Monday, 24 April 2017

What Elizabeth Learned from Mary

By Samantha Wilcoxson

Mention the name of Elizabeth I and visions of a glorious queen with red-gold hair immediately come to mind. She shepherds her people and stands firm against the Spanish armada. Her devotion to her subjects is so complete that she cannot even bring herself to find a spouse. Long after her death, Queen Elizabeth I is adored, possibly more so than she was during her lifetime.
In contrast, her older sister, Queen Mary I is remembered as ‘Bloody Mary’ when she is remembered at all. The sisters shared the auburn hair that they inherited from their father, Henry VIII, but that is not all they had in common. A closer look reveals that Elizabeth learned much about ruling as queen regnant from the example of her sister.
The role modelling that Mary provided for Elizabeth began long before either of them became queen. The girls were often part of the same household when Elizabeth was young, beginning with Mary’s forced servitude in the infant Elizabeth’s household as part of Henry’s striving to emphasize that it was Elizabeth who, at that time, was princess while Mary was a bastard. By the time both girls were brought to court by stepmother Katherine Parr, both were bastardized princesses.
Mary’s early roles in Elizabeth’s life would have demonstrated how to be pious and submissive in the face of adversity. Elizabeth would get a different view of what positions a woman could fulfill when her father went to war in France, leaving Katherine as regent with Mary at her side. Katherine Parr was an important person in the lives of these motherless girls. She showed that a woman could order a kingdom just as well as a household, and both girls took note.
Both Katherine and Mary offered Elizabeth examples on the effects that the wrong marriage could have on a woman’s life. If she were not haunted by the fact that her mother had been executed by her father, Elizabeth need look no further than Katherine and Mary for further reasons to remain single. Thomas Seymour, Katherine’s fourth husband, gave Elizabeth an early lesson in flirtation, if not more, and was executed for treason shortly after Katherine’s death following childbirth. Mary’s marriage to Prince Philip caused an uproar of rebellion as the efforts to restore Catholicism became fused with England’s marriage to Spain in the minds of Englishmen.
However, Elizabeth took note of the finer details of Mary’s reign and used them to her advantage when her turn came. While the lack of a husband caused its own problems, not the least of which was the end of her family’s dynasty, Elizabeth had learned from her father’s marital scandals and the repercussions of her sister’s choice that it was safer to remain alone. Elizabeth is famous for stating, “I have already joined myself in marriage to a husband, namely the kingdom of England.” What is not so widely remembered, is that Mary said almost the same thing.

In 1554, with Wyatt’s Rebellion underway, Mary decided to address the people of London and encourage them to rise up in her defense. She said, in part, “What I am loving subjects, ye know your Queen, to whom, at my coronation, ye promised allegiance and obedience, I was then wedded to the realm, and to the laws of the same, the spousal ring whereof I wear here on my finger, and it never has and never shall be left off. . . . I cannot tell how naturally a mother loveth her children, for I never had any, but if the subjects may be loved as a mother doth her child, then assure yourselves that I, your sovereign lady and your Queen, do earnestly love and favour you. I cannot but think you love me in return.”
Elizabeth was a clever woman, better at reading political situations than Mary ever was. She was quick to use language and strategies that had worked for her sister, but also eager to put distance between herself and the memory of the aged, childless queen and learn from Mary’s mistakes.

Where Mary had seen herself as the spiritual leader of her people, Elizabeth understood that changing times made Head of the Church of England a difficult title to bear. Mary had believed that it was her duty to reconcile her kingdom to Rome and her people to God, but Elizabeth was careful to keep her faith more private than any previous ruler of England had. She saw, as few monarchs of her day did, that religion was becoming an issue that people were no longer united in.
Elizabeth used this difference between herself and her sister to bolster her position. In turn, Mary’s name was blackened. The harsh sobriquet ‘Bloody Mary’ was never applied to the devout queen during her lifetime, but the sister who benefitted from her example also found that she appeared more glorious if her predecessor seemed evil in comparison. Instead of receiving credit for demonstrating that a woman could reign, Mary became the enemy whom Elizabeth triumphed over. Yet, Elizabeth would not have been the success that she was without the sister who paved the way for her.
Additional Reading
Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen by Anna Whitelock
The First Queen of England by Linda Porter
The Children of Henry VIII by Alison Weir

Samantha Wilcoxson is the author of the Plantagenet Embers Trilogy. An incurable bibliophile and sufferer of wanderlust, she lives in Michigan with her husband and three teenagers. Her most recent novel, Queen of Martyrs: The Story of Mary I was recently released and is available in paperback and on Kindle. You can connect with Samantha on her blog or on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads

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Sunday, 26 February 2017

Trisha Hughes talks to us about her new release

Today I welcome historical author, Trisha Hughes to the blog. Take it away, Trisha.

In history, to be an English king and to be murdered was no more than a hazard of the job and there have been a vast number of kings where this has actually been the case. The story of the kings and queens of England is a wonderful drama, far more surprising than you might think.

Times were brutal and they felt the need to take certain measures into their own hands, and trust me, there have been many extraordinary and various ways that royal family members have sought to delete relatives who were obstacles in the path of their determined progress to the throne. Many were not averse to the odd assassination or two by poisoning, starving, burning, imprisonment and an old favourite, beheading. It was hard enough to snatch the throne but it was even harder keeping it.

Many historians pass hazily over the precise methods employed to delete family members. Some choose to leave it as an insinuation of ‘died under suspicious circumstances’, because the entire truth will never be fully known. Some historians are not so coy. Neither am I.

When we speak of Britain’s monarchs, most of us would agree that early periods of time are clearly muddled. Many of the early British kings are hidden in the mists of time while some, the ones who lost crucial battles, have almost completely disappeared when the victors erased their rivals from all surviving records. There are kings who ruled for only a few months and there are some who ruled for over fifty years. There are also some who should never have ruled at all. They include, among their number, the vain, the greedy and the downright corrupt as well as adulterers, swindlers and cowards. Yet this group also shares one thing in common. In their lifetimes, they were the most powerful individuals in the land. My story, ‘Vikings to Virgin – The Hazard of being King’, spans 1500 years and is full of lust, betrayal, heroism, murder, cruelty and mysteries.

Buy your copy here
If you know anything about the British, you’ll know that among the good and the well-meaning monarchs, some of them were ruthless, not to mention greedy, murderous and totally corrupt. Their story is better than a thriller about a serial killer on the loose because this story is absolutely true. Don’t imagine a fairy story with handsome kings whisking off princesses on their white horses to the sound of trumpets and the cheers of their people. Imagine powerful individuals who were brutal and would stop at nothing to get what they wanted and who were more than happy to get rid of the odd family member or two who were standing in the way of their progress to the throne.  

My story is based on facts, but it's told as a rambling narrative and is written in a way that I hope is easy to read. It’s a story of kings who struggled to hold on to their throne, of horrendous bloody battles, of tiny boys becoming rulers, of ruthless usurpers and of queens who proved to be more powerful than anyone could have ever imagined. It’s a story of invading armies, of rival family members, of spies and conspiracies. But what these people all had in common was during their lifetimes, they were the most powerful people in the land.

‘Vikings to Virgin – The Hazards of being King’ starts when Britain was just a race of people struggling to survive. It travels in time until the Britons first glimpsed a square sail and a dragon-headed prow on the horizon, churned by oars through the waves as blue water foamed around the hull of a mighty ship. The Vikings arrived in their long boats on a cold miserable January morning while the English people were enjoying their tranquility. No one heard the muffled sounds over the water. They were still rubbing sleep out of their eyes after a savage night of arctic air had cut its way through cracks in walls.

This book is a journey through time from the Romans, the Saxons and the Vikings and moves on to the brazen usurpation by the Normans followed by the arrival of the Plantagenets.  These early years were full of savagery and cruelty but by the end of the Plantagenet dynasty, they had transformed England into a sophisticated revered kingdom. But it was a long hard struggle during which the War of the Roses emerged.

The War of the Roses was basically a terrible family squabble that ended up a bloodbath between
royal cousins where each house was eager to snatch the crown and the throne of England for themselves away from other family members. Like most families, differences and intrigue slowly emerged and it wasn’t until 1455 with the first Battle of St Albans that anyone even knew there were two sides. But as with most rebellions, it left both sides vulnerable since it usually meant that battles were fought ‘to the bitter end’, leaving fewer contenders alive after every battle.
These two royal house, the symbolic red rose of the Lancasters and the equally symbolic white rose of the Yorks, were both making a claim for the throne and it ended up being a long and bloody battle with sporadic periods of extreme violence and bloodshed and an unprecedented number of attempts to usurp the throne. It was a dangerous period full of unfathomable brutality, shifting alliances, murders, betrayals, plots and the savage elimination of other direct descendants of the Plantagenets.
It ended when Henry Tudor usurped the throne from Richard III and a different sort of battle began as he continued on the bloodbath with gusto.
Book I of my trilogy ends with a comet blazing across the London skies, half the size of the moon, streaking fire behind it as it lit up the skies in glorious shads of red, white and gold. Tudor colours. In a suspicious England, it was a sign they had been waiting for. A sign of better times to come. And heaven knows, they needed it after the reign of Bloody Mary. With Mary, they’d suffered persecution worse than any other previous generation and they welcomed Elizabeth, an intelligent 25-year-old who dazzled everyone with her clever wit as she stepped up to take the throne, promising a better world, after her half-sister Mary Tudor’s death.

The story of the kings and queens of England is a wonderful drama and far more surprising than you might think. And I’ve loved every minute of it.


Trisha Hughes started her writing career with her autobiography ‘Daughters of Nazareth’ eighteen years ago. The debut novel was first published by Pan Macmillan Australia and became a bestseller in 1997 beating the current Stephen King book to the top 10 bestsellers at the time.  Since then she has discovered a thirst for writing.  She’s written crime novels but her latest book, the first in her ‘V 2 V’ trilogy, ‘Vikings to Virgin – The Hazards of being King’ is her passion and due for release on 28th February 2017. She is currently working on the second in the series ‘Virgin to Victoria – The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.’

You can buy your copy of Vikings to Virgins here
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Monday, 28 November 2016

The Portraits of Lady Margaret Beaufort

Judith Arnopp

Fig one
Most of us are familiar with the portraits of Margaret Beaufort. Invariably she is depicted toward the end of her life, elderly, austere, and pious. It is difficult to imagine this staid, nun-like woman as a gurgling baby or a naughty child; even less as a vigorous, ambitious young woman. But people, even Countesses, are not born pious. Her face must once have been unlined, she may have been frivolous, perhaps even reckless. She was certainly determined. Her crusade to secure her son Henry VII on the English throne involved considerable risk to herself as she intrigued against a reigning monarch. 

Against all odds, she financed her son’s campaign and in doing so ended her son's exile and changed her life forever by forging the new Tudor dynasty. With Henry’s accession to the throne she became the most powerful woman in the realm, and she did not waste her new-found success but became one of the king's chief advisers. Her charitable work included the founding of hospitals and universities, and championing the arts. She was educated, intelligent and indomitable. A woman to be celebrated, you might think, yet she is invariably depicted in both history and fiction, as ... well, a bit of a harridan.

This, I think, is largely due to our difficulty of viewing her in a softer, more human, light. Her portraits are not endearing to the modern eye. She is not pretty, she is not fabulously attired but that was the intention. The paintings we see today form part of the propaganda supporting the Tudor rule, presenting Margaret as the founding mother of the new dynasty; a figure of unblemished character. Without exception, the portraits depict her in her later years, clothed in a peaked white headdress, usually with a book, and always in the act of religious contemplation. She has an aura of chastity and charity.

Fig two
Of course, portraits are not always about the subject’s appearance but, instead depict a person’s character rather than how long the sitter’s nose may have been. Once she had achieved her exulted position as the king's mother the perils of Margaret's youth became immaterial. What mattered to the newly-formed Tudor dynasty was the projection of an authoritative, reverent persona - a spotless nun-like figure. There is no hint of the young woman who was wed as a child to Henry VI's brother, bore her son when she was just thirteen years old. The fears and uncertainties, the passions and the flaws that she experienced were in the past, and the vital role she had once played was now unimportant to the Tudors. 

There are no extant portraits of Margaret from her lifetime, the ones we see today were made during the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Undoubtedly, they are copies of a lost original so, particularly if we compare them to the effigy on her tomb at Westminster, we can be fairly sure of her appearance during the later years of her life. Her resemblance to her son is clear.

fig three

The portrait above (fig two) of Margaret is believed to have been part of a set of corridor portraits including Henry VII, Henry VIII, commissioned during the reign of her great granddaughter, Elizabeth I. Again, Margaret is in a religious pose, her clothing and book of hours illustrating her religious devotion. It is the best preserved portrait we have of Margaret, the detail of the golden arch beneath which she sits, and the ornamented cloth of state is still brightly defined.

Fig four
My personal favourite portrait of Lady Margaret (fig four) hangs in St John’s College in Cambridge. It was painted by Rowland Lockey in the 16th century. Margaret is shown at prayer in a lavish apartment, presumably her private chamber. She kneels at a desk with a heavy embroidered cloth and before her is a prayer book, a sign of piety and learning, and beneath it the ‘chemise’ cover she kept it wrapped in. Above her head, a tester bears the Tudor rose. The chamber itself is sumptuous, testament to her love of comfort, the stained glass windows bears the badge of the Beaufort family and (just out of shot) the arms of England.

This portrait tells us more about her lifestyle than the others. We can see that, despite her sombre attitude, she lived luxuriously, as one would expect. Her dark clothes, although quite dour to our modern eyes, were of the best quality, black being among the most expensive and difficult hues to produce. Margaret, it seems, had a great love of clothes.

After her death ‘seven gowns of black velvet were found, trimmed with ermine, and a mantle of tawny.’ And, most interesting of all, was ‘a scarlet gown with a long train, ornamented with the badges of the Garter and evidently to be worn on St George’s day. In another inventory we find a crimson gown to be worn with her ‘circuit’, not a diadem but a surcoat, such as she had worn at Christmas 1487.’[1]

Fig five
So, a new Margaret begins to peek from behind her ageing portraits, a younger woman who favoured scarlet and ermine, whose ‘chariot men wore scarlet. The very buttons of the horse harness were of gold of Venice.[2]’ This speaks less of piety and very much of majesty, perhaps even a little vanity.

The National Portrait Gallery has a portrait (fig five) previously thought to be Margaret but now largely dismissed. It features a younger woman in a pose now expected of Margaret. Her hands are clasped in pious prayer, her head is covered with a veil. The painting is dark but the gown appears to be dark red or burgundy, the veil itself is lavishly embroidered. The nose is long and heavy, the eyes heavily lidded, as Margaret is shown in other portraits, and the face is pensive. At first glance, her expression seems gentle, yet on closer inspection it becomes more determined. and the viewer begins to debate whether the sitter is lost in religious adoration, or distracted by plots of rebellion. It is difficult to judge. 

As I stated earlier, the portrait is no longer believed to represent Margaret but it is intriguing none the less, and in the absence of representations of the younger woman, I used it during my research for The Beaufort Chronicles to help me picture the young woman who, widowed three times, separated from her only son, and exiled from the Yorkist court, had no notion of the triumphs her future held.

Margaret Beaufort, countess of Richmond and Derby (1443-1509) oil on panel 43 x 35.5 cm c.16th century  by Maynard Waynwyk

[1] Jones and Underwood, The King’s Mother p188
[2] Ibid p189

Portraits from Wikimediacommons

The second book of The Beaufort Chronicles: The Beaufort Woman is now available for pre-order on Amazon Kindle. The paperback will follow. Click on this link for further information: 

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