A Formative Childhood? A Comparison of the Reigns of Mary Stuart and Elizabeth Tudor

Above: queens, cousins, rivals. Mary Stuart, queen consort of France and queen regnant of Scotland (left) and Elizabeth Tudor, queen regnant of England (right).

Above: queens, cousins, rivals. Mary Stuart, queen consort of France and queen regnant of Scotland (left) and Elizabeth Tudor, queen regnant of England (right).

Conor Byrne is a history student at the University of Exeter whose research interests include gender, cultural, and social history. His excellent blog focuses on historical issues but also touches upon contemporary political and social events. 

Being a queen regnant in sixteenth-century Europe was no easy task. Prevailing misogynistic notions questioned whether women, as the inferior sex, had the right to rule over their male superiors. John Knox, the vehement Scottish Protestant preacher, opined in his The first blast of the trumpet against the monstrous regiment of women, attacking the rule of female monarchs such as Mary Tudor and Mary of Guise and published in 1558, that female rule was contrary to Biblical law. He bitterly concluded: ‘For their [women’s] sight in ciulie regiment, is but blindnes: their strength, weakness: their counsel, foolishenes: and judgement, phrenesie, if it be rightlie considered’. In view of this, the experiences of the queens regnant Mary Stuart, queen of Scotland, and Elizabeth Tudor, queen of England, should be considered in light of the customary expectations of figures such as Knox. 

Modern psychologists often suggest that childhood experiences are formative in governing later choices, actions and motives. Alfred Adler believed that people develop desires and drives during the childhood phase which later affects adulthood. Ann Smith concluded, in her article published by Psychology Today, that ‘our own childhood experiences, which include parents, combined with our own personalities, our reaction to siblings and peers and the context of our lives send us off on a path with a particular set of beliefs and patterns that have a huge impact on our future relationships’. Although the psychology of queen regnants such as Mary and Elizabeth, living four hundred years ago, can only be guessed at, it is credible that the childhood experiences of these two queens, which were vastly different, dictated significantly their later actions and beliefs, particularly in relation to queenship and authority.

Above: John Knox's The first blast of the trumpet (1558) was aimed at attacking female rulers such as Mary Stuart and Mary Tudor (right).

Above: John Knox’s The first blast of the trumpet (1558) was aimed at attacking female rulers such as Mary Stuart and Mary Tudor (right).

Both women descended from the first Tudor king, Henry VII, who had attained the crown of England through his defeat of the last Yorkist king, Richard III, at the Battle of Bosworth in August 1485. Elizabeth Tudor’s birth had only been brought about by the annulment of her father’s first marriage and his subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn in 1533, with her birth occurring in September of that year. This marriage and the accompanied break with the Roman Church proved highly significant in European politics, particularly later on in the sixteenth century, for Catholic powers such as France and Spain viewed Henry VIII’s divorce as illegal and his remarriage void, rendering his second daughter Elizabeth a bastard with no right to accede to the throne of England. Mary Stuart, by contrast, was the grand-niece of Henry VIII since she was the daughter of the Scottish king, James V (nephew of Henry), and his French queen Mary of Guise. Her line of descent and her claim to the English throne came through Henry’s eldest sister Margaret Tudor, second child of Henry VII.

Elizabeth Tudor’s childhood was extremely complex and must be viewed as, at best, topsy turvy. For the first three years of her life, she had occupied a central place in her father’s affections as the heir to his throne following the bastardisation of her elder sister Mary. Besotted with his new wife Anne, the English king continued to hope, however, that she would bear him the much longed-for son to succeed Henry on the throne of England. Like most European rulers, Henry adhered to prevailing ideas that female rulers were unacceptable and contrary to God. This idea had, of course, provided the context for the annulment of his first marriage and his belief that his daughter Mary was illegitimate. Elizabeth enjoyed the luxury and splendour befitting an English princess, with her own household and servants, but because this occurred in the first three years of her life it is questionable to what extent she remembered or fully appreciated these luxurious early years.

In 1536, before her third birthday, Elizabeth’s fortunes changed dramatically with her mother’s loss of favour and eventual execution on charges of treason, adultery, and incest. While most historians firmly believe in Anne’s innocence, her daughter was presumably shattered by the news of her mother’s death, although at two years old how much she understood of the situation was very limited. Historians such as Sarah Gristwood and Maria Perry question how closely Elizabeth had bonded with her mother, for she had never resided with her. Following the custom of sixteenth century royal practice, Elizabeth had been nourished by a wet nurse and had been assigned her own household at Hatfield. Her visits to court had been relatively infrequent. Perhaps, as John Neale suggests, Elizabeth’s ’emotional life was unaffected by her mother’s fortunes’.

But this is slightly dubious. Following her mother’s execution, Elizabeth was also, like Mary, declared a bastard, no longer in line to the English throne. Her title of princess was stripped from her, and it is probable that her father, by virtue of who her mother was, viewed her with considerable disfavour for a time. Probably Henry neglected Elizabeth in the immediate aftermath of her mother’s death, for in the late summer of 1536 her governess Lady Bryan was forced to beg Cromwell for new clothes for the toddler. Later that year, however, she had returned to court and the Cardinal du Bellay observed the king’s affection for his youngest daughter. By all accounts, during her life Elizabeth revered her father’s memory and proudly proclaimed her parentage. By contrast, she is said to have mentioned Anne Boleyn’s name only three times in her seventy-year long life. Does this indicate suspicion or even hostility towards her mother, who had been executed for the foulest of crimes? Historians such as Alison Weir think not, believing that she may have, as queen, commissioned George Wyatt to write a secret defence of her mother.

Although Elizabeth was probably not severely affected personally in the immediate aftermath of this event, it is likely that her mother’s execution ‘must have overshadowed Elizabeth’s childhood. Over the years, guarded revelations, gossip, rumour and innuendo… and the growing awareness of her bastard status, must have caused the maturing Elizabeth recurring distress and enduring insecurities, and certainly affected her emotional development’ (Weir, 2009). The executions of both Katherine Howard (1542) and Lady Jane Grey (1554, by her sister Queen Mary) likely caused Elizabeth considerable distress, bringing back painful memories of her own mother’s brutal end. But how did these early childhood experiences govern Elizabeth’s decisions and choices as a ruler?

For one thing, as Antonia Fraser suggests, she learned from a very early age to hide her true feelings. Although Elizabeth was notoriously prone to fits of anger, distress, and annoyance, her own personal feelings regarding, for instance, personages such as Anne and her cousin Mary Stuart, queen of Scots, remain mysterious, as do her personal feelings for Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester and her lifelong suitor. Wisely, Elizabeth chose not to become embroiled in plots against her sister Queen Mary, although she was imprisoned in the Tower of London for a time. When Thomas Seymour tried to seduce her in 1549 during the reign of her brother Edward as a means of pursuing power at court, Elizabeth wisely refused to have nothing to do with him, and at the news of his execution she noted his ‘very little judgement’. 

In other ways, too, the impact of Elizabeth’s early childhood experiences can be clearly discerned. She was notoriously touchy about her status, and reacted furiously to allegations that she was a bastard and thus no rightful queen of England. 

Elizabeth’s reign was characterised by her caution and indecisiveness. She sought to placate foreign powers such as Spain while cautiously supporting fellow Protestants in the Netherlands, who sought to free themselves from the tyranny of the Spanish monarchy. Nevertheless, she did not seek to invade Scotland or France as a means of asserting her authority as her father, Henry VIII, sought to do. Her own horror of bloodshed and her desire for clemency can also be explained as a result of her personal aversion to the bloody experiences of her youth. Famously, she spent weeks, even months, agonising over her duty to sign the death warrant of Mary Stuart, and unlike her Catholic sister, refused to instigate a full scale Holocaust of religious deviants during her throne. Notwithstanding this, English Catholics were, of course, harshly persecuted from the 1570s on in light of the menacing threat of Spain and, to a lesser extent, France.

But above all the impact of Elizabeth’s childhood can most illuminatingly be seen in her attitudes to marriage and her decision to remain unmarried as England’s Virgin Queen. Her father had not prioritised her marriage in her youth, although suggestions of a betrothal to the son of the French king had surfaced during her early years. Later, when Mary Tudor sought to marry Elizabeth to the duke of Savoy, Elizabeth personally refused, on grounds of her decision, already made in her early twenties, to remain single, a decision which revolted her unhappily married sister. Why she chose to do so can only be guessed at, although most historians attribute her momentous decision to the bloody experiences of marriage suffered by her mother Anne and her stepmother Katherine Howard. Potentially, the death in childhood of two of her stepmothers, Jane Seymour and Katherine Parr, also influenced Elizabeth’s aversion to marriage, for she may have come to associate the married position with an early death, pain, even bloodshed. Others argue that she feared the loss of both personal and political power if she had to give way to a husband, while some contended that she refused to marry because she was physically unable to bear children.

In her illuminating article ‘Why Elizabeth I Never Married’, Retha Warnicke suggests that political issues were far more important, for ‘every British queen regnant who married soon discovered that her husband and his family complicated her life politically’. The unsuccessful marriages of three other queen regnants at this time, Lady Jane Grey, Mary Tudor and Mary Stuart, probably influenced Elizabeth’s marital beliefs. Jane’s Dudley in-laws were unpopular, while Mary Tudor’s Spanish husband was so hated that a popular rebellion was directed against him in 1554. Mary Stuart’s second marriage to Henry lord Darnley had, of course, ended in his brutal murder, attributed by hostile individuals to the Scottish queen herself. Her third husband brutally raped her and left her alone in a hostile Scotland. In view of Warnicke’s arguments, it is extremely likely that both Elizabeth’s childhood experiences and the experiences of later queen regnants in relation to marriage governed her momentous decision to remain unmarried.

Above: Queens Elizabeth Tudor and Mary Stuart in their youth.

Above: Queens Elizabeth Tudor and Mary Stuart in their youth.

It is clear that Queen Elizabeth’s personal views and decisions regarding foreign policy, marriage, and the shedding of bloodshed were strongly governed by her formative childhood experiences. Is the same notion true for Mary Stuart, queen regnant of Scotland and, at one stage, queen consort of France? As second cousin to the English queen, Mary Stuart had enjoyed a far different childhood to Elizabeth. While Mary as dauphiness of France was to enjoy a life of luxury and splendour similar to that of the English princess before the execution of her mother, beforehand her birth in 1542 to the Scottish king James V occurred at a time of political and foreign difficulties in Scotland. The hostility of Henry VIII, directed in continuing invasions of Scotland, was worsened by the death of James six days after his daughter’s birth. At 6 days old, therefore, Mary Stuart became queen of Scotland. Her mother, Queen Mary, became regent of Scotland during her daughter’s minority, but her French lineage and her Catholic faith rendered her an unpopular figure to Scottish Protestants. It is significant that the Scottish Reformation occurred from this time.

The hostile misadventures of the English king encouraged the Scottish dowager queen’s decision to send her infant daughter to the land of her own birth, France, where she would be brought up by her Guise relatives and groomed for a splendid marriage to the French dauphin, Francois, who would day accede to the crown of France. Although, like Elizabeth, Mary’s infant years had been traumatic and complex, during her adolescence she enjoyed a life of luxury and fulfilment as a princess of France. She grew into a tall, striking, charming woman who enjoyed poetry, music, and dancing, and who sought personal satisfaction in outdoor physical exercise. While she was of the Catholic faith, during her teenage years she was not devout. However, the year 1558 was significant for Mary and the course of her life. Aged fifteen at the time, Mary’s position in Europe was immeasurably strengthened by the death of her cousin Queen Mary Tudor, ruler of England, in November. Because Catholic powers, as mentioned, identified Elizabeth as a bastard, in the eyes of Europe, Mary Stuart was now the rightful queen of England. Elizabeth’s Protestant faith rendered her a heretic, and her illegitimacy was proclaimed to be a pressing reason why she should never accede to the crown of England. Accordingly, Mary and her French husband, whom she had married in April of that year in Paris, began using the royal arms of England alongside those of France and Scotland and it was ordered that they should be referred to as the king and queen of France, Scotland and England.

Mary’s childhood and adolescence had encouraged her to believe that, by virtue of her excellent lineage and her Catholic faith, she was the rightful queen of England. But her future became uncertain in 1560 when, aged only seventeen, the French dauphin died prematurely. No longer queen consort of France, Mary decided to return home to Scotland as its queen regnant, although not after considering a second marriage alliance with a powerful nation such as Spain. Once in Scotland, Mary’s political decisions and choices as queen are intriguing in view of her childhood experiences. Her religious policy was famously fair and liberal, for although she was a Catholic, the Scottish Reformation had progressed so extensively that she quickly discerned that it would be unwise to press for Catholicism to become the state religion. Her own mother had faced mounting hostility in view of her Catholic faith, culminating in an invasion. Wisely, Mary learned from her childhood experiences in accordance with the political and religious situation prevailing in Scotland. Like Elizabeth in the early years of her reign, who famously desired not ‘to make windows into men’s souls’, Queen Mary sought peace and stability in a kingdom which was slowly experiencing increasing inner tensions. She may also have been influenced by the religious violence in France between Catholics and Huguenots during her childhood. As Fraser contends, she seems to have had a personal aversion to bloodshed and violence, like her cousin Elizabeth.

Mary’s beliefs regarding marriage and motherhood were significantly different to those of Elizabeth, most likely because of her own childhood experiences in that regard. While Elizabeth may have equated motherhood and marriage with bloodshed and an early death, Mary’s acquaintance with the fertility of the French royal family, coupled with her own maternal feelings, meant that marriage was a promising prospect for her. She also regarded it as essential in order to preserve dynastic and political stability in Scotland. Unlike Elizabeth, who feared the loss of her authority through marriage, Mary naturally desired a strong ruling hand to aid her in her queenship. In view of this, in 1565 Mary, having fallen in love with the dashing but volatile Henry Stewart, lord Darnley, chose to marry once more. Her choice, aside from his own personal failings, was a wise one, for Henry had royal blood by virtue of being the son of Lady Margaret Douglas, niece of Henry VIII as the daughter of Margaret Tudor. Since Mary Stuart was the granddaughter of Margaret Tudor, she was first cousin to Lord Darnley.

Mary’s political decisions and views were dictated entirely by her childhood experiences in France. There, absolutism reigned, and the monarchy was entirely respected with its due reverence. By contrast, the Scottish monarchy was beset with difficulties in view of increasing religious conflict among the Scottish lords. They were violent and sought only to pursue their own interests. Abduction and rape of rich widows was commonly used as a means of achieving power and greater wealth. It was therefore impossible for Mary to appreciate the tensions and resentment prevalent among her nobility. Despite her religious tolerance, her Catholic faith rendered her unacceptable to hostile Protestants such as John Knox and her brother, the earl of Moray. Her husband, Lord Darnley, soon proved to be a disastrous choice as consort. Immature, jealous and easily manipulated, he was soon embroiled in a plot to kill Mary’s beloved secretary Riccio, who was blamed for causing the Queen’s disillusionment with her second husband. Less than a year after Riccio’s brutal end, Darnley himself had been murdered, his strangled body found at Kirk o’Field. His house had been blown up in a plot to kill him, probably governed largely by the Earl of Bothwell who subsequently abducted the Scottish queen and raped her. Their marriage ceremony followed shortly afterwards. Mary now totally lost any support she had formerly enjoyed from the nobility. Viewing her as an adulteress and whore, they imprisoned her at Lochleven, and forced her to abdicate in favour of her infant son James. Months later, she managed to escape to England, where she would endure 19 years of imprisonment before Queen Elizabeth signed her death warrant, when evidence gradually but quickly emerged that Mary had been involved in a number of plots against her. Mary’s life came to an end at the hands of the executioner’s axe in Fotheringhay Castle in February 1587.

While Elizabeth’s decisions were governed by caution and indecision, Mary’s have often been considered reckless and impulsive, although her early religious policies were tolerant and well-considered. She also sought to pursue a policy of conciliation with the nobility, in order to avoid bloodshed and violence at the Scottish court. Both women were influenced supremely by their childhood experiences. In relation to marriage, Elizabeth shrunk from the prospect due to her own psychological views and her political awareness, while Mary’s association of marriage with lineage and power, formed at the court of France, governed her decisions to remarry once in Scotland. Both women pursued strong alliances with European powers as a means of strengthening their positions politically and personally; Elizabeth because of the experiences of her father and sister in their reigns and because of England’s own insecurities; and Mary because she was aware that Scotland’s conflict could only be assuaged by the helping hand of a loyal Catholic ally. Both women also sought conciliating religious policies since both had a horror of bloodshed and violence. But in the most important decisions, it seems clear that Elizabeth was both more politically astute and more aware of the importance of her people’s opinions. Consequently, she refused to marry Robert Dudley in 1560 following the mysterious death of his wife because she was aware that she was implicated by some in Amy Robsart’s death; she refused to go to war with fellow Protestants because she feared England’s loss of security at the hands of hostile powers such as Spain; and she refused to suffer the loss of her virgin status. Elizabeth was understandably reluctant to place her political and personal authority in doubt were she to marry an overbearing husband. Her own sister’s example had demonstrated such a risk. 

By contrast, Mary Stuart’s decision to marry Darnley appears singularly misguided even if, at the time, it was considered a strong alliance. But her own decision to marry Bothwell scandalised her people and alienated her nobility, although it seems hardly fair to blame Mary since he had both abducted and raped her and it is certain that she had very little choice. But the belief that she was a constant schemer and plotter against the English queen, whatever the truths of it, and the association of her name with murder blackened her reputation irretrievably. Unlike Elizabeth, who at an early age by virtue of her childhood experiences became cautious and indecisive, Mary was more impulsive and reckless by virtue of the fact that her childhood had not prepared her in the same manner for a successful queenship. Her sense of absolutism political sense and her views regarding marriage were significantly different to those of Queen Elizabeth.

Queen regnants faced hostility and suspicion in the sixteenth century, when it was believed that women were inferior to men and as such had no right to rule over them. The example of Queen Elizabeth proved that a woman could rule successfully, while that of Mary Stuart indicated the difficulties a female ruler faced by virtue of her gender. Both women’s childhoods dictated their decisions later in life and their own personal characteristics, but while Elizabeth has been generally praised as a successful ruler and perhaps even England’s greatest monarch, Mary has often been condemned, as a result of her political and religious decisions, as a failure, notwithstanding the prevailing image of her as a religious martyr or tragic figure.


Filed under Across/Beyond Genres with The Tudors: Guest Posts by Novelists, Historians, Cultural Observers, Poets, Memoirists, Artists, and Bloggers

Our Default Anne

 UnknownIn England, Hilary Mantel’s award-winning novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies are now on stage, and with the productions comes a revival of “lethal Anne” (The Daily Mail,) described in various reviews as a “sharp-toothed vixen” (The Guardian)”vile and manipulative” (The Telegraph) and so “spitefully ambitious” that “one feels any king would be justified in beheading” her (The Morning Star.)  She’s a bit player in Mantel’s fictional world, which stars Thomas Cromwell, but a familiar one.  From the letters of Anne’s earliest political enemies to Philippa Gregory’s sister from hell in The Other Boleyn Girl, the lethal, calculating social climber has been our default Anne Boleyn, who—like Freddy Kruger in the Halloween thrillers—just won’t die.

Does history bear this portrayal out?  Hardly.  The only “evidence” that Anne was a ruthless schemer comes from the poison pen of her political enemies—most notably, Eustace Chapuys, ambassador to Spain and a fierce defender of both Katherine and the Catholic Church.  Mantel’s fictional portrayal of Anne—“as seen through the eyes of Cromwell”—is just that: a novelistic invention, not born out by the facts.  Cromwell, by all accounts, saw Anne as a confederate in the reformist cause until long after the time period of Wolf Hall.  Yet there she is in Wolf Hall, a “calculating being” with “a cold slick brain at work behind her hungry black eyes.”

images-8Just what is so enduringly appealing about malicious Anne?  The “femme fatale” is a long-standing archetype in many cul­tures, of course, and Anne is only one of many: Eve, Delilah, Salome, Jezebel, the sirens, Medea, Cleopatra, Morgan le Fay, Vampira, the Dragon Lady, and all their various incarnations and evil sisters in my­thology, novels, fin-de-siècle painting, film noir, and television soaps. Camille Paglia, in Sexual Personae, fol­lows Freud and Nietzsche and argues that she is “one of the most mesmerizing of sexual personae,” who will always have a cultural presence. And there is no denying that there is something delicious about characters that act out the mean girl (or, for men, the imagined girlfriend from hell) in all of us. Like Scarlett O’Hara, lethal Anne discharges parts of the self that most of us are afraid to put into public scrutiny.

What seems most striking today is not so much that lethal Anne Boleyn still exists in popular culture, but that we no longer see her as a suspect sexist stereotype whose reality lies in the cultural unconscious rather than the facts of history.  If a bug-eyed black rapist appeared in a contemporary novel or play, at least some commentators would squirm over the reproduction of dangerous and ill-founded racist mythology.  Nowadays, it’s ho-hum over equally cartoonish sexual “personae.”

images-9(1)Actually, it’s worse than ho-hum.  To call out sexual stereotyping is derided as “politically correct,” old-fashioned, and chip-on-the-shoulder feminism.  When I remarked (to a writer who will remain un-named) how cartoonishly fatale Mantel’s Anne seemed, she chastised me for “expecting Cromwell to behave like a twentieth century feminist.” No, it’s rather that I expected as talented a writer as Mantel—and one who says she operated as the “history police” as her novels were adapted into plays—to press her imagination into the service of the historical Cromwell’s relationship with Anne rather than sprucing up the same-old mean girl and putting her in Cromwell’s mind.

Does this mean that I view “the real” Anne Boleyn as a helpless innocent with no ambitions or nasty thoughts? That description would apply to no one over the age of one. And actually, we know very little about what Anne’s character or motivations were really like, for Henry, who loved to re-write history along his choice of wife, destroyed her letters, portraits, and just about everything he could lay his hands on that testified to Anne’s existence. What remains is a patched together narrative that variously reflects the biases of staunch enemies or idealizing rehabilitators of her image. The fact is, however, that she would not have to be so constantly defended if we didn’t keep returning to the default vixen. Surely the choice between “victim” and “villainess,” while it has dominated the history of representations of Anne, is a silly one that it is time to resist.

Leave a comment

Filed under Anne Through the Ages

Jane Rochford Week: “Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey”

Adrienne Dillard graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Montana State University-Northern and has been an eager student of history for most of her life. Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey, due to be completed in Spring 2014, is her first novel.

The scene from which this excerpt was taken centers on Catherine Carey Knollys, daughter to Mary Boleyn. In November 1539 she is sent to court to attend on Anne of Cleves. This scene is when she first arrives at court. Before she is able to see any friendly faces, the first person she encounters is someone who has been nothing but maligned in her family so obviously she is a bit distressed by that. However, her first encounter with Jane is not what she expected and she gains a bit of insight into her uncle George. Later, they go on to be confidants and Catherine’s pragmatism plays as a foil to Jane’s need to please those in power even at the cost of her life.


Whitehall Palace

London, Whitehall – Winter 1539

We arrived at Whitehall to a joyous celebration.  Lively music spilled out of the great hall and most of the windows in the palace were ablaze in torch light.  I eased my way out of the carriage, stiff from the biting cold and found my footing.  A group of servants rushed over to haul the baggage and trunks out of the cart.  Carefully, I picked my way through the mud and headed for the warmth of the palace.  I had never been to Whitehall so I was unsure of my surroundings, but I hoped there would be someone there to guide me to the maid’s dorm.  The hall was busy enough, servants hurried by with their arms full, but no one to greet me.  I stopped for a moment amid the bustle and listened to the music.  If I could let it lead me to the great hall, surely someone could tell me where to go. 

I walked down the winding corridors, listening intently; as the music got louder, I knew I was close to the celebration.  I turned the corner and saw the big doors.  They were slightly ajar, so I inched closer to get a peek. The hall was packed, but a space had been cleared to allow for dancing.  I had heard that the king loved to see his courtiers dance.  His dancing days were coming to an end, but it did not stop him from vicariously living through the young men and women who graced his court. 

At the center of attention was a couple dancing the volte.  The man was lean and muscular, lifting his lithe companion with ease.  Vivacious and lively, she threw her head back in excitement, her golden hair cascading down her back.  From a distance, it was difficult to tell their age, but the young lady appeared to be of an age as I.  I assumed she was to be a maid to the queen.  I would have to investigate further.

I took in the rest of the scene.  The king was sitting under a cloth of estate in all his finery.  A purple velvet doublet trimmed in ermine graced his large body.  A ring on each finger caught the candle light and glittered.  He wore a full beard, still gloriously red.  He had aged since the last time I saw him, but I witnessed not a trace of grey hair.  He topped off his look with a wide brimmed hat trimmed with a jaunty white feather.  Unseen, I could take him all in.  I stared unabashedly at his highness.  If only I could read his mind.  I watched his eyes follow the young lady in the dance, he smiled at her each time she turned his way.  He may have a bride on the way, but he was a lusty king after all, it would not be long before she was a favorite, if she was not already.

A hand on my shoulder caused me to jump, my heart thudding against my chest.  I spun around to see a face I knew well and was not delighted.  My late uncle’s wife, Jane Rochford, was staring back at me.  I expected a sneer, but I received a smile instead.

“Mistress Catherine!  I am so happy to have found you.  My deepest apologies, I was to meet you at the door, but was detained by a chamber maid.  I am relieved you arrived safely,” she said breathlessly.

She looked genuinely excited to see me.  My feelings for her were of another sort.  I actually dreaded seeing her.  During George and Anne’s trials, it was rumored that Jane had given evidence against them. At least that was what was whispered in the hushed halls at Hever.  I overheard two of our lady maids talking about the shame she had brought on our family.  My heart sank at the idea that she was to be a guide for me.  How would I ever contain my disgust?

Jane left me little time to react.  Immediately she was leading me to the maid’s dorm to see that I was settled in and out of my rain soaked garments.  She waited patiently on my bed while a lady maid helped me into a dry muslin shift and prepared me for bed.  After my long journey I was exhausted and while it was exciting to see the party in the hall, I was in no condition to join it.  The lady maid made her departure, my wet clothes in hand, leaving Jane and I to stare awkwardly at each other.  I waited for her to break the silence.

Jane stood, clearing her throat she said, “I am sure I know what you must think of me and I cannot say that I blame you.  Since I found out that you would be coming to court, I have been going over round and round in my head what I would say to you.  It seems only fair that I tell you the truth.  We will be together much of our time now and I want you to know what it true and what is false and why I did what I did.  Please say that you will give me that chance.”

She looked at me with such hopeful eyes that though my stomach was pitching inside, I knew I could only nod in response.

She began to pace the room, her footsteps kicking up the scent of sage in the newly laid rushes.  “It is true that I gave evidence against George and Anne, but it is not what it appears to be.” She came to a stop and turned to look me in the eye.

“Cromwell had me in a corner and I was terrified of what he might do.  I had to ensure my survival.  But I never said that Anne and George had a carnal relationship.  I never even alluded to the idea, I swear this to you.  I could never come up with that abominable scene, that was all Cromwell and the king’s doing.  I only repeated that Anne said the king had not the ability at all times to bed her as his wife.  Nothing more.” She said earnestly.  Her face was flushed and her eyes shone with unshed tears of emotion.

I was not swayed by her pleading.  “You were concerned with your own survival, but not your husband’s?  Did you not realize that his survival was linked to your own?”

“Please forgive me Catherine, I was afraid,” she pleaded.

“We were all afraid,” I spat out, feeling the anger rising in my throat.  “What makes your fear more important than ours?

She quieted and looked to the floor.  After a moment, she looked up at me, a tear coursing down her cheek. “A week before I was questioned, I realized that I had missed my courses.  I knew then that I was with child, Catherine.”

I gasped.  I knew they had been waiting for that moment.  George could often be found in front of the fire at Hever gazing at the Ormonde ancestral horn.  He turned it over and over in his hands, rubbing his fingers over the smooth ivory, wrapping the silk ribbon in between his fingers.  He longed for a son to pass it on to.  It had seemed, though, as if it would never happen. 

My breath caught in my throat, “Did George know?”

She gave me a sad smile, “Yes, my dear niece, he did know.  He knew that Cromwell was determined to take his family down no matter who gave evidence of what and if I did not give him the responses he craved, I would go down with them.  He instructed me what to tell Cromwell when my interrogation came.  It broke my heart, but I had to do what my husband bid me.  I loved George, I would never do anything to hurt him in any way.”

My heart filled with love for my uncle George.  He was fighting to give his child a chance. I pictured his bright smile, the devilish twinkle in his brown eyes as if he was about to tell some marvelous joke.  Suddenly, it occurred to me that a small piece of him could exist.

“The baby?” I asked hopefully and held my breath in anticipation.

Jane began to sob. “The day they executed George, I awoke in the middle of the night bleeding.  There was nothing to be done.  His child did not want to exist without his father and so he followed him straight to Heaven and left me alone here.”

In that moment, my heart broke for Jane and my head filled with rage for the king.  Not only did he execute my beloved aunt and uncle, but he caused the death of George’s unborn heir.  Jane was just as much a victim as Anne and George.  All she had was taken from her and for her reward, she had earned a vile undeserved reputation.  I suddenly wanted to be very far from court.

Leave a comment

Filed under Across/Beyond Genres with The Tudors: Guest Posts by Novelists, Historians, Cultural Observers, Poets, Memoirists, Artists, and Bloggers, Uncategorized

The Sisters Tudor: An Evolution in Evaluating Mary I and Elizabeth I

Mary and Elizabeth TudorThe following post is from Natalie Sweet, research assistant to Susan Bordo. She is the creator of Semper Eadem: An Elizabeth I Blog, and is currently at work on a book project that focuses on life within Abraham Lincoln’s White House (you can read a sample of that project here). The following is taken from a piece Natalie wrote in 2008, Two Tudor Monarchs: Analyzing Queenship in Early Modern England.

Scholarly literature on the two Tudor queens regnant, Mary I and Elizabeth I, suggests a number of past themes about their reigns. Authors once obsessed over Mary’s “bloody” moniker and Catholic faith, while others analyzed Elizabeth’s Protestant policies and her “Glorianna” status.  In the late twentieth century, however, the development of fields in women’s history and gender analysis signaled new ways in which to conceptualize the two sisters.  Obviously, historians had always recognized the fact that Mary and Elizabeth were anomalies as female rulers, but there was little discussion about what being a female ruler in early modern England meant.  Therefore, historians wrote their biographies and political histories with little consideration of how female rule challenged and altered the political scene.[1]  Not until the prime of women’s history in the 1980s did authors consider in detail Mary’s and Elizabeth’s struggle in a patriarchal world.[2]

By 1997, the number of articles on Mary and Elizabeth in the women’s history tradition steadily increased. [3]  Eventually, work on Mary I incorporated a method that had already been utilized to study Elizabeth’s reign: gender analysis.[4]   Today, efforts to locate both Mary’s and Elizabeth’s role in formulating English queenship through gender analysis demonstrates how far the study of the two queens has come.[5]  Where mid-twentieth century histories once reflected both the misogynist viewpoints of the queens’ sixteenth century counterparts and the author writing about them, the advent of women’s history and gender studies allowed historians to discover how the queens’ sex substantially affected how they projected their image and participated politically. This evolution in historical methods likewise produced an evolving definition of “success” for the two queens.  While Elizabeth’s unmarried status condemned her in mid-twentieth century misogynist texts, Mary was rescued from her “bloody” image because she represented a good wife and aspiring mother.  However, as women’s history became more popular, Elizabeth gradually gained respect for managing her autonomy while Mary suffered for her perceived failure in marrying Phillip II.  It was not until after historians fully “rehabilitated” Elizabeth’s image through gender analysis that they in turn discovered the legitimate successes of Mary as a female monarch.

In 1943, Theodore Maynard released his simply titled Queen Elizabeth.  With World War II still raging and the London blitzkrieg excruciatingly fresh in everyone’s minds, a biography of Elizabeth I and England’s triumph over the “invincible” Spanish Armada would have been a welcomed read.  Instead, Maynard primarily focused on the problems of Elizabeth’s reign, especially her treatment of Catholics.  Maynard gave no consideration to the inherent problems of female rule in a patriarchal society, and, indeed, wrote about Elizabeth and prior queens consort and regnant in a misogynist tone.  He described Anne Boleyn as a “shrew,” and deemed Jane Grey “a little prig” because of “her refusal to having a parting with her husband, on the grounds that they were soon to meet in heaven.”[6]  But he saved his most demeaning analysis for Elizabeth.  He believed that any ordinary woman would have broken under the strain that Elizabeth was under as queen, and this indicated that she was “no ordinarily constituted woman.”[7]  Instead, he believed Elizabeth suffered from “a sexual abnormality aggravated by syphilis.”[8] For this reason, he held “compassion for a woman so tortured in her body and soul as often not to be held responsible,” for her actions and, to her credit, believed the “abnormality” was “an asset to Elizabeth as a politician.”[9]

VictorianSistersIn this way, Maynard made Elizabeth into no woman at all.  He explained her successes as a result of her unfeminine anatomy while still blaming her failures on the “feminine spite” that “stifled her decent impulses.”[10]  Mary received no better treatment from Maynard in 1943 or in his 1955 biography, Bloody Mary. In Queen Elizabeth, Maynard found Mary to be “surely the best woman who ever sat upon the English throne, one absolutely devoted to what she believed to be right.”[11]  However, he also found her feminine virtue to be what made her “a poor politician.”[12]  By the release of Bloody Mary, Maynard continued to regard Mary’s reign in a misogynist context.  Mary received his sympathy because she- “not only as a woman…but…a very inexperienced woman”- correctly believed that she needed a husband to advise her.[13]  Because of her sex, Maynard asserted that readers should save their “reprehension” “for the men upon whom she relied and who failed her.”[14]

In brief instances, Maynard seemed close to addressing the problems of female rule.  However, like other books written both before and during the time, he ascribed the “real” problem to something other than Mary’s sex.  For example, Maynard noted that many of Edward VI’s councilors objected to Mary becoming her brother’s regent because she was a woman.  Maynard completely tossed the argument aside, however, in favor of his belief that “the real argument was that Mary…was a Papist at heart.”[15]  While Maynard’s assessment had validity, he missed the opportunity to review why the councilors could make such a statement.  Twenty-four years later, David Loades likewise missed the significance of sex in his 1979 Reign of Mary Tudor.  The political biography sought to recapture the dynamics of Mary’s overlooked reign, and Loades showed little interest in the social, let alone gendered, aspects of her rule.  Therefore, his chapter on “The Spanish Marriage,” a topic of obsession for later historians of women’s history and gender, paid little attention to why Mary felt the need to marry or what the consequences of a queen regnant’s marriage might entail.  Instead, Loades puzzled over the point that “[l]ess than twenty years previously Catherine of Aragon had been a popular queen and it is not very easy to understand why Englishmen should have conceived a particular dislike for Spaniards by 1553.”[16]

The development of women’s studies in the 1970s helped to halt the misogynist texts generated about Mary and Elizabeth.  However, it was not until the 1980s that historians of women’s history began to view either Mary or Elizabeth as a viable topic. Allison Heisch attributed this to their belief that “exceptional women are not representative women.”[17] In her 1980 article “Queen Elizabeth I and the Persistence of Patriarchy,” Heisch described Elizabeth’s struggle with patriarchal society in order to understand “those systems which oppress and exclude women” even at the “exceptional” level.[18]  Elizabeth’s councilors viewed her primarily as a bridge between “Henry VIII to some unnamed, but certainly male heir,” and spoke to her as if they were “lecturing a daughter on her duty.”[19] Comparing her to Gertrude Stein, Heisch claimed Elizabeth fought such treatment by becoming “an honorary male,” a woman who legitimized her rule by running with “the boys” and styling herself as different from other females.[20]

Constance Jordan’s in-depth examination of women’s rule in sixteenth century literature went beyond Heisch’s to examine the sex-related problems that both sisters faced in her 1987 article “Women’s Rule in Sixteenth-Century Thought.”  Noting that “[t]he prospect of [a queen’s] government could hardly have been regarded with anything but concern,” Jordan examined how male writers used Mary’s sex to attack her legitimacy but formulated excuses about queenship to defend Elizabeth’s ascension and more “abnormal” reign.[21] Mary’s religion was the primary concern of Protestants like John Knox, Thomas Becon, and Christopher Goodman, but they principally referenced her sex to denounce her. They firmly stated that God made woman inferior to man and submissive to her husband, and Mary’s ascension was thus “the principal mark of a tyrant” because she “step[ped] out of her place.”[22] More seriously, they charged that Mary’s marriage to the foreign, Catholic Phillip II placed England in danger since he could claim his rights as a husband at any time.[23]  Jordan noted that although Elizabeth sidestepped Mary’s problem by refusing to marry, her decision made her more of an anomaly in England’s now Protestant, marriage valuing culture.  However, since Elizabeth was viewed as a defender of Protestantism, there was a reluctance to make misogynist attacks.  Instead, defenders like John Calvin and John Aylmer explained that, like Deborah in the Bible, the “exceptional woman may be ‘raised up by divine authority.’”[24]

FamilyPortraitJordan’s and Heisch’s articles paved the way for Susan Bassnett to pen her 1988 Elizabeth I: A Feminist Perspective.  Bassnett believed it was time to confront “the strain running through the work of even the most eminent historians that reveal[ed] an uneasiness about Elizabeth’s sex” in a full-length book.[25]  Tackling misogynist texts head-on, Bassnett reiterated the problems of female rule discussed by Jordan and Heisch while simultaneously confronting the aspects of Elizabeth’s reign that could not be blamed on her sex.  For example, Bassnett believed that grumbles about Elizabeth’s feminine “whimsical and capricious” nature were contradicted by her passionate faithfulness to those who she truly cared about.[26]  Likewise, Bassnett did not, as Maynard did, blame Elizabeth’s “feminine nature” on her tendency to demand flattery or banish those who had married without her permission.  Bassnett believed such views were anachronistic “in a world where formal behaviour [sic] played a very important role,” and insisted that “the elaborate sequence of flattery and obsequies that surrounded her [reflected] ritual rather than…realistic demonstrations of feeling.”[27]

Bassnett, along with Heisch and Jordan, demonstrated that being female forced Mary and Elizabeth to deal with problems that no king had ever had to contend with.  Carole Levin’s The Heart and Stomach of a King: Elizabeth I and the Politics of Sex and Power enhanced their studies by placing Elizabeth’s reign under gender analysis “to understand the intersection of politics with gender, of sexuality with power.”[28]  Rather than simply describing the problems or results that Elizabeth faced as a female monarch, as Heisch, Jordan, and Bassnett did, Levin explored gender constructions and role expectations to determine exactly how Elizabeth surpassed her gender and unmarried status.  More importantly, Levin used the technique on Elizabeth’s subjects to determine how they responded to the queen’s manipulation of her sexual image as well.  In the process, she determined that although the problems Elizabeth faced during her reign – difficulties with nobles, quarrels with Parliament, and unpopular wars – were universal for monarchs, “[t]he way these problems manifested themselves in Elizabeth’s reign had to do with her sex.”[29]  For example, in order to evoke love from her subjects, Elizabeth utilized male and female imagery to secure her status.  She portrayed herself as a wife, a mother, and a female saint while simultaneously taking on the king’s mantle as a magical healer and warrior to maintain her tenuous position.   However, while Levin acknowledged, “Elizabeth was far more successful than Mary and the other women rulers of her time,” she also acknowledged that her refusal to wed, and thus not provide an heir, caused “serious problems” as well.[30]  Her subjects feared civil war, and they voiced their uneasiness about their female monarch in a variety of ways.  In popular literature, poems, and even recorded dreams, Levin discovered that Elizabeth’s subjects variously viewed her as a “sacred monarch” and a “wanton and whore “ at different points in her reign.[31]

Levin’s book marked an important point in scholarship about Elizabeth.  No longer could serious-minded scholars portray the younger Tudor queen as Thomas Maynard had, as a sexually deformed dissembler whose feminine nature made her a vain and capricious ruler.  Instead, historians of women’s history and gender analysis brought her into her own.  They acknowledged that Elizabeth’s sex was a legitimate handicap that, in personal instances, she handled surprisingly well.  As Heisch pointed out, her sex made her susceptible to the bullying of her advisors, but Elizabeth largely avoided the problem by making herself an honorary male.  Heisch may have unhappily noted that Elizabeth’s management of her “sexual problem” “did nothing to upset or interfere with male notions of how the world was or should be organized,” but Basset asserted that Elizabeth’s “feminist attitude” marked a triumph for all early modern women.[32]  Because Elizabeth had never allowed her sex to “diminish her prestige” but had utilized it to increase her esteem instead, Bassnett described Elizabeth’s reign as “a unique and extraordinary achievement” “in an age when the social value of women was in retreat.”[33]  Without these revisions to historical scholarship in the 1980s, it is unlikely that Levin could have argued in 1994 that Elizabeth blurred gender lines to be “more than a man and more than a woman too” in an admiring tone.[34]

At the same time that historians in women’s studies positively revised and rehabilitated Elizabeth’s image, however, they also steadily injured the already poor image of Mary.  Prior to the 1980s, “Bloody” Mary’s reign was popularly remembered for the number of Protestants she burned at the stake and the loss of Calais to France.  After the women’s histories of the 1980s were published, she also became the sister whose disastrous political marriage became an example for her successful sister not to follow.  While Heisch only briefly mentioned Mary’s example, Jordan’s article expounded on the issue, blatantly noting that “[b]y refusing to marry, Elizabeth could avoid risking the loss of control that Mary had experienced.”[35] Likewise, Bassnett viewed Mary’s reign as a lesson in what to avoid as a female ruler, commenting that, “Elizabeth must have seen that in order to stay in control,” she had to avoid the fate of her sister, whose “capacity to govern [was] impaired by the depth of…personal misery” her marriage caused her.[36]  Maynard may have made Mary into a Stepford wife in his chauvinistic biography and Loades may have considered her sex as an afterthought, but at least their treatments of the eldest Tudor queen attributed a few positive qualities to her.

The increasing commentary on the “successful” Elizabeth at least reminded historians of women’s history that there was another Tudor queen.  Since Mary was the “unsuccessful one,” however, the one that patriarchal society had seemingly dominated, historians portrayed her in a sympathetic light.  After all, not much could be expected from the unexceptional sister who had lost her autonomy when she married.  In the tradition of women’s history, Glyn Redworth’s 1997 article “’Matters Impertinent to Women’: Male and Female Monarchy under Phillip and Mary” focused on the Spanish marriage.  More specifically, Redworth zeroed in on Phillip’s influence over Mary.  She contradicted Loades’s assessment of the Hapsburg monarch’s influence, noting that he truly involved himself in Mary’s government to “’make up for other matters which are impertinent to women.’”[37]  As a result, Mary, as the “the first female in English history effectively to rule,” found that “the kingly images she could appropriate were few and far between.”[38]  Redworth noted that when the queen married, she lost both those few images and her will to oversee “kingly” issues altogether. Mary as a wife “would nearly always be obliged to surrender her command in the field,” although she had once “take[n] up arms to put down rebellion” after her brother’s death.[39]  As her subjects suspected, Mary’s sex outweighed any “constitutional attempt to cuckold Phillip [and] restrict his political influence” because “[h]is position as Mary’s husband belied all limitations.”[40]

M&ETombRedworth’s Mary seemed to contribute nothing more to the formulation of English queenship than an example of what could happen when a queen lost her autonomy.  In contrast, Judith M. Richards, through a combination of women’s history and gender analysis, suggested, “Mary’s reign is important in its own right, as well as a necessary introduction for any wider study of English female monarchy.”[41]  Instead of focusing solely on the Spanish marriage in her 1997 article “Mary Tudor as ‘Sole Quene’? Gendering Tudor Monarchy,” Richards examined Mary’s use of gendered symbolism and authority both before and after she wed Phillip.  She discovered that, like Elizabeth, Mary incorporated a number of female and male symbolisms into her coronation ceremony to remind her subjects of both her political and physical body.  Indeed, Richards asserted that Mary’s approaches to queenship “subsequently defined [the] central symbolic forms of Elizabeth’s reign and shaped their readings.”[42]  Additionally, although “how far a married queen could be a king remained a problematic question” at the end of her reign, Mary “produced some ingenious constitutional propositions” by marrying Phillip.[43]  Redworth asserted that the most important constitutional issue, “the ultimate political question…of whether the realm belonged to the monarch or the people” was raised because of the Spanish marriage.[44]

Richards’s article marked the resurrection of Mary’s image and the incorporation of gender analysis to study the eldest Tudor queen.  Suddenly, instead of being the queen whose mistakes Elizabeth avoided at all costs, Mary became the sister whose advantageous use of male and female symbolism provided Elizabeth with an example to emulate.  Likewise, as Richards had hoped, another scholar took up the challenge of incorporating Mary into his introduction to the problems of female queenship.  In The Lion Roared: The Problems of Female Rule in English History, Charles Beem utilized gender analysis to examine the problems of queenship from Matilda to Victoria.  Interestingly, Beem did not examine Elizabeth in-depth because he believed “her position as the archetype of English female rule” had caused her to too “long crow[d] the centerstage [sic] among gender studies concerning the nature of female rule in England.”[45]  Instead, he analyzed Mary and the other English queens to determine what they contributed to the formulation of English queenship.

Beem “identifie[d] Mary as the original architect of [his] conceptualization of female rulership within the social constructs of sixteenth-century womanhood.”[46]  Like Richards, Beem examined the gendered language and images that Mary manipulated in order to “inhabit [the] conventional constructs of womanhood” while “remain[ing] within the patriarchal parameters of legitimized female power, avoiding the mistakes that had cost the empress Matilda her coronation four centuries earlier.”[47]  Beem went beyond Richards or any other analysis of the Spanish marriage, however, when he noted that Mary’s pursuit of the Act concerning Regal Power emasculated Phillip.  Historians of women’s history had only asserted that the act affected Phillip’s pride, not his masculinity.  Beem noted that Mary’s “forceful” emergence “from behind the screen of feminine authority” in such times “served as a blueprint for Elizabeth I’s marriage negotiations with various continental princes after she became queen.”[48]  While admitting that the elder Tudor queen provided both good and bad examples for Elizabeth to follow, Beem asserted, “Mary triumphed against formidable odds…while creating a public image of benign queenship as she arranged for a marriage guaranteeing her autonomous sovereignty of queen.”

Over the past sixty years, scholars traveled a long ways in their studies on Elizabeth and Mary Tudor.  Certainly, no scholar of women’s history and gender analysis today could seriously consider the types of assertions that Thomas Maynard made in 1943.  Likewise, it is increasingly obvious that any future political study of the Tudor queens must include at least some discussion, conducted either in the tradition of women’s history or gender analysis, of their anomalous female position.  Elizabeth’s status as “the Virgin Queen” may make it achingly tempting to solely reference her as the example of extraordinary female queenship, but historians of gender analysis clearly demonstrate through their examinations of both sisters that Mary cannot be forgotten.  Thanks to the evolution in historical methods, it is unmistakable that Mary contributed a model of queenship, with both good and bad aspects, for Elizabeth to follow or ignore.


Works Cited

Bassnett, Susan.  Elizabeth I: A Feminist Perspective.  Oxford: Berg, 1988.

Beem, Charles.  The Lioness Roared: The Problems of Female Rule in English History. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006.

Heisch, Allison.  “Queen Elizabeth I and the Persistence of Patriarchy.” Feminist Review 4 (1980): 45-56.

Jordan, Constance.  “Woman’s Rule in Sixteenth-Century British Political Thought.” Renaissance Quarterly 40 (Autumn, 1987): 421-451.

Levin, Carole.  The Heart and Stomach of a King: Elizabeth I and the Politics of Sex and    Power. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994.

Loades, David.  The Reign of Mary Tudor.  London and New York: Longman, Inc., 1979.

Maynard, Theodore. Queen Elizabeth. London: Hollis & Carter LTD, 1943.

Maynard, Theodore.  Bloody Mary. Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1955.

Redworth, Glyn.  “’Matters Impertinent to Women’: Male and Female Monarchy under Phillip and Mary.” The English Historical Review 447 (Jun., 1997): 597-613.

Richards, Judith M. “Mary Tudor as ‘Sole Quene’?: Gendering Tudor Monarchy.” The Historical Journal 40 (Dec. 1997): 895-924.

[1] Theodore Maynard, Queen Elizabeth (London: Hollis & Carter, 1943);

Theodore Maynard, Bloody Mary (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1955);

David Loades, The Reign of Mary Tudor (London and New York: Longman, Inc, 1979).

[2] Allison Heisch, “Queen Elizabeth I and the Persistence of Patriarchy,” Feminist Review 4 (1980);

Constance Jordan, “Woman’s Rule in Sixteenth-Century British Political Thought,” Renaissance Quarterly 40 (Autumn, 1987);

Susan Bassnett, Elizabeth I: A Feminist Perspective (Oxford: Berg, 1988).

[3] Glyn Redworth, “’Matters Impertinent to Women’: Male and Female Monarchy under Phillip and Mary,” The English Historical Review 447 (Jun., 1997);

Judith M. Richards, “’To Promote a Woman to Beare Rule’: Talking of Queens in Mid-Tudor England,” The Sixteenth Century Journal 28 (Spring, 1997).




[4] Judith M. Richards, “Mary Tudor as ‘Sole Quene’?: Gendering Tudor Monarchy,” The Historical Journal 40 (Dec. 1997);

Carole Levin, The Heart and Stomach of a King: Elizabeth I and the Politics of Sex and Power (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994).

[5] Charles Beem, The Lioness Roared: The Problem of Female Rule in English History (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006).

[6] Maynard, Queen Elizabeth, 5, 50.

[7] Maynard, Queen Elizabeth, 135.

[8] Maynard, Queen Elizabeth, 135.

[9] Maynard, Queen Elizabeth, 139, 135.

[10] Maynard, Queen Elizabeth, 262.

[11] Maynard, Queen Elizabeth, 62.

[12] Maynard, Queen Elizabeth, 62.

[13] Maynard, Bloody Mary, 155.

[14] Maynard, Bloody Mary, 285.

[15] Maynard, Bloody Mary, 80.

[16] Loades, 69-70.

[17] Heisch, 45.

[18] Heisch, 54.

[19] Heisch, 48-49.

[20] Heisch, 45.

[21] Jordan, 421.

[22] Jordan, 432.

[23] Jordan, 427.

[24] Jordan, 437.

[25] Bassnett, 120.

[26] Bassnett, 9.

[27] Bassnett, 11.

[28] Levin, 9.

[29] Levin, 9.

[30] Levin, 8-9.

[31] Levin, 11, 66.

[32] Heisch, 53;

Bassnett, 125.

[33] Bassnett, 15.

[34] Levin, 147.

[35] Heisch, 49;

Jordan, 429.

[36] Bassnett, 40.

[37] Redworth, 598.

[38] Redworth, 599.

[39] Redworth, 611.

[40] Redworth, 611.

[41] Richards, 895.

[42] Redworth, 895.

[43] Richards, 924.

[44] Richards, 924.

[45] Beem, 12.

[46] Beem, 22.

[47] Beem, 98.

[48] Beem 98.


Filed under Across/Beyond Genres with The Tudors: Guest Posts by Novelists, Historians, Cultural Observers, Poets, Memoirists, Artists, and Bloggers

The Vilification of George Boleyn



Clare Cherry is a Tudor enthusiast who is in the process of writing a biography of George Boleyn with Claire Ridgway.

As anyone interested in Tudor history knows, George Boleyn was the brother of Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne.
He was first introduced to court at a child of around 10 years old. He was a member of Henry’s Privy Chamber by 1525 but lost his place in the Eltham Ordinances. He was knighted in 1529 and appointed as Gentleman of the Privy Chamber not long afterwards. He was a recognised court poet. He was also to become one of Henry’s busiest diplomats as well as serving in Parliament, including the Reformation Parliament and becoming Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports in  June 1534. By 1535 he had become an extremely successful, powerful and influential man.
Then, as his career and influence continued to flourish, he was falsely charged with incest and high treason, and went to his death in May 1536 at the age of around 32. In his own words he died, ‘with more shame and dishonour than hath ever been heard of before’. It is generally accepted today that he was innocent. Indeed that appeared to be the feeling at the time of his death, as there was a general belief in his innocence, and many claimed that it was ‘a great loss’ that he was dead.
In the years that followed George largely escaped the excesses of fiction. He was invariable portrayed as innocent, his career was recognised, and he was generally portrayed as the intelligent and compassionate brother of Anne. Admittedly he was nearly always saddled with a vindictive wife and his marriage was a failure, but she was always the guilty party, rarely if ever him.
So where did it all go so horribly wrong?
Guilty of incest?

Guilty of incest?

In the mid nineteen eighties an historian named Retha Warnicke came up with the theory that Anne surrounded herself with a number of homosexual courtiers, including her brother, George Boleyn. I won’t go into the reasoning behind Warnicke’s theory save to say that there is no evidence to support it. Be that as it may, the theory was subsequently expanded on in fiction. Now, whether George Boleyn was homo/bisexual or not, is irrelevant to his character, but writers of fiction appear not to see it that way. So once the theory was introduced they had a field day with his honour and reputation. The general consensus seemed to be ‘he’s gay, so let’s do what we like with him’. The start of George being demonised in fiction seems to me to be innately homophobic when considering when he began to be demonised. This started almost simultaneously with the Warnicke theory, which is far too coincidental.

Since the theory of his sexuality was introduced he has been a little too fond of pageboys, as well as being guilty of incest with Anne (The Other Boleyn Girl).
He has been a wife abuser and rapist, as well as a murderer (The Tudors).
He has been a smirking boorish fool who wouldn’t stoop to having sex with an animal, and who was also a coward (Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies).
He has been a vicious rapist and braggart (The Crown/The Chalice)
He has been shown as virtually raping Mark Smeaton (The Boleyn Wife).
One could go on and on. What all of these portrayals share is that his incredible career is more or less overlooked, and he is reduced to a rather ineffectual fool. Nowadays he seems to fall into one of two separate categories. He’s either rather foolish and incapable, as well as being more than happy to ride on his sister’s coat tails, or alternatively he’s clever and ambitious but extremely unpleasant. Sometimes he’s both depictions at the same time.
But whichever way his character is depicted, he nearly always has some sort of sexual perversion, which has taken the homosexual theory, expanded on it, and run with it with more legs than a centipede. Presumably the thought process is that George the homosexual must be capable of any sexual deviancy, including rape and incest.
The tables are turning on the myth that Jane Boleyn was the dreadful wife who betrayed her innocent husband. Partly that’s because George and Anne are sometimes shown as actually being guilty, but mostly because Jane’s evidence was in retaliation for the awful way George treated her. There is no evidence that Jane did betray the Boleyn siblings, and I am all for her rehabilitation, but not at the expense of her husband. Suddenly it’s George’s treatment of his wife that led to her giving evidence against Anne and George. And taking that to it’s logical conclusion Anne’s fall was largely George’s fault.
The brutal treatment of George Boleyn in fiction has become self perpetuating. Warnicke’s theory gave fiction writers the green light to commence the attack. Once that started subsequent writers continued the assault because it was easy pickings. If enough writers depict a certain character in a certain way, that characterisation takes hold. It becomes the norm to show them that way, just as it has become the norm to portray George Boleyn as a cruel husband and sexual deviant, despite the fact there is no evidence to support that portrayal. That characterisation, when seen over and over again, seeps into the public psyche, and all of a sudden that’s what George Boleyn was like. He was a dreadful person, who is now hated.
I find it incredible that in the space of thirty years a person’s honour and integrity can be torn apart, and their achievements forgotten, for the sake of entertainment, whilst the writers of that entertainment earn a good living out of the demonising of the characters they write about.
Hopefully, in due course the tide will turn once again, and George Boleyn will get the recognition and respect he deserves.


Filed under Across/Beyond Genres with The Tudors: Guest Posts by Novelists, Historians, Cultural Observers, Poets, Memoirists, Artists, and Bloggers

Under These Restless Skies: A Fascinating New Portrayal of Anne and Mary’s Relationship

Under These RestlessLissa Bryan’s first novel, Ghostwriter, is available through The Writer’s Coffee Shop, Amazon, iTunes, and Kobo. Her second novel, The End of All Things, is available through TWCS, Amazon, and iTunes. Her third novel, Under These Restless Skies, will be released on February 20, 2014.

She found the queen seated at her writing table, nibbling on the end of her quill pen. Her ladies were scattered nearby, engaged in sewing shirts while they gossiped or listened to Jane Parker reading the Bible from a stand by the window. Anne looked better than she had in a while. There was a sparkle to her eyes and her cheeks had color once more. Emma bobbed a curtsey to her and Anne smiled at her before going back to studying the paper laying on the desk.
“What are you writing?” Emma asked, perching herself on the stool nearby.
Anne glanced around before she answered. Jane Parker was the closest lady, and she was engaged in reading aloud. Her voice would cover Anne’s low tones. “A letter to Lady Shelton, the guardian of Prin—of the Lady Mary. ’Tis time to end this war between us. She will not bend and acknowledge me as queen, and I am not willing to break her spirit to force her.” She dropped her pen into the ink bottle and rubbed her temples in exasperation. “I trow, that girl . . . She is my death, or I am hers.”
Emma rolled her eyes. “Let not Chapuys hear that, or he will write to the Emperor again that you threatened once more to kill Mary.”
“Were I planning to, I would have done it long ere now,” Anne said with a wry shake of her head.
images(1)“Did something happen?” Emma had worried a bit about the situation, certain Mary would hate the infant Princess Elizabeth. Passing on cruelty to others was how some humans reacted to being mistreated. But, according to everyone at Elizabeth’s court, Mary loved her baby half-sister and spent hours holding her, singing to her and playing with her. When she wasn’t with the princess, Mary could often be found sewing clothes for the baby.
“She is falling ill again,” Anne sighed. “She refused to eat in the great hall because Elizabeth was given the seat of honor at the table, and Mary was seated with the maids. She took her meals in her room until Lady Shelton put a stop to it. Now she takes her seat at supper as required, but refuses to eat anything except what little bits her servants smuggle to her after meals. It has gotten worse since my uncle, Norfolk, went to visit her, to try to force her to sign the Oath.”
“I heard of that,” Emma said. Anne’s uncle was a cruel man. “Margaret Wyatt told me Norfolk shouted at Mary and said if she was his daughter, he would smash her head into the wall until it was as soft as a baked apple. Margaret said people are shocked. Even if—Mary may be a bastard, but she is still the king’s daughter.”
“And verily, I will be blamed for it.” Anne sighed and toyed with the sand shaker. It hadn’t been her decision to send Norfolk.
She was horrified at the latest scandal that had the entire court whispering behind their hands. Norfolk had installed his mistress at his family home and ordered his household to honor the lowborn girl as though she were his wife. When his real wife, the Duchess, objected, he had his servants beat her and locked her away in her chambers, taking all of her clothing and jewels so she could not escape. The Duchess had managed to smuggle out a letter to Cromwell pleading for help, but her children were so horrified she had dared to complain about their father to an outsider, they refused to take her in. The Duchess was at liberty once more, but refused to give Norfolk the annulment he wanted so he could wed his mistress.
images-1Anne read back over her letter. “Intimidation and threats have not worked, so perhaps kindness will. Now I am certain I am with child, it makes little sense to continue trying to force Mary. I know what will happen to her: as soon as my prince is born, she will be shuffled off into obscurity in the country, likely married off to some non-entity. ’Twill be beneath her dignity, but methinks she will be happier.”
“ ’Twould be best,” Emma agreed. Mary would be happier as a wife and mother, if her treatment of Princess Elizabeth was any indication.
“I should think her political ambitions will die with her mother.”
“Is Katharine ill unto death?”
Anne nodded. “She has been in steady decline and ’tis said she will not live much longer.”
“ ’Tis sad,” Emma said, and Anne gave her an odd look. “Will said she is a kind lady in lonely conditions.”
For a moment, Anne’s brow creased and her eyes flashed, but then she shook her head slightly. She ran her finger down the edge of the feather and kept her gaze on it as she spoke. “Aye, he says but the truth. Katharine is a kind lady. Even to me, she was always courteous. And it is sad she has to die in exile from those she loves, but ’twas her choice.”
“Anne, what choice did she have?” Emma said. “If you were in her place, would you agree to make your daughter a bastard?”
Anne_Boleyn_and_Mary_Tudor_by_Lucrecia_89Anne gave a small smile. “Nay, I would fight until my dying breath to preserve Elizabeth’s rights. But still, ’tis a choice. In that respect, the break with Rome was as much her doing as it was the king’s. She knows it, too. She said as much to Chapuys when he visited her earlier this week.”
Emma blinked in surprise. “The king allowed that?” For a long while, Henry had refused to even speak to the Imperial ambassador after he dared to chide Henry in front of the court about his treatment of Katharine.
“Aye, if he did not, Chapuys might think there was something suspicious about her death.” Anne took another glance around the room to make sure no one could overhear them. Jane droned on, her reading covering their murmured conversation. “Henry stopped yesterday in the presence chamber and embraced Chapuys. He told him that as soon as Katharine died, the point of conflict between the Emperor and England would be gone and they could be friends again.”
The quill snapped between Anne’s fingers. She dropped the pieces on the desk and pressed her palms to the surface, the fingers splayed. “Verily, I know the king has reasons enough for an alliance with the empire once more, but of late, it feels as though he is rejecting anything I support, merely for sake of its association with me.”
Emma didn’t know what to say. She did not know the political situation well enough to reassure Anne about Henry’s intentions. Nor could she say she didn’t think Henry would be petty enough to make political decisions based on spite. On impulse, Emma kissed her on the cheek and Anne blinked in surprise before giving Emma a swift hug. “I know not how to say what is in my heart, Emma, except to thank you for being such a true friend to me.”

evLearn more about Under These Restless Skies at Goodreads.

Watch the Under These Restless Skies book trailer on YouTube.


Filed under Across/Beyond Genres with The Tudors: Guest Posts by Novelists, Historians, Cultural Observers, Poets, Memoirists, Artists, and Bloggers

Good for what ails you

The Humors

The Humors

The following article is a guest post by Kyra Kramer, author of Blood Will Tell: A Medical Explanation for the Tyranny of Henry VIII.


In my last post I discussed the relationship between the foods we eat at Christmas time and Tudor medical theory. In this post I’ll tell you why Tudor physicians might have been on to something.

Humoral ideology was radically different from modern medical beliefs, so much so that in hindsight it appears almost childish or even silly. Nevertheless, an across the board denigration of Tudor practices and practitioners is unfair. Within the context of its time, Tudor medicine was complex, sophisticated, and methodical. Like today, it required years of training, a great deal of schooling, and a larger than average share of brains. These were not stupid guys.They could see what treatment helped a patient; they just didn’t have any modern knowledge about why and how it helped.

To recap, the humoral theory of medicine that the Tudors used purported that the human body was presumed to be made up of four elements: earth (cold & dry), air (warm & wet), water (cold & wet), and fire (warm & dry). Each of these elements made a different kind of humor, or fluid, in the body. Earth made black bile, air made blood, water made phlegm, and fire made yellow bile.  People’s health depended on the mixtures of humors inside of them, which doctors often referred to as a patient’s “complexion”, since the coloration of the skin was believed to be an invaluable diagnostic tool. In addition, a physician studied the patient’s urine and natal astrological horoscope for clues about his or her humoral makeup. Humors would also vary according to age, gender, nationality, and social class.

In the winter, getting warm was a national pastime. Therefore, foods eaten in the winter would be those that added heat by increasing the amount of fire and air humors in your body. Foods like butter, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, etc … were prefered because they would generate blood and yellow bile. Imagine thinking that a comestible would influence the internal temperature of the body! Isn’t that silly?

Actually, no.

It turns out that while butter and company will not make blood and yellow bile, they will indeed add “warmth” to your body on cold winter days and aid your health in general. Exposure to cold makes you generate more energy and burns up body fat.  Butter, besides being delicious, has a lot of calories and fat, which is crucial when your butt is freezing in a drafty Tudor home. Sugar was desirable because when your blood sugar is elevated it makes you feel warmer “because sugar content in the blood makes it harder to cool down or freeze”. Thus, a Christmas cookie, which has sugar and butter in abundance (if made correctly) will actually buffer you against the calorie deficit and low blood sugar that can harm you when Jack Frost is nipping at your nose.

That’s all fine and good, you might say, but what about the stuff that is just flavoring your food? How could that warm you up and seem to “confirm” humoral theory to the Tudors?

Well, the sage and onion in your stuffing are both really good for you because they are rich in vitamins and minerals you would otherwise be getting during the winter in Tudor England. Furthermore, sage has been shown to help lessen depression. Seasonal Affective Disorder, where people feel sad because of the lack of sunlight, is not some new invention; people doubtlessly experienced it centuries ago. Eating dishes with sage would lessen feelings of sadness. Sadness was considered “cold” and to create cold humors in those feeling it. If sage made you less sad, then it had made you less cold, and QED it had warmed you up. Onions often induce sweating when eaten, which would also have been considered proof positive that onions made you warmer.

clovesnutmegcinnamonThen there are the myriad health benefits of the most common spices in holiday desserts — cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg. Cinnamon not only helps you digest sugar, break down fats into energy, and fight off the “intestinal colic and digestive atony associated with cold & debilitated conditions”, it actually stimulates the blood flow to the extremities and makes you feel warmer. Ginger has strong anti-inflammatory and anti-nausea properties, as well as aiding in digestion, so it’s good for you year round. Moreover, it is literally warming: “ginger aids circulation, making you feel warm when nothing else seems to do the trick.” Cloves can be used to ‘break the ice’ as well, since among their many other benefits they expand “the blood vessels, increasing the flow of blood to make the skin feel warmer”. Finally, nutmeg would have been thought of as a heating food because it activates “the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine”, making it another natural antidepressant to fight those midwinter blues. If it cheered you up, people assumed it heated you up, too.

Now, excuse me while I go chow down on some nice warming gingerbread and raise a cup of hot mulled cider in honor of those Tudor physicians and their crazy but sometimes factual theories.

Leave a comment

Filed under Across/Beyond Genres with The Tudors: Guest Posts by Novelists, Historians, Cultural Observers, Poets, Memoirists, Artists, and Bloggers

Gingerbread and Tudor Medicine


The following article is a guest post by Kyra Kramer, author of Blood Will Tell: A Medical Explanation for the Tyranny of Henry VIII.


T’is the Season for yummy yuletide foods! There are tables groaning under the weight of roast turkey or ham, brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes, roasted potatoes, stuffing and assorted vegetables. Mugs of hot buttered rum or apple cider are clutched and glasses of cold eggnog are passed around. Not to mention the multitudes of desserts. Mince pies, fruit cakes, pumpkin pies, cookies, gingerbread men, plum puddings, and cakes tick like calorie bombs on sideboards. Then there are candy canes hanging on the tree, and gingerbread houses to be decorated but never eaten because the gingerbread has become the consistency of cardboard.  

There are many other foods, but these are considered some of the most “traditional” Christmas dishes, ala Charles Dickens and American television.

Many of these foods, especially those in the dessert category, are flavored with similar spices. These seasonal seasonings are the reason why the smells of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves are so associated with Christmas that they are the primary aromatics used in scented candles marketed for the holidays. Even the onslaught of “pumpkin flavored” products that flood the market in the fall are more about the flavor of the spices commonly found in pumpkin pie than the flavor of the pumpkin itself.

But why those spices? Yes, they taste good mulled in your apple cider or blended into your mince pie, but there are other spices that would taste nice, too. Why are some foods so mentally linked with winter that people seldom eat them during the warm months? It’s not like they are less tasty in July. And what does any of this have to do with the Tudors?

We eat them in winter and at Christmas because those are the foods and spices that were considered by Tudor medical practitioners to “warm” the body.

The humoral theory of medicine that the Tudors used seems simple, at first glance. The human body was presumed to be made up of four elements: earth, air, water, and fire. Each element was supposed to have its own substances and attributes. Earth was cold and dry, air was warm and wet, water was cold and wet, and fire was hot and dry. Each element made a different kind of humor, or fluid, in the body. Earth made black bile, air made blood, water made phlegm, and fire made yellow bile.  People’s health depended on the mixtures of humors inside of them, which doctors often referred to as a patient’s “complexion”, since the coloration of the skin was believed to be an invaluable diagnostic tool. A physician’s goal was to help people achieve “eukrasia”, or the perfect balance of humors for perfect health. In fact, most Tudors were always seeking to get their ever-changing humors back into the correct ratios.

How did the Tudors alter their humors to keep their internal systems in the perfect equilibrium?

As it turns out, mostly with food. According to science at the time, everything a person ate or drank were aspects of an element; thus a person’s diet would strongly affect the balance of their humors. It wasn’t a simple matter, either. The “rules” about food were variegated in the extreme. The element of a food could change depending on the season, the herbs used to flavor a dish, when the plants were harvested, the age of the animal to be eaten, and the method of preparation. It was also recommended that people change their diets in order to adjust their bodies to the seasonal effects of the weather. In summer the diet should emphasize cooling foods, like lettuce and lamb, prepared and served with cooling ingredients, such as rosewater, lemon and other citrus juices, or vinegar. In winter people were cautioned to eat foods that would heat them up on frosty days, such as beef and pork, and dishes made with “hot” spices, such as mustard and black pepper.

The association between warming spices and foods in during cold weather became so ingrained that those edibles became the “correct” things to consume at Christmastime, and now they are the “traditional” nibbles. For example, people believed that butter warmed the liver, and thus the blood (which was ostensibly made in the liver); thus hot buttered rum and brandy butter (AKA hard sauce). Any meat that was served was roasted, which was thought to be warmest preparation. Is roasted turkey for Christmas familiar to anyone? The stuffing served with that turkey is commonly flavored with sage and onion, both of which warm it up. Brussel sprouts were considered “little cabbages” and were therefore drying to combat the moist humor of cold weather; roasting them made them warmer as well.

This beautiful gingerbread Tudor Rose can be found at the website http://www.godecookery.com/ginger/ginger.htm

This beautiful gingerbread Tudor Rose can be found at the website http://www.godecookery.com/ginger/ginger.htm

Sugar was considered both medicinal and warm, so eating dessert in the winter was just what the doctor ordered. I think we can all agree that Christmas still comes with a few sweet treats? Sugar could also be added to anything that was considered to be cold, like red wine or apple cider, in order to give it enough “heat” to make it safe to drink, which is why recipes for today’s mulled apple cider or wine usually include a sweetener.

Warming spices, like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves, were also added to foods to heat them up. Fruit was thought to be “cold”, so fruit cakes, which are an inescapable part of the holiday season, would be too “cold” for the winter if there weren’t an excess of these spices in them, plus large amounts of butter, eggs, and sugar. These spices are also added liberally to mince pies for the same reason. Eggnog, the descendant of the Tudor “posset” drink, contains lots of warming sugar and nutmeg.

    This season, while feasting on traditional holiday fare (even if it is only in the form of a gingerbread latte or spiked eggnog or snowman shaped cookie) remember that you owe a flavor debt to the Tudor physician and his medical progenitors.



Filed under Across/Beyond Genres with The Tudors: Guest Posts by Novelists, Historians, Cultural Observers, Poets, Memoirists, Artists, and Bloggers

The Making of In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn

By Natalie Grueninger and Sarah Morris


All aboard for the first stop of the virtual book tour of In The Footsteps of Anne Boleyn! We have two copies of Sarah and Natalie’s deliciously written, fact-packed, best-selling book to give two lucky passengers. To be eligible, just post a comment at the end of the post.

NatHeverCastleNatalie’s Story

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with the dimension of time and have delighted in reading about the theories that try and make sense of it. There are, though, many more questions than answers: Does time even exist? Is time just an abstract concept?  Is time linear? Can events occur outside of time? Is it possible to go back in time?

Alongside this fascination, grew a deep connection with the past; I hear its velvety whispers and feel it intently, each and every day.  But never more so than when I’m standing in an ancient building, which has witnessed the ebb and flow of life for hundreds of years, where the walls echo with the footsteps of its former inhabitants and their stories are gently carried in the air.

I am intrigued and excited by the idea that when we stand on the very spot where a stranger from the past once stood, it’s only time—and not space— that stands between us: time, which we know so little about. It’s here, in these spaces where history speaks to me, where the past suddenly seems within reach, where it becomes something I can almost touch.

My love of history and of old buildings, coupled with my passion for Tudor history—in particular, Anne Boleyn’s story—led to the creation of my history website, On the Tudor Trail, in early 2009. At the time, I was also in the middle of planning a big ‘Tudor pilgrimage’ and was desperately searching for a list of surviving locations that Anne had visited; I wanted to walk in the footsteps of this remarkable woman and see things that she’d once owned or touched.

But apart from finding mention of the well-known places like Hever Castle, the Tower of London and Hampton Court, I found very little. So I pledged that I would start my own list and make the information available to other Anne Boleyn enthusiasts, who wanted to follow Anne’s trail into the past. And so the journey began, almost five years ago.

For me, the transition from website to book was a natural one. Over the years I’d acquired a great deal of knowledge about the many houses, castles and palaces that formed a backdrop to Anne Boleyn’s life and researched what artefacts survive connected to her. Then, in 2010, our love of all things Anne and Tudor brought Sarah Morris and I together. We began corresponding regularly and soon realised that by sharing what we’d each learnt on our separate historical journeys, we could produce something fresh and unique. I hope you’ll agree that we’ve succeeded in our mission.

My hope is that by the end of our book, you’ll feel closer to Anne—the woman, the mother, the wife and the queen. I hope she will cease simply being a character on a page and emerge instead as the fiercely intelligent, complex and unforgettable woman that she was.

SaraStPetersHeverSarah’s Story

 In August 2010, my life changed forever. I was swept up in my own adventure of a lifetime, compelled to pen a novel which, at its heart, tells the intimate story of Anne Boleyn’s innocence. Le Temps Viendra was to be an up close and personal account one of the most dramatic love affairs in English history. As a new author, I knew my mantra was to MAKE.HISTORY.REAL and I was determined that historical accuracy would be the bedrock of this fictional biography, telling the untold story of how Anne was betrayed and abandoned by the man who spent years pursuing her relentlessly.

   I’m not a professional historian. This meant that to achieve my goal, I had to research many hitherto unfamiliar aspects of Tudor society and the Henrician court; from how courtiers danced and dined, how they hunted and reverenced each other, and of course, I needed to become intimately acquainted with the palaces and houses that formed the backdrop against which Anne’s story unfolded. I not only wanted to understand how such buildings were laid out, how the rooms were used and flowed from one into the other, but also every detail of how they were decorated. Such detail was essential, for I wanted anyone who was reading the novel to be able to close their eyes and recreate each chamber in their minds eye, to smell the scents that would fill the nostrils, the textures that one might reach out and touch. In the process of attempting to create a vivid sensory picture for the reader, I became intimately familiar with several of Henry’s great houses. So familiar in fact that I reached the point where I could walk through them in my imagination, progressing from chamber to chamber with the same familiarity as if I was greeting an old friend. Eltham Palace, Greenwich, Hampton Court, the royal apartments at the Tower of London, all became like my second home, and whilst modern day Calais melted away, in its place the long lost Tudor town rose up from France’s most northerly shore. It was if I were rediscovering a whole new facet of Anne’s life. As I filled the canvas with colour and texture, it felt as if I were rediscovering a secret which breathed an extraordinary new life into my understanding of Anne’s story. I was enraptured, and found myself approaching each new location with great anticipation and excitement.

   Although much of the material uncovered was woven into the story of Le Temps Viendra – indeed all of the location-based, architectural details you read about in the novel are rooted in fact – a good deal more remained unused. It was an easy decision to team up with Natalie, who I knew was equally fascinated by such locations. Together, we decided to extend our previous research and comprehensively chart Anne’s life through places and artefacts associated with her. And so In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn was born. It has been a huge privilege to follow in those footsteps, resulting in a book that we believe provides a unique insight into the life of one of England’s most iconic and compelling queen consorts.

SarahNatDr Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger co-authors of In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn, published in September 2013. In the Footsteps is a guide book to all the places and artefacts associated with one of England’s most compelling and controversial queens.


Natalie Grueninger is a researcher, writer and educator, living in Australia with her husband and two children. She graduated from The University of NSW in 1998 with a Bachelor of Arts, with majors in English and Spanish and Latin American Studies and received her Bachelor of Teaching from The University of Sydney in 2006. Natalie has been working in public education for the last seven years and is passionate about making learning engaging and accessible for all children. In 2009 she created On the Tudor Trail, a website dedicated to documenting historic sites and buildings associated with Anne Boleyn and sharing information about the life and times of Henry VIII’s second wife. To find out more about Natalie’s research and writing visit:




Sarah is also the author of Le Temps Viendra: a novel of Anne Boleyn, Volumes I and II. Le Temps Viendra is a fictional biography telling the story of Anne’s innocence through the eyes of a modern day woman, drawn back in time, to find herself in the body of her historical heroine as Anne Boleyn’s dramatic story unfolds from triumph to disaster and its final, heart-wrenching conclusion on the scaffold. Volume I was published in 2012, with Volume II due out before the end of 2013. To find out more about Sarah’s research and writing visit:



You can follow the next post tomorrow at http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com



Filed under Across/Beyond Genres with The Tudors: Guest Posts by Novelists, Historians, Cultural Observers, Poets, Memoirists, Artists, and Bloggers

The Maligned Margaret

An illustration from a manuscript presented to Margaret by John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury

An illustration from a manuscript presented to Margaret by John
Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury

Susan Higginbotham is the author of five historical novels set in medieval and Tudor England, including “The Queen of Last Hopes,” a novel about Margaret of Anjou. Her first nonfiction book, “The Woodvilles,” about Edward IV’s queen and her family, was published this month. You can read more about her work at her website and her blog. This post is a part of “The Women Behind the Fictions” blog series.

In the recent series The White Queen, based on the novels of Philippa Gregory, Margaret of Anjou, queen to the unfortunate Henry VI, makes only a brief appearance. It’s an odd omission in a series that focuses on the women of this period, chiefly Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret Beaufort, and Anne Neville. If the scriptwriters were looking for a formidable woman, surely Margaret, who struggled ceaselessly over the years to uphold her husband’s and her son’s right to the throne, deserved top billing.

But perhaps it’s just as well that Margaret didn’t have more of a prominent role in the series, for Margaret has fared rather badly in historical fiction. She’s regularly shown as an adulteress and a vengeful harpy—and that reflects the more balanced portrayals of her. One historical novel has her repeatedly trying to murder her daughter-in-law, Anne Neville, while another has her committing incest with her son.

A set piece in many a Wars of the Roses novel involves cruel Margaret ordering immediately after the Battle of Wakefield that the severed heads of the Duke of York and his teenage son, the Earl of Rutland, be displayed and the Duke’s head be garnished with a paper crown. In fact, Margaret was not at the Battle of Wakefield; she was in Scotland at the time. There’s even been considerable doubt cast as to the extent of the atrocities supposedly committed by her troops.

Of England’s queens, Margaret is by far one of the most unlucky. Criticized at first for her failure to conceive a child, when she finally did become pregnant, her enemies accused her of adultery. (There’s simply no proof that she had sexual relations with any man but her husband.) During her pregnancy, her husband lost his reason; eventually, the loss of his crown followed. Believing that the throne of England was her son’s birthright, she fought for it until his death at the Battle of Tewkesbury. She was brought to London as a prisoner, only to have her husband murdered the night of her arrival. No longer regarded as a threat by the Yorkists, only as a financial burden, she was finally sent back to France, where she died in obscurity. Had she survived just three more years, she would have seen her husband’s nephew, Henry Tudor come to the throne as the representative of the Lancastrian cause for which Margaret had struggled for so long.

A medallion of Margaret done by Pietro da Milano

A medallion of Margaret done by Pietro da Milano

Margaret is frequently compared to an earlier French-born Queen of England, Isabella of France, and the traditionally negative portrayal of each of them has often been ascribed to misogyny and xenophobia. Both women, indeed, have recently benefited from recent interest in medieval women and medieval queens and as a result have received more balanced appraisals from historians, female and male alike. Yet popular culture has lagged behind, for while Isabella has been portrayed sympathetically by a number of novelists, especially female ones, Margaret of Anjou has met a quite different fate at their hands. She’s frequently little more than a cardboard villain, and even when she’s given some semblance of depth, the myths such as her presence at the Battle of Wakefield are trotted out. (Ironically, this portrayal of Margaret, which owes so much to Shakespeare, is often perpetuated by the very same novelists who decry the Bard’s portrayal of Richard III.)

Strangely, Isabella, who was disloyal to her husband (Edward II) and even to her own son, and who was possibly an adulteress, has attracted defenders because of those very facts. They treat her alleged adultery as the natural reaction of a wronged wife and her deposition of her husband as being a commendable reaction against royal tyranny. Yet the loyalty of Margaret to her husband and to her son is depicted as the power-mad reaction of a vengeful woman.

So why not spare Margaret of Anjou a little kindness for a change? When she arrived in England as a seasick fifteen-year-old in 1445, she might well have hoped to have been a traditional queen, smiling at her husband’s side, doing good works, and procuring favors for her subjects. Instead, with an incapacitated husband and competing claims to the throne, she found herself thrust into a situation that had no easy solutions, either for the men involved or for Margaret. Novelists have recognized the complexity of the situation these men faced; it’s time they did the same for Margaret.


Filed under The Women Behind the Fictions