Review: Becoming Elizabeth – episode 1

Last weekend saw the premiere of episode 1 of the hotly anticipated Starz series “Becoming Elizabeth”. I tuned in with some trepidation as historical drama produced by this channel can be hit and miss – the scene in “The Spanish Princess” where a pregnant Catherine of Aragon rides into battle in full pregnancy army being a particularly egregious example. “Becoming Elizabeth” was therefore a pleasant surprise. So what were the good, bad and intriguing parts of this first episode?

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Becoming Elizabeth Explained: Lady Jane Grey’s claim to the throne

In the first episode of “Becoming Elizabeth”, the young Lady Jane Grey moves into the household of Katherine Parr and Thomas Seymour because she is in the line of succession. When Elizabeth states that the line of succession is her brother Edward and his heirs, her sister Mary, and then herself, Jane clarifies that she means the ‘legitimate’ line of succession. She states that Mary and Elizabeth could still be found illegitimate, and that some people call Elizabeth a “bastard”.

So, what was Lady Jane’s claim to the throne?

Jane was the eldest daughter of Henry Grey, Marquis of Dorset, and his wife, Lady Frances Grey. Frances Grey was the daughter of Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister, and Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk. In his will of 1547, Henry VIII laid out the line of succession as Edward VI and his heirs, Mary and her heirs, Elizabeth and her heirs. He then stated that, after that, the crown would pass to the heirs of his niece, Lady Frances Grey.

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The mysterious disappearance of Viscount Lovell

“The Catte, the Ratte and Lovell our dogge rulyth all Englande under a hogge.”

In July 1484, William Collingbourne pinned a short poem to the door of St Paul’s Cathedral. In it, he lampooned Richard III and the three men seen as his principal advisors – Sir William Catesby, Sir Richard Ratcliffe and Francis Lovell.

Francis Lovell’s father had died in 1465 when he was around 9 years old. The young Lord Lovell was placed in the custody of Richard Neville, earl of Warwick. This overlapped with the final year that Richard, duke of Gloucester, spent in Warwick’s household and was likely the first time that the two men met. Warwick also arranged for his niece, Alice FitzHugh to marry Lovell, whilst Richard married Neville’s daughter, Anne. After Warwick’s death in 1471, Lovell’s wardship was granted to John de la Pole, duke of Suffolk.

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Review: “The Tudors: Passion, Power, and Politics” exhibition

Inspired by a Twitter conversation about this Guardian article, I recently visited “The Tudors: Passion, Power, and Politics” exhibition at the Holburne Museum in Bath. The article is headlined: ‘Beginning of modern Britain’ and the text talks about a compelling period of “British history”, and relations between “Britain” and European countries. Whilst it makes for a compelling headline (especially in the context of Brexit), it was immediately obvious that the portraits mentioned were all English, and the article made no reference to the fact that Scotland was a separate kingdom in the 16th-century with its own politics and international relationships.

Contrary to the impression given by the article, the exhibition does not erase the Scottish experience of the 16th-century by equating it with “Britain”. However, if you are looking for an exhibition that explores the experiences of the different nations that make of the British Isles, you will not find it here. As the title says, this is an exhibition about the Tudor dynasty. The only non-English figures to feature are Mary, Queen of Scots (in the context of Queenship and conflict with England); Katherine of Aragon (in the context of her marriage into England); Gerlack Flicke (who worked largely in England); and (arguably) half-Welsh Henry VII, though little reference is made to his Welsh roots.

Having established what the exhibition is not, what was my experience of it?

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The lost tomb of Henry VIII: design, appearance and fate

Image: St George’s Chapel, Windsor; Andrewkbrook1, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Henry VIII was buried in St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle on 16th February 1547. However, although he is one of the most recognisable figures of English history there is no large, elaborate tomb. Instead, Henry and Jane Seymour’s final resting place is marked with a plain marble slab installed in 1837 by William IV. The slab also records the burial of Charles I and a child of Queen Anne in the same vault. However, in 1547, Henry VIII had a partially complete tomb which has since been lost. Tantalisingly, there are no known contemporary drawings of the tomb, or drawings from the decades before it was lost. Documentary sources are focused only on particular elements of the tomb/construction process or ambiguously dated. For extra complication, the design and construction took place over nearly 20 years with at least three sculptors being employed by Henry VIII – are some of the sources we rely on actually describing earlier versions of the tomb?

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The Mirror and the Light explained: Why wasn’t Cromwell put on trial?

If you have read all of The Mirror and The Light, you will have noticed that, unlike Anne and George Boleyn (who were put on trial in Bringing up the Bodies), Thomas Cromwell was never tried in court. Instead, an Act of Attainder was passed after which he was, as he put it, legally dead. But what was the Act and why wasn’t he tried?

Acts of Attainder

Acts of Attainder were used in England between the 14th and late-18th centuries. They were a piece of parliamentary legislation that declared an individual(s) guilty of a serious crime, such as treason, and “attainted” them – their lands and titles would be returned to the crown rather than inherited by their heirs. They could be used against people who were already dead, for example an Act of Attainder was passed against Richard III and John Howard, duke of Norfolk who both died at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Or, they could be used against a living person, thereby depriving the accused of a trial by a jury of their peers and preventing them from presenting a defence.

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A look ahead to… 1522

It is that time of year when people like to look ahead at the year to come. As an alternative, I thought that I would take a look at what we can expect in terms of 500yr anniversaries of English events.

By the standards of Henry VIII’s reign, 1522 was a relatively quiet year dominated by an alliance with the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and the start of a war with France.

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5 (Tudor) gift ideas

Image: Alhill42 CC BY-SA 4.0

It is the time of year when many people’s thoughts turn to buying Christmas gifts, but what would your shopping have looked like if you were buying in 1521? Here are some ideas for your perfect Tudor Christmas* gifts….

*Actually New Year, as the main day for exchanging gifts was 1st January not 25th December

5. Money

Ok, so some people may dismiss money as a Christmas gift lacking in imagination but gifting cash has a long history in many countries. In 1533, Sir Edward Don of Horsenden in Buckinghamshire gifted his wife, Anne, 15 shillings at New Year, and gave 6 shillings 8 pence to one of his senior retainers. Money was also a regular New Year’s gift for Henry VIII.

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5 difficult to access Tudor tombs (and how to find out more about them)

Parish churches across England house a wealth of historic memorials. Most of these can be freely accessed by visitors (although, it is advisable to check in advance whether the church is unlocked on a daily basis! This is especially important at the moment as some churches remain closed due to Covid-19). However, some memorials are, for various reasons, harder to access. So, here are 5 Tudor memorials that present more of a challenge for members of the public…

5 – Elizabeth Boleyn, Countess of Wiltshire

The memorial to Elizabeth Boleyn, Countess of Wiltshire (and mother of Anne, Mary and George Boleyn) is not too hard to get access to but you do have to know where it is! It was only recently rediscovered under a carpet meaning that its location is not yet as widely known as other Tudor memorial. It is also fairly easy to miss as it is a large but non-descript floor ledger that refers to her by her maiden name.

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