Sunday, 19 May 2013

May 19th - anniversary of the day Piers Gaveston surrendered at Scarborough Castle.

After returning from his third exile in early January, 1312, (or perhaps even earlier, at Christmas 1311), it would only be a matter of time before Piers Gaveston faced the wrath of the nobles.  He had, in total, been banished 3 times, and the last time, the Vita had accused him of  leading the king astray and having  'counselled him badly and persuaded him deceitfully and in many ways to do evil…Piers Gaveston, as a public enemy of the king and of the kingdom, shall be utterly cast out and exiled, not only from England, but from Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Gascony, and from every land as well beyond the sea as on this side of the sea subject to the lordship of the king of England, for ever and without return.'   Piers probably returned to see his newly born daughter Joan, and his wife, Margaret de Clare.  Naturally, a reunion with Edward II was on the cards, meeting probably at Knaresborough.  The nobles were enraged, particularly when Edward revoked the judgement against Piers and restored his lands and titles.   They prepared for war.

In early May, Piers and Edward parted.  Edward headed for York, whilst Piers headed for Scarborough castle which he had begun to prepare for a siege.  The siege did not last long, and Piers surrendered to, amongst others,  Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke.   The terms of the surrender were favourable to Piers.  Pembroke would take Piers to York, where the barons would negotiate with the king. If an agreement could not be reached by 1 August, Piers would be allowed to return to Scarborough. An oath to guarantee Piers' safety.    After an initial meeting with the king in York, Piers was left in the custody of Pembroke, who escorted him south for safekeeping.   From then, things were about to go tragically wrong.

There is a legend that the ghost of a headless Piers haunts Scarborough Castle and tries to 'push' visitors over the battlements.   Hmmmm, I just can't imagine Piers wanting to appear without his handsome head!

Scarborough Castle

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Suzannah Lipscomb's theories on Anne Boleyn

The highlight of the BBC's Talk Tudor day for me was Suzannah Lipscomb's theory on the fall of Anne Boleyn.  Later this month the BBC will show a drama/documentary on Anne's fall in which Suzannah takes part, and she recently wrote the cover article for April's BBC History magazine on Anne Boleyn.  This post is a short precis on the theories highlighted by Suzannah.

1.  That Anne was actually guilty.  There is no credible evidence for this, and the only historian who seriously considers Anne to be guilty is G W Bernard.  His recent book was titled 'Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions'.  Snappy title, but with weak arguments for Anne's guilt.  Bernard seems to be saying there was 'no smoke without fire' and thus condemns Anne.  Even though the dates Anne was supposed to have committed adultery prove it impossible for her to have done so, Bernard even tries to make the argument that the actual dates don't really matter.

2.  Thomas Cromwell conspired with the Seymours to displace Anne with Jane Seymour, and Anne's fall was the result of faction.   Anne supposedly found out that Cromwell was syphoning off money from dissolved monasteries.  This theory was the foundation of the recent Howard Brenton play 'Anne Boleyn'.  Lipscomb discards this theory in that she feels it represents Henry as a king easily manipulated by his ministers and courtiers.

3.  That Henry had tired of Anne, especially after her recent miscarriages, (although we don't know how many she had, and the report that the last one had been deformed can be discounted as being invented by the anti-Elizabeth  Catholic Nicholas Sander), fallen in love with Jane Seymour and asked Thomas Cromwell to rid him of Anne.  This is the theory that I have always subscribed to.  I think Anne's age, and I think she was born in 1502, would have been against her in 1536, and having miscarried on possibly as many as 3 babies,  Henry had tired of her, and his infatuation burnt out, decided to break from her.  He didn't want to jeopardise any future children with Jane Seymour, and so it wasn't enough for Anne to be divorced, she had to die.  She would never have gone quietly.  The fact that Henry would allow himself to be seen as a cuckolded husband I put down to the choice and number of victims - that Anne was so full of lust, and so vile, no man was safe from her - a lowly musician, Henry's friends, and worst of all, her own brother.

4.  Lipscomb believes that having been told by Thomas Cromwell there was gossip about his Queen, spread by Elizabeth, Lady Worcester, Henry instructed Cromwell to investigate, with the warning that should the gossip be untrue, he would destroy those who had spread malicious stories about Anne.  This was certainly an incentive for Cromwell to 'find' evidence.  What I find interesting about this theory is Lipscomb's take on Jane Seymour.  There is evidence that Henry paid court to ladies of the court, and may have taken some as his mistress.  Jane Seymour, by rejecting Henry in the first instance, became an idealised love for Henry - in the game of courtly love.  Lipscomb believes Henry was not serious about her.  And there is evidence that Anne's fall was sudden - and she had been in as much favour as ever with Henry in April 1536.  Having been charged with finding evidence against Anne on pain of death, Cromwell made certain he found it, even if he invented it.  The crux of Lipscomb's argument is the fall-out Anne had with Henry Norris, one of Henry's loyal friends.  Chiding him for not marrying one of her ladies, Anne is reported to have said 'you look for dead men's shoes, for if ought came to the king, you would look to have me'.  Playing her own games of courtly love, Anne had gone too far.  Norris was appalled at what she said.  Anne herself regretted what she had said in the Tower.  It was treason to even 'imagine' the king's death, whilst Anne had actually spoken of it.  It is this conversation that Lipscomb feels tipped Henry over the edge.  After abruptly leaving the May day celebrations, Henry questioned Norris himself - there is a story he even offered Norris his life if he confessed.  Norris would not.  Lipscomb feels that this conversation did not convince Henry - in fact, it had the opposite effect, and he became convinced Anne was guilty.  Lipscomb feels that Henry married Jane Seymour on the re-bound - he was certainly heard to regret his marriage when commenting there were other beautiful ladies at the court and he had married too hastily.  Hmmm, so Henry could play courtly love games, but not Anne!

Despite the countless books, films, tv programmes, we still don't know why Anne Boleyn fell.  Evidence has either been destroyed or lost.  I still think theory number 3 the most obvious, but look forward to reading more about theory number 4.  I asked Suzannah Lipscomb if she intended to write her own book on Anne Boleyn, but she said no.  I really think she should!

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

BBC’s Talking Tudor Day

On Sunday,  April 28th I attended the BBC’s Talking Tudor event at the M shed museum in Bristol.  It was organised in conjunction with BBC history magazine, and sold out very quickly.  It was the chance to meet 6 acclaimed historians who have written about the Tudors.  They all gave a talk for about 35 minutes on various topics.  These were –

·         Chris Skidmore, author of ‘Bosworth’, ‘Edward VI’ and ‘Death and the Virgin’ (all of which I have).  He was there to talk about Bosworth and the birth of the Tudor dynasty.

·         Thomas Penn, author of the brilliant ‘Henry VII, the Winter King’, one of my recommended books.  He gave a talk on aspects of Henry VII financial policies.

·         Robert Hutchinson, author of books on Thomas Cromwell, the early and later life of Henry VIII and a very good book on Walsingham, Elizabeth’s spymaster, (again, I have all these).  He spoke about the Spanish Armada.

·         Suzannah Lipscombe, author of ‘1536, the year that changed Henry VIII’  a very good insight into Henry VIII’s character, and ‘A Visitor’s Companion  to Tudor England’.   Her focus was ‘The Anne Boleyn controversies’ (she’d written an article for the magazine in March).

·         Steven Gunn -  who has done research into accidents to ‘ordinary’ Tudor folk, and who assisted Chris Skidmore in his book on Amy Robsart by finding the documents on her inquest.

·         Anna Whitelock, author of a new book on Elizabeth 1st, and the only one I did not have a book by.

The event was very well attended and each historian gave a talk and then took questions.  I enjoyed all the talks given by the historians,  and in particular the talk by Suzannah Lipscombe on Anne Boleyn, although I don’t necessarily agree on her conclusion as to why Anne had to die.   All were very engaging, and I surprisingly enjoyed Steven Gunn’s presentation about accidental death in Tudor times – it gave a good insight into the dangers of work faced by ordinary folk, be it falling from a tree to shake down acorns for pigs to feed on, to toppling into a stream trying to gather large leaves in order to put freshly baked loaves on to cool.  Particularly moving were the accounts of those accidents involving children,  for example a 9 year old child being taught how to handle a cart by his father, getting carried away and the cart over-turning, and the little girl making mud pies who fell back into a ditch. 

Of course, in choosing the Tudors, the BBC picked a ‘hot topic’, but it is to be hoped they carry on with these events.