March 21, 1556 – Execution of Thomas Cranmer

Thomas Cranmer’s execution, from John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Today is the sad anniversary of the burning of Thomas Cranmer. His execution involved a surprise dramatic twist at the end that sealed him as an important Protestant martyr.

Anyone interested in the Tudor times knows Cranmer well. He was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1533; he established the first doctrinal and liturgical structures of the reformed Church of England – and pronounced the invalidity of Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. He stayed close to Henry for the rest of that king’s life, helped steer the country towards further reforms under the Protestant Edward VI – but then was quickly jailed for treason and heresy once Catherine’s daughter, the staunchly Catholic Mary I, ascended to the throne.

He spent two years in prison, and was sentenced to death. This is where it gets tricky. On December 11, Cranmer was placed into the house of the Dean of Christ Church – and treated as an honored guest. A Dominican friar debated issues of papal supremacy and purgatory…and somehow persuaded Cranmer to recant. The recantations (there were four) were not strong enough to stay his sentence: on February 24, his execution was set for March 7. Two days after that writ was issued, Cranmer issued a full recantation – he repudiated all Lutheran theology, fully accepted papal supremacy and transubstantiation, and agreed that there was no salvation outside the Catholic church. He received absolution, and participated in the mass. Under Canon law, he should have been reprieved, but Mary decided she wanted to make an example of him and gave orders that the execution would proceed.

Then the Marian government got greedy. They asked him to recant one last time before his death – and brought him for this purpose to the University Church to make a public speech. He started with a prayer, then deviated from the script… and recanted his recantation (!). Here’s that part of it:

“Every man desireth, good people, at the time of their deaths, to give some good exhortation that others may remember after their deaths, and be the better thereby. So I beseech God grant me grace, that I may speak something at this my departing, whereby God may be glorified and you edified.

First, it is a heavy case to see, that many folks be so much doted upon the love of this false world, and so careful for it, that of the love of God, or the love of the world to come, they seem to care very little or nothing therefore. This shall be my first exhortation: That you set not overmuch by this false glosing world, but upon God and the world to come. And learn to know what this lesson meaneth, which St John teacheth, that the love of this world is hatred against God.

The second exhortation is, that next unto God, you obey your king and queen, willingly and gladly, without murmur and grudging. And not for fear of them only, but much more for the fear of God: Knowing, that they be God’s ministers, appointed by God to rule and govern you. And therefore whoso resisteth them, resisteth God’s ordinance.

The third exhortation is, that you love all together like brethren and sisters. For alas, pity it is to see, what contention and hatred one Christian man hath to another; not taking each other, as sisters and brothers; but rather as strangers and mortal enemies. But I pray you learn and bear well away this one lesson, To do good to all men as much as in you lieth, and to hurt no man, no more than you would hurt your own natural and loving brother or sister. For this you may be sure of, that whosoever hateth any person, and goeth about maliciously to hinder or hurt him, surely, and without all doubt, God is not with that man, although he think himself never so much in God’s favour.

The fourth exhortation shall be to them that have great substance and riches of this world, that they will well consider and weigh those sayings of the Scripture. One is of our Saviour Christ himself, who saith, It is hard for a rich man to enter into heaven; a sore saying, and yet spoke by him, that knew the truth. The second is of St John, whose saying is this, He that hath the substance of this world, and seeth his brother in necessity, and shutteth up his mercy from him, how can he say, he loveth God?  Much more might I speak of every part; but time sufficeth not. I do but put you in remembrance of things. Let all them that be rich, ponder well those sentences; for if ever they had any occasion to shew their charity, they have now at this present, the poor people being so many, and victuals so dear. For though I have been long in prison, yet I have heard of the great penury of the poor. Consider, that that which is given to the poor, is given to God; whom we have not otherwise present corporally with us, but in the poor.

And now forsomuch as I am come to the last end of my life, whereupon hangeth all my life passed, and my life to come, either to live with my Saviour Christ in heaven, in joy, or else to be in pain ever with wicked devils in hell; and I see before mine eyes presently either heaven ready to receive me, or hell ready to swallow me up; I shall therefore declare unto you my very faith, how I believe, without colour or dissimulation. For now is no time to dissemble, whatsoever I have written in times past.

First, I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, &c. and every article of the Catholic faith, every word and sentence taught by our Saviour Christ, his Apostles and Prophets, in the Old and New Testament.

And now I come to the great thing that troubleth my conscience more than any other thing that ever I said or did in my life: and that is, the setting abroad of writings contrary to the truth. Which here now I renounce and refuse, as things written with my hand contrary to the truth which I thought in my heart, and writ for fear of death, and to save my life, if it might be: and that is, all such bills, which I have written or signed with mine own hand, since my degradation; wherein I have written many things untrue. And forasmuch as my hand offended in writing contrary to my heart, therefore my hand shall first be punished. For if I may come to the fire, it shall be first burned. And as for the Pope, I refuse him, as Christ’s enemy and antichrist, with all his false doctrine.

[Here they interrupted him to remind him of his recantation. He responded:]

“Alas, my lord I have been a man, that all my life loved plainness, and never dissembled till now against the truth; which I am most sorry for. For the sacrament, I believe as I had taught in my book against the bishop of Winchester.”

At this point, he was pushed off the stage (“And here he was suffered to speak no more”) and carried away to the stake…where he doubled down:

And [Cranmer] answered (shewing his hand) ‘This is the hand that wrote it, and therefore it shall suffer first punishment.’ Fire being now put to him, he stretched out his right hand, and thrust it into the flame, and held it there a good space, before the fire came to any other part of his body; where his hand was seen of every man sensibly burning, crying with a loud voice, ‘This hand hath offended.‘  As soon as the fire got up, he was very soon dead, never stirring or crying all the while.

Rest in peace.

SOURCE:  Todd, Henry John. The Life of Archbishop Cranmer, Vol II.

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If you like my posts, you’ll love my book! Jane the Quene is now available in ebook and paperback on Amazon.Com (here are some easy links to  Amazon.Com, Amazon.Co.UK and Amazon.Com.Au)!


The Six Wives Of Henry VIII – The TV Series (Guest Post by Roland Hui)

I am thrilled to host author Roland Hui on the third stop of the blog tour for his just-out The Turbulent Crown: The Story of the Tudor Queens, which recounts the dramatic events of the ten Tudor women who sat on the English throne. From the book description:

The Turbulent Crown begins with the story of Elizabeth of York, who survived conspiracy, murder, and dishonour to become the first Tudor Queen, bringing peace and order to England after years of civil war. From there, the reader is taken through the parade of Henry VIII’s six wives – two of whom, Anne Boleyn and Katheryn Howard, would lose their heads against a backdrop of intrigue and scandal.

The Turbulent Crown continues with the tragedy of Lady Jane Grey, the teenager who ruled for nine days until overthrown by her cousin Mary Tudor. But Mary’s reign, which began in triumph, ended in disaster, leading to the emergence of her sister, Elizabeth I, as the greatest of her family and of England’s monarchs.

Today’s post was written by Roland – it is a special post for me about the Six Wives series (he’s read my blog and he knows how much I admire Keith Mitchell’s masterful portrayal, so this was a really cool piece!)

I got a copy of the book – I just started it and I am enjoying it immensely. Roland has a wonderful, clear voice (you can hear it in the post).  And as part of the tour, MadeGlobal Publishing is offering one lucky follower of mine the chance to win a copy of the book as well (your choice between a  paperback or the kindle version) – details at the bottom of the post.

Over to Roland…


The period from the middle 1960’s to the early 1970’s was the heyday of English history motion pictures. The critical and commercial success of ‘Becket’ (1964) was an indication that audiences were keen to see more of such films. ‘A Man For All Seasons’ (1966), ‘the Lion in Winter’ (1968), ‘Anne of the Thousand Days’(1969), ‘Cromwell’ (1970), and ‘Mary Queen of Scots (1971) were all made during this renaissance of historical pictures. Television, recognizing this interest in England’s past, released a teleplay of Maxwell Anderson’s ‘Elizabeth the Queen’ (1968). In 1970 an even more ambitious project was undertaken – ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’, a series of six teleplays about the King’s merry-go-round of queens.

The Henry VIII most viewers were still familiar with at the time was actor Charles Laughton’s interpretation of the notorious monarch in ‘The Private Life of Henry VIII’ (1933) and again in ‘Young Bess’ (1953). As popular as Laughton’s interpretation was, it bordered on the comical. His Henry was a rather a buffoon, though even he had, arguably, better table manners! There was no suggestion of the cultured Renaissance prince who composed music, built palaces and warships, made war on the French and the Scots, and defied the Vatican by establishing his own Church.

To play such a larger than life personality, the producers of ‘The Six Wives’ chose Australian actor Keith Michell. In his early 40’s when he was cast, not only was Michell expected to interpret Henry VIII in all his complexity, but also to age from a young man of 17 to an ageing despot of 55. The physical demands of the part were not lost on Michell. It was ‘murder’ as he recalled. “The make-up got more and more complicated. Toward the end it was a 4 hour job that meant wearing plastic all over my head, a plastic nose, things in my face, padding up to my neck.” Interestingly enough, it was not Henry VIII himself who would inspire the actor, but rather plutocrats of another era. Michell imagined Henry as ‘a kind of cigar-smoking American billionaire, very rich and very powerful.’ The costumes, he also mentioned, with all their padding, jewels, and fur, were a big help in creating the King’s persona.

The series begins with the arrival of Catherine of Aragon (Annette Crosby) to England in 1501. It is commendable that the producers of the series chose to present Catherine as she actually looked. She was not stereotypically Spanish with an olive complexion and dark hair (as the character had appeared in ‘Anne of the Thousand Days’ for instance), but fair and blond as Catherine was depicted in her early portraits. The episode emphasizes the happiness she and Henry VIII shared as a young couple. Upon ‘the word of a Henry’, her husband promises, Catherine will always be loved.

However, the marriage sours when she is unable the bear a son, only a daughter, the Princess Mary. The years take a toll on her looks, and she is often ill and melancholy. Not only must she endure the humiliation of being a ‘barren’ wife, but also the King’s attraction to a lady of the Court, Anne Boleyn. So much for ‘the word of a Henry,’ as Catherine later muses with bitterness.

In ‘The Six Wives’, Anne Boleyn (Dorothy Tutin) was not a sympathetic character. She is brash, vain, and overly proud. While her personality was certainly meant to act as a foil to Catherine’s, when the series was made, the historical Anne was not viewed very kindly. Many perceived her as a shameless hussy who in the end got what she deserved, even though she was falsely accused of treason. This opinion was even expressed by actress Charlotte Rampling who played Anne Boleyn in the later film version of ‘The Six Wives.’ “Anne wasn’t a very nice girl, I’m afraid,” Rampling said in an interview, “she had dangerous qualities of spitefulness and arrogance.”

Though Queen, Anne comes to realize that her happiness, like Catherine’s, is fleeting. She too is unable to bear a son and the episode centers upon her fall from grace. Brittle and haughty, the proud Anne finds herself in the Tower of London charged with adultery. It is in her darkest despair that Anne redeems herself. She learns humility, and her courage shines through as she steadfastly refuses to acknowledge the crimes of which she is accused. She goes to her execution in assurance of her innocence.

The episode on Jane Seymour, Anne Boleyn’s successor, differs slightly from the others as her story is told in flashback. It begins in 1537 with the christening of her son, the longed-for Prince Edward. However, Jane (Anne Stallybrass) cannot experience the joyfulness. She is in delirium and, unbeknownst to her and all others, is in fact slowly dying. Her fevered mind recalls her courtship by the King. He is unhappy with his tempestuous wife Queen Anne and finds solace in the company of the meek and mild Jane. Historians continue to debate whether Jane Seymour was really as gentle a lady as she appeared, or rather a ruthless courtier itching for a crown. Evidently, the screenwriter imagined Jane as the former. However, even her tenure as Queen is troubled. Jane is haunted by thoughts of the late Anne Boleyn. Was she judiciously murdered so that she could take her place? As Jane tells her brother Edward Seymour, “I have no – no waking or sleeping moment when I am at peace.” Perhaps it was only by her death by puerperal fever that Jane was finally able to find that peace.

Two years after Jane Seymour’s passing, Henry VIII, at the urging of his chief minister Thomas Cromwell, decides to take another wife. No longer the athlete and handsome man he was, the King is now fat and ageing. Nonetheless, he still considers himself a worthy catch, and he contracts a marriage with the German Anne of Cleves (Elvi Hale). The writing of this particular episode was probably not without its challenges. The marriage was short-lived and, except for the fall of Cromwell, was relatively uneventful. As well, Anne spoke no English. Thus some dramatic license was taken with Anne already speaking the language (as an earlier incarnation of the character did in ‘The Private Life of Henry VIII’), and some facts distorted and made up. Unlike the historical Anne of Cleves who was most eager to wed the King of England, the ‘Six Wives’ version of her was not. At their first meeting, she is appalled by his appearance; an interesting twist in that history usually has it the other way around. Also, the real Anne did not meddle in politics, but the episode has her counseling her countryman, Philip of Hesse, who visits England in secret to seek advice on getting rid of his wife. Philip’s visit is entirely fictional, but it did serve to add more to the storyline.

If Anne Boleyn wasn’t a ‘nice girl’, her cousin Catherine Howard (Angela Pleasence) was worse. In ‘The Six Wives’ she is selfish, conniving, and immoral. She seduces one of the King’s courtiers to conceive a son to pass off as the King’s. She even considers having an old lover murdered to prevent him from revealing her sordid past. Although historians of late have been more sympathetic towards Catherine (that she was a child of abuse whose poor upbringing led her to make bad life choices is one modern opinion), the television series accepts the traditional view of her as a wanton woman. Catherine’s one redeeming quality is her loyalty to her Howard family, even though they, like her uncle the pandering Duke of Norfolk, have abandoned her to her fate. The young Queen goes to the block admitting her guilt and asks that her kin be spared the King’s wrath.

From a girl just out of her teens, Henry VIII moves on to a mature woman in her 30’s for his sixth Queen in the final episode of ‘The Six Wives.’ Catherine Parr (Rosalie Crutchley) is a sensible no-nonsense widow with a strong religious (Protestant that is) streak. The actual Catherine, though very pious, was not as severe as the series made her out to be. She was attractive and vivacious. It was these qualities, not her theological opinions that attracted the King to her. Still, emphasis was put on her religious views.  In ‘The Six Wives,’ John Foxe’s famous story of her getting in hot water for heresy was played out. But peace was restored with Catherine giving in, and she manages to outlive the King who dies in 1547.

‘The Six Wives’ was a success with critics and audiences. It won BAFTA Awards for Keith Michell and Annette Crosbie, as well as for the design and costume teams. It also received the Prix d’Italia for the sensitively written episode on Jane Seymour. When the series was exported to America for broadcast on ‘Masterpiece Theatre’, it was a hit with viewers there too, and Michell was given an Emmy Award for his performance. The positive response to the series spawned a sequel ‘Elizabeth R’ (1971), a prequel ‘The Shadow of the Tower’ (1972), and even a theatrical version entitled ‘Henry VIII and His Six Wives’ (1973). For the film, Michell repeated his part, but different actresses played his Queens.

In the years following Keith Michell’s celebrated role as Henry VIII, a multitude of actors (including Ray Winstone, Eric Bana, Jared Harris, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and Damian Lewis) have also tackled the part, but none have received the acclaim Michell did for bringing Henry VIII to life onscreen. In 1996, when the role of the King was being cast for a television adaptation of Mark Twain’s ‘The Prince and the Pauper’, the producers had only one actor in mind – Keith Michell. Even today, Michell (who sadly passed away in 2015) is remembered as the definitive Henry VIII.


Roland Hui received his degree in Art History from Concordia University roland_huiin Canada. After completing his studies, he went on to work in Interpretive Media for California State Parks, The U.S. Forest Service, and The National Park Service. Roland has written for Renaissance Magazine and for Tudor Life Magazine. He blogs about 16th-century English art and personalities at Tudor Faces at



So – ready to try to win a copy? Paperback or kindle version, your choice! Just leave a comment below this post before midnight on Sunday, March 5.  Tell me which was your favorite scene from the series, or your favorite other TV or film version of Henry and his wives, or just that you loved my Jane the Quene!   One lucky commenter will be picked at random and contacted for their details.

There will be a giveaway at every stop of Roland’s book tour (!) and here is the schedule:


February 17, 1547 – Edward Seymour Becomes Duke of Somerset

Edward Seymour, by an unknown artist (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons).

When Henry died on January 27, his will contemplated sixteen executors who would share power while his son was still a minor. Nice idea in principle, but even Henry found it impossible to impose his will after death. Somerset had been ready for this moment, and sprang into action.

The old King’s death was kept secret – according to the Spanish ambassador’s letters, “not even the slightest signs of such a thing were to be seen at Court, and even the usual ceremony of bearing in the royal dishes to the sound of trumpets was continued without interruption” – and all roads from London were closed until they had the new King with them and safely in the Tower. Meanwhile, Edward Seymour worked behind the scenes to seize power by get himself appointed Lord Protector – largely by figuring out the right bribes for the different Council members. And as long as rich offices were being handed out, why not one for the Lord Protector himself.

As W.K. Jordan puts it in his Edward VI: The Young King (quoting from Hargrave, Stow, and Edward VI himself),

The ceremony at the Tower, for all the haste in preparation, was elaborate and impressive. Before all the assembled nobility, Edward Seymour was first created a duke, being dressed in an ‘inner robe’ of honor, with the heralds preceding him, and the Garter next following. Then came the Earl of Shrewsbury carrying a verge (rod) of gold and Oxford carrying the duke’s cup and coronet of gold, while Arundel bore the sword. Escorted by the Duke of Suffolk and the Marquis of Dorset, Seymour offered his obedience to the child King sitting in the chair of state, and then knelt before him. Paget read the charter, while at the appropriate point Edward placed the duke’s mantle on Seymour, girt him with the sword, put the coronet on his head, gave him the verge of gold and pronounced him Duke of Somerset. Somerset then stood by the King while the others were ennobled.

(In case you were wondering, the Earl of Essex (William Parr) became the Marquis of Northampton, Viscount Lisle (John Dudley) became the Earl of Warwick, Lord Wriothesley became Earl of Southampton, Sir Thomas Seymour became Baron Seymour of Sudeley, Sir Richard Rich became Baron Rich of Leighs, Sir William Willoughby became Baron Willoughby of Parham, and Sir Edmund Sheffield became Baron Sheffield).

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If you like my posts, you’ll love my book! Jane the Quene is now available in ebook and paperback on Amazon.Com (here are some easy links to  Amazon.Com, Amazon.Co.UK and Amazon.Com.Au)!


Isabella of France – A Study in Contrast (Guest Post by Conor Byrne)

I am thrilled to host author Conor Byrne on the second stop of the blog tour for his just-out Queenship in England, which examines the challenges faced by the nine queens who were married to kings of England between 1308 and 1485. Conor investigates the relationship between gender and power at the English court, while exploring how queenship responded to, and was informed by, the tensions at the heart of governance. I found it a great way to  understand the model of queenship under which Tudor queens operated – and which they inevitably modified.

Today’s post was written by Conor – it is a special post for me about the first woman in this line-up of queens: Isabella of France, who was Queen of England as the wife of Edward II, and Regent of England from 1326 until 1330).

As part of the tour, Conor’s publisher (MadeGlobal Publishing) is offering one lucky follower the chance to win a copy of Conor’s book (your choice between a  paperback or the kindle version) – details at the bottom of the post.

Over to Conor…



For the first fifteen years of her tenure as queen consort of England, Isabella of France conformed to conventional expectations of queenship. In 1308, at the age of twelve, she married Edward II of England and went on to provide her husband with four children. Their eldest son, Edward, was born in 1312. Isabella was praised by her contemporaries for her successes as an intercessor, both at home and abroad. She was acknowledged as a moderating force in an unstable kingdom, in which the king’s relations with his nobility fluctuated and were often characterised by tension.

By the mid-1320s, however, everything had changed. In the realm of popular history, the relationship between Edward and Isabella has been cast in lurid terms, with allegations of sexual impropriety, betrayal, vengeance and hatred. In recent years, the queen has been depicted as a long-suffering victim of her cruel and sexually perverted husband, who lost the respect of his nobility and courtiers as a result of his sexual shenanigans with Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser the Younger. Edward has been accused of permitting Despenser to seduce, and perhaps rape, Isabella. According to this narrative, so fed up did Isabella become that, when she was sent on a diplomatic mission to France in 1325, she plotted to force her husband’s removal from the throne and set up her young son in his place. When Isabella returned to England, widely supported by her adoring subjects, her husband was imprisoned and either murdered or allowed to escape abroad and live out the remainder of his life on the continent. The increasing opposition to Isabella’s regime during her son’s minority was a result of the cruel actions of her lover, Roger Mortimer, who controlled and manipulated her. Eventually, after Mortimer’s execution, Isabella won back the respect and love of both her son and her subjects and lived out the rest of her life in quiet dignity.

This narrative makes for a gripping story, and it is perhaps unsurprising that so many lurid novels have been published about Edward, Isabella and Piers Gaveston, her husband’s favourite and, possibly, his lover. The problem with this narrative, however, is that much of it is speculative and is situated in modern attitudes to spousal relations and femininity. In some instances, the narrative of the long-suffering Isabella, controlled and abused by her merciless husband, is distinctly homo- or biphobic, and reveals more about modern attitudes to sexuality than those of the fourteenth-century. The surviving sources present a more nuanced picture of the relationship between Edward and his queen and the circumstances that led to their separation from one another and Edward’s eventual deposition.

Isabella of France is a controversial figure, but her queenship can be interpreted as a study in contrast. As noted earlier, her actions for most of Edward’s reign were conventional and conformed to contemporary attitudes of how the queen ought to behave, act and exercise authority. Above all, as a French tract of 1347, later translated as The III Consideracions Right Necesserye to the Good Governaunce of a Prince, noted, the queen should ‘have good and due regarde to suche thinge as toucheth the profyte and the honeure of hir lord and hir self.’ With the consent of her husband, the king, the queen should ‘take in hande… greet maters’, for her duty was to ‘bere reverence and oneure’ to her husband ‘at all tymes.’ It will be seen that Isabella’s actions were authorised by virtue of her close relationship with Edward and sought to redound to his ‘oneure’.

Isabella’s Household Book of 1311-12 survives, and documents the queen’s activities in her household management and intercession from early on in her tenure. Evidence indicates that the queen provided care for a Scottish orphan named ‘little Thomelinus’, to whom she granted alms by way of ‘sustenance and clothing’. In this respect, Isabella appears to have been cultivating a motherly role, which reflected contemporary depictions of the queen as the mother of the kingdom, and can be understood in the context of motherhood being idealised and emphasised as the primary duty of the queen. The calendar rolls, moreover, reveal that Isabella frequently sought pardons for malefactors. Thus Gilbert de Berewick, the ward of her lands, was pardoned at Isabella’s request for not appearing before justices appointed to investigate felonies, trespasses, and oppressions in Wiltshire. Isabella also responded to the contemporary expectation that the elites, including the consort, rewarded their servants for their loyalty and good service. William de Ros received pontage and pavage, perhaps as a reward for his good service. The queen also granted sums of money to her maidens when they were about to be married, including Margaret de Vilien shortly before her marriage to Odin Bronard. Isabella also drew on her good relationship with her husband to seek his assistance in matters concerning her household. Thus, in 1320, she sought Edward’s help in assisting her yeoman Godard Hauteyn. In actions such as this, Isabella was able to exercise authority by deferring to her husband, in ‘honouring’ him as her contemporaries expected the queen to do.

That Edward and Isabella enjoyed a stable, harmonious relationship for much of their marriage is further demonstrated by the king’s decision to enhance his wife’s authority within her household, therefore enabling her to exercise authority as a landowner. In 1313-4, perhaps in gratitude for the delivery of a son, Edward granted his wife lands, manors and castles in Kent, Oxfordshire, Derbyshire and Northamptonshire, thus extending her authority. Edward also appreciated Isabella’s effective actions as an intercessor between England and France, a duty that she took seriously given that her marriage had sought to maintain peace between the traditionally warring kingdoms. It was Isabella’s success in her foreign mediation that explains why she was selected to travel to France in 1325 to promote England’s interests with the French king.

She also interceded regularly on behalf of her husband’s subjects. In 1319, she wrote a letter on behalf of Philip Malton, requesting that the mayor and aldermen of London uphold the king’s appointment of Malton to the office of mace bearer and crier of Guildhall. Three years later, the queen was approached by Joan de Knovile, who sought her assistance for the release of her husband, who was then imprisoned in York Castle. Contrary to popular narrative, Isabella also maintained stable relations with her husband’s favourite, Piers Gaveston, and attempted to conciliate him by sheltering some of his supporters in her household.

It was in her motherhood, however, that Isabella most successfully conformed to contemporary expectations of queenship, and permitted her to maintain good relations with her husband. Contemporaries reported Edward’s ‘love’ for his wife in 1313, several months after she gave birth to their first child, Edward. The birth of the prince has been interpreted by Kathryn Warner as ‘an enormous public relations coup’ that demonstrated divine favour and confirmed Edward II’s right to rule at a time of political tension. Three more children followed, but Isabella’s motherhood was to prove a source of controversy, for it came into tension with her role as wife to the king. Contemporaries warned that the queen should not be ‘curious in nourisshynge of her children’ to the detriment of her husband. However, the rise of the Despensers and the escalating tensions during the mid-1320s meant that Isabella experienced a conflict of interests. The queen’s lands were seized and sequestrated, and members of her household dismissed, as a result of her displacement in the king’s counsels by the Despensers. This resulted in the deterioration of relations between Edward and Isabella, and explains why the queen resolved on her husband’s removal while seeking peace with France in 1325.

It is worth emphasising, once more, that until 1325 Isabella’s model of queenship had been entirely traditional, and in her activities as an intercessor, patron, lord and mother, she had conformed to conventional expectations and had exercised significant authority through informal means, as a result. However, the political context necessitated Isabella’s decision to ally with her husband’s enemies in a bid to secure the inheritance of her son, Prince Edward, for whom she may have been greatly concerned as a result of the aggressive posturing of the Despensers, who seemed to control her husband. Isabella’s actions astonished her husband, whose response was initially one of shock. Before long, however, the king had publicly branded his wife and eldest son traitors; others reported that he had ordered their exile from the kingdom. In response to this hostility, Isabella publicly represented herself as a much-wronged wife, who earnestly sought reconciliation with her husband. She explained, however, that she could not return to the realm, much as she would like to, until her enemies had been apprehended.

In representing herself as reacting to the corruption of her husband’s ‘evil counsellors’, and in presenting herself as an explicitly feminine victim, Isabella secured the support of her husband’s enemies. As Margaret of Anjou was later to do, Isabella presented herself as concerned for her son’s inheritance and exercised authority on his behalf. The success of her mission, which resulted in the deposition of Edward II and the executions of the Despensers, demonstrated the potential authority that could be exercised by a consort. However, Isabella failed to learn that the support she had attained from large parts of the kingdom was dependent on the succession of her son, to restore peace and harmony to a fractured realm. By effectively taking on the role of regent between 1327 and 1330, and in engaging in corrupt actions alongside her ally – and possibly lover – Roger Mortimer, Isabella began to be hated, where before she had been ‘so much loved’. Her contemporaries accused the queen and Mortimer of keeping the young king ‘in subjection to themselves.’ This unlawful exercise of authority effectively meant that Isabella’s actions were no longer legitimised. She was seen to be acting against her son, rather than for him.

The young king rebelled against his mother and Mortimer and commenced his ‘personal reign’ in 1330, which was accompanied by the execution of Mortimer, who was tactfully accorded full responsibility for the corrupt actions that had characterised the preceding years. Although she appears to have been initially reluctant to cede her queenship to her daughter-in-law, Philippa of Hainault, Isabella came to occupy a more conventional role during her period as dowager queen. After the turbulence of the 1320s, her subsequent role more closely resembled that of the early years of her marriage to Edward II.

As noted at the beginning of this article, Isabella of France’s queenship is a study in contrast. She admirably conformed to conventional expectations of queenship for most of her marriage to Edward II and was renowned for her piety and patronage during her tenure as dowager queen. Her son, Edward III, sought Isabella’s involvement in ceremonial and diplomatic occasions at court, which demonstrated that he continued to respect her influence. By contrast, her actions during the mid-1320s, which led to the deposition of her husband, were unconventional, but they were mainly supported because Isabella successfully represented herself as a victim of tyranny, concerned for the lawful inheritance of her son. To begin with, she enjoyed the support of the kingdom, but she was later criticised for the perceived corruption undermining the body politic.



Conor Byrne studied History at the University of Exeter. He is the author of Katherine Howard: A New History and Queenship in England, both published by MadeGlobal. Since 2012 he has run a historical blog and was formerly editor of Tudor Life Magazine. His research to date specialises in late medieval and early modern European history, with a focus on gender, sexuality and the monarchy.




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January 26, 1587 – James VI Begs Elizabeth I to Spare His Mother’s Life

James VI in 1586, attributed to Adrian Vanson (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

James VI in 1586, attributed to Adrian Vanson (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

In 1585, a 55 year-old Elizabeth I and a 19 year-old James VI began a regular correspondence. Written in their own hands to stress the friendship – even intimacy – between them, it lasted until Elizabeth’s death (supplemented starting in 1601 by secret letters between James and Elizabeth’s councilors – notably Robert Cecil and Henry Howard).

As put by Janel Mueller (professor of English language and literature at the University of Chicago),

Throughout this correspondence, by one means or another, Elizabeth staked, protected, and cultivated her momentous investment in James. In this serial exchange of complex, inveigling letters the Virgin Queen can be observed creating her successor. With certain discomfiture but no lasting reluctance, James can be observed accepting his creaturehood at Elizabeth’s hands because of the mighty advancement it would bring him, in time–the monarchy of Great Britain.

Two years into this series, crisis hit when Mary of Scotland was convicted of treason for her role in encouraging the ill-fated Babington Plot, and sentenced to death. James wrote the next key letter in this sequence to Elizabeth on January 28, 1587, pleading with her to spare the life of his condemned mother, Mary, Queen of Scots.

This letter, while still maintaining the appearances of kinship and friendship, is the most combative and threatening that we see from James, though he continues to maintain the appearances of kinship and friendship. [Spoiler alert – he didn’t change the outcome. Elizabeth signed the death warrant on February 1, and Mary was executed on the 8th. Scotland didn’t’ invade, though the Spanish launched the Armada the following year – less in Mary’s name than because England was interfering in the Spanish Netherlands and subjecting Spanish ships to privateering…].

Judge for yourself…


To madame my very dear sister and cousin, the queen of England.

Madame and dearest sister,

If ye could have known what divers thoughts have agitated my mind since my directing of William Keith unto you for the soliciting of this matter whereto nature and honor so greatly and unfeignedly binds and obliges me – if, I say, ye knew what divers thoughts I have been in and what just grief I had, weighing deeply the thing itself, if so it should proceed (as God forbid), what events might follow thereupon, what number of straits I would be driven unto, and amongst the rest, how it might peril my reputation among my subjects – if these things, I yet say again, were known unto you, then doubt I not but ye would so far pity my case as it would easily make you at the first to resolve your own best into it. I doubt greatly in what facon to write in this purpose, for ye have already taken so evil with my plainness as I fear if I shall persist in that course ye shall rather be exasperated to passions in reading the words than by the plainness thereof be persuaded to consider rightly the simple truth.

Yet, justly preferring the duty of an honest friend to the sudden passions of one who (how soon they be past) can wiselier weigh the reasons than I can set them down, I have resolved in few words and plain to give you my friendly and best advice, appealing to your ripest judgment to discern thereupon. What thing, madame, can greatlier touch me in honor that is a king and a son than that my nearest neighbor, being in straitest friendship with me, shall rigorously put to death a free sovereign prince and my natural mother, alike in estate and sex to her that so uses her, albeit subject (I grant) to a harder fortune, and touching her nearly in proximity of blood? What law of God can permit that justice shall strike upon them whom He has appointed supreme dispensators of the same under Him, whom He hath called gods and therefore subjected to the censure of none in earth, whose anointing by God cannot be defiled by man, unrevenged by the author thereof, who being supreme and immediate lieutenants of God in heaven cannot therefore be judged by their equals in earth. What monstrous thing is it that sovereign princes themselves should be the example-givers of their own sacred diadems’ profaning! Then what should move you to this form of proceeding, supponing the worst, which in good faith I look not for at your hands – honor or profit? Honor were it to you to spare when it is least looked for; honor were it to you (which is not only my friendly advice, but my earnest suit) to take me and all other princes in Europe eternally beholden unto you in granting this my so reasonable request, and not (appardon, I pray you, my free speaking) to put princes to straits of honor wherethrough your general reputation and the universal (almost) misliking of you may dangerously peril both in honor and utility your person and your estate. Ye know, madame, well enough how small difference Cicero concludes to be betwixt utile [utility] and honestum [honor] in his discourse thereof, and which of them ought to be framed to the other. And now, madame, to conclude, I pray you so to weigh their few arguments that as I ever presumed of your nature, so the whole world may praise your subjects for their dutiful care for your preservation, and yourself, for your princely pity, the doing whereof only belongs  unto you, the performing whereof only appertains unto you, the praise thereof only ever will be yours.

Respect, then, good sister, this my first, so long continued, and so earnest request, dispatching my ambassadors with such a comfortable answer as may become your person to give and as my loving and honest heart unto you merits to receive. But in case any do vaunt themselves to know further of my mind in this matter than my ambassadors do, who indeed are fully acquainted therewith, I pray you not to ttake me to be a chameleon, but by the contrary to be malicious impostors as surely they are. And thus praying you heartily to excuse my too rude and longsome letter I commit you, madame and dearest sister, to the blessed protection of the Most High, who may give you grace to so resolve in this matter as may be honorable for you and most acceptable to him.

From my palace of Holyrood, the 26th day of January 1587.


SOURCE: Elizabeth I, Collected Works (edited by Leah Marcus, Janel Mueller and Mary Beth Rose)

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I am thrilled to announce that Jane the Quene is one of 13 finalists (out of more than 700 submissions) in the 2017 Novel of the Year contest being run by Underground Book Reviews. There is an Editors’ Choice award and a Readers’ Choice award…I can’t do anything about the Editors’ Choice, but your help can make all the difference with the Readers’ Choice!

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In the self-publishing world, winning something like this can really help people discover the book. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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January 18, 1486 – Henry VII Marries Elizabeth of York

Henry VII and Elizabeth of York by Sarah Malden (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Henry VII and Elizabeth of York by Sarah Malden, Countess of Essex (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

This is the anniversary of the marriage of Henry VII with Elizabeth of York – the union of the red rose of Lancaster with the white rose of York to create the Tudor Rose and finally end the Wars of the Roses.

Interestingly, the marriage occurred five months after Henry VII acceded to the throne – and after the man’s coronation. Henry VII needed to make a very important point to the world – that he ruled by his own right, not through his wife’s claim. After all, his claim – beyond the fact that he won the Battle of Bosworth – was somewhat tenuous (through illegitimate heirs etc.). By forcing people to fully recognize his legitimacy before his marriage, the union was transformed into a magnanimous gesture rather than a desperate grab. It was actually the right way to manipulate the optics of the situation.

Agnes Strickland describes the event as follows:

Their wedding day was, in the words of Bernard Andreas, ‘celebrated with all religious and glorious magnificence at court, and by their people with bonfires, dancing, songs and banquets, throughout all London.’ Cardinal Bourchier, who was at the same time a descendant of the royal house of Plantagenet and a prince of the church, was the officiating prelate at the marriage. ‘His hand,’ according to the quaint phraseology of Fuller, who records the circumstance, ‘held that sweet posie, wherein the white and red roses were first tied together.’”

It was said the marriage was a happy one – enough that Henry VII had a reputation for fidelity – a rare attribute for a king. She got pregnant right away, giving birth to Arthur Tudor on September 20, 1486. At that point her husband was thrilled to have her crowned: on November 25, 1487 she was anointed Queen of England. Everything was golden at that point, and it would remain that way for quite some time….

Still, I always wonder how Elizabeth felt about marrying Henry. I mean, she was raised as a princess, so she would have expected a marriage based on politics. But how did she really feel about her overbearing mother-in-law? And there were several instances of men claiming to be her long-lost brothers…did she ever question -even for a moment – whether they were? What must that have feel like? I need to go lose myself in some good books…feel free to suggest your favorites!

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Accuracy or Impact? A Philosophical Question for Tudor Lovers

Quote from Thomas Cranmer that captures the theme of this post (via – great site for stuff like this)

My tagline says that I deliver true takes on the Tudors and what it’s like to write about them. This is a “what it’s like to write about them” moment.

I am in the middle (two thirds to be exact…) of the first draft of The Path to Somerset, the story of Edward Seymour’s rise to power after Jane’s death – how he navigates Henry’s crazy years. The book uses two points of view – Edward’s and Stephen Gardiner’s. I originally wrote the scene where Henry learns that Catherine Howard has betrayed him – a really powerful moment – staying true to history: after Cranmer leaves the letter on Henry’s chair in the Chapel Royal on All Souls’ Day (click through here if you want the fuller story), Henry speaks about it to Cranmer alone.

My critique group insisted that it would be so much more powerful if readers could be in the room when Henry is confronted with these facts – they wanted to watch him pooh pooh the idea that his wife could have lived a dissolute life before marrying him (remember, one of his arguments to repudiate Anne of Cleves was that he could “feel by her breasts that she be no virgin” – that story here if you want it). And they were totally right. I’ve rewritten the scene so that Edward goes along (it works given the relationship I’ve given him with Cranmer and with Henry) and now it really pops. Especially the moment where Henry concedes that he won’t see Catherine until all the charges are proven false….It’s the right way to go.

But it’s historically wrong.

Now, I have to admit, I have manipulated full accuracy in the past: I placed Elizabeth Seymour at court when she wasn’t because I needed Jane to get out of her own head. So it is somewhat hypocritical to get careful about this now – though this feels different because it is an iconic moment. But it is different? If I explain the choice in an author’s note (something I forgot to do for Jane the Quene, so very sorry), does that fix it? I would love to hear from my readers, leave a comment and start the conversation!

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December 24, 1545 – Henry VIII’s Final Speech to Parliament

Henry VIII in Parliament, from the Wriothesley Garter Book (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Last speeches seem to be real highlights, and this one certainly does not disappoint. It is a chance to really hear Henry’s voice and remember how seriously he took religion even though he so often bent it to his own purposes. Who among us has not heard the quote, “I am very sorry to know and hear how unreverently that most precious jewel, the Word of God, is disputed, rhymed, sung and jangled in every ale-house and tavern, contrary to the true meaning and doctrine of the same”? It’s from this speech – a masterful performance that moved many of those present (including Henry himself) to tears.

Petre wrote to Paget to tell him of this event. “This morning, being Christmas Even, 24 Dec., Parliament was prorogued until 4 Nov. next, by the King in person. After hearing the proposition of the Speaker, a great piece of which consisted in laud of his Highness, the King required my lord Chancellor, whose office has ever been to make answer for the King, to permit him to answer himself; and did so with a gravity, “so sententiously, so kingly, or rather fatherly, as peradventure to you that hath been used to his daily talks should have been no great wonder (and yet saw I some that hear him often enough largely water their plants), but to us, that have not heard him often, was such a joy and marvellous comfort as I reckon this day one of the happiest of my life.”

But enough of a buildup, judge for yourself…(I left as much of the old language as I could – the first two paragraphs are a little slow but they do show you a great side of Henry’s majestic mix of flattery and threats and they will get your ear properly tuned to really enjoy the great stuff in the last two!)

Although my chancellor has been accustomed, very eloquently and substantially, to make answer to such orations as have been set forth in this high court of Parliament; yet is he not so able to open and set forth my mind and meaning, and the secrets of my heart, in so plain and simple manner, as I myself am, and can do. Wherefore, I take it upon me to answer your eloquent oration, Master Speaker, and say that where you, in the name of our well beloved Commons, have both praised and extolled me for the notable qualities that you have conceived to be in me, I most heartily  thank you all. You have put me in remembrance  of my duty, which is, to endeavor myself to obtain such excellent qualities, and necessary virtues, as a prince or governor should or ought to have; of which gifts I recognize myself both bare and barren. But for those small qualities with which God hath endowed me, I render to His goodness my most humble thanks, intending, with all my wit and diligence, to acquire such notable virtues, and princely qualities, as you have alleged to be incorporate in my person. 

Having thanked you for your loving admonition and good counsel, I now quickly thank you again, because you, considering the great charges (not for our pleasure, but for your defense, not for our gain, but to our great cost) which we have lately sustained, both in defense against our and your enemies and the conquest of that fortress which was to this realm most displeasant and noisome, and shall be, by God’s grace, hereafter to our nation most profitable and pleasant, you have freely decided to grant to us a certain subsidy, here in an act specified, which verily we take in good part, regarding more your kindness than the profit thereof, as he that setteth more by your loving hearts than by your substance. Besides this hearty kindness, I cannot a little rejoice, when I consider the perfect trust and sure confidence which you have put in me, as men having undoubted hope and unfeigned belief in my good doings and just proceedings,  because you, without my desire or request have committed to mine order and disposition all chantries, colleges, hospitals, and other places specified in a certain act – firmly trusting, that I will order them to the glory of God and the profit of our commonwealth. Surely, if I, contrary to your expectations, should suffer the churches to decay, or learning (which is so great a jewel) to be diminished, or poor and miserable people to be unrelieved, you might say, that I, being put in so special a trust as I am in this case, were no trusty friend to you, nor charitable man to mine fellow Christians,  neither a lover of the public wealth, nor yet one that feared God, to whom account must be rendered of all our doings. Doubt not, I pray you, but your expectation shall be served, more godly and goodly than you will wish or desire, as hereafter you shall plainly perceive.      

Now since I find such kindness on your part, towards me, I cannot choose but to love and favor you, affirming that no prince in the world more favoreth his subjects than I do you; nor any subjects or commons more love and obey their sovereign lord than I perceive you do me, for whose defense my treasure shall not be hidden, nor, if necessity require, shall my person be unrisked. Yet, although I with you, and you with me, be in this perfect love and concord, this friendly amity cannot continue unless you my lords temporal, and you my lords spiritual, and you my loving subjects, study and take pains to amend one thing, which is surely amiss and far out of order, which I most heartily require you to do and which is that charity and concord is not among you, but discord and dissension beareth rule, in every place. St. Paul saith to the Corinthians, in the thirteenth chapter, charity is gentle, charity is not envious, charity is not proud, and so forth, in the said chapter. Behold then what love and charity is amongst you, when the one calleth the other heretic and anabaptist, and he calleth him in turn papist, hypocrite, and pharisee. Be these tokens of charity amongst you? Are these the signs of fraternal love between you? No, no. I assure you, that this lack of charity amongst yourselves will be the hindrance and assuaging of the fervent love between us, as I said before, except this wound be salved, and clearly made whole. I must needs judge the fault and occasion of this discord to be partly by the negligence of you, the fathers, and preachers of the spirituality. For, if I know a man that liveth in adultery, I must judge him a lecherous and carnal person; if I see a man boast and brag, I cannot but deem him a proud man. I see and hear daily that you of the clergy preach one against another, teach contrary to one another, criticize one against another without charity or discretion. Some be too stiff in their old mumpsimus, other be too busy and curious in their new sumpsimus. Thus, all men almost are in variety and discord, and few or none do preach, truly and sincerely, the word of God, according as they ought to do. Shall I now judge you charitable persons doing this? No, no; I cannot so do. Alas! how can the poor souls live in concord when you preachers sow amongst them, in your sermons, debate and discord? From you they look for light, and you bring them to darkness. Amend these crimes, I exhort you, and set forth God’s word, both by true preaching, and good example-giving, or else I, whom God hath appointed his vicar and high minister here, will see these divisions extinct, and these enormities corrected, according to my very duty, or else I am an unprofitable servant, and an untrue officer.

Although (as I say) the spiritual men are in some fault that charity is not kept amongst you, yet you of the temporality are not clean and unspotted of malice and envy; for you rail on bishops, speak slanderously of priests, and rebuke and taunt preachers; both contrary to good order and Christian fraternity. If you know surely that a bishop or preacher erreth, or teacheth perverse doctrine, come and declare it to some of our Council, or to us, to whom is committed by God the authority to reform and order such causes and behaviors, and be not judges yourselves of your own fantastical opinions and vain expositions; for in such high causes you may lightly err. And, although you are permitted to read holy scripture and to have the word of God in your mother tongue, you must understand that it is licensed you so to do, only to inform your own conscience and to instruct your children and family, and not to dispute and make scripture a railing and a taunting stock against priests and preachers, as many light persons do. I am very sorry to know and hear how unreverently that most precious jewel, the word of God, is disputed, rhymed, sung, and jangled in every alehouse and tavern, contrary to the true meaning and doctrine of the same; and yet I am even as much sorry that the readers of the same follow it, in doing, so faintly and coldly. For of this I am sure, that charity was never so faint amongst you, and virtuous and godly living was never less used, nor was God himself, amongst Christians, never less reverenced, honored, or served. Therefore, as I said before, be in charity one with another, like brother and brother; love, dread, and serve God (to the which I, as your supreme head and sovereign lord, exhort and require you); and then I doubt not but that love and bonds, which I spoke of in the beginning, shall never be dissolved or broken between us. And, as touching the laws which be now made and concluded, I exhort you, the makers, to be as diligent in putting them into execution as you were in making and furthering them, or else your labor shall be in vain, and your commonwealth nothing relieved.


You can read Petre’s letter in Letters and Papers. For the speech itself, go to Dodd’s Church History of England  – quoting Hall’s Chronicle p. 864

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December 9, 1539 – Gregory Cromwell Writes to His Wife

Elizabeth Seymour (probably), by Hans Holbein the Younger (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Today’s is a bit of a feel-good post. While Jane Seymour was Queen, Thomas Cromwell managed to create a brilliant familial link to his sovereign – he had his son Gregory Cromwell marry Jane’s sister Elizabeth. While Jane’s death tempered the political benefits of the alliance, it was still a very successful marriage. We can see glimpses of their closeness in this letter that Gregory sent to his wife in December 1539 – while he was off in Calais to welcome Anne of Cleves. Back when this fourth marriage of Henry’s showed incredible promise.

Gregory doesn’t say much, even remarks that she will probably have heard his news before she reads his letter. He really seems to be writing just to make a sweet connection with his “bedfellow”…


The day before the making hereof we received the just news of my lady Anne’s repair hither the same being appointed upon Thursday next coming; which thing, although it be now news, yet I fear that lack of expedition in the conveyance of these my letters shall be occasion the same to be old before they shall be of you received, forasmuch as such news are more swiftly set abroad by tongues than writing. It is determined that she shall remain here Friday and Saturday all day, and upon Sunday, wind and weather serving, take her passage into England. After she once entereth the English pale but she and her whole train shall be at the King’s charge. Hitherto she hath been at her own. There are in her company three hundred horses, whereof one hundred rideth before for provision, and two hundred wait upon her. My lord deputy, with all the spears and officers of the town, shall receive her at the English pale; my lord admiral, with all us accompanying him, a little without the town; my lady Lisle, with all the other ladies and gentlewomen, at the town gates.

I am, thanks be to God, in good health, trusting shortly to hear from you like news, as well of yourself as also my little boys, of whose increase and torwardness be you assured I am not a little  desirous to be advertised And thus, not having any other news to write, I bid you most heartily well to fare.

At Calais the 9th of December. Your loving bedfellow,

Gregory Cromwell


RESOURCES: Letters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies of Great Britain, by Mary Anne Everett Wood

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