The Glory Of My Crown (Guest Post)

Guest article by Lindsey Wolf


November 30, 1601.

140 members of the House of Commons collected unceremoniously in the Council Chamber of Whitehall. Kneeling in respect of their sovereign who had ruled them for these past forty three years, they both heard and recorded what was to go down as Elizabeth’s “Golden Speech.” Additionally, it was to be her last address to Parliament at the age of sixty eight. Within its “Letters of Gold”, one could not only better understand the political and diplomatic aptitude of Her Majesty, but also her vivacious talent. She was an astute public speaker, knowing how to  rally her soldiers in defense of both the country and her crown. She was the figurehead of a cult-like following in homage to her as the Virgin Queen, solely wedded to her Kingdom. Elizabeth was also equally adept at striking the sentimentality of her populace. A people whose average lifespan was around forty two years meaning that many of her subjects had only known her as Queen. Long forgotten were the days of turmoil in the reign of her predecessor and sister and furthermore her brother. An even fewer amount could recall the reign of her notorious father who had died over 50 years prior to that fall day of 1601. It was a speech that would perfectly wrap up an incredible, unprecedented and productive reign. A reign which began in an old world and seemed to end in a new one. Inheriting a country whiplashed by religious wars and financially unstable, owing some £227,000 or £100,000 modern equivalent. Additionally, she had all the eyes of Europe upon her who saw her Kingdom as ripe for the picking.



Surely Elizabeth’s accomplishments could never be overstated. History often prefers  to recount the peaceful, triumphant and perfect patch of time under Gloriana rather than the truth of it. Elizabeth’s reign, like any other, had its highs and lows. Naturally it is only to be expected in such a lengthy lapse of time. Sadly, the great lows of Elizabeth reigns found themselves in the final decade of her rule. The 1590s had been beset with struggle at every turn; politically, economically and even personally. The sun had risen and was now falling in the reign and life of the Virgin Queen, but was that to reflect the state of her England? Without the blessing of historical retrospect, it must have surely seemed that way. Without further adieu, let us enter the world in which Elizabeth had delivered her “Golden Speech.” Let us examine how politically advantageous it was of her to reform her policies after years of economic struggle. Furthermore, how truly needed it was to remind her subjects of her love for them from past to present. A notion which sealed and capped her legacy in such a way that the modern audience has all but forgotten the landscape of when and why this speech was given.

Politically:

The Nine Years’ War or Tyrone’s Rebellion began in 1593 and ended in 1603. The rebellion was led by a man called Hugh O’Neill. The O’Neill clan is an ancient Irish family descended from the High Kings of Ulster in Northern Ireland. They held great political sway over both Ulster and all of Ireland as a result. They were well-respected and thought to be something like the King of Kings in their native Tyrone, all while England struggled to keep their foothold. Ireland had been left somewhat alone in the wake of the dynastic wars wreaking havoc through England. As a result, Henry VIII sought to reclaim what he felt was his just historical inheritance. This set the scene for the Crown of Ireland Act 1542 which allowed hereditary Kings and clans to trade in their former titles, recognize Henry’s supremacy and be given new Earldoms in return. At the risk of full out extermination, many complied. Including the O’Neill clan who surrendered their kingship of Tyrone for the Earldom of Tyrone. Of course it was never to be that easy. In addition to recognizing Henry as their liege lord; the Irish were also obligated to renounce their ties to Catholicism and embrace Henry’s new church. The Irish could no longer practice tanistry for passing on titles had to adopt primogeniture. Irish customs including dress and language were to go by the wayside as well. Needless to say, it was a little too much too soon.



Hugh O’Neill had become a ward of the crown after the assassination of his father. Hoping to foster loyalty to the crown, he had been held in court at London before returning home to claim his inheritance as Earl of Tyrone. He took advantage of his relationship with the crown to find his power but soon gained too much of it. All in all, the Irish wars were not only pricy and drained the royal treasury but also humiliating for the country who seemed unable to put it down all together. The Pope in Rome offered his support of the Irish cause against the Protestant Queen. Worse yet, The Spanish offered aid in troops and were determined to land a strategic grip on the land just 58 nautical miles from Dublin to the coast of Wales. Needless to say, it was an absolutely daunting concept which Elizabeth would not live to see the conclusion of. Hugh O’Neill and his forces surrendered on March 30, 1603. Six days after Elizabeth’s death.

In addition to the Lopez Plot in 1594 which saw Elizabeth’s own physician charged with high treason and executed accordingly, her court was dense in political strife. Cliques dominated and waged war against one another in the privy council and beyond. Elizabeth was known to be a great judge of character and much of her success is owed to this fact. Yet, she also became slower to recognize new courtiers to high positions and preferred to replace fathers with sons. After the death of William Cecil, he was replaced by his son, Robert Cecil in his father’s seat of principle advisor. In much the same, Francis Bacon earned his place at Elizabeth’s side due to his father’s position as Lord Keeper. However, this created a tide of dissension amongst the younger courtiers who felt themselves ripe for the picking but not being recognized for their talents. The leader of this opposing faction would be none other than the stepson of the late great Robert Dudley, Robert Devereux.



Additionally, in 1595, England was attacked for the first time by hostile forces in form of the Spanish. Years prior, Spanish forces had taken root in Northern France and constructed a power base. They’d make landfall along the coast of Cornwall where three towns were sacked and burned. The Spanish were a constant threat. They did not merely go away to lick their wounds following the defeat of the Armada as that was but the first of two. Those latter attempts would ultimately be wrecked by storms at sea.

Economically:

In Elizabeth’s reign, the population of England rose from three million to four. Simply put, there were more children being produced and those children were living longer. Additionally, this required vast resources to feed a growing population though the harvest failed each year from 1594 to 1597. This lack of goods drove up the prices of what did exist which in turn drove inflation. William Cecil, Lord Burghley would remark “the lamentable cry of the poor who are likely to perish by means . . . of the dearness and high price of corn.” From 1595 through 1597, there were riots across the country. In Somerset, Kent, Norfolk and most notably London. In 1595, approximately 1,000 apprentices collected in what was to be the biggest riot in London in 80 years. Amongst their complaints were rising food prices and the behavior of the wealthy in the wake of their despair. Five of the apprentices were charged with high treason and hung, drawn and quartered. Ironically, it is around this time that Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was being penned with the possible reflection of London’s violent street brawls in its pages.

It is due to this economic decline that the populace began to take notice of the monopolies that made their lives even more difficult. During this period, The Queen would reward those around her with these taxes. From wine to playing cards to salt and starch. The monopolies ranged from creature comforts to downright necessities. Parliament reflected those worries in cutting some of the cumbersome tax from the back of English citizens but outrage amongst the remainder remained. Unknowingly, these monopolies were held as royal prerogative. Thus, when Good Queen Bes dismissed her own personal monopolies in her final speech to parliament, it was hardly an unprovoked or charitable act. It was an absolute necessity that had taken years upon years to conclude. Yet, you could still see it as an act of good faith considering the estate of her own personal finances due to the weighty decade. Elizabeth had previously climbed her way out of the debt left to her only to be rolled back into it due to factors far out of her control.

Additionally, The Black Death would return in 1592. Its presence would render 10,675 London inhabitants dead in all but one year. Its effect can be best seen when it caused a halt to one of Elizabethan England’s most favorited activity; the theatre. The globe was shut down for almost two entire years as the plague swept.

Personally:

Last but certainly not least, the matters of personal effect that plagued England’s Queen. Elizabeth’s long life was indeed admirable and great politically but not all those around her were to be so fortunate to share in its longevity. It was in the last decade of her reign that she’d see tragedy after tragedy, death after death. From her ladies including Margaret Radcliffe and Blanche Parry to her favorite courtiers. Sir Francis Drake, Francis Walsingham, William Cecil, Christopher Hatton, Henry Carey and of course, her last court favorite who died by the stroke of her own pen; Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.



Robert was the son of Walter Devereux and Lettice Knollys (the daughter of Catherine Carey, she herself being the daughter of Mary Boleyn and allegedly the illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII) making him Elizabeth’s cousin. He was introduced to court by his stepfather, Robert Dudley and quickly made an impression. An expert courtier, Robert was handsome, charming, well spoken and ambitious. However, his ambition made him self-seeking, overly-confident and defiant. He was a soldier but his military campaigns often led to little to no productivity. He spent the better part of his time attempting to triumph over the Cecil family as the leader of his own faction. His grasp would extend his reach again and again as did his burden triumph over his usefulness. In 1596, he and his forces sacked and seized Cádiz, Spain and put him at the height of his fame with mostly the common people. A fame which threatened Elizabeth’s success with her own people. However, he’d fail during further campaigns against the Spanish and all eyes were turned towards the warfront in Ireland.

Despite his lack of respect for her, Elizabeth favored him. Be it his youthful and naive nature or his relation to her long lost Dudley, no one will ever know for certain. Yet, it seems this was the one man who threatened Elizabeth’s jurisdiction and prospered while doing it. Essex even went as far once to half draw his sword on his Queen in the privy council. Yet, instead of earning himself a free trip to the tower, he was sent to Ireland as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. It was there that he led a subordinate and utterly disastrous campaign of his own making. Armed with 16,000 troops and orders to confront the rebellion in Ulster, Essex ordered his men to Southern Ireland. Furthermore, he met with O’Neill. Not on the field of battle but to negotiate a truce that was the humiliation of the crown. Hearing of the Queen’s displeasure, he abandoned his post and burst in upon the Queen undone in her private chambers. Once again, Bess took mercy upon him. Sentencing him to house arrest and revoking his monopoly, Essex was led into financial ruin. In defiance, he attempted to use his popularity against the Queen and lead a revolt of London. Like most other things to do with Essex, it failed and he was brought up on charges to high treason to later be executed.

It is well documented that Elizabeth’s own health had begun to fail her during this period. Bouts of melancholy plagued her. No doubt a result of deep self reflection upon her life, reign and decisions as a whole. One can only imagine the things that hung in the conscience of the elderly Queen. The execution of her royal cousin Mary Queen of Scots, the hardships of ruling which caused one to revolt against their own private morality, maybe even the possibilities of what could have been. Love, marriage, children. All exchanged for the love and longevity of her Kingdom which had left the fate of her country in the hands of a virtual unknown. A seemingly odd act of karma that the son of the woman whose death warrant she had signed, was now to succeed her most precious station beyond her.

 

In conclusion, the Golden Speech might have been the end of a golden reign but hardly a golden decade. One upon which surely the Queen was grateful to hand back to the ages. Despite her struggles and disappointments that would have hardened the hearts of so many, she remained the Queen that history records her as being. “Semper Eadem” or “always the same.” Despite wars, betrayal on both public and private fronts, age and tragedy; it was always this. This 68 year old woman was the same who had looked down the Armada and declared she too had  “the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England.” The same who had defied all odds placed against her from the very beginning and succeeded to a throne that was never meant to become hers. The same whose name rides triumphantly through the chronicles of history. Who gave her namesake for a period of time known for its national pride, literature, pomp and triumphant. While Elizabeth’s final parliamentary speech might not have been as innocent as many portray it to be, that does not weaken it. Neither in sentimentality or political value. So let us all hope to be as wily as Bess at the age of 68 with a little less to do with the stepsons of our deceased sweethearts.

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Sources:

SEA-DISTANCES.ORG – Distances, sea-distances.org/.

PLOTS AND REBELIONS, hfriedberg.web.wesleyan.edu/engl205/wshakespeare/plotsandrebelions.htm.

“Daily Life in the Elizabethan Era.”. “Daily Life in the Elizabethan Era.” Gale Library of Daily Life: Slavery in America, Encyclopedia.com, 2018, http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/daily-life-elizabethan-era.

Briscoe, Alexandra. “History – British History in Depth: Poverty in Elizabethan England.” BBC, BBC, 17 Feb. 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/tudors/poverty_01.shtml.

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Hugh O’Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone.” Encyclopædia

Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 16 July 2018, http://www.britannica.com/biography/Hugh-ONeill-2nd-Earl-of-Tyrone.

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 18 Feb. 2018, http://www.britannica.com/biography/Robert-Devereux-2nd-earl-of-Essex.

Donnchadha, Pádraig Mac. “Introduction of the Crown of Ireland Act 1542.” Your Irish Culture, Your Irish Culture, 21 Mar. 2017, http://www.yourirish.com/history/16th-century/introduction-of-the-crown-of-ireland-act-1542.

“Elizabeth I and Finances.” History Learning Site, http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/tudor-england/elizabeth-i-and-finances/.

“Elizabeth I’s ‘Golden’ Speech.” History Today, http://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/elizabeth-golden-speech.

Hull, Eleanor. “Home.” Maria Edgeworth, 1 Jan. 1970, http://www.libraryireland.com/HullHistory/Henry2.php.

“Rebellion by London Apprentices in 1595.” The British Library, The British Library, 26 Jan. 2016, http://www.bl.uk/collection-items/rebellion-by-london-apprentices-in-1595.

“Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Aug. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Devereux,_2nd_Earl_of_Essex.

 

Book Review: “The Raven’s Widow” by Adrienne Dillard

Jane Seymour (13)

It is through my connections to the Tudor world online that I ran into author Adrienne Dillard. Adrienne is a total sweetheart and sent me her book to review after I asked her to write an article about Jane Boleyn for my site. I already had a growing “To Be Read” pile going on but I moved her book closer to the top because I was reading about Katheryn Howard at the time and I thought Jane Boleyn would be a great follow-up book. I wasn’t sure what to expect since this is the first book by Dillard that I’ve read. She has also written Cor Rotto – A Novel of Catherine Carey and Catherine Carey in a Nutshell.

Jane Boleyn, or Jane Parker, Lady Rochford is often portrayed as a villain in novels and TV series such as Showtime’s The Tudors. It is because of those depictions that average people like you and me get our first impressions of Tudor “characters” from. I’ve always believed Jane’s depictions to be unfair and one-sided, she was a very complex woman who became tangled in two major controversies in her lifetime.

The Raven’s Widow – Book Review

Jane Parker never dreamed that her marriage into the Boleyn family would raise her star to such dizzying heights. Before long, she finds herself as trusted servant and confidante to her sister-in-law, Anne Boleyn; King Henry VIII’s second queen. On a gorgeous spring day, that golden era is cut short by the swing of a sword. Jane is unmoored by the tragic death of her husband, George, and her loss sets her on a reckless path that leads to her own imprisonment in the Tower of London. Surrounded by the remnants of her former life, Jane must come to terms with her actions. In the Tower, she will face up to who she really is and how everything went so wrong.

The Raven’s Widow is a brilliantly told story about Jane Parker, wife of George Boleyn, Lord Rochford. The story is told in two timelines, her time with Anne and George and her time with Katheryn Howard.

The story begins with a young Jane who is trying to find her way and control her mouth. It continues with her blossoming into an amazing and loyal woman who suffered way too much loss in her lifetime. One of the things I have always wondered was, why did she and George never have children? Of course not everyone had children, or were able to, but other fictionalized stories about the couple would lead you to believe that their marriage was a sham and George was gay. In this story you cannot help but feel for Jane and George who struggle to get pregnant because of their limited time together due to his loyalty to the King. My heart broke along with her’s through each miscarriage she suffered.

Jane had always noticed that her brother Henry’s friend George Boleyn was attractive but was turned off by all the attention he received from the other ladies. When Jane found out she was to marry George she was not pleased with the decision at all. Their marriage was an arranged one that over time turned into true love. A great love.

Each character in the story came to life while reading it – that’s everyone from Mary Boleyn to Jane’s servant Lucy and even Thomas Cromwell. Anne Boleyn shares a decent amount of the story with Jane and George and is just as fiery and hot-tempered as we all imagine from stories about her. You really can’t blame her either, especially near the end, she became desperate to save herself, her family and her daughter from disaster.

As I was finishing this book I had tears in my eyes – I had become so attached to Jane that I didn’t want her ending to come. Nor did I want this amazingly written book to end.

This book is a real page-turner and you’ll have a difficult time putting it down. Even though I knew where the story was going it left me anxious for what was to come on the following pages.

Order your copy today!

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Book Review: “Elizabeth’s Rival” by Nicola Tallis

Jane Seymour (11)

Elizabeth’s Rival by Nicola Tallis

When I was asked to review this book by Michael O’Mara Books I was thrilled to have the opportunity to learn more about Lettice Knollys, cousin to Queen Elizabeth of England. You see, most of you probably know that my favorite monarch to study is Henry VIII, and so stepping outside my comfort zone into the world of Elizabethan England was a little scary. Was I going to like it? Would there be something that would draw me in? In this review I’ll go into the basis of the story and what it is I enjoyed about it.

Cousin to Elizabeth I and grandniece to Anne Boleyn, Lettice had a life of dizzying highs and pitiful lows. Entangled in a love triangle with Robert Dudley and Elizabeth I, banished from court, plagued by scandals of affairs and murder, embroiled in treason, and finally losing her family to war, sickness and the executioner’s axe. Lettice lived to the astonishing age of ninety-one; her tale gives us a remarkable, personal lens on to the grand sweep of the Tudor Age. – Michael O’Mara Books

Lettice Knollys was the daughter of Catherine Carey and Francis Knollys, her grandmother was Mary Boleyn, making her a first cousin (once removed) to Queen Elizabeth. Now, if you believe the stories that Catherine Carey was the illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII and Mary Boleyn then she would instead be Elizabeth’s niece. The resemblance between the two women had often been stated and so it, in my opinion, is highly likely that Lettice’s grandfather was indeed the King of England.

Lettice married three times, the first was to a man by the name of Walter Devereux. She was seventeen years old when she became Viscountess Hereford and in 1572, after his promotion, she became Countess of Essex. By all accounts it appeared the couple had a strong relationship, they even had five children together.

Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex as in great favor with the Queen of England. Elizabeth liked him very much and Devereux was not afraid to speak his mind with the Queen – something not many around her were brave enough to do. Devereux spent a lot of time in Ireland trying to subdue uprisings. He was looking for fame within the Queen’s court and offered to fund the campaign through his own pocket – something that would later cause him and his family much grief.

It was during one of Walter’s campaigns in Ireland that rumors began to spread that she was having an affair with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Kenilworth Castle and Chartley were not too far from one another and Lettice was known to make trips to Leicester’s estate to hunt. This was something many other nobles did as well. Often Leicester was at court and so they would not even see one another.

After many years away, Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex died of dysentery in 1576. Lettice mourned the loss of her husband and two years later secretly married Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester without the Queen’s permission. While she once was one of the Queen’s favorite things turned quickly for Lettice when Elizabeth found out about the marriage. Their relationship would never be the same again.

When Robert Dudley died in 1588 there was the hope that Lettice would once again be welcomed back to court and into the Queen’s favor. Unfortunately for Lettice that would not happen. In 1589 she married a Catholic by the name of Christopher Blount. While the marriage appeared to be a happy one he would eventually be executed for treason.

This book was wonderfully written and researched. It was a quick read for me because the story was told so well – I couldn’t put it down. Tallis does a wonderful job of laying the foundation of Lettice’s life before court, including that of her mother, Catherine Carey. Catherine and her husband were ever-loyal to the Queen and died without her husband by her side. Francis Knollys was not granted permission to come back to England to be with his wife. Tallis shows the side of Lettice Knollys that many don’t know – the doting mother who until their last days smothered her children with love and support.

Most articles I’ve read about her life focus solely on her scandalous relationship with Robert Dudley, but this book gives the full picture of who she was as a person. I now have a whole new respect for Lettice Knollys. If I had half of her courage I would be happy.

If you’d like to read this book you can purchase it on Amazon:

Amazon – US
Amazon – UK

Mary Boleyn Loses First Husband to Sweating Sickness

Mary Boleyn was most likely the eldest daughter of Thomas Boleyn and Elizabeth Howard – the family settled at Hever Castle in Kent. She is best known as the sister of Anne Boleyn, and the mistress of Henry VIII (and Francis I). It was her relationship with King Henry which led Mary into a marriage with William Carey.

On the 4th of February 1520, Mary Boleyn married William Carey who was a gentleman of the royal privy chamber. Even though he did not hold a great title (or lands) the position meant he had intimate contact with the King on a daily basis – which is one of the best places to be in Tudor England.

Historians are unsure of when exactly the affair between Henry and Mary occurred between Mary and the King, but there have been suggestions that Mary’s eldest child, her daughter Catherine, was fathered by Henry VIII – she was born in 1524. This would mean that the affair was still ongoing after her marriage to William Carey. Is that why the marriage was arranged – to cover up any possible illegitimate children?

The Sweat

The 1528 outbreak of the Sweating Sickness arrived in London in May, and by the following month (22 June) Mary’s husband, William Carey was dead. The Sweat caused panic all over England when news spread of an outbreak. It was often said that one could be fine one moment, and then hours later dead. The suddenness of the Sweat frightened some into a frenzy. The victim would break-out in a sweat from fever, they would complain of a headache and body aches and become delirious. It was when the uncontrollable urge to sleep would overtake the victim that death was most often imminent. There was no cure for the Sweat and you were not immune from catching it again.

Alone

Left with two children (Catherine & Henry) to solely provide for, Mary was left with a significant financial burden. The fear of not being able to provide food for her children led Mary to write to Henry VIII to ask for assistance. At the time, her sister Anne Boleyn was very close to the King, and Mary probably hoped that her past relationship with the King, as well as her sister’s relationship, would stoke sympathy for her cause. Thankfully, King Henry acknowledged Mary’s plea and offered financial assistance for her from her father, and granted the wardship of her son Henry Carey to her sister Anne. One must assume that Catherine was raised by her mother.

Mary Boleyn went on to secretly marry William Stafford in 1534. For more on that – “The Downside of Marrying for Love

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Book Review: “Falcon’s Rise” by Natalia Richards

Jane Seymour (20)

Lately I’ve been binge reading?books and articles about both Anne Boleyn and her daughter Elizabeth. With Anne Boleyn it can be easy to burn out on her, especially during the month of May. Everywhere you look there is another post or image of her and discussion of her unjust execution.

In the past, a majority of the stuff I read about Anne had to do with her time at Tudor court, so I was excited to have the opportunity to read about time in Mechelen.

Here is a snippet of what the book is about:

The day before her death, Anne Boleyn remembers a journey that changed her life. She recalls how, as a young girl, she used her wits to secure a place at the prestigious Court of Margaret of Austria, where she soon realised that a woman had to be strong to survive the treachery of Court politics. And she came to understand that she must shape her own destiny if she was to be happy. It is here that she met the young man who would one day make her his Queen. However, loathing his hateful boasting, this girl had plans of her own, and she was determined to impress her ambitious family.

My Review

Anne Boleyn’s life was one that ended tragically. It refreshing to read about her “living”.

One thing I’ve often wondered is why, at 13, was Anne sent to Mechelen and the court of the Regent, Margaret of Austria and not her older sister, Mary? Mary should have been sent well before Anne.

In the research I’ve done I have often come across the thought that Anne was a better student than her sister and her knowledge of the French language is the reason she was sent in Mary’s place. But, in this book, we see that being used as the excuse only to cover up what really happened. I don’t want to spoil it for those who have not read the book.

Once in Mechelen, the Anne Boleyn we know today began to form. We read of a girl, who looks young for her age, who gradually grows into a young lady. Anne is eventually shipped off, by her father, to France and the court of Mary Rose Tudor who had recently wed King Louis. There she would serve with her sister Mary Boleyn.

It was interesting to read about Anne’s constant curiosity and gossiping that would get her into trouble; Yet she still became a favorite of Margaret of Austria who over time would request Anne to read to her or play the lute for her.

In this story Richards also introduces Henry VIII into Margaret of Austria’s court and his relationship with her and her father, Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor. Also included is Charles Brandon’s flirtatious nature with Margaret and how Anne and others perceived it.

The story ends with Anne bidding farewell to her friends and her lady in Mechelen, riding away holding onto her dear memories of her time at the court of Margaret of Austria.

The author did a marvelous job researching the life of Anne. Throughout it I recognized pieces of historical fact intertwined with the marvelous story telling of Richards. It was refreshing to see a part of Anne’s life that we don’t often explore.

I would rate this book 5 out of 5 stars!

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The Boleyn Girls of Clonony Castle: Elizabeth and Mary

boleyn-girls

Boleyn Girls:

portraits at colnony castle
Image credit: Tales of Irish Castles / Netflix

In Ireland, at Clonony Castle, there is a story of two Boleyn girls. No, not the Anne and Mary Boleyn we all know so well but the Irish Elizabeth and Mary Boleyn – possible descendants of George Boleyn, Lord Rochford.

Wait. Did she just say George Boleyn, Lord Rochford? But he didn’t have any children, you say. Indeed, you heard me right. However, there are no records that indicate Jane Boleyn every had children, let alone a child. Is it possible that George Boleyn had an illegitimate son who grew up in Ireland?

IMG_ClononyCastle5782w
Clonony Castle

I recently watched episode three of Tales of Irish Castles on Netflix. In it, they talked about Clonony Castle and the story of two Boleyn girls who died there. The girls were Elizabeth and Mary Boleyn. In this TV series they called the girls cousins to Anne Boleyn who fled England after the execution of Anne and George and lived out their days in Clonony Castle. Their relationship to Anne Boleyn is currently uncertainand I’m truly surprised that this TV series says that they fled England for Ireland, when in fact they were most likely born in Ireland.

Let’s start off by taking a look at the portraits from Birr Castle that were used of Elizabeth and Mary in the TV series. First off, their clothing in the portraits do not fit the Henrician period as suggested. To me (and I’m not expert on clothing), the two women shown in the two portraits are dressed more in the Elizabethan style of clothing since they are wearing ruffs, or collars. In a book by Claire Ridgway and Clare Cherry called, “George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier & Diplomat” that came out in 2014, they point out that they believe the women portrayed in the portraits are not Mary and Elizabeth Boleyn at all. Which would make sense since I also believe the portraits are from the wrong period.

mary boleyn colnony
Alleged Mary Boleyn; Image credit: Tales of Irish Castles / Netflix

Supposedly, as told in Ireland, Thomas Boleyn (Mary, Anne & George’s father) was given Clonony Castle by Henry VIII after it was given to the king by John g MacCoghlan. In 1536, when Anne and George were executed, George’s apparent illegitimate son was moved to Clonony Castle to be kept safe.

Elizabeth and Mary Boleyn were descended from this illegitimate son. So, the idea that the girls left England for a safe haven in Ireland is out of the question, if this is the case. They would have been born in Ireland, not England.

As the story goes Elizabeth Boleyn died young and Mary was devastated by the loss of her sister. She is said to have committed suicide by throwing herself from the tower. Both girls were buried together near the castle.

Their grave was found in 1803, approximately 300 feet from the castle. The inscription on their stone read:

“HERE UNDER LEYS ELIZABETH AND MARY BULLYN DAUGHTERS OF THOMAS BULLYN SON OF GEORGE BULLYN THE SON OF GEORGE BULLYN VISCOUNT ROCHFORD SON OF SIR THOMAS BULLYN EARLE OF ORMONDE AND WILTSHIRE.”

elizabeth boleyn colnony castle
Alleged Elizabeth Boleyn; Image credit: Tales of Irish Castles / Netflix

It has been said that Elizabeth and Mary Boleyn were the granddaughter’s of George Boleyn, Dean of Lichfield — the man who is believed to be the illegitimate son of George Boleyn, Lord Rochford. We do not have a date of birth for the Dean of Lichfield, but we can assume he was born no later than March 1537. I say that because Lord Rochfordwas executed in May 1536 – if he was conceived (at the very latest) just prior to his father’s execution he would have been born no later than March 1537.

The Dean of Lichfield had also referred to himself as kinsman of the Carey and Knollys families, which as you probably already know are descendants of Mary Boleyn. He also named Mary’s son, Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon as an executor in his will — however, he never once claimed to be the illegitimate son of George Boleyn, Lord Rochford.

In conclusion, after reading George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier & Diplomat, I have to agree with the authors. There is no evidence that points towards Elizabeth and Mary Boleyn of Clonony Castle being descendants of George Boleyn, Lord Rochford. On the other hand, I truly want to believe that George Boleyn did have an illegitimate son who lived on after his downfall and death. It is most likely that the residents of Clonony Castle were indeed Boleyn relatives but not the ones suggested in the TV series.

Even though I don’t believe these women in the portraits are Elizabeth and Mary Boleyn, I can’t help but see a resemblance to other Boleyn relatives, especially Catherine Carey. Here I put their images next to Catherine Carey and Lettice Knollys:

Clockwise: Catherine Carey, Elizabeth, Mary, Lettice Knollys
Clockwise: Catherine Carey, Elizabeth, Mary, Lettice Knollys