Friday, February 28, 2014

Katheryn Parr – The not-so-boring sixth wife of Henry VIII.

by Judith Arnopp

The wives of Henry VIII sit neatly in their various pigeon holes. The old rhyme, Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived, sums up what many people believe to be the truth about each queen.

They have ceased to become complex, living, breathing people (yes, I know they aren’t breathing now) and no longer exist outside the applied modern-day stereotype.  They have each been summed up in three words.

Catherine of Aragon – stubborn, proud, barren.
Anne Boleyn – scheming, traitorous, unfaithful.
Jane Seymour – sweet -natured, soothing, mother.
Anne of Cleves – malodorous, simple, German.
Katherine Howard – unfaithful, foolish, child.
Katheryn Parr – gentle, nursemaid, step-mother.

Yet they were so much more than this. This blog could become a lengthy one, dismissing these assumptions and detailing the many virtues and accomplishments of each queen but, today, I want to concentrate on Henry’s last queen, Katheryn Parr.

Katheryn Parr
My novel The Kiss of the Concubine; a story of Anne Boleyn, has been very well received but when I mention that the subject of my next novel, Intractable Heart, is Katheryn Parr, people look a little sceptical. “Isn’t she a bit dull? You know; wasn’t she more a nursemaid than a queen?”

But, unless we are to judge a woman as boring because she manages to keep her head, Katheryn’s story is equally as compelling as that of Henry’s other queens. It may be less ‘bloody’ but I don’t think we can say it is less romantic, or less dramatic.

Katheryn was the daughter of Sir Thomas Parr, her first two marriages arranged by her ambitious mother, Maud. She lived through the northern rebellion and the siege of Snape Castle, war with France, and the reformation of the church, not to mention life with Henry.

While Anne Boleyn desired church ‘reform’, she remained what we would now call ‘Catholic’ to her death. Katheryn, on the other hand, was the first queen to properly embrace Protestantism. Katheryn ‘managed’ Henry better than any of his previous wives; she was credited by her contemporaries for her intellect, and was the first English queen to become a published author.

Henry VIII
Henry’s opinion of her was such that while he made war on the French, he appointed her Regent in his absence, an honour bestowed only on one other of his wives, Catherine of Aragon. As well as carrying out this role superbly, Katheryn also reunited the royal family, bringing all three of Henry’s legitimate children, Mary, Elizabeth and Edward, back to court. Furthermore, her influence can be detected in the character of her step daughter, who later became Queen Elizabeth I.

Elizabeth was at Katheryn’s side in 1544 during her role as regent and there can be little doubt as to the impact of the princess’s first experience with the challenges of female leadership. She witnessed first-hand her step-mother’s control of a male-dominated world, and the strategies the queen undertook to maintain her authority over the council.

Thomas Cranmer
Far from being simply a nursemaid to an elderly monarch, Katheryn Parr was both influential and respected. It was her strong influence over the king that ultimately placed her life in peril. Katheryn’s close proximity to Henry, together with her involvement in reform, won her enemies in high places. Traditionalists like Gardiner, Norfolk, and Wriothesley looked for ways to implicate her in crimes against the state. Katheryn, surrounded with scholars and theologians was the prime target for those against Lutheranism.

In 1546 Anne Askew was arrested, accused of heresy and acts against the Catholic Church. She was tortured and tormented before ultimately facing the penalty of death by burning. There is no proof that Katheryn and Anne had ever met and, fortunately, Anne died without betraying any of her friends. However, she did have links with Cranmer and Catherine Willoughby, who were also friends with Katheryn, and Gardiner lost no time in acting against the queen.
The  burning of Anne Askew for heresy

Katheryn’s influence with Henry and her interest in the new religion strengthened the reformist party. Gardiner had to stop this. He wanted a new queen, one who was conservative in her religious opinion. Given the choice, he would probably have selected a biddable, uneducated wife for Henry; one who would never dream of questioning either God’s law or that of the king.

Gardiner began to plot.

Stephen Gardiner
Toward the end of his life constant pain from his ulcerated leg made it impossible for the king to partake of many of his former pleasures. As a result Henry’s mood became ever more irascible. Katheryn began to talk to him of her beliefs, church reform and the errors she perceived in the traditional religion. Henry, who apart from the initial break with Rome, clung throughout his life to the Catholic religion, grew ever more cantankerous. Some say he resented his wife’s intelligence, her argumentative manner. Henry and Katheryn began to have disagreements and people believed that the king’s enchantment with Katheryn was beginning to wane.

Taking full advantage of the situation, Gardiner made his move. Using flattery and cunning, he slowly began to convince Henry that the queen was a heretic, her presence giving other heretics and traitors access to court. Eventually Henry agreed to issue a warrant for her arrest.

I want to pause here and consider what Henry may have been feeling at this time. He was no longer a young man. He was tired. He had spent all his adult life in pursuit of securing the succession and so far, had produced just one boy, and two useless girls. His sixth marriage had, up until now, been happy. He was probably just beginning to feel confident that at last he’d discovered a good woman; a faithful, staunch supporter, a helpmeet, someone he could trust.

Henry wasn’t a monster. He was a man with too much power trying to obtain the unobtainable, something that at least felt like love. He cannot have relished the idea of another failed marriage, another trial, another execution. He was getting old. The idea of searching out a replacement for Katheryn would not have been a welcome one, and surely by now, he can have held little faith left in finding a better wife. Unlike previous occasions, when he’d taken for the hills at the first hint of marital failure, this time Henry stayed at the palace, giving Katheryn and her friends time to act.

Some say it wasn’t by chance that the news of her imminent arrest fell into the hands of Katheryn’s friends. The queen was tipped off, giving her time to act and allowing Henry to apply the ultimate test of her fidelity. Perhaps the king never had any real intention of arresting her. Maybe it was a game he was playing; like a small bored boy with two beetles in a jar, setting the opposing sides against each other, for entertainment.

We can never really know but it is fun to speculate.

Anyway, on hearing the news, Katheryn fell into uncharacteristic (possibly feigned or exaggerated) hysterics that were so severe that her physicians were summoned. She made such a commotion that Henry, hearing her from in his adjoining apartments, went to investigate. When he enquired as to the cause of her upset, she fell at his feet declaring she feared she had displeased him when all she had meant to do was take his mind from his troubles.

She went on to ask, how could ‘a poor silly woman’ like herself ever think to council the erudite king on matters of theology or state. Katheryn claimed she only ever discussed religious matters with her husband so that she might learn and benefit from his superior mind. Henry, appeased as always by flattery, reassured her that he loved her as much as ever and that they were ‘perfect friends.’

Katheryn was a resourceful woman. It was no coincidence that she performed so competently during her regency. The episode of her attempted coup illustrates the clever strategy of a woman who had learned how to handle her man.

Next day in the palace gardens Wriothesley, with the warrant for Katheryn’s arrest tucked neatly beneath his arm, arrived with the guard to take the queen to the Tower. Imagine his frustration when Henry turned on him in fury, calling him a ‘Beast’, ‘a fool,’ and ‘a knave’ and sending him about his business. Astounded at the king’s change of heart, there was nothing Wriothesley could do but creep off with his tail between his legs.

Katheryn had won but only by the skin of her teeth. Thereafter, she kept her opinions to herself, suppressing her views and ceasing work on her half-written manuscript The Lamentations of a Sinner which was not published until after Henry’s death in January 1547.

Thomas Seymour
After the king’s death, having already made three political marriages, Katheryn at last married for love; this time selecting her former sweetheart, Sir Thomas Seymour. But this marriage was not as successful as her previous dealings with matrimony. Seymour was not a man to be easily managed. After a brief spell of apparent wedded bliss the relationship began to fail. Seymour is alleged to have been a rogue and hungry for power, carrying out a flirtation under Katheryn’s nose with her stepdaughter, the Lady Elizabeth.

We cannot help where we love and perhaps Katheryn found it harder to manage this husband because her heart was involved, making it impossible to remain objective. For many years she had dreamed of being Seymour’s ‘humble, true and loving wife’ but having gained all that she wished for, she died with a reproach on her lips in 1548, shortly after giving birth to Seymour’s daughter. She was just thirty-six years old.

Katheryn’s story is the subject of my next novel Intractable Heart. Told by four narrators, Margaret Neville, Katheryn Parr, Thomas Seymour and Elizabeth Tudor. The novel traces Katheryn’s path from her days as Lady Latimer during the northern uprising, through her role as Henry VIII’s queen. The narrative then follows her disastrous fourth and final marriage, and concludes at her death in 1548.

Images from Wikimedia commons

Further reading

James, Susan, Catherine Parr
Norton, Elizabeth, Catherine Parr
Hutchinson, Robert, The Last Days of Henry VIII
Weir, Alison Henry VIII, King and Court
Starkey David, Six Wives: the queens of Henry VIII
Withrow, Brandon, G. Katherine Parr
Porter, Linda, Katherine the Queen, the remarkable life of Katherine Parr

My other novels include:

The Kiss of the Concubine: A Story of Anne Boleyn

The Winchester Goose: at the court of Henry VIII

The Song of Heledd

The Forest Dwellers

All available in paperback or on Kindle.

For more information please visit my webpage:

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Butcher or Baronet: The Amazing Story of the Tichborne Claimant

by Pauline Montagna

In 1865 an advertisement appeared in newspapers all over Australia seeking the whereabouts of Sir Roger Tichborne, the heir to the Tichborne Baronetcy. In 1854 his ship had sunk off the coast of South America with all on board, but reports had reached his mother that survivors of the Bella had been rescued and taken to Australia.

A Catholic noble family and holders of England’s ninth largest fortune, the Tichbornes could trace their ancestry back to the Norman Conquest. Sir Roger was the son of Sir James Tichborne and his French wife Henriette. As the fourth of seven sons, Sir James had not expected to inherit the title and neither was his wilful wife, who hated all things English, prepared to join him in England on his accession, but remained in France where she continued to raise her two sons, Roger and Alfred, as Frenchmen.

Roger Tichborne was a delicate, sensitive boy, tall and slim, with black hair and blue eyes. When he was fifteen, his father enticed him to England where he was enrolled in a strict Jesuit seminary. There he eventually mastered English, albeit with a strong French accent, and excelled in Latin. After a brief stint in the Dragoons, and disheartened over a hopeless romance with his cousin Catherine Doughty, Roger decided to break free of his mother’s suffocating hold and travel to South America. A prolific correspondent, he constantly sent home detailed letters until the sinking of the Bella.

However, Lady Tichborne refused to believe that her son had died, sending agents to visit docks and taverns to question seamen, until she got what she wanted – tales that the Bella had not sunk, but had been stolen by her crew and taken to Australia.

In October 1865 she received word that a lawyer from Wagga Wagga, a small town in southern New South Wales, was claiming that his client, Thomas Castro, was Sir Roger Tichborne. A barely competent butcher facing bankruptcy, Castro was a heavy drinker and smoker, large boned and fleshy, with light brown-hair and a pronounced twitch. A rough, dirty yet affable man with a shady past, he often told his drinking companions that he came from a titled family and was living under an assumed name.

Lady Tichborne requested Castro to go to Sydney and see two retired family retainers now living there. Despite his stoutness, to which it was well known the Tichborne family had a tendency, they saw a facial resemblance to the Sir Roger they had known and swore he knew facts about the family that only the real Sir Roger would know.

By February 1866, Lady Tichborne was on the verge of losing her younger son. Sir Alfred had succeeded to his father’s estate, but, after squandering much of the family fortune, was dying, leaving behind no heir except an unborn child. If the child was a girl the baronetcy would become extinct. Perhaps it was this sad possibility that drove Lady Tichborne to write to her agent, unreservedly accepting Thomas Castro as her son Roger.

Castro had been lionised by colonial Sydney society allowing his lawyer to arrange a generous line of credit so that when Castro finally set sail for England he left behind debts amounting to £20,000 in the name of Sir Roger Tichborne.

Sir Roger’s many relatives were in no doubt that he had died on the Bella. He had been declared legally dead, Sir Alfred had duly succeeded to the baronetcy, and now they were acting as guardians for his infant son. They urged Lady Tichborne not to recognise Castro, but rejecting both them and their advice, Lady Tichborne wrote to Castro that he was to have no communication with his Tichborne relatives and come directly to her in Paris.

Arriving in London, Castro raised the suspicions of the Tichborne relatives, when, instead of making himself known to them, he went to Wapping, a working-class suburb of London, and asked after the Ortons, a local family of butchers. His next act was to go incognito to Tichborne House in Hampshire, currently occupied by a tenant, and persuade many of the local inhabitants that he was Sir Roger. It was not until several weeks after his arrival in Europe that Thomas Castro went to Paris.

On his arrival, Lady Tichborne verified that Castro shared a rare malformation of the genitals with Sir Roger and immediately accepted him as her long lost son, returning with him to London where she shared with him and his growing family her modest pension. Despite the fact that this man was large and fair while her son had been dark and slender; that his recall of fact about his family and life was faulty; that he had no memory of the childhood he had supposedly spent with her; that he could speak no French or Latin and spoke English with a Cockney accent, Lady Tichborne never faltered in her conviction that he was her son until her death in 1868.

Having adopted the lifestyle of the baronet he claimed to be, Thomas Castro found not only his weight ballooning to over twenty-four stone (336 lbs) but also his debts mounting, until he reached the point where he had no choice but to lay a claim to the Tichborne estate in the Court of Chancery. He was supported in the case by several rich backers and Tichborne family retainers, including their solicitor and historian. When funds ran low, Castro’s party came up with the lucrative scheme of issuing Tichborne Bonds which would be redeemed when he came into his inheritance. The bonds not only raked in tens of thousands of pounds, but became a superb PR instrument, ensuring a wide public with a personal stake in the outcome of the suit.

At 102 sitting days, the Tichborne case was one of the longest, most sensational, and most closely followed civil cases in British legal history and cost the Tichborne estate over £90,000. As there was as yet no recourse to blood tests or DNA, establishing Castro's true identity would rest on sworn testimony by the hundreds of witnesses named by both sides.

Many of these witnesses were in South America and Australia so the court was forced to send a panel of commissioners to take their evidence. Castro himself had undertaken to accompany the commission, but after a bout of illness he returned prematurely from South America and never made it to Australia. Without the man himself, witnesses were asked to make dubious identifications from photographs and sketches. The commission was preceded by detectives for both sides, who were so assiduous in finding and priming witnesses, that by the time the commissioners came to take their affidavits, their evidence was so tainted and contradictory that little of it could be credited. However, there was one name that kept recurring in both South America and Australia, that of Arthur Orton.

Arthur Orton was the youngest son of the aforementioned Wapping butcher and had gone to sea as a young man. In the course of his travels, Orton spent time with a Tomas Castro and his family in a Chilean village. Orton was known to have sailed to Hobart where he set up shop as a butcher. After failing in business, Orton crossed over to Victoria where he worked as a stockman. It was rumoured that he was also involved in horse-stealing, bushranging and even murder. His fate was unknown, but it was strongly suspected that he had changed his name and resurfaced in Wagga Wagga as Thomas Castro.

Castro categorically denied that he was Arthur Orton and claimed that he had plucked the name of Thomas Castro out of the air. If there was any resemblance between his movements and Orton’s it was because the two of them had met, become friends and often travelled and worked together. The rest of the Orton family were equally unconvincing. After denying that Castro was their brother, they were revealed to have been accepting money to keep quiet.

Castro was in the witness box for twenty-nine days. In a desperate attempt to prove himself he made a fatal error, outraging Victorian propriety by claiming that he had seduced his cousin Catherine, now Lady Radcliffe.

The case for the Tichborne estate rested on the not entirely credible claim that the real Sir Roger Tichborne had a large and amateurish tattoo on his upper arm, while Castro was manifestly tattoo-free. After this claim was repeated over ten days by seventeen witnesses, the jury declared itself convinced and finally brought an end to the interminable trial. Castro was promptly arrested for two counts of perjury, his claim of having seduced Lady Radcliffe being one of the charges.

The perjury trial, which rehashed much of the same evidence, was to last even longer at 188 days. Castro’s defence lawyer lost no opportunity to portray the case not only as a gross conspiracy of the established aristocracy against the honest working man, but also as a fiendish popish plot to keep the Catholic Church’s hands on their tithes from the Tichborne estate. Castro was found guilty on both charges and ordered to serve two seven year sentences consecutively.

Except for an uncomfortable stint in damp, foggy Dartmoor prison, Castro later claimed that his prison life had done his spirit good. Exempted by his obesity from much hard labour, he spent most of his time alone in his cell reading the Bible. Although officially recognised only as Thomas Castro, he continued to claim the name of Tichborne and, throughout the ten years he was to serve, his supporters continued to claim he had suffered a miscarriage of justice.

On his release in 1884, Castro was forced to live off his notoriety. At first he tried the music hall stage, but was never much of a showman. In desperate need of money, he eventually accepted a commission to write a series of newspaper articles, in which he confessed to being an imposter, but then immediately gave an interview to a rival newspaper in which he recanted his confession. With the money, he opened a tobacconists shop but it soon failed and he was forced onto parish relief and cadging drinks until his overworked heart gave out. He died in his sleep on April Fools Day, 1898, probably aged 64. Although he was buried in an unmarked grave, his coffin bore a plaque naming the occupant as Sir Roger Charles Tichborne.

So, was Castro really Sir Roger or Arthur Orton? If he was an imposter, how did he get away with it for so long? Was he a criminal or merely deluded? Many still believe he was truly Sir Roger Tichborne, but even those that believe he was an imposter have two different versions of events.

One version sees him as a cunning scoundrel, an avid reader who got the idea from sensationalist novels about long lost heirs returning from the colonies. He read everything he could get his hands on about the Tichbornes, and made good use of the little he knew to elicit even more information.

The other version sees him as an inept but lucky rogue who was only trying to get some quick, easy money to settle his immediate debts, but found himself caught up in the momentum he had unwittingly instigated. Lazy and obdurate, he won his supporters over by his very lack of effort which proved that he was no calculating imposter.

However he began, he clung to the name of Sir Roger Tichborne until his dying day. Perhaps, as Robin Annear implies in the title of her book, The Man who Lost Himself, he had so much invested in being Sir Roger, that he lost sight of his own identity altogether.

In a subsequent article we'll discover an old family curse which may have predicted the case.


Annear, Robyn, The Man Who Lost Himself: The Unbelievable Story of the Tichborne Claimant Text Publishing, Melbourne, Australia, 2002

Sir Roger Tichborne
Lady Tichborne
The Claimant Arthur Orton (aka Thomas Castro)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Making it Big Through Lies and Perfidy

by Anna Belfrage

Many of us walk around hoping that eventually the bad guys will pay. Some, of course, expect things to be set aright after death, in the golden halls of heaven, where, as the song says, “you’ll get pie in the sky when you die” – assuming you’re good.

Sadly, being good has very little to do with material success in life. In fact, history is rife with examples of people who were anything but good and still ended up surfing through life on a silver platter. The subject of this post proves this case many times over, and I am hard put not to shudder in revulsion as I give you Titus Oates, perjurer and sodomiser, liar extraordinaire and renegade.

Titus - and I bet it's a wig
Let us start at the beginning: Titus was born around the time when Charles I was executed, and grew up in relatively affluent circumstances – affluent enough to accord him schooling. Not that Titus seemed to have excelled at school, but he managed to make it into the Anglican church after his studies at Cambridge and landed a living in Kent. Here Titus showed the first indications of his future notoriety, as he accused a schoolmaster for sodomy – a lie, and Titus was jailed for perjury but managed to escape.

Next time we hear of him, dear Titus had decided to make his fortune on the seas, and landed a position as a chaplain aboard a ship in the English navy - until he was accused of buggery (most apt, given the hapless schoolteacher), at the time a capital offense. Only Titus’ clergyman’s status saved him from a very early encounter with the noose. Unfortunately.

Anyway; the boat incident forced Titus to reinvent himself, and so he joined the household of a Catholic peer and converted to the Catholic Church. Not, one would think, a spur of the moment thing for an Anglican priest. Afterwards, Titus would insist he did this only to be able to infiltrate into the darker bowels of the Catholic Church. Or maybe he was just being his normal, self-seeking self. Whatever the case, Titus had no more success as a Catholic than as an Anglican, and ended up thrown out of the Jesuit college (you have to give him plus points for going all the way) he had enrolled in. Oh dear; now what was Titus to do?

Titus looking his best
In 1678, Titus was close to thirty and so far had not achieved anything noteworthy with his life. That was about to change, as Titus was soon to befoul the very air of London with a sinister pack of lies that would lead to harsh persecution of Catholics and spring him to immediate fame – plus permanently blacken his soul – well, whatever part of it that wasn’t already tarnished. Not only was he seriously unappealing on the inside, but his exterior left a lot to be wished for. As per Lady Antonia Fraser, contemporary descriptions make him sound more like a pig than a man (!). Add to this a grating voice and one wonders what the charismatic qualities were that had Titus duping his fellow country-men so completely.

Duke of York, Catholic & not so loved
It’s actually very easy. Titus’ contemporaries wanted to believe him. They salivated at his preposterous stories, they roared in anger as they set off on their papist-hunting sprees. That Titus was feeding them lies was irrelevant, and the more astute among the politicians, chief among them Shaftesbury, took the opportunity to advance anti-Catholic legislation, ultimately forcing the king to advise his brother, the openly Catholic Duke of York, to leave the country.

So what was it Titus said? Well, together with the fanatic but dense Tonge – an Anglican priest who seems to have believed everything Oates told him and saw potential Jesuit assassins behind every bush– and aided and abetted by a most unsavoury character called Bedloe, who gladly perjured himself right, left and centre by insisting he had “witnessed” what Titus quoted as being gospel truth, Titus presented a complicated “Popish Plot” which had as its intent to murder the king. The queen’s physician was accused as being party to it, as was the Duchess of York’s secretary, one Edward Coleman, and rather unfortunately Coleman’s correspondence did include some rather fanatic writings about the need to restore England to the “true faith”.  But from there to murder is a very long step, and the king was not convinced.

London at large, however, was more than happy to believe this convoluted pack of lies, and when Edmund Godfrey, a Protestant magistrate, was found dead, the anti-papists went wild. London seethed with anger, Catholics were beaten and hounded, their homes were subjected to searches for illegal weapons (few were found) and people were warned to be on their guard; there were evil Jesuits everywhere, lurking in the shadows, and there were nasty recusants hiding throughout the country, horrible Catholic people that wanted to overthrow the Anglican Church and reinstate the hegemony of the Pope in England. What can I say? A crowd gone wild is a hotbed of fevered imaginations – even more so when people in authority foment the flames of lunacy.

Catherine of Braganza - Catholic but loved
Whatever his other faults, Titus had an impeccable sense of timing. With the rabble baying for Papist blood, Titus now presented evidence – collected while he was working undercover in the Jesuit colleges (Duh!) – showing that five elderly Catholic peers were involved in the plot. And the Irish Archbishop. And the queen. Stop! What? The rabble was fond of their long-suffering queen, Catherine of Braganza – as was her husband. The king was incensed, hastening to his wife’s defence.  He interrogated Titus, caught him out on a number of lies and had him arrested. Parliament growled, threatened the king with a constitutional crisis, and forced Titus’ release.

One would have thought the more intelligent among the men in the Protestant faction would have steered well clear of a man as despicable as Titus. After all, surely some voice of reason would prevail, right? Nope. As the Earl of Shaftesbury is supposed to have said, “I will not say who started the game, but I am sure I had the full hunting of it.” (Yet another quite unlikeable man.)

Like Shaftesbury, the more ambitious among Charles II’s Protestant subjects simply used Titus for their own purposes, and so several innocent but prominent men were accused, tried and condemned to death based on the unsubstantiated ravings of Mr Titus Oates. Last to die was Oliver Plunkett, Archbishop of Armagh, who was executed on July 1 in 1681.

While all this was going on, Titus was lapping up the good life. He’d been given an apartment at Whitehall and an annual allowance of well over one thousand pounds per year – more than sufficient to live the life of a gentleman. He was presented with a coat of arms and there were whispers of an impending marriage with Shaftesbury’s daughter. Luckily for her, innocent creature that she was, that was never to be.

Plunkett’s trial and execution had sickened many people – the Archbishop was known to be a good and virtuous man, no matter his Catholic faith – and the popular sentiment began to turn. At last the voice of reason could be heard over the din of the excited rabble, and in a somewhat more sane state of mind, the powers that were took stock and decided to dismiss Titus Oates famous plot as misguided fabrications.

Titus getting his comeuppance
So in August of 1681, the wheel of fate did a squeaky turn-about, and Oates was thrown into prison and fined a hefty 100 000 pound fine for sedition. Things went from bad to worse for Oates in 1685, when the new king, James II, had him re-tried for perjury. Oates was sentenced to life imprisonment and to be whipped five days a year for the remainder of his life. After being pilloried for two days, he was brutally whipped through London for the following five. I suspect James had hoped Oates would die of this harsh treatment, but Oates was nothing if not resilient, clinging on to life with the stubbornness of a barnacle.

A couple of years later, James II was out on his ear – betrayed by his Protestant peers – and replaced by his eldest daughter and her Dutch husband. For some very strange reason, William of Orange and Mary decided to pardon Titus and grant him a pension for the rest of his life. How Mary could agree to reward a man who had consistently hounded her father, her uncle and her aunt is something of a mystery, but then Mary seems to have been a person torn asunder between her faith and loyalty to her husband, and her (one hopes) love for her deposed but devoted father. Whatever the case, Titus Oates was allowed to live out the remainder of his sorry life in comfort – most undeserved, if you ask me.

Titus' companions in the hereafter (one hopes)
Sadly, Titus Oates cannot be held up as warning example. If anything, the man’s life just proves that if you lie and fabricate, perjure yourself repeatedly and send innocent man to die with your fanciful accounts, chances are you’ll be rewarded – even richly rewarded. Personally, I hold out hope that things are set right in the afterlife, and so I don't think Titus is presently relaxing in the everlasting peace of heaven, munching contentedly on pie. No, Titus, I believe, is hanging in chains over one of hell’s pits of brimstone and fire, condemned to forever roast and scream. Am I sorry for him? Not much...

Anna Belfrage is the author The Graham Saga, so far consisting of A Rip in the Veil , Like Chaff in the Wind, The Prodigal Son and  A Newfound Land.  The next instalment in the acclaimed series, Serpents in the Garden is due for release March 1 and to some extent takes place in Titus Oates’ London.

Set in seventeenth century Scotland and Virginia/Maryland, The Graham Saga tell the story of Matthew and Alex, two people who should never have met – not when she was born three hundred years after him.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Parchment and Vellum

IN addition to all their other blessings, sheep provided the raw material for parchment. After butchering, the shorn sheepskin was laid fleece-side down in a vat of water and lime. Under the caustic action of this alkaline mixture, the remaining bits of fleece and kemp - the wiry under hairs - dropped out, and could be used (mixed with lime as it was) for plastering walls. The sheepskin was rinsed, set up upon stretchers, and then carefully scraped with a sharp, rounded knife (strickle). Any remaining sheep fat or wool-wax was removed by repeated hot lye cleansings.

A Getty Museum image
showing a modern version
of a hide stretcher; the medieval
version would have been quite similar

To even the texture and thickness of the skin, it was scoured with fine sand or pumice-like powdered limestone. The skin was left to dry upon its wooden stretcher, then (if scriptorium bound) squared off in sizes for folio (fol, a single sheet folded in the middle), quarto (4to), or octavo (8vo), representing one, four, or eight folds in the skin, respectively. The pages of the largest books such as the Codex Gigas, described below, were made from the single hides of selected animals used as broadsheets sewn in separately.

Odd shaped scraps were used for tiny booklets, practice parchment for novice quill-handlers, book spines, and the like. Vellum, generally made from new born calf's skin, is made similarly. Although the terms parchment and vellum are sometimes used interchangeably vellum is typically of a finer quality and possesses a more luxuriously smooth 'tooth' to receive ink and coloured pigments.

The base material of those magnificent illuminated medieval manuscripts we cherish came at great cost: one particularly splendid gospel required 1,500 calfskins to make the vellum. The use of other animal hides is far from unknown. Visitors to the Kung.Biblioteket (King's Library) in Stockholm will marvel over the immense Devil's Bible (Codex Gigas, literally Giant Book) on display there, made c1325 from the skins of 160 asses.

An excellent historic photo of the "Giant Book" - the Codex Gigas,
showing how huge it truly is. I was fortunate to see it myself in Stockholm.

The following instructions for creating vellum are from an early 12th century Latin manuscript written in Germany:
"Take some goatskins and soak them in water for 24 hours. Take them out of the tub and wash them until the water is clear. Prepare a new bath and add some very old lime and water, stirring thoroughly to a thick, pale cream. Press the skins down into this mixture, folding them so that the fleshy side faces outward. Turn them with a wooden pole two or three times a day, and leave them for a whole week, two weeks in winter. Next, take the skins out of the tub and remove the hair. Pour away the contents of the tub and fill it again using the same mixture as before. Place the skins in the liquid and prod them once a day for a week. Take them out of the tub and wash them thoroughly until the water is absolutely clear. Place the skins once again in a bath of clear water and leave them to soak for two days. Then take them out of the bath, attach cords to them and tie them to the frames. Leave them to dry, then scrape them with a sharp knife and keep them in the shade for another two days. then moisten them again, and rub the fleshy side with powdered pumice. After two days, moisten them again by sprinkling them with a little water, and then finish smoothing the fleshy side completely with powdered pumice while it is still wet. Next, tighten the cords firmly but evenly, so that the vellum will be smooth and strong. Once dry, there is no need for an further treatment." (translation, Árni Magnússun Institute, Iceland) 

The expense of sacrificing a young animal (who did however, end up on the table) and the time and labour involved in making parchment and vellum enhances the intrinsic value of this remarkably durable material. Medieval parchment was often reused through the ages, suffering every fate from being punched full of holes to serve as grain and flour sifters to being cut into strips to create interfacing for waistcoats.

Few of us can now experience turning the leaves of a parchment volume, but simply gazing on a well-prepared and well-inked parchment in a museum brings its own quiet aesthetic pleasure.


Octavia Randolph is the author of  The Tale of Melkorka and  The Circle of Ceridwen available on and

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Giveaway! A Rebel Romance by Paul B. McNulty

Paul is giving away an ecopy of his historical novella to an international winner. You can read more about the book HERE. You will be prompted to return to this post to enter the drawing. Please be sure to leave your contact information.

Queen Cuthburga: Sinner or Saint?

By Kim Rendfeld

As the training ground of medieval female missionaries, burial place of royalty, and college of secular (nonmonastic) canons, Wimborne Minster in Dorset holds an influential place in history, but little is known about its eighth-century founder, Saint Cuthburga.

Trying to research the woman and her life has raised many more questions than answers, and the variant spellings of her name are the least of our problems. Her birth date is unknown, and she died Aug. 31, perhaps in 725. We know with certainty that she was the sister of King Ine of Wessex, and she was married to Northumbrian King Aldfrith, from whom she separated to join the religious life.

Whether Cuthburga and Aldfrith parted before or after their marriage was consummated depends on whether we believe manuscripts written in the 12th and 14th centuries. In the latter manuscript, whose author took the creative liberties of a historical novelist, Cuthburga wanted Christ as her spouse, and on the night of her nuptials, she quoted Scripture to her husband to extol the virtues of virginity, a higher calling than marriage. Although Aldfrith desired her, he released Cuthburga from her marital vows and even asked her to pray for him.

Medieval wedding nights were not private events. In a state of undress, the bride and groom accepted each other in front of witnesses. So, the 14th century description stretches credibility.

A more plausible possibility is that Cuthburga took the veil after failing to produce an heir. If she was already drawn to a spiritual life, she might even take the lack of a child as a sign from God. As an abbess, she would still have a position of wealth and power – plus the independence of not having a man telling her what to do – while Aldfrith could free himself for another marriage.

Aldfrith had a son, Osred, around 696, but Cuthburga did not act like the boy’s mother. Osred was 8 when his father died around 704. In such cases, the queen mother often was regent until the son came of age. Cuthburga did not play that influential role. In fact, she seemed to have nothing to with Northumbrian politics.

After leaving her husband, Cuthburga went to Barking, perhaps for a yearlong novitiate under Abbess Hildelith. By 705, she founded the double monastery at Wimborne in Wessex and was joined by her sister and later successor Cwenburga. Cuthburga’s time as a princess and queen would have prepared her to lead an abbey, and this one became a center for teaching religious women. Later, Saint Boniface turned to Tetta, one of Cuthburga’s successors, when he needed nuns to serve as missionaries on the Continent.

Wimborne Minster via Wikimedia Commons
If we are to believe Rudolf of Fulda in his 9th century hagiography about Saint Lioba, men and women at Wimborne lived on the grounds in their own houses and did not interact. The only time the women saw a man was when the priest celebrated Mass. Three centuries later, William of Malmesbury calls Cuthburga’s community “a full company of virgins, dead to earthly desires and breathing only aspirations towards heaven.”

The 14th century manuscript has Cuthburga living a saintly life of fasting and prayer and being well loved by her sisters. When she was gravely ill, they prayed for her to be restored to health, but she told them to let her go.

Yet her fate in afterlife is uncertain. According to an eighth-century anonymous monk, the former queen is screaming in a penitential pit with a couple of other aristocrats, having their carnal sins thrown in their faces like boiling mud. Could the monk have meant a different Cuthburga? He mentions her once being a queen but nothing of her being an abbess.

However, she was canonized by the 14th century, and I prefer this entry from a manuscript of that era: “She was buried with fitting honour in the same church which she had built to the holy mother of God, where by her merits very many miracles were wrought and many benefits were bestowed on the sick; the power of walking was restored to the lame, hearing to the deaf, sight to the blind, through the tender mercy of Jesus our Christ, whose majesty and sway remain for ever and ever.”


A Dictionary of Saintly Women, Volume 1, by Agnes Baillie Cuninghame Dunbar

William of Malmesbury's Chronicle of the Kings of England: From the Earliest Period to the Reign of King Stephen (12th century, 1866 translation)

Hell and Its Afterlife: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives, edited by Isabel Moreira and Margaret Toscano

Woman under Monasticism: chapters on saint-lore and convent life between A.D. 500 and A.D. 1500, Lina Eckenstein

A Biographical Dictionary of Dark Age Britain: England, Scotland, and Wales, C. 500-c. 1050, Ann Williams, D. P. Kirby

The Collegiate Church of Wimborne Minster, Patricia Helen Coulstock

“The Marriage of St. Cuthburga, who was afterwards Foundress of the Monastery at Winiborne,” by the Rev. Canon J.M.J. Fletcher, Proceedings - Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society, Vol. 27

Medieval Sourcebook: Rudolph of Fulda: Life of Leoba

Kim Rendfeld was curious about Cuthburga because Wimborne trained female missionaries who played an influential role in medieval Francia, the setting for her novels,  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.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Countess of Derby and the Siege of Lathom House

byAlison Stuart

In my last guest post with the English Historical Fiction Authors, I wrote about Brilliana Harley and her gallant defence of Brampton Bryan Castle in Herefordshire against the royalists during the early days of the English Civil War.

Charlotte de Tremouille
the Countess of Derby
In another part of England, another gallant lady, Charlotte de Tremouille, the Countess of Derby, found herself faced with the defence of her home, Lathom House against the forces of Parliament. Both ladies, in part, were the inspiration for my own own fictional heroine, Deliverance in CLAIMING THE REBEL’S HEART.

Unlike the Harleys in Herefordshire James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby, was a King’s man. The seat of the Earl was divided between the Isle of Man and Lathom House in Lancashire and in the early days of the war, Lancashire was predominantly royalist. While the Fairfaxs battled for the Parliament in Yorkshire, Derby maintained a firm hold in his home county until late in 1643 when he left Lancashire to put down a rebellion on the Isle of Man. In his absence Parliamentary forces gained an upper hand in Lancashire and Lady Derby found herself compelled to make concessions to Parliament, giving up the entire estate for Parliament’s use.

Lady Derby and her two daughters were allowed to remain in the house and were careful not to provoke the enemy forces. Early in 1644, she received secret word that a parliamentary force led by Sir Thomas Fairfax was marching against the house. Local feeling rose against the occupants of Lathom House with a preacher at Wigan taking as his text Jeremiah 50:14 “Put yourselves in array against Babylon, all ye that bend the bow, shoot at her, spare no arrows; for she hath sinned against the Lord.” This earned her the nickname “Babylon”.

On Tuesday 27th February, Fairfax began negotiations with Lady Derby for the surrender of Lathom House. She responded, imperiously demanding that Sir Thomas should wait on her, rather than she on him and in answer to Sir Thomas’ demand, she replied “…(she) much wondered that Sir Thomas Fairfax would require her to give up her Lord’s house without any offence on her part done to the Parliament…” The honourable Sir Thomas negotiated with the Lady for some time before she openly rejected all his terms and the Parliamentarians began to move on the house.

Nearly three thousand parliamentarians sat down before Lathom House but the capture of the old fortress was no easy proposition. Behind its thick walls the indomitable Countess and her 300 strong garrison had ample supplies to last a long siege. For two months, the parliamentarians suffered harrying raids engineered by the wily Captain Farmer, Lady Derby’s Captain of her garrison (whose antics inspired those of my hero, Luke Collyer), and the predations of the Lady’s accurate sharp shooters. Artillery brought to bear on the house had some impact but not sufficient to breach its defences. Throughout the siege, Lady Derby asserted herself as the Commander of her garrison, personally supervising every detail. Not surprisingly contemporary commentators remarked she had proved herself a better soldier than her husband.

By the end of March, Fairfax had been recalled to Yorkshire leaving a frustrated Colonel Rigby in command. Rigby’s efforts at cajoling the Lady into surrender received the following response. “…Tell that insolent rebel, hee shall neither have persons, goods, nor house: when our strength and provision is spent, we shall find a fire more mercyfull than Rigby…”

At the end of May, word reached the defenders that Prince Rupert was coming to the relief of Lathom. On 27th May, Rigby marched out with his men to intercept the royalists and the siege of Lathom House was over. Amazingly only six of the defenders had been killed over the length of the siege.

At the end of the siege, Lady Charlotte took her daughters and retired to her husband’s estates on the Isle of Man. Unfortunately in June 1644 the northern royalists were comprehensively defeated at Marston Moor and by the end of December, Lathom House fell to the parliamentarians and was completely destroyed.

The Earl of Derby was captured and executed after the Battle of Worcester in September 1651 and Lady Charlotte died in 1664 at the age of 65.

Further Reading
For the letters of the Lady of Lathom click HERE

Postscript: When I am writing, I find one song becomes the theme song for that particular book. With CLAIMING THE REBEL’S HEART, that song was “They Called her Babylon” (the story of Lady Derby and the siege of Lathom House) by one of my favourite folk groups, Steeleye Span. If you would like to listen to this song Click HERE.


Alison Stuart is an award winning Australian writer of cross genre historicals with heart.  Whether duelling with dashing cavaliers or waywards ghosts, her books provide a reader with a meaty plot and characters who have to strive against adversity, always with the promise of happiness together. Alison is a lapsed lawyer who has worked in the military and fire service, which may explain a predisposition to soldier heroes.  She lives with her own personal hero and two needy cats and likes nothing more than a stiff gin and tonic and a walk along the sea front of her home town.  She loves to hear from her readers and can be found at her website, facebook, twitter and Goodreads.

Alison’s passion is the English Civil War and her latest book CLAIMING THE REBEL’S HEART is available from Amazon and all reputable on line stores.

As the English Civil War divides England and tears families apart, Deliverance Felton will do whatever it takes to defend her family home against the royalist forces ranged against it. Anything she needs to know about siege warfare she has learned from a book...but no book can prepare her for Luke Collyer, soldier of fortune and a man with his own secrets.
AND YOU ARE NOT TOO LATE TO ENTER THE English Historical Fiction Authors GIVEAWAY of an ecopy of CLAIMING THE REBEL’S HEART. Just click HERE and leave a comment.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Shakespeare’s Reconstructed Globe Theater and Me (a sort of love story)

by Stephanie Cowell

The reconstructed Globe Theater, Bankside, London

For the longest time I wanted to go home, but it was a place I could only travel in my mind. Nothing remained of it in London: only a plaque on a brewery wall. And well over three hundred years had passed since it had been callously destroyed.

It was the famous Globe Theater in Bankside on the Thames, raised up by a group of young actors in 1599 in the last few years of Queen Elizabeth’s life. One of the actors was the vibrant Will Shakespeare and the stage saw the first performance of his play Hamlet. He was long dead when the Puritans pulled the Globe down because they thought theater and pretty much of everything else was immoral. But so many years after the theater had been gutted, it rose again on the banks of the Thames thanks to a visionary American actor Sam Wanamaker who dedicated his life to doing it.

In 1949, Sam Wanamaker crossed the ocean and visited the site of the original Globe, finding only that time-darkened plaque. Sam was one of many actors blacklisted during the McCarthy era and moved to England. He worked as an actor there but never lost his passion to reconstruct the Globe and began seriously to campaign for it in 1969.It took 25 years but he never looked back. He enlisted theater people and people who could give money and in 1993 construction began on the New Globe Theater a short distance from the original site which was now under a building.

Visionary actor Sam Wanamaker who recreated the Globe

They did it with great care. A study was made of what was known of the construction of The Theater, the building from which the 1599 Globe obtained much of its timber and of other theatrical documents from the period. The architect was Theo Crosby and construction was done by McCurdy & Co. The modern theater has a circular yard, a thrust stage and three tiers of circular seating. The only covered parts are the stage and the seating areas. Those who choose to stand may be rained upon! Plays are given between May and early October and you can tour it year round. There is no amplification now as there was none in 1599. The theater is constructed entirely of English oak; it is an authentic 16th century timber-framed building with no structural steel used. The seats are plain hard benches and the roof is thatched.

My first novel (on Kindle)
In spring of 1993, I had my first novel coming out about an Elizabethan boy who becomes an actor (Nicholas Cooke: actor, soldier, physician,priest) and I went to London hoping to see the newly recreated theater. I saw one fourth of it. It had taken twenty years or so for Sam to get enough support to build this much and they were trying to raise enough money for the rest. His assistant, Mrs. Blodgett, gave me a tour. “Sam’s not here,” she said. “He’s always off somewhere trying to get some wealthy person to give English oak!” So I returned to America, sent him an advance copy of my book, and he wrote me back how much he liked it.

He died in December that year, never to see the complete rising of his new Globe. I was never to meet him but he knew before he died that that the theater would live again.

In 1997, four years after Sam’s death, I traveled to London with my husband to see The Merchant of Venice at the completed Globe. All those of you who love English history, and have spent much of your life recreating it in your mind through what you read or write, will understand that when I walked through those doors and saw the rising galleries and the stage I felt faint. I was choked with tears. It was as if it were waiting for me. I almost expected the handsome Shakespeare, then in his thirties and sporting one gold earring, to rush up to me and say, “Where have you been? We’ve been waiting for you!”

Marcello Magniin the clown in MERCHANT

The Italian clown jumped into the groundings (those who stood in the pit) and teased and joked with them.

Thanks to a visionary actor we do not only have a weather-worn plaque on a brewery to commemorate the theater now, but the theater itself has risen again from the ashes. Shakespeare, if he walked in it, would be surprised by the sprinkler system under the thatched roof and the lighted exit signs (concessions to modern building safety code) but I think he would feel at home. Sam Wanamaker’s Globe is a grand and vivid testimony to what those of us who love English history will do to bring it back to life again.


About the author: Historical novelist Stephanie Cowell is the author of Nicholas Cooke, The Physician of London, The Players: a novel of the young Shakespeare, Marrying Mozart and Claude & Camille: a novel of Monet.  She is the recipient of the American Book Award. Her work has been translated into nine languages. Stephanie is currently finishing two novels, one on the love story of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, and the second about the year Shakespeare wrote Hamlet and all the troubles he had! Her website is

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Fictitious Young Lady of Fashion in the 1700's

By Rosanne E. Lortz

In the year 1926 a manuscript titled The Diary of a Young Lady of Fashion in the Year 1764-1765 was published. The book purported to be a recently unearthed diary which had been written by the witty, effervescent, and not entirely wise Cleone Knox, a young lady who had traveled around eighteenth century Europe meeting notable figures like King Louis XV and the philosopher Voltaire. The diary was a publishing success, well-received by twentieth century literary critics. The diary also happened to be a fraud.

A Gainsborough portrait of a fashionable lady
from the same era as Cleone Knox

Cynthia Crossen of The Wall Street Journal writes that:
Critics declared the diary authentic partly because it contained obsolete expressions and spelling and lots of capital letters. "Her diary must take its place beside that of Mr. Pepys," one critic wrote. Another opined, "No modern girl will ever write a diary like this. Cleone Knox breathes the very spirit of the witty, robust, patriotic, wicked, hard-drinking, hard-swearing 18th century."
It was only after the diary went through several printings both in America and England that the real author of the eighteenth century memoirs fessed up. The book had been written by Magdalen King-Hall, a nineteen-year-old with a lively imagination and a penchant for jokes. "If I had realized that so many distinguished persons would take it seriously,” said King-Hall, “I would have spent more time and pains on it."

Cleone’s visit with Voltaire is an especially memorable episode, mostly because of how irreverent it is. "The great man received us in a chintz dressing gown,” she wrote—or rather, King-Hall wrote. “To tell the truth, he reminded me of nothing so much as a chattering old magpie. We listened, silent, with the Respect which is due to Genius, however Wearisome it may be.

But it is the opening entry in the diary which is my favorite, the entry which sets the tone for the rest, and the entry in which King-Hall introduces her eighteenth-century protagonist.
March 3rd  
This morning had a vastly unpleasant interview with my Father. Last night, Mr. Ancaster, who is the indescreetest young man alive, was seized suddenly while riding home along the shore with the desire to say good night to me. He climbed the wall, the postern gate being locked at the late hour, and had the Boldness to attempt to climb the ivy below my window; while but half way up the Poor Impudent young man fell. (If he hadn’t, Lord knows what would have happened, for I am terribly catched by the Handsome Wretch.) As ill luck would have it, Papa and Ned, who were conversing in the library, looked out at the moment and saw him lying Prostrate on the ground! 
No need to describe the scene that followed. My Father it seems thinks me guilty of Indescretion and Immodesty, though why I don’t know, for I was sound asleep the whole time and never heard so much as an Oath (and I dare swear there were plenty flying round!). My father said some mighty unkind things to me this morning and I wept loudly for more than Half an Hour. 
Men are such Silly Fools. 
Although the book turned out to be more fictitious than factual, it still managed to enthrall twentieth century readers who were as “terribly catched” by the clever Cleone as she was by the “indescreet” Mr. Ancaster. In The Diary of a Young Lady of Fashion, we experience the winsomeness of a young woman who may not really have lived, but still manages to fill the pages of history as one of the eighteenth century’s most memorable heroines—historical fiction at its best.

Magdalen King-Hall went on to become a historical novelist in a more forthright fashion, writing historicals set during the Crusades, and also in sixteenth, seventeenth, and—yes—eighteenth century England. Her novel The Life and Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton, the story of a lady and a highwayman, was made into a film the same year it was published, receiving the title The Wicked Lady (1945) and starring Margaret Lockwood and James Mason.


Rosanne E. Lortz is the author of two books: I Serve: A Novel of the Black Prince, a historical adventure/romance set during the Hundred Years' War, and Road from the West: Book I of the Chronicles of Tancred, the beginning of a trilogy which takes place during the First Crusade.

You can learn more about Rosanne's books at her Official Author Website where she also blogs about writing, mothering, and things historical.



Crossen, Cynthia. “This Column Is Real, But Not All Authors Stick to the Truth.” The Wall Street Journal (April 7, 2008).

Knox, Cleone. The Diary of a Young Lady of Fashion in the year 1764-1765. Edited by Alexander Blacker Kerr. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1926.