Monday, February 29, 2016

What Killed Elizabeth of York?

Elizabeth of York
Mother of the Tudor Dynasty
On February 11, 1503, her thirty-seventh birthday, Elizabeth of York died just days after giving birth to her eighth child. The baby girl had been named Catherine, which seems appropriate considering it is likely that her parents decided to have another child when their firstborn son, Arthur, died unexpectedly. He had been briefly married to Catherine of Aragon.

Henry VII was left with his only remaining son, another Henry, as his heir. A single son was a shaky foundation to build a dynasty upon. Therefore, Elizabeth risked another pregnancy, despite problems experienced with earlier confinements. The risk proved an unrewarding one when the child was born a girl and even more so when both mother and baby died within days.

It is easy to assume that Elizabeth of York died from what was termed childbed fever, as so many woman of her time did. Unsanitary conditions and limited understanding of what caused infection often resulted in the introduction of infection to the womb by efforts intended for healing. Other treatments, such as bleeding, often only made a patient's health decline more quickly. There are reasons to believe that Elizabeth's death was not quite so simply explained.

Evidence of illness long before Elizabeth's labor brings into question the diagnosis of childbed fever in this case. It could be that another complication besides infection, but just as treatable in our modern age, was Elizabeth's true cause of death. Some pieces of evidence that we can look at include Elizabeth's complications with previous pregnancies, her actions during her last pregnancy, and her medical complaints that do not fit a case of childbed fever.

Prince Arthur Tudor
Only eight months after the royal wedding, Elizabeth had given birth to Prince Arthur, a baby expected to complete the healing and unification begun by his parents. It is recorded that Elizabeth suffered an ague after his birth. This vague description tells us only that she suffered a fever of unknown severity. The situation was apparently more serious in 1499 when she gave birth to Prince Edmund. Whatever difficulties took place, it is recorded that there had been "much fear for her life." It is after this that Elizabeth does not risk another pregnancy until the death of Prince Arthur brings about a change of heart.

Although Elizabeth believed it was right and even her duty to provide England with another prince, there is evidence that she struggled with doing so long before her labor came early. In November and December of 1502, records show that Elizabeth paid for visits from medical professionals. Whether this was due to concerns for the child, herself, or both, is unknown. Even more telling, the pious queen employed the skills of an astrologer, something that she had not done before. She seemed to be looking for additional reassurance that she and her child would thrive.

Tomb of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York
Photo Credit: Westminster Abbey
Despite the fact that she may not have been in optimal health, Elizabeth undertook a progress during her pregnancy, almost as though she felt she were running out of time. She had not previously traveled often without her husband, and her route took her on an unusual course. Delays in her itinerary due to poor health indicate that Elizabeth's problems began long before she reached the birthing room. Could something as simple as anemia have resulted in the first Tudor queen's fatigue, headaches, and inability to resist infection? This is proposed in Alison Weir's Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and her World, and it fits what we know of Elizabeth rather well. It is heartbreaking to think that such a mundane health issue could have led to her death.

Elizabeth was forced to give birth within the confines of the Tower of London, a location that was most assuredly not her first choice given the disappearance of her brothers from that place two decades earlier and her cousin Edward of Warwick's controversial imprisonment and execution more recently. When she went into premature labor, her prepared confinement rooms at Richmond went unused and a Tower chamber was secured for her. After her death, Henry had Elizabeth laid to rest in the Lady chapel at Westminster, which Henry had just decided to rework to include a tomb a month earlier. When he died in 1509, Henry joined her there, having never remarried.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Historic Places: Liverpool

Compared to some cities in Britain, Liverpool may be relatively young. It is not listed in King William's Domesday book as a surprising number of modern cities are. The Liverpool and surrounding area is simply referred to as West Derby Hundred, a hundred being made up of 100 'hides' or the amount of land necessary to support a family. The Conqueror sent Roger de Poitou to provide Norman control over Liverpool and Manchester. His motte and bailey castle was sure evidence that the Normans had arrived in Derby.

The city of Liverpool was officially founded somewhat later in 1207, drawing people from the surrounding countryside into the bustling market town. Little evidence is seen of this early settlement today. The wooden castle has long since disappeared, abandoned when King John issued the city charter. Liverpool is left with many street names that point to its medieval past, such as the Castle Street that used to lead to its namesake.

During the Georgian era, the muddy pool that gave the city its name was filled in to make room for greater industry. Anyone who lived there before the 18th century would certainly not recognize it today with gargantuan brick warehouses lining the Mersey and sprawling homes and businesses that caused the city population to grow to 15 times its size from 1700 to 1800. Shipping in the famous Triangle Trade filled Liverpool with a new class of wealthy merchants who built impressive Georgian mansions, many of which can still be seen today. Sugar brought in from the West Indies during this time led to a Liverpool doctor being the first to diagnose a well known modern disease: diabetes.

Adolf Hitler spent time in Liverpool before World War I, visiting his brother's family who lived there. He stayed long enough to be rejected by several of Liverpool's art schools and be advised by his sister-in-law to trim his mustache into the one we would recognize. Around 1913, Adolf's brother left his wife in Liverpool to join his brother in Germany. His wife took their son and immigrated to America, where he would later join the army in the fight against his uncle. Isn't history fun?

Anyway, back to Liverpool.

The Liverpool of today is an eclectic mix of old and new. Since more people tend to be interested in more recent pop culture than my own favored eras, you cannot enter Liverpool without hearing stories about the Beatles. We visited The Cavern, where the Beatles put on performances before their crowds grew far too large for the venue. A trip to Strawberry Field and Penny Lane were also on our touristy must do list. We even passed the shelter in the middle of the roundabout. (I couldn't help but wonder what all the local school children thought of buses filled with people stopping every day to take pictures with a street sign.)

Before visiting, I did not realize that Liverpool is the home of the largest cathedral in Britain. It is a quite different structure than the medieval churches that come to mind when one thinks of cathedrals, though it is built in a throwback style. It is difficult to comprehend the scale of this enormous church, until you notice the people standing outside that appear ant-sized compared to the soaring cathedral walls. It was built between 1901-1978 in various phases as the congregation could afford construction. The result is breathtaking. We happened to be going by in the evening.

With only one afternoon to spend in Liverpool, we did a whirlwind tour and prepared to head for the Lake District.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Faithful Traitor: Cover Reveal

I have been quietly working on my next novel, but now it is time to let the world . . . or at least those who read my blog . . . see what is coming next. Picking up where Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen left off, Faithful Traitor is the story of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury. As the daughter of George of Clarence and cousin of Elizabeth of York, Margaret appears a few times in Elizabeth's story but now she is the focus. Her family experienced the tumultuous turning of fortune's wheel under the notorious Henry VIII.

For the cover, I obviously went with a similar design as Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen. The sprig of Planta Genista symbolizes Margaret's often recognized status as the last Plantagenet. While this novel begins on the date in history that the first book ends, it is not necessarily a sequel and can easily be read as a stand alone novel. I cannot wait to share my Margaret with you!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Breathing Life into Medieval Characters: Guest Post by Annie Whitehead

Happy Book Release Day to Annie Whitehead! It is great to have Annie on my blog today to discuss her new book, Alvar the Kingmaker, and what sparked her interest in the medieval era.

~ Samantha

Guest Post by Annie Whitehead: Breathing Life into Medieval Characters

I decided that I wanted to write stories when I was about eight. I have been interested in history since I was about eight or nine. It was only when I was an undergraduate in London in the 1980s that I realised I wanted to write about history.

My first two historical novels both came about because of a single sentence. In the case of To Be a Queen, the story of Alfred the Great’s daughter Aethelflaed, it was a sentence about her husband. My tutor said of Ethelred of Mercia that “Nobody knew exactly where he came from.” I suddenly had a vision of this guy riding onto the pages of history out of some unknown hinterland. I wanted to write his story and, in a way, I have. Although of course the real story was that of his wife: daughter of a king, wife of a man with the powers of a king (albeit a sub-king); a woman who led her army into battle against the Vikings.

My second novel was born when I read a paper written by that same tutor. It was about Aelfhere, earl of Mercia in the 10th century, and in a little footnote there was mention of a widow who had been deprived of her lands following his death. It’s the only known reference to this woman and the supposition is that she was Aelfhere’s wife. Hmm… Why did we not know more about her? This became part, although not the whole, of the story in Alvar the Kingmaker. A central theme, yes, but there was more which needed to be told.

You see, my Anglo-Saxons are not the Anglo-Saxons of Middle Earth. They are not mystical, magical or mythical, but rather they are medieval. My stories don’t contain elves, or monsters like Grendel. The ‘Dark Ages’ covers a period of over 500 years. To lump all the Anglo-Saxons together would be like saying the Tudors were a lot like us.

I wanted my characters to be real, not caricatures.
I wanted to portray these people as, well, people.

There are many stories to be found within Anglo-Saxon history, aside from the invasions of, first, the Angles and Saxons themselves, then the Vikings and the Normans. This was a society which produced the most exquisite artwork (eg the Lindisfarne Gospels), the most intricately worked jewelled weaponry (eg the Staffordshire Hoard) a few hundred years even before the period in which my books are set.

There was sophisticated local and central government, and law codes were regularly updated. Huge chunks of my lecture time when I was a student were taken up with discussion about whether pre-Conquest England was already feudal, or whether the Normans introduced it.

So... I had my ambition to write. I had my stories. And I knew my stuff. Ask me the names of any king between AD 600-1066  and I could oblige. Ask me who invaded whose lands at any given period and why, and I could tell you.

Just one problem.  I quickly discovered that I didn’t know how people lived; what they ate for breakfast, what they wore, how they built their houses and ships, which animals they reared and what type of crops they farmed.

It’s all very well having a chapter plan but not so great if you can’t actually describe what’s happening in every scene. I learned that knowing about history and having the information required to write an historical novel are not the same thing.

Luckily for me, I had contacts within the ‘industry’ who were more than happy to help, or knew someone who could. I immersed myself in my early medieval world, finding out about looms, textiles, cooking methods, flour production, and I even learned how flammable flour dust can be (a fact which served me well in one particular passage in ‘Queen’.)

I then learned that a writer needs to include only about 10% of that research in their books. For me, the art of writing an historical novel is a subtle blend, requiring equal measures of: the story, the characters, the history, and the details. When the blend is right, it should be possible to have the reader not just dip into it, but  become fully submerged without those precious parts separating at any point.

About the Author 

Annie Whitehead is a history graduate who now works as an Early Years music teacher. Her first novel, To Be A Queen, was long-listed for the Historical Novel Society’s Indie Book of the Year 2016. Her new release, Alvar the Kingmaker, is available now. She is currently working on the novel which was a prize-winning entry in the Mail on Sunday Novel Writing competition and which she was encouraged by judge Fay Weldon to complete.

Connect with Annie on Facebook or on her blog!  

Annie's Books

Aethelflaed, the ‘Lady of the Mercians’ was the daughter of Alfred the Great. She was the only female leader of an Anglo-Saxon kingdom. Born into the royal house of Wessex at the height of the Viking wars, she is sent to her aunt in Mercia as a foster-child, only to return home when the Vikings overrun Mercia. In Wessex, she witnesses another Viking attack and this compounds her fear of the enemy. 

She falls in love with a Mercian lord but is heartbroken to be given as bride to the ruler of Mercia to seal the alliance between the two Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. 

She must learn to subjugate her feelings for her first love, overcome her indifference to her husband and win the hearts of the Mercians who despise her as a foreigner and twice make an attempt on her life. 

When her husband falls ill and is incapacitated, she has to learn to rule and lead an army in his stead. Eventually she must fight to save her adopted Mercia from the Vikings and, ultimately, her own brother.

In 10th Century England,nobleman Alvar knows that securing the throne for the young and worthy King Edgar will brand him as an oath-breaker. As a fighting man, he is indispensable to the new sovereign, but his success and power gain him deadly, murderous enemies amongst those who seek favour with the king. Alvar must fight to protect his lands, and his position, and learn the subtle art of politics. He must also, as a man of principle, keep secret his love for the wife of his trusted deputy. Civil war erupts, and Alvar once again finds himself the only man capable of setting a new king upon the throne of England, an act which comes at great personal cost. His career began with a dishonourable deed to help a good king; now he must be loyal to a new king, Aethelred, whom he knows will be weak, and whose supporters have been accused of regicide. Can he bring about peace, reconcile with his enemies, and find personal happiness, whilst all the time doing his duty to his loved ones? And what of the fragile Queen, who not only depends upon him but has fallen in love with him? Aelfhere (Alvar) of Mercia was known to the chroniclers as the "The blast of the mad wind from the Western territories" but also as "The glorious earl." This is his story.