“The Virgin Queen”, by Leanda de Lisle

March 10, 2017 in Guest Writers, QAB Author Highlight, Queens of World History by Beth von Staats

Editor’s Note: Queenanneboleyn.com is very excited to learn that Leanda de Lisle is completing the “finishing touches” on her new biography White King, The Untold Story of Charles I. This highly anticipated and comprehensive look at England’s tragic Stuart King and his family will release in the United Kingdom on August 31, 2017, by Random House. An American release by Penguin Books is anticipated in January 2018.

If you are seeking an outstanding introduction to the Tudor Dynasty of English History, look no further than Tudor: The Family Story. Do enjoy a short excerpt from Leanda highlighting the origin of Queen Elizabeth Tudor’s sobriquet as “The Virgin Queen”.


The Phoenix Portrait, Nicholas Hilliard


The Virgin Queen

by Leanda de Lisle


Was it better for a Queen who could not marry never to have felt love? In verse Elizabeth begged, ‘let me live with some more sweet content/Or die and so forget what love e’er meant’. Her father, Henry VIII, had feared it would be hard to find a King consort for a Tudor Queen, ‘with whom the whole realm could and would be contented’ as’, and so it had proved. The anxieties she had expressed to the emissary of Mary, Queen of Scots in 1561, that she could not marry without triggering unrest, had deepened following Mary’s disastrous marriages. Elizabeth continued to look publicly for a husband to fulfill national expectations and surely hoped it was not impossible that she might find someone suitable, but in their absence, she had settled for a kind of celibate marriage with Robert Dudley. It was a kind of ‘sweet content’.

People always rushed to see Elizabeth and Dudley together. The antiquarian John Stowe recalled witnessing them meeting once in 1566. Dudley had entered London with a train of seven hundred lords, knights, and gentlemen accompanied by the Queen’s footmen, as well as his own. They had marched from Temple Bar, through the City, across London Bridge into Southwark while the Queen came, ‘secretly.. [across the water] taking a wherry with one pair of oars for her and two other ladies’. When she had landed Elizabeth got into a blue coach and as Dudley and his army reached her on the highway, she came out and greeted him with kisses, before she mounted a horse and they rode on together to Greenwich palace. Later Stowe had watched Dudley return to London in advance of the Queen, the night sky lighting his way with the strange glow of the northern lights.

Nine years later, in 1575, Robert Dudley had prepared a magnificent eighteen days of entertainment for Elizabeth’s visit at his seat at Kenilworth castle in Warwickshire. When the great day came Elizabeth had enjoyed a feast in a specially built pavilion before Dudley rode with her to his castle, the flickering flames of the candles from the windows reflected in the lake and glittering like a vision from a fairy tale. Over the following two and half weeks there had been masques, pageants, and dramas, with the subject of marriage a constant theme. But Elizabeth would turn forty-five in 1578, suitors had come and gone for two decades, and the pretence that she would ever marry was coming to an end.

One last serious discussion of a match was underway with Elizabeth courted by the twenty-four-year old brother of the French King Henri III, the Duke of Anjou. The old friendship with Spain had soured over their religious differences and the piracy of Spanish gold. Elizabeth needed France as a friend, but to England’s beleaguered Catholics the marriage proposal also represented the desperate hope of an end to the increasingly vicious persecution to which they were being subjected. English Catholics reasoned that Elizabeth’s fears about their loyalty would be greatly reduced if she were married to a Catholic, but their hopes for the Anjou marriage were matched by Protestant opposition. These divisions over the Anjou match were to be played out during the royal progress into East Anglia that summer.

As usual a book was drawn up of the proposed route of the progress, which the Queen would then agree, and she picked the clothes she was to wear. Elizabeth’s face now had the square jawline of middle age and her aquiline nose dropped a little at the tip, giving it a hooked appearance. But what she had lost in youth she made up for in the increasing magnificence of her dress. The Spanish style cone shaped skirts of the 1560s had given way in the 1570s to much fuller skirts, thickly embroidered fabrics, and still more elaborate ruffs. Elizabeth did not always remember all the clothes, ruffs and jewels, she needed for each stop of her progress. She once overheard a carter, who was being sent back on a third trip to the Royal Warbrobe, slap his thigh, complaining, ‘Now I see that the Queen is a woman..as well as my wife’. More her Tudors predecessor Elizabeth had a sense of humour, and asking loudly from her window, “What a villain is this?’, she then sent him three coins ‘to stop his mouth’.

The progress of that summer arrived in Norwich on Saturday 16 August 1578 where, amongst the composers of the coming entertainments was a poet called Thomas Churchyard. A principle theme of his shows was to be the virtues of chastity – his patrons were against the Anjou match. He had been rehearsing his shows in Norwich for weeks but he was uncertain when and where his performances could go ahead and the weather was unsettled. When that Monday proved dry Churchyard was determined to seize any opportunity that might arise to put on his opening pageant.

Sometime before supper the Queen was spotted standing at a window with her ladies. As Churchyard’s players swung into action Elizabeth saw an extraordinary coach appear in the gardens beneath her. It was covered with painted birds, naked sprites and had a tower decked with glass jewels and topped with a plume of white feathers. As the coach rattled by a boy dressed as Mercury jumped off, made a leap or two and delivered a speech. The subject was God’s desire to, ‘Find out false hearts, and make of subjects true/ Plant perfect peace, and root up all debate.’ Elizabeth looked pleased (as well she might, tired as she was of debate about who she should marry) – but his show was not over yet.

The next day a friend gave Churchyard advance notice of the path the Queen was taking to dinner. They set up quickly in a field where a crowd was gathering. Churchyard had a whole morality play organised, in which the forces of Cupid, Wantoness and Riot were ranged up against Chastity and her lieutenants, Modesty, Temperance and Shamefastness. When Elizabeth arrived it unfolded before her, in praise of the celibate life. She acknowledged Churchyard’s efforts politely with ‘gracious words’, unaware as yet of the true significance of what she had just witnessed.

The famous phrase, the ‘Virgin Queen’ was coined in the parting pageant on Saturday, but Churchyard’s show in the open field was the first to celebrate Elizabeth as such. The sobriquet associated Elizabeth with the cult of the Virgin Mary and when the Anjou match eventually came to nothing like the others before it, a new iconography was born, with classical as well as Christian associations. A favourite theme in the pictures of Elizabeth that Courtiers commissioned was the classical story of the Vestal Virgin who proved her chastity by carrying water in a sieve from the river Tiber to the temple of Vesta. At least eight pictures survive depicting Elizabeth holding a sieve from the period 1579-83. In several of her portraits icons of empire were included, with the abandonment of the Anjou marriage linked to an aggressive foreign policy in which England would found a Protestant empire. But although these are the images of the great Queen we still remember, behind the icon stood an isolated figure.

Elizabeth is supposed to have written the verses of yearning ‘to live in some more sweet content’ when Anjou left England. But the pain and passion it describes surely found their true inspiration in the man she had truly loved: Robert Dudley.

I grieve and dare not show my discontent,
I love and yet am forced to seem to hate,
I do, yet dare not say I ever meant,
I seem stark mute but inwardly do prate.
I am and not, I freeze and yet am burned,
Since from myself another self I turned.

My care is like my shadow in the sun,
Follows me flying, flies when I pursue it,
Stands and lies by me, doth what I have done.
His too familiar care doth make me rue it.
No means I find to rid him from my breast,
Till by the end of things it be supprest.

Some gentler passion slide into my mind,
For I am soft and made of melting snow;
Or be more cruel, love, and so be kind.
Let me or float or sink, be high or low.
Or let me live with some more sweet content,
Or die and so forget what love ere meant.1


Queen Elizabeth I; Selected Works (2004) edited Steven W May p 12


Leanda de Lisle

Leanda de Lisle is a renowned journalist and historian who writes articles and book reviews for BBC History Magazine, History Today, the Literary Review, the New Criterion and the Spectator, as well as several national newspapers in the United Kingdom.  Leanda’s first non-fiction book, After Elizabeth: The Death of Elizabeth & the Coming of King James, made a huge impression, a runner-up for the Saltire Society’s First Book of the Year award. Leanda’s book, Tudor; The Family Story (1437-1603), was a top ten bestseller in the United Kingdom and released in the United States, re-titled Tudor: Passion, Manipulation, Murder – The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family for an America audiences. Leanda’s newest highly anticipated biography, White King, The Untold Story of Charles I, will release August 31, 2017.

Fittingly, Leanda lives near Bosworth Battlefield, Bosworth, England. For more information, visit Leanda’s website at LEANDA DE LISLE.






Guest Post: THE STRANGE DEATH OF ANNE BOLEYN, by Leanda de Lisle

May 19, 2014 in 2014 May Tribute to Queen Anne Boleyn, Guest Writers, Queen Anne Boleyn -- All Website Content by Beth von Staats


"Image ©2012 The Anne Boleyn Files/MadeGlobal"

“Image ©2012 The Anne Boleyn Files/MadeGlobal”


With his wife, Anne Bolyen, in the Tower, Henry VIII considered every detail of her coming death, pouring over plans for the scaffold. As he did so he made a unique decision. Anne, alone amongst all victims of the Tudors, was to be beheaded with a sword and not the traditional axe. The question that has, until now, remained unanswered is – why?

Historians have suggested that Henry VIII chose the sword because Anne had spent many years in France, where the nobility were executed this way, or because it offered a more dignified end. But Henry didn’t care a jot for Anne’s feelings. Anne was told she was to be beheaded on the morning of 18 May, and was then kept waiting until noon before being told she was to die the next day. At the root of Henry’s decision was not Henry thinking about Anne, but about himself.

When Henry VIII fell in love with Anne in 1526, he represented an ideal of chivalric kingship come to life: handsome, pious, and martial. In Europe it was said ‘his great nobleness and fame’ was ‘greater than any Prince since King Arthur’. There could have been no greater compliment for Henry: the legend of Thomas Mallory’s, ‘King Once and King to Be’ was woven into the Tudor family myths.

The first Tudor king, Henry VII, had claimed the Welsh blood-line of the Tudors made them the heirs to King Arthur. He even gave the name to his eldest son. Only when the boy died, shortly after being married to Katherine of Aragon, did Henry VII lose his enthusiasm for the Arthurian myths. For Henry VIII, however, they became increasingly important.


The round table hanging in the Great Hall of Winchester Castle

The round table hanging in the Great Hall of Winchester Castle


As early as 1516 Henry VIII had the round table hanging in the Great Hall of Winchester Castle, and which it was believed dated back to Camelot, painted with the figure of Arthur bearing Henry’s own features and an Imperial crown. It was Henry’s belief that England was, historically, an empire, and he Arthur’s heir, that later became the basis for his claim to an imperium, or ‘command’ over Church as well as State. It justified the break with the Papacy that allowed him to marry Anne in 1533.

But like Katherine of Aragon, Anne failed to give Henry the son he wanted and when she miscarried in January 1536, he lost hope that she ever would. He began complaining that Anne had seduced him into marrying her – an accusation carrying suggestions of witchcraft – and he showed a growing romantic interest in her maid of honour, Jane Seymour.

Nevertheless, on 30 March 1536, the king’s chief Minister, Thomas Cromwell, assured a foreign ambassador that that ‘notwithstanding that the King was still inclined to pay attention to ladies [such as Jane Seymour]’ he believed the marriage to Anne would continue’.

Dissolving the marriage to Anne was a complex issue for Henry, who feared it would re-confirm ‘the authority of the Pope’. But Anne was also making an enemy of Cromwell, with whom she quarreled over the burning issue of what to do with the money raised from the monasteries Henry was closing down. Anne hoped to see the money go to charitable enterprises, while Cromwell intended to pour it into the King’s pocket.

On 2 April, the chaplain in charge of Anne’s charitable giving delivered a sermon at court that suggested a comparison between Cromwell and the biblical figure Haman, the corrupt minister of an Old Testament King. The sermon noted threateningly that Haman had died on the scaffold.


Ben Miles and Linda Leanard (WOLF HALL/BRING UP THE BODIES, Royal Shakespeare Company) Photo Credit: Donald Cooper

Ben Miles and Lydia Leanard (WOLF HALL/BRING UP THE BODIES, Royal Shakespeare Company) Photo Credit: Donald Cooper


Anne’s anger with Henry was also evident during these weeks. Her brother, George had let slip that she had complained Henry had ‘neither talent nor vigour’ in bed. Some wondered if she had a lover, a view encouraged by her sometimes outrageous flirting – and it was to be this flirting that triggered her downfall.

On Saturday 28 April, when the King’s body servant, Sir Henry Norris, came to her household, Anne asked him why he had not yet married the maid of honour he kept visiting. When Norris shrugged that he preferred to ‘tarry a time’, Anne joked, ‘You look for dead men’s shoes, for if ought came to the king but good, you would look to have me’. Imagining the death of the King was a treasonous offence, and Norris, replied, aghast, ‘if he should have any such thought, he would [wish] his head were off’

The next day a young court musician called Mark Smeaton, who had been seen moping after Anne earlier on the Saturday, was taken secretly to Cromwell’s house for questioning. Anne’s conversation with Norris gave Cromwell a means of accusing her of treason. But Norris was unlikely to confess to adultery and so make a charge of plotting the King’s murder plausible. A weaker man was required if Anne’s chastity was to be besmirched – and Smeaton was to fill that role.

Before that evening Henry had learned that Smeaton had confessed to adultery with the Queen. He postponed, but did not cancel, a trip he had planned to take with Anne to Calais in June. He could not be certain what else Cromwell might uncover. The next morning, May Day 1536, he attended a joust with Anne at Greenwich Palace. As the tournament ended a message was passed to the King. Abruptly, he rose from his seat and left for Westminster by horse, taking a handful of attendants. Norris was called to join him, while an astonished Anne was left to oversee the closing of the competition.


Guinevere and Lancelot, John William Waterhouse

The Accolade, by Edmund Leighton (1901)


As the King’s party rode off Henry asked Norris if he had committed adultery with the Queen, offering to pardon him if he confessed. Norris, a fellow member of the Order of the Garter, Henry’s equivalent of the Knights of the Round Table, found himself cast in the role of Lancelot to Anne’s Guinevere. He angrily – desperately – asserted his innocence. It did him no good. He joined Smeaton in the Tower that night. Anne was taken there the following day along with her brother, accused of adultery with his sister. Two further courtiers would also be convicted at trial of plotting Henry’s death with the Queen.

As Henry’s sexual inadequacies were paraded during the trials, he responded by advertising his virility, staying out all hours, banqueting with beautiful girls, seemingly full of ‘extravagant joy’. In private, however, he comforted himself in a different way, obsessing over the details of Anne’s coming death. In Thomas Mallory’s Death of Arthur, the King sentenced Guinevere to death by burning, (although it was never carried out). Henry decided Anne would be beheaded with a sword – the symbol of Camelot, of a rightful King, and of masculinity. Historians argue over whether Anne was really guilty of adultery, and if Henry or Cromwell was the more responsible for her destruction. But the choice of a sword to kill Anne reflects one certain fact: Henry’s overweening vanity and self-righteousness.

‘I heard say the executioner was very good and I have but a little neck’, Anne said the day before her execution, and laughing, she put her hands round her throat. It was, at least, to be a quick death: her head fell with one blow, her eyes and lips still moving as it landed on the straw.

Tudor: The Family Story (1437-1603) was published by Chatto 29 August 2013


Renowned Historian Eric Ives

Renowned Historian Eric Ives

Editor’s Note: Historian Leanda de Lisle enjoyed a very close friendship with Professor Eric Ives. They became acquainted after corresponding over their research into and shared interest in Jane Dudley while Leanda was writing about Jane and her sisters for her book The Sisters Who Would be Queen, the Tragedy of Mary, Katherine and Lady Jane Grey. Professor Ives had his own blog highlighting Jane Dudley, and the two historians respected each other’s research and insights so much so that over time a close friendship developed. Most recently, they spoke at least weekly while Leanda was writing Tudor, A Family Story. Leanda is saddened to share that Professor Ives died before she had an opportunity to discuss her thoughts of why Queen Anne Boleyn was executed with a sword. She knows Professor Ives would have a definitive and thought-provoking opinion, which he would have shared with his typical gentle spirit.


Leanda de Lisle

Leanda de Lisle

Leanda de Lisle is a renowned journalist and historian who writes articles and book reviews for BBC History Magazine, History Today, the Literary Review, the New Criterion and the Spectator, as well as several national newspapers in the United Kingdom.  Leanda’s first non-fiction book made a huge impression, a runner-up for the Saltire Society’s First Book of the Year award. Leanda’s latest book, Tudor: The Family Story, renamed Tudor: Passion, Manipulation, Murder, the Story of England’s Most Notorious Family for American audiences (1437-1603),  is currently a top ten best seller in the United Kingdom and released in the United States, re-titled for an America audiences, in September 2013.  Fittingly, Leanda lives near Bosworth Battlefield, Bosworth, England. For more information, visit Leanda’s website at http://www.leandadelisle.com.


Tudor: Passion, Manipulation, Murder, the Story of England’s Most Notorious Family (Tudor, A Family Story in the UK)
The Sisters Who Would Be Queen: The Tragedy of Mary, Katherine and Lady Jane Grey
 After Elizabeth: How James King of Scots Won the Crown of England in 1603



King Henry’s Niece, by Leanda de Lisle

January 14, 2014 in Guest Writers, News by Beth von Staats

Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox

Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox

In April 1530 Henry VIII’s ordered dress from the Great Wardrobe for ‘our niece’, Lady Margaret Douglas, to welcome her arrival at court.  The fourteen-year old princess was destined to be a player in key events over four Tudor reigns. Her youthful romances would see her caught up in the fall of two of Henry’s queens, she would be arrested at least four times, imprisoned in the Tower twice, and plot  – ultimately successfully -for her heirs to inherit Queen Elizabeth’s throne. Yet hers in one of the Tudor family stories now largely forgotten.

Margaret Douglas was the child of Henry’s elder sister, Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scots, by her second husband Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus. As such she was third in line to the English throne in 1530, following her elder half-brother, James V of Scots, and Henry’s daughter, Mary, who was four months younger than she.  Her parents’ unhappy marriage had been annulled in 1527 and a year later, when her father was anxious to flee the 16 year old stepson King James,  who hated him,  he had kidnapped Margaret and sent her to Henry as ‘payment’ for free passage to England.

Margaret Tudor

Margaret Tudor

Henry had ignored her mother’s pleas for her to be returned home. Margaret was too valuable a commodity on the international marriage market to let go. Nevertheless, for eighteen months Margaret had been left in the north of England while Henry had focused on his pursuit of a papal annulment of his own marriage to Katherine of Aragon. His hopes of being freed to marry his mistress Anne Boleyn, had all but drained away when he, at last, sent for Margaret. She found Henry living alongside a ‘somewhat stout’ Katherine, as well as the hit-tempered Anne, in a virtual ménage a trios.

Henry left Katherine of Aragon for good in the summer of 1531, while Margaret was sent on to join her cousin Mary’s household as her principle lady-in-waiting. She was to stay at Mary’s side during one of the most traumatic periods of the princess’s life: the break with Rome, Henry marriage to Anne Boleyn, the birth of Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth, and Henry’s decision to have Mary declared a bastard. With Mary’s household broken up in 1534, Margaret was then transferred to Anne Boleyn’s Privy Chamber.

The now eighteen-year-old Margaret was described by foreign ambassadors as beautiful and highly esteemed. Despite her closeness to Mary she made friends with a group of talented young courtiers related to Anne, and who together contributed to the famous collection of poetry known as the Devonshire manuscript. Amongst these friends was the twenty-three year old Lord Thomas Howard, a younger brother of the Anne’s uncle, the Duke of Norfolk. He and Margaret fell in love and at first Henry seemed to encourage the couple, but when they betrothed at Easter 1536 they did so in secret.

The atmosphere at Court was tense. Henry had married Anne in the expectation of her delivering male heirs, but the birth of Elizabeth had been followed by miscarriages – the latest that January. He had begun flirting with another of Anne’s ladies in waiting, Jane Seymour, and Anne was quarreling with the King’s chief minister and vicar-general, Thomas Cromwell. On May Day 1536 Anne was suddenly arrested, accused of adultery with several men, including her own brother, and of plotting the King’s death. By the end of the month she was dead, beheaded for treason.

Henry promptly married Jane Seymour with Margaret obliged to attend on the bride at the wedding. But these shocking events had a still more personal impact. Anne’s daughter Elizabeth was bastardized, leaving Margaret and her brother James V as Henry’s senior heirs in blood. As Henry had no legitimate heirs they were also a potential alternative focus source of loyalty. To counter this a new Act of Succession was drawn up that gave Henry the right to appoint his heirs: even, if he wished, his illegitimate children over his legitimate nephew and niece. Henry’s bastard son Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond, stood to be the principle beneficiary, since of the king’s children he, at least, was male.

It was as it emerged that Fitzroy was terminally ill with, ‘a rapid consumption’ that Henry learned of Margaret Douglas’s betrothal to Thomas Howard. His bastardized daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, made far weaker claimants than Margaret, legitimate and married into the powerful Howard family. Henry had the couple sent to the Tower.

On 18 July a Bill of Attainder proclaimed that Thomas Howard, having been ‘ led and seduced by the devil’ had ‘ traitorously contracted himself by crafty, fair and flattering words to .. the Lady Margaret Douglas’. His object being to usurp the throne, trusting people would prefer the English-born Margaret, to the foreign King of Scots, ‘to whom this Realm has, nor ever had, any affection’.

On 23 July it was reported that Thomas Howard had been condemned to death for treason and that the twenty-one year old Margaret Douglas was spared only because the marriage had not been consummated. There was, in fact, a further reason. The annulment of the marriage of Margaret’s parents’ had left her legitimacy intact. The Attainder nevertheless referred on several occasions to Margaret Douglas as being her mother’s ‘natural (i.e. bastard) daughter’. This was a clear attempt to demote her in the succession and ensure Henry’s children had the superior claim.

Margaret believed that Cromwell had also helped to save her life, and she took his advice in pretending she had no further interest in Howard. The King’s anxieties were further reduced after Jane Seymour bore a son, Edward, on 12 October 1537. Margaret (by then imprisoned at Syon Abbey) was released early in November, only to learn that Thomas Howard had died in the Tower of ‘an ague’. Margaret took the news ‘very heavily’. It would be four years before Margaret risked her heart again.

Henry was married to his fifth wife, Katherine Howard, when Margaret formed an attachment to the new queen’s brother, Charles.  Unfortunately for Margaret – and still more so for the doomed Katherine Howard – it emerged in November 1541 that the queen had been unchaste before her marriage and was conducting a new relationship with a gentleman of the Privy Chamber, Thomas Culpepper. As the investigations uncovered Margaret’s latest romance she was delivered a chilling warning. She had ‘demeaned herself towards His Majesty, first with the Lord Thomas Howard, and second with Charles Howard’, to whom she had shown ‘overmuch lightness’. She was advised: ‘beware the third time’.

Katherine Howard

Katherine Howard

Following Katherine Howard’s beheading Margaret was careful not to risk any further unauthorized love affairs, and when she did marry it was at Henry’s arrangement. In 1543 he was hoping to build up a body of support in Scotland for a marriage between James V’s infant daughter, Mary Queen of Scots, and his son Edward. Margaret was to be a pawn in these plans, with Henry offering her as a bride to Matthew Stewart, Earl of Lennox, who was to lead a pro-English Scots party from England. Happily, Margaret was delighted with Lennox, ‘a strong man of personage well shaped’ who ‘was most pleasant for a lady’. Lennox was equally enamoured of Margaret and their marriage of 1544 proved happy.

Margaret was not mentioned in the Third Act of Succession, which had been given the royal assent in that spring. Having named Mary and Elizabeth as Edward’s heirs, the Act merely promised that Elizabeth’s heirs would be named later in letters patent. The king remained anxious to protect his children from rival claimants, but on a personal level Henry was fond of Margaret, writing to her from Calais that September, sending the new bride his special ‘recommendations’.

Margaret’s biographers tell us that, nevertheless, in 1546 she quarreled with Henry so bitterly over religion, that, when the dying king named the long stop heirs to Elizabeth that winter, she was denied her rightful place in line of succession, along with James V’s daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots. This supposed quarrel has helped diminish Margaret’s significance in Tudor and Stuart history, with the impression given that she was a woman of poor judgement and one who lacked political importance thereafter. This is far from the truth.

The Lennox payments that year to chantry priests, who prayed for souls in purgatory,  does indicate religious conservatism, but Henry’s will also asked for masses to be said for his soul. The only evidence for Margaret’s quarrel lies in a source that postdates Henry’s death by fifteen years, but it remains important because, four hundred and fifty years later, the mud thrown at Margaret then still sticks.

By this time, early in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, Margaret was forty-six, and the birth of eight children had taken its toll on her good looks. But she had done well in negotiating the lethal riptides of the changing courts of Edward VI and Mary I, as well as being deeply involved in Scottish affairs, promoting her claims as her father’s heir. Indeed Margaret had matured into a political operator to match her great-grandmother, Margaret Beaufort, who had helped plot her son Henry VII’s rise to the throne.

The twenty-nine year old Elizabeth had invited Margaret to court to celebrate the Christmas season of 1561/2, and in order to keep an eye on her cousin. Elizabeth had discovered Margaret was plotting to marry her eldest son, Henry, Lord Darnley, to Mary, Queen of Scots.  Under the terms of Henry’s VIII will Elizabeth’s heir was her Protestant cousin, Lady Katherine Grey, granddaughter of Henry’s younger sister, Mary, the French Queen. But some considered this unsigned document invalid, even forged, making Mary, Queen of Scots Elizabeth’s heir, as the senior in blood. If she were to be married to Darnley his English birth, combined with his Tudor blood, would greatly strengthen her claim.

A nervous Margaret insisted to the Spanish ambassador, Alavarez de Quadra, that securing the succession for Mary, Queen of Scots was her duty, for it would protect England from a civil war on Elizabeth’s death. But as the ambassador noted, Elizabeth based ‘her security on there being no certain successor should the people tire of her rule’. Margaret was in danger of being returned to the Tower, and her fears of this grew when she spotted an agent of a sacked Lennox servant called Thomas Bishop, skulking at court.

Margaret and Lennox suspected Bishop was feeding information against them to Elizabeth’s Secretary of State, William Cecil.  In response they launched a pre-emptive attack on Bishop’s reputation. They described how Bishop had come to work for Lennox while their marriage was being arranged in 1543.  Henry VIII had rewarded Bishop for his good service to Lennox, but, they claimed, Henry later regretted this, ‘understanding that [Bishop] went about to set dissension between the said Earl and his lady’, and Bishop had proved a coward, a sexual reprobate, and a thief to boot.

It is Bishop’s reply to the Lennox attack that is quoted by historians as evidence of Margaret’s fatal quarrel with Henry.  In a long memorandum Bishop focuses his attention on Margaret, describing his work for Elizabeth’s predecessors in the face of Margaret’s enmity, and his rewards. In particular he refers to land grants Henry gave him in October 1546, ‘a little afore his death and after the breach with my lady Lennox’.  Bishop does not say what her argument with Henry was about, but in another manuscript  Bishop clarifies matters.

Bishop claims that Margaret had wanted him sacked in the 1540s, ‘seeking the rule of her husband’ and that Henry VIII was so angry about her false accusations against Bishop that, ‘she ever after lost a part of [the King’s] heart, as appeared at his death’. In other words, Henry VIII demoted Margaret in line of succession because she was rude about Thomas Bishop!

Now, Henry VIII evidently did value Bishop’s services, but the king had named the Grey sisters as Elizabeth’s heirs because as unmarried females and minors, with only a distant claim under Common law, they had posed far less of a threat to his children than either Mary, Queen of Scots, or Margaret, who alone amongst his sisters’ children, had a growing son.

It was nowhere else suggested that Margaret had ever quarreled with Henry over religion, and Bishop’s claim that there had been any quarrel at all does not appear to have been taken seriously.  But he had other, more acute, accusations to make and by 2 April Margaret was imprisoned at the former Carthusian Abbey of Sheen, while Lennox was in the Tower.

In May Margaret’s interrogators complained she was being extremely obstinate in her replies to charges that included treason in the recent war in Scotland, and secret communications with a foreign monarch, (Mary, Queen of Scots) as well as the French and Spanish ambassadors. There were also said to be ‘proofs’ that Margaret did ‘not love the Queen’.

Bishop claimed Margaret had persuaded Mary I to imprison Elizabeth in the Tower in 1554 – which was believable as Mary I had wanted to leave Margaret the throne, against what proved possible. Other servants confessed that Margaret often referred to Elizabeth as a bastard. They further described how her fool would roundly mock Elizabeth and her favourite Robert Dudley. Dudley’s wife, Amy Robsart, had been found at the bottom of a flight of stairs in 1560 with a broken neck, and the servants said Margaret called him as a pox-ridden wife-murderer.

Sir William Cecil

Sir William Cecil

There was even an attempt to accuse Margaret of planning to kill the Queen with witchcraft, a smear Cecil had used successfully against several Catholics the previous year. Margaret often heard Mass said ‘by one little Sir William’ and it was being alleged that she was in contact with ‘witches and soothsayers’, even that she had conjured the lightening that had burned down of the steeple of St. Paul’s in 1561 on the feast of Corpus Christi.

It was to be Cecil’s life’s work to prevent any Catholic inheriting Elizabeth’s throne, and it is this Elizabethan antagonism to Margaret’s post Marian Catholicism that has been read into her relationship with Henry VIII. It is the kind of anachronism we see time and again in Tudor history, with later anti-Catholic attitudes projected into the past.

Meanwhile, with fear of witchcraft being stoked in Parliament, where MPs were making it an offence in common law, Cecil had been busy seeking information in Scotland to ‘prove’ Margaret illegitimate. This concerned Margaret still more than the wild claims of treason and occult practises, which Lennox characterized as the lies of, ‘exploiters, hired men and other fantastical persons’. When Margaret learned that Bishop had described her as ‘a mere bastard’, she fired off a furious missive, reminding Cecil, ‘Even as God hath made me, I am lawful daughter to the Queen of Scots [Margaret Tudor] and the Earl of Angus which none alive is able to make me other’.

In the end Elizabeth chose to leave Margaret’s life unharmed and her legitimacy intact. Margaret’s royal claims remained a useful counter balance to those of the Protestant Katherine Grey.  The following year, with Elizabeth believing Margaret’s ambitions had been tamed by her imprisonment, Margaret and Lennox were freed. Margaret even became godmother to Cecil’s baby daughter in 1564, and named the child Elizabeth.  But behind the scenes she continued to seek support for her son’s marriage.

Eventually Margaret’s allies helped convince Elizabeth to grant Darnley a passport to Scotland, and in April 1565 a horrified Elizabeth realised his marriage to the Queen of Scots might actually go ahead. It was in a failed effort to prevent it that Margaret was, at last, returned to the Tower.  For nearly two years following Darnley’s proclamation as King of Scots, Margaret remained imprisoned – with disastrous consequences for mother and son.

The new Spanish ambassador, Diego Guzman de Silva, believed that if Margaret had been in Scotland her good counsel would have prevented the breakdown of Darnley’s marriage, and his involvement in the killing of his wife’s principle servant, David Riccio in 1566. As it was, Darnley’s misjudgments paved the way to his murder in Edinburgh in 1567.

When Margaret was given the terrible news of Darnley’s death, she collapsed in ‘such passion of mind’ it was feared she might die of grief. To ease her suffering Elizabeth had her moved out of the Tower and by the time Mary, Queen of Scots was overthrown in Scotland and fled to England in 1568, Margaret was free once more. It was the safety of her infant grandson, James VI, that now most concerned Margaret.

Although James is known as a ‘Stuart’, using the French spelling of ‘Stewart’ favoured by his mother, the dynasty takes its name from the paternal line represented by Margaret’s son Darnley – and it was a line she was determined to protect. In 1570 Margaret persuaded Elizabeth to accept Lennox as James’s regent in Scotland while she remained in England as his ambassador at Court. The couple kept in close touch, with Lennox relying on his ‘Good Meg’ for her advice until he was shot in 1571, during a raid on Stirling made by supporters of the imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots. His last act was to send his love to Margaret.

Of her eight children Margaret was now left with one surviving son, Charles. Despite Elizabeth’s virulent opposition to his marrying anyone, Margaret arranged a match to a daughter of the courtier Bess of Hardwick in 1574. Since this non-royal, non-noble, marriage did not pose a threat to the queen, Margaret was punished only with a spell of house arrest.  Charles died of an unknown illness in 1576, but he left a daughter, little Arbella, to comfort Margaret in her last years.

Arbella Stuart

Arbella Stuart

A picture Margaret had painted of Arbella, aged twenty-three months, depicts a hazel-eyed infant clutching a doll, and around her neck, on a triple chain of gold, hangs a shield with the countess’s coronet along the Lennox motto in French, ‘To achieve, I endure’ – and Margaret did endure. Her old enemy Thomas Bishop had, by 1576, proved a rather less reliable Tudor servant that he had claimed to be. In 1569 he had been found to be in contact with adherents of Mary, Queen of Scots, and had ended up in the Tower from where he was released only that year.

Eventually Bishop would return to his Scottish homeland, where Margaret remained in contact with her grandson, sending James works of history, and on one occasion a pair of embroidered hawking gloves. In 1578, aged sixty-two, Margaret also continued to entertain Elizabeth’s most powerful courtiers. At a dinner that February she had Robert Dudley, now Earl of Leicester, as her guest. Margaret was adept at turning enemies into allies and they had once even worked together towards the Darnley marriage, despite her earlier accusation that he was a pox-ridden wife murderer.

By the end of that month Margaret was seriously ill and on 26 February she wrote her will. Twelve hundred pounds was put aside for Margaret’s funeral and burial expenses at Westminster Abbey, while amongst her many bequests was her ‘tablet picture of Henry VIII’, which she left to Dudley.

‘Tablets’ often referred to pendant jewels containing pictures or even miniature prayer books.  Margaret’s could be the famous gold enameled Tudor girdle prayer book known as Stowe manuscript 956. It came to the British Library from a collection that belonged to the heirs of William Seymour, Duke of Somerset, the widower of Margaret’s granddaughter Arbella. She had, as a child, been betrothed to Robert Dudley’s short-lived legitimate son, and it may have passed to her then, if it had not always stayed in her care. It contains an illuminated miniature bust of Henry VIII, dating from around 1540.

Margaret Douglas died on 10 March and on 3 April she had a funeral appropriate to a royal princess. She was buried in what is now called the Henry VII chapel close to her ancestress and namesake Margaret Beaufort, whose role in ushering in the Tudor dynasty she had emulated in her own life and dynastic ambitions. Few tombs in the Abbey match the royal ancestors listed on Margaret’s, but she was prouder still to be  ‘a progenitor of princes’ in her son Darnley and her grandson King James.

When Darnley was a baby Margaret had heard a prophecy that he would one day unite the crowns of England and Scotland. Although he was dead his English birth, as well as his Tudor blood, greatly enhanced James’s claim to Elizabeth’s throne. One day, Margaret believed, James would lie in Westminster Abbey, as a King of England – as indeed he does today.


Leanda de Lisle

Leanda de Lisle

Leanda de Lisle is a renowned journalist and historian who writes articles and book reviews for BBC History Magazine, History Today, the Literary Review, the New Criterion and the Spectator, as well as several national newspapers in the United Kingdom.  Leanda’s first non-fiction book made a huge impression, a runner-up for the Saltire Society’s First Book of the Year award. Leanda’s latest book, Tudor; The Family Story (1437-1603),  is currently a top ten best seller in the United Kingdom and released in the United States, re-titled for an America audiences, in September 2013.  Fittingly, Leanda lives near Bosworth Battlefield, Bosworth, England. For more information, visit Leanda’s website at http://www.leandadelisle.com.

QAB Book Review: Tudor The Family Story by Leanda de Lisle

October 23, 2013 in QAB Book Reviews by Beth von Staats

Tudor01022212443 (550x413)

Somehow publishers think they have all the answers, so when Leanda de Lisle’s outstanding book about the iconic Tudors of medieval England, Tudor The Family Story, was printed and released to American audiences, someone had the bright idea to rename it. After all, publishers evidently believe Americans need more “juicy” inferences on their covers to sell books. Why would audiences in the United States purchase a book about a “family story” when they could scoop up the retelling of medieval “passion, manipulation, and murder from the most notorious of royal families”? The British title is far more appropriate, as Leanda de Lisle brilliantly teaches readers the fascinating medieval family history of the Tudors, and in doing so, illustrates convincingly the influence the early generation of Tudors and women throughout played in shaping the dynastic dynamics of the Royal House of Tudor. Readers are taken on a journey rich in detail, where myths and common misconceptions are continually dispelled in a highly engaging and understandable writing style.

Owen Tudor

Owen Tudor

Most books about the Tudor Dynasty begin with King Henry VII and end with his granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth I, beginning with the death of King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth. Leanda de Lisle, however, begins the story much earlier, and readers are treated to learning about Owen Tudor, his wife Queen Catherine of Valois, and their two sons Edmund and Jasper. How did a Welsh commoner catch a Dowager Queen? How did their son become betrothed to the daughter of the Duke of Somerset, a Lady of bastard royal blood at that? How did the Duke’s daughter, Margaret Beaufort, build a life and raise her son after losing her husband at age 12 and giving birth at age 13? Leanda de Lisle tells their fascinating life stories, answering these questions and so much more, and in doing so gives readers a glimpse of the glory to come. For most of us, we parent in a way that we hope leaves our children to live in higher stead than we do. The Tudors are no different, and the earliest generations’ efforts, though they could not possibly have been foretold, laid the foundation for the future glory of the Kings, Queens, Queen Consorts, Dukes, Duchesses and assorted other nobility of their bloodline. This is the legacy of the common Welshman Owen Tudor and his “trophy bride”, and this is the legacy many readers will be introduced to as the Tudor family story begins. It’s about time. Cymru Am Byth! 

Queen Mary, Regina

Queen Mary, Regina

Obviously, a book about the Tudor Dynasty is incomplete without detailing the reigns of the monarchs so ingrained in the memories of all English history enthusiasts, and Leanda de Lisle does not disappoint. Each monarch in turn is highlighted, their challenges, successes and historical contributions clearly detailing how the incremental development of the pigmy nation King Henry VII reigned transformed into the World Empire Queen Elizabeth bequeathed to the Stuarts. Interestingly, de Lisle accomplishes this without focusing comprehensive attention to the typical battles, religious arguments and transformations, politics, and technological advances found in most historical accountings. Instead, she assumes the intelligence of the reader of commonly detailed historical fact and instead focuses upon the actual lives of the monarchs, richly treating the reader to how their life experiences influenced their decision making in how they shaped and ruled their subjects and realm. Also fascinating, de Lisle very convincingly illustrates how women of the Tudor family influenced these monarchs through their parenting, marriage partnerships or sibling relationships. In doing so, readers learn how family dynamics impact the powerful, just as they do the rest of us.

Lady Jane Dudley

Lady Jane Dudley

Just what do readers learn about the remarkable women of the Tudor Dynasty? In just a few selected examples, they learn of a Queen Consort acting as Regent who organized a battle against a rival neighboring nation, killing a reigning monarch and much of that nation’s nobility; a brave sister who marries for love in opposition of her brother’s plans for her, that man the King of England; an intellectually brilliant teenager who bravely chooses martyrdom over freedom to hold true to her religious beliefs and moral values; a courageous and strong woman who remarkably leads a successful coup d’état, resulting in her coronation as England’s first female reigning monarch; mothers who deftly insure the safety and success of their “at risk” children living in exile or foreign lands; and Duchesses who deftly survive the changing tides of the dangerous discord inherent in the state sponsored religions so common of the era.  Also striking to this book is de Lisle’s convincing ability to dispel common misconceptions of several of the Tudor family women, most notably Margaret Beaufort, Duchess of Richmond; Frances Grey, Duchess of Suffolk; and Queen Mary, Regina.

Tudor The Family Story is non-fiction history story telling at it’s finest. Queen Anne Boleyn Historical Writers strongly recommends this best practice biography to anyone, whether scholar or history enthusiast, with an interest in learning more of England’s most fascinating and famous royal family. Bravo!


Tudor Novel

 To Purchase, CLICK HERE!


QAB Interview with English Historian Leanda de Lisle

October 8, 2013 in QAB Guest Interviews and Chats by Beth von Staats

Leanda de Lisle, Historian

Leanda de Lisle, Historian

Queen Anne Boleyn Historical Writers recently caught up with highly renowned English historian and journalist Leanda de Lisle. Leanda’s most recent published highly acclaimed work  Tudor, The Family Story, is currently #6 on the Sunday Times Best Seller List, and with good reason. This highly readable and comprehensive history of England’s medieval Tudor family is engrossing and enlightening. Re-titled for American audiences, Tudor: Passion, Manipulation, Murder… The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family, the book is now available in bookstores across the United States and Canada.  If you are seeking a consolidated history of the entire Tudor Era of English History, look no further.


1. Leanda, you have an extensive journalism background, currently writing columns for the Daily Express, Daily Mail, Sunday Telegraph, and the New Statesman. You also write guest columns and blog extensively. Can you share with QAB members and browsers how your strong journalism background helped prepare you to author major historical works? And to follow-up, is transitioning from specialization is writing short works, such as articles and columns, to major works, such as your three highly regarded books, difficult? 

“Journalism teaches you to write fluently and accessibly for all sorts of people. The Spectator in the UK has a reputation as a shop window for writing talent                 and my column there helped develop my literary skills. But being a columnist is also about spotting the story behind a story, and questioning received wisdom. That is a very useful skill in an historian. You notice things others have missed, be it a famous description of Lady Jane Grey that looks suspect and turns out to be a fake, or why Richard III and Henry VII might share a desire that the bodies of two little princes in the Tower never be found.”

2. In your research and writings, particularly in The Sisters Who Would be Queen: The Tragedy of Mary, Katherine and Lady Jane Grey and Tudor: The Family Story, you focus heavily on painting an accurate history of women living during Tudor Era England. Did you find it challenging to hear their voices? How were you able to find the research necessary to formulate your opinions of these women’s real contributions to English history?

“Research begins with secondary sources – that is other historians – you read and read, and you notice good historians foot note what they write, so you can then begin to follow the primary source trail – the manuscripts from the period they are writing about. You have to ask if these first hand accounts, letters and documents, fit what the secondary sources are telling you?  It is amazing how the prejudices and misogyny of past historians can creep into modern works of history and fiction, so checking with what actually was said and done at the time is vital. In England, it is relatively easy to see manuscripts from the period. We are a small island, and it is not to hard to get to the British Library, for example, where many manuscripts from the period are kept. But it is always challenging hearing the voices of the women of the time. For me, the best way to do so is to understand what they believed, the culture of their times. It is like learning their language. You also need to have some generosity of heart and imagination. People are not black and white. While some people are kinder (for example) than others, we all have some good in us as well as bad, and it is important to try and understand the rounded person. Condemn evil, of course, but with human beings things are rarely simple.”

Queen Mary I

Queen Mary I

3. As Hilary Mantel so effectively did through her novels Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies with Thomas Cromwell, in your non-fiction writing you “rehabilitated” the reputations of Duchess Frances Grey and Queen Mary I. Can you share with us your thoughts on how real history was lost and how the common highly negative perceptions of Duchess Frances Grey and Queen Mary I developed through the years?

“The so-called Nine Day’s Queen, Lady Jane Grey, was executed for treason aged only sixteen in 1553. As a martyr of the Protestant cause, it was important to her ideological allies that her innocence be emphasized. In the sixteenth century she was seen as a pawn of the ambitions of her father and father in law. But from the eighteenth century her mother, Frances Brandon, came to be used as the counterpoint to the passive victim that Jane had become.”

“Elizabeth I’s former tutor Roger Ascham, writing after Frances and Jane were both dead, had recorded that Jane had once complained to him that her parents – both her parents – were overly strict. This was the basis for turning Frances into an archetype of female wickedness, one that would act like a shadow that cast Jane into more brilliant light. While Jane, (although married) was depicted as virginal, physically tiny (for which the evidence was invented) and gentle (rather in contrast to her ferocious writings) her mother was described as sexually predatory and domineering of men (for which the evidence was, again, invented), physically large (ditto) and cruel. It was said Frances’s hunger for power led to Jane’s death, a version of history that sends out a message that good girls are helpless, while bad ones are ambitious. The story line has been repeated ever since, because many historians did not – do not – go back to the contemporary primary sources.”

“Mary’s history has also been influenced by religious propaganda, and in her case she is always the dark cloud to her sister Elizabeth’s glorious sun. It suited later generations to describe her as a weak woman ruled by priests, but there was nothing weak about Mary. Her four grandparents were each the head of their royal house, and one was a ruling queen – as Mary was to be in England. Certainly she earned her later sobriquet ‘ Bloody Mary – burning hundreds of people for heresy, a terrible period that can never be forgotten. Her purpose was to reunite her kingdom – and Elizabeth would kill in even larger numbers (though not at the stake) to the same end. So, both were capable of great ruthlessness and you can judge them for that. But weak?  That does not describe Mary any more than it does Elizabeth, who learned a lot from her sister. My purpose in Tudor is not to underplay the wrongs Mary did, but to bring a better balance to our judgment of the sisters, and a better understanding.

King Henry VII

King Henry VII

4. In your book Tudor, The Family Story, which will release in the United States on October 8, 2013 renamed Tudor: Passion, Manipulation, Murder… The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family, you commendably researched and highlight the life stories of the “early Tudors” and their spouses, Owen Tudor, Catherine de Valois, Edmund Tudor, Jasper Tudor and Margaret Beaufort. Can you share with members and browsers your insights on these rarely explored founders of the Tudor Dynasty?

“I really enjoyed writing about these early Tudors – though covering the Wars of the Roses in a short space was a challenge! Owen Tudor was an ordinary man who married a Queen, and it is a fascinating and romantic story. Really, his life would make the most wonderful movie. He was handsome, he thumbed his nose at convention, he was brave, he had a sense of humor and the women in his life loved him. His legitimate descendants are some of the most famous in history – they include all the Tudor kings and queens. But I also enjoyed reminding the readers through the book (in a low key way) of the parallel story if his long forgotten and obscure illegitimate descendants who pop up at key moments, such as Henry VIII’s divorce, the death of one Elizabeth I’s great rivals, and again during the plots over the succession when she is dying.”

“Margaret Beaufort, who was married aged twelve and a widow and a mother at thirteen, was another woman whose reputation needed re-habilitating. It is really offensive that she has come to be accused of killing the princes in the Tower to clear the way for her son Henry Tudor. She was a remarkable woman, and no one would suggest that she was in any way a murderess until over a hundred years after she had died.”

Oliver Cromwell and King Charles I (apocryphal)

Oliver Cromwell and King Charles I (apocryphal)

5. Leanda, do you have any new and exciting projects or works in progress that you would like to share?

“My next book will be on the English civil war. It is not an area yet as popular as the Tudors, but just as the Wars of the Roses have recently gained a new audience so I believe this period will. It is full of human drama and romance, amazing women, and as for the men – their clothes are lot better than they were in the Tudor period. Wooly hose and puffy pants are just much less attractive than tall leather boots, and loose, ruffly shirts! I take a long time over my books so by the time it is done – three years probably – I hope people will be ready to try something new!”


Tudor: Passion. Manipulation. Murder. The Story of England's Most Notorious Royal Family Hardcover by Leanda de Lisle (Author)

Tudor: Passion, Manipulation, Murder… The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family is now available for sale in all book stores throughout the United States. To purchase online, CLICK HERE.

Guest Post: The Tudor Family and Two Battles of the Wars of the Roses, by Leanda de Lisle

October 8, 2013 in Guest Writers, Wars of the Roses by Beth von Staats

Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, stained glass window in St. Laurence's Church, Ludlow

Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, stained glass window in St. Laurence’s Church, Ludlow


A paper crown clung, fluttering, on a head impaled on the southern gate to the City of York. Richard, Duke of York had been killed in battle on 30 December 1560. He had claimed the throne of Henry VI, head of the royal House of Lancaster, arguing that the ancestors of the House of York had the superior blood claim. Now he paid the price. ‘York could look upon York’ the Lancastrians had jeered as they jammed the duke’s head on a spike, and placed the paper crown on his bloodied hair in mockery of his former ambitions.

Revenge for the House of York would not to be long coming, however. Just over a month later, Jasper Tudor – half brother to Henry VI and uncle to the four year old Henry Tudor, who was destined one day also to be a king  – was with the little boy’s grandfather, Owen Tudor, commanding the Lancastrian forces as they confronted the dead duke’s eldest son at Mortimer’s Cross, Herefordshire.  Blonde, handsome, and standing at six foot three, Edward of York was only nineteen, but he was determined the battle ahead would see a settling of scores.

King Edward IV

King Edward IV

Edward knew he lacked the experience of the Tudor commanders, but no one had ever seen anything like the strange dawn that greeted them on that icy February morning. Blinking in the breaking light, the rival armies saw three suns appear in the sky. The phenomenon, known as a panhelian, is caused by light shining through ice crystals in the atmosphere. Edward, a natural leader, seized the opportunity to tell his frightened troops that the triple stars represented God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and they were shining a blessing on their enterprise. As a chronicler records with his army’s morale renewed, ‘freshly and manly he took the field upon his enemy, and put them at flight, and slew three thousand’.

Few other details of the battle survive, but we know that Jasper escaped and was on the road when he learned, to his horror, that his father, Owen Tudor, was captured. Owen still lived not far from Jaspar’s Pembroke Castle in Wales, and he was also well regarded by the Lancastrian king. It had come as a shock to Henry VI when, aged sixteen, he had discovered that his dying mother, Katherine of Valois, had for many years  been married secretly to this handsome Welshman , and had children by him. The king had been angry then, but he had grown to see his humble stepfather as his most ‘well-beloved squire’.  Owen, in return, had been prepared to fight for the king, even in his old age – but he had now fought for the king for the last time. Edward had ordered that Owen be executed along with eight other Lancastrian commanders.

Owen Tudor

Owen Tudor

In Hereford, where he was taken, Owen still assumed he would be ransomed when a Yorkist soldier grabbed the collar of his red doublet and ripped it off to expose his neck. Facing the rough wooden log that served as the block, and now realising his fate, he recalled how he had first come to Katherine of Valois’ attention. Dancing at a party in her household, he had spun out of control and landed on her where she sat. ‘The head that shall lie on the stock was wont to lie on Queen Katherine’s lap’ he observed with mordant wit. Then, at the fall of the ax, the extraordinary life that began with a stumble at a dance was ended.

Owen Tudor’s head was placed on the top step of the market cross where a woman,  ‘combed his hair and washed away the blood off his face’, before she placed candles around him. No one has before suggested who she was. The watching crowd thought she was mad, as she carefully lit over a hundred small flames. She was surely, however, the grief-stricken mother of Owen’s illegitimate son, David, who was almost two. Even in his fifties it seems Owen had had the power to attract a woman’s love.

The four-year old Henry Tudor would have understood his grandfather’s fate only as an absence. His grandfather was a familiar face at Pembroke, where he often stayed with his uncle Jasper, yet Owen was nowhere to be seen when Henry was brought by his mother, Margaret Beaufort to the castle in May. It was here that Margaret had come looking for Jasper’s protection when she was a pregnant widow of thirteen, and it was here that Henry had been born. But his uncle Jasper too was now absent; he was on the run. In the three intervening months since Mortimer’s Cross Edward of York had re-asserted his father’s claim to the throne, denounced Henry VI as a false King, Edward IV was proclaimed King in London on 4 March. For twenty-five days there had been two kings in England, a situation ended on 29 March with a decisive battle at Towton in Yorkshire. It was one that had left Henry’s family, and much of England, traumatised.

Jasper Tudor, Stained Glass at Cardiff Castle, Cardiff, Wales

Jasper Tudor, Stained Glass at Cardiff Castle, Cardiff, Wales

Margaret Beaufort’s stepfather, Lord Welles, had been one of the many nobles arrayed with the Lancastrian forces as Henry VI, spent the day in prayer nearby. It was Palm Sunday, a spring day. But the wild flowers in the fields and hedgerows were bitten by unseasonable cold and the sky was low and dark.  The two armies, the largest England had ever seen – amounting to perhaps more than 30,000 out of a population of three million – had faced a fight to the death. When the banners of two kings were unfurled it invoked ‘guerre mortelle’, the most ruthless form of armed combat in the Middle Ages, with no quarter given for the supporters of a false King. As the men began to put on their armour there had been flurries of snow. By ten a.m a snowstorm was blowing straight into the faces of the Lancastrian forces. The Yorkists had advanced on foot into the whiteout.  Blind, and with the wind against them, the arrows fired by the Lancastrian archers fell short. The Yorkists had then collected the arrows and returned them home: thousands of arrows a minute had poured into the Lancastrian ranks, leaving them with no choice but to engage their enemy. As the armies hammered at each other the sheer weight of numbers on the Lancastrian side had forced the Yorkists back, but with King Edward leading from the front the Yorkists gave ground only slowly.

For hour upon hour the Lancastrians and Yorkists had battled on. When the heaps of dead made it impossible for the men to engage, short truces were arranged so the corpses could be heaved out of the way to allow the fighting to continue. In late afternoon re-enforcement came for the Yorkists but it was only as daylight faded that the Lancastrians ranks had at last given way.  Bridges over the nearby rivers had broken under the weight of fleeing men. Some fell into the freezing water to drown in their heavy armour. Others, who had cast off their helmets to help them breathe as they ran, became easy targets for the Yorkists who smashed their skulls in a frenzy of bloodlust. A last stand was made to the north at the little town of Tadcaster.  Then it was over, save for the executions of survivors. The bodies, scattered over an area of at least six miles by four, included that of Lord Welles, the only father Margaret Beaufort had ever known, and a second grandfather to Henry Tudor.

Margaret Beaufort

Margaret Beaufort

Most surviving supporters of the House of Lancaster now judged it prudent to acknowledge the authority of King Edward. Jasper Tudor was an exception, and he would soon follow his half-brother Henry VI, into exile. Pembroke castle was left garrisoned with sufficient food, men and arms to withstand a long siege, however, and there Margaret Beaufort now awaited King Edward’s next move, anxious to see what he intended for her little son, the ‘false’ King Henry’s nephew.


Tudor Novel

Leanda de Lisle is the author of Tudor: Passion, Manipulation, Murder, The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family, which released in the United States September 23, 2013. (This book is titled Tudor: The Family Story in the United Kingdom.)  

To Purchase Tudor: Passion, Manipulation, Murder….  CLICK HERE.

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