Book Review: “Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey” by Adrienne Dillard

51LQDgS2-bLThe Boleyn family is one of the most notable families during the reign of the Tudors. When one thinks about this family, people like Anne Boleyn, Thomas Boleyn, and George Boleyn come to mind. However, another Boleyn and her family story have been emerging from the shadows of history in recent years. That is the story of Mary Boleyn, a mistress of King Henry VIII. Mary Boleyn had a daughter named Catherine Carey, who married Sir Francis Knollys and was the mother of 14 children, including Lettice Knollys. Since Catherine Carey was a direct relation to the Tudors, what might have her life have been like? Adrienne Dillard wanted to give readers a possible view of Catherine Carey’s life in her book, “Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey”.

Adrienne Dillard chooses to start her fabulous novel in a unique dream sequence:

The dream was always the same. My feet were filthy. To most children my age this would be expected, something they dealt with every day of their lives as they toiled alongside their parents in the field, usually too poor to afford proper footwear. But to me it spelled disaster. I knew that soon my grandfather would be home and would be very displeased. Instead of swinging me in the air, plying me with affection as he usually did when he returned from Court, he would stare at my dirt-caked toes and say disdainfully, “You are a Boleyn and you should know your place. No Boleyn will ever live like a beggar child, I have worked hard my whole life to make sure of it.” With those scornful words, my heart would be cut in two. I knew I had to find my brother Henry, get back to the house and clean up before our grandfather arrived….I burst through the apple trees into a clearing and saw the scaffold before me. “No!” I shrieked, feet rooted to the ground, I stared on in horror as the sword sliced the head from my aunt’s swan-like neck. The executioner raised her severed head into the air by its long chestnut locks. Anne’s eyes were wide in shock, her lips still moving, the blood formed a river in the dirt. The last thing I remembered before my world turned black was my own scream. (Dillard, 2).

Catherine’s life was full of heartache, in fact, Princess Elizabeth was the one who signed a letter to Catherine with Cor Rotto, which is Latin for “broken-hearted”. With as many deaths that Catherine experienced in her lifetime, including the death of two of her children, she also found a lot of love. Although her marriage to Sir Francis Knollys was an arranged marriage, like so many were back in the time of the Tudors, Catherine and Francis fell in love with one another. It was that love that helped Catherine, Francis, and their family navigates the ever-changing political and religious environment of the royal court.

In this book, Catherine is portrayed as the illegitimate daughter of King Henry VIII. This has been a rumor ever since she was born since her mother was the mistress of Henry VIII, yet it has never been proven. It adds an interesting twist to her story since she was one of the ladies who served Elizabeth I, who if these rumors were true, was her half-sister. Catherine tends to be someone who enjoyed a normal, drama free life, and so she never tells anyone outside her immediate family the truth. Another unique aspect of this book is how Adrienne Dillard portrays when Catherine and Francis took part of their family to Germany during the reign of Mary I, to escape religious persecution. Not much is known about this time so it was rather interesting to read how different their lives could have been like while on the run.

Adrienne Dillard’s book is beautifully written and tells the story of such a remarkable woman. She stayed on the sideline and was able to have a good relationship with every Tudor monarch, which was actually quite a rarity. Dillard was able to portray the love that Catherine had as a mother and wife in a simple and humble way that it felt like Catherine could be a friend. This was my first time reading a book by Adrienne Dillard and I absolutely loved it. She was able to bring the life of a royal and a mother of 14 to life in such a respectful and dignified way. She made you believe that Catherine Carey could have been the illegitimate daughter of King Henry VIII. After reading this book, I want to learn even more about Catherine Carey and her extraordinary family.

If you want a gorgeous book about a wonderful woman who lived during the time of the Tudors, I highly recommend you read “Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey” by Adrienne Dillard.

Book Review: “A Column of Fire” by Ken Follett

9780451477996_p0_v1_s550x406After the death of Henry VIII and Edward VI, there was an explosion of religious intolerance, not just in England, but in Europe as a whole. Many believe that it was Mary I “Bloody Mary” who really started this trend, however, the fires of hatred between Protestants and Catholics extended further into the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I of England. We often focus on the monarchs and their inner circles during this time and how the religious persecutions affected the decisions that they made. That tells only part of the story, but how did this religious fighting between Protestants and Catholics affect the normal person? What were their lives like? Ken Follett explores this topic in his third book in his historical fiction series, the  Kingsbridge Series, “A Column of Fire”.

Every historical fiction book needs a great opening to engage the reader and Ken Follett delivers with his prologue:

We hanged him in front of Kingsbridge Cathedral. It is the usual place for executions. After all, if you can’t kill a man in front of God’s face you probably shouldn’t kill him at all. The sheriff brought him up from the dungeon below the guildhall, hands tied behind his back. He walked upright, his pale face defiant, fearless. The crowd jeered at him and cursed him. He seemed not to see them. But he saw me. Our eyes met, and in that momentary exchange of looks, there was a lifetime. I was responsible for his death, and he knew it. I had been hunting him for decades. He was a bomber who would have killed half the rulers of our country, including most of the royal family, all in one act of bloodthirsty savagery- if I had not stopped him. I have spent my life tracking such would-be murderers, and a lot of them have been executed- not just hanged but drawn and quartered, the more terrible death reserved for the worst offenders. Yes, I have done this many times: watched a man die knowing that I, more than anyone else, had brought him to his just but dreadful punishment. I did it for my country, which is dear to me; for my sovereign, whom I serve; and for something else, a principle, the belief that a person has the right to make up his own mind about God. He was the last of many men I sent to hell, but he made me think of the first…”(Follett, prologue).

This story follows the lives of several different people and their families, but the main story focuses on a man named Ned Willard. After he can’t marry the girl he loves, Margery Fitzgerald,  and his family is crushed by bad investments, he decides to work for a young Elizabeth Tudor, who would later become Elizabeth I. His works will lead him all over England and Europe to help thwart plots to kill Elizabeth and replace her with a Catholic ruler. One of his biggest opponents is the elusive Jean Langlais, a man who works in the shadows, yet he is closer than Ned thinks.

What Follett does so well is that he incorporates people from other countries into this story. Sylvie Palot from France, the young Protestant bookseller, who is not afraid to sell Bibles to those who wish to own a Bible. Pierre Aumande, the man who will do anything in order to gain power. Alison McKay, the fictitious best friend of Mary Queen of Scots, who would do anything for her queen. Ebrima Dabo, a slave who will do anything to be free. Barney Willard, Ned’s brother, who wants nothing in life, except to sail the high seas looking for adventure.

Follett’s cast of original characters adds a depth to an already tumultuous time in European history. Follett is able to blend the fictitious characters with real historical figures and actual events like the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, the death of Mary Queen of Scots, and the Spanish Armada.

This is my first book by Ken Follett and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. There were so many twists and turns in this story that I was not expecting that I really could not stop reading this book. I found it rather engaging and exciting. I found it interesting that Follett decided to end the book during the reign of James I and that he called King Philip II of Spain by his other less common Spanish name Felipe. These are more stylistic choices instead of historical choices.

Overall as a historical fiction book about the religious persecution in the Elizabethan era, I found this book dynamic and thrilling. Although this is the third book in a series, I believe it can stand on its own.  After reading this book, I really want to go back and read the first two books of the series. If you want a great historical fiction book that you can easily get lost in, I enthusiastically recommend you read “A Column of Fire” by Ken Follett.

Book Review: “The Autobiography of Henry VIII” By Margaret George

ZZZ032590-BKHenry VIII is one of the most notorious kings who ever ruled England. He had six wives, two of which were executed, three legitimate children who would change England forever, and  he decided to break from Rome and create his own church. Henry was such a larger than life figure, yet when it comes to historical fiction, he tends to play a smaller part in books about his six wives and is often portrayed as a villain. Henry doesn’t get to have his own voice, in historical fiction, on some of the most important parts in his life, so Margaret George decided to give him one in her book, “The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers,” to explain what could have been going on in his mind during these pivotal moments.

What makes Margaret George’s book unique is the addition of Will Somers, Henry’s fool, who acts as a commentator, and in some cases, acts as the voice of reason after the fact. Will Somers explains some of the most complex issues during Henry’s reign, including what it meant to be king:

To be a King is to be un-ordinary, extraordinary: because we will have it so, we demand it, as we demand our carpenters make smooth-sliding drawers. Much of Henry’s behaviour is incomprehensible if judged as the actions of an ordinary man; as King, it appears in a different light. If a man is consciously trying to be an ideal King, an outsize King, then all the more so. And there can be no wavering, no half-measures. One must be King every instant, while retiring to the privy stool as well as in state audiences. There is no respite: the mask of royalty must gradually supplant the ordinary man, as sugar syrup replaces the natural flavors in candied fruit and flowers. They retain their original outward appearance, but inside are altogether changed in substance. Harry bore this burden easily, and wore his regality with a splendid conviction. What this cost him as a man becomes apparent as one reads on in his journal. (George, 105).  

George’s book begins with a conversation between Will Somers and Catherine Knollys about the actual journal and why he was giving it to Catherine. Henry begins his “autobiography” with his childhood and his relationship with his siblings, especially his brother Arthur, his father Henry VII, and his mother Elizabeth of York. It was interesting to see how Henry might have viewed his relationship with his family, most importantly with his “miserly” father Henry VII. I really do not agree with this view of Henry VII myself, but I think how Henry was portrayed as the second son was very fascinating.

The main part of this book and Henry’s life was his marriages. Starting off with his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, George explores how Henry fell in love with each woman he called, at one point or another, his wife and queen and ultimately each woman’s different fate. What was interesting was that George seemed to play with the myths that surrounded the women in Henry’s life, like Anne Boleyn having a sixth finger and that she was a witch (which are not true at all). The part that surprised me the most about this book was how much he grieved over love lost, especially with Jane Seymour. It showed a softer side to Henry and gave him more of a humanistic element to his story.

Aside for marital and familial elements of Henry’s life, George also explores the religious issues of his reign, as well as Henry’s government. We see how relationships with the Catholic Church sours and how it really affects him as a man. We see how long time friends of Henry’s quickly turn to enemies and how his relationships with other monarchs ebb and flow.

Overall Margaret George gives us a full and complete story of Henry VIII’s life while being entertaining and intriguing. I read this book several years back and I thoroughly enjoyed it and I found myself enjoying it even to this day. George was able to bring Henry VIII and his court to life in a way that made you feel like this “journal” could have been real. If you want a fun, long read about King Henry VIII, I highly suggest you read, “The Autobiography of Henry VIII” by Margaret George.

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: 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: 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