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Playwrights and persistent historical myths

Today in 1564, Christopher Marlowe (right) was baptised in Canterbury.

One of the plays for which he is most famous is




Edward II (left), traditionally dated a year before his own 1593 death. In it, he fuels the myth of Edward meeting his end by a red-hot poker. This is cited by Starkey in his (Channel Four series) Monarchy, who called Edward’s rear his “fundament”, showing again why he should not roam from his Tudor” area of expertise.



Marlowe’s legacy of influence in this is obviously less than Shakespeare’s with regard to Richard III, but the parallels are

obvious. In quoting earlier “historians”, Shakespeare transferred the kyphosis of another contemporary figure to Richard, which some naive people still believe, whilst Richard’s disinterment demonstrated him to suffer from scoliosis instead. Indeed, the Starkey acolyte Dan Jones seems untroubled by the facts in either case.




Prince Henry Stuart – the best king we never had….?

Henry, Prince of Wales 1594-1612

Henry, Prince of Wales 1594-1612


I have just watched a documentary (called The Best King We Never Had and presented by Paul Murton) about Prince Henry, the firstborn son of King James VI of Scotland, James I of England. James, the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, was already King of Scotland, when he succeeded Elizabeth I, and became the first King of a United Kingdom. He was a Protestant, as was his dazzling son, Henry, who was destined to succeed him.

At birth, or a very short while after, Henry had been taken from his mother, Queen Anne of Denmark. She was anguished by this, and it would be ten years before she saw him again for any length of time. Like his father before him, Henry was given into the care of John Erskine, Earl of Mar, keeper of Stirling. This enforced parting caused great rift between the king and queen. The reunion was to take place when James became Elizabeth’s heir, and the journey south to London was undertaken.

It was a time of religious strife, Protestants versus Catholics versus Puritans, and would include the great Gunpowder Plot that aimed to blow-up James and his Parliament. James was a Protestant, as was his son. Henry grew up a sophisticated, popular and talented young Renaissance prince, and the future boded well that he would be a good and effective king. But death was to claim him at the age of only eighteen, when he was taken by typhoid after swimming in the Thames in winter. Which meant that the succession passed to his younger brother, Charles, who was to be beheaded. But that is another story.

The loss of Prince Henry reminds me of the earlier loss of Prince Arthur, firstborn son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. What might these two princes have brought to their kingdom? Their departure from life meant their brothers inherited the crown instead. Henry VIII and Charles I were to prove awful in one way or another. (My personal opinion, I admit, and not necessarily yours as well.)

The documentary imparts a great deal of background information, among which is the wearing of 17th-century armour and fighting on foot. Paul Murton, the presenter, is got up in this armour to fight with an expert from the Royal Armouries. It was fascinating, and the thing that stood out for me was that afterward, Murton couldn’t wait for the helmet to be removed because it was so claustrophobic, Then he said more than once that the experience of wearing it and then fighting had made his ears ring.

This excellent programme was first shown on 30th November 2017, and is available on BBC iPlayer for fifteen days from the day of writing this, i.e. Boxing Day 2017. I don’t know if it can be seen anywhere else.


Who’s buried where in Westminster Abbey….

Plan of Henry VII's Chapel, Westminster Abbey


Well, if you have the stamina, here’s a link that will tell you all about who’s buried where in Westminster Abbey. Including, of course, that urn, which a later dynasty decided should be in Henry VII’s chapel. Hmm. Wouldn’t you think it should have been at Windsor, alongside the boy’s father, Edward IV? But then, that wouldn’t suit the Tudor propaganda, which the Stuarts were clearly keen to perpetuate.

I have now acquired a copy of Memorials of Westminster Abbey by Dean Stanley, published by John Murray, which is filled to the brim with detailed information, dates, people and events in the abbey. A wonderful book, if a little disapproving and traditionalist about Richard III. Still, the rest of the book makes up for this failing! Well, just about.

This link should perhaps be read in conjunction with this and this by sparkypus.


Tales of a Ricardian Traveler: A Visit to King’s Cliffe Church and its Fotheringhay Artifacts

Although the entire eastern portion of St Mary and All Saints Church in Fotheringhay was demolished in 1573, it is still possible to see original woodwork and painted glass from the Yorkist Age.


Lady on Horseback Lady on Horseback, mid-15th c., British Museum

My husband and I had the good fortune to spend two weeks in England and Wales in October, 2017. I had been asked to moderate a conference about Richard III and 15th century warfare at the Leicester Guildhall, sponsored by the Richard III Foundation. During our stay in Leicester, we drove into Northamptonshire in order to explore a small parish church at King’s Cliffe that purported to have a number of objects from Richard III’s birthplace of Fotheringhay. What we discovered surpassed all our expectations.

Scene of Destruction: St Mary and All Saints Church

Like many tales of discovery, this one begins with a tale of loss. The year was 1566. Queen Elizabeth I was on progress through her realm, having already occupied the throne for 8 years. Her itinerary took her to Fotheringhay Castle, a short distance from the parish church…

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The Court of Requests and Thomas Seckford

In 1484, King Richard III created a minor equity court to deal with minor disputes in equity; these are disputes where the harshness of common law would be acknowledged by those appointed by the Crown. Equity courts were mostly seen as the Lord Chancellor’s remit, and the split of the Chancery Courts from the Curia Regis happened in the mid-fourteenth century. By the time of King Richard III, the Chancery Court had become backlogged from cases pleading the harshness of the common law, and the Court of Requests was no doubt and attempt to remove minor equity cases from the backlog and free up court time – Richard’s attempt at reducing bureaucracy and better administration.

So successful was the Court of Requests that it survived Richard’s reign, and was formalised by the Privy Council of Henry “Tudor”, the usurper. It was a popular court, because the cost of cases was relatively low and justice was swifter than the common law courts, which would ultimately prove its undoing.

Two Masters of Requests Ordinary were appointed by Henry VIII, and another two Masters of Requests Extraordinary were appointed by Elizabeth I. One of these was Thomas Seckford, of Woodbridge in Suffolk.

Thomas was an influential man, even before Elizabeth appointed him to the Court of Requests in 1558. He was MP for Ripon in November 1554, just months after his Grey cousins were executed, and was then elected MP for Orford (a fishing village on the Suffolk Coast which had two MPs despite only having a handful of residents) in 1555 and again in 1558. He was MP for Ipswich in 1559 and for Suffolk in 1571. Seckford Hall, (right) near Woodbridge, is known to have hosted Elizabeth’s court as she progressed, and was built in 1530 as the Seckford Family home; it is now a hotel, while a golf club sits within what was once its grounds. The A12 Martlesham bypass sweeps across the Finn Valley in front of the hall, giving wonderful views to motorists but somewhat destroying the character and appearance of the building and grounds. As an interesting side note, the hotel contains furniture from Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, including (allegedly) the chair Henry the Usurper died on.

Thomas Seckford commissioned Christophe Saxton to create the first surveyed atlas of the realm, which Elizabeth granted him a patent for its sole publication for ten years. This made him an even wealthier man and he added to his estates Clerkenwell, endowing the Seckford Almshouses with income from Clerkenwell. His wealth also led to the establishment of a free school, Woodbridge School, which is a minor public school. His wealth still helps young and old in Woodbridge today.

The Court of Requests fell foul of the common law courts at the end of the 16th century. Angry that business deserted them in favour of the more efficient Court of Requests, the common law courts overturned a number of decisions of the Requests Court, and banned them from imprisoning people; ultimately this was to prove their undoing, and the English Civil War, which led to the invalidation of the Privy Seal, was the final death of the Court, set up all those years before by King Richard for the better delivery of justice.

Thomas Seckford (left) died in January 1587, although we are not sure exactly when, whilst in his early seventies. His mother was Margaret Wingfield, relating him to both the de la Pole and Brandon families, and her mother was an Audley. In fact, Thomas could claim double descent from Edward I, through Joan of Acre, as well as many other great mediaeval magnates, including Edmund “Crouchback”. At his death, Thomas Seckford remained without issue, just like his fellow long-term royal servant Henry Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon. I need hardly add that Huntingdon was his cousin.

A truncated reign and a truncated monarch

Right at the start of this series, Helen Castor (left) takes a black marker pen and illustrates the cause of the 1553 crisis on a large sheet of paper. Beginning with Henry VII, very few of his legitimate male descendants were alive at the start of that year – eliminating the obvious illegitimate cases, we have Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, aged seven (a Catholic in Scotland) and Edward VI, aged fifteen, whose health took a turn for the worse at that time. There were, however, nine healthy legitimate female descendants: Lady Margaret Douglas, Mary Stewart who was Lady Margaret’s niece of ten and already crowned in Scotland (but living as a Queen consort in France), Henry VIII’s two bastardised, but included by law, daughters Mary and Elizabeth, Lady Frances Grey (nee’ Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk in suo jure) and her three daughters Jane, Catherine and Mary together with Frances’ niece Lady Margaret Clifford. In short, the “Tudor” male line was on the propinquity of its termination, although a medical explanation for this was not given.

In the first programme, Castor showed how Edward’s “devise for my succession” developed during that fateful year. First, he hopes that one of the Protestant Grey sisters will have a male heir to succeed him with Frances as the new King’s grandmother and Regent. Then his illness accelerated and there are crossings out on the devise, such that “the Lady Jane’s heires male” becomes “the Lady Jane AND HER heires male”, in the hope that he will live long enough for Parliament to enact this document and supersede Henry VIII’s own legislation, which named the Catholic Mary as heir after Edward, although the Greys would be preferred to the Stewarts. On the left is the “Streatham Portrait“, previously thought to have been of Jane, but not commissioned until half a century later.

During the first half of 1553, Lady Jane was married to Lord Guildford Dudley, son of the Duke of Northumberland who was Lord Protector at the time. Lady Catherine Grey also married, as did Guildford’s sisters, one to Lord Henry Hastings, later Earl of Huntingdon. In the event, fate overtook Edward’s plans and his devise, as letters patent, had no legal status at his death on 6 July. Darnley’s claim as the last “Tudor” male was to be ignored and England was to have a Queen Regent, as Northumberland took his son and new daughter-in-law from Bradgate in Leicestershire, via Sion House to the Royal Apartments in the Tower for her reign to be proclaimed on 10 July, although Jane took the fateful decision that her husband was to be created Duke of Clarence and not King.

In the second programme, Castor explains how the Privy Council erred by sending Northumberland to East Anglia to arrest Mary, removing the realm’s best military commander from the capital, where the professional soldiers and their weapons were. Mary moved from Kenninghall in Norfolk to Framlingham Castle to strengthen her position and gathered support from those who still adhered to her Catholic faith and who had “known” her from afar for her whole life. There was to be no arrest of Mary, nor was there to be a pitched battle as Henry VIII’s first-born child outmanoeuvred Northumberland, at his Cambridge base, in order to march upon London.

The third episode begins with a naval mutiny ensuring that Mary had some artillery to enforce her claimand the Privy Council officially dethroning Jane. Mary took the Tower, Jane, Guildford and their fathers became prisoners and Mary was proclaimed. For Jane, there could be no return to her earlier life at Bradgate. Except for Northumberland, there was to be no trial until November and even then Jane, Guildford and Suffolk had their sentences of death suspended – until Thomas Wyatt rebelled in the Protestant interest in mid-January, in protest at Mary’s plans to marry Phillip II. Mary then signed the three death warrants, the teenage couple went to the block on February 12th and Jane’s father eleven days later. Cranmer, who had been part of her Privy Council, was attainted and deprived but lived to face Mary’s further wrath at a later date. Darnley married the other Queen Mary and was killed a year or two later in his own realm. For nearly fifty years from that July day when Edward VI’s eyes closed for the last time, England had no male claimant descended from Henry VII and the throne was disputed solely by Queens Regnant.

Castor concludes by pointing out that Jane, proclaimed Queen by the Privy Council who had served Edward VI, should be reckoned as a real monarch of England, even though she had been illegally proclaimed and then dethroned. In some ways, her turbulent final year taught her cousin Elizabeth a valuable lesson – not to take a husband, especially as the most likely such candidate was her fellow survivor: Lord Guildford Dudley’s younger brother, Robert.

On the right is Paul Delaroche’s highly inaccurate painting of Jane’s end, painted as late as 1834. His version of her execution takes place indoors but we know that she died on Tower Green, as did most beheaded women.

For those of us more focused on the fifteenth century, we will be familiar with the concepts of a king Edward whose death was not announced for several days whilst a faction sought to establish control (1483) and of prisoners being executed to clear the way for a Spanish marriage (1499).




I have watched Dr. Sam Willis on several occasions and regularly enjoy his programmes, particularly his artillery series. With the prematurely grey beard, he is usually much more informative than Dan Jones, who is of a similar age.


However, part two of his Invasions fell below this standard. It featured a lot of black and white film of William I as a control freak drafting the Domesday Book, building castles and organising archers; John as “evil”, “Perkin” as “an impostor” and Elizabeth I speaking at Tilbury. John was shown stealing a puppy, hanging several and blinding someone for taking deer from a royal forest – a penalty actually introduced by William I. “Perkin”‘s imposture was referred to at least four times with a clip from “The Shadow of the Tower”, whilst Willis didn’t think about the possibility that  he falsely confessed to save his wife and child, which Wroe, Fields and Lewis have considered.

It wasn’t quite as simplistic as many Jones programmes because we were told about Louis the Lion being invited, by some nobles) to ascend the English throne from 1215-7, the Barbary pirates and the Dutch Medway raids of Charles II’s time. As a result, I shall be watching the final episode.

A most unpleasant surprise

Peter Cole was a tanner from Ipswich, although his year of birth is generally unknown. He found himself tried in Norwich for heresy and executed there, presumably in the Castle moat (below), which must have been something of a shock as it was 1587 and the heresy laws had been repealed again almost thirty years earlier. Cole was an Arian (1) and one of nine people burned during Elizabeth I’s reign, followed by another two under James I, as detailed here.
Just as we showed in this post, there was a distinct East Anglian emphasis to this smaller scale persecution, just as there had been in Mary I’s reign. Four of this nonet suffered in Norwich from 1579-89 and the others in London from 1575-93. Two, or possibly three, were from the Netherlands. The cases of Matthew Hamont and Francis Kett, both Norfolk residents, are better documented than that of Cole and the latter was Robert Kett’s nephew. During this decade, Edmund Freke and then Edmund Scambler were Bishop of Norwich.

(1) As you can see, the Unitarians see themselves as heirs to the Arian tradition, whose followers in the centuries after the Norwich Four included Newton and Priestley.

Fascinating Coventry….!

Guildhall, Coventry

Guildhall, Coventry

Coventry’s history and buildings are very well served and illustrated in this article. I think the city is very well worth visiting and has a lot to offer.


The Grundisburgh martyr

Today in 1558, Alice Driver and Alexander Gooch were burned on the Cornhill in Ipswich. Her trial record, particularly her testimony, shows that Alice Driver freely admitted not sharing certain Roman Catholic beliefs and this was sufficient to convict her. Both are commemorated on this monument in Christchurch Park (left) and Driver by a road in her home village.

These executions happened only thirteen days before both Mary I and Cardinal Pole died and the next monarch repealed de heretico comburendo, the law under which Driver and Gooch were put to death, such that it was last used in Canterbury on the 15th of that month. For comparison, the third Duke of Norfolk was scheduled for beheading in January 1547 but reprieved when Henry VIII died a few hours earlier.

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