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Must-Read: The King is Dead!


As a Kindergarten teacher in this day and age, I truthfully cannot find an iota of time while school is in session to read anything that isn’t about phonemic awareness, differentiated instruction, or project-based learning. But Christmas break recently hit and, darn it, I was going to unwind with Suzannah Lipscomb‘s latest book if it was the last thing I did!

The first thing that grabs the reader is the lush cover and its unusual square shape. Visually, it’s a unique stunner. The calligraphy and illuminated manuscript detail, combined with rich colour and Tudor monarch portraits on the border, set a grand setting before the book is even opened.

The inner artwork is equally ambrosial, a mix of color portraits, manuscripts, maps, and pencil sketches by (or in the manner of) Hans Holbein.Can you tell I like my books to be aesthetically pleasing? But what good is a gorgeous tome if it isn’t a pleasurable and intriguing read? The King is Dead is that indeed.

I prefer a teaser-version for book reviews, so as not to spoil anything for the reader. In that way, I can tell you that Dr. Lipscomb guides us through the creation of Henry VIII’s will via his marriages and children, the religious activity of the time, the Acts of the Succession, and his advisors and executors. She explores and challenges popular notions on the will’s “intended meaning, its authenticity and validity, and the circumstances of its creation.”

Dr. Lipscomb’s tone is both professional and conversational, inspiring delight as well as confidence in her authority. There are 168 pre-appendix pages; it is a very manageable book which took me two nights to devour.

This history treasure can be found on here and here. I know you will savor it as much as I have!



Weirfore Art Thou, Footnotes?


Ever read one of Alison Weir’s nonfiction books on Tudor history and, though you enjoy the information, you simply cannot track where it comes from? Many of Weir’s popular works do not include the footnotes and other citations that most nonfiction books do and this has been a source of contention for me as well as others.

On a recent related Facebook page thread, Weir kindly took some time out to explain the deal to me and my followers, and gave me permission to repost the info, as it is a common concern for history fans. Take it away, Alison! …

“Regarding source notes, I must say that my publishers would not allow me to include source notes in my early books – they were then regarded as inappropriate in so-called popular history books. When that editor retired, I insisted that they should be included. Would you believe I then had people complaining that they were a distraction?

“I was told to indicate in the text where the sources came from, but that takes up a lot of text, and you cannot do it in every case. It was not a good decision, and I was unhappy about it, but the world of publishing was very different then, and a new author doesn’t have much clout.

“Since 1998 I have included notes and references in all my books, and I am now rewriting The Six Wives of Henry VIII and restoring all the notes and references, which I still have. But because of my editor’s rule, I did not compile lists of references for the other early books, and my huge files of research notes were discarded in the course of several house moves, which is something I have had cause to regret. I owe a lot to my first editor, but I have been blamed personally for the lack of references when in fact it was something beyond my control. After she retired, I insisted that they be included in the future, and my present editor supported me.”

I thought it would be a good idea to present this, for the record, and I thank Alison again for her participation and time!

Before It Became “History,” It Was “News”

I spent yesterday, a gorgeous and sunny day to close out the month of May, mostly indoors. I was at the Newseum in Washington D.C. and I can’t think of a better way to have spent that time. I’d heard that it was a great museum but I had no idea how spectacular it is (and I’ve been to a lot of museums!). Since news is one of the recording devices of history, and I know you love history, I thought I’d share my visit with you, in words and pictures. Bonus: I ran into several 16th-century pieces! So come along with me…*

The 1st amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which includes freedom of the press, is carved into a giant tablet on the front face of the building (above). This looks amazing! Also outside are the day’s front pages from all 50 states, behind glass. So even if you aren’t going inside, you can enjoy the news from all over the country.


The museum suggests visitors start on the concourse level, then take the glass elevator to the 6th (top) floor and work their way down. I cheated a bit by wedging the impressive 4-D movie between those two things, but I think it worked out well. So on the concourse level you’ve got segments of the Berlin Wall, as well as the lookout tower where guards could cosy up until it was time to shoot dissenters. I don’t have to tell you how chilling this area is.

The concourse level also houses the FBI exhibit, which will surprise and delight (?) anyone interested in organized crime, the Lindbergh Baby case, and the Unabomber. Also in the FBI exhibit is one of two 9/11 segments in the museum. This one has some engines from a doomed plane as well as a “PUSH” signfrom a WTC door.


We also see the seating chart for American Airlines flight #11, so we know where the hijackers were sitting,


as well as the instructions for the terrorists for “The Last Day.”



Right about then I was thinking, “9/11: It’s all coming back to me now. And that kinda sucks.” Still, I think it’s important that these things are documented, for us and for future generations. After all, think about the effect when we, for example, view an execution block at the Tower of London.

Let’s lighten the mood for a sec with a picture of the comics wall:

Moving right along , the 4-D movie cannot be missed but I don’t want to ruin it for you by giving away further tidbits. Nearby are actual front pages from the U.S. Civil War. Or as they call it in the South (as I found when I lived in Northwest Florida) “the War of Northern Aggression.” Reminds me of that whole “Bloody Mary vs. Gloriana” issue when we consider how Ireland viewed the two queens. Anyhoo… I do love the “What If the Civil War Were Tweeted?” display; what a great concept!


So up, up, up in the glass elevator to the 6th floor observation deck. Holy acrophobia! on both counts. But what a view from that deck!

After you’ve come in from the deck, there is a large gallery of today’s front pages from around the world but somehow I missed it! because I was beckoned to the “Every Four Years” exhibitjust inside the doors, and then onward to the News History hall. This.Is.Insane. Front pages of newspapers/newsbooks from the present time allll the way back to the 1400s. Yes. Really. Have a look at this German newsbook praising England’s defeat of the Spanish Armada:

Every major front page you can think of is here: Charles I’s execution, The Boston Tea Party, America’s independence, Jack the Ripper, the Titanic sinking, Edward VIII’s abdication, Kennedy’s assassination, the beginning of World War II, the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, you name it.

In the “Great Books” case there is the “Index Librorum Prohibitorum,” one of the first official acts of censorship of printed books in the Western world. It was a response to the printing press & Protestant Reformation’s snub at papal authority. The 1542 English translation of the Magna Carta is in the same case:

At this point I needed to step it up in order to make my mid-afternoon Metro ride, so after having spent over an hour in this Hall of Very Old News Documents, I made my way down another level. And hey, more 9/11 memories. Oh dear God. So here’s the mangled antenna from the North Tower,


and a ginormous wall covered with front pages from that day.


The Five Freedoms Walkway and the First Amendment Gallery are also on this floor.

I wrap it up at the Journalists Memorial, the Pulitzer Prize photographs, and the digital media area. I wish I could have spent more time on these lower floors, but I’ll be back. I plan to take my kids (ages 10 and 9) this summer! If you are considering bringing children, do note there are some sensitive and disturbing images, but there are also lots of fun interactive exhibits they will just love, as well as all the educational opportunities, of course.

There is a restaurant on site but also a casual food court, both featuring foods by Wolfgang Puck. I opted to have my lunch at the food court, and enjoyed my chicken and penne pasta with lots of salad and fruit, and a glass of merlot, just across the room from sections of the Berlin Wall. Ah, culture!

* All photos are my own.

Take a Tudor Tour around Washington, DC with Me

My newest YouTube video is now live so go on and check it out as I take you on a tour of Washington, DC looking for any place the Tudors show up (and holy, do my feet hurt!).

There is more information on the Elizabeth I portrait in the National Portrait Gallery here and more on the Edward VI portrait in the National Gallery of Art here. Also, there’s a still photo of Catherine Parr’s prayerbook (from the Folger’s “Shakespeare’s Sisters” exhibition) here.  

(Incidentally, if you are on Capitol Hill and feeling peckish, head over to We, the Pizza on Pennsylvania Ave, just a few blocks from the Folger. Yesterday I had a slice of white pizza and a coconut soda…super yum!)

Henry VIII’s Annus Horribilis

I didn’t want to get started on reviewing books; I first dipped my toe into that water when I ranted about Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and her spoiled crew. I still plan on leaving book reviews to others, but there is a relatively new book I believe you should add to your queue, Tudor fans!

This isn’t as much a review (I don’t feel I’m qualified as a book reviewer) as it is a recommendation for the book I read just after that one, which I have recently finished, and that is 1536: The Year That Changed Henry VIII by Suzannah Lipscomb

One of the tragedies of Henry VIII’s character is his change from charming, athletic prince to paranoid, gross, and cruel king. Dr. Lipscomb explores the events of 1536 and puts forth why that year was a crucial turning point in the change we see. She easily conveys her vast knowledge of the subject in a well-organized and conversational manner, making 1536 a pleasure to read. It is only 209 pages, perfect for getting your Tudor fix during a long day at the beach or during a quiet weekend!

Dr. Lipscomb has been a research curator at Hampton Court, and a university lecturer. She’s now the subject convenor and Senior Lecturer for history at New College of the Humanities in central London. The complete goods, including video clips, can be found on her website.  And if you are on Twitter, give her a follow! @sixteenthCgirl

Recap: “Secrets of the Virgin Queen”

Queen Elizabeth I of England, in whose reign t...

Image via Wikipedia

See that neck ruff above? The programme “Secrets of the Virgin Queen” offers one possible theory as to why Elizabeth I wore it. I love a good secret, so let’s see what National Geographic has for us…

1) The Bisley Boy — Legend has it that preteen Princess Elizabeth escaped plague-ridden London to stay at Overcourt hunting lodge in Bisley but died there anyhow. Her temporary guardians buried her near the local church and replaced her with a young local ginger boy disguised as Elizabeth. His stint carried on longer than originally planned when (s)he went on to become the monarch.  Bram Stoker even got in on the act a few hundred years lately by including the Bisley Boy story in his book Famous Imposters.

So was there any truth to the “She’s a MAN, baby!” accounts? The case behind the assertions states that Elizabeth wore high ruffs to hide an Adam’s apple and wore so much makeup she was, in fact, “Drag Queen Elizabeth.” She was very athletic and could outride both women and men on a horse. And she had very long fingers. How the fingers-part proves anything is beyond me. Elizabeth also forbade a postmortem on her body, so surely she was hiding manly bits? Personally, I think she wanted to carefully guard her privacy in death as she had in life. She was such a control freak I doubt she would have wanted anyone poking around her corpse even if she had the body of Adriana Lima.

2) Anne Boleyn’s alleged affairs — Guilt by association? This part of the special isn’t as much about Elizabeth’s “secrets” but rather about her mother’s adultery/incest charges and subsequent shortening by about 8 inches.

As an aside, I am wondering where they got the portraits they are using for this special. A lot of them are…unflattering, to say the least.

3) Thomas Seymour — When Elizabeth was a teen, her latest stepmother in a long line of them was Catherine Parr. After Henry VIII’s death, Catherine married that reportedly-slimy Seymour brother, Thomas. Have more respect for yourself, girl! Anyway, the handsome Tom put some moves on his young stepdaughter over a period of months. Holy. The best recorded incident (from Elizabeth’s report to Kat Ashley) occured one morning when he approached her while she was still in her bed, tickled her, slapped her bum playfully, there was romping around, and it is making me sick just to write this.

There’s no evidence of how far this “flirtation” went and ever-private Elizabeth denied it all under questioning. You can hardly blame a teenage girl for enjoying the attentions of a hot older man (even if he might be a creep and married to your stepmother?). We’ve all been there, falling for the cad. So I blame only Seymour for this icky bit of Elizabethan history, if this is accurate.

Cue a severe-looking Mary I drifting about some hallway while the narrator talks about her succeeding Edward VI. Why is she always portrayed as a harsh brunette? Her father was ginger and her mother had golden blonde hair. Sheesh.

4) Testicular feminization (now called complete androgen insensitivity syndrome)  — In short, this is the deal when a fetus with an XY chromosome doesn’t respond to male hormones enough to resemble a male externally, so at birth it resembles a female. There are no internal female sex organs, however there are testes in the abdomen. Similar to Secret #1, this Secret suggests that because the queen was unmarried, never had children, was successful and ambitious and athletic, had long fingers, and didn’t want an autopsy, she could have been in this boat. Elizabeth Cady Stanton is rolling in her grave right about now.

I am noticing during commercial breaks that the National Geographic channel is now referring to itself as “NatGeo.” Aloud. “Nat-GEE-oh.” Oh dear.

5) Robert Dudley — Ah yes, the One Who Got Away. Who apparently didn’t mind that he was in love with a hermaphrodite. (Just kidding.) Elizabeth has been quoted as saying to him, “You are like my little dog: When people see you they know I am nearby.” The 16th-century early warning system for single queens. Sure, the Dudley/Elizbeth pairing could have been all so romantic and he could have been The One for her, except for the inconvenient fact that he was already married. Not that he saw his wife all that much, living at Tudor court and all.

His marriage was a moot point after his wife, Amy, fell down the stairs in their house and died. Oh the rumors! Did Robert have her killed? Was she killed by those who disapproved of the queen’s relationship with her “little dog”? Or did Amy commit suicide? In any case, her death was the final nail in the coffin, so to speak,  of the Queen + Robert relationship.

6) Arthur Dudley — In 1587, a young man washed ashore in Spain and was arrested as an English spy. He told them he was (dun-dun-dunnnn) Arthur Dudley, son of Robert Dudley and none other than the queen of England. He had a long and wildly inventive story but it is widely believed that it is all a hoax.

In closing, the special tells us that Elizabeth loved being called a virgin as she aged. I suppose this is something that would set her apart from, say, the Kardashians. It was interesting to see the “secrets” all wrapped up in a tidy, hourlong package like this, although I do think a number of them are more “National Enquirer” than “National Geographic.”

You can catch the programme here if you missed it!

Recap: “Inside the Body of Henry VIII”

Portrait of Henry VIII

Image via Wikipedia

Last night, National Geographic channel re-ran their special “Inside the Body of Henry VIII” and I finally caught the whole thing. I’d seen clips but I wanted the whole enchilada, and have recapped it for you…

The aim of the program seems to be, as Jerry Seinfeld might muse, “Henry VIII…What’s the deal with him??” Our hosts are on a mission to find out, combining history, science, and medicine. They are Dr. Lucy Worsley, historian with adorable bobbed haircut and barrette, Robert Hutchinson, Henry VIII biographer, and Dr. Catherine Hood, medical doctor.

The questions up for grabs are: Did Henry have diabetes? How about syphilis? A hormonal disorder? What effect did those jousting injuries have? Why couldn’t his wives conceive or stay pregnant? Why was he so fat? Why was he so angry?? They start with …

Family History — Henry was the third child of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. As a little boy, he was well-built and healthy. Soon his father contracted tuberculosis, which we have treatment for these days but then it meant you were probably a goner. Dad may have passed it to his heir, Prince Arthur, who died soon after. Next up, Henry! At the age of 17, he had the crown but no TB. Whew!

Infections — Henry was a strong teen king, athletic and all that. But London was a filthy, rat-infested mess at that point. Five years into his reign he comes down with a fever, which was probably smallpox. Dr. Hood talks about the pustules and shows us gruesome pictures. To review: vaccines are good, mmmkay?

At nearly 30, he gets another fever. This was probably malaria, which was going around due to all the marshes in the area to host all those mosquitoes. Henry suffered repeated bouts of the disease and it’s thought to have contributed to his paranoia, which turned to flat-out hypochondria. Luckily for him, he wasn’t able to Google the heck out of his symptoms at the time which surely would have made things 10 times worse.

At this point, Dr. Worsley is standing in front of a bit of [the Thames?] river with the most gorgeous blackening English sky overhead. Love! On we go to …

Sporting Injuries — We see Henry’s armor, which gives us a good idea of his size, and the obnoxious codpiece, which gives us a good idea of his, well, moving on. Henry was 6’1″, a virtual giant for Tudor times. His calves were divine, which was part of his appeal. Whereas today, Men’s Health magazine seems to run the same “great abs” cover story every month, at that time they would be most interested in lovely legs on a man.

Right, so on to the head injury he got in a moment of temporary stupidity/distraction as he forgot to lower his mask in a game that involves a long, pointy lance. Henry was lucky to have only sustained minor injury, as he could have lost his eye or worse. His migraines can be traced back to this particular event.

This sporty guy also enjoyed squash and tennis, which led to another injury in 1527, a wrenched foot. For some time afterward he had to baby his foot by wearing soft slippers; his faithful courtiers followed suit in sympathy. Awww.

At age 36 he developed a varicose ulcer, brought on by those fashionable but constrictive garters. Today this kind of thing heals very slowly, so it’s a wonder he didn’t die of blood poisoning at the time.  As it were, his docs still went by the whole four-humours thing, examining stools, tasting urine, employing the most recent advances in medical science. Bring on medical historian Steve Bacon, dressed as a Tudor physician and bearing glistening black leeches. He places them on some victims/volunteers, and they claim it feels like a pinprick. Apparently leeches leave an anticoagulant under your skin when they are removed, so you keep bleeding. I learn something new every day!

Sexual Health — Where the bloody hell is a son for this guy?? That is the question the hosts are now trying to answer. Poor sanitation may have contributed to Cat of Aragon’s mostly-unsuccessful pregnancies but did syphilis also play a role? The Tudor cure for that STD was mercury (the stuff we can no longer use in thermometers so now I’m forced to make do with a flexible digital gadget which is always at least 2.5 degrees off). For six weeks, the afflicted would be confined to bed and treated with mercury, which made them sweat and salivate.  There’s no record of Henry VIII being out of commission for so long, or of having the telltale skin rotting (ew) syphilis brings. Biographer Hutchinson concludes that, while the king may have been a carrier of the disease, this is a “case not proven.”

By his mid-40s, Henry still has no son. HEIR FAIL. So “The Great Matter” comes about and he imposes his will and his new church on the country. And then we have…

Back to Injuries — January 1536, another jousting accident, but this is The Big One. The armoured king is racing with his armoured horse at top speed, and the latter lands atop the former. That’s gotta hurt. In fact, Henry is unconscious for two hours. To drive home the point of how disastrous this was, the Royal Marines Trauma Surgeon recreates the event by dropping a 1500 pound weight from a crane onto a big fat pig from 14 feet above. I have to wonder where PETA is. Although the pig is already dead, the organization can usually find something to crow about in similar situations.

The surgeon deduces that the king survived only because of his armor, and even then I am gobsmacked that he survived at all. Certainly, though, his brain rattled around sufficiently in his skull. If his frontal lobe were affected, the team mentions, his personality was most definitely affected by this.

His leg ulcers stopped draining which made him black in the face, so his docs would cauterise the wounds with hot irons so they could drain. The monarch who once displayed stunning legs now had gams covered in runny sores which could be smelled from three rooms away. Gah!

Costumed Steve Bacon returns to show us the scary medieval amputation devices of the day. Only 10 percent of amputees survived back then, so no one wanted to take the chance with Henry. He therefore got to keep his nasty, stinking leg.

Diet  — Between his 20s and his 50s, the tall king went from a 32″ waistline to a 52″ one, from a 39″ chest to a 53″ one. He was now nearly 400 pounds! So Dr. Worsley takes us for a trip around the supermarket for “Henry’s weekly shop.” This is fantastic. She piles beef, lamb, chicken, pork, and rabbit into a cart while we learn he also ate peacock and swan. Tesco may have been out of those. She heaves 70 pints of ale and lots of wine in as well, and tops it off with what looks like 24 bags of white bread. By-passing the produce section, she states this was food for peasants so the [constipated] monarch ate none of it, although he did fancy strawberries.

In the virtual autopsy, we see just what kind of a number this diet did on Henry’s insides. There’s a thick subcutaneous layer of fat, of course, and a fatty liver. His enlarged heart pumps furiously in his chest, and he’s clinically obese — at high risk for high blood pressure and type-2 (late-onset) diabetes. In fact, diabetes seems to be a definite to this crew, and I have to agree.

The program airs again on Tuesday, the first of February at 6:00 pm ET. Check this link for more updated info.