Thursday, June 28, 2012

June 28th, 1491: The Birth of Henry VIII

King Henry VIII, sometime after 1530. This full-length portrait currently resides in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

On This Day in Tudor History, the Tudor prince who would grow up to be arguably one of the most recognizable and popular monarchs in English history, King Henry VIII, was born.

On June 28th, 1491 Prince Henry Tudor was born in the Palace of Placentia (a part of Greenwich, and like many Tudor palaces, was sadly demolished in the 17th century) to Tudor dynasty founder King Henry VII and his wife, Queen Elizabeth.

"The former palace of Placentia had been rebuilt around 1500, and was one of the chief and most magnificent residences of the Tudor dynasty. Ranged around three vast courtyards, it was of red brick with great bay windows, surrounded by exquisite gardens and orchards, and sumptuously decorated and appointed throughout." (Weir, 59)

Since Henry VIII has been researched, re-imagined, parodied and lampooned more times than anyone can count, it seemed silly for me to try to post a mini-biography of him here on BeingBess.

Therefore, in honor of his birthday, I give you a timeline of some of Henry VIII's portraits, armor and other depictions (and thus, a visual progression of his expanding waistline)! Some images you may have seen before, and some will hopefully be new to you. Enjoy!

A 19th century portrait of humanist Erasmus and Sir Thomas More visiting the children of Henry VII at Eltham Palace. Below, a detail of Prince Henry Tudor, the future Henry VIII. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
A detail of a 19th century portrait, showing Henry Tudor receiving tribute from Erasmus of Rotterdam and Thomas More at Eltham Palace. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
A portrait of Henry Tudor from 1509, the year he became King of England. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
A drawing of King Henry VIII jousting to impress his first wife and Queen Consort, Catherine of Aragon. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
A miniature portrait of King Henry VIII, c. 1526 by court painter Lucas Horenbout (1495-1544). Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
Another miniature by Lucas Horenbout of King Henry VIII, c.1526. This miniature currently resides at the Louvre Museum in France. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
Armor for King Henry VIII of England. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons through permission of the photographer. Image public domain.
King Henry VIII, c. 1535 by Joos van Cleve. Part of the Royal Collection. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
Henry VIII by Hans Holbein the Younger from 1537. This is how Henry VIII appeared just one year after the tragic jousting accident that changed him forever. It is also one of the most famous portraits of Henry VIII. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
A sketch of King Henry VIII c. 1540, from the workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
King Henry VIII c. 1542, after Hans Holbein the Younger. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
The Whitehall Family Group of the "ideal" family of King Henry VIII, c. 1545. Tudor propaganda at it's finest. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
Henry VIII with his children, (and his fool, Will Sommers) shown in the order in which they were to succeed him: Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. My favorite "awkward family portrait" of the Tudor family! Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
Henry VIII plays the harp with his fool, Will Sommers in attendance. The room they are shown in was previously thought to be a fanciful creation from the artist, but historians now suspect that this was one of the ornate rooms within Henry VIII's pleasure palace, Nonsuch (now destroyed). Henry VIII often had the loyal Will Sommers depicted with him; he is even included in the Whitehall Family Group, shown to the right of the Princess Elizabeth (through the archway looking outside). The woman in the archway to the left of Princess Mary is most likely his wife. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
King Henry VIII in his later years, by a follower of Hans Holbein the Younger. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
The Portrait of Henry VIII is the now-legendary full-length portrait of Henry VIII by Hans Holbein the Younger. Now lost to us due to its destruction by fire in 1698, our understanding of the portrait comes from a myriad of impressive copies of the original work. The portrait was carefully devised to portray Henry in an idealized way, showing him as the "Renaissance man" he imagined himself to be. The Chatsworth Portrait copy was done by Hans Eworth, c. 1560-73 in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. It was probably commissioned by William Cavendish and resides in Chatsworth House in Derbyshire.
A statue of King Henry VIII on the facade of Kings College, Cambridge. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons by permission of the photographer, Andreas Praefcke. Image public domain.
A testament to his popularity, Henry VIII not only appears in high brow academic circles but in the low-brow circles as well! Here is a pub sign inside the King Henry VIII Inn, Hever. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons by permission of the photographer, Nigel Chadwick. Image public domain.
An impressive realistic likeness of King Henry VIII from the George S. Stuart Gallery of Historical Figures. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons by permission of the photographer, Peter d'Aprix. Image public domain.
I hope you enjoyed this pictorial journey through time in honor of Henry VIII's birthday!


Weir, Alison. Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings. New York: Ballantine Books, 2011. Print.

(originally published in the UK under the title, Mary Boleyn: The Great and Infamous Whore.)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

On This Day in Elizabethan History: Queen Elizabeth I Attends the Wedding of Anne Russell

Queen Elizabeth Going in Procession to Blackfriars is attributed to both Marcus Gheeraerts the elder and Robert Peake. This popular image of Elizabeth I shows her being carried en route to take part in the wedding celebrations of Henry Herbert and his young bride Anne Russell. The man carrying the sword of state before the Queen has been identified as Gilbert Talbot, the Earl of Shrewsbury or Lord Cobham. Also in the foreground is the father of the groom, Edward Somerset, the Earl of Worcester. The last litter-bearer is the groom, Lord Herbert, followed by his wife Anne. Other bearers of the open-air letica are Queen Elizabeth's maternal kinsman. Note the chains of office and the garter (for the Order of the Garter) on the left leg of the men. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

On This Day in Elizabethan History, June 23rd, 1600 Queen Elizabeth I of England attended the wedding celebrations of Henry, Lord Herbert and his bride Anne Russell. Anne Russell had come to court in 1594, becoming one of Queen Elizabeth's last maids of honor. Queen Elizabeth repaid Anne for her good service by electing to attend her wedding week celebrations. It was a great honor to have the reigning sovereign attend your nuptials, and although Queen Elizabeth was growing older she still traveled with all the pomp and circumstance of her younger years. Her arrival was a display of unbridled majesty that the bride and groom would never forget.

Luckily, there are several contemporary sources that chronicle this splendid event. The foremost literary account comes to us from Rowland White. White was a representative for Sir Robert Sidney at court while he was away serving as Lord Governor of Flushing (Ruggles-Strong, 17). Anne Russell's impending nuptials with the Earl of Worcester's son Henry, Lord Herbert (not to be confused with Henry Herbert, the 2nd Earl of Pembroke) were of great interest to those in high society. So, White dutifully included details about Russell's "exceeding preparacions" (original spelling retained) for the wedding in his frequent correspondence with his master, as well as documenting the actual celebration.

White describes the Queen (a mere three years before her death) as being "in very good health". This matches the other contemporary descriptions we have of Queen Elizabeth in her old age. White reported to Sidney that the Queen planned to "honor Mrs. Anne Russell's marriage with her presence" (Ruggles-Strong, 18). On June 14th there was an elaborate masque at Greenwich Palace to celebrate the wedding, and on June 16th, the couple were married in St. Martin Ludgate, London.

Then, on June 23rd, 1600 Elizabeth arrived in style to celebrate the wedding of her subjects. White wrote to Sidney:

"This day senight her majestie was at Blackfriars to grace the marriage of Lord Harbert and his wife. The bride met the Queen at the water-side, where my Lord Cobham had provided a letica, (horse-litter) made like a litter, whereon she was carried to my Lady Russell's by six knights. Her Majesty dined there, and at knight went through Dr. Puddins (Sir William Paddy's house) who gave the Queen a fanne (fan) to my Lord Cobham's, where she supped...Her Majesty on Tuesday came back again to court."  -from The Sidney Papers, quoted in Stubbes's Anatomy of the Abuses in England in  Shakespeare's Youth, pg.71.

One of the most famous paintings of Queen Elizabeth I is Queen Elizabeth Going in Procession to Blackfriars. It depicts her being carried in an open-air letica by her maternal kinsmen on her way to celebrate the wedding of Anne Russell and Lord Henry Herbert, who are shown following behind (after all, it may have been their wedding week, but their was no mistaking who was the real star of the show!). The painting, attributed to both Marcus Gheeraerts the elder and Robert Peake is in the collection of Colonel Wingfield-Digby in Sherborne Castle, Dorset (unless it has changed hands in recent years).

A detail of several of the maternal kinsman of Queen Elizabeth I, carrying her in an open-air letica in the wedding procession of Lord Herbert and Anne Russell. From left to right in the full-length portrait (please see above) we have Edmund Sheffield, Earl of Mulgrave, Queen Elizabeth's cousin Lord High Admiral Charles Howard, Lord Effingham, the Queen's tournament champion George Clifford, Earl of Cumberland, the Queen's cousin (and rumored half-brother) Henry Carey, Baron Hunsdon, an unknown man, (identified by Roy Strong as Robert Radcliffe, the Earl of Sussex, another maternal cousin) Gilbert Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, (or perhaps Lord Cobham) followed by an unknown man, sometimes called Henry, Earl of Southampton, and another unknown man.

Queen Elizabeth I is depicted with her throat and bosom bare, as only married ladies were required to wear closed ruffs or partlets. Anne Russell also dons the style, as this was the last occasion that she would be permitted to dress in the youthful fashion. While Elizabeth had long styled herself a virgin, the Queen adopted more pronounced styles that con-notated youth and virginity in her old age (Stubbes, 71-72). Looking old was one of the few things that Elizabeth Tudor feared (because of her vanity, but more importantly because she did not want her people to perceive her as infirm and thus cause them to start wagging their tongues about the succession). The wide, open neck framed by the Queen's elaborate whisk does not appear in portraits or on coins dating earlier than 1601 (Stubbes, 72).

Henry Herbert and Anne Russell would become Earl and Countess of Worcester. They had a total of 13 children: nine sons and four daughters!


Stubbes, Phillip, Babington, Gervase, and Neogeorgus, Thomas. Phillip Stubbes's Anatomy of the Abuses in England in Shakespeare's Youth, A.D. 1583. London: Trubner & Co., 1877.

Ruggles Strong, John. Note Upon The "Dark Lady" Series of Shakespeare's Sonnets. New York: G.P.
Putnam's Sons, 1921.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Theatre Thursday: A-List Elizabethan Actor Richard Burbage

A detail of a portrait of actor Richard Burbage by an unknown artist. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Along with Edward Alleyn, Richard Burbage (c.1567-1619) was one of the two most celebrated actors of the Elizabethan age. Richard Burbage's unique interpretations of some of Shakespeare's more complex characters were what made him famous, although like his father he was also a businessman.

The son of James Burbage, the founder of The Curtain theatre and an owner of a prominent acting troop, Richard was trained as a thespian by his father. In 1587, when Richard was about 20 years of age, he followed in his father's footsteps by joining Leicester's Men, the Earl of Leicester's acting troop. Richard would remain an integral part of this group well into the 1590's, when Leicester's Men was re-incarnated as the Earl of Derby's Men and subsequently the Chamberlain's Men, finally becoming the King's Men upon the accession of James I (Wagner, 42).

Upon the death of Richard's father James in 1597, Richard and his brother inherited two London playhouses, The Theatre and Blackfriars. After a nasty dispute over the lease with landlord Giles Allen (James Burbage article) Richard and his brother feared that Allen might demolish The Theatre altogether in order to rent the land to someone new. Not wishing their father's legacy to be destroyed, the Burbage boys dismantled the entire structure themselves and had it reassembled in Southwark on the Thames. This newly assembled theatre was re-christened The Globe when it reopened in 1599 (Wagner, 42). The Globe, of course, is inextricably linked with the earliest performances of Shakespeare's plays.

The modern reconstruction of the Burbage's Globe Theatre on the Thames. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commins. Image public domain.

Richard Burbage, already a popular actor in Elizabethan London, quickly ascended to what would be the modern equivalent status of celebrity through his turns as Shakespearean leading men. He was the first actor to play Hamlet, Macbeth, Richard III, Othello, King Lear and Romeo (Wagner, 42). In the world of Elizabethan theatre and well through the period of the Restoration, theatrical performances were driven by roles, not the entirety of a play. Actors made particular roles popular through their portrayals and often became especially associated with one of their characters. Up-and-coming actors would find the task of re-inventing a role made popular by their predecessor a daunting one. For Burbage, the role that he defined as an actor was Richard III (Wagner, 42). As anyone familiar with Shakespeare's canon will have recognized, the roles played by Burbage all has an incredible amount of lines, and most were psychologically charged. While Burbage would have known his characters like the back of his hand, he still would have had to brush up a mere few days before a performance.

A portrait of King Richard III of England, c.1520 after an lost original. The most famous character portrayed by Richard Burbage was Shakespeare's villainous version of Richard III. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Being the majority shareholder of The Globe theatre afforded Richard Burbage more wealth than his acting career ever did. In 1609 he was able to afford buying out the lease of the acting company associated with the Blackfriars Theatre so that he could move The King's Men there (Wagner, 42).

Sadly, Burbage would live to see the destruction of The Globe in 1613, when it caught fire during a performance of Henry VIII. Richard Burbage barely escaped the fiery carnage with his life (Wagner, 42). The Globe was rebuilt remarkably quickly, re-opening in 1614. Never retiring, Richard Burbage continued to delight audiences acting there until his death in 1619. Like many of the widows of thespians past and present, Burbage's widow Winifred had to settle her husband's debts before marrying one of her husband's associates in The King's Men, Richard Robinson (Halliday, 77).

Though the location of Richard Burbage's grave is unknown, a memorial was erected to him, his brothers and other actors of the Elizabethan era in St. Leonard's, which is near the original site of The Theatre in Shoreditch.

A memorial plaque for Richard Burbage, his brothers, and other great actors of the Elizabethan era at St. Leonard's in Shoreditch on the Thames. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.


"Burbage, Richard." The Historical Dictionary of the Elizabethan World. Print. (By John A. Wagner)

F.E. Halliday, A Shakespeare Companion 1564-1964, Baltimore, Penguin,1964; p.77.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Theatre Thursday: Theatrical Entrepreneur James Burbage

James Burbage can enjoy the prestige of being the builder and owner of the first theatre in Elizabethan London, aptly named The Theatre

Originally a joiner, (a maker of furniture) Burbage abandoned his trade in favor of joining the Earl of Leicester's theatre company, Leicester's Men. It can be assumed due to his membership in the company in the year 1575 that Burbage took part in organizing and performing the elaborate festivities put on by Leicester when Queen Elizabeth visited him at Kenilworth. Elizabeth and Leicester's summit at Kenilworth is considered by most historians as Leicester's last great attempt to persuade Elizabeth to marry him.

A sketch of the Earl of Leicester, painted from life by Zuccaro as part of the Kenilworth festivities in 1575. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
A sketch of Queen Elizabeth I, painted from life by Zuccaro as part of the Kenilworth festivities in 1575. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

In April of 1576, Burbage and his father-in-law began construction of The Theatre in response to the mayor of London's opposition to the performance of plays in the unregulated courtyards of city inns. The Theatre, an open-air round theatre enclosed by a wooden structure (a style later copied by The Rose, The Swan and The Globe theatres) was the first to be built especially for the performance of plays.

Burbage leased the site of The Theatre in Shoreditch from Giles Allen for twenty-one years. The Theatre opened in 1577 and was an immediate success. The Curtain was built to rival The Theatre's success. (For more information on the recent discovery of the remains of The Curtain, please see the link, below)

Burbage's background in performing with Leicester's Men allowed him to seamlessly make the transition from actor to director. Burbage selected, trained and managed his own company of actors.

Burbage's thriving theatre business was a family affair; he had married his business partner John Braye's sister, Ellen. Their son Richard would become, along with Edward Alleyn, one of the most celebrated actor's of the Elizabethan stage. Burbage's acting troupe happened to include his father-in-law, as well as Richard Tarlton, the celebrated comedic stage actor.

A detail from a portrait of actor Richard Burbage, James Burbage's son. Artist unknown. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

In 1596, Burbage proposed turning part of Blackfriars, the historic Dominican monastery in London, into another playhouse, which he planned to call the Blackfriars Theatre. Strong opposition to a theatre district in the neighborhood (which would undoubtedly bring cut-purses and other crime into the neighborhood) delayed construction until after James Burbage's death in 1597.

That same year of James Burbage's passing, there was a dispute between the Burbage family and their landlord Giles Allen over the renewal of the lease for The Theatre. This conflict led James Burbage's sons to move the playhouse to Southwark, where it was re-christened The Globe. The Globe became the most iconic playhouse of the 16th and 17th century theatre scene, and it is inextricably linked with the earliest performances of Shakespeare's masterpieces.

The modern reconstruction of The Globe theatre on the Thames in London, England. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons, shared by photographer. Image public domain.


"Burbage, James." The Historical Dictionary of the Elizabethan World. Print. (By John A. Wagner)

Shakespeare's Curtain Theatre Remains Found:

Monday, June 11, 2012

Part 3 of 3 of our Interview on Chick History is Published!

Dear Valued Readers,
The final installment of my three part interview, "Setting the Record Straight on Elizabeth I", has been published on the website Chick History, created and maintained by Rebecca Price. The interview was conducted and written by Janice Formichella, The Feminist's Guide.

Part 3 of 3 details my personal quest to understand Elizabeth I through independent research.

Please read and comment; if you have any questions about Elizabeth I or women's history, myself and Ms. Formichella will be checking in throughout the week and answering any inquiries posted in the comments section below the article.

Here is the link:

This three-part project between Ms. Formichella, Ms. Price, and myself has been incredibly rewarding.

I feel that the connections forged between us re-affirm that there are many talented, driven women passionate about sharing history with others in the blogo-sphere. I am indebted to Ms. Formichella for her wonderful questions, her pleasant demeanor and her creativity, as well as indebted to Ms. Price for believing in the piece enough to make it a three-part feature and to host it on her website.


Ashlie Jensen

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Part 2 of 3 of our Interview on Chick History is published!

Valued Readers,
Part two of our interview, conducted by the lovely Ms. Janice Formichella of The Feminist's Guide has been published on the website Chick History, created and maintained by Rebecca Price. 

In the first installment of the interview series, I discussed my job working in museum education; in this portion of the interview I talk about dispelling the many myths that surround the life Elizabeth I. 

The final portion of the interview will feature my insight on constructing historically accurate clothing.

Part 2 of 3 of "Setting the Record Straight on Elizabeth I" :



Thursday, June 7, 2012

Theatre Thursday: A-List Elizabethan Actor Edward Alleyn

A 17th century portrait of actor Edward Alleyn in old age. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

One of the most popular stage actors of the Elizabethan era, and for a short time, the Stuart era, was Edward Alleyn (1566-1626). In addition to the praise he earned as a tragedian actor who defined and popularized the roles of Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine and Dr. Faustus, as well as Thomas Kyd's Hieronimo, Alleyn was also a business man. After great success as an actor, Alleyn became a shareholder in several successful London theatre's in his final years.

The frontispiece from Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy. Alleyn's performance of Hieronimo in The Spanish Tragedy  made the character an iconic one. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Born and raised in London, Alleyn had absorbed the bustling, dramatic world of 16th century London since youth. Unsurprisingly he was magnetically drawn to the stage. Alleyn first took to the stage in the 1580's, and going professional as part of the company Worcester's Men in 1583. By 1589 he was part of the prestigious Admiral's Men. Alleyn was the lead actor of the Admiral's Men in their many productions at the Rose Theatre.

A detail from a portrait of Queen Elizabeth's maternal cousin and a hero of the defeat of the Spanish Armada, Lord High Admiral Charles Howard. Alleyn was a part of Howard's successful theatre company the Admiral's Men. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

By 1592, Alleyn was co-running the Rose, as well as several bear garden's (see Mabeth, Merry Wives, and the Business of Bear-baiting for information on Elizabethan bear-baiting and Alleyn's involvement in the business). By 1597 he had retired, but in 1600 he returned to the stage per the request of Queen Elizabeth I who admired and missed his talent. He performed in the New Fortune Theatre that he and his longtime business partner Philip Henslowe had built. Alleyn had married Henslowe's stepdaughter Joan Woodward in 1592.

A portrait of Joan Alleyn from 1596. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Primary documents tell us that Alleyn and his wife were very close; whether they had fallen in love before they married or after is irrelevant. When plague broke out in London in the spring of 1593, Alleyn and his fellow actors were forced to tour the countryside for work (Mabillard). When he was working in Chelmsford, he wrote home to his wife the following letter:

My good sweetheart and loving mouse, I send thee a thousand commendations, wishing thee as well as may be, and hoping thou art in good health, which I pray God to continue with us in the country, and with you in London. But mouse, I little thought to hear that which I now hear by you, for it is well known they say that you were by my Lord Mayor's officer made to ride in a cart, you and all your fellows, which I am sorry to know; but you may thank your two supporters, your strong legs I mean, that would not carry you away, but let you fall into the hands of such termagants. But mouse, when I come home I'll be revenged on them; till when, I prithee send me word how thou dost, and do my hearty commendations to my father, mother, and sister, and to thy own self; and so, sweetheart, the Lord bless thee. From Chelmsford, the 2nd May, 1593. Thine ever and nobody else's, by God of Heaven - Edward.

 We can deduce from the letter that Joan was somehow involved with "the fellows" -- those "Admiral's Men who remained in London and had infringed the order prohibiting playing" (Hosking, 50). Though Joan could never have legally acted on stage, she appears to have occasionally traveled with the group and perhaps assisted with their business.

By the time of Joan's death in 1623 the couple had had no children. Since the couple's marriage was by all accounts a happy one, and since Alleyn and his second, much younger wife would also have no children, it is possible Alleyn and his wives suffered from fertility issues.

Interestingly, Alleyn would take for his second wife one of the daughter's of celebrated poet John Donne, who was then Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in London. Constance Donne was an old acquaintance of Alleyn, and they also seem to have fallen in love rather quickly, since they married within months of Joan's death. Edward was 58, Constance was 20 (Mabillard).

A map c.1560 of the bear and bull-baiting rings along the Thames in Elizabethan London. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Alleyn retired again, this time in 1604 after taking part in the coronation procession of James I of England. Alleyn may have left the theatre, but as is the case with many great actors, the theatre never left him; Alleyn became a generous patron of the English theatre scene in London until 1626 when he died. Alleyn may not have left behind any children, but he did leave behind a theatrical legacy that endures to this day.


"Alleyn, Edward." The Historical Dictionary of the Elizabethan World. Print. (By John A. Wagner.)

Mabillard, Amanda. The Life of Shakespearean Actor Edward Alleyn Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2001. < >.
Hosking, G. L. The Life and Times of Edward Alleyn. London: Jonathan Cape, 1952.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Part 1 of 3 of our Interview on Chick History Premiere's Today...

Greetings, Valued Readers!

The accomplished Janice Formichella of The Feminist's Guide and I have worked together on a three part feature for the women's history website Chick History, created and maintained by Rebecca Price.

Part 1 of 3 premieres today; in the interview I discuss my work promoting the life and accomplishments of Queen Elizabeth I through my BeingBess program. Part 1 specifically addresses my job in museum education:

Please post your comments on Rebecca's website, as myself and Janice will be interacting with those who comment throughout the day and into the evening!



Saturday, June 2, 2012

On This Day in Elizabethan History: The Execution of Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk in 1572.

On This Day in Elizabethan History, Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk was executed for treason in 1572. Howard was a victim of his own pride, a trait characteristic of many members of the noble Howard family. While Norfolk's fall from power and subsequent beheading was entirely his own fault, he was not always treacherous. Today, I look back at the events and personal actions that led the man Queen Elizabeth called "her cousin" to wind up without his head.

A portrait of Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk (b.1536-ex. 1572). Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
As the Earl of Surrey and as the Duke of Norfolk, (as of August 1554 when his grandfather the 3rd Duke of Norfolk died) Thomas Howard enjoyed great favor during the reign of Queen Mary I, starting with the prominent role he played at her coronation. Howard was particularly close to Queen Mary's husband, King Philip, serving as his first gentleman of the chamber upon his arrival in England. King Philip became the godfather to Howard's son, named Philip in his honor (DONB).

The 16th century marriage portrait of Queen Mary I of England and King Philip II of Spain (and their dogs!). They married in 1554. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
1558 was a year of personal and political change for Howard, in that he married his second wife, Margaret Audley the same year that Elizabeth Tudor succeeded to the throne of England. Elizabeth recognized Norfolk as a man of great importance personally and politically, as he was her maternal relative and the most powerful man in England. In April of 1559 she made him a knight of the Garter and promptly ordered Norfolk to Scotland to drive out the French troops stationed there under their regent, Mary of Guise (Palmer, 38); however Norfolk boldly refused since he championed the idea that Elizabeth could better protect her kingdom from France by marrying Charles, the Archduke of Austria. By November 1559 Norfolk had resigned himself to be obedient, and accepted his post to provide supplies for the defense of Berwick and negotiate with the locals. Still, despite Norfolk's lofty pedigree, few deferred to him, and documents show that it was Sir James Croft and Sir Ralph Sadler who were in charge of negotiations and correspondence with the Privy Council (DONB). This bred resentment in Norfolk who felt it was his right to be in charge.

A 16th century portrait of Margaret Audley, the daughter and heiress of Thomas, Lord Audley, whom Norfolk married in 1558. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Common. Image public domain.
During the siege of Leith, which ultimately failed, causing the queen to do her best to correct the situation, (Palmer, 39) Norfolk remained outside of the action, instead taking charge of the reserves. When William Cecil arrived to negotiate the terms of the Treaty of Edinburgh in August, Norfolk skulked home to England, disgruntled from what he considered to be his ill-use.

But things improved for Norfolk when the 1560's brought him many accolades, including becoming a member of Gray's Inn, being sworn in as a member of the Privy Council, and traveling with Queen Elizabeth on one of her visits to Cambridge University. Still, all these honors paled in comparison to the favors and appointments the queen gave to Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester. Norfolk made no secret of his intense dislike for Leicester, which of course did not make him popular with Elizabeth. In 1565 the two even had a particularly intense exchange in the presence of Her Majesty, for which she reprimanded them and ordered them to find some common ground and reconcile (DONB). This truce could not have come at a better time, because in January 1566 the French king selected Leicester and Norfolk as the two most powerful men in the English kingdom to become knights of the Order of St. Michael, an esteemed position which would cause them to spend a lot more time together. Queen Elizabeth's Secretary-of-State William Cecil kept a watchful eye on Norfolk, suspicious that his pride would one day get him into trouble. Cecil's premonition, as usual, would prove to be correct.

A portrait of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester painted in the 1560's. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
The following year saw Norfolk embroiled in a domestic and legal suit, which was righted just in time for another upheaval.  In 1568 Queen Mary Stuart of Scotland was deposed by her own people following the suspicious death of her second husband, Lord Darnley; she fled to England against the express wishes of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth, that she not do so in haste. Elizabeth was apprehensive as to how to deal with the impulsive, disobedient Stuart cousin who had landed on her doorstep, so she set up a commission in York to look into the matter (DONB). As the only Duke left in England, Thomas Howard was appointed as one of the three commissioners. Norfolk dangerously urged the Queen to recognize Mary's claim as successor to the English throne; this was his solution to the ever-present succession crisis. On October 11th the now infamous Casket Letters were passed on to the panel of commissioners; the Casket Letters were a series of correspondences that heavily implied the Stuart Queen's suggestion and support of the murder of her second husband at Kirk o'Field. Norfolk, at least in the beginning, was convinced of the Scottish Queen's guilt (Anderson, iv.76).

This miniature of Mary, Queen of Scot's was done during her captivity by Queen Elizabeth's premiere court painter, Nicholas Hillard. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
Despite this, Norfolk got it into his head that the best solution for the reckless, possibly murderous Scottish queen's presence in England was to have her married to an English peer. Norfolk arrived at the conclusion that that peer could be none other than the most powerful man in England; himself. Norfolk became convinced that if he could only wed Mary Stuart, the English succession would be safe and he could guide the Stuart queen in matters of government and religion in the future. Of course, the silver lining for Norfolk in this arrangement was that he would become King of England.

A portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots in the Blairs Museum. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Common. Image public domain.
The verdict of the commission of York was that Mary was guilty of approving the murder of her husband; the council at Westminster arrived at the same conclusion. Even so, Norfolk arranged that Maitland of Lethington should go to Queen Elizabeth's court as an envoy of Scotland to propose Mary Stuart's marriage to Norfolk. Norfolk began his correspondence with the Scottish lords in preparation for the future that he was hoping to arrange for himself and Mary, his prospective fourth wife. 

In 1569 Queen Elizabeth became more aware than ever of her subjects fears about the future of the monarchy in England. Without a declared heir to the throne, and with the Queen masterfully juggling marriage proposal's to suit her own political needs, her subjects were worried. Even Leicester, along with the earls of Pembroke and Arundel supported the idea of the Norfolk/Stuart marriage. Mary Stuart had been contacted by the faction, and they received her support. On July 1st Norfolk wrote in a letter that, "he had proceeded so far in the marriage that with conscience he could neither revoke what he had done, or with honour proceed further till such time as he should remove all stumbling-blocks to more apparent proceedings" (Burghley Papers, i.520).

A 16th century portrait of Henry Herbert, the 2nd Earl of Pembroke. Herbert was one of the leading figures in Queen Elizabeth I's court that supported the idea of Norfolk marrying Mary Stuart. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Common. Image public domain.
Norfolk must have known inherently that the secretive negotiations he was involved in were bordering on treason; he surrounded himself with a cloud of intrigue and deceit, and rather than broach the subject of a prospective marriage between himself and Mary with Queen Elizabeth herself, he instructed others to introduce the idea before her for him. If Norfolk had been so sure that what he was doing was within the acceptable code of behavior, he would have confidently made his case with the queen himself.

Another brooding portrait of Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
Conveniently, on August 27th the English council declared that it was their opinion that Mary's presence in England could best be monitored and controlled if she were to marry an English nobleman. But even at this point, Norfolk failed to declare himself openly as a candidate. Elizabeth did not suffer fools gladly, nor was she a stranger to court intrigue, and if Norfolk thought the queen was unaware of his plotting, he had greatly underestimated her. Everything we know of Elizabeth I and her effective reign shows us that she knew a rat when she saw one; this was no exception. Norfolk began to feel the Queen's eyes watching him, and on Sept 15th he left court (DONB)

Still as duplicitous as ever, Norfolk fired off two letters of conflicting motive; one was to the Earl of Northumberland, instructing him not to support a Northern uprising to spring Mary Stuart from her house arrest, as he knew the Scottish queen to be heavily guarded. The other was to Elizabeth I herself, declaring his loyalty to the crown. Queen Elizabeth ordered Norfolk to return to court, but he feigned illness to avoid a confrontation. By October 2nd, Elizabeth's intelligence had more evidence than ever that Norfolk was up to something and he was put under house arrest at Burnham (DONB).

Norfolk thought everything would be resolved in due time. Ever a Duke and ever a Howard, he seems to have truly believed that he had the support of the people in his agenda. In due time, he was to be proven sorely mistaken. On October 8th he was taken to the Tower while his friends and household servants were questioned. Still, at this time the government was unable to obtain a definitive piece of evidence that proved Norfolk's actions were not merely shady, but purely sinister. 

Even languishing in the Tower, Norfolk still did not seem to understand the gravity of his situation. He wrote to Elizabeth and Mary simultaneously, and to both pledging his unquestionable devotion. Mary believed Norfolk, pledging to be "yours faithful to death"; Elizabeth, of course, did not.

The stunning full-length Hapden Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, painted 1563 by Steven van der Muelen. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
Norfolk eventually had the good sense to admit that he had been wrong in his campaigning to marry Mary, and that he would henceforth be a faithful subject to his queen. On August 3rd, 1570 Queen Elizabeth had Norfolk commuted to his residence at the Charterhouse until she could figure out what to do with him (DONB). If Norfolk's newly-sworn allegiance had been genuine he likely would have been pardoned and returned to some form of public life. But instead, he carried on in his negotiations with Mary. Supporters of the deposed queen now appealed to Spain for help; they wanted King Philip to assistance in an uprising against Queen Elizabeth to place Mary on the throne. Norfolk's personal ties to King Philip and his own ambition led him to become a principal conspirator in what has become known as the Ridolfi plot, after the Italian banker whom Norfolk hired to act as a go-between between himself and the king of Spain. Norfolk's implicit instructions to Ridolfi that helped to prove his guilt in court can still be read today.

A 16th century portrait of King Philip II of Spain, by female court painter Sofonisba Anguissola. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
Providently, Norfolk's secretary entrusted a ciphered letter enclosed in a bag to a merchant from Shrewbury. Walsingham and Cecil's informants alerted them of this development, and Norfolk's secretary was arrested and examined. He revealed enough to give cause for Queen Elizabeth to have Norfolk arrested, interrogated and sent to the Tower again. Norfolk was unrepentant, passionately professing his innocence, saying:

"What! Should I seek to marry her, being so wicked a woman, such a notorious adulteress and murderer? I love to sleep upon a safe pillow. I count myself, by you Majesty's favor, as good a prince at home in my bowling-alley at Norwich, as she is, though she were in the midst of Scotland. And if I should go about to marry her, knowing as I do, that she pretendeth a title to the present possession of your Majesty's crown, your Majesty might justly charge me with seeking your own crown from your head." (quoted in Queen Elizabeth I, by J.E. Neale)

Once all of the pieces of the puzzle were assembled, including admission from the Earl of Northumberland to Henry Carey, Baron Hunsdon of his and Norfolk's involvement in the plot, (Palmer, 26) it was decided on January 16th, 1572 that Norfolk would be put on trial for high treason. Norfolk was found guilty of conspiring to marry without his sovereign's permission, and instigating and arranging a plot to enlist Spain to invade England and place Mary Stuart on the throne. Despite this extreme betrayal by one of the leading figures in her court, the queen delayed the execution as long as possible. Unlike her predecessors, Queen Elizabeth was always reluctant to shed blood, even when there was just cause. On June 2nd, 1572 Thomas Howard, the 4rth Duke of Norfolk shared the same fate of his equally proud father, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey who was beheaded in 1547.

A 16th century portrait of Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon by Steven van der Muelen. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
The Dictionary of National Biography sums up the personal faults that caused Thomas Howard to wind up on the chopping block, saying, "He took up the project of marrying Mary, because he believed that his position in England was a sufficient guarantee against all risks. He trusted to his personal popularity, and to the exertions of others. His first failure did not teach him wisdom."

There would be no more Duke's in England under Elizabeth I.

The Pelican Portrait of Elizabeth I, by Hillard c. 1575. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.


Palmer, Michael. Reputations: Queen Elizabeth I. London: B.T. Batsford Ltd., 1988. Print.

"Howard, Thomas III (1536-1572)". The Dictionary of National Biography. Mandell Creighton.Vol. 28. 1885-1900. Print.