Sunday, April 30, 2017

Documentary Review-Secrets of Henry VIII Palace: Hampton Court

So I've been studying Tudor history for a very long time, and there's not much you can tell me that I don't already know, which is why I was delighted when I watched this documentary, and learned several new things, including:

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The Great Hall
  • Palace servants were given 1 gallon of beer a day, except for the people who turned the spit in the kitchens, who got unlimited beer.
  • It could get up to 1800 F in the roasting rooms of the kitchen.
  • King Henry's court, at the beginning of his reign, was basically just a bunch of teenagers and twenty-somethings partying it up.
    • Which makes me appreciate Cardinal Wolsey even more. He's the real MVP if you think about it. He basically ran the country while Henry and his dudebros played tennis and had sex.
  • There is a replica of one of the fountains that was filled with red wine on the Field of the Cloth of Gold in one of the courtyards of Hampton Court Palace.
  • Jane Seymour's heart and lungs are below the altar in the chapel. (Maybe that's why her ghost allegedly haunts the place)
And that's just the things about the Tudor era!

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The Tudor portion of Hampton Court Palace

This documentary spends a lot of time going over the details of the architecture, and the events in Henry's life that influenced those details. They pointed out the one remaining badge of Anne Boleyn, as well as the pomegranates of Catherine of Aragon. They pointed out the tapestries commissioned in honor of Jane Seymour (tapestries which cost as much as a warship, holy shit!), and pointed out the little wooden people whose heads poked over the rafters of the Great Hall. (Their purpose was to remind the courtiers that everything they said could be overheard, and to be decorative I suppose. It's these little dudes that inspired the term 'eavesdropping')

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Details of the ceiling in the chapel.
There was some general summary of Henry's life as well. Anne of Cleves and Catherine Parr were both briefly covered, though they had no significant history with the palace. I don't mind though, because historian Suzannah Lipscomb also said the best thing concerning Henry and Anne of Cleves (my favorite of Henry's wives) that I've heard in my entire damn life. It's something along the lines of:

"Henry told everyone that Anne was fat and ugly, and that she couldn't possibly be a virgin. And it's true, there was one person in that room who was fat and ugly, and not a virgin. But it wasn't Anne."
Once again, not a direct quote, but damn. I've never heard another historian drag Henry VIII like that. I think I'm in love.

After covering Henry VIII the documentary briefly touched on the palace's partial rebuilding under the reign of William III and his wife, Caroline. They explained how the palace worked in general, as well as pointing out the elaborate and ridiculous rituals royalty had to undergo.

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The Baroque part of Hampton Court Palace
My only complaint with this documentary is that it wasn't long enough! The film was an hour, but I would have gladly watched it for two or three. The historical research is solid, and PBS brought in experts from different historical fields (such as historical cooking and historical costuming) to give insight into aspects of palace life that usually go neglected when telling the history of Henry VIII. It's an A+ show, and I'll probably end up watching it again.

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Friday, April 28, 2017

A Brief Overview of the Wives of Henry VIII-Catherine Parr-Survived

A Brief Overview of the Wives of Henry VIII is an eight part series outlining, you guessed it, the wives of Henry VIII. It was going to be all one post, but then it turned out to be...not so brief. I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about these ladies.

It is very likely that Henry's final queen was named after his first. Catherine Parr's mother, Maud, was a lady in waiting to Catherine of Aragon, and the then queen was named godmother to Maud's baby.

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Catherine Parr
Royal associations aside, Catherine was destined to live the first part of her life in obscurity. She was married a grand total of four times, with Henry as her third, and most prestigious, husband. We'll focus on her other marriages in the series 'The Four Husbands of Catherine Parr', but for now we're going to focus on her relationship with the ageing and ailing Henry VIII.

The year was 1543. Henry had just ended his disastrous fifth marriage, and Catherine's second husband, Lord Latimer had just died, leaving her widowed for the second time, this time with two young stepchildren. Being the resourceful woman she was, Catherine decided to call upon the Princess Mary, and use her connections with the late Catherine of Aragon to secure a place in Mary's household. It was there that she caught the eye of both the King and Thomas Seymour, brother to the late Jane Seymour.

Catherine was in her early thirties, which was a bit like the Renaissance equivalent of today's mid forties, but she was still quite the catch. She was very intelligent, speaking four languages (in addition to English), and by the time of her marriage to Henry had already published one religious book anonymously, and was on her way to publishing a second. She was also, as all of Henry's wives were, reportedly quite beautiful. Smart and beautiful, two of the top things that Henry looked for in a woman, is it really any surprise that he proposed?
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A surviving copy of
Catherine's book Lamentations of a

The couple were married in July of 1543, and Thomas Seymour, Henry's rival, was discreetly sent on a diplomatic mission to the continent. Henry had already had enough brushes with adultery.

Henry and Catherine were only married for about two and a half years, but during that time Catherine managed to accomplish some pretty big things, like:
  • Finishing the work of Jane Seymour, and restoring Mary and Elizabeth to the line of succession.
  • Publish another book
  • Act as Queen Regent, one of only two of Henry's queens to do so, while Henry fought another fruitless war with France. That entailed:
    • Raising troops and money
    • Managing the situation with Scotland. As history shows, managing the Scots is never easy.
    • Signing at least five royal proclamations 
  • Personally overseeing the education of the young Elizabeth
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The original of this portrait hangs in Sudeley
Castle, where Catherine died and is buried.
Most importantly, she managed to bring the Tudor clan into a sort of semblance of a family, building trust and goodwill that would come in very useful to Edward and Mary at the beginnings of their reigns. 
If you've ever taken a history class, you've most likely heard the rhyme, "Divorced, beheaded and died; divorced, beheaded, survived.". Well, Catherine 3.0 survived. She outlived Henry by an entire year. (Anne of Cleves survived by more than that, but Henry divorced her, so she doesn't really count?), and this, in itself, is a miracle, because like so many of Henry's wives, at one point Henry grew tired of her, and tried to have her arrested.

You see, Catherine was not only a very intelligent woman, but a woman extremely interested in religion as well. The three books she published were all religious in subject. She was a staunch devotee of the Church of English, but the Church of England straddled a fine line between Catholic and Protestant, and her views tended to swing too far Protestant for the tastes of both Henry and the Catholic faction at court. The fact that she liked to argue religion with Henry didn't help her either. It didn't take much coaxing from Henry's Catholic counselors to convince him to have Catherine arrested on the grounds of being a Protestant sympathizer. After all, rumors were flying that Henry had his eye on a new wife...

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Catherine Parr's tomb at Sudeley castle.
Lucky for both Catherine and anyone else who has ever undertaken the task of documenting Henry's marital exploits, Catherine got wind of the warrant for her arrest before it was put into action. She immediately humbled herself before the king, and in the biggest move of catering to fragile masculinity in the history of womankind, she managed to convince Henry that she was merely arguing with him to distract him from his pain, and so that she could be instructed by his wisdom. This thinly veiled bullshit put Henry at ease, and spared Catherine's life.

It wasn't long after that that Henry died. He left Catherine the title of Queen Dowager, and 7,000 pounds a year. But most importantly, he left Catherine free to marry once again, this time to a man she loved.

Part One  Part Two  Part Three  Part Four  Part Five  Part Six  Part Seven  Part Eight

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Book Review-The Princes in the Tower

So this book has been near the top of my history book to-read list for several years. I'd started it several times, but never had time to finish (the curse of the public library). But recently I finally bought it, and sat down to finish. And, goodness, am I glad I did.

Image result for princes in the tower alison weirThe Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir is the sort of book that makes revisionists cry, and the Richard III Society sweat. Weir leaves no room for doubt that Richard III was responsible for the demise of the Princes in the Tower. She examines not only Richard's motives, but how he could have accomplished the black deed, and, in my opinion, comes to some pretty airtight conclusions.

Now, admittedly, it was written several decades before the skeleton of Richard III was discovered in a carpark, so obviously some of the speculations on the manner of Richard III's death, as well as the cause of his crooked shoulders have been proven incorrect, but overall this has no bearing on the conclusions that Weir draws about the demise of Edward V and his brother, Richard Duke of York.

In the book Weir examines the characters surrounding the court of Richard III (including the Duke of Clarence, our wine obsessed friend.), as well as the politics of the time. Even if you know absolutely nothing about the Plantagenet dynasty, you won't get lost reading this book. Admittedly, though the book is named after them, it doesn't focus too much on the princes themselves, because they're dead about a quarter of the way into the book. But you do learn an awful lot about their parents and sisters, and how they influenced the political environment of fifteenth century England.

And thanks to this book I finally, for the first time, understand where Henry Tudor fits into the whole mess of the War of Roses. This book explains the merits of his claim, as well as how Elizabeth of York strengthened his claim (or the claim of whoever she was considering marrying that week). I still don't quite understand the War of Roses, and quite frankly, I'm pretty sure I never will, but this book brought me one step closer.

Overall, it's a very academically sound and entertaining book. It's the sort of in-depth political history book you can read for pleasure (I did), and not want to kill yourself halfway through. And even if you know nothing about Richard III, this is a good starting point.

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Friday, April 21, 2017

A Brief Overview of the Wives of Henry VIII-Catherine Howard-The Midlife Crisis Queen

A Brief Overview of the Wives of Henry VIII is an eight part series outlining, you guessed it, the wives of Henry VIII. It updates every Thursday.

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Catherine as painted by our dude
 Hans Hoblien
If we were to introduce the wives of Henry VIII a la Great Comet, we would sing 'Catherine was young', because Catherine 2.0 was very young, most likely a teenager when she married Henry. The exact date of her birth was never recorded (The Howards had a lot of kids, alright?), but it is estimated to be around 1521, making her barely more than twenty when she was executed in 1542.Catherine was, by all accounts, pretty, flirtatious, and full of energy. After Anne of Cleves, Catherine would have been a fresh breeze through Henry's life. However, contemporary accounts also agree that she was silly, poorly educated, and somewhat free in her *ahem* "affections", which made her a piss poor choice of a wife for Henry.

Catherine had been raised in the household of her grandmother, the Duchess of Norfolk, who had more grandchildren on her hands than she knew what to do with. Catherine's childhood was largely unsupervised, leaving her almost completely uneducated. She was vulnerable to the sexual advances of her music teacher, the much older Henry Mannox. Catherine swore that their relationship was unconsummated, but said that:

"I suffered him at sundry times to handle and touch the secret parts of my body which neither became me with honesty to permit nor him to require..."

By modern standards, what Henry Mannox did would be considered, at the very least, statutory rape. While the standards of the 1500s were different than today, Henry Mannox preyed on a young girl who was physically and emotionally vulnerable.

Following Mannox, Catherine later took up with Francis Dereham, with whom she had something of an understanding. There was nothing written down, but they had a verbal pre-contract to marry, and, like many couples of the era who intended to marry, they engaged in sexual relations. Dereham later left for Ireland, and Catherine changed her mind about their arrangement. This would come back to haunt her when Dereham extorted her for a position in her household.

Henry was nearly 50 at the time he married her, which is a little late for a midlife crisis, especially given the life expectancy of the 1500s, but if Henry lived today, not only would he have married Catherine, but he'd also probably be losing weight and buying a motorcycle, or a shiny red sports car. Catherine was a dramatic departure from everything he'd ever valued in the women in his life previously. To explain, I made you a crappy Ven Diagram
Why is the background checkered Irene? Why aren't the circles colored in Irene? Why aren't the circle's circular Irene? Why is the yellow circle bigger than the blue circle Irene? Why are the lines so thick Irene? I don't know. I'm technologically challenged. Shut up.

Gosh I love Ven Diagrams.

So, if you're looking at this and wondering what on earth Henry and his advisers were thinking, well, I am too. Catherine was completely unsuited to become queen. She was immature and reckless. She hadn't been raised in the English court, so she hadn't seen the rise and fall of Henry's first two wives. Catherine was completely out of her depth. There's only two really good reasons for why she married Henry. They are:

  1. Catherine was the granddaughter of the Duke of Norfolk, and Norfolks would kill for power.
  2. Henry was a horny, lecherous old man, who should have known better, but decided to ignore all common sense and marry her anyways.

Given the evidence I've provided, I think we can all agree that marrying Catherine Howard was a HUGE MISTAKE. A mistake Henry grew to regret.

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Horny, lecherous old man who should
know better.
See, Catherine was, as I mentioned, young and flirtatious. She liked the king, sure, but he was old and fat, and possibly very bad in bed (see the history headlines article below). Can you blame a teenage girl for wanting to hang out with someone her own age? Someone who didn't have an ulcerated leg, and a bad temper?

Catherine certainly didn't seem to think there was anything wrong with entertaining a bit of stuff on the side. She started up an affair with Thomas Culpeper, who was, by all accounts, a terrible person. They carried on for quite a while, to the point that the entire court knew, but Henry was willfully ignorant. He refused to see any of Catherine's shortcomings, referring to her as his 'rose without a thorn'. There's no doubt that he idealized Catherine, and this blinded him to reality. He might have spent the rest of his life in ignorance, except the Protestant faction at court (who hated the Catholic Catherine) shook Henry by the shoulders, and made him see reason (just kidding, they slipped him a letter in church. I do not recommend touching Henry VIII without his consent.).

Henry was devastated to the point that he was ready to kill Catherine himself. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed, and Catherine was merely placed under arrest.

Here's another instance where Catherine's youth and ignorance worked against her. She was under arrest, and had no idea what to do. Her family were distancing themselves from her, and she had no advisers. And though Thomas Crammer, the archbishop who interrogated her, did his best to point out that her pre-contract with Francis Dereham could potentially save her life, she just didn't quite get it. She ended up confessing to sleeping with Dereham.
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This is the image used on the Catherine Howard
page for PBS' 'Six Wives of Henry VIII'. I feel
like some vital pieces of history, like age
may have been misunderstood in the
casting process.

What comes after that mirrors what happened to her cousin, Anne Boleyn. Catherine was taken by barge to the Tower of London, and later beheaded.

Catherine was the shortest lived of Henry's wives, probably no more than twenty when she died. She was completely and totally unfit to be queen, and this wasn't entirely her fault. She had no idea what she was getting herself into, and, as a victim of CSA, was already predisposed to risky sexual behaviors. Her greatest legacy is her alleged haunting of Hampton Court . She was just a blip on Henry's marital radar, and her story is, perhaps, the saddest of all.

Part One  Part Two  Part Three  Part Four  Part Five  Part Six   Part Seven   Part Eight

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