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THE DEATH OF HENRY VII

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Henry VII on his deathbed : Wriothesley’s Heraldic Collection Vol 1 Book of Funerals.

And so, on 21 April 1509, Henry “Tudor” finally expired.  He had been ill, obviously, for some time and perhaps his death was something of a relief to him. I’m sure it was for the rest of the country who probably breathed a collective sigh of relief. He had managed to keep his bony posterior on the throne for 24 years since that diabolical day at Bosworth when an anointed king was slaughtered.  It does nothing for Henry’s  reputation that he allowed the dead king’s body to be horrendously  abused  as well as the ignoble and deplorable  act of having his reign  predated from the day before the battle. But no doubt there were some that lamented his passing especially his mother Margaret Beaufort, a  most highly acquisitive woman and probably one of the most greediest.     She adored him and the pair must hardly have been able to believe their luck that he had survived the battle unscathed, probably due to the fact that he took no active part in it.

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Unknown artist’s impression of Tudor being crowned in the aftermath of Bosworth..

It must have seemed surreal to him as he wandered through the dead kings apartments at Westminster that had now, overnight, become his.

 

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Bust of Henry VII : National Portrait Gallery

He had some worrying times with bothersome pretenders to the throne popping up with annoying regularity as well as various uprisings. Whether he was plagued by his conscience we do not  know although Margaret was prone to bursts of weeping at times when she should have been happy which must have been very tedious  for those around her.

However moving on from that , what actually did see Henry off?     His health seems to have gone into a decline when he reached his 30s.   His eyes began to trouble him and he tried various eye lotions and eye  baths  made of fennel water,  rosewater and celandine ” to make bright the sight” but to no avail ..his teeth were a source of trouble with Polydore Vergil describing him as having ‘teeth few, poor and blackish’ (1).  His eye problems must have caused him dismay as he like nothing more than to pour over his account books to see where the pennies were going and how much he was amassing. He was predeceased by his wife, whom it is said he was fond of, and four children including his oldest son and  heir,  Arthur,  but fortunately for him,  if not the country and the Roman Catholic Church he had a surviving spare.

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Henry VII death mask: Westminster Abbey

 

In his interesting book, The Death of Kings, Clifford Brewer writes   “Henry had developed a chronic cough which was particularly severe in springtime.  The  condition became progressively more severe and associated with loss of weight and a general wasting . In 1507 and 1508  Henry’s spring cough become more troublesome.  He  is described as having become troubled with a tissic,  or cough,  he also suffered from mild gout.  In his Life of Henry the VII , Bacon writes ‘ in the two and 20th year of his reign in 1507 he began to be troubled with a gout but the defluxation  taking also unto his breast wasted his lungs so that thrice in a year in a kind of return and especially in the spring he had great fits and labours of the tissick’.   This suggests that Henry suffered from chronic fibroid phthisis ( chronic tuberculosis infection)  which became more and more active with  resultant wasting and debility.  This  is found in several of the members of the Tudor line…Henry made a great effort to attend divine service on Easter Day 1509 but he was exhausted and retired to his palace at Richmond where he died on 21 April  from chronic pulmonary tuberculosis (2)”

According to Holinshed Chronicle “….he was so wasted with his long malady that nature could no longer  sustain his life and so he departed out of this world the two and 20th of April’.

Thomas Penn in his biography of Henry, The Winter King, describes Henry as ‘unable to eat and struggling for breath,  Henry’s mind was fixated on the hereafter …on Easter Sunday 8th April,  emaciated and in intense pain he staggered into his privy closet, where he dropped to his knees and crawled  to receive the sacrament… later as Henry lay amid mounds of pillows,  cushions and bolsters,  throat rattling,  gasping for breath,  he mumbled again and again that  ‘ if it please God to send him life they should find him a very changed man’.  Henry  made an exemplary  death,  eyes fixed intensely on the crucifix held out before him,  lifting his head up feebly  towards it,  reaching out and enfolding in his thin arms,  kissing it fervently,  beating it repeatedly upon his chest.   Fisher said that Henry’s promises took a very specific form.  If he lived, Henry promised a true reformation of all them that were officers and ministers of his laws (3)’.  However,  as they say , man makes plans and the gods laugh and Henry did not survive to bring about the changes he  was so eager on his death bed to make.  He had left it too late.

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Richmond Palace, Wynguerde c.1558-62 

And so Henry Tudor shuffled off this mortal coil..the King is dead, long live the King..and so begun the reign of his son..Henry VIII..and that dear reader is another story.

 

 

 

 

  1. The Death of Kings, p110 Clifford Brewer.
  2. ibid p110.111
  3. Winter King Thomas Penn p339

 

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Seeking the Real Duke of Clarence

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about Richard III’s brother, George of Clarence. You know the one–typical ‘middle child’, ‘false fleeting Clarence’, the one drowned in Malmsey who was also a drunk and quite possibly insane, hanging, as he did,  old ladies on the vaguest of suspicions.

And I began considering–is George, like Richard, maligned, doomed forever to be hidden in an obscuring web of myth and invention?

Certainly he was disloyal, joining Warwick against his own brother, Edward IV. He created a fuss when Richard wanted to marry Anne Neville, his protests lasting several years. He did indeed accuse Ankaret Twynho, and others, of poisoning his wife and baby son–and hanged the old lady after a brief and decidedly unfair trial.

But mad? A drunk? And in regards to his wife and child…what if he were right?

Like Richard’s supposed hump, limp, withered arm and other defects, George’s ‘insanity’ and ‘drunkenness’ appear to have been exaggerated if not completely  invented,  mainly in fiction. (And yes, I admit I am guilty of adding to this stereotype myself.) There is no mention in primary sources of George drinking or being dissolute; that idea seems to have come solely from his supposed death in a vat of malmsey, and the questions it raised (ie. Did Edward have him drowned in booze because he liked a tipple and maybe even requested such an end as a macabre  final joke?) Fickleness aplenty went on, certainly, and his last acts with the Twynyho affair were erratic, but he wasn’t spouting gibberish, having hallucinations, or lying catatonic like poor old Henry VI. He defended himself  in regards to the charges laid against him by the King, and apparently one of Elizabeth Woodville’s main fears was that people would follow him and her children would never inherit the throne. The people of England were hardly likely to follow another mad king. This implies to me that George was not generally seen as a loony, treacherous lush, but someone who might have had some decent enough qualities, or at very least some kind of strong charisma.

So that brings us back to the whole mystery surrounding the death of George’s wife, Isabel Neville, and his infant son Richard of York. Many have claimed Isabel died of childbirth-related illness…but she actually succumbed two and a half months after the birth. Childbed fever, the biggest killer of women in her day, normally took its victims far sooner. TB has also been suggested, and it is certainly not impossible, for in some victims TB symptoms can appear with frightening suddenness and ‘gallop’ on to their bitter end, but there is no written evidence of her having such symptoms. In the interim between childbed and her death, she travelled from Tewkesbury to Warwick, which implies she was not grievously ill at that point.  The baby too was alive and outlived its mother by about 10 days. So both mother and  child lived more than two months after the birth and made a moderately long journey without incident before their deaths.

Ankaret Twynyho (nee Hawkeston) herself is also the subject of some myth-making. In fiction she is often portrayed as a simple ordinary local woman, perhaps the midwife who delivered Isabel’s baby. However, she was not a peasant woman, nor is their any evidence she was Isabel’s midwife. It is merely known the she ‘served’ in the Clarence household. She did leave George’s service rather quickly after Isabel’s demise however, going to her home in Keyford, Somerset in the days before George accused her of murder.

Of John Thursby, who was hanged alongside her, little is known, save that he was from Warwick and said to be her accomplice. The third person who was accused,  managed (somehow and rather oddly) to escape any consequences, and is, interestingly, the one who George claimed to be the ‘mastermind’ behind the supposed poisoning. Strangely he is seldom mentioned in regards to the incident–and my feeling is his possible involvement needs to be re-assessed.

This suspect was Sir Roger Tocotes  of Bromham, long time associate of George of Clarence. (Michael Hicks went so far as to suggest George might even have called him ‘friend.’) He had supported the House of York and fought at Towton, Barnet and Tewkesbury (where he may have been knighted). He even accompanied George on Edward IV’s ill-fated ‘invasion’ of France.

Why would George think this seemingly loyal supporter masterminded his wife and child’s death? What would be Tocote’s reason? What evidence existed at the time that made George believe him involved? Some writers say Tocotes ‘escaped’ George’s vengeance, others that he received an aquittal (from the king?) despite being the prime accused in  Isabel’s ‘murder.’

Later, long after George’s death,  Roger Tocotes would go on to be one of the Duke of Buckingham’s supporters  in the October rebellion of 1483. (Richard pardoned him.)  He then fought for Henry Tudor at Bosworth and did rather well for himself under the Tudor regime, becoming Sheriff of Wiltshire for a second time and also a Knight of the Body. He is buried in a very lavish chantry chapel in the parish church in Bromham, Wiltshire.

Could Roger Tocotes have indeed been a  turncoat who went from friend to traitor and tried to  bring Clarence and his family down? If so, who was behind it, what was the reason? After Isabel’s death, George was apparently afraid of being poisoned himself and blamed the King, his brother. He claimed Edward meant to ‘consume him in likewise as a candle is consumed by burning’. George’s seemingly wild claims have led  over the years to a probably false view of him as being paranoid and mentally unstable. There is always a chance that he may have been genuinely afraid, not crazy–and that he may have truly had something to fear.

Maybe Roger Tocotes, lying in his graffiti-covered tomb in Bromham church, took a dark and unhappy secret to the grave.

 

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