Friday, May 29, 2015

Why 30 May? #HenryVIII #JaneSeymour

by Hunter Jones

Courtesy of Sheingold Sage
Tudor Costumes
sold on Ebay.
When I started this blog, it was to research the symbols and motifs that surrounded Henry VIII and Jane Seymour on her presentation at his court as Queen on 4 June, the Whitsunday which followed their official marriage on 30 May 1536. I was going to begin at 29 May and build the story from there. Instead, it evolved into today’s story.

Any Tudorphile can and will let you know their feelings on the wedding between King Henry VIII and Lady Jane Seymour, which followed the execution of Anne Boleyn. Henry and Jane married on 30 May, only 11 days following Anne’s execution. The fact that Henry VIII presented Anne Boleyn as his Queen at the Whitsunday festivities a mere three years earlier makes for a surreal comparison. For 479 years historians and readers have asked…why? What was Jane Seymour thinking? Was Henry a monster by this point?

I do not have the answers. But, I have found a three items of interest regarding Whitsunday and why Henry might have chosen this day for the presentation of Queen Jane Seymour and possibly why he married her on 30 May. I would like to share these with you today. First a short introduction into the English tradition of Whitsun.

Whitsun (Whitsunday, Whit Sunday or Whit) is the name used in the United Kingdom and Ireland for the Christian festival of Pentecost. It is the seventh Sunday after Easter, and commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Christ's disciples. In England it took on characteristics of Beltane, the pagan celebration of Summer's Day.

Whitsun is a contraction of "White Sunday", as attested in "The Holy-Ghost, which thou did send on Whit-Sunday" in the Old English homilies. It paralleled the mention of hwitmonedei in the early 13th-century. Walter William Skeat noted that the Anglo-Saxon word also appears in Icelandic hvitasunnu-dagr, but that in English the feast was always called Pentecoste until after the Norman Conquest, when white (hwitte) began to be confused with wit or understanding. According to one interpretation, the name derives from the white garments worn by catechumens, those expecting to be baptized on that Sunday. In England white vestments, instead of the usual red, were traditional for the day. Another tradition is that of the young women of the parish all coming to church in new white dresses on that day. Augustinian canon John Mirk, of Lilleshall Abbey, Shropshire, had another interpretation of Whitsunday:9
Goode men and woymen, as ʒe knowen wele all, þys day ys called Whitsonday, for bycause þat þe Holy Gost as þys day broʒt wyt and wysdome ynto all Cristes dyscyples.

Thus, he thought the root of the word was "wit" (formerly spelt "wyt" or "wytte") and Pentecost was so-called to signify the outpouring of wit and wisdom of the Holy Ghost on Christ's disciples.

Whitsuntide, the week following Whitsunday, was one of three vacation weeks for medieval workers. On most manors they were free from service on the lord’s fields the entire week, because it marked a pause in the agricultural year. Whit Monday, the day after Whitsun, is a name coined to supersede the form Monday in Whitsun-week used by John Wycliffe and others.

The week following Whit Sunday is known as "Whitsuntide" or "Whit week." In the North West of England, church and chapel parades called Whit Walks still take place. Traditionally, Whit fairs took place during the week. Other customs were associated with Whitsuntide, like Morris dancing. Can you see how Whitsun was the occasion for all England to celebrate? Doesn’t that sound like the perfect time for a King to present his new queen to his realm? A time of celebration and bounty throughout his realm?

Secondly, Le Morte D'Arthur by Thomas Malory has the Knights of the Round Table witness a divine vision of the Holy Grail on a Whitsunday, prompting their quest to find its true location.

No one loved comparing the parallels and symbols of his court to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table more than Henry VIII.

Looking into the symbols and motifs which surrounded Jane on 4 June, it gives us insight as to what message the King wished to convey regarding his new wife. Here are a few descriptions of the designs.

A figure (drawing?) of the holy city showed by the angel to St. John.

Surrounding Jane Seymour’s chair, the one Anne Boleyn sat in only three years earlier, were some impressive works. “Eternity gorgeously garnished with juniper of like height, knit with a truelove knot, and over this the King's and Queen's arms in one scutcheon. Fugured with the Father of Heven” with these words,: Tota pulcra est amica me (I love all the beauty); and “..the Conception of Our Ladie, Electa ut sol pulcra ut luna; stella matutina: (The Lady We chose: Beautiful as the moon, clear as the sun; Morning Star) with the sonne, the mone, the day ster; the gates of Heven, portæ cæli; the plantes of roses, planta rosarum; the sider tree, caerus exalt'; the well of Life, puteus aquarum; the rode of Jesse, Virga Jesse, or conclusede, the closed garden; the lilie amongest thornes, sicut lilia inter spinas; the tower of Davet, torrus Davet; the onspotted glasse, specula sine macula; the olyf tree, oliva speciosa; the city of God, civitas Dei."

The Queen's badge garnished with the Scripture, "bound to obey and serve." The Coronation of Our Lady solemnly garnished, and to be crowned with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

The descent of the Holy Ghost on Whitsunday, with these Scriptures: "Et cum complerentur dies Pentecostes erant omnes unanimiter in eodem loco."

And when the day of Pentecost came, they were all with one accord in the same place.

A maiden with an "inycore" sitting in an arbour by a fountain's side. The transfiguration of Jesus, with this Scripture, "Faciamus hic tria tabernacula." Let us make three tents here.

The story of Martha and Mary Maidelayne, with this Scripture, "Domine, non est tibi curæ." O Lord, dost thou not care”. The story of Adam and Eve, with the serpent under the apple tree. Cages with quick birds, to be set in a meadow.

You get the idea. Jane was the ‘lilie amongest thornes, the onspotted glass. She was the rare unicorn brought before the court when they (The court) were all with one accord in the same place. Jesus himself imploring them to ‘make three tents.’ Henry had been tempted in the garden, put the birds freedom symbolized his freedom.

These symbols and dates meant more. I looked for a key, a common thread, which would ensure Henry that this marriage was the one for which he had waited. The theatrics and symbols were for a reason, but what was that reason?

Much like my Tudor story, Phoenix Rising, I looked to the stars for answers. What did Henry’s advisors see for the King and Jane Seymour? The first two dates I saw in May/June 1536 which caught my eye were these:

19 May 1536 – new moon; Anne Boleyn’s execution. Some say Henry pledged his troth to Jane on May 19 or 20. A new moon symbolizes a new beginning.

The next date was 4 June---Whitsun---full moon, making May 30 the official date of marriage of Henry and Jane on the date of the beginning--the waxing--of the full moon, thus making their union more powerful. The full moon is a completion of a goal.

What convinced me that Henry quite possibly believed his choice of Jane was the best choice was Leo on the chart’s ascendant. What better for a ruler than to have the king of beasts ‘protect’ his choice? The next placement was the Part of Fortune, on the ascendant. Yes, this is the one spot in a chart which shows how you will achieve your desires. Cancer and Aries are strong in the 30 May chart, as they were in Henry VIII’s chart. The many Gemini placements possibly symbolized to the King and his advisors that this was the King’s second chance. It is well documented that Henry believed Jane Seymour to be his “true wife.’ Is it possible the stars guided him toward pursuing that path?

We all know that Jane Seymour gave Henry VIII the one thing he wanted most, a male heir. As with the majority of Henry’s wives, she paid for it with her life.


Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2.

Claire Ridgway, The Anne Boleyn Files.

Edward Boucher James. Letters, Archaeological and Historical Relating to the Isle of Wight. Vol. 1. 1896. Reprint. London: Forgotten Books, 2013.

Elizabeth Norton, Jane Seymour: Henry VIII's True Love

(This article is for entertainment purposes only and to encourage readers to study the cultural and societal mores of specific eras throughout history.)


Deb Hunter writes fiction as Hunter S. Jones. Her best-selling poetic romance novel September Ends won awards for Best Independently Published Novel and Best Romance, based on its unique blending of poetry and prose. The Fortune Series received best-selling status on Amazon in the Cultural Heritage and Historical Fiction categories. She has been published by H3O Eco mag, LuxeCrush, Chattanooga Times-Free Press, and is now a freelance contributor for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. She is a member of the Historical Writers’ Association and has recently been accepted into the prestigious Rivendell Writers Colony. Her arts, music and culture blogs on are filled with eclectic stories regarding music, writing, the arts and climate awareness. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her Scottish born husband. Her undergrad degree is in History with an emphasis on the English Renaissance and Reformation.

PHOENIX RISING is the last hour of Anne Boleyn as told from the descendant of the astrologer/physician of King Henry VIII. She uses the 'star map' – astrology chart - used by her ancestress to reveal the stories hidden in that hour. Characters include King Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Sir Francis Bryan, Thomas Cromwell, Ralph Sadler, Mary Tudor, Eustace Chapyus, Elizabeth Howard Boleyn, Elizabeth I and the Swordsman of Calais.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Taste for Offal-Tongue and Udder

by Lauren Gilbert

I have a great fondness for old cookbooks, and have a couple of facsimile copies of cookbooks in use during the Georgian era that I use for reference, as I can find bills of fare for every month of the year, and the proper courses for serving. Needing to check on dishes that would have been in season during the months of November and December, I pulled out my copy of The Compleat Housewife: or, Accomplish’d Gentlewoman’s Companion by Eliza Smith. As I leafed through, I paused at the May entry and spotted “Roasted Tongues and Udders.” After visualizing for a moment, I went on to December, and there I found “Roasted Tongue and Udder, and Hare.”

While I am no stranger to unusual dishes, I must confess that these menu items gave me pause. I wrote about the pupton on my own blog, which included a description of a “Pulpatoon of Pigeon”. I ventured into the area of offal in a discussion of “Ragooed Palates” which sounded surprisingly tasty. I am no stranger to the concept of tongue, with beef tongue as a main dish and in sandwiches being popular well into the 20th century, and fairly easy to find in my grocery store today. However, the idea of eating udders was something I had not previously considered.

In Mrs. Smith’s book, the following recipe appears: To roast a Tongue, or Udder. Take your Tongue or udder and parboil it, then stick into it ten or twelve cloves, and while it is roasting baste it with butter. When it is ready take it up, and send it t0 table with some gravy and sweet sauce.” (1) Apparently, since this method applied to both items, one could cook them together.

However, another recipe I found called for salting the tongue, letting it sit a few days, boiling with “a fine young udder” (2) until tender, then roasting them together with a basting of red wine and finishing with butter. After sticking the udder with cloves, this dish was served with gravy and a current jelly sauce. Hannah Glasse’s THE ART OF COOKERY MADE PLAIN AND EASY had a recipe that boils the tongue and udder together, calls for the insertion of cloves and basting with butter. However, her recipe calls for gravy and “gallintine-sauce” (her gallintine-sauce was made with bread crumbs, water, red wine and some sugar; there is a link below with a medieval recipe). I did not find a recipe that detailed the cooking of the tongue and udder with the hare all together. All of the recipes have sweetness in common, which seems odd to my modern taste.

Since this dish appears to have been fairly common over centuries, with recipes readily available, and served in the spring as well as the winter, it would be easy to assume it was popular fare. However, in my mind, offal in general is a very specific taste: one either likes it or does not. Samuel Pepys, the 17th century diarist, apparently relished it.(3) However, Parson James Woodforde commented in 1763 after a meal which included this dish, “...I shall not dine on a roasted tongue and udder again soon”....(4) Although I am open to trying new flavours, I suspect I might have more in common with Parson Woodforde than with Mr. Pepys. However, a roasted tongue and udder would certainly make an interesting addition to a winter dinner table in Georgian England.

Sources include: “Roast Tongue and Udder.” (c) James T. Ehler, 1990-2015. (Footnote 2.)
HistoryNeedsYou. .“Recipe for Gallantine Sauce.” Posted 9/12/2012.
Glasse, Hannah. THE ART OF COOKERY Made PLAIN AND EASY. A new EDITION, with modern Improvements. This edition first published 1805. Reprint published Bedford, MA: Applewood Books, 1997.
Smith, Eliza. The Compleat HOUSEWIFE: or Accomplished Gentlewoman’s COMPANION. First published 1758. Facsimile published London: Studio Editions Ltd., 1994. (Footnote 1 found on page 20) “The Parson’s Tongue and Other Parts.” Posted 2/19/2006 by The Old Foodie. (Footnotes 3 and 4)

Image “The Canon’s Dinner” from Wikimedia Commons.
Image “Frontispiece and Title Page of The Compleat Housewife: or Accomplished Gentlewoman’s Companion by Eliza Smith” from Wikimedia Commons

You can read in my blog The World of Heyerwood about puptons here and a
bout ragooed palates here 


Lauren Gilbert lives in Florida with her husband and is working on a new novel, tentatively titled A Rational Attachment.  At least one interesting Georgian dish will be featured!  Her first published book, HEYERWOOD: A Novel, is available through and other outlets.  Visit her website at for more information. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Terrorism: 1582

by Barbara Kyle

"It's all so familiar in our own deplorable time: torture...spies and counter-spies...mutually exclusive faiths, the cult of martyrdom...projects for exterminating the liberties of peoples...the implacable hates, the use of assassination, the division of families, the riving asunder of friends, and the conflict within the individual conscience itself, which tore men's hearts open." - A.L. Rowse, The England of Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth I

Elizabeth's Dilemma

In 1582 Elizabeth Tudor, age forty-nine, had ruled England for twenty-three years, and under her reign the country had enjoyed peace and increasing prosperity. But her throne, and her life, were under constant threat. Religion was the cause.

Elizabeth's first act as Queen in 1559 had been the Act of Supremacy. It had made the realm Protestant and confirmed the monarch's position as head of the English church, without doing violence to Catholics. Elizabeth herself advocated religious tolerance, saying she had "no desire to make windows into men's souls," but she knew that strong leadership was needed to restrain the growing antagonism between Puritans and Catholics, and she hoped her religious settlement would unify them.

It did not. Neither side was satisfied.

The Puritans felt she had not taken England far enough away from "papist" customs, while Catholics considered her a heretic and found the concept of a woman as head of a church grotesque. They believed her Catholic cousin, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland, was the rightful claimant to the English throne, one who acknowledged the supreme authority of the pope.

Mary Queen of Scots

Enter Mary, Queen of Scots

In 1568 Mary was deposed in her own country and fled to England seeking Elizabeth's help, but Elizabeth, anxious that Catholics would rally around the Queen of Scots, put her under house arrest. Mary's supporters in England and abroad were outraged.

Mary herself, though comfortably lodged in a series of castle suites, chafed at her captivity and secretly communicated with leaders who were eager to free her by insurrection or invasion, or both.

In 1570 Pope Pius V issued an edict of excommunication against Elizabeth that called on Catholics throughout Christendom to rise up and depose her. This emboldened English Catholics in their opposition to the Church of England, and many refused to attend their parish churches. Known as "recusants" (from the Latin recusare, to refuse), these dissenters faced heavy fines.

A Hinge of History

In France, in August 1572, on the feast day of St. Bartholomew, the country's Catholic rulers instigated a savage attack on French Protestants, the Huguenots. In a convulsion of religious violence, over three thousand men and women were slaughtered in Paris by mobs of their Catholic neighbors. The carnage spread throughout France, claiming seventy thousand Huguenot lives.

The St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre sent shock waves through England. The Protestant island nation, its population far smaller than that of powerful France, was galvanized by fear.

St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre

Licence to Kill

Elizabeth had at first been lenient with Catholic recusants; they were merely fined. But in 1580 the threat to her became dire when Pope Gregory XIII, reinforcing the anathema against her, issued a declaration that it would be no sin to assassinate her. It was a clear licence to kill.

Assassination plots multiplied. Jesuit infiltrators from abroad fomented insurrection. Mary Stuart's supporters pledged to free her by force of arms. Elizabeth's government leaders discovered and thwarted the plots, but in their acute alarm they became more aggressive in rounding up agitators, real and perceived. Punishments became harsh: no longer mere fines, but imprisonment and, in some cases, death.

By 1582 England, feeling under siege, was in the grip of mind-darkening terror.

Note: The quote at the top of this post is by eminent Elizabethan historian A.L. Rowse. His words sound eerily apt for our own paranoid times.

The above is the Historical Preface that opens my new historical thriller, The Traitor's Daughter.

The Traitor's Daughter is the latest in my internationally published Thornleigh Saga series. The seven-book series follows a middle-class English family's rise through three tumultuous Tudor reigns. I hope you'll enjoy them all.

For details please see

“Riveting Tudor drama in the bestselling vein of Philippa Gregory”
USA Today on The Queen's Exiles

“A heart-stopping thriller...Kyle is a master at her craft.
RT Book Reviews on The Queen's Exiles

"Riveting, adventurous...superb!"
- Historical Novel Society on The Queen's Gamble

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Razor's Edge - of Arthur Capell, Earl of Essex

by Anna Belfrage

Some months ago, I presented a certain Arthur Capell to you, a gentleman whose loyalty to his King, Charles I, ultimately lead to his execution (for more, see here). Today, I thought we could spend some time with Arthur’s son – also named Arthur, just to make things confusing.

Can't get enough of it! Love this painting. Arthur Jr to the left
Other than his presence in the beautiful National Gallery portrait that originally sparked my interest in the Capell family, Arthur junior first rides into history as a terrified hostage, the Parliamentarian troops parading the sickly teenager before the besieged city of Colchester in the hope this would spur his father, Baron Capell, to give up. It didn’t. Baron Capell may not have made jokes along the lines of having the instruments required to make more sons, but no matter how distressed he was by the sight of his son, he was not about to betray his comrades.

Fortunately for our Arthur, once Thomas Fairfax realised Baron Capell was not about to give in to his paternal instincts, he had Arthur sent home to Hadham Hall and his anxious mother.

The siege at Colchester ended in capitulation. Arthur’s father never came home alive. Instead, in March of 1649, his wife took delivery of her husband’s body – the head had been sewn back on after his beheading. Times of woe and misery lay ahead, and it was only through Lady Capell’s contacts within the Parliamentarian government that she managed to keep her young family more or less together.

For Arthur, it must have been a confusing and frightening time. His father had died on behalf of his King, but the King was also dead, and instead the new government attempted to reshape England into a Puritan country, a place with little room for merriment and fun.

In 1651, Charles II was soundly defeated at Worcester, and it seemed the royalist cause was forever dead. Except, of course, that there were a number of people throughout England who were less than happy with Cromwell and his tame parliament. Repression does that to people – it brings out their backbone, so to speak.

As all dominant leaders, Oliver Cromwell purged most of his potential competition, ensuring his control remained uncontested. Sound policy (from Olly’s point of view) as long as Cromwell remained hale and hearty, but once the great man fell ill and died, it became apparent the Parliamentarian faction lacked a future leader, Richard Cromwell having proved to be woefully inept.

Arthur, Earl of Essex as a young man
By now, Arthur Capell was no longer a child. The sickly boy who’d been scared silly at being dragged back and forth before the walls of Colchester was now a man who embraced his father’s royalist beliefs, but who was also fervently anti-papist, no doubt a consequence of being raised under the anything but permissive religious atmosphere of Cromwell’s England.

He was also a man with a debt to collect. His father had lost his life for Charles I, and the Capell family had since then lived a borderline destitute life.  When Charles II returned to England in 1661, he went out of his way to reward men like the late Baron Capell, which in this case meant our Arthur was invested with the title of Earl of Essex, complete with substantial landholdings.

The new King needed able servants – trustworthy servants. The new Earl needed purpose. A match made in heaven, one could say. Except, of course, that Charles II and Arthur had very little in common. Where Charles II was witty and expansive, a man who embraced life to the full and who had every intention of enjoying what time he had left on Earth – a fully understandable approach, given years in exile and penury – Arthur was very much about integrity and duty.

Charles was open-minded and tolerant, Arthur was selectively open-minded and not so tolerant, finding the moral lassitude at court disgusting. But he was capable and loyal, so despite Charles II finding his Earl of Essex poor company, he sent him off as ambassador to Denmark for a couple of years, and in 1672 our Arthur was appointed lord lieutenant of Ireland.

At the time, Charles II and Arthur were having one of those rare moments when they mostly saw eye-to-eye on political issues. Arthur, for example, supported the 1672 Declaration of Indulgences, which allowed for a more tolerant approach towards dissenters. He was less happy about extending such tolerance to Catholics, but chose not to make an issue of it at the time – after all, Arthur was now to govern Ireland, a mostly Catholic part of Charles II’s realm, which made it foolish to speak out harshly against papists.

The rapacious Duchess of Cleveland
Arthur was to spend the coming five years managing Ireland. Being gifted with a head for numbers, he quickly set to work straightening the miserable finances, and despite his own religious beliefs he went out of his way to try and understand the Irish and their needs. With Arthur in office, it was pointless to try and buy plum appointments – he gave them to men of real merit. He purged the Irish administration of corruption, insisted Irish revenues should be spent on Irish issues rather than on the King’s lavish court, and in general became much respected in Ireland and just as disliked in London, where his opposition to giving away forfeited Irish estates to royal mistresses and favourites had Charles seeing red.

Obviously, the situation could not go on. Charles did not need men of integrity and convictions as much as he needed financiers – preferably men who did not question how the money was spent – and as a consequence, the Earl of Essex was relieved of his Irish position in 1677, much to the distress of the Irish. Arthur himself was less than pleased, and by his action Charles II had more or less kicked Arthur in the direction of the opposition, led by Lord Shaftesbury.

Shaftesbury, or Anthony to his friends, is a man whose political career is a mirror of the complexities of 17th century England. Once a Royalist, then a Parliamentarian, a trusted servant of Cromwell, a proponent of restoring the monarchy, an advocate for free trade, an outspoken defender of Protestant dissenters, a man set on building a government built on Parliament, of ensuring no Catholic would ever again sit on the English throne – well, the man clearly held strong political beliefs.

Arthur and Lord Shaftesbury found common ground when it came to their opinion of papists: they didn’t like them, they didn’t trust them. Neither of them liked the Treaty of Dover, whereby Charles II was to receive an annual stipend from France if he attacked the Dutch. (This despite none of them knowing the truly incendiary clauses in this particular treaty, namely that Charles II promised to convert to Catholicism and return his entire kingdom to the Old Faith). Both of them were very worried about the fact that Charles II had no legitimate heirs – in fact, Lord Shaftesbury proposed that the King divorce his barren Queen and marry a nice Protestant lady instead. Neither of them liked the idea of the Duke of York becoming the next king – even less when it became common knowledge the Duke was a Catholic.

Handsome Monmouth
Initially, Arthur was wary of Shaftesbury, whom he considered too radical. Instead, he teamed up with Lord Halifax, also a man suspicious of a Catholic king, but more interested in curtailing royal power – thereby making it less important who sat on the throne – than in excluding Catholics from the line of succession. Like Halifax, Arthur was sceptical of the young and flamboyant Duke of Monmouth, while Shaftesbury was an eager proponent of forcing Charles II to legitimise his eldest bastard son, thereby once and for all sorting the issue of succession. (As an aside, the fact that Charles II never expressed any desire or intention to do so, must, in my opinion, be taken as proof that Monmouth was, in fact, illegitimate)

Upon his return from Ireland, Arthur served for some time in the Treasury, but resigned his position in 1679, this time in protest at having yet another royal mistress demand a pay-out of 25 000 pounds. The King, in Arthur’s opinion, needed to economise. Charles II, unsurprisingly, did not agree.

James II
By 1680, our Arthur had joined Lord Shaftesbury’s faction and supported the Exclusion Bill, that rather intolerant piece of legislation that had as its purpose to exclude the Duke of York, soon to be James II, from the succession. What finally drove Arthur to move from his previously moderate opposition to this radical approach is unknown, but the man had, throughout his life, expressed anti-papists sentiments, and in the general furore surrounding the Popish Plot (for more, see here) and the utterly despicable Titus Oates, maybe he found it was time to act.

Arthur’s hitherto nice CV was to receive a couple of big inkblots over the coming year. As an example, he was an eager prosecutor of the Catholic Lords implicated in the Popish Plot (a fabrication of evidence in which Shaftesbury seems to have been implicated) and even voted for attainder of some of these men.

He did, however, regain his senses when the Irish Archbishop, Oliver Plunkett, was detained as a participant in plots against the King, and argued for the man’s innocence, even went as far as to intercede with Charles II and plead for Plunkett’s life, but was angrily informed that there was nothing the King could do to save Plunkett – it was too late, and the blame for the loss of innocent life lay squarely on Arthur and his cronies, for persecuting where there was no proof.

In 1682, Shaftesbury fled the country. After years of attempting to advance his position, of persecuting Catholics, of trying to strong-arm Charles II into either divorcing his wife or legitimising the Duke of Monmouth, Shaftesbury had acquired quite the collection of enemies, first and foremost among them the King himself – and his brother. Instead of risking a trial in England, Shaftesbury took a ship to the Continent, where he soon died. In many ways a brilliant man, Shaftesbury does not come across as a likeable man, and his death in foreign lands seems like just desserts for a man responsible for so much death and persecution.

Charles II
In England, Arthur found himself the leader of Shaftesbury’s previous faction, a group of men who supported the Duke of Monmouth as their future king. But where some of the members proposed action, Arthur distanced himself from some of the wilder schemes, such as the Rye House Plot in June 1683. The intention of the plot was to assassinate Charles II and his brother. Due to a change in time-schedule, the plot failed, and in a matter of weeks the leaders were rounded up and arrested – well, except for those who like the Duke of Monmouth fled to the Netherlands.

Arthur was among the arrested and was imprisoned in the Tower. Maybe it was the sensation of déjà-vu (his father had spent his last months in the Tower before being executed), maybe he feared that a trial against him would leave his family destitute, or maybe he was plagued by guilt for having known about the planned assassination but done nothing to stop it, but whatever the case, Arthur decided to take drastic measures.

He asked the guard for a razor with which to pare his nails, and the request was granted. With the razor in hand, he retired to a closet, and that is where his servant found him, wallowing in blood and with his throat cut. Rather than facing the iniquities of a trial, Arthur Capell, Earl of Essex, had chosen to take his own life.

It is said Charles II was genuinely saddened by the news of his death. In his book, Essex might have been difficult and insubordinate, but he was also the son of a man who gave his life in service of a king – a debt that could never be repaid.

Algernon, Arthur's son. Beautiful portrait
Among his contemporaries, Arthur was known as a good man, a sincere patriot, unselfish and conscientious, a man who always did his duty to the best of his capabilities, and who had no serious seditious designs - he sort of just happened to end up leading the vociferous opposition against a future Catholic king.

Whatever the case, just like his father, our Arthur left behind a young family in the care of his wife. In difference to his father, he died not on behalf of his King, but because he had, at some level, betrayed him.


Anna Belfrage is the successful author of seven published books, all of them part of The Graham Saga. Set in 17th century Scotland, Virginia and Maryland, this is the story of Matthew Graham and his wife, Alex Lind - two people who should never have met, not when she was born three centuries after him.

Anna's books have won several awards and are available on Amazon, or wherever else good books are sold.
For more information about Anna and her books, please visit her website. If not on her website, Anna can mostly be found on her blog.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Parliament in the Middle Ages

by Susan Appleyard

Parliament was the feeble offspring of the Magna Carta. ‘No taxation without representation.’ That was the slogan of a later age and a different country, but it serves here. Magna Carta was forced on King John by the barons, and what the barons meant by representation was… well, themselves, plus some of the more prominent landed knights. The barons were serving the commonwealth of the realm which was… well, themselves.

Nevertheless the weakling child that had been born in a meadow near Runymede, despite lack of nurturing, survived and was given an infusion of vitality in 1265 by Simon de Montfort. His father of the same name was the one who did such sterling service for the Catholic Church during the Albigensian campaign. De Montfort junior is credited with being the Founder of Parliament, but his motives were far from altruistic. He was a rebel who seized power from King Henry III after his victory at the battle of Lewes. But his position was tenuous. To gather more support for his cause, he summoned burgesses from all the major towns, as well as the barons and knights who had previously counseled the king. It was the creation of a new limb: the Commons.

Under Henry’s son, Edward I, the calling of parliament became a more frequent event. In the thirty-five years of his reign, parliament was summoned no less than forty-six times. Nor was Edward’s motive altruistic. He needed money to pursue his Welsh and Scottish wars. The Commons had not yet learned that they could say ‘No, Sire,’ or perhaps they were a little overawed by him, but they did soon learn that if they voted the King money they could get something in return.

To summon parliament writs were sent out from the chancery instructing the sheriffs of each county to hold a county court for the election. Freemen who owned freehold land worth 40 shillings a year could vote. Two knights of the shire were elected from the thirty-seven counties in England, and two burgesses were elected from every town that had the right to send members to parliament enshrined in its charter, as many as two hundred and twenty-two.

Inevitably there were abuses and fights aplenty. A man who thought he had a good chance of being elected and took along some friends for support would swiftly change his mind when he arrived and found the door blocked by a rival who had even more friends. In 1362 deputies of the sheriff of Lancaster returned themselves without consulting the constituents.

John Paston got into a fight at the shire house with the sheriff, Sir John Howard, and was twice struck by a dagger. Members were supposed to live in the borough, but sometimes nobles and knights would invade a town, bringing along their own candidate and forcing the voters to elect him. Or a local baron would send along his thugs to make sure the candidate who best supported his interests was elected. Some of the great nobles didn’t have to resort to strong-arm tactics; they simply let their wishes be known, and it was done. These practices were particularly prevalent during the War of the Roses.

The money was good: four shillings a day for the knights; two shillings for the burgesses. Not bad when the average daily wage for a peasant was two pennies. The financial burden fell on the shires and the boroughs.

By the late middle-ages the Commons had won some clout. They made laws and they made kings. And they unmade some kings too.

For more information visit:


Susan Appleyard is an author of historical fiction. She has written two books set during the War of the Roses, which are available at Amazon, and a third is due to be released in June.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Smuggling Made Easy in the 1760s

by Allen Woods

As I worked through the initial research and plot ideas for The Sword and Scabbard: Thieves and Thugs and the Bloody Massacre in Boston, I was stunned at how common and easy it was to smuggle goods into the Colonies before the Revolutionary War. Some of the great American fortunes (including that of John Hancock) were founded on the profits from smuggled goods. Later, Customs disputes offered sparks that were fanned into blazing conflicts during the Stamp Act riots, the Bloody Massacre (the name happily used by Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty), and eventually the Revolutionary War itself.

How could a lower-level property crime like smuggling grow into a conflict that became a turning point in world history? My research essentially reinforced a suspicion I have held for decades. Although the technologies, fashions, and culture continue to change so quickly that many of us can't keep up, human nature–in its criminal and bureaucratic aspects–maintains a consistent thread throughout our societies. I found two basic reasons that smuggling played such a central role in colonial history: government officials susceptible to bribes and misguided government strategy in addressing the problem.

Bribing Officials was Business as Usual

John Hancock was just one of the American merchants whose fortune was partially a result of smuggling.

As the colonies became a market for English and international goods through the early 1700s, the English government looked to control imports and make a profit from them. Because they were still such a distance from the mother country and an unsavory place to live for most of the lords that might be appointed to a post, they turned to those already in residence there. Many were friends of the colonial merchant class and were unwilling to enforce duties on molasses and other imported goods.

One of the most notorious was Benjamin Barons, who actually led Boston merchants in opposition to Customs officials in several court actions. It was common knowledge that in Boston (and probably throughout the colonies) that an unwritten agreement allowed merchants to declare one-third of their goods and pay the import duty for that portion while Barons looked the other way.

After a full board of Custom Commissioners arrived in Boston in 1767 to try to fully enforce the laws, firebrand Captain Malcom boldly offered to file his manifest and willingly pay duty using the "customary indulgences." When the Commissioners indignantly refused, he came back a few days later announcing that he had arrived with an empty ship and that Customs was free to search it, since he had offloaded the cargo at a site unknown to Customs.

Although there are no records of it, it is hard to believe that Barons took these illegal actions without some type of payments from the merchants who were his friends and turned a handsome profit from this international trade. Bribing government officials was business as usual throughout the colonies at the time, and almost certainly in England and Europe as well. It is a criminal practice that continues today in ports and entries around the world and allows the flow of everything from illegal drugs to immigrants and slaves to counterfeit goods.

New Rules Promote Competition among Officials, Not Better Enforcement

After the French and Indian War in the colonies ended in 1763, British officials noted how much money they had spent defending the colonies and how little they got back in import duties. Customs revenues were only a fraction of the actual trade and barely enough to pay the salaries of the appointed officials, let alone offset military costs from the war. Prime Minister George Grenville moved to enforce colonial Customs law by sending Royal Navy ships to patrol coastal waters and giving them the power to seize and sell ships involved in smuggling.

Unfortunately, this move promoted competition between the Navy and Customs officials. Instead of watching for smugglers, the two groups spent much of their energy watching their bureaucratic rivals. (Today, there are multiple stories in the U.S. and around the world where competition among law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI and local officials, prevents efficient law enforcement.)

The heart of the dispute, as is so often the case, was money. Customs officials themselves could make a huge profit if they seized a ship and sold it and its illegal cargo. The Commissioner responsible would personally get one third of the proceeds, hundreds of pounds from a single ship, about as much as their yearly salary. Grenville made this the reward for naval captains as well, whose compensation was small enough to motivate them to seek the "prize money" offered for successful battles during a war or seizure of illegal ships and merchandise during peace.

The unfortunate result was that the two groups didn't pool their resources. Customs officials in the colonies had no ships or troops to seize ships outside of a harbor, while naval captains had no access to the network of Customs informers that could have pointed them at likely targets. In some cases, a dispute over which group had rights to a seized ship landed in court. The end result was that the new rules designed to enforce Customs duties after 1763 probably hindered Royal efforts as much as it enhanced them. The Navy kept an eye on Customs agents and Customs agents kept an eye on the Navy–and neither kept a closer watch on American smugglers.

Smuggling: An American Tradition

After Customs seized John
Hancock's sloop Liberty
(similar to the above)
and turned it into a Royal
Navy vessel, colonists
in Rhode Island took
it back and burned it.
By the time John Hancock publicly declared he wouldn't pay the new Customs duties on his ships in 1768 and arranged for Customs officials to be held while a ship filled with Madeira wine was illegally unloaded in Boston Harbor, he was simply following an American tradition that had been established over several decades of trade in the colonies. It was a tradition that was supported by British actions during the period, sometimes intentionally but more often inadvertently. When a British ship of the line seized Hancock's Liberty, the colonists responded with direct attacks on some Customs officials and their property. The occupation of Boston by British troops followed soon afterward, setting the stage for the Boston Massacre and the string of events that ultimately led to the Revolutionary War. It was this economic struggle over taxes in the form of import duties that resulted in the War of Independence and the call for freedom in the colonies.


Allen Woods has been a full-time freelance writer and editor for almost 30 years, writing everything from magazine and newspaper features to sales training for corporate clients. Recently he has specialized in social studies and reading textbooks for all ages. The spark for The Sword and Scabbard came while doing research for an American history text. He lives 100 miles from the site of the Boston Massacre and plans a series which will follow Nicholas and Maggie through the Tea Party, Lexington and Concord, the Revolutionary War, and beyond. He welcomes comments at the Blog or Events pages of the book web site


Friday, May 22, 2015

Ernst – Greatness from Limited Expectations

by Greg Taylor, Finalist for the M.M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction

Like Alfred Vanderbilt, Ernst August was not the oldest son and therefore had no expectation to inherit his father’s fortune. Both Alfred and Ernst were, in fact, the third son of their parents. Both of them were also great lovers of horses. Alfred tried to revive the dwindling art of coaching and Ernst became an officer in the 1st Royal Bavarian Heavy Cavalry Regiment.

Ernst had chosen the 1st Royal Bavarian Regiment because it had tried to ride to the assistance of his grandfather, the last reigning King of Hanover, during the battle of Bad Langensalza. Ernst’s grandfather’s army won the battle but afterwards failed to meet up with the Bavarian allies. The Hanoverians were overcome by superior Prussian forces, and Prussia annexed Hanover under the careful guidance of Otto von Bismarck.

Otto von Bismarck

In 1714, George Louis of the House of Hanover ascended the throne of Great Britain as George I, and thereafter Hanover and Great Britain shared a single monarch. The Congress of Vienna of 1814 elevated Hanover to an independent kingdom and its Prince-Elector, George III of Great Britain, to King of Hanover. The new Kingdom of Hanover was the fourth-largest state in the German Confederation after Prussia, Austria and Bavaria.

Queen Victoria
When Queen Victoria succeeded to the British throne in 1837, Salic law prevented accession to the Hanoverian throne by a female while any male of the dynasty survived so Victoria’s Uncle Ernest Augustus, the eldest surviving son of George III, succeeded to the throne.

During the Austro-Prussian War, the Kingdom of Hanover attempted to maintain a neutral position but after Hanover mobilized in June 1866, Prussia invaded and soon the immense wealth of the House of Hanover was being used by Bismarck to finance his military adventures.

Herrenhausen Summer Palace

Franz Josef, Emperor of Austria and latterly King of Hungary, permitted three generations of the deposed Guelph family to live in comfortable exile in Gmunden. Ernst had an older brother, Crown Prince Georg, who was in line to inherit not only the deposed throne of Hanover but English titles as well including the Duke of Cumberland.

Ernst was skeptical that Hanover would be restored to his father or his older brother despite their royal relatives entreaties to the Kaiser. Ernst and his brother were, after all, first cousins to George V of Great Britain, Nicholas II of Russia, Christian X of Denmark, Haakon VII of Norway and Constantine I of Greece.

In Lusitania R.E.X, Ernst sees the potential behind the rocket theories of Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky when they are published in 1911. When he meets Alfred Vanderbilt at the regatta at Cowes and realises that Alfred shares his interest in Tsiolkovsky’s theories, he decides he should learn a bit more about Alfred Vanderbilt.

Ernst and Sissy
Ernst struggles with how he can harness Tsiolkovsky’s ideas about reaction explusion to restore his family’s lost throne and fortune. Ernst is an attractive, young man of twenty-four, possessed of the easy, confident manner of a young man aware of his own strength, youth and sexuality. Years in the saddle had given him strong, muscled legs and on his arrival to thank the Kaiser for honouring his dead older brother, Ernst immediately catches the attention of the Kaiser’s daughter. Their romance and remarkable imperial wedding in 1913 were described in a blog posted earlier this month that is a profile of Wally, a school friend of Princess Viktoria Louise who attended the imperial wedding in 1913.

When older brother Georg tragically died in an automobile accident, it fell upon Ernst to look after the family interests. In Lusitania R.E.X, Ernst does this by marrying the Kaiser’s daughter and pursuing the rocket technology of Tsiolkovsky. It is his pursuit of Tsiolkovsky’s theories that ultimately leads him into conflict with Alfred Vanderbilt, who is working with his comrades from the secret Yale society Skull and Bones to develop a prototype rocket.


Greg Taylor's passion for research has led him to develop first-hand relationships with the descendants of some of the characters in the book, including the Duke of Marlborough and Alfred G Vanderbilt III. He was drawn to the tale of Lusitania because he was fascinated by the cataclysm of elegant Edwardian society caused by the brutal warfare the industrial success of that society made possible. His passion for research and discovery has taken him to the numerous historical sites that appear in the book. Undergraduate studies in history at Williams College in Massachusetts and the University of Durham, England, are reflected in the book. Greg attended the School of Management at Yale University where he lived one block from The Tomb of Skull and Bones. London has been Greg's home since 2000 and he has divided his investment banking and asset management career between New York and London.



James III and the Second Battle of Bannockburn

by Louise Turner

James III of Scotland
Everyone knows the Battle of Bannockburn, fought in 1314 between the Scots and the English. The Second Battle of Bannockburn isn’t so well known – it was renamed, in fact, in 1655, perhaps to avoid confusion with its more celebrated predecessor. Known today as ‘The Battle of Sauchieburn,’ it was fought in more or less the same location as its more illustrious predecessor. But that’s where the similarity ends. The Second Battle of Bannockburn took place on the 11th June, 1488, and it was fought not between the Scots and their Auld Enemy England, but by two Scots armies fighting - on the one side - for the reigning King James III and on the other for his son and heir Prince James, Duke of Rothesay.

The details of the battle are unclear, though it seems to have been as much a series of small-scale skirmishes as an organised engagement, but its consequences were grave nonetheless. By its end the reigning King of Scots was dead and his army routed, leaving his son to succeed to the throne unchallenged.

The Battle of Sauchieburn tends to be overlooked, perhaps on account of the qualities of the young man who gained most from it. Prince James, Duke of Rothesay went on to become one of Scotland’s finest medieval kings: James IV. Though he’s often remembered as much for his untimely and unfortunate demise at Flodden (along with around 10,000 of his men), the positive impact James had upon his nation cannot be underestimated. He promoted Renaissance flair throughout his kingdom: a keen patron of the arts and sciences, he was a cultured and intelligent prince who longed to dazzle on a European stage, and to a certain extent he succeeded, with buildings like Linlithgow Palace rivaling contemporary equivalents across Europe.

But there’s no escaping it. The beginning of James IV’s reign was at best murky, at worst extremely suspect. Though to be fair, the death of James III wasn’t exactly his doing – it was more happy accident than carefully-engineered assassination. In its aftermath, the new regime took great pains to distance themselves from the killing. James IV himself made prominent acts of atonement: throughout the rest of his life, he publicly sported an iron chain around his waist as an acknowledgement for the part he played, and his coronation procession was led by a man carrying St Fillan’s bell, a holy relic reputed to cure mental affliction. James’s coronation, incidentally, took place on an auspicious day - the anniversary of Bannockburn #1.

Rather than reflecting genuine remorse, the regime’s collective contrition was probably undertaken more to reassure the wider circle of European monarchs, for whom regicide would never have gone down well. It also helped to mollify James III’s supporters, who still posed a very real threat to the fledgling regime a year or so later. Alongside these expressions of regret came justification, if not for James III’s death, then for the rebellion against his rule. James IV’s government were quick to accuse James Senior of ‘dissaitful and perverst counsale on the one hand, and ‘the inbringing of Inglsmen to the perpetuale subiccieone of the realm’ on the other (MacDougall, 2009, 335). Fingers were also pointed at those who’d assisted in the provision of this ‘dissaitful and perverst council’ in the last few years of James III’s life. Chief offenders were the former Lord Advocate, John Ross of Montgrennan and one of his closest familiars, Sir John Ramsay, Earl of Bothwell. Tellingly, both men fled to England when the battle turned in the rebels’ favour, where they were welcomed at the court of Henry VII. There they seem to have busied themselves in the task of actively supporting a fifth column against James IV’s rule: unrest continued during the early years of James IV’s reign , though with the return of Montgrennan and his subsequent appointment to the Privy Council a year or so later the dust finally settled on what had been an inauspicious period in James’s kingship.

James III’s death at Sauchieburn followed six disastrous years throughout which his authority was progressively eroded. The rot started in 1482, at an incident in Lauder. This has earned historical notoriety, not for James’s role in it, but for the actions of Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus, who was much later dubbed ‘Bell the Cat’ for the leading part he allegedly played in it. James had mustered the host at Lauder to counter a very real threat from south of the border, but instead suffered a rebellion amongst his nobles and then saw a number of his closest advisers hanged. The same John Ramsay of Bothwell who later fled the country after Sauchieburn was also present here: aged just eighteen at the time, he supposedly escaped death by clinging tightly to the king, who begged fervently for the young man’s life to be spared.

The debacle at Lauder conveys the impression of an ineffective monarch railroaded by his nobility, but - as MacDougall meticulously points out - James’s reign prior to this point could hardly be classed as an unmitigated disaster (MacDougall 2009). To begin with, he’d proved himself both a competent and a decisive ruler. Not bad going considering the unfortunate circumstances which led to his inheritance: he had the misfortune to come to the throne as a minor aged 8 years of age, succeeding when his father James II lost his life at the Siege of Roxburgh, killed by an exploding bombard.

Once he reached his perfect age, he showed much promise. He regained Berwick from the English, while, closer to home, he managed to squash the ambitions of the powerful Boyd family, which had been challenging his authority in much the same way as the Black Douglases had his father’s almost two decades previously. He also acquired Orkney and Shetland through his marriage to Margaret of Denmark, bringing territorial expansion to Scotland which had been hitherto undreamed of.

By the 1480s, these early successes had been forgotten, eclipsed by a number of perceived shortcomings that were not limited to deceitful and perverse council and the inbringing of Englishmen.

James is often remembered as a keen patron of the arts and arguably Scotland’s first Renaissance king: amongst the favourites who died at Lauder were an architect named Thomas Cochrane (who’d recently been appointed Earl of Mar) and also the court tailor. This suggests that the nobility who turned on James that day were a bunch of brutal thugs who were pathologically opposed to Renaissance culture and thinking, but if this is the case, why did many of the same men wholeheartedly embrace these same principles during the succeeding reigns of James IV and V? It’s true that James IV was exceptionally charismatic, but this whole argument can be overplayed.

Instead, James III’s unpopularity was rooted far more deeply. His failures had nothing to do with culture, and everything to do with politics and economics. Thomas Cochrane may have been an architect, but his main crime was to have been born from lowly stock. His presence at the king’s side was an insult to those members of the nobility whose place had been usurped by someone of lesser status. Coupled with this was another major source of dissatisfaction: throughout his reign, James increasingly debased the coinage, adding ever greater quantities of copper to the once-silver low denomination coins and creating the so-called ‘black money.’ This was certainly a source of criticism in contemporary chronicles written around the time of the Lauder crisis (MacDougall, 2009, 183).

Seen in this context, I think we can probably accept that it wasn’t James’s luxury-loving Renaissance lifestyle with its patronage of fine arts and architecture that was the problem – it was instead the amount of money he was perceived to have spent on it. He was accused both of hoarding wealth and of being avaricious and miserly. This added to the list of grievances felt at every level in society, from the highest to the lowest in the land.

Hot on the heels of this financial mismanagement was his remoteness. As his reign progressed, he ran an increasingly centralised government from Edinburgh, dispensing justice from this single location. This was counter to the ideal vision of medieval kingship, where the ruler toured the land in person and participated in justice ayres. Such processions across the kingdom encouraged personal interaction with the monarch and gave the impression, at least, of a ruler who cared and who was listening. As time passed, James became increasingly cloistered within ‘Fortress Edinburgh,’ with access to his person restricted to all but a select few. With decisions made by this close band of favourites, it is perhaps small wonder that increasing numbers of his nobility were feeling disenfranchised.

Coupled with this was the loss of Berwick. James had negotiated the town’s return early in his reign, but this victory was short-lived: in 1480 diplomatic relations with Edward IV (who once again raised the thorny issue of English overlordship) broke down and an English army was sent north on his behalf. Led by the future Richard III, then Duke of Gloucester, it also contained James’s exiled brother the Duke of Albany, there with the expectation of seizing the throne from the beleaguered king.

James certainly made strenuous efforts to regain his lost territory by force: the mustering of the host at Lauder was undertaken with the direct of aim of raising an army which might march south and engage Gloucester and Albany in battle. Instead, James found himself taken bodily to Edinburgh Castle and incarcerated there for two months, trapped while Gloucester rode as far as Edinburgh and indeed into the city itself, where others conducted negotiations on the king’s behalf.

Berwick was lost during Gloucester’s onslaught, but only five years later, Richard himself was dead on Bosworth Field. With Henry VII as yet insecure upon his throne, a substantial portion of the Scots nobility (and perhaps the wider populace, too) no doubt felt that James should have been using this period of relative insecurity to press for the return of their territory by invading England, if needs be.

But James, it seems, was still hamstrung by recent events, preferring now to rely upon negotiations.

All these factors hindered James’s popularity, but even together they might not have been sufficient to see him deposed. One last flaw in his kingship proved his undoing. He seemed incapable of recognising good loyal service from those closest to him, and incapable to an even greater extent of rewarding it.

An example of such behaviour can be seen in his treatment of Colin Campbell, 1st Earl of Argyll. After serving in James’s council for twenty years, Campbell was appointed Chancellor in 1483. Campbell’s loyalty could not be described as unswerving – his allegiance had wobbled in the aftermath of the Lauder incident, and he’d been one of the individuals who’d negotiated with Gloucester at Edinburgh when James himself was incarcerated in the castle.

Not long before that final decisive clash at Sauchieburn, Campbell was removed from his post. At the very least, this was a short-sighted move, for it alienated a man whose household performed a crucial role as a buffer between the Scots-speaking mainland and the Gaelic-speaking Isles. But Argyll’s influence extended over a much broader area. His Campbell kinsmen also held an important office in south west Scotland: they were the hereditary Sheriffs of Ayr. The Argyll Campbells had also strengthened their power-base in this area by marrying into the Montgomerie family: in the years immediately preceding Sauchieburn, Argyll’s son-in-law Hugh, 2nd Lord Montgomerie was embroiled in a legal battle with his local rivals, the Cunninghames, over his inherited titles of Bailie of Cunninghame and Constable of Irvine. James III clearly favoured the Cunninghames in this dispute: just weeks before Sauchieburn, James created Alexander Cunninghame Earl of Glencairn (MacDougall, 1997, 36). These actions were sufficient to make both Argyll and Montgomerie join the rebels, and in the end, it cost Glencairn his life, for not only did Montgomerie take an active part in the battle, but he also appears to have been directly responsible for Glencairn’s death.

This fuelling of local feuds and resentments was replicated throughout the realm, and if that wasn’t ill-judged enough, James III coupled it with similar disdain for his eldest son and heir, James, Duke of Rothesay. The death of Queen Margaret in 1486 soon provoked rumours that she’d been murdered on the orders of her husband: at the same time, Prince James found himself progressively stripped of powers and authority by his father, who favoured instead his second son. It’s small wonder that the prince felt compelled to join the rebels. At the time, he may have been genuinely afraid for his future if not indeed his life.

Until recently, it was assumed that Prince James (later James IV) was an unwitting accomplice in the Sauchieburn rebellion. He was a hapless child at the time, just fifteen years old. He appears to have been seized by the rebels at Stirling, where he was subsequently paraded as a hostage and then set up as a puppet king. But James was intelligent, and able and charismatic. I suspect he was fully in command of the situation and he knew full well what he was doing. Perhaps his father, growing increasingly unpredictible and erratic, left him no other choice.

Cambuskenneth Grave
But on the evening of the 11th June, 1488, the crisis ended. The king’s men were routed, and James III fled the field, hoping to escape to England. Tradition states that James III fell from his horse and was injured. He called for a priest, but the robed figure who came to take his final confession was an imposter: instead of providing succour and comfort, the so-called ‘priest’ stabbed and killed his king. A few weeks later James III was laid to rest in Cambuskenneth Abbey with all the pomp and ceremony customarily bestowed upon a monarch, the mourners led by his contrite son. But the killer was never found, nor was there ever any real appetite to pursue them.

(For those interested in reading more about James III and James IV, I can suggest no better introductions than the masterly biographies penned by former Senior Lecturer at the University of Saint Andrews, Norman MacDougall, which formed the basis for this essay and which I found inspirational when I was writing my novel Fire and Sword. They provide a modern, in-depth account of both men, revised in the light of contemporary research, and above all, they are both eminently readable. Full details are included in the bibliography given below.)


MacDougall, N, 2009 James III Birlinn (Edinburgh)
MacDougall, N, 1997 James IV Tuckwell (Edinburgh)

James III: By Anonymous ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Edinburgh Castle: By David Monniaux (Own work) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.
Cambuskenneth Grave: Adtrace at English Wikipedia [CC BY 2.5 (, GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


Born in Glasgow, Louise Turner spent her early years in the west of Scotland where she attended the University of Glasgow. After graduating with an MA in Archaeology, she went on to complete a PhD on the Bronze Age metalwork hoards of Essex and Kent.  She has since enjoyed a varied career in archaeology and cultural resource management.  Her initial expertise in prehistoric archaeology has expanded over the years to include the medieval and modern periods, and she recently authored a paper on Thomas Telford, James Watt and their contribution to the evolution of Glasgow’s water supply, published in last year’s Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

Writing fiction has always been an important aspect of her life and in 1988, Louise won the Glasgow Herald/Albacon New Writing in SF competition with her short story Busman’s Holiday.  Her debut novel Fire and Sword, published in 2013 by Hadley Rille Books, recreates real characters and events  and is set in the turbulent early years of James IV’s reign.  Fire and Sword explores the challenges faced by a Renfrewshire laird, John Sempill of Ellestoun, whose father is killed defending the murdered King James III at the Battle of Sauchieburn in June 1488 .  Louise, who lives in west Renfrewshire with her husband,  has recently completed her second novel, a follow-up to Fire & Sword provisionally titled The Gryphon at Bay.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

History of an English Manor House – Ettington Park

by Lynn Kristine Thorsen

If you’ve seen the original movie “The Haunting”, you’ll immediately recognize this structure.

It’s a perplexing gothic blend of towers, chimneys, and odd additions that don’t line up with the other floors. It’s Ettington Park, with a history as curious and interesting as the building itself. The estate is six miles from Stratford-upon-Avon and has a close association with Shakespeare. But more on that later. This was the estate of the Shirley family, one of Warwickshire’s oldest families which can be traced back over 1,000 years to the Domesday book and beyond.

Going further back in time, archaeological evidence indicates that the site has been inhabited for at least 2,000 year, placing it back in the time of the Romans. There have been Roman coins and pottery unearthed on the site, enough to support the possibility that the one of the early structures could have been a Roman villa.

As an example of what went on within 10 km of Ettington Park, archeologists have located 388 archaeological and historical sites including:

• 113 roman sites
• 21 anglo-saxon sites
• 37 iron age sites
• 33 bronze age sites
• 116 medieval sites,
• 10 mesolithic sites
• 15 neolithic sites

So, a lot of activity. The great Roman road, the Fosse Way, passes very nearby in the village of Halford. I made my own possibly Roman discovery when I was at Ettington Park wandering around looking at the ground. I often do this and am often times rewarded. Here are photos of what I found:

But back to Ettington Park. The name was originally spelled Eatendon and then later Eatington, coming from the old Anglo-Saxon words, “Ea” meaning water, and “Don” meaning meadow. The name then gives us an apt description of the site as a meadow near a river.

According to the Domesday Book, at the time of the Norman invasion the manor of Lower Eatendon consisted of a church, a mill, 1,700 acres of land and a village all adjacent to a manor house. The manor was held by the Sewallis, a Saxon Thane of Henry de Feriers, who was his Norman overlord. The Shirley families are descended from the Sewallis, their earliest recorded ancestor.

The church that is mentioned in the Domesday record was founded by Sewallis. It was rebuilt at the end of the 12th century in the Norman style, incorporating the earlier Saxon church. The rebuilt church was dedicated to St. Thomas a Becket.

The antiquarian, Sir Thomas Shirley who lived during the reign of Charles I , wrote: "Close by the church is a very ancient mansion house built by an ancestor of this family so long ago that the memorie, by the revolution of so many ages, is utterly lost and forgotten; for the ancient form and structure of the house is a witness beyond all exception of its pristine antiquity, it being covered with so unknown a covering that none can tell with what it was made, plainly sheweth that it was built in so ancient times, that stuff whereof the texture was made is many ages since, not only worn out of the kingdom, but also the very knowledge that ever any such thing was within this realm".

The House was mentioned in 1287 when the Rolls of Parliament show that Sir James Shirley petitioned Edward I for restitution of the "Manor of Eatingdon" unjustly detained from him by Ralph Shirley, his son, and again in 1294 when Ralph Shirley represented the City of Warwick as the first Knight of the Shire, in Parliament. He and his wife are commemorated in the old church at Ettington where their effigies are still to be seen.

The manor house has gone through many restorations, alterations, and extensions over the years. The original manor house was demolished in 1641 and replaced by a smaller house build from the remnants of the first. Serious extensions started in the 18th century and around this time, the village was moved to a new site two miles away at Upper Ettington. The mill was demolished, and the original church, dating back to 1198 was torn down leaving only the tower, the walls of the nave, and the south chapel that contained the family mausoleum. A new church was built in Upper Ettington.

In 1820, the Entrance Hall was Gothicized, a new story was added, new chimneys, and a Gothic stained-glass window was installed. The window had been removed from a redundant chapel near Chipping Campden. Continued renovations involved taking down the external walls and rebuilding around the interior of the old house. The roofline was raised; more chimneys were added as well as contrasting round and square turrets. Much of this work was under the design of the architect John Prichard and produced one of the finest examples of the French and Italian Gothic style that was promoted by John Ruskin. The striking visual impact of the contrasting layers of yellow limestone and iron stone is unforgettable.

Shakespeare and Ettington Park

In 1541, Sir Francis Shirley leased Ettington Manor to the Underhill family for a term of 100 years. It was from these same Underhills that William Shakespeare purchased the Great House in New Place, Stratford-upon-Avon. Shakespeare was a friend of the family and well known at Ettington. He may have hunted there with the Underhills and would have been well aware of the Shirley family history, including their connections with the Battles of Shrewsbury and Agincourt which Shakespeare wrote about in two of his plays. There is also a somewhat more obscure connection. In the south transcript of the chapel, there is an epitaph to Anthony Underhill who died in 1587 which some ascribe to Shakespeare. It reads:

As dreams doe slide, as bubbles rise and fall;
As flowers doe fade and flourish in an houer;
As smoke doth rise, and vapours vanish all
Beyond the witt or reach of human power;
As somer’s heat doth parch the withered grasse,
Such is our stay, soe lyfe of man doth passe.

The Underhills were also linked to the Sir Francis Bacon families through the Chapel of St. Thomas a Becket at Ettington. Members of the two families are interred closely together there. One tablet on the tower has a long description of Thomas Underhill (1521-1603) and his wife Elizabeth who lived together 65 years, had 20 children, and died a few months of each other. Next to this is a memorial for the Bacon family. Members of the Bacon family were well established in Warwickshire at that time.

The Strange and Unusual

In August 1859, the workmen, under the direction of John Prichard, were dismantling the outer wall overlooking the garden when they made an unusual discovery. They found a live toad in a cavity within the wall. There was no access from the outside, or anyway that air could penetrate through to the cavity. It was concluded that the toad could only have gained access during the previous work that took place in 1740. They could only suppose that the toad had gone into a state of suspended animation for 119 years. The workmen kept the toad, which refused all food and survived for another three months. The incident was commemorated by carving a stone toad which was placed in the new outer wall close to the spot where the original toad was found.

In 1935, Ettington Park became a nursing home, and during the Second World War it was a prisoner of war camp. After a multi-million pound restoration program, Ettington Park opened as a luxury hotel. The Automobile Association has named Ettington Park the most Haunted Hotel in Britain!

There are numerous priest holes at Ettington Park, and over fifteen documented ghosts that are frequently heard and seen by visitors. The priest holes suggest that the Underhills continued to practice the Catholic religion well after the establishment of the Church of England.

I had a nice tea and walked the grounds. I found Ettington Park to be charming, historically fascinating, and, yes, a bit unusual.

“The History of Ettington Park and the Shirley Family” – pamphlet offered by Hand Picked Hotels Heritage Calling, a Historic England Blog
“Lower Eatington : its manor house and church”, by Evelyn Philip Shirley
“Unearthing Underhills” blog by Isaac Kremer
“The Shirley Family Association” website


Lynn’s first collection of short fiction entitled The Friends of Emily Martine will be released this summer under the new title, Fever Dreams. Her second collection, Mischief will be published at the same time. She is currently at work on a historical novel that takes place during Tutor England. She publishes under the name Lynn Kristine Thorsen.

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