Charles Spencer was born in 1964, and is an author, public speaker, broadcaster and journalist. He is also the 9th Earl Spencer.
Charles Spencer is the author of seven non-fiction books, including three Sunday Times bestsellers: Blenheim, Battle for Europe, which was shortlisted for Historical Book of the Year at the 2005 National Book Awards; Killers of the King – which was the second highest selling History book in the UK in 2014; and The White Ship, published in 2020, which was also the No. 1 bestselling book on Amazon.
He has been the keynote speaker at hundreds of events in the UK, India, USA, South Africa, France, Australia, Canada, Spain, Portugal and New Zealand.
As a broadcaster, Charles Spencer worked for NBC News as an on-air correspondent from 1986 to 1995, primarily for the TODAY Show, but also for Sunday TODAY, NBC Nightly News and NBC Super Channel – where he wrote and presented the 12-part documentary series, Great Houses of the World.
He has been a reporter for Granada Television, has presented for the History Channel, and has appeared on many occasions as an expert on the BBC.
As a print journalist he has written in the UK for The Guardian, The Independent on Sunday, The Financial Times, The Daily Telegraph, and others. In the United States he has written for Vanity Fair, Veranda, and Nest magazines.
In business, he helped establish Althorp Living History, a handmade, fine furniture line faithfully reproducing pieces from the collection at Althorp.
In charitable and humanitarian affairs, he served as a Trustee of Nelson Mandela’s Children’s Fund from 1998-2005. He is Patron of the Friends of Cynthia Spencer Hospice, the Brain Tumour Trust, and Thomas’s Fund, in England. He is on the board of Whole Child International in the USA.
Charles Spencer was educated at Eton, and at Oxford University, where he earned his MA in Modern History.
He served as a Page of Honour to HM the Queen in the 1970s and has been one of her Deputy Lieutenants for Northamptonshire since 2005.
He has seven children and two stepchildren, and is the brother of the late Diana, Princess of Wales.
Guest post by writer extraordinaire, Terence Hawkins
Arthur Phillips is an exceptionally sly writer. His celebrateddebut novel, Prague, is set in Budapest. The joke is that all its characters, late-eighties expats, long to get out of Hungary and to the Czech capital, where the post-Soviet good times roll.
Though the same whimsy colors aspects of his latest book, The King at the Edge of the World, its tone and subject are darker. It opens in 1591. A Turkish doctor, the sweet-tempered and essentially innocent Mahmoud Ezzedine, has been tricked into joining an Ottoman embassy to London by a court functionary with designs on his wife. After he saves an English courtier from a seizure in Elizabeth’s presence, he is given to the Queen as a present when the embassy departs, leaving him the only Muslim in Britain. Miserable years at court are followed by even deeper agony in the wilds of Cumberland, where he has been assigned as physician-in-residence to the epileptic noble. ButEa things get shockingly worse. In 1601 he is recalled from exile by Sir Robert Cecil’s espionage service. It tasks him with resolving the question critical to the inheritance of the childless and dying Elizabeth’s throne: Is James VI of Scotland a true Protestant or a closet Catholic? If the latter, he cannot be permitted to succeed her.
Thus poor Mahmoud finds himself in Edinburgh, the only place on Earth more dismal for him than Northern England. Eager to finish his mission and cash in the return to Constantinople Cecil has dangled, he hits on a stratagem: only on his deathbed will a man tell the truth about his soul. How he gets James to his, and plucks him back, would be telling too much. Let’s just say that the Scots King’s regrettable hygiene is involved. But the resolution is far more clever than Prague’s switcheroo.
On the way to it, Phillips convincingly portrays England’s true place in the world of 1600: pretty much nowhere. Mahmoud longs for the warmth and vibrancy of Constantinople, its colors brighter and smells sweeter than the “diseased air and gruesome streets” of Elizabethan London. He finds the courtiers effeminate and asks whether they are eunuchs. Most powerfully conveyed is a sense of the island’s insignificance; the Ottomans are the powerhouse of the Mediterranean, who would less than a hundred years later reach Vienna, while England was the last stop before a boundless freezing ocean. There are, of course, bright spots—Mahmoud’s friendship with Tudor magus John Dee, for example—but by and large the image is of Britain as a backward place.
The plot is tight and the prose lush without excesses. Read this for a view of Elizabeth’s England through very different eyes.
Dan Snow, the U.K.’s History Guy will make his debut Clubhouse appearance in an interview with US historian Deb Hunter (me) on September 7th at 3pm Eastern time/20:00 UK time.
Dan Snow is history’s rockstar. He is a BAFTA award-winning broadcaster, chart-topping podcast presenter, and Sunday Times bestselling author. He is the founder of the History Hit podcast, and co-founder of History Hit TV-a new type of history channel-with an extensive library of programs-like Netflix for real history fans. You can find Dan on Twitter: @thehistoryguy
Deb Hunter is a USA Today bestselling author and historian who is repped by Past Preservers Casting based in London, Cairo & NYC. Her Tudor history group, All Things Tudor, is a social media phenomenon with over 18,000 Facebook members. Join here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/AllThingsTudor
Clubhouse is a new type of audio-only social network based on voice—where people around the world come together to talk, listen and learn from each other in real-time.
This will be an interactive Best of Clubhouse event, so get your questions ready for Dan. Mark your calendar! September 7th at 3:00pm/20:00 UK time when you can join in the chat for free from anywhere in the world from your phone or Mac.
As they stood up Tom could see a terrible incident being played out before the court. The key player, a man who unlike the courtiers was wearing plain garb in dark fustian and worsted fabrics, had been thrown face down on the floor. Whatever was being said to him was lost on Tom but he could tell by the Queen’s wild gestures, her hands balled into fists and her eyes flashing whilst she spoke through gritted teeth, that she was terrifyingly angry. The man had his head in his hands, congealed blood where his fingernails used to be and Tom could see his swollen face was bloodied and bruised. One of the guards hauled him to his feet and held him there as the man wobbled about as if his legs would give way. Tom felt his gut quiver in fright and for once he was relieved he couldn’t hear the screaming he imagined was happening, if the wincing from the other people around the room was anything to go by.
Finally, the Queen pointed to a door hidden in one corner of the room where the panelling had opened up to reveal a stone staircase beyond and the man was hauled off by his feet, his head dragging across the floor as if he were already a corpse. Tom caught a glimpse of the man being pulled away and down the stairs, the back of his head bouncing off every step as he disappeared from view. Hot acid bile clawed at the back of Tom’s throat. What on earth was he doing here? As he and Hugh were ushered forward it took everything he had not to vomit. As he knelt again, he could see specks of blood in front of him on the floor.
He turned his attention to the Queen. She was talking to Hugh but he caught the gist of what she was saying from the occasional word. Her mood seemed to have switched in an instant – all thoughts of the poor wretch dragged away just seconds earlier gone – as she exclaimed her delight for the vanilla flavouring which she’d never tasted before and insisted the two apothecaries sought out more. She got to her feet and turned towards Tom, her small dark eyes burning into his as if she could read everything tumbling through his mind; his thoughts and his fears laid bare before this diminutive woman who was the most powerful female in the world. His legs began to shake, her supremacy and confidence rolling from her in waves. Now they were closer he could see the pale face paint she wore was disguising a harsh pockmarked complexion and together with her hooked nose she was less attractive than the portrait he’d admired as he followed Hugh along the corridor a few minutes previously.
‘I am told by my apothecary that you are responsible for bringing this new spice, vanilla, to my court.’ Tom had to watch her thin-lipped mouth carefully as she spoke. Thankfully she seemed to consider each word for a moment before she said it and he had little trouble understanding her. He bowed again from his waist, before standing up so he could watch her face once again. ‘And you can neither hear nor speak and yet understand what those around you say?’ Tom nodded, wondering what she was thinking and if his time at the palace was about to come to an end. He watched as she made her way back to her throne behind her, the weight of her gown almost swamping her tiny frame and preventing her from moving.
Once she was perched on her throne and her skirts carefully arranged around her by a young girl with blond hair, dressed in a lovat green dress with simple ribbon decoration who’d spent the entire time stood silently to one side, the Queen addressed him once more. ‘You intrigue me, Tom Lutton. You cannot hear and yet you are able to understand everything that I say. I have never come across someone like you before and I wonder if you may be of use to others at my court. And not just because you make a delicious bedtime drink.’ She looked over to Hugh. ‘You are both dismissed,’ she told him, before turning her attention to Tom and adding, ‘for the present.’
The Queen’s Spy
By Clare Marchant
1584: Elizabeth I rules England. But a dangerous plot is brewing in court, and Mary Queen of Scots will stop at nothing to take her cousin’s throne.
There’s only one thing standing in her way: Tom, the queen’s trusted apothecary, who makes the perfect silent spy…
2021: Travelling the globe in her campervan, Mathilde has never belonged anywhere. So when she receives news of an inheritance, she is shocked to discover she has a family in England.
Just like Mathilde, the medieval hall she inherits conceals secrets, and she quickly makes a haunting discovery. Can she unravel the truth about what happened there all those years ago? And will she finally find a place to call home?
Henry VIII & Anne Boleyn. Their love changed history.
Max King & Daisy Colston. Not so much.
They despise each other as they play the part of the fabled lovers in a film considered the-next-big-thing about the legendary Tudor affair.
A chance encounter at a New Orleans tarot shop could seal their destiny.
Some love stories last forever. Some are tragic.
Some just…need magic
Available now on the NEW Kindle Vella platform. Get the first three episodes FREE!
Kindle Vella is a fun reading experience launched by Amazon in early July. Much like Wattpad & Radish, it offers readers a taste of a story in a serial format. Look for a new chapter of Fables: A Tudor Fairytale to be launched weekly. In keeping with the ambience of the New Orleans setting of the story, I’ll be drawing a card from my tarot deck each week and basing each episode on that card. For instance, Chapter 3 is called The High Priestess; Chapter 4 – The Chariot.
In the twilight years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign the nation is at war on two fronts, and fears of a Spanish invasion are never far away.
In this febrile atmosphere, spymaster Robert Cecil calls in Martin Marbeck – his best, if most undisciplined intelligencer – to unmask a double agent who is feeding secrets to the enemy. Marbeck has been under a cloud since a failed mission in Flanders, and is eager to be on the trail.
But the traitor – codename Mulberry – proves maddeningly elusive. Soon Marbeck must leave England for France and venture into the lion’s den, following a tortuous path that winds back to London. With the help of his fellow-agent, the unruly Joseph Gifford, a trap is laid to ensnare Mulberry – with deadly and unforeseen results.
The spy network has been compromised, which means all intelligence reports could be suspect, and the nation is in grave danger. Marbeck must use all his skills to confront the secret forces of the mighty Spanish empire, which pits him against the cleverest and most ruthless opponent he has ever faced. [ENDS]
Having given up trying to become a rock star after playing guitar in various bands, John Pilkington turned to writing and found his true vocation. His first works were radio plays, followed by stage plays and scripts for BBC television. But his venture into historical fiction proved crucial, and it continues to be his lifelong passion. He has published more than twenty books including seven in the Elizabethan-era Thomas the Falconer Mysteries series (now republished by Sharpe Books), four in the Marbeck spy series (Severn House) and two in a Restoration-era series featuring actress-turned-sleuth Betsy Brand (Joffe Books). His last series was the Justice Belstrang trilogy (Sharpe), set in the years 1616-1618. The Marbeck series is also republished in omnibus edition by Sharpe as Blade of Albion.
Born in the north-west of England, he now lives in a quiet village on a tidal estuary in Devon with his partner Lisa, and has a son who is a musician and psychologist. When not at his desk he may be found walking by the river, doing a little carpentry, watching rugby or listening to music – and reading, of course. He is currently sifting ideas for his next project.
I love coffee. Naturally, when I saw receipt “To make Coffee” in a tweet from Somerset Archives, I was intrigued.
Reading recipe manuscripts, I’ve seen coffee called for as a flavoring for creams or “coffee cups” used for measurement. I’ve also read about the popularity of coffee in seventeenth-century London and the lively debates in coffee houses as part of the growing public sphere. This recipe, however, provides instructions for preparing coffee at home to serve to a household and its guests. It offers a window into domestic coffee consumption rather than the public coffee house. (There is also likely more to learn about the connection between Mary Clarke, her coffee recipe, and John Locke, but that will have to wait until I can visit Somerset.)
But this coffee recipe also gave me pause because it’s so simple. It only calls for “spring-water”…
“Whatever is dreamed on this night, will come to pass.” —
William Shakespeare, A MidSummer Night’s Dream
Shakespeare wrote of the enchantments of summer solstice. Each year, on a day between June 20-June 24, we have solstice — the longest day of the year. This day has been celebrated throughout history as a day of magic. Many countries in the northern hemisphere receive 24 hours of daylight. Let’s look into the mystery of this celebration and see how Midsummer was experienced in Tudor England.
The word solstice derives from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still). This reflects what our ancestors knew about the sun and its travels across the sky. The summer solstice was used to establish noon and to mark the middle of the year. When people watched the movement of the sun across the sky, they were seeking knowledge about time. This knowledge also helped predict when to plant and harvest. To watch the sun’s movements, they watched the horizon and noted where the sun would appear at a given time each day. According to the English Heritage website, “The Stonehenge we see today is aligned on the midwinter setting sun and the midsummer sunrise.” The summer solstice has the most hours of daylight but it is the one day of the year when the sun is at its highest point in the sky.
Midsummer marked the accomplishments of the year. The earth was pregnant with her soon to be delivered harvest and the sun was in his glory, in the height of his power. Midsummer was the day the wheel of the year turned onward toward harvest then Yule, the shortest day.
The summer solstice was one of the pagan festivals taken over by the early Christian church, which aligned it with the feast of St. John the Baptist on June 24th. By the sixteenth century, Midsummer Day had an interesting mixture of Christian and Pagan meaning.
“Tudor festivals played a major role in 16th-century life,” says Rachel Costigan, Visitor Experience Officer at Little Moreton Hall in Cheshire, England. “They gave our Tudor ancestors something to look forward to in their everyday life. Midsummer was a mix of celebrations which took place between St John’s Night and the Feast of St Peter and St Paul. It also marks the Summer Solstice, and was considered by Tudor people to mark the middle of summer, which started on May Day and finished with the first harvest or ‘Lammas’ at the beginning of August.”
SUN AND FIRE
Fire was the theme of Midsummer celebrations as it symbolized the sun. There was an impulse to make merry in the sunlight at Midsummer, before the year waned into autumn. People made bonfires using the charred logs from the previous year. Often bones were tossed in for good fortune. (The term for bonfire derives from late Middle English: bone + fire; fire with bones for fuel.) The fires were thought to lure the sun to stay longer in the sky. People danced and leapt between the flames while feasting.
This was a time of merry making, of settling differences between neighbors, and giving to the poor. In the country, bonfires were particularly valued to protect crops and livestock. Fires were lit on the windward side of crops and animals, so the smoke would blow over them. In some places, people even drove animals through the embers of the fires. This practice was possibly used as a protection against disease. Causes of diseases in animals and plants were not understood then. They believed that any contagion was airborne, hence the fire was a cleansing agent against disease. Giants and hobby horses went through the streets on ‘Marching Watches’. (The origins of the hobby horse originated in the medieval era when they were used for jousting practice. By the Tudor era, it was believed they brought good luck to festivals.)
Of all the Tudor midsummer activities, the most expensive activities were the Marching Watches, which were parades accompanied by lit torches. These events sound sensational. In London one is recorded as including four thousand marchers. There were Morris dancers, giant straw puppets and hobby horses, and pageants. Even though this was considered a religious festival, you understand how the celebrations retained hints of their Pagan past. Often festivals had mythological or historical themes. In 1521, the Lord Mayor’s Guild in London put on five pageants: The Castle of War, The Story of Jesse, St. John the Evangelist, St. George, and Pluto. They were all carried on platforms and the Pluto pageant included a serpent that spat fireballs. There was also a model giant called Lord Marlinspikes, Morris dancers and naked boys dyed black to represent devils. Dragons and firework displays were popular additions to the marches. In 1541, the Drapers’ Guild procession including a dragon that burned aqua vitae. (Aqua vitae is Latin, defined literally as “water of life.” It was a term for unrefined alcohol. In England in the 1540s, the term was used for brandy and whiskey.)
Fire and the sun are the main themes for Midsummer, in whatever form they derived. The Fire Wheel is an ancient British ceremony. The wheel is based on four equal parts which represent the four seasons. The wheel was set on fire and rolled down a hillside. This is another ritual with obvious pagan roots, with the wheel representing the sun as it passed through each season. If the fire burned until the wheel reached the bottom of the hill, it was thought to bring good fortune to the entire community.
FLOWERS AND SYMBOLISM
As the sun was represented by fires, so flowers represented the earth in the festivities. It was traditional to decorate one’s home — especially the main entry door — with garlands or wreaths. The colors of the flowers used were red, yellow, orange, all colors identified with the sun, and green for fertility. The circular shape of the wreaths suggested both the sun and the cyclical nature of the seasons, again harking back to old Pagan beliefs. John Stow, a seventeenth century writer, remembered green birch being hung on all the local signposts. He wrote:
“Every man’s door being shadowed with green birch, long fennel, St John’s Wort, Orpin, white lilies and such like, garnished upon with garlands of beautiful flowers.”
These plants had powers which were thought to be associated with their religious symbolism. Birch symbolized protection, exorcism, and purification. Fennel was a healing and protective herb. Another protective plant was trefoil. Its three-part leaves suggested the Holy Trinity. The white lilies Stow mention derived their power from their association with the Virgin Mary — they are still called Madonna lilies.
The yellow flowers of St. John’s Wort were seen as an emblem of the sun, and thought to have magical powers. In Tudor England, this plant was connected with St. John because its leaves were flecked red and symbolized the blood of the martyred saint. It is the association with St. John which made this herb so important at Midsummer. Wreaths of St. John’s Wort were placed on the horns of cattle, and even their sheds were decorated with it. All wreaths were left outdoors and allowed to ‘die’ with the sun. Fern spores collected at Midsummer gave miraculous knowledge and power, and it was believed that these could even make you invisible. All herbs were particularly potent under the midsummer sun, so it was the most powerful time of the year for making potions and medicines.
Witches and the fairy folk were considered to be overly active at Midsummer. This is why Midsummer celebrations began at sunset the evening prior to Midsummer. In folklore, the hours between dusk and dawn are said to be closer to the underworld and a time when fairy activity is at its peak. This time was believed to be the time when witches harvested their magical plants. This magical influence is referenced in Tudor stories and immortalized by William Shakespeare in “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”.
Perhaps the figure most depicted as a traditional fairy is the character of Puck, “the oldest of the Old Things” due to his depiction in folklore. Pouk, or Puca, was the term used on the British Isles for the Pagan Sun deity also known as the Stag King or the Horned God. In other cultures, this archetype was represented by deities such as Bacchus, Pan, and Hermes. The Puca was a respected yet vengeful fairy creature. Puca evolved into a medieval term for the Devil. Yet, Puca also had a mischievous side in English folklore and was known as Robin Goodfellow. An expression for being lost is “Robin Goodfellow has been with you tonight.” Reference to this quote are recorded in Tudor manuscripts as early as 1531.
As history and literature records, Shakespeare gave Puck some great PR and an image makeover in “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”. He became the mischievous sprite who causes mayhem with a few droplets of a magical flower. (Note: Shakespeare introduces Puck in Act 2, Scene 1 as Robin. This is a reference to the mischievous prankster, Robin Goodfellow.)
Midsummer Eve was seen as the most advantageous time of the year for enchantments, since the sun and plants were at the height of their powers. Enchantments to reveal who your new lover would be were wildly popular. Lovers looked for ways to spend this magical night in each other’s arms.
Divinations for love, prosperity and health were practiced throughout the island. However, for some people, the importance of midsummer festivities wasn’t about magic, it was about community. Tudor England also viewed Midsummer as a chance for Christian charity, for merry making, and for neighbors to make amends. It was a holiday celebrated much as we celebrate today on New Year’s Eve. It was a time for the fulfillment of wishes and desires, and the beginning of new dreams.
Midsummer was an expensive holiday. The feasting and drinking lead authorities to fear civil unrest. In 1539, Henry VIII banned the Midsummer Watch in London due to the exorbitant cost and drunken crowds. This action outraged his subjects. The Midsummer celebrations were reinstated in 1548, and we can imagine from “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” that by the reign of Elizabeth I a good time was had by all at the Midsummer celebrations.
Then as now, may your dreams come true this Solstice night.