Saturday, November 30, 2013

Those Seventeenth Century Goldsmiths

by Liz Kales

Hôtel de Charost, home of the ambassador of Great Britain
Gold pieces from diner room

In 1613, English Renaissance playwright, Thomas Middleton wrote a comedy entitled “A Chaste Maid in Cheapside.” One of the plots of this somewhat convoluted play centers on a wealthy goldsmith by the name of Yellowhammer who uses his daughter, supposedly a maiden, to climb the social ladder.

He betroths her to Sir Walter, a philandering knight eager for the girl’s dowry. In return, Sir Walter promises Moll’s brother, Tim a “landed niece” from Wales as a wife. She is in reality one of Sir Walter’s mistresses, who has in fact no land at all. In the end, the goldsmith’s plans go awry and Moll ends up marrying the poor gallant she truly loves.

The play was published in 1630 by the bookseller, Francis Constable and is considered to be among the best and most characteristic of Jacobean comedies. It would seem that the goldsmiths of the day were not above enjoying a laugh at their own expense.

Actually, a story about goldsmiths and their upward mobility in society is not as farfetched as one might suppose. Quite a number of wealthy goldsmiths in 17th century England were able to attain knighthood; mostly by dint of their ability to amass considerable wealth.

One example is Sir Richard Hoare, who was knighted by Queen Anne in 1702, appointed Sheriff of London in 1710, and elected Lord Mayor of London for the year of 1712. He was awarded these privileges because of his immense wealth, having been a goldsmith and establishing a private bank in 1672. As we shall later discover, history often credits the goldsmiths of the 17th century with the invention of modern banking.

Courtesy of Wikimedia user Aramgutang.
Gold was the first metal widely known to our species. In fact, it is mentioned in the second chapter of Genesis before even the first couple’s fall from grace. In Genesis 2:10-12 it states: “Now there was a river issuing out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it began to be parted and it became, as it were, four heads. The first one’s name is Pishon; it is the one encircling the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good.”

Gold is one of the earliest commodities equated with value. Early in man’s history, its brilliance, natural beauty, and luster along with its malleability gave it intrinsic appeal and power. Although the earliest history of human interaction with gold is lost to us, still its association with the gods, with immortality, and with wealth itself are common to many cultures throughout the world. As time progressed, gold and silver in standardized coins came to replace bartering arrangements and made trade in the Classic period much easier.

Of course, as is so often the case, where there is wealth there can be the propensity for crime. Coining became one of the major crimes associated with goldsmiths. Coining occurs when the perpetrator shaves or files off some of the metal to ‘diminish’ the coins value in any way. Such treatment of the coin of the realm was considered an act of treason against the king and was punishable by death. In the files of the Old Bailey, one finds many accounts of goldsmiths who became parties to such offenses and paid dearly for their actions.

To become a goldsmith was not easy. Apprentices were required to be skilled in forming metal through filing, soldering, sawing, forging, casting, and polishing metal. And since many goldsmiths were also jewellers, it took a great deal of skill and experience to become a master in the field. The exquisite pieces of art crafted by the most gifted goldsmiths were highly sought after by the beau monde of the period.

However, perhaps the most fascinating aspect of 17th century goldsmiths is how they branched out to become bankers. It is the main reason that a few of them actually accumulated far more wealth than some of the richer members of the nobility.

In the early part of the seventeenth century, the wealthy people commonly kept their gold in vaults at the Tower of London. But when Civil War broke out in 1642, King Charles the First needed some ready cash. He somehow figured those reserves in the Royal Mint belonged to him, and he took it all for his war effort.

Naturally, people with lots of gold began looking for other places to keep their wealth secure. The goldsmiths had strong vaults and were quite happy to take the job upon themselves. They issued certificates for the amounts their clients had lodged with them and would return the gold on demand.

As it turned out, the amounts the owners wanted to take out were usually only a fraction of what was stored for them. So eventually, the goldsmiths believed it would be harmless to loan out the gold on hand at a good rate of interest. In time, instead of actual gold, they circulated paper certificates redeemable in coin. People considered these certificates as good as gold.

However, towards the end of the century, the issuance of all these certificates was getting somewhat unwieldy and the Government determined that a newly established bank called the Bank of England would take over the process. As the massive doors to the Bank of England opened in 1694, the opportunity of greatly increasing their wealth by this form of fractional reserve banking closed to hundreds of London’s wealthier goldsmiths. Once again, they were forced to rely on skill and creativity as their only key to upward mobility in the social classes.


Elizabeth Kales is the author of "The Silk Weaver’s Daughter", a family saga focussing on the story of a young Huguenot girl who flees France with her family in 1685, leaving behind her cousin, the love of her life. Once settled in London and faced with an unwanted pregnancy, her father forces her to marry a wealthy English goldsmith, twenty years her senior. “The Silk Weaver’s Daughter” is a novel of faith, love, and unwavering loyalty.

The author is currently working on a sequel entitled “Night of the Gypsies” which takes the family on a further adventure through the wilds of Bavaria at the turn of the 18th century.

Mrs. Kales lives with her husband and their cat in Western Canada.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Stone of Destiny

by Marie Macpherson

Unless the fate shall faithless prove,
And prophets voice be vain;
Where’er this sacred Stone is found,
The Scottish race shall reign.

On St Andrews Day, 30 November 1996, 700 years after being stolen by King Edward I of England, the Stone of Destiny was brought back to Scotland with great pomp and ceremony.

But was it the real Stone of Scone, the ancient crowning stone of the Scots?

The origin of this sacred icon, fought over by the English and Scots, has been lost in the mists of time, and doubts about its authenticity have never been fully quashed. Legends about it abound and while giving a brief outline of its history, I take the liberty of weaving my own yarn into the story.

In 1296, having slashed and burned his way through Scotland, Edward Langshanks battered down the door of the Abbey of Scone and demanded that the Stone of Destiny be delivered up to him. For centuries, the Stone had been used as the seat of coronation for Scottish monarchs, and taking possession of this potent symbol of independence would send a powerful message to the rebellious Scots: that the English king, the Hammer of the Scots, was Lord Paramount of Scotland.

As he paced up and down waiting for the fabled stone to be delivered up, what was Edward expecting? Was it indeed Jacob’s Pillow, on which the biblical patriarch rested his head as he dreamt of angels ascending a ladder to heaven? Said to be the fragment of a falling star, this mythical stone would be made of black basalt or some mysterious, supernatural substance.

When the Temple of Jerusalem was looted Jacob’s Pillow was spirited away to Egypt where it became known as the Pharaoh’s Stone. What if this sacred relic coveted by the acquisitive Egyptians were sculpted out of pure white marble and inlaid with precious stones? That would be a prize well worth seizing.

After eloping with a Celtic prince Princess Scota, the pharaoh’s daughter, took the Stone to Ireland. Some time in the 5th century the princess’s descendants, the Scotti, brought the stone to Dalriada (Argyll). Then, c. 850 A.D, Kenneth MacAlpin, conqueror of the Picts, was crowned King of Scots at Moot Hill near Scone in present-day Perthshire. Sometimes referred to as the Hill of Faith or Belief, the Hill was created by sand taken there in the boots of those lords who had sworn allegiance to the Scottish king.

But was it the Tanist stone, known in Gaelic as An Lia Fàil, one of the four great treasures used in the coronation of Irish kings? Blessed by St Patrick the holy relic had been carted off by St Columba to Iona as his altar. During the Viking raids the Stone was moved to Scone Abbey for safekeeping.

This mythical stone, no doubt decorated with elaborate Celtic knot-work and covered in intricate carvings, was reputed to have magical properties. An Lia Fàil, ‘the great stone of fate or destiny’, not only groaned aloud when the true king of Scots sat on it but had the power to rejuvenate those who were crowned upon it. Said to be round, hollowed, and partly shaped like a chair or throne, it matched the description of the stone given by Walter of Guisborough who had attended the coronation of John Baliol in 1292. Whatever its origins, whatever its form, Edward coveted this touchstone of Scottish nationhood.

And so when the monks deposited a chunk of coarse-grained red sandstone at his feet, the English king would have gaped in astonishment.

The legendary talisman looked no different from the building blocks of the abbey, quarried from the hills around Scone. Not by any stretch of the imagination did it resemble a throne or a chair or a royal seat: on the contrary, the lump of stone with iron rings at each end bore an uncanny resemblance to the cover of a cess-pit.

King Edward’s eyes narrowed in suspicion and he clenched his fists in anger.

‘But this is no more than a hunk of rock!’ he spluttered.

Were these Scots’ monks making a mockery of him? Had they hidden the real stone?

The Abbot of Scone stepped forward. ‘I well understand your doubts, Your Grace, but consider this.’

He held up a chalice and took out a communion wafer. ‘Behold, this wafer is no more than a plain sliver of bread until the holy sacrament of the Eucharist transmutes it into the body of Our Saviour, Jesus Christ. As a Christian, do you believe in this miracle, Your Grace?’

The king nodded.

‘In the same way,’ the abbot went on, ‘we believe that because this humble slab has been consecrated with holy water by saints and men of God, whoever is crowned upon it becomes one of God’s anointed. There’s no joukerie-pawkerie here.’

And to reassure the king, perhaps he added, ‘Since biblical times our sacred Stone has been transported from place to place: these two iron rings are there for ease of movement, Your Grace. Take our blessed throne in good faith.’

Was the Hammer of the Scots taken in by this explanation or did he suspect his ‘lang shank’ was being pulled by the auld enemy? Whatever he believed Edward had no alternative but to claim his booty and cart it back to London where the Stone was fitted into an oak throne and installed at Westminster Abbey.

Since then, some 30 royal bottoms have sat upon King Edward’s Chair for their coronation. But were they crowned upon the legendary Stone of Destiny or the lid of a medieval toilet? Edward was still not convinced for in 1298 he sent a raiding party of knights back to Scone to rip the abbey apart in a desperate search. Whatever they were looking for, they returned empty-handed.

Then, in his Monuments Celtiques, 1805, Jacques Cambray claimed to have seen the stone when it bore the inscription:

Ni fallat fatum, Scoti quocumque locatum Invenient lapidiem,
regnasse tenetur ibidem

The poetic translation being passed down as:

Unless the fate shall faithless prove,
And prophets voice be vain;
Where’er this sacred Stone is found,
The Scottish race shall reign.

But there is no such inscription on the present Stone and, since Cambray believed in a ‘stone’ cult and its connection with the Druids, this is probably another myth.

The plot thickened when on Christmas Day, 25 December 1950, the Stone was allegedly ‘stolen’ from Westminster Abbey. But was it theft? Who owned it? Had the English not stolen it from Scotland in the first place? The Stone turned up a few months later on 11 April 1951. Following a tip-off, the police found the Stone draped in a blue and white Saltire – the national flag of Scotland – in front of the high altar of the ruined Abbey of Arbroath.

The choice of location was deliberate for it was there that the famous Declaration of Arbroath had been signed in 1320. In it the lords, commons and clergy of Scotland reaffirmed the right of the Scots to live in freedom:

‘For as long as one hundred of us remain alive, we will yield in no least way to the domination of the English. We fight not for glory nor for wealth nor for honours, but only and alone for freedom, which no good man surrenders but with his life.’

Perhaps this declaration of liberty is one reason why none of the Scottish nationalist students who had appropriated the Stone were ever prosecuted. (A film of the heist Stone of Destiny, was made in 2008.)

The Stone was then promptly dispatched to Westminster – but which one? During the robbery – or repatriation – the Stone had been damaged and was taken to a Glasgow stonemason for repair. Did he also make several copies of the stone? There is at least one acknowledged copy on public display at Scone Palace in Perthshire – might there be others?

And, if so, the stone that was returned to London might not even be the original rock that had been palmed off on Edward. That is what Scottish activist Wendy Wood would have us believe. For in 1968 she slipped a note under the iron railing at Westminster Abbey:

‘This is not the original Stone of Destiny. The real Stone is of black basalt marked with hieroglyphics and is inside a hill in Scotland.’

But is this true? If the Coronation Stone is a fake, what fate befell the real Stone of Destiny? Some say that Robert the Bruce took it to Dunstaffnage, or Iona, or Skye. Others insist that the monks buried it on Dunsinnan Hill above Scone where the secret of its location has been closely guarded and passed down the generations by word of mouth from father to son.

The Stone was returned to Westminster in time for the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth, the second of England, the first of Scotland.

But in 1996, in response to growing dissatisfaction among Scots, the conservative government agreed that the Stone of Destiny should be returned to Scotland. It was installed in Edinburgh Castle, taking its place alongside those other symbols of national identity, the Scottish Crown Jewels.

In a service at St Giles cathedral, the Church of Scotland Moderator formally accepted the Stone's return, saying it would ‘strengthen the proud distinctiveness of the people of Scotland.’

As part of the agreement the Stone – or the toilet seat lid – will be returned on loan to Westminster Abbey for the coronation of the next British monarch.

For after 700 years, the authenticity of the Stone on display at Edinburgh Castle is still uncertain. Like Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster, the Stone of Destiny has joined the pantheon of Scotch myths that should perhaps remain a mystery.

No Stone Unturned: The Story of the Stone of Destiny, Ian R. Hamilton, 1952
Stone of Destiny, Ian Hamilton, 2008
The Stone of Destiny, James Irvine Robertson, Scotland Magazine, Issue 37, March 2008

I am also indebted to the following websites:
Undiscovered Scotland
The Paisley Tartan Army
Scottish Scribbles


Born and bred in Scotland, Marie Macpherson went on to study Russian language and literature, gaining a  PhD on the Russian writer, Lermontov, said to be descended from the Scottish bard and seer, Thomas the Rhymer. Though she has travelled widely she has never lost her love for the rich culture and history of her native land.  Now retired from academic life she has taken up writing historical fiction.

 Her novel, The First Blast of the Trumpet – the first in a trilogy -– is a highly entertaining fictional account of the controversial Scottish reformer John Knox, based on his early, undocumented life.

A mini-documentary showing the historic locations featured in the novel can be viewed on YouTube under the title, 
John Knox and the Birth of the Scottish Reformation:

The novel is available in hardback, paperback and e-book and can be purchased at bookshops or online at:
Amazon UK
Amazon US
More information can be obtained from Knox Robinson Publishing website.

Latest Review from Undiscovered Scotland: What a magnificent book!  We have now published our review, which can be seen online here:

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Dinner for 142

By Kim Rendfeld

The first Thanksgiving was a three-day feast, so today would be the equivalent of day two of the 1621 event for what was then an English settlement.

The First Thanksgiving, Jean Leon Gerome Ferris,
circa 1912 to 1915 (public domain image via Wikimedia Commons)
At the party were 52 English people and 90 Wampanoag guests. That’s right. The guests outnumbered the hosts. The cooks among the settlers: the four surviving married women, five teenage girls, and a maidservant.

Many traditions we associate with Thanksgiving are from the 19th century. It wasn’t even an annual holiday until President Abraham Lincoln designated it in 1863.

In the 17th century, the settlers didn’t know they were setting a precedent, which likely occurred between September 21 and November 11. They were just glad to be alive after a year of hunger and hardship, and they wanted to celebrate with food and recreation.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo of wild turkey flock
According to settler Edward Winslow, four Englishmen had gone fowling and killed enough to feed the settlers for a week. The Wampanoag guests stopped by, were entertained for three days, and contributed five deer (about 360 pounds of venison if they bagged mature bucks).

The fare was not as portrayed in Standish of Standish: A Story of the Pilgrims, an 1889 novel by Jane Goodwin Austin (an account later taught as part of school curricula). Among other things, Austin describes a long table laden with stew, clam chowder, turnips, oysters, venison, ale and root beer, hasty pudding, and of course a turkey, only stuffed with beechnuts instead of bread.

USDA photo by Scott Bauer, via Wikimedia Commons
The real menu probably had fowl, venison, corn (also called maize), ale, and perhaps cod and a pudding made from goat’s milk. It’s possible the fowl was wild turkey – the Plymouth Plantation is in its range – but the area also supported geese, ducks, and passenger pigeons.

The tale of two disparate peoples coming together to celebrate has been mythologized over the centuries. Still, I must admit I love this story of friendship and fellowship, even though I feel sorry for the women who had to cook for all those people.


The First Thanksgiving,” Christian Science Monitor

Butcher & Packer

Eating History, Andrew F Smith

A Thousand Years over a Hot Stove, Laura Schenone

Kim Rendfeld’s novels take place in eighth-century Francia, long before the first Thanksgiving. She is the author of The Cross and the Dragon (2012, Fireship Press) and  The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar (forthcoming, Fireship Press). For more about Kim and her fiction, visit or her blog, Outtakes. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Hans Holbein: Politics of Art in the Court of Henry VIII

By Nancy Bilyeau

Just two years into the reign of James I, a Dutch painter and poet named Karel van Mander toured Whitehall Palace and came upon something truly memorable: a large wall mural of two generations of Tudors. Dominating the nine foot by twelve foot mural was the long-dead Henry VIII. At his side was his third wife, Jane Seymour; above the couple were his parents, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.

Whitehall mural, a 17th century painting reproduction

Van Mander was stunned. He wrote that Henry VIII "stood there, majestic in his lifelike that the spectator felt abashed, annihilated in his presence."

Lifelike. This was the supreme achievement of the mural's creator, Hans Holbein. then and now. Peter Ackroyd has written, "He illustrates his sitters in the light of some sudden but characteristic emotion, as if he had caught their thought on the wing."

Hans Holbein the Younger

It is in part because of Holbein that we feel we know the Tudor personalities, from Henry VIII and Jane Seymour to Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell to a baby Prince Edward. But do we really know Holbein?

It seems to us now as if Hans Holbein the Younger was always there, the favorite, the prize artist of the king. But in fact his artistic reign was fairly brief. He did not become "court painter" until shortly before painting that famous mural. It had taken years to win the trust of Henry VIII and secure royal commissions. Just three years after the Whitehall mural, he was under a cloud because of his painting of Henry's fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. Three years after that, he was dead.


Hans Holbein was born in 1497 in Augsburg, now the third largest city in Bavaria, Germany. Then it was a "free Imperial city" within the Holy Roman Empire, faithful to emperor and pope. Hans Holbein the Elder came from a family of talented artists and made sure to teach his son everything he knew. The father painted mostly altarpieces, church windows and other religious works--in the late medieval age, this was where artists found their majority of paying work.

Martin Luther transformed Germany--and then the rest of Christendom--when he challenged papal authority in 1517, nailing his 95 theses to the door of the castle church of Wittenerg. Two years earlier, Hans and his older brother Ambrosius had moved to the thriving Swiss city of Basel to work as journeyman painters. He created portraits and murals and designed woodcuts for printers. But soon enough Hans Holbein was engulfed in Luther's revolution.

Dance of Death, the Abbot

Holbein's cover of the Luther bible

It is in his woodcuts that Hans Holbein the Younger gives some indication of his religious beliefs. He designed the title page of Martin Luther's bible. And he created woodcuts for The Dance of Death, an eerie series of drawings showing a skeleton reaching for people across every level of society: merchant, king, abbess, old woman---and pope. Death came to everyone, high or low, was the message.

But in the first of several ironies, when Holbein came to England, his sponsor was Sir Thomas More, known for his hatred of Luther and determination to destroy the books written by those who wanted to reform the church.

Holbein departed from Basel in 1526, leaving a wife and children behind. Religious commissions had dried up as Lutheranism ignited. No one wanted altarpieces anymore. To earn enough money to live--and to, hopefully, find fame--he'd need to establish himself in a foreign court. He tried France first, but nothing happened. The famous Dutch Renaissance humanist Erasmus, whom Holbein had painted at least twice, gave him a letter of recommendation to be given to Sir Thomas More, a fellow Humanist and one of the most valued councilors of Henry VIII.

Sir Thomas More

Holbein may have lived in More's Chelsea home for a time. What is known for certain is that he painted a famous portrait of Sir Thomas as well as many of his family members. More raved about the artist's abilities in a letter to Erasmus. If he knew about Holbein's belief in religious reform, he'd decided to overlook it.

 In 1529 Sir Thomas More became chancellor of England. It would seem that Holbein couldn't have picked a better patron.

But More was devoted to Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII, and although he tried hard to avoid it, he got caught up in the Great Matter of the king's divorce. More did not have a high opinion of Anne Boleyn, who would eventually become Henry's second queen, and could not swear an oath of supremacy to king over pope. In 1532 he resigned as chancellor, in anguish, claiming illness.

Holbein was not damaged by his patron's fall from power because he'd returned to Basel, to his family and his circle of artist friends. But this was no place for an artist. The pendulum had swung so far in Basel that religious reformers were destroying statues and works of art in churches. It is believed that some of Holbein's paintings were burned in the rages of iconoclasm. Holbein decided to go  back to England. Before he left, he painted his wife, looking undeniably sad.

Holbein's wife and two of their children

There was a whole new group running the Tudor court in 1533, and Holbein headed for the top. His new patron? The stylish Anne Boleyn. He designed decorations for her coronation; pieces of jewelry; and several silver cups. It is believed that he painted Queen Anne's portrait, but after her fall, Henry VIII had many images of his second wife destroyed. One that survives is a sketch of Anne signed by Holbein.

The Ambassadors

Perhaps the greatest contribution Anne made to the legacy of Holbein was sponsoring his painting The Ambassadors, considered his master work. The strongest clue that Anne commissioned the work is that on a table between the two Frenchmen is a wooden cylinder used to determine dates. Visible is April 11, the day that the court was officially told that Anne Boleyn would be awarded royal honors.

Holbein's sketch of Anne Boleyn

Anne's execution in May 1536 could have led to Holbein's downfall. Instead, he shifted again, becoming the favored painter of Henry VIII himself and Thomas Cromwell, who many believe concocted the charges against Anne of adultery and incest.

Henry VIII, the year Anne Boleyn was executed

Holbein painted Jane Seymour, Anne Boleyn's prim-looking replacement as queen, and the family mural in Whitehall. He received the all-important commissions to paint the king himself and his heir, Prince Edward. He painted Cromwell. This was when Holbein's status at court became official and he earned an annual salary of thirty pounds.

Jane Seymour died the same year that the mural was painted. Henry VIII was reluctant to marry a foreign princess without having any idea of what she looked like. So Holbein was sent to various courts to paint the candidates: France, Flanders, Germany.

Anne of Cleves

In Cleves, he painted Anne, the older sister of Duke William, and Henry was charmed by her appearance. Yet from almost the moment he set eyes on her when she arrived, days before their wedding, he loathed Anne of Cleves. "I like her not," the king declared.

Did Holbein, the artist celebrated for his lifelike images, over-flatter Anne of Cleves in his painting? Did he feel pressure from Cromwell, who supported the marriage alliance to a German power, to make her look more attractive than she was? Cromwell was arrested and then executed in 1540, and one of the reasons for his shocking fall from power was that Henry felt his minister had bungled his fourth marriage. "I am not well handled," the king said, menacingly.

Thomas Cromwell

Did Holbein handle his part well? Others have said that Anne of Cleves' painting must have been accurate because, unlike Cromwell, Holbein was not punished in the fallout of the Cleves divorce. Which is strictly true. But Hans Holbein did not receive any more high profile royal commissions. He concentrated on private commissions, such as miniatures of various members of the nobility, like Katherine Willoughby, the young wife of the Duke of Suffolk.

In late 1543 at the age of 45, Hans Holbein died, perhaps of the plague, in London. He left a will, written in haste. His debts were settled and some of his monies went to the care of the children in Basel he had left behind. His grave is unmarked.


Ackroyd, Peter, The Life of Thomas More

Ives, Eric, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn

Thurley, Simon, Whitehall Palace: An Architectural History of the Royal Apartments, 1240-1690

Weir, Alison, Henry VIII: The King and His Court

Wolf, Norbert, Hans Holbein the Younger, the German Raphael


Nancy Bilyeau is the author of an award-winning trilogy of historical thrillers set in the time of Henry VIII. The protagonist is a Dominican novice. The first two novels, The Crown and The Chalice, are on sale in North America, the United Kingdom, and Germany, The third book, to be published in March 2015, is called The Tapestry. Hans Holbein is a character in the novel.

U.S. publication

UK publication

To learn more, go to

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Giveaway! Child of the Northern Spring by Persia Woolley

Persia is giving away a signed softcover copy of Child of the Northern Spring, Volume One of the Guinevere Trilogy. You can read about the book HERE. You will be prompted to return to this post to enter the drawing.

Queen Elizabeth, Spain, and the Sea Beggars

by Barbara Kyle

William de la Marck
This is a David and Goliath story of the 16th century. "David" was Dutch rebel William de la Marck. "Goliath" was the mighty Philip II of Spain. Elizabeth I of England was the surprise catalyst of an uprising that sparked the Dutch War of Independence against Spain.

Elizabeth I
In 1571 Elizabeth, at the age of thirty-eight, had reigned for thirteen years. She was far from secure on her throne. England had no standing army and an undersized navy, and Elizabeth feared that Philip of Spain, the most powerful monarch in Europe, was poised to invade. To strike at her, his army would sail from the Netherlands. There, less than a hundred miles off her shores, his troops had already subjugated the Dutch.

Philip II

Philip was lord of Spain, portions of the Italian peninsula, and the Low Countries (modern-day Belgium and the Netherlands) whose cities of Antwerp and Bruges were Europe's richest trading centres. He was also stupendously wealthy thanks to his vast New World possessions. The Spanish Main, a scythe-shaped slice of the globe, ran from Florida through Mexico and Central America to the north coast of South America, gateway to the riches of Peru.

Twice a year the Spanish treasure fleet, the flota, crossed the Atlantic to deliver hoards of New World gold, silver, and precious gems to Philip's treasury in Spain. Philip used this constant river of riches to finance his constant wars. Throughout Europe, Spain's armies were feared and triumphant.

Nowhere were they more feared than in the Netherlands. There, Philip's general, the Duke of Alba, had crushed Dutch resistance to Spanish rule. "The Iron Duke," as Alba was called, was governor of the Netherlands from 1567 and had set up a special court called the Council of Troubles under whose authority he executed thousands, including leading Dutch nobles. The people called it the Council of Blood. Here are Alba's own words: "It is better that a kingdom be laid waste and ruined through war for God and for the king, than maintained intact for the devil and his heretical horde."

The Duke of Alba
The Dutch Prince William of Orange was one of the ten thousand people summoned before the Council. But the Prince escaped. He gathered a rebel army and marched into Brabant, the Dutch heartland. But his troops were inexperienced and untrained, and with winter approaching and money running out, the Prince turned back. He went into exile in the German lands, awaiting his next chance.

Religion, as always in the 16th century, was a fiery instrument of division. Philip of Spain was known as "the most Catholic prince in Christendom." Catholics considered Elizabeth of England a bastard, since they did not acknowledge her mother Anne Boleyn's marriage to her father Henry VIII, and a heretic, since Elizabeth's first act as queen had been to make the realm officially Protestant. That act had also made her the supreme head of the church in England, a concept that Catholics found grotesque: a woman as head of a church. In 1570 Pope Pious V excommunicated Elizabeth in a fierce decree, calling her a heretic and "the servant of crime." He released all her subjects from any allegiance to her, and excommunicated any who obeyed her orders. Scores of affluent Catholics left England with their families and settled in the Spanish-occupied Netherlands.

Mary, Queen of Scots
These English exiles considered Elizabeth's cousin Mary, Queen of Scots the legitimate claimant to the English throne. But by this time Elizabeth held Mary under house arrest in England, a comfortable captivity in Sheffield Castle. Elizabeth did not dare set Mary free, fearing she would foment an invasion by a Catholic League of Spain, France, and the Pope. In the Netherlands, the English exiles were plotting to overthrow Elizabeth with military help from their powerful Spanish friends and install Mary in her place . . . and there, in the Netherlands, just a day's sail from the English coast, Spanish troops under the merciless Duke of Alva stood ready should Philip give the invasion order.

But the Dutch rebels had not given up, only gone to ground. They still considered Prince William of Orange their leader. He was keen for a second chance to win back his country for the Dutch. And Elizabeth of England was eager to secretly support him. That second chance came in the spring of 1572. This time the rebels would not come marching, as an army. They would come from the sea: a motley fleet called the Sea Beggars.

The origin of their name is intriguing. Before Alba's arrival in the Netherlands the governor was Philip's sister, Margaret. A delegation of over two hundred Dutch nobles appeared before her with a petition stating their grievances. She was alarmed at the appearance of so large a body, but one of her councillors exclaimed, "What, madam, is your highness afraid of these beggars?" The Dutch heard the insult, and after Margaret ignored their petition they declared they were ready to become beggars in their country's cause, and adopted the name "Beggars" with defiant pride. Scores of them took to the sea to harry Spanish shipping. Led by William de la Marck, they called themselves the Sea Beggars.

William de la Marck

For several years Elizabeth gave safe conduct to the Sea Beggars, allowing La Marck and his rebel mariners to make Dover and the creeks and bays along England's south coast their home as they continued their raids on Spanish shipping, which infuriated Philip. England was far weaker than mighty Spain, so Elizabeth was playing "a game of cat and mouse" with Philip, says historian Susan Ronald in her book The Pirate Queen; helping the Sea Beggars was "the only course open to her to show her defiance of Spain."

But as 1572 dawned Philips's fury grew dangerous. In March, Elizabeth ordered the expulsion of the Sea Beggars from her realm, an act that people assumed was to placate Philip. It turned out, however, that Elizabeth had struck a lethal blow at Spain: by expelling the Sea Beggars she had unleashed their latent power. For a month theses rebel privateers wandered the sea, homeless and hungry, until, on the first of April, they made a desperate attack on the Dutch port city of Brielle, which had been left unattended by the Spanish garrison. They astounded everyone, even themselves, by capturing the city.

The Capture of Brielle

Their victory provided the Dutch opposition's first foothold on land and launched a revolution: the Dutch War of Independence. The capture of Brielle gave heart to other Dutch cities suffering under Spain's harsh rule, and when the Sea Beggars pushed on inland they rejoiced to see town after town open their gates to them. The exiled Prince of Orange now sent troops to support them. But Spain ferociously struck back. Taking the rebel-held cities of Mechelen and Zutphen, the Duke of Alba's troops massacred the inhabitants; in Mechelen the atrocities went on for four days. The town of Haarlem bravely resisted during a long siege, but finally surrendered. Alba's troops methodically cut the throats of the entire garrison, some two thousand men, in cold blood.

By 1585 Elizabeth could no longer tolerate Spain's tyranny in the Netherlands, and she sent an army under the Earl of Leicester to support the Dutch revolution. Nevertheless, it took six decades more until the people of the Netherlands won their freedom, in 1648.

To this day, on the First of April every year, the Dutch people still exuberantly celebrate the Sea Beggars' capture of Brielle.


The Sea Beggars feature in Barbara Kyle's new novel 
The Queen's Exiles coming in June 2014.

About The Queen's Exiles: "1572. Europe is in turmoil. A vengeful faction of exiled English Catholics is plotting to overthrow Queen Elizabeth and install her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots on the throne. And in the Netherlands the streets are red with the blood of those who dare to oppose the brutal Spanish occupation. But amid the unrest one resourceful young woman has made a lucrative enterprise. Scottish-born Fenella Doorn salvages crippled vessels. It is on one of these ships that she meets wealthy Baron Adam Thornleigh. Secretly drawn to him, Fenella can’t refuse when Adam enlists her to join him in war-torn Brussels to help find his traitorous wife, Frances—and the children she’s taken from him. But Adam and Fenella will put their lives in peril as they attempt to rescue his young ones, defend the crown, and restore the peace that few can remember."

Barbara Kyle's six-book Thornleigh Saga follows an English middle-class family's rise
through three tumultuous Tudor reigns.

"Riveting...adventurous...superb!" Historical Novel Society, "Editor's Choice."
"Kyle knows what historical fiction readers crave." RT Book Reviews

"A beautifully written and compelling novel. Again, Barbara Kyle reigns!”
- New York Times bestselling author Karen Harper


Barbara welcomes you to her website:


Monday, November 25, 2013

Playing Doctor with the Queen

by Anna Belfrage

I believe she was a happy little girl, this princess who was raised far from the corrupting influences of the royal court by her doting – if strict – mother, Princess Augusta of Saxe-Coburg. Maybe, in her later life, Carolina Matilda, princess of England and queen of Denmark, would long for those halcyon days of her childhood, days when life was simple and structured, when she was the cosseted youngest sister of George III.

Caroline Matilda w her family

However protected her upbringing, Carolina Matilda knew from the start that at some point she would be expected to marry as it benefited her brother’s kingdom. To ensure the young princess was a credit to her future husband, she was given an excellent education, and by the time she was a teenager she spoke not only English, but also Italian, French and German.

Carolina Matilda (standing) w her sister

In October of 1766, the fifteen-year-old Carolina Matilda was married by proxy to her cousin, Christian VII of Denmark. There were rumours surrounding the Danish king, mutterings that all was not well in the state of Denmark – or at least not in the head of its royal ruler – but for all George III’s concerns, he still chose to send his little sister off into the unknown. As to the Danish, it was all perfectly simple: “Avec un Coeur bon, une humeur douce (…) et une envie de plaire au roi son epoux, elle peut s’attendre à une sitiation très heureuse.” In other words, smile and please your king and all will be well.

Christian VII
The young Danish king was less than thrilled with his new wife. He didn’t want to be married; at seventeen he had hoped to enjoy some more years of carousing and whoring before he was forced into a marriage bed. Carolina Matilda was no more enthusiastic, but she knew where her duty lay, and so tried to make the best of things. Difficult to do, when she was a stranger in a country, doubly difficult when the king began to lavish all his attention and affection on a much admired prostitute.

Further to Christian’s womanizing, Carolina Matilda quickly realised her new husband was not all there. Given to panic attacks, to severe mood swings and a marked lack of concentration, the young king was restless and unhappy – and very much under the thumb of his formidable step-mother, Juliane Marie, and her cronies. Juliane Maria had a son of her own to look out for, and she was probably less than pleased when Christian’s reluctant visits to his wife’s bedchamber resulted in a little prince, born 15 months after the wedding.

Carolina Matilda giving birth to her son
The birth of an heir did not improve the relationship between the young king and queen. He remained as distant as ever, she submerged herself in the care of her son, a most doting mother. The ever restless Christian VII decided he needed to see the world, and now that there was a royal heir there was nothing to stop him from going, so in May of 1768 he set off on a grand tour, planned to take at least two years. I suspect Carolina Matilda heaved a sigh of relief. I suspect Christian did too, sitting back in his gilded carriage after waving goodbye to his assembled family.

A king on a grand tour didn’t exactly ride around unaccompanied. With Christian went a group of people numbering close to fifty, and among his inner circle was one Johan Friedrich Struensee, hired as his personal physician. Struensee was a highly educated man, a proponent of the Enlightenment. He was also a kindly and patient man, and for the first time ever Christian found a person who took his panic attacks and mental ghosts seriously, who genuinely tried to help him. In a matter of months, Struensee had become the king’s confidante, his pillar of strength, and when the king’s mental collapse in Paris forced the royal party to return home much earlier than planned, Struensee returned with them.

It is said distance makes the heart grow fonder. Not so in Christian’s and Carolina Matilda’s case. There seems to have been no correspondence between the king and queen while he was away, and his impervious, near on cruel, behaviour towards Carolina Matilda upon his return left her humiliated – and ill.

The king proposed that his new doctor examine her. Carolina Matilda was sceptical. Struensee was far too close to the king to initially gain her confidence. The king insisted, and after some weeks of illness, Carolina Matilda finally agreed to see Struensee. The progressive doctor concluded there was nothing physically wrong with the queen, she suffered from melancholia brought on by her obvious unhappiness. Struensee ordinated exercise, such as riding, and some months later the queen had clearly recovered, riding through Copenhagen in men’s clothes, her cheeks rosy, her eyes glittering.

The cause for all that rosy happiness was not only the horse. No, Carolina Matilda had fallen in love – most unfortunately – with her husband’s physician. Struensee performed an elegant balancing act, tending to the king’s needs and anguishes during the day, to the queen’s rather more carnal desires at night. The man was as besotted as the queen, finding in Carolina Matilda an intelligent companion, a woman who listened to his progressive ideas without laughing, who supported him on various issues.

The king may have been mad as a hatter, but he was no fool. He was well aware of Struensee’s nightly visits to his queen, and he doesn’t seem to have cared. If anything, the addition of Struensee to the household had resulted in something approaching domestic bliss for both the king and queen, and for the first time ever the king would voluntarily spend time both with his wife and his son.

If the king had no issue with his present unorthodox marital situation, his court most certainly did. The immorality had to be stopped, someone should cane the queen for riding about in breeches, and as to Struensee’s visits to her bedchamber, well, really! The king shrugged and intensified his relationship with Struensee, appointing him as his chief minister.

Struensee was a man of vision. A true child of the Enlightenment, he wanted to reform society, to break away the government from the stranglehold of the prim and conservative Danish church. In less than a year, Struensee pushed through more than a thousand new laws, notably among them being a law that forbade torture. The king happily went along with all this, while in the wings his former advisors gnashed their teeth and howled in frustrated rage. A mere doctor, a foreigner (Struensee was German) to usurp their power and change their world – no, this was unacceptable.

The king, the queen and the doctor
While discontent brewed, the king, the queen and Struensee continued to play happy families. The king was given a Moorish boy as his personal page, and he spent his days romping about with his new playmate. The queen was pregnant and even if the king now and then graced her bed with his presence, it was the opinion of the court that the expected child was Struensee’s, not the king’s. Whatever the case, once the child was born, the king claimed the new-born princess as his.

The summer when little Louise Augusta was born was the high point in Caroline Matilda’s life. A new child, a lover she admired and lusted for, a husband who seemed happy enough with his games, and a son she doted upon. All was well in her little world, and she probably dreamed of many future years like this, years in which Struensee would rule, the king would play, and she would raise the future king to be a man of ideals.

Unfortunately, the Danish nobility had other plans. Ably captained by Juliane Marie, the ousted former ministers performed a coup in January of 1772. After a night of festivities, a masquerade ball no less, Juliane Marie and her men paid the king a nightly visit, scaring him into signing two arrest orders, one for Struensee, one for the adulterous queen.

At dawn, January 17 1772, Carolina Matilda was wakened by her frightened maid, who handed her a note from the king telling her she was to be arrested and taken to Kronborg. Carolina Matilda thought first of Struensee and rushed through her secret passage to her lover’s room. It was filled with grim soldiers going through his papers. The queen rushed back and tried to get access to the king, to plead her case. Not to be, and an hour or so later the queen was bundled off to captivity, holding her little daughter. Her son she was forced to leave behind.

Under substantial pressure, Carolina Matilda admitted to her affair with Struensee. He did the same, and in April of 1772, Johan Friedrich Struensee was beheaded before a huge crowd. It is said he kept on hoping for a reprieve… His mistress, the disgraced queen, signed the divorce papers in the same month. Little Louise Augusta was taken from her once she was weaned, and in May of 1772, Carolina Matilda was exiled from Denmark. She was never to see her children again. In June of 1775 Carolina Matilda died, some months shy of her twenty-fourth birthday. It is said she died of scarlet fever – but some whisper she died of a broken heart.

Anna Belfrage is the author of four published books, A Rip in the Veil , Like Chaff in the Wind, The Prodigal Son and her latest release, A Newfound Land.  Set in seventeenth century Scotland and Virginia/Maryland, the books tell the story of Matthew and Alex, two people who should never have met – not when she was born three hundred years after him.
For more information about Anna and her books, please visit her website