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?
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
The Battle of Flodden was fought between the armies of England and Scotland on 9th September 1513. The English army was led by Thomas Howard, earl of Surrey (future 2nd duke of Norfolk), with support from Lord Admiral Sir Thomas Howard (future 3rd duke of Norfolk), Sir Edmund Howard, Lord Dacre and Sir Edward Stanley. However, although Surrey had been entrusted with the military defence of the realm, it was Katherine of Aragon who had been appointed Regent while Henry VIII was campaigning in France. She had the authority to raise an army and a council headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The TV Series Spanish Princess depicted a pregnant Katherine taking to the battlefield. Whilst this is a complete fabrication, what was the extent of her involvement with the battle? Was she just a passive figurehead or did she play an active role as Regent?
Last Friday, I took the opportunity of being in the vicinity of Richmond to visit the Hampton Court Palace and, in particular, the Gold and Glory exhibition (running until 5 September 2021). Originally due to take place in 2020 to mark the 500th anniversary of the Field of Cloth of Gold, it was postponed to this year due to Covid.
The exhibition is divided across six rooms – those used by Cardinal Wolsey when he stayed at the palace – and takes the visitor from c. 1513 through the Treaty of Universal Peace, to the preparations for the meeting between Henry VIII and France I, and on to the Field of Cloth of Gold. In the first room are portraits of the key figures – Henry VIII and Francis I – alongside paintings of the Battle of the Spurs, and the meeting of Henry VIII and Maximilian I; and a small display about Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon. I felt that this was the least successful of the rooms. Setting the international scene for the Field of Cloth of Gold in a concise and accessible fashion is always going to be difficult but the small number of items on display seemed to serve as interesting vignettes rather than hanging together to tell a coherent story of the 1510s. The second room was devoted to the display of a copy of the Treaty of Universal Peace (some of the most beautiful handwriting I have seen!) and a number of items relating to Cardinal Wolsey, including his hat and the early-15th century Book of Hours gifted to him by Cardinal Campeggio.
Above (L-R): Sign marking the Gold and Glory exhibition; portraits of Henry VIII and Francis I on display in the first room; interpretation banners
“Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, behind, survived.” It is a familiar rhyme, used to help remember the fates of the six women who married Henry VIII. So, why am I saying that he only had three wives? After all, he had six marriage ceremonies. The answer lies in the definition of an annulment which declared a marriage null and void, as if it had never happened, as opposed to a divorce which dissolves a valid marriage. Which of the women would Henry have considered to be his wife? Continue reading “The Three Wives of Henry VIII”
In episode 5 of Wolf Hall, we saw Eustace Chapuys at Court, being tricked into bowing to Anne Boleyn before being yelled at by Henry VIII, after which Cromwell also found himself on the receiving end of Henry’s anger. So, what exactly was it all about?