Saturday, 30 July 2011

July 28th, 1540: Henry VIII's fifth marriage

Even by the improbable standards set by Henry VIII's court, Catherine Howard's ascent to the throne had been a remarkably swift one. The pretty teenager had only been at court for seven months when she became queen, easily supplanting Anne of Cleves, the dowdy German princess whom she had first been brought to London to serve. Younger, prettier and certainly sexier than Queen Anne, according to her grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, Catherine had instantly attracted the king's attentions, almost from the moment he first clapped eyes on her back in December. Throughout the time of his farcical arranged marriage to Anne of Cleves, the nubile Howard girl had hovered in the monarch's imagination and some form of relationship between the pair had almost certainly begun during the Easter of 1540, by which point Henry was already preparing to divorce his new wife and replace her with Catherine. 

Anne of Cleves's last public appearance as queen consort took place at the Mayday jousts, in an eerie echo of another Queen Anne's. After that she was moved away from the court to live at Richmond Palace, officially because of the risk of plague in the capital, but in reality to prevent her from knowing about her impending divorce until it was too late. Catherine, too, was moved away for propriety's sake, but she did not join her former employer at Richmond. Instead, her relatives hustled her back to her grandmother's riverside mansion at Lambeth, where the king took to visiting her under the cover of darkness.

On July 13th, Parliament officially confirmed that the marriage between Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves was null and void on grounds of pre-contract and non-consummation. The twenty-four year-old German queen co-operated fully with the divorce proceedings, although there is some evidence from later in her life to suggest that she actually felt the humiliation keenly despite the smiles she displayed at the time. Her co-operation was richly rewarded by the king, who was in a mood to be expansively generous now he had gotten his own way with a minimum of fuss, and the ex-queen received an enormous annual income, numerous estates, Anne Boleyn's childhood home at Hever Castle and the splendid palace at Richmond, which had been the pride and joy of Henry's late father. She was also confirmed as a courtesy member of the English royal family, provided that she remained in the kingdom and did not re-marry. Henry, it seems, was possessive even of the people he did not want. Or perhaps he did not want her repeating the humiliating secrets of their marriage bed. Who knows?

Having rid their master of an unwanted queen, the two houses of Parliament then very conveniently went through the usual masquerade of begging him to marry again for the sake of the realm. They made themselves even more preemptively useful by anticipating who that next queen might be and removed the impediment of consanguinity, an essential pre-amble since Catherine Howard was the first cousin of Anne Boleyn, at least one and possibly two of Henry's former mistresses and also of the widow of his illegitimate son. By sixteenth century standards, it was certainly a tangled union.

With all legal impediments now removed, the forty-nine year-old king could proceed with his marriage to a girl who was almost young enough to be his granddaughter by contemporary standards. At the time of his fifth marriage, Henry VIII was grossly overweight, increasingly temperamental, secretive, paranoid and the ulcer on his leg that he had incurred during a riding accident in 1536 had never properly healed over. Physically, he could not be described as anything other than terrifying and, to the eyes of someone as young and looks-conscious as Catherine, quite possibly disgusting as well. Catherine, for her part, cannot have been much older than seventeen at the time she married him and was quite possibly as young as fifteen. The daughter of an impoverished younger son of the mighty Howard clan, she had spent her childhood at the whims of her father's financial mismanagement and then in the capricious and patchy care of her often-absent grandmother. Although she was not nearly as intellectually stupid as subsequent historians and novelists would claim, she lacked both common sense and any form of self-discipline. Although she was kind hearted and certainly moved by stories of suffering, she was also extravagant, prone to teenage temper tantrums and compulsively flirtatious. Most importantly from Henry's point of view, however, she was vivacious, fun-loving, sexually titillating and incredibly attractive.

This mismatched couple travelled with a relatively small entourage to the palace of Oatlands in Surrey, one of the many new residences Henry had acquired thanks to the Dissolution. There, they were married on July 28th by the ultra-conservative Bishop of London, Edmund Bonner, someone whom her family certainly approved of. On the very same day, Henry's former chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, was brutally beheaded on Tower Hill. Cromwell had been left weakened by his support for the Cleves marriage and Henry's latent suspicion and resentment against him was fired up to the point that Anne's downfall had triggered Cromwell's, too. He had been arrested on charges of high treason and heresy, then sentenced to death without possibility of trial by Act of Attainder, which Cromwell himself had used with liberal abandon during his own days of success. The king ignored the grovelling letter Cromwell sent from prison, begging for mercy and a last-minute pardon. 

Indifferent to the death of the man he had mistrusted, disliked but simultaneously relied upon for so long, Henry only had eyes for his new wife and he was in such a state of sexual anticipation that he had difficulty in keeping his hands off her before they reached their bridal chamber. Once inside, the six foot and two inches tall, grossly overweight monarch, consummated his marriage to a petite teenager in a magnificent bed crafted from pearls and imported from France and the sixteen-month countdown to the tragedy of Catherine Howard began.

Friday, 29 July 2011

The Crown Princess's brother was a victim of the Norwegian massacre

Trond Berntsen, the stepbrother of Crown Princess Mette-Marit (above), the wife of Norway's heir to the throne, was one of those murdered by right-wing extremist, Anders Behring Breivik, in last week's terrible attack. I was linked to the story by the headline "Norway attack victim saved his own son before dying," before being surprised to read that the man in question was a relative of the Crown Princess. Mr. Berntsen sacrificed his own life to save his 10 year-old son from Breivik's attack and the Palace has issued a statement expressing the Crown Princess's personal grief and the sympathies she extends to this very brave man's surviving family members.

More news on Mr Berntsen's bravery and the grief being felt throughout Norway is here in an excellent article from The Guardian.

Monday, 25 July 2011

My interview on BBC Radio Ulster's "ArtsExtra"

Last week, I had a fantastic time doing a ten minute interview on BBC Radio Ulster's show "ArtsExtra," hosted by Marie-Louise Muir, who was reading Popular. We talk about my school-days, my inspiration and a little bit of Marie-Antoinette. 

If you go to the ArtsExtra page, you can still listen to the show before it's taken down at the end of the week. Click on the broadcast for 21/7/2011 and either listen the whole way through, or take the marker to the 13:00 mark.

It can be accessed here and enjoy!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

The King leads Norway's mourning

His Majesty King Harald V has lead mourners at the Lutheran Mass celebrated in Oslo Cathedral to mark the tragic deaths of ninety-seven Norwegians, in twin terror attacks carried out yesterday by a Christian fundamentalist, Anders Behring Breivik (32). The service was also attended by the Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, whose political party was allegedly one of the main targets of the attacks.

Under questioning by Oslo police, Breivik, whose political views are described as far to the right, claimed that his decision to open fire on the island summer scheme youth gathering of Norway's largest left-wing group, the ruling Labour Party, was "cruel but necessary." He also claimed to have been planning to carry out the atrocity since at least 2009.

Many foreign leaders, including the Pope, the Prime Minister of Israel, the President of the United States and many others, have personally communicated with the King of Norway to express their shock and horror at these awful and horrifying events. From London, Her Majesty The Queen expressed her grief at the attacks by publicly writing to King Harald, saying, "I am deeply saddened and shocked by the tragic loss of life of so many people on the island of Utoeya and in Oslo. Prince Philip joins me in extending our heartfelt sympathy to Your Majesty and the people of Norway. Our prayers and thoughts are with everyone who has been affected by this dreadful atrocity."

Yahoo News has more.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The Pope's letter of condolence to the Austrian royal family

The Pope has written to Archduke Karl, head of the House of Hapsburg, to commiserate with members of the royal family on the recent death of the Archduke's father, Crown Prince Otto, whose sad death on July 4th of this year I commented upon here.

To His Royal Highness, Archduke Karl of Austria: 
With deepest sympathy have I learned about the passing of your father, His Royal Highness Archduke Otto of Austria. In this hour of sadness at your painful loss, I am united with you and all the royal family in prayer for the dead. During his long and full life, Archduke Otto has been a witness to the changing face of Europe. Trusting in God and aware of a significant heritage, he has been a committed European tirelessly working for freedom, for the unity of peoples and for a just order in this continent. May the Lord reward him for his diverse acts for the good of mankind and give him the fullness of life in his heavenly kingdom. Through the intercession of Mary, the mother of God, I offer an Apostolic Blessing to all family members and to all who mourn Archduke Otto, and who pray for his eternal salvation. 
Benedictus PP. XVI

Sunday, 17 July 2011

New biography of an Irish Catholic pioneer

The Irish Times has offered a generally positive review of Finola Kennedy's new biography of her late godfather, Frank Duff, the founder of the Legion of Mary. Duff founded the society in 1921, with its primary aim being to encourage devotion to the Virgin Mary and to provide practical charitable solutions to the problems of Ireland's many disadvantaged. Based heavily on the teachings of Saint Louis de Montfort, under Duff's leadership the Legion of Mary founded many organisations and establishments which were far, far ahead of their time in early and mid-century Ireland. He strongly opposed the industrial schools for abandoned children from lower-class backgrounds, a position which seems almost prescient when the catalogue of physical abuse inflicted upon Irish children in the industrial schools came to light towards the end of the twentieth century. In contrast to other sections of Catholicism in Ireland at the time, who favoured approaches like the infamous Magdalene laundries to "solve" the problem of mothers giving birth outside of wedlock, Duff and the Legion of Mary established the Regina Coeli (Queen of Heaven) Hostel in 1930 for unwed mothers to raise their children in a safe and welcoming Christian environment. To tackle Dublin's homeless problem, the Legion set up the Morning Star Hostel and in the 1940s, when Ireland was being excoriated by their northern neighbours in Ulster for remaining neutral in the fight against Nazism, Duff established several ecumenical outreach programmes to work with Irish Protestants on projects of common interest. He also tackled prostitution and Dublin's legion of brothels. An inspiring and gracious man, Frank Duff passed away in 1980, at the age of ninety-one and today the Legion of Mary is the largest apostolic organisation of the Catholic laity anywhere in the world, with over ten million members.

Catriona Crewe, who reviews the book for the Times, is herself the head of Special Projects for the National Archives of Ireland and chair-person of the SAOL project, which works with women tackling drug addiction in Dublin today. Crewe finds much to praise in Kennedy's biography of her celebrated godfather, with the book reminding the reader why there is so much to "admire [in] Frank Duff’s idealism, practical efficacy and achievements". However, Crewe also criticises the book's failure to engage with "the arrogance, hauteur and often fabulous stupidity" of the Catholic hierarchy in Ireland, as it threw obstacle after obstacle in Duff's way because it distrusted lay initiatives and was determined, at all costs, to hold onto its control of all social and charitable projects in Ireland. As Crewe wryly observes, "One would have thought that a lay Catholic organisation with a mission to help the poor and a special devotion to the Virgin would have enlisted the support and formal endorsement of its local prelates almost from the moment of its inception."

Duff's life stands at an interesting point in Irish history, because it shows that vibrancy and effective piety were possible in Irish Catholic social organisations, even as it hurtled towards the appalling moral crises of its recent history. One cannot help but feel that if Duff had been slightly gutsier, as Catriona Crewe suggests, or if there had been more men like Frank Duff and less like Archbishop McQuaid, then the horror of what came next might have been avoided. However, moving beyond the Irish historical perspective of Duff's life, the achievements made by the Legion of Mary, both then and today, are a tribute both to his own inspirational life and vision, but also of the usefulness the Legion continues to have, even nine decades after it was first founded.
The full review by Catriona Crewe can be accessed HERE.

Monday, 11 July 2011

The Assassination of William the Silent

Author Stephanie A. Mann takes a look at the notorious assassination of Prince William "the Silent" of Orange in 1584, by Balthasar Gerard, and the reaction in Protestant England where it fuelled Queen Elizabeth's fears that she was next.

The fate of the prince's murderer is not for the faint-hearted!

Saturday, 9 July 2011

My interview on BBC Radio Ulster

Yesterday, I was very fortunate to be interviewed by Connor Bradford, one of the co-hosts of BBC Radio Ulster's flagship morning radio programme, Good Morning, Ulster. You can access the interview by listening to it on BBC i-player on the link below. I speak at the 2:20 point. Unless, you have a hankering for Northern Irish news, in which feel free to listen away!

The interview, broadcast on July 8th 2011, will be available online for the rest of the week. It can be accessed here.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

July 6th, 1553: The Death of King Edward VI

Edward VI's untimely death at the age of fifteen has given rise to the rumour that he was always a sickly child. This image of the frail boy-king, whose life was snuffed out by faulty Tudor and Seymour genetics, is not borne out by the accounts of Edward which pre-date the last eighteen months of his life. It may be that, like his late uncle Arthur, we have exaggerated his physical weakness and assumed that simply because he died young, he must have been infirm. Sixteenth century illness was a terrifying thing and it could often strike down a young man or woman who were otherwise in peak physical condition.

Either way, the once-robust health of the young monarch who had reigned since his father's death six years earlier, had given way to an agonising series of physical complaints. In a panic, his advisers had moved him from palace to palace - trying the cleaner air of Greenwich, away from the dust and dirt of the city or inflicting a series of increasingly desperate medical "remedies" on the young man, all of which prolonged his life, rather than saving it, and plunged him into ever-worsening pain. Thanks to his entourage and doctors, Edward VI's last few months in this life were positively hellish and devoid of comfort, relief or ease. As well as subjecting their sovereign, patron and meal ticket to progressively crueller and riskier medical treatments, Edward VI's government were also resorting to dishonest and desperate attempts to hide the truth of the king's deterioration from the public and, in particular, from his sisters.

Edward VI had been England's first truly Protestant monarch and, despite his youth (or perhaps because of it), he had embraced his faith with a zeal so intense that sometimes his own  Protestant councillors found it difficult to reason with him. The constant bullying he had subjected his elder sister Mary to on account of her Catholic faith was as mean-spirited as it was consistent and it rightly evokes considerable sympathy for Mary. (Although some modern writers seem to be getting rather carried away, bearing in mind that Mary was to move on to do exactly the same thing to Elizabeth once she became queen.) Now, Edward's resentment of his eldest sister's Catholic faith came back to torment the young man as he lay dying. However, it was not atonement or forgiveness Edward wanted. Instead, he wanted to carry their feud into the grave and ensure that before he died, he barred Mary from ever inheriting the throne.

Edward knew that with his eldest sister on the throne, all of his life's work to bring Protestantism to his kingdoms would be destroyed and that she would preside over the restoration of Catholicism with the same militant efficiency he had devoted to Protestantism. Time was to show that he under-estimated Mary on that point, but the general assessment was correct and it is this fear which tortured Edward, as much as his many illnesses, as he lay dying. Weak of body, but sound in mind, Edward colluded fully with the Duke of Northumberland and other members of the Council in disinheriting both his sisters. Since Edward was the last of the pure-blood Tudor males, the Crown would have to pass to a woman, meaning that he could not resort to the gender-driven trickery employed by King Stephen in 1135. He knew too that he could not remove Mary from the succession solely on the basis of her religion (that was not tried in England until the next century). He realised that he could not bar Mary from her inheritance without also doing the same to their younger sister, Elizabeth, and, despite all the affection that had once allegedly been between them, Edward displayed not one iota of hesitation in doing just that. The marriages of both Mary and Elizabeth's mothers to their father had been declared illegal by Acts of Parliament and it was this technicality which Edward now declared made them ineligible to inherit the throne when he died. Illegitimacy, based on much more tenuous evidence than that used to bastardise the Tudor princesses, had, after all, been used as the excuse to sweep poor Edward V off the throne by his uncle in 1483, why not try the same tactic now?

The inheritance would skip over the two sisters and pass instead to their second cousin, Lady Jane Grey, now rather conveniently married to Northumberland's son, Guildford. Jane, fifteen years-old, prim, devout, intellectually brilliant and ferociously Protestant was, in many ways, a female version of Edward and, with Northumberland's backing, she seemed the ideal candidate to oust Mary from her position as heiress to the throne.

Whether Edward's disinheritance of his two sisters was legal or not hardly seems to matter outside its immediate context. Sixteenth century law, both canon and secular, was a minefield of interpretation, loop-holes, confusion and, often, outright lies. The standard interpretation of Edward's actions is that they were illegal, because it meant over-turning the terms and conditions of his father's will, which had named Mary as next-in-line if Edward died without children. Jane Grey's most recent biographer, E.W. Ives, has rather convincingly argued, however, that although Edward's actions as he lay dying were unlovely, they were not necessarily illegal. As sovereign, he had every right to decide who he passed the throne to when he died and it was the new monarch's will which mattered, not the old one.

Either way, with Mary and Elizabeth stricken from the list and Jane's succession seemingly secured, the young man slipped back into the protracted process of dying. The imperial ambassador later heard that during the last two weeks of his life, Edward was forced to lie flat on his back at all times and vomited up everything he ate, living 'entirely on restoratives and obtaining little or no repose'. As the numerous diseases and ailments his body's failing immune system had opened him up to began to consume him, gangrene set in on his toes and fingers. The medical treatments had been subjected to had caused his skin to deform and blacken, whilst his limbs swelled and his hair began to fall out. Emaciated, ravaged by illness and in constant physical agony, Edward VI, the only son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, died at Greenwich Palace in the arms of his childhood friend, Henry Sidney. His last words were 'I am faint; Lord have mercy, and take my spirit.'

No-one knows, or knew then, exactly what it was which lead to Edward VI's horrific natural death. The Venetian ambassador to London believed it must be tuberculosis, since only that could explain the wasting away of the King's physique. Rumours that he had been poisoned either by Northumberland or by Mary are part and parcel of the habitual paranoia of sixteenth century politics and bear no more closer consideration than the idea that Anne Boleyn poisoned Katherine of Aragon or Elizabeth I poisoned Marie de Guise. Two of his modern biographers, the late Jennifer Loach and Chris Skidmore, have offered slightly varying explanations: Loach, in her Yale-published biography of Edward, suggested that Edward had contracted acute bronchopneumonia, which lead to a suppurating pulmonary infection and either lung collapse, kidney failure or septicaemia, the same disease which had killed his mother, if in very different circumstances. Chris Skidmore, whose work as a student at Oxford formed the basis for his biography of Edward, suggested that the young king had simply been spectacularly unlucky to contract measles and then smallpox in 1552, the year before his death, and before he had time to recover from either, his immune system was so weakened, that he contracted the tuberculosis which would later kill him. All of it exacerbated, of course, by the medicine his physicians and advisers chose to use on him - initially to save his life, but latterly to keep him alive long enough until he had authorised Jane's succession instead of Mary's.

Charming, brilliant, athletic, handsome and musically gifted, Edward could, and did, show himself to be ruthless and cold, like his father, and pedantic and often inscrutable in sentiment and motivation, like his mother. His attempts to create a Protestant monarchy in the British Isles were, ironically, only to be secured by the actions of his sister, Elizabeth, who he had disinherited in order to prevent Mary from becoming queen. More immediately, however, as Edward's disfigured corpse was prepared for burial in the Henry VII Chapel at Westminster Abbey, the great crisis of "the Nine Days' Queen" and Mary Tudor's improbable, but heroic, triumph was about to begin.

Caylee Marie

GLOUCESTER: Say that I slew them not?

LADY ANNE: Why, then they are not dead,
But dead they are, and devilish slave, by thee.

"If you were to say of these men that they are not guilty, it would be as true to say there ... are no slain, there has been no crime." - Robert H. Jackson, 1946

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Writing Cleopatra

On his website, C.W. Gortner, author of The Tudor Secret (reviewed here), posts a guest post from the acclaimed historical novelist Colin Falconer, whose debut novel When We Were Gods, a dramatisation of the life of Cleopatra, has recently been made available on Kindle. Falconer reflects on the difficulties of being a historical novelist and the ways in which fact is stranger than fiction: -
"In revising and tightening the manuscript I was struck again by two things: first, what a fantastic story it is. If it wasn’t all true, it would be hard to believe: thirty years before Jesus, an eighteen year old princess tries to take over the world? Outrageous. Cleopatra was a woman with real cojones. She took on Roman military and political power at the apogee of its power. If she had succeeded – and she very nearly did – we can only speculate what the world would be like today... The real Cleopatra was a consummate political animal, with extraordinary ambition, a rare talent for what we would today call spin and the instincts of a street fighter."

For Colin Falconer's full article on the Kindle edition of When We Were Gods, click HERE.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Obituary: Otto von Hapsburg, Crown Prince of Austria (1912 - 2011)

I was saddened to hear today of the death of His Imperial and Royal Highness Crown Prince Otto of Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia. His Imperial Highness was the eldest son of the last Emperor of Austria, to date, Karl I, who ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire during its final traumatic years from 1916 to 1918. Despite Karl's heroic attempts to end the carnage of the First World War, the chaos and unrest which swept Europe in 1918, coupled with American hostility to the idea of negotiating with a semi-absolute monarchy, eventually swept the Hapsburgs off the throne they had held for nearly eight centuries and their vast empire disintegrated into eleven smaller nations and a generation of instability. Karl, his wife Zita and their children, including six year-old Otto, were banished and despite various attempts to restore the monarchy in Hungary, Emperor Karl died in exile on the Portuguese island of Madeira in 1922. His widow, now Dowager Empress, endured an extraordinarily long widowhood, dying in 1987. In recognition of the late emperor's devotion to the cause of peace, his abhorrence of violence and the strength of his devotion to the Christian faith, he was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2004. 

In deference to the politics of the time, Otto, who was ten years old when his father died, chose not to adopt the title of "emperor" in exile and instead settled on being referred to as Crown Prince, showing that he very much considered himself to be an emperor-in-waiting. He relied very much on his close relationship with his mother and his large brood of siblings, all of whom showed characteristic Hapsburg determination in carving out new lives for themselves in the modern era. The Crown Prince's younger sister, Archduchess Charlotte, for instance, became a welfare worker in East Harlem.

Claire Ridgway reviews "Popular"

Claire Ridgway, creator of the hugely successful The Anne Boleyn Files, has very kindly reviewed my novel Popular, which will be released in the UK and Ireland this Thursday. I'm so glad Claire liked it and here's an excerpt from her review: -

"The novel follows the group through the events of their school year – the return to school in September, Kerry’s 16th birthday party, nights out, dates, balls, Christmas, non-uniform days, mock exams, Valentine’s Day, sports day, GCSE exams and the end of term – and everything that goes with it: drunken antics, hangovers, infidelity, stolen kisses, secrets, lies, fashion faux pas, disasters, break-ups, romance, heartache, bitching, “emergencias”, tall tales, revelations… You name it! The book is a fun read, just perfect for the beach or lazing in a sunny garden, and takes you back to your school days when every faux pas was an “emergencia”. In Gareth’s bio at the front, it says that “nearly all the book is based upon events that have happened during his schooldays – the more ridiculous they seem, the greater chance that they are close to real life”, well, Gareth, your school days must have been one hell of a ride!
So, even though this book has nothing to do with Anne Boleyn or Tudor history, apart from Gareth being an historian and the novel containing references to Anne and “The Tudors”, I would recommend it. Why? Because it’s fun and it’s by a great writer. If you enjoy “Sex in the City”, if you want to be reminded of the angst and madness of your school days, if you love Marie Antoinette, Anne Boleyn and Scarlett O’Hara, and you appreciate good modern fiction, then I’d recommend “Popular”. Gareth is already working on the sequel and I can’t wait to read it."

Thanks, Claire. And for the full review, click HERE.

Defending royal expenditure

In the wake of revelations this week which show that the overall cost of the monarchy has actually decreased in 2010-2011 by 5.3%, that it's often cheaper to run than the American presidency and that the Prince of Wales is now living almost entirely independently from government funds (H.R.H draws his sizable income from the lands, farms and luxury food industries he has developed in his duchy of Lancaster, the traditional demesne of the heirs to the throne), one royal subject is anything but pleased to hear that the monarchy is now run on such a tight budget.

Over on his blog, Lord Belmont in Northern Ireland, Lord B defends royal expenditure in Britain and argues that the former royal yacht, Britannia, currently a floating museum in Scotland, should be re-commissioned as a private royal yacht (it served in that capacity from 1954 to 1997 and despite being technically sound, it was retired following the election of the Labour government in 1997.) Belmont also believes that more money, not less, should be pumped into the monarchy to re-vitalise royal travel, improve its safety and fund the restoration of various palaces as an act of State.
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