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Book review – Anne Boleyn’s Letter from the Tower: A new assessment by Sandra Vasoli.

Anne Boleyn’s final days were spent in the Tower of London after being arrested and accused of adultery. Alone and desperate to inform her husband, King Henry VIII, of her innocence on 6th May 1536 she wrote a letter to the King in the hope that he would forgive her. It read;

“Sir, your Grace’s displeasure, and my Imprisonment are Things so strange unto me, as what to Write, or what to Excuse, I am altogether ignorant; whereas you sent unto me (willing me to confess a Truth, and so obtain your Favour) by such a one, whom you know to be my ancient and professed Enemy; I no sooner received the Message by him, than I rightly conceived your Meaning; and if, as you say, confessing Truth indeed may procure my safety, I shall with all Willingness and Duty perform your Command.

But let your Grace ever imagine that your poor Wife will ever be brought to acknowledge a Fault, where not so much as Thought thereof proceeded. And to speak a truth, never Prince had Wife more Loyal in all Duty, and in all true Affection, than you have found in Anne Boleyn, with which Name and Place could willingly have contented my self, as if God, and your Grace’s Pleasure had been so pleased. Neither did I at any time so far forge my self in my Exaltation, or received Queenship, but that I always looked for such an Alteration as now I find; for the ground of my preferment being on no surer Foundation than your Grace’s Fancy, the least Alteration, I knew, was fit and sufficient to draw that Fancy to some other subject.

You have chosen me, from a low Estate, to be your Queen and Companion, far beyond my Desert or Desire. If then you found me worthy of such Honour, Good your Grace, let not any light Fancy, or bad Counsel of mine Enemies, withdraw your Princely Favour from me; neither let that Stain of a Disloyal Heart towards your good Grace, ever cast so foul a Blot on your most Dutiful Wife, and the Infant Princess your Daughter:

Try me, good King, but let me have a Lawful Trial, and let not my sworn Enemies sit as my Accusers and Judges; yes, let me receive an open Trial, for my Truth shall fear no open shame; then shall you see, either mine Innocency cleared, your Suspicion and Conscience satisfied, the Igominy and Slander of the World stopped, or my Guilt openly declared. So that whatsoever God or you may determine of me, your Grace may be freed from an open Censure; and mine Offence being so lawfully proved, your Grace is at liberty, both before God and Man, not only to execute worthy Punishment on me as an unlawful Wife, but to follow your Affection already settled on that party, for whose sake I am now as I am, whose Name I could some good while since have pointed unto: Your Grace being not ignorant of my Suspicion therein.

But if you have already determined of me, and that not only my Death but an Infamous Slander must bring you the enjoying of your desired Happiness; then I desire of God, that he will pardon your great Sin therein, and likewise mine Enemies, the Instruments thereof; that he will not call you o a strict Account for your unprincely and cruel usage of me, at his General Judgement-Seat, where both of you and my self must shortly appear, and in whose Judgement, I doubt not, (whatsoever the World may think of me) mine Innocence shall be openly known, and sufficiently cleared.

My last and only Request shall be, That my self may only bear the Burthen of your Grace’s Displeasure, and that it may not touch the Innocent Souls of those poor Gentlemen, who (as I understand) are likewise in strait Imprisonment for my sake. If ever I have found favour in your Sight; if ever the Name of Anne Boleyn hath been pleasing to your Ears, then let me obtain this Request; and I will so leave to trouble your Grace any further, with mine earnest Prayers to the Trinity to have your Grace in his good keeping, and to direct you in all your Actions.

Your most Loyal and ever Faithful Wife, Anne Bullen

From my doleful Prison the Tower, this 6th of May.”

anne-boleyns-final-letter

The origins of this one letter has been discussed and debated for years. Did Anne Boleyn really write this? Why was it found amongst the papers of Thomas Cromwell after his execution? Did King Henry VIII ever read the letter or even regret sending Anne to her death? Well Sandra Vasoli has sent about re-examining the letter and found some compelling new evidence that could potentially answer the question of whether Henry regretted his actions or not.

Sandra begins by taking us through a brief history of Anne’s relationship with Henry and the breakdown of their marriage which resulted in Anne’s imprisonment in the Tower of London. We also see the rivalry between Anne and Thomas Cromwell.

Sandra also provides what happened to the letter after Anne had written it and how it ended up in the possession of Robert Bruce Cotton and eventually the British Library. The story of the letter’s journey is incredible and Cotton’s collection also included the letters from to Thomas Cromwell from William Kingston regarding Anne’s behaviour during her time in the Tower.

The author of this letter has long been disputed with many arguing that Anne did not write it at all, however, Sandra believes that Anne may have dictated the letter to someone who put the words onto paper. Sandra also provides an analysis as to the contents of the letter. It is fascinating to see just what was going through Anne’s mind as she attempted one last time to appeal to her husband to save her life.

There is a clear timeline of events in Sandra’s book which reaches its pinnacle with Sandra’s discovery of Henry’s regret, it was said he spoke his regret as he approached his death. This discovery is fascinating and really made me look at the way I view King Henry VIII and the events that surrounded May 1536.

Anne Boleyn’s letter from the Tower is a great book that explains one particular event in the life of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. I for one hope that this latest discovery shines a new light on an event that has been discussed throughout time. Sandra has done a tremendous job in giving a greater understanding in the history of Anne’s letter and I for one hope this discovery of Henry’s regret begins to change how we view why Henry reached the decision to execute the wife he tore the country apart for.

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Sandra recently took part in a book tour and visited Tudor Chronicles to talk about how she came to see the Book of Hours that Henry and Anne wrote notes to each other. You can read it here https://thetudorchronicles.wordpress.com/2015/09/15/sandra-vasolis-book-tour-anne-boleyns-letter-from-the-tower/

Anne Boleyn’s Letter from the Tower: A new assessment is available now from http://www.amazon.co.uk/Anne-Boleyns-Letter-Tower-Assessment-ebook/dp/B014R7227A/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1442843088&sr=8-1&keywords=anne+boleyn%27s+letter+from+the+tower

Book reviews – Loyalty and Honour by Matthew Lewis

Loyalty and Honour are two books by Matthew Lewis that very cleverly spans across two reigning families, the Plantagenets and the Tudors. Both books alternate between eras effortlessly with Hans Holbein linking the two eras.

Loyalty

Loyalty opens with the painter Hans Holbein receiving a mystery summons by Sir Thomas More where they meet and More begins to tell a story that will change Holbein’s perception to history and the rise of the Tudors. It certainly had me gripped to learn what Sir Thomas More had to say.

The story then jumps back 56 years to when King Edward IV was on the throne. The King and his younger brother Richard are approaching the Battle of Barnet and their return to England. The story focuses on Richard and his thoughts and feelings to the events. The story is fast paced and covers all the key aspects of Richard and his rise to taking the throne.

We continue to come back to Sir Thomas More and Hans Holbein who recap the story and move through any parts that have not been covered. Like Holbein I found myself wanting to get back to hearing more about Richard and the story that was being told.

Loyalty sticks with Richard through Edward’s reign and tells a different story to the one we know, we see Richard’s reaction to his brother negotiating with France and why he left the country early, Lewis also puts forward a touching relationship between Richard and his soon to be executed brother, George. Seeing a different interpretation on these events and relationships really puts forward a more sympathetic view on Richard.

The most interesting point for me was Lewis’ take on what happened to the Princes in the Tower. Many theories have flown around over the years, did Richard kill them? Was it the Tudors to help secure Henry’s claim? Or as Lewis puts forward did they simply go into hiding after it was discovered that they were illegitimate. Loyalty goes on to explore Richard’s reign and how he ruled when he was one of the only people who knew the fate of the princes.

For me personally, the backbone of Loyalty was the story of Richard and Anne and their marriage. How Richard rescued her, their married life, the birth of Edward and how they suddenly found themselves King and Queen of England. It was so beautifully written that I found myself so emotionally involved that when Richard and Anne said their final goodbyes I found a tear or two falling at their loss.

The Tudor elements of Sir Thomas More and Hans Holbein are great as you really feel as if Holbein is being told this story and you are also sat listening and being transported back in time.

Loyalty ends with the Battle of Bosworth and the fall of Richard III. However, Honour begins immediately after the battle is lost with Francis Lovell escaping the battlefield. We again meet Hans Holbein but this time he is summoned by King Henry VIII himself who tells the Tudors side of what happened to the princes during the reign of his father.

In Honour we see Lovell and the remaining followers of Richard flee from the Tudors and plot their revenge. When they learn of the fate of the two princes, who everybody believed were dead and Richard was to blame, we see a focus for the rebellions that also brings in the children of the Duke of Clarence, Edward and Margaret. Edward is also smuggled out of the tower and hidden, later to be another force for Henry VII to contend with.

Honour

Hans Holbein has a wider role in this book; he has been tasked by Henry VIII to create a portrait that contains many hidden meanings as a test for a wider position. Holbein interacts with Henry and Thomas Cromwell as well as Sir Thomas More and you really get a sense that Holbein is caught between two powerful men who are both telling him stories.

With the addition of Henry VII a new danger has been included as now Lovell and his men are the underdogs and I found myself willing them on in their quest, despite knowing the outcome.

Both books are so well written that you will find yourself turning each page wanting to know what happened next. Lewis has offered a fresh pair of eyes on history that is well known and although it is a work of fiction you can’t help but wonder what if?

Honour leaves the story open for more and I for one can’t wait to read it.

Book review – Lady Katherine Knollys: The Unacknowledged Daughter of Henry VIII by Sarah-Beth Watkins.

The paternity of Lady Katherine Knollys and her brother Henry Carey have long been discussed and debated by historians and enthusiasts alike. Were they the children of Mary Boleyn’s husband William Carey or were they in fact the illegitimate children of King Henry VIII?

Lady Katherine Knollys: The Unacknowledged Daughter of Henry VIII looks at the life of Mary’s daughter and how she grew up in close proximity to the Tudor court and her alleged family.

The book begins with a look at Katherine’s mother, Mary, and her upbringing starting with her time in France in the service of Mary Tudor and her introduction to the Tudor court. It wasn’t long before Mary caught the eye of the King of England and became his mistress at the same time Mary was also married to William Carey. Between being a wife and a mistress to the most powerful man in England any children that were born from her relationship with Henry they would be brought up as her husband’s. Watkins puts forward a strong and easy to understand reason as to why William would be declared their father along with why Katherine would be Henry’s daughter.

If Katherine was Henry’s child then why didn’t he recognise her like he did with his illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy? As Watkins so eloquently puts forward Katherine wasn’t a boy and so would have served no purpose for Henry another reason was that it was not long after Katherine’s birth that Henry began pursuing her mother’s sister, Anne. If Katherine was formally recognised as Henry’s daughter then any children he would have with Anne would be illegitimate due to his past relationship so as it is put forward here it was better to not acknowledge her.

Sarah-Beth Watkins talks through the relationship between Henry and Anne but places the Carey children at the centre of it. With Anne providing for Henry Carey and Katherine at home with her mother where she stayed until she was placed in the new household of Princess Elizabeth. This would be the start of a close relationship that would survive until Katherine’s death.

Watkins has done a great job including many letters and diary entries regarding events that were close to Katherine’s life these add great insight into the type of life Katherine would have had.

Watkins continues through Katherine’s adolescence as a companion to Elizabeth, her mother’s marriage to her new husband William Stafford that caused outrage within her own family and the breakdown of Anne’s marriage with Henry that led to Anne’s execution.

Henry declared Elizabeth illegitimate after Anne’s execution and Katherine was sent to court to serve as maid of honour to Anne of Cleves, a position that was highly sought after and an honour to serve the new Queen. Watkins puts forward the suggestion that Henry was always looking after Katherine and placed her in prestigious roles that would allow him to provide for her.

Watkins navigates the reader and Katherine through the ups and downs of Henry’s court until Katherine marries Francis Knollys and begins her family away from court. Upon her marriage her new husband was well rewarded as well, was this again Henry quietly looking after his family?

Watkins also talks about Katherine’s brother Henry as well and his paternity. Anne provided an education for her nephew at the prestigious Syon Abbey, where the young Henry Carey’s paternity was called into question where his likeness to the King was a talking point. Again Watkins reinforces that Henry was potentially the father to both Carey children but also points out that those that spoke about Carey’s resemblance to the King as words from the anti Boleyn faction who were always out to discredit Henry’s second wife.

The last half of Watkins book covers Katherine’s adult life after the death of her mother, Mary. Katherine and Francis had 14 children and mostly lived away from court until Henry’s death in 1547. With Edward VI on the throne Francis Knollys was knighted and Katherine was now able to go by Lady Knollys.

Life was great for Katherine and the Knollys family. That is until Mary took the throne, with Watkins showing how Katherine was brought up in a detailed and easy to follow manner it is easy to see how her later life was influenced by her upbringing as a Protestant. Being a Protestant meant that they were a target for Mary and the persecution that followed. Watkins shows how the Knollys were forced the flee England for the continent. Katherine and Elizabeth remained in constant communication with Elizabeth writing to Katherine before she left the country. By including the letters it gives an insight into the unique relationship the potential sisters had. With that the Knollys left England and fled to Frankfurt.

Watkins really shows how close the future Queen and Katherine were and with that the book moves into Queen Elizabeth’s reign and how she bought the exiled Protestants home including her closest friend, Katherine. Watkins goes on to show just how much Elizabeth relied on Katherine and how valued Katherine was. Watkins goes to explain how Elizabeth surrounded herself with family but that she could still not acknowledge Katherine as her sister as she would be illegitimate so instead Katherine and Henry were cousins and richly rewarded for it.

As Katherine was moving towards the end of her life Watkins talks about a significant event that happened, Sir Francis was asked to be a custodian of Mary Queen of Scots but Elizabeth would not allow Katherine to go with him. Watkins again includes letters from Francis to Lord Cecil asking to visit his wife time and again. These letters that have been included show how much Katherine meant to her husband.

With the death of Katherine Watkins shows how not only Francis dealt with her death but also Elizabeth who had lost possibly her cousin and companion, if not sister.

Watkins could have easily have left the book with Katherine’s death but she talks about Katherine’s children and their life’s particularly focusing on Lettice Knollys and her marriage to Sir Robert Dudley to the anger of the Queen. Each of the Knollys children are talked about even if there is little to know, this is a great inclusion as it shows the legacy of the Carey and Knollys name.

Watkins has put together a clear and concise account of Lady Katherine Knollys and how she fitted into the court around her with her uncertain parentage. If she was the daughter of Henry VIII then she had a life that was a step away from her siblings who were in and out of the succession and legitimacy. Katherine’s life is an interesting one that often gets overlooked so it is great to see a book dedicated to her in an easy to follow way that includes the key events of her lifetime.

Lady Katherine KnollysLady Katherine Knollys: The Unacknowledged Daughter of Henry VIII by Sarah-Beth Watkins is available now and is published by Chronos Books

Book review – Mary Boleyn in a nutshell by Sarah Bryson

Very little is known about the other Boleyn girl. Was she the mistress of two Kings? Did she give birth to Henry VIII’s children? Just what do we know about Mary Boleyn?

Sarah Bryson jumps into the unknown life of Mary Boleyn and attempts to pull the facts out of the little that is known about her.

We start right at the beginning with the birth of the Boleyn children and the debate over the order in which they were born. We follow Mary though her time at the French court and her return to England.

Sarah Bryson takes her time to look into Mary’s alleged relationship with King Francis I of France. Bringing in arguments for and against Mary being the French King’s mistress we are given a balanced and clear idea of what may have happened. All the evidence is carefully examined and anything that was documented falsely is proven with the reasons why. An example of this is a letter written by Rodolfo Pio in the year that Anne and George were executed. Bryson clearly explains why and how what is written in the letter is false.

A large portion of this book looks at Mary’s relationship with King Henry VIII and it deals with the question of whether her children Catherine and Henry were in fact Henry’s children or the legitimate children with her husband William Carey. I found this section of the book highly interesting as this is what Mary is remembered for over everything else so to have the facts written down clearly is helpful to anyone who doesn’t know much about Mary Boleyn.

Bryson also explains what happens to Mary once her relationship with Henry was over, her banishment from court and her second marriage with William Stafford. Much of her later life is unknown but we get the idea that she lived happily away from court with her family.

The book is a great read and easily finished if you have an afternoon free for reading. It is great to learn more about the Boleyn who is often left in the shadows of her younger sister, Anne.

Mary Boleyn in a nutshell

Book review – The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII

We all know the story of the six wives of Henry VIII and how their relationships ended but what about the women who didn’t make queen but still captured the heart of the king? Amy Licence has set out in this book to look at the woman that Henry encountered.

Amy Licence takes a chronological look at Henry VIII’s life we delve into the times of his life without Henry taking centre stage and let the women shine. We start at Katherine of Aragon and her marriage to Prince Arthur. An interesting theory is offered about whether or not their marriage was consummated. No spoilers here though you’ll have to read the book yourself to see it! We read how Henry and Katherine came together and reigned over the country in unison. Amy Licence also describes in detail how Katherine’s court was run and the pressure she was under to deliver Henry a male heir.

The story continues with Henry’s infatuation with Anne Boleyn and how he juggled two relationships at once, playing the loving husband and father to his wife whilst acting as the doting lover to his mistress. The book also shows how Henry’s search for an annulment to his wife destroyed one woman and elevated another to the position of queen. We see how Anne Boleyn keeps the king’s interest in the years before their wedding in order to protect her virginity if she was indeed still a virgin! The fall of Anne is captured in a way that is easy to understand why she was charged with treason.

Like Henry’s relationship with Katherine and Anne, dealing with two partners at the same time, we learn that Henry again repeats history by juggling Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour. Licence debates an interesting theory for Henry and Jane’s hasty marriage after the death of his former queen; was Jane already pregnant? Following Jane there are two shorts sections on his next queens Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard. Although short they are packed full of amazing detail of their relationships with Henry and how they came to be married to the King of England.

The final section is dedicated to Henry’s sixth and final wife Catherine Parr how she forfeited marrying for love to accept Henry’s offer, the book covers how she was almost arrested for her religious beliefs but knew how to treat Henry to avoid falling into the same fate as many wives before her. We also see what happens to Catherine after Henry’s death.

As well as covering Henry’s six wives the book also deals with the known and unknown mistresses of Henry as they happen within Henry’s timeline. We learn more about Bessie Blount and Mary Boleyn the only two women definitely known as Henry’s mistresses. Most importantly though we learn about the women that Henry encountered and possibly had relationships with. Perhaps the reason we don’t hear more about these women is that Henry was highly private as Licence discusses throughout. His attempt to protect his wives and his reputation means that we don’t know these women as well as we should. Henry truly believed what happened behind his bedroom doors stayed private.

This book is highly recommended to anyone who wants to learn more about the women in Henry’s life from his well documented wives to the mistresses and potential wives we know little about. A book that is fascinating from start to finish, it is a book you’ll find difficult to put down as you want to learn more with each turn of the page.

The six wives and many mistresses of Henry VIII