Category Archives: The Tudors

Documentary Sunday – Overnight at Hever Castle

Over time, it gets difficult to maintain a series like Documentary Sunday and post a new interesting video every week.  I usually schedule my posts to automatically update every week, but even that gets hard to do when you can’t find anything to post or when life gets in the way.  That being said, I’m going to start posting shorter videos until further notice as summer classes begin at college for me.  This is one such.

On Friday, May 19, it was the anniversary of Anne Boleyn’s execution and historian Hayley Nolan, who does the History Review podcast, posted a video where she stayed the night in the late queen’s childhood home at Hever Castle in Kent, about thirty miles away from London.  Anne lived here during her early childhood until she was sent to school in the Netherlands and from there traveled to the court of France.  When she returned to England as an adult, she stayed here again, brushing off love letters from a smitten Henry VIII, who at the time was still married to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.  Nolan got the opportunity to spend the night at Hever and shared her experience on her website, facebook and twitter.  I thought I would share it with you all as well.


Documentary Sunday – The Great History Quiz; The Tudors

In gameshow format, six leading scientists and historians will put their knowledge of the Tudors to the test, and you can follow along!  I certainly am very happy to have discovered this and had a great time playing along, and hope you all do as well.


Documentary Sunday – A Night at Hampton Court


1533 – Henry VIII Marries Anne Boleyn

Related image

The wedding was conducted in secret at the now lost Palace of Whitehall in London, at a time where, according to the Catholic Church in Rome, Henry was still married to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, the official annulment being declared on the 23rd of May.  According to Nicholas Harpsfield, writing at the time of the reign of Henry’s oldest daughter Mary I, only four people were in attendance, with the king telling the minister that he had a license to be wed despite not showing it, claiming it was in another location for safekeeping.  Anne may have already been pregnant at the time, as evidenced by the fact that her only living child, the future Elizabeth I, was born just eight months later on 7 September; another reason for a secret marriage.  By March, when he questioned Henry about the rumors of a royal wedding being planned for Easter, even the Archbishop of Canterbury was shocked to hear from the king himself that he was already married!

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Posted by on January 25, 2017 in British Royalty, The Tudors, Today in History


Beautiful Tragedy – The Story of Catherine of Aragon

When artist Michael Sittow created this painting of Mary Magdalene, it is thought that he used a young Catherine of Aragon as his model.  

Born Catalina d’Aragona on 16 December 1485, the future Queen of England was the daughter of Ferdinand II (king of Aragon, Sicily, Naples, and Navarre) and Isabella I of Castile.  She was a petite Spanish princess with red-blond hair, blue eyes, and fair skin, a devoted Roman Catholic, and the youngest of seven children, and King Henry VII of England sought her as bride for his eldest son, Prince Arthur Tudor.   She could write in both Spanish and Latin and could speak three languages by the time she came to England for her wedding.  A talented girl, she loved literature and could embroider clothing, make lace, dance, and her mannerisms and beauty were praised by those at both her parents’ and the English courts.  She captivated her future husband Arthur by written word before the two met for the first time when both were teens.  When they met in Hampshire in the fall of 1501, they realized they had each learned a different form of Latin and could not speak to each other verbally, but regardless, Prince Arthur swore he would be a “true and loving husband” to his “lovely bride”.  On 14 November of that year, they were married and made their home at Ludlow, but their time together was short-lived.  Both Catherine and Arthur became gravely ill when an epidemic called the Sweating Sickness swept through England.  While Catherine was able to recover, sixteen-year-old Arthur did not.  He died that summer, leaving Catherine a teenaged widow in a strange country.

Henry VIII at the time of his marriage to Catherine.  He’d been tall at six feet and was considered handsome and athletic, his favorite sport being jousting.

Soon after Arthur’s death, Henry VII’s beloved wife Elizabeth died as well, leaving the king with three options as to what to do with Catherine – marry her himself, to his son and new heir Prince Henry, or send her back to her homeland and forfeit her dowry.  Henry VII was known as a fine businessman of sorts with a reputation for thrift, which meant that losing Catherine’s dowry was out of the question, so the princess remained in England, and when the king died in 1509, his son, the newly crowned Henry VIII married Catherine when the couple were seventeen and twenty-three respectively.

Catherine held the title of Queen of England for twenty-four years, but the marriage was littered with turmoil due to her difficulty conceiving children.  Even so, she is credited with bringing education to women around this time.  She was a patron of the arts and donated money to several prominent colleges, and even acted as regent for her husband when the King went to war with France early in his reign.  Catherine proved to be a fine regent, but over time, Henry’s attentions to her lessened until the two did not share any intimacy at all.  Out of six pregnancies, only one of the couple’s children survived past three months.  Henry took on many mistress, the two most famous being Mary Boleyn (sister to Anne Boleyn) and Elizabeth Blount, who gave birth to his illegitimate son, Henry FitzRoy, in 1519.  The birth was like a slap in the face for Catherine, especially when the child was given the titles of Duke of Richmond and Somerset, something usually reserved for legitimate heirs of the crown.

One thing Henry VIII wanted all his life was a son to secure his family’s hold on the throne.  His father had gained the kingship by right of conquest when he defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, but his claim to power was miniscule at best – he was descended from Henry V’s widow and was a maternal cousin to his predecessor Henry VI.  Elizabeth of York was the true heir to England as daughter to King Edward IV, so when Henry VII married her, their children were considered undoubted heirs to England, but even so, there were still people with claims to power during Henry VIII’s reign that could have been considered more acceptable by some.  When Henry VIII married Catherine, he placed his family’s future on her shoulders, perhaps dooming their marriage and her happiness from the very beginning.  Their daughter Mary was placed aside and an illegitimate boy was placed above her.  When FitzRoy became Lord Lieutenant or Ireland, it was the sharpest blow yet.  Catherine prayed desperately for another child, but by the late 1520’s there was no more hope.

Miniature portrait of Anne Boleyn.

In 1527, Henry met the infamous Anne Boleyn, daughter of the Earl of Wiltshire and Ormond and sister to his former mistress.  Anne was one of Catherine’s Ladies in Waiting, fresh home from the court in France and a fashion icon of her day.  It is not hard to imagine how much grief and embarrassment Catherine had to endure knowing that her husband was in love with another woman, let alone one of her own employees.  Anne was not considered to be a beautiful woman like her, but she was attractive nonetheless; she showed of her hair in a French hood (which was considered incredibly racy at the time) was a great dancer, and her great wit and charm won Henry’s heart very quickly.  He wrote her love letters begging her to become his mistress, but she refused.  Whether or not she intended to break up the king’s marriage is up for debate, but Anne’s reply to Henry’s advances is one that changed the course of history – she would not accept his love unless she were to become his wife.

Only the Pope could grant the King a divorce, so Henry quickly wrote to Pope Clement VII.  He convinced himself that his marriage to Catherine was cursed, that the words of the Bible’s Leviticus were true – he had married his brother’s widow, and in doing so, their union had proved to be invalid, as in God’s eyes, Catherine was his sister and not his wife.  Despite her familial connections (by this time, her nephew Charles V of Spain had become Holy Roman Emperor as well) Catherine knew that there was very little she could do to save herself.  Even the Pope’s refusal to carry out Henry’s request only served to strengthen the King’s resolve.  He declared that the Pope would no longer have authority over England and created his own church, making himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England, and thus granting himself his own divorce.  In 1533, after a humiliating trial where Catherine was questioned as to whether or not she and Arthur had become husband and wife in both the physical and spiritual sense (which she swore they had not been), the Archbishop of Canterbury announced that Henry and Catherine’s had been annulled on grounds of having been conducted under false pretenses and Henry wasted no time in marrying Anne Boleyn.  Catherine was stripped of her household and titles and was banished from court for the remainder of her life.

Catherine later in life.

Despite everything, Catherine continued to call herself the King’s only true wife.  She was separated from her daughter Mary (now declared illegitimate) and forbidden to write or otherwise communicate with her.  The only title she was allowed was Dowager Princess of Wales as Arthur’s widow.  She spent her final days at Kimbolton Castle, where she led a lonely life with few visitors aside from a few servants and left her quarters only for Mass.  After a battle with what is now believed to have been heart disease or cancer, Catherine died on 7 January 1536 at the age of fifty.  Henry did not attend her funeral and forbade Mary to attend, which caused a rift so wide between father and daughter that they did not speak for three years.  Anne Boleyn was executed four months later on 19 May 1536 for high treason and Henry married his third wife, Jane Seymour, two weeks later.  Catherine was buried in Peterborough Cathedral in Cambridgeshire with a ceremony for a dowager princess, but today, her tomb -pictured below – marks her as what she truly was, a Queen of England.

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Posted by on June 5, 2016 in The Tudors


1536 – Anne Boleyn is Executed

The charges against the Queen of England shocked the whole of Europe; adultery against her husband King Henry VIII, incest, witchcraft, a high treason for plotting the death of the king.  Whether the charges are true or not is up for debate (though I myself wholeheartedly believe Anne to be innocent) she was found guilty in a trial and sentenced to death by beheading, a somewhat merciful change from the traditional death of those convicted of high treason.  At nine in the morning, she was escorted from the Tower of London to Tower Green, where her head was removed with the single swing of a sword.  Below is a modernized transcript of her speech at the execution platform and the last words she ever spoke:

Good Christian people, I have [come here] to die, for according to the law, and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I [am here] to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that, whereof I am accused and condemned to die, but I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never: and to me he was ever a good, a gentle and sovereign lord. And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best. And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me.

O Lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul.

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Posted by on May 19, 2016 in British Royalty, The Tudors


Royalty Most Cruel – Mary I of England

Said to have been one of the most dreaded queens in European history, the woman known as Bloody Mary ruled England for five years from 1553 until her death in 1558, after which the crown passed to her younger half-sister Elizabeth I.  Her story is one of great tragedy, something that seemed to follow the Tudor family everywhere until  Elizabeth brought the Golden Age to England.  Today, let’s explore Mary’s life and see for ourselves what caused a devout religious princess to become an infamous executioner.  

Mary I was born in London’s Greenwich Palace on 18 February 1516, the only living child of King Henry VIII by his first wife, the Spanish-born Catherine of Aragon.  Catherine had a long history of pregnancies that did not end well during her twenty-four years of marriage to the English king.  Of the six we know of, two were stillborn and three others died quickly with the longest survivor living for only 52 days.  Mary was the only child to survive the odds and her parents doted on her.  She was a very pretty girl with blue eyes and the red-gold hair of the Tudor line, and as England’s heir, in a common practice of the time, she was soon betrothed; first to the eldest son of Francis I of France and later to her cousin Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.  None of the betrothals lasted however, and soon, relations between Mary’s parents grew even more strained.

Henry VIII in his thirties is depicted here with the first two of his six wives, Catherine of Aragon below and Anne Boleyn above.  

By this time, it became clear to Henry that his wife was not going to produce the male heir he so longed for, as Catherine was past the point where it was believed possible for a woman to bear children.  The king’s eye then caught sight of Anne Boleyn, effectively changing the course of English history forever.  Henry fell desperately in love with Anne, who refused to become just another of his many mistresses.  She declared straightforward that she would not accept his love unless she were to become his wife, and Henry immediately asked the Pope for a divorce from Catherine.  When his request was refused, the king broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and declared himself head of the new Church of England.  Soon, the Archbishop of Canterbury declared Henry’s marriage to Catherine annulled and he and Anne were wed on 25 January 1533.  Mary was declared illegitimate by grounds that Catherine had “not truly been the king’s wife in the eyes of God” because she had previously been married to his brother Arthur, the late Prince of Wales.  Catherine swore that she had entered her marriage with Henry chaste, as she and Arthur had never consummated their union, but the damage was done.  She was banished from court and sent to live at Kimbolton Castle, where she died of heart disease in 1536.  Mary was forbidden to attend her mother’s funeral.  Father and daughter did not speak to each other for three years.

More trouble came for Mary when Anne gave birth to Princess Elizabeth.  With Anne now considered Henry’s only lawful wife, Mary was from the the point of their wedding on considered a bastard child, stripped of her title as Princess and simply called Lady Mary Tudor.  When Elizabeth was born in September 1533, the baby became heir presumptive while Mary was left in the cold.  She was sent to Hatfield, where she was to care for her infant sister as more or less just another member of the new princess’ household.  Mary became ill with fits of deep depression that would plague her for the remainder of her life as a result.

However, in 1536, Anne was executed and Henry married his third wife, Jane Seymour, who died soon after giving birth to a son, Prince Edward.  Edward was placed first in the line of succession ahead of his older sisters.  While alive, Queen Jane attempted to mend the relationship between Henry and Mary.  The king agreed, but with a catch – Mary had to recognise her father as Supreme Head of the Church of England and throw away her steadfast Catholic beliefs.  She was forced to sign a document in which she recognized not only the country’s new religion, but her own illegitimacy.  After reluctantly signing the papers, she was brought back to court, eventually regaining a household of her own and after many years, being reinstated into the line of succession as heir to the crown should her younger brother die childless.

Edward VI

On 28 January 1547, Henry VIII died at the age of fifty-five.  Prince Edward, then nine years old, was crowned King of England ahead of his elder sisters.  Six years later, Edward VI was dead of an ailment of the lungs, most likely tuberculosis.  However, Mary’s succession was still not secure.  In his will, Edward had named his cousin, the teenaged Lady Jane Grey, as his successor.  Jane, granddaughter to Henry VIII’s sister the late Duchess of Suffolk, was a Protestant like Edward while Mary was still a steadfast Catholic.  Edward wanted a Protestant on the throne after him, and in his final hours, declared Jane the next Queen of England.  When the king died in 1553 at the age of just fifteen, Jane was shocked to discover that she had become ruler of England.  However, Jane was never crowned, and Mary at last became Queen of England at the age of thirty-seven.  Jane, who is sometimes called the Nine Days Queen for the short length of her “reign”, was sent to the Tower of London by a reluctant Mary and the man who orchestrated her ascension, the Duke of Northumberland, was executed.  Soon, Jane would follow along with her husband Guildford Dudley, Northumberland’s son.

Now as Queen, Mary’s life still did not go smoothly.  She was thirty-seven years old and still unmarried with no children of her own.  She had to find a husband quickly.  It did not take long for her to choose – Philip II, acting King of Spain and son of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, seemed the perfect match.  Two days after they met in person, the two were married, and it was decided that Philip would only carry the title of King of England, but hold no authority over political matters, nor would England be required to participate in any of Spain’s military affairs.  Still, the marriage allied England with one of the most powerful nations in Europe at the time, and Mary, who still securely held the reigns of power, committed herself to the next tasks at hand; providing an heir and reinstating Catholicism as the true religion of her country.

Mary with her husband and cousin Philip II of Spain.  Philip was young and fashionable, and his engagement to Mary made her council and her countrymen uneasy, as they feared they would be subjected to foreign rule once the couple were married.  

Now we come to the reason why history refers to this queen as Bloody Mary.  Soon after taking the throne, Mary had the documents annulling Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon torn up and Edward VI’s laws making the country Protestant abolished.  By the end of her reign, over 280 Protestants were burned at the stake as heretics, including Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury who was responsible for organizing Henry VIII’s “divorce” from the queen’s mother.  Her sister Elizabeth, also a Protestant, was held prisoner in the Tower of London, kept alive to serve as a Plan B should Mary fail to conceive, which she did.

Mary ruled over England for five years.  During that time, she hoped desperately for a child, though none came.  Twice she thought she was pregnant, but both times, she was proven wrong.  As King of Spain as well as Naples, her husband was away from her a lot, which also led to worsening of her lifelong battle with depression.  She also suffered from menstruation irregularities and stomach pains thought to have been ovarian cysts or even cancer, which could also explain her false pregnancies.  With her health failing, by May 1558, she was forced to resign herself to having her half-sister Elizabeth be her heir.  On 17 November, she died a victim of an influenza epidemic that swept across the city of London, and was buried in Westminster Abbey in December.  Her tomb, pictured below, is one she shares with Elizabeth.