The Tudor Travel Guide

Your Visitor's Companion to the Aristocratic Houses of the Sixteenth Century

Some weeks ago, I penned a blog about a celebrated jewel of Renaissance Europe: The Three Brothers, once owned and much loved by Elizabeth I of England. So, much so that she is seen wearing it close to her breast on her tomb effigy in Westminster Abbey. During the writing of that blog, I was introduced to another spectacular jewel of the period. As before, this named jewel has an intriguing story that is even more convoluted than that of The Three Brothers, since the gems from which it was made were themselves of great repute. In this blog, I want to unpick the story of those celebrated gemstones, a diamond from the Great ‘H’ of Scotland and the Sancy diamond, as we explore the history of the magnificent Mirror of Great Britain.

The Mirror of Great Britain: A Glittering Symbol of Unification

This incredible tale begins toward the end of the story. The Mirror of Great Britain was a splendid jewel commissioned by James VI of Scotland and I of England as a glittering symbol of the new union of the two countries, which had come about through the death of the last Tudor monarch, Elizabeth I, in 1603. James inherited the English throne alongside his patrimony of Scotland, thanks to the Tudor blood flowing through his veins; his great grandmother was Margaret Tudor, daughter of the founder of the Tudor dynasty, Henry VII.

The Stuart dynasty was renowned for its love of fabulous jewellery, but the treasure trove of gemstones inherited from Elizabeth I were, of course, set for a woman. What is more, Tudor jewellery was fashioned in a style that was becoming increasingly outdated; while sixteenth-century jewellery made a great show of the setting of the gemstones, for the Stuarts, the gemstones themselves were the undisputed stars of the show.

Consequently, when James arrived in England, many of Elizabeth’s jewels were broken up and reset. One of the jewels to be created during this period was The Mirror of Great Britain.It is recorded in an inventory of 1606 as ‘a greate and riche jewell of gould called the MIRROR OF GREAT BRITTAINE, containing one very faire table diamonde, one very faire table rubie, two other diamonds cut lozengwise, the one of them called the stone of the letter H. of SCOTLANDE, garnished with small diamonds, two rounde pearles fixed, and one fayre diamond cut in fawcetts, bought of Sancy’.

As you can see from the image above the jewel is as described perfectly. James had a penchant for hat pins – and this is how he wore The Mirror of Great Britain. Alongside The Three Brothers, it was one of his most dazzling pieces, of which he seems to have been very fond. One of the gemstones, which we will talk more about in a moment, the Sancy diamond, is recorded as having been sold to James I in 1604 ‘pour s’en parer pour son entree’ – ‘to be worn at his entry’ (his ‘entry’ refers to the new king’s entry into the city ahead of James’ delayed coronation). So, we can see The Mirror of Great Britain being placed right at the heart of one of the most important days in the king’s life. However, to fully appreciate the jewel, we need to roll back the clock. For although The Mirror of Great Britain was a Stuart creation, at least two of the gemstones were much older and their origins surrounded in much myth and speculation. Let’s start with the first: The Great ‘H’ of Scotland, also known as the Great Harry.

The Great ‘H’ of Scotland (or The Great Harry)

Although there is no definitive visual depiction of the Great Harry, its presence as part of the Scottish Crown jewels, and as a personal possession of Mary, Queen of Scots, is well recorded and free from doubt. However, its origin is unclear. There are two theories as to how the jewel came to Scotland. The first is that it was a gift from Henry VIII to his sister, Margaret Tudor, who was the Scottish Queen at the time. This was later inherited by her granddaughter, Mary, when she ascended the Scottish throne in 1542, aged just six days old. However, given the grumbling animosity with the Scots and Henry’s gluttonous tendencies to covet beautiful and costly objects, I tend to believe the alternative explanation, that it was given to Mary during her time in France by her doting father-in-law, Henri II. Not only does this seem a more plausible scenario, but according to Scottish National Memorials: A Record of the Historical and Archaeological Collection in the Bishop’s Castle, it was set with Henri’s cipher.

Anne of Denmark possibly wearing the Great Harry

The jewel was recorded in 1566, included in an inventory drawn up in anticipation of the forthcoming birth of Mary’s first child. Childbirth was, of course, a risky business and the inventory also reads like a will, bequeathing certain items of jewellery to various individuals in event of the queen’s death. The inventory is in old French and the first jewel listed among 180 entries of jewels alone is ‘une grosse bacgue a pandre facon de / H / en laquelle y a une groz diamant taille a faces et au dessus une pourmemoyre demoyet groz rubiz cabochin garny d’une petitte chesne‘, which basically translates to ‘a jewel fashioned in the shape of an ‘H’ with a large faceted diamond and hanging beneath it a large cabochon ruby’. Interestingly in the margin, there is an additional note stating that Mary wished that an Act of Parliament be passed that would annex the Great Harry to the Scottish Crown in memory of her and of the union with the House of Lorraine (a reference to her mother’s Guise relations); another piece of evidence that tips the balance in favour of the Great Harry being a treasure brought back from France and not a gift from the English King, Henry VIII.

Mary’s son naturally inherited The Great ‘H’ of Scotland from his mother. However, in reality, this was not a foregone conclusion, as one might have expected. Imprisoned on Loch Leven, Mary was obliged to entrust many of her jewels to her half brother, James Stewart, Earl of Moray. Once allies, the two were now the bitterest of enemies with Stewart becoming Regent after Mary’s forced abdication on 24 July 1567. According to the Scottish National Memorials referred to above he, ‘accepted the charge unwillingly; and certainly kept it most scandalously.’ Within several months, he had dispatched an envoy to London to sell many of Mary’s jewels to Elizabeth I. However, not the Great Harry, it seems. For after his assassination at Linlithgow, several Crown diamonds were found in the possession of his widowed countess. Imprisoned at Tutbury Castle in the Midlands at the time, Mary, Queen of Scots found out and was apparently furious, demanding that Lady Murray surrender the jewel. She initially refused and only after Elizabeth I’s intercession on numerous occasions did the Countess hand it back to the Scottish Crown. Thus, it was restored to the Crown and James I.

As we now know, the Great Harry’s diamond became part of the new English Crown jewels, shortly after James VI’s accession to the English throne. But what of the rest of the Great Harry? There is a record of the gold chain and ruby being ‘discharged’ to the earl of Dunbar in July 1606. What ultimately became of the remains of the Great ‘H’ of Scotland, and many other jewels once belonging to Mary, Queen of Scots is unknown, although the story of how many of them were gradually dispersed and lost over time is perhaps the subject of another blog – it is quite a tale! In the meantime, let us turn our attention to the other famed jewel of The Mirror of Great Britain: the Sancy diamond.

The Mirror of Great Britain and the Sancy Diamond

According to The Great Diamonds of the World. Their History and Romance, the origins and early history of the Sancy Diamond ‘seems to be wrapped in a dense cloud of mystery, defying the most subtle analysis, and impenetrable to the attacks of the keenest processes of reasoning’. Although there are certainly conflicting accounts of the jewel’s precise provenance, its path through antiquity and into the hands of the English Crown jewels can broadly be pinned down.

The Sancy Diamond from Jeweller Magazine

Let’s start with a few facts; the Sancy is an almond-shaped, pale yellow diamond weighing 55.23 carats. Just to put this into perspective, that is a tenth of the weight of the Cullinan I diamond, currently the largest cut diamond in the world and part of the English Crown jewels. The nature of its multi-faceted cut (on both sides of the jewel) was ‘unknown’ in Europe at the time it came to light and this is taken as evidence that the Sancy most likely originated in India. Confusingly, I have read two entirely different accounts of the early history of the jewel. The first is that it was acquired by Louis de Berquem for Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, who subsequently had it stolen (alongside The Three Brothers jewel) from his personal belongings after his defeat at the Battle of Grandson in 1476. However, an earlier account refutes this theory, saying that it was brought from the East by Monsieur de Sancy, during his time as French Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. This theory is also supported by this overview of the diamond in Jeweller Magazine.

So, who was ‘Monsieur de Sancy’? He was Nicolas Harlai, a courtier and French Ambassador to Turkey for King Henri III. He had a passion for collecting gemstones. After the accession of Henri III’s successor, Henri IV, Harlai became French Ambassador to the English court during the reign of Elizabeth I. Of course, he lived in London and was well placed to sell the jewel in England, which he did, after falling on hard times. However, before we come to the acquisition of the Sancy diamond by the English Crown in the latter part of the sixteenth century, we should pause to tell a quite remarkable tale of how the diamond was nearly lost from Monsieur de Sancy and recovered in quite the most unbelievable way possible. This tale may well be apocryphal, but it is often recounted in relation to the diamond’s history.

It is said that Monsieur de Sancy advanced the French King (Henri IV) the diamond so that it could be used as collateral to raise an army against the Swiss. At some point, the messenger carrying the diamond between the two men was apprehended and murdered. Having been told of this, Harlai was convinced that his loyal servant would have found a way to keep the diamond safe from his assailants. Thus, the place in which the unfortunate man was struck down and buried was located, his corpse exhumed and stomach cut open; yes, the man had swallowed the diamond to hide it. That’s loyalty, folks!

Portrait of James VI of Scotland and I of England. Note the Mirror of Great Britain as a hat pin on the hat resting on the chair to the left of the king.

Whether this story is true, or simply part of the romantic myth that so often surrounds such gemstones, is unknown, but what is certain is that at some time during the later part of Elizabeth’s reign (after 1590) or after the accession of James I (depending on which account you read), the diamond was sold by Monsieur de Sancy to the English Crown. It is at this point that the gemstone seems to have acquired the name: ‘Sancy’, which it still bears to this day. Of course, James I of England had the diamond incorporated into The Mirror of Great Britain, as we have already heard. While many of the English Crown jewels were pawned overseas around the time of the English Civil War to fund the increasingly destitute Royal family, there are records of the Sancy diamond remaining in England as a possession of the English monarchy until 1695, when it was sold by James II to Cardinal Mazarin, for £25,000. He subsequently bequeathed it to Louis XIV of France upon his death. Thus, the Sancy diamond became part of the French Crown Jewels.

So, what became of the Sancy diamond? Predictably, it disappeared from the Royal Treasury at the beginning of the French revolution in 1792. Over the next couple of hundred years, it reappeared then disappeared several times over, passing through the hands of various private owners, the last of which was the Astor family. William Waldorf Astor, the owner of Hever Castle, purchased the diamond as a wedding gift for his new daughter-in-law in 1906 (only three years after purchasing the Boleyn family home). The Astors eventually sold it to the Lourve in Paris for $1million in 1978. You can see it there today in the Apollo Gallery. If you do make the journey to see it while on your travels, pause for a while and consider its eventful history; an Indian diamond, resting in a French museum, once was worn as a hat pin on an English / Scottish monarch to symbolise the union of two neighbouring countries, which had long been the bitterest of enemies. How strange is life!

Further Reading and Reference

Scottish National Memorials: A Record of the Historical and Archaeological Collection in the Bishop’s Castle, Glasgow, 1888

The Great Diamonds of the World. Their History and Romance by Streeter, Edwin William; Hatten, Joseph, 1841-1907, ed; Keane, A. H. (Augustus Henry), 1833-1912 joint ed.

Meubles de la Royne Descosse Douairiere de France: Catalogue of the Jewels, Dresses, Furniture, Books and Paintings of Mary, Queen of Scots, 1556-69. Edinburgh, 1863. p 97.

Three Royal Jewels: The Three Brothers, the Mirror of Great Britain and the Feather Author(s): Roy Strong Source: The Burlington Magazine, Jul., 1966, Vol. 108, No. 760 (Jul., 1966), pp. 350-353

Wikipedia: The Sancy Diamond

In this month’s episode, Sarah talks to Lawrence Hendra, Director of Research from The Philip Mould Gallery. Follow Sarah’s on-site visit, as she interviews Lawrence about some of the striking Elizabethan and Jacobean portraiture included in the Love’s Labour’s Found Tudor art exhibition, which opens to the public on 21 April 2021.

According to the Philip Mould Gallery, the Love’s Labour’s Found exhibition ‘sheds new light on the practices and the production of portraits in sixteenth and early seventeenth-century Britain. Formerly misidentified sitters and previously misattributed artists govern this exhibition’s key themes of re-examination and discovery. As a continually evolving period of art history, art historians have recently benefited from improved access to unseen or overlooked documentary sources and transformative technological advances in the physical understanding of art, to produce fresh insights into the life and work of many of the artists of this era. This exhibition brings together works by well-known artists such as Nicholas Hilliard, Jean Decourt, George Gower, Isaac Oliver and William Larkin whilst shining the spotlight on lesser-known names such as Benjamin Foulon, The Master of the Countess of Warwick and Rowland Lockey. Similarly, prominent historical figures – Queen Elizabeth I, Robert Dudley (Earl of Leicester) and King Henri III of France – are hung amongst currently unnamed sitters, whose identities are still hidden within the chronicles of history.’

Please note: These show notes on Tudor art are intended to complement the relevant podcast episode, which can be found here. We highly recommend that you listen to the conversation and use this blog for reference. You will find links to relevant sources towards the end of this blog.

Tudor Art – Key Paintings in the ‘Love’s Labour’s Found’ Collection

William Arundell, by George Gower 1580

William Arundell, by GEORGE GOWER, 1580, Oil on panel, on display in the Love's Labour's Found Exhibition at the Philip Mould & Co Gallery.
William Arundell by George Gower
 1580, Oil on panel, 23 ¾ x 20 in (60.6 x 50.9 cm)

This highly engaging and direct portrait was painted by George Gower, one of the most successful court painters of the Elizabethan period. Until recently, the sitter in this portrait was thought to be Thomas Arundell, 1st Baron Arundell of Wardour, however, recent research has confirmed that it actually depicts Thomas’s younger brother, William. The confusion occurred due to a misunderstanding of the coat of arms in the upper right corner, which shows a previously overlooked crescent-shaped ‘cadency’ mark on the crest, indicating our subject was the second son within the family.

Mary Potter by The Master of the Countess of Warwick, 1565

Tudor art- Mary Potter, by MASTER OF THE COUNTESS OF WARWICK,1565, Oil on panel, on display in the Love's Labour's Found Exhibition at the Philip Mould & Co Gallery.

Portrait of Mary Potter (née Tichborne) (b.1541) by Master of the Countess of Warwick
 1565 , Oil on Panel, 16 1/8 x 11 in (41 x 28 cm)

Occasionally, pictures survive in such good condition that they appear almost disarmingly fresh and modern, so attuned is our eye to looking at works damaged by dirt, abrasion and neglect. The present picture is an exceptional survival from the sixteenth century and is one of the finest surviving small panel portraits by an artist known today as The Master of the Countess of Warwick. Although the identity of the artist is still unknown, there are now over fifty portraits attributed to this hand of varying size and complexity. The present work is the smallest portrait so far recorded and as such holds a unique position within the artist’s oeuvre.

Richard Wingfield by Robert Peake the Elder, 1587

Tudor art - Richard Wingfield by Robert Peake the Elder, 1587. Oil on panel, on display in the Love's Labour's Found Exhibition at the Philip Mould & Co Gallery.

Richard Wingfield (c.1524 – 1591) by Robert Peake The Elder
 1587, Oil on panel, 31 x 25 ¾ in. (78.6 x 65.5 cm)

Over the passage of time a sitter’s true identity can often get lost. Until recently, an inscription in the upper right corner of this portrait identified the sitter as Humphrey Wingfield, a prominent lawyer and legal advisor to Henry VIII. However, recent research into the armorial bearings shown the upper left corner of the portrait reveal the sitter is, in fact, Humphrey’s great-nephew Richard Wingfield, a wealthy politician and landowner from Suffolk. This work is one of the earliest portraits attributed to Peake’s hand and fits stylistically into a group of portraits he painted in the late 1580s and early 1590s. These works can be distinguished by their intense realism and smooth, confident application of paint, showing a distinct departure from the more precise, linear approach taken by the artists of the previous generation such as The Master of the Countess of Warwick and George Gower.

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester by English School, c. 1562

Tudor art - Robert Dudley by English School, 1562. Oil on panel, on display in the Love's Labour's Found Exhibition at the Philip Mould & Co Gallery.

Portrait of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (1532-1588) by English School
 c.1562, Oil on panel, 45 x 34 in (114 x 86 cm)

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester was one of the most prominent figures of the Elizabethan age and a highly influential patron of the arts. He was the favourite of Elizabeth I from her accession in 1558 until his death in 1588 and their close relationship was the subject of great suspicion and intrigue. Powerful, self-admiring and proud, it is Leicester’s ego that seems to have been the driving force behind the creation of this portrait-type which was the first within his iconography to be disseminated in multiple versions. This portrait appears to have been painted in the workshop of Steven van der Meulen, a highly talented painter from Flanders who by 1560 was living and working in England. If you would like to learn more about another famous piece of Tudor art associated with Robert Dudley, thought to be one in a matching pair, head over to my blog here.

Tudor Art: Some Essential Links

For more information, see the Exhibitions page on the Philip Mould & Company website here

With Easter just around the corner, our chef at The Tudor Travel Guide, Brigitte Webster, introduces us to Tudor Tansy Cake: An Easter Tradition. A familiar dish to the Tudors, but almost forgotten in current times, tans(e)y cake is an egg-based dish similar to an omelette. After the harsh forty days of Lent without any meat, dairy, eggs or cheese, Easter was a welcome relief in Tudor times and, of course, eggs were plentiful after the four weeks of Lent when they weren’t eaten. An ancient symbol of new life, eggs have long been associated with pagan festivals celebrating spring. In Tudor times, eggs were a popular Easter gift from commoners to their lords, who hoped to get invited for a feast at the manor in return.

The Tansy Herb: Where Tudor Tansy Cake Got Its Name

Also called ‘erbolat’ and described as herb custard, tansy is a herby omelette. In Tudor times, tansy was flavoured with the juices of the perennial yellow flowered herb tanacetum vulgare or tansy. The young leaves of tansy develop toxins with the increasing warmth and sunshine in the spring and should therefore be avoided. The effects on the human body are harmful and abortive, the very reason why the Tudors used tansy to rid the bowel of worms, and sadly, for women who found themselves with an unwanted pregnancy. To the Tudors, the cleansing of the bowels after eating fish for a prolonged time was absolutely essential, as they were convinced that eating fish came with parasitic intestinal worms. Tansy was also used as a strewing herb to deter flies.

The stems and foliage of the tansy plant are extremely bitter, associating it with the herbs customarily eaten on Easter Day as a remembrance of the bitter herbs eaten by the Jews at Passover. However, there are also other herbs that were sometimes used instead of tansy such as dittany, rue, wild celery, mint, sage, marjoram, fennel, parsley, chard, violet leaves, spinach, lettuce or clary, as described in the Arboulastre of the Menagier de Paris (recipe 225), dating back to 1393.

In 1656, James Coles wrote that eating tansy cake originated as a wholesome alternative after the salt fish consumed during Lent. It was also believed to have healing properties and to counteract any ill effects which the ‘moist and cold constitution of winter has made on people… though many understand it not, and some simple people take it for a matter of superstition to do so’.

Tansy herb, used in Tudor tansy cake
Tansy Herb

Tudor Tansy Cake: Popularity in Tudor Times

Despite it’s simple ingredients, tansy cake wasn’t just popular with the lower classes. It is believed to have been a reward for the victors of games of handball between archbishops and bishops with men of their congregation. In the spring of 1559, six-penny-worth of wild tansy was purchased at Epsom for the Earl of Leicester. In Thomas Tusser’s Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry from 1573, we find tansy in a list of kitchen herbs and strewing herbs for the month of March.

Further evidence to suggest the popularity of tansy in Tudor times appears in John Gerard’s Herball, 1597, where he states that in spring, the new leaves are mixed with eggs to make tansy cakes. Little did he know about its danger, however, as he goes on to say that it is pleasant in taste, good for the stomach and clears all bad humours. He also recommended preserving the root in honey or sugar as protection against gout.

The ‘Virtues’ of Tansie from Herball, John Gerard, 1597
The ‘Virtues’ of Tansie from Herball, John Gerard, 1597

Original Recipe for Tudor Tansy Cake

‘Herebolace’ (Arboulastre) – French recipe for a tansy from Le Ménagier de Paris, circa 1393. Translation from French to English by Eileen Power:

“Take of dittany two leaves only, and of rue less than the half or naught, for know that it is strong and bitter; of smallage, tansy, mint and sage, of each some four leaves or less; for each is strong: marjoram a little more, fennel more, parsley more still; but of porray, beets, violet leaves, spinach, lettuces and clary, as much of the one as of the others, until you have two large handfuls. Pick them over and wash them in cold water, then dry them of all the water, and bray two heads of ginger; then put your herbs into the mortar two or three times and bray them with the ginger. And then have sixteen eggs well beaten together, yolks and whites, and bray and mix them in the mortar with the things abovesaid, then divide it into two, and make two thick omelettes, which you shall fry as followeth. First you shall heat your frying pan very well with oil, butter or such fat as you will, and when it is very hot all over and especially towards the handle, mingle and spread your eggs over the pan and turn them often over and over with a flat palette, then cast grated cheese on the top; and know that it is done, because if you grate cheese  with the herbs and the eggs, when you come to fry your omelette, the cheese at the bottom will stick to the pan; and thus it befalls with an egg omelette if you mix the eggs with the cheese. Wherefore you should first put the eggs in the pan, and put the cheese on the top and then cover the edges with eggs; and otherwise it will cling to the pan. And when your herbs be cooked in the pan, cut your herbolace into a round or square and eat it not too hot nor too cold”

Modernised Recipe for Tudor Tansy Cake

2 eggs per person – beaten

Small handful of washed and chopped mixed herbs such as parsley, mint, sage, marjoram, fennel, lettuce, spinach, beet leaves, leek, etc.

1 tbsp ground or fresh chopped ginger

Some oil, butter or fat for frying

Some grated cheese


  1. Mix all ingredients in a bowl, except for the grated cheese and oil
  2. Add oil to frying pan and heat
  3. When hot, put in the mixture (or half – depending on the size of your pan) and cook over low to medium heat for a few minutes
  4. Turn over and fry the other side
  5. Sprinkle on the grated cheese and leave in the pan long enough for it to melt a little
  6. Remove from the pan and serve when still hot

Other Tansy Recipes

A Tansey, Thomas Dawson’s The Good Huswifes Handmaide For The Kitchen; 1594:

‘To make Tansey. Take a little tansy, feverfew, parsley and violets, and stamp them all together. Strain them with the yolks of 8 or 10 eggs, and 3 or 4 whites & some verjuice*, and thereto sugar and salt and fry it.’

* verjuice is vinegar made from crab apples or unripe grapes.

A Tansey (Walnut Leaf Omlette), The Good Hous-wiues Treasurie, 1588

‘For a Tansie. Take either walnut tree leaves or lettuce alone, or all other good herbs, stamp them and strain them and take a little cream and grated bread, nutmeg, pepper and sugar, 4 eggs 2 of whites. Beat them together and so fry it in a pan’.

For a Tansie, The Good Hous-wiuves Treasurie, 1588

‘Take either walnut trée leaues or let∣tice alone, or all other good hearbes, stampe them and strain them▪ and take a little Creame and grated bread, nutmeg, pepper and Suger, fower Egges two of the whites: beate them together and so frye it in a pan’.

To follow along and watch this recipe being recreated in Brigitte’s kitchen, click on the image below. If you’d like to find out more about Tudor Easter traditions, you can read my blog here. Good luck and enjoy! Have a lovely Tudor Easter!

Tudor Tansy Cake: An Easter Tradition
Tudor Tansy Cake: An Easter Tradition

Sources and Further Reading:

The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages, Terence Scully, 1995

Taste: The Story of Britain Through Its Cooking, Kate Colquhoun, 2007

Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry, Thomas Tusser, 1573

The Goodman of Paris (Le Ménagier de Paris) A Treatise on Moral and Domestic Economy by a citizen of Paris, c.1393

Cooking and Dining in Tudor and Early Stuart England, Peter Brears, 2015

The Domestic Herbal: Plants For The Home in the Seventeenth Century, Margaret Willes, 2020

Death in the Garden: Poisonous Plants and Their Use Throughout History, Michael Brown, 2018

Each month, our Tudor recipe is contributed by Brigitte Webster. Brigitte runs the ‘Tudor and 17th Century Experience‘. She turned her passion for early English history into a business and opened a living history guesthouse, where people step back in time and totally immerse themselves in Tudor history by sleeping in Tudor beds, eating and drinking authentic, Tudor recipes. She also provides her guests with Tudor entertainment. She loves re-creating Tudor food and gardens and researching Tudor furniture.

Welcome back to the Tudor History & Travel Show: Travel Essentials, Episode Three!

If you’re looking for inspiration or tips for your next Tudor trip, you’re in the right place. Here in Travel Essentials, we discuss all you need to know before planning a trip – venues to visit, what to expect to pay, upcoming Tudor events and, of course, the best places to have tea and cake! In today’s episode, our resident travel expert, Philippa Brewell from British History Tours is in the hot seat once again to discuss some wonderful Tudor places to visit outside of London. Away from the hustle and bustle of the capital city, there’s an abundance of Tudor places to enjoy. Today we focus on places that are accessible – so expect great recommendations that you can get to easily, meaning you can fit in as much Tudor history as possible to any trip. So, let’s get started!

Please note: These show notes are intended to complement the relevant podcast episode, which can be found here. I highly recommend that you listen to the conversation and use this blog for reference. You will find links to the topic under discussion towards the end of this blog

Tudor Places to Visit Outside of London: Our Top 5 Recommendations

1. Stratford-upon-Avon: About 100 miles northwest of London, in the county of Warwickshire, Stratford-upon-Avon is the birthplace of William Shakespeare. With many attractions in walkable distance from one another, Stratford is top of our list for Tudor places to visit outside of London. The house of Shakespeare’s birthplace is both well preserved and accessible – you can even stand in the exact room he was born. Visit the school he attended a short walk away at The Guildhall, and visit Holy Trinity Church to see his burial place. Built around the river Avon, Stratford has a relaxed vibe, with boat trips, rowing boats, many beautiful swans and of course, many lovely tea rooms. Also in close proximity are the RSC Theatres and the Dirty Duck pub – allegedly a regular hang out for actors so head there for some star gazing! Stratford-upon-Avon is a couple of hours from London on the train – alight at Stratford-upon-Avon station rather than Stratford Parkway station for easier access to the town centre.

2. The Mary Rose, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard: Henry VIII’s flagship, The Mary Rose, is docked at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. With both the ship gallery and an artefact gallery housing over 19,000 items recovered from the Mary Rose, it’s safe to say this museum is a time capsule for the life of a Tudor sailor. Located on the south coast of England, Portsmouth is around 75 miles from London, and less than 2 hours on the train. There’s a rail station near the harbour, providing easy access to the dockyard. For trips further afield, Portsmouth has a car ferry terminal for the Isle of Wight.

The front of St Marys Church, Sudeley Castle, one of the best Tudor places to visit outside of London
The front of St Marys Church, Sudeley Castle

3. Ludlow Castle: Up to the Midlands and over to the English/Welsh border, Ludlow Castle stands in the quaint, pretty town of Ludlow. Built within a decade of the Norman conquest, Ludlow Castle was home to Arthur Tudor and Catherine of Aragon, and where Arthur Tudor died just a few months later. He was originally buried at St. Laurence’s Church in Ludlow, which is well-worth a visit – look out for the extensive set of misericords in the choir stalls as well as the fine stained glass windows. If you’re in the area, Worcester Cathedral is about 30 minutes’ drive from Ludlow – Arthur Tudor was finally buried here. You’re unlikely to experience crowds so you can look at his extravagant and beautiful tomb at your leisure. When you’re planning a trip to Ludlow, see if you can coincide your trip with one of their food festivals as they’re excellent.

4.  Peterborough Cathedral: Peterborough is about 75 miles north of London, and about an hour on the train. Founded as a monastic community, it became one of the most significant medieval abbeys in the country as the burial place of Catherine of Aragon and first burial place of Mary Queen of Scots (before she was re-buried in Westminster in 1612). With hand-painted wooden ceilings, carved wooden stalls and of course, Catherine of Aragon’s tomb, this cathedral is steeped in history. If you’re in the car, Peterborough is only 13 miles south-west of Fotheringhay Castle. One of my favourites, this power-base of the House of York is the last place of imprisonment of Mary, Queen of Scots and definitely worth visiting.

5. Sudeley Castle, Hailes Abbey and Gloucester Cathedral: All located in the county of Gloucestershire, our fifth and final recommendation is for a trio of Tudor delights. Sudeley Castle is the final resting place for Katherine Parr, the only English queen to be buried on private land. Nestled in beautiful countryside, the castle rooms and gardens are beautiful and objects from all of the war, romance and royalty at Sudeley are on display in an exhibition. Hailes Abbey is another must-see, and walking in its ruins you can really imagine the elaborate building it once was. There’s an on-site museum to explore the treasures of Hailes, uncovering stories of the monks who lived and worshipped at the abbey. The third and final Tudor venue on our list is Gloucester Cathedral, part of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s 1535 royal progress and where Henry III was crowned. The cloisters at Gloucester are some of the earliest surviving fan vaults, and are often used in films so don’t miss those. Also in the area is Blackfriars, one of the most complete surviving friaries of Dominican ‘black friars’ in England, later converted into a Tudor house and cloth factory.

We recommend you check venue websites before visiting for more information on Covid safety measures and opening information.

Recommended Places: Rest and Refreshment at The George, Alfriston

This episode’s recommendation for a place to get some much needed rest after all of your exploring comes from fellow history lover, Kat Marchant. Kat is a researcher and lecturer specialising in early modern literature and culture, check our her YouTube channel here. Kat’s recommendation is for The George Inn in Alfriston which offers lovely food and accommodation. This quintessentially English pub, with its low ceilings and open log fire offers a warm welcome and a hearty meal. The George is right in the heart of the beautiful Sussex downs, near Alfriston Clergy House, The National Trust Long Man Walks and Coombes Church so it’s a perfectly placed pit-stop as you tour the local history.

The George Inn, Alfriston
The George Inn, Alfriston

Tudor Places to Visit Outside of London: Some Essential Links

We hope you enjoyed our discussion of Tudor places to visit outside of London. If you would like to find out more about any of the resources we mention in the podcast, please see the links provided below:

You may also be interested in finding out more about some of these Tudor places to visit outside London in my blog articles:

Not to be Missed! Tudor-Themed Events Coming Up…

Tudor Magnificence – Historic Royal Palaces

‘Prepare to be transported to a world of opulence and sixteenth-century bling, as Joint Chief Curator Lucy Worsley, along with Professor Glenn Richardson from St Mary’s University and fellow Historic Royal Palaces curators Dr. Alden Gregory and Brett Dolman, bring to life the magnificence of the Tudor court.’ from Historic Royal Palaces website.

The Field of the Cloth of Gold painting, c.1545
The Field of the Cloth of Gold painting, c.1545

When: 7pm, 24th March, 2021

Where: Online

Price: Donations requested by not mandatory

‘Prepare to be transported to a world of opulence and sixteenth-century bling, as Joint Chief Curator Lucy Worsley, along with Professor Glenn Richardson from St Mary’s University and fellow Historic Royal Palaces curators Dr. Alden Gregory and Brett Dolman, bring to life the magnificence of the Tudor court. Featuring a sneak preview of Hampton Court Palace’s upcoming exhibition Gold and Glory: Henry VIII and the French King, this one-hour talk will bring to life the grandeur and majesty of one of the most spectacular examples of royal showmanship, the Field of Cloth of Gold.’ from Historic Royal Palaces website.

For more information, visit the What’s on page on the Historic Royal Palace’s website, or book your place online here.

Kentwell – Eastertide Special Event

Spend Easter weekend in Kentwell’s beautiful gardens and woodlands. With Covid safety measures in place, enjoy a safe, outdoor family walk with an egg hunt to keep all ages entertained.

Kentwell Hall, Long Melford, Suffolk
Kentwell Hall, Long Melford, Suffolk

When: 11am-4pm, 2nd-5th April, 2021

Where: Kentwell, Suffolk

Price: Adults: from £17.95, Senior: from £17.00, Child 5-15 yrs: from £13.50 (Under 5s are free). See prices here for family tickets and detailed booking information.

This year’s event will be different to our usual Eastertide offering, for obvious reasons!  We will have a one-way route around our Gardens and Woodlands for an Easter Trail with a difference!  We challenge families to find the huge wooden eggs we have hidden around the walk, and to ‘scramble’ the clues to ‘crack’ the code they reveal!  This is an egg-hunt with a difference, for the whole family to join in with together. An active, outdoor day out for explorers of all ages – a breath of fresh air for everyone! We recommend you dress for the weather – our pathways can become a little muddy after prolonged rainy periods.  However, this is great news for our younger visitors, as it means there are puddles galore! ‘ from Kentwell website.

For all of the latest information, visit the events page on the Kentwell website.

Leez Priory

When one of the most commonly cited life achievements of a man is the illegal torture of a defenceless, young woman, you know that you must have met one of the most wretchedly cruel villains of Tudor history. However, this man was no shady character of the streets; not a heinous criminal bent on breaking the laws of the land, but a gentleman of the Tudor court who was granted wealth, lands and titles on account of his diligent – and some might say overly enthusiastic – pursuit of serving the blood-soaked whims of the reigning monarch. Let me introduce you to Richard Rich, 1st Baron Rich, truly one of the most disliked men of his day. In this blog, I will be sharing with you some of the ‘highlights’ of his extensive court career in which he doggedly appears, time and again, right in the thick of some of the most disturbing events in Tudor history. However, this as a context for our exploration of Rich’s country seat in Essex, Leez Priory, one of the many ‘assets’ Rich acquired as a result of his central role in the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

The Rise and Rise of Richard Rich

I first ‘met’ Richard Rich many years ago when reading about his involvement in the fall of Anne Boleyn. Alongside Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Audley, Rich was tasked with collecting evidence against Anne, which he seems to have done with the same characteristic zeal that we can see repeated with his involvement in the prosecution of other, high profile prisoners of the state including, notably, Thomas More, John Fisher, Anne Askew, Catherine Howard and the 3rd Duke of Norfolk. I confess that I developed an instant repulsion to him; a distaste that has only grown as I have researched the man for the writing of this blog. But before we turn to explore his grand, country mansion, let us meander a little through his personal history and some of the ‘highlights’ (or ‘lowlights’) of his court career.

Richard Rich, 1st Baron Rich, the most notorious villain in Tudor history
Richard Rich, 1st Baron Rich by Holbein

Rich was born in Basingstoke, Hampshire in 1496. At the time, the Tudor dynasty was in its infancy and Henry VII was the reigning monarch. Henry VII’s second son – also called Henry – the first monarch Rich would personally serve, was just 5 years old. Rich was a self-made man, his intellect securing him a place at Cambridge University before he came to London in 1516 to train as a lawyer at Middle Temple.

By 1528, when Rich was 32 years years old, he began his stellar climb up the greasy pole of Tudor society. Clearly, Richard Rich was ambitious and proactive. He had already put himself forward for election to an office in the City of London; although he failed to secure the appointment. Undaunted, he then wrote to the premier statesman in the land at the time, Thomas Wolsey, Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor, requesting a position in his household. Although he was not appointed there either, not long after, he secured his first substantive post, in December 1528, as Commissioner for the Peace for Essex and Hertfordshire. Here we see Rich’s connections with the County of Essex being well and truly forged; connections that would remain in place for the rest of his life. We will return to this topic shortly when we explore Leez Priory.

During this period, Rich made friends with the man who would be instrumental in forging his future career at the centre of court life: Thomas Audley. Audley was eight years older than Rich and already a groom of the chamber and a member of Wolsey’s household. As Audley’s career took off, so did Rich’s, his progression facilitated by Audley’s rising star. Through the 1530s, the two pop up repeatedly overseeing the downfall of one unfortunate soul or another. However, if we are being generous to both gentlemen, then it would be to consider the nature of their appointed roles as Henry VIII’s ministers of state. Like Rich, Audley was a lawyer trained at Inner Temple, in London and on 26 January 1533, the day after Henry VIII’s secret marriage to Anne Boleyn, he succeeded Thomas More as Lord Chancellor. Not long after, probably with Audley’s help, Rich was appointed as Solicitor General; the premier lawyer in the land. Thus, both were in positions of power, overseeing the judicial and legislative functions of the realm. An integral part of the job descriptions of both men would have required them to dispense the king’s ‘justice’. However, my generosity for Rich ends there for as I have intimated above, it seems that sometimes he went above and beyond the call of duty in the pursuit of the ‘truth’.

Thomas Audley, 1st Baron Audley of Walden, and an English barrister and judge
Thomas Audley

We know that Rich was not only involved in the downfall of Anne Boleyn but, as I have also stated, that of Bishop Fisher, Sir Tomas More, Catherine Howard, Anne Askew and Thomas Cromwell. Rich had been one of Cromwell’s proteges but entirely abandoned him in his hour of need and without, it seems, any qualms, happily providing damning testimony against his former friend. As for the 25-year-old Anne Askew, we know that Rich personally turned the wheel on the rack that broke Anne’s body. It was illegal to torture a woman at the time, and the Constable of the Tower, Sir William Kingston, had refused to do so. Nevertheless, this did not prohibit Rich’s pursuit of a confession that, if given, would have implicated Katherine Parr and some of her ladies in charges of heresy. Bravely, and despite her ordeal, if Anne did know anything of Katherine’s possession of heretical, Protestant texts, she refused to yield to Rich’s bullying and torture.

While we might look back at Rich with distaste, if we were to wonder whether our view is being distorted by the lens of time, we only have to read Sir Thomas More’s damning testimony of Rich’s character to know that even in his day, the man was thoroughly disliked by most of his contemporaries. At his trial, More accused Rich of being a perjurer, an idler and a gambler. Marillac, the French Ambassador, would refer to Rich as a ‘wretched creature’ and more recently, eminent historian, Hugh Trevor- Roper, described him as someone, ‘of whom nobody has ever spoken a good word’. Quite an achievement!

Around one year later, Richard Rich was appointed to a role that would make his previous participation in such dreadful deads look like child’s play. On 19 April 1536, Rich became the Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations. This office placed Rich as the chief minister overseeing the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the subsequent dispersal of monastic property. In the same breath that called Rich, a ‘wretched creature’, Marillac goes on to lay the blame squarely at the door of the new chancellor as ‘the first inventor of the destruction of the abbeys and monasteries [and] the general confiscation of church property’. This bloody schism would result in death and misery for hundreds of people, while men like Rich profited enormously from the spoils.

Elizabeth Jenks, Lady Rich, wife of Richard Rich, 1st Baron Rich
Elizabeth Jenks, Lady Rich by Holbein

Being Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations meant that Rich had the pick of the crop of newly dissolved monastic properties to add to his personal property portfolio. Two properties were snatched up by him, thereafter becoming Rich’s main town and country residences. His new townhouse lay just outside London’s city walls at the dissolved Priory of St Bartholomew’s in Smithfield, where his family took up residence in the old prior’s lodgings. Today, the ancient and entirely glorious church of St Bartholomew the Great still stands, although, thanks to Rich, in a greatly reduced state. Nevertheless, part of the north and south transepts, one range of a cloister, the chancel and Lady Chapel still remain and functioned from the time of the Dissolution as the local, parish church. St Bartholomew’s has some of the most glorious early Norman architecture of any church in London and is certainly worth a visit. If you wish to find out more about its story, you can purchase ‘Day Three of my Virtual Tour of Tudor London‘ from my Shopify store in which you will explore the Tudor history of the church with your Tudor guide.

The Building of Leez Priory

May 1536 was a busy month for Richard Rich. Just as he was finishing up with the wholesale destruction of Anne Boleyn and the Boleyn faction, on 27 May, Rich granted himself the recently dissolved priory at Little Leighs, in Essex. This monastic institution had been founded some 300 years earlier by an order of Austin Canons. While Rich required a London base from which to transact court business, clearly he was fond of Essex and Leighs Priory would, thereafter, become his principal country seat.

The plan of Leez's Priory, Richard Rich's principal country seat
The Plan of Leez’s Priory

His new home at Leighs – which Rich later renamed ‘Leez Priory’, was situated about 40 miles north-east of his London townhouse in Smithfield. It lay amidst the picturesque surroundings of the Ter Valley, with the River Ter running just to the north of the priory. At the same time, he also acquired a number of other properties that had belonged to the priory, including the manors of Great and Little Leighs, and two manors in Felsted.

Rich needed to create a stunning landscape to set off the grand, Tudor mansion that he began building shortly after the priory came into his possession. To create this landscape, Rich acquired additional land to create two new parks, all stocked with deer to provide for the noblest of Tudor pastimes: hunting. One of the parks, known as Pond Park, consisted of 12 lakes that ran along the course of the River Ter, stretching over a distance of 2.5km. These have variously been called ‘fishpools’ and ‘millponds’ over time. They were, no doubt, a source of food for the kitchen, but the scale of the artificial undertaking to create the lakes points to Rich’s primary aim; to create an impressive landscape that spoke of his power and wealth.

Apparently, whatever grand entrance to Leez Priory that existed back in the sixteenth century has long since been lost. According to the Essex Garden Trust, who has written a lovely paper about the parkland at Leez Priory, ‘The original grand approach to the house was from Crow Gate on the Chelmsford/Dunmow road and it can still be followed on a bridleway named the Causeway. It curves down through Littley Park to cross the floor of the valley of the River Chelmer…The route curves up to, and then beyond, the park lodge to reach a large flat plateau. Here it runs dead straight on a low embankment. At the northern edge of the plateau, the towers and roofs of Leez Priory, and the chain of lakes in Pond Park in the valley of the River Ter, would have come dramatically into view’. And there is Rich’s intention; to make a statement and impress any visitors to Leez Priory.

The outer gatehouse of Leez's Priory, home to Richard Rich
The Outer Gatehouse of Leez’s Priory

So what about the house itself? What did Rich do with the pre-existing priory and what did the Tudor manor look like? To answer the first question; like many dissolved properties, Rich retained part of the priory church and its buildings, much as he did at St Bartholomew in London. The plan above shows the mansion Rich built for himself – as well as highlighting those parts of the original priory buildings that were lost. So, we can see that the presbytery and Lady Chapel were taken down, but much of the remainder of the priory was incorporated into the new building. Thus, the nave of the church became the new great hall. According to British History Online, the foundations remain, showing us that the hall was accessed via a porch and had an oriel window projecting into the inner courtyard. The north and south transepts and the central tower became part of the south-east corner of the inner residential lodgings. In the same eastern range, the old chapter house was probably converted to a chapel and enlarged.

Since we are speaking of the chapel, on the face of it, it is difficult to decipher Rich’s true religious inclinations; he launched himself with alacrity into the Dissolution of the Catholic Monasteries, yet was embroiled in Bishop Bonner’s pursuit of the eradication of Protestants in London in the 1540s. He helped bring down the conservative 3rd Duke of Norfolk, yet assented to the Proclamation of Lady Jane Grey as Queen, before being one of the first to embrace the new Marian reign under which he would supervise the burning of heretics in his adopted home county of Essex. However, on balance, most historians seem to agree that Rich was a Conservative Catholic at heart, his religious convictions shifting with the prevailing whims of the reigning monarch.

This eastern range, where the chapel was sited, was most likely the privy range that was occupied by the family, as it looked out over the gardens. This garden was rectangular, walled and with octagonal summer houses at each of the far, eastern angles, while a bridge crossed over the River Ter to the north of the house.

The inner gatehouse of Leez's Priory, home of Richard Rich
The Inner Gatehouse of Leez’s Priory

Back at the house, octagonal turrets decorated the outer angles of the ranges surrounding the inner courtyard and probably also in the inner angles. The remainder of the cloisters formed the rest of the north and west ranges. This inner courtyard was accessed by a gorgeous, turreted, inner gateway, resplendent with all the features one would hope to see from the architecture of the day: red brick and diapering; an entrance framed by a typical Tudor arch; tall, mullioned windows and octagonal side towers. Thankfully, this inner gateway still stands and can be enjoyed in all it’s glory (see the image below).

Turning back to our plan, to the left of the image we can see a large, outer court. This was bounded on the east by the west range of the inner cloister, to the north, south and west by new ranges, which were commissioned by Rich after the acquisition of the priory. Undoubtedly, these ranges contained either offices serving the functioning of the house and/or additional accommodation for guests. The entry point to this base court was via an outer gateway, positioned in the south-west corner of the courtyard. Once again, we are lucky in that this outer gateway survives, as do more than half of the west and south ranges. The remainder of these lost ranges, and the northern range, have been replaced by low walls, which according to BHO ‘incorporates the base of the original ranges’.

The End of Richard Rich

Whatever one might say about Rich, his morals and career, he was undoubtedly a survivor at a time when wealth, status and power so easily garnered enemies that could result in swift personal annihilation. After the death of Henry VIII in 1547, he went on to win the support of every subsequent Tudor monarch that followed, being made 1st Baron Rich under Edward VI, while persecuting and burning heretics under Mary I. He served Elizabeth I, and was styled as ‘councillor’. However, he never officially sat on the Queen’s Privy Council. Perhaps she remembered his role in her mother’s downfall.

During the course of his life, Rich had 11 children by his wife, Elizabeth Jenks (see above), who he married in 1535. He also had at least one illegitimate son; clearly, he was as active in his private life as he was in his public one! Yet there seems little justice in this world, as Rich lived to die in his own bed at Rochford Hall, in Essex, the one time home of a family he had once helped destroy – the Boleyns. The date of his death was 12 June 1567. He was 70 years old.

The effigy of Richard Rich in Felstead Church
The Effigy of Richard Rich in Felstead Church

However, Rich was not buried at Rochford parish church, but carried the 30 miles or so north, back to his estates surrounding Leez Priory. In this last act, we see Richard Rich’s love for his adopted home county, not too far from the place that he had first been elected to a substantive office as Commissioner of the Peace. He was finally laid to rest in Holy Cross Church, Felsted. A fine tomb survives that shows the elder statesman dress in the garb of Lord Chancellor, a position he held under the reign of Edward VI. The figure is recumbent, resting his elbow upon a pillow, the knuckles of his left hand supporting his chin, his right clutching a book. From lifeless eyes, Rich stares out coldly at any passer-by who might care to pause and reflect upon his life, a life that saw so much destruction and suffering inflicted on those who were unfortunate to cross the path of one of the most notorious villains of Tudor history.

In the Footsteps of Richard Rich: It is still possible to visit a number of sites associated with Richard Rich. Leez Priory is run as a wedding venue but the grounds are open to the public. The remains of the Church of St Bartholomew the Great still stands in Smithfield and, of course, you can visit Rich’s tomb in Felsted church.

Useful Links and Sources

Little Leighs, British History Online

Leez Priory – Essex Gardens Trust

Richard Rich – Spartus Educational –

RICH, Richard (1496/97-1567), of West Smithfield, Mdx., Rochford and Leighs, Essex.The History of Parliament.

Richard Rich MP (abt. 1496 – 1567), Wikitree

As we approach our third week of Lent, let’s look more closely at how Lent was observed in Tudor times. This month, Brigitte Webster, our resident chef at The Tudor Travel Guide, shows us a traditional Tudor fish recipe. As Collop Monday and Shrove Tuesday marked the end of Carnival (from Latin Carne vale, which translates as ‘good bye to meat’), fish would have been a favourite on Tudor tables during the forty days leading up to Easter.

Fish and the Tudor Table During Lent

With its origins in religion, Lent is a period of reflection and preparation. It lasted forty days to replicate Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert. While today, we often mark Lent by fasting, in Tudor times, Lent meant a period of forty days without meat, dairy products or eggs – a time of penitence and abstinence from luxurious consumption. Milk had to be replaced with non-dairy almond milk, and butter with olive oil. Lent wasn’t the only time people were expected to abstain from meat on religious grounds during Henry VIII’s reign – Fridays and Saturdays, and the eves of some Saint’s days were also included. This meant almost half the days of the year were restricted to eating fish. These days were described as ‘lean’ days, while meat-eating days were known as ‘fat’ days.

Trout, Forel (Salmo trutta) Anselmus Boëtius de Boodt, 1596-1610, Tudor Fish Recipe for Lent
Trout, Forel (Salmo trutta) Anselmus Boëtius de Boodt, 1596-1610

Food and Status in Tudor Times

Fish, like other foods, was invested with symbolic meaning in Tudor times and high-value fish such as trout distinguished the foodways of the wealthy from the labouring class, who were left to eat the cheapest type of fish: salted fish and stockfish. Offering high-status fish to guests during Lent reflected one’s social standing. Meat and dairy-free food restriction during Lent was designed for Italy’s warmer climate. They were particularly harsh on people in England, where replacement foodstuffs had to be imported, giving wealthy people a huge advantage. Of course, with enough money, you could buy a licence freeing you from these dietary restrictions. Many wealthy families showed continuous consumption of meat throughout Lent, such as the wealthy Newdigates family from Arbury Hall in Warwickshire.

Arbury Hall, Warwickshire, England
Arbury Hall, Warwickshire, England

Feast or Fast in the Sixteenth Century

The Flemish artist, Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1525–1569), often used food as a way to satirise political and social issues. His and his followers’ works illustrate the ways that cultural representations both reflected and influenced what people ate. However, the situation started to change rapidly with the onset of the reformation. In his painting, ‘The Fight Between Carnival and Lent’ (1559), Bruegel uses the seasonal food fight with the inn on the left side, and the church on the right to represent the religious conflicts that divided people in sixteenth-century England and Europe. The depiction of the world as being turned upside down, reflected the social and political protest of the time.

The Fight Between Carnival and Lent, P Bruegel, 1559

The Fight Between Carnival and Lent, P Bruegel, 1559

Reform: Religion and Diet in Tudor England

By the time Edward VI inherited the throne, religious fish days were cancelled as a protest against the Roman Catholic symbols of Popery. In fact, the instrumental player of the Protestant movement, Huldrych Zwingli, famously defied the rules of Lenten abstinence from meat by cooking and eating sausages on Ash Wednesday in 1522. However, by 1548, fish days were re-introduced on Fridays and Saturdays in England. This time, not for religious reasons, but for economical and political reasons instead. In 1563, The Statute of Artificers (also called the Statute of Apprentices) was passed, compelling everyone to eat fish on Wednesdays and Saturdays, unless they fell in the week of Easter or Christmas. By 1585, Wednesday restrictions were lifted, but in a further act in 1593, it was stated that eating fish on a meat day was not to be tolerated, and a £1 fine or a month of imprisonment was imposed on anyone disobeying the regulation.

Fish Market, Joachim Beuckelaer, 1568

Fish Market, Joachim Beuckelaer, 1568

Tudor Fish Recipe: Supply and Demand

Many moats created from the late 1400s, such as the one at the Tudor and 17th Century Experience, served as a fishponds rather than as means of defence. Like deer parks and rabbit warrens, moats and fishponds were a social statement and not just an economic venture. They were of course, a good source of income. The accounts of the landed aristocracy and gentry give us an insight into the species of fish that were bred in these ponds and moats – from grayling (referred to as ling), bream, trout, tench, pickerel, perch and barbels. A licence was required to obtain fish from rivers.

Most fresh fish came from local suppliers and were caught in the North Sea and bred in fish ponds. Those of sufficient means had a wide variety of fresh fish available – Henry VIII selected nineteen meat-free dishes for his first course at dinner, with a further fifteen for his second. As the demand for fish was not met by freshwater fishing, deep-sea fishing started to expand. Fish for Tudor fish recipes were caught in June of the previous year and then salted, dried or cured and sold in the autumn at fairs, ready for winter and Lent the following year.

Popular Fish in Tudor Times

Salt fish was eaten throughout the year, but in greater numbers during Lent. Large stocks of cod around Iceland and from the sea around Newfoundland were caught, salted on board ship and then sold as salt fish. Greenfish was uncured ‘wet’ salted fish – usually, cod, packed into barrels, which kept less well than the dried, salted fish. It is argued that headless cod, stored in barrels, was found on the Mary Rose ship, which sank in 1545 in the Solent channel during a battle with an invading French fleet.

The herring fishery was well established in Yarmouth, where the fish was caught in June, gutted, then packed between layers of salt inside barrels and sold as ‘white herring’. The so-called ‘red herring’ was mostly produced in East Anglia, where any surplus brined herring were hung up in smoky sheds in Yarmouth to dry out – which changed their colour to red.

Map of Yarmouth from the Middle Ages
Map of Yarmouth from the Middle Ages

Preserved herring appears to have rarely ben eaten outside Lent. Andrew Boorde, a sixteenth century physician, also confirmed that the English were leading in the production of the best salt fish: ‘Of all nacyons and countries, England is best serued of Fysshe, not onley of al maner of see-fysshe, but also of fresshe- water fysshe, and all maner of sortes of salte-fysshe’.

Stockfish, a basic, air-dried, unsalted cod was the cheapest form of preserved fish in Tudor times. It was predominately produced and sourced from Scandinavia and lasted for months, but required many days of pre-soaking before it could be used for cooking. On occasion, use of a mallet was required to break it into pieces! For poorer people, their Lenten diet of grains, vegetables and legumes was not that different from what they might have eaten on most days outside Lent.

The Tudors considered any animal that spent the majority of its time in water, a fish. Some more unusual food at Lent, considered as fish rather than meat, included beaver’s tail and barnacle goose!

Towards the end of the sixteenth century, evidence suggests people were finding ways around dietary abstinence and self-denial of luxurious food. This was clearly endorsed by contemporary cookery books, with Tudor fish recipes explaining how to cook fish in special ways using high status, expensive and exotic ingredients such as sugar and imported food such as dates. Many late sixteenth-century cookery books give examples of meat and fish day feasts. The Tudors considered any animal that spent the majority of its time in water, a fish. Some more unusual food at Lent, considered as fish rather than meat, included beaver’s tail and barnacle goose!

Trout: A Tudor Fish Recipe

There is also the rather interesting issue of fish in the Tudor age being deemed unsuitable for consumption on health grounds. Their ‘cold and wet’ character was alleged to upset the balance of the bodily humours when eaten during the cold and wet season. As we look back at this traditional Tudor fish recipe, here is a quote from Thomas Tusser’s ‘Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry’ which explains why restricting yourself a little during spring could make a lot of sense: ‘A plot set downe, for fermers quiet, as time requires, to frame his diet, with sometimes fish and sometimes fast, that household store may longer last.’

Tudor Fish Recipe

‘To Bake or Mince Trout’, page 66 from The Good Huswife’s Jewell by Thomas Dawson; 1585/96/1610.

A Traditional Tudor Fish Recipe for Lent
Trout, a Traditional Tudor Fish Recipe for Lent

“Take a trout and seethe him. Then take out all the bones. Then mince it very fine with three or four dates minced with it; seasoning it with ginger, and cinnamon, and a quantity of sugar and butter. Put all these together, working them fast. Then take your fine paste and cut it in three corner ways in a small bigness, of four or five coffins in a dish. Then lay your coffin in them, close them, and so bake them. And in the serving, of them baste the covers with a little butter, and then cast a little blanch powder on them, and so serve it forth.”

Here is a modernised, simplified recipe for Trout – Baked or Minced, along with the ingredient list:

  • 4 trout fillets
  • 4 dates, chopped
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp of chopped ginger (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • Approx. 1 tbsp of melted butter
  • 1 pack of ready-made short crust pastry (or make your own)


  • Boil the trout fillets in little water until cooked (a few minutes)
  • Remove from water, remove skin and chop up the rest
  • Put chopped trout into a mixing bowl and add all other ingredients
  • Roll out pastry and cut into small triangles, big enough to hold a spoonful of your mixture
  • Using a spoon, put mixture into the centre of your triangles, close up and put on baking tray. Bake at medium heat until done (golden colour)
  • Remove, serve hot and decorate with sugar

To follow along with Brigitte as she makes this Tudor treat, click on the image below:

Trout, a Traditional Tudor Fish Recipe for Lent

Sources and Further Reading:

Feast & Fast: The Art of Food in Europe, 1500-1800, exhibition at The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 2019

Plenti and Grase, Mark Dawson, 2019

Food and Identity in England, Paul S Lloyd, 1540-1640, 2015

Food and Health in Early Modern Europe, David Gentilcor, 2016

A Cultural History of Food in the Renaissance, 2012

Eating Right in the Renaissance, Ken Albala, 2002

The Cookbook that Changed the World, T. Sarah Peterson,1994

Cooking & Dining in Tudor & Early Stuart England, Peter Brear, 2015

All the King’s Cooks: The Tudor Kitchens of King Henry VIII at Hampton Court Palace, Peter Brear, 1999

Food in Early Modern England, Joan Thirsk, 2006

The Herball, John Gerard, 1597

Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry, Thomas Tusser, 1573/1812

The Description of England, William Harrison, 1587

A Proper Newe Booke of Cokerye, 1575

Each month, our Tudor recipe is contributed by Brigitte Webster. Brigitte runs the ‘Tudor and 17th Century Experience‘. She turned her passion for early English history into a business and opened a living history guesthouse, where people step back in time and totally immerse themselves in Tudor history by sleeping in Tudor beds, eating and drinking authentic, Tudor recipes. She also provides her guests with Tudor entertainment. She loves re-creating Tudor food and gardens and researching Tudor furniture.

The Thames, London

Welcome back to the Tudor History & Travel Show: Travel Essentials, Episode Two!

This section of The Tudor Travel Guide is designed for Tudorphiles who love to pack their bags, hit the road and connect to the past by standing in the places where Tudor history was made! Once again, we welcome back Philippa Brewell from British History Tours, our resident travel expert. Philippa helps us explore a very common travel query for those visiting from overseas: what things cost in the UK. We share our top tips for how to travel to Tudor-themed locations in the UK on any budget.

Please note: These show notes are intended to complement the relevant podcast episode. I highly recommend that you listen to the conversation and use this blog for reference. You will find links to the topic under discussion towards the end of this blog.

What Things Cost in the UK: Travelling by Road, Rail or River

Travel in London: As the capital city, London can be an expensive place to visit. With some careful planning, you can choose transport, accommodation and entry/admission options that suit your budget. Generally, the most economic travel options are the Thames Clipper boats, buses or trains. Oyster Cards or contactless credit/debit cards can be used as payment for most travel options across London within the London fare zones. See relevant links below for further information.

Remember, if you are planning to drive in London, it is advisable to check which areas are within the congestion charge zone before you travel. We also recommend checking parking availability and prices with your hotel ahead of your trip.

Thames Clipper service, leaving the Battersea Power station stop.
Thames Clipper service, leaving the Battersea Power station stop

Booking times: It is always best to book your hotel as soon as possible. However, for train tickets, the best deals are available around 8-12 weeks before you travel. Look out for upgrade options too – for some longer journeys, an upgrade can result in a comfier journey!

Attractions: Here in the UK, we’re lucky enough to have free entry for many of our museums, churches and cathedrals. English Heritage also cares for a number of sites that are in ruins, including many abbeys and castles. Some of these can also be accessed free of charge. Check their website or app for further information. Again, useful links are included at the end of this article.

Recommended Places to Stay: Freston Tower, Suffolk

An essential ingredient of that perfect vacation or road trip is finding a wonderful place to stay. Arguably, built to coincide with Elizabeth I’s visit to Ipswich in August 1579, Freston Tower is steeped in history. Coupled with breath-taking views across the River Orwell, it’s not to be missed off your accommodation list. Thanks to one of our listeners, Lisa, for sharing with us her top accommodation tip. Freston Tower is managed by The Landmark Trust. if you wish to find out more information about it follow this link.

Freston Tower, arguably built to coincide with Elizabeth I’s visit to Ipswich in August 1579.
Freston Tower, Suffolk

What Things Cost in the UK: Some Essential Links

We hope you enjoyed listening to Philippa and I discussing what things cost in the UK. If you would like to find out more about any of the resources we mention in the podcast, please see the links provided below. You may also be interested in reading an earlier blog article that I wrote, here on The Tudor Travel Guide called: ‘Your Essential Guide to Saving Time and Money on your Tudor-Themed Vacation.

Other Useful Links:

Thames Clippers
Transport for London
Tube Travel, London
Uber Travel, London
Bus Travel, London
Oyster Card, London
Congestion Charge, London
National Trust
English Heritage
Visit England, free entry
London to Edinburgh Sleeper Trains

Not to be Missed! Tudor-Themed Events Coming Up…

Tudor Legacies – Meet Henry VIII, His Wives and Children

‘Visitors will have the exciting opportunity to interact and engage with Henry VIII, his six wives and his children. Find out what it was really like to be married to one of history’s most infamous kings. .’ from Hatfield House website.

The Tudor Legacies, a living history group of Tudor enthusiasts.
The Tudor Legacies, a living history group of Tudor enthusiasts

When: 11am-4pm, 5th April, 2021

Where: Hatfield House

Price: Free of charge once you have purchased an entry ticket

Hatfield House welcome The Tudor Legacies, a group of Tudor enthusiasts who bring history to life. Staged in the Stable Yard at Hatfield House, this event allows you to meet the personalities behind the portraits! Each of Henry’s six wives share their experience of life in a royal court of scandal, intrigue and beheadings. Daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, the future Queen of England, Elizabeth I is also featured – with Hatfield House being her childhood home.

For all of the latest information, visit the events page at Hatfield House.

Tudors and Stuarts Online, 2021

Date: Saturday 27th March and Sunday 28th March, 2021

Price: Tickets for each talk cost £7.50 per person, and for those seeking a ticket for each of the eleven lectures, a weekend ticket is available costing £60. This event aims to raise money for the Ian Coulson Memorial Postgraduate Award fund to help those at CCCU wishing to research Kent history topics.

Description: This educational event run by the Centre for Kent History and Heritage gives audiences the chance to hear leading academics talk about their research interests. All lectures will be ‘live’, under the themes of ‘Royalty and Conflict’, ‘Minorities’, ‘Manuscripts and Religion’, and ‘Social History’. Speakers include a friend of The Tudor Travel Guide, Professor Glenn Richardson, as well as Amy Blakeway and Keith McLay, Andy Wood, Pamela King and Matthew Johnson.

This event normally happens in the real world, so this year we have a great opportunity to parachute in when normally, this event might be well out of reach for most of us. For more details, see here.

I hope you have enjoyed listening in to this podcast episode and have managed to pick up a couple of tips around what things cost when travelling around the UK – and how to save some money along the way. Remember, this is your port of call for any questions you might have about travelling to and around the UK and visiting your favourite Tudor places. If you want a specific topic tackled, you can contact the show by sending me a message at, or if you have a recommendation for a place to stay, why not let me know about that, or even better come on the show and tell your Tudor time travellers all about it!  

When Katherine Howard stepped upon the scaffold at The Tower of London to make her final speech of contrition, all the shocking details of the young queen’s earlier, scandalous life had been laid bare for all to see. Much of the evidence that came to light in her indictment was given in evidence by friends and servants who had been part of Katherine’s life after she was sent to live at her step-grandmother’s household; this divided its time between the Duchess’ townhouse in Lambeth, called Norfolk House, and her country seat at Chesworth House, just outside Horsham in Surrey. It was here that the thirteen-year-old Katherine would soon begin her first sexual flirtation with her music teacher, Henry Manox. It would be the first of three fatal ‘liaisons’ that at first must have seemed little more than scintillating and delicious fun to the young teenager, but which later would cost Katherine her life at the hands of the executioner’s axe.

Katherine Howard
A portrait thought to be of Katherine Howard.

I have long been fascinated by the place in which Katherine laid the foundations for her ultimately bloody fate: Chesworth House, not least because it periodically comes on to the housing market with delicious images of the house, which hint at its earlier, Tudor origins. So, in this blog, on the anniversary of Katherine’s execution, we go in search of happier times at the lost Tudor mansion.

Chesworth House: A New Home for Katherine Howard

It is believed that Katherine Howard was born around 1523 (although her exact date of birth is not known). She was the daughter of Edmund Howard, (the third son of the 2nd Duke of Norfolk), and Joyce Culpepper. Edmund suffered financially on account of the progenitor laws governing England’s aristocracy at the time, which meant that almost all of a family’s wealth was concentrated upon the eldest son of a noble house. Thus, Edmund often had to resort to begging for money from some of his wealthier relatives and at one point was forced to relocate, some might say ‘flee’, to Calais to avoid the ire of his debtors.

Katherine’s mother died around 1528, leaving Edmund to care for his young family, including Katherine, who was around five years old at the time. This would have been no small concern for a beleaguered Edmund, as Katherine had five half brothers and sisters by her mother’s first marriage and another five siblings of her own. As a result, Katherine, alongside some of her other siblings, was sent to live in the household of her step-grandmother: Agnes, Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, wife of the 2nd Duke. Also present was her aunt, Katherine, the Countess of Bridgewater.

Around the time of Katherine’s arrival in her household, Agnes would have been in her mid-50s, not an inconsiderable age for the time. According to one account, she was described as ‘stiff-necked, testy and old fashioned’. She certainly had an acid tongue and fiery temper. However, given the fact that she seemed, at the time, to know so little about what was going right under her nose, it might have been better if she had spent less time at her devotions (which she had a reputation for) and more time supervising the moral education of the youngsters in her charge!

Agnes Tilney, Duchess of Norfolk
Agnes Tilney, Dowager Duchess of Norfolk

As one of the premier families in the land, the Howards had a considerable property portfolio. They had largely abandoned the home that Agnes must have spent a considerable amount of her married life in, Framlingham Castle, and instead made Kenninghall, in Norfolk, their principle residence. As Dowager Duchess, Agnes made Norfolk House in Lambeth and Chesworth House in Surrey, her two main residences (although as part of her dower, she took ownership of 24 manors at the time of her husband’s death in 1524). Of these, it is said that she was very fond of Chesworth. It would have certainly been a fine country property, located one mile south of the town of Horsham. According to the late Annabelle Hughes, a local historian with a deep interest in the history of Horsham and its notable buildings, at the time that Katherine was resident at Chesworth House, it would ‘have been considerably larger than it is now but never as grand as Kenninghall’.

The Layout and Appearance of Chesworth House

Sadly, today, just like Kenninghall, almost all of this once grand Tudor mansion has been lost. Two ranges of the house have significant architectural features dating to the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century; part of the north-east and south-east ranges respectively. Of these, the latter range is most obviously of Tudor origin. However, there is much that is not known about the original layout and appearance of the manor. Hughes writes that we might assume that there were parallels with Kenninghall – although on a smaller scale. We do know that the house, which Katherine knew, had been built, most likely by the 2nd Duke, to replace an earlier manor house that lay to the south of today’s house, underneath the current croquet lawn. The river that runs through the present-day gardens, most likely formed part of the moat of the original house, over which there was a drawbridge in 1427.

View from the south looking north across the river. (Check out Knight Frank, Estate Agent here.)

Of the current property (which has been greatly remodelled and renovated over the centuries), glimpses of its Tudor past still shine through. As stated above, probably the oldest part of the property is the most northerly block. This is dated circa the late fifteenth century. The range in the south-east, which is seen in the foreground of the picture above is often referred to as a chapel, although as Annabelle Hughes points out, there is no direct evidence of this. To confuse matters even further, she states that domestic chapel of the period might well look like any other ordinary room in the house when divested of all its religious regalia. So, its original purpose is obscure but Hughes states that ‘documentary evidence strongly suggests that this range was known as ‘the Earl of Surrey’s tower”. Although it does not look very ‘tower-like’ today, it has ‘likely lost its first floor, and almost certainly an attic floor and its roof’.

Although it seems that little more can be discerned from the remains of the house today, we are lucky. An inventory of the property was taken on 20 January 1549 by Sir Thomas Cawarden and Sir William Goring. This was after the property was forfeit to the Crown, followed the attainder and execution of Thomas Seymour, in 1549, who in turn had been granted the house following the execution of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey in 1547! The inventory names 20 rooms in all. Four more are implied and seven service rooms or buildings are also listed. Of those rooms specifically identified, we learn of ‘my Lord’s bedchamber’; the ‘inner chamber to my Lord’s Bed Chamber’; ‘Inner Chamber to my late Lord of Surrey’s Chamber’ and ‘Inner Chamber of my Lady of Richmond’s Chamber’ (Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond). A hall, dining chamber, (where a cloth of estate made of blue velvet ‘upon gold’ hung); a ‘closet, chapel and chapel closet, nursery, a ‘Nether’ and ‘Upper Tower’ chambers are all mentioned.

It is also clear from the inventory that the interiors of Chesworth House were already well past their best. Many tapestries and hangings are listed as being ‘verye olde’ or ‘sore woryne’. ‘Ragged curteyns’ are also mentioned alongside ‘pillows of downe, both good and bad’ and mattresses ‘thoroworyn and little worth’. However, despite this, we can still snatch glimpses of Chesworth’s glory days when then house still thrived under Anges’ guardianship. For in the section that describes bed hangings, we read about one being of ‘tysshewe and red velvet, painyd, imbrodered with dropped of gold and another of ‘grene velvet and bawdekyn, imbroderid with crownes and stars’. Turkey carpets, an extremely expensive item in their day, also feature.

The Goings-On in the Maiden’s Chamber and the Undoing of Katherine Howard

We would likely know nothing of the events that occurred at Chesworth House in the mid-late 1530s if it were not for Katherine Howard’s spectacular fall from grace. From seemingly nowhere, the teenager rose from obscurity to become Queen of England and consort of King Henry VIII in a matter of months. Tragically, Katherine’s libidinous past and adulterous behaviour with Thomas Culpepper as queen would end her marriage – and life – within a little over 2 years. It was the revelations made by those who had lived alongside Katherine at Chesworth that brought a delicately stacked pack of cards tumbling to the ground after only around 18 months of marriage to one of the most fickle and dangerous monarchs in Europe. The complexities of Katherine’s rise and fall are outwith the scope of this blog. If you wish to read more, I commend to you Gareth Russell’s book: Young and Damned and Fair: The Life and Tragedy of Catherine Howard at the Court of Henry VIII (link at the foot of this blog). However, we will look at some of the evidence given against Katherine that highlights the likely shenanigans occurring during her time at Chesworth House.

The 'Chapel' at Chesworth House
The ‘Chapel’; the south-east wing, or part of it with its obvious red-brick, Tudor construction

The details of Katherine’s indiscretions have been frozen in time via the evidence given against the queen following her arrest in November 1541. Family members, friends and acquaintances were hauled in to be interrogated by Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl fo Southampton and Lord Chancellor; Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury and the Privy Council.

The spark which ignited the fire was a throwaway comment made by a gentlewoman called Mary Hall, nee Lassels. She had spent time in the Dowager Duchess’ household at the some time as Katherine. After Katherine’s stellar rise at court, Mary’s brother, John, who was a religious reformer, urged his sister to seek a place in the new queen’s household. Mary’s reply was indignant; she felt sorry for Katherine, she said. When her brother pressed her as to why, Mary replied that she was both ‘light in living and conditions’. Her brother would not let it drop and so he enquired, ‘How So? Mary replied:

A certain Francis Dereham lay in bed with her in his doublet and hose between the sheet a hundred nights or more, and one of the maids in the house said she would share a bed with her no longer because she knew not what matrimony was. And another of the Duchesses’ servants, Henry Mannock [Mannox], knew of a privy mark on her body‘.

The cat was out of the bag.

The interior of a red-bricked 'chapel' at Chesworth House
The interior of ‘the chapel today; most likely, in fact, part of the Earl of Surrey’s Tower

John Lassels scurried off to report the conversation to Thomas Cranmer. It is not clear what were Lassels’ motives for telling tales. If he was a deeply religious man, perhaps it was rooted in self-righteous affront at Katherine’s scandalous behaviour, or perhaps it was simply concern that the king was yoked in marriage to a strumpet. Maybe Lassels, shrewdly, did not want to hold onto information that might eventually come back to strike the family down. It could be damaging, if not dangerous, to withhold something of this nature, (something that was potentially treasonous) that might later come to light through another source. However, I am struck by how this passing conversation between Mary and her brother is similar to the one that occurred between Elizabeth, Countess of Worcester and her brother, Anthony Browne, some five years earlier in relation to Anne Boleyn’s morales. It was a similar throw-away comment by the Countess about Anne’s lax behaviour that was the catalyst that ultimately culminated in the destruction of the Boleyns.

Idle tittle-tattle, gossip or confessions by disgruntled, or jealous, servants of a noble household were an ever-present threat to a family like the Howards. By the time, Katherine became queen both her step-grandmother and her aunt, the Countess of Bridgewater were, it seems, aware of her disreputable past. The ‘silence of many of these individuals’ was bought by securing their place in the household of the new queen. These two ladies, in particular, must have been holding their breath, hoping that Katherine’s inappropriate liaisons would not come back to haunt them. Sadly, this was not to be.

When Mary was brought before Thomas Wriothesley for further questioning, she recounted the ‘misconduct’ that had gone on between Katherine and Mnnox and that two others had carried tokens of love between them. She also named several others including the porter, two grooms of the chamber and ‘my lady’s chamberer, Margery’ as other witnesses would be able to ‘tell much’ about the queen’s indiscretions. When she was pressed to tell more of what she knew of Francis Dereham, she spilled the beans regarding the carnal ‘goings-on’ between Katherine and Dereham, which took place in the ‘maiden’s chamber’, presumably in both Lambeth and at Chesworth House. It transpired that the teenaged girls, who slept together in a shared room would let in certain young gentlemen at night, after the duchess had retired to bed. Ungodly behaviour ensued, with banquets going on until two or three in the morning!

TV portrayal of Katherine with an ageing Henry VIII

From here, more witnesses were questioned, and damning testimonies followed, as the entire sordid affair unravelled. As I have said, it is not my intent to document these events here, fascinating though they are. However, alongside Katherine, Dereham, Culpepper and Lady Rochford, Agnes, the Dowager Duchess and the Countess of Bridgewater were also thrown into the Tower. At the time of her arrest on 11 December 1541, the Duchess was ordered to lock up her house Horsham. Happily, both ladies were subsequently released in May of the same year, having been pardoned by the Crown. The Duchess subsequently died three years later, in 1545.

We have already heard how the house was inherited (used) by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, after Agnes’ death in 1547, and then after his attainder by Thomas Seymour, until the latter’s execution in March 1549. It seems that the Howard’s regained the house as it was in the possession of the 4th Duke of Norfolk, and was the scene of his arrest in 1572, for his involvement in the Ridolfi Plot. The Duke had been conspiring to marry Mary, Queen of Scots and depose Elizabeth I. It seems that the Howards were rarely out of trouble! As usual, as a consequence of the Duke’s arrest and execution, the manor reverted to the Crown. According to British Listed Buildings, Chesworth House was occupied by various tenants including the Bishop of Chichester (1577-82) and the Caryll family (c. 1586-1660). In 1660-61 the manor was settled on Queen Henrietta Maria and by 1674 on Queen Catherine of Braganza, who still held it in 1699.

From the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries, the status of the house declined and Chesworth House eventually became a farmhouse. Over the centuries, much of the original Tudor mansion has been lost, later wings built and existing buildings, refurbished. Sadly, for us, it is now in private ownership and is not accessible to the public. However, while the house that Katherine knew barely clings on, I prefer to imagine Tudor Chesworth rise again, with its red-brick ranges, pretty gardens and orchards, where the ghostly laughter of a precocious young girl, who would arise from nowhere to become Queen of England, echoes across time.

Further Reading

Chesworth House was on the market back in 2018 for ‘offers over’ £6million. You can still see the online property portfolio here.

Chesworth, Horsham: The Story of a Local House, once the Focus of a Royal Scandal by Annabelle Hughes. Copies may be obtained by contacting Horsham Museum

Chesworth House on British Listed Buildings

Young and Damned and Fair: The Life and Tragedy of Catherine Howard at the Court of Henry VIII by Gareth Russell

All I can tell you is that I account myself one of the happiest women in the world. These words were written by the fifteen-year-old Mary Queen of Scots on the morning of her wedding to the Dauphin of France in 1558. It is almost impossible to believe that these sentiments are associated with the person whom we now associate with a desperately tragic life. To commemorate the anniversary of Mary Queen of Scots’ fateful execution at Fotheringhay on 8 February 1587, we welcome a new guest author and young historian to The Tudor Travel Guide: Katie Marshall. Katie will be sharing the story of Mary’s early years in France, possibly the happiest time in her life. Along the way, we will visit several glorious and historic places in France linked to the Scots Queen. So, it’s over to Katie!

Mary, Queen of Scots Leaves Scotland

In the true spirit of Mary’s adopted motto, which she embroidered onto her cloth of state not long before her execution ‘En ma Fin es mon Commencement’ (In my end is my beginning), I hope to bring to life some of the places in France linked to Mary, Queen of Scots. These places are part of Mary’s less widely discussed, early years. A vivacious young queen with a future of limitless possibilities, Mary lived in France until the age of eighteen. It was later, after her return to Scotland to claim her throne in person, that she became entangled in the cut-throat politics of the country. This return also eventually led Mary, Queen of Scots miserable nineteen years as a captive.

Early portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots c.1559, by François Clouet
Mary, Queen of Scots c.1559, portrait by François Clouet

Before her departure to France, when Mary was aged just five-and-a-half, she resided in the safety of Dunbarton Castle. Situated beside the River Clyde, it was a stronghold with the longest recorded history in Scotland. It was from here that Mary boarded the galley that would transport her to France, beginning a new chapter of her eventful life.

The sudden death of Mary’s father, James V, was followed by a complex series of religious and political divisions. This, coupled with the relentless pursuit of England’s destructive ‘Rough Wooing’ policy (in which Henry VIII pushed for the alliance between his young son Edward and the Scots Queen), meant that Scotland was an increasingly hostile environment for the infant queen. In light of this, Mary’s mother arranged, behind England’s back, to send her daughter to France to be brought up in the sophisticated French court. It was hoped that she would one day wed the heir to the throne, securing French support against the English. Bidding an emotional farewell, Mary embarked upon her journey. It quickly proved to be terribly long and rough, with the majority of the crew suffering from violent seasickness – all, it seems, except the young queen. Instead, Mary is recorded to have carried herself with admirable dignity, having remained unaffected by the riotous seas.

She was accompanied by her ladies in waiting, famously known as her ‘Four Maries’, whom she had befriended during her days at the Island Priory of Inchmahome. One of the first places Mary stepped upon French soil was at the Port of Roscoff, Brittany. Here, Mary and her retinue may have visited the chapel in order to express thanks for their safe arrival. It was later named after the Scottish Saint Ninien in commemoration of her disembarking here. The chapel has since fallen to ruin, however, what is said to be the original arched entrance, and font, can now be seen incorporated into the wall of one of the seafront houses.

Seafront house with original arched entrance incorporated into front wall, Port of Roscoff, Brittany.
Seafront house with original arched entrance incorporated into front wall
Chapel ruins, Port of Roscoff, Brittany.
Chapel ruins

Mary Queen of Scots and the Chateau of the Loire Valley

Throughout her thirteen years in France, Mary, Queen of Scots mainly spent her time in the numerous palaces that sit on perimeters of the Loire Valley*. It is generally thought that Mary’s education, within the French royal household, was carried out at the Château d’Amboise. Although thousands of miles from her Scottish birthplace of Linlithgow Palace in West Lothian, the surroundings at Amboise were deemed to loosely resemble those at Linlithgow. Mary’s mother, the French noblewoman Marie de Guise, had favourably compared the luxuriously renovated Scottish Palace, which had been one of her favourites, with the Loire Château. Both were pleasure palaces surrounded by scenic waters.

Despite its serene exterior, Amboise was where Mary would later experience some of the most sinister times that she spent in France. Once Mary’s husband had ascended the throne in 1560, it was here that Huguenot plotters attempted to storm the château. This was one of the most significant events that led to the French Wars of Religion – a period which divided France from 1562-1598. Mary, someone who had a light stomach in the face of violence, if not fully witness to the events, would have been aware of infamous brutality associated with them. The failed coup involved between 1,200-1,500 members. Their corpses were subsequently hung on iron hooks on the façade of the château and from nearby trees. Others were drowned in the Loire or left to suffer the wrath of the mob of angry townsfolk.

*see end of this article for more information on the places in France linked to Mary Queen of Scots. Some of the châteaux can still be visited today.

Château d'Amboise in the Loire Valley, a place in France linked to Mary Queen of Scots' early life

Château d’Amboise in the Loire Valley, where Mary spent some of her early years in France
Linlithgow Palace in West Lothian, Scotland, where Mary was born on 8th December 1542
Linlithgow Palace in West Lothian, Scotland, where Mary was born on 8th December 1542

A Cuckoo in the Royal Nest?

At Carrières-sur-Seiene, a few miles from St. Germain, Mary arrived to take her place in the French royal nursery. She was now in the care of King Henry II of France and his wife, the formidable Catherine De Médici. During that time the question of Mary’s status, already a Queen Regnant in her own right, arose within the royal nursery. This was a contentious issue, especially considering that the royal nursery was expanding and already included a daughter, Elizabeth de Valois, who was only a few years younger than Mary. The issue was settled through the guidance of none other than Diane De Poitiers* when it was agreed that the young Mary would be second only to the Dauphin, Francis. She enjoyed a sibling-like relationship with the other royal children, sharing one of the best bedrooms with Princess Elizabeth, aged three and a half.

*Henry II’s influential long-term mistress whose position, despite Catherine De Medici’s irritation, allowed her to exercise a great deal of power within domestic politics. In the age which saw a resurgence of interest in classical references, Diane aligned herself with Roman goddess Diana (equivalent to the Greek Goddess, Artemis) and adopted the crescent moon as her emblem. It was even said that Henry II often chose to wear black and white, colours closely associated with Diane, in order to signify his devotion to her.

Mary first met Catherine De Medici, the French Queen and her soon-to-be mother-in-law, at St. Germain. Like the majority of French courtiers, Catherine could not help but admire Mary’s charming nature, exclaiming ‘our little Scottish Queen has but to smile to turn all French heads’. Despite acquiring a royal future daughter-in-law, Catherine was fiercely protective of her own children’s inheritance and deeply resented the interference of the highly political De Guise family who aligned themselves, naturally with the Scots Queen. After Mary had settled in, Catherine reportedly approached Mary on one occasion to ask her why she failed to bow to the Queen of France. To This, Mary is said to have responded ‘Why do you not bow to the Queen of Scots?’ Rumour has it that Mary was under the impression that Diane De Poitiers was really the King’s wife! It is an enticing, albeit possibly fictitious, dialogue but it nevertheless accurately points to the young Mary having had an intrinsic sense of her own grandeur. Totally unfazed by the potentially intimidating situation she found herself in, she was totally self-assured.

It was not long before the French King, Henry II, was referring to Mary, Queen of Scots as ‘my very own daughter’, whilst maintaining that she was ‘the most perfect child’. It seems likely that as a child, Mary received an abundance of love and adoration, making the later events in her life even more painful.  

Catherine De Medici, depicted as Queen Consort of France in the 1550s
Catherine De Medici, depicted as Queen Consort of France in the 1550s, when the young Mary, Queen of Scots would have known her. This portrait is housed in The Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
“Her mouth is too large and her eyes too prominent and colourless for beauty”, wrote a Venetian envoy as Catherine approached forty, “but a very distinguished-looking woman, with a shapely figure, a beautiful skin and exquisitely shaped hands”.

Mary, Queen of Scots: A Cultured Upbringing at the French Court

Sixteenth-century France was a magnet for Renaissance culture, so Mary was exposed to the height of European fashions, both in dress and attitude. Her education was exceptional. Among her tutored subjects she was schooled in languages. In addition to the necessary French, she was taught Latin, Italian, Spanish, and some Greek. Philosophy and rhetoric were considered to be an essential basis for learning the morals of rulership through the study of Plato, Aristotle and, presumably, classical literature.

Mary spent the majority of her time in the classroom. She is widely known to have adored outdoor sports, singing, dancing and playing musical instruments. Her talents in music and languages, in particular, became a cause for later rivalry with her counterpart, Queen Elizabeth I. When James Melville, the Scottish ambassador, travelled to Elizabeth I’s court on a diplomatic mission, he was unexpectedly met with enquiries from a curious Queen Elizabeth on who was superior in looks, language skills and ability to play the virginal!

Elizabeth I of England and Mary, Queen of Scots

Elizabeth I of England and Mary, Queen of Scots.
The two ‘sister queens’ were alike in so many ways, notably in their approach to rulership, but their situations had momentously crucial differences. When Mary later returned to Scotland, they exchanged countless heartfelt letters and gifts, for they alone could understand each other’s struggles in being a Queen regnant, in spite of never meeting each other in person. Elizabeth was forced by her councillors, with crippling reluctance, to finally sign her cousin’s death warrant in 1587.

Reunited in Rouen

At Rouen, in October 1550, Mary was to be briefly reunited with her mother, Marie De Guise, during the royal entry, staged with the purpose of celebrating the expulsion of English troops from Boulogne. At the same time, this promoted the imperial glory of the French monarchy. While her move to France had already strengthened Mary’s bond with the maternal branch of her family, she was nevertheless overjoyed at the prospect of seeing her mother, after an absence of three years. In a letter she wrote to her grandmother, Antoinette of Bourbon, Mary expressed that to have her mother visit France was ‘the greatest happiness that I can desire in this world…’ Henry II took the safety of Marie De Guise’s journey into his own hands, making a personal request for her safe passage before sending a French galley to receive her. The visit re-ignited friendship that had long existed between both countries and further cemented the auld alliance.

Henry II saw Mary’s marriage to his son as his ticket to an unparalleled triple monarchy. This satisfied his imperial vision. Not only was his son made King Consort of Scotland, and therefore also a King-Dauphin, the two co-ruling together opened the possibility of uniting three crowns. In the eyes of Catholic Europe, Mary had one of the strongest claims to the English throne. With an ailing Mary I of England childless, speculation on the future of the English succession was inevitable. The obvious candidate for an heir was her half-sister, Elizabeth. However, she was arguably the very embodiment of the break with Rome. Henry VIII, of course, having taken the initiative to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and instead marry Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn. This made Elizabeth’s claim detestable to the majority of Catholics, who saw her as illegitimate and a heretic.  Catholic Mary Stuart, was the preferred claim, especially with her having been a great-granddaughter of Henry VII. Marie De Guise, on the other hand, benefited immeasurably from French aid in keeping the situation in Scotland stable during her regency.

At Rouen, the guests were entertained to the most spectacular level. Parading theatrically through the streets, Henry II modelled himself as a triumphant ancient Roman general accompanied by the spoils that he had brought home from war. There were even, according to contemporary accounts, unicorns (grey horses styling horns) and elephants amidst the parade! However, when a mock sea battle was performed at the climax, (bearing in mind that they did this with genuine canons and gunpowder), the outcome was disastrous, resulting in the deaths of almost all of the participating crew members. Determined that the stunt be remembered as success meant that the ships were sent off again in the following days. Tragically, the consequences of this were not significantly different from the first attempt!

A depiction of the Fête held at Rouen in 1551

A depiction of the Fête held at Rouen in 1551
Note the ’unicorns’ which draw the French King’s float

A Dynastic Marriage of Nations

On April 19 1558, in the great hall of the Louvre in Paris, Francis and Mary were formally betrothed. Mary’s grandmother, Antoinette of Bourbon, stood in as Marie de Guise’s proxy. Debated issues over independent sovereignty were glossed over publicly. Instead, the focus was set on cementing the alliance between the two nations and the glorious future they might share.

The pinnacle of Mary’s time in France, her eventual marriage to the Dauphin, took place in the capital’s spiritual heart of Notre Dame Cathedral on 24 April 1558. Mary was fifteen and the Dauphin fourteen. All eyes turned to the spectacular occasion, which symbolised the two crowns of Scotland and France being joined in heart and mind. Alongside the political significance of the day, it was Mary’s enthralling appearance which drew everybody’s attention. Courtier, Pierre de Brantôme, described her as ‘a hundred times more beautiful than a goddess of heaven … her person alone was worth a kingdom.’ His words certainly had weight.

Mary is recorded to have worn a breath-taking dress, heavily embroidered with shimmering diamonds, accompanied by a lengthy train of ‘a bluish-grey cut velvet. It was richly embroidered with white silk and pearls and was held by two maids of honour. Even more notable was the colour which Mary had chosen for her dress – it was white. In sixteenth-century France, this would have been a particularly audacious choice. White was considered the colour of mourning for the royal family when they dressed ‘en deuil blanc’. However, Mary was not a woman to be imprisoned by convention. With her bright auburn hair flowing beneath a gold crown, richly bejewelled with diamonds, pearls, sapphires, emeralds and rubies, she must have been simply blinding to the crowds of Parisians that gathered in the sunlight outside the cathedral that day.

A sixteenth century engraving on Notre Dame Cathedral, a place in France linked to Mary, Queen of Scots

A sixteenth century engraving on Notre Dame Cathedral – a sense of what it would have looked like on Mary’s wedding day in April, 1558

Following their wedding, the Valois dynastic dream came to a head, when Mary I of England died on 17 November that same year. However, this was not to be the Catholic-led transition that Henry II had planned and hoped for. Elizabeth – Mary I’s half-sister and Mary’s cousin – was swiftly proclaimed queen, with her accession being met with very little resistance from the people of England.

In desperate attempts to reinforce the strength of Mary as the alternative, Catholic, Queen, it was ordered that the plate of Mary and Francis’ household be shamelessly adorned with the heraldic arms of England, alongside those of France and Scotland. In the new year, the campaign intensified, with official documents to foreign powers being headed with declarations of Mary and Francis as ‘King and Queen Dauphins of Scotland, England and Ireland’. By the summer, the professions had become yet more provocative, with ushers crying out ‘Make way for the Queen of England’ as Mary entered the chapel. In time, this period would be the one most recalled by William Cecil and his allies whenever they wanted to remind Elizabeth of the genuine threat that Mary posed to her security as queen. At this point, however, Mary’s lineage made her a valuable card to play in a political game.

Mary, Queen of Scots and Francis, depicted in Catherine De Medici’s personal Book of Hours c.1558 .

Mary and Francis, depicted in Catherine De Medici’s personal Book of Hours c.1558
This stunning book includes portraits of many members of the royal extended family. Movingly, notably included among these is a combined portrait of her son, Louis and daughters, Jeanne and Victoire, all of whom died in infancy.
It is housed in The Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

Mary, Queen of Scots: 1559-1560 – ‘Till Death Do Us Part’

Eight months passed after Elizabeth I’s accession to the English throne and Henry II had turned his attention to celebrating. The outcome of the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis had been a remarkable achievement. It was a landmark which brought a sixty-five-year power struggle between France and the Spanish Hapsburgs for dominance over Italy to an end. The peace was sealed with the marriage of Henry and Catherine’s eldest daughter, and Mary’s close childhood friend, Elizabeth, to King Philip II of Spain. He had become a widower upon the death of Mary I of England.

In his enthusiasm, the French King insisted upon rematches of a joust against the Count of Montgommery. Considering that this was an extremely high-risk sport, which had put Henry VIII’s life in danger on several occasions, Catherine and Diane pleaded with him, in vain, to concede defeat. Ever competitive, Henry refused and went ahead with the joust. The King was left with the most unimaginable injuries due to his helmet being shattering by his opponent’s lance, causing untreatable damage to his brain.

Like the rest of the royal court, Mary and the Dauphin were left shocked and bewildered by what had happened, as they stood around the King’s bed in the Hôtel des Tournelles. On 10 July 1559, Henry II died of a stroke. Mary and Francis found themselves catapulted onto the French throne, with Mary being just five months short of her seventeenth birthday. She was now not only Scotland’s Queen but also Queen of France.

Members of the Royal court gathering around Henry II’s deathbed the Hôtel des Tournelles

Members of the Royal court gathering around Henry II’s deathbed the Hôtel des Tournelles. This had been where Henry II had also celebrated his coronation in 1547. Following her husband’s death, Catherine de Medici initiated the building’s demolition, partly due to her dislike of its medieval appearance.

The next two months must have been like standing in no man’s land for the royal teenage newly-weds. Little did Mary know that the hope of a new era would soon be thwarted; the first of the significant tragedies of her life was waiting just around the corner.

Francis II was crowned in the holy surroundings of Rheims Cathedral on 21 September 1559. He was dressed in a blue velvet gown trimmed with ermine and golden fleurs-de-lis. Mary watched on as her uncle, Charles, also Archbishop of Rheims, anointed and crowned her husband during the time-honoured ceremony – it is said to have lasted over more than five hours! In a respite from the formalities, the keeper of the royal aviaries released around eight thousand songbirds from amidst the choir as they sang the evocative Te Deum, a visual expression of peace and hope for the new age.

Mary was likely distracted by thoughts of her home country. The situation there, at least from a Catholic point of view, was dire. Mirroring the public mood in France, Scotland was shifting evermore to embrace the Protestant faith. In fact, it was happening at an astounding rate, helped along by sermons delivered by fervent preachers recently returned from Genevan exile. The most prominent of these, John Knox, also ardently believed female rulership to be an insult to God. As regent, Marie De Guise worked tirelessly to keep Stuart authority afloat, facing the revolting ‘Lords of the Congregation’. However their grip was too firm and her health too fragile. With their organisation seamless, on the 19 –23 October the rebel Lords, among whom was Mary’s half-brother James Stuart, overthrew Mary’s mother and installed themselves as the leading authority of Scotland.

At the height of the crisis and suffering from both mental and physical exhaustion, Marie De Guise’s health hung in the balance. Defying the advice of her French doctor by insisting on mustering yet more troops, Marie succumbed to complications of lymphedema on 11 June 1560, whilst at Edinburgh Castle. The news of her death was to be kept from her daughter, now Queen of France, for several weeks.

When Mary was eventually informed, she was devasted at the news. She had become close to her mother, particularly so due to the constant presence and guidance of her mother’s Guise relatives at the French court. England took this opportunity of constitutional crisis in Scotland to press Mary into accepting Elizabeth as England’s Queen. However, Mary found the request to renounce her claim to be insulting. The Treaty of Edinburgh was a formal acknowledgement of the rebel Scottish Reformation Parliament, which had so recently deposed her mother.

Sadly, 1560 had yet more bad news in store for Mary. Francis had shown signs of physical weakness from an early age. Reportedly, he looked particularly short for his age. His short stature was even more pronounced against Mary’s towering physique; she was around 5ft 11 tall. In December, Francis’ strength gave way to an infection which, in the absence of modern antibiotics, soon became an agonising abscess on his brain. Mary sent for her own French doctor, who happened to be a Huguenot, but his distraught mother, Catherine, would not allow the intrusive operations recommended by the physicians to go ahead. Francis died on 5 December 1560. After a brief reign as queen consort that lasted just seventeen months, Mary now found herself as an orphan, a widow and Queen Dowager of France – all at the age of eighteen.

Hôtel Groslot, Orléans, France, where Mary, Queen of Scots's husband died.

Hôtel Groslot, Orléans, France where Mary’s husband, Francis II, died 5th December 1560, the catalyst event which signalled Mary to return to Scotland.

After adhering to the customary 40 days of official mourning for both her mother and her husband, Mary faced up to her options. She could either enjoy a comfortable life in France and possibly remarry a suitor of Catholic European royal stock, or she could take the bold move to return to her now Protestant nation, which she had left at the age of five, as its Catholic Queen.

Mary set forth into the next chapter of her life with a genuine desire to gain the trust of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth, who she described as ‘the nearest kinswoman that each other had’. She was keen to cultivate a policy of religious tolerance in her homeland. With this in mind, Mary made arrangements to leave her home of the past 12 years. She was ready to claim her Scottish birthright. With her galley mooring at Leith on 19 August 1561, the public was thrilled to have their queen back on Scottish soil. She would soon realise, however, that she would quickly have to adapt from being a Frenchwoman to a Scotswoman if she were to survive!

More Information

It is still possible to visit some of the places in France linked to Mary, Queen of Scots. These are locations that Mary would have known well. They are intact and can be visited:

Blois – includes the only French Renaissance study room still intact today, along with 180 sculpted oak panels in the ‘Queen’s study’ which date back to the 1530s.

Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye – situated twelve miles west of Paris, this stunning château is where Mary will have spent much of her childhood in the company of the Dauphin. It is also said to be where the young Mary first met the French Queen, Catherine De Medici.

Palace of Fontainebleau – the birthplace of the Dauphin, who became Mary’s first husband. Henry II, as well as Catherine De Medici in later years, carried out significant renovation and extensions on the château which still stands resplendent today. This is where Mary departed French court life to begin a tour, bidding a final farewell to her Guise relatives, before embarking on her voyage back to Scotland.

Château de Chambord – being the largest residence of the Loire, Chambord is the height of the royal grandeur and typical of French Renaissance architecture. Among those responsible for its design, it is said that Leonardo Da Vinci initiated the original reconstruction in 1519, under Francis I. This influence is particularly clear in the staircase, which is of double-helix design. This meant that people, simultaneously climbing and descending the stairs, never meet. This château a very popular choice for visitors seeking to absorb both the scale, as well as intricate detail, of the building.

Château d’Anet – a residence originally built for the Henry II’s mistress, Diane De Poitiers. Following the King’s death, it was to this location that Catherine De Medici banished the woman who had stolen her husband’s heart. It was also a favourite retreat for the royal children during Mary’s time in France.

Château d’Amboise – this royal château saw a lot in Mary’s time, most likely having been the setting for some of Mary’s happiest, and most traumatic, days.

The Tudor Travel Guide welcomed Katie Marshall as guest author for this article. Katie is a historical researcher, with a particular interest in Elizabeth I and the Tudor court, and Renaissance portraiture. Katie engages with other researchers and historians who share her passion, attending courses and discussions and reviewing books and videos in these areas. Alongside her historical interests, Katie is a Classic BRIT Award nominated Soprano who has performed around the UK and overseas, having had the opportunity to work with many acclaimed musical directors and composers, performing in many historic locations.

This blog is adapted from an interview, recorded for my podcast, The Tudor History & Travel Show. Our historian is Dr Steven Reid, Senior Lecturer in Scottish History at the University of Glasgow. He specialises in the intellectual, political and religious history of Scotland between c.1450 and c.1650, with a strong interest in Mary Queen of Scots and the way she has been remembered and reimagined in the centuries since her forced abdication. Steven is currently working on the long term project at Glasgow University, ‘In my end is my beginning’. This focuses on the memorialisation of Mary Queen of Scots. If you wish to listen to the full interview, you can do so via The Tudor History & Travel Show homepage, as well as all major podcast platforms.

Introduction to this Month’s Show Notes:

February is a month in which we remember the execution of three queens: Lady Jane Grey, also known as the ‘Nine Days Queen’, Catherine Howard, and, of course, Mary Queen of Scots, who was executed at Fotheringhay. In her memory, here at The Tudor Travel Guide, we’ve searched for the dramatic and romantic stories that surround her.

The Abdication of Mary, Queen of Scots by George Hamilton

This takes us to Glasgow University, and their project, which focuses on Mary’s memorialisation. Funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and led by Dr Steven Reid and Anne Dulau-Beveridge, the project seeks to understand why Mary has had such an important and enduring presence in Scottish history and beyond. Through different media, the project tells the story of how Mary has been remembered through the ages. We look at how she is represented in engravings, paintings, portraits, metals, furniture and objects that commemorate her. This includes television and media in the modern age, as well as all the literary and historical texts that have been produced about her over the centuries.

Mary, Queen of Scots: A Failed Monarch?

In political terms, Mary’s contribution as a sixteenth-century monarch was modest. A member of the Stuart dynasty, she came back to Scotland after over a decade spent in France. Ruling from 1561 until 1567, she was the first adult monarch in Scotland to deal with the reformation. However, Mary was raised as a Catholic and educated in France, only returning to a Protestant Scotland after the death of her husband, the Dauphin of France, in 1560. She was a Catholic woman in a patriarchal and Protestant society. This schism would haunt Mary, almost from the moment she set foot back in Scotland until her terrifying ordeal in her prison island in Loch Leven when she was forced to relinquish the throne in favour of her infant son. According to Steven Reid, her impact on Scottish society as monarch was limited, with her life culminating in a nineteen-year incarceration in England as Elizabeth I’s prisoner. So, why is the memorialisation of Mary Queen of Scots so controversial?

Mary Queen of Scots by Francois Clouet, 1542-87

The Portrayal of Mary Queen of Scots in the Seventeenth Century

At the end of the seventeenth century, the Stuarts remain the ruling family, not only of Scotland but of a united British Isles. England is entering into a period of deep civil unrest which eventually explodes into a civil war with the Royalist supporters of King Charles I pitted against fervent Republicans: the Parliamentarians. Mary is used by both sides to underline a particular narrative – and exemplify the cause. By supporters of the Stuart King, Charles I, she is held up to be a to be good, true, loyal Stuart monarch and is portrayed as a martyr to the cause of Catholicism. By republicans, Mary embodies ‘French tyranny’.

It was in the seventeenth century that we first see plays of Mary’s story beginning to circulate in Catholic Europe, across colleges in Italy, Spain and France. She was also commemorated in woodcuts and engravings, as these were relatively easy to produce and disseminated. They all portrayed Mary in various forms as a Catholic martyr. As the century went on, this became more complex. Portraits of Mary appeared alongside images of skeletons and holding an executioners axe. The arms of Scotland, England, Ireland, and France were used to reflect her triple claim of sovereignty. Icons of her martyrdom also appeared, with Mary often portrayed in her iconic black dress, cap and cross.

Mary Queen of Scots: The Making of a Modern Icon

In the eighteenth century, when Jacobism was waning, Mary’s political importance lessened. As a result, she began to emerge more as a historical and literary figure, becoming increasingly associated with feminine virtues. Her story was one of a woman who endured great suffering and showed incredible patience in the face of exceptionally trying circumstances. In this, she exemplified the ideals of womanhood in society at the time.

Mary portrayed posthumously as a catholic Martyr

While Mary was commemorated in material culture during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, she also began to emerge as a proper sixteenth-century icon. Yet in this highly paternalistic culture, there was an emerging critique of Mary; she was either viewed as a poor girl who was seduced and led astray, or that she was wicked and a wanton woman. The impact of this gender-biased narrative was to move us away from historical facts, skewing Mary’s story according to the cultural values of the day.

The representation of Mary’s story according to the prevailing themes of the day, continues in modern mass media. Most recently, in the twentieth century, Mary has appeared in a host of television shows and films including Reign (2013 – 2017), Mary of Scotland (1936),  Mary, Queen of Scots (1971) and more recently, Mary Queen of Scots (2018). In the latter, the contemporary theme of diversity is reflected in the ethnic diversity of the cast, which has garnered both praise and criticism for the loss of historical accuracy.

Will the Real Mary Queen of Scots Please Step Forward!

Some five hundred years later, we are still trying to uncover who was the real Mary Queen of Scots. George Buchanan, a Renaissance scholar and author of one of the earliest histories of Mary, wrote literature that justified her abdication. His aggressive account portrays her as an adulterous murderer who conspired to have Darnley executed. Of course, it was the events that unfolded at Kirk O’ Fields which catalysed the downfall of Mary and irrevocably rent apart her reputation and the trust of her people who, from this point, began to vehemently turn against her.

According to Dr Reid, no new genuinely contemporary material about Mary’s life has come to light for many years; more recent biographies simply restate what is already known, quoting one from the other. Since the life of the Scots Queen as been repeatedly interpreted through the societal values of the day, trying to see the ‘real’ Mary, her motives and the dramatic events that unfolded around her, objectively is nigh on impossible from our vantage point, nearly 500 years on from her death.

Mary Queen of Scots’ death mask at Jedburgh 

Exploring the Memorialisation of Mary Queen of Scots…

The project at Glasgow University seeks to present a very different perspective on Mary’s life, forcing us to confront how later generations have distorted the real woman and queen; something that we are still doing today. The team at Glasgow have collated a vast array of material which tells the story of the narrative of Mary’s life, throwing into sharp relief how she has been remembered across the centuries. An exhibition pulling together the work of the last 5 years is due to open in 2023, find out more about it here. Further links to additional resources mentioned in the podcast can be found below.

  1. The Memorialisation and Cultural Afterlife of Mary Queen of Scots 1567-2019
  2. Interview with Steven Reid on Borders TV
  3. The Abdication of Mary, Queen of Scots Painting
  4. Mary Queen of Scots House at Jedburgh:
  5. Lennoxlove House:
  6. Walk to Innerwick Castle
  7. Traquair House
  8. Lennoxlove death mask

Speaker Bios

Dr Steven Reid: My research interests lie broadly in the intellectual, political and religious history of Scotland between c. 1450 and c. 1650, but my current research centres on the early life and reign of James VI in Scotland (1567-1603), and the society, politics and culture of his reign. I also have a strong secondary interest in Mary Queen of Scots, particularly her relationship with James and the way she has been remembered and reimagined in the centuries since her removal from the Scottish throne.

Also speaking on the podcast:

Anne Dulau studied at Toulouse Le Mirail Université and St Andrews University, graduating with an MPhil in Anglo-Saxon History in 1995 and a postgraduate diploma in Museum and Gallery Studies in 1996. She has been curator of French and British Art at The Hunterian since 1997, working on a number of exhibitions celebrating the strength of The Hunterian’s collection. This included a touring exhibition around the Scottish Colourists that was part of the 2004 Entente Cordiale celebrations and was shown at the Mona Bismark Foundation in Paris under the title Les Colouristes Ecossais. Recent focus has been on eighteenth-century art, working on a number of exhibitions accompanied by catalogues, including My Highest Pleasures; William Hunter’s Art Collection (2007), and Boucher & Chardin: Masters of Modern Manners (2008).

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