Thursday, January 19, 2017

Another Henry in Trouble over Becket

Henry II and Thomas Becket
'Who shall rid me of this meddlesome priest?'

Whether Henry II truly uttered these words in 1170 or not, by 1538, the trouble with Thomas Becket had not been concluded. Lacking patience with his subjects looking to anyone but himself as a higher power, Henry VIII, a distant grandson of Becket's antagonist, destroyed the shrine of Saint Becket to put an end to prayers directed toward the king-defying martyr.

Just as Henry II's actions were not without consequence, Henry VIII found his irreverent treatment of religious relics and saints' remains under fire. He did not, however, model his reaction upon that of his ancestor. Where Henry II had done penance for his part in leading knights to believe he wished Becket dead, Henry VIII was not one for humbling himself.

Becket's assassination from
De Grey Book of Hours
Before destroying the Canterbury shrine, Henry VIII sent a commission to charge the saint with violating the newly enacted laws of supremacy. As if baiting his Catholic subjects, Henry ordered that Thomas Becket be given ten days to appear in his own defense against the charge of treason before the shrine would be destroyed. When the dead man predictably missed his day in court, the king ordered the grave decimated and Becket's bones burned and the remains scattered that they might not be collected for worship.

Canterbury had been the center of Christianity in England long before the martyrdom of Thomas Becket, but its popularity as a destination for pilgrims surged almost immediately after the famous priest's death. Even 368 years later, Henry VIII was offended and threatened by the people's love for the saint. He may not have anticipated the consequences of his attempt to rid himself of the cult dedicated to Saint Becket.

Condemnation for Henry came from a familiar source, his own cousin, Cardinal Reginald Pole. He had regularly written to the king to advise him in spiritual matters. It was advice that Henry did not appreciate. Pole attempted to point out that Henry II had received praise and forgiveness because of his humility and repentance after Becket's death. If he hoped that Henry Tudor would follow suit, Pole would be disappointed. But he was used to that with Henry. Pole had attempted to advise Henry on a multitude of issues related to his Great Matter, and had been repeatedly ignored. Rather than consider the Cardinal's advice, Henry called him a traitor, and Pole's family remaining in England paid the price for his words.

Pole's voice was not a lone one. Pope Paul III excommunicated Henry for his stunning actions, a step that had little effect upon the man who had already convinced himself that no one, not even the pope, had power greater than his own.

While Henry's desecration of Becket's tomb may not have silenced the voice of those who worshiped the saint any more than his break with Rome rid his country of Catholics, he could take some comfort in the estimated £1,000,000 in spoils retrieved from the shrine and given a new home within the king's treasury.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Historic Places: Boston

Trinity Church, Boston
I thought I would step away from the UK for a moment today and write about a historic place a little bit closer to home. Boston is one of the best places that I have visited to be surrounded by accessible history. During two trips to this city famously filled with hot-headed patriots, I have followed the wonderful Freedom Trail, which makes it easy for anyone to see all the best sights in Boston without dealing with city traffic or parking woes.

If one is staying in the city, it is easy to hop onto the Freedom Trail without the need for a car, making it far less stressful if you are anything like me and dislike driving in congested, unfamiliar places. The one warning this path requires is to be prepared to do a lot of walking. We logged about nine miles under the hot June sun.

The trail begins at Boston Commons, a public park that was established in 1634, long before the United States came to be. Instead of hangings and political debates, the Commons is now mostly host to joggers and families with small children. To follow the Freedom Trail, one must simply start here and follow the path marked out upon the sidewalks with colored bricks to the next destination.

Massachusetts State House
Directly across Beacon Street from Boston Commons is the first stop, the Massachusetts State House which is located on land once owned by the first governor of Massachusetts, John Hancock. (Yes, that John Hancock.) The dome of the State House is gilded in 23 karat gold, replacing the copper that was originally put in place by Paul Revere. (Um, yes, that one.) Completed in 1798, this is one of the oldest and grandest buildings in the US. The interior may also be toured for free. If one chooses to do so, you will see the government at work, displays of the rich history of the area, and even the famous wooden cod that was 'codnapped' in 1933 by Harvard students.

Carrying on from the State House, the Freedom Trail leads to a series of churches and burial grounds, each with its own historical significance. In the Granary Burying Ground, so called due to the grain storage building that formerly resided there, we found memorials to John Hancock, Paul Revere, and Benjamin Franklin's parents. Dedicated as a cemetery in 1660, it is estimated that over twice as many people have been laid to rest here than the markers indicate. Many are tilted and crumbling, creating a solemn atmosphere.

King's Chapel
King's Chapel and Burying Ground are the next locations along the trail. The Anglican Church was built in 1688 to promote worship in keeping with the King's wishes. Since marble is a resource not native to the US, wooden pillars were designed to give the appearance of grand marble pillars within and without the chapel. The ancient burying ground is the final resting place of several passengers of the Mayflower and the man who received far less credit for his midnight ride than his famous partner, William Dawes.

The Old Corner Book Store is the oldest commercial building in Boston. However, before one gets too excited about visiting it, I must temper that enthusiasm. While the exterior of the structure is intact with a lovely bookstore sign still affixed, the interior is the home of a Chipotle. I kid you not. This is history in the US. Ah well . . . .

Old South Meeting House
The next point of interest more than makes up for a fast-food restaurant in what should be a historic book store. When one walks through the Old South Meeting House, you can almost hear the voices raised in patriotic fervor still echoing through the air. It was here that men debated the next steps in making freedom a reality. It was here that the plot to dump 30 tons of tea into the bay was put into action. Here, among the plain white walls and wooden pews once designated for Puritan worship, men put the future, which we now enjoy, into motion.

The stops along the Freedom Trail are wonderful and historic information is presented at each one. Most buildings can be entered and explored for free or a nominal amount. I believe that I, with two of my teenagers in tow, spent less than $30 during our day. No less impressive than the designated stops are the views enjoyed while strolling through Boston.

The Old State House amid its modern surroundings
The whimsical blend of new and old is especially featured when one views the Old State House. Built to be the largest and most luxurious structure of its kind in the colonies in 1713, it is now dwarfed by the modern skyscrapers that surround it. Yet, it continues to rival those modern wonders with beautiful restoration work that enables visitors to see handmade floors and curved doors that were built to suit the unique round second floor landing. A small balcony off this second floor almost escapes notice, so unremarkable it is by modern standards. Yet it was here that the Declaration of Independence was read to an eager and anxious crowd on July 18, 1776.

That balcony overlooks the location of the Boston Massacre, which took place on March 5, 1770. In an attempt to clarify inaccurate history that is taught in schoolrooms across the nation, the Old State House has on display two paintings of the so-called massacre, demonstrating what really happened compared to the legend that Americans prefer. The fact that future president John Adams was the defense attorney for those British soldiers who were accused of murder attests to the unbalanced view that this event is remembered by.

Paul Revere House
A stroll through Faneuil Hall, where the weary tourist can buy snacks and souvenirs, brings us to the Paul Revere House. Built in 1680, this home was already almost a century old when the famous Bostonian purchased it. Though it was certainly impressive for its time, my teenagers were not impressed with the four rooms within which the Reveres had housed up to a dozen people at a time and been considered blessed to have so much space! Photos are not permitted within the home, but each room is restored to a different era of the structure's existence, giving visitors an idea of what it would have been like to live there. Some pieces are from the Reveres themselves.

Lanterns in the window of Old North Church
The cobblestone street that is scarcely wide enough for one modern vehicle carried us away from the quaint downtown area that was home to Paul Revere. Soon, we found ourselves at Old North Church, where two lanterns had testified to our midnight riders that the British were coming by sea (or rather river) and not by land. My one disappointment in visiting this wonderful old church was that we were not at that time able to climb the steps to the window where the lanterns had hung. On my previous visit, I had explored the old staircase leading to the bell tower where this small window looks out upon the city. At the top of that tower, I had seen the bells that Paul Revere had rung as a small boy.

Bunker Hill Monument
After a hot and weary day, we pressed on to the most distant points of interest along the Freedom Trail. We crossed the Charles River and were thankful for its breeze as we made our way to Bunker Hill. The monument and museum that mark the June 17, 1775 battle were visited by us 241 years, almost to the day after that historic event. No longer having enough energy to climb the steps to the top of the obelisk monument, we opted for a few moments - and ice cream - at the museum instead. In retrospect, I wish I had gained what must have been a wonderful view, but at that time my mind was upon the trek that was still required of us to make our way back to our downtown hotel.

USS Constitution ~ Old Ironsides
Before that, we had one more place to visit, and it was one that I remembered fondly from my previous visit. The USS Constitution, or as she is more often remembered Old Ironsides, currently resides at Boston's Charleston Navy Yard. Originally launched from Boston in 1797, the old warship has a comfortable home here after her battles and world travels. We traipsed onboard along with our fellow tourists and admired the craftsmanship of the oak ship even as we wondered at the idea of crossing the ocean in a ship that seems incredibly tiny by modern standards. The museum near the ship has wonderful displays and information about the history of the ship, war, and life at sea during the 19th century.

The end of the trail reached but our return voyage yet to make, my dear children and I set off. Throughout our walk, we had repeatedly seen people carrying little dessert boxes. Needing the motivation to carry on and reach our hotel, we determined that a stop at Mike's Pastry was in order. Those decadent treats and pizza were our reward when we finally crashed after our time on Boston's Freedom Trail.

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Execution of Henry Pole

On January 9, 1539, Henry Pole was sent to his death by King Henry VIII. What was his crime? To a great extent, his crime was being the oldest son of Margaret Pole and brother of Reginald Pole. Looking to secure his shaky dynasty, King Henry had already executed one of his wives, so what was a cousin or two?

This pair of Henrys had not always had a bad relationship. On the second Henry Tudor's accession to the throne, he had raised up his Pole relatives in a way that his father had been afraid to do. Margaret and Henry were both given titles that had been held by her illustrious ancestors. She was made Countess of Salisbury and her oldest son was the new Baron Montague. Margaret's third son, Reginald, was noted by the king for his great intellect from a young age, and the king supported him in gaining the best education money could buy.

For a while, it seemed that the breach between the Plantagenet branches, which the Tudors still considered themselves one of, had been healed. Margaret enjoyed a close friendship with Henry's beautiful queen, Katherine of Aragon, and eventually served as governess for their first and, as it would turn out, only surviving child, Princess Mary. It was not until the king decided that this little girl could not possibly serve as his heir that things went sour.

As Anne Boleyn's star rose, that of Katherine and anyone close to her fell. Henry and Margaret were fairly successful at balancing their loyalties to their king and their church, even as Henry VIII reformed it to suit his own purposes. Montague served the king in several positions and went with him to make war on France. Unfortunately, there was one thing that Henry Pole could never make up for in the king's eyes: his royal bloodline.

While Margaret had never pursued a crown for her children, even when Queen Katherine had suggested that Reginald would make a fine husband for Princess Mary, the king's animosity toward extended family grew increasingly as his quest for sons failed. By 1538, when Henry Pole was arrested, the king had succeeded in siring only one infant son and he was currently without a wife since Edward's mother, Jane Seymour, had died shortly following childbirth.

In contrast, Henry Pole was a capable adult with brothers and sons and Plantagenet blood running through all their veins. Pole was accused along with his cousin, Henry Courtenay Marquess of Exeter, who also had a Plantagenet mother. In a case that has become known as the Exeter Conspiracy, they were found guilty of plotting to depose the king and put Courtenay in his place.

Geoffrey Pole, Henry's youngest brother, was imprisoned and tortured until he gave testimony against those accused in the Exeter Conspiracy. He attempted suicide on at least two occasions due to the heavy guilt he felt for betraying his family, especially his brother. Letters written by Reginald Pole, by that time a cardinal and safely distant from Henry VIII's reach, were also used as evidence.

Henry Pole and Henry Courtenay went bravely to their deaths, though they were likely innocent of the charges against them. Their sons, another Henry Pole and Edward Courtenay, remained in the Tower. Edward Courtenay was later released by Queen Mary I in 1553. The younger Henry Pole became another York son lost to the Tower. He was never released and his death is not recorded.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Death of Catherine Valois

Marriage of Henry V
and Catherine Valois
On January 3, 1437, Catherine Valois died. She had been born a French princess and become an English queen when she married the famous warrior king, Henry V. At the time of her death, she was married to a simple Welsh squire named Owen Tudor.

Catherine had been banned from remarrying after the king's death, though it was not quite worded that way. Instead the council informed her that any match that she might make must be approved by the king, her son. This is something that he would not be able to do until he reached the age of majority, typically around sixteen but possibly as young as twelve. When Catherine was widowed, her son was not yet a year old. It was a clever way to control the young dowager queen.

She tried to do what was asked of her. When she fell in love with Edmund Beaufort, she requested permission to marry him and was denied. After all, who wanted the royal but illegitimate Beaufort clan to have claim to Valois blood? When Catherine next felt her heart flutter at the sight of a handsome young man, she did not bother asking for permission.

Catherine Valois
funeral effigy
Owen Tudor was from a prominent Welsh family who had lost everything in rebellions against the English. His position in Catherine's household is not completely clear, but he soon found his way to her bedroom. Details of their marriage do not exist, but their contemporaries did not question the legitimacy of their children, so it is fairly safe to assume that it took place. They proceeded to have four children in the next seven years.

Catherine may have inherited some of her father's madness, as she seems to have passed on to her son, Henry VI. She died young, possibly after beginning to experience symptoms of mental decline. While she was alive, the council's hesitancy to prosecute the king's mother had protected Owen, despite their disapproval for the union. When she died, they moved against Owen.

Perceiving that something like this would happen, Owen fled for Wales, but not quickly enough. A messenger from the king intercepted him and presented a summons to Westminster. Had Owen been willing to leave behind the riches that Catherine had bestowed upon him, he may have been able to travel with greater speed and make his escape.

Instead, he found himself at Westminster, kneeling before a king who had only recently been made aware that he had four Tudor half-siblings. Owen was initially released, since it had been only the promise of safe conduct that he had returned at the messenger’s request. Soon, though, new charges were brought against him, and he was held at Newgate.

Henry VI
He may have been given privileges and decent accommodations at Newgate rather than being tossed into a dank cell, but the lack of freedom still rankled since Owen believed he had done nothing wrong. A little over a year after Catherine's death, Owen schemed to escape Newgate. The plan succeeded, but it did not take long for Owen to be recaptured.

Thankfully, Owen was flouting the law under a king who would become famous for his peculiar blend of kindness and lack of judgement. Henry VI pardoned Owen and recognized him as his step-father. Henry even raised up his two eldest half-brothers, making Edmund earl of Richmond and Jasper earl of Pembroke.

How differently things might have turned out if Henry VI had looked upon these men jealously as a threat as so many other kings both before and after him would have done. Instead, he gave Edmund a royal cousin to marry, the young heiress, Margaret Beaufort. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

From the Scriptorium: January 2017

January 2017 Edition

I hope that you have all enjoyed a blessed Christmas and wish you wonderful adventures and experiences in 2017!

My efforts over the past month have been unexpectedly divided. Though I've continued working on Mary's story in Queen of Martyrs, I have more exciting book news to share with you. Read more about the upcoming In Bed with the British below.

Did anyone receive any amazing new history or historical fiction for Christmas? I would love to hear about your favorite new books - especially if they are mine! Two books that I received are Everyday Life in Medieval London and The Medieval Housewife, both by Toni Mount. Now I am looking forward to many winter evenings curled up snug under a blanket with some fun new research.

Interested in what writers read? You can see my Top 10 Reads of 2016 by stopping over at BookLikes. It is a great place for bookish conversation and sharing of the love of reading.

Upcoming Event

The Michigan Library Association has invited me to participate in their upcoming Spring Institute! During their Evening with an Author in Frankenmuth, Michigan, I will be there to talk about reading, writing, and history. I can't wait! If you are in Michigan, join me at the Spring Institute on March 29, 2017. For more information on the Spring Institute, click here.

Bookish News

I have super exciting bookish news this month! I am honored to be involved in a nonfiction book project with six other respected authors. In Bed with the British will explore romance throughout history. Knights in shining armor saving damsels in distress? Maybe sometimes, but get the real story from Pen & Sword Books this summer.

Featured Reviews

I am especially thrilled to share this five star review for Faithful Traitor by Readers' Favorite!

Review of Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen by author Robin Levin.

Did You Miss It?

In less than 24 hours, The Image of His Grandfather became my second most viewed post of all time! How similar do you think Edward IV and Henry VIII were?

It was a good month for blog posts because this one on my visit to York quickly gained many views as well. If you have ever dreamed of walking along York's medieval wall or strolling through the Shambles, check it out!

I was also pleased to welcome historical fantasy author Mary Anne Yarde to my blog this month to celebrate the release of her new addition to the Du Lac Chronicles, Du Lac Devil. Learn more about how she uses the blend of history and myth found in King Arthur to inspire her series.

You want it? You got it!

What would you love to see in next months newsletter? Have a topic you'd like to see addressed in a blog post? Let me know and I will do my best to deliver.