe that Richard had them murdered.

Richard was unpopular, and the Lancastrians saw their chance to get the throne back. Lady Margaret Beaufort put her son, Henry, forward as a candidate for the throne, and she managed to gain the support of the Duke of Buckingham. They met with bad luck from the outset: Buckingham wound up trapped by a swollen river and was captured and executed; Henry tried to land in England in October but his fleet was scattered by a storm. Henry returned to Brittany to bide his time, and there he promised to marry Edward IV’s daughter, Elizabeth of York, in order to unite the two warring houses.

Eventually, Henry was able to assemble 2000 men and set sail for England once again on August 1, 1485. He landed near Milford Haven in Wales on August 7 and quickly captured Dale Castle. Soldiers and military leaders from Richard’s side started deserting and joining Henry, who was a popular figure in Wales. He and his growing army crossed the English border on August 15 or 16, about the same time the Yorkist army started to gather. Henry took a leisurely route to London, gathering supporters along the way, while Richard called up his loyal supporters.

The armies finally met on August 22. The fighting was fierce, and it seemed like Richard, the seasoned warrior, might have the advantage over the more inexperienced Henry. But when Richard attempted to attack Henry directly, he found himself separated from his main force. Sir William Stanley, a commander who’d been sitting on the sidelines with several thousand men, trying to decide whom he should support, made up his mind at that point and joined the fight on Henry’s side, pushing back Richard’s outnumbered group. Richard’s horse became mired in the mud and he had to continue the fight on foot, although several of his followers offered him their own mounts—and escape. He was killed on the battlefield, and his army disintegrated as soon as the word spread.

Henry was now King Henry VII, and he immediately had Richard’s kingship declared illegal, and Elizabeth Woodville’s marriage declared valid. Henry duly married Elizabeth of York, ending the Wars of the Roses and establishing the Tudor dynasty.


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On July 19, 1545, Henry VIII had a pretty bad day: his flagship, the Mary Rose, keeled over and sank in the Channel during the Battle of the Solent, taking with her almost 400 men.

The Mary Rose was one of the first big ships Henry VIII commissioned, only a few months after his reign began in 1509. She, along with several other large ships Henry had built, formed the nucleus of the first modern Royal Navy. She was launched in July 1511 and towed to London to be fitted out with rigging, decks, and armaments. Modern historians estimate that as many as 600 large oaks gave their lives so the Mary Rose could be built.

She saw action for the first time in 1512, during a joint naval operation with the Spanish against the French. She was kept busy for the next two years, until England and France became friends again following the marriage of Henry’s younger sister, Mary, to Louis XII. She wasn’t used much for warfare for a while after that, but in 1536 (right about the time Henry was dissolving the monasteries and beheading Anne Boleyn), the ship was substantially rebuilt. Her tonnage was increased from 500 to 700, and an extra tier of broadside guns was added to her. There’s some speculation that the alterations made her too heavy to actually be seaworthy.

By the 1540s, England was at war with France again, and in May 1545, The French assembled a large fleet with the intention of landing troops on English soil. They sailed into the Solent on July 16 and were met by about 80 English ships, including the Mary Rose. Nobody’s sure exactly what happened to the Mary Rose the day of the battle, but according to contemporary accounts, the Mary Rose suddenly heeled heavily over to the starboard side and water gushed in through her open gunports. She began to sink rapidly. Fewer than 35 members of her crew of 400 escaped.

An attempt to salvage the wreck was made only days after the sinking, and it was overseen by none other than Charles Brandon. It, obviously, was unsuccessful. The wreck lay half buried in clay in the Solent until the 19th century, when a group of fishermen caught their nets on it and hired a diver to remove the hindrance. He became the first person to see Mary Rose up close in nearly 300 years. Two other divers started examining the wreck and salvaging items, including longbows, timbers, and bronze and iron guns. The guns, which were inscribed with the ship’s name, helped identify the wreck, which led to significant public interest and a demand for items from the ship. A diver named John Deane went down to the wreck in 1840 and used bombs to blast his way into parts of the ship. Even with this abuse, she managed not to completely disintegrate.

The Southsea branch of the British Sub-Acqua mounted a search for the ship starting in 1965. Using dives and sonar, they found the ship in May 1971, after the mostly buried hull was partially uncovered by winter storms. To protect the wreck from scavengers, the Mary Rose Committee was formed, which leased the seabed where the wreck lay from Portsmouth. With the passing of the Protection of Wrecks Act in 1973, the wreck was declared to be of national historical interest and was afforded further protection.

Initial excavation work carried out throughout the 1970’s revealed a nearly intact ship structure that would give historians an idea of what Tudor shipbuilding entailed. Raising the hull and preserving it for display, however, would prove difficult and costly, so the Mary Rose Trust was created to drum up funds. The funds were found, and a plan was put in place to raise what remained of the wreck. After three seasons of archaeological work, salvage of the hull began. The Mary Rose was raised on October 11, 1982, observed by Prince Charles and other curious spectators.

Over 26,000 artifacts and the remains of half the crew were recovered from the wreck and were given the full archaeological preservation treatment. Preserving the salvaged hull of the Mary Rose proved more difficult. The hull had to be regularly sprayed down with filtered, recycled cold water to keep it from drying out, warping, and cracking. In the 1990s, a three-phase plan to treat the hull with polyethylene glycol was put into place. Phase one lasted from 1994 to 2003, phase two was completed in 2010, and phase three is expected to be completed in 2015. The ship can be seen by visitors, protected by a glass barrier, and many of the recovered artifacts are on display at the Mary Rose Museum nearby. A larger, permanent museum where the hull will be put on display is expected to open in 2012.


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The fourth time was not a charm for Henry VIII, who annulled his marriage to Anne of Cleves on July 9, 1540 on the grounds of non-consummation.

Even as royal arranged marriages go, this one is famous for being a disaster. Henry agreed to the marriage before even meeting Anne face-to-face, instead relying on a portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger. Although popularly thought to have been hideously ugly (Henry cruelly referred to her as his “Flanders mare”), it’s more likely that her lack of education and sophistication was what turned Henry off. Plus, there may have been some personal hygiene issues. Although Henry reluctantly went through with the marriage on January 6, 1540, he was unable to consummate it. By June the marriage was over, and Anne was commanded to leave court on the 24. On July 6, she was told her husband was “reconsidering” the marriage.

Anne received a generous settlement that included Richmond Palace and Hever Castle (creepily, the childhood home of her doomed predecessor, Anne Boleyn). She accepted her situation docily, and her good behavior earned her a place in Henry’s esteem. They became very good friends and she was honored at court as a member of the royal family, being referred to as “the King’s beloved sister”. She visited often and had good relationships with Henry’s children as well.

Less fortunate was the man who brokered the marriage: Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s Chancellor, who wanted to ally England with one of the German protestant powers. Henry was so enraged at being forced by Cromwell to marry Anne that he had him arrested on trumped-up charges of treason on June 10, 1540. He was beheaded on Tower Hill in a hideously botched execution on July 28, the same day Henry married Katherine Howard.


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Today, in the US at least, we honor our dads, so I’d like to take a moment to recognize mine (love you, dad!) and raise a glass to all the other dads here on The Armchair Anglophile.

Here’s to Nucky Thompson, cute surrogate dad to Margaret’s two kids (and a definite improvement over their real father)

To Sir Hector, who managed to turn out at least one good son (and the other one wasn’t his blood, so I don’t blame him for that)

To Ned Stark and his adorably bumbling attempts at raising a pair of daughters

To Henry VIII, who did love all of his kids, even as he was jettisoning wives in his neverending quest for sons

To Alexander VI and his unabashed love for all his Borgia offspring

To Hallam, who stepped up to the plate when little Lotte’s mother died, even though his wife objected

To Robert, Earl of Grantham, who totally had Mary’s number

To Jack and Tom, who both made mistakes but tried their best

Today, dads, we salute you!

Happy Father’s Day!

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