Dishing with the Tudors: My Adventures in Renaissance Comedy

Guest Article by: JoAnn Spears

Dishing with the Tudors:  My adventures in Renaissance comedy

I am one of those people who ‘reads out’ a subject or author of interest.

That took some doing with Jean Plaidy’s canon of eighty-odd historical fiction novels.  Having started in on the task at the age of twelve, with The Captive Queen of Scots, I was actually able to exhaust all that Plaidy had to offer before I was out of my twenties.

jean plaidy book

 

My favorite subjects in those wonderful novels were Henry VIII’s six wives and their Tudor relatives.  Eventually, I read the Tudors out too, both in fiction and in biography.  From Norah Lofts and Mary M. Luke down through Alison Weir, I read anything that was going about Henry VIII and his clan.    When I ran out of biographies of the heavy-hitting Tudors, I read bios of the supporting Tudor cast, such as Bess of Hardwick and Arabella Stuart.

yellow catherine the queenelizabeth book

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I still remember the day that  I stood in front of a Tudor shelf at Barnes and Noble, looked at everything that was on offer, and felt that I’d seen it all before.  It’s high time, I thought, for something different.  Enough tragedy, excuses, and apologies.  Henry’s six wives need to come out on top for a change!

completely different

At around the same time, I spent an evening in a hot tub in Vermont, chatting with a friend who was working on a book.  She knew that I did a lot of report writing in my professional life, and asked me if I didn’t have an idea for a novel.  She dared me to tell it to her.  And for the first time, I gave voice to that ‘something different’ that I wanted to see in the Tudor world.

It was scary, talking out loud about an idea that had heretofore lived only in my head.  Maybe it was the hot tub ambience, or more likely the wine, but out the idea came.

I wanted to write about Henry VIII’s six wives.  My heroine, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, would meet the Big Six somewhere on the other side, after losing consciousness.  She’d join the Tudor women for a night of revelation and vindication on their part, and of self-discovery on hers.  She’d return to the real world a wiser girl for her time with the Tudors.

Once I started in on writing about Henry VIII’s six wives, things flowed easily for a while.  The Katherine Parr and Ann of Cleves alternative histories were low hanging fruit.  Jane Seymour’s and Catherine Howard’s subplots took a bit more researching, but they did come together next.  The Anne Boleyn and Katharine of Aragon subplots emerged only after a spell of cluelessness and the shedding of some blood, sweat, and tears, but eventually, emerge they did.   And best of all, because of the fantasy setting, I got to have the six wives interacting with each other, as well as with my heroine.  It was a Tudor history buff’s dream come true.

The wives’ stories as created for Six of One are obviously outré and entirely a product of my fevered Tudor imagination, but they were carefully researched and made plausible to give the reader some food for thought.  What if, even if only in imagination, each of these women had a secret that took her from victim status to victory over Henry VIII?  Might such secrets make for a satisfying, albeit brief and fictional, experience for the jaded Tudorphile?  Might my book inspire Tudor neophytes to want to learn more about these fabulous women?

six of one

Since my six wives subplots were so very offbeat, I felt that the best way to approach the entire novel was to take it as a comedy.  Clare Boothe Luce’s The Women inspired me here, with its all-girl cast, ‘girls’ night in’ feel, and comic sass and dishing.

bw

Seven Will Out, my second novel, brings the comic corrective recapitulation and the hen party atmosphere to the stories of the latter generation Tudors and their associates.  It addresses the complicated family dynamics between Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots, Bess of Hardwick and Arabella Stuart, and ‘Bloody’ Mary and Jane Grey, to name a few.

seven will out

Of course, it is for the reading public, and ultimately individual readers and Tudorphiles, to determine if my experiment is a success, and if there is indeed a place for comedy in the chaotic and execution-laden realm of the Tudors.  My Amazon reviews tell me that some readers are all for it (‘Go girls!’  ‘Great new take.’ ‘Humorous her-story.’  ‘Great romp through 16th century England.’  ‘Weird at first, but it grabs you.’  ‘Oh Henry!’  ‘What a hoot.’’)  Other reviews tell me that readers prefer their Tudors straight up, serious, and traditional (‘I couldn’t’.  ‘Don’t bother’.  ‘This book was a little silly.’  ‘Great idea in theory.’  ‘Not for me.’ ‘Too lightweight for my tastes.’)

In Claire Ridgway’s review of Six of One, she says ‘…you need to not mind your favourite wife being made fun of…this Kindle book made me laugh. I love spoofs and can handle misrepresentations of historical characters when they are presented in a way which is clearly a spoof and not to be taken seriously.’   On the other hand, I have had a reviewer say ‘…It seems the author doesn’t really like Anne Boleyn with all the snide remarks made throughout the book.’ (Just for the record, I do not hate Anne Boleyn.)

So, what do you think?  Would you try your Tudors with a comic, fantasy, revisionist twist?  Or do you prefer them familiar and traditional?  I’d love to know what you think!

JoAnn SpearsAbout the Author: JoAnn Spears

Author of Six of One, a Tudor Comedy, and the upcoming sequel, working title Seven Will Out. It’s the most fun you can have with your nightdress on!

 

 

The Tower of London – the Most Haunted Castle in England

The Tower of London could be called the most haunted place in London as it has seen hundred of executions. Some justified, some not.

Many of the prisoners who entered the Tower only left to go to their execution. Most executions were public events and were well attended. Seems a little morbid now. Traitors could expect to be hung, drawn and quartered – the most inhumane of executions – the prisoner was hung and cut down still alive, their heart and entrails removed and burnt – then their body was divided into four parts and displayed publicly to warn others of what happens when you commit treason.

Yet, when we think of the Tower and executions, the most well-known execution is by beheading…with an axe. This was generally reserved for more important and distinguished prisoners. It was considered a more merciful death.

Public executions took place on Tower Hill, however more important figures like Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard and Jane Grey were executed within the Tower in a more private execution. This was done to avoid public attention and outcries for mercy. 

 

The following people were imprisoned in the Tower of London and executed (or vanished):

George Plantagenet
George Plantagenet
702px-King_Edward_V_from_NPG
Edward V
Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick
Edward Plantagenet
Perkin Warbeck
Perkin Warbeck
1 Hans Eworth (Dutch artist, c.1525-a 1578) An Unknown Lady, called Anne Ayscough or Askew, Mrs Thomas Kyme (1521-1546) National Trust Collections Tatton Park, Cheshire 1560
Anne Askew
Thomas More
Thomas More
Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn
Jane Boleyn
Jane Boleyn
Katherine Howard
Katherine Howard
Thomas Cromwell
Thomas Cromwell
Jane Grey
Jane Grey
Margaret Pole
Margaret Pole

George, Duke of Clarence – Arrested for plotting against his brother Edward IV, he was found guilty of treason and executed in secret at Bowyer Tower in 1477. Rumors spread that he had been drown in a butt of malmsey.

Edward V – Son of Edward IV, only 12 years old when he was brought to the Tower for his coronation. His uncle, Duke of Gloucester declared he and his brother illegitimate and crowned himself Richard III. The young princes vanished at the Tower and were never seen alive again. Last seen at the Bloody Tower.

Richard, Duke of York - Brother to Edward V, one of the Princes in the Tower. Vanished from the Tower along with his brother, never to be seen again.

The story of the little princes is still to this day a heartbreaking story that brings tears to ones eyes. They are “among the most poignant ghosts” in the Tower. Their disappearance in 1483 is very suspicious of wrong doing, but by whom? The ghost of the twelve-year-old, King Edward V, and his nine-year old brother, Richard, Duke of York, can been seen in the Bloody Tower, they are still wearing the white night shirts they had on the night they disappeared. They stand silently, hand in hand, before fading back into the stones of the Bloody Tower. – Source

Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick - On 28 November 1499, Edward Plantagenet, earl of Warwick, was executed by beheading on Tower Hill for treason. The son of George, Duke of Clarence, and the nephew of both Edward IV and Richard III.

Perkin Warbeck - On November 23rd, 1499, Perkin Warbeck was drawn on a hurdle from the Tower to Tyburn to be hanged. He died, not for his imitation of a Yorkist prince, but because of a plot to overthrow Henry VII. A plot which also cost the life of the last Plantagenet, Edward, Earl of Warwick.

Anne Askew – Persecuted for her religious beliefs under Henry VIII’s rule, Anne was sent to the Tower and tortured on the rack. Women had never been racked before Anne. She refused to give up her faith and was burned at the stake at Cradle Tower as a heretic.

Thomas More – Refused to accept his friend, Henry VIII as the head of the Church of England. He was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, but the King commuted his sentence to execution by beheading. The execution took place on 6 July 1535. When he came to the scaffold, he is widely quoted as saying (to the officials): “I pray you, I pray you, Mr Lieutenant, see me safe up and for my coming down, I can shift for myself”; while on the scaffold he declared that he died “the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”

Anne Boleyn - The second wife of King Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn was arrested and accused of adultery and incest by a king anxious to remarry and produce an heir. On 19 May 1536 she was beheaded by sword within the walls of the Tower.

The most persistent ghost in the Tower of London is the ghost of Queen Anne Boleyn, and rightly so. Witnesses describe a female figure identified only by her dress. Queen Anne appears near the Queen’s House, close to the site where her execution was carried out. She can be seen leading a ghostly procession of Lords and Ladies down the aisle of the Chapel Royal of St. Peter and Vincula. She floats down the aisle to her final resting place. Queen Anne is buried under the Chapel’s altar. Her headless body has also been seen walking the corridors of the Tower.Source

George Boleyn - the brother of Queen Anne Boleyn who had been executed on the trumped-up charge of incest with his sister.

Jane Boleyn – Wife of George Boleyn, the brother of Queen Anne Boleyn. Her marriage to George Boleyn was an arranged and a very unhappy one. She was instrumental in the arrest of her sister-in-law, Anne and her husband George. Jane provided damning evidence against them to Thomas Cromwell. She later became a Lady of the Privy Chamber to Katherine Howard. Jane Rochford encouraged the young queen in her affair with Thomas Culpeper with whom she helped organize secret meetings. Her part as a go-between was discovered and Jane Rochford was arrested and taken to the Tower of London. She was interrogated and lost her sanity. A new law which allowed the execution of the insane was passed in order to have her condemned to death. She confessed before her death, “God has permitted me to suffer this shameful doom as punishment for having contributed to my husband’s death. I falsely accused him of loving in an incestuous manner, his sister, Queen Anne Boleyn. For this I deserve to die.” She was executed immediately after Katherine Howard.

Katherine Howard – The fifth wife of King Henry VIII and the cousin of Anne Boleyn. Katherine was arrested at Hampton Court for adultery and tried in vain to reach the King. She was dragged screaming back to her apartments. Her lovers were executed and she passed their gruesome, impaled heads on London Bridge on her way to Traitor’s gate, the entry to the Tower of London. Katherine asked William Kingston for a block so that she could practice her execution. Legend has it that her last words were: “I die a queen, but would rather die the wife of Culpeper.”

Katherine Howard escaped from her room in the Tower. “She ran down the hallway screaming for help and mercy. She was caught and returned to her room.” The next day she was beheaded. Her ghost has been seen sill running down the hallway screaming for help.Source

Thomas Cromwell - Cromwell was arrested on 10 June 1540 and imprisoned in the Tower. He was imprisoned for not pleasing the king – to be so blunt. The king deferred the execution until his marriage to Anne of Cleves could be annulled. Hoping for clemency, Cromwell wrote in support of the annulment, in his last personal address to the King. He ended it with the plea “Most gracious Prince, I cry for mercy, mercy, mercy.” Mercy did not come and Cromwell was condemned to death without trial and beheaded on Tower Hill on 28 July 1540, the day of the King’s marriage to Catherine Howard.

Jane Grey - Queen for just nine days, Lady Jane Grey was found guilty of high treason and sent to the Tower. On 12 February 1554 she watched her husband go to his death before she too was beheaded on Tower Green, aged 16.

 Lady Jane watched as her husband was taken to Tower Hill where he was beheaded. She saw his body being carried back to the chapel, after which she was taken to Tower Green where she was beheaded. Lady Jane Grey’s ghost was last seen by two Guardsmen on February 12, 1957, the 403rd anniversary of her execution. She was described as a “white shape forming itself on the battlements”. Her husband, Guildford Dudley, has been seen in Beauchamp Tower weeping.Source

Margaret Pole - The Countess of Salisbury was the last direct descendant of the Plantagenet line – her father was George, Duke of Clarence who was drowned for treason in 1477 and her brother Edward, Earl of Warwick was beheaded in 1499. She was arrested two years before her execution and treated poorly – neglected as a prisoner in the Tower of London. She was not given a trial. She was small, frail and ill. But she was a proud noble. She was dragged to the block, but refused to lay her head on the block. She was forced down and struggled. The inexperienced executioner made a gash in her shoulder rather than her neck. She leapt from the block and was chased by the executioner, with his axe. She was struck eleven times before she died. There were 150 witnesses to her execution. She was the oldest woman executed at 68 years of age.

The most grisly execution and thus haunting is that of the old Countess of Salisbury, the last of the Plantagenets.  Her ghost has been seen reliving this truly gruesome act. Also the shadow of a great axe has been seen falling across the scene of her murder.Source

Other notable executions:

  • John Fisher Bishop of Rochester (1534)
  • Implicated with Anne Boleyn (1536)
    • Mark Smeaton
    • Sir Henry Norris
    • Sir Francis Weston
    • William Brereton
  • Implicated with Catherine Howard (1542)
    • Thomas Culpepper
    • Henry Mannox
    • Francis Dereham
  • Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1546)
  • Thomas, Duke of Norfolk (1546)
  • Thomas Seymour, High Admiral of England (1549)
  • Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector (1552)
  • Guildford Dudley – husband of Lady Jane Grey (1554)