Francis Walsingham – a summary

Queen Elizabeth I had a triumvirate of intelligent, capable and industrious men who served on her council for many years. There was William Cecil, Lord Burghley who served as Secretary of State and Lord High Treasurer; Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, Elizabeth’s favorite and probably the love of her life who served faithfully and diligently as a Privy Councilor; and probably the least recognized of the three, Francis Walsingham, best known as Elizabeth’s “spymaster”.

Francis Walsingham was born, probably in Chislehurst, Kent c. 1532 into a wealthy Protestant family. He was a student at King’s College, Cambridge until 1550-1 when he began travelling on the Continent. He returned to England in 1552 and enrolled at Gray’s Inn to qualify as a lawyer. When the young, Protestant king, Edward VI, died in 1553, he was succeeded by his elder sister, Mary Tudor, a staunch Catholic. Many wealthy Protestants went into exile on the Continent, including Walsingham. While in exile, he continued his studies in law at universities in Basel, Switzerland and Padua, Italy.

Queen Mary died in 1558 and was succeeded by her Protestant sister, Elizabeth I. Walsingham returned to England and was elected to Elizabeth’s first Parliament. In 1562, he married Anne, daughter of Sir George Barne, Lord Mayor of London but Anne died in 1564. Walsingham was married again two years later to a widow with an ample estate named Ursula St Barbe with whom he had a daughter, Frances, in 1567.

The Ridolfi Plot

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Mistress of the Sea

My debut novel, writes Jenny Barden, is an epic Elizabethan romantic adventure set against the backdrop of Francis Drake’s first great enterprise: his attack on the Spanish ‘Silver Train’ in Panama.

Francis Drake, national hero

The focus of his campaign was the mule train loaded with bullion in transit from the mines of Peru to King Philip II’s treasury in Spain. Panama was the weak link in the long journey – the point where the treasure had to be transported by land across the isthmus dividing the Pacific from the Caribbean and the Atlantic, and the place where the might of the armada fleets could offer no protection. After more than eight months of failed attempts and set-backs, Drake and his allies, French Huguenot privateers and black runaway slaves called Cimaroons, together enjoyed a remarkable triumph. They captured the Silver Train near Nombre de Dios with little resistance and few casualties, and Drake was able to return home, with about thirty of the seventy-three mariners who had set sail with him over a year before, and a haul in treasure amounting to a sizeable fortune.

It was enough to swell Queen Elizabeth I’s coffers and establish his reputation as a national hero. His success was the first of many and seen as a blow for independence and religious freedom against the hegemony of imperial Spain; these sea-based victories ushered in the Elizabethan Golden Age, and they heralded the rise of England as a great maritime power.

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Desiderius Erasmus

According to accounts attributed to Desiderius Erasmus, he was born 12 October 1466, the illegitimate son of Gerhard (or Geert, last name unknown) and a woman named Margaret.

Desiderius Erasmus’s early religious education in Holland was with the Brothers of the Common Life (a lay religious order) where he learned that to love God was more important than to know God, and this would guide his later thinking on religion. He enrolled in Paris among the Poor Students at the College of Montaigu. After graduating from Paris with a degree in theology, Erasmus traveled to England and met Thomas More and Dean Colet who both mentored him toward a path of serious religious study.

(The painting here of Erasmus, Portrait of Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam with Renaissance Pilaster, is by Hans Holbein the Younger. Click to enlarge)

The Greatest Scholar

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Which wife did Henry VIII love the most?

In a recent Facebook poll, run by History in an Hour, Jane Seymour was voted as the wife Henry VIII loved the most.

The poll attracted lots of interest with over 10,000 votes and the results are:

Catherine of Aragon 1,341 13%
Anne Boleyn 3,063 29.5%
Jane Seymour 5,449 52.5%
Anne of Cleves 88 0.8%
Catherine Howard 136 1.4%
Catherine Parr 292 2.8%

What is Love?

Henry VIIIThe problem with data from a choice like this is that we all perceive love in a similar but completely personal way.  In some respects it seems Henry was looking for an ideal in love that we still seek some 500 years later.  He tried again and again to marry for love not politics. With so many people all looking for something so unique and so personal, love is certainly far from one-size-fits-all and Henry was a complex, ever evolving character. As Prince Charles was to say over four and a half centuries later, ‘What is love?’

Many respondents pointed out that Henry had asked for Jane whilst on his deathbed and also insisted he must be buried beside her – which he was.  This, many argued, confirmed his love for her above the others. One comment read, ‘I think he loved her the most, not only because she gave him a son, but also because she was subservient and a good wife in his eyes.’  So, is the fact that someone will do precisely as we ask, how we define love? Or merely how Henry defined love?

Love of his life

When we consider runner-up Anne Boleyn, one comment read, ‘Anne Boleyn could be considered “the love of his life” their courtship was long and elaborate, and he risked and accepted Papal Excommunication in order to win her.’ Certainly Henry was prepared to, publicly, move heaven and earth to be with Anne.  He played a much more subservient role in this relationship.  Anne refused to become his mistress; it was wife and queen or nothing at all. When one considers him as a narcissistic and tyrannical king, it is surprising that he allowed such obvious dominance and defiance from Anne before the members of his court.  However we describe the emotion he felt for her, it was hugely powerful and all-consuming.

First and last loves

Responses for other queens included Catherine of Aragon, because ‘she was his first love’ and Catherine Parr because ‘she cared for him to the end.’

This of course returns us to the variance of perceptions of love.  As an onlooker to a relationship, is love measured by how much a person gives, as in the case of Jane Seymour and Catherine Parr?  Or is it the lengths someone will go in order to win their heart’s desire or a public declaration as in the case of Anne Boleyn? Or quite simply, do we feel that the first love is always ‘the real one’?

We know he had no affection for his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. He married her on the strength of a painting by Hans Holbein the Younger but when he met her for the first time the reality fell well short of the expectation. The marriage went ahead but was never consummated and was annulled within six months. Anne of Cleves, however, unlike Anne Boleyn, kept her head.

Many thanks to the 10,369 who voted, the most succinct comment being – ‘None of them he was narcissistic and only loved himself…I guess! ;)’

Julie Wheeler

Read more about the life of Henry VIII and his six wives in Henry VIII’s Wives: History In An Hour published by Harper Press and available in various digital formats.

John Calvin – a summary

John Calvin, the French theologian and pastor during the Protestant Reformation, was born 10 July 1509 in the cathedral city of Noyon, in north-eastern France. His family was on good terms with the city’s bishop, and it was this contact that gave Calvin the opportunity to associate with a family or two of nobility, and through these connections, develop his own sophistication and aristocratic tastes. It is thought that Calvin’s father steered him, from a very young age, through theological training toward what he hoped would be a career as an episcopal official with a lucrative income.

John CalvinWhen he was fourteen years old, Calvin was sent to Paris for an additional five years of studies that culminated with a Bachelor of Arts degree earned at the Collège de Montaigu which was notorious for its excessive moral and academic rigor. Here he ruined his health with an immersion in studies which included the learning of Greek and the intense reading of both the Greek and Latin Church Fathers.  But it became clear to John Calvin’s father he could no longer be assured that Church dignitaries would secure an important position for his son and he decided to send him to Orléans to pursue a career in law.

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Martin Luther – a summary

Martin Luther was born 10 November 1483 of peasant stock, and lived among the untutored folk of the remote woods and mines around the East German town of Eisleben. His mother and father, Hans and Margaretta Luther, were both devout and prayerful, and yet superstitious and believing in spirits that inhabited the forests, winds and water.

Devils, witches and ill-tempered spirits roamed this world among the church spires and bell towers in towns where Luther learned his psalms and marched in religious processions.  Both parents were very strict with him, and Luther later told about how their whipping of him had drawn his blood as well as making him very fearful of his father.

Caught in a thunderstorm

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Huldreich Zwingli – a summary

On 11 October 1531, the radical Protestant reformer, Huldreich Zwingli, was killed while attending the wounded and dying in battle. Edward A Gosselin summarizes his life.

Huldreich Zwingli was born in 1484 in the eastern Swiss village of Wildhaus to a family of Alpine shepherds. Zwingli remained proud of his peasant origins throughout his life, and, from a young age, maintained an ardent patriotism and fondness for his fellow Swiss which only increased with his humanist education. In 1500, aged sixteen, Zwingli began his classical studies in Vienna where his circle of friends included other future reformers, some of whom would later become his opponents.

Zwingli returned to Switzerland in 1502 to the University of Basel where he continued his humanist studies. Here he also embarked on a serious study of the Bible under the tutelage of Thomas Wyttenbach of Biel. Wyttenbach impressed Zwingli with his criticisms of scholarly ‘trifling’, Church abuses and the papal doctrine of indulgences. Zwingli attributed to Wyttenbach his interest in becoming a village pastor in the town of Glarus, south-east of Zurich. He continued his humanist studies, and began to learn Greek so that he might better understand the New Testament and to study the Greek Fathers in addition to the Latin Church Fathers.

Zwingli and Erasmus

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Anne Boleyn – A Mother Remembered

Elizabeth I lost her mother, Anne Boleyn, to the executioner’s block before her third birthday.  Despite this, the brief memory of her mother and loyalty to her maternal family remained powerful forces within Elizabeth.

When married to Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII, Anne (pictured) had become the victim of a cruel plot to oust her as queen.  Her enemies found easy success because Henry had tired of her sharp tongue and she had not provided him a male heir. Furthermore he had fallen for one of her maids; Jane Seymour, who would become his third wife following Anne’s death.

Anne was executed on 19 May 1536 on charges relating to treason, adultery and incest.  Little Elizabeth was immediately declared illegitimate and out of royal favour.

By the time Elizabeth was allowed back to court, it was Christmas 1536.  She found herself amidst courtiers who dare not mention her mother, or in fact, the very name of Boleyn.

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The Birth of Henry VIII

Over half a millennium ago, the child who would one day reign as Henry VIII was born June 28, 1491 at Greenwich Palace, London to parents, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.

The Tudor Dynasty into which Henry had been born was still in its infancy.  His father, Henry VII (pictured), had usurped the crown of England from Richard III at the battle of Bosworth in August 1485.  The six years that Henry VII had held the English throne had been turbulent, to say the least.  His marriage to Elizabeth had not entirely put an end to ‘The Wars of The Roses’ but the combination of her Yorkist lineage with that of his Lancastrian descent went some way to appease the English.  They may not have relished Henry VII but no-one could dislike the gentle, demure and utterly enchanting Queen.  She was peace-loving and able to maintain a respectful distance from her mother-in-law Margaret Beaufort, accepting this powerful influence over her husband.  The King clearly loved and respected his wife very much.  He took his marriage vows very seriously and unlike the majority of monarchs, both contemporary and previous, he practised monogamy.

Despite the hazardous process of childbirth, Elizabeth of York was safely delivered of Henry, just as she had been with his older siblings; Arthur in 1486 and Margaret in 1489.  King Henry VII could now relax safe in the knowledge he had an ‘heir and a spare’.  With each child, particularly the boys, his position on the throne could grow stronger.  Elizabeth would go on to have three more children after Henry but only Mary, born in 1496, would survive to adulthood.

The Christening of the Future King

The christening service for baby Henry was conducted by Richard Foxe, Bishop of Exeter.  It was conducted with Royal protocol in mind.  According to, ‘the Ryalle book’ this would have included a stage and canopy decorated in lavish fabric as well as the sounding of trumpets to mark the occasion.

Maybe it was because little Henry was only the ‘spare’ that few concerned themselves with great outpouring over Henry’s christening.   No poet or contemporary chronicler seems to have provided a written record.  Even Henry’s own grandmother, Margaret Beaufort, makes only a minor mention of his arrival in her calendar.

The Young Henry

As a toddler all that is known about Henry is that he was a confident and attractive child whose appearance soon leaned towards his Yorkist ancestry.  He was a stocky, red-haired infant unlike his fair, slender father and elder brother Arthur. The two boys experienced incredibly different and separate nurture too.

Arthur was being specifically educated for Kingship, away from his siblings.  Alternatively, at the beginning of his life, Henry was surrounded by the feminine influence of his mother and sisters.  More formal education was introduced when he reached six-years-old.  The accomplished poet, John Skelton became his main tutor.  The theological instruction of young Henry was considered very important.  He developed a deep interest in philosophy and theology and the issues that surrounded the subjects, relishing learned debates.  His learning in this field followed the fashionable trend towards Humanist thinking.

There seems little doubt that although loving parents, Henry VII and Queen Elizabeth never lost sight of the dynastic and future importance of their children.  Although debated, some historians believe that whilst Arthur underwent training for the throne, Henry was being prepared for a high profile role within the church.  King Henry VII’s dream, it appears, was to unite the crown and the church within their familial power.

This dream was shattered on April 2, 1502 when Prince Arthur died and the ten-year-old Henry became heir apparent.

Julie Wheeler

Read more about the life of Henry VIII and his six wives in Henry VIII’s Wives: History In An Hour published by Harper Press and available in various digital formats, only 99p / $1.99, and as downloadable audio.

Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon: A Joint Coronation

On 24 June 1509 Henry, Prince of Wales, second son to the recently dead King Henry VII, gloried in a joint coronation with his wife of two weeks, Catherine of Aragon.

As they took the rule of England the country rejoiced and optimism flourished.  A new era was dawning.  A charming, handsome, young extrovert was replacing a tyrannical, paranoid old miser as King of England.  A Spanish princess was to fill a throne long since vacated by a previously beloved Queen.

The Joint Coronation

The previous day the couple had enjoyed a procession through the richly decorated streets of London, towards Westminster.  Catherine, despite her Spanish heritage, embraced English traditions for her part in the procedure.  She was carried in a litter, draped in white, as were the horses that clattered beside her, one of them ridden by her husband.  Catherine’s embroidered, satin dress was also white and her hair tumbled loose about her shoulders, delicately adorned with a coronet set with pearls. Henry’s attire was no less striking.  He wore red velvet, trimmed with ermine and glimmering with precious stones.

The coronation took place at Westminster Abbey.  Two thrones were placed ready before the high altar.  Henry and Catherine were solemnly anointed and crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Party

After the serious solemnity of the ceremony came the party.  An enormous feast was enjoyed by all the guests in Westminster Hall and continued long into the night.  Further celebrations spilled over into the following days and included, dancing, concerts and jousting.  The new king, Henry VIII, had not disappointed.  He had confirmed the guests’ belief that this gregarious Prince knew how to celebrate like a King.

The poet, and former tutor of Henry, John Skelton, produced poetry to be read or sung during the celebrations. Skelton’s writing demonstrated that he believed the new King would always be fair and protect his people. However, the full extent of the joy experienced by the English on this day is beautifully surmised by a letter sent from Lord Mountjoy to the renowned Dutch Scholar, Erasmus: “Heaven and earth rejoices, everything is full of milk and honey and nectar.  Avarice has fled the country.  Our King is not after gold, or gems, or precious metals, but virtue, glory, immortality.”

This was unquestionably the feeling of the King as well as his people, for Henry was already looking towards the legend of King Arthur and the example of his own ancestor (and victor at the battle of Agincourt), Henry V, for his Royal inspiration.

And without doubt Henry’s need for glory and immortality would change England forever.

Julie Wheeler

See also Which wife did Henry VIII love the most?, the birth of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves – the luckiest Queen?

Read more in Henry VIII’s Wives: History In An Hour published by Harper Press and available in various digital formats.