The House of Tudor

1485...

On 1st August 1485, Henry Tudor and two thousand raggedy mercenaries landed in Milford Haven with heavy cannons, artillery and horses. His army, all from the gutters and prisons of France and given to him by King Louis of France, had been promised gold and wealth if Henry was successful and they were more than willing to begin the killing spree. As Henry's feet touched the sand, he fell to his knees and kissed the ground.

 

But Henry knew that landing on the beach in an isolated bay in Wales was only the first of his battles. He'd chose that particular spot purposefully because he wanted to slip in to England undetected before facing Richard’s army. He knew the odds were stacked against him and he knew that his army was greatly outnumbered and there’s no doubt that he was feeling anxious. It literally had come down to either winning the throne of England or die trying.

 

The prospect of one of their own on the throne had been a dream of the Welsh gentry for ages and they rallied together in support of Henry. His numbers quickly swelled as he moved through Shrewsbury and Stafford but he knew he was still greatly outnumbered by Richard’s huge army. 

It took five days before Richard heard of the landing and that Henry Tudor's little army was marking towards Watling Street, itching for a fight. On 22nd August 1485, in a marshy field near the village of Sutton Cheney Leicestershire, Richard III led the last charge of knights in English history with a circle of gold around his helmet and his banners flying. He threw his destiny into the hands of God knowing it would be a battle to the death. 

It took five days before Richard heard of the landing and that Henry Tudor’s little army was marching towards Watling Street, itching for a fight. On 22nd August 1485, in a marshy field near the village of Sutton Cheney in Leicestershire, Richard III led the last charge of knights in English history with a cigold around his helmet and his banners flying. He threw his destiny into the hands of God knowing it would be a battle to the death.

 

From a nearby hill, Lord Stanley and his brother Thomas watched intently as the glittering array of horses and steel galloped across their front. Leading the charge below them was Richard. Even from their vantage point high on the hill, they could see there was fire in his eyes as he headed straight towards Henry Tudor, hell bent only on eliminating his rival. Richard would have seen the men watching and he must have been wondering why Lord Stanley hadn’t already joined the fight.

 

Richard should have realised that Lord Stanley’s undying allegiance was a lie. Lord Stanley was Margaret Beaufort’s third husband and Margaret was the mother of Henry Tudor and it wasn’t the first time in history that someone had changed sides at a vitally important time. Warwick had done it to Edward as had his brother George, on many occasions. Even Lord Stanley had done it before. He was notorious for changing sides to support the person who was the most likely to benefit him the most.

 

As Richard battled his way through Henry’s bodyguards killing Henry’s standard-bearer with his own hand and coming within feet of Henry himself, Lord Stanley finally made his move. With his sword held high, he roared for his men to attack. Richard saw the sea of men thundering down the hill towards him, and his last words spoken were “Treason!"

 

After only two hours, the Battle of Bosworth was over - not so much won by Henry nor lost by Richard, but taken by Lord Stanley. By mid morning on 22nd August 1485 it was all over and the man who had been a fugitive for half of his twenty-eight years was the new King of England. Richard’s lifeless body was thrown over the back of Stanley’s horse and sent to Newark to be displayed for two days to prove he was indeed dead.

 

The war between the Red Rose and the White Rose had truly come to an end and the ghosts of mangled generations were finally laid to rest. Neither the Lancaster dynasty nor the York dynasty had won and with Richard’s death, the Plantagenet line had almost ended.

This is not the end but only the beginning. After years of bloodshed, a new king and a new dynasty would rise. The House of Tudor.

Henry VII

1485 - 1509

Historians have told us how Henry survived all of the physical dangers associated with usurping a throne. But did he survive the psychological ones? Some have gone so far as to suggest that there was a curse on Henry’s line. A few have even implied that Elizabeth Woodville, the Rivers witch as she was called, had put a curse on the person who had killed her sons in the Tower.

 

Looking back now, knowing what happens in the future, it was a pretty powerful curse. If Richard had in fact killed the boys, the curse had already been fulfilled since his son had died young and his line had indeed died out. But what if the person who had killed the boys had been Henry after he took the throne? What if it was Henry who wanted to make sure no one could take the throne away from him, even a child who could one day grow up strong and vengeful? Rumours had only begun circulating that the boys had been murdered after Henry came to the throne. Could Richard have truly just been holding his nephews in the Tower? After all, he was already on the throne. Why bother to kill them? There would have been no point at all. So, if the Rivers’ curse was indeed a fact, you would wonder if Elizabeth Woodville had sat silently in her rooms in the Abbey with the knowledge that she had cursed her own daughter’s children, and hence her own grandchildren.

 

It all began when Henry and Elizabeth’s son Edmund, fit and healthy at fifteen months old, died suddenly from unknown circumstances. If that wasn’t bad enough, there were worse things in store for Henry.


Fifteen-year-old Arthur was already the Prince of Wales when fourteen-year-old Katherine of Aragon, daughter of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, arrived in November of 1501 for their marriage. Despite the obvious difficulties of two rather shy teenagers, the celebrations were   glorious and it was the ultimate PR event.

Tailors, hatters and glove-makers were employed and a complete wardrobe of clothes was prepared for the young prince, as well as a suit for the wedding. The streets were alive with colour as Katherine and Arthur were carried through London. Following behind was Arthur’s little brother, the popular effervescent ten-year-old Harry, who already loved being in the limelight.

 

On 14th November 1501, the couple were married and Katherine must have known she had become a part of something very special. Her future father-in-law smiled his rictus smile as he greeted guests at the wedding banquet, even the nervous Plantagenet kinsmen, with excessive affection.

 

Even at this early stage of her marriage, Katherine would have heard the rumours that Henry was at his most dangerous when he appeared at ease and laughing. She would have seen him strolling around the banquet hall, nodding and acknowledging guests, as his spies were doing their work outside in the dark, narrow streets of London. At the end of the festive day came the bedding ceremony and most of the court put the young couple to bed. Days later, the couple were sent off to Ludlow Castle in Wales to begin their new life together.

 

Henry must have begun to feel the Tudor line was secure. His eldest son looked very pleased with his new bride and she came from a fertile Spanish line.

 

Five months later, he would be wondering how things had gone so terribly wrong.

Henry VIII

1509 - 1547

Where do I begin with Henry VIII? So much happened just prior to his reign that shaped his life and could be seen as possible reasons for why he did so many terrible things during his reign. Everyone loves to hate Henry VIII and there’s a very good reason why.

 

Until the death of Arthur, as the second son, Henry had been intended for the Church and was brought up learning Latin, French, Italian, theology, music, jousting, tennis and hunting. He was a lovable little rogue, spoilt by doting women with good intentions and he had impressed the cleverest women of the age.

 

As an adult, Henry was a handsome, strong man at over six feet tall and at many tournaments he would dress in outfits of velvet, satin with gold cloth dripping in pearls and jewels covered in a gilded armour. His vigour and energy came from centuries of warfare on the Welsh marshes and his massive frame towered above the throng and his power and passion was almost tangible.

 

But if Henry appeared as open, jovial and trustworthy with a good sense of humour to strangers, those who knew him well were aware that he seldom confided in anyone. Much like his father. He seemed like two men, one the merry monarch, patron of every kind of sport and the other, the cold acute observer at council, watching alertly, weighing up arguments, but refusing to speak his mind except under duress.

 

It was hard to predict Henry. He had bursts of restless energy and ferocity but then there were times of extraordinary patience. But as time passed, his wilfulness hardened and his temper worsened. His rages were terrible to watch and many heads were to fly during his thirty-eight years on the throne. Once he had a scheme in mind, he could seldom be turned from it and resistance only made him more stubborn. Although he prided himself on his tolerance of outspoken opinions, it was usually unwise to continue to oppose him after he had made up his mind.

 

At his coronation, Henry’s robes were stiff and heavy with diamonds, rubies, emeralds and pearls and the heavy gown would have glowed as he moved through Westminster Abbey. Even then, at not quite 18 years of age, he was showing signs of vanity. He radiated power and glory and beside him was his wife of thirteen days, his elder brother’s widow, 23-year-old Catharine of Aragon. Walking beside her young, handsome, virile husband, she must have believed that all her Christmases had come at once.

 

As he stood with the crown firmly planted on his head looking at Catherine, he must have felt invincible. Even the sight of his grandmother, Margaret Beaufort, dressed in deepest black and seated stiffly at the end of the room within a circle of silent ladies-in-waiting, could not dampen his mood. She sat casting a cold glare around the room, eyes sharp above a puckered mouth. She was torn between grief for her dead son and fury at her grandson for marrying his brother’s widow but the black looks she sent to her grandson were conscientiously ignored. Henry was a portrait of magnificence as he strolled around the room, laughing amongst his friends with Catherine glowing by his side, like young lovers enchanted with each other.

 

Neither of them had any idea that the next ten years would be filled with dead babies and stillborn children. Only one child survived. Not the longed-for male to carry on the Tudor name, but a healthy baby girl they called Mary.

 

But by then, Henry had met Anne Boleyn and life was certainly going to change dramatically.

 

 

 

Edward VI

1547 - 1553

Sixteen seems to have been a dangerous age for the Tudors. Edward’s uncle Arthur had died at almost sixteen and his illegitimate half-brother Henry Fitzroy had died at nearly seventeen. Sixteenth century illness was a terrifying thing and it could often strike down a young man or woman who was otherwise in peak physical condition. The cold that Edward caught in February 1552 soon gave way to an agonising series of physical complaints described as measles and smallpox.

In a panic, his advisers moved him from palace to palace, trying the cleaner air of Greenwich, away from the dust and dirt of the city as well as inflicting a series of increasingly desperate medical “remedies” on the young man, all of which prolonged his suffering, and plunged him into ever-worsening pain.

 

Those who hadn’t seen him for months were shocked by his appearance. He was terribly thin and, oddly, his left shoulder seemed higher than his right. It was obvious Edward was suffering. Thanks to his doctors, Edward’s last few months in this life were positively hellish and lacking comfort or relief. As well as subjecting Edward to progressively crueller and riskier medical treatments, Edward’s government were also resorting to dishonest and desperate attempts to hide the truth of the king’s deterioration from the public and, in particular, from his sisters.

By Christmas, Edward was clearly dying and he began drafting a letter for his succession. His fetid sputum was sometimes green sometimes black but he was still capable of a Tudor tantrum. Edward knew that with his eldest sister Mary on the throne, she would have full control over the restoration of Catholicism with the same militant efficiency he had devoted to Protestantism. That, he would not allow.

As the numerous diseases and ailments began to consume him, gangrene set in on his toes and fingers. The medical treatments subjected to him had caused his skin to deform and blacken, whilst his limbs swelled and his hair began to fall out. Emaciated, ravaged by illness and in constant physical agony, Edward, the only son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, died on 6th July at Greenwich Palace in the arms of his childhood friend, Henry Sidney and in the company of his doctors.

Lady Jane Grey

The Nine-day Queen

1553...

Lady Jane Grey has become an iconic Tudor victim: virginal and sweet and known as the “nine-day queen”.  This is the story about the granddaughter of Henry VIII’s younger, and favourite sister, Mary Tudor. 

 

Jane was a tiny, red-haired, red-lipped slip of a girl who accepted her new role wearing platform shoes to give her more height.  Her complexion was freckled and her lovely smile showed off perfectly white teeth.  However, within nine days, she was imprisoned by Mary Tudor, tried and convicted of treason, and at only 16-years-old, through no fault of her own, she was beheaded on February 12th 1554. For a timid sixteen year old who had only been married for two months and a crowned queen for half a day, it must have taken exceptional strength to accept her role as queen knowing her cousin Mary's reputation.

Mary arrived in London wearing purple velvet trimmed with gold and a chain encrusted with gems to the cheers of everyone. When she arrived at the tower, Lord Dudley (Jane father-in-law) and his supporters were already on their knees.  She kissed each one of them on the cheek and said sweetly ‘You are my prisoner’.  In that promise, she included Jane, her husband and her father.   After only nine days, the reign of Queen Jane was over.

Mary never treated Jane as a prisoner.  While waiting for her trial, Jane was allowed to walk the gardens within the Tower precincts with her two maids and she was also offered her life in return for her agreeing to follow the Catholic faith.  As expected, Jane refused.  While her father Suffolk was pardoned, Jane and her husband were tried for high treason in November 1553. Jane pleaded guilty and was solemnly sentenced to death.

Mary I

1553 - 1558

‘Bloody Mary’ during her short rule of five years. During that time, she had over 280 religious rebels burned at the stake earning her the title of  ‘Bloody Mary’. 

At first, Mary was magnanimous towards Elizabeth and I can only imagine that this was due to relief that after so many uncertain years, her dream had come true and she was, in fact, the Queen.  But even then, doubt and suspicion was creeping in.  Mary would have known full well that being the queen and staying the queen were two different issues.  Doubt would have hit her like a lightning bolt when she rode into London with Elizabeth riding in place of honour by her side as the jubilant crowds cheered, not just for her, but also for her younger sister.   She would have suddenly been aware that she was thirty-seven, unmarried, almost too thin with a small mouth and piercing eyes.  Beside her was the quietly confident twenty-year-old Elizabeth with youth on her side, who was carefully playing the obedient sister. Up until then, she had openly held Elizabeth’s hand at public ceremonies.  It was never to happen again. Once again, she showed signs of a pregnancy and once again her abdomen receded.   Finally, Mary could only accept the inevitable: her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth would be her successor.

Whether it was through ill health or whether it was intense sadness, Mary grew sicker and sicker. Childless and deserted by Philip, Mary had become the unhappiest of England’s monarchs.  In November 1558, at the age of forty-two, from what we now believe was uterine or ovarian cancer, Mary finally died. 

Six months before Mary died, a comet was seen blazing across the London sky, half the size of the moon.   It streaked fire behind it and lit up the skies in glorious shades of red, white and gold for days, much the same colours as the Tudor rose.  It was what England had been waiting for – a sure sign of better times to come.  And heaven knows, they needed it.  Under Queen Mary, they had suffered persecution worse than any generation before but hopefully this would mean it had come to an end.  That queen was dead now and a new queen had come to the throne.  Their future lay in the hands of this bright-eyed intelligent woman who promised a magnificent future for everyone. 

Elizabethan England

For the rich it was a time when Tudor architecture blossomed with oak-panelled rooms, bay windows and gable roofs. Mining companies began setting up shop and began to distribute copper goods and crystal glass and Hadwick House was said to contain more glass than wall. Houses were filled with tapestries, curtains, covered chairs, chests and cupboards. Lace became the craze for both sexes from cuffs to ruffs, aprons and handkerchiefs. The appetite for luxuries was endless for those who could afford them. 

But not everyone was at the top of the ladder. In art galleries, we are shown pictures of the Elizabethan countryside and what we see are ruggedly beautiful landscapes of sweeping meadows full of flowers and banks of lush green trees on hillsides. Most English people in those days saw England as anything but beautiful. For most people, it was a gloomy place worthy of murder around every corner, and you wouldn’t hang around for too long. In the countryside, dotted around you would see cottages but they were far from idyllic. Families were poor and their houses were dark. Few people could afford the luxury of candles. Most houses were basic dwellings consisting of one room with a single fireplace. It was gloomy and smoky and windows were no more than a hole in the wall so little light entered the house. Their only possessions were a few pots, a ladle, some plates and if you were lucky, mats on the ground to sleep on. At night, the only sounds would have been the crackle of the fire, raindrops on the roof and the soft breathing of the children. And vermin were plentiful. And of course, with vermin came disease.

For most people, options for work were very limited and your best bet was to go from farm to farm asking for work. You grew your own vegetables if you could and you made your own clothes. The question of whether to marry or not was based on the whether you could earn enough money to feed and support a family.

It was an unbelievably painful, harsh time for most but it was a time of power and glory for a few others. For the elite, it was a time of extravagance and wealth. In the same art galleries that depict a typical English countryside are portraits of noble men and women displaying these luxuries. When you look at these paintings what you see in their eyes is supreme confidence and a lifetime of privilege. But if you look a little closer and deeper, you may also see something else. Perhaps doubt and uncertainty? Perhaps fear? It was a dangerous time and it is worth remembering that those who possessed the most had the most to lose. Everyone liked to complain a little over a glass of wine or two, but you had to be very careful what you said and in whose company you said it.

Through it all, Elizabeth dazzled everyone with her clever wit, and even her enemies were enthralled. But it would seem that Elizabeth’s sense of duty came at a great personal cost.

Six months before Mary died, a comet was seen blazing across the London sky, half the size of the moon. It streaked fire behind it and lit up the skies in glorious shades of red, white and gold for days, much the same colours as the Tudor rose. It was what England had been waiting for – a sure sign of better times to come. And heaven knows, they needed it. Under Queen Mary, they had suffered persecution worse than any generation before but hopefully this would mean it had come to an end. That queen was dead now and a new queen had come to the throne. Their future lay in the hands of this bright-eyed intelligent woman who promised a magnificent future for everyone.

What she hadn’t promised was an heir and her words, “I would rather be a beggar and single than a Queen and married” niggled at the back of their minds. She had also said, “This end shall be for me sufficient, that a marble stone shall declare that a Queen, having reigned such a time, lived and died a virgin”. That had not filled them with confidence either. “I am married to England”, were her next words.

But what was to become of them if she died without an heir? Was Scotland their fate? Did she really have their best interests at heart after all? Hadn’t her sister and father promised the very same things?

During Elizabeth’s reign, England would see another two hundred Catholics strangled, burned or disembowelled.

And so from our Viking past, England walked, ran, stumbled and bled through the centuries to find a Virgin Queen. Ironically, Queen Elizabeth’s birthdate was 7th September, the feast day of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary.