Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Myth-buster: Did Katharine of Aragon really die in the arms of Maria de Salinas, Lady Willoughby?

One of the most persistent myths about Katharine of Aragon’s last hours is that she died in the arms of her Spanish lady-in-waiting and friend Maria de Salinas, Lady Willoughby.[i] Maria “who has faithfully served her [Katharine of Aragon], and who has always comforted her in her hours of trial”, had received letters patent of denization and married William Willoughby, Baron Willoughby de Eresby, in 1516.[ii] Katharine of Aragon and Henry VIII had financed Lady Willoughby’s marriage, giving her a dowry worth eleven hundred marks. She was so much favoured by Katharine that it was said that the Queen loved her “more than any other mortal”.[iii] In July 1534, Maria, whose only daughter married Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, was forced to leave Katharine’s service. Distressed, Chapuys recorded this fact, writing that “even a Spanish lady who has remained with her all her life, and has served her at her own expense, is forbidden to see her”.[iv]

“I heard say that my mistress is very sore sick again”, Maria wrote in a letter to Secretary Thomas Cromwell on 30 December 1535. She desired to see Katharine, but she needed a special licence from the King. “I pray you remember me of your goodness”, she urged Cromwell, “for you did promise me to labour the King’s Grace to get me licence to go to her Grace afore God send for her; for, as I am informed, there is no other likelihood but it shall be shortly”.[v] Maria feared that she would be unable to see Katharine for the last time, but Cromwell was unmoved and failed to reply.

Maria decided to defy both Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII, and on 1 January 1536, she travelled on horseback through snowy weather to the remote Kimbolton Castle, Katharine of Aragon’s residence. She reached her destination at six o’clock in the afternoon and knocked at the castle’s doors. Katharine of Aragon’s servants were dismayed to see Maria, whom they did not expect. Maria claimed she had a fall from her horse while travelling. She was distressed and, in a bid for sympathy, told Katharine’s chamberlain that “she thought never to have seen the Princess Dowager again by reason of such tidings as she had heard of her”. But the chamberlain demanded to see the licence, which Maria did not have. “It was ready to be showed”, she replied, but when she left Kimbolton after seeing Katharine for the last time, the chamberlain wrote on 5 January that “since that time we never saw her” nor “any letters of her licence hither to repair”.[vi] Katharine of Aragon died two days later, on 7 January 1536.


[i] I found that the earliest reference to this myth comes from the 1962 biography Catherine, Duchess of Suffolk: A Portrait by Evelyn Read. It was repeated in subsequent biographies including the 1970 A Crown for Elizabeth by Mary M. Luke, 1977 Women of Action in Tudor England by Pearl Hogrefe and 1996 The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser.

[ii] Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 2, n. 238.

[iii] Ibid., n. 201.

[iv] Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 7, n. 1013.

[v]  M.A. Everett Wood, Letters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies of Great Britain, Volume 2, pp. 208-9.

[vi] Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 10, n. 28.

Friday, October 16, 2020

My NEW book is out now! Medical Downfall of the Tudors

 I'm pleased to announce that my NEW book entitled Medical Downfall of the Tudors: Sex, Reproduction & Succession, is OUT today! You can buy a copy on Amazon now. It comes as Kindle & paperback.


The Tudor dynasty died out because there was no heir of Elizabeth I’s body to succeed her. Henry VIII, despite his six marriages, had produced no legitimate son who would live into old age. Three of the reigning Tudors (Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I) died without heirs apparent, the most tragic case being that of Mary Tudor, who went through two recorded cases of phantom pregnancy. If it were not for physical frailty and the lack of reproductive health among the Tudors, the course of history might have been different.

This book concentrates on the medical downfall of the Tudors, examining their gynaecological history and medical records.

  • Did you know that an archival source suggests that Henry VIII may have suffered from venereal disease or a urinary tract infection?

  • Did you know that overlooked pictorial evidence suggests that Katharine of Aragon may have suffered from prognathism, a trait that ran through her family?

  • It is generally assumed that Katharine of Aragon went through menopause by 1524, but primary sources tell a different tale.

  • Did Katharine of Aragon really die in the arms of her lady-in-waiting, Maria de Salinas, Lady Willoughby?

  • Did you know that Jane Seymour’s coronation in 1537 was postponed and later cancelled because of the plague? She was originally to be crowned on 29 September 1536.

  • Was Katherine Howard ever pregnant by Henry VIII?

  • Did you know that available evidence suggests Mary I Tudor suffered from severe depression?

  • Did you know that one of the maids of honour at the Tudor court had a C-section?

  • How many pregnancies did Anne Boleyn have?

  • Did you know that there is a hint in the primary sources that in 1534 Anne Boleyn had a stillbirth?

  • Did you know that Henry VII didn't die in his bed?

  • Was Katharine of Aragon's marriage to Prince Arthur consummated?

  • How did Edward VI die?

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

My NEW BOOK is out NOW!

I'm happy to announce that my NEW BOOK entitled Women of the Wars of the Roses: Jacquetta Woodville, Margaret of Anjou & Cecily Neville is published today as Kindle and paperback. You can order it from Amazon.

Jacquetta Woodville, Margaret of Anjou and Cecily Neville are among the best-known female figures during the Wars of the Roses, a dynastic conflict that raged in England from 1455 to 1485. Jacquetta was the mother of Edward IV’s much-hated commoner queen, Elizabeth Woodville, and she is most prominent in this triple biography. Jacquetta’s story is inevitably linked to the lives of two other women: Margaret of Anjou, Henry VI’s queen, and Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, mother of Edward IV and Richard III.

Set against the rich background of fifteenth-century court life are the interwoven stories of these three women whose relationships were tested by the changing loyalties of their husbands, sons and daughters.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

The Field of Cloth of Gold Virtual Summit

June 2020 marks 500 years since King Henry VIII and King Francis I of France hosted an elaborate festival known as the Field of Cloth of Gold to improve relations between the two countries. Sarah Morris from the Tudor Travel Guide is hosting a special virtual summit that you can attend! Here's what Sarah has to say:

"During a blustery 18 days in June 1520, an historic event took place in the Pale of Calais. Here King Henry VIII of England and King Francis I of France met in an ostentatious display of power, wealth and status. Masterminded by Thomas Wolsey, the aim was to join the two kingdoms in a pact of solidarity and friendship, notably against the insurgence of the Ottoman Empire, which was threatening Christian Europe at the time.

It was a spectacular event that became famous in its own lifetime. Now 500 years on, over the weekend of the 9-10 May 2020, The Tudor Travel Guide is celebrating this historic event by holding a FREE two-day virtual summit. You will hear from experts in their fields talking about a range of different aspects of the event: from the social, political and cultural context, to original research to locate Henry's celebrated temporary palace, clothing & textiles, food and more..."

Speaker line up:

Saturday 9 May:  
Professor Glenn Richardson: The Context and Aims of the Field of Cloth of Gold - The English Perspective.
Professor Maria Hayward - Clothes and Textiles at the Field.
Tracy Borman: All the King's Men - Influential Courtiers at the Field of Cloth of Gold.

Brigitte Webster: Food and Feasting at the Field of Cloth of Gold.

Sunday 10 May:
Professor Charles Giry-Deloison: The Context and Aims of the Field of Cloth of Gold - The French Perspective.
Tracy Borman: All the King's Men - Influential Courtiers at the Field of Cloth of Gold.

Julian Munby: Location Henry VIII’s Famous Temporary Palace at Guines.

Natalie Grueninger and Sarah Morris - Henry VIII and the Road to Calais.

One of the lucky participants will have a chance at winning a book bundle of books written by the speakers!

How to sign up:

This online summit is FREE attend. You simply need to register you name and email address. Don't worry if you can't make the dates and times advertised or are in a different time zone. All the videos will remain available to view until the 24 June 2020 to coincide with the final day of the actual event, 500 years ago. However only those registering for the event will have access to the videos.

To register:

Sign up will open on Thursday 9 April 2020 and will remain open until 48 hours before the event, i.e. Midnight on Weds 7 May 2020.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Katharine of Aragon's "miscarriages" (MYTH BUSTER)

Sometimes myths and misconceptions about the Tudors are so well-entrenched that they often gain the status of "truths". I've seen historians referring to Katharine of Aragon's "many miscarriages" in almost every book about the Tudor period but guess what, this is a myth.

Katharine didn't have MANY MISCARRIAGES. Six of her pregnancies are recorded - perhaps there were more, but we're talking about those that we know of. And none of them ended up in miscarriage!

Let's start in the beginning, Katharine's first recorded pregnancy and its outcome. On 31 January 1510 she gave birth to a stillborn daughter. It wasn't a miscarriage - a fully formed child was born dead towards the end of Katharine's pregnancy.

Despite the stillbirth, Katharine "took to her chamber" because her belly was still swollen and her physicians assumed she was still pregnant with another child. No baby was born - and no miscarriage followed.

On 1 January 1511 she gave birth to a baby boy who was named Henry - sadly, Henry died on 22 February.

On 30 September 1511 Cardinal Wolsey wrote that “the Queen is THOUGHT to be with child” but noting further was heard about her condition - this, perhaps, was a miscarriage. Or she wasn't pregnant after all.

In October 1513 the Venetian ambassador reported that Katharine "had given birth to a son". Nothing further is known about this boy, he probably died following the birth.

Another son was born to Katharine and Henry in November 1514. According to the Venetian ambassador “the Queen has been delivered of a stillborn male child of eight months to the very great grief of the whole court”.

On 18 February 1516 Katharine gave birth to Princess Mary - her only child who would live to adulthood.

In November 1518 Katharine was delivered of a stillborn daughter in the eighth month of pregnancy.

So when you look at the evidence, you come to a startling conclusion - most of Katharine's pregnancies ended in stillbirths, not miscarriages.
She perhaps miscarried in 1511 - but her pregnancy wasn't even confirmed. 

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Read an excerpt from my NEW BOOK!

This is an introduction to my newest book entitled "Jacquetta Woodville, Margaret of Anjou & Cecily Neville: Women Behind the Wars of the Roses". Enjoy it!

Jacquetta Woodville, Margaret of Anjou and Cecily Neville are among the best-known female figures during the Wars of the Roses, a dynastic conflict that raged in England from 1455 to 1485. Jacquetta, daughter of the Count of Saint-Pol, married John Plantagenet of Lancaster, Duke of Bedford, and became one of the highest-ranking women in England and France. After Bedford’s death, she married Sir Richard Woodville, a mere knight and squire, with whom she produced a large brood of children, including Elizabeth, the future Queen consort.
In her lifetime, Jacquetta was best known as the mother of Elizabeth Woodville, a commoner who married King Edward IV. In her afterlife, she is best known as the heroine in Philippa Gregory’s bestselling novels of The Cousins’ War series, The Lady of the Rivers and The White Queen, wherein she is depicted as an intelligent, strong woman with psychic abilities. Portrayed on screen by Janet McTeer, Jacquetta became one of the most beloved characters in The White Queen.
Yet the real Jacquetta, a woman who was the mother and grandmother of kings and queens, is buried beneath a thick layer of myths. Was she really a witch, as suggested by contemporary rumours and modern fiction? Did she have a sinister influence of her son-in-law, Edward IV? Was she really a power-thirsty individual who sought the advancement of her family at all costs? Jacquetta is an elusive historical figure, but her importance cannot be emphasised enough. Through the marriage of her daughter to Edward IV, she is the ancestress of entire houses of royals: Elizabeth of York, Henry VIII, Margaret and Mary Tudor, Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth Tudor and many, many more. Her blood flows through the veins of modern royalty, and it’s only fitting that Jacquetta should become the subject of a biography.
Jacquetta’s story is inevitably linked to the lives of two other women: Margaret of Anjou, Queen of England, and Cecily Neville, Duchess of York. In 1445, fifteen-year-old Margaret of Anjou made the perilous sea journey from France to England, where she married King Henry VI. Jacquetta was among the noble ladies selected to welcome Margaret and escort her from France to England. Soon Jacquetta became one of Margaret’s favourite ladies-in-waiting and chief confidante. The Queen’s failure to provide a male heir, as well as her part in ceding French territories to her husband’s political enemies, gained her many enemies among the nobility and general populace. When she finally gave birth to a son in 1453, her world came to a crashing halt.
In 1453, shortly before Margaret gave birth, Henry VI descended into a mysterious mental illness. Richard, Duke of York, who had hitherto been denied an important role in the government, seized the opportunity and became lord protector. But this powerful lord’s ambitions clashed with Margaret of Anjou’s own plans. As her husband rebelled against Henry VI, Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, found herself in the position of queen-to-be. England slid into chaos and war.
Set against the rich background of fifteenth-century court life are the interwoven stories of these three women whose relationships were tested by the changing loyalties of their husbands, sons and daughters.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

YOU can see Henry VIII's love letters to Anne Boleyn!

Did you know that thanks to the Vatican Library's digital repository we can see Henry VIII's original letters to Anne Boleyn without leaving our homes? NO? What are you waiting for, grab a hot drink and look at them, so beautiful!

My favourite letter of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn (© Vatican Library)