Book Review – ‘House of Tudor: A Grisly History’ by Mickey Mayhew


Thanks to Pen and Sword for gifting me a copy of this to review.

This is quite a different take on the Tudor period which I really enjoyed. It’s written in really short chapters which makes it easy to read and dip in and out of and return to if you want to refresh your memory on a particular event.

The book covers 45 different events of the Tudor period which are the most grisly events of the period rather than the most common events. These include the poisoning of Bishop Fisher, the blackened heart of Katherine of Aragon, Mary I’s phantom pregnancies, and the kidnap of Mary Queen of Scots, among many others. Particular attention is paid to some of the more gory or unusual aspects of the events described which is quite novel and something that some history books skate over.

The book has a great selection of images, and a comprehensive index. There are two things I will say that stops this being a 5-star read for me, maybe just as a historian myself, there is a lack of original / contemporary primary sources listed in the bibliography though they have been used in the text itself, but that certainly doesn’t detract from the excellent discourse and ease of reading of this book which I thoroughly enjoyed! There is also only mention of Henry VII in the Bosworth chapter but no further mention of him really, even given the Simnel and Warbeck rebellions and the execution of the Earl of Warwick.

Aside from these two things I can’t really fault it! This is a fantastic addition to my Tudor bookcase and one that I will certainly come back to when working on my own writing! It really does cover so many different things that there will be something for everyone whatever your interests are; political, personal, medical, or death. A brilliant gory discourse on my favourite period of history!

Visit to the Tower of London


White Tower

So, as you might have guessed from my previous post on the ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature’ exhibition (click here) I have been on holiday in London. How could I not visit some Tudor-related sites? I was with a friend who had never visited the Tower of London before, so we used the tickets that had been booked way back at the beginning of 2020 when the pandemic hit.

We arrived early and spent five hours wandering around, stopping for a café break as well. We walked the walls, and took in the exhibitions, seeing displays on the Medieval Palace, Imprisonment at the Tower, and the Tower in War. We were using my guidebook from 2010 as I haven’t got an updated version and, in one display, there were guidebooks from the past and the same copy as mine was in a glass case! That was weird.

Dudley coat of arms carved in the Beauchamp Tower

The Beauchamp Tower is where we saw all of the graffiti left by those imprisoned there, notably this coat of arms likely carved by one of the Dudleys in 1553-4 after Jane Grey’s failed reign (the photo isn’t great because of the light from behind). There were also several pieces of graffiti left by those involved in rebellions against Elizabeth I which was especially interesting for me to see.

The Bloody Tower includes Walter Raleigh’s study and an exploration of the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower, something that I’ve read quite a lot about. Raleigh wrote his ‘The History of the World’ while imprisoned here. The Salt Tower was the place of imprisonment of Hew Draper who was incarcerated for sorcery during the reign of Elizabeth I. There are some fascinating astrological drawings on the walls of various places in the Tower where he was kept. A zodiac design contains the date 30 May 1561.

Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula

Of course, a visit to the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula (Peter in Chains) was a must. It’s an absolutely beautiful space where lie buried the remains of Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey, Jane Boleyn Lady Rochford, Edward Seymour Duke of Somerset, John Dudley Duke of Northumberland, and Guildford Dudley within the main body of the chapel. In the crypt are the remains of Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher of Rochester who were executed on nearby Tower Hill.

The armouries in the White Tower were fascinating, though I had seen them before. I almost looked at the rooms anew and visited St John’s Chapel in the White Tower for the very first time. It’s starkly simple but incredibly profound with plain walls and some stone carving, quite a contrast to the better-known St Peter ad Vincula in the grounds. The armouries themselves contain armour from Henry VIII, Charles I, and James II, and a collection of swords, cannon, and other arms from across the ages and across the world. Possibly of more interest to a military historian but seeing the detail on the armour was a highlight of the White Tower for me.

Tower Hill Memorial

On the way back to our hotel we visited the memorial on Tower Hill where the likes of Edward Stafford 3rd Duke of Buckingham, Sir Thomas More, Bishop John Fisher of Rochester, and Robert Devereux 2nd Earl of Essex were executed, among many others. The names and dates of execution are places on blocks around a small square within the First World War memorial gardens. It’s very easy to miss if you don’t know it’s there. More were executed there than are named, but the names of those who were the most notable are written. It is worth a visit if you’re going to the Tower of London as many of those executed there spent time in the Tower itself.

All in all, an incredibly fascinating historical day out, even if we were exhausted afterwards having been on our feet most of the day and then going on a Jack the Ripper walking tour that evening! A blog post on that to follow …

Who’s Who of Tudor History


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

Aragon, Katherine of = First Queen to Henry VIII, marriage annulled 1533, died 1536.

Ashley, Kat = Governess and close friend to Elizabeth I from her childhood. Died 1565.

Aske, Robert = One of the leaders of the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536. Executed 1537.

Beaufort, Margaret = Mother to Henry VII. Outlived her son and saw the accession of her grandson, Henry VIII.

Blount, Bessie = Henry VIII’s mistress, and the only one to give him an acknowledged illegitimate child – Henry Fitzroy.

Boleyn, Anne = Second Queen to Henry VIII, executed 1536 for adultery and incest.

Boleyn, George = Brother to Henry VIII’s second Queen. Accused of adultery and incest with his sister. Executed 1536.

Boleyn, Mary = Sister of Henry VIII’s second Queen. Mistress of Henry VIII. Died 1543.

Brandon, Charles  Duke of Suffolk and best friend to Henry VIII. Married Henry VIII’s sister, Mary. Died 1546. Continue reading “Who’s Who of Tudor History”

Historical Inaccuracies in ‘The Tudors’ Season 2


Episode 1 “Everything is Beautiful”

Henry Cavill as Charles Brandon in 'The Tudors' 2007-2010
Henry Cavill as Charles Brandon in ‘The Tudors’ 2007-2010

Charles Brandon and his ward – Charles Brandon married his ward, Katherine Brooke, but in reality she was Katherine Willoughby. On TV, Charles married Katherine in 1532, but in reality they didn’t marry until after Anne Boleyn’s coronation, in 1534.

Assassination attempt – According to the TV show, Pope Paul III organised an assassination attempt against Anne Boleyn before her coronation. In reality he wasn’t even elected until after her coronation, and there is no evidence for an assassination attempt.

Episode 2 “Tears of Blood”

Margaret More – Margaret More is shown to be in her mid-twenties when Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn, but at this point she was actually in her early thirties. Continue reading “Historical Inaccuracies in ‘The Tudors’ Season 2”

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”

Important Tudor Executions on Tower Hill


Memorial on Tower Hill to those executed there.
Memorial on Tower Hill to those executed there.

Very few executions actually took place within the walls of the Tower of London. Most executions took place on the nearby Tower Hill. This post will cover the latter executions. A different post covers the former executions in the Tower itself. The executions on Tower Hill were more of a spectator sport, whereas the Tower dealt with potentially dangerous or controversial executions like Queens of England and prominent nobles.

Edward Stafford 3rd Duke of Buckingham c.1520
Edward Stafford 3rd Duke of Buckingham c.1520

Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham 1521 – Edward Stafford was executed on 17th May 1521. Henry VIII knew that Stafford probably had a stronger legitimate claim to the throne than he did as the Tudor descended from the illegitimate Beaufort line. In 1520 Henry authorised an investigation against him and he was tried before a group of seventeen of his peers, as was customary for the nobility. It is suggested his opposition to the King stemmed from his hatred of Wolsey. Continue reading “Important Tudor Executions on Tower Hill”

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