Book Review: “Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’ by Heather R. Darsie

61mfurP7xALThe wives of Henry VIII are some of the most hotly-discussed women of the Tudor Dynasty. They all had unique lives and origins before and after they met the man that connects them all. Two of his brides, Catherine of Aragon and Anna, Duchess of Cleves, were foreign princesses and their marriages were used to create alliances with Spain and Germany respectfully. While Catherine of Aragon and the rest of the wives of Henry VIII get a ton of attention, Anna Duchess of Cleves tends to be brushed aside. She is often seen as the wife that Henry did not approve of because of her looks. However, Heather R. Darsie decided to change how we view Anna with her groundbreaking debut biography, “Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’”.

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this wonderful book. Anna, Duchess of Cleves has been one of those women who I wanted to learn more about, so I was very excited to read a biography about her.  

Anna’s story is often told through the English perspective, but it does not tell the entire story. Anna was born in Germany so it makes sense to tell her story using both English and German sources. Darsie explains her approach to this book and her purpose for writing her biography of Anna in the way she does:

Anna’s life and experiences from the German experiences are very different in some ways than what has been described in English-language books. This is not to say that any English biographies about Anna are wrong, but rather that the German sources help make more sense of Anna’s life and short marriage. The German sources show what a valuable bride Anna was to any suitor, and why she stayed on in England after moving there in December 1539. It is my sincere hope that this biography augments the generally accepted view of Anna, her family, and the political entanglements in which she was enmeshed. I also hope it brings more knowledge about German history to English speakers. (Darsie, 8-9).

Darsie brings a fresh new perspective to Anna’s life by explaining her foundations and her family in the German court. This is critical for understanding what kind of woman Anna was like and why the marriage between Anna and Henry was necessary. We are introduced to Anna’s family; her mother Maria, her brother Wilhelm, and her sisters Sybylla and Amalia, who all play a crucial role in shaping the path Anna’s life will take. Anna’s family had a huge influence in German and European politics and the decisions that they made will shape not only German history but European history forever. This was also the start of the Protestant Reformation and the battle between Lutheranism and Catholicism ensues with Anna’s family caught directly in the middle.

This book is an eye-opening read. By exploring the political and religious factors of the time, as well as the German and English primary sources, Darsie is able to tell a complete story of Anna, Duchess of Cleves. She was not just some footnote in history. She was a strong, independent German princess who was doing what she could in order to survive. Darsie’s engaging writing style combined with her knowledge of not only German history but legal documents which shaped the agreements of Henry and Anna’s relationship as well as the understanding of the religious conflicts of the time, blend together masterfully to create a stunning debut. “Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’” by Heather R. Darsie is an absolute game-changer when it comes to studying the marriage between Henry VIII and his fourth wife Anna Duchess of Cleves and I highly recommend Tudor fans to read this book. This may be Heather R. Darsie’s first book, but I look forward to reading more of her books.

 

“Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’” by Heather R. Darsie will be published in the US on July 1, 2019.

If you are interested in pre-ordering the book for the US, please follow the link: https://www.amazon.com/Anna-Duchess-Cleves-Beloved-Sister/dp/1445677105

Book Review: “Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty” by Elizabeth Norton

9781445605784_p0_v1_s550x406The Wars of the Roses was a time of great hardships and strong men and women who did everything they could in order to survive. One of these remarkable people was a woman who did everything she could to make sure her only son lived and prospered. She was the daughter of a man who, allegedly committed suicide, she had four different husbands and gave birth to her son at the age of thirteen. She helped organize rebellions and a marriage that helped her son win the throne of England. Her name was Margaret Beaufort, the mother of King Henry VII. Her remarkable story is told in Elizabeth Norton’s insightful book, “Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty.”

This was a time of extraordinary men and women who knew both triumphs and tragedies. Margaret Beaufort was no exception as Fortune’s wheel gave her quite a ride, as Elizabeth Norton explains:

The idea of Fortune’s wheel, with its random changes from prosperity to disaster, was a popular one in medieval England, and Margaret Beaufort, with her long and turbulent life, saw herself, and was seen by others, as the living embodiment of the concept. Margaret was the mother of the Tudor dynasty in England, and it was through her that Henry VII was able to bid for the throne and gather enough strength to claim it. She knew times of great prosperity and power, but also times of deep despair. These were, to a large extent, products of the period in which Margaret lived, and her family, the Beauforts, had also suffered and prospered from Fortune’s random spin in the years before her birth. (Norton, 9).

Norton begins her book by explaining the origins of the Beaufort family, with the relationship between John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford. It is through John of Gaunt that the Beauforts were able to go from illegitimate children to royal relations. This connection brought them a lot of favors, but it also brought a lot of heartaches. When the Beauforts fell, they fell hard, like Margaret’s father John Beaufort who allegedly committed suicide after a failed mission in France. His death meant that Margaret, his only child, was made a very wealthy heiress and a very eligible young lady on the marriage market. She was married to her first husband at the tender age of 10, but it did not last long. Her second marriage was to King Henry VI’s half-brother Edmund Tudor. He died before he could meet his son, leaving Margaret a mother and a widow before she turned 14. This might have been a dark moment in any young woman’s life, but Margaret grows from this experience, for herself and her only son Henry Tudor.

Margaret used her next two marriages, to Sir Henry Stafford and Lord Thomas Stanley, to her advantage to help her son’s cause. Henry was on the run with his uncle Jasper during this time since the Yorkist cause saw him as a potential heir to the throne. It was Margaret’s influence with the court and her financial support that helped her son and her brother-in-law survive during this time. It all paid off and after years apart, she was reunited with her son after the Battle of Bosworth Field. Henry was victorious and declared King Henry VII. The Tudor Dynasty was created, and Margaret Beaufort began her new role as the King’s Mother. She was a mother-in-law to Elizabeth of York, a grandmother to Henry and Elizabeth’s children, and a patroness for colleges and universities. Margaret was a devout woman who also had control of her own finances, even though she was married. Fortune’s wheel gave Margaret Beaufort quite a ride, but she endured it and helped create one of the greatest dynasties in English history, the Tudor dynasty.

Elizabeth Norton sheds light on Margaret Beaufort’s story. In recent years, Margaret Beaufort has been vilified but reading the letters written by Margaret and from people who knew her shows who she really was, a strong and devout woman who would do anything for her son. Norton is able to balance the facts that we know about Margaret’s life and times with letters and poems about her and Norton’s engaging writing style to give Margaret a biography she deserves. This biography is meticulously researched and a delight to read. If you want a fascinating biography about this remarkable woman, I highly recommend you read Elizabeth Norton’s “Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty”.

Book Review: “Richard III: Loyalty Binds Me” by Matthew Lewis

51Y6-FH9JgL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_When we study history and look at certain people, we often have a tendency to treat them almost like fictional characters. They are either the hero, all good with no flaws, or villains, all bad where we only focus on their flaws. We don’t see the person as “human”, neither good nor bad, just someone who tried their lives to the best of their abilities. One such person who tends to get either the hero or the villain treatment is King Richard III of England. To some, he is “white knight”, a man who was wrongly accused and who was faultless. To others, he was a “black legend”, a dastardly villain who wanted power and did not care who he stepped on in order to achieve his goals. With these two different portrayals of Richard III, we often forget that he was just an ordinary man who became king. Matthew Lewis has decided to strip away both the white and black portrayals of Richard III and explore who Richard III the man was in his latest book, “Richard III: Loyalty Binds Me.”

Matthew Lewis explains exactly who Richard III was and why he wanted to explore him further:

Richard was a man. He made mistakes and misjudgements. He had his flaws, as we all do, but beneath the grime of centuries of slander and gossip, the facts can be uncovered and polished up to provide a far more rounded and interesting man, with novel ideas that seem ahead of his time. Undoubtedly he was willing to do that which was within his power to protect his position and that of his family. He was a fifteenth-century nobleman when they were a brutal and acquisitive breed. That does not mean that he was incapable of less selfish acts that many of his contemporaries, or of hankering for a bygone age in which men, at least in the stories he read, had been honourable and lived by codes. Any time a person from history is viewed as one-dimensional, as simply good or bad, that should be cause to look again and question more deeply, because they were people, just like you and I. They had hopes and fears, dreams and insecurities that fused together to make them. When Richard charged at the Battle of Bosworth, did he blindly believe he could kill Henry Tudor and that would be the end of it? Was he, perhaps, afflicted by the loss of his son and wife? Did he wonder what the purpose of carrying on might be? Did he hope that God would help him win the day and once more approve of him? We cannot know for certain. Arguably, what makes him unique amongst medieval monarchs and nobles was the antithesis of what history has remembered him for. He was no petty tyrant bent on murdering all in his way. He was a forward-thinking reformer who tried to tackle the real problems he saw in English medieval society, and paid the price for thinking he could resolve them. (Lewis, 391).

I have a deep fascination with the Wars of the Roses and how the people during this time are portrayed. Richard III has been one of those people that has caught my interest especially. I am always looking for a new perspective when it comes to controversial figures to find out what their lives were really like.

When it comes to biographies about Richard III, you will either get the white narrative or the black, and nothing in the middle. He is either a heartless villain or a saint of a man. Although Lewis is a Ricardian, he has decided in this biography to forego the traditional narratives and take a look at Richard’s life by what we know and not stipulations. This book was such an enlightening read. Richard III the man and his times was brought to light as all the controversies of his life were explored thoroughly. By looking at Richard as just a man and not a controversial figure, you get a real sense that his life was more complicated and almost relatable at points.

As Lewis said, Richard III was just a man, and it is through this biography that we truly get to meet the man. I have read quite a few biographies about Richard III, but this one is by far my favorite. I learned so much about Richard III, his life and times, and the different authors and sources against him, that I will never look at Richard III the same way again. If you are interested in Richard III and the times that he lived in, I highly recommend you read Matthew Lewis’s book, “Richard III: Loyalty Binds Me”. I believe that if we look at historical figures the way Matthew Lewis does with Richard III in this book, we might better understand the past and better appreciate those who came before us.

Biography: William Shakespeare

800px-Shakespeare(Baptized April 26, 1564- Died April 23, 1616)
Son of John Shakespeare and Mary Arden.
Married to Anne Hathaway.
Father of Susanna Hall, Hamnet Shakespeare, and Judith Quiney.
William Shakespeare was a poet and playwright. He is regarded as one of the greatest writers of all of English History and one of the greatest dramatists of all time.

William Shakespeare was born to John Shakespeare and his wife Mary Arden in Stratford-upon-Avon. We do not know his exact birth date, but many believe that he was born on St. George’s day, which is April 23rd because he was baptized on April 26, 1564. His father John Shakespeare was an alderman and a successful glover while his mother, Mary Arden, was the daughter of a successful landowning farmer. We believe that William Shakespeare went to King’s New School, which was a free chartered grammar school that was located in Stratford. It is here where Shakespeare learned Latin and his passion for the theatre. Since he was a commoner, there is no record of him ever going to university, which was a luxury that was reserved for upper-class families.

At the age of 18, William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, who at the time was 26 years old. The marriage licence was issued on November 27, 1582. At the time of their marriage, Anne was already pregnant with their first child, Susanna, who was baptized on May 26, 1583. Two years later, William and Anne welcomed twins Hamnet (son) and Judith (daughter), in 1585. They were baptized on February 2, 1585. Unfortunately, Hamnet would tragically die at the age of 11 from an unknown cause and he was buried on August 11, 1596.

After the birth of his twins in 1585, there are not many historical records about Shakespeare’s life until 1592. These years are known as “Shakespeare’s Lost Years” and many stories have emerged about what he supposedly had done during this time. One of the stories states that Shakespeare was in Stratford to avoid persecution for deer poaching. Another claims that he was a schoolmaster for some time. The problem with these stories is that there is no evidence to support them. We do not know what Shakespeare was doing during these years.

Shakespeare’s plays started to appear in London theaters in 1592, but we do not know when his writing career actually began. He was well known just enough for him to be attacked in newspapers. After 1594, Shakespeare’s plays were performed only by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a company owned by a group of players, including Shakespeare, that soon became the leading playing company in London. After the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603, the company was awarded a royal patent by the new King James I, and changed its name to the King’s Men.

In 1599, Shakespeare and others purchased some land near the river Thames and created the Globe Theatre and in 1608, the group was able to take over the Blackfriars indoor theatre. Shakespeare was able to become a very wealthy man and was able to own property in both London and Stratford, but he preferred to live in London. In 1594, the first known quartos of Shakespeare’s plays were published, solidifying his reputation and by 1598, his name became the selling point in new productions. He gained a reputation of not only being a talented actor but a playwright as well.

In 1609, London suffered from the bubonic plague and in 1610, Shakespeare decided to retire from public life, which was extremely unusual. This, however, did not mean that he was not busy. Shakespeare is known to have collaborated with other playwrights like John Fletcher. William Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616 and was buried at the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford.

In total, Shakespeare is known to have written at least 38 plays and over 150 poems, both long and short. If you would like to read more about his works, The Folger Shakespeare Library is a fantastic place to start: https://www.folger.edu/shakespeares-works

Sources:
https://www.shakespeare.org.uk/explore-shakespeare/shakespedia/?gclid=CjwKCAjwxILdBRBqEiwAHL2R84IxV7c3RHGPLkDwe8371g3ZF-p8i_7t0Xp314sNrSi3lF04CxIfShoCeuMQAvD_BwE
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare
https://www.williamshakespeare.net/
https://www.folger.edu/shakespeares-works

Biography: Christopher Marlowe

Christopher_Marlowe(Born around February 26, 1564( the date he was baptized)- Died May 30, 1593)
Son of John Marlowe and his wife Catherine.
Marlowe never married and did not have any children.
Christopher Marlowe was an Elizabethan poet, playwright and translator. His work influenced William Shakespeare, who was born in the same year, and others. Marlowe’s works are known for their blank verse and their overreaching protagonists. He would tragically be stabbed to death at the young age of 29.

Christopher Marlowe was born in Canterbury to a shoemaker named John Marlowe and his wife Catherine. We do not know the exact date of his birth, but we do know that he was baptized on February 26, 1564, so it is safe to assume that he was born a few days before. When he was old enough, he attended The King’s School in Canterbury and then received a Matthew Parker scholarship, which allowed him to study at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1584. In 1587, he received his Master of Arts degree on time after the school was hesitant to award him his degree since there was a rumor that he intended to go to the English college at Rheims, presumably to prepare for ordination as a Roman Catholic priest.

After Marlowe graduated, it is believed that Marlowe may have been a spy for Sir Francis Walsingham. Marlowe was known to have spend a lot of money on food and drink while he was in college, more than what his scholarship would have allowed, which has led many to question where he was getting the extra money for his expensive eating habit. There is no concrete evidence that he was in fact a spy, but there was a letter from the Privy Council that stated that Marlowe did serve the government in some way.

Christopher Marlowe is known for his literary career, which lasted from 1587 until his death in 1593. Some of his works include: Dido, Queen of Carthage, Tamburlaine the Great, The Jew of Malta, Edward the Second, The Massacre at Paris, Doctor Faustus, Hero and Leander, and The Passionate Shepherd to His Love.

Marlowe had a reputation for “atheism,” but this could, in Elizabeth I’s time, indicate merely unorthodox religious opinions. There is further evidence of his unorthodoxy, notably in the denunciation of him written by the spy Richard Baines and in the letter of Thomas Kyd to the lord keeper in 1593 after Marlowe’s death. Both Baines and Kyd suggested on Marlowe’s part atheism in the stricter sense and a persistent delight in blasphemy. On May 18, 1593, the Privy Council issued an order for Marlowe’s arrest. On May 30, however, Marlowe was stabbed to death by Ingram Frizer, at a lodging house in Deptford, where they had spent most of the day and where, it was alleged, a fight broke out between them over the bill. We do not know what was the cause of the fight. Marlowe was only 29 years old when he died.

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Marlowe
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Christopher-Marlowe
http://www.marlowe-society.org/christopher-marlowe/life/
https://www.biography.com/people/christopher-marlowe-9399572
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/christopher-marlowe

Biography: Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox

margaret-douglas-countess-lennox(Born October 8, 1515- Died March 7, 1578)
Daughter of Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus and Margaret Tudor
Married to Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox
Mother of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley and Charles Stuart, 1st Earl of Lennox

Margaret Douglas was the daughter of the dowager Queen of Scotland Margaret Tudor. She incurred her uncle Henry VIII’s wrath twice; the first time was for her unauthorised engagement to Lord Thomas Howard and the second was in 1540 for an affair with Thomas Howard’s nephew Sir Charles Howard, the brother of Henry’s wife Katherine Howard. Her son Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, was married to Mary Queen of Scots and was the father of James VI of Scotland (also known as James I of England).

Margaret Douglas was born on October 8, 1515 at Harbottle Castle in Northumberland. Her mother was Margaret Tudor, the Dowager Queen of Scotland and the sister of Henry VIII, and her father was her mother’s second husband Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus. Margaret Tudor had recently been forced to hand over the Scottish Regency to the Duke of Albany, who had arrived from France, and she was forced to flee to England. Margaret Tudor arrived in London with baby Margaret on May 3, 1516, while her husband was dealing with issues in Scotland. When Albany returned to France on June 6 , 1517, the Queen Dowager was permitted to return and was given limited access to see her son, James V, at Edinburgh Castle. During this time, she had a falling out with her husband and Angus took custody of Margaret Douglas. When Margaret was not living with her father, she stayed with her godfather Cardinal Wolsey.

When Wolsey died in 1530, Lady Margaret was invited to the royal Palace of Beaulieu, where she resided in the household of Princess Mary. Because of her nearness to the English crown, Lady Margaret Douglas was brought up chiefly at the English court in close association with Mary, her first cousin, the future Queen Mary I, who remained her lifelong friend. Margaret would later become first lady-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn and Lady-of-Honour to Princess Elizabeth. Yet, when Margaret became secretly betrothed to Sir Thomas Howard, Anne Boleyn’s uncle and Norfolk’s youngest brother, Henry VIII, in July 1536, placed them both in the Tower. Margaret did fall ill while in the Tower. Margaret was released on October 29, 1537, but Sir Thomas died in the Tower on October 31, 1537.

In 1539, Margaret was part of the group of people who was supposed to meet Anne of Cleves at Greenwich Palace and join her household, but Henry changed his mind and met Anne of Cleves at Rochester instead. In 1540, Margaret was again in disgrace with the King when she had an affair with Lord Thomas Howard’s half-nephew Sir Charles Howard. He was the son of Thomas’ elder half-brother Lord Edmund Howard, and a brother of Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Katherine Howard. Her mother, Margaret Tudor, died at Methven Castle on October 18, 1541 from palsy. Margaret would be one of the few witnesses to King Henry VIII’s last marriage to Katherine Parr, in 1543; Margaret was a close friend to Katherine Parr and would become one of her chief ladies.

In 1544, Lady Margaret married a Scottish exile named Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox, who would later became regent of Scotland. Their children were Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley and Charles Stuart. When Mary I became queen in 1553, Margaret returned to court and was given rooms in Westminster Palace. Margaret would be one of the chief mourners at Mary’s funeral in 1558 and when Elizabeth I became queen, Margaret moved to Yorkshire, where her home at Temple Newsam became a center for Roman Catholic intrigue.

Margaret succeeded in marrying her elder son, Lord Darnley, to his first cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, thus uniting their claims to the English throne. Queen Elizabeth I disapproved of this marriage and had Margaret sent to the Tower of London in 1566. After the murder of Margaret’s son Darnley in 1567, Margaret was released from prison and she was the first to denounce her daughter-in-law, but was eventually later reconciled with her. Her husband assumed the government of Scotland as regent, but was assassinated in 1571. Margaret would never marry again.

In 1574, she again aroused Queen Elizabeth’s anger by marrying her younger son Charles to Elizabeth Cavendish, the daughter of Sir William Cavendish and Bess of Hardwick and the stepdaughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury. She was again sent to the Tower, unlike the Countess of Shrewsbury, but was pardoned after her son Charles’ death in 1576. Margaret would take care of Charles’ daughter Arbella Stuart until her own death on March 7, 1578.

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Douglas
http://www.maryqueenofscots.net/people/lady-margaret-douglas-countess-lennox/
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Margaret-Douglas-Countess-of-Lennox

Biography: Catherine Carey

800px-Steven_van_der_Meulen_Catherine_Carey_Lady_KnollysAlso known as Catherine Knollys or Lady Knollys.
(Born around 1524- Died January 15, 1569)
Daughter of Mary Boleyn and William Carey.
Married to Sir Francis Knollys.
Mother of Mary Stalker, Sir Henry Knollys, Lettice Knollys, Countess of Essex, William Knollys, 1st Earl of Banbury, Edward Knollys, MP, Sir Robert Knollys, MP, Richard Knollys, MP, Elizabeth Leighton, Lady Leighton, Sir Thomas Knollys, Sir Francis Knollys, MP, Anne West, Lady De La Warr, Catherine, Baroness Offaly, Lady Butler, Maud Knollys and Dudley Knollys.

Catherine Carey was the daughter of Mary Boleyn, the sister of Anne Boleyn, and William Carey. She was the mother of Lettice Knollys and the Chief Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Elizabeth I.

Catherine Carey was born around 1524 to Mary Boleyn and William Carey. William Carey was from Aldenham in Hertfordshire. He was a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber and Esquire of the Body to Henry VIII. Her parents were married in 1520 and soon after, it is believed that Mary Boleyn started her affair with Henry VIII. Contemporaries have claimed that Catherine Carey was in fact an illegitimate child of Henry VIII, but there is no evidence to support this claim and Henry VIII never acknowledged her as his own child. It is said that Catherine was a witness to Anne Boleyn’s execution, but that is simply not true.

Catherine would become a Maid of Honour for both Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard. It is believed that Catherine met her future husband Francis Knollys when he was part of the group that welcomed Anne of Cleves to England in November 1539. We do not know if their families arranged the marriage or if the king had a hand in the match, but Catherine and Francis were married on April 26, 1540. The couple had fourteen children, including Lettice Knollys. Francis Knollys was knighted in 1547 and Catherine was called Lady Knollys. During the reign of Mary I, Francis and Catherine took part of their large family and fled to Germany because they were very staunt Protestants.

In January 1559, Catherine and Francis returned to England after the death of Mary I and the succession of Elizabeth I. Sir Francis Knollys was appointed Vice-Chamberlain of the Royal Household and Catherine was made Chief Lady of the Bedchamber. Elizabeth never supported the claim that Catherine was her half sister, but for the ten years that Catherine served Elizabeth, she was seen as one of Elizabeth’s favorites at court and her favorite first cousin. Catherine Carey would die on January 15, 1569 at Hampton Court Palace and she was buried in St. Edmund’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey.

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catherine_Carey
https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/26-april-1540-the-marriage-of-catherine-carey-and-francis-knollys/

Biography: Lettice Knollys

Lettice_Knollys1(Born November 8, 1543- Died December 25, 1634)
Daughter of Sir Francis Knollys and Catherine Carey.
Married to Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, and Christopher Blount.
Mother of Penelope Rich, Dorothy Percy, Countess of Northumberland, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, Walter Devereux, Francis Devereux, and Robert Dudley, Lord Denbigh.
Lettice Knollys was one of Elizabeth I’s favorites at court, but when she married Elizabeth’s favorite Robert Dudley, she was banished from court.

Lettice Knollys was born on November 8, 1543 at Rotherfield Greys, Oxfordshire to Sir Francis Knollys and Catherine Carey. Sir Francis Knollys was a member of Parliament and Master of the Horse under King Edward VI. Her mother, Catherine Carey, was the daughter of Mary Boleyn, which made Lettice Knollys and Elizabeth I first cousins once removed. The Knollys were Protestants and in 1556, during the reign of Mary I, they fled with five of their children to Frankfurt, Germany. We do not know if Lettice was in Germany with her family or if she spent the years her family was in exile with her cousin Elizabeth. Lettice’s family returned to England in January 1559, after the death of Mary I and the accession of Elizabeth I. Sir Francis Knollys was appointed Vice-Chamberlain of the Royal Household, Catherine was made a senior Lady of the Bedchamber, and Lettice was made a Maid of the Privy Chamber.

In the early 1560’s Lettice married her first husband Walter Devereux, Viscount Hereford. They lived at Chartley in Staffordshire, where the two eldest of their five children, Penelope and Dorothy, were born in 1563 and 1564. It is said that when Lettice was pregnant with her first son that she flirted with Robert Dudley at court, but there is no proof to support this rumor. In November 1565, Lettice gave birth to her first son Robert Devereux. In 1569, she gave birth to her son Walter Devereux and her son Francis shortly after, but Francis would die shortly after his birth.

Walter held no position at court, but following the outbreak of the Northern Rebellion in 1569, he became known for his loyal military service to Elizabeth I. Elizabeth rewarded this loyalty by making Walter Devereux the Earl of Essex in 1572. In 1573, Walter Devereux successfully convinced Elizabeth to send him to Ulster so that he could colonize it for England. He was gone for two years, leaving Lettice alone to take care of her five children. Lettice during this time visited friends at court and at Kenilworth Castle, where Robert Dudley lived. Rumors began to spread that Robert Dudley and Lettice were having an affair while her husband was away. In December 1575, Walter Devereux returned to England, but he would leave again for Ireland in July 1576. Walter died of dysentery on September 22, 1576 in Dublin, but rumors began to swirl that Robert Dudley had him poisoned so that he could marry Lettice. Walter’s death left Lettice deep in debt and she had to move in with her friends and into her family home. She tried to convince the crown to lower the debt for her son, the new earl of Essex, but Elizabeth did not agree to this agreement.

Lettice did marry again in secret, to Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester, on September 21, 1578. There were only a few witnesses to this ceremony. When Elizabeth found out about the marriage the following year, in July 1579, she was absolutely furious. Elizabeth focused all her anger on Lettice and banished her forever from court and Robert fled from court in disgrace. Lettice continued to style herself Countess of Essex for several years into her new marriage. She lived very discreetly, often with her relatives at the Knollys family home in Oxfordshire. Lettice’s son with Leicester, Robert, Lord Denbigh, was born in June 6, 1581, at Leicester House. Three years later, on July 18, 1584, Lord Denbigh tragically died. Lettice and Robert would not have any more children.

In 1585 Leicester led an English expedition to assist the rebellious Netherlands against Spain. He incurred Elizabeth’s wrath when he accepted the title of Governor-General in January 1586. At this same time the Earl was giving his wife authority to handle certain land issues during his absence, implying they had no plans to meet in Holland.

The Earl returned to England in December 1586, but was sent again to the Netherlands in the following June. Leicester eventually resigned his post in December 1587. Lettice was with him when he died unexpectedly, possibly of malaria, on 4 September 1588 at Cornbury Park, Oxfordshire. Leicester’s death left Lettice deeper in debt and she had to marry again in order to repay her two deceased husbands’ debts.

In March or April of 1589, Lettice married her third husband Sir Christopher Blount. Blount was a man who came from a lowly gentry family and he served in the Leicester household. Lettice’s son the Earl of Essex was not thrilled about her choice of husband, however Blount would prove extremely loyal to Essex. Blount was so loyal to his stepson, that he became one of the key conspirators in Essex’s rebellion in February 1601. The rebellion, which aimed to depose the Queen’s government, was a disaster ,and both Essex and Blount were imprisoned. Though Blount begged for mercy he was condemned for treason. Essex was executed in February 1601 and Blount was executed on March 18, 1601.

When Elizabeth I died in 1603, King James I decided to cancel all of the debts that Lettice owned through her husbands and restore her grandson, the third Earl of Essex, to his father’s title and estate. Also in 1603, Ambrose Dudley, the son of Robert Dudley and Douglas Sheffield, claimed that he was the legitimate son of his parents and thus the heir to the earldoms of Warwick and Leicester. If successful, this claim would not only have implied that Lettice Knollys’ union with Leicester had been bigamous, but would also have nullified her jointure rights. In February 1604, Lettice filed a complaint against Dudley in the Star Chamber, accusing him of defamation. The other side was unable to cite clear evidence and the King’s chief minister, Robert Cecil, thought it unwise to rake up the existing property settlement, so the outcome was in favour of Lettice. Lettice would die at the age of 91 on December 25, 1634. She was buried next to Robert Dudley at St Mary’s Church, Warwick.

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lettice_Knollys
http://tudortimes.co.uk/guest-articles/lettices-men
http://www.berkshirehistory.com/bios/lknollys.html

Biography: Bess of Hardwick

Bess-of-HardwickAlso known as Elizabeth Cavendish and Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury
(Born around 1527- Died February 13, 1608)
Daughter of John Hardwick of Derbyshire and Elizabeth Leeke.
Married to Robert Barley (or Barlow), Sir William Cavendish, Sir William St. Loe, and George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury.
Mother of Frances Cavendish, Temperance Cavendish, Henry Cavendish, William Cavendish, 1st Earl of Devonshire, Charles Cavendish, Elizabeth Cavendish, Mary Cavendish, and Lucrece Cavendish.

Bess of Hardwick is one of the best known Elizabethans. She was the second wealthiest woman in England, the grandmother to a claimant to the throne, known for building the most spacious and modern stately home in England, and was a former jailer to Mary Queen of Scots. She rose from the yeomen gentry to one of the people inside Elizabeth I’s inner circle.

Bess of Hardwick was born around 1527 to John Hardwick of Derbyshire and his wife Elizabeth Leeke. The Hardwicks did not hold prestigious offices and the highest office that they ever achieved was esquire. John Hardwick died at the age of 40 and Bess’s mother remarried. When Bess was twelve years old, it is said that she went to live with the Zouche family at Condor Castle in Derbyshire, where it is believed she learned how to be a Lady in Waiting. There are also rumors this is where she met her first husband Robert Barley (or Barlow); they married in 1543 but Robert died a year later in December 1544. We do not know if they in fact lived together because they were so young. There was an issue about the dowry that Bess should have received; Bess took the matter to court and it took several years to finally give Bess her portion of the Barley(Barlow) estates and inheritance.

After her first husband’s death, Bess had moved to live as a serving gentlewoman with the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk, parents of Lady Jane Grey, at Bradgate Park, Leicestershire, where she befriended Duchess, Frances Brandon, niece of Henry VIII. It was at Bradgate Park where Bess met her second husband Sir William Cavendish, who was twice the age of Bess. They married on August 20, 1547 and they had eight children: Frances Cavendish, Temperance Cavendish, Henry Cavendish, William Cavendish, 1st Earl of Devonshire, Charles Cavendish, Elizabeth Cavendish, Mary Cavendish, and Lucrece Cavendish. William’s fortune had been made following the Dissolution of the Monasteries and possibly acting on Bess’s advice, Sir William sold his lands in the south of England and bought the Chatsworth estates in her home county of Derbyshire. When Sir William Cavendish died on October 25, 1557 after ten years of marriage, Bess became a widow for a second time and she was now deep in debt.

Bess had to marry again to take care of the debts from Sir William Cavendish so in 1559, she married Sir William St. Loe and became Lady St. Loe. He was Captain of the Guard to Queen Elizabeth I and Chief Butler of England. Bess was made a Lady of the Private Chamber to Elizabeth I as a wedding present. Sir William St. Loe owned a lot of large estates and when he died of mysterious circumstances in either 1564 or 1565, his brother tried to gain possession of all of the St. Loe inheritance. Bess had to take care of her 6 kids, plus St. Loe’s two daughters, who were at this point grown women, so she took her case to court and won. Bess became the second wealthiest woman in England after Elizabeth I with the possession of the St. Loe inheritance.

Bess did not remarry until 1568 to her last husband George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury and she became Countess of Shrewsbury. In order to combine the families even further, , two of his children were married to two of hers in a double ceremony in February 1568: Bess’s daughter Mary Cavendish was given in marriage to Shrewsbury’s eldest son Gilbert; while Bess’s son, Sir Henry Cavendish married Shrewsbury’s daughter Lady Grace Talbot.

During 1568 there was a major shake-up happening in Scotland. Rebel Scottish lords rose up against Mary, Queen of Scots, imprisoned her, and forced her to abdicate in favor of her one-year-old infant son, James. In May 1568, Mary escaped captivity in Scotland, and fled south towards England, seeking the protection of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth. This not go well for Mary as she was imprisoned in May 18, 1568 at Carlisle Castle. Elizabeth did not feel that Mary was secure and in 1569, Mary was transferred into the care of the Earl and Countess of Shrewsbury. She would stay in there custody for over 15 years. Bess would become one of Mary’s companions, working with her on embroidery and textile projects. In fact, all of Mary’s work later became part of Bess’s historical collection at Hardwick Hall.

In 1574 Bess arranged a marriage between one of her daughters and the son of the Countess of Lennox. This was a significant match for Bess because the Countess of Lennox was Margaret Douglas, a member of the royal family, being the daughter of Margaret Tudor, Queen Dowager of Scotland and sister of Henry VIII, and therefore, also Queen Elizabeth’s first cousin. In this match, the bride was Bess’s daughter, Elizabeth Cavendish, and the groom was Charles Stuart, who was himself also the first cousin of Mary, Queen of Scots and was the younger brother of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley who had been married to Mary until his death.. The marriage ceremony took place without the knowledge of Shrewsbury, who, declined to accept any responsibility. Due to the Lennox family’s claim to the throne, the marriage was considered potentially treasonable, since Queen Elizabeth’s consent had not been obtained. The Countess of Lennox, went to the Tower for several months, and Bess was ordered to London to face an official inquiry, but she ignored the summons, and remained in Sheffield until the row died down. The child of the marriage was Arbella Stuart, who had a claim to the thrones of Scotland and England as the second cousin to King James VI of Scotland.

After her husband’s death in 1590, Bess became the Dowager Countess of Shrewsbury. Bess of Hardwick would on February 13, 1608 at the age of 81.

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bess_of_Hardwick
http://www.maryqueenofscots.net/people/bess-hardwick-countess-shrewsbury/
http://www.amazingwomeninhistory.com/bess-of-hardwick/

Biography: Kat Ashley

Maiden name: Katherine Champernowne
(Born around 1502- Died around 1565)
Believed to have been the daughter of Sir John Champernowne and Margaret Courtenay.
Married to John Ashley.
Kat Ashley was the governess of the young Elizabeth Tudor, who would become Queen Elizabeth I and they would be close friends later in life.

Not much is known at Kat Ashley’s early life. We do know that she was born Katherine Champernowne and that she may have been born around 1502. We are not quite sure who her parents were, but we believe that they were Sir John Champernowne and Margaret Courtenay.

When Edward VI was born, Elizabeth lost her governess Lady Bryan, who became Edward VI’s governess and Elizabeth went into the care of Blanche Herbert, Lady Troy. Lady Troy was Elizabeth’s Lady Mistress until she retired in either 1545 or 1546. Katherine Champernowne was appointed as a waiting gentlewoman in July 1536 and when Elizabeth was four years old, in 1537, Kat became Elizabeth’s governess. Kat must have been well educated since she taught Elizabeth astronomy, geography, history, mathematics, French, Flemish, Italian and Spanish.

In 1545, Katherine Champernowne, at the age of 40, married Sir John Ashley, Elizabeth’s senior gentleman attendant. Sir John Ashley was a distant cousin of Elizabeth’s mother Anne Boleyn. Life would drastically change for Kat and Elizabeth. In 1543, Henry VIII married his last wife Katherine Parr, who allowed Elizabeth to stay at court. In 1547, Henry VIII died, leaving the the throne to his young son Edward VI. Kat and Elizabeth went to live with Katherine Parr at Chelsea, with her new husband Sir Thomas Seymour, the brother of the Lord Protector Edward Seymour and uncle to King Edward VI.

Thomas is reported to have gone into the Princess Elizabeth’s bedroom repeatedly in the mornings to tickle her and playfully wake her. One time, it is said that Thomas tore Elizabeth’s gown to shreds while in a garden. At first, it is said, that Kat thought it was amusing, but she then saw this as extremely concerning. Despite Kat’s desperate attempts to make him leave, he would not leave. But, at the time Katherine Parr got upset and instead of being angry at her husband, she was mad at Elizabeth and Elizabeth was sent away. Elizabeth and Kat would never see Katherine Parr again.

Katherine Parr died soon after due to childbirth in 1548 and that is when rumors began to spread about the inappropriate relationship between Elizabeth and Thomas. In order to get down to the truth of the matter, Kat Ashley was arrested on January 21, 1549, along with Sir Thomas Parry, and they were interviewed by Sir Robert Tyrwhitt. He found that Kat Ashley had done nothing treasonous and she was released 13 days before Thomas Seymour’s execution. During the time that Kat was in prison, Blanche Parry became Elizabeth’s Chief Gentlewoman.
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Kat was able to be reunited with Elizabeth until Elizabeth was sent to the Tower under the orders of Mary I in 1554. Kat was able to be reunited with Elizabeth again in October 1555, but Kat was arrested again in May 1556 for owning seditious books and she was thrown into Fleet Prison for three months. After her release, Mary forbade Kat from seeing Elizabeth ever again.

In 1558 after Mary I’s death, Elizabeth overturned this order and Kat became the First Lady of the Bedchamber. In the summer of 1565, Kat Ashley died, which was a horrible loss for Elizabeth.

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kat_Ashley
http://www.luminarium.org/encyclopedia/katashley.htm
http://thetudorenthusiast.weebly.com/my-tudor-blog/the-life-and-death-of-kat-ashley