As I continue my travels on the road this month, I wanted to share with you what went on behind the scenes when my co-author and Tudor partner-in-crime, Natalie Grueninger and I, set out to write our first ‘In the Footsteps’ book together: In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn. So, have you ever wondered how a book like this comes together? Read on to find out more…
Planning ‘In the Footsteps’…
Right from the start, we were clear that In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn would be a visitor’s companion or guide, allowing readers to get up close and personal with Anne Boleyn, one of England’s most enthralling queen consorts. What was also clear was that this book was not going to be researched solely from the comfort of our home offices.
In order to breathe life into the odyssey that would see a slight, English girl transformed into a captivating woman, forged in the heartland of Europe’s renaissance, we needed to pack our bags and literally follow in her footsteps ourselves. We were to head off on our own adventure of a lifetime! Except, whilst Anne’s progress through the Low Countries and France, followed later by sojourns to all of Henry’s Great Houses in the Thames Valley and a multitude of lesser ones, was spread over twenty-three years, we set ourselves less than a year to complete our task. It was going to be an intense ride, filled with thrilling highs and exhausting lows.
But before we could pull our suitcases and picnic hampers out of the cupboards, there was some vital groundwork to be covered. The first stage was a brainstorm of all the places that we could think of from our previous knowledge and research of Anne’s life. Within half an hour, we had a list of around fifty locations.
After some debate, we decided to build up the book chronologically, following Anne from cradle to grave as best as we were able. We wanted to see more easily how the places she visited, and the people she encountered, forged her legendary intelligence, grace, determination and courage. This would prove to be particularly apposite for the entries covering Anne’s formative years overseas.
After slotting these locations into one of four broad categories, The Early Years; The Courting Years; Anne the Queen and the 1535 Progress, we then divided up the number of entries equally between us so that we could work on each one in detail, allocating locations according to any research that had been completed for previous writing projects, or according to particular pre-existing interests and familiarity.
The next stage was researching as much as we were able about each location in turn. As the bibliography in the book shows, we drew on an extensive range of primary and secondary sources in order to piece together a ‘story’ about each place: its history; what it looked like, and how it was arranged in the early sixteenth century; the dates of the visit(s) and any relevant events that took place there.
With regard to appearance, we then undertook internet-based searches for any contemporary images that remained extant. If these did not exist, then the oldest surviving image was the next best substitute. Such searches could go on over days or weeks, and not uncommonly when we were just about to give up hope having drawn a blank, we would uncover a gem – perhaps a picture held in a private collection or archive, or even a modern-day artist’s impression of a lost palace or manor house.
In the process, we purchased many tens of books, finding that old antiquarian books frequently contained rarely seen, non-copyrighted images. These images were not only refreshing and often very beautiful, but helpfully, they quite often meant we could evade the very hefty charges made by the likes of the National Trust and English Heritage for images under their ownership!
Sometimes, we would only find the perfect image after visiting a location, when a treasure, such as the eighteenth-century picture of Hever for example, the earliest one that we encountered, would be pointed out to us. These wonderfully informative images, which included floor plans, such as we found hanging on the wall at Hertford Castle, and reconstructions, such as for Rochford Hall, were often located in shadowy corridors, given scant attention by passersby but providing a wealth of information that assisted us in building up our understanding of a location.
It was such fun to learn to read a picture, as we both became increasingly familiar with the usual layout of a medieval / Tudor palace or manor house, and where the principal public and privy chambers used by the king and queen would be located – how they were once arranged. We became used to the notion of how a subject would cede his own privy apartments to his sovereign lord and lady, allowing us to pinpoint the likely chambers used by Anne and Henry during their progresses through the realm, such as at Gloucester Abbey, Thornbury Castle, or at palaces like Bishop’s Waltham and Wolvesley, in Winchester.
Of course, local historical societies and enthusiastic amateurs, who often act as guardians of local history, were vital in our endeavours. Such individuals had a veritable wealth of detailed knowledge of the places under their care – such was the case, for example, with the Friends of Woking Palace.
This was also the case at a number of towns and villages, such as we found at Waltham Abbey, Sandwich and Ewelme. In other cases, the owners of the building itself would produce a treasure trove of information, as was the case at Leonard Stanley and Brockworth Court.
As a consequence, on several occasions, we found ourselves having coffee over a kitchen table or in someone’s front room, surrounded by engravings, plans and a cornucopia of written information. And so, whilst, books, contemporary accounts, letters and household accounts of the royal court provided crucial information about Anne’s movements alongside her husband and the places they visited, of course, nothing could replace the need to actually visit the location itself.
We confess this was indeed the most fun part of the research! Although we started out with around fifty locations, over the weeks and months, the research itself unearthed over twenty more. This was both exciting and frustrating; exciting, as we were putting another piece of the jigsaw in its rightful place.
Many of these locations we knew very little about, and so it was truly a journey of discovery and thrilling to re-present a ‘lost’, or little considered location to the Anne Boleyn community, such as Church House on Crane Street in Salisbury, the Old Palace of Langley that once lay deep in the heart of the ancient forest of Wychwood in Oxfordshire, or the Château de Chaumont in France; frustrating, as oftentimes a location would come to light after having already visited house or manor in the area, requiring yet another visit, often involving many more miles of travelling and additional expense.
But visiting a location for a book such as this is absolutely vital. We wanted to be able to guide people to find their way, step by step through Anne’s world, equipping them not only with relevant knowledge of where to go and what to look at, but with practical information of where to eat, drink and rest.
And so, all but a mere handful of the locations were visited in person, and we hope that having tried out a site in advance, your visit will be all the more rewarding. But more than this, it is only when you visit a place in person that you get a feel for a location, be it an empty field with only earthworks that give tell to its earlier, more illustrious history, or whether it be an extant building, where the very fabric of the walls remains behind to whisper its secrets to you.
In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn was never going to be a dry academic text. We wanted it to be a rich and vivid trail of adventure that evokes all the senses for the time traveller. Our reactions to many of the places, the sights, sounds and feelings that were conjured up for us when we visited, are recorded in a very personal way in the visitor section of each entry.
Post-publication, a small number of entries remain unchartered, with who knows how many more that may be unearthed over time. Our intention is to keep In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn alive by updating and adding additional entries as they come to light. We hope you will look forward to these, as much as we will enjoy researching them. On the meantime, save up you spending money, pack your bags and let your twenty-first-century worries melt away in the midst of time. Anne is waiting to show you her life. So, what are you waiting for? If you want to pick up your copy, follow this link.
In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn: The Authors
Dr Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger co-authors of In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn, published in September 2013 and In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII, published in July 2017. In the Footsteps is a guide book to all the places and artefacts associated with one of England’s most compelling and controversial queens.
The summer, Tudor progress was a near annual event in the royal, Tudor calendar. If a Tudor king or queen wanted to show themselves to the people and connect with their subjects throughout the kingdom, they needed to travel, and travel they did, moving regularly, whether for political reasons, to hunt, for pleasure or necessity. As I head off on my own Tudor progress shortly to the north of England and Scotland, it seemed fitting to talk about this annual event in a little more detail. So, let’s find out all about the Tudor progress!
Only on account of warfare, or other tumultuous events besetting the kingdom was the usual routine disrupted. Even in that fateful year of 1536, when Henry sent the first queen of England to her execution and promptly marrying another in her place, an abbreviated progress was arranged to the south-east coast.
Each year, in around June, the king’s travel itinerary would be published, along with the names of those who would be accompanying the king over the summer months or ‘grass season’, which was generally between August and October. This was when the hay was cut and the hunting optimal.
This eagerly-awaited list was called the ‘giest’ defined the Tudor progress. It detailed exactly where the king intended to stay and for how long. It also recorded how many miles s/he would travel between stops. The distance travelled per day varied. During the 1535 summer progress, the court travelled between six and fourteen miles in a day, whereas the average for the 1528 progress was nine miles. The court usually travelled by horse, although, on occasions, they combined this with travel by river.
Despite owning a number of grand houses, the king enjoyed staying with courtiers and noblemen while on progress and, like his father Henry VII, also regularly stayed at monastic houses. In 1510 the court stayed at ten monasteries during the summer. In July 1535, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn stayed at Reading Abbey, a favourite of the king’s, Abingdon Abbey and Tewkesbury Abbey, while Winchcombe Abbey accommodated the majority of the court while Henry, Anne and their immediate retinue were lodged at nearby Sudeley Castle.
The length of stay at any one property during a Tudor progress depended on many factors, including the size, convenience and splendour of the residence, as well as its proximity to good hunting ground. Each stay varied in length from a fleeting overnighter to fifteen days. A lack of space meant that Henry usually only stayed for a few days with courtiers and noblemen, reserving the longer visits for the larger ecclesiastical palaces, religious houses or royal properties.
In the 1520s, there were only six royal residences that could comfortably accommodate the full court, which numbered, during the wintertime, approximately 1,500 people—these were Greenwich, Woodstock, the Palace of Beaulieu, Richmond Palace, Hampton Court (not officially Henry’s until around 1529) and Eltham. The court appears to have halved in size during the summer progresses, numbering around 750, although this varied greatly depending on whether the king’s wife and children, along with their households, accompanied the progress or not.
Hosting the king and his court was a great honour and was certainly a sign of royal favour but it was also a huge expense. Not only did you have to accommodate your own household, but you also had to house and entertain the king and queen and their entourage. Often, large sums were spent preparing for the royal visit, as the royal apartments had to be in good reparation and luxuriously furnished. Nicholas Poyntz went one step further, he didn’t just refurbish pre-existing apartments, he built an entire new wing in anticipation of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s visit in August 1535, he also commissioned sets of Italian and Spanish ceramic plates and fine Venetian glass vessels with which to impress his sovereigns and all for a visit which, at most, lasted just two days!
There was also the matter of a grand reception to consider… Regardless of whether the host was an abbot, nobleman, courtier or city corporation, the king and his royal guests were always received with great pomp and ceremony. It was one of the hallmarks of any great entry into a city or town, including those which took place during the annual Tudor progress.
The mayor and other local dignitaries would receive the royal party outside of town, where they would merge and ride in procession to the cathedral or principal church. The reception might also include pageants, although this was usually reserved for entries of particular importance, like when Charles V entered London in 1522. The royal party would then make an offering at the church before being escorted to their accommodation, where gifts were exchanged.
The giests detailed where the king intended on staying during his summer progress. However, there were many factors that could alter the original itinerary, including weather, food shortages and the outbreak of disease. In 1535, Henry and Anne intended on travelling through the West Country to Bristol, before returning to Windsor, however, an outbreak of the plague in the city forced them to abandon their plans. Instead, they remained at Thornbury Castle, where a delegation of townsmen from Bristol came to pay their respects and present them with gifts. They also diverted from the original itinerary in Hampshire, avoiding Alton and Farnham for the same reason.
Disease was not the only influence on the court’s itinerary; the king’s will also played a major part. In 1535, the royal couple were so delighted with the hunting and hawking in Hampshire that they delayed their return by almost a month and new giests were prepared.
Moving the court from place to place as part of a Tudor progress was a huge undertaking. Royal officers left ahead of the royal entourage and ensured that there was accommodation and provisions for the entire party. The Clerk of the Market rode out before the king ‘to warn the peple to bake, to brewe, and to make redy othyr vytayle and stuff in to theire logginges.’ The royal officers, also pre-arranged accommodation for members of the court at local inns and private houses in the area.
Although many of the larger houses had basic furniture and a skeleton staff, the king and queen’s personal belongings, including plate, bed, tapestries and clothes travelled with them. The officers of the Wardrobe were primarily in charge of packing and of transporting the goods by cart, mule or boat (a process known as ‘removing’) and the Grooms of the Chamber, or Privy Chamber, were responsible for setting up and furnishing the royal lodgings at each new destination.
However laborious the process of moving the court was, from the beginning of his reign, Henry VIII understood the importance of getting out amongst his people and of allowing his subjects to see him in the flesh. And what an impressive sight it must have been – the king and queen on horseback, resplendent in their riding clothes, followed by their vast and eye-catching retinue.
What I’d give to catch a glimpse of them now!
Note: This piece was first published as part of the book tour associated with the launch of In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn. It was originally written by Natalie Grueninger, my co-author, and has been adapted here by me, for this blog.
As we enjoy the lush bounty of summer here in the UK, it’s time to celebrate one of the most iconic, fleshy and delicious fruits of the English summertime – the humble strawberry! I am a BIG fan! Every year I eagerly await the coming of June when strawberries really come into season (I never eat them before June, they are invariably tasteless) and I can enjoy a bowl, topped with lashings of cream. But what about our Tudor fore-fathers? How did they enjoy their strawberries? For those aspiring Tudor chefs among you, its time to get back in the kitchen with Brigitte Webster of TudorExperience.com and create an authentic Tudor recipe using strawberries – perfect for a summer’s day!
Note: If you want to hear Brigitte talk about strawberries in Tudor England and see the recipe being made in her country kitchen at the Old Hall, then check out the link at the end of this blog.
Strawberries in Tudor England
In Tudor England, strawberries were enjoyed at all levels of society and unusually for the time, enjoyed eaten uncooked. The medieval belief that raw fruits were positively dangerous was still rife, despite the great developments in gardening and orchards during the Elizabethan period.
In 1583, readers of “The Schoolmaster or Teacher of Table Philosophie” were told how Galen, the great second-century philosopher, only contracted numerous and lasting ailments after eating raw fruits, but after giving them up, ‘had never any sickness’. For this reason, most fruits were eaten after being either cooked for immediate consumption or preserved, so that they could be enjoyed throughout the whole year.
‘Rawe crayme undecocted eaten with strawberries…. is a rural manner basket’ wrote Andrew Boorde. Dr Butler considered that ‘Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did’. James I was often so ravenous for them that whenever Mr French, his gardener, tried to introduce the first of the new season’s crop with a small speech, the king ‘Never had the patience to hear him one word but his hand waist the basket’.
Up to the early seventeenth century, all the strawberries grown in England were the small, brilliantly scarlet, wild variety. This was the case whether they were whether gathered from the countryside or grown in the garden. The larger ‘Virginian” variety, the forefather of our modern strawberries, was introduced later in the seventeenth century from the new American colonies.
Strawberries evoked temptation and Hieronymus Bosch used strawberries as a symbol of fleeting and dangerous pleasures in his “Garden of Earthly Delights“, circa 1505. However, in contrast, in Christian art, strawberries lost their sinister aspect; with no pips, or peel, they were presented as the perfect fruit, symbolising the Virgin. The white flower and the red fruit represented purity and martyrdom; the threefold leaves the Trinity.
Strawberry Delights: Titbits from Tudor England
Here are some Tudor facts and descriptions gathered from various sixteenth century sources:
The old English name “streawberige’ derived not from straw but from the runners strewing fresh plants in all directions.
The first Herbal published in England featuring the strawberry was by Peter Treveris in 1526.
In “The Names of Herbes” by William Turner in 1548, the entry for strawberries simply states, that every man knows well enough where they grow.
Thomas Hill recommends planting strawberries among rose bushes in his “The Gardener’s Labyrinth”, which was published in 1577. He also lists red, white and green strawberries and insists that the wild ones growing in the wood are the best.
Shakespeare mentions strawberries in several of his plays such as Richard III (Act III, sc4), Henry V (Act 1, sc1) and Othello (Act III, sc3)
“Have you not sometimes seen a handkerchiefSpotted with strawberriesIn your wife’s hand?”
Medicinal and Culinary Uses of Strawberries in Tudor England
In his 1597 Herbal, John Gerard lists red, white and green strawberries and says that the wild strawberry is barren of fruit. He states that strawberries are found in both gardens and in the wild. He rates the fruit as cold and moist but the leaves as dry and cool. According to him, the ripe fruit quenches the thirst, cools the heat of the stomach and the inflammation of the liver, as well as taking away the redness and heat of the face – if used often!
During the third quarter of the sixteenth century, many new recipes were developed for preparing fruits for banquets. These were published in a series of innovative cookery books, specially written for the benefit of fashionable and wealthy ladies.
Today we take a closer look at the second earliest cookery book in the English language – and the only one known in print during Henry VIII’s reign. ‘A Proper Newe Booke of Cokerye, by an unknown author, was first published in 1545. Only one copy of this first print is still in existence at the University of Glasgow. (In the video I mention Edinburgh – sorry!). The copy we are using today is from 1557 and is held at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Other copies from the same year are in the British Library.
The history of this amazing, early cookery book is much more than a collection of recipes; this volume is also the love story of two Norfolk-born people and an account of how the Reformation affected people’s lives and happiness.
Matthew Parker was born around 1505 in Norfolk and started University at Corpus Christi in 1521. By 1527, he had been ordained as a priest and in 1528 he became a Fellow there. His life started to change when he became Henry VIII’s chaplain and, in 1544, he started his a new career as the Master of the College. It was around then that he met (his future wife) Margaret and they fell in love – although priests were forbidden to marry. Despite that, they remained exclusively faithful to each other.
Seven years later, when Edward came to the throne, priests were allowed to have a wife under the new Protestant faith. Margaret moved into the college as Matthew’s wife. But their happiness was not to last. Following Edward’s early death, Mary I re-introduced the old ways and rescinded the new law that had allowed members of the priesthood to marry.
Matthew had to resign from his prestigious post and withdrew into obscurity, living in the country with his wife under fairly modest conditions. Margaret would have had to run her own household and it is during this time that she was most likely to have obtained this recipe book. Their roller-coaster life was to turn yet again when Elizabeth followed Mary on the throne. As it happened, Matthew had formerly been chaplain to Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn. On Elizabeth’s accession, it was Matthew that she asked to be her first Archbishop of Canterbury! Even though Elizabeth did not encourage marriage for priests, she respected him and Matthew and Margaret were allowed to live happily ever after!
Here is one recipe from that collection. It is a simple recipe that can be tackled by a beginner. It is delicious, easy to make and the perfect Tudor treat for a hot summer’s afternoon!
TO MAKE A DYSCHEFULL OF SNOWE (Modernised Recipe) :
Here are the ingredients that you will need:
4 large eggs
100ml double cream
2lbs (1kg) fresh strawberries
Small sprigs of rosemary
Tudor wafers or ratafia/amaretti biscuits
Wash strawberries and strain through a sieve (or use a food blender to get slightly different textures).
Beat the egg whites (making sure that there is absolutely no egg yolk or grease in the bowl before you begin) and then add sugar carefully.
Whip the cream in a food mixer and add to the stiffened egg whites.
Fold in the strawberry puree, decorate with biscuits and rosemary sprigs dipped in ‘snow’.
Serve and enjoy!
WARNING: Please be aware that the use of raw egg whites may put you at risk of salmonella food poisoning if the eggs come from non- vaccinated chickens.
The Great Tudor Bake Off on YouTube
If you want to hear and see Brigitte talk about strawberries in Tudor England, and prepare ‘A Dyschefull of Snowe’, then click on the image below. Don’t forget to subscribe to the Tudor Travel Guide’s YouTube channel for loads more Tudorlicious videos from The Tudor Travel Guide.
Tudor Miniatures are incredibly intense and personal objects, painted by some of the most talented artists of the age. In today’s blog, we are going to be exploring this exquisite art form, as I go in conversation with expert Emma Rutherford of The Philip Mould Galleries. Learn about the diplomatic and deeply romantic use of these tiny, but exquisite objects; the techniques used to create them and the refined world of the Tudor miniaturist. How did one miniature change the course of English history and another reveals the racy side of the Elizabethan court? Let’s find out!
Note: This blog has been adapted from an interview with Emma, recorded for the July 2020 episode of The Tudor Travel Show. If you wish to listen to the conversation, you may follow this link.
The Delicate World of Tudor Miniatures
Hello, Emma, and welcome to The Tudor Travel Show!
Thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Well, I’m sure it’s going to be my pleasure because we’re talking about a subject today that I know very little about and that’s ‘miniatures’. Of course, I’ve admired them, as many of my readers no doubt have too, but I know so little about them.
That’s right, yes, I think miniatures are always thought of as a bit of a side-line in history and art history, but actually for the Tudor period, they’re so central and so exciting. I’m really thrilled to be able to talk about them.
My first question for you would be, where did your interest in miniatures come from?
Well, it actually started very early. I was a very boring child and got into my history by the age of 10 or 11. My parents very kindly took me to Hever Castle, because I was particularly interested in Henry VIII and, of course, Anne Boleyn. When we went to Hever, they had on loan a portrait miniature which was supposed to be of Anne Boleyn.
I can’t really remember very much about it but the thing that really struck me was, ‘Oh my goodness, Henry VIII held this object; he actually held it and touched it!’ I think for me, as a child, I just found that incredibly exciting.
Then, I probably didn’t come across portrait miniatures until I worked at the Victoria and Albert Museum while doing my Masters. I was assigned to the portrait miniature part of the art section of the V&A. They were preparing for an exhibition, which was heading off to Japan and which included the amazing portrait miniature by Hilliard of ‘The Young Man Among Roses’. Again, I just got that sense of excitement, looking at them and being able to study them in detail. So, I think probably that was what properly secured my interest in them – and that was 25 years ago now!
I can feel the emotion that you experience when you connect to miniatures. I suppose that is what you’re saying that people at the time did as well; they were very personal objects.
Absolutely! Just by dint of their size, you can’t have a great crowd of people admiring a painting in miniature in the same way that you can an oil painting. So, they have to be hand-held; that’s the only way you can really engage with them. And I think the really exciting thing, particularly with the early ones, is that they’re only meant to be seen by three pairs of eyes, initially. So, you have the person who’s commissioned the miniature; the person who the miniature is of, and the artist. That’s the initial circle of people who were looking at this object. So they’re just so intensely romantic and private.
I never thought about it like that – just three pairs of eyes; that’s a wonderful way to look at it! So, maybe now you could tell us about the origins of miniatures? What’s the story of their evolution?
Yes, they have a very specific evolution. Lots of people assume that they’re just reduced oil paintings, but they have their own history, which is different from that of oil paintings. The origins of miniatures lie in the illuminated manuscript. Initially, they weren’t called portrait miniatures; they were called ‘limnings’ and the people who painted them were called ‘limners’. This word comes from the word ‘illuminata’, which is obviously made use of in the phrase ‘illuminated manuscripts’. It’s a wonderful word – it means to give light.
When you open one of those books of hours and the colours sing out at you, you can see why this word is a perfect description. Now, the word ‘miniature’ starts to come in a little bit later. It actually comes from the Latin word ‘miniari’, which means to colour with red lead. Red paint was mainly used for the capital letters, where occasionally a portrait was included. So, for example, you might see the ‘H’ of Henry in a manuscript – and there might well be a portrait of Henry there.
A lot of manuscripts were used to stand in for the king. So, if a law was being passed and Henry couldn’t be there, then this very important manuscript was meant to represent him in person. Therefore, you often had a portrait of the king there. Someone once said, ‘with courage and a pair of scissors you could make the first portrait miniature from a manuscript!’ They did that – these portraits got taken out from manuscripts and became portrait miniatures in their own right.
Do we know when the earliest portrait miniature came about? When did they first come into fashion?
It very much depends on whether you’re English or French at this point! Both nations claim the earliest miniatures in the 1520s. So, you have the portraits of Henry VIII from the 1520s and those of Francis I as well. They’re both painted by Netherlandish artists – Lucas Horenbout in England, and in France, they had Jean Clouet. So again, you’ve got that Netherlandish connection with these very early miniatures.
You’ve explained why they became popular. They were tokens of love and affection, I guess?
Yes, absolutely. Although, at the very early stages, they have a diplomatic role as well. Henry was able to send miniatures to France, and Francis was able to send miniatures of himself to Henry. It’s quite interesting that in these very, very early miniatures of Henry VIII from the 1520’s, he doesn’t have a beard. Then he very quickly grows one. Historians have assumed that he might have seen a portrait miniature of Francis with a beard and decided to grow one himself – in a sort of beard-off! So, in short, it was a way of keeping in touch with other monarchs, with other nations. That’s how it starts.
What about the techniques used? You only have to look at a beautifully created miniature from one of the masters to be absolutely wowed and amazed by the talent, the accuracy and the precision of the brushstrokes. So, from a technical point of view, what can you tell us about how they differed from the larger oil paintings?
They’re very, very different. Just like their origins, there are techniques specific to miniatures and use of the medium is also very different from that used in painting oil paintings of this period. Miniatures are painted on vellum, just like illuminated manuscripts. But illuminated manuscripts are much larger and it doesn’t matter that the pages are a little bit floppy. However, with portrait miniatures, because they’re so much smaller, they were supported on a piece of card.
Initially, the artist would have to glue and rub-down the vellum on to a piece of card. Usually, this is a commercial playing card, which was the cheapest but best quality card available at the time. In Tudor England, playing cards were plain on one side and had the suits on the other side. So, I often feel there’s a little joke; certainly, for lovers, you get hearts, for the queen, a queen or you could even get the king for a king, etc.! So, when you turn over a portrait miniature, if it comes out of its frame, then you have this playing card side.
That’s amazing! I had no idea about that. You are saying that you can still see Tudor playing cards on the back of Tudor miniatures?
Yes. It’s just wonderful because it helps anchor these portraits as private, domestic objects. It’s a link with something that people were doing daily; it’s a daily object, like a playing card, turned into this incredible work of art.
Then, once they’d smoothed the vellum down, the artist had to mix their paints. The watercolour paints that were used were kept in mussel shells because they were the perfect size for a very small amount of paint. Mussels, as you know, were widely eaten in Tudor England and not quite the delicacy they are now.
There are also some misconceptions about the brushes used. I often hear people saying that they used a single hairbrush, but in fact, that wouldn’t hold any paint. So, the artist would use quite a fat brush, which came down to a single point, or a very fine point, in order to paint. They were usually made of squirrel hair which is very fine hair.
Also, they would use a tooth to burnish the paints. It would be mounted on a sort of stick to burnish some of the paint, some of the gold and also to keep the vellum flattened onto the playing card.
What do you mean by ‘burnish’, Emma?
Well, they rub out any bumps in the paint. Because they were grinding the paint themselves, it was often relatively rough. But the tooth was mainly used to make sure that the vellum was laying completely flat on the playing card once it was laid down.
Very interesting! I imagine that these weren’t inexpensive items to commission and were the provenance of members of the court, at least initially?
Yes. Certainly, in the beginning, they were very much confined to the court and they were rarefied things. There was a very small number of artists who could create these delicate portraits, using the very specific techniques I have just described.
Obviously, the folk commissioning these were aristocrats, they were wealthy people. Do we have any idea of the cost of commissioning a miniature, say in comparison to a full-sized oil painting?
There’s not a huge amount of information available about how much miniatures cost. I’ve read somewhere that they cost around £500 in today’s money, but to me, that seems quite low. And, of course, the other thing about portrait miniatures is that they can’t just be left on a playing card; they all have to be framed. And it was often that framing which cost an awful lot of money because the frames and cases were often jewelled and enamelled.
Yes. Good point, I didn’t think about the setting of them, but yes I can well imagine! Now, one of the other things that has always interested me about miniatures are the artists. You did mention that Holbein produced miniatures but, on the whole, it seems to me that the people that were producing the large-scale oil paintings were different people from those who were producing, or who were seen to excel in painting, miniatures. Can you talk to us a little bit about some of the key artists, who were renowned for painting miniatures during the Tudor era?
Yes, absolutely! I think your point that they’re very different to the oil painters is very important and valid. From the beginning miniaturists or limners, tried to differentiate themselves from oil painters, who were almost thought of as painter/decorators. Nicholas Hilliard, who is Elizabeth I’s portrait miniaturist, certainly makes that distinction. We’re very lucky because he wrote a treatise on the art of limning and he doesn’t just talk about how he paints miniatures, but he talks about how a portrait miniaturist had to wear silk so as not to shed fibres.
Really, that’s amazing!
He defines himself as a gentleman and even warns that only gentlemen should attempt this type of painting. He is making an important social distinction between himself and jobbing oil painters, or perhaps those who he sees as jobbing oil-painters! I think another point about the artists of this period is that they have direct access to not only the monarch but also other high ranking members of the court. One really important aspect of portrait miniatures, which I haven’t touched on yet, is this tradition that you had to have the person sitting in front of you while you painted them. It had to be an ad vivum portrait. I’m not quite sure where this came from, but it’s probably because the miniature is a private image.
When you commissioned a portrait miniature, you really wanted to get a sense of the person you wanted to see in the miniature. So there’s no point having the artist copy another painting, which might not be as accurate; you had to have the person sitting there. When I get excited about miniatures, that’s one aspect that I find so fascinating. In Hilliard’s treatise, he even talks about sitting with Elizabeth I under a tree in a garden, and how she said to him, ‘Look, I don’t want too much shadow on my face’. He has left behind a wonderful record of the conversation between artist and monarch.
Another artist who I find fascinating was a gentlewoman in the retinue of Elizabeth I. She was called Levina Teerlinc. She was born, we think, around 1510 or 1520, and she was the daughter of a Flemish manuscript illuminator. She was trained by her father at home. She worked for three monarchs – for Henry VIII, for Mary I and then for Elizabeth.
There’s an awful lot of documentation which refers to her and to her presenting these monarchs with limnings as New Year’s Day gifts. Frustratingly, we haven’t really been able to fit that documentation with any specific miniatures. However, there’s a group of miniatures which all have the same technical and aesthetic characteristics and which we think are probably by her. Sadly, though, there’s no direct documentation which links the two.
We know, though, that she painted miniatures and we know she was paid an awful lot of money to do so. In fact, she was paid more than Holbein; around £40 per annum. She’s become a bit of a poster girl for feminist art historians!
Another thing to say here is that there’s something about painting miniatures which makes it an acceptable occupation for female artists. I think it’s to do with the scale – you don’t need to move a lot in front of a huge canvas and there’s something delicate and confined about the painting of miniatures.
Then there’s Nicolas Hilliard. He starts working for Elizabeth I in the 1570s. What’s really fascinating about someone like him is that he’s the first English artist who is absolutely excelling in terms of a worldwide stage and in this particular art form. Henry VIII, as you’ll know, employed so many artists from abroad. But here we have an Englishman, who is the best artist working at this period.
Interestingly, he trained as a goldsmith. So, one of the really fantastic things about his miniatures is the attention that he paid to jewels. When you get them under a microscope or a magnifying glass, he’s got these little blobs of red resin for rubies. He would then surround them by gold and burnish it. So, he’s recreating jewels in a three dimensional way on the surface of these little miniatures.
Sarah: So, can you give us examples of a couple of your favourite miniatures, Emma?
Of course, yes. It is quite a challenge though, deciding which are my favourite miniatures! There are so many wonderful examples, all with their own distinct story. However, one which has always stuck in my mind, and probably takes me back to my 10-year-old self, is the Hans Holbein portrait of Anne of Cleves. This is in the national collection in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
This miniature is a fantastically beautiful, intricate and exciting portrait to look at. Furthermore, for its few inches, it changed the course of history! In 1539, Holbein is sent to Kleve to paint Anne and her sister, Amelia, as a possible match for Henry VIII. Henry trusts Holbein to bring him back an honest portrait of his possible future queen. It’s a huge weight on Holbein’s shoulders. But, Holbein has been really, really clever here.
We know what Anne of Cleves looked like from other portraits, but in this miniature, he’s painted her absolutely face-on to the viewer. Now, she had a rather unfortunately large nose, but the painting flattens it. She’s wearing a wonderful headdress, which also slims down her face. And then he’s shown her rather modestly in this high necked, but a very expensively jewelled, gown; just to remind Henry of the riches that might come with this match. Anne also has these rather sleepy eyes, which I think Holbein might have thought Henry would find alluring but, in fact, she was just rather gentle and docile.
Of course, Holbein paints the portrait in miniature because, being watercolour, it would have dried incredibly quickly. Plus, it’s very easy to transport back to England. So, again, it’s a really exciting object because we think that on the basis of this portrait miniature, Henry agreed to marry Anne of Cleves, which we all know was a disaster. But you’ve got a piece of painted vellum here that changed the course of history. I just find that exciting!
Any others you’d like to tell us about?
There’s one other, which is completely different. This is another miniature in the Victoria and Albert Museum, also by Nicholas Hilliard. As with so many miniatures, it’s of an unknown man. Unfortunately, there’s nowhere to write on miniatures who the sitters were. Thus, they often lose their identity.
Anyway, he’s standing in a shirt. He doesn’t have a doublet over, so it’s just his undershirt which, for these times, is like being shown in your boxer shorts! His shirt is open almost to his belly button and out from underneath his shirt, he’s pulled a locket on a chain which, we assume, has got a portrait miniature of the woman he loves inside. And then the entire background behind him is gold flames (which have been burnished). Therefore, when you turn this miniature in the light, the flames flicker.
He’s got an earring in one ear and that lovely Elizabethan slightly long, ruffled hair, spiked up at the front. He’s very, very handsome! There’s just really one word for this miniature, and that’s sexy. It’s incredibly sexy. There is absolutely no mistaking the message that the receiver of this miniature would have received. That is that the flames of love are burning for you and I’m totally, passionately in love with you. It’s just a very, very exciting glimpse into the private life of an Elizabethan individual. I can imagine whoever received this miniature looking at it for the first time and really feeling their heart pound.
Oh, yes, some lady must have swooned somewhere when she saw it! Now, you say that we can see both of those miniatures for ourselves?
They’re both on view at the Victoria and Albert Museum, which has the national collection. However, there are lots of other places where you can see portrait miniatures. Nearly every National Trust house in the country has some because, of course, they’re family objects that often stay with the house.
The National Portrait Gallery and the Holburne Museum in Bath have a fantastic collection, as do most of the big museums around the country. In Scotland, of course, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery also has a fantastic collection. So, these objects are in most good, public museums and art galleries but, unfortunately, because they are quite delicate and susceptible to light damage, they’re often hidden away or behind those horrible leather covers. But, we have to preserve them.
And, therefore, the very last question is what are your top tips for getting the most out of appreciating these objects of art? I think because they’re so small, they’re so easily passed by. Most of us are like magpies drawn to the jewels, you know, heading for some of the bigger, more impressive pieces of artwork.
Well, I think it’s a real problem for curators. In my job, I advise curators and museums. Sadly, you just can’t give somebody the same experience of holding a portrait miniature in a way that they should be held and looked at. However, you have to try your best to get them as close to the viewer’s eyes as possible. I guess if you’ve got a magnifying glass, or there’s a magnifying glass to hand (which there often is near a collection of miniatures in a museum), use that and just get up close to them because that’s how they would have been viewed originally. It’s very hard when you have a cabinet full of them and they look like measles, all dotted around. So, maybe just focus on one that catches your eye and get as close as possible and really study it.
Well, thank you, Emma! As ever, I have learned so much from our conversation today and I do appreciate that. I’m so looking forward now to getting to the V&A and seeing that collection and maybe trying to find that sexy young man and swooning for myself!
I think you will. Thank you so much. It’s been such a pleasure to talk about them.
Emma began her career working in the Victoria and Albert Museum whilst completing an MA in Victorian Art and Architecture. She set up the Portrait Miniatures Department at Phillip’s Auctioneers and after the amalgamation of Phillips and Bonhams she became Departmental Director.
Note of Thanks: I am indebted to The Philip Mould Galleries for allowing the use of several of the images shown here.
Stirling Castle was one of Scotland’s premier strongholds during the medieval period. It was also a place with a particularly bloody history. In my quest to follow in the footsteps of Mary, Queen of Scots, we must travel to this austere fortress, where we will explore a brief history of the building before looking at the development of the castle and going in search of the events that took place there, some of which were truly pivotal in the story of this beautiful, but ultimately ill-fated, queen.
A Brief and Bloody History
While we are going to focus on the history of Stirling Castle over a very brief window in time, namely circa 1542-1566, the well-documented history of this strategically important Scottish palace stretches deep into the early medieval period. The earliest references make mention of royal lands in the vicinity and a park is first recorded at some time between 1165 and 1174.
At the time, Stirling Castle was sited on the only main route connecting the Highlands with the Lowlands of Scotland, about 38 miles or so due north-west of Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital. It sat high up on a craggy hillside, virtually impregnable on three sides and commanding extensive vistas across the Scottish countryside. It also happened to dominate the only bridge crossing the mighty River Forth. All this made the castle of immense strategic importance. It was said that to hold Stirling Castle was to hold Scotland.
The English were well aware of this. Indeed, much of Stirling’s early history involves the castle being passed back and forth between English and Scottish ownership for roughly 200 years between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries. However, by the fifteenth-century, there was the gradual metamorphosis from fortress to pleasure palace as Stirling Castle became a favoured royal residence of the Stewart dynasty.
The Creation of a Royal Enclave at Stirling
Running in parallel with the development of Stirling Castle as a royal stronghold, came the development of its adjacent town. This was encouraged by the Crown, not only to stimulate the economy and trade but also to supply the royal court with essential provisions.
While the Scottish court was around one-third of the size of its English counterpart (around 350 during the reign of James V: 1512-1542), interestingly, even the grander royal residences, such as at Stirling, only had accommodation for the royal family and a select number of the highest-ranking aristocracy. This, in contrast to the ‘Greater Houses’ of Tudor England, such as Hampton Court, Whitehall, Richmond Palace, Greenwich, Eltham or Woodstock, where the entire court of around 1000 people could be housed at any one time.
As far as the Scottish court was concerned, therefore, this meant that the remainder of those listed as part of the ‘court’ had to take up lodgings in the town, such as Mar’s Wark. Harrison (see below for the link) describes how the physical arrangement of the castle and town mirrored the social status of those living in Stirling in the sixteenth-century, such that the monarch occupied the most prestigious position on the highest outcrop of land, the nobility close by, in the old town, and those of lesser means at the bottom of the long slope, upon which the town was built.
The Development of Stirling Castle
The castle is strongly defensive in appearance, not only on account of the steep, craggy cliffs that fall away from the castle walls on three sides but also because of the imposing walls, turrets and main gateway on the south side of the castle. This defensive stretch is recorded in early documents as the ‘forework’, (a name still used today). It was constructed on the orders of Mary’s grandfather, James IV (husband to Henry VIII’s sister, Margaret Tudor).
Alongside this work, James IV constructed a great hall, a chapel and a range of royal lodgings known as, unsurprisingly, ‘The King’s Lodgings’; these buildings were arranged in a rather lopsided ‘C’ shape around the east, north and west of a central courtyard called, the ‘Inner Close’. There are two things that I think are worthy of note.
Firstly, the Great Hall is described by John Dunbar as ‘probably the grandest secular building to have been erected during the later Middle Ages’ (in Scotland). There is certainly no extant comparator left in the country. Measuring about 38 m by 11m, it is ‘comparable in scale with all but the very largest great halls in England and the Continent’. Indeed, the main design elements were dawn from England and, most likely, from Eltham Palace, where a delegation from Scotland was received and entertained by King Henry VII in 1486.
It seems that delegation took note of what they saw at Eltham and ultimately aspects of the English hall were incorporated into James’ new, great hall at Stirling. If so, then the familiarity of Margaret’s childhood home must have been of comfort to the new Scottish Queen, who arrived in Scotland around the time of its completion at the turn of the sixteenth-century.
The other thing to note at Stirling Castle is that the chapel in which Mary, Queen of Scots was crowned on 9 September 1543, is not the chapel which stands today. This older chapel was destroyed and rebuilt in the late sixteenth-century, slightly to the north of the original. Sadly, the only details that remain of how that chapel looked were that it may well have been aisled and possibly had a south-facing entrance porch.
The coronation ceremony that took place at Stirling in 1543 was witnessed by the English Ambassador to Scotland, Ralph Sadler (who, incidentally, was a Thomas Cromwell protégé; in his earlier years, he was Cromwell’s secretary with rooms at Thomas’ grand, London home at Austin Friars). Sadler described the coronation as having ‘such solemnity as they do use in this country, which is not very costly.’ Clearly, he wasn’t much impressed!
The Royal Palace at Stirling Castle
Having founded the Chapel Royal at Stirling Castle in 1501, Mary’s grandfather, James IV, celebrated Easter at the castle every year. Mary’s father, James V, spent even more of his time there. Around 40% in total. So, perhaps it is no surprise that when his widow, Marie de Guise, wanted to retreat to the most secure fortress in the land during Henry VIII’s ‘rough wooing’ of her infant daughter, she headed to Stirling for protection.
Mary was conveyed from the place of her birth, Linlithgow Palace to Stirling Castle on 27 July 1542, escorted by an armed guard of 3500 men. She was crowned six weeks later and would spend the next four years at the castle. And so, as mentioned at the outset of this blog, Stirling Castle became what one might effectively call Mary, Queen of Scots’ childhood home.
But what do we know of the royal apartments? Well, one of the beauties of visiting the locations associated with Mary, Queen of Scots today is that many of the principal locations associated with her life still stand, including the royal apartments at Stirling Castle.
These lodgings, which henceforth became known as ‘the palace’ or ‘palace block’, made up four ranges centred on a small internal courtyard known as, ‘The Lion’s Den’. Two sets of lodgings, each comprising of three principle chambers, (in addition to two or three smaller ‘closets’), made up the king and queen’s side. During Mary’s time, I am assuming that the little queen occupied one side and her mother, Marie de Guise, the other.
In Scotland, the suite of rooms accorded to the monarch was given the term ‘chamber’. Thus, confusingly, the royal ‘chamber’ may donate a set of rooms, or indeed a single room within the suite. Although the nomenclature was a bit different, this arrangement shared quite a number of similarities with the arrangement of rooms in any aristocratic house on the other side of the border. However, it is probably fair to say that the number of rooms in a Scottish royal chamber tended to be less than at the great palaces of Tudor England.
Both sets of chambers at Stirling Castle were accessed via a stairway from the Inner Close, at the western end of the block. The stairway, in turn, opened onto a corridor, or gallery, which led to the main entrances of each royal ‘side’. Once inside the king or queen’s ‘chamber’, you would progress through a series of rooms. These were increasingly private and intimate. We will look at each of these in turn.
The first of these was the outer ‘hall’, which was used for more public events and receptions. Such was the case of the wedding feast of James IV and Margaret Tudor, where we have an eyewitness account of the nuptial celebrations taking place in the royal chambers. Although this account describes events at Holyrood, it nevertheless provides an insight into how these royal chambers were used and decorated. Our eye-witness is John Young. He notes the king dining in the ‘king’s hall’ on his wedding day, alongside the Scottish party. The room was lit by six large beeswax candles and was decorated with tapestries and ‘a rich dresser for the display of plate’.
The next room in the sequence was the Outer, or Great, Chamber. This too was a public chamber, accessible to anyone with reasonable status at court. It was a room used to greet honoured guests, to dine and to enjoy entertainments, such as dancing or watching a play. Once again, tapestries decorated the walls. At the high end, closest to the next chamber in the sequence, was the king or queen’s throne sited beneath a canopy of state. Indeed, on the morning of James’ wedding to Margaret Tudor, the king received the Archbishop of York and the Earl of Surrey in his Great Chamber at Holyrood.
Beyond this, we move into the privy chambers, where access was strictly controlled. The next room in the sequence was termed the ‘second’ or ‘inner’ chamber. This acted primarily as a private, but social, space. It often contained a bed of state; a symbol of regal power. However, more often than not, the king or queen would sleep in a smaller, more portable bed, found in one of the two or three smaller, most intimate rooms (closets) associated with each ‘chamber’.
Although some 100 years before Mary’s time, it is believed that it was in the King’s Inner Chamber at Stirling Castle (not in the current palace block but in an earlier building at the castle) that James II summoned, then brutally murdered, the Earl of Douglas. Aided by courtiers who were dining with the king, when Douglas refused to accede to the king’s request, James lost his temper and stabbed Douglas in the neck 29 times before his body was thrown from the nearby window. Charming! The room is still known today as ‘The Douglas Room’.
Finally, we move into the inner sanctum of the royal lodgings: the closet. These small rooms, of which there were three on the king’s side and three on the queen’s at Stirling (now lost), were private spaces often reserved for personal devotions. Therefore at least one of the closets was invariably furnished with an altar, plate and vestments.
Mary Returns to Stirling Castle
Mary would not return to Scotland until August 1561. She was nineteen years old and already a widow. The Scottish Queen spent a month at Stirling Castle the following year, in the summer of 1562, and was there for most of September, October and November 1563. By her visit in the Spring of 1565 (April and May), Mary’s was fate was already set on a different – and dangerous – course.
At Wemyss Castle in early February, Mary had become reacquainted with a young man she had first been introduced to during her time in France, a certain Henry, Lord Darnley. From late February, the ‘yon long lad’ (as Elizabeth I called him) was constantly by her side. Two months or so later, when the royal court was at Stirling during the spring of 1565, Darnley fell ill with the measles. Mary personally insisted on nursing him back to health, a sign surely that she had already, fallen for the charms.
After Darnley recovered, he was created Lord of Ardmanoch and Earl of Ross at Stirling Castle on 15 May 1565. Mary married him two months later at Holyrood, in Edinburgh. It was a deeply unpopular match on both sides of the border. Although the forces that ultimately saw the Scot’s Queen cast out of her kingdom were complex, it was, perhaps, at this point that we can say that Mary’s fate took a sinister turn for the worst.
Mary, Queen of Scots would return to Stirling Castle twice more in September and December of 1566. At the time, her infant son was lodged there in the care of John Erskine, Earl of Mar. Whether she knew it or not, Mary’s life was beginning to hurtle headlong towards a catastrophic outcome. It must have been in the royal chamber at Stirling castle that she kissed her son goodbye for the final time. They would never meet again.
Want to travel in the footsteps of Mary, Queen of Scots for yourself and see, among other historic buildings, where these events took place? Then why not join me, The Tudor Travel Guide (in conjunction with British History Tours) on our live tour of Scotland in June 2021? We will be visiting not only Stirling Castle but Linlightgow Palace, Holyrood House, Edinburgh Castle and Loch Leven. For more information, click on the banner below.
Here are some additional images of Stirling Castle for you to enjoy…
Sources I have found useful in writing this blog are:
Visitor information for Stirling Castle can be found here. Note that in recent times, a major refurbishment of some of the royal chambers has taken place at the castle. This allows the visitor to see the sumptuous and colourful chambers as they would have been known by the likes of Mary, Queen of Scots. We are indebted to Stuart Interiors, who completed the refurb for allowing us to use some of their images in this blog.