Thursday, February 28, 2013

An Unfortunate End for a Remarkable Queen of England

by Anne O'Brien

This is a short and sombre post about Katherine de Valois' tragic death and its aftermath, to mark the release of The Forbidden Queen in the UK today, 1st march, 2013.

Katherine died 3rd January 1437 at Bermondsey Abbey as shown here.  It no longer exists except for its foundations under the streets of London.

She was clearly ill as she herself had commented: 'in grievous malady, in which I have been long, and yet am troubled and vexed.'  She had already made her will on the 1st January, appointing her son Henry VI as executor, and the execution of it to be supervised by Cardinal Beaufort and the Duke of Gloucester (Henry V's uncle and brother) and Bishop Alnwick of Lincoln.

She was 36 years old.  Were her problems mental or physical?  It seems that some of her servants secured favourable bequests from her - far too favourable - which were annulled afterwards, so perhaps she was too open to suggestion in those final weeks.  Perhaps it was the fragility of mind that had struck down her father and was to affect her son.  It has been suggested that she suffered from cancer, and she may have been pregnant with a baby that was born and died at Bermondsey.  We have no clear evidence.

Katherine was buried in Westminster Abbey. 

Here is a wooden likeness of her carved for her funeral procession.  It can be seen in the museum at Westminster Abbey.  Around the head is a light groove where once a crown would have been attached.  We can presume that it is a good likeness of her.  I think that she looks frail, although the long Valois features are striking.

Katherine was not allowed to lie in peace and it is a tale of neglect and terrible insensitivity.  When Henry Tudor became king as Henry VII, he replaced the original inscription on his grandmother's grave, which made no mention of her second marriage to Owen Tudor, with one that did.

In 1503 or thereabouts, during some rebuilding at the abbey, Katherine's body, loosely wrapped in lead, was taken from the original tomb and placed in Henry V's tomb, but it appears to have been openly on view there in its embalmed form.  Shockingly to our eyes, until the 18th century, it was often on display as a curiosity.  On 23rd February 1669 the diarist Samuel Pepys was allowed 'by particular favour' to take Katherine's body into his hands and he 'planted a kiss on her mouth reflecting upon it that I did kiss a queen and that it was my birthday.'  
It is a macabre thought.

This is Henry V's tomb.  The figure is original but the head has been replaced more recently.

In 1776 the dean of Westminster at last ordered Katherine's reburial but the corpse was still visible in 1793.  It was not until 1878 that she finally arrived at her present resting place in Henry V's chantry, as shown here.

The inscription for her on the altar can be translated:
'Under this slab (once the altar of this chapel) for long cast down and broken up by fire, rest at last, after various vicissitudes, finally deposited here by command of Queen Victoria, the bones of Catherine de Valois, daughter of Charles VI of France, wife of Henry V, mother of Henry VI, grandmother of Henry VII, born 1400, crowned 1421, died 1438.'

The date of her death is wrong, but at least Katherine has been allowed peace at last.  It is what she deserved, to rest with dignity and seemliness.

Do join me on Facebook to keep up to date with Katherine and the release date for the US

My novel The Forbidden Queen is now available in the UK.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Listening to Blackfriars

By Nancy Bilyeau

"Catherine, queen of England, come into the court!"

It was the third call made by the crier, commanded by Henry VIII to stop the queen from leaving the tribunal court convened to inquire into the legality of their 20-year marriage. On that day, June 21, 1529, before a vast room occupied by two scarlet-clad cardinals, nobles of the realm and a throng of spectators, Catherine threw herself at the feet of the man who was desperate to divorce her in order to marry another woman.

Immortalized by Shakespeare, Queen Catherine said:
Sir, I desire you do me right and justice; and to bestow your pity on me; for I am a most poor woman, and a stranger; born out of your dominions; having here no judge indifferent, nor no more assurance of equal friendship and proceedings. Alas, Sir, in what way have I offended you? What cause hath my behavior given to your displeasure, that thus you should proceed to put me off, and take your good grace from me?
 After finishing her entreaty to an embarrassed and unmoved husband, Catherine rose, ignored the crier, saying,  "It matters not, this is no indifferent court for me. I will not tarry." And she left. When the queen reached the sight of the crowd of commoners gathered outside, they cheered for her, the sound of it wafting into the chamber she'd left behind.

It is an unforgettable scene, one that has shaken and moved me each time I read Catherine of Aragon's plea to be spared such a humiliating rejection. Perhaps it was the draw of such high drama--the cheers and cries and arguments of The Great Matter--that led me to search that section of London for the place where the royal confrontation took place: Blackfriars. But there is another reason too.

In my novels, The Crown and The Chalice, I write the stories through the eyes of a Dominican novice who lives at the priory of Dartford, in Kent. It was the sole house of Dominican sisters in the kingdom. But the largest male Dominican establishment in England--and one of the most prestigious in all of Europe--was the monastery of friars dubbed Blackfriars. In its vast complex, the upper frater building, 110 feet long and 52 feet wide with two-foot-thick stonewalls, had a second-storey room called the Parliamentary Chamber. Many important sessions of government were held there.

It's natural to be surprised that a friary would possess such a chamber; the medieval monarchs' respect for the large monastic orders--Dominicans, Benedictines, and Franciscans--is not much written about. The first followers of St Dominic arrived in England in 1221. Over the next 50 years, their influence, and their numbers, grew as, pledged to humility and poverty, they stayed in various churches. They were nicknamed "Blackfriars" because of the color of their robes.

Edward I
Edward I was the principal patron of the new Blackfriars friary in London. He made a gift of 200 marks in 1280 to raise the church; construction of all the buildings--cloister, frater, infirmary, chapel, dormitory, vestry, buttery, brewery--lasted at least 20 years. King Edward took its creation so seriously that he extended the western perimeter wall of the city of London so the friars could have more room. Their property extended from the Thames River to Ludgate; the friars, moreover, were not answerable to the mayor or any governmental officials of the city. They were a city within the city.

After the work was finished, King Edward I conducted state business in Blackfriars and even slept there on occasion. Did nights spent on a friar's pallet afford more peace for Edward Longshanks, the Hammer of the Scots? Perhaps.

The Dominicans were grateful to their patron, so much so that they staunchly defended his son, Edward II, when no one else did. After Edward II was deposed by his French wife and her allies, the Blackfriars were distrusted and blamed for a time and had to go into hiding.

Edward II coronation

There are no more instances of Dominicans'  dangerous interference with political affairs. On the property, houses were built and lent to those not affiliated with the friars. It became a fashionable place to live, known for its gardens. Sir William Kingston retired to Blackfriars precinct after his years of service managing the Tower of London, dealing with such prisoners as King Henry's second wife, Anne Boleyn. The Parr family also had a house in Blackfriars, and Henry VIII's sixth wife, also named Catherine, was born there in 1512. 

When the end came in the 1530s and Henry VIII, denied his divorce by Rome, declared himself head of the Church of England, the Dominicans did not martyr themselves, like the Carthusian monks. The prior, John Hilsey, surrendered Blackfriars without any known objection in November 1538. The 15 friars living there were ejected and the friary officially closed. For his cooperation, Prior Hilsey received a pension of 60 pounds for the rest of his life and could stay in prior's lodgings, which included larders, buttery, kitchen, storeroom, cellar, gallery and other parcels.

Blackfriars as Elizabethan playhouse
Throughout the rest of the 16th century, the buildings and gardens of Blackfriars were sold to various courtiers. Large structures were broken up; later, some of the halls were put back together to become a playhouse for Shakespeare and other Elizabeth playwrights. In the Great Fire of London, that building was destroyed.

I knew very well that nothing of Blackfriars remained when I visited London in the summer of 2011 to research my novel, The Chalice. But it was hard to believe. It had functioned as more than a friary and parliamentary-session house, it was a palace. When Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, visited his aunt, Catherine of Aragon, he stayed not in any of Henry VIII's castles but in the guesthouse of Blackfriars. 

I bought some historical maps and guidebooks at the fantastic bookstore at Museum of London. Armed with my research suggesting some bits and pieces of the medieval complex remained, I headed for the neighborhood early in the evening. I took the underground to--what else?--the Blackfriars station.

I walked the neighborhood, my backpack, stuffed with books growing heavier by the minute. It's not really a tourist area, and the financial workers, ties loosened, drinking beer outside a shiny pub, glanced at me, bemused, as I rounded their corner yet again, a map of the city in my hand.

Tired and hungry, I was about to give up when I heard something very strange on a deserted side street. It was singing, a beautiful hymn of some sort. I followed the sound of their voices to a set of stairs leading up. At the top was a small, leafy courtyard park, and a group of 20 middle-aged men and women gathered, singing. A priest stood by.

I learned that this day, July 26, was St Anne's Day, and they sang to honor her, the mother of the Virgin Mary. I sat on a bench and listened to their program. At twilight, I got up to leave, and saw a scrap of low stone wall and near it a line of centuries' old tombstones on the edge of the park pavement. 

They were the graves of friars of the Dominican Order. The Church of St. Anne was built in 1550, twelve years after the surrender, to serve as the house of worship for those still living in the precinct. One thing they did was gather and protect some of the graves.

I had found Blackfriars.

Orion Books/UK
Nancy Bilyeau's trilogy of historical novels are set during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Published in nine countries, they follow the life of a Dominican novice named Joanna Stafford. The second novel, The Chalice, won the award from RT Reviews for Best Historical Mystery. For more information, go to

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Flanders Mare: Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII’s Fourth Wife

by Lauren Gilbert

         The life of the Henry VIII and his marital struggles has been a source of fascination to most people interested in history.   (It’s like a train wreck; even if you don’t want to look, you just can’t help yourself.)  I have always felt a great deal of interest in, and sympathy for, Anne of Cleves, Henry’s fourth wife.
         Anne of Cleves is frequently dismissed with few words.  Her personal appearance has been dismissed as unattractive, a “great Flanders mare” who was too repulsive to touch.   Because she did not speak English, and was not educated in the music and literature so popular at Henry’s court, Anne is frequently considered not particularly intelligent.  Some views show her as of little prestige or import.  Her time as queen is often considered a blip between tragedies.   There is considerably more to Anne of Cleves than a serio-comic figure shunted off to the side.
         Anne of Cleves was born September 22, 1515 in Dusseldorf, Cleves, Germany.  Her mother was Marie of Julich and her Father John III, Duke of Cleves.  Anne actually comes of very prestigious stock:  she was descended from Edward I of England and had connections to Louis XII of France and the Dukes of Burgundy.  (Only Catherine of Aragon had a better pedigree among Henry’s wives.)  John III and his family were in fact Catholic.  He was influenced by Erasmus and had moderate views for reform.  Anne of Cleves was not a Lutheran.  She was unofficially betrothed at the age of 12 to Francois, the heir of the Duke of Lorraine, but the betrothal was never formally announced, and eventually it was considered cancelled.  She was raised as was customary in her German homeland.  She spoke only German, and her upbringing was focused more on domestic skills than intellectual attainments.  However, it is known that she could read and write, and there is no indication that she was unintelligent or uneducated.
         After Jane Seymour’s death, when Henry did decide to look for a wife, he started what amounted to a royal beauty pageant.  After being rebuked by the king of France when he refused to get a group of suitable candidates together in Calais so Henry could look them over, Henry was forced to settle for portraits.  The lovely portrait of Anne of Cleves by Hans Holbein the Younger was one of the portraits considered. 

          This portrait shows a serene young woman with an attractive oval face, and a tiny waist.  Based on Henry’s disdain, it has frequently been dismissed as “flattering” at best.  However, this does not appear to be a fair assessment.  Other contemporary portraits of Anne exist, and show basically the same features.  A gallery on contains other images that coincide with Holbein’s portrait.  You can visit this gallery HERE. 
         There is no doubt that the marriage contract between Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves was a political match.  In response to the treaty between the king of France and the Emperor negotiated by Pope Paul III, Cromwell looked for a political counterbalance, and Cleves seemed to fill that bill.  Anne’s sister, Sybille (or Sibylla) was married to John Frederick, the Elector of Saxony and head of the Protestant Confederation of Germany.  John III, Anne’s father, was therefore father-in-law to a powerful Protestant leader; he was also in bad odor with the Emperor himself over the duchy of Gelderland.  The marriage treaty included agreements of mutual defense against the Emperor and offered protection to both England and Cleves.  The religious views in England and Cleves were actually quite compatible, as Henry’s church was still basically Catholic (aside from disavowing papal authority) and John was interested in reform of the existing Catholic Church in Cleves.  These advantages, combined with Holbein’s attractive likeness, tipped the balance.  Henry’s yearning for love and romance did the rest.   The betrothal was formalized October 6, 1539, not long after the portrait was delivered.
         So what happened?  How did Anne of Cleves come to be regarded so poorly?  I believe the whole thing comes down to a pivotal issue: the meeting at Rochester.  After the proxy marriage, Anne of Cleves landed at Dover on December 27, 1539.  She arrived in Rochester January 1, 1540. Henry, in full romantic frenzy, could no longer wait for the ceremonial meeting.  He rushed off to Rochester in disguise to meet Anne.  He was expecting an immediate romantic recognition and a burst of mutual overwhelming passion.  Unfortunately, it didn’t happen.  When he was taken to meet Anne, apparently his disguise was too good.  She didn’t recognize him, and paid little attention to him until he showed her a token purportedly from the king and then embraced her.  Imagine what she thought about being accosted by an unknown, fat, elderly man.   Henry went off and changed; upon his return, his lords and knights made appropriate obeisance.  Anne finally realized it was him and responded appropriately, but the damage was done.   His romantic bubble burst and his pride was injured, so he became angry and declared “I like her not”.  (She probably wasn't looking her best either.  Travel was quite arduous at the time, and the winter weather can't have helped.)  When they married January 6, 1540 at Greenwich, they retired together, only to discover that he could not consummate it.  That put the seal of doom on this relationship.  Of course, it had to be Anne’s fault.
         At this point, Henry impugned her honor, implying that she repulsed him because he could tell she was not a virgin after feeling her body.  (Yet he later declared that he left her as much a maiden as when her mother bore her.)  He could not accept that he was no longer handsome Prince  Hal, able to make any woman he wanted fall in love at first sight, nor that his body was no longer able to perform as desired.  Therefore, she became the scapegoat.  Not content with deriding her appearance and her honor, he also said she smelled.  All in all, Henry showed himself as a spiteful, angry man, unwilling to take any responsibility, and ready to do whatever it took to get out of the marriage.
         Henry and Anne put a good face on things, and continued to sleep together at least at intervals.  However, the marriage was apparently never successfully consummated.  There is a theory that Anne did not know that her marriage was unconsummated, that she was ignorant of the marriage relationship.  That does not seem reasonable to me.  Henry VIII was not exactly a young woman’s dream at this point.  Between his age, obesity and health issues (including the ulcerated leg) it is very probable that she did not find him attractive either.  The bottom line is that these two people were married, but did not have any spark of attraction between them.  (Is it possible that Henry’s rancor increased because he could tell that Anne did not want him?  A further blow to his ego?  I think so.)
         Meanwhile, the political climate had changed again.  France and Spain were no longer getting along.  Henry did not want to have to provide defense for Cleves in that dispute with the emperor.  The advantages of the alliance with Cleves had dissipated.  When combined with Henry’s new passion for Catherine Howard, the end of the marriage was inevitable.
         Although she was not crowned, Anne did serve as queen in Henry’s court.  By all accounts, she was dignified, tactful, and sympathetic.  She was a kind stepmother to Elizabeth and Edward, and became a friend to Mary Tudor.  In fact, it appears the only documented quarrel she had with  Henry concerned Mary.  She enjoyed, and was apparently very good at, her public role as queen, achieving a level of popularity with the people.  Ironically, she was especially popular with the Protestant subjects, who assumed she was Lutheran and would bring Protestantism to England.  There is every reason to believe that Anne may have become a successful and respected queen of England.  Tutoring in English language and customs had begun when she and Henry were betrothed; it would seem that she was settling in fairly well.  In any case, her role as queen ended almost as soon as it began, annulled by mutual agreement in July of 1540.
         The annulment rested on a precontract issue (Anne’s unofficial betrothal to Francois, for which no documents confirming the cancellation were presented) and the non-consummation.  Anne agreed with the annulment, signed the necessary paperwork, and wrote to her brother indicating her agreement with the situation.  (One can’t help but wonder if Anne’s willingness to agree to the annulment was an unalloyed pleasure to Henry.  Maybe a little struggle to keep him would have soothed his ego!)  However, in exchange for her agreement, Henry gave her a generous settlement, an excellent place at court, and allowed her to maintain her relationship with his children, including Mary Tudor with whom she had a warm friendship.  Ironically, it appears that the new relationship between Anne and Henry became amicable and they enjoyed something of a friendship after all the smoke cleared.  This entire episode speaks well of Anne’s courage, common sense, and tact.  She was, in fact, the only one of Henry’s unwanted wives to get out of marriage comfortably and actually forge a civil relationship with him after the fact.  (Certainly, Thomas Cromwell, the author of her marriage, and others paid the ultimate price.)
           After Henry’s unfortunate marriage to Catherine Howard ended, there were rumors that Anne of Cleves might be brought back as Henry’s queen.  Many of these rumors seemed to have their roots with Anne’s family and supporters.  Nothing indicates a serious desire on Anne of Cleves’ part to remarry Henry.  (One would have to ask if jumping back into that frying pan would have been worth it!) Her financial settlements were contingent upon her staying in England during Henry’s lifetime, so there was no advantage to a return to Cleves.  Later, the possibility was discussed but nothing came to pass.  Anne remained In England, and appears to have made a comfortable life.
          After Henry’s death, Anne’s income suffered due to inflation, and she was not accorded the respect she became accustomed to receiving during Henry’s lifetime after Edward became king.  She and Mary continued their friendship and, after Mary became queen, Anne returned to court and apparently involved herself with Mary’s marriage negotiations (with a different candidate in mind: Archduke Ferdinand, the emperor’s nephew).  The disappointment of many, including Anne, when Mary selected Philip of Spain, combined with the Wyatt Rebellion, caused difficulties for Anne.  Mary suspected her of being a conspirator because of her continued fondness for Elizabeth and her associations with her brother William, now the Duke of Cleves.  Even though there was nothing linking Anne to the conspiracy, no guilt established, Anne’s relationship with Mary suffered a blow.  Although Mary remained polite and corresponded, Anne was not invited back to court.
         In her later years, Anne lived in some obscurity, and experienced continual financial difficulties as her income and support were curtailed and her properties exchanged (often against her will).  She is known to have been in ill health by the end of April 1557.  She made her will July 12, 1557, a generous will leaving bequests to Mary and Elizabeth, her family, and to members of her household past and current.   She also left bequests for the poor.  She died July 15, 1557 at Chelsea Old Manor, having outlived Henry and Catherine Parr.  Queen Mary allowed her full royal honors, including burial in a tomb in Westminster Abbey.
         Henry’s fourth wife clearly suffered from bad press.   His mean and spiteful comments about her looks were clearly the result of his own damaged ego, in my mind, and have colored accounts of her life to her detriment.   As best I can tell, she was an attractive, kind, intelligent young woman, thrust into an impossible situation.  That she got out of it with her head, an income, and a place at court speaks volumes about her. 
Norton, Elizabeth.  ANNE OF CLEVES Henry VIII’s Discarded Bride.  2010: Amberley Publishing, Stroud.
Saaler, Mary.  ANNE OF CLEVES Fourth Wife of Henry VIII.  1995: The Rubicon Press, London.
Starkey, David.  SIX WIVES The Queens of Henry VIII.  2004: Vintage (Random House), London.  JOHN CANNON. "Anne of Cleves." The Oxford Companion to British History. 2002. 17 Nov. 2012.  “Anne of Cleves.”  (no author or date posted shown.)
“English Ancestry of the Six Wives, descent from Edward I of England.”  Posted by Golden Aged on  12/14/2011. (Based on Hampton Court pedigrees in stained glass windows.)  “Anne of Cleves (c. 1515-1557).”  Excerpted from the Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th edition, Vol. II, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1910. 69.  Luminarium-Encyclopedia Project: England Under the Tudors: Queen Anne of Cleves 1515-1557.  “About Anne of Cleves.” (no author or date posted shown.)  “Anne of Cleves.”  (no author or date posted shown.)     
 Lauren Gilbert is the author of HEYERWOOD: A Novel.  A member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, she lives in Florida with her husband.  Her next novel is due out later this year.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Worker Revolt Against Progress or Just Standing up for the Little Guy? The Luddites

The Industrial Revolution, a product of the concerted application of "natural philosophy" and engineering, did not please everyone in England. Indeed, in the early years, some productivity gains associated with this economic shift led to such instability that thousands of troops were fielded to suppress discontent. Such was the case with the Luddites.

In early 1811, stocking factories in Nottingham started receiving letters from "General Ned Ludd and his Army of Redressers." Among other general wage grievances, these letters outlined threats against employers over the use of stocking frames--an early type of semi-automated knitting machine. The advance of the Industrial Revolution had spread various types of textile processing machines throughout northern and mid-England. While these machines allowed the cheaper production of textiles, they also hurt the livelihood of traditional handloom weavers. Even when the automation process didn't completely eliminate jobs, they still resulted in a severe downward pressure on wages and longer hours. Other general economic issues contributed to the climate of discontent. Thus, the Luddites quickly gained a great deal of popular support among the working classes.
The Luddites started breaking into factories and destroying stocking frames. The discontent and destruction spread. Soon, the newly established Prince Regent was offering reward money for information on these so-called "frame-breakers" and "frame-smashers."

So, who was General Ned Ludd? The historical evidence suggests there likely was no such man. Instead, the name was likely inspired by a 1782 incident involving an angry farm laborer who smashed some frames. Whether there was a real General Ludd didn't seem to matter much. The Luddites weren't a tightly organized movement as much as various different groups of agitated workers arising in different locations. Many of their clashes with authorities were more riots than anything else. This was one of the reasons they would initially prove hard to suppress. There was no head of the dragon to cut off. The factors leading to their discontent weren't things that the government and authorities could do much to directly address in an efficient manner.

The Luddite cause spread throughout the industrial areas of England, including Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Lancashire, and Leicestershire. Although it had started with the weavers, other textile workers vented their wrath on various machines threatening their jobs and their general frustration over increasing concerns about economic inequity.

The chaos would continue to spread. Seemingly constant frame breaking and attacks on mills escalated into occasional attacks on mill guards, mill owners, and others opposing the Luddite cause. Though there were some arrests for murder and execution, the responses of local authorities did little to quell the decentralized movement. A combination of several factors, including the on-going Napoleonic Wars on the Continent, contributed to exploding wheat prices in 1812. This general poor economic climate combined with concern over food led to even greater militarization of many workers. Despite the passionate opposition of a small minority of Luddite-sympathizing politicians, such as the controversial Lord Bryon, Parliament passed the Frame-Breaking Act, which made frame-breaking in of itself a capital crime. In addition, troops were sent into the areas suffering from Luddite trouble.

By 1813, the show of force succeeded in bringing the Luddites to heel. Mass trials were followed by executions and transportation to Australia for many. Though Luddite-related riots, frame-breaking, and violence would sputter back into life over the next few years, by 1817 the Luddite were finished as an movement, even if their name would live on as a slur directed at anti-technology people.


J.A. Beard is a scientific editor and the author of a Regency paranormal romance, A Woman of Proper Accomplishmentswhere a different sort of natural philosophy advance threatens the social status quo of late Georgian England.

Giveaway: Portraits of an Artist by Mary F. Burns

Mary F. Burns is giving away a copy of her novel, Portraits of an Artist. You can read more about the book HERE. You will be prompted to return to the post to enter the drawing by commenting below. Please be sure to include your contact information.

The Court of Wards

By Anne Barnhill
          I’m sure to understand the ward system in Tudor England, it would help to have some legal training.  I don’t have any such expertise, but I’ll do the best I can to explain a complicated and corrupt system that had been in place for a few centuries before Elizabeth I took the throne and made William Cecil Master of the Court of Wards. 
     The ward system sprang from feudalism when a king, such as William the Conqueror, gave lands and tenants to those men who fought for him in battle.  If a knight received such lands from the king, he then owed the king his combat service, should the need arise.  But what happened if the knight did his duty, but died in the process?  What was to become of his children?
   This was the question the ward system was developed to answer: if a man died, leaving children who had not yet reached their ‘age of majority’ (21 for boys, 14 for girls) someone had to be responsible.  Certainly, such important business could not be left in the hands of the children’s mothers.  No, the king could either give or sell a ward to another worthy servant.  Along with the ward, the king could also sell the ‘marriage rights,’ that is, the power to arrange a marriage for the ward in question.

     Such a system probably began as an honorable way to take care of children who were too young to run an estate.  These children needed to be fed and clothed, educated and maintained according to their rank.  In days when warfare, disease and poor medicinal practices were rampant, most children lost at least one parent on their way to adulthood.  Wardships were supposed to protect and care for these defenseless children.  However, it didn’t take long for the buying and selling of wards became a lucrative business for everyone except the ward.  If the king needed money, he could sell a ward.  But why would someone wish to buy a ward?

    Because it was profitable.  Until a child reached his/her majority, the guardian would receive all rents and monies collected from the child’s lands.  A portion might be paid to the king, though often that was avoided.  Upon reaching his majority, the young person was not automatically given his lands.  Oh no, he had to ‘prove his age’ which could be very expensive.  He then had to present what was called ‘tenure for livery,’ another group of documents (all costing something to compose) to prove his inheritance.  This had to be extremely accurate—one mistake discovered years down the road and the lord would lose all his property.  So many people were involved in the entire process, each having to be paid a little something, there are some instances when the wards just gave up ever getting what was theirs by right.

     Often, wards suffered under their guardians, though there are many cases where the wards were treated quite well.  There are also cases where the wards mysteriously died a few days before they were to reach their majority, the lands going immediately to the guardian or the crown.  Sometimes, the guardian would arrange a marriage between one of his children and a wealthy ward.  That way, the guardian could insure the money stayed in the family.  William Cecil arranged for his common-born daughter, Anne, to marry the Earl of Oxford—not bad for old Cecil—his grandchildren would be blue-bloods.

     My ancestor, Sir John Shelton, was always looking for ways to live well, but not have to pay for it.  Even in death, he contrived to trick the king, getting three accomplices into trouble.  Not only did they get caught, they ended up in the Tower. 

          “The charge against them, to which they had confessed, was that they had aided
            and abetted the late Sir John Shelton to convey his land in such a manner as to
            evade the royal rights of wardship and other feudal dues.”

     As you can see, the ward system begat more trouble than it assuaged. 
Some famous wards:
Earl of Oxford
Earl of Essex
William Carey
Mary Shelton (not exactly famous but the heroine in my next book, Against the Queen's Command!)

The Queen’s Wards by Joel Hurstfield, Harvard University Press.
Anne Clinard Barnhill is author of AT THE MERCY OF THE QUEEN.  Her new novel, AGAINST THE QUEEN'S COMMAND, is slated to be released from St. Martin's Press in January, 2014.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Dark Ages Gwynedd

by Richard Denning

The Kingdom of Gwynedd along the north Wales coast is associated with the mighty Llywelyn ap Gruffydd who in effect unified Wales in the 13th Century and opposed England expansion. Today, though, I am not looking at the High Middle Ages but the origins of this great Welsh kingdom. For that we go back in time to the years after the Romans abandoned Britannia and the centuries thereafter.

Gwynedd covers most of North Wales and the Isle of Anglesey. The name might mean 'Desirable Land' or 'Warrior Land' or may related to the names of Irish tribes who settled it before the Romans.

It seems that before the Romans came to Britain an Irish presence existed in north Wales. Tribes from Leinster traveled across the Irish sea in  the 1st century BC and settled in Ynys Mon (Angelsey) and along the north coast as far as the Llyn (or Llelyn) peninsular. Ancestors of the Welsh known as the Ordovices may also have lived in the area. The Romans who arrived in the vicinity in the 70s AD called the region Venedotia in Latin.

Venedotia remained under Roman control until around 380 when the Roman legions  withdrew from the region.  Nennius, a 9th century monk, recorded that after this time the region was defenseless and became victim to increasing raids from Ireland.

So, soon after the Romans left the Northwest of Wales was in effect an Irish province. The expanding Irish domains in South and North Wales along with the Picts raiding down the east coast and the Saxons along the east and south created a crisis that required action.

In the Mid 5th century  a certain Cunedda led his sons and their followers in a migration from Manau Goddodin (around Edinburgh) to the North Welsh coast. It is possible that this was at the instigation or suggestion of Vortigern who also (according to tradition) invited the Saxons Hengest and Horsa to settled in Kent. The suggestion is that Vortigern was high king of the British and was responding to Irish raids in the Gwynedd area as well as Pictish raids down the east coast.

Cunnedda was married to the daughter of Coel Hen the powerful King of the whole of the north -the man immortalized by the children's rhyme "Old King Cole". Cunneda's sons would rule not just Gwynedd but also huge chunks of the north and west of Britain.

Nennius’ Historia Brittonum 

The same monk, Nennius records how Cunedda fought the Irish in north Wales and drove them out. He then established the kingdom of Gwynedd. His was a dynasty that would last 800 years until the English finally occupied the region in the 13th century.


The period I am most interested in at present is the early 7th century. Gwynedd played a pivotal role in the history of the English of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria. Around 604 AD the King of Bernicia (the northern half of Northumbria) had taken over Deira (the southern half) probably in battle or possibly by political means. The heirs to the throne of Deira were young princes in their teens - Edwin and Hereric. These boys were forced to flee into exile. One of the places that at least Edwin spent a good deal of time was Gwynedd. We do not know exactly how and when he got there or exactly in what circumstances.

What is laid down in traditions is that Edwin became the adopted son of King Cadfan of Gwynedd and became baptized at some stage (although he later was baptized again when king in Northumbria so this may well have been a political step).

It is probable that as a result of their sponsorship of Edwin that Gwynedd became one of the targets of Aethelfrith who attacked the City of Chester which was possibly in the hands of Gwynedd (or Powys - another allied Welsh Kingdom.) around 612 to 614 AD.

This battle was a disaster for the Welsh and probably forced Edwin to go on the road again looking for shelter and protection. He eventually ends up in East Anglia where he is able to persuade King Redwald  to support him in battle. This battle in 616 at the River Idle led to the death of Aethelfrith and to Edwin regaining his throne.

Meanwhile back in Gwynedd Cadfan was soon afterwards succeed by Cadwallon. Cadwallon and Edwin would have been step brothers but at some point any affection they had turned sour for Edwin invaded and attacked Gwynedd and managed to occupy almost all of it. 

Cadwallon was a friend of the Saxon King Penda of Mercia.  He was able to forge an alliance with Penda and then counter attack. So in 632 they killed King Edwin of Northumbria and conquered his kingdom.

With Northumbria at his feet it is possible that Cadwallon could have reestablished a powerful Welsh kingdom in the North - an echo of the kingdoms of Coel Hen himself, Cadwallon's  illustrious grand sire  But it was not to be. In 633 Oswald a son of Aethelfrith - who had spent 16 years in exile himself like Edwin, returned to Northumbria and with Pictish help defeated and killed Cadwallon at the Battle of Heavenfield near Hadrian's Wall.

The Kings of Gwynedd retreated to their own boundaries where their power and strength would wax and wane over the years. This mountain fastness would provide a stubborn opponent to  the English for centuries to come.

The events of the early to mid 7th century feature in my Northern Crown series (starting with Book III Princes in Exile due out this spring)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Past is a Foreign Country

by Nancy Kelley

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” ~L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between

Hartley’s opening line has become a proverbial truth about history, and historical fiction by extension. Oftentimes, the biggest challenge of reading or writing historical fiction is remembering the customs and mores of the day, instead of viewing the events through our own cultural understanding.

Take some of the iconic moments in Pride and Prejudice for example. Lydia Bennet, youngest of five sisters, has been allowed to go to Brighton for the summer with the militia. While there, she is wooed by George Wickham, a very undesirable man, and when he finds it necessary to leave town because of gambling debts, she decides to go with him. In her mind, it’s an elopement, but he has no intention of marrying her.

They live together in London for at least two weeks before they are found by Darcy. He persuades Wickham to marry her (read: he gives the man enough money he can’t refuse) and takes Lydia to live with her aunt and uncle until the ceremony. However, everyone knows she is a Fallen Woman. When Lady Catherine calls on Elizabeth a few months later, she refers to the event as an “infamous elopement” and a “patched-up business.” Elizabeth herself is fully aware that she and her sisters will share in Lydia’s disgrace and believes Darcy will want nothing to do with such a family—even if George Wickham was not part of the equation.

You are likely familiar with The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice told as a series YouTube vlogs. I finally got caught up on The Lizzie Bennet Diaries a few weeks ago--just in time to watch the Wickham Drama unfold. Given Hentley’s line about the past being a different country and the shift in social mores since the Regency, how did The Lizzie Bennet Diaries modernize Lydia’s fall from grace? Instead of an elopement, which would mean nothing today, Wickham launched a website where you can purchase a sex tape starring Lydia Bennet, YouTube star.

The reaction from fans brought a point home to me. We no longer understand the full implications of being “ruined” in Regency society. Many have argued that this adaptation is worse than what happened to Lydia in Pride and Prejudice. Certainly, the emotional implications are far greater. Austen’s Lydia never realized or cared that she had been manipulated. She figured she and Wickham would be married at some point and she didn’t really care when. She doesn’t care in the least what people think about her, as long as she has her dear Wickham.

But while the emotional impact for The LBD Lydia is far greater, her social status has actually risen. We see her as a girl who has been used, and we feel sorry for her. We want to take care of her, we want this situation to be fixed. We know that she is not at fault at all, except in choosing a bad man to fall in love with. Unlike Austen’s Lydia, who knew very well how wrong it was to run away with a man, The LBD Lydia had no warning whatsoever, no reason to believe there would be negative results to her relationship with Wickham.

The whole affair was of particular interest to me, since George and his Dastardly Doings play a vital role in the plot of Loving Miss Darcy. Loving Miss Darcy begins three years after Georgiana's almost elopement with Wickham. She's now 18, and Richard and Darcy decide it's time to find her a husband. She feels... unworthy, given her past, and uneasy with the idea of lying to everyone she meets. The threat of scandal looms over her for the entire book, and generates the final conflict.

It's easy for us to say, "What's the big deal? She didn't even go through with her elopement." We even have a hard time seeing an elopement as negative, though Georgiana’s age of 15 would give us pause.

The fact is, elopement was absolutely Against The Rules in Regency England. Georgiana was lucky enough to call off the elopement before anyone knew it had been planned. Darcy was somehow able to keep both Wickham and Mrs. Younge from spilling the beans, but as her Season approached, she was mortally afraid someone would find out.

What would have happened to her if her attempted elopement became public knowledge? Some of her family would have refused to receive her in their homes. (At the very least, we can count Lady Catherine in this group.) She would no longer be welcome in Polite Society, and in a world that was all about knowing the right people, that was the kiss of death.

So readers, the next time you’re reading an historical novel and you don’t understand why the characters are doing something, remind yourself that the past is a foreign country. The novel you’re holding is a travel guide that will explain how things are done there. And writers, remember that you are writing that guide. Things you’ve researched that make perfect sense to you will be foreign to the reader. Try to find ways to work in an explanation or two, and the culture shock will be greatly diminished.

Nancy Kelley—Janeite, blogger, and chocoholic—is the author of two Jane Austen sequels: His Good Opinion: A Mr. Darcy Novel, and Loving Miss Darcy. Her third novel, Against His Will, will come out in fall of 2013.

If Nancy could possess any fictional device, it would be a Time-Turner. Then perhaps she could juggle a full-time library job, writing, and blogging; and still find time for sleep and a life. Until then, she lives on high doses of tea and substitutes multiple viewings of Doctor Who for a social life.

You can find Nancy on Twitter @Nancy_Kelley, at and on

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Summer the Allied Monarchs Came to Town...

by M.M. Bennetts

It may seem almost impossible to imagine, now, 200 years on...but in the early years of the 19th century, Napoleon Bonaparte--the French Emperor--was the most hated and feared man on the planet.

When he wrote the opening of War and Peace, which begins with a discussion in which Napoleon is referred to as the great Antichrist, the literary giant, Tolstoy, wasn't indulging in a fit of hyperbole:  "Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the Buonapartes.  But I warn you, if you don't tell me this means war, if you still try to defend the infamies and horrors perpetrated by that Antichrist--I really do believe he is Antichrist--I will have nothing more to do with you and you are no longer my friend..."  He was telling the truth.

Yet by the summer of 1814, all that seemed to be in the past.

For from his calamitous invasion of Russia beginning in the summer of 1812, Napoleon had suffered one ruinous disaster after another, one blistering defeat after another, losses France could no longer afford.

Thus in the spring of 1814, with France invaded in the east by the Allied armies of the Russians, Austrians, Prussians and Swedes and in the west by Wellington and his British troops, Paris fell, the Generals capitulated, and Napoleon abdicated power and was on his way to exile on the island of Elba.

All of Europe rejoiced--many of them in the cafes and gambling clubs of Paris.

And as they cobbled together the Peace of Paris, the Allied Sovereigns considered their next move.  Obviously a European lap of honour was required, and where better to start than in Great Britain, the country which had funded the decades-long fight against Bonaparte and his Grande Armee?

Equally, (with the exception of Peter the Great's visit in 1698) this would be the first time in over two centuries, since the days of Henry VIII and Elizabeth, that foreign crowned heads were paying a visit to Britain--a not insignificant event, then.

From the British point of view, there were a few minor problems though.  With the exception of the rather run-down and lived-in-by-his-ailing-parents Windsor Castle, the Prince Regent didn't have a superlative setting for statecraft--there were no Hermitages or Palais du Louvre or Versailles here.  (Which may go some way to explaining his later mania for building and improving the royal residences...)

Instead, the royal Dukes were chucked out of their apartments in Cumberland House and their rooms rapidly refurbished:  the Duke of Cambridge's rooms assigned to the Emperor of Russia and his royal aides, the Duke of Cumberland gave up his rooms for the Emperor of Austria, and Clarence's rooms were to be  used by King Frederick William III of Prussia.

In early May, it was announced that Princess Charlotte would marry--in the presence of all those Crowned Heads (!)--William, the Prince of Orange, who had already arrived in Harwich and was travelling under the name of "Captain H. George".  This royal wedding was to be the highlight of the royal visitation!

It was all to be a Peace Celebration such as the world had never seen, and the Brits were ready to party!  Or were they?

May went by without any royal visitors arriving.  By the end of the month, it was said that the Austrian Emperor would not be visiting at all, and that the Tsar's visit was also delayed.

Then, at last, on 3 June, the Foreign Secretary, Lord Castlereagh, arrived back in Dover (following his six months abroad representing Britain in the Allied sovereigns' control tent) with the details of the Treaty of Paris which had ended France's hegemony in Europe, and the announcement that the sovereigns would be arriving on the following Monday.

The Dover Road was besieged by those wishing to get a glimpse of the Royal Liberators.  Carriages and foot-traffic alike battled for position along the road.  Union Jacks were flying as were the flags of the Allied nations--Prussia, Russia and Austria.  But they were to be disappointed.

The sovereigns didn't land until late that night.  Word also spread that other illustrious visitors had slipped ashore late Sunday evening--a company of Don Cossacks, the Austrian foreign minister, Prince Metternich, the Russian commander, Count Barclay de Tolly...

London waited too as the east wind grew colder.

The veteran Prussian field marshal, Gebhard von Blucher, hero of Leipzig and Paris, was the first to arrive--in an open carriage--to the rapture of the crowds.  And he delighted the huzza-ing press--women were waving handkerchiefs and begging for even one of his white hairs--with his courteous bowing and his broken thank yous:  "Me ferry tankvoll!  ferry, ferry tankvoll..."

Two military bands played, competing, all afternoon on the forecourt of Cumberland House.  The crowds waited, drooping, then went home.  Eventually, the tall (he was over six feet), blond, athletic figure of Alexander I, his Imperial Highness, Emperor of all Russia, (accompanied by his poodle) was seen on the the balcony of the Pulteney Hotel in Picadilly, where already a new crowd had gathered, cheering wildly...(for the Tsar and/or his attendants had judged the offered rooms in Cumberland House not up to snuff and had gone elsewhere...)

What followed was a month of delight and intrigue.

Tsar Alexander had brought his favourite sister and confidante with him, the widowed Duchess Oldenburg Holstein, the Grand Duchess Catherine of Russia--and she was determined to break off the engagement between Princess Charlotte and William of Orange.

At the first of many grand and multi-course meals given by the Prince Regent at Carleton House, the Grand Duchess wore black and insisted she was still in mourning and then, as the Italian musicians sought to fill the evening air with music to dine to, Catherine announced, "Music makes me sick!"

It was either the commencement or the confirmation of a mutual violent hatred between the Grand Duchess and the Prince Regent.  Which, curiously, played well in London where the Prince was not loved, but badly in the rest of the country, where they liked him fine, and hence was a serious diplomatic and political error on the Duchess's part.

Alexander, on the other hand, could not have been more popular.  By the second day of his visit, already a protocol was established.  The great crowds of people would gather beneath his balcony, give a huzzah, and the Emperor and Grand Duchess would come out onto the balcony as the cheers grew ever louder.  Alexander would bow repeatedly for three minutes, then disappear inside...this was a royal who had rapport with the crowds.

There was a grand military review in Hyde Park.  And nightly, there were the most amazing Illuminations, sponsored by various individuals, by commercial businesses, by enterprise.

The most spectacular Illuminations were at the Bank of England, where 50,000 lamps were arranged in columns and rows to border the pediments and columns, while in the midst was a vast transparency meant to represent the "genius of France reviving".

Oxford Street, where the preparations had gone on for weeks, was now formed of two parallel lines of light. Carleton House was lit up with yellow and green flares which glowed between huge palm trees in painted tubs.  Many houses were lit up with transparencies of "Peace".  There were firework displays in Hyde Park. And even Lord Castlereagh's home at 18 St. James's Square was illuminated with the transparency of a Dove with an olive branch in its beak.

Every night saw many grand dinners, private balls and soirees, all of which were thrown to honour the visiting conquerors of Napoleon.

So much so, that the 71 year old Field Marshal Blucher eventually wrote:  "The French could not succeed in killing me, but the Regent and the English are in a fair way to doing it...I am inhumanly exhausted...It will be a miracle if I don't go crazy...I have to watch myself that I don't make a fool of myself."  But he would also say just before departing, "I have come out of England alive, but worn and weary.  Words fail to express how they treated me; no one could have had shown to him more kindness or goodwill..."

Among other honours, Oxford University had conferred upon Blucher the degree of Doctor of Law, while Cambridge University had entertained him at a grand dinner at Trinity College, and had awarded him the degree of Doctor of Civil Law.

(Also, in recognition of the sacrificed endured by their allies, at this time, the British public contributed £100,000 for those living in the villages around Leipzig, while Parliament voted to add another £100,000 to this fund--which is among the earliest examples of a foreign nation recognising the need for and sending monetary aid to a war-ravaged area and its inhabitants.  Which I think is quite cool...)

However, by the time the monarchs departed at the end of June, relations between them and their hosts had soured.  There was the expense, of course, which Parliament hadn't much liked.  Princess Charlotte, egged on by Catherine, had broken off her engagement to the the bewildered Prince of Orange.

And, Tsar Alexander had confounded everyone by his unflagging ability to party all day and night--for example, he attended the evening ceremonies at Oxford on the 14th, then drove through a thunderstorm that night to reach London, where he changed his clothes, then danced from two until six in the morning at Lady Jersey's ball; and was at ten announcing his plans for that day--which would include a dinner at Lord Castlereagh's home, followed by a performance at Drury Lane Theatre, after which he turned up at a ball at the Marchioness of Hertford's home.

On the 22nd, the Prince Regent accompanied the Allied sovereigns to Petworth House in Sussex, where Lord Egremont offered them an early dinner in the Marble Hall, there.  From thence, the monarchs travelled through Sussex and Kent--the roads of which were decorated with arches and trophies of laurel and oak leaves and flags--to Dover.  On Monday, 27th June, the Prussian King boarded HMS Nymphen and sailed away.  That evening, Catherine and her brother, the Tsar, boarded the Royal Charlotte...

The Prince Regent returned home.  The first party was over...but after twenty years of continuous war, the party here in Britain was just beginning.  And would continue all summer.


M.M. Bennetts is a specialist in early 19th century European history and the Napoleonic wars, and is the author of two novels, May 1812 and Of Honest Fame set during the period.  A third novel, Or Fear of Peace, is due out in 2014.

For further information, please visit the website and historical blog at