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Bloody tales of the Tower….

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I have only just found the series Bloody Tales of the Tower, previously on National Geographic and now on Channel 5 (http://www.channel5.com/show/bloody-tales-of-the-tower and http://www.natgeotv.com/za/bloody-tales-of-the-tower), and have to say that I enjoyed it very much. The presenters, Suzannah Lipscomb and Joe Crowley, are at ease in their roles and with each other, and do not adopt a patronising, superior attitude, as some do. Suzannah is a Tudor historian, and very sensible with it.

There is a good format of setting the scene and then dividing the tasks in two, then going their separate ways until coming together again toward the end, to weave their discoveries together. Suzannah leads us effortlessly through the story itself and the sources, while Joe discovers how things worked, who did them, what they looked like and so on. It may sound as if it’s aimed at teenagers tops, but it isn’t. I’m no teenager, and it was fine by me.

The most innovative series/presenter at the moment has to be Lucy Worsley, who dresses in costume and blends effortlessly into the docudramas she talks about. She is marvellous. Although a Tudor historian, she didn’t gild the Tudors. There were no controversial remarks for the sake of it. She said it how it was. It was all very natural and flowing. Good informative entertainment. As for all the other presenters of television history documentaries, mostly posing males who think more of their own vanity than their subject matter, they would do well to learn a few lessons from Worsley, Lipscomb and Crowley.

Bloody Tales of the Tower told its stories in compelling docudramas, sometimes set in the very spots where it all happened. Sometimes rather grisly! There are three episodes, Royals on the Block, Death to Traitors and Deadly Love, and each contains three separate stories from various centuries.

In episode one, Royals on the Block, the royals in question are James, Duke of Monmouth, Simon of Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor, and Lady Jane Grey, who was, of course, Queen Jane. I’m not sure how the archbishop is included, unless it is the implication that Richard II’s life should have been forfeit, not Sudbury’s!

James, Duke of Monmouth, was something of a 17th-century superstar and the people’s favourite, but he rebelled against his uncle, James II, because he believed the throne should have been his, even though he was illegitimate. Such was his fame and popularity, that for the huge crowds gathered for his beheading on Tower Green (the programme drew a likeness between his execution and the Wembley Cup Final for crowd-pulling power). There followed a butchering by one Jack Ketch, who was a hangman but not a competent wielder of an axe. Monmouth’s head was finally severed with a knife! Ketch later blamed Monmouth for not presenting his head properly.

Simon of Sudbury was Richard II’s Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor, and when the Peasants’ Revolt began in 1381, he was the object of the mob’s hatred because of all the taxes and unfair laws over which he had presided. He, the king and the court took refuge in the Tower, which was impregnable. Nevertheless the mob got inside and Sudbury (whose head is still preserved) was torn to pieces. How did they get in? Well, Richard II gave the order to let them through all the gates. Richard consigned the old man to his death. A lamb to the slaughter.

The last story in Royals on the Block was that of Lady Jane Grey, another lamb to the slaughter. She was only sixteen, but her cousin, Bloody Mary, sent her to the block. Mary went on to earn the soubriquet Bloody Mary, so I imagined there were soon many in the realm who wished they hadn’t risen to support her against Jane. Oh, well, it’s always easy to be wise after the event. It was pointed out that Lady Jane should be referred to as Queen Jane, because although she did not have a coronation, she was, nevertheless, the queen. Just as was Edward V (cue picture of the urn) and, more recently, Edward VIII. They are always referred to as kings, so why not Jane as queen?

The second part of the trilogy is called Death to Traitors, and covered the tales of Father John Gerard, who survived secretly in Elizabeth I’s Protestant England. He escaped from the Tower and lived to his 70s on the Continent. He wrote his story, which is how we know so much about his escape. (One oddity I noticed during this story was the careful use of white gloves to examine an old copy of Gerard’s story, yet earlier I noticed there were no gloves at all for poking around in a beautifully illustrated copy of Walsingham! Isn’t there a rule on this sort of thing?)

Next we went to Guy Fawkes, whose story was related with overtones of modern terrorism. The blowing up of King James and Parliament was an intended spectacular which would see Catholics triumph over Protestants. We all know it failed—some nasty Protestant informer!—and Guy was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Not a pleasant way to go, but he confounded everyone by managing to fling himself from a ladder and break his neck, so he was dead before they even hanged him, let alone the drawing and quartering. The senior member of the conspiracy were eventually cornered in a country house (they included one Catesby, a descendant of Richard III’s Catesby) and went out in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid style by rushing out into a hail of musket fire.

The third story in Death to Traitors was that of Josef Jacobs, a German spy in World War II. Yes, the last person to be executed in the Tower was in 1941. He was parachuted into England, injured and captured.  As he was a military officer, the sentence was death by shooting at the Tower. There he was duly despatched. There was part of this story that seemed to throw all sympathy on Jacobs, a family man who left a wife and children behind. His final letter to them was produced, and his Canadian granddaughter was there with the presenter at his graveside. Yes, the story had a very human side, but should it not have been said that if a British man had been captured in similar circumstances in Germany, he would have suffered the same fate? A spy in wartime is a spy in wartime.

Deadly Love, the final episode of this first series is entitled Deadly Love, and covers the deaths in the Tower of three famous women, Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Arbella Stuart. The first two ladies are very well known, of course, and the only thing I would pick out particularly where Anne was concerned was the portrayal of her supposed lover, Mark Smeaton. It seems that he paid the price of arousing jealousy and resentment among his “betters”. He was lowborn, talented and handsome, and had risen very high very quickly. Anne’s fall from grace was a useful way to get rid of him too.

Catherine Howard was young, and yes she was probably a puppet, but she was also very silly. How could anyone think of trying to deceive a bloodthirsty old monster like Henry VIII? Had she never heard of Anne Boleyn? I am afraid she doesn’t earn my sympathy – I feel more for Lady Jane Grey than I do for Catherine.

The story of Arbella Stuart was the most interesting for me, and what a very sad tale it was, especially as although her marriage to William Seymour, 2nd Duke of Somerset, was dynastic at first, I think it soon became a matter of love. But any children would have presented a great threat to the security of James I, the first Stuart king, so Arbella and William were arrested. She was held under house arrest in Barnet, while he was imprisoned in the Tower. By means of an intricate but successful plot involving exchanging clothes with his barber, William managed to escape. Arbella, dressed as a man also escaped and they arranged to meet at Blackwall. They never did. She took to the sea alone, afraid he was not coming, and he arrived too late, two hours later. He escaped to Calais, but she was captured. No Barnet for her this time, it was the Tower, under much stricter conditions than had applied to William.

She gradually succumbed to ill health (maybe porphyria)—or perhaps lost the will to live—and died a few years later. Her death rendered William harmless to James, so he was permitted to return to England. He eventually married again and lived another fifty years. A tragic love story.

An excellent series, and I hope there is another. Bloody Tales of the Tower is well worth watching.

The sinister secret of the Cornhill, Ipswich

This is about to undergo a little refurbishment. The first picture shows the eastern approach to the Cornhill, where heresy executions took place during the sixteenth century, whilst the others are from the monument in Christchurch Park.

See also: https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/2016/07/23/a-colchester-mystery/ or https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/an-afternoon-in-hadleigh-2006/

You only reign twice?

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Edward of Caernarvon, who was born in 1284, was king of England for nearly twenty years from 1307 as Edward II. What of his childhood?

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In about October 1289, he was contracted to Margaret, known as the Maid of Norway and Queen of Scotland since 1286 when her grandfather Alexander III died. She was a year older than Edward and then travelled towards her own realm but died of seasickness in the Orkneys during September 1290 and was buried in Bergen. Negotiations took place under the Treaty of Salisbury, signed by Edward I, Robert Bruce and some other Guardians of the Realm for Scotland. A dispensation was issued by Nicholas IV, because Margaret’s grandmother was Henry III’s daughter, Henry also being Prince Edward’s grandfather.

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Let us examine some of the circumstances:
i) Edward and Margaret were both under fourteen, but so were Richard of Shrewsbury and Anne Mowbray, Duchess of Norfolk and “The Princess in the Police Station”, when they married. She also died under that age of majority. Such a marriage was valid, however, although it could not yet be consummated.
ii) Edward and Margaret never actually met, but Mary I and Phillip II married by proxy before he moved to England.
iii) As late as the sixteenth century in England or Scotland, a male consort was styled as “King”. Phillip II was such, as was Henry Lord Darnley, as the contemporary coinage attests. After this, William III was a joint monarch, as James VII/II’s nephew, but George of Denmark was not.

So, if the Treaty of Salisbury included an actual contract of marriage, Edward of Caernarvon had already been King of Scotland for a year before he succeeded his father in England. Between summer 1284 and 1300, he was Edward I’s only surviving legitimate son, so the treaty would have united the two kingdoms three centuries earlier than actually happened.

This post explains a little more about the Maid, among others, emphasising that Alexander saw Edward as a future grandson-in-law almost from birth.

 

An award for masochism?

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The 1538 plot first saw Sir Geoffrey Pole arrested that autumn and compelled, by a threat to torture his servants, to give evidence about the activities of his exiled brother Reginald and other relatives. Henry Pole Lord Montagu and Henry Courtenay Marquess of Exeter were arrested next, together with Montagu’s son Henry the Younger and brother-in-law Sir Edward Neville, Exeter’s wife Gertrude Blount and their son Edward. Montagu was, of course, George of Clarence’s grandson and Exeter was Edward IV’s. Reginald and Henry the Younger had both been considered as husbands for Princess Mary.

Henry Pole the Younger and Thomas Courtenay are both likely to have been under age in 1538 because almost all of the adult prisoners here – Montagu, Neville and Exeter – were attainted and executed, as was Montagu’s mother the Countess of Salisbury, eventually. Gertrude Blount was released, as was Sir Geoffrey Pole, but unlike Henry Pole, who disappeared by the end of 1542, Edward Courtenay was held until Mary’s accession. In some ways, the most interesting phase of his short life was about to start.

On his release from the Tower after almost fifteen years, Courtenay was restored to the family’s Earldom of Devon. He was in favour with Mary and may have been another suitor In the following year, he was returned to the Tower along with Princess Elizabeth, the Queen’s sister, for suspected complicity in the Wyatt rebellion and he is thought to have planned marriage to her. Both were soon released: she to a form of house arrest and he to exile in Padua, Venice.

Mary finally married Phillip II of Spain later in 1554. She only lived for four more years and Thomas died mysteriously without issue in 1556, although he is rumoured to have found a bride in Padua: one Laurana de Medici. He was probably not thirty, being the younger son of parents married in 1519, and had lived half of that time in the Tower of London. He could have married either of Henry VIII’s daughters but was probably fortunate to have failed in this respect.

Henry Pole the Younger rides again?

https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/2014/02/28/whatever-happened-to-henry-pole-the-younger-2011/

https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/a-plantagenet-on-television-2009-3/

Yes, that Henry Pole. A contact asked us recently whether his mother (nee’ Jane Neville) had been arrested in November 1538 and executed with her husband (Henry Lord Montagu) and others that December or January. Online sources are confused about this. However, we do know that she was the daughter of George Baron Bergavenny and was born at about the same time as Montagu (1492), because Henry the Younger was probably under sixteen in 1542 and was not openly executed for this reason.

Pierce’s Margaret of Salisbury biography confirms that Jane’s death preceded the plot and possably pressaged Montagu’s participation in it, although her brother Sir Edward Neville was among those arrested and executed. The CP, citing the Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, confirms Jane’s death by 26 October 1538 and Sir Edward’s subsequent execution.

The ODNB states that Henry the Younger, together with his exiled and yet to be ordained uncle Reginald, was being considered by the plotters as a husband for Princess Mary. This may explain why he too was arrested and disappeared, yet his married elder sisters (Catherine and Winifred) were not.

Incidentally, Jane Neville was also descended from Constance of York.

Sources:
The Complete Peerage (vol. IX,pp.9-7)
Margaret Pole 1473-1541: Loyalty, Lineage and Leadership (p.64 )
http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/22448 (or hardback)

A Colchester mystery

Have you ever visited Colchester Castle? The guide book is very informative about three thousand years of the town’s history, particularly the 1989 revision, which I have. Page twenty names some 23 people who were imprisoned there and burned during 1555-8, together with two more who died there before they could be executed. Some of their cells, in the south-east corner, can be visited today.

This amounts to eight per cent of the usual estimate (about 280) of those put to death under Mary I through the revival of “de heretico comburendo”. Some suggest that 280 is an exaggeration of the real national total, perhaps inspired by writers such as Foxe, but that would make 23 in Colchester even more significant. Many of them came from neighbouring villages, of course, but the general impression is that the authorities in North Essex, as they were in Suffolk, were particularly tough on cases of suspected heresy.

Support for this conclusion can be found from Paul Johnson’s Elizabeth I: A study in power and intellect. Pages 53 to 54 emphasise that “they (the victims) were concentrated very largely in the south-east of the country”, including 67 in London, 11 in Middlesex, 39 in Essex and 59 in Kent, compared to 1 in the north and almost none in Wales and the West except 10 in Gloucestershire. Johnson also emphasises that they were “of the younger generation” and ” from the economically advanced areas of the country”.

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May 25, 1553 – A Triple Wedding

A little more about Lord Henry Hastings, son of Katherine Pole and later Earl of Huntingdon. 1595 was the year he died, after serving as Lord President of the Council of the North …

Janet Wertman

Guildford and Jane (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons) Guildford and Jane (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

This day in history launched the scheme that would lead to the execution of John Dudley, the man who had clawed his way back up the political ladder after his father’s execution for treason in 1509, who had become Duke of Northumberland and President of Edward VI’s Privy Council, who was the de facto leader of the country as Edward was still a minor.

In February 1553, Edward VI had fallen ill – seriously enough that he had started to consider the succession. As an ardent Protestant, he did not want his Catholic sister Mary to inherit the throne, which was what would occur under the Act of Succession adopted during his father’s reign. Edward came up with his own “Devise for the Succession” in which the crown would bypass both Mary and Elizabeth as well as Mary Queen of Scots, and…

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Of well-connected Archbishops

Before the English Reformation, Archbishops were often related to the King, a spare brother from a branch of the Royal family. There were commoners, increasingly so as the years went on. Then the Reformation ensured that the clergy were no longer required to be celibate.

Focussing particularly on the province of Canterbury, there have been three Archbishops of clear Royal descent since 1536:
1) Reginald, Cardinal Pole (1500-58) – a great-nephew of Richard III and a Catholic who wasCardinal_Reginald_Pole ordained late in life, consecrated in 1556 and died on the same day as Mary I, his cousin.
2) Charles Manners-Sutton (1755-1828) – descended220px-Charles_Manners-Sutton_(1755–1828),_Archbishop_of_Canterbury from Anne of Exeter, he was the grandson of the 3rd Duke of Rutland and served from 1805.
3) Justin Welby (1956-) – has been Archbishop since 2013 and was previously thought to be the first incumbent of partial Jewish descent. Earlier this month we learned, through a Charles Moore article following a DNA test, that his biological father was Anthony Montague Browne, a descendant of James I and Joan, traditionally surnamed Beaufort. Ironically, the paternity of Joan’s father is now at issue and she may have been a Swynford.JustinWelby

Subject to that question, this trio of primates would have Edward III as a common ancestor

 

I sentence you to death by acquittal?

HenryVIIIArthur Waite, Viscount Lisle was released from the Tower of London in March 1542, having been held on suspicion of high treason for two years. This illegitimate son of Edward IV, as were they all, died of a heart attack the same week.

Sir Geoffrey Pole was arrested with some cousins, his brother and his nephew, both named Henry, in November 1538. His brother and his adult cousins were executed either in December or January, whilst his nephew is unaccounted for after 1542. Sir Geoffrey twice tried to kill himself in custody but gave evidence against Lord Montagu after his servants were threatened with torture. He lived on until November 1558, a broken man.

Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, was betrothed to Anne Boleyn before her marriage service with Henry VIII. In spring 1536, the latter annulled his marriage on the grounds of a Boleyn-Percy pre-contract, before she was executed. Northumberland had been a juror at her trial and died just over a year later.

Insurrection: Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell and the Pilgrimage of Grace

insurrectionAn intriguing new book by historian Susan Loughlin is about to be published by The History Press on April 4th of this year (2016) detailing an event in world history that has perhaps gone unnoticed by some historians and those who run with the history blogs and bloggers.

 

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Susan at The Angel and Royal Inn in Grantham outside the door of the room where Richard 3 signed Buckingham’s death warrant.

 

 

I first “met” Susan Loughlin  on the popular Facebook group “Ricardian” administered by author Stephen Lark that has over 1,000 members and counting.  (I’m one of the 7 moderators of that group.)  Susan has always brought her serious and knowledgeable input to issues relating to King Richard the Third and is known for her spunky attitude towards historians and others who dare to hand out misinformation about this much maligned king.  But her new book is not about Richard but relates the story of  Henry VIII and a popular rebellion that occurred in 1536 when 30,000 men took up arms against the king during the dissolution of the monasteries.  Her book “Insurrection:  Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell and the Pilgrimage of Grace” is available for pre-order at Amazon.com and will be available in the USA/Canada in June/July:

http://www.amazon.com/insurrection-Henry-Thomas-Cromwell-Pilgrimage/dp/0750967331/ref

 

I was lucky enough to interview Susan this past month.  Here are some of her thoughts on her life, her new book and Ricardian issues.

Susie, can you tell us something about where you were born and grew up?

I was born in London, the daughter of Irish immigrants and grew up in the northern suburbs of the city.  I was educated at primary and secondary schools in Muswell Hill and Finchley.

Tell us something about your education.

I am grateful to the wonderful teachers I was fortunate enough to have – in particular, Mr. Steven Lilly, who encouraged my curiosity and love of the Humanities.  I vividly recall being taught the ‘traditional’ version of the Wars of the Roses at secondary school and recently had a conversation about this with my old school friend, Lydia.  We both remember being unconvinced by the narrative we were told with regard to Richard III.

I received eight O Levels and three A Levels (including one in History) and obtained a place in three UK universities to study History.  However, I decided to go to work for a year and deferred my places.  I then got used to a regular salary:  I took driving lessons, holidays, and in particular, a wonderful trip to California.  I remained working and changed careers to work in Local Government in London.  I also studied for my professional qualification whilst working and spent a number of years delivering front-line services in the London Borough of Barnet; the second largest borough.  Of course, Barnet was the site of one of the most prominent battles of the Wars of the Roses.  There are many roads in the area which bear testimony to this:  Gloucester Road, Warwick Road, Plantagenet Road, York Road, Lancaster Road and Woodville Road!  In addition, the local County Court sessions were held in a building named Kingmaker House!

When I relocated to Ireland, I decided to embark upon my study of History at the National University of Ireland, Galway.  This institution began life by Royal charter in the reign of Queen Victoria and was originally known as Queen’s University, Galway – a sister to the institutions in Belfast, Dublin and Cork.  Following the establishment of the Irish Republic, Galway became known as University College of Galway and most recently, the National University of Ireland, Galway.

I decided to pursue my passion for History, Classical Civilizations and Political Science.  It would have been tempting to take a pragmatic approach and opt for a potentially safe and lucrative path, such as Law, but I decided to pursue my own interests, for my own pleasure.  Academia is incredibly competitive and most people do not enter it in expectation of materialistic dividends.  It is, in fact, a labour of love.

I studied many different modules of History, including Irish, European, and English.  My A Level included Early Modern history, so I was drawn, in particular, to these subjects.  I was fortunate enough to study under many fine lecturers, including Professor Steven Ellis, a Tudor expert and the head of both the History department and the School of Humanities.  I am grateful for being endowed with the title University Scholar during my BA degree and graduated with First Class honours in both History and Political Science.  I then began studying for my research PhD, under the direction of Professor Ellis and obtained a scholarship and the title Galway Doctoral Research Fellow.

And here I was so proud of my little BA!  But I’m so happy to hear you defend the study of History and other areas of intellect when so many of people think University’s raison d’etre is to end up in a well-paying job.  That attitude is one of my pet peeves.

Please tell us what made you a Ricardian?

As I mentioned, I remember being taught the standard version of events regarding Richard III, the Battle of Bosworth and how Henry VII reunited the Houses of Lancaster and York.  However, like my school friend, I had misgivings with regard to the portrayal of Richard III.  He just appeared like a pantomime villain character and actually reminded me of the cartoon character ‘Dick Dastardly’ from ‘Wacky Races’!  Something just didn’t sit right and I was left with a lingering curiosity about the man.  I met a friend at work, who had actually studied Richard’s reign for both her BA and MA.  She was utterly convinced that the king was a victim of a Tudor smear campaign.

When I started studying Henry VIII in depth, I realized what a deeply insecure individual he was.  His father’s ‘claim’ to the throne was, at best, flimsy and by all accounts, Henry VII was extremely paranoid.  This trait was evidently passed on to his son.  Henry VIII was totally obsessed with securing the Tudor dynasty by providing a male heir; something which eluded him until the birth of Prince Edward in 1537.  It occurred to me that only interlopers would be insecure and systematic in their attempt to conceal the truth and justify their own positions.  It is well known how Henry VII behaved in eradicating Plantagenet claimants; a task completed by his son with the obscene execution of the sixty-seven year old Countess of Salisbury, Margaret Pole.  (Margaret’s son, Reginald, was in exile on the continent and managed to avoid capture, despite Henry having assassins in pursuit of him.)

That has got to be one of the more grisly of Henry VIII’s many grisly acts!  There is a paucity of evidence for Richard’s reign – why is  this?

The contemporary accounts which do exist are contradictory and flawed.  It is not the place for a discussion of the sources here but I would recommend Annette Carson’s Richard III:  The Maligned King, The History Press, Stroud, 2013, pp. 330-348  for a succinct appraisal.  What I would add, however, is that it is simply preposterous to any serious historian to accept either Thomas More’s The History of King Richard III or Shakespeare’s play, The Tragedy of King Richard III (written in 1592) as sources.  More was born in 1478 and, as such, was five years old when Richard was crowned.  In addition, his mentor had been John Morton.  The same Morton who had conspired against Richard and was Archbishop of Canterbury by Henry VII in 1486.

More’s work was never finished.  Why was this?

I find it incredulous that one of the leading Humanist scholars of the day (a frequent correspondent of Erasmus) should have included such demonstrably ludicrous ‘facts’ as Richard being born after a two year gestation, with a full set of teeth.  My own view is that Thomas More was, to use a London colloquialism, ‘having a laugh’.

A central tenet of my own personality is contempt for injustice.  Given the lack of credible sources and blatant Tudor propaganda, I believe Richard III has been vilified, without the evidence to support such claims.

Let me be clear, I do not hold a romanticized view of the man nor perceive him as a knight in shining armour.  He was not a saint.  Far from it.  But let us place him in the context of his times and not project our own values onto him.  Let us not assume to know him or his thoughts from small crumbs of evidence.  He was a medieval magnate and king.  He did things that were necessary to survive and protect his own interests.  Did he love Anne Neville or marry for land and wealth?  Frankly, I do not care!  We cannot speculate about his mind-set.  We cannot extrapolate grandiose theories from what little we have.  He was not a Lollard; neither was he a Renaissance prince.  He was simply a prince of the blood, forced into a situation where he had, I believe, no option but to accept the crown offered to him by the Three Estates of the Realm.  What was the alternative?  I leave you to ponder that.

I will!

Richard III is a ‘victim’ of injustice – caused not only by Tudor propaganda but the chaotic set of circumstances that his brother, King Edward IV bequeathed to him.

Yes, Edward certainly left a mess.  Given your Ricardian bona fides, how did you turn to the subject of Henry the 8th and the dissolution of the monasteries?

My university did not offer a module on The Wars of the Roses, so, as discussed above, I studied English, Irish and European Early Modern History.  Professor Ellis is a specialist in peripheral Tudor regions and administration and also in the religious aspects of Henry VIII’s reign.  We decided that I would research the Pilgrimage of Grace – it combined a study of the North of England and the Henrician religious experiment.

Let’s talk about your new book.  Perhaps because I’m American, I do not know much about the pushback of 30,000 men against Henry’s very famous actions.  Can you tell us a little about these men and what they did or did not accomplish?

That’s interesting, Maire, because I was completely unaware of the Pilgrimage of Grace until I studied it as an undergraduate under Professor Ellis.  It had obviously been ‘air-brushed’ out of conventional, general, Whig interpretations of the English Reformation.  Hence, only those in academia or with an avid and thorough knowledge of the reign of Henry VIII would be familiar with it.  And I shudder when I think of the inaccurate portrayal of the event in the TV series, ‘The Tudors’!

Essentially, the Pilgrimage was the largest popular rising against a Tudor monarch and had the potential to threaten Henry’s throne.  30,000 men, of all social orders took up arms against the king in the autumn of 1536.  Their intentions were abundantly clear – they wished for a return to the ‘old ways’ of religious worship, for the monasteries to stand and for Princess Mary’s reinstatement as Henry’s heir.

The Pilgrims succeeded in so far as the king was forced to agree to a truce in order to cease hostilities and a copy of the rebels’ grievances were taken to him by two of the rebel leaders.  Henry was indignant and felt that his honour was much diminished and reluctantly agreed to consider their grievances and convene a parliament in York to discuss the issues.  He issued a pardon but it is apparent that he had no intention of honouring it – he only wished to stop the rising’s momentum.  When some disenchanted rebels realized that the King and Duke of Norfolk had been duplicitous, further risings ensued in 1537.  This afforded Henry the opportunity to seek retribution for the events of the previous autumn.

The Pilgrimage was a missed opportunity for religious conservatives and the book discusses the pitfalls that prevented the movement achieving its explicit aims.  One rebel, however, is particularly interesting, in that he did not fit the usual Pilgrim ‘profile’ and is something of an enigma.  Sir Francis Bigod was a Yorkshire gentleman and a known Evangelical.  His behavior has been somewhat a puzzle to historians.  In 1536, he was a staunch defender of King Henry’s religious innovations and expressed his desire to be a priest and preacher in a letter to Cromwell in April.  A few months earlier, he had reported the Abbot of Whitby for denying the Royal Supremacy.  Thus his involvement as one of the leaders of renewed rebellion in January 1537 is hard to reconcile with his previous behavior.  He even wrote a treatise denouncing the Royal Supremacy and arguing the king could not have ‘cure’ of his subjects’ souls.  Needless to say, he paid the price with his life.

The book also examines the punishment handed out by a vengeful monarch and explains why some former rebels managed successfully to rehabilitate themselves.  The links between retribution and reward are examined in a study of patronage and the governance of the region in the aftermath of the rebellion.

Another rising in the North was not attempted against until 1569, in the reign of Elizabeth, but this, I would suggest, illustrates the latent conservative nature of the inhabitants and a lingering resentment with changes imposed upon them by force and betrayal.  Historians Michael Bush and David Bownes have argued that if the Pilgrimage had succeeded the Anglican Church was ‘certain’ to return to Roman Catholicism and that the dissolutions would not have occurred (see Bush & Bownes, The Defeat of the Pilgrimage of Grace, University of Hull Press, 1999).  Had the Pilgrimage been successful, the course of English religious history, would arguably have been very different.

As always, English history fascinates and perplexes at the same time.  Thank you, Susie and congratulations on your new book. Read more…

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