Book Review: “Elizabeth I” by Anne Somerset

915mqJWdp2L.jpgQueen Elizabeth I, “the Virgin Queen”, was the daughter of King Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn. She was the step sister to Edward VI and Mary I. Her story is full of so many twists and turns, starting from the very beginning, that it is almost a miracle that she lived and became queen. So what type of trials and tribulations did Elizabeth go through to become one of the most successful rulers in English history? What was her life like? Anne Somerset decides to explore these questions, and more,  in her book, “Elizabeth I”.

Anne Somerset puts Elizabeth’s reign into perspective:

When Elizabeth ascended the throne, her kingdom was weak, demoralized and impoverished. A member of Parliament subsequently recalled how at her accession, England was ‘in war with foreign nations, subject to ignorant hypocrisy and unsound doctrine, the best sort under great persecution, some imprisoned, some driven to exile for their conscience, the treasure… corrupt.’. Under Elizabeth, the nation regained its self-confidence and sense of direction. At a time when the authority of the majority of her fellow monarchs was under threat or in decline, she upheld the interests of the Crown while not encroaching on those of her subjects, restored the coinage, and created a Church which, for all its failings, came close to being truly national. While many European countries were being rent by civil war, insurrection and appalling acts of bloodshed , she presided over a realm which (with the exception of her Irish dominions) was fundamentally stable and united. She herself was proud of the contrast between the condition of her own kingdom and that of others….Besides this, Elizabeth was responsible for raising  England’s international standing, defying the most powerful nation in Christendom, and frustrating Philip II’s attempts to overrun both England and France. (Somerset, 570).  

Anne Somerset begins her book with Elizabeth’s birth, the fall of her mother Anne Boleyn, and the death of her father Henry VIII. She then transitions to where Elizabeth was during the reigns of her step siblings, Edward VI and Mary I, which includes her take on Elizabeth’s relationship with Thomas Seymour and Catherine Parr. Somerset does not spend a lot of time in this part of Elizabeth’s life because her real focus is Elizabeth I and her reign.

Starting with Elizabeth’s coronation and the first year of her reign, Somerset breaks her chapters down by certain years and the different conflicts that occurred during that time. I did appreciate this aspect of her book, but it did make for very long chapters. The middle of her book had a chapter on Elizabeth’s court and culture, which I found quite appropriate since the court was the center of Elizabeth’s world. Somerset included information that tends to be overlooked in other biographies of Elizabeth I. For example, she went into depth about the Ridolfi Plot, which was before the famous Babington Plot, and is often overlooked. It is that attention to detail which I found rather enjoyable.

While I was reading this book, it felt like I was discovering a new side of Elizabeth I, which I loved. I have read many biographies about Elizabeth I since she was my favorite Tudor queen, but this one felt different. I actually learned a lot of new information about Elizabeth and her reign that I did not know. If you want a fresh take on Elizabeth I, her life and her reign, I highly encourage you to read Anne Somerset’s book “Elizabeth I”.

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

Book Review: “The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor” by Elizabeth Norton

Queen Elizabeth I is often known as “the Virgin Queen” because she never married. 25673950There were some men who tried to court Elizabeth, including Robert Dudley, but none could ever get her to the altar. That was when she was queen, however, there was one man who was very close to marrying her when she was just  Elizabeth Tudor. The man was Thomas Seymour, the brother of Edward and Jane Seymour and the husband of Catherine Parr. In Elizabeth Norton’s book, “The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor: Elizabeth I, Thomas Seymour, and the Making of a Virgin Queen”, she explores the relationship between Thomas and Elizabeth and why he was her temptation.

Elizabeth Norton explains who Thomas Seymour was:

Thomas Seymour once said that the memory of brave men lived forever and that ‘a good name is the embalming of the virtuous to an eternity of love and gratitude among posterity.’ To future generations, his good name was lost; but those who had known him still remember him fondly. He was a turbulent, troublesome individual, but also a likable one, and – at the start of 1549- the man who would come closest to marrying the future Queen Elizabeth. As far as is recorded, no other man ever climbed into bed with England’s virgin queen, or trimmed her clothes and intimately appraised her body. As Elizabeth looked at Thomas’s portrait in the gallery at Somerset Place, she would have been able to reflect upon the man who had so nearly seduced her. He was the temptation of Elizabeth Tudor. (Norton, 280).

So how did Elizabeth meet Thomas Seymour and why did Elizabeth chose to become “the Virgin Queen”? These are the questions that Elizabeth Norton wants to answer in her book.

Norton begins her book with the birth of Edward VI, the death of Jane Seymour, and the relationship between Catherine Parr and Henry VIII. Catherine Parr had been married a few times before Henry and she tried to be the best step mother to Henry’s three children as she could be, but when Henry died, things changed. Since Edward VI was still a minor, he was granted a Lord Protector, his uncle Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset. His brother, Thomas Seymour, wanted to marry either princess Mary or princess Elizabeth, but after he was rejected by both, he would marry Catherine Parr shortly after the death of Henry VIII, sending shock waves throughout the court. Catherine would allow Elizabeth Tudor and Lady Jane Grey to be raised in her household, thinking that it would be beneficial for the young girls. While it was great for their education, Elizabeth was constantly under the wandering gaze of Thomas Seymour.

Thomas is reported to come into Elizabeth’s bedroom early in the morning when she was barely dressed to hug her and tickle her. Elizabeth’s governess Kate Ashley would often try to persuade Thomas to leave her alone, but he did not give up. There was one incident where Thomas took a knife to one of Elizabeth’s gowns while she was walking in a garden and tore it to shreds. It is even rumored that Elizabeth gave birth to Thomas’s child and that the child was thrown into a fire, but  Norton explains why this story is not related to Elizabeth. Catherine Parr was aware of what was happening, but because she promised to love and obey her husband, she never confronted Thomas about the relationship, although she did dismiss Elizabeth from her household. Catherine would eventually become pregnant and give birth to a baby girl. While she was on her deathbed, she did not want to see Thomas; Catherine would die on September 5, 1548, which meant that Thomas was a bachelor yet again.

With the death of Catherine, Thomas turned his eyes towards politics. He wanted what his brother Edward Seymour had, control of the king. He joined forces with William Sharington, a member of parliament and a known embezzler, to build an army to overthrow the government. During this time, he wrote a letter to Elizabeth to ask her to marry him. Kate Ashley thought it was a good idea and she told Elizabeth to send her reply through Thomas Parry that she desired to marry him. Unfortunately, Thomas Seymour would be caught by his brother Edward Seymour when it was reported that Thomas tried to either kidnap or kill the king. Thomas’s scheme with Sharington would be found out, as well as his relationship with Elizabeth; Thomas Parry and Kate Ashley were sent to the Tower for interrogations. Thomas Seymour would quickly be found guilty and was executed for treason. It was with Thomas’s death that Elizabeth’s desire to marry died as well.

Elizabeth Norton in her book “The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor” paints a picture of the young Elizabeth Tudor in which love was her desire and Thomas Seymour was indeed her temptation. Norton shows Thomas Seymour in such a way that makes him intriguing. I found myself wanting to learn more about Thomas Seymour and his relationship with Elizabeth. This book was so well written and fascinating. If you are interested in Elizabeth’s childhood, Thomas Seymour and his fall, and the reason why Elizabeth chose to be known as “the Virgin Queen”,  this is the book for you.

Top 5 Tudor Women to Study

Hello everyone! So since today is International Women’s Day, I decided to make a list of my top 5 Tudor women to study. This is a list of women who I love learning new things about and they always surprise me. Some of you might be shocked that I didn’t include more of the popular figures like Anne Boleyn, Mary Queen of Scots and Mary I. I do like these women but for me, it was about the life stories of the women listed. The following women I feel like I could connect with a bit better. That is not to say that this list will change later.

 

My top 5 Tudor women to study are as follows:

 

1.) 285-004-1108CDADElizabeth I

 

I know, a real shocker. Elizabeth was the first Tudor monarch who caught my attention. Not only was she a woman who ruled England as good as any man, but she chose not to marry. Sure she did drag men along proposing the idea of marriage, but I believe she has a strategy to this. I believe that she did not want to marry at all, however she used the idea of marriage to strengthen alliances with foreign powers throughout Europe. For the most part, except for Philip II of Spain who wanted to use a marriage with Elizabeth to bring back Catholicism back to England, this strategy worked. Elizabeth was able to use the image of the “Virgin Queen” to her advantage even though there are accounts of relationships with men like Thomas Seymour and Robert Dudley. There were also some incidents where she was unkind to relations like Lettice Knollys and the death of Mary Queen of Scots. However, we must understand that Elizabeth lived in a time where she did not declare her heir, she had to do whatever it took to survive or she risked throwing the country back into a time of turmoil, like it was during the Wars of the Roses. Elizabeth, though the last of the Tudor monarchs was able to usher a Golden Age of learning and culture into England while being an unmarried queen who ruled.

 

2.) Margaret Beaufort

The matriarch of the Tudor dynasty. This woman was a power house when survival was Lady_Margaret_Beaufort_from_NPG.jpgessential. It was a world controlled by men and Margaret played their game well. She was first married to Henry Tudor’s father Edmund when she was around 12 or 13 years old and had Henry when she was either 13 or 14. With the amount of trauma that she endured giving birth to Henry, he was her only child. Only a few months before Henry was born, Edmund died, leaving Margaret a widow and she had to give her son over to an enemy of the Beauforts. As the Wars of the Roses progressed, Henry soon became the last hope for the Lancastrian cause. His life hung in the balance as he and his uncle Jasper was forced into exile. It was through Margaret’s two other marriages that she was able to secure land for her son and was able to help create an army for her son so that he could claim the throne. Most of this she planned while her husband, Lord Stanley, was a strong supporter for the Yorkist cause. This was such a gamble, but the biggest gamble that Margaret made was when she convinced Elizabeth Woodville, the wife of Edward IV, to allow her daughter Elizabeth of York to marry Henry after he defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field. All of her hard work paid off after Bosworth and her son Henry Tudor became Henry VII. Margaret had to be very strong in order to survive through all of this turmoil in order to see her only son succeed.

 

3.) Elizabeth of York

Though we do not know much about Elizabeth of York compared to her mother-in-law, I have always found her story fascinating. She could have either married her uncle, Richard III, or her father’s enemy, a Lancastrian Welsh young man named Henry Tudor. In the end, Elizabeth of Woodville and Margaret Beaufort decided that a marriage 1200px-Elizabeth_of_York_from_Kings_and_Queens_of_Englandbetween their children would help mend the rift in the country. With the marriage between Elizabeth and Henry Tudor, the York and Lancaster houses were united under the red rose of Tudor. I have always wondered what it must have been like for Elizabeth to know that she had to marry Henry who fought on the opposite side of her entire family. At first, it must have been rough but it did develop into love between the two. And then Henry had to deal with men who claimed to be her brothers who were led to the Tower of London and supposedly never heard of again. It must have been hard for Elizabeth to hear about these pretenders who claimed to be her long-lost brothers. At the same time she was building a family with Henry with her sons and daughters. Just when everything was going well for the family, Elizabeth and Henry’s eldest son Arthur died right after he had married Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain. The blow must have rocked their marriage to the core, but luckily they had each other and their other son Henry VIII. It was the love that they had for one another that helped get Elizabeth of York and Henry VII through the rocky patches and helped establish the Tudor dynasty.

 

4.) Catherine of Aragon

The wife of both Prince Arthur and Henry VIII. This woman was strong. Not only did she have to move to another country from her native Spain, but after Arthur died suddenly after their marriage, she was forced to stay in this foreign land while anotCatherine-Michel_Sittow_002-214x300her marriage, to Henry VIII, was arranged all while living in poverty. She could have thrown in the towel and asked to go back home but she stayed and married King Henry VIII, becoming Queen of England. Everything was going fine in their marriage until the miscarriages happened and the fact that she could only give birth to one child, a girl named Mary. This must have felt so horrible for Catherine since Henry only wanted a male heir and she could not give him what he wanted. Henry wanted a divorce and decided to use the fact that she was married to his brother as an excuse to divorce. Since Catherine said she was still a virgin after Arthur died, the Catholic church did not see a reason to hand out the divorce and took a long time to decide so Henry decided to break away from the church and divorced Catherine that way. She was then dismissed to never see him or her daughter Mary again, although she would argue that she was his one true and faithful wife until her dying breath. The amount of courage it must have taken to get through all the Henry through her way is very admirable and inspiring.

 

5.) Catherine Parr

The last of Henry VIII’s wives, Catherine Parr was twice widowed before she married Henry. She acted more of a nurse maid for him later in his life than his actual wife.1200px-Catherine_Parr_from_NPG Catherine was a scholar and had written two books, a first for a Queen of England. She acted as a king step mother to Henry’s three children; Edward, Elizabeth and Mary, but she had the best relationship with Elizabeth. After Henry died, Catherine married her sweetheart Thomas Seymour and had Elizabeth live with them. It is rumoured that Thomas Seymour had an inappropriate relationship with Elizabeth. It must have been hard for Catherine to accept this fact and in some cases, it is said that she even assisted Thomas with these incidents. Catherine had to make the hard decision to ask Elizabeth to leave her household, even though she loved her very much. Catherine died giving birth to a daughter. Catherine had to act as a nurse, scholar, wife, and step mother in a time when it was hard to even do one of these jobs properly.

 

These women lived in some of the most tumultuous times in English history and yet they made the best of their situations. This is why I love studying about each of these women. Who are your favorite women in Tudor history to study about and why?