Saturday, 29 June 2013

The Death of Margaret Beaufort

29 June is the anniversary of the death of Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby and mother of Henry VII. She died in 1509, having outlived her only child by two months. Contrary to popular belief, she was never regent for her seventeen year old grandson, Henry VIII - he didn't need one - but she was responsible for helping to appoint his council, ensuring that she maintained a guiding hand in the new reign.

Margaret, who has become popular in recent years thanks to the books of Philippa Gregory, was one of the most important late medieval women. It was through Margaret, a descendant of Edward III through his third son, John of Gaunt, that Henry VII claimed the throne. Margaret's actual eligibility to the throne was doubtful, given that she was descended from John of Gaunt's third marriage, to Katherine Swynford, which occurred many years after the couples' children were born. In spite of this, Henry, who spent most of his early life in exile in Brittany, was able to present himself as a credible candidate to the throne in 1485, thanks largely to the efforts of his mother.

Margaret Beaufort was, by far and away, the most powerful woman at the early Tudor court, provocatively signing herself as 'Margaret R' - playing on the ambiguity of the letter 'R' (did she mean Margaret Richmond or Margaret Regina?). She completely overshadowed Henry's queen, Elizabeth of York, and the queen dowager, Elizabeth Woodville, even being called upon to administer justice on an official basis in the midlands.

I wrote a biography of Margaret a few years ago (Margaret Beaufort, Amberley 2010) and must say that she was one of the most fascinating subjects that I have written about. Her life was filled with high drama, with Margaret herself believing that she was governed by the random turns of Fortune's Wheel.

Friday, 28 June 2013

The First Anne Boleyn

My article on 'The First Anne Boleyn' - Anne Hoo, the wife of Sir Geoffrey Boleyn and great-grandmother of Queen Anne Boleyn, was published today on the Anne Boleyn Files website:

Anne comes across in the sources as a vibrant and strong-willed woman and I found her one of the most interesting characters when researching my new book, Boleyn Women, which is due out on 28 July.

Below are two images that are relevant to Anne Hoo Boleyn. The first shows the remains of her memorial in Norwich Cathedral, which is no longer in its original position. Although the brasses have been lost, you can see the outline of a woman in a heraldic mantle, flanked by coats of arms. The second image is of the Boleyn chantry chapel in Norwich Cathedral. Anne's memorial was originally sited there. Her son, William, asked to be buried close to her at his own death.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Anne Boleyn and St Thomas Becket

The shrine to St Thomas Becket at Canterbury, was one of the highest profile casualties of the Reformation, with the lavish monument destroyed on Henry VIII’s orders in 1538. Henry’s second wife is, with good reason, remembered as one of the architects of the Reformation, playing her own part in sweeping away what she saw as superstition in traditional religious practices. It was Anne, for example, who reputedly sent her commissioners to Hailes Abbey to investigate a relic of the blood of Christ – something which was found to contain either duck’s blood or red wax.

What is less well known is that Anne actually had a family connection to Thomas Becket, Henry II’s archbishop of Canterbury, who was murdered in 1170 by knights who believed that they acted on the king’s orders.

Anne’s paternal grandmother, Margaret Butler, was a member of a noble Irish family who claimed descent from Agnes, a sister of the martyred archbishop. Margaret’s uncle, James Butler, Fifth Earl of Ormond, for example, laid out these claims in a petition to parliament in the mid-fifteenth century.

For the Butlers, this connection was very important, with Thomas Butler, the seventh Earl of Ormond (Anne’s great-grandfather), showing a particular interest in the Church of St Thomas Acon in London, which was reputedly build on the site of Thomas Becket’s birthplace by another of his sisters. The seventh Earl, who bequeathed a Psalter bound in white leather and signed in his own hand to the church, was buried there. In his Will he also showed his devotion to the saint, his long dead kinsman, by specifically bequeathing his soul to the ‘glorious martyr Saint Thomas’ in his Will.

That this connection was known to Anne and her family, and important to them, is clear from the Will of her great-grandfather, the seventh Earl of Ormond, who died in 1515. The Earl paid his favourite grandson, Thomas Boleyn, the compliment of leaving him a precious family heirloom: a white ivory horn, garnished with gold which ‘was mine ancestors at first time they were called to honour, and hath since continually remained in the same blood; for which cause my lord and father commanded me upon his blessing, that I should do my devoir to cause it to continue still in my blood’. The horn, quite apart from its obvious monetary value, was of great sentimental importance to the old earl, and was also rumoured to have been the cup from which St Thomas Becket drank. It was the most tangible thing that the old Earl had to link him to his distant uncle, the saint.
It is interesting to think that Anne’s father, Sir Thomas Boleyn, had this horn in his possession even as he and his daughter were urging the king towards the break with Rome and, particularly, the appointment of the Boleyn family chaplain, Thomas Cranmer, as the first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Inquisitions Post Mortem

Issue 131 (July 2013) of Your Family Tree magazine hit the shops today. My article on medieval Inquisitions Post Mortem is featured in the Records Expert section and focusses on the way that this great resource can be used in genealogical research.

Inquisitions, which were held to report on the landholding of a deceased nobleman or gentleman, are brilliant for taking ancestors back through the generations. They were often held for the same deceased in a number of different counties and report on the landholding, terms of service and details of the heir. Read my article for more details!

Tudor Kitchen Garden - Radish Leaves

It's been a while since I posted an update about the Tudor kitchen garden project. We suffered a setback yesterday when I discovered that the radishes had bolted. Unfortunately, they put all their efforts into growing leaves and flowers and nothing into growing radish bulbs! Apparently, this is due to the unusual weather that we have been having at the moment.

Climate change is obviously an issue at the moment, but even five hundred years ago the weather was far from stable. Summer droughts or summer washouts happened all too regularly and Tudor gardeners would have had to deal with this. One way would have been by making use of the part of the plant that did grow successfully. In my case, I will be making radish leaf soup and radish leaf pesto later today, which I'm told are very nice!

Otherwise, so far, the salad leaves have been the star of the garden and we are eating salad pretty much every day. The Deer's Tongue is a bit of a favourite with the slugs and snails, which is a shame, but the second variety, which gives long thin green leaves, is lovely. Again, a Tudor householder would have made use of this while it was available, meaning a good deal of salad leaves early in summer before they moved on to other varieties of vegetables. I will also be adding some beetroot leaves to the salad today, which are also edible and I am planning to cook the cabbage leaf thinnings, although I've been warned that they may be bitter.