Monday, December 5, 2016

Giveaway - Scars From The Past by Derek Birks

Derek Birks is giving away a paperback copy of his new release, Scars From The Past:

An unwelcome legacy. An impossible love. A relentless enemy.

By 1481, England has been free from civil war for ten years. 
The Elder family have discovered a fragile peace in the lands they fought to win back, yet scars from the past remain with them all. 
Given time, they might heal, but when did the Elders ever have enough time? And close to home in Ludlow, trouble is stirring.

Born out of the bloody devastation of the Wars of the Roses, young John Elder is now the heir to his father’s legacy, but he finds it a poisonous one. Driven from the woman he loves by a duty he fears, John abandons his legacy and flees the country to become a mercenary in Flanders.

In his absence, stalked by a ruthless outlaw, the Elder family must face a deadly storm of blood and chaos. When the young heir to the throne, Edward, Prince of Wales, is caught up in their bitter struggle, the future appears bleak. Only if the Elders can put the scars from the past behind them, is there any hope of survival.

For a chance to win, leave a comment below. Don't forget to leave your contact details so that we can let you know if you've won!

Snuff - the medicinal cure-all and herbal panacea

by Deborah Swift

The Gawith Snuff Factory

I live close to Kendal in the Lake District in the North of England, and it is known as one of the foremost manufacturers of snuff; a brand known as 'Kendal Brown.' The reason snuff became established as an industry in Kendal can be traced back to two epidemics of Plague in the 16th and 17th centuries. The first epidemic in 1598 struck so badly that two thousand five hundred people died - an enormous number for a small town. The distress of the town was made worse by another epidemic in 1623, but this was not nearly so severe, and the reason was supposedly that people had begun to take snuff - then thought of as a remedy against all kinds of infection.

Outside of the factory with its distinctive sign showing a Turk
(tobacco was thought to be oriental) and his clay pipe
Kendal had easy access to the ports of Whitehaven and Lancaster, and so large quantities of tobacco were imported for the growing number of snuff mills in the town. Tobacco was grown in the British colonies of Maryland and Virginia. From Virigina alone, in 1629 one and a half million pounds of leaves were shipped to England from America. By 1700 Kendal was using its network of transport links, developed through the wool trade, to export snuff to London and the rest of the British Isles.

What is snuff?
Snuff is basically a blend of finely ground tobacco. It was discovered in the late 15th Century but its popularity grew in the 18th Century when it was used by everyone from Napoleon to Pope Benedict XIII. To produce snuff carefully selected, high grade tobacco leaves are sourced from all over the world and are aged for over 2 years. The leaves go through at least two fermentation processes before being ground to specific grades, such as Fine, Medium of Coarse. The Fine blend is the most intense, and the coarser less so, and suitable for beginners to snuff-taking. The snuff can also be moist, medium or dry, or flavoured with scents providing varying experiences for the user.

How snuff was made
the early method of making snuff was by hand, from the 'carrottes' or rolls of tobacco leaf - called carrottes from the French because of their resemblance to the shape of carrots. The carotte was gripped tightly at one end and then other end was ground against a 'rape', a rasp or grater.

A snuff box and grater
In aristocratic circles, the snuff grinding equipment was highly elaborate, and including several items strung on silver chains - a miniatire pick, grater, spoon and tiny rake for separating rough from smooth snuff. Some also included a silver-mounted hare's foot for brushing the snuff from the taker's upper lip. I long to include one of those in a novel!

This time-consuming method was soon superceded by water powered snuff mills in which the grinding process was automated. We tend to take this kind of thing for granted, but forget that heavy machinery of cogs and gears, and the heavy stone grindstones would have had to be transported by horse on carts and waggons, and often up and over hills or across bridges.The snuff itself was transported to the shops in barrels, boxes and bladders made of animal skin.

Snuff is one of the few forms of taking tobacco that has not succumbed to the modern world and the majority of English snuff blends are still made the traditional way. Samuel Gawith's 'Kendal Brown' uses heavy oak and stone pestles dating back to the 1700's to grind their snuff, while the rest of the work is done by hand.

The giant oak pestle still in use

Bottled precious and rare oils, such as Sandalwood and Rose Oil are stored in safes and are carefully blended in a secret room.When smoking was banned from the House of Commons in 1693 a silver communal snuff box was introduced with a supply of the famous 'English Rose' snuff, and surprisingly, is still used today.

'Insufflating' - a pinch of snuff
Traditionally you would take snuff from the back of the hand into both nostrils to take an even helping for each nostril. The portion taken would be half the size of a pea. Snuff was to remain in the front part of the nose, but sneezing was allowed. It was considered polite to use a kerchief or 'mouchoir' (French for handkerchief) to sneeze into, but loud sneezing was considered healthy and not rude.

Keeping snuff fresh
By the second half of the 17th century, ornate boxes were being produced to keep the precious powder dry. Snuff boxes or 'tabatières' are widely collected today, because they are often made from silver, engraved, chased, or enameled. Porcelain containers were also common, and sometimes snuff boxes were hand-painted with miniature landscapes or tiny portraits.

Snuff box with portrait of Marie Antoinette

Do read my previous post  on this blog(from 2013) for more on the fascinating art of snuff-taking.

As linked to pictures, also 'Kendal Brown' by J.W. Dunderdale (Helm Press). All pictures not linked are public domain


Deborah Swift is the author of several novels set in the 17th Century. The Lady's Slipper, about a rare wild orchid of that name, is set in and around Kendal, and features the new Quaker movement, and the aftermath of the English Civil War.

Follow her on Twitter @swiftsory
or on her website at

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The French King's Bastard, Harry Valois

by Linda Fetterly Root

spawned Angouleme Blazon,
Courtesy of Odejea, Creative Commons
Those who prefer at least a modicum of historical accuracy in historical fiction will wince at the mention of the glitzy fairytale fantasy called Reign, soon (ouch!) to begin its fourth season on syndicated television. Remember, if you dare, King Henri Valois's illegitimate son Bash, an entirely fictional character, a not especially surprising revelation since in Reign, so is the Queen of Scots. Unlike his father Francois I who sired many, Henri II is only known to have fathered three bastards. The firstborn was Diane of France, mistakenly believed to be the king's daughter by his mistress Diane de Poitier because Diane raised her at court perhaps to dispell rumors of Henry's impotence. Her mother was Filippa Duci, who seduced Henri in a one-night-stand when Diane’s back was turned.

Filippa Duci, Wikimedia
The talented but brutal Governor of Provence, Henri d' Angouleme, the 'Batard d'Valois, is often referred to as Henri’s favorite son. His mother was a Scot, Janet Stewart, Lady Fleming, illegitimate daughter of James IV, a paternal aunt and governess of Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots.

Henri d'Angoulême
 Pinterest- provenance unknown

Henri II had a penchant for older women. In his adolescence, he became infatuated with Diane de Poitiers, a woman more than eighteen years his senior. 

Diane de Poitiers Chenonceau in the Royal Chamber
She became his mistress after her husband Louis de Breze, died in 1531. But long before Louis’s death, she had become an important figure in Henri's life. When Henri was a child, he and his older brother were given to the Spanish in a prisoner's exchange that freed his father, King Francois, who had been captured by the Hapsburgs at the Battle of Pavia. Diane was asked by the king’s mother to escort the princes to the exchange. When they arrived, six-year-old Henri was overcome by fright. Diane took him in her arms and whispered words of comfort, and as they parted, she kissed him on the cheek. A romantic might call it a kiss that lasted thirty-four years, and ended with the king's last breath. He had asked for Diane while he lay in extremis following a jousting accident, but his consort Catherine d’ Medici and Diane's political enemies barred her from the room.

Due to his loyalty to Diane and his lack of attraction to his Italian bride, the first decade of the king's marriage to Catherine d' Medici was childless. When the situation threatened the dynasty, Diane encouraged Henri to perform his duty by occasionally sleeping with his wife. The frail Dauphin Francois was born the following year and was soon followed by the arrival of Princesses Elisabeth and Claud. Their births did not alter the king's relationship with Diane. The Queen was compelled to share supervision of the nursery at Saint-Germain et Laye with Diane. When competing in the jousts, Henri sported Diane’s black and white colors 

The King’s affection for Diane was enduring, but that did not mean he never took his pleasures elsewhere. In 1548, to escape the Rough Wooing instigated by the English King Henry VIII and prosecuted by his henchman Edward Seymour, the five-year-old Queen of Scots arrived in France with a governess in her entourage. The woman chosen to fill the role was the illegitimate Scottish princess Janet Stewart, Lady Fleming, the Queen of Scots’ paternal aunt. 

Lady Janet Stewart
Poets at the French Court called her La Belle Ecossaise--The beautiful Scot. She was fifteen years Henri’s senior and had given birth to eight children to her late husband Lord Malcolm Fleming, who had died in the battle of Pinkie in 1547. She spoke scant French when she arrived, but she was quick to learn. When Diane suffered a broken ankle in a riding accident and retired to her palace at Anet to heal, Henri and the governess discovered a way to communicate unhampered by a language barrier.
Diane de Poitiers, circa 1566
If Henri had expected Lady Fleming to exercise discretion, he did not understand the customs of the Scottish court, where royal mistresses were proud of their swollen bellies and not the least reluctant to announce who had planted the seed. Lady Janet had been but one of many illegitimate children of James IV who had so many mistresses that confusion exists concerning which of them was Janet Stewart’s mother. Her brother of the half, James V, had at least nine mistresses who gave him a daughter Jean and several sons. Only one of his surviving children was born on the right side of the sheets: Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots.

By the time the Queen of Scots was born, her mother’s family had become the power behind the French throne. The heart of their dynastic plan was to see the six-year-old Queen of Scots married to the five-year-old Dauphin, Francois, as soon as they were of legal age. However, the indiscretions of the governess could put an end to it. The Duke of Guise and his brother the Cardinal of Lorraine leaked news of Janet’s questionable morals to Diane, who shared it with Queen Catherine. What followed is a fascinating story of plots and counter-plots, but for purposes of this post, let it suffice that Henri’s mistress and his consort found common ground to form a truce. Because Janet’s behavior tarnished the reputation of the Queen of Scots, they sought support from Marie of Guise, who was in France visiting her royal daughter when Lady Fleming’s son was born. The most credible records place his birth in France at Aix-la-Chapelle, in1551.

The Dauphin Francois and Marie Queen of Scots

When the Dowager of Scotland, Marie d’ Guise, discovered how her sister-in-law had been spending her time while her royal charge was on holiday in Lorraine, she was livid. If Lady Fleming expected the king to intercede on her behalf, she had misjudged the strength of the temporary alliance between Diane de Poitiers and Queen Catherine. By the time Marie de Guise and the Queen of Scots returned to Saint Germain, the scorned Lady Fleming, and the infant she called ‘HarryValoys’ were long gone.

Marie de Guise
The story, however, did not end there. Marie de Guise’s return to Scotland was delayed by two tragedies, both involving her children. The adolescent Duke of Longville, son of her first marriage, fell ill and died in her arms on the day she was set to sail. His death and a thwarted attempt by a dissident Scottish soldier who sought to poison her daughter Queen Marie Stuart’s dessert left the Dowager too distraught to travel. She would have preferred to remain in France at the convent at Saint Pierre les Dames in Rheims where her sister Renee was abbess. However, her overbearing brothers insisted such a move would leave her daughter’s throne vulnerable to a competing claim by James Hamilton, Earl of Arran, the Scottish Regent, and next in line to the Scottish throne. Marie de Guise’s entire life had centered on a sense of duty instilled in her by her mother, Antoinette de Bourbon, the family matriarch. There was a plan afoot to make Marie de Guise the Scottish Regent as soon as her daughter was old enough to exercise a power of appointment, an event which occurred when the Queen of Scots turned eleven in December of 1553.

The Kirk at Biggar built by Malcolm, Lord Fleming.

The early history of Janet Stewart son to Henri II, Henri d’Angeloume, is sketchy at best and riddled with conflict. The source of the confusion stems from a childhood divided between the Fleming estate in Biggar and Henri’s castles on the Loire.

References describe an amicable relationship between Lady Janet and the King, and a bit of rather modern cooperative parenting. Henry’s father legitimatized him and presented him with property and titles in Provence. He is said to have been Henri’s favorite son, which infers considerable time spent at the French court. The welcome extended to young Henri did not include permission for his mother to travel in his entourage. Lady Janet sought permission to visit France during the winter of 1553, a proposal summarily vetoed by Marie de Guise, by arrangement with Catherine d’ Medici. Some historians assume Harry spent his youth in Scotland with his mother based on a 20th anachronistic premise that young children belong with their mothers. That was not the custom in the 16th century. Children of European sovereigns were often given their own establishments in infancy. Catherine d’ Medici’s reluctance to remove her children from the nursery at Saint Germain was the exception, not the rule.

While protocols establishing rank within the nursery existed in both the Scottish and French courts, it was common to find royal bastards being educated alongside their sisters and brothers ‘of the blood.’ The king’s son Henri d’Angeloume did not acquire his fluency in French, Latin, and Italian or his penchant for lyric verse at his mother’s home at Cumbernauld near Biggar. It is disingenuous to believe the French king would have developed a special fondness for a son he’d never seen, based on a lack of surviving travel documents at a time when French flagships frequented Scottish ports and citizens of France and Scotland enjoyed dual citizenship.

Sources insisting Lady Fleming’s right to travel was withheld until after the Dowager's death ignore evidence of a reconciliation of the sisters-in-law before the summer of 1560 but after Henri II's death in 1559. When the deposed and disheartened Regent died, Lady Fleming sat beside her coffin while Marie de Guise lay in state at Edinburgh Castle and was the chief mourner at her funeral. It is more reasonable to believe the restrictions were lifted by Marie de Guise before she died, and with the consent of Catherine d’ Medici. Harry had been in Scotland at Biggar, and with Henri dead, there was no further reason to enforcement them.

Lady Fleming lady made her last voyage to France in August 1560, a year after her royal lover’s death. She was well received at the French Court where her niece Marie Stuart was Consort and Catherine’s frail son was King Francois II. France was ruled by the senior members of the House of Guise, Duc Francois and his brother Charles, Cardinal of Lorraine, who welcomed Harry into their inner circle. protégé of the Guises. When Marie Stuart assumed the personal rule of Scotland after her husband Francois II died, Harry Valois and his mother were living in Provence. Lady Fleming did not live much longer. Some historians place her death at Richmond in 1562, presumably on her way to Scotland. Other sources day she died in France, not far from Paris. In my novels, I let her die at Saint Pierre les Dames where Marie de Guise was interred. I find no credible record of her grave.

Although Harry’s father legitimatized him and gave him land and titles, contrary to popular sources, his acquisition of the title Le Compte d’Angeloume did not occur until 15 years after his father’s death. Henri and Catherine’s son Henri of Anjou, who acquired the title at birth in 1551, passed it to his half-brother when Anjou became Henry III. Harry fought beside the Guises in the Wars of Religion, notably as a soldier at the siege of La Rochelle, later as a notorious butcher at the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre.

Catherine de Medici, The King's Mother, who with the Guises
orchestrated the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre
When the Queen of Scots was detained in England, and the Marian remnant in Scotland was besieged in Edinburgh Castle, Harry was tapped by the Guises to lead a French invasion into Scotland to break the siege, a plan the imprisoned Queen of Scots may have vetoed. He was known for his athletic dancing and his lyric verse. Five examples survive, but copies are precious.

When he was 35, Harry d’Angeloume was killed in a duel in which both parties suffered fatal wounds. There is no record of surviving issue. The Queen of Scots, who was his first cousin once removed, corresponded with him during her imprisonment in England and sent him books. She encouraged his poetry and openly mourned his death. The Queen was executed at Fotheringhay the following year.


Angouleme Blazon:  Odejea [CC BY-SA 3.0, GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Filippa Duci: By unknown in source [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Diana in Royal Chamber: By AlMare (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Diane de Poitiers: By Unknown - Transferred from en.wikipedia, Public Domain

Lady Janet Stewart: By George Jamesone (ca. 1587-1644) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Dauphin Francois and Marie Queen of Scots: By Unknown - From Catherine de' Medici's Book of Hours, Public Domain

Marie de Guise: Attributed to Corneille de Lyon - Mary of Guise, 1515 - 1560. Queen of James V - Google Art Project.jpg|Attributed to Corneille de Lyon - Mary of Guise, 1515 - 1560. Queen of James V - Google Art Project.

The Kirk at Biggar: Biggar and the House of Fleming- an account of the Biggar district, archaeological, historical, and biographical (1867) (14804174683).jpg|thumb|Biggar and the House of Fleming- an account of the Biggar district, archaeological, historical, and biographical (1867) (14804174683)

Catherine de Medici and St. Bartholemew's Day Massacre: By Édouard Debat-Ponsan - Mairie de Clermont-Ferrandhttp, Public Domain


Linda Root is the author of The First Marie and the Queen of Scots, The Last Knight and the Queen of Scots, and four books in The Legacy of the Queen of Scots series, with a fifth coming in 2017. She lives in the hi-desert community of Yucca Valley, Ca, where she was a Supervising Prosecutor.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Battles and Bias in Bede’s Britain

by Matthew Harffy

Throughout history, conflict has been described by the victors. This is especially true in the cases where the victorious army is part of a civilization that put great store in writing things down, such as the Romans. So it is that there are many accounts of battles from the Roman perspective, and far fewer details from the point of view of the so called barbarians. When we read these accounts by such luminaries as Tacitus and Suetonius, the modern observer must always factor in the politics of the time and what propagandist message the writer was hoping to put forward.

Cavalier d'Arpin-Tullus-Hostilius-Caen

When we come to seventh century Britain, the wars and conquests are often only described in a couple of sources, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation. Both of these works were penned by Christian Anglo-Saxon monks, who clearly had their own agenda in the telling of the rise to power of certain royal dynasties. If you are a monk sitting in a scriptorium in Wessex, you are most likely to give a certain Wessex-centric spin to your history. Where Bede was concerned, Northumbria was his home, what he knew best and the most powerful kingdom of Britain at the time. He was also a devout Christian, so of course, he wished to paint a picture of the history of the land that showed the power of God to work through kings who chose to accept Him. Bede clearly loved tales of kings who chose to be baptised and brought conversion and the teachings of Christ to their people. It is not that Bede, or indeed any of the scribes of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, openly twisted the truth or lied in their accounts, but I think all scholars would agree that those monks allowed their own beliefs and ideological leanings to bias their telling of history.

The Venerable Bede translates John 1902

And so it is that we find there is often no information about the placement of troops in battles, or even where the battles took place. In many cases we have practically no idea of why the conflicts occurred, though it must be assumed that conquest and expansion of land must have been at the root of many disputes. These things were not deemed to be of importance to the monks writing the accounts. Frequently, all we are given are the names of the kings involved, and who was beaten. For example, the entry in the Chronicle for 633 says:

“A.D. 633.  This year King Edwin was slain by Cadwalla and Penda, on Hatfield moor, on the fourteenth of October.  He reigned seventeen years.  His son Osfrid was also slain with him.  After this Cadwalla and Penda went and ravaged all the land of the Northumbrians”

So not much to go on… we know the year, and who killed who and where. Not much else. If we then turn to Bede, we get some more details:

“Cadwalla; king of the Britons, rebelled against him [Edwin], being supported by Penda, a most warlike man of the royal race of the Mercians, and who from that time governed that nation twenty-two years with various success. A great battle being fought in the plain that is called Heathfield, Edwin was killed on the 12th of October, in the year of our Lord 633, being then forty-seven years of age, and all his army was either slain or dispersed.” 

Holderness crossBede goes on to tell how “great slaughter was made in the church or nation of the Northumbrians” by Cadwalla (also known as Cadwallon). He highlights that “one of the commanders, by whom it was made, was a pagan, and the other a barbarian, more cruel than a pagan; for Penda, with all the nation of the Mercians, was an idolater, and a stranger to the name of Christ; but Cadwalla, though he bore the name and professed himself a Christian, was so barbarous in his disposition and behaviour, that he neither spared the female sex, nor the innocent age of children, but with savage cruelty put them to tormenting deaths, ravaging all their country for a long time, and resolving to cut off all the race of the English within the borders of Britain.”

Here you can see Bede’s faith and his national pride at odds. Both Edwin and Cadwalla are Christian kings and yet Edwin is defeated and Cadwalla perpetrates horrific acts of cruelty in some kind of genocidal retribution. It is hard to know how much Bede has exaggerated the atrocities committed after Edwin’s death, but it is clear that the narrative is not an easy one for him. It is not the Northumbrian Christian king who is victorious, rather it is the pagan and the savage barbarian. And so the tales of battle often go in the seventh century. Bede revels in a good success story for a Christian monarch, but all too often those he deems to be most worthy of Christ’s blessing meet untimely, violent ends.

AS kingdoms
Such is the ultimate end of one of Bede’s favourite kings, Oswald of Northumbria, later Saint Oswald. But before his demise at the battle of Maserfield and his subsequent miracles and sainthood, Oswald provides Bede with the wonderful tale of his return from exile, his victory over the cruel defiler of the land, Cadwalla, and the expansion of Northumbria into the foremost kingdom of Britain.

Bede describes the decisive battle of Heavenfield between “Oswald, a man beloved by God” and the evil Cadwalla in greater detail than other engagements. But he does not focus on the battle itself, he concentrates on that which is important to him: the intervention of Christ in granting victory to the rightful king of Northumbria.

He tells at great length how Oswald erected a great cross and helped to hold it up while it was set in place. He then bid all of his warriors to pray, saying the following, “Let us all kneel, and jointly beseech the true and living God Almighty, in his mercy, to defend us from the haughty and fierce enemy; for He knows that we have undertaken a just war for the safety of our nation.”

The cross and the place then becomes the site of many miracles and the victory is really the start of the cult of Saint Oswald, which can probably be traced back to this moment and Bede’s subsequent immortalisation of it and the great Christian king of Northumbria.

St Oswald's Cross, Heavenfield - - 1210275

Bede dedicates less space to the battle itself, describing how Oswald “advanced with an army, small, indeed, in number, but strengthened with the faith of Christ; and the impious commander of the Britons was slain, though he had most numerous forces, which he boasted nothing could withstand, at a place in the English tongue called Denises-burn, that is, Denis's-brook.”

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle describes Oswald’s ascension to power in a rather more matter of fact single line:

“Oswald also this year succeeded to the government of the Northumbrians, and reigned nine winters.”

Would Penda, the staunchly pagan king of Mercia, have been the hero of Bede’s narrative if he had been Christian? He certainly was the supreme power in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms for decades during the first half of the seventh century, and was responsible for the deaths of five other kings.

Historians must try to peer into the primary sources and find the truth, peeling away bias and prejudice and propaganda. It is hard to piece together a true reflection of events from the sparse writings that have survived.

Conversely, the historical novelist revels in the scarcity of information, as it allows for creativity to fill in the gaps. The novelist relishes the not-so-subtle slant to one side or the other in the written accounts. This shines a light on how people thought at the time and can provide an author with a hook into a story, a flash of inspiration sparked from that very bias.

Battles are described by the victors. It is the historian's job to find the truth behind the victors' accounts. Some would argue that it is also the job of the novelist. I would disagree. It is the novelist's task to tell a good story, and that might just be a tale full of prejudice and untruths. You never know, it might even be from the perspective of the vanquished who never had the chance to write their own story.


Matthew Harffy is the author of the Bernicia Chronicles, a series of novels set in seventh century Britain.

The Serpent Sword, The Cross and the Curse and Blood and Blade are available on Amazon, Kobo, Google Play, and all good online bookstores.

Killer of Kings and Kin of Cain are available for pre-order on Amazon and all good online bookstores.

Twitter: @MatthewHarffy
Facebook: MatthewHarffyAuthor


La victoire de Tullus Hostilius sur les forces de Veies et de Fidena ---- Giuseppe Cesari [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Portrait of Bede ---- By The original uploader was Timsj at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Holderness Cross ---- By portableantiquities [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Map of Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms ---- Amitchell125 at en.wikipedia [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Heavenfield Cross ---- Oliver Dixon [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Was Bishop Stephen Gardiner a Secret Tudor?

By Nancy Bilyeau

Finding illegitimate children in the Tudor royal family is a favorite pastime for some. Chief among the theoretical parents of such byblows would be Henry VIII, of course. (You'd be amazed to learn how many debates rage over whether Mary Boleyn's two Carey children were fathered by Henry VIII shortly before he fell in love with Anne Boleyn. Or maybe you wouldn't!) Elizabeth I is also accused of giving birth to secret babies, with theories targeting Thomas Seymour and Robert Dudley that would make TMZ reporters blush.  As for the Elizabeth-as-bad-girl premise of the movie Anonymous, we are not going there.

The one and only accepted illegitimate child of a royal Tudor is Henry Fitzroy, son of Henry VIII and Bessie Blount, a beautiful maid of honor to Catherine of Aragon. Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond, may or may not have been considered as a possible heir to the throne by Henry VIII before the boy died in 1536.

But was there another Tudor male in the 16th century, born on the wrong side of the blanket as they used to say, who not only lived through four Tudor reigns but was a key player at court?

Stephen Gardiner

Stephen Gardiner, the bishop of Winchester, was the grandson of Jasper Tudor, Henry VIII's great-uncle, and a mistress named Mevanvy ferch Dafydd from Gwynnedd, according to a persistent theory. If the rumors are true, Gardiner's mother, Ellen, was first cousin to Henry VII. She married a cloth merchant named Gardiner and Stephen was one of their children. He attended Cambridge at a young age and studied the classics, even meeting Erasmus.

Before we go any further, it must be said that Gardiner brought out fear and dislike among many of those who knew him. Moreover, in Tudor television series, Stephen Gardiner has been portrayed with evident relish by a series of actors as a Grade A Jerk:

"The Six Wives of Henry VIII"

Wolf Hall

The Tudors

In these shows, he's the man you love to hate. When Edward Seymour punches Gardiner in the face during the last episode of The Tudors, you feel good. When the bruise-faced bishop goes running to Henry VIII to tattle and has the door closed in his face, you feel even better.

Screenwriter license aside, how did this loathsome churchman reach a position of power in the Tudor court? Was it that he was family? Not likely. Henry VIII didn't care for his extended family; he executed them steadily throughout his reign.

The reason for Gardiner's prominence in the 16th century was his brain. Even his enemies grudgingly conceded his intelligence. His nickname during his lifetime: "Wily Winchester." The lawyer, royal secretary, councilor, and bishop survived Henry VIII's reign. A religious conservative, he was thrown into the Tower of London during the reign of Protestant Edward VI and occupied a cell for years. One of Queen Mary's first acts was to spring him (along with his old friend the Duke of Norfolk). Gardiner crowned her and served as her lord chancellor. He distrusted Princess Elizabeth and pressured the Queen to imprison her half-sister after the Wyatt Rebellion. It's safe to say that if he had lived to see Elizabeth take the throne, he would have been ushered back into the Tower.

In her book Henry VIII: The King and His Court, Alison Weir describes Gardiner as "an able but rather arrogant and difficult man":

He was of swarthy complexion and had a hooked nose, deep-set eyes, a permanent frown, huge hands, and a "vengeable wit." He was ambitious, sure of himself, irascible, astute, and worldly. Henry came to rely on him, sending him on important diplomatic missions and telling everyone that, when Gardiner was away, he felt as if he had lost his right hand; yet he was also aware that the Secretary could be two-faced.

Henry VIII and Bishop Gardiner had a complex relationship. They feuded with each other (as much as one can feud with Henry VIII), and the king withheld promotions Gardiner obviously longed for. Then, suddenly, he would be back on top. When the king made him bishop of Winchester, he said, "I have often squared with you, Gardiner, but I love you never the worse." Gardiner was an enemy of Cromwell's who relished destroying him. He also despised Thomas Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury, but was unable to turn the king against him. In 1540-1541 Gardiner was in Germany, representing England at a Diet convened to try a last time to heal the breach between Catholic and Protestant. (Both Calvin and Charles V also attended.) It was a delicate and important mission--which failed, through no fault of Gardiner's.

Henry VIII

But the bishop tried to have Henry's last wife, Catherine Parr, arrested for heresy, and when his plot failed, that contributed to his decline of influence. The king excluded him from his will. Henry's technique in controlling his councilors was to pit them against each other and stoke their fears. Gardiner's Protestant opponents claimed after Henry VIII's death that in excluding him from the will and list of councilors for Edward, the king explained that only he could control Stephen Gardiner.

The bishop's relationship with Henry's oldest daughter, Mary, also had its difficult moments. Early in his career, Gardiner devoted his legal brain to the king's case for annulment of the first marriage to Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. Therefore, even though he was one of Mary's adherents, she never could bring herself to trust him completely. Once she was queen, Gardiner wanted her to wed an Englishman, and opposed her marriage to Philip of Spain, repeatedly trying to talk her out of it.

Mary I

Stephen Gardiner died in 1555. One story has it that on his deathbed he said, "Like Peter, I have erred. Unlike Peter, I have not wept."

A strange thing to say. He was, it's safe to say, a strange man.

But was he related to the Tudors, whom he served and quarreled with for so many years? Returning to Jasper Tudor, the man was something of a warlord in a time when he didn't have a choice. During the Wars of the Roses, Jasper possessed two qualities in short supply: loyalty and patience. He supported his half-brother, Henry VI, without question, and did everything possible to help his nephew, the future Henry VII.

It was very important that Lancastrian nobles marry and beget heirs--the Yorkists were way ahead in that regard. Yet Jasper did not marry until after the Battle of Bosworth when he was 54 years old, and he wed the dowager duchess of Buckingham. They had no children. Since much of his earlier life was spent in battle, regrouping from battle, going into hiding, and living in exile in France or Brittany, perhaps he did not feel a wife was possible. A mistress made more sense.

In Gardiner's lifetime, no one said he was the grandson of Jasper Tudor, or at least it hasn't shown up in contemporary letters and papers. In the 18th century, this "fact" popped up in Cockayne's Peerage and a reverend's genealogical table. It gained strength over the years, though some always had their doubts.

Recent studies of Jasper Tudor do not dispute that he fathered one or two illegitimate daughters but suggest there could be some confusion over whether Ellen married the Gardiner who was the father of Stephen or another man with the same last name. It's unclear. The suggestion that he would need discreet royal blood to get into Cambridge and then rise in legal and ecclesiastical circles is not true. Gardiner's father was a prosperous cloth merchant, and the Tudor period was a time of men rising on their merits: the "new men," as they were called.

And so Stephen Gardiner may have achieved every illustrious promotion and survived every shouting match with a strong-willed king or queen not because he had Tudor blood but .... because he was Stephen Gardiner. A reality I suspect that Wily Winchester would have been prepared to accept.


Nancy Bilyeau is the author of the Tudor trilogy The Crown, The Chalice, and The Tapestry, published in nine countries. The main character is a Dominican novice named Joanna Stafford; an antagonist running through the plot of each book is Stephen Gardiner, bishop of Winchester.

The Crown was an Oprah selection in 2012. The Tapestry was a finalist for the Daphne du Maurier award for Best Historical Suspense this year.

Nancy is giving away seven signed hardcover copies of The Tapestry. To enter, please go HERE.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Ten Seconds Before Midnight at the Edge of Empire

by Ed McWatt

Imagine, if you can, being a member of a fiercely proud island nation with a reputation for bleak weather and stubbornness, somewhere just off the forbidding Atlantic coast of mainline Europe. Factor in years of economic decline set against a background of anti-immigrant fear and a growing sense of dislocation from the rest of the civilised world. Now consider how it might feel to be facing an imminent break with the rest of the continent and all the financial and social uncertainty that such a fundamental change in government would bring...

Current residents of the UK may find this leap of empathy easier to make than other readers – the parallels between the modern day Brexit and the situation which confronted the Romano-British in the early 5th century CE are inescapable (even if slightly hyperbolically expressed above).

What do we know about the Britain that experienced this ancient precursor to Brexit?

As usual, from this distance, the evidence is patchy and mostly archaeological in nature. The buried hoards of coins, silver and gold objects and precious stones which have been discovered in recent decades across the east of England provide the best insight into the psychology of the time – or at least the psychology of the elite of the time. People were hiding enormous wealth and, from the very fact that it remained hidden for detectorists to find, were never in a position to recover it. From this we can infer brigandage, fear and the chaos of social breakdown in the waning years of Rome’s influence. That is, to me, what makes this little-covered period of history such a rich one for authors of fiction.

Several of these hoards stand out for what they tell us about the lives they must have touched. The Hoxne hoard (Suffolk) comprises the largest collection of Roman gold and silver objects ever found, many of which are the personal artefacts of real lives – make-up brushes, pepper pots, and lots and lots of silver spoons. It is estimated that the thousands of coins in the hoard would have represented around three years' pay for the province’s governor. No small change, and probably only the more portable parts of a larger fortune.

Hoxne Hoard Empress Pepper Pot - reproduced
under Commons Licence

The Mildenhall treasure, also found in Suffolk and also now in the British Museum, is remarkable for the grandeur of the enormous silver serving dish, exquisitely decorated with scenes of gods and maenads. It must have belonged to people with deep, historic ties to a mythology stretching back to classical Greece, in the context of a society where Christianity was the new orthodoxy. This evolving religious landscape is reflected in the Water Newton treasure (Cambridgeshire), which is made up of silver jugs, bowls and plaques (votive offerings, possibly) inscribed with the periods main Christian symbol, the chi-rho. Britannia was a country of religious diversity then as it is now.

The Mildenhall Treasure, British Museum
reproduced under Commons Licence

Textual evidence about this period is slight – there is a contested reference (it may actually be referring to similarly-named tribe in Italy rather than the Britons) from a 6th century report on Honorius's reign which has been read as the Emperor telling the island in 411 CE to "look to its own defence". The same source indicates that there was a management takeover at the very death, with the locals expelling the remaining Roman officials in 410.

Whilst we lack direct evidence, it can be assumed that no popular mandate ushered in the end of (undemocratic!) Roman Britain – the island was effectively abandoned by a retrenching Rome over decades, through the withdrawal of the troops which were the backbone of defence as well as law and order. Even at its economic zenith, Britannia carried a significant overhead due to the high cost of garrisoning the rebellious island when compared to the return it was capable of generating. Its geographical isolation and distance from the centre can only have further devalued the province in the minds of many emperors. By the 4th Century CE, maintaining it as part of the Empire had become an exercise in conspicuous munificence.

The entropy which was tearing at the Empire's fabric elsewhere began to unravel Britannia's defences, with a steady withdrawal of troops to support the claims of various usurpers (such as Magnus Maximus in 383 CE) and to defend Gaul and Italy against tribes from east of the Rhine. This is the opinion of Gildas, a monk writing a generation after the end of Roman Britain. Certainly, this slow weakening of human resources correlates with the building of physical barriers – the walls around towns and shore forts around the coast – as well as increased border incursions such as the Barbarian Conspiracy of 317 CE and the serious incursions of Picts in the late 390s. It seems that late Roman Britain faced growing external threats of military and migrant nature – Gildas paints a picture of a Saxon invasion, bravely resisted.

The factor which will have affected the most people most profoundly is financial: the country was getting poorer and poorer immediately before the break with Rome. Public building, once the pride of the local aristocracy, had ended by the late C4th – towns would have rapidly sunk into a state of disrepair. Some argue that the hoards point towards the polarisation of wealth, the creation of a super-rich elite controlling most of the remaining resources. Coinage provides some of the strongest evidence we have of Britannia's slide into destitution. Coin clipping (the practice of carefully shaving coin edges to harvest precious metal, whilst preserving the object as passable legal tender) becomes widespread in coin finds from the mid-4th Century CE, hinting at a scarcity of cash, both in physical and liquidity terms. Analysis of the finds shows that coinage reaching Britannia starts to decline in the 370s CE and the supply dries up entirely at the start of the 5th Century – indeed, the last coinage to reach the island from the imperial mints can be dated to 402. It seems likely that a lack of pay locally accelerated the army's withdrawal and a return to earlier methods of payment (barter, services) is likely.

Bredon Hoard - via Commons Licence

Happily, for those of us wondering what 2017 will bring to a stand-alone Britain, we can draw reassurance that we live in a society where violent struggle for land and livelihood no longer threatens our stable and peaceful lives, regardless of the changing political backdrop.

Anyway, I'd better end this piece here, as it's getting dark and I need to go and dig a hole in my garden for something..


Ed McWatt is a first time novelist from East Anglia in the UK. His novel 'The Silver Empress' is aimed at a young adult audience and tells the story of how the Hoxne hoard may have come to be buried. You can read an extract and find out how to buy the book at

Monday, November 28, 2016

Uther Pendragon: Man, Myth or Legend

by C.M. Grey

The Dark Ages of ancient Britain is an incredibly interesting period of time. We know so much about other times in history, but the Dark Ages is an era where we find few facts handed down to us. There are many stories, poems and myths, and many of these refer to the shadowy figures of Uther Pendragon and his far more infamous son Arthur. There are many people that would love to find proof of King Arthur’s existence; he is a figure that looms large in the imagination, and yet that proof continues to remain elusive. Uther, however, appears more often in the few written accounts that have survived as a man that actually lived, a man who may possibly have drawn the tribes of Britain together when it was needed most.

To set the scene for when the Pendragons may… or may not have existed, we have to take into account that the term Dark Ages refers to the long period of time which started several decades before the Western Roman Empire fell in AD 476 and lasted to the beginning of the Renaissance period, which was around AD1300.

These dark ages were a time of little or no law and order, when civilisation, the written word and record keeping were at a very low point. Britain and most of Europe was in turmoil as the rule of Rome dissolved, all of which leaves modern scholars somewhat ‘in the dark’ as they search for their solid facts. Many of these ‘almost’ facts, these stories and tales of battles, the struggles of leaders and kings, were handed down verbally through generations as people sat around their fires and entertained each other with tales during the cold British nights. As they repeated them they changed, so many facts turned into myths.

To begin with, we know that the Romans conquered the Celtic tribes on their third attempt in AD43 and then ruled and subjugated them for nearly four hundred years. The tribes of Britain were much restricted during this occupation and, of course, were allowed no defences or army of their own. The aggressiveness and fighting spirit that so impressed Cesar when he arrived had been beaten out of them, so that when the Roman legions, the governors and their families began packing their possessions and gradually leaving the shores of Britain from around 410AD, the tribes were left almost defenceless. It must have looked incredibly tempting for other, more warlike groups to slip in during this slow Roman withdrawal and attempt to stake claim to the lands of Briton as their own.

Roman Legionary by Carole Raddato
from Frankfurt, Germany
[CC BY-SA 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

The empire had been slowly crumbling for a number of years; at first it was only the better connected that had been leaving the shores of Britain as they realised their empire was weakening. In the late third century, as the Romans governors still struggled to maintain some control, they built a chain of forts along the eastern coast of Britain in an effort to deter the increasing numbers of Saxon invaders, but when reinforcements and pay didn’t arrive from the empire the troops began to desert in earnest, and knowing this the Saxons came in even greater numbers. Irish tribes from the West also began arriving, and raiding Picts became more frequent visitors from across the Northern border of Hadrian’s Wall; the tribes of Britain were in a desperate state. They had gone from being a heavily governed, conquered and yet a protected people, segregated by their tribal identities into small communities, into easy pickings, victims to the invaders - they needed to unite and defend themselves, to become once again the tribes of old.

There have been numerous written accounts of the man that eventually united the tribes and came to rule the Britons. From Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (1136) we learn that the old king under the Romans, Constantine II had three sons. Constans, the eldest, was murdered, possibly by Vortigern, an advisor to Constantine before he assumed the throne upon the King’s death. The other two sons were Ambrosious and Uther, who was the youngest. Both younger sons had been sent into hiding during their early years, and while we know that Ambrosious grew up in Gaul under the tutelage of Roman teachers, we know little of where his younger brother Uther was brought up. It could also have been Gaul alongside his brother, however, I think it equally likely that it was among the tribes in his native Britain.

When the Romans left, the new King, Vortigern was in a difficult position. With his lands being attacked from all sides he decided to form an alliance with two Saxon brothers, Hengist and Horsa who, while agreeing to defend the kingdom from invading Irish and Picts, brought more and more of their own people in to populate the ravaged land.

By Sir Edward Parrott - The Pageant of British History
[Public Domain] Wikimedia Commons

Vortigern was not a popular King amongst the tribes. When the young Ambrosious returned from exile in Gaul to claim his father’s throne he sent out envoys and messengers and gathered the warriors under his banner with the promise that he would reclaim his father’s lands and defend the tribes from the invaders.

Pendragon Castle by George Robinson [CC BY-SA 2.0]
Wikimedia Commons

When the call went out, Uther joined his brother and then suddenly had to take command when Ambrosious was tragically killed in a battle against the forces of Vortigern.

Uther went on, so the stories, poems and legends say, to keep the tribes united as they fought the Saxons. The stories and legends only tantalise us further when they tell that he was advised throughout his time by a Druid named Merlyn and that it was with Merlyn that he travelled to Ireland to gather the standing stones there known as the ‘Giants Dance.’ Together they transported them back to Stanenges, to form the monument that we now know as Stonehenge.

When the call went out from, Uther joined his brother and then suddenly had to take command when Ambrosious was tragically killed in a battle against the forces of Vortigern.

Uther went on, so the stories, poems and legends say, to keep the tribes united as they fought the Saxons. The stories and legends only tantalise us further when they tell that he was advised throughout his time by a Druid named Merlyn, and that it was with Merlyn that he travelled to Ireland to gather the standing stones that were known there as the ‘Giants Dance.’ Together they transported them back to Stanenges, to form the monument that we now know as Stonehenge.

We are told by Geoffrey of Monmouth that on returning from Ireland Uther attacked his closest ally, Gerlois Duc of Cornwall and stole away with his wife Igraine to father the son who legends tell us was known as Arthur. Yet all of these stories are just the ‘almost-facts’ that come from the poems and stories of the time, because the Dark Ages was the time we know so little about. What little history there really is of this era allows our imagination the license to believe that legends did walk our earth, and because ‘something’ happened way back then, authors will piece these little truths together to tell a tale that ‘could’ have happened.

So, if you get a chance to sit by a fire this winter and stare into its dancing flames, spare a thought to the men and women who lived through those Dark Times, think about what it must have been like to live back then. Dark nights when spirits and Gods stared out from the shadows and when a peaceful night might be broken by the cry of alarm, that ‘the Saxons are coming!’


Wikipedia: Uther Pendragon  


C.M.Gray is an Englishman living in the hills outside Barcelona in Spain, yet has lived in many parts of the world from the clamour of Hong Kong to the vineyards of Burgundy France. An author, whose primary interest has been the Dark Ages of Britain, he has written two books about the life and adventures of Uther Pendragon. He loves finding a good story and enjoys writing one even more!

Find C.M.Gray on:
Author Website

Friday, November 25, 2016

The English Rose with the Heart of a Lion

by Anna Belfrage

Philippa of England is the first of only two English women to have been queens of Sweden.  (The second one was Louise Mountbatten who married widower and future king Gustav VI Adolf in 1923) Mind you, had Sweden been all that was on offer, Philippa’s father would not have been all that interested – at the time, Sweden was a “Here be dragons” place, in that no one really knew what might live in those impenetrable northern woods. Not even the Swedes did.

Philippa was the daughter of the future Henry IV, the last child born in his marriage to Mary de Bohun. Philippa’s birth in 1394 led to Mary’s death, and her early childhood must have been rather confusing, what with her father being exiled by Richard II in 1398, only to return in 1399, depose the king, and claim the crown himself. In one fell swoop, Philippa became a princess.

Henry’s usurpation was not welcomed everywhere, testament to which was the plot which had as its goal to murder Henry and his four sons while they were celebrating Twelfth Night at Windsor. Somehow, Henry got wind of the plot (some say due to a kind-hearted whore, some say due to the guilty conscience of one of the would-be plotters) and managed to gather up his brood and flee to the safety of London. While there was never any intention to kill Philippa or her older sister, I imagine these events would have affected a five-year-old. They certainly had a major impact on Henry, who would never feel entirely secure on his throne, not even when Richard II met his timely death some weeks later.

Henry claiming the throne
A royal princess was a valuable asset when building alliances. For Henry, negotiating splendid marriages for his daughters was also a way of legitimising himself as king – something he had to do, as there were quite a few who considered his claim to the throne secondary to that of Edmund Mortimer, fifth Earl of March, whose paternal grandmother was the daughter of Edward IIIs second son, while Henry was “only” the son of Edward IIIs third son. Fortunately for Henry, Edmund was a child at the time of the usurpation – but boys have a tendency to grow into men, which is why little Edmund and his brother Roger were to grow up very supervised, especially after their Mortimer uncle proclaimed Edmund king and rebelled against Henry.

All these political events would have coloured Philippa’s childhood, just as her future as consort to an as yet unknown prince would have impacted how she was educated and raised. By 1405, Henry IV had made his choice: his youngest daughter was to marry Erik of Pomerania, nominal king of Denmark, Norway and Sweden.  True power resided with Erik’s impressive maternal great-aunt, Margareta of Denmark, the lady responsible for unifying the Scandinavian realms under one very strong hand: hers.

Bogislav becoming Erik
Erik’s real name was Bogislav.  At the age of six he was elevated to the position of Margareta’s heir, this as a consequence of the personal tragedies that afflicted the great Margareta, culminating with the death of her only and very beloved son, Olof, in 1387. As he reached his majority, he was formally recognised as king in his various kingdoms, but Margareta had no intention of relinquishing control, and Erik had no desire to force her to, being wise enough to realise it would benefit them both is she called the shots. It was Margareta who negotiated for Erik’s bride. It was Margareta’s support and recognition, not Erik’s, that Henry wanted. The lady in question, often referred to as “the king without pants”, was an admired person, and I imagine Henry felt he was placing his daughter in safe hands.

What Philippa thought of all this, we don’t know. She was married by proxy late in 1405 – all of eleven – and come next summer she was accompanied by her father to King’s Lynn where she boarded a ship and sailed due north-east. She would never see any members of her family again.
Upon her arrival in Helsingborg, Philippa was twelve or so. Her prospective bridegroom was twelve years older – a full-grown man who was very much in the thick of things. Margareta was a firm believer in learning by doing, and so she involved Erik in all aspects of ruling his vast kingdoms. Their main concern was the Hanseatic League and what to do to curtail its power. Philippa was initially too young to understand all this – I imagine she had other challenges to overcome, such as learning the language.

Erik, as per a contemporary
In October of 1406, Philippa wed Erik. A splendid ceremony celebrated in the Lund Cathedral, and recorded as being the first time ever the bride wore white – from head to toe. Once wed, Philippa was crowned queen of Norway, Denmark and Sweden, and upon all these solemn ceremonies followed a couple of weeks of partying, with the very tall, very handsome, groom treating his little bride with much respect and affection.

Of all the kingdoms presently under Margareta’s control, Sweden was the most restless, which was probably why Erik and Philippa made Kalmar in Sweden their home.  As per tradition, Philippa’s household was managed by a granddaughter to St Birgitta, which would explain why Philippa developed such an interest in the Brigittine order and its impressive combined nunnery and monastery in Vadstena.

As she grew older, Philippa became very devout and would expend considerable energies in supporting the Brigittines, with frequent visits to Vadstena.  But she was also a regnant queen, and Erik, who had grown up with a very strong woman, seems to have trusted his wife with several complex matters, such as more or less ruling Sweden single-handedly and acting as regent when he went off on pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the 1420s. By then, formidable Margareta had been dead for a decade or so, and Erik spent most of his time travelling from one corner of his realm to another. Sometimes Philippa accompanied him. Just as often, she preferred to remain in Sweden, a tangible reminder of the absent king.

Philippa won the hearts of her subjects by her demeanour and grace, and by all accounts her marriage was happy enough, albeit that she never experienced the joy of presenting her husband with a healthy heir. There are indications that she was brought to bed of a child, but the baby was either born stillborn or died very soon after. Philippa herself remained bedridden for some time afterwards, and already in 1416 the royal couple seem to have given up on future children, as Erik drew up an Order of Succession favouring his nephew.

Erik had his hands full with his various kingdoms – and even more so with the Hanseatic League, which did everything it could to foment dissatisfaction in Erik’s realms. The League felt threatened by a unified Scandinavia, and at some point the growing hostilities exploded into war. Philippa was dispatched to Sweden to convince the Swedes it was in their interest to side with their king.
“Hmm,” the Swedish nobility said, but Philippa was good at presenting her arguments, and so she rode off with the promise of Swedish support in the ongoing conflict.

Queen Philippa came into her own during the war with the Hanseatic League. In April 1428, the German merchants brought in a huge mercenary fleet to crush the Danish-Swedish feet, presently under anchor in Copenhagen. While Erik retired to a nearby island, Philippa refused to abandon Copenhagen and its inhabitants and was a loud and constant presence among the defenders, cheering them on with, I imagine, as much verbal skill as her famous brother Henry V. Except that she probably spoke Danish.

Philippa cheering on her forces in Copenhagen
(Illustration to H.C.Andersen's story about her)
The mercenary fleet approached, more than 260 ships determined to destroy Copenhagen once and for all. But the Danish city wasn’t giving up without a fight. Cannon roared, both from land based firing platforms but also from innovative floating batteries which could get that much closer to the ships flying the distinctive red and white Hanseatic pennant. When the Danish and Swedish ships joined the melee, the Hanseatic fleet chose to flee, while a very victorious queen pumped her arm in the air and hollered “Yay!” (Well, whatever the 15th century equivalent of that would be)

Angered and humiliated, the Hanseatic League reformed and returned in force in June of 1428. This time, they emerged victorious, sinking most of the Danish and Swedish ships in Copenhagen’s harbour. But Philippa escaped, as did Erik, and soon enough they had new ships ready to go, forcing the Hanseatic League back into their own harbours.

It must therefore have been with a certain buzz of success that Philippa in 1429 decided to undertake the long journey north from Copenhagen to Vadstena, there to meet various of the Swedish nobles. While in the best of health when she rode off, by the time she reached Vadstena she was ill. She died on the eve of Twelfth Mass and was buried under the floor of the chapel she herself had added to the Brigittine Abbey church.

Philippa, stainglass window in Vadstena
(Photo: Mariusz Pazdziora)
Her husband was, by all accounts, quite distraught. Her Swedish subjects even more so. With Philippa’s death, what little loyalty they had ever felt towards Erik dissipated like mist in the sun. In 1434, Erik was deposed as king of Sweden, and over the coming years he would also lose the Norwegian and Danish crown, retiring to Gotland and the far more lucrative pursuit of piracy.

Philippa was not quite 36 years old when she died. A short life, we would think, and I suppose Philippa would have preferred not to die as she did. But for all its brevity, Philippa’s life was full of adventure, all the way from the trip she undertook in 1406 to meet her husband, to her inspired leadership during the Bombardment of Copenhagen.  She is remembered in Sweden as a good and capable queen, a Lancaster rose who thrived in the colder climates of the north, who ruled wisely and well, and had the heart of an English lion.

All pictures in public domain and/or licensed under Wikimedia Creative Commons

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exist, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing.

Presently, Anna is hard at work with The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. The first book, In The Shadow of the Storm was published in 2015, the second, Days of Sun and Glory, was published in July 2016.

When Anna is not stuck in the 14th century, she's probably visiting in the 17th century, specifically with Alex(andra) and Matthew Graham, the protagonists of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. This is the story of two people who should never have met – not when she was born three centuries after him.

More about Anna on her website or on her blog!