Book Review: “Cardinal Wolsey: For King and Country” by Phil Roberts

cover264519-medium (1)When we think about those who rose through the ranks to achieve significant titles in the Tudor Court, we instantly think about Thomas Cromwell. However, we should also consider his mentor as one of these great men, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. The son of Robert Wolsey, an Ispwich businessman, and his wife, Joan Daundy, who worked hard and ended up being the right-hand man of the young King Henry VIII. The man behind Hampton Court helped start the Great Matter and The Field of Cloth of Gold, Wolsey had numerous achievements. Who was the man behind these significant Tudor moments? This is the question Phil Roberts tries to address in his book, “Cardinal Wolsey: For King and Country.”

Thank you, Pen and Sword Books and Netgalley, for sending me a copy of this book. When I heard about this title, it was intriguing to me. I had not read many biographies about Thomas Wolsey, so I was excited to read this book.

Roberts begins by showing how Wolsey has been portrayed in other books and media such as films and TV dramas. He then dives into the complex task of tracking the Wolsey family from the Norman Conquest to the Wars of the Roses, which did feel a tad rushed. I wish he had included some family trees so that his readers could follow along with the different branches of the family.

Wosley had a personal life outside of his public persona with his illegitimate children, his loyal friends, and the enemies he made along the way, including Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. Roberts spends a lot of time looking at the different aspects of Wolsey’s life, like his policies, the schools he built in Ispwich, and his own homes. Finally, Roberts explores how Wolsey fell from the good graces of King Henry VIII and the last days filled with anguish as he slowly died from an illness.

Although Roberts presented interesting facts about Thomas Wolsey, I think the structure of his book was a bit all over the place. In the beginning, he spent a lot of time looking into the history of Ispwich and its schools and church, including a lengthy segment about a missing statue, before getting into Wolsey’s life story. I found this information fascinating, but I don’t know if it was important enough to spend that much time on it. These facts would have been more appropriate in a book about Ispwich. Another thing that threw me off was that Roberts did not write this biography in chronological order of the events until the end of this book.

Overall, I thought this book had enlightening factoids about Thomas Wolsey, but it needed some tweaking to make it a brilliant biography. This is a book for someone who knows the general facts about the Cardinal but wants to learn more about this man. If this sounds like you, I recommend you read “Cardinal Wolsey: For King and Country” by Phil Roberts.

Guest Post: “Did Tudors Smell Whiffy?” by Carol McGrath

Book jacket Tudor Sex and SexualityToday, I am pleased to welcome Carol McGrath to the blog to discuss Tudor hygiene as part of the Sex and Sexuality in Tudor England blog tour. I would like to thank Carol McGrath and Pen and Sword Books for allowing me to be part of this tour.

Did Tudors smell whiffy? Did they care about personal hygiene? It may surprise you that the Tudors cared about cleanliness despite the fact many did not bathe regularly. Henry VIII frequently took baths and had a new bathhouse constructed at Hampton Court for his personal use and a steam bath at Richmond Palace. This new bath was made of wood but lined with a linen sheet to protect his posterior from catching splinters. It was a marvellous feat of Tudor engineering and allowed water to flow into it from a tap fed by a lead pipe bringing water from a spring over three miles distant from the palace. Tudor engineers were clever enough to pass the pipe underneath the Thames river bed using gravity to create strong water pressure to spurt up two floors into the royal bathroom.

It was important to most Tudors not to stink and particularly important not to smell unpleasant when contemplating relations with a lover. Stinking like a beast was totally unacceptable to a Tudor because, ideally, humans should smell sweet. Of course, the Tudor world was less sanitized than our world. Even so, people were not unaware of bad smells around them, and they actually feared nasty pongs. Medicine taught that disease spread through miasma or foul-smelling airs. Importantly, Tudors also believed that sweet smells could be a key indicator of a person’s moral state, never mind that smelling sweet could help attract a lover. 

bathingBathing for most Tudors meant a dip in the river. For those dwelling in towns, bathing facilities such as bathhouses existed during the first few decades of the era. Crusaders had brought the habit of bathing back from the East, thereby making the idea of bathhouses popular.

Hygiene meant both cleaning oneself and one’s clothes regularly. Just as the Church clamped down on sexual freedoms, it had opinions on bathing: heat could inflame the senses, and washing nude was a sign of vanity, even sexual corruption, so they often wore shirts while bathing.  You could scent a bath with flowers and sweet green herbs to help cure ailments, therefore attaching a medicinal element to the practice. Exotic perfumes such as civet and musk were used in soaps, as well as rose water, violet, lavender, and camphor. For those who could afford scented soaps, they certainly were available.

Tudor Pomander replica

Where public bathhouses went, sex soon followed, so it is no wonder the ever-critical Church complained. Tudor brothels were called ‘stews’ and ‘to lather up’ was an early sixteenth-century slang phrase for ejaculation which came from the notion that one could stew in hot water and steam within a bathhouse. As recently as the previous century, the City of London officially recognized the borough of Southwark as having the highest concentration of bathhouses in London. Ironically, this was an area owned by the Bishop of Winchester, and since many bathhouses were also brothels, their sex workers acquired the alternative name of Winchester Geese.

As the sixteenth century continued, bathing fell into decline as new medical advice suggested it weakened the body. Cleaning the skin left it open to infection. This was considered an outside agency that drifted in the air like spores and which rose from places of putrefaction. The skin’s pores were one body area through which these nasty spores could enter, so medical advice determined that the skin needed to be preserved as a barrier. Pores were a secondary route into the body, and the filth produced by the body must be removed completely and quickly to avoid reabsorption. It became important to wash your shirt and change it frequently to keep clean.

Linen shirts, smocks, under-breeches, hose, collars, coifs, and skull caps allowed the total body coverage. As a fabric, linen was very absorbent. It drew sweat and grease from the skin into the weave of the cloth. Since linen acted like a sponge, the Tudors thought it would draw out waste products from the body and improve the body’s circulation, strengthen the constitution and even restore the balance of the humours.

laundress

Laundresses were popular during Tudor times, not just to keep linen washed but because the washerwomen were easily connected with sex. They were badly paid, so sex work was a way to subsidize their income in many cases. Washerwomen sometimes became known as ‘lavenders.’ The word lavender comes from the Latin lavare to wash, and the word to launder derives from these sweet-smelling flowers. Lavender grows all over Europe, and as it was cheap and readily available, it was used widely when washing clothing. The sixteenth-century poem Ship of Fools contains the following lines:

Thou shalt be my lavender Laundress.

To Wash and keep all my gear

Our two beds together shall be set

Without any let.

People used linen to scrub the body. The Tudor Gentleman, Sir Thomas Elyot, wrote a book in 1534 called The Castel of Health. He suggests an early morning hygiene regime to ‘rubbe the body with a course lynnen clothe, first softly and easilye, and after that increase more and more, to a hard and swift rubbynge, untyll the flesh do swelle and to be somewhat ruddy and that not only down ryghte, but also overthrart and round.’ Rubbing vigorously after exercise could draw the body’s toxins out through open pores, and the rough linen cloth would carry them away. Most people only owned two or three sets of underwear. Listed underwear occasionally turned up in Tudor inventories, and linens would often be recorded in wills as bequeathed to others.

Ruth Goodman, a well-known social historian, once followed a Tudor body cleansing regime for a period of three months while living in modern society. No one complained or even noticed a sweaty smell. She wore natural fibre on top of the linen underwear but took neither a shower nor a bath for the whole period. When she recorded The Monastery Farm for television, she only changed her linen smock once weekly and her hose three times over six months, and she still did not pong. Tudor England was not a place where everyone smelled as sweetly as most people who shower daily today, but its people generally managed not to stink. Of course, the past did smell differently. Even so, being clean and sweet-smelling did matter to many Tudors. 

C McGrath twitterCarol McGrath 

Following a first degree in English and History, Carol McGrath completed an MA in Creative Writing from The Seamus Heaney Centre, Queens University Belfast, followed by an MPhil in English from the University of London. The Handfasted Wife, the first in a trilogy about the royal women of 1066, was shortlisted for the RoNAS in 2014. The Swan-Daughter and The Betrothed Sister complete this highly acclaimed trilogy. Mistress Cromwell, a best-selling historical novel about Elizabeth Cromwell, wife of Henry VIII’s statesman, Thomas Cromwell, republished by Headline in 2020. The Silken Rose, first in a Medieval She-Wolf Queens Trilogy featuring Ailenor of Provence, was published in April 2020 by the Headline Group. This was followed by The Damask Rose. The Stone Rose will be published in April 2022. Carol writes Historical non-fiction as well as fiction. Sex and Sexuality in Tudor England will be published in February 2022. Find Carol on her website:

www.carolcmcgrath.co.uk.

Follow her on amazon @CarolMcGrath

Guest Post: “Life at the Tudor Court” by Karen Heenan

I am pleased to welcome Karen Heenan to my blog today to discuss life at the Tudor Court. This is part of the book tour to promote Karen Heenan’s book, “Songbird (The Tudor Court, book 1). Thank you The Coffee Pot Book Club and Karen Heenan for allowing me to participate in this tour. 

“Bess!”

The voice, close to my ear, startled me awake. I’m alone in the bed, and the small attic room shared by the female members of the music is empty but for Flora and one other girl. They are nearly dressed—I’m late. Bolting out of bed, I asked Flora, “Why didn’t you wake me?”

She shrugged. “The rest of us get up when Mistress Edith calls.” Relenting, she said, “Here, I’ll help you.”

I pulled my nightdress over my head and washed quickly at the basin. Flora handed me my shift, then helped lace my kirtle. My hair was braided for sleeping, so I pinned it into a hasty knot and settled a white linen coif over it, hoping I wouldn’t run into Nick Hawkins when I looked so untidy.

Breakfast was served in the great hall, which was filled with trestle tables and benches. Servants brought out great bowls of steaming pottage and pitchers of ale, and there were loaves of bread set along the length of the table, for us to cut with our knives.

When the trenchers have been cleared, and the remaining food was taken away for manners—to feed the beggars at the gate—we make out way to the chapel. I let my mind drift during mass until the choir begins to sing. It is impossible not to pay attention to every sound, every note—my dream, when I first arrived, had been to sing in the choir, but girls were not permitted to offer their voices to God. No one had still given me a good explanation as to why.

If we were at Greenwich—where we would travel in the morning, the king had decided to move from Westminster in London—we could also attend the local church, St. Nicholas. Their choir was inferior, but it was pleasing to get outside the palace. The king had less need of us at Greenwich than Westminster, where we were held constantly within call.

Once mass was done, I was free to do what I liked until dinner. Flora had gone off with friends, so I went up to the practice rooms. Someone might be willing to play for me, but if not, I would sing along. If I was fortunate, Tom would be there. He was my dearest friend, and a talented lutenist and composer, though he would blush and deny that his songs are any good.

Someday it would be known, and his songs would be sung all over the court, and perhaps all over England.

He was there, supervising the packing of the many musical instruments which would be transported to Greenwich, along with all the nobles and a good number of the court servants, and all their varied possessions.

 “Do you want me to play for you?” he asked, swaddling a lute in soft wrappings like a babe. His own instrument, I knew, would travel in his grasp; Tom would not trust it to the rough men who loaded the carts and barges for the trip between palaces.

“I can wait.” I leaned against the window, watching the flurry of activity below. In addition to the carts which would start this day so that things might be in place when King Henry stepped off his barge on the morrow, there were the usual clusters of men and horses, servants scurrying across the courtyard on some errand or another, and, to my delight, a certain gentleman atop a shining black horse. 

I let my eyes rest on him. A man such as Nick Hawkins would never pay any mind to a minstrel girl, no matter how lovely my voice. The fact that he had spoken to me on occasion proved nothing. He was handsome—beautiful, really—and powerful, a friend of the king. A man who could have any woman in the kingdom, save the queen. 

He would never look at me.

I turned to Tom, smiling. He would always look at me, always see me for who I was. But it wasn’t the same, and though I loved him as a friend and a brother, I did not think of him as I drifted off to sleep.

“What will you have me play?” Tom settled on a stool with his instrument on his lap, the light from the narrow window falling on his fair hair. “Bess?”

“Sorry.” I shook away my fancies. “We are to perform this evening for the French ambassador and his party.” 

“At least we will have time to eat.” He tuned the lute carefully. “And we will be in the gallery, so you can watch the gathering to your heart’s content.”

I ignored his words, knowing he was teasing. I did like singing from the gallery so I could watch the crowd, and not just because of Nick. It was more impressive, somehow, from above. Crowded in the narrow gallery with the other minstrels, with the horns and drums and shawms, and Tom’s lute singing a sure line beneath for me to follow, I was at peace and could watch the dancers and pretend I was one of them.

A gathering for the French ambassador was sure to run late; I should go back to the girls’ chamber and pack my things for the morning so that when we were done, I could just fall into bed. “Are you happy about going to Greenwich?”

“What does it matter?” he asked. Seeing my expression, he said, “I am if you must know. The stables are closer to the palace.”

Tom loved horses, and though our indoor lives gave us little contact with the beasts, when we were at Greenwich or visiting the cardinal at Hampton Court, he always found his way to the stables. I was glad he was happy, but prolonged time in the stables made me sneeze, and I preferred to walk in the gardens if I was to take my scant free time outdoors.

Other minstrels came in and we went over our evening’s program until the bells chimed eleven; then we all streamed downstairs to dinner. I stayed with Tom; even if the others left us after the meal, we would probably sing and play together until it was time to get ready for the evening’s entertainment. Despite my dreams of greater things, singing with him was when I was happiest, and when I knew that my father had done the right thing. 

I belonged in this place.

 Several hours later, changed into a green gown and clean coif, with my few things packed into a small chest for the morning, I reassembled with other members of the Music in the gallery overlooking the presence-chamber. The vast room was hung on all sides with vivid tapestries depicting scenes both secular and religious, interspersed with gold and silver plate that reflected the hundreds of candles lighting the space.

The king was all aglitter himself, clad head-to-toe in cloth of gold studded with diamonds and pearls. His queen, Katherine, was dressed more soberly, though her fabrics were equally rich. They sat on their thrones under the gold cloth of state, speaking quietly, until the music started. Then the king stopped, mid-sentence, his ear cocked toward the gallery. How fortunate that Tom had instructed the others to begin with one of Henry’s own songs. 

He leaned over to the French ambassador, who stood near the throne, and gestured toward us. I imagined he was telling the Frenchman that he’d written the song—though he praised us lavishly, it was much more likely that he was taking credit for the song.

I sang while the people below mingled and preened, showing off their finery for the king and each other. When the dancing started, I would step back; my voice did not lend itself to the stately pavanes which began the dancing each evening. Those were for the musicians—Tom, Harry, and Gilbert would play their instruments and the courtiers would parade slowly down the length of the room, bowing and circling, flirting with their eyes and their hands, the only parts of their bodies which touched during the dance.

King Henry began the dancing, leading Queen Katherine down from the dais and onto the floor. The jeweled crowd stepped back to give them room, and they traversed the floor alone, the focus of all eyes before the king raised his hand and called for everyone to join him. Then the courtiers paired off, men swiftly bowing before ladies and taking their chosen partner to join the king. 

Nick was there, I noticed almost immediately. He danced with the prettiest women, and once arrived before a woman at the same time as King Henry, bowing deeply and giving way to his monarch, who would dance until dawn if allowed. The queen would retire early, taking her women, though some of them crept back after Her Majesty had been settled for the night.

It was after midnight when the chamber finally began to empty. I sipped from the ale which had been set aside for us; my throat was dry from singing for hours in the stuffy gallery. Tom was yawning behind his hand, and several of the other looked as though they were asleep on their feet. I was still wide awake, but perhaps it was excitement: it was spring, and tomorrow we would journey to Greenwich, where I had begun my life with the Tudor court.

[Illustration #1 – Palace of Westminster, Wikipedia]

[Illustration #2 – Minstrels, Nikki Piggott, photographer, used w/permission]

[Illustration #3 – Greenwich Palace, Wikipedia]

Blurb

She has the voice of an angel…

But one false note could send her back to her old life of poverty.

After her father sells her to Henry VIII, ten-year-old Bess builds a new life as a royal minstrel, and earns the nickname “the king’s songbird.” 

She comes of age in the dangerous Tudor court, where the stakes are always high, and where politics, heartbreak, and disease threaten everyone from the king to the lowliest musician.

Her world has only one constant: Tom, her first and dearest friend. But when Bess intrigues with Anne Boleyn and strains against the restrictions of life at court, will she discover that the biggest risk of all is listening to her own stubborn heart?

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Narrated by Jennifer Summerfield

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Author Bio

Karen Heenan

Karen Heenan was born and raised in Philadelphia, PA. She fell in love with books and stories before she could read, and has wanted to write for nearly as long. After far too many years in a cubicle, she set herself free to follow her dreams—which include gardening, sewing, traveling, and, of course, lots of writing.

She lives in Lansdowne, PA, not far from Philadelphia, with two cats and a very patient husband, and is always hard at work on her next book.

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