Friday, November 15, 2013

Katherine Plantagenet, Countess of Devonshire

"In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, I, Katherine Courtneye, Countess of Devonshire, widow, and not wedded, ne unto any man assured, promise and make a vow to God, and to our Lady, and to all the Company of Heaven, in the presence of you, worshipful Father in God, Richard Bishop of Lincoln, for to be chaste of my body, and truly and devoutly shall keep me chaste, for this time forward, as long as my life lasteth, after the rule of St. Paul. In nomine Patris et Fillii et Spiritus Sancti."

Thus did Katherine Plantagenet, daughter of King Edward IV and Queen Elizabeth Woodville vow to never remarry one month after the death of her husband, Lord William Courtenay, newly created Earl of Devonshire, who did not live long enough to be invested with his Earldom. The mother of Henry Courtenay, Marquis of Exeter she was the longest surviving child of Edward IV. The mother of three is the reason that the Marquis had royal blood and was eventually caught up in the conspiracy that bears his name, losing his life.  Katherine Plantagenet, princess of England has a story that is not well known. I hope that over the years of my research into her daughter-in-law's life I will be able to illuminate Katherine's story.  Here's a brief overview on this date the 15th of  November, the anniversary of Katherine's death in 1527.

Katherine Plantagenet was born on the 14th of August, 1479 at the palace of Eltham. She was the sixth daughter and ninth child of King Edward IV and Queen Elizabeth Woodville. Prior to her father's death she was proposed as a bride to Prince Juan of Asturias, son and heir of King Fernando and Queen Isabel, the Catholic Kings of Spain. Following her father's death in 1483, she entered sanctuary with her mother and siblings. When Henry VII came to the throne in 1485 she was six years old, twelve years younger than her eldest sister the new queen, Elizabeth of York.  Another royal marriage was proposed for her by her brother-in-law, as part of a triple marriage alliance with Scotland.  Her mother would have married King James III, elder sister Cecily the future James IV and Katherine would marry Prince James Stewart Duke of Ross.

Instead Katherine married Lord William Courtenay, son and heir of Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devonshire. Horatia Durant, in her 1960 biography of the Tudor Earls of Devonshire states unequivocally that it was a true love match. I question that assumption. If you look at the marriages of Katherine's sisters, all arranged by King Henry VII, they were married into the families of his supporters. Sister Cecily married John, Viscount Welles, maternal half brother of Margaret Beaufort, the King's mother.  Sister Anne married Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, most likely as a way to cement the Howard family to Tudor loyalty as the Earl had fought on the side of Richard III. Katherine's youngest surviving sister, Bridget took the veil becoming a nun at Dartford Priory.

The Courtenay family had been strong allies to Henry VII and William's father Edward Courtenay was listed as the first man knighted at Henry's landing at Mill Bay later being created Earl of Devonshire at the King's coronation. One cannot dismiss the possibility that the marriage was a love match, but there is strong evidence as it being a reward for loyal service to the crown.

William and Katherine had three children. The eldest Henry would go on to be the husband of the subject of this blog, Gertrude Blount and have a long and illustrious career at the court of his cousin, Henry VIII. The second child, Edward died in the summer of 1502, his aunt Queen Elizabeth paying for the expenses of his funeral. The third child, a daughter named Margaret married Henry Somerset, Earl of Worcester in 1520, dying no later than 1526.  It was at one point believed that Margaret died as a child, choking on a fish bone, but this was an error based on a tombstone that was from a different era.

Katherine and William were prominent members of the court of Henry VII.  William made a fatal error in at least corresponding with Edmund de la Pole, exiled Duke of Suffolk. He was imprisoned in 1502 and attainted in 1504. Queen Elizabeth's privy purse expenses record that she took care of her sister and the children.  When Queen Elizabeth died in 1503, Katherine was chief mourner.

At the death of Henry VII Lord William Courtenay was exempted from the general pardon at the beginning of Henry VIII's reign.  Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devonshire died shortly after Henry VIII's accession to the throne. His son would eventually be pardoned and released. Granted the Earldom on the 11th of May 1511, he died on the 11th of June 1511.  One month later Katherine took her vow of chastity. She was only 32 years old.

Katherine outlived her husband and her daughter dying on the 15th of November 1527 at her home, Tiverton Castle, in Devonshire. She is buried in Tiverton church.  In life she was the daughter, sister, niece, sister-in-law and aunt of kings. As the last surviving child of King Edward IV she holds an interesting place in the lesser known annals of history.

Friday, October 25, 2013

October 25, 1519 The marriage of Henry Courtenay and Gertrude Blount

On October 25, 1519 at the Palace of Greenwich, the King's first cousin, Henry Courtenay, Earl of Devonshire married his second wife, Gertrude Blount.

Henry had been married first to Elizabeth Grey, the daughter and heiress of John Grey, Viscount Lisle and Muriel Howard. Elizabeth short life, (c1505 to no later than early 1519) is the key to the complication of the Lisle title.  The Viscount Lisle title was able to be passed on through the female line. Elizabeth's wardship was granted to Sir Charles Brandon and he tried to claim the right to the Lisle title. After he married the King's sister, Mary, Dowager Queen of France in 1515 Elizabeth's wardship passed to the King's Aunt Katherine, Dowager Countess of Devonshire. At some point thereafter, Elizabeth was married to Katherine's son, Henry Courtenay. It is not known why Elizabeth Grey died, but it is presumed to have happened before she reached the age the marriage could be consummated. ( entry on Elizabeth Grey in A Who's Who of Tudor Women)

Henry Courtenay's second marriage was almost to another woman, the niece of William of Croy, Sieur de Chievres and former tutor to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. Horatia Durant writes in her book on the Earls of Devons that "the suggested bride was not good looking but her 'dot' (dowry) was unexceptional, no less than 50,000 crowns and a douceur (grant or bribe) from the newly elected Emperor." (Durant 36)

"On the 11th (June) Spinelly (Spinelli was a Venetian ambassador) communed with the Catholico (primate of an Eastern Orthodox church) on the premises "though he was a little crazed and of a flux: and the evening the lord Chievres sent to me, and desired me to go the next day to the King's mass at court, notwithstanding none other ambassadors, for the said indisposition, should be there. And after the mass done he brought me to the King,"(Charles I of Spain about to be elected Holy Roman Emperor) and told him he had heard that the king of England had sent money to Antwerp to raise a loan for the French; and on the refusal of the merchants to ensure the conveyance of it to Frankfort, it was sent to Lyons to the amount of 50,000l. English gold. He could not believe it was for any other purpose, than to perform the secret intelligence which England had showed to Bouton existed between the Pope and himself. On his retirement from the audience he dined with Chievres, who warned him against the lies of the French, and that the report of his going into France had been taken entirely contrary to the truth; that he had never entertained any overture against England; but he acknowledged that he had consented to many things for peace' sake before he left Flanders, which now he would refuse, but none to the prejudice of England. He said also, that an English gentleman was at Montpellier with the Grand Master, who had given currency to the report;. That same night, demanding the news of Chievres, he had learned that Messire Jeronimo Pruner, carrying the ratification of the lady Katelyna the King's sister, and other dispatches, had arrived safely in Savoy. Whilst talking together it came into Spinelly's mind, that the heir of Devonshire, by the decease of the viscountess of Lisle, was a widower, whereupon he sounded Chievres as to the state of the treaty with that lord's son, and proposed to him to make overtures for the King of England to contract her to my lord of Devonshire. He allowed Spinelly to ask for a commission to treat and conclude this matter. She is not handsome, but is not to be refused; and as he has given to the Lord Fynes with her second sister 50,000 crowns of gold, she that is the eldest must rather have more. On the 13th the governor of Bresse persuaded him to write and urge this matter, saying that besides her uncle's dowry the Catholico will not stick to contribute a good sum, and that for 'the dote, which in marriage is the principal point commonly,' there be no variance. On the 14th Chievres asked him how soon he looked for an answer, he told him, within 25 days. Chievres said he had heard 'in England the youth is of evil rule, and that, being God's pleasure his niece and daughter cometh thither, he wol beseech your grace to put her to her husband and her such persons as unto the same shall be thought good." (Letters and Papers online volume 3 16 June Vesp. C.I. 274 B.M.)

On the 9th of July Sir Thomas More wrote to Thomas, Cardinal Wolsey
"The King is satisfied with the order taken about Hesdin, and is glad of the proposal of Chievres for marriage of his niece with the earl of Devonshire.  He had distrusted the cardinal of Sion before. Oking Saturday, July 9. (Letters and Papers volume 3 9 July. Galba, B.v.269 St. P.I.7)

Wolsey wrote to Spinelli on the 15th of July and here we get a clue as to the reason the foreign marriage proposal did not come to fruition.
"And whereas ye further write of an overture to you made" by Chievres for the marriage of his niece with the earl of Devonshire, a near kinsman of the King's. Wolsey has communicated it to Henry, who heartily thanks Chievres and the King Catholic, considering it a manifest token of their desire to maintain the amity. Nevertheless, before coming to any conclusion (Spinelly) is to find out secretly for what reason Chievres makes the proposal; whether he looks to any chance of the Earl's succession to the crown of England; what dote he means to give his niece, and what jointure or dower of lands he (expects) for her, "which cannot be great, remembering the Earl's mother...knowledge whereof a commission." (Letters and Papers volume 3 Vit. B. XX. 181, B.M.)

Since King Henry VIII did not have a male heir his nearest kinsman who was purely English was his cousin, Henry Courtenay, son of Queen Elizabeth of York's sister, Princess Katherine. King Henry and Queen Katherine of Aragon's daughter Princess Mary is three years old in 1519 and the King's bastard son, Henry Fitzroy has just been born. By strict primogeniture, Henry Courtenay is a bit down the list of potential heirs to the throne. Princess Mary is the heiress followed by Queen Margaret of Scotland's  son, King James V, Queen Margaret herself and her daughter Lady Margaret Douglas, but it is unlikely that King Henry VIII was going to allow his throne to pass to a foreign-born bloodline and in fact, he would exclude Queen Margaret's heirs when he wrote his will.  His younger sister, Mary, Dowager Queen of France and Duchess of Suffolk would be next in line after James and Margaret. In 1519 she has a surviving daughter, Frances and will give birth to her daughter Eleanor. She had a son, Henry in 1516, but he died young no later than 1522. Mary would have a second son, also named Henry who was young enough to be carried at his investiture as Earl of Lincoln in 1525.  That leads to the Yorkist heirs led by Princess Katherine, Dowager Countess of Devonshire's son, Henry Courtenay who had the advantage in 1519 of being an adult male.

The reference to the Earl's mother being the reason that the potential jointure would not be very large has do to with the fact that King Henry VIII had granted Princess Katherine, Dowager Countess of Devonshire the rights to the lands held by her husband until her death.

So, there would be no prestigious foreign match with the niece of Charles V's former tutor. In fact, according to Sir Thomas More the negotiations for Henry Courtenay to marry Gertrude Blount, the daughter of WIlliam Blount, 4th Baron Mountjoy and Queen Katherine of Aragon's Lord Chamberlain were clearly in full swing in July 1519 as More wrote to Wolsey suggesting that the negotiations be put off in favor of the Chievres match.

"...As touching the overture made by my Lord of Shevers for the marriage of my Lord of Devonshire, the King is well content, and as me seemeth, very glad of the motion, wherein he requireth Your Grace that it may like you to call my Lord of Devonshire to your Grace, and to advice him secretly to forbear any further treaty of marriage with my Lord Mountjoy for a while; staying the matter, not casting it off; shewing him that there is a far better offer made him, of which the King would that he should not know the speciality before he speak with his Grace." (Durant 36)

The marriage of Henry and Gertrude took place at Greenwich on the 25th of October and the King paid 200l, 4s 9 p for jousts as part of the wedding festivities. (Emerson entry on Gertrude Blount) So it was a grand court wedding and from that point on Gertrude as the wife of the King's first cousin would begin to take part in many of the grand events of the reign of King Henry VIII starting with attending Queen Katherine at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in June 1520.

Source Material: and 91034
Sorrowful Captives: The Tudor Earls of Devon by Horatia Durant.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

September 18, 1556, The Death of Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devonshire

On this date in 1556, Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devonshire, the only surviving child of Henry Courtenay, Marquis of Exeter and his second wife, Gertrude Blount, Marchioness of Exeter died in Padua, Italy.  He contracted a fever and was thirty years old. He is buried in Padua in the church of Sant'Antonio.

I will be writing more about his life as I continue my research into the life of his mother, but I wanted to share one of the letters that Gertrude wrote to her son in his exile. It is contained in the book Letters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies, Volume 3, edited by Mary Ann Everett Green.


My most hearty blessing I send you, praying our Lord to bless you and send you well into these parts again. Your letter, written the 6th of August, I received the 14th of August. My man was much troubled with his passage; for, being on the sea, there was a great fight between the Frenchmen and the Spaniards, so that the ship he was in was fain to turn back again to Calais. I am very glad to hear you be in health, the which I pray God to continue. This is to advertise you I intend to take my journey to Canford-ward the Monday after Bartholomew day, and, whether I ride farther or not, I cannot yet ascertain you, but as my business shall occasion me I will do; but I appoint, verily, to be here again about Michaelmas. There rides with me, as they have appointed, both Sergeant Tymwell and George Gattys, and a daughter of Master Warham's, the which is a wife, with others. If wishing might take place, you should be there. At my coming home I will write to you. And thus, with my hearty thanks for your token, I will be you farewell; praying our Lord to preserve you both in honour and virtue, and to give his grace to avoid all ill and sinful company.
Written at Malsanger, from Sir William Warham's house, the 20th of August, with my most heart commendations.

By your loving mother,
Gertrude Exeter

To my son, the Earl of Devonshire, give this.
Endorsed -- 20th August, 1555

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Knighthood, knighthood, who's got a knighthood

Getting off on a tangent can lead to interesting discoveries.  I am currently reading Kate Emerson's historical fiction novel Secrets of the Tudor Court: The Pleasure Palace and as I am wont to do I start reading up on the heroine of the novel, Jeanne or Jane Popincourt and the French Prisoner of War, Louis I de Orleans, Duc de Longueville.  The Duc was captured at the famous 1513 Battle of the Spurs and was held in honorable captivity for over a year, acting as a form of ambassador for King Louis XII of France in negotiating Louis' marriage to King Henry VIII's sister, Princess Mary.

It was while perusing the Wikipedia entry on the Battle that I came across a list of men who were knighted over the campaign. While Wikipedia is not the greatest source in the universe it can be very useful in leading you to great material for your own historical research. This was the case as a note led me to the book A Book of Knights Banneret, Knights of the Bath and Knights Bachelor Made Between the Fourth Year of King Henry VI and the Restoration of King Charles II and Knights made in Ireland Between 1566 and 1698.   That is a mouthful of a title.  Available online for free through Google Play Books it is by Walter C. Metcalfe and was published in London in 1855.  A scanned copy; it is rather amusing to see the gloved hands of the person who copied it on several of the opening pages.

This is a treasure trove of information not just for researchers, but also for actors in Renaissance Festivals who are portraying members of the court in the 16th century. One of the greatest things that provides interesting dynamics between the actors is precedence.  In the 16th century everyone believed in the Great Chain of Being, that everyone was born into their place in life ordained by God.  God was at the top of the Chain followed, until the Reformation, by the Pope, then the Monarchy, the aristocracy, etc.,  down to the peasants, thieves,  and actual actors.  Why is this important to a modern day actor?  If you were granted a knighthood by your King and another man was also granted a knighthood you were the same rank.  Who takes precedence when you meet? Who has to bow to whom?  It all comes down to who received their knighthood first. Even if you were knighted on the same day. Leads to some great acting possibilities and great entertainment for an audience.

Enough about acting, back to the research at hand. Looking through the book I find some information that is quite useful for my research into the Marchioness of Exeter and her family.

Edward Courtenay - this is the grandfather of Gertrude's husband, Henry.  He was knighted by Henry Tudor after they landed at Milford Haven in 1485.  It notes that he was created Earl of Devonshire at the King's Coronation.  Edward is listed first among all the men who were knighted.  His arms were Or, three torteaux, a label of three points Azure. Crest- out of a Ducal coronet Or a plume of ostrich-feathers Argent.

James Blount -   He was created a knight at Milford Haven in 1485 and a knight banneret at the Battle of Stoke beside Newark upon Trent the 9th day of June, 1487.

Thomas Blount - knighted at the Battle of Stoke in 1487.

William, Lord Courtenay - Henry Courtenay's father, the son and heir of Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devonshire. He was knighted at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth of York in 1487.  The document erroneously states November 25, 1485.

Courtenay - not listed as a first name probably due to damage to the manuscript . This unknown Courtenay was made a Knight of the Bath along with Arthur, Prince of Wales in 1490.

Edward Blount made a knight on Saint Botolph's Day in 1497 during the uprising in Cornwall.

I will need to work out the various Blounts as they are probably all relatives of Gertrude and her father, William Blount, Lord Mountjoy.

(Cotton manuscript, Claudius, C.iii, fol 1-60)

The Lord Mountjoy.  This is William Blount, Gertrude's father.  Knighted at the "time of the triumphant reign of King Henry VIII"  This was most probably as part of the coronation festivities in 1509.  His arms - Quarterly of six - 1 and 6, 2, 3, and 4, sames as 3, 1, 2 and 4 under Sir. James Blount; 5, Argent, three fleurs -de-lis Azure. The same crest.  Therefore I will say that James Blount is most likely a close relative, possibly his father, since he incorporates James' arms into his own.

(Cotton manuscript Claudius, C iii, fol 68-144)

Henry Courtenay, 3rd Earl of Devonshire and Marquis of Exeter is not listed under any of the basic knighthood creations in this manuscript. So it does look like he was not officially knighted until he was made a Knight of the Garter in 1521 to replace the degraded Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham.  Henry's grandfather, Edward, 1st Earl of Devonshire was made a Knight of the Garter in 1494.  Gertrude's father, William Blount, Lord Mountjoy was made a Knight of the Garter in 1526.


Friday, August 23, 2013

Book Review: Blood Sisters: The Hidden Lives Of The Women Behind The Wars Of The Roses by Sarah Gristwood

Thanks to the television drama The White Queen there is a lot of interest in the women who were at the center of the conflict that has become popularly known as The Wars of the Roses. The series is based on three of novelist Philippa Gregory's Cousins' Wars" books, The White Queen, The Red Queen and The Kingmaker's Daughter. While Ms. Gregory writes very entertaining historical fiction, if those who come to The White Queen want to understand the history behind the fiction you can do no better than to read Sarah Gristwood's Blood Sisters.

Blood Sisters examines the lives of seven prominent women of the middle to late 15th century in England. They are Queen Margaret of Anjou, wife of King Henry VI, Queen Elizabeth Woodville, wife of King Edward IV, Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, the mother of King Edward IV, King Richard III and George, Duke of Clarence, Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy, the sister of King Edward IV, Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby,  the mother of King Henry VII, Queen Anne Neville, wife of King Richard III and Queen Elizabeth of York, wife of King Henry VII.  It is a wide ranging subject that is deftly written in a manner that makes the struggles for the throne clear and concise.

Ms. Gristwood examines each of the women fairly. She strives not to create the villains and heroines that drive the plots of fictional portrayals. Examining primary source documentation, which is scarce for the women of the 15th century, Ms. Gristwood looks for the bias in the source material, whether it is the considered by the time unnatural warmongering of Queen Margaret of Anjou or the scandalous gossip that maligned the marriages of both Cecily, Duchess of York and Queen Elizabeth Woodville and helped King Richard III make his case for usurping the throne. Using as a unifying device fortune's wheel, ever turning for glory or despair, Ms. Gristwood weaves the lives of these women into an enthralling narrative of the Wars of the Roses as it affected these royal and aristocratic families.

It is refreshing to see these women lauded for the strong positions that they had to assume.  Beginning with Margaret of Anjou she is portrayed as the driving force behind protecting the interests of her husband Henry VI and son Edward of Lancaster, Prince of Wales. Margaret is frequently portrayed as a "she-wolf", a label given to another queen consort of England also of French origin, King Edward II's Queen Isabella. Ms. Gristwood makes it clear that this young woman who married at 14 was unpopular with the English aristocracy from the beginning. As the niece of the King of France her marriage lead to the loss of the English territories of Maine and Anjou and did not bring any sort of monetary dowry.  Her husband, Henry VI was known for his piety and devotion to the founding of Educational institutions including Eton College and King's College at Cambridge. Margaret of Anjou founded Queen's College at Cambridge. Bearing only one child, Margaret had to deal with her husband's strange illness which struck during her pregnancy. She also had to navigate the politics of the court that saw Richard, Duke of York named protector and then heir to the throne over her young son.

Intertwined with Margaret of Anjou's story is the life of perhaps the most intriguing of the seven women, Cecily Neville, Duchess of York. She had the chance to become Queen of England. As wife of Richard, Duke of York, protector during Henry VI's illness and the named successor to the throne, Cecily, with her large brood of children was poised to become the most powerful women in England. In 1560 this changed with the Battle of Wakefield, during which both her husband and her second son, Edmund were killed, their heads placed on the gates of the City of York.  A few months later, her eldest son, the 19-year-old Edward, Earl of March defeated Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou's armies, first at the second battle of St. Alban's and then decisively at the intensely bloody battle of Towton. Edward would take the throne as King Edward IV and Henry VI and his wife and son would flee.

The lives of two more of the women weave into the tale.  First is Lady Margaret Beaufort, the rich heiress of the Beaufort line descended from Edward III's son John of Gaunt and his mistress and third wife, Katherine Swynford.  Orphaned as a baby, she would become a royal ward, first given to be raised by William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk and betrothed or married to his son and heir, John at the age of 6. However, Suffolk was deposed from favor and executed and the child marriage dissolved in favor of Margaret being married at the age of 12 to Henry VI's half brother, Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond. From a 21st century perspective the marriage of a 12-year-old girl seems abhorrent, but the age of consent was 12 for girls, 14 for boys. The marriage was consummated and Margaret became pregnant. Her husband was captured during the early skirmishes of the war and died in prison of the plague. Margaret gave birth in 1457 to her only child, the future Henry VII.  Margaret would marry twice more, as a young widow with a son to support she needed to do so to secure her position. Margaret would remain a prominent member of the court of Edward IV.  Her son would have his wardship granted to the Herbert family at Raglan Castle in Wales and then, following the brief restoration of Henry VI to the throne and his overthrow would flee England with his uncle, Jasper Tudor and spend 14 years in exile in Brittany and France.

The other woman who steps forward is the unlikely Queen Elizabeth Woodville. Several years older than Edward IV, Queen Elizabeth would secretly marry the King causing scandal at the court and upsetting the careful diplomacy planned by Edward IV's adviser, Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick. Elizabeth Woodville is the heroine of The White Queen series, but her controversial marriage would drive a wedge into the large York family. The Yorks are filled with ambition and a good deal of the reason that Richard III was able to usurp the throne from his nephew the child king Edward V stems from Elizabeth Woodville's secret marriage and the advancement of her large family.

Richard Neville is better known to history as Warwick the Kingmaker. He was the power behind Edward IV coming to the throne and when he did not favor Edward's policies he was able to take his own discontent and marry it, in a fashion, with that of Edward IV's ambitious brother, George, Duke of Clarence.  Warwick would use his two daughters Isabel and Anne to make strategic alliances. Anne is the focus of the story as she would become the queen consort of Richard III. What is very frustrating is that there just isn't a lot of primary source documentation about Anne Neville's life. As she and her sister Isabel were her father's heirs, she was a very rich potential bride. Isabel was married to George in 1469 and George and Warwick would defect to the cause of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou. Anne would be married to Edward, Prince of Wales, but there is no evidence that the marriage between these young teenagers was ever consummated.  Nor is there any reason to believe that she was unwilling to marry Richard III a few years later, no matter the beautiful seduction scene in Shakespeare's Richard III.  As  a matter of fact, Anne and Richard knew each other as children with Richard being raised in Warwick's household. George, Richard's brother did not want Anne to marry Richard as it was in George's best interest to keep the Warwick inheritance solely in the hands of his wife, Isabel. It would be wonderful to find documentation about exactly when Richard and Anne's son, another Edward was born and how Anne felt about taking the throne from Edward IV's son, but we will never know.

The final two women really intersect during the reign of Henry VII. Queen Elizabeth of York is the eldest child of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. As with most princesses she is a marriage pawn being offered in alliance on the continent and also several times to the exiled Henry Tudor. Most likely Edward IV was using the offer of marriage to get Henry Tudor to return to England so that this unlikely heir to the Lancastrian lineage could be captured and neutralized.  Following Richard III's coup, which from Richard's perspective was necessary if you note that the death of Edward IV caused another power struggle between the named protector Richard and the relatives of Queen Elizabeth Woodville. Henry Tudor became the unlikely rallying figure for the opposition to Richard III once the rumors began that Edward V and his brother were dead. Elizabeth of York would be the cement in an alliance between Queen Elizabeth Woodville and Henry's mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort.  Her marriage would create an uneasy end to the Wars of the Roses, but her husband's crown was never completely secure.

Margaret of Burgundy was a large factor in that insecurity. Married off by her brother to the Duke of Burgundy, Margaret would not have children of her own, but would be a powerful regent for her stepchildren. Margaret became the person who strongly supported the cause of Perkin Warbeck, who claimed to be the younger of the missing princes. Despite having never met her brother's children and not caring that her actions were endangering her niece as Queen of England, Margaret of Burgundy is another fascinating powerful woman that deserves a more in depth biography.

Sarah Gristwood has written a compelling and insightful look into the lives of the real life women of the Wars of the Roses. If The White Queen and the novels of Philippa Gregory have peaked your interest into learning about the history of theses women, Sarah Gristwood's Blood Sisters is the perfect place to learn their compelling history.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Research, A Fascinating Way to Get Distracted in Little Details

As I begin in earnest my research into the life of the Marchioness of Exeter I find myself constantly being led down winding pathways. Today I began looking into the life of the Marchioness' first stepmother. Inez de Venegas was one of Queen Katherine of Aragon's Spanish attendants and thanks to the wonderful information in one of my favorite Tudor research websites I was able to track her movements with Queen Katherine.

That website is  Kate Emerson, under the name Kathy Lynn Emerson, wrote a wonderful book published in 1984 entitled Wives and Daughters: The Women of Sixteenth Century England. This very comprehensive book, whose information is now in the aforementioned website, gives short biographies of hundreds of women in 16th century England. She includes photographs of paintings and tomb monuments. If you are interested in the lives of any of the women who served the Queens and Princesses of England, Ms. Emerson's website should be your first stop.

Another resource available on her website is a series of lists of the women who were named as members of the households of the Tudor royal family. Eventually I will be delving into the English archives and the various letters and papers, foreign and domestic in my search to find the real Marchioness of Exeter and trace her comings and goings. However, Ms. Emerson's lists give me some very good basic information so that I can research not only darling Gertrude, but some of the other women in her life.

As I looked for the court life of stepmother Inez de Venegas, Ms. Emerson's lists showed me that she was a member of Katherine of Aragon's household from her arrival from Spain.  She is also listed as one of the ladies of the Princess Dowager of Wales' household who was given "manteletts and kercheffs" for the funeral of King Henry VII.  A mantelet is a short shawl and a kerchief is a head covering.  Inez is listed as a Lady of the Bedchamber in 1509 as Lady Mountjoy.  Since Inez died about five years later, the next Lady Mountjoy that appears is her successor and Gertrude's second stepmother Alice Kebel. This third Lady Mountjoy is listed by Ms. Emerson as a lady at table and participating in court revels. Alice, Lady Mountjoy joins her stepdaughter in attendance upon Queen Katherine at the Field of the Cloth of Gold.

While looking at these lists I find other women I am interested in researching more thoroughly. Jane Neville, Lady Montague appears in the Field of the Cloth of Gold list.  This is the wife of Henry Pole, Baron Montague, the eldest son of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury.  Henry Pole's life is very much intertwined with his cousin Henry Courtenay. They joust against each other at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Sadly they die together, caught up in the so-called Exeter Conspiracy.  Jane Neville, Lady Montague (or Montagu) was the daughter of George Neville, Baron Abergavenny.   I find it interesting that she is listed as dying in 1538 or 1539.  It will be interesting to see whether she died before or after the arrest of her husband and young son.

Another woman I look forward to researching further is Gertrude's half sister, Katherine Blount.  She was born in 1518 a year before Gertrude's marriage, married twice and named a daughter after her sister.

Last is the mysterious sister of Gertrude's husband Margaret Courtenay.  Margaret has a contradictory biography.  When Horatia Durant wrote her biography Sorrowful Captives: The Tudor Earls of Devon in 1960 she related the local story that Margaret Courtenay died as a child when she choked on a fishbone.  This was a case of mistaken identity and the tomb in question, located in Colyton Church is that of Margaret Beaufort, a granddaughter of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford who married a different Earl of Devon.  Instead it appears that our Margaret Courtenay was married, sometime between 1514-1520 (sources conflict) to Henry Somerset, Lord Herbert, but she died in 1526.

I hope that this rambling discourse shows how an afternoon of preliminary research can lead one down a lot of intriguing pathways.  I have a long journey ahead of me, but it is a journey that I hope will lead to a better understanding of the life of Gertrude Blount, the Marchioness of Exeter.  In the meanwhile, check out Kate Emerson's website and, while you're at it, pick up one or two (or more) of her historical fiction novels.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

I Am a Plain Dealing Villain: Portraying Thomas Cromwell at The Maryland Renaissance Festival

July 28 is the anniversary of the execution of Thomas Cromwell. This is the paper I delivered earlier this year.

Presented at the Popular Cultural Association/
American Cultural Association National Conference
Washington, D.C. March 27, 2013



This paper would not have been possible without the cooperation and support of the following:

Dr. Kimberly Tony Korol-Evans – department chair, friend, mentor

The interview subjects whether formally responding to questions or discussing memories of the festival in years pass with the author at cocktail parties:

Thomas Plott, Thomas Cromwell 1993-1994

Steven Kirkpatrick, Thomas Cromwell 2003-2005, 2007

Carolyn Spedden, Artistic Director, Maryland Renaissance Festival

Mike Field, Playwright

Mary Ann Jung, Royal Court Director, Maryland Renaissance Festival

And this paper is dedicated to Kevin Wilshere, for his love, support and putting up with the author’s eccentricities


“…it must not be denied but I am a plaine dealing vilaine,”

---Don John, Much Adoe About Nothing by William Shakespeare[1]

William Shakespeare’s villains are easy to identify. They tell us they are villains. There is no subtext, no deep dark childhood secret that makes us realize that they aren’t really bad people. They are who they are and this makes watching them that much more enjoyable for the audience. When it comes to history, particularly the popular culture obsession with all things Tudor England, there is a similar desire to create easily identifiable heroes and villains.

What are the challenges for an actor when they are portraying a person from history who is usually identified by popular culture as the villain? One could easily write a novel-length paper on the many persons who were at the courts of the Tudor monarchs who, in historical fiction, plays and films are seen as the villains. The Maryland Renaissance Festival employs professional actors to portray the King and his court.  The royal court storyline changes from year to year.  The festival has portrayed all six of King Henry VIII’s queens twice and has now returned back in time to portray Queen Katherine of Aragon for a third time.

In the course of the two previous queenly cycles two actors have portrayed a character widely seen in both fictional and non-fictional mediums as a villain. Thomas Cromwell is popularly seen as the orchestrator of the falls of Sir Thomas More and Queen Anne Boleyn.  As the Vice-Regent for the King in Spirituals Cromwell destroyed the monasteries filling the King’s treasury with the spoils and using the land to enrich himself and other members of the court.  Thomas Cromwell made a fatal mistake in promoting the King’s marriage to his fourth wife, Queen Anna of Cleves.  Two months after being raised to the title of Earl of Essex he was arrested and attainted for treason and heresy. His subsequent execution was grisly as the headsman botched the job.  A fitting end to a notorious villain.

“With rewards and penalties –so much wickedness purchases so much worldly prospering---“

---Thomas Cromwell, A Man For All Seasons by Robert Bolt[2]

We all love a good story. When it comes to history we are much more enamored of historical narratives with clear heroes and villains rather than a simple rote list of names, dates and events.  It has been ever so from the first chroniclers of Tudor History.  Examining Thomas Cromwell he has been brushed with the label of villain since the earliest chroniclers.  Theatrically he is portrayed as a driving calculating minister who rose in power from his humble peasant beginnings to the most powerful man in the kingdom, the indispensible right hand man to the king.[3][4] [5]

When those historians, whether John Foxe in his Acts and Monuments positively extolling the Protestant virtues of Thomas Cromwell’s church reforms[6] or Nicholas Sander demonizing Cromwell for persecuting the Carthusian monks for refusing to swear an oath recognizing King Henry VIII as head of the Church of England,[7] each historian’s viewpoint is colored depending on the moral tale they wished to relate to their readers.  This has translated to the fictional portrayals of Thomas Cromwell from the beginning. Even William Shakespeare has weighed in on Thomas Cromwell, portraying him as the loyal servant of Thomas, Cardinal Wolsey, devastated by Wolsey’s downfall.[8]

What has changed in the 20th and 21st centuries is the rise in popularity of historical fiction. The majority of the portrayals of Thomas Cromwell keep him in his traditional role as the villain of Henry VIII’s court. There have been numerous dramatic portrayals on stage, screen and television that have, for the most part continued the popular stereotypes of Henry VIII’s prominent minister.

Discovering the real person behind the popular cultural perception has become much easier in the past decade with the availability of primary source materials on the internet.  It is easier to examine the letters and papers of King Henry VIII’s court and read the actual accounts of the reign.  Numerous out of print books, such as accounts originally published in the Victorian era are available to download and peruse. Yet, the stereotypes persist.  After all, the history seems juicier when one can write dramatic tales, for example, Queen Anne Boleyn’s allegedly deformed miscarried son[9], which most historians believe was not the case.[10] [11]

This is partly due to the continued interest in Tudor England in popular culture starting in 1998 with the release of the Academy Award-winning film Elizabeth. From Philippa Gregory’s novels The Other Boleyn Girl and The Boleyn Inheritance, Hilary Mantel’s Man Booker Prize winning novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, to the many miniseries on Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I which led up to the very popular Showtime series The Tudors, the 16th century remains a popular subject to dramatize. This is also apparent at those renaissance festivals that portray the royal court through storylines based on historical events.

“As matters stand you are but half a king…What the King of England wants he should have, without hindrance from abroad.”

---Thomas Cromwell, Anne of The Thousand Days by Maxwell Anderson

The Maryland Renaissance Festival is known for providing entertaining dramatized plays about the prominent events in the reign of King Henry VIII.  As mentioned previously, the Maryland Renaissance Festival has portrayed the entire cycle of King Henry VIII and all six of his queens twice and has started with Queen Katherine of Aragon for a third time.[12]  The special nature of acting at a renaissance festival also leads to what Dr. Kimberly Tony Korol-Evans terms historical elaboration.[13]

Dr. Korol-Evans defines historical elaboration as  “first-person interpretation with an additional theatrical flair.”[14] Renaissance festival actors are not just performing their characters as part of a play on a stage. Many members of the audience gain a chance to interact with the actors through improvisation, thus gaining a more personal relationship than they might develop by simply seeing the character on a stage. Through such interactions, the audience gets an idea of whom that person might have been through the interpretation of the actor portraying the part. When Thomas Cromwell is portrayed as the villain it becomes a chance for an actor to either fully embrace that villainous role or subtlety shade the audience’s perception by giving them a glimpse into the character’s motivations for his actions.

“I tread as my duty directs me, your majesty. I tread for your interests.”
Thomas Cromwell, The Six Wives of Henry VIII: Anne Boleyn
by Nick McCarty[15]

It is a breath of fresh air that Thomas Cromwell’s recent biographer, Robert Hutchinson does not waste pages trying to expand upon what little is known about Thomas Cromwell’s early life.  We don’t know exactly when Thomas Cromwell was born, but it is presumed to be around 1485.  His father, Walter Cromwell was a violent man who was in constant legal troubles and held many different jobs including that of blacksmith.  At some point young Thomas ended up going to the continent where he traveled to the Low Countries and Italy and may have fought as a member of the French army on the losing side in a war with the Spanish.[16] He ended up in Antwerp and Italy where he became a clerk to several bankers and merchants and became fluent in several languages.[17] Returning to England by 1516 he had married and was considered influential enough to be sent by John Robinson, an aldermen of Boston in Lincolnshire to travel to Rome to seek two indulgences from Pope Leo X.[18]

It is not known when he became acquainted with Thomas, Cardinal Wolsey, but he entered the Cardinal’s service at some point in the mid-1520’s.  Cromwell also served in the House of Commons in Parliament.[19]  Cromwell survived the fall of Wolsey from favor and joined the King’s household in 1530.   He would become known to history for his legal expertise in the King’s Great Matter (or the annulment of the marriage of  King Henry VIII and Queen Katherine of Aragon) and the rise of Anne Boleyn to queen.  His role as Vice-Regent of the King in Spirituals led to his overseeing the dissolution of the monasteries and brought him into conflict both with the conservative, more traditional Roman Catholic members of the aristocracy and with the reforming faction represented by Queen Anne and her brother, George, Viscount Rochford.  It is those conflicts that have made Thomas Cromwell a natural villain in the fictional versions of the court of King Henry VIII.  Thomas Cromwell has featured as a villain in such works as Robert Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons, Maxwell Anderson’s Anne of the Thousand Days, the 1970 BBC Miniseries The Six Wives of Henry VIII and the 2007-2010 Showtime Series The Tudors.

The storylines written for the two Thomas Cromwells portrayed at the Maryland Renaissance Festival have been based on actual incidents of the time period. They have been changed for dramatic effect sometimes changing the setting to the Festival’s fictional village of Revel Grove or giving Cromwell a more active role in some events.  In the plays and scenarios written for the character Thomas Cromwell remains a person of power and influence and most certainly, the villain.

“I am not the King’s right hand, I am his fist.”

---Thomas Cromwell, Cromwell’s Ghost by Mike Field[20]

Thomas Plott portrayed Thomas Cromwell at the Maryland Renaissance Festival for two seasons, 1993 and 1994.  In 1993 the year portrayed was 1537 and King Henry VIII was looking for property to build Nonsuch Palace. As Royal Court Director Mary Ann Jung commented she had discovered that historically the village of  Cuddington in Epsom, Surrey had been sold to the crown and destroyed to make way for the palace and two royal parks. [21]In the Festival’s version of the story Thomas Cromwell decided that Revel Grove was the perfect location and tried to get the Mayor of Revel Grove to sign the property over to the Crown.[22]  In the course of the festival performance day, the Mayor received a blow on the head, which made him think that he was King Alfred the Great.  At the end of the day, the Mayor regained his memory just as he was about to sign over the deed to the village. Cromwell ordered his subordinate, the village deputy Cyril to take care of the Mayor leading to the Mayor’s murder.

In 1994, this storyline was revisited in the haunting tale written by playwright Mike Field, Cromwell’s Ghost.   In the story Cromwell is lured to the home of a local embroider who wants to punish Cromwell for the death of the Mayor and the subsequent madness of the Mayor’s sister.  The actual ghost of the Mayor appears to Cromwell, literally making him confront the demons of his past.

The main royal court storyline that season concerned the ill-fated marriage of King Henry VIII and Queen Anna of Cleves.  After the King’s wedding was held on the joust field, Cromwell was forced to sit on a bench on the field to watch the final joust of the day instead of in the royal reviewing stand.  Once the joust concluded Cromwell was arrested.  He charged towards the royal box, was whipped and escorted away to prison while the village choir sang Mozart’s Dies Ire.

According to playwright Mike Field, Cromwell’s power was emphasized by his dramatic arrival with the royal court first thing in the morning.  Cromwell was carried by four men in a covered litter as the rest of the royal court walked in procession through the gates of the village.[23]  His subsequent fall from grace was visually stark as he sat on a simple wooden bench while the joust took place.  Reflecting on his time as Thomas Cromwell  Mr. Plott did not see Cromwell as a villain but as a necessary evil.  Yet he was delighted by his audience interactions, describing how he was treated and how he treated the audience by saying “with fear, loathing and delight…All that I hoped for.”[24] Mr. Plott  saw the arc of the storyline he portrayed as a “classic villain storyline.  He was a man who could not escape his fate, though he thought he could.”[25]

Mr. Plott has a unique perspective, as he is a Character Interpreter at George Washington’s Mt. Vernon in Virginia.  When asked to comment on the differences between being a Character Interpreter at an historic location such as Mt. Vernon and performing an historic character at the Maryland Renaissance Festival, Mt. Plott replied, “ The similarities are the fact that Cromwell is a historical person and certain facts are known about him.  As a Character Interpreter you try to use the knowledge of these facts to create a realistic portrayal of the person. In the case of Cromwell for the festival, I also had to shape my performance using the scripts as another set of ‘facts’ to specifically portray him as a villain.”[26]

“The last three weeks I was alive, I couldn't speak to Henry, couldn’t send a message. Cromwell cut me off. While he told his lies.”
----Anne Boleyn, Anne Boleyn by Howard Brenton[27]

Thomas Cromwell returned to the cast of the Maryland Renaissance Festival in 2003, this time in the guise of actor Steven Kirkpatrick.  He would portray Cromwell until the 2007 season, with the exception of the 2006 season.  Mr. Kirkpatrick recalled that the storylines over the course of the four seasons “increasingly emphasized the rise of Cromwell in power and influence.[28]  Mr. Kirkpatrick began his tenure as Cromwell as the festival portrayed the year 1534 and the storylines showed that King Henry VIII could depend upon Cromwell to do what the king wanted.  The scripts gave Mr. Kirkpatrick clues that shaped his Cromwell as shrewd, calm and wry.  Fellow members of the cast commented to Mr. Kirkpatrick that while they remembered Thomas Plott’s Cromwell as more of a Darth Vader-like terrorizing villain, Mr. Kirkpatrick was more “slimy”, “like a snake,” or “like Severus Snape”[29]  from Harry Potter.

In 2004, the festival portrayed the Year of Three Queens.[30] In the course of the festival performing day Queen Katherine of Aragon died, Queen Anne Boleyn was arrested and executed and Mistress Jane Seymour was betrothed to the king.  In history these events happened over the first five months of the year 1536.  Dramatically it was a compelling series of plays and street scenarios that brought these historic events to life.[31] Thomas Cromwell was a prominent figure in each of the queen’s stories, announcing that Queen Katherine of Aragon was on her deathbed, interrogating Queen Anne’s ladies in Queen Anne’s Arrest and being honored with the noble title Baron of Oakham as part of Jane’s Betrothal.   Mr. Kirkpatrick related that as Cromwell’s power grew he was shown at one point sitting in the King’s throne issuing orders.  In another example, Queen Anne hurled curses and accusations at him as he followed her in procession as she exited the festival on her way to imprisonment in the Tower of London.[32]

It was the following season that gave Mr. Kirkpatrick the opportunity to show Thomas Cromwell in his villainous glory.  The 2005 season focused on The Lost Princess.[33]  The year portrayed was 1537, although the main storyline, the return of the Lady Mary, daughter of King Henry VIII and Queen Katherine of Aragon to court, historically took place in the year 1536.  Cromwell was tasked with obtaining the written capitulation of the Lady Mary that accepted that her father was now head of the Church of England and that her mother’s marriage was unlawful and incestuous making herself illegitimate. [34]  Mr. Kirkpatrick recalled, “The scripts had Cromwell accompanied by Sir Richard Southwell, who indeed served as his henchman, grim-faced and ready to urge violence.”[35]
Mr. Kirkpatrick’s own research on Cromwell revealed that the “speculation about Cromwell’s early years and possible mercenary work in Italy, would have accounted for the violence that was revealed in the Lady Mary interrogation.”[36] He ultimately did not see Thomas Cromwell as an “outright villain,” but “as some one for whom gaining power and influence over people was enough of a kick that he couldn’t help himself.”[37]

I have served my Lord with all my mind and spirit.  I am no traitor!
Thomas Cromwell, Cromwell’s Dream by Carolyn Spedden[38]

As with Thomas Plott, Steven Kirkpatrick also portrayed the fall of Thomas Cromwell from power.  His experience was unique, as his character was not actually arrested for treason.  Instead the stage play Cromwell’s Dream written by Carolyn Spedden dramatized the events leading up to and including the arrest.  Thomas Cromwell, working tirelessly at his desk fell asleep.  In his dream state his enemies at court confronted him for his treasonous behavior.  Cromwell awoke from his nightmare, uneasy with the specter of the axe haunting his soul. 
When asked to reflect on his four seasons as Thomas Cromwell, Mr. Kirkpatrick mentioned that the most vivid patron interactions were based on audience members mistaking Thomas Cromwell for Oliver Cromwell.  Oliver Cromwell, a descendant of Thomas Cromwell’s sister, is reviled for his treatment of the Irish.  “Those were the only times I received outright reactions or negative comments…However, there were always a few savvy patrons who know the history and who might sidle up to me—especially after a court show—and say ‘You’ll get yours one day, you know.’”[39]

“Those who are made can be unmade.”
Anne Boleyn, Bring Up the Bodies by Hillary Mantel[40]

As in all stories of good versus evil, the bad guy loses in the end.  The real Thomas Cromwell was arrested while attending a Privy Council meeting on June 10, 1540. An Act of Attainder of treason and heresy passed by Parliament convicted him, a process he himself had promoted as a way to bypass the need for a trial.  Kept alive long enough to assist from his cell in the Tower of London with the annulment of the King’s marriage to Queen Anna of Cleves he was executed by beheading on July 28, 1540, the same day that the King married his fifth queen, Katharine Howard.[41] Thomas Cromwell’s newest biographer, Diarmaid MacCulloch writes in the March 2013 issue of BBC History Magazine that Cromwell’s fall and death were caused by four factors.  The first factor is the one that is most famous and the primary reason used in fictional portrayals, the arrangement of the King’s marriage to Anna of Cleves.  Secondly, and this is a new revelation, Cromwell angered Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk by ignoring the Duke’s wishes for Thetford Priory, traditional burial place of the Howard family and coincidentally the burial place for the King’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset.  Norfolk wished to have the priory converted to a college of priests.  Cromwell closed the priory in February 1540 and Norfolk was forced to relocate his family’s tombs 35 miles away to Framlingham.  Third, in March 1540, John Bourchier, 15th Earl of Essex died and the King granted his ancient title to Cromwell.  Lastly, John de Vere, 15th Earl of Oxford died, the hereditary Great Chamberlain of England one of the oldest royal offices.  The King granted it to Cromwell.[42] The blacksmith’s son from Putney had angered the aristocracy one too many times and they were able to persuade the King to put an end to Cromwell.

Thomas Cromwell is a complex character that makes for a fascinating villain from Tudor England.   He can be the consummate villain of such plays as Robert Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons or Howard Brenton’s Anne Boleyn.  Alternatively he is a more complicated man, whether in the novels of Hillary Mantel or the television series The Six Wives of Henry VIII and  The Tudors.

There is continued interest in Thomas Cromwell thanks to new scholarship in the guise of Diarmaid MacCulloch’s soon to be released biography and Hilary Mantel’s planned novel relating the end of his life.  As the Maryland Renaissance Festival cycles its way through the 1520’s and 30’s for the third time you can be assured that Thomas Cromwell will reappear in the tales told of King Henry VIII’s court.  It will be fascinating to see whether he will once again be the Darth Vader-like terror embodied by Thomas Plott or the smooth, coy snake of Steven Kirkpatrick.  One can look forward to the return of Thomas Cromwell to the cast of the Maryland Renaissance Festival.  Perhaps he will emerge in a third manner as a new actor puts his own memorable interpretation on the streets of Revel Grove.

“Men so noble, however faulty, yet should find respect for what they have been.”
---Cromwell, Henry VIII by William Shakespeare[43]

[1] William Shakespeare, Much Adoe About Nothing, Applause First Folio Edition, (New York: Applause Theatre Books, 2001) 13
[2] Robert Bolt, A Man For All Seasons, (New York: Vintage Books: 1960), 41
[3] Bolt 41
[4] The Tudors.  Directors various. (Showtime, TM Productions Limited/PA Tudors Inc. An Ireland-Canada Co-Production), 2007-2009
[5] The Six Wives of Henry VIII.
[6] John Foxe. The Unabridged Actes and Monuments Online or TAMO. (Sheffield: HRI Online Publications) 1563 Edition, Book 3  578-589
[7] Nicholas Sander, Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism,  Google Play Digital Edition (London: Burns and Oates, 1877) 253
[8] Shakespeare, William. Henry VIII or All Is True, Folger Shakespeare Edition (New York: Washington Square Press, 2007) 153-159
[9] Philippa Gregory, The Other Boleyn Girl, (New York: Touchstone, 2001) 589
[10] Eric Ives. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing, 2004) 296-298
[11] Claire Ridgway. The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown, Kindle Edition (MadeGlobal Publishing: April 2012) 17-19.
[12] 2012
[13] Dr. Kimberly Tony Korol-Evans, Renaissance Festivals: Merrying The Past And Present, (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, Inc., 2009) 123
[14] Korol-Evans 123
[15] Nick McCarty, The Six Wives of Henry VIII: Anne Boleyn, BBC 1970, DVD 2000
[16] Hutchinson, Robert. Thomas Cromwell: The Rise and Fall of Henry VIII’s Most Notorious Minister, (London: Phoenix, 2008)  7-9
[17] Hutchinson 10
[18] Hutchinson 10
[19] Hutchinson 13-17
[20] Field, Mike, Cromwell’s Ghost (Crownsville, MD: Maryland Renaissance Festival 1994
[21] Field notes, interview with Mary Ann Jung, March 2013
[22] Field notes, interview with Thomas Plott, March 2013
[23] Field, March 2013
[24] Plott, March 2013
[25] Plott, March 2013
[26] Plott, March 2013
[27] Brenton, Howard, Anne Boleyn,  Kindle Edition (London: Nick Hern Books, 2012) 113
[28] Field notes, interview with Steven Kirkpatrick, March 2013
[29] Kirkpatrick, March 2013
[31] Korol-Evans, 128-144
[32] Field notes. Interview with Steven Kirkpatrick. March 2013
[34] Porter, Linda. The First Queen of England, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2007) 118-125
[35] Kirkpatrick March 2013
[36] Kirkpatrick, March 2013
[37] Kirkpatrick, March 2013
[38] Spedden Carolyn, Cromwell’s Dream, (Crownsville, MD: Maryland Renaissance Festival, 2007)
[39] Kirkpatrick, March 2013
[40] Mantel, Hillary,  Bring Up the Bodies, Kindle Edition, (New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC., 2012) 110
[41] Hutchinson, 238-263
[42] MacCulloch, Diarmaid. “Thomas Cromwell: a Thug in a Doublet?”, BBC History Magazine, Ipad Edition (Bristol: Immediate Media Company Bristol Ltd., March 2013) 29-33
[43] Shakespeare, Henry VIII, 215


A Man For All Seasons. (1966) Director Fred Zimmerman.  Columbia Pictures.
Anderson, Maxwell. Anne of the Thousand Days. New York: Dramatists Play Service, Inc. 1948,1950, 1977.
Anne of the Thousand Days (1969). Director Charles Jarrott. Universal Pictures.
Bolt, Robert. A Man For All Seasons. New York: Vintage Books. 1960, 1962.
Brenton, Howard. Anne Boleyn.  London: Nick Hern Books. Kindle Edition. 2012.
Field, Mike. Cromwell’s Ghost. Crownsville, MD: Maryland Renaissance Festival. 1994.
Gregory, Philippa. The Other Boleyn Girl. New York: Touchstone. 2001.
Hutchinson, Robert. Thomas Cromwell: The Rise and Fall of Henry VIII’s Most Notorious Minister. London: Phoenix. 2008.
Ives, Eric W. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing. 2004.
Korol-Evans, Dr. Kimberly Tony. Renaissance Festivals: Merrying the Past and Present. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, Inc. 2009.
Mantel, Hilary. Bring Up the Bodies. New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC. Kindle Edition. 2012
Mantel, Hilary. Wolf Hall. New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC. 2009
MacCulloch, Diarmaid. “Thomas Cromwell: a thug in a doublet?” BBC History Magazine. Immediate Media Company Bristol Ltd. Ipad Edition. March 2013.
Porter, Linda. The First Queen of England. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 2007.
Ridgway, Claire. The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown.  MadeGlobal Publishing: Kindle Edition. April 2012.
Sander, Nicholas. Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism. Google Play Digital Edition. London: Burns and Oates. 1877.
Shakespeare, William. Henry VIII or All Is True. Folger Shakespeare Library Edition. New York: Washington Square Press.  2007
Shakespeare, William. Much Adoe About Nothing. Applause First Folio EditionsNew York: Applause Theatre Books. 2001.
Spedden, Carolyn. Cromwell’s Dream. Crownsville, MD: Maryland Renaissance Festival. 2007
The Six Wives of Henry VIII: Anne Boleyn.  (1970) Director Naomi Capon BBC DVD edition 2000.
The Tudors. (2007-2010). Various Directors. Showtime, TM Productions Limited/PA Tudors Inc./An Ireland-Canada Coproduction.
Foxe, John. The Unabridged Actes and Monuments Online or TAMO. HRI Online Publications. Sheffield.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Marchioness of Exeter Contracts the Sweating Sickness, 1528

This is the letter that refers to the Marchioness contracting the sweat in the summer of 1528. Note that the court immediately abandoned the Exeters and the members of their household for fear of contagion. The sweat in 1528 took several well known courtiers lives including William Carey, the husband of Mary Boleyn and William Compton, the King's Groom of the Stool, best known for his battles with Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham over the King's affair with the Duke's sister. Anne Boleyn and her brother George also contracted the sweat that summer, but, like Gertrude, they survived.

“To Wolsey  [1528]

…This morning, at 7 of the clock, I delivered Your Grace’s letters to the King’s Highness; wherewith I assure Your Grace, His Highness was greatly comforted, and giveth unto Your Grace hearty thanks for the same, and especially for the good news he hath out of Italy from Mr. Doctor Stevyns. (Stephen Gardiner)  And this morning he hath word that my lady Marquis of Exeter is sick of the common sickness, which causeth His Highness to appoint to remove, upon Saturday, from hence to Ampthill, and hath commanded that all such as were in my said Lord Marquis’ company and my said Lady, to depart in several parcels, and so not continue together; and so he desireth Your Grace t do, if any such case shall fortune, as God forbid.  And glad he is to hear that Your Grace hath so good a heart, and that you have determined and made your will, and ordered your self anenst God; which will he intendeth shortly to send unto Your Grace, wherein Your Grace shall see and perceive the trusty and hearty mind that he hath unto you above all men living.   And also, this morning His Highness hath knowledge of the death, of one of his Chapel, which had divers promotions of his gift, and of yours by reason of the Chancellorship, which he desireth you to forbear the gift of any of them, unto such time that Your Grace have knowledge of his further pleasure in them.  And also he desireth Your Grace that he may hear every second day from you, how you do; for I assure you, every morning, as soon as he cometh from the Queen, he asketh whether I hear any thing from Your Grace…
Written at Your Grace’s house at Tittenhanger This Thursday, the 9th day of July, by your humble and most bounden servant, 

Thomas Heneage.[1]

[1] M. St. Clare Byrne, ed. The Letters of King Henry VIII, pg. 72.

Friday, July 19, 2013

An Actor in Search of a Character: Gertrude Blount Courtenay, the Marchioness of Exeter

Presented at the Popular Cultural Association/National Cultural Association National Conference in Boston, Massachusetts, April 12, 2012

One of the more fascinating aspects of performing as part of the cast of a renaissance festival, particularly one in which royal court story lines get performed on a regular basis, such as at my home festival, the Maryland Renaissance Festival, is the challenge to develop information when portraying an actual historical person.  It is easier to find information if you portraying a prominent person, such as King Henry VIII or his wives.   However, if you are given the role of a courtier or a courtier's wife it is much more difficult to find contemporary information.    Birth dates are largely unknown in the first half of the sixteenth century.   Unless you are of royal birth your early life and rudimentary education will not be recorded. There may be brief glimpses of you in the historical record, but for women of the sixteenth century, unless you came to prominence on your own accord, there is little to go on for an actor to develop insight into the personality of the historical figure.  

My own actor’s journey into the court of King Henry VIII began in the year 1529, better known as 2001, the 25th anniversary season of the Maryland Renaissance Festival.   Prior to this season I had portrayed fictional village characters.   I was ready for a change and was assigned Gertrude Blount Courtenay, the Marchioness of Exeter.   My first reaction to this was, “who?”  My second reaction was how on earth do I pronounce Marchioness.  

We are extremely lucky at the Maryland Renaissance Festival to have a resident historian who is also the court director, Mary Ann Jung.  There are also several other members of the cast who either have years of experience in historical interpretation or, like myself, are amateur Tudor history geeks.   At the first rehearsal I was given a basic fact sheet on the Marchioness.

Gertrude Blount

Titles: Marchioness of Exeter (1525)
Father: William Blount, 4th Baron Mountjoy (1479-1534) Catherine of Aragon’s chamberlain.
Mother: Elizabeth Say.
Husband: Henry Courtenay (1496 – x1538) Marquis of Exeter, a grandson of Edward IV.
Children: Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devon (1526-1556).

v Devout Catholic
v Somewhat of an enigma, being called both a “pathetic, ailing, devout, rather silly woman, with the credulous faith of the women of her kind” and an “energetic, high-spirited woman” willing to risk her life to keep a Catholic on the throne.
v Participated in pageantry at court.
v Accompanied Princess Mary at a May 1527 banquet for the French ambassador.
v Ensured that Queen Catherine’s staff were musically well-equipped.
v Very resourceful.
v Became a “useful, imperturbable go-between” for Princess Mary and Chapuys.
v At the same time she was working for Princess Mary, she was one of the Godmothers to Princess Elizabeth.
v She eventually consulted the Nun of Kent on a “family matter”, but apologized to Henry VIII and was pardoned for her indiscretion.
v Worked behind the scenes to bring down Anne Boleyn.
v Told Chapuys in January 1536 of Anne Boleyn’s witchery.
v Bore Prince Edward to the font at his Christening.
v Served water to King Henry and Queen Jane.
v She was eventually attainted and sentenced to death for treason in 1539, but she was pardoned in 1540.
v Her husband was not so fortunate: he was executed in 1538.
v She remained a loyal friend to Princess Mary and became part of her court when she rose to the throne.

From this fact sheet this woman clearly intrigued me.  Obviously, the Marchioness of Exeter was a prominent figure at the court of King Henry VIII and Queen Mary I.   Why had I not heard of her or her husband before?   I knew her son’s name Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devon from his role in the Wyatt Rebellion of 1554.  That was as little as I knew.   I had been obsessed with the court of King Henry VIII since I was ten years old and watched the BBC miniseries The Six Wives of Henry VIII that was broadcast on CBS and PBS in 1971. Yet, I had never come across the Exeters in my reading, or if I did, they did not register as important. 

As an actor at the Maryland Renaissance Festival we are encouraged to continue our research into the people we are portraying.   It helps us give a richer performance and our discoveries can help to write our character’s roles in the scripted storylines that are performed at the Festival.   What has differed for me is that I have developed a decade long love for the Marchioness of Exeter that has steered me into discovering as much about her as I can.   Thanks to resources that were not available to me a decade ago when I first portrayed the Marchioness, I have gained a deeper understanding of this complex and important woman who served at the court of King Henry VIII.

In 2001 I had more limited options and they involved rudimentary research on the Internet, going to the library and ordering used books.    The first resource that I consider essential when researching a woman from the English court in the 16th century is Burke’s Peerage in its various forms and volumes.  This will give you basic genealogy for both the father’s family and the husband’s family by searching under either the family name or the title and these sources will give you a basic biography that include the titles and offices that the father or husband held at the court.    There are also websites such as and that provide short biographies of the important figures of Tudor history using some of the same material.

Here is what I learned about the Marchioness’ father, William Blount, 4th Baron Mountjoy.   William Blount was the son and heir of John, 3rd Baron Mountjoy who succeeded to the title on the death of his father in 1485 while still a child. He studied in Paris where he met and became the patron of the famous humanist scholar, Erasmus.   Lord Mountjoy paid Erasmus a pension of 100 crowns per year.   There are several Latin letters between Erasmus and Mountjoy and Erasmus dedicated several of his writings to Lord Mountjoy and his son, Charles.[1]

 From Erasmus’ letters we know that Lord Mountjoy came back to England around 1497/1498, probably because William’s marriage had been arranged to Elizabeth Saye, the daughter of Sir William Saye.  Lord Mountjoy would marry multiple times, and his other wives included Alice Kebel, the widow of William Browne, Lord Mayor of London, and Dorothy Grey, daughter of Thomas, Marquis of Dorset.    Antonia Fraser in her The Wives of Henry VIII states that Lord Mountjoy also married Katherine of Aragon’s Spanish lady-in-waiting, Inez de Venegas and that Inez was Gertrude’s mother thus making Gertrude half-Spanish.[2] Sources differ on whether Inez was his second or his fourth wife. In order for Inez to be Gertrude’s mother Gertrude would have to have been born during Henry VIII’s reign after 1509 and given that her marriage occurred in 1519 and she starts to make appearances at court shortly after that, it is unlikely. I have come to the conclusion that Gertrude is most likely the child of his first marriage to Elizabeth Saye.[3]

It was Lord Mountjoy’s court career that made it possible for Gertrude to make her illustrious marriage to the King’s first cousin, Henry Courtenay.  Lord Mountjoy is present at many of the prominent events of the first two decades of the reign of King Henry VIII.  In 1512 he becomes Chamberlain to Queen Katherine of Aragon, a position he remained in with a few gaps until the fall of 1533, when he was tasked with informing the “Princess Dowager” that her marriage was invalid.[4] He died the following year.

Gertrude is believed to be Lord Mountjoy’s eldest child. [5]  He would have several more children by his many wives, Mary, Charles, Katherine, John, Dorothy and another Mary.   As to her birth year it is listed in sources as anywhere from 1499 to 1504 and in some sources as late as 1509.  As is typical for a female courtier of the early 16th century Gertrude does not merit a mention in her own right until she is married.  

There is slightly more information about Gertrude’s husband, Henry Courtenay, although his importance at the court of Henry VIII has been diminished in popular culture in favor of those courtiers who have closer ties to the families of the king’s subsequent wives.   One of the best sources I found during the early years of my research came unexpectedly.  Horatia Durant published a book on the three generations of the Earls of Devonshire in 1960.   Entitled Sorrowful Captives: The Tudor Earls of Devon, Ms. Durant gained access to the family archives of the current Earls of Devon who live in Powderham Castle.  

Henry is the only surviving child of William Courtenay and Princess Katherine Plantagenet.   William was the son of Edward, created 1st Earl of Devonshire in 1485 for loyal service to King Henry VII.   William married the Queen’s younger sister in 1495.[6]  When Queen Elizabeth of York dies, it is Princess Katherine who acts as chief mourner at her funeral.[7]   Unfortunately William begins a pattern in which his family is suspected of treason for supporting the Yorkist claimants to the throne.   William is arrested in 1502 and attainted for corresponding with Edmund de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk.[8]   He would be released from the Tower on the ascension of King Henry VIII and he was given the honor of carrying the Third Sword at the coronation. The attainder is reversed and William is granted his father’s title of Earl of Devonshire in 1511, but he dies before the formalities are completed.[9] Henry Courtenay appears to have been close to his cousin Henry VIII. He succeeds to the Earldom on his father’s death, participates in the invasion of France in 1513 and by 1520 becomes a privy councilor and a gentleman of the privy chamber.[10] [11]  

Now it is time for Gertrude to step forward into history.   She was Henry Courtenay’s second wife.   He was first married to Elizabeth Grey, Viscountess Lisle in her own right, but she died young no later than early 1519.[12]   Ms. Durant uncovers evidence that Gertrude and Henry’s marriage almost did not happen.   In 1519 Henry Courtenay was proposed as a husband for the niece of William of Chievres, Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor’s chamberlain and tutor.  As Horatia Durant quotes in her book, Sir Thomas More wrote to Cardinal Wolsey,
“as touching the overture made by my Lord of Shevers for the marriage of my Lord of Devonshire, the King is well content, and as me seemeth, very glad of the motion, wherein he requireth Your Grace that it may like you to call my Lord of Devonshire to your Grace, and to advise him secretly to forbear any further treaty of marriage with my Lord of Mountjoy for a while; staying the matter, not casting it off; shewing him that there is a far better offer made him, of which the King would that he should not know the speciality before he speak with his Grace.”[13]

The marriage between Henry and Gertrude took place on October 25, 1519. The king paid 200 pounds 4 shillings and 9 pence for jousts at Greenwich to celebrate their wedding. [14] Gertrude makes her first appearance as Countess of Devonshire at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520, where she was allowed in her retinue three women, four men servants and eight horses,[15] and she participated as one of the virtuous ladies in the court masque, the Chateau Vert in March 1522, alongside the King’s sister, Mary, Dowager Queen of France, Mary Boleyn Carey and Anne Boleyn.   Gertrude portrayed Honor.[16]  Clearly, the Marchioness had the courtly graces of music and dancing, so based on this information I could portray her as a young woman who enjoyed court entertainments during the 2001 season of the Maryland Renaissance Festival.   While the year was 1529, the height of the King’s Great Matter, because it was the 25th anniversary season, it was decided to have one last “happy’ day with King Henry and Queen Katherine enjoying the hospitality of the little village of Revel Grove.

Yet, I was still intrigued by the descriptions of Gertrude that seemed so diametrically opposed.   Where did they come from?   For that I turned to another valuable resource for anyone researching Tudor women.   In 2001, this resource was in book form, Wives and Daughters: The Women of the Sixteenth Century by Kathy Lynn Emerson.   It is now available as an online resource at that has made it easier for Ms. Emerson to update her information as new scholarship has happened over the past decade.  So, let’s examine Gertrude.  It was from Ms. Emerson’s book that I discovered the origin of the pathetic, ailing devout portrayal was A.L. Rowse, who wrote his works on Tudor history during the period of the 1930’s – 1970’s.   The source of the energetic quote is Garrett Mattingly who wrote his biography of Katherine of Aragon in 1941.   Horatia Durant in 1960 clearly did not like the Marchioness saying that she wrote “interminable letters”[17] and that she “wanted power at a time when women…seldom wielded it.”[18]

During the off-season, I started researching more deeply into Gertrude’s life.  I would find snippets of her here and there, references to her in letters that placed her even more closely into the events of King Henry VIII’s reign.   I discovered that it was very likely that she was, as she is portrayed in the one time she appears on the screen, in the BBC’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII, the enemy of Queen Anne Boleyn, the friend of the King’s eldest daughter Princess Mary and the woman who had the privilege of carrying Prince Edward during his christening.[19]

In 2002, the Maryland Renaissance Festival portrayed the year 1533 and the coronation of Anne Boleyn.   I figured that since the Marchioness of Exeter was a close friend of Queen Katherine that I would not be asked to portray her that season.   I was wrong.   As a matter of fact, when I mentioned to my Artistic Director, Carolyn Spedden that  I believed based on my research that the Marchioness did not attend the coronation of Queen Anne, she wrote it into the storyline and I received a brief dramatic scene following the coronation in which Queen Anne berated my arrogance and I chose to silently take the queen’s wrath.  That led to some wonderful acting opportunities for the next two seasons as the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn took place at the Festival. 

Here are a few highlights of the wonderful events of Gertrude Blount, the Marchioness of Exeter’s life.  

Henry Courtenay benefited from the execution of the Duke of Buckingham in 1521.  He became a knight of the garter replacing the attainted Duke. In 1527 he was appointed lieutenant of the order of the Garter.  He received the lordship of Caliland in Cornwall and the Duke’s London home, Red Rose in St Lawrence Pountney.[20]   He was an accomplished jouster and the records from the Field of the Cloth of Gold show that his opponent was another royal cousin, Henry, Lord Montague the eldest son of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury and elder brother of the Reginald Pole who became Queen Mary I’s Archbishop of Canterbury.[21] Henry Courtenay was created Marquis of Exeter in June 1525 on the same day that the king’s bastard son, Henry Fitzroy was created Earl of Nottingham and Duke of Richmond and Somerset. [22]

The Marchioness of Exeter was chosen to hold Princess Mary’s hand as she entered for a banquet in May 1527 when she was presented to the French ambassadors who proposed a French marriage for the young princess.[23]   During the Sweating Sickness epidemic of 1528 during which Mary Boleyn’s husband died and Anne and George Boleyn took ill, there is a letter from Thomas Heneage to Cardinal Wolsey that shows that the Marchioness of Exeter also took ill and that the court left her behind fleeing to Ampthill.[24]

For the Exeters’ role in the dramatic events of the 1530’s it became necessary to dig deeper into even older source material. The Marquis performed his duty to his King and supported him in his quest for an annulment from Queen Katherine. [25] Both of the Exeters took part in the christening of Princess Elizabeth with Gertrude acting as godmother at the confirmation ceremony that took place immediately following the baptism.  And we see in an episode from the reign of Queen Anne Boleyn, a time when Gertrude had to beg her forgiveness of the King.

There is a letter in volume two of Letters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies of Great Britain,  edited by Mary Anne Everett Wood, in which a lady of the court begs the king’s forgiveness for seeking advice from Elizabeth Barton, the Holy Maid of Kent. [26]  Sister Elizabeth Barton was famous for her predictions and she would ultimately lose her life for foolishly predicting that King Henry VIII would die if he married Anne Boleyn.   Clearly if a lady of the court was caught patronizing Sister Elizabeth it could have dire consequences.  What is puzzling to me is why is it presumed to be Gertrude that wrote the letter?  The letter published was not taken from the original letter and it is unsigned.  It comes from the Cotton Manuscripts, which were heavily damaged in a fire, and the original may be lost. Everett Wood states that the only women of rank that consulted the Holy Maid of Kent were Lady Exeter and Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury.  She attributes the letter to Lady Exeter because of the references to her husband and by giving as a reason for the consultation that she was pregnant and had lost all of her children.  Margaret Pole was a widow in her sixties at the time the letter was written.  However, Everett Wood gets some information incorrect, such as stating that the Marchioness was imprisoned until the reign of Queen Mary I.   She also states that the Marchioness attended Queen Anne's coronation, while other sources say she did not. Yet another reason to wish I had access to the actual material.

I do not have access to the complete letters of Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial Ambassador, but other biographers have used those letters to show that Chapuys relied on one or the other of the Exeters for a lot of the information that he passed on to his master, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor.[27] It is from Chapuys that we learn that the Exeters are presumed to be the sources for the King claiming that Anne Boleyn had bewitched him[28] and the charming episode of Mistress Jane Seymour on her knees demurely rejecting a gift of sovereigns from the King begging him to respect her honor. .”[29]

Gertrude was tireless in her role as informer to Ambassador Chapuys.  It is clear from his letters that the Marchioness believed Queen Katherine and Princess Mary are in mortal danger.[30]  In two letters from Chapuys to Charles V in November 1535 he writes “The Marchioness of Exeter has sent to inform me that the King has lately said to some of his most confidential councilors that he would not longer remain in the trouble, fear and suspense he had so long endured on account of the Queen and the Princess, and that they should see at the coming Parliament, to get him released there from, swearing most obstinately that he would wait no longer.  The Marchioness declares that this is as true as the Gospel, and begs me to inform your Majesty and pray you to have pity on the ladies.   In the second letter he wrote, “The Personage who informed me of what I wrote to your Majesty on the 6th about the Queen and the Princess –came yesterday to this city in disguise to confirm what she had sent to me to say, and conjure me to warn your Majesty, and beg you most urgently to see a remedy.  She added that the King, seeing some of those to whom he used this language shed tears, said that tears and wry faces were of no avail, because even if he lost his crown he would not forbear to carry his purpose into effect.”

I was able to portray the Marchioness of Exeter through the year 1537 participating in the fall of Anne Boleyn, the betrothal of Jane Seymour and the restoration to the court of Princess Mary.   Yet, because this is a Renaissance Festival and the Exeter Conspiracy is not one of the tales that gets told in a couple of thirty minute shows I was unable to portray the downfall of the Exeters.   It is a sad story that, believe it or not was portrayed by Showtime’s The Tudors series, without the Exeters taking part.

Following the death of Queen Anne Boleyn, the Marquis again did his duty in helping to suppress the Pilgrimage of Grace and a similar uprising in the west counties.  He benefited greatly from the dissolution of the monasteries and became the largest landowner in the west. [31]  Yet, it was his royal blood, his close friendship to the Pole family and his dislike of Thomas Cromwell that would prove the destruction of his family.

Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, was the daughter of George, Duke of Clarence, brother of Edward IV.   Her middle son, Reginald Pole, had been educated on the continent at the expense of King Henry VIII.    Reginald became very vocal about opposing the divorce from Catherine of Aragon and the dissolution writing a treatise against the English Reformation entitled Pro Unitatis Ecclesiasticae Unitatis Defensione (A Defense of the Church’s Unity) better known as De Unitate. [32]  The Marquis was close friends with the Pole family, particularly Henry Pole, Lord Montague, Margaret Pole’s eldest son. Thomas Cromwell had Geoffrey Pole, the Countess’ youngest son arrested for clandestine correspondence with his brother Reginald in August 1538 and put in solitary confinement in the Tower of London for two months.    He betrayed his entire family and the Exeters.[33]

The Marquis and Henry Pole, Lord Montague, were arrested in November 1538.   The Marquis was accused of encouraging apprentices in Cornwall to march carrying his banner and declaring that he should be heir to the throne.     This makes no sense, as he would not have displaced Prince Edward or Princess Mary to whom he was one of her staunchest champions.   It didn’t help the Marquis that was overhead saying “Knaves rule about the King; I trust to give them a buffet one day.”[34]

The Marchioness and their 12-year-old son, Edward was arrested along with Lady Montague and her young son, Henry Pole.  The Marquis and Lord Montague were convicted of treason and executed on January 9, 1539.   The Marquis was formally degraded from the Order of the Garter. [35] Among the other men executed in the “Exeter Conspiracy” were Sir Edward Neville and Sir Nicholas Carew whose sole crime was to have treasonous correspondence with the Marchioness.[36]

Act of Attainder convicted the Marchioness along with several other prisoners in May 1539.    For a time her cell mate in the Tower was Margaret Pole.   The Marchioness is mentioned in the reports of Thomas Cromwell.   In reference to being unsatisfied with her confession he wrote that “I shall try to the uttermost and never cease till the bottom of her stomach may be clearly opened and disclosed, and I can declare it to your highness by mouth more than I could by writing.”[37]  Thomas Philips, a senior warder would write “The Lady Marchioness feareth sore lest she stand in the King’s displeasure and consequently wants your Lordship’s favour.  She also wanteth rainment and hath no change but only what your Lordship commanded to be provided.  Further, her gentlewoman, Mistress Constance, hath no change and what she hath is sore worn.   Another gentlewoman hath been with her one whole year and more and very sorry is she that she hath not to recompense them, at least their wages.” Later Cromwell’s memorandum lists “remember the Marchioness of Exeter…remember the two children in the Tower.”[38]

The Marchioness of Exeter was pardoned on December 21, 1539 and released.  [39] Not so her young son, who would remain a prisoner of the Tower until Queen Mary I came to the throne.  Mary would restore him to his father’s family title of Earl of Devon. [40]Young Henry Pole simply disappears from the Tower records around 1543.  Margaret Pole would be executed at the age of 68 in May 1541.   Geoffrey Pole attempted suicide twice, was released and lived out his life shunned by his surviving relatives.[41]

Gertrude returned to court with the ascension of Mary and became chief gentlewoman of the queen’s bedchamber. [42]  Her son would become the English candidate for the queen’s hand in marriage supported by Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, whom Edward had befriended during his imprisonment. [43]  When the Queen announced her intention to marry Philip of Spain, Edward was caught up in the Wyatt Rebellion that proposed to marry Edward to Princess Elizabeth and place them on the throne.[44]    Edward when questioned stated that while he was aware of the plans to marry him to Princess Elizabeth he had declined.[45]   He was briefly re-imprisoned in the Tower and then exiled to the continent where he traveled to Calais, Antwerp and Italy.    Edward Courtenay, the last Tudor Earl of Devonshire would die in mysterious circumstances in Padua on September 18, 1556 and was buried in St. Anthony’s church.  [46]

His mother would be forgiven by Queen Mary for her son’s mistakes and would remain a part of the Queen’s household.    Gertrude Blount Courtenay, Marchioness of Exeter died on September 25, 1558 and is buried in Wimborne Minster. [47]

I end with Gertrude’s own words.  The Marchioness of Exeter wrote several letters to her son in his exile.  Five are reprinted in volume three of Letters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies of Great Britain.  This letter is poignant.  It is the letter of a mother desperately missing her only child.

            Your letter wrote to me, dated the two-and-twentieth of October, I received from Brown the 7th of November.  The letter was one way comfortable, to perceive you do not forget your mother, who esteems you above her own life.  And very glad I am to hear the king’s majesty is so much your good lord as you write; beseeching our Lord long to preserve him: but sorry I am you will, as I perceive by your letter, travel so far hence, but I trust, according to your bounden duty, you will first come into England to see the queen’s highness and your poor mother, who has as little worldly comfort as ever woman had, saving only the goodness and comfort of the queen’s highness.  As I perceive by your letter, your man has to say to me from you, but, as he writes to me, he trusts you shall shortly come hither and speak with me yourself; the which I would be most gladdest of, and causes me purposely send this bearer to bring me word; if there be any such good news I will remain here till I hear the certainty what you will do.  And thus with my hearty blessing I will bid you farewell, for I am at this present so pained with the cholic and the stone, that I have much ado to write; fearing you cannot read this ill written letter, praying daily for your short return into England.  Written the 8th of November, from Master Warham’s house at Malsanger.
            If you come to England I trust I shall see you, or else I will shortly write to you if I be alive.
                        By your most assured loving mother,
                                    Gertrude Exeter[48]


Dodds, Madeleine Hope and Ruth. The Pilgrimage of Grace 1536-1537 and The Exeter Conspiracy 1538, volume one. London: Frank Cass and Company Ltd. 1915, 1971.
Durant, Horatia. Sorrowful Captives: The Tudor Earls of Devon. Great Britain: Pontypool, Hughes & Son, Ltd. The Griffin Press. 1960.
Emerson, Kathy Lynn. Wives and Daughters: The Women of the Sixteenth Century.  Albany, New York: Whitston Publishing Company, Inc. 1984, 2001.
Everett Wood, Mary Anne. Letters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies of Great Britain, three volumes. London: Henry Colburn. 1846.
Fraser, Antonia. The Wives of Henry VIII. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1992
Ives, Eric. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn.  Malden: Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing. 2004.
Jerdan, William. The Rutland Papers. New York and London: AMS Press. 1968.
Matthew, David. The Courtiers of Henry VIII. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode. 1970.
Murphy, Beverley A. Bastard Prince: Henry VIII’s Lost Son.  Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing Ltd. 2001.
Naylor Okerlund, Arlene.  Queenship and Power: Elizabeth of York. New York: Palgrave MacMillan. 2009.
Seward, Desmond. The Last White Rose: Dynasty, Rebellion and Treason The Secret Wars Against The Tudors. London: Constable & Robinson Ltd. 2010.
Starkey, David. Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII. London: Chatto & Windus. 2003.
St. Clare Byrne, Muriel Ed. The Letters of King Henry VIII. New York: Funk & Wagnalls. 1936, 1968.
Taylor, Jr., James D. The Shadow of the White Rose: Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devon 1526-1556. New York: Algora Publishing. 2006.
Towend, Peter, editor. Burke's Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry, 18th edition, 3 volumes. London, England: Burke's Peerage Ltd, 1965-1972
Tremlett, Giles. Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish Queen. London: Faber and Faber Ltd. 2010.

[1] Dictionary of National Biography, pg. 721
[2] Antonia Fraser, The Wives of Henry VIII (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992) 195
[4] Tremlett, Giles, Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish Queen (London: Faber and Faber Limited, 2010) 378-379
[5] Charles Mosley, editor, Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage, 107th edition, 3 volumes (Wilmington, Delaware, U.S.A.: Burke's Peerage (Genealogical Books) Ltd, 2003), volume 1, page 1123.
[6] Arlene Naylor Okerlund, Queenship and Power: Elizabeth of York (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) 127
[7] Okerlund 204
[8] Horatia Durant. Sorrowful Captives: The Tudor Earls of Devon (Pontypool, Hughes & Son, Ltd. The Griffin Press, 1960) 26
[9] Durant 28
[10] Dictionary of National Biography, pg. 1261.
[13] Durant, pg.36.
[15] William Jerdan, F.S.A. M.R.S.L.The Rutland Papers (New York and London: AMS Press, 1968) 36
[16] Eric Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing, Ltd. 2004) 37
[17] Durant 36
[18] Durant 37
[19] Durant 52
[20] Dictionary of National Biography, pg. 1261.
[21] Durant 37.
[22] Beverley A. Murphy, Bastard Prince: Henry VIII’s Lost Son (Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing Limited, 2003) 55
[23] Durant 40
[24]M. St. Clare Byrne, Ed. The Letters of King Henry VIII (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1968) 72
[25] David Matthew, The Courtiers of Henry VIII (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1970) 147
[26] Mary Anne Everett Wood, Letters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies of Great Britain, Volume Two (London: Henry Colburn, 1846) 96-101
[27] Durant 45
[28] David Starkey, Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII (London: Chatto & Windus, 2003) 551
[29] Madeleine Hope Dodds and Ruth Dodds, The Pilgrimage of Grace 1536-1537 and The Exeter Conspiracy 1538 Volume One (London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd. 1915, 1971) 24-25
[30] Durant 47
[31] Durant 50-52
[32] Desmond Seward, The Last White Rose: Dynasty, Rebellion and Treason; The Secret Wars Against The Tudors (London: Constable & Robinson, Ltd., 2010) 240
[33] Durant 57
[34] Durant 58
[35] Durant 61-62
[36] Durant 59
[37] Durant. 63
[38] Matthew 153
[39] Durant 64
[40] James D. Taylor, Jr. The Shadow of the White Rose: Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devon 1526-1556 (New York: Algora Publishing, 2006) 59
[41] Durant 63
[42] Durant 76
[43] Seward 316
[44] Taylor 75
[45] Taylor 85
[46] Taylor 160-161

[48] Everett Wood, Volume Three, 307-309