Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Visit to Guildford

By Lauren Gilbert

Sundial at Tunsdale Shopping Precinct (1972) commemorating Edward I and his queen and their time in Guildford

Located in the North Downs of Surrey, on the banks of the Wey, is the town of Guildford. In an area originally settled by the Romans, the town was established by a ford by Saxon time. The origin of the name is unclear. It may be traced to the name “Golden Ford” (guilden ford, of Saxon origin) or, as the town was a market town, it may be related to an ancient trade guild. It is also possible that it is derived from an early name for the river, the Gil or Guilu. First mentioned in Alfred the Great’s will, Alfred left Guildford to his nephew. Upon the nephew’s death, it reverted to the crown and continued to be a crown property and a royal residence until the Tudor era. Henry II built a park where he had a palace there, and Edward I and Queen Eleanor apparently spent a significant amount of time at Guildford, just to name a few royal residents. A royal mint was in operation in Guildford from Saxon times up to the reign of Henry I. The beginnings of the wool and cloth trades were already in place in the 11th century. The governing body of the town, called the Gild-Merchant, was also established before 1255 and was a model for other charters.

Guildford was a centre of the wool and cloth trades by the 12th century. The quality of the river’s water, and the accessibility of three plants used in the dying process: fullers’ teasel (which produced spiny heads used to raise the nap of woollen cloth), buckthorn (the berries of which produce yellow or green dye) and woad (a plant which yields a blue dye). All three plants grew in the area. The cloth trade was so important that an Act of Parliament was passed in 1391 relating to the purchase of Guildford cloth, and the Merchants of the Staple (an important commercial company that controlled the trade) issued a certificate in 1482 attesting that they had no fault to find with the Guildford cloth workers or the cloth itself.

Not surprisingly, a castle was built in Guildford during William the Conqueror’s reign. Originally of wood of motte and bailey design, a tower was added, as was a wall around the top of the motte, in the 12th century. The tower became the sheriff’s headquarters later in the 12th century. Henry III expanded and made many improvements to the castle. The castle was given up without a fight twice: once in the conflict between the barons and King John, again during Simon de Montfort’s rebellion. Subsequently, Guildford Castle (as with other inland palaces) was no longer significant for defense, and became neglected. By 1379, the castle had crumbling, leaving nothing but the king’s great chamber, although the tower continued to be used by the sheriff and a hunting lodge that had been built in the park was still available for royal use.

Guildford Castle in 2005.

The town of Guildford grew as the wool trade became more and more important. The town boasted a hospital (in existence as early as the 12th century) and other significant buildings. The charters previously granted were confirmed by Henry VI in 1423, and a charter of incorporation was granted by Henry VII in 1488. A grammar school was founded in 1507 (and is still a school building today). Unfortunately, the wool trade began to decline after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII (he also closed the hospital). This decline was hastened in the 16th century due to competition. Fortunately, the town continued to be a market center.

Just south of Guildford is Losely Park. Originally, there was a manor house on this site when the estate was purchased in 1508 by the father of Sir William More. During the reign of Henry VIII, Sir William More built the Elizabethan house still on the site after his father’s death in 1549, using stone from disbanded monasteries. He expanded the house in 1562 for an expected visit by Queen Elizabeth (just the first of several visits by royalty through the centuries). The house is still the home of the descendents of Sir William More (the More-Molyneaux family) and can be visited. I had the opportunity to see the house some years ago, and it is an amazing place to visit. (You can click the Losely Park link below to see some fantastic photos of furnishings and artworks on display there.)

The house at Losely Park, taken 1993 by the author

In 1619, the Archbishop of Canterbury established some almshouses for poor old people and tried to revitalize the cloth industry in 1629 with a focus on linen (instead of wool). This effort was not successful, and Guildford remained a market town of little importance. However, the town continued to develop as a theatre was built in 1789, an iron foundry and a barracks were built in 1794. Although the barracks was closed in 1818, the town progressed throughout the19th century: a corn exchange opened, gas lights lit the streets, the streets were paved, drainage established and the first electricity was available during this time. The biggest change was the arrival of the railway in 1845, which allowed easy movement between Guildford and London only 30 miles away. New industries also opened in Guildford. I think it may be said that Guildford came into its own in the late 19th century in many respects, but managed to retain a great deal of its charm and historic appeal as it moved into the 20th century and beyond. It’s a beautiful town with a fascinating history, well worth a visit.

Sources include:
Andrews, W. and Lang, Elsie M. OLD ENGLISH TOWNS. London: Bracken Books, 1985. (Originally published 1931 by T. Werner Laurie, Ltd, London).
Britain Express. “Losely Park” by David Ross, ed. Here.
British History Online. “The Borough of Guildford: Introduction and Castle.” Here.
The Heritage Trail. “English Manor Houses. Losely Park.” Here.
Losely Park. “Discovering the House.” Here.
Williamson, George C. GUILDFORD IN THE OLDEN TIME Side Lights on the History of a Quaint Old Town. London: George Bell and Sons, 1904. Digitized by the Internet Archive 2011. Here.

Image of the sundial taken from Wikimedia Commons Here. From
Image of Guildford Castle from Wikimedia Commons Here. From

Lauren Gilbert lives in Florida with her husband.  A member of the Florida Writers Association and the Jane Austen Society of North America, her first book, HEYERWOOD: A Novel, was published in 2011.  Her second novel, A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT, is due out later this year.  Visit her website here for more information.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

John Gower: a renowned poet in the reigns of Richard II and Henry IV

by Anne O'Brien
I have been well acquainted with Geoffrey Chaucer since my school days when, through sheer necessity as I then thought, we read the Prologue and Nun's Priest's Tale from his Canterbury Tales as part of the A level English Course.  Since then I have frequently dipped into Chaucer for pleasure and research, as well as William Langland's Piers Plowman.  They both provide excellent commentary on medieval people and society.
But why had I never known about John Gower?  To my shame, I had not.  I came across him by chance during a visit to Southwark Cathedral where his striking tomb is to be found.  Reading the description, that he wrote during the reign of King Richard II, about whom I was writing at the time, I knew that I should find out more about this enigmatic character, dressed magnificently as he is in red with an eye-catching livery collar. 

There are few solid details of John Gower's background and early life.  He may have been born in Yorkshire,  his family may have held property in Kent, Yorkshire, Norfolk and Suffolk. Nothing is known of his education, although it has been speculated that he was trained in law. Gower himself held properties in Suffolk and Kent, where he seems to have resided until taking up residence in the priory of St. Mary Overie in Southwark, London, around 1377.
A very sketchy back ground, for a man with so monumental a tomb.
What we do know is that John Gower was a personal friend of Geoffrey Chaucer, a contemporary of William Langland, and a gifted writer in his own right as an exceptional trilingual poet.  He wrote in English, French and Latin.  He gained an international reputation when some of his works were also translated into Portuguese and later into Spanish.  His works contained moral and political themes as well as discussions of the power of love.  They were highly praised by his peers.
John Gower's most  important writings are these:
Speculum Hominis: a poem, first written in French, on the fall of man and the effect of sin in the world.
Vox Clamantis:, any essay with also deals with sin,  particularly criticising the corruption inherent in society. This is an important piece of writing because it provides a contemporary view of the Peasants' Revolt of 1381.  Here is an appropriate illustration from his work of Gower firing arrows at the world.
 Confessio Amantis: Gower began his most acclaimed work in 1386. Unlike his previous works, he wrote the Confessio in English, possibly at the request of Richard II, and it is a collection of tales discussing courtly love. The framework is that of a lover complaining first to Venus, and later in the work, confessing to her priest, Genius. Completed around 1390, Confessio Amantis made an important contribution to courtly love literature in English.  Some of the stories have their counterparts in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and one of the stories later served as the source for Shakespeare's Pericles, in which Shakespeare had Gower appear in the Chorus.
Chaucer was greatly appreciative of Gower's work, a circumstance that is well documented.   In 1385 he dedicated Troilus and Criseyde to him, giving him the epithet 'moral Gower'.  When Chaucer was sent as a diplomat to Italy in 1378, Gower was one of the men to whom he gave power of attorney over his affairs in England, which gives power to the thought that Gower was trained in the law.  Gower reciprocated by placing a speech in praise of Chaucer in the mouth of Venus at the end of the Confessio Amantis.
An interesting political comment on this work which particularly appealed to me since I was writing about the politics of the late fourteenth century: the original version of Confessio Amantis was written to include praise of Richard II.  In 1393, disillusioned by Richard's inept government and the uprising of the Lords Appelant, Gower removed the praise of Richard, replacing it with a dedication to Henry of Lancaster who was to become Henry IV.
In return, Henry presented Gower with a Lancastrian livery collar of esses, the collar much loved by Henry's father John of Gaunt, which Gower proudly wore for the rest of his life.  It can be seen around his neck his tomb, with the image of a swan attached to the ring, the swan being one of King Henry's heraldic creatures. In his addition to his poem Vox Clamantis, Gower compared this gift of the heraldic collar to a gift from heaven.  He saw it as a mark of faithfulness and true nobility.
King Henry IV continued to appreciate Gower's work.  On becoming King in 1399 Henry granted Gower a pension in the form of an annual allowance of two pipes (240 gallons) of Gascon wine.  A worthy acknowledgement. 
In his later days there is evidence that Gower married, probably for the second time, to Agnes Groundolf, who survived him.   Possibly as early as 1400, he became blind.  John  Gower died in October 1408, leaving a large estate and was buried in Southwark Cathedral where his tomb can be seen today.  A man of considerable erudition who should definitely not be overlooked.
My novel of Joanna of Navarre, The Queen's Choice, already available in hardback and eBook, will be released in paperback in the UK in May 2016.  Both Richard II and Henry IV play significant roles in my novel - but not, sadly, John Gower.
Detail on all my novels can be found on my website:


Sunday, March 27, 2016

A Child’s Portrait in Different Views: Angel’s Heads

by Catherine Curzon

Regular readers of my posts both here and on my own site here will know that I hold something of a soft spot for Sir Joshua Reynolds, the legendary Devonian portrait artist. Reynolds was the darling of the upper classes and his work is among that of a select group who define British art in the long 18th century. Perhaps best known for his portraits, it was a form he took a slightly different approach to with the work I am looking at today, A Child’s Portrait in Different Views: Angel’s Heads, which was painted between 1786–7.

This unusual painting depicts five differing studies of the head of  his infant subject, Lady Frances Isabella Keir Gordon. Lady Frances was the five year old daughter of Frances Ingram-Shepheard and her husband, Lord William Gordon, who had once made scandalous headlines thanks to his youthful elopement with one of George III's old flames.

Now years later and steeped in respectability, Lord William commissioned the portrait in summer 1786. Over the months that followed, Reynolds worked tirelessly on the painting, eventually completing it in March 1787. The canvas was displayed at the Royal Academy and Reynolds took as his inspiration for the style a drawing of cherubs' heads by Carlo Maratta.

A Child’s Portrait in Different Views: Angel’s Heads by Joshua Reynolds, 1786-7

The portrait is clearly very different to those works with which Reynolds has become better associated, a far from formal or traditional work or portraiture. Instead, he has painted the same child five times and each of the heads shows a different expression, from wonder to concern to happiness, capturing the vagaries of Lady Frances's changing moods. In only one part of the canvas does she look directly out of the painting, her attention briefly caught and held by the world beyond the frame.

It is a painting commissioned by parents who clearly adored their child and wanted to remember her in those early years as she grew into a woman. In fact, this picture would far outlast the little girl and when she died in 1831, her bereaved mother passed the work to the National Gallery, where it remains to this day.

The cherubic style and the unusual execution of the work is is not, in all honesty, one to which I am particularly attached. However, it is a work that I have never forgotten in the years since I first saw it and for that reason I present it to you today - after all, one can never have too much Reynolds!


Postle, Martin. Joshua Reynolds: The Creation of Celebrity, (Tate Publishing, 2005).

Glorious Georgian ginbag, gossip and gadabout Catherine Curzon, aka Madame Gilflurt, is the author of A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life. When not setting quill to paper, she can usually be found gadding about the tea shops and gaming rooms of the capital or hosting intimate gatherings at her tottering abode. In addition to her blog and Facebook, Madame G is also quite the charmer on Twitter. Her first book, Life in the Georgian Court, is available now, and she is also working on An Evening with Jane Austen, starring Adrian Lukis and Caroline Langrishe.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Easter and the First English King in Ireland

By Edward Ruadh Butler

The Easter period takes on added significance in Ireland this year. 2016 is, in addition to the centenaries of the Battles of the Somme and Jutland, a hundred years since the Easter Rising. This was an ultimately unsuccessful attempt by small number of revolutionaries to gain independence for Ireland from the United Kingdom. Quickly suppressed by the British Army stationed in Dublin, it was initially treated with scorn and even hostility by people who watched as large parts of their city were damaged by the fighting. However, the execution of fifteen rebel leaders saw a profound change in public opinion and, after another conflict, in 1922 a group of delegates with close links to the 1916 rebels, negotiated the Anglo-Irish Treaty and put Ireland (excepting the six northern counties) on the road to independence in 1949.

My own particular interest in Irish history is rooted, not in the end of the colonial period, but at its beginning and, while the Easter Rising began on Easter Monday, I’d like to take you backwards some 744 years from 1916 to the same day in 1172 when the first King of England to set foot in Ireland departed Wexford after claiming the island as his own.

The king in question is Henry II. As the first Plantagenet monarch of England and ruler of an empire stretching from the Pyrenees to the Scottish borders you’d be forgiven for thinking that Henry would have had his hands full governing the lands he already possessed rather than entertaining thoughts of an invasion of the notoriously unruly island on the edge of the known world. But for Henry the great expense of a military enterprise across the Irish Sea was one that he gratefully paid to mollify two particularly pressing political foes that might’ve brought an end to his kingship.

In 1169 and 1170 two Norman adventurers from the Welsh Marches named Robert FitzStephen and Richard de Clare had crossed the Irish Sea to assist the exiled King of Leinster, Dermot MacMurrough, to regain his throne. Their success saw FitzStephen awarded lordship over Wexford while Clare, better known as Strongbow, had claimed Waterford and Dublin. These settlements had hitherto been populated by the descendants of Norse and Danish invaders (known as Ostmen) and remained the financial centre of Ireland, equal in power to Chester and Bristol. Strongbow’s illegal marriage to King Dermot’s daughter also gave him claim to a throne and, in Henry’s view, the possibility of a Norman splinter state neighbouring his own borders was a threat too great to ignore. He immediately decreed that all shipping from England to Ireland must cease and he furthermore stated that every Norman had to return to his kingdom by Easter 1171 (April 4th) or face the future as an outlaw.

The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife by Daniel Maclise

This edict threatened to end Strongbow’s rule of Dublin, but events in England gave him hope that he could negotiate with the king. On December 29th 1170, Henry found himself in the middle of a political storm following the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in Canterbury. While a series of delegates were despatched to the royal court to open negotiations, Strongbow faced a summer of crisis. In May 1171 King Dermot died and a number of his key allies rose against him. The former King of Dublin took the opportunity to raise an army of Ostmen and besieged the city in the hope of taking back his throne. Somehow Strongbow was able to emerge victorious despite facing daunting odds, but barely a few weeks passed before the High King and an army including many of the most powerful tribes of Ireland, arrived before the city walls and again placed the Normans under siege. Starving and with no hope of support, in July 1171 Strongbow could only pray that his offer to hand over all his territorial gains to King Henry had been accepted in return for immediate military assistance.

Henry’s position was no less desperate. Becket’s murder had left him facing excommunication and the possible collapse of his empire into disorder as a consequence. At the Council of Argentan, however, Henry declared his intention to invade Ireland as it suited him to absent himself from the backlash caused by Becket’s death until he could somehow conjure an understanding with Pope Alexander III. Travelling back to England, Henry closed all the ports of England so that no Papal Legate could follow him. Over the next few months he journeyed through his kingdom making his final preparations ahead of his invasion.

While FitzStephen’s Wexford had fallen to the Ostmen, Strongbow’s garrison at Dublin still survived. However, their food stores had diminished to almost nothing due to the High King’s siege. At the end of August 1171, forced on by imminent starvation, Strongbow’s army burst from behind their walls and attacked his enemy’s camp, routing the High King’s forces and capturing some much needed supplies. A month later Strongbow journeyed home where he threw himself on King Henry’s mercy, offering him fealty in return for confirmation to Dublin and Waterford. Their negotiations were long and, in the end, Henry took the cities for his own while granting Strongbow the Kingdom of Leinster in fief. To back up his claims, King Henry left Milford Haven at the head of a fleet of some 400 ships carrying an army of invasion, including 500 knights and around 4,000 infantry and archers. He landed just outside Waterford on October 17th and proceeded to journey around the south-west accepting the submission of many local rulers and chieftains. It may sound backwards but the Irish kings, while indeed awed by the size of his army, believed that King Henry would protect them from the depredations of Strongbow and his barons.

Reginald's Tower, Waterford City
Henry also called at the ecclesiastical centres at Lismore and Cashel to begin the process of reforming the Irish Church and to establish papal authority over the independent Celtic Church. His reasons could not have been more blatant, and he insisted that each bishop write to Pope Alexander to tell him of their submission to Henry on behalf of the Church in Rome upon the synod’s completion in February 1172.

However, the king was not present at Cashel. Instead he journeyed to Dublin, arriving on November 11th 1171. Rather than take up residence in the great hall used by the Kings of Dublin (the present site of Dublin Castle), he is said to have spent the winter season in a temporary structure of wattle and bough on the site of the old Norse Thing-Mote which was stationed on top of a hill just outside the city walls (and now the site of St Andrew’s Church tourist office). Over the Yuletide period he entertained many of his new Norman and Irish vassals at this house using provisions provided at great cost by the merchants of Bristol. Each was said to have left for his homeland suitably impressed by Henry’s great wealth and power. One of the dishes served was crane, a meat previously considered taboo in Ireland, but which the Irish kings ate nonetheless at Henry’s bidding.

In addition to entertaining and reorganising the largest overhaul in the history of the Irish church, Henry also busied himself with the imposition of a new legal and legislative system. Officials were appointed to administrative positions identical to those that oversaw his government in England. A knight named Hugh de Lacy, who had provided fifty knights, was named Constable of Dublin in place of Strongbow’s man, Milo de Cogan, and many more of the men who had led the first invasions, and had fought so furiously to conquer the Ostmen cities, were dispossessed and forced into Lacy’s employ.

It was King Henry who granted Dublin its first Royal Charter. He awarded the city to the merchants of Bristol who had kept him well fed throughout his many months in Ireland. Numerous merchants would cross the sea in the years after Henry’s ‘conquest’ to breathe new life into the city. They would replace the Ostmen who were ejected from the city to live north of the River Liffey in an area now known as Oxmanstown. Several Ostman landowners, including Hamund, the younger brother of the former King Hasculf, retained their estates, however, and were powerful landowners under the Normans for many generations on the outskirts of the city.

Ireland had been a slave society for much of its history, and Dublin had been at the very centre of the vile practice. Almost overnight, the slaves of Ireland were freed by the Normans. They joined a quasi-feudal system which saw them, and many Irish and Ostman freemen, become serfs under the rule of the new Norman nobility. I don’t believe that this change was for idealistic reasons. The Normans were an incredibly practical people who realised that slaves had to be clothed and fed by their owners whereas serfs were given land (of which they now had plenty) to support themselves. It was cost effective for the new lords of Ireland to grant them this ‘freedom’ before placing them under onerous financial obligations that made their existence little better than it had been before.

By February 1172 the great strain of keeping an army in the field – an army which had yet to raise a sword during the conquest – was starting to show. News from England put pay to any thought of a further campaign in the spring. In addition to the threat of interdict if he did not meet with the papal legates, Henry heard whispers of a rebellion fermented by Queen Eleanor and his eldest son, Henry the Young King. That month the king journeyed down to Wexford, sending his army to Waterford while he spent the entirety of Lent at Selskar Abbey, fasting and doing penance for Becket’s murder while living in the chapterhouse. Adverse winds kept him in Ireland and he celebrated Easter in Wexford, but ordered his army to depart Waterford that day. At sunrise on Easter Monday (April 17th 1172), Henry II left Ireland, landing in Wales in the early afternoon on the same day. He would never return, but his efforts during his six month sojourn ending that Easter Monday would establish the foundations for nearly 800 years of colonial government in Dublin until 1916 when that bedrock was shaken to its very core.


Edward Ruadh Butler is the author of Swordland which will be published in paperback by Accent Press on April 7th. It tells the story of the Norman knight Robert FitzStephen and his part in the first Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169. The second installment, Lord of the Sea Castle, will follow in April 2017.
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Friday, March 25, 2016

They're real people, you know...

by Jacqueline Reiter

I write about real people. I know, I know, every author writes about “real people”, in that fictional characters come alive on the page of the book they inhabit, but I write about real people, and for some reason I can't wrap my head around this. Why? I have no idea.

Technically I am no longer an author of fiction, although I'm not saying I won't go back to it when the opportunity occurs. My "work-in-progress" is not a novel but a biography, of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, elder brother of British prime minister William Pitt the Younger.

Real people

They are, obviously, real historical personages. If I hopped into my time machine and zoomed back to the year 1800, I might be able to meet them. They spoke words that were recorded by journalists and diarists; they wrote the letters I have read in the archives; they lived in houses I have visited. They went to sleep at night, got up in the mornings (... OK, more probably early afternoon, in the case of my boy Chatham), ate huge meals, wore sumptuous clothes, walked the streets of London, relieved themselves, caught the common cold, laughed, cried, and grieved, and lived.

I already know this because I've read about it, and yet there is still a sort of dislocation in my head that makes me unable to grasp the fact "my people" (as I modestly call them) were both real and human.

For example: a few months ago I made an accidental discovery (and I've already blogged about the possible existence of the Research Fairy, so won't go into that here). I found this record on the site, dedicated to recording archaeological finds of historical significance in the UK.

Why did this find stagger me so much? Because this, dear reader, is the 2nd Earl of Chatham’s personal seal. The one he affixed to private correspondence. And it dropped from his watch fob, probably sometime between 1783 and 1790, while he was visiting his mother at her Somerset house of Burton Pynsent, where it was found in 2006 — not, alas, by me, although every time I’ve been back there I’ve kept my eyes peeled in case, you know, he did it twice.

Think about it. I knew Burton Pynsent belonged to the Pitt family; I knew the 2nd Lord Chatham would have gone there many times. But here is concrete evidence that he was there, in person: that he was capable of losing things, just like anybody else. I imagine he was pretty annoyed when he found out he had lost it, too. It’s like a glimpse into a timewarp, just a blink of a moment in which the walls of time and space come crashing down.

I’ve had the same feeling so many times while researching John Chatham in particular. I think it’s because he’s virtually invisible in the history books, so to find any evidence of his physical existence is doubly disorientating. Like while visiting his house at Abington Hall, near Cambridge, now the headquarters of The Welding Institute (TWI). The estate has changed almost beyond recognition, covered with prefab offices, storerooms and laboratories, but walking through it was like being haunted by the past.

There’s not much of “his” house left, but with assistance I was able to piece John’s Abington together. The house’s ground floor still has a flavour of John’s grand early-19th century reception rooms, and the outside still bears the peeling whitewash “inflicted on it by your boy” (as TWI's records officer informed me, accusingly).

Then there's the excitement of seeing "my boy's" name plastered across the top of the entrance to Casemates Square in Gibraltar. He was Governor from 1820-35.

Or finding this bookplate in Gibraltar's Garrison Library:

It's like reaching across the centuries and brushing Chatham's sleeve with my fingers. Never more than a glimpse, but still, definitely a frisson of connection.

Sometimes, such a frisson is accompanied by embarrassment. I am often reminded, while consulting the archives, that I am essentially reading someone’s private correspondence. I’m sure Pitt the Elder would be horrified to know I would read the following line, written to his wife, Lady Hester, shortly after she had given birth to their third child: “How I long, now that you are out of the straw, to have you in the fragrant grass?” (National Archives Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/5 f 205) The historian always has something of the voyeur in him or her, but I still won’t be getting that image out of my head any time soon.

So yes: real. Not real in my head, but real in the flesh, two hundred years ago. I’ve stood over the Pitt family vault in Westminster Abbey and tried to come to terms with the fact that the people I have read so much about are there beneath my feet. I can’t do it. I’ve touched things that belonged to them — I’ve seen John’s own miniature of his wife, eaten lunch with his cutlery, walked his estates, and I even have a letter he wrote hanging on my wall — but for some reason I can’t get over this barrier. I can’t comprehend that, even though they are "my people", they will never completely belong to me.
Surely I’m not the only one?

(Note: This is an edited version of an article that first appeared on my own blog.

All photographs by me)


Jacqueline Reiter has a Phd in 18th century political history. She is currently working on the first ever biography of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham. "The Late Lord" will be published by Pen & Sword Books in January 2017. When she finds time she blogs about her historical discoveries at, and can be found on Twitter as

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Loyal Bastard - of James FitzJames Stuart

by Anna Belfrage

James FitzJames Stuart
In November of 2014, that most famous of Spanish grandees, the Duchess of Alba, died. At the time of her death, this the most titled of all aristocrats in Europe was 88 years old, leaving behind six children, nine grandchildren and a couple of great grandchildren. And, of course, the ancient duchy of Alba, the Jacobite title Duke of Berwick and the duchies of Liria and Xérica, in her family since the 17th century. Plus a lineage tracing all the way back to the hereditary High Stewards of Scotland.

This is where my interest was tweaked. The Spanish Duchess’ full name was María del Rosario Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart y de Silva (a mouthful I bet her mother NEVER used when she was calling for her daughter), and it is in particular the Fitz-James Stuart that I was aiming to talk about today. You see, the late duchess (and now, of course, her son) are descendants to the last Stuart king of England, James II.

Like his older brother, James liked the ladies. He was especially fond of Arabella Churchill, a lady with whom he had a long-standing relationship. Arabella was considered plain, and it was with great joy her relatives – including her father, Sir Winston Churchill, not to be confused with the Winston Churchill – received the news that this tall, pale young lady had attracted the interest of the flamboyant (and married) Duke of York, a.k.a. James Stuart, soon to be James II. At the time, the Churchill family fortunes were at something of an ebb, so maybe Arabella was considered a stepping stone upwards. Whatever the case, Arabella was given a position as lady in waiting to Anne, Duchess of York, thereby ensuring she was on hand to satisfy her lover’s whims.

I’m not so sure how poor wife Anne felt about this arrangement – especially not when Arabella went on to present James with a healthy son, something Anne had failed at doing. Maybe Anne was counting on James tiring of Arabella, but he seems to have been quite fond of his plain mistress – if nothing else he stayed around long enough to leave her with four children over seven years. (but by then Anne was dead, having given birth to eight children of which “only” two girls survived)

James Sr, Duke of York, may have had many faults – and while I am of the opinion that he has been much maligned, I’m not sure this post will benefit from an in-depth perusal into James II as king  – but he seems to have been a good father, genuinely fond of his children. Like his brother, he also recognised and cared for his bastards, and James Jr, siblings Henrietta, Henry and Arabella, grew up in material comfort.

Little James was born in 1670 in France. His mother had apparently been sent off to birth her child somewhat discreetly, although why there should be any need for secrecy at this point is beyond me. After all, everyone knew the Duke of York enjoyed Arabella’s B & B (body & bed) on a regular basis, just as everyone knew he also had other ladies he kept happy.

Whatever the case, James Jr was born, and things were a bit sticky for a while, seeing as James Sr was presently wrestling with his conscience – he had recently converted to the Catholic faith, but at Charles II’s behest he had not gone public with his change of faith.

In 1673, the Duke of York’s conversion became public knowledge, and in that same year James Sr married a Catholic princess, Mary of Modena. What Arabella might have thought is not recorded, but despite his new wife James still visited her regularly, as evidenced by their last child born in 1674. After this, Arabella went on to marry elsewhere and have more babies. James was also to have many, many more babies with his new wife – sadly, of all these infants (ten or so) only two survived beyond early childhood.

James II, while Duke of York
It was James’ wish that his children with Arabella be raised as Catholics, which was why little James and his younger brother Henry were educated in France, seeing their father only intermittently. Not only did James Sr want a Catholic son, he wanted a son educated in the fine art of warfare – James himself was a capable leader of men – and so a very young James Jr accompanied the Duke of Lorraine to Hungary, there to besiege Buda. At the time, the lad was only sixteen, but his age did not inure him from action, so he ended up wounded. He was also present when Buda finally fell, and took part in the resulting sacking, returning to France somewhat richer than he’d set out.

By now, James Jr was the eldest bastard son of a crowned king, his father having succeeded to the crown of England in 1685. To do right by his son, James II created him Duke of Berwick, and also gave him a senior command in his army – a position John Churchill, the future Earl of Marlborough and James Jr’s maternal uncle, had his eyes on.

As we all know, James II’s reign was destined to be short and troubled. His faith was a constant cause for controversy, and when his wife was brought to bed of a healthy son, a future Catholic heir to the crown, the powerful Protestant lords were less than pleased and decided it was time to act.

Personally, I think the birth of James Francis Edward Stuart was an excuse – opposition to James II’s policies had been brewing for quite some time, and many were those who’d lost loved ones in the brutal aftermath of the Monmouth Rebellion, a foiled attempt by Charles II’s bastard (but Protestant) son to claim the throne.

In 1688, James Jr was in England at his father’s side when things started to go seriously pear-shaped. Baby James Francis Edward had been born in June, and some weeks later those (in) famous seven Protestant Lords had sent a letter to William III, Prince of Orange and ruler of the United Provinces (present day Netherlands, more or less), inviting him to come to England and replace James II.

Hmm, one might think. Hmm, William III probably thought, seeing as not only was he James II’s nephew, he was also married to James II’s daughter. Problem was, until the birth of little James Francis Edward, William III had been quite comfortable in the knowledge that at some point the crown of England would come to him – well, to his obedient wife – thereby giving him the power base he required to keep Catholic France under control.

William III decided to invade England, and was welcomed by his supporters. James Jr stood by his father – watched him struggle with despair, no doubt – but late in 1688 James FitzJames fled to France, as did his father. The bastard son of a king was reduced to being the bastard son of an exile – not the best of career developments.

James FitzJames 
James FitzJames did his best for his father, playing an important role in the failed attempt to regain James II’s throne through Ireland in 1690. He was wounded and almost killed at The Battle of the Boyne, and in 1691 he was back in France, determined to make a life for himself the only way he could – by his sword.

Over the coming years, James FitzJames built a reputation as a good officer, a fearless leader of men. Fighting for the French, he had occasion to stand on opposing sides to his maternal kin, was at some point even captured by one of his Churchill uncles, but was quickly exchanged for an English Duke. By 1695, James FitzJames had been formally attainted, his English titles stripped from him. He retaliated by sneaking into England in 1696, where he attempted to foment a rebellion against William III. Didn’t work.

Europe at the time was at war – well, a more or less constant state for this poor continent. In the first decade of the 18th century, the Spanish War of Succession broke out, with on the one side, the Dutch and English teaming up to support the Austrian candidate to the Spanish throne, while on the other side the French allied with the Spanish Bourbon king.

James FitzJames saw plenty of action, and in 1706 he led the French army to a decisive victory over the allied English-Dutch forces (ironically lead by a Frenchman). By then, James was a French Field Marshal. The victory at the Battle of Alamanza elevated him to the peerage, both in France, where he was given the title of Duc de Fitz-James, but also in Spain, where he was awarded two duchies, thenceforth to be known as the Duque de Liria y Xérica. The bastard-born boy had made good, so to say, heaped with honours and riches that far exceeded those English titles stripped from him by William III.

James had not only been busy on the battle field. He’d married twice, first Honora de Burgh, the pretty widow of his Irish friend and comrade-in-arms, Patrick Sarsfield, then Anne Bulkeley, daughter to fellow English exile (and former Master of the Household to both Charles II and James II) Henry Bulkeley. Where his father had been singularly unlucky when it came to the fertility of his wives, James FitzJames was father to close to a dozen legitimate children, of which six were boys.

The Battle of Alamanza determined the Spanish war, but generals and kings being what they are, the war ground on a further number of years until our James stormed Barcelona in 1714. With the exception of some skirmish in 1718, James was now free to sit about and enjoy his wife and family – and riches. Not everyone agreed. In fact, one angry young man felt entitled to demand FitzJames’ services.

James Francis Edward when young
Had James’ younger half-brother and namesake had his way, James FitzJames would have led the Jacobite Rising in 1715, his fame as a military leader ensuring the disgruntled Scotsmen flocked to his banner. FitzJames refused. Far too pragmatic to see any possibility of victory, he told his young brother to forget the venture. James Francis Edward would ever after blame the failure of the rising on his half-brother, a convenient way of exonerating himself, I believe.

Men who live by the sword have a tendency to die by the sword, and FitzJames was to be no exception. In 1733, he was requested to lead the Army of the Rhine in the War of Polish Succession. At the time, he was sixty-three, too old, one would have thought, to clamber atop a horse and set off to do battle so far from home. The powers that were thought differently, so off James went, and in keeping with his track record he was just as successful here as he’d been in Spain. Until that June day in 1734 when he decided to inspect the siege works and was decapitated by a cannon ball, that is.

Upon FitzJames’ abrupt death, his eldest son, by Honora de Burgh, took over the Spanish titles, as well as FitzJames’ original style of Duke of Berwick. His second son, firstborn in his marriage to Anne Bulkeley, took over the French title, which lived on well into the 20th century before it became extinct. The Spanish branch, however, lives on, as hale as ever.

By the time of his death, James FitzJames had more than overcome the stigma of his illegitimate birth. A respected soldier, a wealthy man, he was first and foremost a man of honour, the son who stuck with his father through thick and thin. Not a quality he shared with his two older half-sisters, both of whom contributed to James II’s fall. Ironically, neither of those sisters would leave a living heir (divine retribution?), and as to James Francis Edward, his line died out with his sons. And so, just like with Charles II, James II’s present day descendants all come from the wrong side of the blanket. I’m thinking that if James FitzJames was sitting atop my particular branch of the family tree, I’d be proud – very proud, even. I guess the Duke of Alba is.

(NOTE! This post was first published on Anna Belfrage's own blog, in June 2015)


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

Presently, Anna is hard at work with The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. The first instalment, In the Shadow of the Storm, was published on November 1, 2015.

For more information about Anna and her books, please visit her website. If not on her website, Anna can mostly be found on her blog.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Other Anne Boleyn

By Nancy Bilyeau

Anne, queen of England

In September 1534, Hatfield House radiated incredible tension. The handsome manor, built forty years earlier by a cardinal, housed an army of servants and two Tudor princesses: one-year-old Elizabeth, the cherished heir to Henry VIII's throne and the daughter of Anne Boleyn, and 18-year-old Mary, daughter of Catherine of Aragon and former heir to the throne, now very much in disgrace. She had been forced to join her half-sister's household and lived there as an inferior. Turning her into a quasi-servant was part of King Henry's campaign to break Mary's spirit because his daughter would not acknowledge his second marriage as lawful.

This particular day, Mary lay in bed, seriously ill. Her sickness was a matter of international incident, as rumors of poison swept through courts and filled ambassadorial letters. Thanks to her mother, she was a first cousin of the Emperor Charles V, and his vigilant and suspicious ambassador in England, Eustace Chapuys, told many people he feared for her life.

Hatfield House today 

Elsewhere in Hatfield another woman, much older, was distraught, even, according to contemporary accounts, prey to fits of weeping.  If Mary died, she would be blamed and the repercussions were terrifying. Her name was Anne Boleyn.

No, not that Anne Boleyn. The other one.

The woman in charge of Hatfield was born Anne Boleyn, the sister of Thomas Boleyn. She long ago made a good marriage to Sir John Shelton and raised eight children in Norfolk. That all changed when her niece became queen of England and she was thrust into a prestigious position that progressed from stressful to impossible.

Looking at the interactions between the two Anne's is enlightening.

The senior Anne was born in 1475, the daughter of Sir William Boleyn and Margaret Butler, daughter of the earl of Ormond. Anne grew up in comfort at the Boleyn seat of Blickling Hall, in Norfolk. * There are no authenticated portraits of her, but based on the much-admired beauty of two of her daughters and her Boleyn nieces, we can assume she, too, was attractive. A stained-glass window image of her shows a woman with a trace of fair hair, unlike her famously brunette niece.

A stained-glass image in Norfolk identified as Lady Anne Shelton

Her husband, Sir John Shelton, was from an important land-holding family. Around the time they married, he was made high sheriff of Norfolk. He attended the coronation of Henry VIII in 1509 and attended Queen Catherine of Aragon at the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520 but the couple were not inner-circle royal courtiers like Thomas Boleyn. The Shelton base was in Norfolk--until her niece Anne became a force to be reckoned with.

It's unlikely that the two Anne's were close. While the younger one was also born at Blickling Hall, she spent much of her youth outside England. In 1513, Anne Boleyn was sent to Europe to serve Regent Margaret of the Netherlands, followed by the French Queen Claude. She returned in 1522 and spent much of her time at court or at Hever, in Kent. But once she married the king, Anne Boleyn--hated by Catherine of Aragon loyalists and unpopular in the country at large--desperately needed supporters, and that meant recruiting members of her extended family.

The first Shelton to be plucked from Norfolk was the Sheltons' teenage daughter Margaret, called "Madge." She attended Queen Anne in spring 1533 and in January 1535 records show she received a royal gift. That same year she had a colorful--if not notorious--role to play at court, but more on that later.

When Princess Elizabeth was born in September 1533, her parents set her up in a separate royal household twenty miles away at Hatfield, to emphasize her prestige. It's often emphasized that this had nothing to do with lack of love for their daughter (born in place of the prayed-for son), and was a normal thing for royalty to do. To do so with a three-month-old was a bit unusual. Catherine of Aragon had kept the infant Mary Tudor close by. Mary received her first lady governess, Margaret Pole, the Countess of Salisbury (and a Yorkist noble), at age four and she was not sent away to Wales with her own extensive staff until she was nine.

With Elizabeth, it was extremely important that her position be as exalted as possible as soon as possible.  Anne Boleyn was involved with all the details of her daughter's care and wardrobe and setting up her household and visited when she could. Elizabeth had a wet nurse and many servants. The woman who spent the most time with the red-haired baby was Lady Margaret Bryan, also a trusted relation of the Boleyn family.

Lady Margaret Bryan

Lady Anne Shelton and her husband, both of them in their late 50s, were the ones officially put in charge of the princess's household.  Perhaps it was because they'd succeeded in raising a large, thriving brood. More likely, it was because they would do what the Boleyn family needed done.

Before the end of 1533, Hatfield had that other, most unwilling member: Mary Tudor. Catherine of Aragon, in exile but insisting she was queen, hadn't been allowed to see her daughter for a while but sent her a stream of letters urging resistance to King Henry. Mary complied without hesitation. She refused to acknowledge the annulment of her parents' marriage. She was the true princess, she insisted. She said she would not address Elizabeth as princess but as "sister," just as she addressed the illegitimate Henry Fitzroy as "brother."

This news sent Queen Anne into a rage. In one of her many letters to her aunt, she wrote that if Mary insisted on being called a princess, she was to have her ears boxed as a "cursed bastard." It was a priority to curb her "proud Spanish blood."

                                             Mary Tudor as a young woman

The next several years of Mary Tudor's life were so traumatic they are believed to have damaged her physically and psychologically. In her teens she was often described as pretty, accomplished in music and a dedicated scholar, as well as a faithful friend. Praise was more muted in her twenties.

But the truth is, this period was horrible for Anne Shelton as well. She was under orders from the king and queen of England to break Mary down. The elder Tudor daughter had a strong will and seethed with hurt and anger. She was fully prepared to contest every single point of etiquette and household business with Anne Shelton. On one side was the Sheltons' niece, the Queen, calling for ear boxing. But on the other side was Ambassador Chapuys, representing the most powerful monarch in all of Europe, the Emperor Charles. He made it known to Anne Shelton that any forceful actions against Mary could have consequences for her.  A year earlier, Lady Shelton was managing her husband's estates in Norfolk and seeing her first grandchildren born. Now she was in the sights of one of the most brilliant and resourceful ambassadors of the century. (What disturbed Chapuys most were reports that the queen was making wild threats about Mary, including vowing to have her killed if Henry VIII ever left the kingdom. She famously said "I am her death and she is mine.")

For Mary, outwardly petite and delicate, it was simple. War. Mary would not eat with the rest of the Hatfield household; she stayed in her room most of the time; she demanded unsupervised access to exercise; she refused medicine offered when she felt poorly; she would not answer unless addressed as Princess. She also attempted to send and receive secret letters, which the Sheltons did their utmost to prevent.

Anne Shelton did not box her charge's ears. She issued orders, she meted out consequences. She did plead with Mary to cooperate, and when Mary refused she is known to have taken her by the arms and shaken her. Harsh words were said. The household had to move from Hatfield at one point, but Mary wouldn't leave the manor house unless she was treated as a princess. Eventually, Anne Shelton ordered servants to pick up Mary and carry her bodily out of the building.

It would be logical to assume Anne Shelton hated Mary. But despite the frequent quarrels, she didn't.

Her nephew, George Boleyn, and the Duke of Norfolk chastised Anne Shelton for behaving to Mary "with too much respect and kindness, saying that she ought only to be treated as a bastard." Her bold response: "Even if the Princess were only the bastard of a poor gentleman, she deserved honour and good treatment for her goodness and virtues."

The unhappy household struggled on. In the fall of 1534 Mary, whose health was never strong, fell ill "with a disease of the head and the stomach." Ambassador Chapuys asked King Henry if Mary could be reunited with her mother or her former governess, the Countess of Salisbury, to be nursed. Henry VIII"s reply: "He replied that the Countess was a fool, of no experience, and that if his daughter had been under her care during this illness she would have died, for she would not have known what to do, whereas her present governess [Lady Shelton] is an expert lady even in such female complaints."

Chapuys then made it crystal clear to Anne Shelton the stakes: "I warned her by a third hand of the mischief which might arise to her if anything happened to the said Princess, and I also took care to get the King's physician to tell her that of late there was a common report in London that she had poisoned the said Princess."

Ambassador Chapuys

When a worried Anne Shelton brought in an apothecary to give Mary some pills, she became worse. The apothecary dissolved into panic. As for Anne Shelton, Chapuys reported triumphantly that she was "in terrible fear, so that she can do nothing but weep when she sees the Princess so ill."

Mary recovered, to the deep relief of all at Hatfield.

The year 1536 brought about many changes to all parties, most of them brutal. The death of Catherine of Aragon devastated Mary. Queen Anne attempted a conciliation with Mary, facilitated by Anne Shelton. If Mary would acknowledge her as queen, she'd be a "second mother" to her and expect only "minimal courtesies." But the girl rejected this overture with great rudeness.

In May, Anne herself was arrested. All too soon the status of Princess Elizabeth would be plunged into uncertainty, bordering on penury.

But first, Anne Shelton had one more important part to play in the life of her niece. When Queen Anne was imprisoned in the Tower of London, Lady Shelton was definitely one of her six attendants, appointed by Thomas Cromwell. The queen bitterly complained about her female attendants, saying she "never loved" any of them and they were spies.

This seems strange, after the service Lady Shelton did in raising Elizabeth and controlling Mary. Some historians have speculated that their relationship strained to the breaking point because of what happened to Margaret Shelton, "Madge," while she served the queen.

According to court gossip, Henry VIII had an affair with Madge.  The king was taking mistresses during this time. Chapuys wrote: "The young lady who was lately in the King's favour is no longer. There has succeeded to her place a cousin of the Concubine [Queen Anne], daughter of the present governess of the Princess [Mary]."

An even more sordid theory was that the queen connived to put Madge in her husband's bed so that he wouldn't fall in love with a woman from a family hostile to the Boleyns and so undo her. (Which is exactly what happened with Jane Seymour later.)

After her brief affair with the king, Madge Shelton was engaged to courtier Henry Norris but they never married. He was charged with adultery with Queen Anne and beheaded. Also the queen once accused Sir Francis Weston, who was married, with flirting with Madge, according to her own ramblings in the Tower. He told Queen Anne he came to her chambers not for Madge for her "herself." Weston, too, ended up accused of sleeping with the queen and lost his life. It was a complicated, appalling situation, and certainly not the dream of any mother. *

Was Anne Shelton at the side of her niece when she, too, was executed? We don't have these women's names and there were conflicting reports. One eyewitness said the queen's handful of attendants were "young," and Anne Shelton was pushing 60. The queen's ladies wept that day. It's not hard to imagine that Lady Shelton would cry at this frightening scene, no matter the women's differences.

The Tower of London chapel where Queen Anne is believed to be buried

There are two more points to be made. After the death of Anne Boleyn, Lady Anne Shelton remained on good terms with her two charges, Elizabeth and Mary Tudor, even though both soon passed from her hands. When Mary Tudor's right to the throne was contested in 1553, Anne Shelton's oldest son, Sir John, rushed to Kenninghall to support her and not Lady Jane Grey. Mary took into her household several of the Shelton children when she became queen of England. As for Elizabeth, she considered the Sheltons as much her family as the Careys, another branch of the Boleyn tree. When the half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth quarreled, Elizabeth sometimes fled to the Sheltons' homes, for comfort.

When Elizabeth in turn succeeded to the throne, Shelton women were some of her favorite ladies-in-waiting. Anne Shelton's granddaughter, Audrey, was a devoted lady of the bedchamber and walked in Queen Elizabeth's funeral procession in 1603.

Mary Shelton, later Hevingham, by Holbein

Finally, one of Anne's Shelton's other daughters, Mary, made quite an impression on the men of the Tudor court, including the poets Thomas Wyatt, who sighed after her in verse, and Henry Howard, earl of Surrey. She was mentioned in passing in an ambassador's letter as drawing the interest of Henry VIII after the death of Jane Seymour. Well, we know he had a predilection for sisters! Mary Shelton possessed talent in her own right, contributing to the Devonshire Manuscript, a collection of 185 poems. She married Sir Anthony Hevingham in 1546. One of their children, Arthur Hevingham, is believed to be the ancestor of Diana Spencer.

And so when Prince William succeeds to the throne, a descendant of Anne Boleyn will reign at last. But it will be the other Anne Boleyn.

* More information on Blickling Hall and the homes of the early Boleyns can be found in the book In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn, by Natalie Grueninger and Sarah Morris. Their new book is In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII. Review here.

* An excellent historical novel on Madge Shelton, At the Mercy of a Queen, was written by Anne Barnhill. Interview with Anne here.


Nancy Bilyeau is the author of a trilogy of historical novels set in Tudor England: The Crown, The Chalice and The Tapestry. The Crown was an Oprah pick of 2012 and The Chalice won the Best Historical Mystery Award from Romantic Times Reviewers. The Tapestry was released in paperback on March 22nd, 2016. For more information, go to