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A visible difference

This Mail on Sunday interview with Jonathan Rhys Meyers is sadly, mostly about his current personal problems. However, one or two paragraphs towards the end, should be of interest:

But it was his lead role in TV drama The Tudors, as the criminally charismatic Henry VIII, that made everyone take note, even though Rhys Meyers initially had his doubts about playing the monarch.
‘When they first asked me to do it, I said, “You must be insane!” And they said, “We have to make this part of English history palpable to a modern-day audience – and no one’s going to watch a 300lb guy run around the screen having sex.”’ Watching Rhys Meyers run around the screen having sex was a different story entirely, however.

In other words, he agreed that he felt far too slim for the part, as “The Tudors“‘

final scene with him merging into the great Holbein painting showed. At least Maria Doyle Kennedy, Natalie Dormer (left) and the other four “wives” didn’t have to be paid danger money, as an actor of Henry VIII’s real bulk (above) may have necessitated.

Otherwise, Mr. Rhys Meyers may have wanted to visit a certain pub in Ely with this menu:

The anachronism that wasn’t

This article lists a few errors in two current popular drama series but its criticisms are not as authoritative as they may seem. On “Victoria”, it quotes Professor Jane Ridley, who is a leading expert on that monarch and is a descendant of one of England’s first married bishops, and A.N. Wilson on several points. However, some of the suggestions are not actually attributed to either source.


Professor Ridley insists that Victoria did not have a German accent and a recording may well exist to demonstrate this. She, her father and paternal grandfather were all British-born and raised. As soon as George I succeeded to the British throne, he moved permanently to this country with his heir, so the Hanoverians became principally a British dynasty. Prince Frederick (1707-51) lived in Germany until just after his father’s accession but crossed the North Sea eight years before his marriage and nine before any of his legitimate children were born.

Dramatists do make mistakes with historical programmes but their critics have been known to err as well. Ray Winstone’s Henry VIII (2003) is a case in point – his birthplace is near Henry’s in Greenwich and his accent was probably mis-rendered but one reader thought that he should “sound Welsh”. The “Tudors” was of particular interest to pedants as well.



Hey! Who let Lady Jane Grey in there?

Once upon a time, I had a history teacher who asked his class, “What do you believe about [X]?”

We wrote down our answers. He collected them.

And then he asked, “Why do you believe what you believe?”

We discussed. In only a few minutes we had reached a conclusion: “Our parents, our religious leaders, or our teachers taught us what to believe.”

And then my teacher said, “Don’t believe what others tell you, because they often don’t know what’s true. You have a mind: use it and don’t assume. Go and see for yourself. Research [x]. Look at it from all angles. Think about things, and reach your own, independent conclusions. You will then own your knowledge and your conclusions. You will no longer merely regurgitate what someone else has told you.”

Lately I’ve been thinking about Tudor history. Specifically, what we should call it when Tudor history is presented as accurate in schoolrooms, on the telly, in books, on the Web, and in the media…yet it’s anything but accurate.

POSSIBILITY #1: It’s ironic; or,

POSSIBILITY #2: It contains lies; or,

POSSIBILITY #3: Both #1 and #2 might apply, depending on the motives of the source; or,

POSSIBILITY #4: It’s sloppy reporting, and the originator should receive a failing grade and be sent back to do his or her work over again.

POSSIBILITY #5: It might be a lazy form of “whisper down the alley,” where the author used traditional sources, but didn’t bother to go back and verify the accuracy or truthfulness of those sources.

POSSIBILITY #6: It’s another form of Tudor propaganda, which has never ended and likely never will because those who have a horse in the race (e.g., advertising dollars to lure, a degree or tenure to get, an academic reputation to preserve, an ego that admits no possibility for wrong, etc.) pick their team (Plantagenet or Tudor), hunker down, and refuse to reassess their position or any portion thereof. Ever.

ADDITIONAL POSSIBILITIES: There are others. One is the age-old rule for producers of documentaries: always cast three experts. Expert #1 should be “for” whatever the focus of the show is. Expert #2 should be “against” whatever the focus of the show is. Expert #3 should be “neutral” regarding the focus of the show. This, so the project appeals to everyone in the audience and offends no one. In theory, anyway.

In this series of articles, I will present and examine a few historical Tudor truths for your consideration. If you care to look for yourself, there are hundreds of others I won’t have space to mention – details most Tudor historians flick aside as if they don’t matter. Or perhaps the truth is closer to this:

EARNEST STUDENT OF HISTORY: Do you swear you’re in an honest, honorable relationship with Henry, Henry, Edward, Mary, and Elizabeth, so help you God, and that you’ll tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about ’em?

TUDOR HISTORIAN: [hesitates] It’s complicated.

EARNEST STUDENT OF HISTORY: Um… okay. Do you at least swear you’ll teach me as truthfully as you can about the Tudor dynasty?

TUDOR HISTORIAN: [hesitates] That’s also complicated.

Diving into the actual, factual details of Tudor history are like diving headlong into a twisty, messy maze. Of course the maze is whitewashed (was any other woman as pure and pious as Margaret Beaufort? Maybe Joan of Arc, but that’s a whole other story. Was any other queen as magnificent as Elizabeth I?). In all fairness, the Tudor Maze is far from the only historically whitewashed maze out there.(1)

There are times I wish there was somewhere a definitive table I could consult regarding specific points of Tudor history – sort of an official Akashic Record of Historical Tudor Truths. The headings would go something like this:

Historical Fact
Really Happened
Primary Source

Alas, there is no such table. If you want the truth about the events of the soap opera that is the Tudor Dynasty, you have to dig. A lot.

If you don’t want to dig, if you’re happy skimming and listening to surface-skimming telly presentations and media quickies, then don’t ever think you know the historical truth. All you know is what someone else with a specific agenda has told you, 500 years beyond the events themselves.

I’m not someone who’s happy skimming the surface. I like to dig. So if you’re still with me, let’s begin with a basic assumption about “The House of Tudor” and see where we can go from there.

ASSUMED HISTORIC FACT: The House of Tudor proclaimed itself The House of Tudor

“Once upon a time, Henry Tydder won the Battle of Bosworth and the English crown. Because his last name was Tydder, he and his contemporaries called his new dynasty the House of Tudor.”

(Right out of the box, my Muse asks, “Hey, who first called the Battle of Bosworth the Battle of Bosworth?” I shove Ms. Muse back inside her box because we’re not talking about how battles were named. Yet ‘Battle of Bosworth’ is another one of those taken-for-granted-Tudor things you might want to research if you feel so inclined.)

So. Where, exactly, did the phrase “The House of Tudor” originate?

  1. Every Tudor descended in the male line from the Tudors of Penmynydd, a noble and aristocratic family connected with the village of Penmynydd in Anglesey, North Wales.
  1. The Tudors trace no further back than 13th-century Wales.
  1. There were three Tudor brothers in the 15th century: Rhys ap Tudur, Gwilym ap Tudur and Maredudd ap Tudur (great grandfather of Henry VII).
  1. Prior to the 18th century, the only references to “The House of Tudor” are in Welsh. This means there are no contemporary references in English to “The House of Tudor.”(2)
  1. What does “contemporary” mean? It means the people living and the sources written at the same time the Tudors lived. It means primary sources; not secondary, not hearsay, and not something some writer made up after everyone involved with the events has died.
  1. The lack of contemporary English references to the phrase, “The House of Tudor” means that Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I, Elizabeth I did not refer to “The House of Tudor.” Neither did their contemporaries.
  1. Henry VII, et. al., thought of themselves, and their contemporaries thought of them, as just more Plantagenets.

ACTUAL HISTORIC FACT: “The House of Tudor” was invented by an 18th-century Scottish writer

We humans like to categorize. We like to stuff things into separate boxes for the ease of our own use.

So who conveniently invented the phrase “The House of Tudor” and inserted it into history, so that it was picked up and used by others, until this, our present day?

  1. His name was David Hume, Esq. He lived from 1711-1776 – long after the death of the last Tudor monarch.
  1. Who the heck was David Hume? He was a Scottish historian, philosopher, economist, diplomat and essayist who spent much of his life in Edinburgh. Today, he’s regarded as one of the most important philosophers to write in English. In his own time, he was known as an historian and essayist.
  1. He wrote a little book called The History of England in installments while working as the librarian of the Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh. His little book was published in six volumes in 1754, 1756, 1759, and 1761.
  1. The volume we’re interested in is volume 2, published in 1759. It’s called, The History of England: Under the House of Tudor.(3)
  1. Until Hume released his work, the House of Tudor was never referred to in English as “The House of Tudor.”
  1. Come to think of it, the Houses of Lancaster and York may not have been defined until Hume, either.

If “The House of Tudor” isn’t historical fact…what else isn’t historical fact when it comes to the Tudors?

I’ll bet you thought “The House of Tudor” was a proud, happy phrase invented by Henry VII and his saintly mother to celebrate their new dynasty. Or perhaps you thought it was a thing that evolved organically and naturally, like the Tudor rose that triumphantly merged the Plantagenet with the Lancastrian, after Henry Tydder saved England from…whatever he’s supposed to have saved England from.

(Remember that rose. It’ll come up in a future discussion.)

(Remember the myth of Henry Tydder saving England from…something or other. It’ll also come up in a future discussion.)

In the meantime, you might also want to ask yourself what you believe about the Tudors, and where you learned to believe it.

You might also want to question everything your history teachers or documentary hosts and anyone else has told you about that dynasty and its blessed rulers. Because if the “experts” are wrong about something so basic as the contemporary name bestowed on a dynastic house, what else are they wrong about?

Don’t take things for granted: go and see and learn for yourself. You just might be surprised at what we think we know…but we really don’t.

And look for Part Two of “Tudor History: Fact or Fiction?” coming soon.


(1) A good example to begin with is here: “6 Ridiculous Lies You Believe About the Founding of America” ( Regardless it’s a Cracked article and not published in some scholarly journal, it is historically accurate; sometimes you find truth in the most unlikely of places.

(2) John Ashdown-Hill, Royal Marriage Secrets: Consorts and Concubines, Bigamists and Bastards (2013). Bibliography online here: .

(3) You can get your own copy of volume 2 for free, here:

…or all six volumes of Hume’s The History of England are available here in multiple formats:

Boiling a cook alive – Enlightened penal policy under Henry VIII

It is well known that John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, was one of the principal opponents of Henry VIII’s attempt to divorce Catherine of Aragon. The boiling to death of his cook for the alleged crime of attempting to poison him is less familiar.

The facts are that a number of people in the bishop’s household fell ill after eating soup prepared in the bishop’s kitchen. Fisher himself, who only ate a little of the soup, did not suffer any consequences, but two people, Bennet Curwan, a gentleman, and Alice Trppitt, a widow, died.

The bishop’s cook, Richard Rouse, or Rice, was arrested and under questioning admitted adding a laxative to the soup, apparently as a joke. Not a very good joke, admittedly, but even if the confession was legitimate the crime would seem to amount to manslaughter at worst.

Henry VIII did not see it that way. He had an Act of Parliament passed retrospectively making this crime high treason, and any future poisoning the same. It also enacted that the unfortunate cook was to be boiled alive.

This did not mean that he was dropped into boiling water, as a lobster might be. Oh no, the water started cold and was gradually heated up. And the cook was apparently dipped in and out of it until he died. A more horrible form of execution can scarcely be imagined – even hanging, drawing and quartering was merciful by comparison.

Some people think that Anne Boleyn and/or her party were behind the poisoning attempt. If so, they were incredibly clumsy and inept in their dealings. What manner of assassin destroys (potentially) a whole household to take out one old man? It seems more likely that it was accidental food poisoning, or, at worst, a joke in poor taste that misfired.

Richard III did not boil anyone alive – but it seems he is the tyrant and Henry VIII the model ruler. As someone said – it’s a funny old world.

A Strange Tale from the Reign of Henry VIII

The following is based on information found in The Reign of Henry VIII, by James Anthony Froude. A book originally published in 1909.

Sir William and Sir George Neville were brothers of Lord Latimer – the same Latimer who was husband to the famous Catherine Parr. They were arrested on mere suspicion – possibly because they were related to Lady Salisbury – and the following emerged from their confessions.

In the summer of 1532, William Neville lost some silver spoons. So – like you do – he made his way to Cirencester to consult a wizard as to their recovery. The wizard couldn’t help with the spoons, but took the opportunity to tell Neville’s fortune, advising him that his wife would die and that William would marry an heiress. However, feeling his powers inadequate, the wizard referred him on to a sort of Consultant wizard in Oxford, by the name of Jones.

This Jones went a lot further. It would be tedious to relate the whole saga, but among other things he promised Sir William that he would receive Warwick Castle and the earldom of Warwick. This prophecy involved an actual visit to Warwick by the two Nevilles and Jones so that the latter could check that the room he had seen in his ‘vision’ was identical to the one in the castle. Naturally, it was.

On their return to Oxford, Jones went even further, stating that ‘None of Cadwallader’s blood should reign more than twenty-four years.’ This was getting into dangerous territory, but he added that Prince Edward of Lancaster (the one killed at Tewkesbury) had a son who had been conveyed over seas. Moreover, this son had himself had a son, who was alive in either Saxony or Almayne. Either this person or the King of Scots should succeed Henry VIII.

Sir William said (or claimed he said) that he would not meddle in the matter, but leave it to God. Sir George, generally supporting his brother’s version, was careful to add that he not been party to any treasonable conversation.

As for Jones, he declared himself a good subject and offered to hazard his life to make a philosopher’s stone for Henry VIII within twelve months. He volunteered to be kept in prison for the meantime.

What happened to Jones is unknown, but the two Nevilles were released without charge or punishment.

The most obvious explanation for this little scene is that Jones was babbling nonsense, seeking to please two potentially lucrative clients, and that the Nevilles were naive enough to be prepared to sit and listen to it.

However, is it just possible that Edward of Lancaster had a son? Such a child, to be relevant to the succession, would have to be born to Anne Neville. Does this explain Anne’s temporary disappearance from the Clarence household? Sadly we shall never know. It seems highly unlikely, but it would make for an interesting piece of fiction!

Why do people still hate Richard III?

There is an argument in some quarters that Ricardians are “nutters”, “obsessives” and a lot of other ruder words. There is an element of truth in this, given that virtually all human activity beyond eating, sex and sleeping is inherently pointless. Unless one is part of the enthusiasm, it is equally hard to understand why people are obsessed with golf, twenty-two men kicking a ball around a muddy field, or the events depicted in East Enders. If viewed by an alien, all these “interests” would seem nutty. Indeed, as nutty as squirrel excrement during the nut season.

But if it is “nutty” to be strongly interested in Richard III, is it not still more “nutty” to spend one’s waking hours obsessing over how wicked he was? To hate him?

Consider the facts. He died well over 500 years ago. He is not responsible for anything that happened to us, or our parents, or our grandparents. During the intervening centuries there have been (even if one allows that Richard did everything he is accused of, and also murdered Mistress Smith from the Middleham Pie and Mash Shop) far more evil human beings on earth. Frankly Richard, even when judged at his worst, doesn’t come into the top 100. Consider names like: Hitler; Mao; Stalin; Pol Pot, to name but four. Strangely I don’t come across Facebook pages devoted to stressing how wicked these guys were.

Is it that he is English? Well, there have been worse English and British sovereigns. Consider Henry VIII, who had a butcher’s bill that even a Concentration Camp Kommandant would have considered excessive, including a couple of wives and several close relatives, including an old lady of nearly seventy. Is he hated? No, he is widely admired, and some people include him in the list of the ‘best’ rulers we have had. In some contexts he is seen as the personification of Englishness. (Presumably by those who think the English are cruel, paranoid and vindictive.) I can’t explain it, but there you are.

Then there is Charles I. Some people regard donkeys as proverbially stubborn, but really King Charles should be the proverb of that quality. Stubborn, devious, and repeatedly false to his word. Here is a man that caused an actual Civil War, one so bloody that (proportionate to population) it resulted in more deaths that World War 1. Then there was the little matter of the Leicester Massacre of 1645. Not heard of it? Not surprised, because it rarely gets mentioned. Around 600 dead, mostly civilians, and Charlie was responsible. Do you get pages on Facebook devoted to hating Charles I? Not a chance! Some people actually class him as a saint. Presumably because he had nice, sad eyes and was a good family man.

Is it because Richard did a few summary executions? Some people get immensely worked up about Rivers and Hastings. However Richard did not invent summary executions. Henry IV, Edward IV and Warwick the Kingmaker are among those responsible for quite a few, but again, there are no long posts on the Web telling the world what wicked men they were. On the contrary, Edward IV in particular has strong admirers.

Is it because the Princes were ‘family’? As mentioned before, Henry VIII executed two wives, and Edward IV executed his own freaking brother! Do they get heat for it? No, not really. And note, there is no doubt in these cases. Anne Boleyn did not turn up in Italy. There are no rumours that Clarence spent his declining years laying bricks. They were definitely, beyond doubt, killed. As for killing cousins and uncles and the like – well, the list of sovereigns is too long to bother writing out the guilty.

Is it ‘usurpation’? A lot of people get off on calling Richard a ‘usurper’. Well, it really isn’t much of a shot. The last sovereign to rule England by undoubted title was Richard II. Richard III had quite a decent hereditary claim to the throne and it was confirmed by statute. Henry VII’s claim was simply confirmed by statute. ‘Usurper’! They’ve all been usurpers since 1399! Got it? None has had an undoubted claim. Since 1483 every single one has ruled by Parliamentary authority.

Is it that the Princes were children? Well, that is a big issue, certainly, because even the most notorious villain in prison thinks himself a cut above a child murderer. But you know, we really have no proof at all that Richard had them killed. All we can say with absolute certainty is that they went into the Tower in 1483 and there is no proof that they ever came out. But then we can say exactly the same about Lionel, Owain Glyndwr’s grandson. Yet no one builds a federal case against Henry IV (or maybe Henry V) on that account. Was Lionel murdered? Quite possibly, but we just don’t know. Or there’s Henry Pole who went into the Tower under Henry VIII and never came out. Was he murdered? Quite possibly, but we just don’t know. Again, Henry Pole is just a footnote in history. No one cares.

Does Richard III really stand out as an exceptional villain? I think not. So why do so many people still hate him so? Perhaps it says more about them than it does about him.

Whatever happened to Henry Pole the Younger? (2011)

I am not sure that every Ricardian will have survived watching the first two series of BBC2’s “The Tudors”, as first mentioned here, with its historical anachronisms, miscasting in some roles, confused chronology and obsession with bedroom scenes. Nevertheless, the third series is showing signs of improvement, particularly with its focus on the Pole family.

Last Friday, a plot involving the various Poles resulted in three of them being arrested in 1538. It is easy to blame Tudor paranoia for Plantagenets being persecuted during the reigns of the Henries but Hazel Pierce (Lady Salisbury’s biographer) concedes that there probably was a plot on this occasion. So who was involved?

Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury (and niece of Richard III): shown being arrested – finally beheaded, messily, in May 1541 after Sir John Neville’s revolt.

Henry Pole, Baron Montagu: her eldest son, also shown being arrested – beheaded in the winter of 1538/9.

Reginald Pole, a Deacon (or sub-Deacon) and Cardinal: in exile on the Continent, seems to have conceived the idea of sending a foreign army to dethrone Henry – survived to become a priest and then an Archbishop under Mary.

Sir Geoffrey Pole: her other surviving son, arrested but not portrayed in the series. His servants were threatened with torture and he gave evidence against the other conspirators. Released and survived for twenty years.

Henry Courtenay, Marquis of Exeter: grandson of Edward IV and arrested but not portrayed and executed with Montagu.

Henry Pole the Younger: son of Montagu, the boy shown being arrested – last seen in the Tower in 1542, aged between 15 and 21.

Thomas Courtenay (became Earl of Devon): son of Exeter and arrested with his father but not portrayed. Unlike the Younger Pole, he was released during Mary’s reign and contemplated marrying either her or Princess Elizabeth. Went into exile and died in 1556/7.

Henry Pole the Younger should be of interest to all Ricardians. We are often asked: “If the bodies found in the Tower in 1672 are not Edward IV’s sons, who are they?” Although defence counsel are never obliged to name an alternative culprit, of course, IF the bones are human, male, youthful and late Medieval to early Renaissance, some of them could well be his remains. As a Clarence great-grandson, his nuclear DNA (if it could ever be of use) would be similar to that of Edward of Westminster and Richard of Shrewsbury. That he was not executed with his father and Exeter would tend to suggest that his age would be towards the bottom of the range given above.

One reason for caution is that that part of the Tower was substantially rebuilt during the time of Anne Boleyn and we know that she died some six years before his disappearance

A Plantagenet on television (2009)

BBC2’s “The Tudors” is back and series three has seen a resumption of the anachronisms.

In 1536-7, Pope Paul III is seen referring to Reginald Pole as “Father”. John has confirmed my belief that Pole did not become a priest until 1557 but was a deacon or even a sub-deacon when Paul III created him a Cardinal on 22 December 1536. Deacons and sub-deacons were not entitled to the title “Father”.

 At the time, Pole was the (probably third) son of Princess Mary’s governess Margaret, Countess of Salisbury and thus Richard’s great-nephew, as was Henry VIII. He had, whilst in exile – studying in Padua – written a pamphlet critical of Henry’s divorce from Catherine and the Anne Boleyn marriage. Hazel Pierce, the Countess’s biographer, is firmly of the view that the three surviving Pole brothers were engaged in a plot.

 In any case, Henry (Lord Montagu, the eldest brother) and Sir Geoffrey Pole (the second) were arrested, together with Henry Pole the Younger (Montagu’s son) and cousins including their fellow-Plantagenet Marquis of Dorset, in late 1538-9. On either 9 December or 9 January, Montagu and Dorset were beheaded for treason whilst Henry the Younger never emerged from the Tower and is believed to have died by 1542. Sir Geoffrey was released after turning King’s evidence, a broken man and their mother the Countess was arrested and subsequently executed in May 1541.

 Reginald Pole returned to England as Princess Mary became her father’s second (or third) successor in 1553. Four years later, he was raised to the priesthood and rendered an Archbishop before he and his Queen died on the same day in November 1558. Sir Geoffrey Pole had expired earlier that month and the only remaining Poles by 1619 were through the female line.

 Also so far in the series (the first two parts comprising ninety minutes each), Robert Aske has been spotted wearing a wristwatch and an eagle-eyed cyber-Ricardian in Surrey has seen a radiator. I half expect Catherine Howard to be electrocuted when her time comes.

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