Saturday, November 30, 2013

Read of the Week

This past weekend I was really excited to jump into Blood Will Tell: A Medical Explanation for the Tyranny of Henry VIII by Kyra Kramer. The book is a very interesting look at the mental and physical decline of Henry VIII and a possible explanation. Her theory is that Henry VIII's blood was Kell positive. As such, he would have had an extraordinarily difficult time fathering healthy children who thrived. Kell negative women who have children by Kell positive fathers have fine pregnancies the first time around, but develop an "allergy" to the Kell antigens afterwards, causing future fetuses to miscarry or die early in infancy.

Kramer, a medical anthropologist, does a commendable job of dissecting Henry VIII's medical, psychological, and behavioral history. She walks through the reproductive trials and tribulations of each of his first two wives examining how Henry's possibly Kell-positive status could have affected Anne and Katherine's pregnancies. It's entirely plausible and incredibly fascinating.

Kramer does not just give surface information and expect the reader to agree with her. Her research has immense depth; postulating that Henry may additionally have suffered from McLeod syndrome, a disorder that interestingly enough can cause major personality changes, including paranoia and schizophrenia. The author does an impeccable job of bringing together science and history to write an engaging and thoughtful book that humanizes Henry VIII, helping to lessen the historically accepted view of the lecherous, obese monster.

I commend Kramer for her incredible use of citations, she made this book a researcher's heaven. Her bibliography is extensive and impressive; pulling not only from historical and medical sources but also from sociology and anthropology. The book is well rounded, and impeccably researched.
Her tone is logical and professional, her own thoughts are carefully concealed, allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions. I enjoyed her style, because I did not feel led on to believe her theory blindly.

Kramer doesn't let her own voice intrude very much in her narrative, choosing to maintain a very  smooth, logical tone that fits well with the medical report style of the book. The one thing I think he could have improved on was to write for a more diverse audience. The book is fascinating, but if you are not a Tudor historian her lack of background/contextual narrative would have made the book difficult to read. All in all, I really enjoyed this book, it added a lot of nuance to my conceptions about Henry VIII. I suggest it for all readers who want to understand more about the man Henry VIII truly was, even if you do not accept her medical explanation for his decline.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Accession of Elizabeth I

On November 17, 1558 Mary I passed away after weeks of declining health, she was just forty-two years old. Despite the almost continual feuding angst between Mary and her younger sister Elizabeth, Mary never had her executed (to the disappointment of many of Elizabeth’s enemies) nor did she name another heir in Elizabeth’s place. Upon her death, Mary ring’s was carried to Elizabeth at Hatfield as proof that she was now queen. The House of Peers proclaimed her queen that afternoon from Whitehall. Elizabeth’s response to her sister’s death was not one of remorse, but of political importance. When the Privy Council arrived at Hatfield to meet with Elizabeth she spoke with them saying,

My lords, the law of nature moveth me to sorrow for my sister; the burden that is fallen upon me maketh me amazed; and yet considering I am God’s creature, ordained to obey His appointment, I will thereto yield, desiring from the bottom of my heart that I may have assistance of His grace to be minister of His heavenly will in this office now committed to me. And as I am but one body naturally considered, though by His permission a body politic to govern, so I shall desire you all, my lords to be assistant to me, that I with my ruling and you with your service may make a good account to almighty God and leave some comfort to our posterity in earth. I mean to direct all my actions by food advice and counsel. And therefore, considering that diver of you be of ancient nobility, having your beginning and estate of my progenitors, kings of this realm, and thereby ought in honour to have the more natural care for maintaining my estate and this commonwealth; some others have been of long experience in governance and enabled by my father of noble memory, my brother, and my late sister to bear office; the rest of you being upon special trust lately called to her service only and trust, for your service considered and rewarded; my meaning is to require of you all nothing more but faithful hearts in such service as from time to time shall be in your powers towards the preservation of me and this commonwealth. And for council and advice I shall accept you of my nobility, and such other of you the rest as in consultation I shall think meet and shortly appoint, to the which also, with their advice, I will join to their aid, and for ease of their burden, other meet for my service. And they which I shall not appoint, let them not think the same for any disability in them, but for that I do consider a multitude doth make rather discord and confusion than good counsel. And of my goodwill you shall not doubt, using yourselves as appertaineth to good and loving subjects.

Elizabeth’s first few days as Queen of England would be trying, she actively participated in the planning of her sister’s state funeral, faced questions about her intentions for marriage and moved quickly to appoint trusted advisors and ladies in waiting.
Elizabeth I's Coronation Portrait
Attributed to Hilliard

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Elizabeth I: Killer Queen?

Robert Dudley married Amy Robsart long before he was considered Elizabeth I's favorite. They spent much time apart as Robert became Elizabeth's master of horse and Amy remained at their estate, rumored to be ill.  As Elizabeth's affections for Robert grew, gossip started that if Amy were to die that Elizabeth would marry Robert and make him her consort.

 In April 1559 court observers noted that Elizabeth never let Dudley from her side; but her favor did not extend to his wife. Lady Amy Dudley lived in different parts of the country and was rarely seen at court. Robert had visited Amy for four days at Easter 1559 and she spent a month around London in the early summer of the same year. They never saw each other again; Dudley was with the Queen at Windsor Castle when his wife was found dead at her residence Cumnor Place near Oxford on September 8, 1560. It appeared she has fallen down some stairs and died of her injuries. Gossip immediately began at to whether Robert, Elizabeth or one of their "henchman" could have been responsible for her death, clearing the way for the two to marry.

In order to quiet the talk, Robert retired to his house at Kew, away from court and from the probable crime scene and pressed for an impartial inquiry which had already begun in the form of an inquest. The jury found that Amy's death was an accident: Lady Dudley, staying alone "in a certain chamber", had fallen down the adjoining stairs, sustaining multiple head injuries and breaking her neck. Despite the findings it was widely speculated that Dudley had arranged his wife's death to be able to marry the Elizabeth and share power, something his family had desired for years. The scandal played into the hands of nobles and politicians who desperately tried to prevent Elizabeth from marrying him. Some of these, like William Cecil and Nicholas Throckmorton, made use of it, telling Elizabeth that their marriage would cause outrage and more factional violence. As we know Elizabeth never married Dudley or anyone else. Robert would marry again, this time to Elizabeth's cousin Lettice Knollys who would feel the Queen's hatred for the remainder of her days.

Many historians, myself included, do not believe that Robert, Elizabeth or anyone else was responsible for Amy's death. Ian Aird, a professor of Medicine suggested that Amy may have suffered from breast cancer, which would explain not only her prolonged illness but also could have caused metastatic cancerous deposits on her spine causing her neck to break even from limited strain. This video, despite popular historical opinion, asserts that Elizabeth DID have something to do with Amy's death.
Watch and weigh in!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Read of the Week

This week I chose to spoil myself with a historical novel :) The Tudor Conspiracy by CW Gortner was really interesting and fun to read. Most novels that deal with Elizabeth or Anne are told from a female perspective. Interestingly, this one story was told by a man, Brendan Prescott who was the illegitimate child of Mary Tudor, sister to Henry VIII. The child was fathered by Charles Brandon's squire who was madly in love with Mary. The story follows Brendan through his love life, efforts to save Elizabeth from a plot she herself began and his life at court where he also pretends to serve Elizabeth's sister Queen Mary I. Mary has been convinced by Hapsburg ambassador Renard that Elizabeth is a dangerous and traitorous heathen who must be executed in order for Mary's marriage to Prince Philip to take place. Both Cecil and Prescott know that this is not true. Prescott decides to work for Elizabeth, and infiltrate Mary's court to thwart Renard's plan. However, he is called upon by Queen Mary to find proof of Elizabeth's treachery and involvement in the plot to overthrow her. Now serving as a double agent, he must find the proof (whether it be treacherous or not) in Elizabeth's letters before his unknown nemesis finds it first and Elizabeth meets an executioner. This book is enthralling from beginning to end; humanizing the virgin Queen and giving us a few of her beginnings. For a true history lover, you can see the compressed timeline of the novel, but can also appreciate the way the author attempted to stay true to historical facts. I really enjoyed this book and I look forward to picking up another great book by him!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A St. Erkenwald's Day Wedding for Anne and Henry?

November 14, 1532 is the day that Henry and Anne landed back in England after their lengthy trip to France to gain support for their union with Francis I. The King and his intended took their time heading back to London, tarrying in Dover for several days for the purpose "...of having harbours constructed in the said town..." They did not return to the capital for ten days! Edward Hall, a Tudor chronicler wrote that they were not actually raising funds and buildings but rather that they had gotten married! He wrote, "The kyng after his returne<sic>, married priuily[privily, meaning in a private way] the lady Anne Bulleyn, on sainct<sic> Erkwnwaldes daie, whiche marriage was kept so secrete,<sic> that very fewe knewe it, til she was greate with child, as Easter after..."
This story directly contradicts the idea that they married in January, only after Anne found out that she was pregnant. We may never know the exact date of their marriage, but we do know that after this point the King and Anne began co-habitating and that she became pregnant sometime in December. I find myself leaning towards Hall's account; it seems unlikely that Anne would give herself to Henry after so many years of holding out unless she had gotten her ultimate goal, marriage.

On This Day in Tudor History

On this day in history 1501 Arthur, elder brother of Henry VII, Prince of Wales married Katherine of Aragon, Infanta of Spain in a lavish ceremony at Saint Paul's Cathedral in London. The bride and groom were clothed in white satin and the Archbishop of Canterbury presided. Their reception, which took place at Baynard's castle, included feasting, a fountain which distributed wine and many, many sweets. Following the ceremony the only public bedding in 16th century England took place. Katherine's bed was sprinkled with holy water and prayed over by Catholic priests. Katherine was undressed by her ladies in waiting, veiled and reverently laid in bed; Arthur entered the room to the sounds of musicians playing and together they prayed with the Bishop of London for their marriage to be fruitful. Unfortunately for them, the marriage was very short, less than six months. Arthur would die of either tuberculosis or influenza and Katherine would enter a tumultuous widowhood lasting seven years before she would remarry and become the first of wife of Henry VIII.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Reader Questions

Once again, I have fallen off of the band wagon of answering your questions! There were so many that I will post two sections of them this week. Here is section one:

Q: What did Anne Boleyn look like?
A: I have answered this question a lot, I never tire of it! Probably because I have wondered this very thing myself. Here is the link to my article on the topic.

Q: What did Mary I die of?
A: We cannot be entirely certain, she died during an influenza epidemic which could have done it, but we also know from her medical records that she was suffering from intense pain and bloating (so much so that she thought herself pregnant), possibly from Ovarian cysts or uterine cancer. Internal bleeding from the cysts or complications from the cancer could have caused her demise as well.

Q: Was Elizabeth involved in the Dudley plot against Mary?
A: I think you are incorrectly calling Wyatt's Rebellion the "Dudley Plot" Thomas Wyatt the younger led the rebellion because he, and other nobles, feared that Mary's marriage to the Spanish Prince Phillip would lead to the subjugation of England to the Holy Roman Empire. The rebellion also had religious roots, the Spanish prince and devout Catholic Mary would certainly try to return England to the Roman fold. The rebels sought to depose Mary and place Elizabeth in her stead. Robert Dudley, and his brothers, were often thought to have conspired in the plot even though no evidence could be found. We cannot be sure if Elizabeth was involved, although Mary certainly thought she was and locked her in the Tower for it.

Q: Did Henry VIII suffer from MacLeod's Syndrome?
A: Great question, one that cannot be answered without access to his body; which is unlikely to ever happen. However Kyra Cornelius Kramer makes an excellent argument for the case in her book Blood Will Tell: A Medical Explanation for the Tyranny of Henry VIII. I would suggest picking it up and drawing your own conclusions.

Keep your questions coming! I will endeavor to be more diligent about answering!

Friday, November 8, 2013

On This Day in Tudor History

On this day in Tudor history Katherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII and Queen of England made her confession of infidelity to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. Cranmer had attempted to interrogate Katherine the day before but she became hysterical and unable to answer his questions. On this day it seemed her hysteria had calmed and led her to a state of repentance. Cranmer tried a more gentle tactic and coaxed Katherine into saying:

"Alas, my lord, that I am alive! the fear of death grieved me not so much before, as doth now the remembrance of the Kings goodness: for when I remember how gracious and loving a prince I had, I cannot but sorrow, but this sudden mercy, and more than I could have looked for, shewed unto me, so unworthy, at this time, maketh mine offences to appear before mine eyes much more heinous that they did before: and the more I consider the greatness of his mercy, the more I do sorrow in my heart that I should so misorder myself against his majesty."

Katherine continued the confession admitting that she had been sexual with Francis Deerham [Dereham] saying her often called her wife, kissed her and entrusted her with a large amount of money when he was away. You can read the entire examination of the Queen online at
Portrait believed to be of Katherine Howard
By Hans Holbein the Younger ca 1540

White Falcon: The Coronation Song of Anne Boleyn

In 1533, a song was composed by Nicholas Udall, praising Anne Boleyn. It was to be sung at her coronation at Queen of England. The song was a remarkable piece of PR work; it extolled Anne's virtues of chastity and fertility. It also spoke about her pale beauty and shining wit; additionally it hinted at her long position as Henry's favorite. Read on for the lyrics:

This White Falcon,
Rare and geason
This bird shineth so bright;
No bird compare
May with this Falcon White

The Virtues all,
No man mortal,
Of this bird can write.
No man earthly
Enough truly
Can praise this Falcon White.

Who will express
Great Gentleness
To be in any wight;
He will not miss,
But call him this
The gentle Falcon White.

This gentle bird
As white as curd
Shineth both day and Night
Nor far ne near
Is any peer
Unto this Falcon White,

Of body small.
Of power regal,
She is, and sharp of sight;
No manner fault
Is in this Falcon White

In chastity,
Excelleth she
Mostly like a virgin bright:
And worthy is
To live in bliss
Always this Falcon White.

But now to take
And use her make
Is time, as troth is plight;
That she may bring
Fruit according
For such a Falcon White.

And where by wrong,
She hath fleen long,
Uncertain where to light;
Herself repose
Upon the Rose,
Now may this Falcon White.

Whereon to rest,
And build her nest;
GOD grant her, most of might!
That England may
Rejoice always
In this Falcon White.

Check out the song here

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Anne Boleyn: Witch, Bitch, Tempress, Feminist

While I have often given Hilary Mantel a bad rap for her wildly inaccurate histories and scathing remarks about Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, I really did enjoy a recent article she wrote for The Guardian. In it Mantel talks about why Anne was so controversial and why she captivates historians and Hollywood nearly 500 years after her demise. Check out the article here.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Two Gentleman Poets at the Court of Henry VIII

I love when new research becomes available about the Boleyn family! Thankfully, Claire Ridgway, from the Anne Boleyn Files, recently translated and published a nineteenth century biography of George Boleyn. It is currently the only biography of Anne's ill-fated brother and gives insight on the Howards as well! Claire translated this book from 1800s French to English in order to give Anne addicts who do not speak French access to the this work. My copy is on order, stay tuned for a review! Purchase your own copy here!