Thursday, August 25, 2016

An Unexceptional Man in Exceptional Times

by Anna Belfrage

In the guide book to Framlingham Castle, today’s protagonist is described as being “an unexceptional man”. Well, I suppose that’s what you get when you jostle for space in the annals of history with such people as Edward II, Isabella of France, Hugh Despenser, Roger Mortimer and Edward III – no matter that you were born a prince. It probably didn’t help that the unexceptional man had an exceptionally handsome and flamboyant younger brother, the far more famous Edmund, Earl of Kent, father to the equally exceptionally beautiful Joan, a.k.a. The Fair Maid of Kent.

Edward I
If we start at the beginning – always a safe bet – we need to return to the year 1290.  Late in November of that year, England’s queen, Eleanor of Castile, died. She left behind a grief-struck husband. From the day they married, him a gangly fifteen, she a pretty thirteen-year-old, they’d been more or less joined at the hip, rarely apart. Over the thirty-six years of their marriage she had given him sixteen children, of which five daughters and one son were still alive when she died. And herein lay the rub: Edward I needed a spare to the heir – after having buried so many of his and Eleanor’s children, he was far too aware of how fragile a child’s life was.

I dare say he wasn’t all that inclined to marry. He was struggling with grief, and the thought of replacing his beloved wife with a newer, younger model did not exactly fire him up. But he had duties to fulfil, and one of those duties was to broker some sort of peace with France, which was why he’d betrothed his young son to Blanche, a much younger half-sister of Philip IV of France. This Blanche came with the reputation of being astoundingly beautiful, and so in 1293 Edward decided to kill two flies with one blow and take this blushing rose as his new wife. Philip agreed to the change of groom on the condition that Edward gave up the province of Gascony.

Edward acquiesced to this, dispatched his loyal brother Edmund to fetch his bride, and was soon to realise he’d been conned. Blanche was betrothed elsewhere (!) and instead Philip suggested Edward wed his even younger half-sister, Margaret, at the time all of eleven. Edward flew into a rage and declared war on France. Some years later, Philip and Edward reached an accord whereby Edward accepted Margaret as his wife and betrothed his young son to Philip’s only daughter, Isabella.

And so, in September of 1299, winter married spring, with the sixty-year-old Edward taking the not quite twenty-year-old Margaret as his wife. Not the romance of the century, one could say, but Edward proved to be a devoted husband to his much younger wife – and she returned the favour, seemingly content with her much, much older man.  In fact, it soon became evident Edward was twice lucky in love, finding in Margaret a pearl of a woman, and by all accounts they were very happy with each other.

By the beginning of 1300, all this marital bliss had resulted in a pregnancy. Margaret was an active woman who saw no reason to curtail her activities due to being with child, and legend has it she was riding to the hounds when her waters broke. Other sources are somewhat less dramatic: our pregnant lady was on her way to the place of her confinement when her labour began. Whichever version you prefer, the delivery was difficult, requiring a lot of praying to St Thomas Becket before Thomas of Brotherton finally saw the light of the day. His royal father was ecstatic: a healthy son, a spare! And one year later, Margaret repeated the feat, presenting Edward with yet another son, Edmund of Woodstock.

Edward II, very much on his lonesome at the table
In 1307, Edward I died. His young widow was prostrate with grief, his eldest son not so much. Relations between Edward I and his namesake and heir had been fraught over the last few years, principally due to one Piers Gaveston, a man the future Edward II seemed incapable of living without. Edward I had even gone so far as to exile his son’s favoured companion, but now papa was dead, and Piers was back, and Edward II was so happy he promptly elevated Piers to the Earl of Cornwall – this despite knowing that this particular earldom was intended for the eldest of his half-brothers.

The dowager queen was not happy. At all. Even less so when Edward went on to hand over some of her dower lands to up and coming Piers. What little Thomas thought of all this is unknown, but he was still too young to be overly concerned about titles and such, and besides, he had a mother fully capable of fighting on his behalf.

In 1312, Thomas of Brotherton became the Earl of Norfolk, his lands coming out of the deceased Roger Bigod’s estate. Among his new possessions was Framlingham Castle, where he apparently left so little an impression he is not remembered at all – except as being unexceptional.  I guess the Bigod family was a hard act to follow…

In 1318, Margaret of France died, and her two young sons no longer had her holding their back. Over the coming years, the young Earl of Norfolk was to experience the greed of the new royal favourite, Hugh Despenser, first hand. The latter appropriated land belonging to Thomas, but Thomas’ protests went unheard – Edward II was far fonder of Hugh than he was of his own brother. I imagine this did not foster a loving relationship between Thomas and Hugh – or Thomas and Edward – but our hero of the day chose to keep his head down and swallow the insult.

Some time before 1320, Thomas married. For a man of such wealth and lineage, his choice of bride is peculiar. Alice was the daughter of a coroner, had no wealth, no lands – at least not compared to her husband. The king, by all accounts, was less than pleased when he was informed of his brother’s choice of bride. Maybe it was a case of true love, maybe it was merely a dalliance that led to unforeseen consequences – but for the son of a king, such consequences could have been handled without marrying the girl.

Whatever the status of his marriage, by 1321 Thomas had other matters to think about – specifically the brewing discontent among the barons. Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford, and Roger Mortimer rode roughshod over Despenser lands, pillaging and destroying as they went, and soon enough the king had his back to a wall, having to face not only the triumphant Roger and Humphrey, but also his cousin, Thomas of Lancaster, who joined his voice to the other rebellious barons.

The Despensers were exiled, the king was obliged to set his seal to a document pardoning the rebel barons for their rebellion – after all, it had been done with his best interests at heart. I don’t think Edward saw it quite that way, and in this time when he no longer had Despenser at his side, it makes sense that he would turn to his half-brothers. At last an opportunity for Thomas to prove his worth to the king, to ride with his brother as he turned the tables on his rebel barons, with Lancaster and de Bohun ending up dead and Mortimer locked up in the Tower. For some months there, the brothers bonded, but then Despenser came back, and it was back to fading into the tapestries while Edward fawned over his favourite royal chancellor. Not, I suppose, an enjoyable experience for the young and reputedly hot-tempered Thomas.

It didn’t help that he was forced to surrender the lordship of Chepstow to Despenser in 1323. Nor that the king verbally rebuked him for having been somewhat remiss in his duties as Earl Marshal. Or that the king preferred to seek advice from his treasurer Stapledon and Despenser than from his half-brother.

Coronation of Edward III, Chronicles, Jean Froissart
But then, in 1326, things changed. By then Mortimer had fled the Tower and was safe in France, planning his return. The king needed all allies he could find and went out of his way to grant Thomas lands and wardships, expanded his authorities and in general made an effort to ensure his brother felt appreciated. Too little, too late. Thomas had already followed his brother into the opposing camp, and when Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer landed in England at the head of an invading army, they landed on Thomas’ lands, secure of their welcome. Some months later, Edward II was imprisoned, Edward III was crowned, and Thomas looked forward to being one of the central movers and shakers in his nephew’s realm. Not about to happen. Isabella and Mortimer had other plans, and once again Thomas was marginalised.

Frustrated by his position, Thomas joined Henry of Lancaster’s rebellion against Edward III and his regents. At the last moment, his nerve failed him, and he and brother Edmund scarpered back to the royal camp, begging their nephew for forgiveness.

Understandably, relations were somewhat cool after this, but at some point Thomas was forgiven – and to properly show just how forgiven, his only son was offered a Mortimer daughter as a bride. It wasn’t as if Thomas had the option of refusing – little Edmund of Norfolk was a great marital prize, and Mortimer had many daughters to marry off.

In 1330, the wheel of fortune did another turn. First, a turn to the worse, when Thomas’ brother, the earl of Kent, was accused of treason – an elegantly masterminded plot by Mortimer which ended up with Kent very, very dead. Some months later, it was Mortimer’s turn to die, this time due to a plot masterminded by the young king himself. Isabella was exiled from court – at least for a while – and Edward III was now firmly in control of his own kingdom.

Luttrell Psalter - knights 
At last, Thomas had come into his own. Over the coming years, he was one of his nephew’s most trusted men, albeit that he was rather dismal at managing his own personal finances. But he was brave and trustworthy, an Earl Marshal to rely on, and when it came to the infected matter of fighting the Scots, Edward was more than happy to heed Thomas’ advice.

In 1336, Thomas married for the second time – his first wife had died some time before 1330. Why he waited that long, I do not know, and yet again, his choice of bride is a bit odd – no highborn lady for our Thomas. Instead he settled on a widow, and I suppose he’d hoped for more children – just like his father before him, Thomas only had the one surviving son from his first marriage. In difference to his father, Thomas was not to have his second wife present him with more sons. Even worse, in 1337, Thomas’ only son died, leaving a little widow of his own – but no issue.

In 1338, Thomas died. He left behind a widow, two daughters, and an earldom. A short life, from our perspective, a life led in the shadows of the turmoil which distinguished the reign of his brother. And yes, in many ways it was an unremarkable life. Thomas somehow managed to avoid taking centre stage in any of the internal conflicts that plagued England, hovering in the background instead. As a survival technique it worked quite well – Thomas was never imprisoned, never lived with the threat of execution hanging over his head. Maybe that’s what distinguishes an unexceptional man, a reluctance to risk it all for a cause.

Whatever the case, Thomas of Brotherton was to leave the world one very impressive legacy: his daughter Margaret, Countess of Norfolk and Earl Marshal of England. But to her we will have to return in a future post – this formidable lady deserves it!

All pictures in the public domain


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. And yes, Thomas of Brotherton plays an important - not at all unexceptional - part.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 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!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Tombs of Henry VIII's Queens: Part One

by Linda Fetterly Root

Katharine[i] of Aragon (1485-1536):

On the morning of her death, Henry VIII’s discarded wife dictated two letters, one to her kinsman The Holy Roman Emperor, and the other, to the husband who had put her aside. It is not the scornful lament to which she was entitled and which the king deserved. In it, she wishes him well and requests Henry to extend benevolence toward their daughter and generosity to her servants. But it ends as the last letter written by a lover: 'Lastly, I make this vow. That mine eyes desire you above all things.’

When the king heard of her death, he donned clothes of celebratory yellow and frolicked the night away. He was not dancing with his wife, Queen Anne, for whom he had all but moved mountains to marry. He had already tired of her.

And thus, the daughter of the legendary lovers Ferdinand and Isabella was taken to the nearby Abbey of Peterborough and interred in the choir aisle to the north of the altar, with no more pomp than due a Dowager Princess of Wales, the title to which she had been demoted. She was put to rest as Arthur’s wife, not Henry’s. Katharine died on January 2, 1536, and was buried 22 days later. A mere three months after that, on May 2, Queen Anne Boleyn was arrested, and 17 days later, she was dead. Four months and a week after Katharine's death, Lady Jane Seymour was Queen of England.[ii]

In his excellent biography Catherine of Aragon, written in 1941, Garrett Mattingly remarked that few of the hopes the Queen still held when she died had been realized.[iii] However, her burial site at Peterborough may well have been an incidental beneficiary of her death. During the Dissolution of the Monasteries, achieved by a legislative scheme orchestrated by Henry VIII between 1536 and 1541, Peterborough Abbey Church was confiscated but spared. By royal edict, Henry granted Letters Patent to Peterborough making it a Cathedral and named the former abbot as its bishop.[iv] Thus, Peterborough was appropriately Anglicanized. Some historians think it was spared because it housed the remains of a royal who had once been considered Queen of England. It is just as likely that Henry saw it as a potential source of revenue for the Crown.

The site of Katherine’s burial did not fare well. It was desecrated in 1586 and the culprits caught. During the Civil War, Oliver Cromwell’s troops ravaged both the Cathedral and the town. Their onslaught is described in the Royalist newsbook Mercurius Aulicus as worse than what would have been expected of either the Goths or the Turks.[v]

In 1895, the dignity of Queen Katharine’s burial site was restored, when the wife of one of Peterborough’s canons, Catharine Clayton, solicited funds from women named Catherine, no matter where they lived or how they spelled the name. Then, Mary Teck, King George V’s consort, grandmother of Her Royal Highness Elizabeth II, joined in the cause, and Katharine's place of interment became clearly marked as the tomb of a Queen of England. Her successor did not fare as well.

Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons.

Anne Boleyn (c. 1501- May 19, 1536):

Wikimedia Commons, courtesy of Chris Nyborg
Many historians attribute Catherine of Aragon as having captured the hearts and minds of the English people. Albeit unjustly, not even her successor’s apologists extend the honor to her predecessor. There are as many accounts of Anne’s demise as there are screenwriters and historical novelists, and many versions propounded by historians are scarcely more than musings. One thing is certain: the queen was executed for treason within the grounds of the Tower of London on May 19, 1536. Her remains were disposed of according to the custom of the time. As an aristocrat, she was buried beneath the floor within the confines of the Royal Chapel of Saint Peter ad Vincula. Much haste accompanied her beheading, and no one had thought to order a coffin. Apparently, her remains were carried from the place of her beheading to her place of burial by her ladies and placed into a wooden box.

At the time, notes may have been made as to where the bodies of Royals executed during that bloodiest of weeks were buried, but none survive, and the accuracy of notations used to identify bones found under the floor during a renovation in the late 19th century are unauthenticated.

St. Peter ad Vincula, Wikimedia, Courtesy of Creative Commons
www.graveyards, Matt Hucke,

There are indeed bones of women scattered in at least two locations, but sources differ as to which if either set were Queen Anne's. A commission formed when the floor was torn up during Victoria’s reign, and a surgeon declared a set of female bones to be of the proper age and configuration. 21st-century historian Alison Weir disagrees and believes bones identified as Anne’s sister-in-law Lady Rochford were the Queen's.

While Dr. Weir does not have sufficient facts to declare the issue resolved, she certainly has enough to raise substantial doubt. It will be ironic if further studies show that Weir is correct since Lady Rochford and Anne Boleyn were reputed rivals for Anne’s brother George’s affections. And to add to the controversy, recent research implies that even that assertion may not be true. Jane Boleyn may not be Anne's jealous sister-in-law after all. She may just have been a scapegoat.

The fact that Anne’s burial site has not been resolved is further evidence of how little dignity her remains were afforded at the time of her death. As it stands, all that commemorates her final resting place is a plaque in the floor placed at the behest of Queen Victoria, marking the spot where a wooden box with copper screws in embedded in the concrete, and which may or may not contain the bones of Anne Boleyn. Alison Weir suspects they belong to Kathryn Howard, wife #5.

Jane Seymour (1509-October 24, 1537):

Perhaps it is time to look at Queen Jane Seymour in a different light than the one in which she has been cast. At least insofar as Henry VIII was concerned, of his six wives, Jane was special. His affections for her are usually explained by her ability to present him with a male heir, an achievement not to be downplayed. However, some recent research suggests there was more to Queen Jane Seymour than her label as ‘a little mouse' implies. At the very least she lasted a year without offending Henry as long as she kept her opinions to herself, a lesson learned when she approached him about pardoning the peasants who had taken part in the Pilgrimage of Grace.

The reign of Henry Tudor’s third wife was painfully brief. She triumphed over both of her predecessors by giving Henry the son he craved, but the birth cost Jane her life. Twelve days later, she was dead, either of a partially unexpelled placenta or puerperal fever. Henry's plans for her elaborate coronation became arrangements for a royal funeral. She was the only one of Henry’s wives to receive one. The funeral procession began at Hampton Court where she had died and thereafter, laid in state, and ended at Windsor Castle, where Henry planned to be interred. Because of the elaborate nature of his tomb, which remained very much a work-in-progress, she was placed in what was planned as a temporary crypt in the Quire of Saint George’s Chapel at Windsor Palace, while Henry sorted the details of the elegant tomb he had been planning for decades. He had hired a series of celebrated Italian sculptors to render elaborate designs, none of which pleased their patron.

Later representation of Henry VIII's family as
he defined it. (Wikimedia Commons, (PD)
Henry had begun planning his tomb during the happy early days of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Years later, after five more marriages, he chose to share it with Queen Jane. All he had to do was live long enough to see it finished. He died in 1547, leaving a partially completed set of ornaments for an unfinished tomb.

Sharing a crypt with the mighty Henry VIII should have assured Queen Jane's remains a resting place superior to all others, but such was not the case. Finances and what moderns call regime change intervened. In Henry's will and again, on his deathbed in 1547, he reaffirmed his desire to be buried at Windsor, with Jane alongside him. He anticipated his son and heir, Edward, Prince of Wales, and Edward's powerful Seymour uncles would see to the tomb’s completion, including life-size effigies of Henry and Jane, and a marble statue of himself upon a warhorse. He had not considered continental politics, religious strife in England, or the threat of Calvinism and the Scottish Reformation. Henry's death left Edward Seymour, then Earl of Hereford, and Protector of the Realm, with more pressing problems than a dead king's tomb. As he approached majority, studious and devoutly Protestant Edward VI had no time for such frivolities. During the Catholic restoration that occurred in Mary I’s reign, in spite of her deep affection for Queen Jane, she had no desire to deify the father who had rejected her. When Protestant, parsimonious Elizabeth Tudor succeeded her half-sister, she found other uses for her money. When Elizabeth I died in 1603, and the Tudor Dynasty made way for the House of Stuart, King James VI of Scotland and I of England, was preoccupied with rehabilitating the image of his mother, Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots, who had been beheaded in 1587 on a warrant signed by Elizabeth Tudor, and buried at Peterborough on the opposite side of the altar from Katharine of Aragon. It was she, who never set foot in England other than as a fugitive, and later, as a prisoner, who was reinterred in a glorious tomb in the Lady Chapel at Westminster. 

To finance the Civil War, Cromwell's Commonwealth parliament sold the effigy of Henry VIII and other substantially completed components of Henry VIII’s planned memorial. The author of the commentary at the Saint George’s Chapel page cited below remarks that ‘a less ambitious scheme achievable during his lifetime would have been a wiser choice’.

CONCLUSION OF PART I ~ Tombs of Henry VIII’s Queens

St.George's Chapel,Wikimedia, courtesy of Alan Thoma

The only marking above the royal vault at Windsor Castle where Henry VIII and his third wife, Queen Jane are buried dates to the 19th century and is as follows:[vi]


Join me in September for a look at the burial sites of Henry VIII's last three consorts, Anne of Cleves, Kathryn Howard, and Katharine Parr.

[i] The author uses the spelling that appears at the site where the Queen is buried. Mattingly uses the popular spelling of the name. The queen herself signed as Katalina.

[ii] Garrett Mattingly, infra, states the King secretly married Jane Seymour the day after Anne’s execution, i.e., on May 20, 1936, not May 29.

[iii] Mattingly, Garrett, Catherine of Aragon, 1941, Book of the Month Club Edition, 1990, pages 429-430.

[iv] See the official Peterborough Cathedral website for an excellent recap of Katherine’s life, the present festival held in her honor, and a short biography.

[v] The entire quote is found infra.



Historical novelist Linda Root left a career as a major crimes prosecutor anticipating a retirement spent writing Historical Crime Fiction. She began compiling a Murder Book, aimed at convicting Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots of conspiracy in her husband Lord Darnley’s murder. Instead of the book she planned, her research inspired her to write a novel, The First Marie and the Queen of Scots, first published in 2011. It was followed in 2013 by The Last Knight and the Queen of Scots and four stand-alone books in the The Legacy of the Queen of Scots series, with a fifth in progress: They are: 1) Unknown Princess (formerly The Midwife's Secret; 2) The Last Knight’s Daughter, (formerly The Other Daughter); 3) 1603: The Queen’s Revenge;  and 4) In the Shadow of the Gallows. The Deliverance of the Lamb will be published this winter..She has also published an adult fantasy, The Green Woman, as J. D. Root.Visit her Amazon Author Page for a complete list:

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Dress, Music and Fighting: 11th-century life through the eyes of an Anglo-Saxon artist (Part I - Dress)

by Christopher Monk

How should we imagine life back in early medieval England (pre-1066)?  What did people look like?  What did they believe?  What did they do to ‘hang out’, as one historical fiction writer put it to me recently?

There are, of course, written historical records upon which we can draw.  We have laws, charters and wills, for example – written from as early as 600 in the case of the Kentish laws of Ethelbert – from which we may tease out details about everyday life.  We also have the rich archaeological record from the Anglo-Saxon period (c.450-c.1066), which furnishes us with many a revelation, be they somewhat tantalising at times.

Not to be overlooked as a resource is the art of the period.  As a specialist in Anglo-Saxon cultural history, I’ve found it immensely rewarding to explore the world of the early English peoples through the illustrated pages of their books.  My favourite manuscript for doing this is the Old English Illustrated Hexateuch.  Let me tell you something about it, and let us see what insights it might bring to our understanding of life back in the eleventh century.

The Hexateuch goes by the official ‘shelfmark’ of London, British Library, Cotton Claudius B.iv.  To see it in the flesh, then, you would need to go to the British Library, though it’s extremely unlikely that it would be made available for your perusal at leisure.  Fortunately, we can see it online, as the Library has made it available in full as one of its digitised manuscripts (a link is provided at the end).  And what’s particularly exciting is that we can zoom in really close to examine the detail.

The Hexateuch was produced around 1020-40, so towards the end of the Anglo-Saxon period, very probably during the reign of King Cnut (reigned 1016-35).  Its origin is likely the St Augustine’s monastery at Canterbury.  The Hexateuch combines both a textual and visual treatment of the first six books of the Bible, Genesis through to Judges.  It is essentially a picture book – certainly the design of the book focused on the illustrations – accompanied by vernacular (Old English [OE]) translations and paraphrases of Jerome’s Latin Vulgate bible.

To the modern eye, it resembles a comic book.  The pictures closely follow the order of the text but they dominate the pages, there being 394 framed illustrations in total.  Furthermore, they frequently amplify the text, revealing emotions, tensions and scenarios not always evident in the words themselves.  What is key for our purposes is that the artist draws upon contemporary life in order to bring the lives of the patriarchs and the Israelites into sharp focus.  

Let us have a look at just a handful of pictorial scenes to see what they reveal about life in eleventh-century England.  And hopefully that will help us all appreciate that we have another resource in which our imagining of the Anglo-Saxons can be rooted.

Dapper dressers

So what did the Anglo-Saxons look like?  How did they dress, for example?

First, I should point out that we need to show care when interpreting art.  To illustrate: when God or angelic messengers appear in the Hexateuch, they are depicted in classical garb, thus we have a nod to Roman culture rather than a representation of what figures of authority in the period would have gone around wearing.  And I should also make the observation that colour is not always used in a realistic way by the artist.  So, for example, please don’t think that blue rinses were in fashion!

One of my favourite images for demonstrating male attire is the one here of four ‘unrighteous’ men in the days of Noah before the Flood.  They are probably meant to represent the giants or ‘entas’* who were born from the miscegenation of ‘the sons of God’ and ‘the daughters of men’ (Genesis 6:1-8)

They wear the ubiquitous long-sleeved short tunic, along with a cloak fastened by a brooch, either at the shoulder or centrally (the majority of men are shown wearing it at the shoulder).  

Elsewhere men are shown without cloaks or with shorter versions than you see here.  Sometimes we also see men with longer tunics, often kings or pharaohs, though these are also very often shown on men who are seated and so perhaps the artist is concerned with preserving modesty rather than wishing to indicate actual length. 

Though the vast majority of tunics are plain, nevertheless we do come across a significant number of tunics with decorated edging, very similar to those worn by the two central figures.  As you see, these fringes run along the bottom and partway up the sides of the garment.  This may indicate that some tunics had side slits, similar to those on Joseph’s famous ‘coat of many colours’, depicted later – although Joseph’s garment lacks an embellished edging.  Incidentally, the ‘technicolour dreamcoat’ is not shown as truly multi-coloured because the artist is following the slightly odd OE translation – hringfag, meaning ‘ring-patterned’ – of the Latin polymita, meaning ‘cloth woven from threads of many colours’. 

These decorative edges, or fringes, may be representative of embroidery, and would likely have been worn by men of some note, not by ordinary ceorls (free-men of low rank) and certainly not by slaves.  Indeed, in the Hexateuch they appear on men from important families, such as Joseph’s brothers, who as you see here are shown with golden edging on their tunics. 

It would seem, then, that if you really wanted to look the dapper man about town in the eleventh century, you needed embroidered garments.  Maybe it might catch on today? 

I’m afraid that’s all I have space for in this post concerning dress.  There was so much more that could have been said about both male and female dress, too, which brings me to a core area of my present research: women in Anglo-Saxon culture.

For my second detail from the Hexateuch, I want to focus on a particular ‘female’ skill, and in doing so throw something out there that may cause a stir.  Now, I bet you’re thinking weaving, spinning or embroidery, aren’t you?  Well, I’m not going there; instead we’re going to look at women as musicians. And then it will be back to the men for my final insight from the Hexateuch.  And what is it in Anglo-Saxon culture that men did best?  All you living history performers know, don’t you?  Yes, fighting, of course.  

[These will be published in Part 2 - Music and Fighting - on Saturday (27th August)]

*Tolkien fans will recognise the origin here of his giant tree-beings, the ‘ents’.

Works consulted:
Graham Lawson and Susan Rankin, ‘Music’, and Graeme Lawson, ‘Musical Instruments’, from The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England, ed. Michael Lapidge et al. (Blackwell, 2001). 
Gale R. Owen-Crocker, Dress in Anglo-Saxon England: Revised and enlarged edition (Boydell, 2004)
Dorothy Whitelock (ed.), English Historical Documents c. 500-1042 (Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1955)

Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary:
Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources:
Douay-Rheims Bible:
The Old English Illustrated Hexateuch: Just type ‘hexateuch’ into the search box.

Dr Christopher Monk taught for four years at the University of Manchester (UK) on subjects ranging from the language and history of Beowulf to sex and sexuality in Anglo-Saxon art.  He now works as an independent consultant and development editor.  Recently he was the medieval history and manuscript expert for a major permanent exhibition at Rochester Cathedral (due to open later in 2016) about one of Britain’s most important, but overlooked, medieval books, the twelfth-century Textus Roffensis.  Chris continues to juggle scholarly work with creative writing.  He has just published a chapter in a collection of essays about the Bayeux Tapestry, and has an eBook under review called Sodom in the Anglo-Saxon Imagination.  But he’s also written a screenplay based in 1978 about a Kate Bush obsessive and is presently writing what he describes as “a sort of historical fantasy prequel to Beowulf”. He blogs as the transhistorical Anglo-Saxon Monk.
Find him At his website

Monday, August 22, 2016

Giveaway - the Lady of the Highway by Deborah Swift

Lady of the Highway by [Swift, Deborah]

Deborah Swift is giving away a copy of The Lady of the Highway:

England 1651 
The English Civil War is over, but the wounds of the conflict are still raw.
Young Lady Katherine Fanshawe is determined to save her inheritance from the grasping hands of the authorities, and build a brighter future for herself.
Although Kate knows it is dangerous, she invites her rebel friends to live and work at Markyate Manor.
But her plans are quickly blown apart when, after months of hard work, her stepfather returns unexpectedly, and evicts them all without pay.
Kate's friends are bitter and turn against her, accusing her of being cursed and a bringer of misfortune.
Desperate to regain their sympathy and trust, she turns to highway robbery to pay them back.
But Kate is not the only highway thief on the road, and her rival is intent on bloodshed and murder.
Soon the local constable is hot on her trail for crimes she did not commit.
Just when Kate thinks things can't get worse, another secret begins to reveal itself - a secret that threatens her very life.

In this struggle against her loveless family, militant authorities and an unforgiving winter, will Lady Katherine's birth right turn out to be a blessing or a curse?

To enter, leave your contact details below. Giveaway closes midnight Sunday 28th August

Coat of Arms Tell a Story

by Samantha Wilcoxson

The medieval coat of arms was a source of pride for its owner, not only identifying them with its unique design but telling a story of their achievements and ancestry. The differentiations added with each generation and family member who used a coat of arms increased its complexity and put their individual touch upon the family story. The example of Margaret Pole’s coat of arms is an excellent study in the intricacies of heraldry.

Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury
Coat of Arms
As you can see, Margaret had good reason to be proud of her heritage and her own position as Countess of Salisbury. Each color, line, and image within this breathtaking coat of arms has a particular meaning. By looking at each element we can learn much about the lady herself.

Let’s start by looking at the top left quarter of Margaret’s shield. This undoubtedly is familiar as the quartered Plantagenet lions and French fleur-de-lis had been used since the reign of Edward III, the monarch whose many descendants would cause the Wars of the Roses that created so much upheaval for Margaret and countless others. He was the first to take England’s three lions and combine them with the banner of the French throne.  Each of the monarchs since Edward III’s time had included this in their coat of arms, and Margaret’s children kept this intact in their own shields.

George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence
Coat of Arms
The field of red, or gules as it is referred to in heraldry, indicates the status of a warrior or one who is eager to serve, while France’s azure (blue) represents loyalty and strength. Lions were common features on royal shields, these are in a position of passant guardant with three feet on the ground and head facing the observer. A differentiation on Margaret’s family’s version of the royal arms is the white label, or tournament collar, charged with canton gules (the red marks) which designates it as the shield of the Duke of Clarence, Margaret’s father.

Moving clockwise, we begin to see the many elements that Margaret’s shield takes from her Neville ancestors, who were earls of Warwick, Montagu, Westmoreland, and Salisbury. The gules field is repeated in the square included from the Nevilles of Middleham. From the late 13th century, this shield was in place for this noble family when it was first used by Ralph Neville, 1st Baron de Raby. 
The label charged with canton azure was added by Richard Neville, earl of Salisbury, to differentiate between family branches. Salisbury passed on this element to his son, the infamous Earl of Warwick, later known as the kingmaker. It is found on the coat of arms of Margaret Pole because her mother was Warwick’s daughter. She also was restored her great-grandfather’s title to the earldom of Salisbury by Henry VIII.

Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick
Coat of Arms
Many other elements of Margaret’s shield also come from that of her grandfather, which combines several items from his family’s various earldoms. The Howorth crosslets and field of chequed gold and azure with the chevron of ermine are evidence of his inheritance from his father-in-law. Richard de Beauchamp passed along the Warwick earldom to Richard Neville through the former’s daughter and latter’s wife, Anne Beauchamp. This portion of the shield finds its roots in de Clare family arms, ancestors of the Beauchamps. They were added by Warwick to the eagle and series of three red fusils that were featured on Warwick’s father’s shield, combining key features of the many noble names and titles he could lay claim to.

The final eighth of Margaret’s coat of arms is taken directly from her grandfather’s lower right quarter. The red chevronels on gold quartered with gold fret on red indicate Despenser family heritage, also through Warwick’s wife, Anne Beauchamp.

Henry Pole, Lord Montagu
Coat of Arms
A brief analysis of Margaret Pole’s coat of arms makes clear how quickly family connections and titles cause the evolution of a shield. Each person who passed on a particular element to be marshalled into Margaret’s shield had very particular reasons for choosing the colors and images that may simply seem eye-catching and romantic to us.

The Warwick chequed azure and gold would have been chosen due to a deep respect for virtue and loyalty. The white chevron over top of this field charged with ermine indicated a vow to protect and status as a noble family. In the same manner, each of the Montagu fusils were a proud statement of honesty, constancy, and noble birth. When Margaret gazed upon her coat of arms, she would have a resounding sense of the past and all that her family had accomplished before her time. The upper left quarter of her shield especially would have been a constant reminder of her family’s former royal status.

Cardinal Reginald Pole
Coat of Arms

Margaret’s sons carried on their family’s heritage with pride, though theirs did not repeat the complexity of Margaret’s shield.  They took the dukedom of Clarence arms of their mother’s shield quartered with the gold and sable saltire of their father, Sir Richard Pole. The lower half included the Neville saltire and the Warwick crosslets. Henry and Reginald’s coats of arms were identical but crested with indications of their status as an earl and a cardinal.

Boutell's Heraldry by CW Scott-Giles & JP Brooke-Little
A Complete Guide to Heraldry by AC Fox-Davies

All images are in the public domain.

Samantha Wilcoxson is the author of the Plantagenet Embers series, which features the stories of the Plantagenet remnant in Tudor times. The first novel in the series, Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen, tells the story of Elizabeth of York, who became the mother of the Tudor dynasty. This book was named an Editor's Choice by the Historical Novel Society and is a Kindle biographical fiction bestseller. Faithful Traitor, also a Kindle bestseller, is the second installment in the series and features the story of Margaret Pole. The final book of the trilogy, Queen of Martyrs: The Story of Mary I will be released in Spring 2017.

Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen and Faithful Traitor are available worldwide on Amazon.

Connect with Samantha on her blog or on Twitter.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Editors' Weekly Round-up August 21st

by the EHFA Editors

Enjoy this week's wrap up of posts on the blog:

by Annie Whitehead

by Jacqueline Reiter

by Charlene Newcomb
(Editors Choice post from the EHFA Archives)

This week we are also offering a giveaway - Lindsay Downs offers a PDF copy of his new release. This giveaway closes midnight Sunday Pacific Daylight Time.

by Lindsay Downs

The EHFA Editorial Team: Cryssa Bazos, Anna Belfrage, Debra Brown, Charlene Newcomb, Annie Whitehead

Saturday, August 20, 2016

War Crime or a Strategic Military Decision? The massacre at Acre, August 20, 1191

by Charlene Newcomb

Surely one of the saddest, most horrible, and notorious events of the Third Crusade occurred on August 20, 1191. When Acre surrendered to Christian forces in July 1191 after a two-year siege, negotiators from within the city agreed to terms that included the return of Christian hostages and a fragment of the True Cross - captured by Saladin at the Battle of Hattin in 1187 - and payment to secure the release of Muslim hostages. Saladin was not involved in the negotiations, and contemporary accounts provide no evidence that the Muslin leader actually agreed to the conditions set on his behalf. There is no doubt Saladin knew the terms and used delay tactics whether to better position his troops or to stall the Christians' march to Jerusalem. In the words of chronicler Geoffrey de Vinsauf, Saladin “sent constant presents and messengers to King Richard to gain delay by artful and deceptive words.” The deadline was extended in hopes Saladin would come through.

What is clear: the terms of the surrender were not met. Twenty-seven hundred hostages were executed under orders issued by Richard the Lionheart.

Richard’s decision has been a cause for debate for centuries. In today’s world, this would be a war crime of huge magnitude. In 12th century warfare, the execution of hostages was not uncommon, though in many situations, hostages were kept under house arrest – sometimes for years –  or sold as slaves.

Richard’s dilemma: where do you house 2,700 hostages? How do you keep them fed when you must feed your own army? How many guards would it take to ensure the captives would not escape? With the departure of King Philip of France, Duke Leopold of Austria, and many of their supporters that summer, Richard needed nearly every able-bodied soldier on the coming pilgrimage to secure Jerusalem.

Why didn’t Richard sell his hostages? That would take time. It was already mid-August. The army needed to begin the march to Jerusalem or else run the risk of being caught by winter storms.

Based on morals and the conduct of war in the 12th century, are these excuses or valid reasons to execute close to 3,000 prisoners?

I was surprised that contemporary observers had very little to say about the executions. It is incredible to read the accounts of wholesale slaughter generally described in such nonchalant terms.

Roger de Hoveden writes:
On the seventeenth day of the month of August, being the third day of the week and the thirteenth day before the calends of September, the king of England caused all the pagans who belonged to him from the capture of Acre to be led out before the army of Saladin, and their heads to be struck off in the presence of all . . .

De Hoveden does provide more detail than most chroniclers and further along that passage he describes what the Christians did to the bodies. It is horrific, and I won't repeat it here. He then continues:

On the twenty-first day of the month of August, after the slaughter of the pagans, the king of England delivered into the charge of Bertram de Verdun the city of Acre. . . On the twenty-second day . . . the king of England crossed the river of Acre with his army, and pitching his tents between that river and the sea, on the sea-shore between Acre and Cayphas, remained there four days.

The chronicler Geoffrey de Vinsauf writes:
. . . 2700 of the Turkish hostages [were] led forth from the city and hanged ; [King Richard's] soldiers marched forward with delight to fulfill his commands, and to retaliate, with the assent of the Divine Grace, by taking revenge upon those who had destroyed so many of the Christians with missiles and arbalests.
Ambroise writes:
Two thousand seven hundred, all

In chains, were led outside the wall,
Where they were slaughtered every one;
And thus on them was vengeance done.
For blows and bolts of arbalest.
Even Muslim contemporary writers have not provided us more than a few sentences about the event. Ibn al-Athir writes that Saladin and his emirs did not trust the Franks (the term used to denote the European Christians). Al-Athir felt that the crusaders intended 'treachery' and would not free the hostages even if Saladin met the demands. Al-Athir then notes:
On Tuesday 27 Rajab [20 August 1191] the Franks mounted up and came outside the city with horse and foot. The Muslims rode out to meet them, charged them and drove them from their position. Most of the Muslims they had been holding were found slain. They had put them to the sword and massacred them but preserved the emirs and captains and those with money. All the others, the general multitude, the rank and file and those with no money they slew.
The chronicler Baha' Al-Din writes:
Then they brought the Muslim prisoners whose martyrdom God had ordained, more than three thousand men in chains. They fell on them as one man and slaughtered them in cold blood, with sword and lance . . .
He is one of few contemporaries who comments on Richard's motives:
Many reasons were given to explain the slaughter. One was that they had killed as reprisal for their own prisoners killed before then by the Muslims. Another was that the King of England had decided to march on Ascalon and take it, and he did not want to leave behind him in the city a large number (of enemy soldiers). God knows best.
Richard justified his actions in a letter to the abbot of Clairvaux. This was war, and Saladin had not met his end of the agreement. Many of Richard's contemporaries and numerous scholars over the years have condemned the Lionheart for his decision. It was a brutal and unchivalrous act. Would Richard's reputation have suffered less if the besieged had chosen to fight to the bitter end? Those sieges did not end well for the losers: pillaging, burning, and killing. But the garrison at Acre had surrendered. Richard sought advice from his council, and seeing no alternatives if he intended to be at Jerusalem's gate before winter set in, he issued the orders.


Ambroise. The history of the holy war : Ambroise’s estoire de la guerre sainte. (Trans. by Ailes, M., & Barber, M.) Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2003.

De Hoveden, R. (1853). The annals of Roger de Hoveden, comprising the history of England and of other countries of Europe from A. D. 732 to A. D. 1201. (Henry T. Riley, Trans.). London: H. G. Bohn. (Original work published 1201?)

"Geoffrey de Vinsauf's itinerary of Richard I and Others, to the Holy Land" in Chronicles of the Crusades: contemporary narratives, compiled and edited by Henry G. Bohm. London: Kegan Paul, 2004.

Gillingham, J. (1978). Richard the Lionheart. New York: Times Books.

Ibn al-Athīr, ʻIzz al-Din. (2007). The chronicle of ibn al-athīr for the crusading period from al-kāmil fi’l-ta’rīkh. (Trans by Richards, D. S.) Aldershot ; Burlington, VT: Ashgate.

Ibn Shaddād, Bahāʼ al-Dīn. (2001) . The rare and excellent history of Saladin, or, al-Nawādir al-Sultaniyya wa’l-Mahasin al-Yusufiyya. (Trans by Richards, D. S.) Aldershot, Hants, England: Ashgate.

Siege of Acre By Blofeld of SPECTRE at en.wikipedia (Transfered from en.wikipedia) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons,

Richard the Lionheart Merry-Joseph Blondel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

"SaracensBeheaded" by Alphonse-Marie-Adolphe de Neuville - François Guizot (1787-1874), The History of France from the Earliest Times to the Year 1789, London : S. Low, Marston, Searle &

Rivington, 1883, p. 447. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

This post was originally posted on English Historical Fiction Authors on Wednesday, August 19, 2015.


Charlene Newcomb is the author of Men of the Cross and For King and Country, two historical adventures set during the reign of King Richard I, the Lionheart. For King and Country is an HNS Editors Choice, long listed for the 2017 HNS Indie Award. Men of the Cross was selected as an indieBRAG Medallion honoree in 2014..

Charlene is a member of the Historical Novel Society and a contributor and blog editor for English Historical Fiction Authors. She lives, works, and writes in Kansas. She is an academic librarian by trade, a former U.S. Navy veteran, and has three grown children.

Connect with Char: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Amazon

Friday, August 19, 2016

Anglesey: The Tudors' Mystical Island

by Nancy Bilyeau

View from a cliff on Anglesey Island [wikimedia commons, photo by Eric Jones]

After the army of  Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond, defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth on August 22, 1485, an effort swung into action to make Henry seem as kingly as possible. It wasn't enough that Richard must be seen as the blackest villain ever to draw breath. Henry himself, to hold the throne, must be venerated as royal.

It wasn't going to be easy.

Henry's mother, Margaret Beaufort, was descended from the great John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, and while that gave him the right to call himself a Lancastrian heir, the Beauforts were the children of Gaunt's mistress, Katherine Swynford. True, Gaunt married her after the five children were born and Henry IV had them legitimized. Still, no less than an act of Parliament barred a Beaufort from ever succeeding to the throne. Serious obstacle, that.

Henry VII [wikimedia commons, public domain]

So the Tudor propaganda machine got busy with building up the reputation of the last Lancaster king, Henry VI. In life he suffered complete nervous breakdowns, was led by his relatives and his wife, and would have been far better off as a monk than a king during the vicious family disputes later known as the War of the Roses. In 1471, defeated, he was murdered in the Tower of London by the triumphant Yorks. Some say that he was the worst king of the medieval era.

But Henry VI was the half-brother of Edmund Tudor, father of the new King Henry VII. He was family. Some serious revision was in order.

So in the inaugural pageants of Henry VII, prominence was given to his dead uncle, the "Martir By Great Tormenting." Stories circulated of King Henry VI's miracles, such as curing the blind and saving children from fires. Strenuous efforts were made to persuade the Pope to make Henry VI a saint.

Sainthood notwithstanding, the Tudors' connection to Henry VI was not as straightforward as might seem at first glance. Henry VI's half-brother, Edmund Tudor, did not possess one drop of Plantagenet blood. Edmund's mother was Catherine of Valois--a French princess who was briefly married to Henry V and gave birth to Henry VI--and his father was Catherine's handsome Welsh servant, Owen Tudor. The legend goes that the young widow spotted Owen swimming naked in a river. Catherine secretly married Owen and they had four or five children.

Catherine of Valois marrying first husband Henry V [wikimedia commons]

When he came to the throne, Henry VII's Welsh descent was honored, of course. After all, Henry Tudor and his uncle Jasper (Edmund's younger brother) purposefully landed in Wales with their army and made a popular appeal for support as they marched toward England. The Welsh flocked to his cause, and his army flew the flag of the red dragon of Cadwallader,  the legendary Welsh ruler. After he won the battle, the new King Henry VII proclaimed himself as heir to the 7th century Cadwallader, a new king whose rise was foretold in the misty prophecies of Merlin.

As for the king's far more recent, undoubted Welsh background, not much was said about that. After all, when it was discovered years ago, the secret marriage was an embarrassment. Queens didn't marry their servants. Following the death of Catherine of Valois, her oldest child, Henry VI, committed the non-saintly act of sending his stepfather, Owen Tudor, to Newgate Prison (he was later pardoned and pensioned).

But the Tudor family--which did give its name to England's most memorable dynasty--should not be ignored pre-Bosworth. They were a family of genuine achievement and for centuries they lived on a remarkable island, Anglesey, off the northwest coast of Wales. It was a place of mystical power...and a spirit of ferocious independence.

The beautiful island [wikimedia commons, photo by Stephen Elwyn Roddick]

We learn of Anglesey (its Welsh name is Ynys Môn) through the writings of Roman historians.  Roman rulers feared its occupants. That's right, feared. At its height, the Roman empire controlled land lived on by 50 million people. Yet Anglesey held a special place among the strategies of the caesars.

It was because of the Druids. Anglesey was the last Druid sanctuary.

The revival of the Druid religion in the 18th century confuses our understanding of the original. We may envision robed figures dancing in the moonlight, swathed in wreaths. That's Druids 2.0. The Romans encountered something else.

Julius Caesar fought the Celts for eight years in modern-day France. The Gallic Wars gave him fame and fortune but he didn't win easily. The priestly, educated class of the Celts in France, England and Ireland were the Druids, and he was fascinated by the mysterious spiritual leaders of his adversaries.  Julius Caesar wrote:

"The Druids are in charge of all religious matters, superintending public and private sacrifices, and explaining superstitions....The whole nation of the Gauls is greatly devoted to ritual observances, and for that reason those who are smitten with the more grievous maladies and who are engaged in the perils of battle either sacrifice human victims or vow so to do, employing the druids as ministers for such sacrifices. They believe, in effect, that, unless for a man's life a man's life be paid, the majesty of the immortal gods may not be appeased; and in public, as in private life they observe an ordinance of sacrifices of the same kind. Others use figures of immense size whose limbs, woven out of twigs, they fill with living men and set on fire, and the men perish in a sheet of flame. They believe that the execution of those who have been caught in the act of theft or robbery or some crime is more pleasing to the immortal gods; but when the supply of such fails they resort to the execution even of the innocent."

Whether or not Druids oversaw human sacrifice is hotly debated. Historians long dismissed it as Roman gossip, but recent findings suggest otherwise. "Lindow Man," found in the peat bog of Cheshire, was a young Celtic of high status who was strangled and then had his throat cut, during the first century AD.

What cannot be disputed is that when the Romans struggled to conquer Britain, they targeted the Druids as those who fomented rebellion.  They were 1st Century freedom fighters. The Romans could not subdue the people for long; frustrated, they decided to wipe out the Druids to break the people's spirit. To do that, they must march on Anglesey, the Druid stronghold.

What do we know about the lives of the Druids? Very little. The Druids left no written records. Researchers believe it took twenty years for a student to become a Druid. They honored the winter and summer solstices. The conjecture is that the Druids believed in the immortality of the soul and that after death it found a new body. According to the Museum of Wales, between 300 BC and 100 AD, chariots, weapons, tools and decorated metalwork were cast into a lake at the site of Llyn Cerrig Bach on Anglesey.

Whatever the Druids were doing, the Romans set themselves to wipe it out. Tacitus wrote vividly of the slaughter of Druids on Anglesey, some of them women, led by Roman commander Suetonius Paulinus in 61 AD:
"On the beach stood the adverse array, a serried mass of arms and men, with women flitting between the ranks. In the style of Furies, in robes of deathly black and with dishevelled hair, they brandished their torches; while a circle of Druids, lifting their hands to heaven and showering imprecations, struck the troops with such an awe at the extraordinary spectacle that, as though their limbs were paralysed, they exposed their bodies to wounds without an attempt at movement. Then, reassured by their general, and inciting each other never to flinch before a band of females and fanatics, they charged behind the standards, cut down all who met them, and enveloped the enemy in his own flames."
Menai Straits, where the Romans crossed
[wikimedia commons, photo by Mark Chambers]

Little more is heard of the Druids. Rome did its horrific job. Moreover, as Wales accepted Christianity, the Druids as a priestly class were bound to become extinct, probably by the 7th century.

But for the people who remained on the island, the defiant spirit of Anglesey was not broken. After Rome fell, waves of invasion by Saxons and Vikings took their toll across England. Wales for the most part stayed true to its Celtic origins. (Anglesey was taken by Irish warlords for a time, before throwing them off.) The "Kingdom of Gwynedd" rose in Wales, its rulers declaring themselves "Kings of the Britons," and for several centuries the town of Aberffraw, on Anglesey Island, was this kingdom's power base.

Then came Edward I. 

As far as Anglesey was concerned, the kings of England, first Norman and then Plantagenet, weren't English at all. They spoke French, for starters. The Welsh maintained their independence throughout the rules of families based in far-away London, until Edward I launched war, using strategies nearly as horrific as the Romans. When the last king of Wales, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, died in battle in 1282, Edward I sent his severed head to London to be displayed, mockingly, with a crown of ivy and then mounted over the gate of the Tower of London. 

It's during this turbulent time that the Tudor name first appears in historical record. For four centuries, the Tudor family served the independent Welsh kings of Gwynedd in high positions, resisted English attempts at subjugation and, even after Edward I's brutalizing wars, continued to support revolt.  Henry Tudor's known ancestor was Edynyfed Fychan ap Cynwrig, a seneschal of Llywelyn the Great in the early 13th century. The Tudor seat on Anglesey was the village of Penmynydd, which means top of the mountain in Welsh. They were undoubtedly a leading family.

The rocky coastline [wikimedia commons, photo by Lesbardd]

So how did Owen Tudor end up working as a servant for a widowed English queen? By the time of his birth, the island of Anglesey was worn down by generations of fighting the English. The Tudors were on the front lines of the latest struggle. Owen's father, Maredudd ap Tudor, and uncles were key combatants in the Glyndŵr Rising, also known as the Last War of Independence. The Tudors were fierce guerrilla fighters during that long revolt, and were left impoverished at its end in 1415. The victorious English crown fined the defeated rebels and seized their land. Seeing no choice, Owen's father took his family off the island.

There is some speculation Owen Tudor fought under Henry V as a soldier at Agincourt and won royal notice that way. After the death of the wife they shared, Catherine of Valois, Owen supported the rights of Henry VI. He was descended from men who rebelled against the English kings for decades. Now he was the stepfather of such a king.

Owen was fighting in the army of his own son, Jasper, when the Lancasters lost to the future Edward IV at the Battle of Mortimer's Cross and he was captured. The Yorkists decided to execute Owen immediately. Shortly before he was beheaded on February 2, 1461, Owen Tudor said, "That hede shalle ly on the stocke that wass wonte to ly on Quene Catheryn's lappe."

When, more than a century later, Queen Elizabeth defied Spain and roused England to defend itself from the Armada, historians see the character of her parents, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, in the Queen's courage and eloquence.

Elizabeth said to her soldiers:

"Let tyrants fear, I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects; and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live and die amongst you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust."
And maybe, just maybe, we can hear in her words an echo of the spirit of the many freedom fighters of Anglesey Island.

Island of Anglesey [wikimedia commons; photo by Lesbardd]

Nancy Bilyeau is the author of a trilogy of novels set in 16th century England featuring Dominican novice Joanna Stafford: The Crown, The Chalice and The Tapestry.  The books were published by Touchstone (Simon & Schuster) and are on sale in nine countries. The Crown was an Oprah pick. The Tapestry was a finalist for the Daphne du Maurier Award for Best Historical Romantic Suspense at RWA in 2016. For more information, go to