Sunday, August 28, 2016

Editors' Weekly Round-up August 28, 2016

by the EHFA Editors

If you missed the posts to the blog during the week, check out our weekly round-up:

by Samantha Wilcoxson

by Christopher Monk

by Linda Fetterly Root

by Anna Belfrage

by Annie Whitehead

by Christopher Monk

We also had a giveaway this week, which closes at midnight Pacific Daylight Time, Sunday, August 28, 2016.

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

Saturday, August 27, 2016

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

By Christopher Monk

As a specialist in Anglo-Saxon cultural history, I’ve found it immensely rewarding to explore the world of the early English peoples through the illustrated pages of their books.  My favourite manuscript for doing this is the Old English Illustrated Hexateuch (see HERE for Part I of this article)

Getting down with the womenfolk
For my second detail from the Hexateuch, I want to focus on a particular ‘female’ skill, and in doing so throw something out there that may cause a stir.  Now, I bet you’re thinking weaving, spinning or embroidery, aren’t you?  Well, I’m not going there; instead we’re going to look at women as musicians.

When was the last time you saw in a ‘medieval’ film a woman playing a musical instrument in the feast hall? Whenever an Anglo-Saxon scop (musical poet) is called for, you just know it will be a male actor chosen. Now I’m not saying that women were employed as scops in Anglo-Saxon times – in reality, ‘professional’ scops were likely male, as is suggested by the poem Beowulf, in which the scop is depicted as part of the all-male comitatus, or band of warriors – but I am saying that the idea of women playing music is not alien to the Anglo-Saxon imagination.  Take a gander at this picture of Miriam (the sister of Moses and Aaron, also known as Mary or Maria) and her women.

As you see, most of the women are playing something akin to the triangular harp.  The Harley Psalter, produced in Canterbury around the same time as the Hexateuch, shows similar instruments.  Note, too, that the woman on the far left is playing a smaller stringed instrument that resembles the lyre. 

Now you might be thinking that the artist had to show the women playing their stringed instruments because that’s what it says in the Old English text.  Indeed, the text states that they ‘took their harps (OE hearpe) in hand and praised and glorified God both with harp and with song (OE lofsang, literally ‘praise-song’)’. However, there’s more to it than that.  

The Latin Vulgate text actually says that Miriam ‘took a timbrel (Lat. tympanum) in her hand: and all the women went forth after her with timbrels and with dances’ (Exodus 15:20).  It would seem that the anonymous translator was unfamiliar with the timbrel, or tambourine, which was not yet introduced into Europe.  

Unwise as it is here to be categorical, I will simply suggest that the translator substituted an instrument with which he was familiar, the harp, and which was familiar to him in the very context of contemporary women playing instruments.  Furthermore, and rather fascinatingly, he didn’t seem to like the idea of women dancing and so instead he focuses on their instrument playing and singing.  

The artist apparently had no trouble in following the translator’s lead, though, remarkably, he also chose to make an additional contribution by depicting the men dancing, which is not described either in the Hexateuch text or the Latin Vulgate.

Perhaps what we are seeing here is a culturally acceptable interpretation of this biblical scene, and as a consequence we are shown that women in the late-Anglo-Saxon period could pick up their harp as well as their spindle!

Kicking the hell out of one another
Back to the men for my final insight from the Hexateuch.  And what is it in Anglo-Saxon culture that men did best?  All you living history performers know, don’t you?  Yes, fighting, of course.  Well my focus here is less on swordsmanship and valour, and rather more on getting the job done. 

Take a look at Moses’ fighting technique.  He’s just about to avenge a brother Israelite by slaying his killer, an Egyptian slave-driver (Exodus 2:11, 12).  Now ignore the ridiculously big sword in Moses’ right hand and instead take a close look at his left hand and right foot.  

Aha!  It would seem that the best way to demobilise your enemy was to grab his beard, place your foot firmly and swiftly in his abdomen, and then dispatch the sword.  None of this is described in either the Hexateuch or Vulgate texts, so it seems reasonable to suggest that the artist was drawing upon contemporary experience.  

But wait, I hear you cry, the artist was a monk, so would likely not be conversant with fighting. That may be the case – though, it should be noted, monks came from all sorts of backgrounds, including in some cases a warrior one – but there is other evidence that may shed light on this.  

The early Anglo-Saxon law of Ethelbert (c.600) refers to the ‘seizing of hair’ in the context of injuries from acts of violence, for which compensation had to be paid to the victim by the perpetrator.  Now it may be that this law refers specifically to cutting off a man’s hair as a means of insulting him (the OE word used, feaxfang, literally means ‘hair-booty’), something that is referred to in the laws of Alfred the Great (reigned 871-899), where beard-cutting is also mentioned.  Or it may simply mean that men grabbed other men’s hair when fighting.

In any case, it seems that seizing a man by his hair, or indeed his beard, may have been a common means of restraining a man in order to inflict violence upon him.  Perhaps the monk artist had witnessed this mode of ‘street fighting’ and tapped into his personal recollection as a means of imagining Moses’ vengeance.

Certainly when we examine images of warfare in the Hexateuch, we can appreciate that the artist didn’t just stick with a neatly choreographed sword-and-shield technique, but, as you see in the next two images, went as far as depicting warriors trampling on the heads and bodies of their enemies and, yes, pulling hair – a reflection perhaps of the real mess of war.

Well I hope you’ve enjoyed this short foray into Anglo-Saxon art as a means of gaining insight into the lives of the peoples of early medieval England.  There is so much more to be studied in the Old English Illustrated Hexateuch, in terms of cultural practices and items of everyday life: feasting, burying the dead and midwifery, for example; or baskets, buckets, wagons and farming tools, to name just a few objects.  

A more thorough study of the art of this remarkable book would, I suggest, open up a finer reading of Anglo-Saxon culture alongside historical and archaeological records.  Perhaps I should write a book about it...  

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

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

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

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Celtic Community

by Annie Whitehead

In the first of this series, Who Were the Celts*, I relied mainly on archaeological evidence. For the second, How the Celts Lived,** I relied on the Greek writers, who seem to have said little about the role of Celtic women, but are still our only real sources. Some of the information for this portion is taken from the findings of modern scholarship.

Women used to provide a dowry, but the men had to offer comparable value from their own property. Husbands had absolute power over their wives.

Among the Bretons, the women belonged to ten or twelve men at a time, particularly to brothers, fathers, or their children; however, the children born of such unions belonged to the man who had the woman while she was still a virgin. In Ireland, it was thought perfectly natural for men to have sexual relations with other men’s wives, mothers or sisters. Community of wives was the rule in Caledonia.

The status of women among the Celts seems to have been quite wretched. However, in the mid-first century AD, in what is now Great Britain, the Brigantes were in fact governed by a woman, Cartismandua (Cartimandua) and, in 61 AD, Boudicca, a woman of royal  blood, commanded the army of the ancient Britons. Yet no similar state of affairs can be found among other tribes or at earlier periods.

Queen Boudica by John Opie - public domain

The fidelity of Celtic women was famous throughout the ancient world, as can be seen from certain legends. Polybius [1] apparently spoke to a Galatian woman, Chiomara, wife of the king of Tolistobogii. She had been captured and raped by a Roman centurion around 189 BC. He was promised a large sum of money for her return. As she was being returned, she signalled to her compatriots to cut off the centurion's head. She presented the head to her husband, saying that it was finer thing even than fidelity, that only one man who had been her lover should remain alive.

Besides conjugal fidelity, Gaulish women had other qualities. Apparently they were beautiful, fertile, good nursing mothers, and they took great care of their children.

It is known that the Celtic women accompanied their menfolk into battle. The wives of the Helvetii defended entrenched positions against the Romans; the wives of the Britons encouraged them to a greater ardour in combat. Before the conquest of Cisalpine Gaul (Gaul on the Roman side of the Alps), a terrible civil war was fought, and the women strode into the midst of the armies, taking the role of arbiters to resolve the dispute.

Caesar wrote that in Gaul, the father had the power of life and death over his children. This was also true of the Ancient Britons, and the Irish. Caesar also reported on a distinctive custom:
“The Gauls are unlike the other peoples in that they do not allow their children to address them in public until they have reached the age at which they are capable of performing their military service; they feel it is a disgrace for a man’s son to appear with him in public while still a child.” [2]
This could mean that sons remained with their mothers until they reached the age of military action or that children were brought up away from home.

The Family Unit
Irish Iron Age Celts had larger units consisting of four generations of descendants from a common great-grandfather; this unit was known as the derbfine and had its own identity in law, owning land collectively. The larger group, known as tuath or 'tribe', was ruled by the chief or king.

Below the nobles were ordinary freemen, farmers who paid food-rent to the king and received cattle from the nobles in return for obligations. At the bottom of the social pyramid were, unsurprisingly perhaps, the slaves. There were learned men, the aes dána (men of art) whose skills gave them status above that or their birth and placed them on a similar level in society to warriors.

There is some evidence to suggest that homosexuality was fairly openly practised among the Celts, and that it was not frowned upon. Diodorus [3] wrote that

“The Celtic women are not only as tall as the men but as courageous … but despite their charm the men will have nothing to do with them. They long instead for the embrace of their own sex. It is particularly surprising that they attach no value to either dignity or decency, offering their bodies to each other without further ado. This is not regarded as at all harmful; on the contrary, if they are rejected in their approaches, they feel insulted.” [4]

Strabo [5] confirms these homosexual practices with the brief mention that the young men of Gaul were “shamelessly generous with their boyish charms.”

Gerhard Herm wrote that as soon as they were old enough to bear arms, young people indeed lived away from home, living almost wholly with others of their own sex. They learned riding, swordsmanship, hunting, and drinking. They had to prove themselves in the field, and saw their like as the only suitable company. It is easy to see that this placed emphasis on male friendships, and Herm suggested that this gave rise to the cult of the male body. Certainly, according to Strabo, the Celts "tried to avoid becoming fat or pot-bellied, and they punished any boy whose waist was larger than the standard they set." Diodorus linked this to the wearing of the "armbands of all sorts" and said that the Celts "wear about their necks heavy rings of solid gold."

The Celtiberians used to abandon their dead for the vultures to eat. The Gauls who took Rome used to bury their dead; and it was not until an epidemic occurred that they began to pile up corpses to burn them. Plutarch [6] remarked that the Gauls did not lament the passing of a dead man.

The Dying Gaul - public domain image

The funerals of the Celts of Gaul, who were relatively highly civilised, were quite splendid affairs. Anything thought to have been valued by a person during his lifetime was put on the pyre along with the body, even domestic animals.

At the time when bronze was the predominant metal for the manufacture of weapons, incineration was practised in various parts of Gaul, particularly in the southeast and north. When bronze swords disappeared, to be replaced by iron, burial under artificial mounds (tumuli) or in the earth itself, became more common.

Galician Celtic Stele for the deceased, called Apana, presumably an aristocrat of the tribe of Celtic Supertamáricos. Second Century of the Common Era. Image - public domain

One section of the Celtic community with which most people are familiar is the Druidic tradition. The Druids and their role will be examined in the last of this series, which will focus on government and Social Structure.

Next time: Occupations and Leisure Activities
*  ** Read the previous articles HERE and HERE

[1] Polybius, or Polybus, was a Greek historian born between 210 and 205 BC, in Arcadia. He wrote a general history of his time, and died around 125 BC
[2] Quote/translation The World of the Celts - G Dottin p40
[3] Diodorus (Sicilus) of Sicily was a Greek historian who used varied literary sources with little judgement of his own, and often without regard to exact chronology. For certain periods, though, he provides the best evidence available
[4] From Gerhard Herm's The Celts p57
[5] Strabo was a Greek geographer, who lived from about 58 BC - AD 25
[6] Plutarch was a Greek historian, biographer, and essayist, who lived from 45-120 AD


Annie Whitehead is a history graduate and prize-winning author. Her novel, To Be A Queen, is the story of Aethelflaed, daughter of Alfred the Great, who came to be known as the Lady of the Mercians. It was long-listed for the Historical Novel Society’s Indie Book of the Year 2016 and has been awarded an indieBRAG medallion. Her new release, Alvar the Kingmaker, which tells the story of Aelfhere of Mercia, a nobleman in the time of King Edgar, is available now. She is also a contributor to 1066 Turned Upside Down, an anthology of short stories re-imagining the events of 1066.
Annie's Author Page
Alvar the Kingmaker
To Be A Queen
Annie's Website
Annie's Blog

Thursday, August 25, 2016

An Unexceptional Man in Exceptional Times

by Anna Belfrage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All pictures in the public domain


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

Presently, Anna is hard at work with The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. And yes, Thomas of Brotherton plays an important - not at all unexceptional - part.The first book, In The Shadow of the Storm was published in 2015, the second, Days of Sun and Glory, was published in July 2016.

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

More about Anna on her website or on her blog!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Tombs of Henry VIII's Queens: Part One

by Linda Fetterly Root

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jane Seymour (1509-October 24, 1537):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

[v] The entire quote is found infra.



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

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

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

by Christopher Monk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dapper dressers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 22, 2016

Giveaway - the Lady of the Highway by Deborah Swift

Lady of the Highway by [Swift, Deborah]

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

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

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

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

Coat of Arms Tell a Story

by Samantha Wilcoxson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cardinal Reginald Pole
Coat of Arms

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

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

All images are in the public domain.

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

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

Connect with Samantha on her blog or on Twitter.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Editors' Weekly Round-up August 21st

by the EHFA Editors

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

by Annie Whitehead

by Jacqueline Reiter

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

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

by Lindsay Downs

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