Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Thomas Wyatt: Poet & Assassin

Thomas Wyatt the Elder
Say the name Thomas Wyatt and one of two things likely come to mind: poetry and Anne Boleyn. That the famous courtier was in love with Henry VIII's second queen is not doubted, but just how far their relationship ever went is a topic for another day. More interesting, at least in my opinion, is that Thomas Wyatt was one of several men sent by the tyrannical king on a mission to assassinate Cardinal Reginald Pole.

This is the sort of fun little tidbit I love to stumble across. I think many of us have a romantic impression of poor Thomas Wyatt, forced to step aside and leave his lady love to the desires of his king. (There are also rumors that Henry considered Wyatt's wife, Elizabeth, as his sixth wife!) The image of Wyatt as a sneaky murderer, albeit want-to-be murderer, was a bit more difficult to conjure up.

A good way to rid oneself of the presence of a romantic rival in the 1530s was to send him on a diplomatic mission. At that time, King Henry VIII just happened to have lots of need for diplomacy, and Wyatt's skill with words was more appreciated by the king in that arena than in writing poetry to his latest wife. Wyatt's initial goal was to convince Charles V of Spain that he should not invade England. Since Reginald Pole was one of the people arguing for that action, and he just happened to have as much (or more) royal blood than the king, he became a target.

Of course, Reginald Pole was not the only one encouraging those princes who remained loyal to the Papacy to invade England, but Henry heard Reginald's voice the loudest. It is often said that we are hurt most by those closest to us, and Henry and Reginald were close. Cousins with a common ancestor in Richard Duke of York, the men had grown up with a shared heritage. Reginald's mother was lady-in-waiting to Elizabeth of York, Henry's mother, and governess to Princess Mary, his daughter. Henry had also supported Reginald's education, as his father had done before him....up until the point Reginald turned against him.

It had been natural for Henry to request that Reginald write a defense of his desired divorce from Catherine of Aragon. What he didn't count on was Reginald having a mind of his own.

Cardinal Reginald Pole
In De Unitate Ecclesiastica Pole wrote at length about the evil that Henry was perpetrating against his kingdom, the church, and his God. This no-holds-barred attack was intended to bring the king to repentance, but it only served to bring his wrath against the entire Pole family. While Reginald was safe in Italy, Henry had Reginald's oldest brother, Henry Pole, and cousin, Henry Courtenay, executed under trumped up charges of treason supported by the forced evidence given by his younger brother, Geoffrey.

In the meantime, Henry sent assassins after Reginald multiple times during the final decade of his life. He was obsessed with proving that nobody could speak against the King and Head of the Church of England. When others failed, he sent Thomas Wyatt.

According to John PD Cooper in his Propaganda and the Tudor State, "Wyatt himself managed to creep up to the quarters of one of Pole's agents operating on French soil, only to trip haplessly over the threshold and damage his leg, allowing the man enough time to burn his letters."

In 1539, Pole was informed that Wyatt was openly "swaggering about telling everyone how rich he was and how he, personally, was going to murder Cardinal Pole." (Graven with Diamonds, Shulman) Several attempts were made to kill the cardinal on the road during his extensive travels, and Pope Paul III provided him with the protection of bodyguards. The Cappella di Reginald Pole in Rome is a small chapel built to give thanks to God after a thwarted assassination attempt on the road between Rome and Viterbo.

 Before too long, Wyatt's failure to capture or kill Pole was interpreted as conspiring with him by the suspicious king the poet served. In January 1541, Wyatt was arrested and sent to the Tower, where he expected to meet his end as so many before him had regardless of the evidence, or lack thereof, against them. While he was imprisoned there, Lady Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury and Reginald's mother, was executed without trial with notice of only a few hours.

Fortunately for Wyatt, Queen Catherine Howard made an appeal for his life during her short tenure in favor. Her marriage to Henry turned out to be more beneficial for the poet than poor Catherine, as she soon found herself the king's second executed wife. Shortly after his release, Thomas Wyatt sickened and died at the age of 39. Reginald Pole went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury during the reign of Queen Mary I until he died on November 17, 1558.

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Tudor Summit

I was honored to be a speaker at the Tudor Summit this past weekend. If you missed it, you can find my portion of the event here. I also recommend you join the Tudor Summit Facebook group to enjoy other speakers and great discussion of Tudor history.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Once a Queen: A Story of Elizabeth Woodville

A new Plantagenet Embers novella is available now!

Elizabeth Woodville is tormented by impossible choices.

Her husband is dead, and her sons have disappeared. Should she gamble her future upon her daughter, Bess, and a Tudor exile? Or should she trust her brother-in-law who has stolen the throne from her son?

Faced with events she cannot control, Elizabeth is forced to trust others in a way she never has before, sometimes with tragic consequences. She was once a queen, but now she is at the mercy of Fortune's Wheel, which seems to be turning at the beckoning of her enemies.

Elizabeth's story is a poignant tale of love, loss, and betrayal during the birth of the Tudor dynasty.

Once a Queen is a Plantagenet Embers novella and companion to 'Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen: The Story of Elizabeth of York'. Now, read Elizabeth Woodville's side of the story.

'Wilcoxson is BRILLIANT at capturing Elizabeth. She wrote Elizabeth with amazing complexity: one one hand fragile and tender and tormented while being cold and cruel and hard as nails on the other. I don't know how she created that balance, but it's perfection.' ~ Author Stephanie Churchill

Once a Queen is available worldwide on Amazon Kindle. Coming soon to Nook at Barnes & Noble.

Follow Samantha on Facebook or Twitter for news on sales and new releases. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Tudor Persecution of the Carthusian Monks

On February 1, 1535, King Henry VIII's Act of Supremacy came into force, and one of the first groups he proceeded against were the Carthusian monks. Although this order had long been a respected and peaceful group, Henry labeling himself 'Supreme Head on Earth of the Church of England' made it possible for him to charge them with treason for their failure to accept his self-proclaimed level of spiritual power. His retribution was fierce and intended to be an example of any who considered refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy.

Three representatives of a Carthusian house attempted to compromise with Cromwell regarding the oath, but on April 26, 1535, they were sent to the Tower. On May 4th, after a farce of a trial, they were dragged by hurdle to Tyburn where they were hanged while still wearing their religious habits. Taken down while still alive, they were disemboweled, beheaded, and dismembered. Far from traitors, the monks were seen as martyrs of their faith.

Roman broadsheet of the martyrdom of the English Carthusians

Persecution of the Carthusian order was far from complete. Three more monks who refused the oath were chained to posts around the neck and legs and left in this state for weeks. They continued to refuse the oath, but the king and Cromwell were aware that the savagery of the first execution had created public sympathy for the men of faith rather than the king. Efforts to convert the men continued through house arrest, threats, and lectures on the king's supremacy. The monks who continued to refuse the oath were chained to pillars in the dungeon of Newgate and starved to death. Two more were hanged in chains from the city walls at York until they died.

The Carthusian houses fell to King Henry as some took the oath in fear and others fled to Bruges for safety. A small community of English Carthusians remained in Bruges until the reign of Queen Mary. When they began to arrive, they were housed in the Savoy by Queen Mary's Controller, Robert Rochester, whose brother had been one of the monks martyred at York. Mary and her key counselor on religious reform, Cardinal Reginald Pole, wished to reestablish the Carthusians but had also made promises to the purchasers of dissolved religious property that it would not be confiscated.

On November 17, 1555, The House of Jesus of Bethlehem of Shene was reestablished with Maurice Chauncy as Prior. Unfortunately, the restoration did not last long. Queen Mary and Reginald Pole, who was by that time Archbishop of Canterbury, both died on November 17, 1558. Queen Elizabeth forced the Carthusians into exile once more on July 1, 1559. There would be no return to England for them this time.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Fine Line Between Bastard and Queen

The Tudor era was a difficult time to live. While we are attracted to stories of the glittering court and soap opera type drama, no one was immune to the shifts of power and turning of fortune’s wheel that could, and often did, bring one from the pinnacle of power to the depths of despair. Being born close to the throne was almost as much of a curse as it was a blessing.

Elizabeth of York was not born a Tudor but she became the mother of the new dynasty through a series of events that few could have foretold. Edward IV had come through the Wars of the Roses victorious, usurping the position of Henry VI to shift the Plantagenet crown to the York branch of the family. His eldest daughter, Elizabeth, may never thought to be England’s queen, but she was certain to be wed to one of the powerful leaders of Europe while her brother served as their father’s heir.

A giant of a man and an unmatched soldier, Edward IV gave few people reason to doubt the strength of his rule, especially once he rid himself of Henry VI and his son, leaving none but the most distant Lancastrian claimants. Then Edward died in 1483, leaving a twelve-year-old heir to a kingdom that had reason to dread the accession of a child king.

In a whirlwind of events, all of Edward IV’s children were declared bastards, and Richard III was proclaimed. Elizabeth went from princess to bastard in a dramatic fall that would be repeated by her descendants. However, the drama did not end there. Thanks to brilliant planning - or devious scheming, depending upon your view of Elizabeth Woodville - Elizabeth soon found herself the wife of Henry VII, the first Tudor king.

The path from princess to bastard to queen for Elizabeth of York was one littered with scandal, mystery, and tough decision making. Rather than press her own claim for the crown once her brothers went missing, Elizabeth chose peace with a husband she had been raised to think of as an enemy. Not too much time would pass before Elizabeth’s granddaughters faced similar strife.

Mary Tudor was the long-awaited daughter of Henry VIII, Elizabeth of York’s son, and his wife, Katherine of Aragon. While Katherine was thrilled that she had finally bore a child who survived after seven years of marriage, Henry celebrated it as a sign that sons would follow. Never was he content to name a girl as his heir. In fact, when it was clear that Katherine would bear no more children, he set her aside in one of the most dramatic political moves of the era.

Katherine did not go away quietly, but spent the remainder of her life fighting the annulment that Henry had obtained by breaking with Rome and creating his own Church of England. She may not have anticipated the devastating effects that this fight would have on her daughter. Mary’s teenage years were consumed with the battle between her parents and watching her father take as wife a woman known by her enemies as The Concubine.

During Anne Boleyn’s short tenure as Henry’s wife, she gave him another daughter. We shall never know if she would have survived longer had she given him the desire of his heart, but her story would likely not have endured so long if she had. Anne’s notoriety as the woman who went to her death with the five men she was accused of committing adultery with has made her one of the most frequently discussed historical figures of the era. Did she? Didn’t she? Even with her brother?!

Probably not. Her sin was much more grievous. She had not given Henry a son. Therefore, Anne was executed, and her daughter, Elizabeth, was granted bastard status to match her older half-sister’s.
These girls grew up with a sort of forced closeness. Mary’s household had been dissolved in order to place her in a position to serve Elizabeth until that girl, too, was stripped of the princess title. Once Jane Seymour gave Henry his son, he could afford to be more generous toward the girls he had discarded.

Mary and Elizabeth were treated well but not legitimized by their father or their brother. King Edward VI actually attempted to take their disinheritance even further by excluding them from the succession. Mary, who had been a rather submissive and pious girl up to this point, determined to exert her authority and refused to sit back and let Lady Jane Grey usurp her throne.

By the time Mary’s parliament retracted her father’s act making her a bastard, she was already comforted by the fact that she held the title of queen. Unfortunately, Mary’s reign was short and tragic, filled with disappointments in both the personal and political domain. The relationship between Mary and Elizabeth had so disintegrated during this time, that Mary made some attempt to convince people that Elizabeth was not their father’s daughter at all.

In the end, Mary was forced to name Elizabeth her heir, though Elizabeth also had never been legitimized by law. When Elizabeth became queen, she followed the example of the women before her who had gone from princess, to bastard, to queen.

Elizabeth I is the one who is remembered and celebrated as a victorious example of womanhood, but she had the inspiration of the women who had gone before her to pave her way. Her striving for peace was much like her grandmother’s, while her pledges to love her subjects and consider herself espoused to her country are taken from speeches given by her sister. These women proved that you can bastardize a princess, but she will come back as queen.