Marbeck and the Double Dealer

England, 1600.

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]

UK link to the book  www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B092JP1LSC

US link is www.amazon.com/dp/B092/dp/B092JP1LSC

BIO:

John Pilkington

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.  

Website

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Midsummer Magic in Tudor England

“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.

Stongehenge courtesy of Peter Trimming

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.)

Courtesy of Lily Wight

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.

Courtesy of Lily Wight

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.

MAGIC

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.

Edward Robert Hughes

SOURCES:

www.english-heritage.org.uk

www.NationalTrust.org.uk

Alison Sim, Pleasures and Pastimes In Tudor England

Ronald Hutton, The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain

www.LilyWight.com

Margaret Baker, Folklore and Customs of Rural England

All photographs courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Portions of this blog were originally published by the author via Medium & English Historical Fiction Authors on June 19, 2015.

The Death of Hans Holbein

by Franny Moyle

What do we know of Holbein’s Death?

Leonardo da Vinci died in the Chateau de Clos Lucé, apparently in the arms of the French King, Francis I. However, the place and circumstances of Leonardo’s near contemporary Hans Holbein the Younger, beloved by Henry VIII, has eluded art historians. As Holbein’s most recent biographer, I found myself facing this puzzle and to my surprise, I discovered that a simple mistake has allowed crucial details about Holbein’s death, once in common currency, to vanish from history.

Hans Holbein spent the last decade of his life, from 1532 to 1543, living in London, painting the defining portraits of the Tudor court. A celebrity avant la lettre, he was honoured with the title of Henry VIII’s ‘King’s Painter’.

Records from 1541 locate Holbein paying taxes in the parish of St Andrew Undershaft, in Aldgate.  His will, dated two years later, cites his home in the same location. My research suggests the painter may have had a prestigious address there, shared by Sir Thomas Audley, Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor

.

Hans Holbein the Younger, self portrait.

Audley has significant property interests in Aldgate. In 1533 he acquired Holy Trinity Priory there, and converted this former religious institution into a prestigious urban estate which became known as Cree-Church Mansion, so named after the nearby church St Katherine Cree. This gated community comprised not just Audley’s considerable dwelling, but leasehold residential properties, along with business premises. Audley enjoyed his London mansion until his death in 1544. Then, when the Fourth Duke of Norfolk married Audley’s daughter Margaret in 1558 the complex passed into his ownership and was called Duke’s Place thereafter.

Evidence of Holbein’s professional association with Audley lies in the miniature he painted of the Chancellor’s wife, Elizabeth, probably in 1538. Londoners have long believed that Holbein lived and died on Audley’s property at Cree-Church Mansion. This was noted as late as 1827, in the History & Antiquities of London. When I checked old maps, although the majority of the Mansion complex fell into the parish of St Katherine Cree, its westernmost flank fell into the parish of St Andrew Undershaft. So Holbein could indeed have been a parishioner of the latter, and part of the Cree-Church Mansion community, were he a leaseholder in Berry St.

So why has recent scholarship ignored this? George Vertue, the 18th century engraver who copied Holbein’s work, believed Holbein died in Cree-Church Mansion. But Vertue referred to it as it was known in his day– Duke’s Place. The art historian Horace Walpole therefore dismissed Vertue’s claim, on the basis that Duke’s Place dated to 1558, after Holbein’s death, and noting Holbein’s association with the Third Duke – whom he portrayed – not the Fourth. In his Holbein biography of 1867, Ralph Wornum repeated Vertue’s claim, and demolished it with the same arguments. With considerable oversight both Walpole and Wornum failed to grasp that Holbein could have lived in Duke’s Place in its earlier incarnation, when it was known as Cree-Church Mansion. But Wornum’s word was apparently the last, and thus the fascinating connection between Holbein and Audley’s building became lost.

If one mystery is solved, another remains. Why is there no gravestone commemorating the great Holbein? The answer is the plague. Shortly after Henry VIII married his sixth wife Catherine Parr, in July 1543, London was stricken. Aldgate was the epicentre of the epidemic. Plague pits were dug because local churches could not cope with individual burials. On October 7th 1543 Holbein wrote his will. On 29th November it was executed. Whether Holbein succumbed to the pestilence or not (and surely he did?), any burial at this moment would have been communal.

The pit for those who died in Cree Church Mansion was at St Katherine Cree. So was it here Holbein was laid to rest in the late Autumn of 1543? Though no record of Holbein’s burial survives, once again supporting evidence emerges if one looks hard enough. In 1668 Mayor Payne Fisher made a catalogue of tombs and inscriptions in London’s churches. In St Katherine Cree he noted one to ‘Hans Holben’, most likely part of a wider list of the plague dead. Perhaps made in haste, much like the burials, this inscription simply wore away? Maybe it was removed during church renovations in 1878?

Holbein’s death lacks the romance of Leonardo’s. He did not live a long life, nor die in a French chateau. He certainly did not enjoy the company of a king in his final hours. Holbein died at forty six, in the midst of plague ridden London. But he was perhaps in an English mansion, with the King’s Lord Chancellor looking on.

Franny Moyle is the author of 

The King’s Painter: The Life and Times of Hans Holbein 

published by Head of Zeus.

Contents shared with special thanks to Aspects of History

Steve Veerapen, Writing, Scotland and Tudor History

Please welcome Steve Veerapen to All Things Tudor. Like most great relationships, we met on Twitter. He is from Glasgow, my husband’s home town, and it has been wonderful working with him. Recently, he took a few minutes to share insight into his fascinating career as a writer and historian.

What prompted you to choose to write about Mary Queen of Scots & Lord Darnley in your first book?

In my case, I was following the old strategy of ‘write what you know’. I’d been researching and teaching this period for years and it seemed fertile ground for trying fiction. Once I knew I wanted to write about Mary Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley, the choice of characters dictated the period.

What is your approach to researching your novels? Has the process changed over the years?

A great question! My approach is generally to start with a setting or event and then narrow research down to books and articles which cover those days, weeks, or months in depth. I try to also dip into research material which covers lifestyles in the period more generally. I’ve always tried to approach researching fiction in the same way I approach nonfiction (though I can get away with more in the former!). Academic study really teaches you to narrow in when researching.

Which other historical novelists do you admire?

There are loads. My friend Marie Macpherson (who has worked wonders in bringing John Knox to life), E C Fremantle, Paul Walker, John Pilkington, Patricia Finney, Anna Castle. And of course my favourite author, Daphne du Maurier, was no mean historical novelist.

When first sketching out an idea for a novel, which comes first – the protagonist, plot or history?

Protagonist and broad plot usually come had in hand (sometimes one or the other skipping ahead) and history last. Once I know what’s going to happen and to whom, I fit it into specific historical contexts.

Do you have a daily routine as a writer?

I don’t have a daily routine per se, but when I have a book on the go, I tend to write every day for a few hours. Each book seems to bring its own routine!

If you could choose to meet any historical figure from your period, who would it be and why?

I think it would have to be Mary Queen of Scots. I’d love to find out exactly what she knew of her husband’s murder (and what she really looked like – for the same reason, I’d love to get a glimpse of Anne Boleyn!).

Find Steven’s works here:

UK

US

About Steven Veerapen

Steven Veerapen was born in Glasgow and raised in Paisley. Pursuing an interest in the sixteenth century, he was awarded a first-class Honours degree in English, focussing his dissertation on representations of Henry VIII’s six wives. He then received a Masters in Renaissance studies, and a Ph.D. investigating Elizabethan slander.

He writes historical fiction set in the early modern period, covering the reigns of Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and James VI and I; additionally, he has written nonfiction studies of Mary Queen of Scots’ relationship with her brother; Elizabeth I and her last favourite, the Earl of Essex; and an academic study of slander and sedition in the reign of Elizabeth.

He has also published a variety of academic articles in literary and historical journals and magazines and teaches English literature at the University of Strathclyde. Steven remains fascinated by the glamour and ghastliness of life in the 1500s and 1600s, and has a penchant for myths, mysteries and murders in an age in which the law was as slippery as those who defied it.

Steven’s latest work is The Queen’s Gold: A Christopher Marlowe Spy Thriller

England, 1585.

The Sparrowhawk, one of Drake’s lost treasure ships, is found wrecked in Devon. Rumours spread through England of its booty, including a mysterious treasure: El Sol Dorado.

Thomas Lewgar, the resentful roommate of aspiring playwright Christopher Marlowe, hears of the rumours. He discovers, too, that the boastful Marlowe is engaged in a web of espionage.

Intrigued and repelled by the irreverent Marlowe, Lewgar joins the poet in seeking the lost treasure. If they can find it, they will be richly rewarded by queen and court.

But they are not the only ones hunting the prize.

A crooked courtier, Henry Howton, has also heard the rumours. In the secret employ of the Spanish, he hopes to find the treasure himself – and he will stop at nothing to get his hands on it.

Racing their Spanish-backed enemy and his dangerous associates, Lewgar and Marlowe must discover the strange history of the ghostly wreck. Their journey will lead them into the rotting carcass of the Sparrowhawk, into the presence of sea-dogs Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh, and through the ravaged home of spiritualist Dr John Dee.

Betrayal, falsehood, and deceit lie in wait.

Can they discover the lost treasure and unravel the mystery of El Sol Dorada before the Spanish?

Praise for Steven Veerapen:

A Dangerous Trade

‘A slow-burn character driven spy story that grips like a thumbscrew tightened by twist after twist towards the end – Le Carre transported to the 1560’s. Brilliant work, based in impressively wide research and the kind of competition that I and a good number of others could well do without!’ Peter Tonkin, author of The Ides

The Abbey Close (Book One of the Simon Danforth Mysteries)

‘The author balances gimlet-eyed research with narrative drive and clever reveals… Danforth is a strong yet torn central character… I look forward to reading the second book in the series.’ Richard Foreman, author of The First Crusade series

Blood Feud: Mary Queen of Scots and The Earl of Moray

‘Much-needed analysis of a sinister sibling rivalry.’ Marie Macpherson

Elizabeth and Essex: Power, Passion and Politics

‘A sensitive and lively account of one of the most politically significant relationships of the Elizabethan age.’ Lisa Hopkins

Assassination

‘Both a crime and spy thriller.’ Richard Foreman, author of The First Crusade series

‘From its tense beginning to satisfying end, Steven Veerapen skilfully weaves historical fact into a gripping tale, making a superb contribution to 17th century fiction.’ John Pilkington, author of The Ruffler’s Child

Follow him on Twitter and Instagram

Primary Sources with Dr Joanne Paul

Dr Joanne Paul is Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of Sussex. Her work focuses on politics and culture of the Renaissance period, largely in England, and she has published on topics from Hobbes to Shakespeare, gender to temporality. Her first book, Thomas More (Polity, 2017) is an overview of More’s writing and ideas and her second, Counsel and Command in Early Modern English Thought (Cambridge University Press, 2020) traces the role of political counsel from the early Tudor period to the English Civil War.

She is currently working on a number of projects, including a history of the Dudley family, to be published with Michael Joseph (Penguin, 2022 )and two modern editions of sixteenth century texts: Anne Dowriche’s The French Historie and Thomas More’s Utopia.

Dr Paul has also shared her research more widely, appearing on a variety of television and radio programmes and featuring in magazine articles and podcasts.

She has recently launched her own podcast: Primary Sources: Conversations with History Makers, which can be found on all major streaming sites. She has recently spoken with historians Greg Jenner, Helen H. Carr, Hallie Rubenhold.

Today – May 21 – she is with Nathen Amin who wrote Tudor Wales, and a biography of the Beaufort family, The House of Beaufort. He also discusses how he wrote Henry VII and the Tudor Pretenders.

Click here to access. This is a Viral History podcast.

Follow Dr Paul at these sites:

Twitter

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Website

King and Collector

‘Packed with absorbing detail and brilliant insights … I was gripped from the first paragraph’ Alison Weir 

‘Beautifully written and impeccably researched … Exquisite’ Tracy Borman 

‘If you are visiting Tudor England, this book will be a sure guide to what to look at and how to look at it’. Hilary Mantel

This is a book about Tudor art – the stories within and around each artwork – and the story of Henry himself, as we follow his path from handsome prince to crippled tyrant.  The works reveal much about both his kingship and his insecurities. King and Collector tells this unique story of art and power, peeling back the layers of propaganda to show the true face of this most notorious of Tudor monarchs.

King & Collector is a sumptuous guide to the art of Henry VIII—with analysis of what his collection of paintings and artworks reveal about the man and his reign

No English king is as well-known to us as Henry VIII: famous for six marriages; for dissolving the monasteries and creating the Church of England; and for the ruthless destruction of those who stood in his way. But Henry was also an ardent patron of the arts whose tapestries and paintings, purchased in pursuit of glory and magnificence, adorned his lavish court and began the Royal Collection. In contrast to later royal collectors, this king was more interested in storytelling than art for its own sake, and all his commissions relate to one central tale: the glorification of Henry and his realm. His life can be seen through his art collection and the works tell us much about both his kingship and his insecurities. 

King and Collector by Linda Collins and Siobhan Clarke tells a unique story of art, power, and propaganda in Tudor England.

Purchase here

Amazon pre-order

Short Bios

Linda Collins is an accredited lecturer for the Arts Society and a member of the Association of Art Historians. Siobhan Clarke is a Guide Lecturer at Hampton Court Palace. Both authors worked for Historic Royal Palaces for 20 years and both appeared in PBS Television’s ‘Secrets of Henry VIII’s Palace’. They have also written: The Tudors: The Crown, The Dynasty, The Golden Age.

Songbird

Songbird

Series: The Tudor Court, Book I

By Karen Heenan

Blurb

She has the voice of an angel…

But one false note could send her back to her old life of poverty.

After her father sells her to Henry VIII, ten-year-old Bess builds a new life as a royal minstrel, and earns the nickname “the king’s songbird.”

She comes of age in the dangerous Tudor court, where the stakes are always high, and where politics, heartbreak, and disease threaten everyone from the king to the lowliest musician.

Her world has only one constant: Tom, her first and dearest friend. But when Bess intrigues with Anne Boleyn and strains against the restrictions of life at court, will she discover that the biggest risk of all is listening to her own stubborn heart?

Buy Links:

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Audio Buy Links:

Narrated by Jennifer Summerfield

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Author Bio

Karen Heenan

Karen Heenan was born and raised in Philadelphia, PA. She fell in love with books and stories before she could read, and has wanted to write for nearly as long. After far too many years in a cubicle, she set herself free to follow her dreams—which include gardening, sewing, traveling and, of course, lots of writing.

She lives in Lansdowne, PA, not far from Philadelphia, with two cats and a very patient husband, and is always hard at work on her next book.

Connect with Karen:

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A Note from the Author

The Life of a Minstrel at the Court of Henry VIII

He told me I was now a member of the King’s Music, a group of performers kept for court entertainments. It was a great privilege; the king was very particular about the musicians in his employ. Songbird, chapter 1

While minstrels were considered royal servants, they were a cut above the other servants who made the life comfortable for the inhabitants of the court. A minstrel provided both comfort and beauty, and in Henry’s court, beauty was at least as important as comfort.

Minstrels were provided with food, lodging, and clothing or livery, as were all court servants, but because they were also frequently in the royal presence, their attire was of better quality, and they were often costumed to take part in masques, or evening entertainments for the court.

Henry loved music, and before his brother’s death, he had been permitted only two. When he became Prince of Wales, and then king, he acquired musicians at a speed which would put jokes about his later wife-gathering to shame. The number of musicians in the royal household was generally sixty, but he was always willing to add more.

[Illustration #2] Some minstrels were specialized—playing the lute, harp, or virginals—but there were also general purpose entertainers, acquired each year at the Lenten schools of minstrelsy, who were also acrobats, storytellers, or who worked with animals. I did not cover this in Songbird because each time I tried, the research rabbit hole yawned wider, and I could see the story rapidly losing its shape.

In addition to minstrels, there were other types of musician at court. There were the choristers of the Chapel Royal—men and boys—who sang mass several times each day. There was another, smaller choir, who traveled with the king. There was the Music, the general minstrels, and then there were special musicians, imported (or occasionally lured away) from other countries and courts.

A core group of minstrels always traveled with the king, because he would not want to be caught without music. They went on progress with him, and, in 1520, when the king and most of his courtiers journeyed to France for the Field of Cloth of Gold, it would have been unspeakable to leave them home. Henry took every weapon in his arsenal to impress the French, and the quality of his musicians would have definitely been a point in his favor.

He also took the Chapel Royal choir, because they were made to do musical gymnastics with the French choir—for a final mass, the English choir sang with the French organist, and vice-versa, in one of those “it sounded like a good idea at the time” performances that no doubt had choristers on both sides muttering under their breath.

Songbird came about because I discovered that one of the ways Henry added to the choir and the Music was to buy children. These were most likely poor, musically talented children whose parents were more than happy (or as happy as you can be, surrendering a child, even to a promising future) to trade their child for security for the rest of their family. More than likely the children were boys, and destined for the choir, but in the case of Songbird, I made the child a girl, and Bess Llewelyn was born.

Edward Gresham

Edward Gresham, practitioner of astrology, medicine and maker of magic was born on this day in 1565. He is known for his treatise Astrostereon and many believed his almanacs and ‘predictions’ foretold the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 – to the point that he was implicated in them. His astrological almanacs were published 1603-1607.

He studied at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was also involved in courtly intrigues, one being the divorce of Robert Devereux, third Earl of Essex, another the poisoning of Sir Thomas Overbury. Gresham was an adherent of the heliocentric theory of the universe. He expressed this belief in his almanacs and writings. The complete account of Gresham’s astronomical beliefs can be found in his manuscript Astrostereon or the Discourse of the Falling of the Planet, 1603. 

There are several topics addressed in the Astrostereon. The treatise contains a set of well-articulated arguments in favor of a sun centered cosmos and solar system, which was a new philosophy. Gresham believed that planets are made of the same material as Earth and he was controversial in that his writings stated that his views of the earth and solar system didn’t oppose biblical teaching. 

As a scientist, the Astrostereon is a prime example of an Elizabethan mindset in that he attempted to reorganize the fundamentals of astrology to fit into their ‘new’ system of the universe. 

References:

Cambridge.org

Royal Society

Essex – Tudor Rebel

Book two of the Elizabethan Series

New from Tony Riches, Author of the best-selling Tudor Trilogy

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, is one of the most intriguing men of the Elizabethan period. Tall and handsome, he soon becomes a ‘favourite’ at court, so close to the queen many wonder if they are lovers.

The truth is far more complex, as each has what the other yearns for. Robert Devereux longs for recognition, wealth and influence. His flamboyant naïveté amuses the ageing Queen Elizabeth, like the son she never had, and his vitality makes her feel young.

Robert Devereux’s remarkable true story continues the epic tale of the rise of the Tudors, which began with the best-selling Tudor trilogy and concludes with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

Author Bio

Tony Riches at Pembroke Castle

Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of best-selling Tudor historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the history of the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors. Tony’s other published historical fiction novels include: Owen – Book One Of The Tudor Trilogy, Jasper – Book Two Of The Tudor Trilogy, Henry – Book Three Of The Tudor Trilogy, Mary – Tudor Princess, Brandon – Tudor Knight and The Secret Diary Of Eleanor Cobham. For more information about Tony’s books please visit his website tonyriches.com and his blog, The Writing Desk and find him on  Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches

Purchase sites:

AMAZON US

AMAZON UK

Reveal: The Project

Ralph Sadler was born in Hackney, Middlesex, the elder son of Henry Sadler, a minor official. At approximately seven years of age, Sadler was placed in the household of Thomas Cromwell. He was an intelligent and resourceful child who was taught many skills-learning to read and write, becoming fluent in French, Latin and Greek, and given knowledge of the law. He eventually became a courtier and diplomat who served four Tudor monarchs: Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. 

Sir Ralph and Mary Queen of Scots

In April 1540, Sadler was made principal secretary to King Henry VIII. In the same year, he was knighted, made a privy councillor, and began more than 30 years of service. Sadler survived Cromwell’s fall from power and execution but during the power struggle following Cromwell’s death he was arrested and sent to the Tower for a time. He was able to clear himself and was released in a few days, returning to the council chamber. He played a leading role in the examination of Catherine Howard and her relatives in November 1541, regained the King’s trust and was knighted for his part in holding matters of state while the court went on a summer progress.

On the accession of Mary I to the throne, after the resolution of the succession crisis, Sadler lost most of his offices, including master of the great wardrobe, he was removed from the commissions of the peace and excluded from the Privy Council. For a short time in 1553 he was under house arrest. For the rest of Mary I’s reign he did not sit in any parliament, remaining in semi-retirement at Standon, Hertfordshire.

During the reign of Elizabeth I he was restored to favor and sent to Scotland in 1559 to arrange an alliance with the Scottish Protestants. He eventually became one of the architects of the Treaty of Edinburgh. In 1568 he was appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. When Mary, Queen of Scots, fled to England, Sadler was unwillingly appointed to meet with Scottish commissioners, becoming a reluctant jailer of the Scottish Queen. From summer 1584 to spring 1585, Mary was housed at Wingfield Manor and Tutbury Castle, under Sadler’s charge. During that time, Elizabeth grew increasingly disturbed by the presence of Mary Stuart on English soil and Sadler was instructed to restrict her freedom, being required to post guards around the area where Mary was held. Eventually, Sadler sat on the council that sentenced Mary to death.

Sadler married Ellen Mitchell circa 1534. They had three sons and four daughters, one being Sir Thomas Sadler who was named for Cromwell. Sir Ralph died March 1587 and was rumored to be the wealthiest commoner in England. His aging tomb is in St. Mary’s Church, Standon Hertfordshire.

Tomb of Sir Ralph Sadlier

Sir Ralph Sadleir (1507-87), the great Tudor statesman and long-time resident of Standon, England asked to be buried ‘not with anie pompe after the worldly manner, but in such sorte as shall be seemlie and requisite for a Christian man’. His son, Sir Thomas, decided to ignore his wishes and commissioned elaborate, ornate tombs for his father and himself commissioned from the leading London workshops of the Tudor Era. The magnificent tombs of Sir Ralph Sadleir (1507-1587), his eldest son Thomas and the latter’s wife Gertrude are a part of the rich heritage of the Tudor Era.

Sir Ralph, described on his memorial as ‘’faithful to the state and beloved of his countrie’’, served Tudor monarchs as courtier, soldier and statesman. The passage of over 400 years has left the memorials in need of repair and refurbishment. Sadlier’s part in the acclaimed Wolf Hall trilogy by Hilary Mantel–in which he features prominently–has acted as a catalyst to get the needed repairs made.

DONATE TODAY to Sadlier Tombs Refurbishment Project!

Unidentified man by Hans Holbein, thought to be Ralph Sadlier

Nikolaus Pevsner, the noted twentieth century art historian and author of the Buildings of England series, wrote enthusiastically about the Sadleir tombs in the volume on Hertfordshire.

Patrons of this project include renowned author Hilary Mantel whose works include the acclaimed Wolf Hall trilogy tracing the life of Thomas Cromwell.  The first two books, Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, both won the Man Booker Prize. The third, The Mirror and the Light, has been described by the Financial Times’ critic as ‘majestic and often breathtakingly poetic’.  A major character in all three is Rafe Sadler (Sir Ralph Sadleir) who grew up in Cromwell’s household and served Henry VIII, Edward VI and Elizabeth I.

Ms. Mantel writes of him, ‘Ralph Sadleir was a great Tudor survivor whose story should be better known, and I am proud to have been able to play a part in introducing him to the reading public. What I would like to see is a full modern biography, surely overdue – but meanwhile I can think of no better project than to conserve his family monuments’

Dame Hilary Mantel

PATRONS

-DAME HILARY MANTEL, DBE FRSL

Author of the double Booker Prize winning Wolf Hall trilogy

-THE COUNTESS of VERULAM, CVO DL

Artist & former Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire 

-THE VISCOUNTESS TRENCHARD

Resides at Standon Lordship & is a former High Sheriff of Hertfordshire

These pictures show examples of the conservation, repair and refurbishment required.

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