Armada portrait

I have heard in the news today that the famous Armada Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I has been bought into public ownership for the first time in it’s history.

There was a fear that it would have been sold into a private collection abroad.

A public fundraising appeal was launched, which many history buffs paid into and the Lottery Fund also put in part of the money to buy it.  It is due to go on public display next year, as I understand in the museum in London called the Queen’s Gallery.  This building is currently undergoing renovation, but stands on the land once occupied by Greenwich Palace, alledgedly the place where Anne Boleyn gave birth to Elizabeth in 1533.

It is a very famous painting, which has inspired generations of writers and artists with their interpretations of the Virgin Queen.  It is dated to be approximately 425 years old, and was orginally owned by Sir Francis Drake, his descendents being the ones who are most recently selling it.

The picture itself commemorates the famous victory of the English over the Spanish Armada in 1588.  Windows behind the Queen show images from the battle.

A very beutiful painting, I can’t wait to see it when it goes on display.



A Busy Day for the Tudors

This day in 1540, two major events occurred in the royal court of Henry VIII.  Thomas Cromwell, once the King’s closest advisor, was beheaded at the Tower of London.  And the King married his fifth wife, Catherine Howard.

Catherine was a young girl, from the Duke of Norfolk’s family, who had been given a place as Maid in Waiting to the fourth Queen, Anne of Cleves.  Some say she was put there to ‘divert’ the King, but with her family connections, it was not such a strange choice to place her in the Queen’s household.

She could have been as young as fifteen when she married the King, according to some sources.  Her experiences before joining the Queen’s household, in my opinion, point towards child abuse rather than the relationships that are generally claimed by historians.

She was rumoured to have been between ten and twelve when her first relationship began, with her music teacher, Mannox.  How much a child of that age can consent to a relationship is very questionable as far as I see it.  I know people will tell me that times were different, but children are still children, whatever year they are born in.  There may have been more consent in the relationship with Dereham which happened a couple of years later, but then, how many of us think we have fallen in love when aged 13 or so??  Very few of us would have acted on those feelings and taken the relationship to a sexual level at that age, but then he was around five years older than she was.  An 18 year old boy has other things on his mind than a 13 year old girl!!  And if she had been abused before, by her music teacher, this could have given her a very twisted view of relationships as she grew up.

Still, this was unknown to the King when he fell for her charms in 1540.  He saw her as an innocent maid who could please him, in who knows what ways.  Perhaps she did manage to raise interest in the old, obese, ill man,  she was over 20 years his junior.  Perhaps he simply enjoyed watching her, we will never know.  It is too much to imagine, I think, that he attracted her in any way apart from his power, position and wealth.

It is easy to understand why she would turn to a man closer to her own age for pleasure, maybe she did not understand what the consequences could be to finding a diversion from the old man she had been given to.  After all, in those times, many people were matched for their family promotion rather than any kind of happiness, and extra-marital relationships were far more common in these noble matches.

But on this day, she was taken in marriage by the wealthiest and most powerful man in the country.  I have always felt quite sorry for her, she was young and naive, I think.  Pushed from pillar to post by the powerful men around her.

For Cromwell, the fourth marriage of the King also represented the big change in his life story.  For Catherine, it was a rise in her fortunes, for Cromwell, it was a fall in his.

He had been eager for a Protestant match and had selected Anne from the Cleves Duchy as his preferred option.  Upon meeting her though, the King had not been happy.  Contracts had been signed though, so the marriage had been pushed through.  Cromwell would bear the brunt of the King’s anger, much to the delight of the nobles at the court, who did not like the fact that Cromwell was trusted by the King, even though he was of low birth, his father being a blacksmith.

It was a terrible fall from grace, and a fast one.  He was arrested in early June of 1540, and attainted by the end of that month.  Imprisoned in the Tower of London, he was taken to his death on the scaffold by late July, the 28th.  The headsman was said to been incompetant or drunk and took many swings of the axe to remove his head.

King Henry is said to have deeply regretted his execution of Cromwell in the following years.

So today was a busy day in the London of 1540……………..


I have spent the last few weeks working on a specific part of my book.  I am finding this particular part very difficult to complete.

My first novel was about Mary Tudor, as you know.  My second book is a follow up of this, concentrating on her son.  I enjoyed immensely writing a family story for Mary and giving her a happy family, she almost became a part of me.  It felt good to give her some happiness that she did not have in real life.

But for my second book to flow through history as it should I must write Mary out of my story, I must write of her death.  I did not imagine that this would prove to be as difficult as it has been.

I have found that it is hard to imagine the death of someone who has been a big part of my life for over a year now, while writing about her.  It is almost like a feeling of true grief at losing her, which I have to admit, is a little disconcerting.

I turned to some other authors to discuss these feelings, and found that others feel the same when killing off a long time character.  This did make me feel a little better about it, though it also shows just how involved an author can get when writing a book.

Before taking on my first novel, I had only written short stories, 2000 words or less, so I never got into the life of the characters to the same extent.  My short stories were always enjoyed and acclaimed, but when I look back on them, there was not nearly as much emotion in them as in my book.  In a way, this saddens me.

Not that I am saddened by the lack of emotion, but that it pleased my previous readers to lack that emotion.  I hope my current readers enjoy my emotional style of writing much more.

So now I must return to my tome, return to 1553, and the death scene that is tearing at my heart just now.  Wish me luck !

Royal Wedding

It is 30 years today since most of the UK sat down in front of their televisions to watch the televised wedding of the current Queen’s second son (and some say favourite), Prince Andrew, to the very red-headed Sarah Ferguson.

I remember it myself (yes I know I am showing my age!), our family huddled in the living room with lots of sweets and snacks, it was a real party atmosphere.

I loved Sarah’s dress, as a teenage girl, just starting to think about romance, she looked beautiful.

Of course there was also the fact that she was not a noble, she was what was known as a commoner.  This gave all the women in the UK the supposed chance that she could one day marry a Prince after all.  We are more used to this idea now, of course, as Prince William also chose a commoner as his wife in Catherine Middleton.

I was thinking about this earlier and thought about historical royal weddings.  Tudor times gave us huge celebrations in London for some of their marriages.  A favourite of the people of London in Henry VIII’s day was that the fountains in the city would run with wine to allow the King’s subjects to celebrate with their monarch.

Though not all royal weddings in history were celebrated with such a party.  Some were done in private, only coming to the attention of the public when announcements were made, however long afterwards.

The famous wedding of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville was a secret to all, even most of their families by all accounts.  Edward himself is said to have carried out possibly as many as four secret marriage services, in order to get the women that he favoured to sleep with him.  Eleanor Talbot being the best known.

In medieval times, when brides were being brought from royal families abroad, the two parties were often not even present when they were married.  Often proxies were sent to ‘stand in’ for one or other of the royal personages.  They would make the marriage promises on behalf of the King/Prince/Princess etc.  and the married couple often did not even meet until they had been married for weeks or even months !!

Going back further in history, marriages were performed by village elders and a traditional Handfasting ceremony was used.  The novel thing about handfasting in olden times was that the couple would be joined for a year and a day, then the ‘marriage’ could be dissolved and both parties would be free for join with another partner if they so wished !

It is still possible to marry in a legal handfasting today, my own marriage was.  Though in modern times they do not last the year and a day, a divorce would have to be sought !!

Divorces were not very common in history, they usually were well known on the few occasions that they did happen, think of Henry VIII.  It is very recent that attitudes have changed to divorce and re-marriage, as recent as the mid twentieth century, in fact.

Prince Andrew and Sarah were the first of the Queen’s children to divorce only ten years later in 1996.  BY all accounts the couple have remained friendly on account of their two daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie, and actually continued to live together for a few years after their divorce.

There was a rumour of re-marriage between the couple in the early 2000’s but nothing ever came of it.

And thus ended a fairytale wedding day.

Rabbie Burns

Today marks the 220th anniversary of the death of the poet Rabbie or Robert Burns.

Where I live in Ayrshire, this is a big thing!

He was raised near to Ayr, and his old family cottage in Alloway where he was born, is now a museum to his works.  Everyone knows his most famous poem, Auld Lang Syne, though maybe not all of the words as he wrote them, and it is sung in most of the country at New Year.

Local to me there is a popular pub named after another of his famous poems, the Tam O’Shanter.  Lovely steak pie, if you’re ever in the area……..

He was once voted to be Scotland’s greatest Scot in a tv poll, even beating William Wallace and Robert the Bruce !!

And probably the strangest fact about him is that he is very popular in Russia, both before the break up of the USSR and after, his strong patriotic words in many of his poems spoke loudly to the small people of the Russian state.

He did not live to see the growth of his poems popularity, that has mostly happened since his death.  His wife Jean Armour originally came up with the idea of publishing a complete works style of book after he had died, in order to maintain their children.

His life was mostly spent moving from farm to farm and trying to avoid creditors.  Some of his poems were released during his lifetime though they did not make him the fortune or fame that you might expect from such a modern day well-known poet. He did spend some time in Edinburgh, the toast of some important critics of the day, but soon returned to the west coast of Scotland, to a farm with his family.

He is also known to have been a romantic wanderer, begetting twelve children in all, though only three of his children with his wife made it to adulthood.  It is thought that his descendents currently number well over 600 !!

He was a member of the masonic lodge in Tarbolton in Ayrshire, and a founder member of the Bachelor’s Club in that village too, which can be visited to this day.  The village of Tarbolton is still reltively small and close-knit and the Burns family became a big part of village life when they moved there in 1777.  While in the village Burns became the father of a child with a girl called Elizabeth Paton, and managed to fall in love and eventually marry two other girls, Mary Campbell and Jean Armour.  Campbell died only a few months after their marriage, and Jean would become his wife who stayed by his side until his death.

On returning from Edinburgh, he took on the property at Ellisland Farm in Dumfriesshire, with his family.  This is kept going as a working farm too, by the Friends of Ellisland, and can be visited, along with the Robert Burns museum that has been created there.  He had been offered a job in London at this time, but had turned it down, preferring to stay in Scotland.

He died in the town of Dumfries on this day in 1796 of a suspected heart condition.  It is also said that some dental treatment he had recently contributed to his death, but that is not certain.

Burns was a great follower of revolution and the need for reform in his beloved home country of Scotland.  There was revolution going on in France at the time he lived, and he supported the idea of this revolution.  He lost many friends and even family through holding this point of view.

This sounds a little familiar to some people, the need for reform and revolution in Scotland……….

Maybe Rabbie Burns should be the one pictured shouting “Freeedddoooommmm” instead of a blue faced Mel Gibson…………………..

the Romanovs

The 16th of July, in 1918, marks the date that the Russian Tsar Nicholas II and his entire family were executed by Bolshevik rebels at Ekaterinberg in Siberia.

Nicholas was the eldest son of the heir to the throne of Russia, and became heir himself in 1881 when his grandfather Alexander II was assassinated, his father ascending to become Tsar Alexander III.

He was well connected to other royal families of the world, his first cousins included Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany and King George V of England.

In 1894, Nicholas proposed marriage to a Princess Alix, whom he had fallen in love with many years before, but their religions were too different and initially she refused to consider the marriage.  Princess Alix was the grand-daughter of Queen Victoria of Britain, through her late daughter Princess Alice.  After some coaching from royal relatives, Nicholas approached her again and she eventually agreed to be his wife.

The wedding was planned to take place in 1895, but after his father died in November of 1894, Nicholas decided to bring the date forward to late November of that year.

His formal coronation took place in 1896.

His father had died relatively young and had not prepared Nicholas fo rthe role of Tsar and he found the pressure difficult to begin with, but having Alix by his side appeared to help him.

She gave him their first child, a daughter named Olga, approximately a year after their marriage in 1895.  Three more daughters followed in the form of Tatiana, in 1897, Maria, in 1899 and Anastasia in 1901.  The longed for son and heir would arrive in 1904 and was named Alexei.

Unfortunately that son would prove to be ill, suffereing from what is now thought to have been haemophillia.  No other children would be forthcoming though, as Nicholas became embroiled in wars outside his home, initially in a war with Japan, in which he would suffer a disastrous defeat.  Shortly after, war would erupt in Europe, begun by his cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm.

The war did not go well for Russia and their royal family.  In 1917, the Tsar was forced to abdicate and the whole family were arrested by the Bolsheviks, who were increasingly taking control of the country.

The family were moved to the ‘house of special purpose’ in Ekaterinberg in early 1918, and forced to live on meagre rations, with a minimum of servants.  Rumours of plots to help the family escape abounded, along with plans for them to live in exile in various Eurpoean countries.  Initially Britain agreed to take the exiled family, but the offer was withdrawn within a month.

The family went to bed on the night of the 16th July in 1918, but were woken a few hours later.  They were hustled into the basement, along with four of their loyal servants.  The commander read out the charge that they were to be executed and the Tsar was shot immediately.

His daughters survived the first round of shots from the firing squad as they had many jewels sewn into their dresses, in readiness for the expected escape, which deflected the bullets to an extent.  Instead they are said to have been bayonetted to death.

The bodies were taken into the woods and hidden for many years.  Most of the bodies were found in the late 70’s and identified as the Tsar and three of his daughters, along with the four servants who had been killed.

The remains of Alexei and the remaining daughter would not be found and identified until the early 2000’s.  The missing daughter was initially thought to have been Anastasia and a woman from America had claimed to be the missing girl, but DNA proved her claims to be false.  The missing girl was found to have been Maria, when the last remains were discovered.

And thus ended the Romanov dynasty in Russia, that had ruled for almost three centuries.

the Brandon boys

In my first book, I had the characters of Charles and Henry Brandon.  These were the sons of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, who was a life long friend to King Henry VIII and at one time married to his sister, Mary.

The boys were born from his next marriage to Catherine Willoughby.  She was originally intended to be married to his son from his marriage to Mary Tudor, though that son did not live long enough for the planned marriage and Charles Brandon married her himself.

The marriage was happy enough and produced these two boys, who grew strong.  The eldest, Henry, inherited his father’s Dukedom in 1545.

The 10 year old Duke and his younger brother were educated together at a college in Cambridge, and showed great promise by all accounts.

Unfortunately that promise would never come to be shown.  During an epidemic of the sweating sickness in 1551, both boys were taken to the Bishop of Lincoln’s property in Huntingdon, for their safety.

This did not help as both boys contracted the sweat and the elder boy died on the 14th July of that year.  His brother Charles inherited Henry’s title, but would not hold it for long, as he followed his brother to the grave around an hour later.

Their mother is said to have been heartbroken, which is understandable.

A joint funeral was held in the September of 1551, with two of every funerary item required. They were buried together in the village of Buckden, near where they died.

As a mother myself, who has lost a child, I can imagine how hard life would have been for their poor mother, watching her only children dying so close together.  Maybe it was a comfort to her to lie them to rest together, as they had always been in life, but the pain of seeing them lost to her must have been terribly hard.  She did marry again and have children with her second husband, but that pain would have stayed with her.

Two poor little boys lost to a world on this day, so sad.