Book Review – ‘Tudor Victims of the Reformation’ by Lynda Telford


Lynda Telford 'Tudor Victims of the Reformation'

This book describes a selection of people caught up in the turmoil that presaged the reformation – a period of change instigated by a king whose desire for a legitimate son was to brutally sweep aside an entire way of life. The most famous and influential of the victims were the two people closest to Henry VIII. His mentor, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, a great churchman and a diplomat of consummate skill. The other was to be the King’s second wife, Anne Boleyn. These two adversaries, equally determined to succeed, had risen above the usual expectations of their time. Wolsey, of humble birth, became a price of the church, enjoying his position to the full, before coming into conflict with a woman who had no intention of being another passing fancy for the king. She would become the mother of one of the greatest and most famous of England’s monarchs. They were brought down by the factions surrounding them and the selfish indifference of the man they thought they could trust. Though they succumbed to the forces aligned against them, their courage and achievements are remembered, and their places in history assured. [Description from Pen & Sword]

Thanks to Pen and Sword Books for the chance to read this in exchange for an honest review.

This book doesn’t really cover the victims of the Reformation, so much as it focuses on the lives of two of them: Thomas Wolsey and Anne Boleyn, so it only really covers up to 1536, which is really when the Reformation picked up pace. This means that there is nothing really about Katherine Parr, Anne Askew or the Pilgrimage of Grace, two key figure and one key event in the history of the Reformation, and it doesn’t go into the reign of Edward IV or Elizabeth I, or the counter-Reformation under Mary I, so the title is a little misleading.

There were also a few errors. For example, the Duke of Buckingham executed in 1521 was at a few points referred to as George Stafford, when he was actually called Edward. At one point it was also claimed that Henry VIII acceded to the throne in 1501 when he actually came to the throne in 1509. A good proof-reader would have caught and resolved these problems. They don’t, however, detract from the good tone and writing of the book in general.

I didn’t like that there were no chapter titles, as if you are looking for a particular year, especially when the book is written chronologically as this one is, it should be easy to find a particular period of time. The chapters also don’t always seem to finish where it feels natural that they should. The index is incomplete – for example the pages listed about Anne Boleyn don’t include when she was elevated to the peerage, or about her imprisonment and trial. Continue reading “Book Review – ‘Tudor Victims of the Reformation’ by Lynda Telford”

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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”

Was the English Reformation the Original Brexit?


There are several similarities between the 16th century Reformation and the present-day Brexit. The main one seems to be that we British don’t like being told what to do by an organisation that isn’t even based in our country i.e. 16th century Pope in Rome and 21st century European Union in Brussels. As an island, we are separated from mainland Europe by the Channel, and have different concerns to the mainland. It seems prophetic that the British parliament will activate article 50 this year, the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany.

The main difference between the Reformation and Brexit is that the Reformation in England happened on the whim of Henry VIII because he wanted a divorce from Katherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn. However, Brexit was voted for by the British people in a democratic election. However, both seem to have ignited similar battles between the people – Catholic vs. Protestant in the 16th century and Leave vs. Remain in the 21st century. Continue reading “Was the English Reformation the Original Brexit?”

Discussion Questions – ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ by Hilary Mantel


  1. The novel starts off with a description of hawks soaring in the sky and swooping in to slaughter their prey. In the same manner, the novel closes off with an image of a fox attacking a hen coop. What is the significance of these animals and what do they symbolise?
'Bring Up the Bodies' by Hilary Mantel (2012).
‘Bring Up the Bodies’ by Hilary Mantel (2012).

Hawks tend to symbolise awareness, intelligence and a regal bearing. Possibly this is a sense of what is to come – the intelligent and ambitious Anne Boleyn losing awareness of her position as queen and what it relies on (Henry VIII’s love) and ending up being beheaded on the orders of her husband, the king. In the case of the fall of Anne Boleyn the fox represents Cromwell, and the hens are Anne and her faction who are brought down. However, this could also foreshadow what is to come for Cromwell when he becomes one of the hens, along with the rest of the reformist party, and they are attacked by the foxes (the conservative faction).

2. How has Cromwell’s upbringing influenced him to become the shrewd and ambitious man that he is? What is the significance of Cromwell refusing to adopt the coat of arms belonging to a noble Cromwell family even as he widens the chasm between his father and himself? How does Cromwell view family and how is it different from his own experience growing up?

I think the fact that Cromwell had such a difficult relationship with his father encourages him to get away and prove himself. He wants to be a better person than his father. I think this difficult relationship also enhances Cromwell’s ambition and desire for power – he wants to feel the power that he didn’t have when at the mercy of his father. Cromwell doesn’t want to be a part of the inherited nobility – his religious beliefs encourage the rise of self-made men, and promoting them on the basis of their abilities and not their wealth or title. I think Cromwell doesn’t want his own wife and children to experience the family life he had when he was younger – he tries very hard not to exhibit the same characteristics as his father did, and tries to create a happier home. Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ by Hilary Mantel”

Discussion Questions – ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel


  1. What does Holbein’s portrait capture about Thomas Cromwell’s character that even Cromwell, himself, recognises? What kind of man is Cromwell? In the rapacious world of Wolf Hall, do you find him a sympathetic character, or not?
Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein.
Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein.

I think that Cromwell becomes more ambitious when he gets a taste of power. I think he likes to thwart those in power with his knowledge, like when Wolsey is demanded to give up the great seal. I think that Cromwell doesn’t come across as more sympathetic in ‘Wolf Hall’ than in other books featuring him, as we see the deaths of his wife and daughters, and the fall of his mentor in his own eyes, rather than the eyes of Henry VIII or Anne Boleyn. I think he is a very caring person with a ruthless streak in his religious beliefs. I think Holbein’s portrait captures Cromwell’s essence in not flaunting his rising position, but still showing his power with the books and papers around him. It’s very clever that it’s not explicit, but it still shows the reined-in power.

  1. What effect did Cromwell’s upbringing have on his character and his later views about the privileged society that permeates the court? How does he feel about the aristocracy and its insistence on ancient rights?

I think that Cromwell’s relationship with his father affects a lot of his thoughts and actions now he is an adult. He seems to be very fixed on not ending up like his father, and having a better relationship with his children than his father had with him. He wasn’t brought up to a privileged way of life, so he can see more clearly than those at court the importance of promoting people for their abilities rather than their wealth and titles. He believes that, in the future, self-made men will have an important role in running the country, more so than the old nobility who represent the medieval period that has now been left behind – men like him represent the future. Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel”

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”

Documentary Notes: “Henry VIII: Patron or Plunderer” Part 2


Henry VIII c.1542.
Henry VIII c.1542.

String of failed marriages and a religious revolution

Imagery and reputation

1533 Henry VIII anxious about the Tudor dynasty – no son to succeed him so ditched key advisors, split from Rome, divorced his wife and married Anne Boleyn

Powerful and controlling monarch, successful dynasty

Tapestry, art and palaces designed but plundered religious houses

New image had to be forged quickly as his future depended on it

Wrath of the pope and catholic European nations and English people – Rome refused to sanction divorce so Henry left it behind

Supreme Head of the Church of England

Henry vulnerable so built sea forts and the basis of the royal navy

Army of painters, builders and designers through palaces and paintings

Henry VIII interested in art by story – everything he commissioned told the story of his own self importance

Learn things about Henry from the art he commissioned Continue reading “Documentary Notes: “Henry VIII: Patron or Plunderer” Part 2″

What Made the Tudor Dynasty Unique?


Royal Badge of England, including the Tudor Rose.
Royal Badge of England, including the Tudor Rose.

The Tudor dynasty was unique in several ways, not least that two of our most remembered monarchs were Tudors – Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Furthermore, the dynasty was unique in issues of marriage, succession, political unity, religion, and love. Read on to find out more.

Henry VIII is the only reigning monarch to have married more than twice. He was also only the second to have a wife who had already been married (the first was Edward IV whose Queen, Elizabeth Woodville, already had two sons when they married). He is also only the second King to have married a commoner (Edward IV was, again, the first). He is also the only monarch to have had one of his wives (let alone two!) executed. Even more shocking that the two executed were in fact cousins.[1]

Edward VI was the third reigning English monarch not to marry, the first two being William II and Edward V, the second of whom was too young to be married when he died, and the former appeared to have been too busy with wars and dissenters to think about a family. Continue reading “What Made the Tudor Dynasty Unique?”

Assess the Effects of the Reformation on the Lives of Women in Sixteenth-Century Europe?


I was very proud of this essay which I wrote as part of my Masters degree. It got me a first. Please don’t use sections from it in your own work without proper referencing.

The issue of women in history has been neglected until relatively recently. Hence the historiography on the effects of the Reformation on the lives of women is quite up-to-date. Cissie Fairchilds and Peter Wallace have two contrasting opinions which will both be explored in this essay. Fairchilds argues that the Reformation brought ‘some losses but more gains’ for women and ultimately improved women’s status in society.[1] Conversely, Wallace argues that the reformation ‘bound women more tightly to men’s authority’ which diminished their status.[2] These two opinions are irreconcilable, so one must triumph over the other. In this author’s opinion, the Reformation allowed women a measure of freedom, more than had been achieved in the Medieval period, but they were still ultimately subject to patriarchal authority. It was not until much later, into the twentieth century, that women managed to completely break away from man’s authority. The Reformation acted as a catalyst for these later changes. In examining the Reformation in relation to women it is politic to look at several fields of interest: education, marriage, witchcraft, religion, scholarship and monarchy. These key areas will demonstrate the effect of the reformation on the lives of European women in the sixteenth century. Continue reading “Assess the Effects of the Reformation on the Lives of Women in Sixteenth-Century Europe?”

The Legacy of Anne Boleyn, died 19th May 1536


Anne Boleyn Hever Castle Portrait
Anne Boleyn Hever Castle Portrait

Anne Boleyn still fascinates us today, possibly more than she did at the time of her death. But why? She was executed for adultery, incest and treason. Possibly our interest derives from Anne’s own assertion that she was innocent, or even the success of her daughter Elizabeth I in ruling England. For me personally, what is so interesting about Anne Boleyn is that she was almost a modern woman. She did not seem to believe in what many men in the sixteenth century were saying – namely that women were superior and had no place in politics, religion or society, except to have children.

There has been a lot of talk about how popular Anne Boleyn is. Some people have spoken against the interest in her. Judging by the popularity of both fiction and non-fiction works written about her this criticism seems misplaced. The likes of Philippa Gregory, Hilary Mantel and Jean Plaidy have revolutionised historical fiction as a genre, proving that it can be done well and relatively accurately, allowing for some historical license. Historians like Eric Ives, G.W. Bernard, Alison Weir and David Loades have brought general interest to the Tudors as a period, rather than merely a scholarly interest. This has been magnified by the success of the TV show The Tudors, although of course its accuracy is hotly debated. Continue reading “The Legacy of Anne Boleyn, died 19th May 1536”