Friday, 28 November 2014

28 November 1499: The Execution of Edward, Earl of Warwick

Arms of Edward Plantagenet, 17th Earl of Warwick.svgEdward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick
Above: Shield of the Earl of Warwick. 

On 28 November 1499, Edward Plantagenet, earl of Warwick, was executed on Tower Hill for treason. The son of George, duke of Clarence, and the nephew of both Edward IV and Richard III, Warwick was only twenty-four years of age at his death. 

In an article I wrote for the University of St. Andrews's History Society, which can be accessed here, I explored the tragic life of Warwick and what his cruel end demonstrates about the phenomenon of pretenders in early Tudor England. Warwick had been born on 25 February 1475 to Clarence, younger brother of King Edward, by his wife Isabel Neville, eldest daughter of Richard, earl of Warwick, known as 'the Kingmaker'. At the age of three years old, Warwick's father was brutally executed on charges of treason, and the young Edward became earl of Warwick, although the attainder of his father removed Warwick from the line of succession. 

In 1484, Warwick's young cousin Edward of Middleham, the heir to the throne, died, and there has been speculation that Richard III named his nephew heir to the throne in consequence. However, historians have pointed out the lack of evidence for this, as well as the illogicality of Richard nominating his nephew as heir when Clarence's attainder had barred Warwick from the throne.

Above: Edward's parents, the duke and duchess of Clarence. 

The rule of the House of York came to a bloody end in August 1485, when Richard III was killed by Henry Tudor's forces at the Battle of Bosworth. The Tudors had seized the throne and would not relinquish it until 1603 upon the death of Elizabeth I. The new king shortly afterwards imprisoned Warwick, still only ten years old, in the Tower, an act that appears cruel and callous to us today but which Henry VII surely felt was necessary for the security of his dynasty. If Henry's reign had been peaceful and free of rebellions against his rule, Warwick might reasonably have lived out the rest of his days in obscurity in the Tower. However, the first Tudor king was far from universally loved, and many remained loyal to the Yorkist cause, believing that Henry VII should be deposed and replaced with a member of the House of York.

There has been some speculation about whether Warwick was mentally deficient. The Tudor chronicler Edward Hall famously described him as being kept imprisoned for so long 'out of all company of men, and sight of beasts, in so much that he could not discern a Goose from a Capon'. This statement has subsequently been interpreted to mean that Warwick was retarded. However, Hazel Pierce argued that Hall probably actually meant that Warwick's long imprisonment had made him naive and unworldly, rather than mentally disabled.

From the onset, rebellions and conspiracies surfaced seeking to remove the first Tudor king. The appearance of the pretender Lambert Simnel in 1487 was the first of several conspiracies to usurp the throne from Henry VII and replace him with a Yorkist. Simnel claimed to be the earl of Warwick, leading the king to publicly parade the real Warwick to prove the absurdity of Simnel's pretensions. James A. Williamson suggested that Warwick was merely a figurehead for a rebellion that was already being planned by the resentful and distrustful Yorkists. Simnel, and his cause, was defeated at the Battle of Stoke in June 1487, but the affair had proven to King Henry the danger Warwick represented.

In the 1490s, Perkin Warbeck, another pretender, menaced the king. Upon his imprisonment in the Tower in 1499, Warbeck allegedly attempted to escape alongside Warwick. Both were found guilty, and Warbeck was hanged at Tyburn. Warwick was tried at Westminster in November by his peers, and was found guilty of treason. He was beheaded at Tower Hill on 28 November, aged twenty-four. He was later buried at Bisham Abbey in Berkshire. It was thought at the time that Warwick was executed to appease the Spanish monarchs, who were fearful of sending their daughter Katherine to England to marry Prince Arthur, the king's heir, in view of continuing insurgencies against the monarchy. A later sixteenth-century account, The Life of Jane Dormer (Jane Dormer having been a favourite of Mary Tudor, daughter of Katherine of Aragon), claimed that Katherine experienced considerable remorse for Warwick's death, believing that her marriage to Arthur had been made in innocent blood. 

The end of Warwick provides evidence of the considerable vulnerability of the Tudor dynasty and Henry VII's intense paranoia about Yorkist conspiracies against his rule. Although he had married Elizabeth of the house of York, many resented his rule and sought his downfall. Henry's fears are understandable, given that his two immediate predecessors, Edward V and Richard III, had both been usurped and brutally killed. Despite Warwick's death, the future of the Tudor dynasty remained precarious. The king's beloved wife died in 1503. His heir Arthur had died the year before, while another son, Edmund, had died as an infant in 1500. Only the young Prince Henry (later Henry VIII) offered the hope of a peaceful and legitimate succession. The Yorkist threat did not disappear after Henry VII's death. Warwick's cousin Edmund, earl of Suffolk, plotted against the throne and fled abroad, and was executed by Henry VIII in 1513. Lady Margaret Pole, elder sister of Warwick, was brutally executed in 1541 aged sixty-seven on charges of treason, although her innocence has never been in any real doubt. She was beautified in 1886.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Fantasies of a Bitch: "Anne Boleyn", Mean Girls, and Culture

Everyone loves a bitch. In one guise or another, bitches have occupied centre stage within every culture in civilisation. Medieval mean girls, ancient vixens, Renaissance shrews and modern Reginas reign supreme throughout their generations, tormenting, tantalising, manipulating, wreaking havoc, creating misery and doing it all with a stunning smile. Regina George, played by Rachael McAdams in Mean Girls, is the archetypal bitch of twenty-first century American culture: manipulative; beautiful; tormenting; ruthless; spiteful; and dizzyingly intelligent. Very much the "Queen Bee" of her school, where she rules the roost and throws every other female into the shade, Regina epitomises modern bitchiness in its every facet. For many, the Tudor equivalent of Regina George in modern America is the very mother of Elizabeth I herself, Henry VIII's second and most infamous wife: Anne Boleyn.

Susan Bordo, in her excellent, original and provocative book The Creation of Anne Boleyn, ponders why Anne continues to be represented in cultural works as hell on earth, asking 'who let the bitch out?' Eustace Chapuys, imperial ambassador during the majority of Henry VIII's reign, created a nightmare vision of Anne that has powerfully shaped, to one degree or another, every cultural representation of her since. Presenting her as 'that accursed she-devil' who used witchcraft and magic to lure Henry into marrying her, Chapuys suggested that Anne was craftily and cunningly planning the deaths of her rival Katherine of Aragon and her stepdaughter Mary Tudor. When she wasn't busy making threats and acquiring poison to do away with enemies, she was spreading Lutheranism throughout the kingdom, luring the king into ridding England of its rightful religion. As Bordo notes: 'What this view of Anne has done is create a vivid, provocative "template" which later generations have responded to in different, often highly polarized ways'. In short, Chapuys portrayed Anne in so vile and hostile a light that represented her as the bitch of the Tudor court, a woman who stopped at nothing to attain her own ends. 

Chapuys's influence can be discerned in several contemporary works. Philippa Gregory's novel The Other Boleyn Girl presented Anne as a murderous, malicious and egotistical woman who bullied her siblings into doing what she wanted. She poisoned Katherine and several bishops, slept with her brother, and stole her sister's child in an act of coldblooded cruelty. The portrayal of Anne in Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies has been described as 'lethal' and so 'spitefully ambitious' that 'one feels any king would be justified in beheading her'. Yet there is very little to no evidence to support this. Aside from Chapuy's poison pen, and the later hostile account written by a Catholic priest, Nicholas Sander (who was himself a child when Anne was executed), contemporary accounts did not so vividly and fictionally present Anne as, in effect, the bitch of the Tudor court. 

As Bordo notes, the femme fatale, the bitch, is an archetype of all cultures throughout the ages. Just perusing a GoodReads discussion entitled 'Why did everyone hate Anne Boleyn?' brought up the following claims:

'I... think she deserved to die though innocent of adultery and to other sexual misconduct but because she made C. of Aragon suffer so, slowly poisoning her to death, and treating Mary so badly. In those days queens seemed to have a Queen Bee syndrome and Anne was viciously true to form'.

'Today, she would probably be diagnosed as being a sociopath'.

'She was just cruel and crazy!'

'...She was definitely a wack job'.

'She was political and manipulative'.

'She was manipulative... today she would probably be diagnosed with a personality disorder'.

'She was a manipulator for sure'.

'Anne Boleyn was a horrible person... she stole someone's husband... she also treated Mary Catherine's daughter so badly...she deserved what she got in the end'. 

What all of these views have in common is their underlying suggestion that Anne Boleyn was able to manipulate Henry VIII. She was the one who wielded power and control in their relationship. She pushed him around and made sure she got her own way. But, aside from the complete lack of evidence for this, this is in many ways an absurd and distorted characterisation of their relationship. Although some historians continue to view Henry VIII as malleable and easily led, they are very few and far between. Historians by and large generally agree that he held absolute power. Upon becoming king, he had two of his father's ministers summarily beheaded. He put to death two of his wives. He treated his elder daughter with remarkable cruelty. He put to death possibly as many as 72,000 people. He ordered the death of a 67-year-old woman innocent of any crime, who was then cruelly hacked to death. He was described as a 'tyrant' and 'worse than Nero'. 

It then invites disbelief to suggest, as these readers commenting do, that Anne was able to manipulate and control Henry. People continue to believe that she was responsible for Mary's ill treatment. Yet, when Anne was beheaded, Henry continued to treat his daughter cruelly. There were even rumours that he would put her to death for refusing to recognise him as Supreme Head of the Church and because she refused to agree that her parents' marriage was invalid. This is apart from the complete lack of evidence that Anne had in any way, shape, or form, what resembled a 'personality disorder'. 

So why do these views of Anne Boleyn persist? Partly, I suggest, is because history loves a bitch. Bitches are scapegoats. Queens are often closely aligned with bitchdom: consider Empress Matilda, Isabella of France, Margaret of Anjou and Elizabeth Wydeville just in relation to medieval England. They were blamed and condemned for their male relatives' behaviour. There remains a strange and very obvious reluctance to hold Henry VIII responsible for his actions. People automatically assume that he was a weak and easily led man who was manipulated by both his wives and advisers. When she wasn't luring him into bed, people think, Anne Boleyn was encouraging Henry to kill his first wife and her child. Evidence? None.

It's worth remembering, then, when readers stumble across a vengeful, demented Anne hellbent on revenge in a novel, or a particularly negative account of her actions in a serious academic study, or a TV portrayal of her as manipulative and sexually cunning, that these depictions of Anne the bitch are not grounded in, or informed by, any historical evidence. They derive from a culturally constructed archetype that has remained influential in every culture. Everyone loves a bitch, and for many, Anne Boleyn was the bitch of the Tudor period. 

Thursday, 13 November 2014

13 November 1312: The Birth of Edward III

On 13 November 1312, future king Edward III was born at Windsor Castle to Edward II of England and his teenage wife, Isabella of France. Contemporaries wrote that 'on the feast of St Brice in the sixth year of the reign of our lord King Edward, second of that name after the Conquest', the firstborn son to the king and queen of England was born after four years of marriage.

Edward displaced his uncle Thomas of Brotherton as heir to the throne of England. He was only one of two sons born to King Edward and Queen Isabella (the second, John of Eltham, was born in 1316 and died in 1336). Edward would become one of England's greatest kings; in the words of historian Ian Mortimer, 'the father of the English nation'. He was, and is, renowned for his military successes and for restoring royal authority after the decisive and conflict-riven reign of his father. 

Edward II's contemporary biographer, the Vita Edwardi Secundi, commented shortly after the birth of Prince Edward that the king's reign had enjoyed only two positives: the prestigious marriage to Isabella and the birth of a prince. These years experienced factional conflict and tensions at court resulting from Edward II's close relationship with Piers Gaveston. Although historians continue to disagree about its exact nature, they generally agree that Edward courted danger through his obvious preference for the company of Piers, to the detriment of the barons at court. Piers was brutally murdered five months before the birth of Prince Edward, in June 1312, and Edward II was keen to exact revenge upon the murderers of his beloved favourite.

Above: Edward II of England and Isabella of France. The image of Edward is not contemporary.

Both the king and queen seem to have reacted with natural delight upon the birth of their son. The birth of a male heir offered the promise of a degree of stability and hope in a fractured, divided realm. On 16 November, the prince was baptised in the chapel of St Edward the Confessor at Windsor Castle by the cardinal-bishop of St Prisca, Arnaud Nouvel. The prince had seven godfathers: Arnaud d'Aux, bishop of Poitiers and papal envoy; John Droxford, bishop of Bath and Wells; Walter Reynolds, bishop of Worcester; Louis, count of Evreux, great-uncle of the prince; John of Brittany, earl of Richmond; Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke; and Hugh Despenser the Elder (who, of course, would be executed fourteen years later in the midst of Isabella's attempt to depose her husband). 

The French delegation had sought for the prince to be named Louis, but the English refused, and the prince was named after his father and grandfather. Contemporary chroniclers stated that Edward's birth brought some happiness to the king, who continued to grieve for Piers. The queen sent a letter to the city of London announcing the joyous news of the birth of an heir, and the city celebrated in style with dancing and drinking significant quantities of free wine for a week. Edward was raised to the earldom of Chester by his father and was granted numerous castles and manors alongside his own household. The queen was also rewarded with grants of lands in Kent, Oxfordshire, Derbyshire and Northamptonshire.

In early 1327, at the age of only fourteen, Edward would accede to the throne as Edward III of England following the deposition, or abdication (there is some controversy), of his father Edward II, who may or may not have died at Berkeley Castle in September of the same year. Edward III enjoyed a glorious reign that lasted fifty years. He died in 1377, aged sixty-four, and was succeeded by his grandson, Richard II.

Friday, 7 November 2014

November 1541: The Downfall of Katherine Howard

Above: A portrait miniature thought to be of Katherine Howard, c. 1540.

For Queen Katherine, the end came quickly and inexplicably. One moment she was England's adored queen, the beloved youthful consort of Henry VIII, renowned for her beauty and virtue. Finally, it seemed, Henry had married a woman who represented everything he desired in a bride: youthfulness, beauty, virtue, chasteness, fertility and, above all, innocence. Katherine seemed to share Katherine of Aragon's loyalty and humility; Anne Boleyn's sensuality and attractiveness; Jane Seymour's demureness and modesty; Anne of Cleves' good sense. Contemporaries often noted Henry's pleasure in his bride and his new found happiness. But throughout her brief reign Katherine was on the edge of a precipice. Her past harboured dark secrets, and she was well aware of the need to conceal them from public attention, if she was to be secure as England's queen.

From her marriage in the hot days of July 1540 to the autumnal beginnings of November 1541, Queen Katherine managed rather well. Recently, historians have come to dismiss the traditional notion that she was an irresponsible, reckless hedonist who spent her days partying and making merry. David Starkey noted her excellent handling of the responsibilities of queenship and credited her with bringing the Tudor family together for the first time. My research similarly suggests that Katherine took her responsibilities as queen seriously, providing for her family, dispensing patronage and maintaining good relations with the royals. She was young and inexperienced, but she moved past these drawbacks to perform her responsibilities as queen earnestly and devotedly.

Above: Possibly Katherine Howard.

Katherine's success, however, depended on her past remaining secret. Despite her apparent successes as queen, Katherine's past haunted her from the moment she married the king. Francis Dereham, a persistent and forceful young man who had been intimately involved with the queen some years before her marriage, arrived at court hoping to win her favour. When he arrived at court in spring 1541, he began boasting of his friendship with the queen and even commented that, were the king to die, he would be sure to marry Katherine. Henry Manox, a musician who had fondled Katherine some years previously, also pressed for appointment. 

In context of these dangerous rumours swirling about the queen's past, the emboldened Thomas Culpeper, a groom of the privy chamber to the king, sought out the queen and urged her to meet with him in secret. Possibly he had learned of her murky past and used it to encourage her to bestow favours upon him. Katherine, hoping to continue as England's queen, beseeched him to meet with her only in the presence of her chaperone Lady Rochford. What the two discussed is not known, but in context of dangerous allegations about the queen, it seems more credible that Culpeper had come into knowledge of Katherine's childhood liaisons and was using this knowledge to manipulate her. 

Above: Hampton Court Palace, where the queen was abandoned in November 1541.

The royal court departed on a northern progress in the summer of 1541. While they were away, an ardent reformer John Lascelles (who would be burned for heresy five years later) approached the Archbishop of Canterbury with damaging knowledge about the queen. Historians have recently considered the possibility that Katherine was the victim of a reformist conspiracy designed to bring down the conservative Howards. Certainly, it seems too much of a coincidence that Lascelles informed Cranmer of Katherine's past at this time, when rumours were also circulating of her sexual misadventures. The royal couple arrived in London in late October. On 2 November, the disbelieving king was informed of his wife's misconduct before her marriage. Four days later, distraught and emotional, Henry left Hampton Court Palace. He would never see his wife again. 

A day later, the queen was confined to her chambers. Katherine quickly guessed what was going on and suffered a full breakdown. Archbishop Cranmer referred to her 'lamentation and heaviness' when he visited her to interrogate her. He seems to have felt pity and compassion for her. The following day, Katherine had recovered sufficiently to answer Cranmer's questions. She admitted liaisons with both Manox and Dereham, but took care to emphasise her youth and vulnerability when these had occurred. She explained that Dereham had pursued her and that she had not enjoyed the affair. In a religious society valuing female chastity and honour, a loss of a girl's maidenhead proved personally and socially damaging. In view of this alongside her clear loyalty to her family, it is questionable whether Katherine would voluntarily and consensually have permitted either man, both of whom were lower in status, intimacies. She denied being Dereham's wife, possibly because canon law required that both vowtakers provide consent. 

Both Katherine and Dereham, when questioned, responded that their relationship had not continued following Katherine's royal marriage. However, Dereham asserted that Thomas Culpeper had since succeeded him in the queen's affections. Possibly he was aware of Culpeper's knowledge about Katherine's past, and assumed that the two were close. Katherine denied committing adultery with Culpeper, but did not reveal what she had discussed with him. Possibly, if their discussions had concerned the queen's past and a need to conceal it, Katherine felt reluctant to incriminate herself further by revealing sordid details of her childhood experiences.

Although Culpeper did later admit his hope to commit adultery with Katherine, 'the queen's motives remain opaque, not least because her questioners never pressed Katherine to explain why she met with Culpeper or needed to converse with him, beyond her excuse that he insisted on seeing her'. (Warnicke) Warnicke suggests that Katherine remained silent about the topics of their discussions because 'an admission that she had been attempting to deceive the king by concealing her relationship with Dereham would not have bolstered her defence'. Thus, while she may not have committed adultery, Katherine was guilty of deceit.

The king, meanwhile, experienced extreme sorrow and desolation when faced with knowledge of his wife's misbehaviour. On 12 November his privy council described his distress in a letter to Sir William Paget, resident ambassador in France. As late as April 1542 the king was described as being a different man since hearing of Katherine's past. On 14 November, the queen was relocated to Syon. Eight days later she relinquished the title of queenship, which proved easy enough to do, since she had never been crowned and had been queen purely by virtue of her marriage to the king. The following month, Dereham and Culpeper were sentenced to death, and shortly afterwards executed at Tyburn. Katherine and Lady Rochford were never brought to trial, but were found guilty by act of Attainder. They were executed at the Tower of London in February 1542.

Katherine never did admit to adultery. Although she admitted that she had been unchaste before her marriage, she insisted that she had done no more than converse with Culpeper. Because she admitted to having had a sexual relationship with Dereham, and because she confirmed that she had met secretly on several occasions with Culpeper, both early modern and modern commentators have tended to accept her guilt. If she did not commit adultery with Culpeper, then why did she become involved with him? Possibly 'fear of disclosure would... have made her vulnerable to the machinations of seasoned courtiers like Culpeper, for as she said in her confession about Dereham, 'the sorrow of my offences was ever before my eyes''. (Warnicke)

Above: Tower Green.