Sunday, 24 November 2013

The Crucks of the Matter

House building is not something at the forefront of the modern mind. House buying/renting/prices perhaps, but not so much the building part. Personally I haven't had much cause to think about any aspect of houses; but this changed over the summer when I helped to build a house with the National Trust. Naturally because I'm a bit nerdy it was a replica 17th century cruck house, but nonetheless it was a house. And from my experience of house building I can safely say that it's hard.

Example of a basic cruck frame
What is a cruck house?
A cruck house is a house with a timber frame made up of pairs of beams that curve inwards to form an arch shape, these are then stabilised by horizontal beams which results in 'A' shaped crucks and the crucks are then joined together using slightly lower cross-beams. These frames were used across Britain up until the mid 17th century and they were most commonly used in the construction of barns, although they were also used as the supports of peasant houses, such as the cruck house that I helped build.
Walls made up of tightly woven osiers
(long sinewy shoots of willow)
The cruck house that I helped to build was in Scotland and was being built using historically authentic techniques so there wasn't any heavy machinery involved or even any nails! Instead ropes and carefully fashioned wooden pegs were used to hold the structure together and all the digging was done by hand. When I was helping out we started to build up and insulate the walls by cutting squares of turf and layering them against the weaved willow walls that were already in place. The turf was layered dirt side-dirt side and grass side-grass side so that over time the house would be left with living green walls. This was certainly hard work and once cut the turf had to be carried on wooden pallets to the house where it was then flipped, shoogled and patted into place.

That was the extent of my house building experience, and after that morning I may have been muddy, tired and thoroughly blistered but it also gave me a new sense of historical understanding. I suppose it is easy to write in an essay 'life in the 17th century was hard for the peasantry', but it is difficult to imagine the extent of their hardship. Certainly before having this experience I might have listed their hardships as things such as poverty and disease but I wouldn't have included house building. However, on reflection surely house building and maintenance would have been a hardship faced by peasants given the importance of the home as a place of shelter. There wasn't a housing market in the seventeenth century like there is today, if you wanted a house you would have to rent one from the landowner or rent land and with permission build your house. The process of building and maintaining such a house is strenuous, difficult and hazardous but it was something that people would have had to do in the seventeenth century.
The cruck house that I helped to build before the turf was
put on top of the stone base wall and before the roof was thatched
with bracken

So given my experience of building a house like a 17th century peasant I take my hat off to them and their fascinating building techniques; and I am now extremely appreciative of the construction industry for building houses for us so we don't have to!

I am not an expert on house building, past or present, so if there are any inaccuracies in this please comment and let me know.

Tudor Houses Explained by Trevor Yorke
Period House Fixtures and Fittings 1300-1900 by Linda Hall

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Books about Queen Mary I

Mary I by Hans Eworth c.1554

I have to say I've always loved an underdog and Mary I must be one of the biggest underdogs in history as somehow she won and held the English throne when all the odds were against her. I consider her to be one of the most underrated figures in British history as time and time again she has been written off as 'Bloody Mary' Gloriana's hysterical Catholic sister who some claim looks a bit like Jimmy Krankie (not sure that I see the resemblance though). For many people all they know of England's first Queen regnant is that she burned hundreds of people at the stake for their religious beliefs and therefore must deserve her bloody reputation. But I like her, flaws and all, so in this post I am going to recommend some books on Mary for those who wish to learn more about her, so that they can reconsider or reconfirm their views whatever they may be.

Mary Tudor: The First Queen by Linda Porter 
This book is a historical biography that provides a good introduction to Mary's life and times. The reader is introduced to a Mary who is intelligent and vibrant but left scarred by the emotional distress that she experienced during her parents' volatile divorce. The author's empathetic discussion of Mary's travails does not dismiss her as hysterical or take a 'little woman' approach, rather it presents an understanding view of her struggles while also acknowledging the bravery that she maintained. In the 418 page book around 10 pages are dedicated to the more controversial topic of the burnings; this provides an adequate introduction as there is discussion of the impacts of the persecutions, the response to them and Mary's involvement but I would say that this book is better as an introduction to Mary as a person rather than Marian policies/politics. Overall I would recommend this book to those looking to learn more about Mary's character and life because it presents a balanced and entertaining account of a much maligned monarch.

Mary Tudor by Judith M Richards 
This is one of my favourite books on Mary as it's relatively short at 242 pages but it still presents a rounded view of Mary taking into account her failures and successes. The book is written in an incredibly clear and readable manner through the way that the author uses a series of subheadings within the chapters of the book. For example within the chapter titled 'Religious trials and other tribulations' there are subheadings such as 'Mary's voice in English government' and 'The Marian burnings revisited', these allow the reader to closely follow the arguments presented while also making it easier to dip in and out of the book. This book details Mary's life and reign but rather than being a straightforward biography it embarks on some political and legal analysis of her policies and actions. Therefore I would recommend this book as a kind of stepping stone from historical biography into more academic works.

The Actes and Monuments by John Foxe 

I believe that to properly gain an understanding of Mary I, you ought to consider her critics' perception of her. One of her harshest and most vocal critics was John Foxe, the man who essentially initiated the blackening of Mary's name through his 'Actes and Monuments', which is also known as 'The Book of Martyrs'. Although not explicitly about Mary this book does devote a considerable amount of time to the persecutions that occurred in her reign and her involvement in them. It is certainly not a book for the faint hearted as ultimately it is recording the stories of martyred Christians in what is verging on gleefully grisly detail. Despite this it is fascinating as it provides a contemporary view of Mary from one of her biggest critics and by reading it you can begin to understand why this work has had such a momentous impact on Mary's reputation. It is very black and white with Foxe making his 'Protestant good, Catholic bad' distinction painfully clear at times. They say that history is written by the winners and unfortunately for Mary's reputation John Foxe was on the winning side so it is his perception of her that has percolated through the centuries and created the enduring sobriquet of 'Bloody Mary'. I would recommend this to those who are curious about the origins of Mary's bloody reputation with the warning that it doesn't make for pleasant reading.

Mary I England's Catholic Queen by John Edwards 
As a historian specialising in English and Spanish history John Edwards' biography of Mary addresses her position as a member of both the English and Spanish royal houses. Edwards made use of British and continental archives to piece together a picture of Mary that extends beyond the confines of the country in which she was born and died. It analyses the importance of family to Mary and through this her relationships with her Hapsburg relatives is extensively covered, which is a refreshing alternative to discussions of her siblings and oh-so-famous father. Religion is also explored effectively with past heresy cases in England being used to demonstrate that the Marian persecutions were not an entirely new phenomena. All in all this book is a good read for both Tudor newbies and veterans as it covers the 'standard' bases of Mary's life while also introducing more original arguments using a wider European perspective to create an engaging biography.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

480 Years of Elizabeth I

Portrait of Princess Elizabeth c.1546 
'The Rainbow Portrait' of Elizabeth I c.1600

Just a brief post to acknowledge that 480 years ago today Elizabeth I was born at Greenwich Palace in London. She was the first and only surviving child of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, but her birth was met with mixed emotions as her gender was a disappointment but the fact a healthy baby had been born was cause for celebration. She is thought to have been named after both of her grandmothers, her paternal grandmother Elizabeth of York and her maternal grandmother Elizabeth Howard. From birth she was styled as Princess Elizabeth and she was considered heir presumptive while her parents continued to hope for the birth of a son. Three days after her birth she was christened with Archbishop Cranmer, the Marquess of Exeter, the Duchess of Norfolk and the Dowager Marchioness of Dorset standing as her four godparents. At the time none of them would have thought that the little princess would one day become Queen of England and one of the most successful monarchs that England has ever had.

Elizabeth by David Starkey
Elizabeth the Queen by Alison Weir

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

James VI: The Paranoia of a Prince

Portrait of James VI by John de Critz

James VI of Scotland was an intelligent and politically astute monarch who became king after his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, abdicated when he was just thirteen months old. Some have described him as 'the most effective ruler Scotland ever had' on account of his shrewd management of factions at the Scottish court and his patronage of the arts. But for all his wisdom this ruler was plagued by the same fear of witches that ravaged illiterate peasants, pagans, priests and children across Europe.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe was experiencing a great rise in witch hunts that flared up in different localities leaving devastation in their wake. Scotland was a country that experienced a particularly volatile spate of witchcraft persecutions so that by the beginning of the eighteenth century some 2000 witch trials had been held. The rise of witch persecutions in Scotland was largely down to James' personal fear of witches. Prior to 1590 witchcraft was not considered to be a 'hot' topic by Scottish theologians and writers and it was only after James' personal experience with witches in 1590 that there was widespread Scottish theological condemnation of witchcraft, and following that a rise in persecutions in Scotland.

Anne of Denmark c. 1605 by John de Critz

The incident that convinced James of the reality of witches occurred after his marriage to Anne of Denmark. The original agreement between the Scottish and Danish rulers stated that Anne would sail to Scotland in order to marry James but severe storms forced her fleet to land on the Norwegian coast. In response to this James embarked on the 'one romantic episode of his life' and set out with his own ships to escort his bride to Scotland. Once they were married they visited the Danish court at Copenhagen and then set out to return to Scotland but their journey was blighted by a thick fog and treacherous storms that threatened to shipwreck them. Shaken by the experience, James was further disturbed when rumours began to spread that the storm had been conjured by witches that were intent on using their diabolical powers to kill him.

Evidence of witchcraft then seemed to emerge from the coastal town of North Berwick when the suspicious behaviour of a local servant girl, Gilly Duncan, led to her being confronted and then tortured by her master. Under torture she confessed to witchcraft and implicated many others, including Agnes Sampson an elderly 'cunning-woman' known locally as the 'Wise Wife of Keith' (Keith being a local district). Agnes was taken to the palace of Holyrood in Edinburgh where she was suspended using ropes and forced to wear a witch's bridle. James' personal interest in this case is clear as he personally interrogated the old woman until she confessed, and her confession shook the him further as she accused the Earl of Bothwell of trying to enchant James with a mystical ointment. Agnes also confessed to meeting with a great number of witches in the North Berwick church where they kissed the Devil's buttocks and conjured a storm to sink the king's ships by throwing a cat into the sea and shouting 'hola'. Agnes, Gilly and many of the other unfortunate people implicated were imprisoned and executed by hanging and burning at the stake, one of the few to escape death was Bothwell who went into exile.

The North Berwick witches being
examined by James VI

A witch's bridle. It was a method of torture
where a heavy metal cage was placed
on the witch's head and a spike was
placed into their mouth 

The Daemonologie

With James' belief in witches strengthened by the North Berwick trials he wrote an influential book in response to witch hunt critics and sceptics such as Reginald Scot. This book was 'The Daemonologie' published in 1597, it helped to introduce continental beliefs about witchcraft to England and it also provided background material for Shakespeare's 'Macbeth'.

Therefore the popular beliefs concerning witches affected people from all backgrounds in the early modern period and in the case of the Scottish witch hunts James VI's strong personal belief in witches was influential in sparking the hunts that occurred in Scotland from the 1590s to the late 1600s.

Further reading: 

  • Witch Hunts in the Western World by Brian A Pavlac 
  • A History of Witchcraft by Jeffrey Russell and Brooks Alexander 
  • The Witch Hunt in Early Modern Europe by Brian Levack 
  • The European Witch Craze of the 16th and 17th Centuries by H R Trevor-Roper

Sunday, 9 June 2013

The Mary Rose Museum

Recently I went to the Mary Rose Museum which opened to the public on the 31st May at the Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth. The brand new museum cost £35 million and was designed by Wilkinson Eyre Architects in the shape of a ship with a stained black exterior that alludes to traditional English boat sheds. The museum is in the dockyard next to HMS Victory; and it may have taken her almost 500 years but the Mary Rose began and has ended her life at the Portsmouth dockyard.

The Mary Rose Museum in the centre of the image, flanked by HMS Victory in the
right of the image

A brief history of the Mary Rose:
Portsmouth's reputation as a great dockyard had been cultivated gradually prior to Henry VIII's reign, with a particular boost being in 1495 when Henry VII built the first dry dock there. Henry VIII is known for his development of the 'Navy Royal', which culminated in the first naval dock in Britain being built at Portsmouth in 1540 and in the establishment of the Navy Board in 1546, which remained almost unchanged for 300 years. Another achievement of Henry's naval developments was the construction of many great warships, by his death in 1547 the fleet was 58 vessels strong, and the most well-known of Henry's ships is the Mary Rose.

Image of the Mary Rose from the Anthony Roll c.1546

The Mary Rose was built in 1510 at the Portsmouth dockyard using timber from almost 600 large oak trees and she was launched in July 1511. She was built in the midst of plans for war against France and the need for defences against possible invasions from France and Scotland.

Her name has been the cause of much debate and traditionally it has been assumed that she was named after Henry VIII's younger sister Mary. But there is no evidence for this and given the traditional custom of naming ships to honour a religious figure it is more probable that the ship was named after the Virgin Mary and the Tudor rose. So the ship could have been named to honour both the King and Virgin Mary by being named the 'Mary Rose'.

Painting titled 'Combat de la Cordelière' by Pierre-Julien Gilbert
c.1838 it shows the fire that erupted after an explosion on the
Cordelière, which spread to the Regent when English sailors
began to board the French ship 
At war: 
The Mary Rose was used in war against the French on three occasions. Her first battle was the Battle of Saint-Mathieu in August 1512, in which the English had three more ships than the French. The Mary Rose emerged relatively unscathed and performed well by forcing a French ship, the Petite Louise, to retreat in the face of the Mary Rose's relentless gunfire. Despite this both sides lost their most powerful ships when they were ravaged by fire after a clash; the English lost the Regent and the French lost the Marie la Cordelière.

An oil painting of the sinking of the Mary Rose by Richard

In 1522 the Mary Rose went to war against the French for the second time when she was used to ferry English troops across the Channel to France in early June.

Her third and final outing in war was in 1545 after she had been kept in reserve from 1522-35 and extensively repaired/remodeled. In July the French fleet entered the Solent with the intention of mounting an invasion of England while it was vulnerable without an Imperial alliance. The Mary Rose was one of the 80 English vessels poised to defend the south coast and rebuff the French threat.

Picture of surviving sections of the
anti-boarding netting displayed in the
Mary Rose Museum

This was the Battle of the Solent which ended horribly for the Mary Rose on the 19th July 1545. Initially the Mary Rose had assisted in leading the attack on the French fleet's galleys but during the attack she lurched down heavily on her starboard side while trying to turn. This allowed seawater to pour in through her open gunports; accentuating the imbalance and pulling her down further so that the crew lost any chance of salvaging her. The majority of the crew was killed with only around 25 survivors, it is thought that many drowned because they were trapped by the anti-boarding netting which would have acted as a barrier between many of the men and the surface.

The wreck of the Mary Rose then settled on the seabed and became firmly embedded due to rapid siltation, so despite the attempts of Tudor divers she could not be raised. And so she lay undiscovered in the Solent for over 400 years.

The Museum: 
The sinking of the Mary Rose may have been a tragic event but in a sense we are very fortunate that it sunk and became embedded in silt because in doing so part of the ship and thousands of artifacts have survived. These fascinating artifacts show us a completely different lifestyle within Tudor England as we are provided with a glimpse into life on a sixteenth century ship as opposed to life at court or in a nobleman's manor house,  so the remnants of the Mary Rose are particularly intriguing.

In the museum you walk around three different levels which each contain rows of display cases that house the 19,000 artifacts on display and you can view the surviving hull of the ship through windows along one of the walls. Many of the cases hold items belonging to specific individuals that reflect their wealth, status and roles on the ship. So there are cases for the cook, archers, the surgeon, the carpenter, the purser, the gunner and even the dog used to catch rats.

The atmosphere inside the museum has been made to reflect that of a ship by means of dim lighting, sound effects and relatively narrow spaces. When I was there it wasn't too busy, which was probably because I went on a weekday and in one of the earlier time slots but when I left at around midday there was a huge queue outside so if you plan on going I'd recommend going early or you'll probably get a good idea of the cramped conditions on a ship!

Overall I would definitely recommend a visit because the care and conservation put into this museum and its contents has allowed the public to access a truly remarkable world.

You are allowed to take photos in the museum as long as the flash is off and here are some of mine...

A backgammon set that belonged to a crew member
The skeleton of the ship's dog, who the museum
has named 'Hatch'

The surgeon's syringe
The contents of the Master Gunner's chest including a
whistle at number 4, coins at number 6 and dice at number 7
The skeleton of an archer
The reconstruction of the above archer
Instruments that were found, including a violin on the left
The crow's nest of the Mary Rose
Engraving on a cannon from the ship
Pewter dinner plates
Surviving shoes and socks
The hull of the Mary Rose which is currently being dried  out
And exit via the gift shop!
The Mary Rose Museum 
Young Henry by Robert Hutchinson 

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The many faces of Edward VI

Edward VI was born on the 12th October 1537 and was the long awaited son of Henry VIII by his third wife Jane Seymour. From his birth Edward was heir to the throne of England and he became king upon his father's death in January 1547 as Edward VI, England's boy king. Sadly his reign was short due to his death on the 6th July 1553  from a prolonged pulmonary infection. Despite the brevity of both his reign and life there are many surviving portraits of him, which depict his growth from infancy to a young king eager to emulate his father.

The above portrait of the baby Prince Edward was painted by Hans Holbein in 1538 as a new year's gift for Henry VIII. The Prince is dressed in rich, fashionable clothes and there is an ostrich feather tucked in his cap which symbolises his position as heir to the throne (to this day the ostrich feather is used as the symbol of the Prince of Wales). His position is both poised and authoritative as he sits straight backed whilst gazing straight out at the viewer with more gravity and authority than one would usually attribute to a toddler; so even from an early age the Prince's capacity for kingship is being advocated. The inscription in the foreground of the painting is in Latin and was composed by Sir Richard Morison who was a propagandist and diplomat for Henry VIII. When translated into English the inscription reads: 'Little one, emulate thy father and be the heir of his virtue; the world contains nothing greater. Heaven and earth could scarcely produce a son whose glory would surpass that of such a father. Do thou but equal the deeds of thy parent and men can ask no more. Shouldst thou surpass him, thou hast outstript all, nor shall any surpass thee in ages to come'. Given the degree of flattery for both father and son in this short inscription Sir Richard must have been good at his job and popular with Henry!

The above cameo depicts Henry VIII with his arm draped around Edward's shoulders. Unfortunately I couldn't find much information concerning the date or artist of this piece, but it is currently housed in the Queen's Royal Collection. Despite the lack of available information this cameo also seems to depict Edward at a young age as there are notable similarities with the above portrait, given the lace skull cap and thin fringe of hair that is visible, and even the style of tunic. However this piece best illustrates Henry's adoration of his little son, Henry loved all of his children but Edward was much more valuable due to his legitimacy and most importantly his sex.

The above portrait of Edward was painted by Hans Holbein c.1541, it has faded over the years due to exposure to sunlight. A notable feature of this portrait is the monkey that the Prince cradles, monkeys were popular royal pets in the sixteenth century due to them being exotic and expensive creatures. They were also popular due to them providing entertainment through their antics and through them performing tricks. No doubt as a young boy Edward would have enjoyed playing with them.

The above portrait of Edward in profile was painted by William Scrots c.1546 and like many members of his family, including his grandparents, father and sisters, he is painted holding a rose. In Edward's case this is likely to be in demonstration of how the Tudor dynasty is flourishing and growing with Henry VIII on the throne and his healthy legitimate son waiting to continue the line.

The above painting is another by Scrots c.1546 which shows Edward again in profile but using the fashionable technique of anamorphosis, which would have been done to demonstrate the artist's skill and to entertain the young Prince.

This portrait of Edward c.1546 shows him beginning to emulate his father as he stands in imitation of the pose infamous to Henry VIII in the Holbein portraits, with his feet slightly apart, hands gesturing towards his codpiece and gaze staring boldly out. His clothes are trimmed with ermine and gold, so in this portrait Edward clearly a king in waiting. His face has lost much of the roundness that it held in previous portraits and the artist is presenting the nine year old Prince as a miniature adult. In the top left of the painting a house is visible in the distance, many have suggested that this house is Hunsdon House which was a favourite residence in Hertfordshire of both Edward and his elder sister Mary.

Above is an allegory for the succession c.1570 which depicts the dying Henry VIII on the left and the young King Edward VI in the centre. On the right the old king's councillors kneel to the new king and beneath Edward the Pope is crushed by the weight of the 'word of God' in English. In the top right of the painting people can be seen burning and destroying religious images/icons that were seen as superstitious by the radicals that gained power in Edward's reign. So this painting represents  the huge steps in the Protestant Reformation that were undertaken throughout Edward's short reign.

Portrait of Edward as king by William Scrots c.1550 which shows a very serious looking adolescent king.

The above painting is by an unknown artist c.1590 and is titled 'An Allegory of the Tudor Succession: The Family of Henry VIII'. The painting portrays Henry VIII seated on the throne in the centre of the painting regally holding a scepter in one hand and the sword of justice in the other. On Henry's right in the painting Mary and her husband Philip II stand with Mars the God of War looming behind them. Whereas on Henry's left Elizabeth holds the hand of Peace and is followed by Plenty. Dwarfed by his sisters, Edward kneels as a rather diminutive figure at Henry's side and he receives the sword of justice from his father. Edward is not followed by any representative figure and he alone receives the sword which is bigger than he is. This work was commissioned by Elizabeth as a gift for Sir Francis Walsingham. (to the left is an enlarged image of Edward from the painting)

Further Reading: 
Edward VI by Jennifer Loach
Edward VI: the lost King of England by Chris Skidmore
In fine style: the art of Tudor and Stuart fashion by Anna Reynolds

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Lady Margaret Douglas: the disgraced Tudor cousin

This is the second post on Lady Margaret Douglas and it is focused on her young adulthood and amorous escapades which resulted in her being incarcerated in the Tower.

Portrait medal of Anne Boleyn c.1534
the only surviving contemporary likeness
of her which bears her image, initials and motto
In 1533 Margaret bade farewell to her cousin and was allocated a post as lady-in-waiting in the rapidly expanding household of Anne Boleyn, which was being packed with ladies of rank to attend the new Queen. She was 18 years old, attractive, amiable and still enjoying favour from her uncle, Henry VIII. Margaret established a strong rapport with Anne Boleyn, which is perhaps surprising given her closeness to Mary who was still suffering the fallout from the divorce. Despite her own parental problems and her cousin's shift in fortune Margaret appeared to have come out on top and between 1533-34 she seems to uneventfully blend in with court life. 

Poem entitled 'My hart ys set not remove' in
Lady Margaret's hand from the Devonshire MS 
It was probably during this time in Anne's household that Margaret became acquainted with Anne's uncle Lord Thomas Howard. Born in 1511 Howard was the son of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk and Agnes Tilney. Their acquaintance progressed into something more meaningful as in late 1535 they were in love and had become secretly betrothed. They wrote a series of love poems to each other, many of which are preserved in the Devonshire MS and he gave her a cramp ring in exchange for her miniature. The timing of this (Margaret's first amorous escapade with a Howard) was unfortunate for the couple because Henry VIII learned of it shortly after Anne Boleyn's downfall and execution in May 1536 and at this time Margaret was a viable candidate for the succession due to the bastardisation of both of Henry VIII's daughters. Livid Henry ordered both lovers to be imprisoned in the Tower of London; being of Royal blood Margaret was confined to the Royal apartments whereas Howard was held in a cell. Henry also wrote to Margaret's mother writing that her daughter had 'behaved herself so lightly as was greatly to our dishonour', in response Margaret received a strongly worded letter in which her mother threatened to disown  her if she ever 'misbehaved' again. On the 18th July 1536 an Act of Attainder was passed against Howard, which accused him of attempting to interfere with the succession and for his crimes it sentenced him to death at the king's pleasure. A clause was then added to the Act of Succession  so that it was a capital offence to 'espouse, marry or deflower' any of the king's female relations.

Coat of arms of the Howards
In 1537 both Margaret and Howard contracted a feverish illness, so on the 29th October 1537 Margaret was released from the Tower. Henry's rage having dissipated he had a sickly and subdued Margaret transferred into the care of the nuns at Syon Abbey, but Howard was left in the Tower where he died from his illness on the 31st October 1537. Some claim that he was poisoned but this seems improbable due to a death sentence already having been passed on him and the fact that many people in the Tower came down with a similar illness. After Margaret's recovery she was released from Syon but kept away from court despite her writing several sedate letters to Cromwell in which she declared that she had discarded any feelings that she had ever had for Thomas Howard. A copy of the letter that she wrote to Cromwell can be found here.

Portrait by William Scrotts c.1546 which
could be of Margaret although some
suggest that it depicts her cousin Mary I
In 1539 her reconciliation with Henry VIII was almost complete because alongside the Duchess of Richmond she was appointed to greet Anne of Cleves and join her household. But her restoration was brief due to her participation in a second amorous escapade with another Howard in 1540. This time her lover was Sir Charles Howard, the half brother of Henry VIII's then Queen Catherine Howard. Again the affair was discovered and both lovers were sent to the Tower but Margaret was quickly moved to Syon Abbey where she could atone for her sins by living in seclusion with the nuns. In November 1541 she was released and sent to the Duke of Norfolk's manor of Kenninghall, which is curious because it was the prominent home of the Howards in East Anglia and one would think that Henry would have wanted to restrict his niece's association with the Howards given her history.

Further Reading: 
Sisters to the King by Maria Perry
Mary Tudor by Judith M Richards
Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery by Eric Ives

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Lady Margaret Douglas: the vivacious Tudor cousin

Lady Margaret Douglas is often sidelined for the more well-known Tudor cousin, Lady Jane Grey, but Margaret led a fascinating life at the centre of the Tudor court and she was certainly a colourful character. She was prominent in the reigns of Henry VIII, Mary I and Elizabeth I and was imprisoned in the Tower of London on four separate occasions. So who was this remarkable woman?

This is the first of a series of posts on Margaret Douglas and this post is focused on her parents and her turbulent childhood.

Archibald Douglas 6th Earl of Angus
Margaret Tudor Dowager Queen of Scots

Her parents were Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII's elder sister, and Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus. They married on the 6th August 1514 and it was a love match on Margaret's part but Angus was probably more motivated by Margaret's power, wealth and status. By marrying Angus, Margaret forfeited her right to supervise her sons by her first marriage to James IV of Scotland but she defied this and took her sons to the fortified castle at Stirling. Margaret's power and control over the Scottish Princes was resented by the rival pro-French faction led by John Stewart, Duke of Albany and by August 1515 Albany had set himself up as regent of Scotland and taken custody of the Princes. Margaret was eight months pregnant with Angus' child at this time but the threat to her safety from Albany was greatly increased due to his power as regent so she decided to escape to England where she would be under the protection of her brother, Henry VIII. From Linlithgow Palace she rode around fifty miles at night to the Douglas stronghold of Tantallon Castle and a few days later she continued south with her husband to England whilst being pursued by an army of 40,000 men sent by Albany. Eventually Margaret and Angus reached Harbottle Castle in Northumberland but upon arrival Margaret nearly collapsed and was too ill to be moved.

The ruins of Harbottle Castle where Margaret Douglas was born 
It was at Harbottle Castle on the 7th October 1515 that Lady Margaret Douglas was born. She was born prematurely and her mother wrote that her labour had been induced early because 'nigh my deliverance [I] was enforced for fear and jeopardy of my life to go and enter into the realm of England, where eight days after, I was delivered of child fourteen days afore my time to my great spoil and extreme danger'.

Lady Margaret's position was seriously threatened in the 1520s as her mother sought a divorce from her father. Angus had been living openly with a mistress and had seized his wife's dower income so that he could afford a lavish lifestyle for his mistress. Needless to say Margaret Tudor was not happy with this 'arrangement'. She was eventually granted an annulment in March 1527 on the grounds that at the time of the marriage Angus had been precontracted to another lady. And luckily for Margaret Douglas she was not bastardised as at the time of her parents' marriage her mother had not known of the impediment.

A drawing of how Berwick Castle would have looked in
the 16th century
In 1529 the relationship between Margaret's parents was not good at all, in fact Angus felt so threatened by his ex-wife in Scotland that he kidnapped their daughter and fled to England. At this time Lady Margaret Douglas was just thirteen and her turbulent childhood was certainly not done tossing her in the sea of animosity between her parents. Her father left her with Sir Thomas Strangeways at Berwick Castle and she remained there until the following summer. Her mother made many attempts to get her daughter back and Sir Thomas wrote to Cardinal Wolsey saying that he had to have Margaret closely guarded for fear that 'she would be stolen into Scotland'.

Doting uncle Henry VIII

Henry VIII was very fond of his niece and often called her 'little Margaret' so he arranged for her to join her cousin, Princess Mary's household at Beaulieu Palace in Essex where she was to be chief lady-in-waiting. Margaret was a very outgoing, witty and vivacious girl who came into the Princess Mary's life at a difficult time when Henry VIII was beginning his divorce proceedings against Katherine of Aragon. And perhaps it was this shared experience that brought the girls so close together as they remained close friends from this point to Mary's death 28 years later.

Further Reading: 
Sisters to the King by Maria Perry
Mary Tudor: The First Queen by Linda Porter
Memoir of Mary Tudor by Frederic Madden
1536: The Year That Changed Henry VIII bu Suzannah Lipscombe