Documentary Notes – British History’s Biggest Fibs with Lucy Worsley: the Wars of the Roses


  • Story of past open to interpretation 
  • Carefully edited and deceitful version of events 
  • Not just a version of what happened – more a tapestry of different stories woven together by whoever was in power at the time 
  • Wars of the Roses was invented by the Tudors to justify their power 
  • Immortalised by Shakespeare – darkest chapter in English history 
  • Lancaster and York locked in battle for the crown of England – kings deposed, innocent children murdered, cousin fought against cousin 
  • 1485 Richard III slain and Henry Tudor took the throne 
  • Henry VII’s victory hailed the ending of the Medieval period 
  • Line between fact and fiction often gets blurred 
Late 16th Century portrait of Richard III, housed in the National Portrait Gallery.
Late 16th Century portrait of Richard III, housed in the National Portrait Gallery.
  • 1455 Stubbins in Lancashire scene of a legendary battle in the Wars of the Roses beginning with volleys of arrows but ran out of ammunition 
  • Lancastrians pelted the Yorkists with black pudding – local legend 
  • Yorkists pelted the Lancastrians with Yorkshire puddings – local legend 
  • Wars of the Roses in national memory 
  • History books – rivalry between Lancaster (red rose) and York (white rose) – bloody rivalry largely a creation of the Tudors 
  • 1461 bloodshed real in the middle of a snowstorm at Towton 
  • Lancastrians started out well but tide turned against them, chased by the Yorkists down the slope to a river and so a massacre began 
  • Blood stained the snow red, so location became known as the bloody meadow 
  • Shakespeare portrayed the battle as a bloody Armageddon – represented a country torn apart by war, nothing as bad in our history 
  • Somme 19,000 British soldiers killed on the first day, Towton 28,000 killed 
  • 20 years ago Bradford University revealed barbarity of fighting with remains of 43 men killed at Towton 
  • Head forced down into the spine, poleaxes – exceptional even for the Wars of the Roses 
  • Skirmishes, but real battles only around 8 in 30 years 
  • Not ravaged by all-out war – later myth 
  • Out of 32 years of wars, fighting on lasted a total of 13 weeks 

Continue reading “Documentary Notes – British History’s Biggest Fibs with Lucy Worsley: the Wars of the Roses”

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Discussion Questions – ‘The Last Tudor’ by Philippa Gregory


Philippa Gregory 'The Last Tudor'

  1. What role do faith and religion play during the time period represented in The Last Tudor? What is the relationship between religion and politics, and how does this relationship affect the cultural climate of England? Is the country mostly united in their faith or divided? What impact does this have on the royals of England?
  • After the Henrician Reformation, there was the mid-Tudor crisis, already with differences of faith across England.
  • Edward VI was a devout Protestant as he had been raised, Mary I was a devout Catholic as her mother Katherine of Aragon had been, and Elizabeth I looked for a middle way in religion having seen the chaos of her brother’s and sister’s reigns.
  • Edward VI altered his Device for the Succession to stop Mary I succeeding to the throne and returning the English church to Rome.
  • Politics was based on religion – generally people who supported Edward VI and Jane Grey were protestant, and those who supported Mary I were Catholic, although Mary I did at first also attract the support of protestants as the real claimant to the throne by Henry VIII’s will.
  1. What is “the true religion” according to Lady Jane Grey? Why does Jane believe that she and her family do not need to earn their place in heaven as others do? Does her faith ultimately serve her well? Discuss.
  • Jane Grey believes the true religion is protestant – each is influenced in religion in the way that they were raised.
  • Protestants believe in pre-destination – that it is already decided whether you go to heaven or hell before you’re even born and you can’t influence that through good works.
  • Good works leading to heaven is a Catholic doctrine.
  • Jane Grey relies on her faith and it ultimately helps her to die, but she wouldn’t have been in that situation in the first place if she wasn’t staunchly Protestant.
  • Edward VI settles the succession on Jane Grey because she is Protestant, rather than his Catholic half-sister Mary I.

Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘The Last Tudor’ by Philippa Gregory”

Henry VIII and his Six Wives – Suzannah Lipscomb & Dan Jones – Episode 2


Anne Boleyn Hever Castle Portrait
Anne Boleyn Hever Castle Portrait

Anne Boleyn was the most notorious mistress in English history

Intelligent, sophisticated, ambitious

Captivated Henry VIII

Together Henry and Anne destroyed Katherine of Aragon

Anne became too confident and paid for the crown with her life

1529 Henry VIII in love with Anne for 3 years

Was lady in waiting to Katherine of Aragon – tired of being mistress

Anne promised Henry a living son – the one thing Katherine had failed to give him – but she wouldn’t sleep with Henry until he left his wife

Katherine refused to step aside – loyal wife for 2 decades

Katherine wouldn’t give up Henry without a fight – Katherine asked Henry to allow marriage to be judged in public court

Katherine had chance to save marriage and crown

Katherine had been preparing for this her whole life – not to be crushed by any man

All or nothing

21 June 1529 great hall at Blackfriars priory – struggle made public

Henry and Katherine faced each other in the divorce court in front of public audience

Continue reading “Henry VIII and his Six Wives – Suzannah Lipscomb & Dan Jones – Episode 2”

On This Day in History – 19 May


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


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)

Analysis of a Letter Supposedly from Anne Boleyn to Henry VIII from the Tower of London May 1536


“Sir, your Grace’s displeasure, and my Imprisonment are Things so strange unto me, as what to Write, or what to Excuse, I am altogether ignorant; whereas you sent unto me (willing me to confess a Truth, and so obtain your Favour) by such a one, whom you know to be my ancient and professed Enemy; I no sooner received the Message by him, than I rightly conceived your Meaning; and if, as you say, confessing Truth indeed may procure my safety, I shall with all Willingness and Duty perform your Command.

But let not your Grace ever imagine that your poor Wife will ever be brought to acknowledge a Fault, where not so much as Thought thereof proceeded. And to speak a truth, never Prince had Wife more Loyal in all Duty, and in all true Affection, than you have found in Anne Boleyn, with which Name and Place could willingly have contented my self, as if God, and your Grace’s Pleasure had been so pleased. Neither did I at any time so far forge my self in my Exaltation, or received Queenship, but that I always looked for such an Alteration as now I find; for the ground of my preferment being on no surer Foundation than your Grace’s Fancy, the least Alteration, I knew, was fit and sufficient to draw that Fancy to some other subject.

Continue reading “Analysis of a Letter Supposedly from Anne Boleyn to Henry VIII from the Tower of London May 1536”

Potted History of Tudor Palaces


Greenwich Palace no longer stands, but it was the birthplace of Henry VIII, as well as both of his daughters, Mary I and Elizabeth I. It used to be known as the Palace of Placentia and was built in 1433 by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, in the reign of the pious King Henry VI. The Palace fell into disrepute during the English Civil War, and was later demolished and replaced with the Greenwich Hospital (now the Old Royal Naval College) in the late 17th century.

Eltham Palace was the childhood home of Henry VIII and was built in 1295. Henry stayed here even as Prince of Wales, rather than go to Ludlow. At one point, it was bigger even than Hampton Court Palace. Even as Henry got older and when he became king, he continued to prize Eltham, putting some of its features into Hampton Court, and he remodelled Eltham itself 1519-22. Only small sections now remain as it fell into disrepute after Henry’s death. Continue reading “Potted History of Tudor Palaces”

The Princes in the Tower – What Happened?


The Princes in the Tower 1878 painting
The Princes in the Tower 1878 painting

In the Beginning

Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, were the only two surviving sons of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, who married in secret in 1464. Edward was born in 1470 and Richard in 1473.[i] Edward V was deposed by his uncle, Richard III, on 25 June 1483, and declared illegitimate the following year, along with his brother and sisters.[ii] It was said that Edward IV (their father) had been married before he married their mother, Elizabeth Woodville. There were also rumours that Edward IV was not himself legitimate.

In the Tower

Towards the end of June 1483 Edward V’s attendants were forbidden from seeing him, and both of the Princes were more rarely seen within the Tower.[iii] Before, they had been seen in the grounds shooting and walking in the gardens. There was an early attempt to rescue the Princes in the Tower in July 1483, but something went wrong in the planning.[iv] Continue reading “The Princes in the Tower – What Happened?”

Tudor Executions within the Tower of London


Very few executions actually took place within the walls of the Tower of London. Most executions took place on the nearby Tower Hill, like those of Thomas Cromwell, Edward Stafford Duke of Buckingham, and Thomas More. These will be discussed in another post. Below are the notable executions that took place within the Tower during the reign of the Tudors. Lord Hastings was the first real execution in the Tower in 1483, although it is also suspected that the Princes in the Tower (Edward V and Richard Duke of York) were also secretly killed here around the same time.

Anne Boleyn National Portrait Gallery.
Anne Boleyn National Portrait Gallery.

Anne Boleyn 1536

Anne Boleyn was executed on 19th May 1536 on charges of adultery, incest and treason. I fully believe she was innocent and was actually executed because she failed to give Henry VIII a son and he had fallen in love with Jane Seymour who did eventually give him a son. Her so-called ‘accomplices’ had died two days earlier, including her brother and a court musician, Mark Smeaton. The other accused were William Brereton, Francis Weston and Henry Norris. All perished. Continue reading “Tudor Executions within the Tower of London”