David Starkey – Henry VIII: the First Brexiteer


Talk at Whitley Bay Playhouse on 6th May 2018

  • The first Brexit was the Break with Rome
  • England was a pariah state – an enemy of Europe
  • Henry VIII fortified the coastline which was the largest scheme of fortification
  • Henry VIII by Hans Holbein 1540
    Henry VIII by Hans Holbein 1540
  • Cartography and maps became important
  • Holbein’s image – the Whitehall mural shows Henry VII, Elizabeth of York, Henry VIII and Jane Seymour
  • When Jane Seymour died it was the “smartest career move in history”
  • Anne Boleyn was “brilliant as a mistress but catastrophic as a wife”
  • The words in the middle of the Whitehall mural say that Henry VII was a good king ending decades of civil war but Henry VIII was better as he released England from papal bondage
  • The mural was displayed in Henry VIII’s private rooms
  • Appetite for fame
  • Importance of Erasmus and education “virtue, glory, immorality”
  • Foreign influence – Henry VIII’s astronomer was French, his painter was German and his armour came from Italy
  • France = sex and sophistication, Anne Boleyn raised there
  • Media revolution – printing, books, Caxton’s printing press
  • In the early 16th century typography was introduced
  • Representational painting explains why we are so interested in the Tudors – we knew what they looked like
  • Images make things real
  • Henry VIII is at the centre of England’s history – England different after Henry VIII
  • The Reformation was the greatest change between the Norman conquest and the present day, Reformation partly undoes the conquest
  • English Channel not a barrier but a means of communication
  • Easy to invade England with her natural harbours
  • Henry VII sailed from Honfleur in 1485 – French invasion with tactics, ships, money and army Continue reading “David Starkey – Henry VIII: the First Brexiteer”

Spotlight – Thomas Cromwell


Name: Thomas Cromwell

Title/s: Earl of Essex / Knight of the Garter / Lord Privy Seal / Baron Cromwell

Birth / Death: c.1485 – 28 July 1540

Spouse: Elizabeth Wyckes 1489-1528

Children: Gregory Baron Cromwell 1520-1551 / Anne Cromwell ?-1528 / Grace Cromwell ?-1528

Parents: Walter & Katherine Cromwell (dates unknown)

Siblings: Katherine Williams / Elizabeth Wellyfed (dates unknown)

Noble Connections: Cromwell was first in the service of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, before moving into the service of Henry VIII. He was liked by Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second queen, and assisted in achieving her marriage, as well as her execution 3 years later. His son, Gregory, married the sister of Henry VIII’s third queen, Jane Seymour. Cromwell also promoted the marriage of Henry VIII to Princess Anne of Cleves. Continue reading “Spotlight – Thomas Cromwell”

Discussion Questions – “Katherine of Aragon: the True Queen” by Alison Weir


  • Throughout the book, Alison Weir shows how Katherine was raised to confirm to contemporary cultural and religious norms, and how this influenced her thinking and her actions. What impression did this make on you, and did it aid your understanding of her dilemmas and conflicts? Did this take on her story allow you to empathise more closely with Katherine’s choices?
Alison Weir
Alison Weir

I think that the standards and norms of 16th century England were very different to today. People believed very strongly in God and in the existence of heaven and hell and purgatory. They saw their lives on earth as a prelude to the afterlife. I think my background in history really helps me to understand the cultural and religious norms of the 16th century. I think that the understanding of the dilemmas and conflicts that Katherine faces in the novel depend on the contemporary culture and standards. You can’t understand Katherine’s motivations and feelings without understanding the context of the 16th century. I think that the emphasis on her religious devotions and the wellbeing of her soul were the central considerations for Katherine and understanding this made me understand more about what drove her to make the choices she did – she wasn’t being stubborn on purpose, she really believed she was saving her soul, and that of her husband. Continue reading “Discussion Questions – “Katherine of Aragon: the True Queen” by Alison Weir”

Spotlight – Thomas More


Name: Thomas More

Title/s: Lord Chancellor / Knight / Saint

Birth / Death: 7 February 1478 – 6 July 1535

Spouse: Jane Colt 1483-1511 / Alice Harpur 1474-1551

Children: Margaret Roper 1505-1544 / Elizabeth Daunce 1506-1564 / Cecily Heron 1507-? / John 1509-1547 (by Jane Colt)

Parents: John More 1451-1530 & Agnes Graunger ?-1499

Siblings: Joan Staverton 1475-1542 / Agatha More 1479-? / John More 1479-1512 / Edward More 1480-? / Elizabeth Rastell 1482-? Continue reading “Spotlight – Thomas More”

Documentary Notes – ‘Henry VIII: Patron or Plunderer’ Part 1


Henry VIII c.1520.
Henry VIII c.1520.

Jonathan Foyle.

April 1509 Henry VIII takes refuge in the Tower of London.

Public image – kills Empson and Dudley.

Coronation = cloth of gold, jewels on horseback, Hall’s Chronicle, Thomas More – lawyer commissioned to make a speech, “golden age”.

Humanism influenced More and Henry, also chivalry – Erasmus,

Eltham Palace – Henry was raised away from the centre of London.

Glenn Richardson.

John Skelton taught him Latin, French, etc. Influenced by Margaret Beaufort and William Blount Lord Mountjoy.

New learning – grammar, rhetoric, morals, history. History of his own ancestors.

1503 Prince Henry was betrothed to Katherine of Aragon.

Strength of the Tudor family – influence, wealth, power. Demonstrated by buildings like King’s College Chapel.

Propaganda. Continue reading “Documentary Notes – ‘Henry VIII: Patron or Plunderer’ Part 1”

How Far was Henry VIII Justified in Getting Rid of Four of His Wives?


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

Katherine of Aragon

The reasons for the divorce of Katherine of Aragon have been much debated, both at the time and in the hundreds of years since. It seems that the primary reason for Henry’s wish to be rid of Katherine was that she hadn’t presented him with the male heir. She only had a daughter, Mary. Henry VIII wanted a son to follow him and secure the dynasty.

The second reason, which was used as an excuse to end the marriage, was that Katherine had been married to Henry’s brother, Arthur. There was debate over whether Katherine’s first marriage was consummated, because if so, then the passage in Leviticus could apply. You shouldn’t marry your brother’s widow or you’ll be childless. To Henry, no son was as good as being childless. Continue reading “How Far was Henry VIII Justified in Getting Rid of Four of His Wives?”

How Far was Mary I Influenced by the Life and Memory of her Mother, Katherine of Aragon?


Mary I 1544 by Master John.
Mary I 1544 by Master John.

The education of Mary I was influenced mainly by her mother and her tutor, Juan Vives. They expected a lot from her – she was not taught only feminine pastimes, but also how to rule a country.[i] Mary had experience in ruling a court and country from a young age, since she was Princess of Wales until such a time as Henry VIII had a male heir, so she took up residence in that country. It was an unusual education for a woman, even for a princess, but Katherine’s own parents were unusual in that respect.

Katherine knew that women could rule a country, as her mother Isabella I of Castile had done in Spain, and Mary came to believe that one day she would be Queen and rule England as her grandmother had ruled Spain.[ii] Katherine was more closely involved in Mary’s childhood and education and so she became the primary influence on her daughter. With the death of Katherine’s father, Ferdinand II of Aragon, Katherine transferred all of her familial affection and loyalty to Mary.[iii] As Mary was Katherine’s only surviving child after a number of stillbirths and miscarriages, it was no wonder that they were very close. Continue reading “How Far was Mary I Influenced by the Life and Memory of her Mother, Katherine of Aragon?”

Why Did Thomas Wolsey Fall from Power in 1529?


Cardinal Wolsey by an unknown artist c.1520 from the National Portrait Gallery.
Cardinal Wolsey by an unknown artist c.1520 from the National Portrait Gallery.

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey was Henry VIII’s chief minister from his accession in 1509 until his dramatic fall in 1529. The reasons for this sudden fall are hotly debated amongst historians – was it his inability to give Henry VIII a divorce from Katherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn? Or was it that the nobility were jealous of Wolsey’s huge amount of power and influence? Or was it just bad luck? At what point did his fall become inevitable? These ideas will be discussed in the following short essay.

The issue of Henry VIII’s divorce or “great matter” has taken over the history of this period. This and the break with Rome seem to almost characterise the Tudor dynasty. However, there was so much more to it than fame. Henry VIII’s desire for Anne Boleyn brought down his chief minister, and led to England’s division from the Papacy in Rome. It also led to the idea that a king could marry for love. Continue reading “Why Did Thomas Wolsey Fall from Power in 1529?”

Book Review – ‘The Last Boleyn’ by Karen Harper


'The Last Boleyn' by Karen Harper (1983).
‘The Last Boleyn’ by Karen Harper (1983).

I recently finished reading Karen Harper’s The Last Boleyn, written in a similar vein to Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl.

Generally, I thought it was relatively engaging, although I didn’t enjoy it as much as The Other Boleyn Girl. Similar to Gregory’s novel, it wasn’t really very historically accurate. For example, Anne was arrested in February when it was actually May. I enjoyed the telling from Mary Boleyn’s point of view, and what made it better than The Other Boleyn Girl in my opinion was the way it explored Mary’s time in France, which Gregory didn’t do, although the accuracy is dubious.

Genre/s: Historical Fiction / Romance / Drama.

Setting: Paris (France), London, Hever (UK)

Characters: Mary Boleyn, Anne Boleyn, George Boleyn, Jane Boleyn, Thomas Boleyn, William Carey, William Stafford, Henry VIII, Francis I, Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Wolsey, Jane Seymour, Queen Claude of France, Katherine of Aragon, Mary Tudor Duchess of Suffolk, Elizabeth I, Mary I, Henry Carey, Catherine Carey.

Continue reading “Book Review – ‘The Last Boleyn’ by Karen Harper”

‘Anne of the Thousand Days’ – Review


'Anne of the Thousand Days' (1969).
‘Anne of the Thousand Days’ (1969).

So I finally got around to watching Anne of the Thousand Days starring Richard Burton as Henry VIII and Genevieve Bujold as Anne Boleyn.

A bit of background: alongside Burton and Bujold, Irene Papas, Anthony Quayle, Michael Hordern and William Squire star (as Katherine of Aragon, Thomas Wolsey, Thomas Boleyn and Thomas More respectively). The film was adapted from a play of the same name which ran for 288 performances on Broadway. The film was released in 1969 and was directed by Charles Jarrott. It received mixed reviews from critics but won an Oscar for Best Costume Design, nominated for a further nine (including nods for Burton, Bujold and Quayle). It was also nominated for two BAFTAs, although failed to win, but it did win four Golden Globes for Best Director, Best Motion Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Actress for Bujold. Continue reading “‘Anne of the Thousand Days’ – Review”

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