Wednesday, 9 December 2015

I Am Henry Review

I was recently asked to review I AM HENRY, a short film produced by Flying Dutchman Films, which is currently winning lots of film awards. Here's my review below - I strongly recommend it:

'I AM HENRY is visually stunning and entirely compelling. It is the most innovative depiction of Henry VIII's story that I have seen in a long time. The film opens shortly after the death of Henry VIII, as he is lying in state on the way to his funeral at Windsor. During the night he meets with the spirits of his first two wives, Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, and the now-grown Henry, Duke of Cornwall, his short-lived eldest son. The scenes between Henry and Anne, who was his greatest passion in life, are highly charged, with the chemistry between the two actors apparent. The use of quoted material in the speech of these two, such as Anne's reference to Henry being struck with the dart of love for her (a claim he made in one of his letters) adds authenticity to the scenes. Excellent use was also made of the emotionally disturbing accounts of Anne's time in the Tower following her arrest for treason in 1536.

The scenes between Henry and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, were similarly excellent, with the Spanish queen lamenting the loss of her children. By informing him that these lost infants were present there with them, she offered Henry a possibility of redemption in keeping with the sentiments of her last letter to him as she lay dying in January 1536. Finally, the depiction of Anne Boleyn's execution was superb, which was juxtaposed with Henry's realisation in 1547 of his own death.

I cannot recommend this film highly enough. In just over 20 minutes, it managed to convey the essence of the relationships between Henry and the two most important women in his life, as well as delving into the inner mind of England's most famous king. Historically, it was very accurate, with little period details - such as the fact that Anne Boleyn recognised some of the faces in the crowd at her execution - adding to the realism and the power of the portrayals.'

You can find out more over at The Youtube trailer is available here.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The Historical Association and Elfrida

Thanks to The Historical Association for the fantastic review of Elfrida: The First Crowned Queen of England, which you can read here.

'This is a well-written, interesting book on a neglected figure in late-Anglo-Saxon England and it is eminently readable'.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Author Interview

Just a quick post to let you know that you can read an author interview with me over at the Lady Jane Grey Reference Guide site. The interview is based on The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor and you can read it here. The rest of the site, which is dedicated to the life of Lady Jane Grey is also well worth a look.

A Man of Much Wit

The wonderful Tudor Times website has just published my guest article on the fall of Thomas Seymour - A Man of Much Wit. It's based on my book, The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor, and will give you a flavour of the dangerous intrigue at the heart of Princess Elizabeth and Thomas Seymour's relationship.

You can find it here.

Some fabulous reviews of The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor

Although it was only published yesterday, there have already been some fabulous reviews of The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor. It's always great to get good feedback about your work!

'A quick, enjoyable read' - The Kirkus Review, 6 October 2015. Link here.

'In another of her well-researched and intriguing Tudor period titles, with this volume, historian Norton (England's Queens; The Anne Boleyn Papers) thoroughly conveys the environment that bred Queen Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, and brought her to the attention of the ambitious (and married) Thomas Seymour... Highly recommended for readers interested in British history and the Tudor dynasty. Fans of historical fiction such as Philippa Gregory's "Tudor Court" series will also find themselves invested in the real-life scandal that befell one of England's most famous queens'.
Library Journal, 1 November 2015. Link here.

'It is a soundly researched and very readable history, and Ms Norton vividly conveys the atmosphere of intrigue between between members of the power-hungry families at the top who were perpetually locked in a war of wits with each other... This vivid account is a more than worthy addition to the shelves'.
The Bookbag, 25 October 2015. Link here.

The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor

I am really excited to announce that my new book, The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor, has now been published in the UK by Head of Zeus. It's a fascinating story, which was wonderful both to write and research - I hope you love reading it as much as I loved working on it!

Here's the blurb:

England, late 1547. King Henry VIII is dead. His 14-year-old daughter Elizabeth is living with the old king's widow Catherine Parr and her new husband Thomas Seymour. Ambitious, charming and dangerous, Seymour begins an overt flirtation with Elizabeth that ends in her being sent away by Catherine.

When Catherine dies in autumn 1548 and Seymour is arrested for treason soon after, the scandal explodes into the open. Alone and in dreadful danger, Elizabeth is closely questioned by the king's regency council: Was she still a virgin? Was there a child? Had she promised to marry Seymour? In her replies, she showed the shrewdness and spirit she would later be famous for. She survived the scandal. Thomas Seymour was not so lucky.

The Seymour Scandal led to the creation of the Virgin Queen. On hearing of Seymour's beheading, Elizabeth observed 'This day died a man of much wit, and very little judgment'. His fate remained with her. She would never allow her heart to rule her head again.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

The Illustrated Six Wives of Henry VIII

The Illustrated Six Wives of Henry VIII (by me!) was published today by Amberley Publishing. This short book is intended as a heavily illustrated introduction to the fascinating lives of Henry's six unfortunate queens!

(Please do note that this short book is heavily based on the chapter on the six wives in my book England's Queens: The Biography and subsequently published as England's Queens: From Catherine of Aragon to Elizabeth II. Some revisions have been made, as well as an introduction and a chapter on Henry VIII's mistresses added).

Here's the blurb:

Henry VIII had the most controversial love life of the Tudor period, and he remains Britain's most famous king because of it. His pursuit of a male heir for his throne led him to cast aside five consecutive wives and bring about the reformation of the Catholic Church, changing the face of British history as he broke from the pope and tradition. But who were the women who were instrumental in causing this change? Why was Catherine of Aragon divorced and Anne Boleyn beheaded, and what happened to the last wife, Catherine Parr?

Elizabeth Norton provides a lavishly illustrated guide to the six wives of Henry VIII, exploring their private lives as well as the reasons behind the fundamental changes they caused in Tudor history. With a chapter on each wife, and an extra section on his mistresses, this is the ultimate companion to the six wives of Henry VIII.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Women Rule

The July/August issue of Britain magazine (the official magazine of Visit Britain) is now available in all good newsagents. To tie in with the release of England's Queens: From Boudica to Elizabeth of York and England's Queens: From Catherine of Aragon to Elizabeth II, I was invited to write a cover feature for the magazine. My article on 'Women Rule' looks at the best English queens, starting with Boudica and ending with Elizabeth II. Let me know what you think!

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Royal Baby: The Spare

The wait goes on for the royal baby. While Prince George is the heir, his younger brother or sister will be 'the spare', ready to step into his place if anything should happen.

Being the spare with no defined role can be an unenviable position. Nonetheless, the history of the English monarchy is full of examples of the Spare becoming monarch.

In the Anglo-Saxon period, it was common for an adult brother to succeed a king rather than infant sons. In this manner, King Alfred succeeded his elder brother Aethelred, while the sons of Edward the Elder: Athelstan, Edgar and Edmund I succeeded in turn. Edmund I's two son, Eadwyg and Edgar also became king in turn (although Edgar was an active participant in an attempt to depose his brother). Edward the Martyr was murdered to make way for his brother, Aethelred II.

In the post-Conquest period it became established that sons succeeded their father in preference to their uncles. In spite of this, the spare often succeeded. William the Conqueror chose his second son, William Rufus, as his heir in England over his eldest son, Robert. Henry I, the youngest of the brothers also became king.

King John was also a brother, but he succeeded Richard I. Richard had also not been their parents' eldest son. This was the short-lived William, while a second son, Henry, died as an adult before becoming king.

Edward I had several sons, including one named Alphonso, but he was eventually succeeded by the youngest son of his first marriage. Richard II, was also a younger brother, becoming heir when his brother died at the age of five. A century later, Richard III, who was his parents' youngest child, very famously became king.

Henry VIII only became heir after the death of his elder brother, Prince Arthur, while Elizabeth I was also a younger child. Charles I became prince of Wales when his very promising adult brother, Prince Henry tragically died. James II and his daughters Queens Mary and Anne were also younger siblings. William IV succeeded his elder brother, George IV, while the current queen's father, George VI, only became king when his elder brother abdicated.

As you can see, the spare is often called upon, by death, sibling childlessness or abdication to step into the heir's place, so the baby born today or later this week might just be very significant indeed. You can read more about the history of the English monarchy in my books, England's Queens: From Boudica to Elizabeth of York and England's Queens: From Catherine of Aragon to Elizabeth II.

By the way, let me know if I've missed anyone above!

Monday, 27 April 2015

Flog It on BBC 1

I appeared in today's episode of Flog It on BBC 1, talking about the Boleyns at Hever. It's always great to be asked to appear on television and Flog It is a phenomenally popular programme. The episode will be live on the BBC's I Player for the next fews day. You can find it here.


Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Childhood Records

Have you ever wondered what your ancestors were like as children? What school did they go to? Did they have a job? Were they illegitimate? You can find out how to trace them in my cover feature on Childhood Records in issue 155 of Your Family Tree magazine.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Queens Elfrida, Emma and Edith

The final three prominent Anglo-Saxon queens are entirely noteworthy, but I didn't want to stay too long in the pre-Conquest period on this run down of fascinating queens. You can read the stories of all of them in my book, England's Queens: From Boudica to Elizabeth of York, which also includes all the lesser known queens. Nonetheless, I couldn't head past 1066 without mentioning Elfrida (or Aelfthryth), Emma of Normandy and Edith Godwin.

If you are interested in reading more about Elfrida, then check out my biography of her: Elfrida, The First Crowned Queen of England, which was published by Amberley back in 2013. She was born in around 940 and was the only daughter of a wealthy West Country thegn and his royally descended wife. Her first marriage, to the eldest son of the famous Athelstan Half-King was a grand one, but it was also brief. Some sources suggest that King Edgar, who fell in love with his friend's wife, arranged his murder. Others assign a more prominent role to Elfrida. It is the first murder with which her name is connected, although the story is unlikely. Elfrida's husband had been dead two years before the king repudiated his second wife to marry her.

As queen, Elfrida was very prominent in the religious reform movement, receiving an official appointment as overseer of the nunneries, while her husband (who had once abducted and married a nun) was placed in authority over the monasteries. She shared Edgar's imperial coronation at Bath in 973 and there is evidence that the king considered this marriage and, thus, Elfrida's children, more legitimate than his earlier unions. When he died suddenly on 8 July 975, Elfrida promoted the claims of her young son, Ethelred, but his older half-brother, Edward, was eventually chosen as king. It is with Edward's murder in 978 that Elfrida's name is indelibly associated, since it took place at her house at Corfe while he visited her. She may have been involved, but contemporary sources point the finger more at Ethelred's followers. The jury is very much still out.

After Ethelred became king, Elfrida took on an unofficial role as regent, appearing prominently at court. After attaining his majority, Ethelred sent his mother away from court, although she was placed in charge of raising his sons. She returned to court with them in the 990s, before dying in 1000 or 1001.

As queen mother, Elfrida entirely overshadowed Ethelred's first wife, Aelfgifu, who played no public role as queen. Ethelred's reign was troubled by substantial Viking incursions and, in 1002, he married Emma, the sister of the Duke of Normandy. The girl was younger than many of Ethelred's children, but she underwent a coronation ceremony in England designed to give additional throneworthiness to her own children. She played only a limited political role during Ethelred's reign, although it was to Normandy that the king fled in 1013 when he lost his throne to the Viking King Sweyn. He returned the following year, but his last years were ones of turmoil. Emma was in London with her husband when he died in 1016.

Following Ethelred's death, the throne was disputed by her stepson, Edmund Ironside, and Cnut, the son of Sweyn. During this period, Emma sent her sons to Normandy for safety. This was a sensible precaution. When Cnut took control of London later that year, he ordered the English queen to be 'fetched' as his wife. When Edmund Ironside suddenly died he became the sole king of England, with Emma as his queen.

Emma was considerably more prominent during her marriage to Cnut, playing a political role. On his death in 1035, she supported the claims of her teenaged son, Harthacnut, who was then in Denmark. When his half-brother, Harold, claimed the throne instead, she wrote to her sons by Ethelred to return. This proved disastrous, since the younger, Alfred, was captured by Harold's men, blinded and murdered. When the elder, Edward, arrived in Winchester to see his mother, he promptly fled back to Normandy on hearing of his brother's death. Emma was herself exiled to Flanders in 1037, although she returned triumphantly with Harthacnut on Harold's death in 1040. During her youngest son's brief reign, Emma persuaded him to invite his half-brother, Edward, to return. This paved the way for the smooth succession of Edward the Confessor on his brother's death in 1042. Unfortunately for Emma, however, her eldest child was far from grateful. After he seized her property, she lived in obscurity until her death in 1052.

If Edward the Confessor disliked his mother, it was nothing compared to his feelings for his wife, Edith, the daughter of the powerful Earl Godwin. Edith had received an excellent education and reveled in her role as queen. Unfortunately, her husband hated her father, who had been responsible for the murder of his brother. When he finally felt strong enough to exile Godwin in 1051, he also attempted to repudiate his childless queen, who was sent to a nunnery. He was forced to take her back the following year when her father returned with an army and she was firmly ensconced as queen when he died in 1066.

Edith played no known political role in the events of 1066, in spite of the fact that her brother, Harold, was proclaimed king on her husband's death. Following the Conquest, William I treated her well as the widow of the Confessor. She died in 1075, after a comfortable retirement.

These are obviously very concise accounts of the lives of three very important Anglo-Saxon women. During their lifetimes they dominated their office of queen, to the extent that other king's wives of the period: Aelfgifu, Aldgyth of the Five Boroughs, Aelfgifu of Northampton, Edith Swanneck and Edith of Mercia were entirely overshadowed. You can also read their stories in England's Queens!

I'll be moving on to the post Conquest queens next week.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Queen Eadgifu

Carrying on with posts on England’s most noteworthy queens, no list would be complete without Eadgifu, the third wife of King Edward the Elder. She was one of the most powerful medieval women and I included her in a list of the top ten English queens which I compiled for BBC History magazine last year. Surprisingly, she is very little known today.

Eadgifu, who was born in around 899, was the much younger third wife of Edward the Elder. She was the daughter of the wealthy Kentish ealdorman, Sigehelm, who was killed fighting the Vikings at the Battle of the Holme in 902. She may have been her father’s heiress and, certainly, inherited estates from him in Kent. Eadgifu’s wealth and connections recommended her to Edward the Elder and he married her in 919 after repudiating his second wife. She played no known political role during her husband’s lifetime. This is hardly surprising, however since, in five years of marriage, she produced four children.

Edward’s death in July 924 caused a dispute over the crown. He was initially succeeded by Aelfweard, the eldest son of his second wife, but he died very soon afterwards. This cleared the way for Athelstan, the son of Edward’s first marriage and a man several years older than Eadgifu. It has been suggested that Eadgifu came to terms with Athelstan, offering her support for his claims over that of Aelfweard’s younger brother, Edwin. Certainly, Athelstan seems to have accepted Eadgifu’s young sons as his heirs. He also arranged the prestigious marriage of her eldest daughter to the continental nobleman, Louis of Aquitaine. Eadgifu’s second daughter, Eadburgh, had been dedicated as an infant to the convent at Nunnaminster and was venerated as a saint following her death in around 950.

Eadgifu’s eldest son, Edmund, became king in 939 after Athelstan’s death. As queen mother, she wielded a great deal of influence, using the title of ‘Mater Regis’ (mother of the king), during the reigns of both her sons. She entirely overshadowed both of Edmund’s wives and was regularly at court, appearing prominently in the witness lists of charters. Both of her sons made grants of land to her. In 943, for example, Edmund I, granted Eadgifu estates in Kent. In 953 Eadred granted his mother thirty hides at Felpham in Sussex. Eadred, in particular, was concerned for his mother’s welfare and in his Will he bequeathed land to her at Amesbury, Wantage and Basing, as well as other estates in Sussex, Surrey and Kent.

Edmund died in 946 and was succeeded by Eadred who never married and relied upon his mother as a leading councillor. Eadgifu is remembered as a patron of the early religious reform movement in England and, under Eadred, she played a valuable role in assisting the leading churchmen in the kingdom. The Viking invasions of the late ninth century had impoverished the church. Many monasteries had been burned or deserted during the period and those that survived often failed to live up to the defining principles of monasticism: community life, celibacy and personal poverty.

Eadgifu was very interested in the reform movement, which was led by Edmund’s Archbishop of Canterbury, Oda. She was associated with another leading churchman, Dunstan, who came to prominence during Edmund’s reign. She was also instrumental in the promotion of another leading churchman, Aethelwold. When he petitioned the king to be allowed to study at a continental monastery, Eadgifu – who recognised his promise – persuaded Eadred to refuse. Instead, at his mother’s urging, the king made Aethelwold abbot of the ruined monastery at Abingdon, which later became a centre of reform. Both Eadred and Eadgifu made gifts to the monastery, with the queen mother’s on a ‘lavish scale’.

Eadred’s death in November 955 saw Eadgifu’s fortunes wane. Following a succession disputed between Eadwig and Edgar, the sons of Edmund I, Eadwig came to the throne. Eadgifu, along with her ally, Dunstan, supported her younger grandson, Edgar, and, soon after Eadwig’s accession, she was deprived of her lands and possessions. Dunstan was exiled to Ghent by the young king. Eadwig was not able to establish his authority as king for long and, by 958 Edgar had created his own kingdom north of the Thames. Eadwig died soon afterwards and, with the accession of her younger grandson, Edgar, Eadgifu was one again restored to her lands and possessions. To her satisfaction, Dunstan was appointed as Archbishop of Canterbury and the religious reform reached its peak under King Edgar.

By the late 950s, Eadgifu was considered elderly by her contemporaries and she retired to a religious life, rarely visiting court. She remained an important member of the royal family and, in 966, attended Edgar’s refoundation of the New Minster at Winchester. She was also friendly with Edgar’s queen, the equally reform minded Aelfthryth and, in her Will, she bequeathed to her five hides of land in Essex to be presented on her behalf to the Abbey at Ely. The date of Eadgifu’s death is nowhere recorded, but it appears to have been around 966 or 967 when she was approaching seventy.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Queen Raedburgh

The next noteworthy queen is also one of the most shadowy. In 802, Egbert – a man not directly related to his predecessors - came to the throne of Wessex. While he never attained direct control over the whole of what is now known as England, he achieved ascendancy over Cornwall, East Anglia, Mercia and Northumbria during his reign, as well as subduing the Welsh. Egbert was the overlord of most of what would become England and he and his wife were the ancestors of all but four future monarchs of England.

For such an important royal ancestress, Egbert’s wife is very obscure. There is no contemporary record of her, although one later medieval document suggests that he was married to a woman called Raedburgh, and that she was a kinswoman of the great Frankish emperor, Charlemagne. This is possible as Egbert was exiled to Francia in around 800, staying at Charlemagne’s court before returning to Wessex to take the throne. Egbert retained contact with the Frankish royal family, and, according to the Annals of St Bertin’s, he corresponded with Charlemagne’s son and successor, Louis the Pious. The most that can be said for Raedburgh is that it is not impossible that she was a kinswoman of Charlemagne who married Egbert during his exile.

Egbert may have had a good reason for keeping Raedburgh in the background. According to the ninth century writer, Asser, the role of the queen was deliberately kept in obscurity during the ninth century. Asser claimed that:

‘The West Saxons did not allow the queen to sit beside the king, nor indeed did they allow her to be called ‘queen’, but rather ‘king’s wife’. The elders of the land maintain that this disputed and indeed infamous custom originated on account of a certain grasping and wicked queen of the same people, who did everything she could against her lord and the whole people, so that not only did she earn hatred for herself, leading to her expulsion from the queen’s throne, but she also brought the same foul stigma on all queens who came after her’.

The queen in question was Eadburh, daughter of Offa of Mercia and the wife of Egbert’s predecessor, King Beohtric. She was politically influential and ultimately murdered her husband, before fleeing the kingdom, leading the people of Wessex to reject the office of queen altogether.

Given the strength of feeling against her predecessor, Raedburgh would never have used the title of queen and, instead, would have been called ‘lady’. She bore more than one son, although only Aethelwulf survived to adulthood. Her only surviving child had been groomed for a career in the church, with his education entrusted by his father to Bishop Helmstan. According to the twelfth century chronicler, William of Malmesbury, he had previously been subdeacon of Winchester, but the deaths of all other legitimate heirs led to him returning to the secular world with the agreement of the pope.  There is no evidence that Raedburgh survived her husband, who died in 839.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Bertha, Queen of Kent

Given the recent re-release of my England’s Queens: The Biography in two parts, I thought I would think about some of England’s and (later) Great Britain’s, most memorable queens. The word ‘English’ is derived from ‘Angle’ and, as such, the Anglo-Saxon queens are the earliest English queens. The first one that I am going to look at, was not English by birth, however.

Bertha, Queen of Kent, is a relatively well-known figure today as the woman who is usually credited with bringing Christianity to England. She was born in 539 and was the daughter of Charibert I, King of Paris and his wife, Ingerberg. Through her father, she was the great-granddaughter of King Clovis of the Franks who, at the instigation of his wife, Clotild, had converted to Christianity. While Bertha was raised as a Christian, her father was rather less committed to piety than his grandmother had been. According to the historian, Gregory of Tours, he dismissed Bertha’s mother to marry one of her servants, before divorcing his second bride to marry her sister. This led to the couples’ excommunication. Undaunted, Bertha’s father had taken a fourth wife by the time of his death in 567 – his daughter’s own marriage would prove rather more lasting.

At some point before her father’s death, Bertha had married King Ethelbert of Kent, crossing the channel to join him in his kingdom. From Ethelbert’s point of view, it was an excellent match, giving him links to the prestigious Merovingian kings of Francia. Bertha’s religion was important to her and her father secured a promise that she be allowed to practice Christianity before she sailed to Kent. Once there, she was given a converted Roman building to use as a chapel and she and her chaplain, Bishop Liuthard, set about trying to convert the king.

Bertha saw the conversion of England as her duty. According to the Anglo-Saxon historian, Bede, in 596, Pope Gregory decided to begin the conversion of England by sending a churchman, Augustine, and some monks to preach in England. They arrived in Ethelbert’s kingdom of Kent, an ideal landing place given the queen’s Christian beliefs. According to Bede:

‘On receiving this message, [that Augustine and the monks had arrived] the king ordered them to remain in the island where they had landed, and gave directions that they were to be provided with all necessaries until he should decide what action to take. For he had already heard of the Christian religion, having a Christian wife of the Frankish royal house named Bertha’.

Ethelbert agreed to meet with the embassy, while Bertha allowed Augustine to use her chapel to perform mass, preach and baptise his converts. It was there that Ethelbert also came to be baptised.

Bertha’s role in the conversion of Kent was widely known. In 602, she received a letter from Pope Gregory, instructing her to spread her faith to the other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, with the pontiff exhorting her to be as Helena – the mother of Constantine – had been to the Romans. It is not clear whether she acted on this letter, although her daughter, Aethelberg, assisted in the conversion of Northumbria through her own marriage. Bertha’s date of death is not known, although her husband had remarried before his own death in 616. He chose to be buried with her in the Church of St Peter and St Paul that had been built in his kingdom.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Back to 1066

Have you ever wondered just what your ancestors were doing in the medieval or Tudor periods? If you have taken your family tree back to 1600 with parish records, the censuses and BMD indexes, it is entirely possible to go back further. Issue 4 of the Discover Your Ancestors bookazine is available now, which includes my article 'Back to 1066', which sets out the most important records and how to use them. Who knows, perhaps your ancestor sailed for England with the Conqueror in 1066, or fought at Agincourt? Alternatively, were they hauled before their manorial court? With a lot of hard work and a bit of luck, you can take your family tree back deep into the medieval period.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Online Prison Records

Ever wondered whether you had gaolbird ancestors? Finding family on the wrong side of the law can come as a shock, but prison records are also a great way of expanding your family tree.  I wrote an article called 'Looking Online: Prison Records' for issue 154 of Your Family Tree magazine, which is available now.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

England's First Ruling Queen

I'm just writing an article on England's ruling queens and it occurred to me that there is one queen who is almost always missed off the lists of female monarchs. In fact, few people have even heard of her.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 672 states, matter of factly, that 'here Cenwalh passed away, and Seaxburh, his queen, ruled one year after him'.

This is almost all we know about England's first ruling queen, Seaxburh of Wessex, who may have died in 674, since this is the year from which the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle dates the start of the next reign in Wessex. Her husband, Cenwalh, had first been married to a sister of the Pagan King Penda of Mercia. According to Bede, he then 'took another woman' who may, perhaps be identified with Seaxburh. This led to Penda driving his former brother-in-law from his kingdom, with Cenwalh taking refuge in East Anglia for three years, during which time he became a Christian. He then returned to his kingdom to rule for another twenty-five years.

In the seventh century, Wessex was just one of several kingdoms in England and far from the most important. From the ninth century onwards, however, the kings of Wessex began a programme of uniting England under their rulership and the current queen is a descendant of the kings of Wessex.

Seaxburh may have had a troubled reign, since Bede claimed that, on her husband's death, 'under-kings took over the government of the realm, which they divided amongst them and ruled for about ten years'. Perhaps her authority was disputed, or she was only able to retain control over part of the kingdom? No details survive and she had no known children.

Although Seaxburh's life is almost entirely obscure, the fact that there was a ruling queen in the early Anglo-Saxon period is fascinating. None of her successors as queens of Wessex would reach so high. You can, however, read more about another fascinating Anglo-Saxon queen - Elfrida - in my book, Elfrida: The First Crowned Queen of England. Although not a ruling queen, there is rather more known about the tenth century Elfrida's life!

Happy Birthday Anne Hyde

To celebrate the publication today of England's Queens: From Catherine of Aragon to Elizabeth II, I thought I would write an article about one of the women featured, whose birthday it is today. Not all the women covered in the book were actually queens. One of those was Anne Hyde, the wife of a king and the mother of two ruling queens, but a woman who never wore the crown herself.

Anne is relatively little known today but she was, in her day, as controversial a figure as her husband, James, Duke of York, who became King James II. She was born on 12 March 1637 and has one of the most unlikely backgrounds of any king's wife. Anne was the eldest child of Sir Edward Hyde, a lawyer in the service of the king. She was close to her father, who later commented that 'he had always had a great affection for her, and she, being his eldest child, he had more acquaintance with her than with any of his children'. Her childhood was disrupted by the English Civil War. Her father remained loyal to the Crown throughout, going into in 1646. He was soon joined by his family on the Continent.

During their time in France, Hyde remained a close advisor to the future Charles II, while his eldest daughter served the prince's sister, Mary of Orange, in the Netherlands. She was no beauty, with the diarist Samuel Pepys, commenting that she was 'a plain woman and, like her mother, my lady Chancellor'. Another contemporary more flatteringly considered that she 'had a majestic air, a pretty good shape, not much beauty, a great deal of wit, and so just a discernment of merit, that, whoever of either sex was possessed of it, were sure to be distinguished by her: an air of grandeur in all her actions made her to be considered as if born to support the rank which placed her so near the throne'.

In February 1656 the Princess of Orange returned to Paris, bringing Anne with her. James, Duke of York, came out of Paris to greet his sister and (as he later commented) 'it was there that the Prince for the first time saw Mistress Hyde'. James was a notorious womaniser and had soon seduced young Mistress Hyde. She was already pregnant when she returned to England with her parents in 1660, following Charles II's restoration to the throne.

In order to bed Anne, James had promised before witnesses that he would marry her and, in London, she pressed him to fulfil his promise. Suddenly finding himself heir to the throne, however, James was not so eager to bind himself to Anne. He tried to steal the evidence of the engagement from his fiance, as well as obtaining testimonies that she had enjoyed other lovers. Unfortunately, for James, his brother relied on the support of Anne's father and, when told of the affair, insisted that 'he must drink as he brewed, and live with her whom he had made his wife'. The couple were married a month before the birth of their son.

Anne's time as Duchess of York was largely taken up with childbearing although, of her eight children, only two daughters - Mary and Anne - survived. Her husband was also spectacularly unfaithful, with it well known about court that Anne was 'very troublesome' to her husband due to jealousy. She took her own revenge, enjoying a flirtation with two young courtiers.

Anne, like her namesake daughter, grew hugely fat. She was unkindly called 'one of the highest feeders in England' by one contemporary. By 'gratifying her good appetite' she 'grew so fat and plum, that it was a blessing to see her'. Her health was also poor after the birth of her youngest son, Edgar, in 1667, and, over the next few years she became increasingly unwell. For consolation, she turned to religion. From at least the end of 1669 it was suspected that she was a Roman Catholic. She always publicly denied that she had converted but, privately, she wrote a paper setting out her justification for taking such a drastic (for seventeenth century England) step.

Anne collapsed suddenly in March 1671, soon after the birth of her youngest child. She was probably suffering from breast cancer. The queen, Catherine of Braganza, helped to ensure that no Protestant ceremonies were carried out as her friend died. James was with his wife as she slowly expired, whispering to him at the end 'duke, duke, death is terrible, death is very terrible', before passing away on 31 March 1671. She was thirty-four years old. If she had lived another fourteen years, she would have been queen.

You can read more about Anne Hyde and other queens of England in the two parts of my England's Queens.

England's Queens: From Catherine of Aragon to Elizabeth II

England's Queens: From Catherine of Aragon to Elizabeth II is released this week. This is the second part of the reissue of England's Queens: The Biography (so don't buy the new book if you already have the full edition!).

Starting with the six wives of Henry VIII, part 2 of England's Queens traces the lives of the women who have either been queen of England or who were married to one of England's kings. With six ruling queens and a number of remarkable consorts, the five hundred years of history covered are full of drama. My personal favourite is Caroline of Brunswick, who was hilarious, as well as Queen Anne, who came across as much more human and likeable in my research than I had been expecting.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Some More Great Reviews

Sorry for the silence recently, I have been working flat out to submit a book to my publishers! Normal service should resume shortly but, in the meantime, here are a few more great reviews that I've spotted.

First up, England's Queens: The Biography was featured in the March 2015 edition of The Good Book Guide. 'Covering two thousand years, this book looks at the lives and reigns, however brief, of each queen'.

The History of Royal Women blog have reviewed Elfrida: The First Crowned Queen of England here.

'Overall I loved reading about Elfrida, a woman about which I knew so little. Elfrida was certainly a powerful figure in the time of the Anglo-Saxons and I wish we knew more about her time out of royal favour and her possible involvement in King Edward's murder. It's still awesome we have an actual letter written by her! The book was a surprisingly easy read despite all the names that look alike'.

'Please go and read about Elfrida!'

The History of Royal Women blog have also reviewed England's Queens: From Boudica to Elizabeth of York (which is the first part of the reissue of England's Queens: The Biography). You can read the review here.

'There are some queens who don't have biographies of their own so it is nice to finally be able to read about them. I was surprised to learn that I definitely have things that I have yet to learn'.

'I love Elizabeth Norton's writing style and this book gives an excellent glimpse into the lives of these women. I would highly recommend it to all history lovers. I'm really looking forward to the second part'.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Some Nice Reviews

Sorry for the radio silence recently - I'm up against a book deadline, but will be back with you next month!

In the meantime, I've come across some nice reviews for my books.

Elfrida was reviewed in the January/February 2015 edition of The Good Book Guide. 'Elfrida's life is as good as any thriller and is depicted vividly in this new biography'.

There's a great review of Boleyn Women in the January 2015 issue of Tudor Life magazine, which can be accessed at the Tudor Society's website (here). 'For anyone wanting to find out more about Mary Boleyn, I would suggest this book', 'an exciting and surprising ride' and 'I would recommend this to anyone wanting to read about the Boleyn family, not even just the Boleyn women'.

A considerably earlier book of mine, Catherine Parr, has been reviewed by Tudor Times here. Comments include 'A good introduction to the topic, covering the main aspects of Katherine Parr's life, with plenty of interpretation', 'a very readable work' and 'a welcome addition to a reader seeking a wide range of interpretations of Katherine's life'.

Monday, 19 January 2015 has just been brought to my attention. As you know, I regularly write for family history magazines and am passionate about helping people to explore their own personal history and that of their ancestors. I have had a browse through the site, which is highly recommended, and it looks like a great resource for anyone with US family. You can search for obituaries by state and then browse through the various newspapers to find your family. If you are researching your US family, do have a look!

Saturday, 17 January 2015

England's Queens: From Boudica to Elizabeth of York

England's Queens: From Boudica to Elizabeth of York was published today by Amberley. This a reissue of the first part of my England's Queens: The Biography, which was published a few years ago. It's a nice new edition, with the second part to follow in a few weeks. Don't buy it if you already have England's Queens: The Biography though!

Here's the blurb:

England has always been a place of queens. The earliest known lived nearly 2000 years ago. Early queens, such as Boudica and Cartimandua, are historical figures, while others, such as Cordelia and Guinevere, are mythical. In both historical documents and romantic legends, the early queens of Britain played a prominent role, and this has never ceased to be the case.

Nearly eighty women have sat on the throne of England, either as queen regnant or queen consort, and the voices of all of them survive through their writings and those of their contemporaries. For the first time, the voices of each individual queen can be heard. This volume charts the course of English queenship from our earliest named queen, the fierce Boudica, through the Anglo-Saxons, Normans, Plantagenets, to the queens of the Wars of the Roses and the woman whose marriage brought peace after years of conflict, Elizabeth of York.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Online Court Records

Have you ever wondered whether your ancestors had a criminal past? Alternatively, maybe they were involved in a long running Chancery case to rival Bleak House's Jarndyce v Jarndyce? I wrote an article on online court records for issue 151 of Your Family Tree magazine, which is in the shops now.