Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Read of the Week

This week I read a book I've been wanting to get my hands on for a while, The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown by Claire Ridgway. I am big admirer of Claire and her site She writes really, really well, bringing together passion for Anne with hardened historical research. She digs deep into the people and cultural context of the times. I really appreciate the level of detail Claire brings to every article she writes. Her book is written on that same level of academic integrity and creative ingenuity, with details I've never read anywhere else. I especially appreciate how she dissects every character involved with Anne Boleyn's fall stating their relationship to her, their early history and life as well as how they fared after the Boleyn faction fell from power. I especially learned a lot about Sir Henry Norris and Francis Bryan. Ridgway makes thoughtful inquiries regarding Anne's actions, ecnouraging the reader to think deeply and draw their own conclusions about Anne's life and history. I really enjoyed this book, I encourage everyone to pick it up!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

On This Day in Tudor History

On this day in Tudor history 1534 Queen Anne Boleyn spent her first full day in confinement. Confinement, in the historical sense, meant that a woman had retreated to her chamber for the remainder of her pregnancy. She would be attended only by her ladies in waiting and close female relatives; no men would be admitted other than the Queen’s priest who stood behind a screen to preach and hear confession. The amount of time spent in confinement ranged anywhere between four and eight weeks. Surprisingly, in Anne’s case, she retreated into her chamber just two weeks before daughter Princess Elizabeth was born. This could be because she calculated her dates incorrectly, easy to do in Tudor times when prenatal care was virtually non-existent, because she purposefully altered the time of conception or because Elizabeth was premature (unlikely as she would have been weak if born nearly a month early)

On August 26th the Queen had made a great ritual of the “taking to the chamber ceremony which took place at Greenwich palace. The pregnant queen attended a special mass at the Chapel Royal and then went with her ladies in tow, to the Queen’s chamber. Refreshments were served before the chamberlain prayed with the Queen and her maids for the safe delivery of a healthy baby prince. In Tudor times there was stringent restrictions on women after they entered the birthing chamber, as well as how the room should be set up.

According to the Royal Book, which dictated decorum (largely edited by Margaret Beaufort) the room must:

§  Be carpeted

§  Have its walls, ceiling and windows covered with arras, the tapestries should depict calming images

§  Have one window slightly uncovered to let in fresh air when necessary.

§  Be furnished with a large bed for the queen to recover in and a pallet at the foot of the bed which is where the queen would actually labor and give birth.

§  Have a font was required in likely case of a sickly child who would need immediate baptism

§  Have soft furnishings of dark crimson satin embroidered with the Queen’s respective arms

§  Have a cupboard specifically to hold the birthing equipment and swaddling bands

The room was kept dark and shut up against fresh air, it was thought by Tudor midwives that creating an atmosphere reminiscent of the womb would keep the baby from becoming sick as well as keep away evil spirits. Confinement was often a social time for the women involved. There would have been drinking, embroidery, gossip and much prayer. Despite the company and rest, I can only imagine Anne would have been hot and bored in the chamber where she was required to stay for a month after the Princess’ birth.

Friday, August 23, 2013

On This Day in Tudor History

August 23, 1485 marked the first day of the reign of the Tudor dynasty. The day before Richard III, the last York king, fell at Bosworth Field to the halbert blow of a Welsh commoner, ushering in the reign of Henry Tudor, father to the famous Henry VIII. The Tudors would rule over England for the next one hundred and eighteen years. The monarchs, Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I, would change the social, religious and cultural landscape in enormous ways!

Henry VII
Unknown, ca 1501

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Secrets of the Virgin Queen: A Documentary

Secrets of the Virgin Queen is another documentary produced by the National Geographic Channel. It gives a ton of insight into Elizabeth I's life and reign. I really enjoyed it and I encourage you to watch it!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Anne Boleyn by Norah Lofts, A Book Review

I’ve tried, throughout the course of this blog, to stay professional. I’ve worked hard to always evaluate sources, others’ opinions and available information in the most unbiased way possible. However, today I feel the need to rant. I recently read a book entitled Anne Boleyn: The Tragic Story of Henry VIII Most Notorious Wife by Norah Lofts. This book is an absolute travesty. Though marketed as a biography it perpetuated lies about Anne that have been disproven and the entire premise of the book is that Anne Boleyn was a witch. Lofts implies that witchcraft is the only way Anne could’ve snared Henry and held her influence over him for so long. History, and the study of it requires us to PROVE our theories, not rely upon superstition to support our assertions.

Lofts asserts that Anne Boleyn had a Wolfhound called Urian, meaning the “Devil’s Helper”. She is wrong in two ways, first of all Urian was a greyhound given to her by William Brereton who was later executed with her. Second, Urian is an old Celtic name meaning “from a privileged family” ironic as Brereton’s family was on the rise and Urian was his eldest brother’s name. I cannot imagine why the author chose to pervert the meaning of Anne’s beloved pet’s name but wolves were often associated with sexual predation in mythology so Lofts’ change in the breed of the animal makes sense in a diluted way, not in the researched ways of a professional historian.

Lofts presents the idea that Anne not only had a sixth finger, but that she also had large moles on her neck. On the first page of the book She says, Anne “…had two flaws; on that long slender neck a mole, said the be the size of a strawberry, and described by one of her detractors as ‘a great wen’, and on her right hands a rudimentary sixth finger of which again, much is made…” She backs this up with “evidence” saying the description came from a man whose grandfather saw Anne Boleyn once. What a load of trash. This rumor was started by Nicholas Sanders during the reign of Elizabeth I, Sanders was a Catholic priest in exile for plotting the overthrow of the Queen. Sanders sought to blacken the reputation of Elizabeth by associating her mother Anne with witchcraft. Physical deformities, including moles, were associated with those who had knowledge and/or participated in the craft. At the end of the book Lofts even suggests that Anne Boleyn came back after death and presented herself as a large hare, an animal which most during Tudor times thought a witch could transform into.

In addition to her ridiculous claims that Anne was a witch, Lofts is careless with her historical facts as well. She states that Anne’s first voyage abroad was as a lady in waiting to Mary Tudor as she sailed the channel to become queen of France. Primary source documents tell us this is not true, Anne first crossed the ocean to become a member of the household of Margaret archduchess of Austria. The archduchess’ home was viewed almost as a finishing school for the elite’s and quasi-royals of Europe during the time.

Another section I found repugnant as well as historically inaccurate, was Lofts’ idea that not only did Anne French kiss her brother but that incest was not uncommon during this time. She writes, “It was not that incest was so rare and unnatural a thingsto be unbelievable, everybody knew it happened, but in overcrowded hovels with brothers and sisters sharing beds, among people who lives were so isolated, or their appearance so unattractive, as to make normal sexual contact difficult…” so according to the author, people who lived in the country, or were ugly, often resorted to incest.

Another complaint of mine was the several pages Lofts spent asserting that the king’s eye had already fallen upon Anne in 1523 and that he was the reason for the heart wrenching breakup between Anne and Henry Percy. This, we know, is completely untrue. Most historians, myself included agree that Henry did not meet or begin showing attention to Anne until 1526. In 1523 Henry was in the midst of a passionate love affair with Mary Boleyn and celebrating his young son, the illegitimate Henry Fitzroy.

You’d think I would be out of complaints by now, but the author fueled deeper anger in me later in the book. The most offensive portion of this book is when the author is discussing Anne taking her last communion. Anne was a devout woman; that much is clear to all of us who admire and research her. Norah Lofts, feels differently writing, “There is, of course, just another possibility – that she was in fact the witch that Henry said she was; that she had gone over to the Devil…in this case taking the sacrament and telling a lie at the same time, could have been one more tribute to her Dark Master, offered perhaps at the hope of some magical even at the at the eleventh hour…It is a matter of history that some witches did die with exceptional courage and defiance…” Not only does the author’s assertion that Anne took the host as a tribute to the devil deeply offend me, it is also ridiculous. Anne used her last communion as a means of protesting her innocence of the disgusting crimes she was accused of. Anne took her duties and blessings as a Christian very seriously.

This book is not only riddled with lies and superstitions. It is also poorly researched with almost no notations as to sources. The author makes a complete mockery of true historical writing by portraying her trash as legitimate research.  This work is a complete waste of time and money. Do yourself a favor, never read it. End Rant.