Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Discover Their Real Stories

Issue 138 (February 2014) of Your Family Tree magazine went on sale today. I wrote the cover feature on 'Discover Their Real Stories', which looks at getting started with family history research. With the internet, it has never been so easy to begin researching your own family's history. Follow the simple steps in the article and you can go back generation. Who knows, perhaps you can trace your ancestors all the way back to 1066?

31 December 1539 - Rochester Castle

Anne of Cleves set out from Sittingbourne on 31 December 1539, heading for Rochester Castle. It was New Year’s Eve and everyone in her train was looking forward to the day’s rest promise the following day. The Duke of Suffolk and Sir Thomas Cheyne, who led the procession towards London also breathed a sign of relief as they left the cramped inn behind: Anne could be lodged in royal style for the festivities at Rochester.

On the downs outside Rochester Anne as met by the Duke of Norfolk, Lord Dacre of the South, Lord Mountjoy and a large company of knights and esquires and the barons of the exchequer, all wearing velvet coats and gold chains. She had met so many new people over the past weeks that the princess must have difficulty putting names to faces as she was conducted to Rochester Castle.

Anne had led a very cloistered early life. She was born on 22 September 1515, the second of the four children on Duke John III of Cleves and his wife Maria, Duchess of Juliers. The marriage of Anne’s parents had created the strategically important combined duchy of Juliers-Cleves, which sat on both sides of the Rhine in an area of modern Germany. Both duchies were part of the Holy Roman Empire, but they were also largely independent states. Although small in size, they were populous and wealthy. Anne, who was raised by her mother, the Catholic Duchess Maria, had a comfortable childhood, spending most of her time with her sisters, Sibylla and Amelia.

Contrary to commonly-held belief, Anne of Cleves was not a Protestant. Her mother remained staunchly Catholic until her death while her father, Duke John, although interested in the Christian Humanism of Erasmus, also retained traditional beliefs.

Anne was raised very strictly by her mother. She could read and write, but knew no language other than German. She was also given no instruction in music, although she would later show herself lively. During her time at Calais she asked her English attendants to teach her a card game that Henry liked so that they could play together. Anne was also considered to be intelligent by the English ambassadors who saw her in Cleves – something that proved to be correct. She quickly learned English with the help of a gentlewoman, Mistress Gilmyn, who was sent to Cleves by the king in order to instruct her.

By 31 December 1539 there was, of course, one person that Anne had still not met. She had no idea, as she retired to her bed at Rochester on the last day of 1539, that, the next day, she would meet her new husband, Henry VIII.

Anne of Cleves in German Dress. The painting has been x-rayed to reveal a longer nose.

Monday, 30 December 2013

30 December 1539 - Sittingbourne

Anne of Cleves was woken early on 30 December 1539 in order to continue her journey towards London. From Canterbury, the next stage of the route was Sittingbourne, where she was lodged as comfortably as possible in an inn. Although she was used to royal residences and noble households she did not complain. By 30 December she had been journeying towards England for a month and had become used to packing and unpacking as she made her slow progress towards her new life as queen of England.

Once the marriage treaty between Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves had been agreed at the end of September 1539, the English king turned his attentions to just how his bride was to reach England. The most direct, and usual route, was for a traveller to pass overland through the Low Countries and into Calais, where they could make a short sea voyage over to Dover. With the Lo Countries ruled by Charles V’s sister, Mary of Hungary, however, it was far from certain that a safe-conduct would be granted, particularly since Anne’s brother was in dispute with the Emperor over his occupation of the Duchy of Guelders. Another dangerous possibility was that, even if safe-conduct as granted, war could break out during the journey, leaving Anne stranded and in danger.

For Henry, who was anxious to be joined by Anne, the solution was obvious. He had spent a good deal of money on building his navy. The idea of his fleet sailing across hostile waters to snatch his bride from the hands of the emperor fired his imagination. Anne’s home of Juliers-Cleves had only acquired a sea port when her brother took control of the disputed Guelders and the people around her had little experience of sea travel. Henry, however, was enthusiastic, commissioning two experienced shipmasters to sail to Guelders to produce a pilot’s chart and seaman’s rutter (a book of sailing instructions) for the dangerous route, which involved navigating sandbanks in the Zuider Zee. Their reports did not fill Anne’s brother with confidence, particularly since, at one stage of the journey the deepest water was only nineteen feet, with ‘ooze’ clogging the water on both sides of the channel.

Faced with this, Anne’s brother refused absolutely to consider the enterprise, with his ambassadors telling Henry that ‘they think it rather expedient to have conveyed by land than by water; for she is young and beautiful, and if she should be transported by the seas, they fear lest the time of year being now cold and tempestuous she might there, although she were never so well ordered, take such cold or other disease, considering that she as never before upon the seas, as should be to her great peril’. Anne had almost certainly never seen the sea and was probably relieved when the matter was allowed to drop and a safe-conduct acquired instead.

Anne’s brother paid for her to travel in grand style across Europe. As a distant kinswoman of the Emperor she was never really in danger of attack, although Henry wrote touchingly to Mary of Hungary, requesting that she ensure ‘the personal security and comfort of the said lady [Anne] and her suite’. Anne left Cleves at the end of November with a train of 263 people, including some of the highest dignitaries of her brother’s duchy. They made slow progress due to the wintry conditions, averaging only around five miles a day, but had reached Antwerp by 3 December, where she was received in grand style. On 7 December she was at Bruges and, three days later, she reached Gravelines, which was only a few miles from the English-held city of Calais.

Catherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, who escorted Anne from Deal to London. The two women became friends.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

29 December 1539 - Foul and windy with much hail

Anne of Cleves’s journey towards London and her new husband recommenced on the morning of 29 December 1539. Although Anne had been very well received in England, her first sight of her new country was less than auspicious. The weather, even for December, was appalling, with driving rain and freezing winds. It was in fact, so bad that the Duke of Suffolk and Sir Thomas Cheyne were concerned that they would have to delay their departure from Dover, since ‘the day was foul and windy with much hail’.

The two men had good reason to worry about the potential delay. The route that the princess was to follow towards London was a well-trodden one by travellers, with overnight stops at Canterbury, Sittingbourne, Rochester and Dartford, before reaching London. All of these places, bar Sittingbourne, had a suitable royal or noble residence for Anne to stay in. If they waited another day to set out from Dover, Anne would arrive at Sittingbourne – and the common inn in which she and her party were forced to stay – just in time for New Year’s Eve. Since she would not be travelling on New Year’s Day, one of the most important days in the Tudor year, she would have spent two uncomfortable nights in an inn. The only alternative to this would be to remain at Dover another three nights which, as Suffolk and Cheyne assessed, was ‘too many days to lose’.

It was Anne herself who saved the situation. Although the rain and hail ‘blew continually in her face’, she agreed to move on to Canterbury without delay, being ‘desirous to make haste to the king’s highness’. Anne was also kindly and anxious to please those she met in England, winning praise from those about her for her fortitude and obliging nature.

It certainly cannot have been an easy journey that day, particularly since, once she arrived outside Canterbury Anne was forced to wait in the rain for her reception committee so that she could make a ceremonial entrance to the city.

Anne was met on the downs outside Canterbury by the city’s archbishop, Thomas Cranmer, as well as a company of men that he had had to press-gang into braving the weather. That evening Cranmer wrote a letter to Thomas Cromwell setting out that he had been forced to retain one of the minister’s servants to make up the numbers, since he otherwise had but ‘a slender company’. Anne was too polite – and possibly too cold and wet – to say anything, allowing herself to be led into the city, where she was received by the mayor and citizens processing with torches, as well as a peal of guns.

Even when she reached her lodgings in the former St Augustine’s Abbey Anne was not free to rest. Instead, in her chamber she found ’40 or 50 gentlewomen in velvet bonnets to see her’. Once again, she was the model of tact in the face of the surprise additions to her party, ‘which she took very joyously and was so glad to see the king’s subjects resorting so lovingly to her, that she forgot all the foul weather and was very merry at supper’.

Henry had converted St Augustine’s Abbey into a lavish palace and Anne spent a warm and comfortable night there, with a fest held in her honour. She must have been grateful to finally retire to her bed that night, however, aware that she would have to continue the next day, regardless of the weather, in order to ensure that she had passed through Sittingbourne before New Year’s Eve.

The remains of St Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury, where Anne spent her third night in England

Saturday, 28 December 2013

28 December 1539 - An Alliance with Cleves

Anne of Cleves woke on the morning of 28 December 1539 at Dover Castle in Kent. She had been provided with the most comfortable rooms in the castle, as well as a suite of English servants to attend her, ensuring that all her needs were met. She spent the day recuperating from her journey to her new country, aware that she was not due to meet her new husband for several days to come.

Although Anne had not yet met Henry by 28 December 1539, she had been aware of his interest in her for nearly a year by that stage. With the friendship between the French king and the Emperor, England was alert to the threat of invasion, with Henry causing fortifications to be made, as well as personally viewing a muster of the men of the city of London in May 1539. As a schismatic, thanks to his break with Rome, Henry had few friends in Europe, particularly since his personal religious beliefs remained largely Catholic rather than Lutheran.

Henry’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, on the other hand, was sympathetic towards the religious reform movement. This fed his interest in building links with the Protestant Schmalkaldic League, which had been founded by some of the German states.

The Schmalkaldic League, which had been formed in 1531 was led by Philip, Landgrave of Hesse, and John Frederick, Duke of Saxony, who had married Anne’s sister, Sibylla. As a Protestant defensive league, it was highly politically influential and opposed to the influence of Charles V in Germany. Although Cleves, which had remained a Catholic state, was not a member of the League, the marriage between John Frederick and Sibylla ensured that it was closely allied and associated with it. Anne and her younger sister, Amelia, were the best matches that the Schmalkaldic League possessed. Cromwell knew that, if Henry married one of the sisters-in-law of John Frederick, England would be guaranteed an alliance with the Schmalkaldic League.

Certainly, John Frederick of Saxony was greatly in favour with the alliance when it was proposed, exhorting his brother-in-law, William of Cleves, to arrange the match in April 1539. Only the month before Henry had sent ambassadors to Cleves in order to enquire into Anne’s appearance and character. If they liked what they heard, they were to offer her brother friendship and request a sight of Anne. 

They were to inform the Duke of Cleves that, if Henry liked the reports of Anne he ‘will be glad to honour his house and family with matrimony wither and to depart as liberally with her and with so convenient conditions as he shall have cause to be contented’. For Anne, it was a highly flattering offer.

Sibylla of Cleves, Duchess of Saxony. Anne's sister provided a close link to the Schmalkaldic League

Friday, 27 December 2013

27 December 1539 - The Arrival of Anne of Cleves

At five o’clock in the afternoon of 27 December 1539 a young German princess, Anne of Cleves, stepped onto the shore at Deal in Kent. She was met by Sir Thomas Cheyne, who took her to Deal Castle – a rather Spartan fortress on the south coast of England. The castle, which was newly built, was inadequate for a royal visit and was merely used as a base for Anne and her retinue to change their clothes and refresh themselves.

Shortly after Anne’s arrival, Henry VIII’s brother-in-law, the Duke of Suffolk, and his wife, Catherine Willoughby, arrived, as did the Bishop of Chichester and a large knights, esquires and ladies. Everyone was curious to meet the princess. She presented herself well, greeting them cordially and allowing her visitors to take her to the more comfortable Dover Castle, a little further down the coast. She arrived at eleven o’clock that night and gladly retired to her bed for her first night in a country that would be her home for the rest of her life.

Everyone in England was interested in the young woman who had sailed from Calais that morning, enjoying an uneventful and speedy voyage. Anne, who was twenty-four years old and the sister of the Duke of Cleves, was to become the fourth wife of Henry VIII, a man who, by 1539, was the most notorious husband in Europe. She had not, in fact, been Henry’s first choice as a bride.

When Henry’s third wife, Jane Seymour, died following childbirth on 24 October 1537, the king found himself in the unusual position of not having a new bride ready and waiting. Within days of her death Thomas Cromwell, the king’s chief minister, had written to the French ambassadors suggesting that either the French king’s daughter or his kinswoman, Mary of Guise, would make suitable replacements. At the same time, the Imperial ambassadors offered the king the princess of Portugal.

Although Henry had known all three of his previous wives before marriage, it was never in doubt that his fourth would be a diplomatic match. This was, after all, the usual way that royal marriages were arranged and would help to ally England with a foreign power. By the end of 1537 ambassadors had been instructed to search the courts of Europe for a potential bride. John Hutton, the English ambassador to the Netherlands, provided an early report from Brussels, listing the eligible women in the Holy Roman Empire. As well as their accomplishments. He ended, rather unflatteringly, with the comment that ‘the duke of Cleves has a daughter, but there is no great praise either of her personage or her beauty’.

This was the only time that Anne would be mentioned in negotiations until 1539. Instead, Henry first looked for a French bride, seeking to marry Mary of Guise, who was already engaged to his nephew, James IV of Scotland. Upon receiving reports of the tall and beautiful Mary Henry was mitten, declaring that ‘he was big in person and had need of a big wife’. He was unsuccessful in his attempts to win Mary, however, with her soon marrying the King of Scots.

Henry next considered Mary’s sister, who was reported to be ‘as beautiful and graceful clever and well fitted to please and obey him as any other’, while the French ambassador assured him that ‘France was a warren of honourable ladies’.

Henry perhaps took the invitation to take his pick of the French ladies too literally when he requested that they all be brought to Calais so that he could select the woman that he liked best. Such a request was met with outrage by the French king, who declared that they were not horses to be made to promenade on show. When Henry insisted, the scandalised French ambassador asked whether he also wanted to try out the ladies before he made his choice, causing the English king to blush with shame.

With his failure to secure a French bride, Henry instead looked towards the family of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. His choice fell on the beautiful fifteen year old, Christina of Denmark, widowed Duchess of Milan, who was the Emperor’s niece. While Henry was charmed by her portrait, the princess was less than certain, declaring that ‘she had but one head, if she had two, one should be at his Majesty’s service’.

On 12 January 1539 Francis I of France and the Emperor Charles V signed the treaty of Toledo, making peace with each other. This meant that England was dangerously isolated and, with no possibility of a French or Imperial marriage, Henry instead looked around for other allies. His choice fell on Cleves.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Anne of Cleves Countdown Starting 27 December

Just to let you know that I will be starting a countdown looking at Anne of Cleves' arrival in England, meeting with Henry VIII and marriage here on 27 December. There will be daily posts charting what she did on each day as she made her way from Deal in Kent up to Greenwich. I will be looking at the politics behind the marriage, Anne's lineage and upbringing, as well as the disastrous meeting between Henry VIII and Anne on 1 January 1540 - why did it go so wrong?

I already have the first five posts ready to go, so look out for them. Also, feel free to add comments to the posts and also suggest ideas for future countdowns. I really enjoyed doing a countdown to Jane Seymour's death back in October.

You can also, of course, read more about Anne of Cleves in my book: Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII's Discarded Bride (Amberley, 2009).

Finally, have a great Christmas and a happy New Year!

Friday, 20 December 2013

Judith of Francia: Twice Queen of Wessex

Just who was Judith of Francia? She is little remembered today but, in the ninth century, caused scandal wherever she went. The child bride of King Ethelwulf of Wessex, her marriage caused a rebellion when word of it reached England. She then shocked contemporaries by marrying her stepson. When she was widowed for a second time, her father, Charles the Bald, King of the Franks, sent her to a nunnery. Judith had no plans to be a nun, eloping with Count Baldwin of Flanders before personally enlisting the support of the pope for her third marriage.

Through her descendant, Matilda of Flanders, Judith is the ancestress of all post-conquest kings of England (excluding Matilda's husband, William the Conqueror). Find out more about her in my guest blog over at Royal Central http://www.royalcentral.co.uk/blogs/judith-of-francia-twice-queen-of-wessex-21259#.UrQQ7vRdWAU

You can also read about her in my books, She Wolves: The Notorious Queens of England (The History Press, 2008) and England's Queens: The Biography (Amberley, 2012).

Monday, 16 December 2013

Buckingham's Rebellion against Richard III

My article on Buckingham's Rebellion has just been published in MedievaL Warfare magazine (vole III issue 6). You can pick up a copy in most newsagents or online http://www.karwansaraypublishers.com/cms/karwansaray/medieval-warfare.html

Buckingham's Rebellion in the autumn of 1483 is a fascinating moment in history. In a few short weeks, the Duke of Buckingham had gone from being the greatest supporter of Richard III to his greatest enemy. Did he perhaps have designs on the throne himself, or was he sincere in his professed support for Henry Tudor? Also, find out how Margaret Beaufort was able to link her own conspiracy with Queen Elizabeth Woodville to Buckingham's cause.

Richard III's quick thinking, along with the worst weather of the fifteenth century, saved his throne - for the time being...

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Great Elfrida Review

There's a lovely review of Elfrida over at Queen Anne Boleyn Historical Writers. 'Elizabeth Norton does an outstanding job viewing Queen Elfrida's life objectively, and in doing so confirms some long-held beliefs, while dispelling many others' and 'Queen Anne Boleyn Historical Writers very highly recommends Elfrida'.


I loved writing about Elfrida. It was a considerable departure from the sixteenth century, which is the main focus of my research, but I previously studied Anglo-Saxon archaeology and have always been fascinated in the history of the period. Elfrida is also one of the most significant of medieval Englishwomen and her story deserves to be told.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

The Other Boleyn Women: Queen Anne Boleyn's Aunts

You can find my guest post on 'The Other Boleyn Women: Queen Anne Boleyn's Aunts' over at Queen Anne Boleyn Historical Writers http://queenanneboleyn.com/2013/12/12/the-other-boleyn-women-queen-anne-boleyns-aunts-by-elizabeth-norton-2/

Who was the Lady Boleyn sent to spy on her niece in the Tower? Find out this and more in my guest post (and also in my new book - The Boleyn Women)!

Monday, 9 December 2013

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Family History on the Internet Made Easy

Issue 137 (January 2014) of Your Family Tree magazine went on sale today (http://www.yourfamilytreemag.co.uk/). I wrote the cover feature on family history on the internet made easy.

The internet has revolutionised family history research. Long gone are the days of viewing the censuses and other records on microfilm in your local County Record Office. Instead you can take your family history back to 1800 and earlier without ever leaving the comfort of your sofa.

Empress Matilda, Lady of the English

My guest post for Royal Central on the Empress Matilda was published yesterday and can be found here: http://www.royalcentral.co.uk/blogs/empress-matilda-lady-of-the-english-20646#.Up4kB8RdWAU

Matilda's story is one of English history's great 'what-ifs'. She came tantalisingly close to being England's first ruling queen after being named as the heir of her father, Henry I.

I always think that her continuing reputation of being proud and haughty is particularly unfair. No-one would have criticised her father from keeping his vassals on their knees or expecting to be treated as a king, but Matilda, as a woman, was censured for this. You can read more about Matilda in two of my books: England's Queens: The Biography (Amberley, 2011) or She Wolves, The Notorious Queens of England (The History Press, 2008). Matilda is depicted on the cover of She Wolves.

Sunday, 1 December 2013