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Archive for Murder and mayhem

Gossip Girl?


Well, it’s certainly gotten hot around here. There’s been a lot of bickering on history-related Facebook pages as of late regarding the Battle of Bosworth (as the 528th anniversary was last week), Richard III, Henry VII, “My dead king is better than your dead king,” and so on. Now Margaret Beaufort is feeling the wrath, and it’s related to the death of two little princes back around 1483.

The sons of Edward IV, the boys were imprisoned in the Tower of London and were occasionally seen on the grounds. Until they weren’t. Twelve-year-old Edward V and ten-year-old Richard, Duke of York were declared illegitimate, moved to the Tower, and Richard III was declared king. They were never seen again after the fall of 1483, believed to have been murdered in their beds. Bones discovered under stairs in the Tower in 1674 match the ages of the poor boys, and have been interred in Westminster Abbey, in the same room where Elizabeth I and Mary I lie.

This whodunnit has never been solved, but Henry VII and Richard III are the usual suspects. However, a certain fictional book series and its related television series have eerily coincided with a wave of accusations toward Henry VII’s mother, Margaret Beaufort.  When I recently asked on my Facebook page for reasons that fingers might point at Margaret, some of the opinions on that thread (and the few threads just prior to it) were:

  • “I think that crazy woman Margaret Beauford had them murdered”
  • “Margaret was a little off the deep end”
  • “Twisted woman, strong character fully concentrated on her only son becoming a king of England, nothing else to live for just her only son that’s why she seems capable of doing anything to full filing her lifetime dream”
  • “She is the culprit”
  • “I find her extreme piety really annoying.”
  • “She was mad about getting henry to the throne her whole life she planned it”
  • “I think Margaret Beaufort is a likely suspect, but I have not found documents to back that up.”
  • “All I know is Margaret B. was vindictive b**** based on what I have read. …in today’s world when ppl talk about evil vindictive women …she would be #’s 1-100 on the list!”
  • “I’ve read a couple books on Margaret and on line stuff. The woman was consumed with having her son on the throne…There was bitterness in her that ran to the core of her being. ..She became a religious nut case and based the rest of her life on Henry’s kingship. She would have any one killed to make Henry King.”

Whenever I asked about sources for these opinions, I got none. (Other than something along the lines of “I forgot.”)

I run a lighthearted and sometimes-irreverent Facebook page / blog / Twitter account / etc, but I have to be clear about something: My approach is still that of an educator. (The Tudor Tutor. See what I did there?) And most any teacher, I hope, will ask that you base your knowledge, opinions, etc on reliable information.

This may upset some of you, and in that case perhaps you are on the wrong page. Come to learn, come to share good information, come to laugh at the memes (which are created to help us remember the good information!). But please know that gossip is not what we do there.

And the bell doesn’t dismiss you; I dismiss you. =)


To Be or Not to Be Richard III?


I couldn’t help but get Grumpy Cat in on the flurry of excitement. Or at least, try to. =D

Tomorrow at 10:00 GMT, via BBC Radio Leicester, the long-awaited news will come in reference to the DNA-tested bones beneath the Leicester car  park. Do they belong to Richard III, or no? We shall find out!

Bears, Stairs, and Tuberculosis


Maybe it’s because Halloween is drawing close (and has been since July, if you like craft stores) but I am morbidly enchanted by the song “50 Ways to Say Goodbye” by Train, a fixture on radio stations in my area. I hadn’t paid much attention to the lyrics, but last night it came on in the car and when my 10-year-old daughter started belting out all the words I finally realized just what was going on!

Here’s the story: Girl breaks up with guy. Guy runs into friends from time to time who ask how girlfriend is doing and where she is. Too embarassed to admit he’s been dumped, guy instead tells them she’s dead, making up different scenarios for different friends. It’s like the pop-music version of Edward Gorey’s Gashlycrumb Tinies.

“She was caught in a mudslide / Eaten by a lion / Got run over by a crappy purple Scion / Help me, help me, I’m no good at goodbyes! / And ways to say you died.”

Factor in the mariachi band in the background, and that the melody sounds awfully Phantom-of-the-Opera-y, and you’ve got a delightfully disturbing ditty.

When we read about the Tudor period, it seems like everyone and their illegitimate offspring is dying of consumption (tuberculosis). We know some particularly gory details about Edward VI’s final days with this dreadful disease. When your nails are dropping off, your skin is blue, and you’re coughing up a stinky black substance, all the codpieces and ermine cloaks in the world are not going to distract from that.

Monarchs and others in power were always in danger of assassination. Then there were mysterious accidents, such as Robert Dudley’s wife, Amy Robsart, who took a fatal spill down a flight of stairs.

Have a look at this BBC article for ten unusual accidental deaths discovered in 16th-century coroners’ reports. Maypole injuries, mad cows, bear attacks, even “testicles crushed in a Christmas game.” Honestly!

Her Grace Under Pressure

On Friday morning, the 19th of May 1536, that maid of the marvellous moxie took her place at the scaffold inside the Tower walls. Was she unhinged and flipping out, as portrayed in “The Other Boleyn Girl”?

Not from most accounts. Although it was said she looked absolutely wiped (lack of sleep can do that) and kept checking over her shoulder (perhaps for a last-minute reprieve?), she is said to have been the picture of composure and strength. That’s why I’m partial to Natalie Dormer’s portrayal from “The Tudors” and think that scene is so very touching.

Onlookers described Anne as having “a devilish walk” and “never look[ing] more beautiful,” “full of much joy and pleasure.” Her final speech was heartfelt yet professional.

And because the swordsman hid his sword in the straw and distracted Anne with the infamous “Hey, what’s that over there?” trick, she never saw it coming. Her Grace was poised to the end.

It Could Be Worse

Today in 1536, four men went on trial and were to come out on the short end of the stick, for sure. Henry Norris, William Brererton, Francis Weston, and Mark Smeaton were all found guilty of having their trousers around their ankles in the company of Queen Anne Boleyn. 

Their trial was at Westminister Hall; Anne and her brother George, however, would be tried by their peers in a separate event because of their social standing. So although the siblings had to endure humiliating charges against them, at least there was more dignity in the setting than for the other four men.

And what of the sentence? Norris, Brereton, Weston, and Smeaton were meant to be part of a veritable circus of horrors before they actually died. They would individually be dragged by a horse-drawn cart to a scaffold where they’d be hanged…almost. The executioner would take them down just before the rope actually killed them, only to chop off their naughty bits and then hack them into quarters. Such drama!

Fortunately (?), Henry VIII commuted all their sentences to just beheading. Whew! Aristocratic Anne and George were of course given the privilege of beheading as well. And not one of those Tower Hill executions in front of the riff raff, but a private execution on Tower Green. Prestige has its rewards, no?

Not only would Anne enjoy the dignity of a beheading, she would be beheaded by The Best: a master swordsman sent from France. Merci!

Scary Little Secret

A torture rack, photographed in the Tower of L...

Image via Wikipedia

One probably shouldn’t admit this, but I am fascinated by torture chambers and such. I don’t condone torture, of course, and I’m horrified that it went on. It still does in some cases and places, I’m afraid. But there is just some forbidden pull (no pun intended) from those twisted instruments and their history. Thumbscrews, the iron maiden, the Catherine wheel, the coffin: they are horrific and amazing all at once — perhaps in a “How could humans do such dreadful things to fellow humans?” kind of way.

The torture tools on the Tudor-era menu could simply extract a confession or humiliate the victim, or instead be just the opening act to certain death. (That last bit was against the formal “rules.” Whatever. ) A sampling of some of these include manacles, the dunking stool, and the rack.  

Manacles (above) were handcuff-like gadgets hanging from the ceiling, which would then be clamped around the wrists and hands of the accused so that they too would be hanging from said ceiling. Which doesn’t sound like that big a deal when compared to, say, being stretched from here to kingdom come.            

But Father John Gerard described his 1597 experience with manacles as such: “It seemed to me that all the blood in my body rushed up my arms into my hands; and I was under the impression at the time that the blood actually burst forth from my fingers and at the back of my hands. This was, however, a mistake; the sensation was caused by the swelling of the flesh over the iron that bound it.”  So, not quite the field trip you’d think.  

The dunking stool (above), as you can imagine from the name, would dunk the victim into water repeatedly until they drowned. Its cousin is waterboarding, and I’m not going to go there. 

The rack (main photo, at top of this post) was also called the Duke of Exeter’s Daughter, after a 15th-century constable of the Tower, John Holland, 2nd Duke of Exeter. You may recall that one Anne Askew took a ride on the rack before being burned at the stakeMark Smeaton supposedly spent four hours on the darn thing.

I suppose I can’t be the only person morbidly fascinated by this subject, not when there is The Big Book of Pain on Amazon. At least I’m in good (??) company.

Ye Olde Smoking Gun

Thomas Phelippes' forged cipher postscript to ...

Thomas Phelippes’ forged cipher postscript to Mary, Queen of Scots’ letter to Anthony Babington (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Aren’t historical documents fascinating? I always find myself starstruck at these aged pieces of paper with the signatures of monarchs, governors, co-conspirators, future headless people, and the like.

To mark the 424th anniversary of Mary Queen of Scots’ execution, I give you the smoking gun in the Babington Plot. Once Walsingham had this signed piece of paper in his hot little hands, she was as good as in the ground.

The translation of the above, courtesy of the National Archive, is “”I w be glad to know the names and quelityes of the sixe gentlemen which are to accomplish the essignement, for that it may be I shall be able uppon knowledge of the parties to give you some further advise necessarye to be followed therein…… as also from time to time articularlye how you proceede and as son as you may for the same purpose who bee alredye and how farr every one privye hereunto.”

After she’d been imprisoned, Mary communicated with her allies in code, which can be seen here.  Not that it mattered: Her letters were routinely intercepted by a double agent. Several months later, Elizabeth I grudgingly signed her death warrant and off to the block at Fotheringhay Castle went the Queen of Scots.