Who Was … Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester?


Lettice Knollys was the wife of two great nobles – Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex, and Elizabeth I’s favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. It is also possible that she was an illegitimate granddaughter of Henry VIII through her grandmother, Mary Boleyn’s, affair with Henry, possibly resulting in her mother, Catherine Carey. Lettice lived in the reigns of six different monarchs – Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I, Elizabeth I, James I and Charles I.

Name: Lettice Knollys (at birth) / Lettice Devereux (married name) / Lettice Dudley (married name)

Title/s: Viscountess Hereford /Countess of Essex /Countess of Leicester

Birth: 8 November 1543 at Rotherfield Greys, Oxfordshire, England

Death: 25 December 1634 at Drayton Bassett, Staffordshire, England

Burial: Beauchamp Chapel of the Collegiate Church of St Mary, Warwick, England

Spouse: Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex 1541-1576 / Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester 1532-1588 / Sir Christopher Blount c.1555 – 1601

Children: (by Walter Devereux) Penelope Blount, Countess of Devonshire c.1563-1607 / Dorothy Percy, Countess of Northumberland c.1564-1619 / Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex 1565-1601 / Walter Devereux 1569-1591 / (by Robert Dudley) Robert Dudley, Baron Denbigh 1579-1584

Parents: Sir Francis Knollys c.1511-1596 & Catherine Carey c.1524-1569

Siblings: Sir Henry Knollys c.1541-1582 / Mary Stalker 1542-1593 / William Knollys, 1st Earl of Banbury c.1544-1632 / Edward Knollys 1546-1580 / Sir Robert Knollys 1547-1626 / Elizabeth Leighton 1549-c.1605 / Richard Knollys 1552-1596 / Sir Thomas Knollys c.1558-c.1596 / Sir Francis Knollys c.1552-1643 / Anne West, Baroness de la Warr 1555-1608 / Katherine Fitzgerald, Baroness Offaley c.1560-1632 / Dudley Knollys 1562-1562

Noble Connections: Lettice was the grand-daughter of Mary Boleyn through her daughter, Catherine Carey, and thus the great-niece of Anne Boleyn, second wife to Henry VIII. Lettice’s mother was a favourite of Elizabeth I and Lettice herself married Elizabeth’s favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, as her second husband, having first been married to Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex.

Continue reading “Who Was … Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester?”

Who Was … Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford?


Jane Parker, Lady Rochford, was the wife of George Boleyn and sister-in-law to Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn. She is said to have been the source of the incest charge against Anne and George, as well as being involved in the fall of Katherine Howard. She allegedly went mad while in the Tower of London awaiting execution in 1542. She had served 5 of Henry VIII’s wives – Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard.

Name: Jane Parker / Jane Boleyn

Title/s: Lady Rochford / Viscountess Rochford

Birth: c.1505

Death: 13 February 1542 at the Tower of London

Burial: Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, Tower of London

Spouse: George Boleyn, Lord Rochford c.1503-1536

Children: None

Parents: George Parker, Lord Morley (c.1476-1556) & Alice St John (c.1484-1552)

Siblings: Henry Parker (c.1513-1553) & Margaret Shelton (?-1558)

Noble Connections: Through her marriage to George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, Jane was the sister-in-law to Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn. This also made her aunt to the future Elizabeth I. Jane spent a lot of time around Henry VIII’s court and was familiar with the likes of Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. She also served in the households of Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard.

Continue reading “Who Was … Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford?”

In Memory of Anne Boleyn


Anne Boleyn Hever Castle Portrait
Anne Boleyn Hever Castle Portrait

As any Tudor historian will know, today, 19 May, is an important day – it marks the anniversary of the execution of Anne Boleyn on what many now accept as trumped-up charges of adultery, incest and treason. If you need a refresher on the fall of Anne Boleyn, you can read my undergraduate dissertation chapter, published on this blog [https://tudorblogger.wordpress.com/2012/10/11/undergrad-dissertation-chapter-1/]. There is also a very succinct summary on The Anne Boleyn Files [https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/why-did-anne-boleyn-fall/3967/].

Why does Anne Boleyn continue to fascinate us, nearly 500 years after her death? Well, I came across this excellent summary on History Extra:

“The one thing that’s clear is that Anne, with her intelligence and sexiness, played a part in her own destiny. Her choices in life often make her seem more like a modern person than a Tudor woman. That’s why she’ll continue to fascinate us.” [https://www.historyextra.com/period/tudor/the-six-wives-in-a-different-light/]

Although we shouldn’t look at the 16th century through 21st century eyes, people today still seem to be able to connect with Anne Boleyn because many of her decisions, emotions and feelings we can still sympathise and empathise with today. Many of things that she went through still happen today, though on a much smaller and less deadly scale. The idea that she shaped her own destiny is not one we often associate with Medieval and Early Modern women; the idea still prevails that women were at the mercy of their men folk – their fathers, brothers or husbands. Anne Boleyn demonstrates that not all women fell into that mould, some stepped out and made their own futures. Continue reading “In Memory of Anne Boleyn”

Who Was … Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset?


Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, was the brother of Henry VIII’s third wife, Jane Seymour. He was Earl of Hertford under Henry VIII and then became Duke of Somerset on the accession of Edward VI. He was Lord Protector during the beginning of Edward’s minority between 1547 and 1549 and was eventually executed in 1552 for plotting against his successor as Protector – John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland. His role in his own brother’s execution is disputed.

Name: Edward Seymour

Title/s: Viscount Beauchamp of Hache / Earl of Hertford / Duke of Somerset / Lord Protector of England

Birth: c. 1500, probably at Wolf Hall

Death: 22 January 1552, executed on Tower Hill

Buried: Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, Tower of London

Spouse: Catherine Filliol (m.c.1527) / Anne Stanhope (m.1535)

Children: John Seymour 1527-1552 / Edward Seymour 1529-1593 (by Catherine Filliol) / Edward Seymour Viscount Beauchamp of Hache 1537-1539 / Edward Seymour Earl of Hertford 1539-1621 / Anne Dudley Countess of Warwick 1538-1588 / Henry Seymour 1540-? / Margaret Seymour 1540-? / Jane Seymour 1541-1561 / Catherine Seymour ?-? / Edward Seymour 1548-1574 / Mary Rogers (1552-?) / Elizabeth Seymour 1552-1602 (by Anne Stanhope)

Parents: Sir John Seymour (c.1474-1536) & Margery Wentworth (c.1478-1550)

Siblings: John Seymour ?-1510 / Henry Seymour 1503-1578 / Thomas Baron Seymour c.1508-1549 / John Seymour ?-? / Anthony Seymour ?-1528 / Jane Seymour Queen of England c.1509-1537 / Margery Seymour ?-1528 / Elizabeth Cromwell c.1518-1568 / Dorothy Leventhorpe c.1519-?

Noble Connections: Through his sister, Jane’s, marriage to Henry VIII Edward was the brother-in-law of Henry VIII and uncle to Edward VI. His sister, Elizabeth, also married the son of Thomas Cromwell. His brother, Thomas, would marry Katherine Parr, the sixth wife of Henry VIII. Edward would be executed for a supposed coup against the man who would replace his as Lord Protector – John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland.

Continue reading “Who Was … Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset?”

Discussion Questions – ‘Jane Seymour the Haunted Queen’ by Alison Weir


Alison Weir 'Jane Seymour the Haunted Queen'

  1. As Alison Weir says in her author’s note, Jane Seymour remains an enigma. Yet writing a fictional account of her life, while based on deep research, allows a certain freedom as she chooses how to portray Jane’s choices and actions, and her interactions with other historical figures. Do you agree with the Jane Seymour that Alison has created, and did you find her different from the character shown in other fictional interpretations? Do you like her?
  • I quite like the Jane Seymour that Weir has created as it is a very different portrayal from the usually meek and mild Jane that we see in general.
  • I don’t think that Jane could have been as meek and mild as she is usually portrayed as it would have required some strength to marry a man who had his previous wife executed.
  • I do quite like Weir’s Jane – I generally find other fictional interpretations quite boring and bland, so this one was a pleasant change, and it seemed to work for me as well which I wasn’t expecting.
  • I thought Jane showed a strength of character, but was also the kind and gentle person that history accepts Jane was, without making her dull and boring, it’s very clever.
  1. The Haunted Queen opens on a wedding celebration as two prosperous families unite. How is this need for advantageous alliance echoed throughout the novel? As a child, Jane feels safe and content with her loving family and apparently happily matched parents. Do you think this is what Jane strives to reproduce when encouraging Henry to reconcile with his elder daughter? How much do you think her father’s betrayal of the Seymour family affects her own choices?
  • In Tudor England marriages, especially within the nobility and royal families, were largely decided by how advantageous they were in terms of wealth, titles, and connections, so this wasn’t unusual. The Seymour family had connections with many of the great families of England through marriages.
  • I think that Jane coming from such a large family, and having had a seemingly happy childhood does play a role in her wanting Henry to reconnect with his eldest daughter. However, I think that Jane’s religious beliefs also play a part, as I think she sees Mary as the rightful heir over Elizabeth.
  • I think that Jane was completely shocked by her father’s actions, especially the fact that his betrayal was with his daughter-in-law. I think Jane and her siblings saw that their family wasn’t as perfect and happy as they had thought, and Jane wanted to recreate that happy feeling she used to have.
  1. Jane’s desire to become a nun shows a calm determination from a young age. When she finds this is not the life she expected, she sets her heart on a place at court. She might seem a malleable character, yet tends nonetheless to achieve her ambitions. How much do you feel other people, including Jane’s own family, underestimate her quiet strength of character, and do you think it gives her satisfaction to surprise them?
  • Jane is willing to explore her options and test them out – she sets her heart on one thing, finds it isn’t for her and moves the goalposts, which is admirable. She can adapt when she realises something isn’t for her.
  • I think Jane’s parents in particular underestimate her because they are used to having no trouble from her, unlike her brothers and sisters, so they don’t understand her quiet strength.
  • I think it does give Jane satisfaction to surprise people because they expect her to be quiet and malleable but she is really a strong character and it gives people a shock when they realise it.
  • Jane is strong because she can accept that her ambition wasn’t really for her and adjust accordingly – it takes a strong person to admit they’ve made a mistake.

Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘Jane Seymour the Haunted Queen’ by Alison Weir”

Discussion Questions – ‘Anne Boleyn: a King’s Obsession’ by Alison Weir


Alison Weir 'Anne Boleyn a King's Obsession'

  1. From the opening scene of A King’s Obsession, Anne Boleyn is impatient for change—-for something new and exciting to happen. She is a capricious child, highly aware of her mother’s ancestry on one hand and her father’s ambition on the other. How do you think her character is influenced by this family background? How does Thomas Boleyn’s tendency to value his children in terms of their use to the Boleyn name affect Anne’s actions throughout her life?
  • Anne is immensely influenced by her family – her father and mother have both drummed into her in their own ways that theirs is a great family and they need to act in the family interests.
  • We are all influenced by our family and our environment, and I think that Anne’s childhood experiences in foreign courts and her father’s international influence played heavily with Anne.
  • Anne is determined that her father will be proud of her – her mother plays less of a role than her father I believe – and I think she acts to ensure that she will be remembered and will outdo her parents and siblings.
  • There is a definite sense of sibling rivalry, especially between Anne and Mary, as Mary comes to prominence first as the supposed mistress of Francis I and Henry VIII, but Anne betters her and becomes queen.
  1. By including Anne’s education in the courts of Margaret of Austria, Queen Claude and Marguerite of Valois, Alison Weir explores a fascinating world of high culture and intellect. What key lessons does Anne learn at each court, and how is her outlook changed by these three women? Does she manage to emulate them once she has the crown? Did anything Anne learned surprise you?
  • The main lesson that Anne learns is that women can wield power – she sees Margaret of Austria in particular wield power in her own right.
  • Anne also sees how dependent women are on their menfolk in this world – if they want to have power it has to be allowed by a king or emperor, and this is the mistake which Anne ultimately makes.
  • Her time at the courts of Margaret, Claude and Marguerite introduce Anne to the new religion as well, although it takes a few years to fully develop in her consciousness.
  • Anne does manage to wield her own brand of power, but it is dependent on Henry VIII’s love for her, and her power ceases to exist when Henry falls out of love with her.
  1. George Boleyn is a complicated and interesting character. He has a similar craving for power as Anne but has to find different ways to gain it. How are he and Anne alike, and how do they differ? On the surface he has far greater freedom, but is he also trapped into achieving the Boleyn family’s ambitions as firmly as she is?
  • George and Anne are quite similar in their personalities and their ambitions, but with George being a man he seems to have more freedom to take what he wants, where Anne has to depend more on others, particularly the men around her, to get what she wants.
  • George is also trapped into achieving the family ambitions – the main example of this is his marriage to Jane Parker. It is well known that their marriage didn’t seem to be a happy one, and it is rumoured that Jane actually spoke against George at the trial which condemned him to death.
  • George and Anne are more alike than either of them is to Mary – perhaps Mary doesn’t feel the same ambition as her siblings so doesn’t feel like she needs to push to get the best she can, perhaps she is more easily satisfied. After all, siblings can be complete opposites!

Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘Anne Boleyn: a King’s Obsession’ by Alison Weir”

On This Day in History – 20 September – Birth of Prince Arthur


Anonymous portrait of Prince Arthur, son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York c.1501.
Anonymous portrait of Prince Arthur, son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York c.1501.

Event– Birth of Prince Arthur

Year– 1486

Location– Winchester Cathedral Priory, England

Prince Arthur was the eldest son and heir of Henry VII, King of England, and his wife, Elizabeth of York. Arthur was the symbol of the union of the warring houses of Lancaster and York. His father, Henry VII, was Lancastrian and his mother, Elizabeth of York, was a Yorkist. Arthur himself was the symbol of the union of the houses, ending the Wars of the Roses.

Henry VII decided to name his firstborn son after the legendary King Arthur and he decided that Winchester was representative of Camelot. In the 16th century the location was St Swithin’s Priory in Winchester (today Winchester Cathedral Priory). He was born at around 1am on 20 September 1486, just 8 months after the marriage of his parents, meaning he was either 1 month premature, or his parents had consummated their union without waiting for an official marriage.

Prince Arthur would later marry Katherine of Aragon, but would die just short of his 16th birthday in 1502, leaving his brother to become the future Henry VIII.

Further Reading

  • Brigden, Susan, New Worlds, Lost Worlds (2000)
  • Gunn, Steven & Monckton, Linda, Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales: Life, Death and Commemoration (2009)
  • Lisle, Leanda de, Tudor: the Family Story (2013)
  • Loades, David, The Tudors: History of a Dynasty (2012)
  • Weir, Alison, Britain’s Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy (2008)

On This Day in History – 11 June – Marriage of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon


Katherine of Aragon by Lucas Hornebolte
Katherine of Aragon by Lucas Hornebolte

Event– Marriage of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon

Year– 1509

Location– Greenwich Palace, England

The wedding of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon isn’t as well-known as their very public divorce. Katherine was the widow of Henry’s older brother, Arthur, who had died in 1502. Henry would later allege that this was an impediment from which the Pope couldn’t dispense.

Katherine and Henry had been betrothed for 6 years by the time that they married, and it wasn’t certain that they would marry even after the betrothal. When Katherine’s mother, Isabella of Castile, died Katherine was seen as less valuable on the marriage market as she was no longer the product of a united Spain. Henry VII began to look elsewhere for a bride for his son.

When Henry VII died in 1509 Katherine’s fortunes changed overnight and the marriage negotiations were successfully brought to an end in May 1509. The marriage licence was issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Warham, on 8 June 1509.

The marriage was a private ceremony in the queen’s closet at Greenwich Palace on 11 June 1509 with just a couple of witnesses in attendance. Katherine was aged 23 and Henry just 18 – she was beautiful still and he was in his prime. The marriage wasn’t only a love match (it was rumoured that Henry wanted Katherine when she was married to Arthur), but a political one as well.

As soon as the wedding itself was over, preparations were made for their joint coronation which happened just a couple of weeks later.

Further Reading

  • Amy Licence, Catherine of Aragon: an Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife (2016)
  • Garrett Mattingley, Catherine of Aragon (1960)
  • David Starkey, Six Wives: the Queens of Henry VIII (2004)
  • Giles Tremlett, Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish Queen (2011)
  • Alison Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1991)

On This Day in History – 19 May – Execution of Anne Boleyn


White Tower at the Tower of London
White Tower at the Tower of London

Event– Execution of Anne Boleyn

Year– 1536

Location– Tower of London (England)

Anne Boleyn was arrested on 2 May 1536 and sent to the Tower of London, accused of adultery, incest and treason. She was tried and found guilty of all charges against her on 15 May 1536 with the sentence pronounced as burning or beheading at the king’s pleasure.

Anne’s so-called lovers were executed on 17 May – Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris, William Brereton, Francis Weston and her brother, George Boleyn. All had been found guilty of adultery with Anne. Richard Page and Thomas Wyatt were arrested but never charged with anything. They were released after the executions.

It is generally accepted that Anne Boleyn wasn’t guilty of the charges against her. Perhaps she had been a little reckless in her speech, and a little too flirtatious, but that doesn’t automatically convert to adultery. From what I have read, the only historian who thinks it possible that Anne was in fact guilty was G.W. Bernard, though I personally don’t buy his arguments.

Anne was beheaded on Tower Green within the Tower of London on 19 May 1536 by the swordsman of Calais, rather than the more cumbersome English axe, and was buried in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula within the Tower grounds. There is a memorial slab commemorating her place of burial there today.

Further Reading

  • Paul Friedmann, Anne Boleyn (1884)
  • Eric Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn (1986)
  • Retha Warnicke, The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn (1989)
  • Alison Weir, The Lady in the Tower: the Fall of Anne Boleyn (2009)

On This Day in History – 2 May – Arrest of Anne Boleyn


Anne Boleyn Hever Castle Portrait
Anne Boleyn Hever Castle Portrait

Event– Arrest of Anne Boleyn

Year– 1536

Location– Greenwich Palace & Tower of London (England)

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn attended the May Day jousts at Greenwich on 1 May 1536. Henry left suddenly without warning and without saying goodbye to Anne. They wouldn’t see each other again.

Anne was with her ladies in her apartments at Greenwich on 2 May 1536 when a delegation from the Privy Council arrived to question her, and then escort her to the Tower of London under arrest. Mark Smeaton, a court musician, had already been arrested and taken to the Tower the day before and had confessed to adultery with Anne, possibly under torture. Henry Norris, Groom of the Stool, arrived at the Tower that morning, and Anne’s brother, George, followed her there just a few hours later.

She was accused of adultery with 5 men, incest with her brother, and plotting the king’s death. She would be condemned to death and executed.

There have been several suggestions as to what led to Anne’s arrest – was it her miscarriage in January 1536? Was it Henry VIII’s newfound love for Jane Seymour? Was it a conspiracy by Thomas Cromwell endorsed by Henry? Was it Anne’s own reckless behaviour?

Further Reading

  • Paul Friedmann, Anne Boleyn (1884)
  • Eric Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn (1986)
  • Retha Warnicke, The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn (1989)
  • Alison Weir, The Lady in the Tower: the Fall of Anne Boleyn (2009)