May 19, 1536 – Anne Boleyn’s Execution Speech

Anne Boleyn Execution Speech – from Showtimes’ The Tudors

I am not going to comment or explain. I am just going to let Anne’s words speak for her. Rest in peace, innocent victim.

Good Christian people, I am come hither to die according to law, for by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that whereof I am accused, as I know full well that aught that I could say in my defense doth not appertain unto you, and that I could draw no hope of life from the same. But I come here only to die, and thus to yield myself humbly unto the will of my lord the King. I pray God to save the king, and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler or more merciful prince was there never. To me he was ever a good and gentle sovereign lord. If any person will meddle with my cause, I require them to judge the best. Thus I take my leave of the world and of you, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me.

Agnes Strickland, Lives of the Queens of England, Volume IV

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May 9, 1538 – Henry Loses a Potential Bride

Marie de Guise and James V by an unknown artist (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

This was the day on which Marie de Guise married James V of Scotland by proxy, removing this crown jewel from the European marriage market. Marie was a member of the powerful Guise family, the power behind the throne in France, and at 21 was already a widow with a healthy son. She was said to be tall, beautiful and attractive, and her princess-sized dowry was provided by Francis himself. Could she get any better? Yes. She was also smart and witty.  When she heard that Henry (recently a widower) had explained to the French ambassador that she would be the perfect bride because Henry was “big in person, and needed a big wife,” she responded with a great dig: “I may be a big woman, but I have a very little neck.”

(Still, I have to admit, Christina of Denmark did her one better…When she was told of Henry’s interest, her response was, “If I had two heads, one would be at the disposal of the King of England.” In response, Wriothesley advised Thomas Cromwell that Henry should; “fyxe his most noble stomacke in some such other place.” A bit of great irony here, Christina would go on to marry Anne of Cleves’ former betrothed, Francis Duc de Bar.)

Marie’s marriage to James would be successful: she got pregnant quickly, giving birth first to James, Duke of Rothesay (born May 22, 1540) and Robert, Duke of Albany (born April 12, 1541); however, both died on April 21, 1541 (with the cause blamed mainly on a change of wet nurses and over-feeding). Their third and last child, Mary, was born December 8, 1542 and became Queen of Scots six days later. That’s a whole other story!

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April 10, 1544 – The Rough Wooing Begins

Contemporary sketch showing the deployment of Hertford’s forces before they burnt Edinburgh in May 1544 (public domain courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

This post involves a classic Henry letter, one that really shows us how dangerous he could be. Let’s set the stage.

In October 1543 all looked great: the Treaty of Greenwich was negotiated, pursuant to which the infant Queen of Scots would marry the future Edward VI – and unite Scotland and England. Things deteriorated in December when the Scottish lords rejected the treaty in December and turned back to their historical friendship with France … with whom Henry was preparing to war. Indeed, Henry would be going himself to invade France, a joint effort with Spain. And so he sent Edward Seymour, the Earl of Hertford, into Scotland with an army of ten thousand men. His purpose: to subdue the Scots and make sure they would not pose a threat…to punish them for the insult to his son and himself…and to force them to accept the marriage. That’s where the name “Rough Wooing” comes from – one of the Scottish lords  remarking that he “dinna like the manner of the wooing”…

This is the letter that gives Seymour his final instructions…The first paragraph conveys context and strategy, the second one is where we see what a sick man Henry really was.

Considering the King’s purpose to invade France this summer in person, the principal cause of his sending the army into Scotland was to devastate the country, so that neither they nor any sent thither out of France or Denmark might invade this realm. Angus and others standing bound to serve him otherwise than they do, the King had reason to think he might easier fortify and revictual these places, they giving hostages therefor (which Hertford was appointed to take at his entry) but as Angus and others have now traitorously revolted to the Governor and Cardinal’s faction, the foresaid two places which were to be fortified (standing in the heart of that realm and only to be victualled by sea, which, the wind being so uncertain as experience shows, cannot always be done, nor done without “inestimable charge”) might be recovered by the enemies, to the detriment of the King when he has better opportunity to invade, as he intends to do next year.

Hertford shall, therefore, forbear fortifying the said places, and only burn Edinburgh town, and so deface it as to leave a memory for ever of the vengeance of God upon “their falsehood and disloyalty,” do his best without long tarrying to beat down the castle, sack Holyrood House, and sack, burn and subvert Lythe and all the towns and villages round, putting man, woman and child to fire and sword where resistance is made; then pass over to Fifeland and extend like destruction there, not forgetting to turn upside down the Cardinal’s town of St. Andrews, so “as th’upper stone may be the nether and not one stick stand by another,” sparing no creature alive, especially such as be allied to the Cardinal, and, if the castle can be won destroying it piecemeal. By a month spent thus this journey shall succeed most to the King’s honor, the army’s surety and the saving of expense. He shall take order with the Wardens on the Marches to burn and destroy to the uttermost, not leaving Jedworth behind if it may be conveniently destroyed.

The laird of Nesby’s offer to serve, and to lay one of his sons in pledge, is to be accepted; but, seeing the falsehood of the Scots and “how little they pass on their pledges,” he is to be trusted only so far as his deeds give cause, and his pledge is to be taken with this condition that if he fail to serve truly his pledge may be “justified.” Order is to be taken with the Wardens that the borderers in Scotland may be still tormented now in seed time; for if not suffered to sow their ground they shall, by next year, be unable to live.

Source: Letters & Papers

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The Constables and the Queens – Guest Post by Adrienne Dillard

I am thrilled to host author Adrienne Dillard on the very first stop of the blog tour for her just-out The Raven’s Widow: A Novel of Jane Boleyn. I am also thrilled that there are TWO amazing giveaways associated with the blog tour – one of my lucky followers will win a copy of the book AND you will have the chance to enter a tour-wide drawing sponsored by MadeGlobal (Adrienne’s publisher) where the prizes are a Kindle e-reader or a special prize bundle (details available below).

So to start with, here is the book description from Amazon:

The river was as calm as I had ever seen it. Ordinarily, the tide would have been wild by this time of year, and woe unto any man unfortunate enough to fall into the fierce currents of the Thames. Tonight the tides were still, and the surface of the water appeared glassy. When I peered down into the dark depths, I saw my tired, drawn face wavering in the reflection. I quickly turned away as I fought back a wave of nausea, frightened by the anguish I saw etched there.

“Only a few moments more my lady, the Tower is just ahead.”

 Jane Parker never dreamed that her marriage into the Boleyn family would raise her star to such dizzying heights. Before long, she finds herself as trusted servant and confidante to her sister-in-law, Anne Boleyn; King Henry VIII’s second queen. On a gorgeous spring day, that golden era is cut short by the swing of a sword. Jane is unmoored by the tragic death of her husband, George, and her loss sets her on a reckless path that leads to her own imprisonment in the Tower of London. Surrounded by the remnants of her former life, Jane must come to terms with her actions. In the Tower, she will face up to who she really is and how everything went so wrong.

Next we’ll go to today’s post (which is what made you click through in the first place!). This was written for me by Adrienne, it gives you a great idea of her voice and take on things. After that, you can read more about Adrienne and get the details of the giveaways (!)

Over to Adrienne…


The scene of Henry VIII’s second queen on her knees before the Constable of the Tower outside Traitor’s Gate is a ubiquitous staple of any fictional account of the life of Anne Boleyn.  “Am I to be sent to the dungeon?” she cries.  When Sir William Kingston assures her that she will be lodged in the royal apartments, she replies, “It is too good for me.  Jesu have mercy on me.”  Though not a wholly accurate account, as Anne was actually taken in through the Byward Gate, not the Traitor’s Gate, it is a haunting and poignant portrait of her relationship with the man charged to manage her imprisonment.  Kingston is an important piece of Anne’s story, and rightly so.  It’s because of his careful notes that we know just what was going on with the disgraced queen in the days leading up to her death.  We know of her cries and hysterical laughter.  We know of her fear and of her great courage.  It is because of his impeccable recording we know the details of her final confession to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer – a key-piece of evidence pointing to her innocence of the charges laid against her.

William Kingston’s value as a Tudor chronicler doesn’t stop with his account of Anne’s final days.  It is because of him that we know about the imprisonment and deaths of other luminaries: Archbishop John Fisher, Sir Thomas More, and Cardinal Thomas Wolsey.  Perhaps more importantly, it is his details of the men who are usually forgotten that are the greatest treasure: Marc Smeaton, Henry Norris, Francis Weston, William Brereton, and George Boleyn.  These five men condemned alongside Anne always seem to be an afterthought in fiction and biography alike, out-shined by the tragic death of the vibrant queen.  And though it is rarely pointed out, the constable’s letter to Cromwell describing the message he received from George’s wife, Jane Boleyn, is critical to dispelling the myth of her involvement in his downfall because of her unhappiness in their marriage.  It’s telling that it is she, alone, who offers any sort of comfort to George; the only one who doesn’t utterly abandon him to his fate.

Kingston was a complex and sympathetic figure, to be sure, but by the time Jane Boleyn found herself in the same alabaster prison that swallowed up her husband, the constable was dead.  A new man had taken up the keeping of the king’s prisoners and it was one who was no stranger to his future charge or the queen who would accompany her to the scaffold.

Sir John Gage was born on October 28, 1479 at Bristowe in Surrey, coming of age at the tail end of the “Wars of the Roses.”  He was relatively young when his father died and his wardship was bought by Robert Tate just a few weeks before his 20th birthday.  Shortly upon reaching his majority, he was wed to the daughter of Sir Richard Guildford, Comptroller of the Household.  The early years of their marriage began with Gage’s appointment as Esquire of the Body to King Henry VIII.  His star continued to rise after the king’s death and the ascension of his son, the Eighth Henry.  He was deputy of Guisnes and then Comptroller of Calais before taking on the post of Vice-Chamberlain of the Royal Household.  It is in this post that we start to see a strain between Sir John and his monarch.

The king’s obstinate quest to end his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and his dogged pursuit to make Anne Boleyn his second queen enhanced the existing rivalry running rampant in his court.  Anne certainly had her share of detractors and the Vice-Chamberlain was chief among them.  When it became clear in 1533 that Anne would indeed be crowned, he spoke out against her promotion and found himself swiftly banished from court.  Undaunted, Gage renounced his position, declaring his intention to take the cloth and become a Carthusian monk, even though  by this point he and Philippa Guildford had been married for over three decades and had eight children between them.  It’s not entirely certain whether Gage’s dissatisfaction stemmed from a personal issue with Anne or if it was due to his own religious conscience.  It was noted at the time by close friend, Sir William Fitzwilliam, that Sir John was ‘more disposed to serve God than the world.’  This seems in line with the papal dispensations he sought in 1532 and 1533 for his sons.  During those two years, the king’s relationship with Rome was under great strain; while it is not inconceivable that Henry’s courtiers would seek Papal dispensations, it was probably considered ill-advised.

In 1536 both of the king’s wives shuffled off their mortal coils, paving the way for the reestablishment of ties that had long been frayed.  Gage returned to court with a clean conscience in 1537 for the christening of the first legitimate heir (as Henry VIII saw it).  The event was bittersweet; tinged by the tragedy of Queen Jane Seymour’s death.  Sir John joined the throng of courtiers at the funeral to mourn her passing, and then he stayed on at court to resume his duties to the monarch.

At the start of the next decade, Gage was swept into the intrigue swirling across the English Channel at the king’s stronghold in Calais.  He and Lord Sussex were sent to probe the claims that the deputy, Viscount Lisle, was involved in acts of heresy and abuse of power.  On their reports, Lisle was recalled to England and Lord Mautravers was sent to take the reins.  The conspiracy landed both the viscount and Thomas Cromwell in the Tower of London.  Lisle escaped with his head, but Cromwell already had a strike against him: the abject failure of the king’s marriage to his fourth wife, Anna of Cleves, a match Thomas himself had arranged.  When combined with a penchant for heretical leanings, there was no other appropriate punishment, save for execution.  Gage’s reward for a job well-done was a promotion to Privy Councillor, Comptroller of the Household, and Constable of the Tower.

It is during this time that we find Sir John Gage in The Raven’s Widow.  Alongside Sir Edmund Walsingham, Lieutenant of the Tower, he has overseen the executions of the king’s cousin, Margaret Pole; the king’s closest advisor, Thomas Cromwell; and a mentally unstable peer, Walter Hungerford.  When the king’s fifth wife, the young Katherine Howard, is accused of adultery, Gage finds himself at the head of another investigation.  He is swiftly dispatched to the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk’s home to suss out the truth of the queen’s involvement with Henry Manox and Francis Dereham.  It is through his and the other interrogators’ careful questioning of the Howard family and their intimates that Katherine’s connection to Thomas Culpeper is revealed.

Once the mountain of testimony against the queen had been put to the king, Gage commenced his duties again, escorting Dereham and Culpeper to the Guildhall in London to be tried for treason; a week later, he oversaw their deaths.  In the following days, Gage took custody of the family members who had hidden away Katherine’s past, including the Dowager Duchess herself; then he went to Syon Abbey, where the queen had been banished since her arrest, to break up her household and escort her to the Tower.  While all this was going on, Lady Anne Russell was nursing Jane Boleyn back to health at her home on the Strand.  Three days into her incarceration, Jane had fallen into a fit of madness; an event rendering her ineligible for execution.  Undaunted, the king changed the law so that he could carry out his punishment, and Jane found herself back at the Tower the day before her mistress.

Just as his predecessor had done before him, Gage took copious notes of the behavior of the queen.  He seems to have been quite disturbed by the distress she showed when he and the other lords arrived at Syon to take her to the Tower.  Her later request that he bring her the block so that she could practice laying her head upon it no doubt gave him pause.  Regardless of his feelings in the matter, he had a job to do and he did it well.  On morning of the 13th February, 1542, Gage entered the royal apartments twice; first for the queen, and then for her lady.  He led them, one at a time, to the scaffold where they made their final speeches and breathed their last.


Adrienne Dillard, author of “The Raven’s Widow: A Novel of Jane Boleyn” is a graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies with emphasis in History from Montana State University-Northern. She has been an eager student of history for most of her life and has completed in-depth research on the American Revolutionary War time period in American History and the history and sinking of the Titanic. Her senior university capstone paper was on the discrepancies in passenger lists on the ill-fated liner and Adrienne was able to work with Philip Hind of Encyclopedia Titanica for much of her research on that subject. Her previous works include best-selling novel,“Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey” and “Catherine Carey in a Nutshell” for MadeGlobal’s History in a Nutshell series. When she isn’t writing, Adrienne works as an administrative assistant in the financial services industry and enjoys spending time with her husband, Kyle, and son, Logan, at their home in the Pacific Northwest.



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, April 9.  Tell me something you love about the Tudor era (yes, if you want to just tell me how you loved my Jane the Quene I’ll accept it!)   One lucky commenter will be picked at random and contacted for their details.

AND – MadeGlobal (Adrienne’s publisher) is running a parallel giveaway during this time. Want to try to win a Kindle e-reader or a prize package consisting of a sterling silver pendant modeled after the book’s cover image, Henry and the Six Wives drink charms, and a Henry and Anne scarf? Click through to the giveaway site they set up to learn more about this – follow their simple instructions.

PS – there will be more chances to win a copy of the book at every stop of Adrienne’s book tour (!) and here is the schedule:

March 31, 1536 – A Far-Reaching Conversation

Chapuys speaking to James Frain’s Cromwell (from Showtimes’ The Tudors)

On April 1, Eustace Chapuys wrote a long, newsy letter to Charles V reporting what was going on at the English court. The most interesting bit recounted a conversation he’d had with Thomas Cromwell the day before (which is why I’m posting this today).

A bit of context before I reveal the letter: shortly before taking the first clear steps towards the destruction of Anne Boleyn, Cromwell made overtures to Spain. And these overtures were facilitated by the relationship he had with Chapuys – one in which the two faithful servants were able to balance personal friendships with political differences to the advantage of both.

This was an iconic conversation, emblematic of the intrigue and deceit of the Tudor court – and giving a major clue as to what is to happen. Chapuys starts hinting about the possibility of a new Queen – and while Cromwell responds that the King will remain in his present marriage, he says it in a way designed to let Chapuys know he is lying. And he reassures Chapuys on the most important point – if the King did marry again it would not be a French princess. Based on this conversation, the two men understood that they were in agreement, and that England and Spain would soon be close again as soon as Anne Boleyn presented no impediment to friendship. The only thing missing was how this would happen…

I told Cromwell that I had for some time forborne to visit him that he might not incur suspicion of his mistress for the talk he had previously held with me, well remembering that he had previously told me she would like to see his head cut off. This I could not forget for the love I bore him; and I could not but wish him a more gracious mistress, and one more grateful for the inestimable services he had done the King, and that he must beware of enraging her, else he must never expect perfect reconciliation; in which case I hoped he would see to it better than did the Cardinal, as I had great belief in his dexterity and prudence; and if it was true, what I had heard, that the King was treating for a new marriage, it would be the way to avoid much evil, and be very much for the advantage of his master, who had been hitherto disappointed of male issue, and who knows quite well, several reasons which he might sufficiently understand; and that although a more lawful marriage should follow, and male issue from it would be to the prejudice of the Princess, yet the affection I bore to the honor and tranquility of the King and kingdom, and towards him particularly, made me desire another mistress, not for hatred that I bore to this one, who had never done me any harm. Cromwell appeared to take all this in good part, and said that it was only now that he had known the frailty of human affairs, especially of those of the Court, of which he had before his eyes several examples that might be called domestic, and he always laid his account that if fate fell upon him as upon his predecessors he would arm himself with patience, and leave the rest to God; and that it was quite true, as I said, that he must rely upon God’s help not to fall into mischief. He then began to defend himself, saying he had never been cause of this marriage, although, seeing the King determined upon it, he had smoothed the way, and that notwithstanding that the King was still inclined to pay attention to ladies, yet he believed he would henceforth live honorably and chastely, continuing in his marriage. This he said so coldly as to make me suspect the contrary, especially as he said so, not knowing what countenance to put on. He leaned against the window in which we were, putting his hand before his mouth to avoid smiling or to conceal it, saying afterwards that the French might be assured of one thing, that if the King his master were to take another wife, he would not seek for her among them. He then said that when an answer came from your Majesty upon the subject of our communication we should discuss everything and do some good work.

PS – remember how I mentioned this was a long, newsy letter? This is also where Chapuys tells Charles how Jane Seymour refused the offer of a purse of sovereigns, and was given Cromwell’s apartments (so that the King could visit her in secret). Lot’s of great stuff in there!

Want to read all of it? Here you go:

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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)!


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.




So – ready to try to win a copy? Paperback or kindle version, your choice! Just leave a comment below this post with one trait of Isabella’s that you see in one of Henry’s wives (or daughters!) – and leave it by midnight on Sunday, February 19. Or just feel free to tell me you loved my Jane the Quene and that will be fine too!  One lucky commenter will be picked at random and contacted for their details.

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


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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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)!