Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Tudor Claim to the Throne

Hey all,
I was recently asked by a follower how the Tudor line had a claim to the English throne. The House of the Plantagenets had two cadet lines, York and Lancaster. The Lancaster line was directly descended from John of Gaunt (founder of the Royal House) while York was descended through his younger brother. Margaret Beaufort was the last true heir of the Lancastrian line, she was married at twelve to Edmund Tudor who died young. Her son Henry Tudor had his claim to the throne through his mother. Henry Tudor would become Henry VII of England following the defeat of the Yorks and death of Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Edward, the Earl of Warwick was nephew to the York king Richard III and had a strong claim to the throne. When Henry VII had him executed in 1499 the House of York went extinct in the male line ensuring that the Tudors were secure in their newfound power. Check out the graphic below for details on the family tree:
Image courtesy of the British Royal Family.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Anne Boleyn Files Contest

Hey readers,
I recently reviewed the book The Secret Keeper: An Novel of Kateryn Parr. The author Sandra Byrd is having a contest on The Anne Boleyn Files, all you have to do is read her guest post and comment on it. You will be entered to win some beautiful Anne Boleyn earrings, a replica of a set used on the set of the Tudors. Check it out and enter yourselves @ http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/19732/what-happened-to-lady-mary-seymour-guest-post-and-giveaway/comment-page-2/#comment-205232

Good luck fellow Anne addicts!


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Read of the Week

This week I chose a novel by Phillipa Gregory for review. The Constant Princess is a historical fiction book about Catherine of Aragon. It is really interesting and presents a narrative where Catherine and Arthur were very much in love, consummated their marriage and planned a bright future for England. In the book the death of Arthur devastates Catherine but she knows she must follow through on her deathbed promise to Arthur to marry his brother and carry out their plans for Britain. It is a really interesting take on Catherine's life and was fun to read. I would suggest it!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Elizabeth I's Ring

Around 1575 Elizabeth I had this ring created by her personal jeweler.  It is solid gold, covered with mother of pearl and encrusted with precious jewels. A hidden clasp opens the locket ring to reveal a portrait of Anne Boleyn on one side and Elizabeth herself on the other.

The ring could have had many meanings. It could have served to remind Elizabeth that one wrong step in royal politics could cost your life or it may mean that Elizabeth thought about her mother much more than she ever let on. Whatever the meaning behind the ring, it is beautiful and thought provoking. The ring was given to the Home family by King James I, the family donated it to the Trustees of Chequers house, the country residence of the Prime Minister. It was recently on display at the Greenwich Museum, which was its first public display. What do you think readers?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Elizabeth, the Promiscuous Queen?

I was asked by a friend the other day about Elizabeth's reputation. According to him, his world history instructor taught that Elizabeth slept around, refused to marry and was known as being a loose woman. Despite the instructor's claims there is no evidence that Elizabeth died anything but a virgin, as she claimed for her entire life. Many foreign ambassadors questioned Elizabeth's ladies regarding her sexual behavior because they hoped to make a solid marriage between the royals of their respective countries and Elizabeth, if she was not a virgin, such a marriage would be impossible. This questioning never revealed anything scandalous. We also must ask ourselves how Elizabeth would have had the opportunity to have a relationship without the knowledge of her advisers. She was constantly surrounded by either political advisers or ladies in waiting, if she was having an illicit relationship it would have become public knowledge quickly. Elizabeth chose not to marry a foreign royal as it would have opened up England to foreign power. For Elizabeth this was not an option; her father had fought for years to eliminate the intrusion of the Papacy into England's self determination.
Historians have long questioned why Elizabeth would not then have married an Englishmen and eliminated the risk of foreign influence. It is widely recorded that Elizabeth had favorites amongst her male courtiers, including Robert Dudley. I personally believe that Elizabeth has equated marriage with danger to her health and heart, both natural and manmade. Elizabeth had watched her mother and stepmothers be beheaded and beheaded at the whim of her father. She was present at the deaths of both Jane Seymour and Kateryn Parr as a result of child bed fever.
If she did indeed make the decision not to marry because of the risks to her emotions and physical wellbeing, why did she choose not to have a relationship? The answer, I think, is quite simple. Although primitive contraception did exist, such as the use of animal gut as a barrier method, there is still the possibility that Elizabeth could have become pregnant if she was engaged in sex acts. Would she have taken the risk of having a child outside of wedlock? It is very doubtful. It would have undermined her authority with her advisers and subjects, many who already questioned her right to govern England. Elizabeth's decision to remain unmarried was not a popular one, but one she felt important to the stability of the crown. This choice spurred many rumors regarding her sexuality because during this era women were regarded as being first and foremost, wives and mothers. That, paired with the fact that she was the daughter of Anne Boleyn, whom many remembered (Falsely)  as an adultress and whore, meant that there were many preconceived notions about her sexuality. Given all of my reading and researching on Elizabeth, I would argue that she died the virgin queen, married only to England. Stay tuned for my post in a few days on my theory regarding sexual abuse of Elizabeth by Thomas Seymour.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Burial Site of Anne Boleyn

Following her execution, Anne's body was placed in a chest that had once contained bow staves and buried without fanfare at St. Peter ad Vincula at the Tower of London, in a communal grave with other execution victims. The place believed to be her grave (under the chancel floor stones) is now marked by a memorial stone. There has however been some skepticism about whether or not it is Anne's remains under the marker. Tudor historian Alison Weir writes, "...we can be almost certain that Anne’s memorial stone does not mark the last resting place of her actual remains, and that she lies beneath Lady Rochford’s memorial" (The Lady in the Tower Pg. 345)
During the victorian era, the remains of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard were discovered during renovations to the chapel. According to Antonia Fraser, their bones were discovered  under the paved area in the chapel chancel and were then reburied in proper coffins within the crypt which you can visit today. Dr. Mouat who handled the remains described the body of Anne as follows:
The bones found in the place where Queen Anne is said to have been buried are certainly those of a female in the prime of life, all perfectly consolidated and symmetrical and belong to the same person. The bones of the head indicate a well-formed round skull, with an intellectual forehead, straight orbital ridge, large eyes, oval face, and rather square full chin. The remains of the vertebra and the bones of the lower limbs indicate a well-formed woman of middle height with a short and slender neck. The ribs shew [sic] depth and roundness of chest. The hand and feet bones indicate delicate and well-shaped hands and feet, with tapering fingers and a narrow foot. (Source: Notices of the Historic Burials in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London With an Account of the Discovery of the Supposed Remains of Queen Anne Boleyn by John Murray)
The body is also said to have been a woman aged between twenty-five and thirty. This is too young to be Anne who was most likely born in 1501 and executed in 1536, while Jane was born no later than 1512 which means the body would be within the age range of Jane's years.
We may never know the truth of who lies beneath Anne Boleyn's grave marker, yet I tend to agree with Weir's argument regarding the location of Anne's bones. I base my assertions on several pieces of evidence. First is the description of Anne's body by Dr. Mouat, Anne was often described as having (and can be seen in the known portraits of her) to have a small pointed chin, not a full square one. She also is reported by many at court, in surviving documents, to have a long, slender neck not a short one, while surviving portraits of Jane Boleyn show her with a full, square chin and short neck.  Secondly is the recorded statement by John Stowe, Tudor court chronicler, which states " There lieth before the high altar in St. Peter's church, two dukes between two queens" The bones buried her were identified as a small woman between the ages of nineteen and twenty-three (obviously belonging to Catherine Howard) and a larger framed woman somewhere between thirty and forty (probably Anne Boleyn)This statement and the forensic evidence would support the theory that Anne was buried next to her brother under the marker of Lady Rochford while Jane Boleyn occupies the space beneath Anne's memorial.

Anne's grave marker

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Anne Boleyn, the play

Hey all! My penpal in England recently saw this play at the Globe Theater and encouraged me to watch the trailer! It looks amazing; take a peek!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Women in History

Hello followers,
Today I was reflecting about my history degree and the amazing friends who made it so much fun to study the past. These are my two good friends Hannah and Rashelle, both incredible, beautiful female historians. Together with our generation of historians, we are working to break the mold of historian stereotypes and inform the public about the importance of historical knowledge. We all have our own interests and strengths, they make me hopeful that we can overcome the challenges faced by teaching and learning history in our modern times. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Confessions of a "Super Fan"?

Hey followers!
I recently recieved an email from a great new site I'm following entitled The Boleyn Project. Several master's degree students are making video interviews of scholars, researchers and fans of Anne Boleyn to glean vast opinions on her. In her interview, historian Alison Weir (author of The Lady in the Tower and many other Tudor history books) stated that "virtual fan clubs on the internet" are "obsessive" and "have gone too far from objective research", and that an emotional engagement with an historical character "can distort your view" (See the video above for the full interview)
I think Weir's views are somewhat distorted; as a historian and super fan of Anne I am definitely emotionally engaged in her life. This engagement constitutes more than superficial interest, it makes me want to read more, the research deeper and to question everything I see or hear about her. Despite my admiration of her, I still recognize Anne's inherent faults, which are entirely human. What do you think? Can super fans be objective?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

George Boleyn and Questions of Sexuality

I have once again received a query regarding my post. Emilie asked about the nature of Jane and George Boleyn's marriage, saying from her readings she assumed that they had a strained relationship due to George's homosexuality. I have decided to weigh in on what I think regarding these rumors:

The idea that George Boleyn was a homosexual comes from respected Tudor historian Retha Warnicke. Her theory has led many people to believe in the unhappy union between George and Jane and shaped the Hollywood portrayal of George in TV series and movies such as The Tudors.  Retha M. Warnicke based her thesis on three pieces of evidence:

1)  George Cavendish’s ‘Metrical Visions’: In his writings, Cavendish described George Boleyn’s ‘unlawful lechery’ that suggests that young Boleyn committed a grave sin; but was homosexuality one of them? The answer is no. While it is highly possible that George Boleyn was unfaithful to his wife (quite common for this time period) and that he had many extramarital affairs, but there is no mention of him being a homosexual in this primary source writing. In the 16th century every sin, no matter the size or scope, was considered as a great offense against God, be it theft, sodomy or envy. It is safe to assume that as a human George Boleyn committed some sins (adultery is a possibility) but there is no specific mention of homosexual behavior. What makes for very interesting reading is Cavendish’s description of George Boleyn as a womanizer (A fact Retha fails to take into account):

“I forced widows, maidens I did deflower. All was one to me, I spared none at all, My appetite was all women to devour, My study was both day and hour.”

2)   George Boleyn’s last words: Warnicke argues that in his last words, George confessed that he was a sodomite. Yet, I would argue that George’s last speech differed very little from any other scaffold speech of the time; he simply admitted that he was a sinner, like all people, and that he deserved to die, a common phrase during the era. Perhaps he meant that he did not lead a chaste life, but it is a stretch to say that his words make any remark about his sexual orientation. (For a full text version of George's last words, please see my post on the Execution of George Boleyn and Anne's Other "Lovers" available here)

3)   Retha M. Warnicke states that George Boleyn had an affair with Mark Smeaton, Anne's favored court musician because at some point in time they both had access to the same book. This, again I believe is a very weak point to base an argument on. George Boleyn was known as a man of reform ideals and he often was in possession of books deemed heretical by Church leaders. Mark and George both having access to the same book could merely suggest that Mark, much like the Boleyns, was interested in new learning and perhaps George lent him the work.

In all of my research about the Boleyns, I have never come across anything that would lead me to assert that George was a homosexual. I believe he was powerful and rich and that he used these assets to his best advantage, be it through the obtaining of banned books or vast sexual liaisons. Rumors regarding his sexuality are very recent and unfounded. George serves as another example of a reputation ruined by historical sensationalism and the modern portrayal of him does not serve his memory justice. Thank you for all the great inquiries lately!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

An Inquiry into Jane Boleyn, Viscountess Rochford

I have been asked by a regular site contributor to speculate on why Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, was spared during the investigations and subsequent executions of several Boleyn family members. First of all, I want to clarify that these are merely my conclusions and cannot be taken as fact.
So to begin, if you have read my post on the religious nature of Anne's fall you will notice that Anne and Cromwell had had a falling out over the use of monastic funds. Anne wanted to see the money used for charitable purposes while Cromwell was using it to fill the King's coffers and enrich himself. Anne's family, whose ancestral seat was in Norfolk, were known for their reformation ideals especially her brother who has been cast by some historians as a reformist book smuggler. In fact, it is recorded that George was the one who first put the heretical book The Obedience of a Christian Man into Anne's hands. The book had a significant impact on Henry's religious thought. Not only was George influential in religious ways, he was also a close advisor of the King and a member of the Privy Council. The same can be said of Anne's father Thomas Boleyn. I would speculate that Cromwell had a large part in the set-up and carrying out of the trials of Anne and George. Furthermore, I would argue that Cromwell sought to do away with them because of the drastic influence they had over the King, religiously and when it came to international/domestic affairs,  which undermined his own power and authority. Thomas, who was also imprisoned, was not executed but so shamed by the incidents that he never returned to court. His influence over Henry was ended as swiftly as if he had died. Jane, in direct contrast to members of her family, did not share the same influence over the King. She was merely a lady in waiting. Cromwell, I believe, would not have seen fit to implicate her because it served no purpose for him. Several site has claimed there is evidence that Jane gave testimony against Anne and George which is why she was spared. Again, as I have stated, there is no evidence to support this claim. Trial records do not indicate that she was ever involved. Some sites also claim that she gave a scaffold confession of her involvement in their downfall, this is again untrue. Below is the text of her last words:

“ [I]committed many sins against God from my youth upwards and have offended the king’s royal Majesty very dangerously, so my punishment is just and deserved. I am justly condemned by the laws of this realm and by Parliament. All of you who watch me die should learn from my example and change your own lives. You must gladly obey the king in all things, for he us a just and godly prince. I pray for his preservation and beseech you all to do the same. I now entrust my soul to God and pray for his mercy.”

The sins against the King's majesty of course refer to her being an accomplice to Katherine Howard's affair with Thomas Culpepper. As you can clearly see, she never mentions George or Anne. Jane Boleyn is a polarizing and controversial character in the Tudor era. The myths about her person have blackened her historical reputation and made her an easy target for misplaced hate. It is our job as lovers of history to dig and find the truth regarding events and people as well as to never accept legend or myth as fact. For more information on Jane Boleyn, Viscountess Rochford please read a great book entitled The Infamous Lady Rochford by Julia Fox. I hope this post has been informative and answered many of your questions!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Book Review

Hey all, for this blog I generally recommend one book per week. However I am currently reading a biography of Mary I entitled The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter which I believe needs a review on my page.  I purchased the book recently to expand my knowledge of Mary and her attempted reversal of Henrician and Edwardian religious reforms. The book reads exceptionally well, more like a novel than a biography. However, I myself have many difficulties with considering this book as a biography. As historians, professional or amatuer, we assume that a biography is complete fact, with as little personal bias or insight at possible. This book takes great liberties with the information it presents. First of all the author claims that Anne Boleyn was "...the author of all of Mary's misfortunes..." While Anne undoubtedly made Mary's life more difficult is is ridiculous and historically inaccurate to claim that Anne was to blame for all of Mary's problems. While Anne significantly influenced Henry's religious thought, the Six Articles that he required all subjects to sign and adhere to had been largely written and perfected by Cromwell and Henry himself. Most of the tension and trouble between the King and his daughter came at her refusal to sign the documents which named Henry the supreme head of religious affairs in England. Henry, at this stage in his life, had usurped almost all power in England including religious and political. He was used to his subjects adhering to his absolute authority and Mary's disobedience enraged Henry. He saw Mary's denial of his ecclesiastical rights as an extension of her mother's stubborn nature. She further enraged him when she wrote to him angry at his messengers and secretaries refusal to address her as princess, when he had made it abundantly clear that she was no longer to be addressed in such a manner.
The author also makes the claim that verbal testimony was offered by Jane Boleyn, the Lady Rochford that incriminated Anne and her brother for their crimes of incest and adultery. This claim, though widespread in historical fiction, has no primary source support. There is no evidence that George and his wife had any marital problems, save for the lack of children which could be explained through many outlets. There is also no indication that Anne and Jane disliked each other. We can only speculate as to the reasons she did not come under the same scrutiny as the rest of the Boleyn faction during Anne's fall.
This book, while historically questionable, is still a fun read and I would recommend it, just be wary of citing any information from it.