Wednesday, October 15, 2014

In Miniature: Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City

My favorite artist is Hans Holbein, the Younger. I think that there is no other artist in his lifetime who had his ability to make genuinely lifelike portraits during the 16th century. As a result, in the course of my travels whenever I get a chance to view Holbein paintings I make the detour and view them.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is providing a rare opportunity to see several of their 16th, 17th and 18th century miniatures in a special one gallery exhibition "In Miniature." These tiny paintings are rarely on display due to their fragility.  The exhibition is not very large (hah!). It includes 16th century works by Holbein and Nicholas Hilliard. The museum also thoughtfully provides magnifying glasses so that viewers can see the incredible detail on these paintings most of which are less than 2 inches in size.

The paintings are exhibited on the wall behind glass. Pictures are permitted without flash. Apologies for the glare.
There are three Holbeins on view.
This is William Fitzwilliam, Earl of Southhampton, It was cut down in size at some later date, losing some of the costume detail.
William Roper, the son-in-law of Sir Thomas More. Note the exquisite setting for the painting.
Margaret More Roper, Sir Thomas More's daughter. What strikes you about this painting this her careworn face. Margaret was thirty when she was painted. She looks much older. This is post the turmoil she and her family faced over her father's arrest, trial and execution.

A portrait of a young man, believed to be Robert Devereux 2nd Earl of Essex and favorite of Queen Elizabeth I. Painted by Nicholas Hilliard, rightly celebrated as a master of miniature portraiture.

Portrait of a Young Woman by Hilliard.

The rest of the exhibition is includes miniatures from England in the 17th century and France in the 18th century.  There a few full-sized paintings in the gallery to compare to the miniatures including a fine portrait of Princess Elizabeth daughter of King James VI and I and Queen Anne of Denmark.

In Miniature is on exhibit in Gallery 624 of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City through December 31, 2014.  For information on the museum including hours of operation, ticket costs and directions please visit

The Christening of Edward VI: Featuring the Marquis and Marchioness of Exeter

"By the provision of God, Our Lady S. Mary, and the glorious martyr S. George, on the 12 day of October, the feast of St. Wilfrid, the vigil of St. Edward, which was on the Friday, about two o'clock in the morning, was born at Hampton Court Edward son to King Henry VIIIth," year 1537 Dominical letter Gl, 29 Henry VIII, "which was not christened till the Monday next following."

Henry VIII and his third wife, Queen Jane Seymour were the parents of the long awaited male heir to the Tudor dynasty.  Te Deums were sung at St. Paul's cathedral and in churches all over London, bonfires were lit, lots of merriment ensued.  Three days after his birth, Prince Edward was christened in the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace.  It was a grand affair and Gertrude Blount Courtenay, Marchioness of Exeter and her husband, Henry Courtenay, Marquis of Exeter and the King's first cousin would play prominent roles.

This would be the second christening in which the Exeters were prominent. On September 10, 1533 Princess Elizabeth, daughter of the king and Queen Anne Boleyn was christened  at Greenwich. The Marquis of Exeter carried a taper of virgin wax and the Marchioness served as godmother at the confirmation ceremony that immediately followed the baptism.

At Edward's christening, the Marchioness received the honor of carrying the baby prince and was supported by her husband and Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk.  "The order of going to the christening was: First, certain gentlemen two and two bearing torches not lighted until the prince be Christened. Then the children and ministers of the King's chapel, with the dean, 'not singing going outward.' Gentlemen esquires and knights two and two. Chaplains of dignity two and two. Abbots and bishops. The King's councilors. Lords two and two. The comptroller and treasurer of the household. The ambassadors. The three lords chamberlains and the lord Chamberlain of England in the midst. The lord Cromwell, being lord Privy Seal, and the lord Chancellor. The duke of Norfolk (Thomas Howard) and abp. of Canterbury (Thomas Cranmer). A pair of covered basins borne by the earl of Sussex (Robert Radcliffe), supported by the lord Montague (Henry Pole). A 'taper of virgin wax borne by the earl of Wiltshire (Thomas Boleyn) in a towel about his neck.' A salt of gold similarly borne by the earl of Essex (Henry Bourchier the 2nd earl). 'Then the crysome richly garnished borne by the lady Elizabeth, the King's daughter: the same lady for her tender age was borne by the viscount Beauchamp(Edward Seymour) with the assistance of the lord.' Then the Prince borne under the canopy by the lady marquis of Exeter (Gertrude Blount Courtenay), assisted by the duke of Suffolk (Charles Brandon) and the marquis her husband (Henry Courtenay. The lady mistress went between the prince and the supporter. The train of the Prince's robe borne by the earl of Arundel (William Fitzalan) and sustained by the lord William Howard.' The nurse to go equally with the supporter of the train, and with her the midwife.' The canopy over the Prince borne by Sir Edw. Nevyll, Sir John Wallop, Ric. Long, Thomas Semere (Thomas SeymourO, Henry Knyvet, and Mr. Ratclif, of the Privy Chamber. The "tortayes' of virgin wax borne about the canopy by Sir. Humph. Foster, Robt. Turwytt, George Harper, and Ric. Souwthwell (Richard Southwell). Next after the canopy my lady Mary, being lady godmother, her train borne by lady Kingston (Mary Scrope). All the other ladies of honour in their degrees."

Following the ceremony, the procession returned the young Prince to his parents, where he received their blessing.  A fascinating detail in the record is the role played by the four-year-old Lady Elizabeth. Not only did she carry the chrisom-cloth, which was placed on the child's head during the baptism to keep the oil from rubbing off, she also was given the honor of receiving wine, spices and wafers along with her sister, the Lady Mary. Mary's cupbearer was Lord Hastings, Lord Delaware bore Elizabeth's cup and the Lord Dacres of the South presented the spice plates, Lord Cobham the wafers and Lord Montague the honor of uncovering the spice plate. Quite a grand responsibility for a young girl.  Following the ceremony she walked with Mary and Lady Herbert of Troy bearing Prince Edward's train.

It was a moment of great joy for the King and Queen and the royal court. Unfortunately less than two weeks later on October 24, 1537 the court would be plunged into mourning as the Queen would take ill and die. King Henry had his son, but lost his wife. The kingdom was heading for turmoil as the Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion, begun on October 2, 1537 would provide the greatest threat to Henry VIII's rule. In the aftermath, the monasteries would close and the King's closest royal blood cousins, the Marquis of Exeter and the Pole family would soon find themselves under threat as the Exeter Conspiracy doomed them the following year.

Sources: Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 6 1533 and Volume 12 Part 2  June-December 1537.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Pardon of William Courtenay, Briefly Earl of Devonshire

William Courtenay, son and heir of Edward Courtenay, 1st Tudor Earl of Devon was imprisoned in 1502 for corresponding with the exiled 3rd Duke of Suffolk, Edmund de la Pole and condemned by Act of Attainder in 1504. Yet, his brother-in-law King Henry VII did not have him executed. Perhaps he survived due to the King's regard for his father. After all, Edward Courtenay was the very first person Henry Tudor knighted when he landed at Mill Bay, Pembrokeshire on his way to his improbable victory at the Battle of Bosworth Field.  Henry VII granted his loyal subject his family's traditional title of Earl of Devonshire at his coronation.

Edward Courtenay had been one of Henry Tudor's companions in his continental exile. His second cousin, John Courtenay, 7th Earl of Devonshire had died fighting for the Lancastrians at the the Battle of Tewkesbury and the title died with him.  Some would say that the 1485 creation makes Edward the 8th Earl, but it was a new creation and most refer to the 4 Tudor Earls of Devonshire as a new creation. In fact because of the attainder, William's creation makes him another 1st Earl even though he held the title for one month.

Edward Courtenay's son, William, had benefited from his father's loyal service and was married to the King's sister-in-law, Princess Katherine Plantagenet in 1495.  They would have 3 children, Henry, Edward and Margaret. Young Edward died in 1502 and his aunt Queen Elizabeth of York paid for his funeral expenses and, in the wake of William's imprisonment, she paid for her sister and her children's expenses.  Katherine would serve as chief mourner at her sister's funeral in 1503.

As mentioned previously, William was condemned by Act of Attainder in 1504. Yet, he was not executed. His nephew, King Henry VIII specifically excluded him from the general pardon granted at his accession to the throne in 1509.

"Names of those exempted from the general pardon - William de la Pole, Edmund de la Pole, Richard de la Pole, William Courtenay, son of the Earl of Devon..." (spelled Will Cortney in the document)

The King changed his mind two years later.  The loyal Edward, Earl of Devonshire died May 27, 1509 and was buried in Tiverton Chantry Chapel in a tomb now lost. The title went vacant again. His son, remained a prisoner until May 9, 1511.  "Sir William Courtenay, reversal of attainder passed against him 19 Hen. VII when he was son and heir apparent of Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devon."

The next day he was granted his father's title. "Sir William Courtenay, husband of the King's aunt, Lady Katherine, daughter of Edward IV, and son of Edward Courtenay, late Earl of Devon, descended of the stock of Hugh Courtenay, Earl of Devon and his wife Margaret (daughter of Elizabeth, daughter of Edward I), and heir of the said Hugh. Creation as Earl of Devon. Witnesses: W. abp of Canterbury, Chancellor, R. bp of Winchester, Privy Seal, Thomas bp. of Durham, Secretary, Edward, Duke of Buckingham, John Earl of Oxford, Admiral, Thomas Earl of Surrey, Treasurer, Sir Thomas Lovell, Treasurer of the Household, and Sir Henry Marney, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.  --Westminster 10 May (3 Henry VIII)."

Translation of the witnesses - William Warham Archbishop of Canterbury, Richard Foxe, Bishop of Winchester, Thomas Ruthall, Bishop of Durham, Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford, Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, Sir Thomas Lovell and Sir Henry Marney.

William did not survive long enough to be formally invested with his earldom, dying just one month after the reversal of his attainder. Perhaps the reason for the sudden decision after all those years to reverse the attainder and grant William the return of his family's title had more to do with the king's relationship with his Aunt Katherine and his cousin, Henry Courtenay.  Given that Henry VIII's mother had briefly supported her sister's family, it is very likely that the future king had been close to his aunt and cousin. In fact, Henry Courtenay would be a part of most of the famous events of Henry VIII's reign, loyally serving his cousin until his own fall in the conspiracy of 1538 that bears his name.  It seems likely that William was ill at the time of his pardon and creation, an act of mercy by the young king to favor his mother's family.

For further reading:
Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 1, 1509-1514. J.S. Brewer, editor.
available online at British History Online -

Do not rely on William Courtenay's wikipedia entry. It is based on very outdated information.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Researching the Beginnings: Reading, Reading, Reading

I have been rather quiet on the blog for most of 2014.  I have been incredibly busy with a lot of travel, including to England in mid-February 2014, and non-history related triumphs including running the Glass Slipper Challenge at Walt Disney World (10K on Saturday, 1/2 Marathon on Sunday). Whilst I have not been writing any new research that does not mean I have not been busy.

A lot of great books have been released in the past year that have focused on the Wars of the Roses (yes, I will continue to call them that romantic title rather than the Cousins' War which is another invention of popular culture). You may think to yourself, "Hey, Gertrude Blount, the Marchioness of Exeter is not alive during the Wars of the Roses, what does that have to do with your research, Diane?"It turns out it has plenty to do with it.

Earlier in 2013 I stumbled across the book Knights Banneret, etc. which listed everyone who was ever knighted from the 4th year of the reign of Henry VI through the reign of Charles II. Part of the story of Gertrude Blount's life has to be how did her family and her husband's family become such prominent courtiers in the court of Henry VII. After all, given that Henry VII married off the sisters of Queen Elizabeth of York to his supporters or, in the case of Princess Anne, to the Howard family heir to insure their loyalty, I do wonder how the Courtenays married into the royal family. Similarly I wondered how the Barons Mountjoy ended up the patrons of Erasmus' inviting him to come to England (Thomas More gets all the press, but it was William Blount, Lord Mountjoy who was Erasmus' first English patron).

It turns out that the many books I have read this winter (and continue to read) have given me some insight. Rather than reveal those insights here, as I hope to go into them in more depth, I will instead give brief reviews of two of the books I have recently finished.

I believe the explosion in books on the Wars of the Roses era has a lot to do with the finding of King Richard III's skeleton and with the popular dramatization of Philippa Gregory's books as the mini-series The White Queen. If these events lead anyone to seeking out the actual history of the era, then that is a good thing.

Tudor: A Family Story (UK Title) or Tudor: Passion, Manipulation, Murder (US Title) by Leandra de Lisle. This book takes us back to the beginning of it all. Covering the history of the Tudor family from Owen (Owain) Tudor, the lowly member of Henry V's Dowager Queen Katherine of Valois' household, who secretly married and fathered four children with her, to the ascension of King James VI and I this volume gives an overview of the entire family. To her great credit, this is not simply a recitation of the typical royal family biography. Ms. de Lisle looks at the entire family. Reading this book you get a better sense of some of the lesser known players in Tudor history. From Owen Tudor, who ends his life executed while fighting for his sons' half brother, Henry VI, to Owen's illegitimate son, David who would be a prominent courtier at his nephew Henry VII's court. The life of Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, who is the reason that Henry VII's survived to become the improbable King of England, just cries out for a modern full-length biography. Other members of the family getting a more indepth look include Lady Margaret Douglas, the daughter of Queen Margaret Tudor of Scotland and niece of Henry VIII who is best known as the mother of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, ill fated husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. This book is a good recommendation for anyone interested in a overview of the entire Tudor dynasty. You can easily use this book as a jumping off point for more indepth study.

The Woodvilles by Susan Higginbotham. If there is a family more notorious in its treatment in history and popular culture than the Boleyn family it's the Woodvilles. The family of Queen Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Edward IV gets a lot of bad press being seen as upstarts who get vilified by everyone for taking full advantage of Elizabeth being queen. However, the real delight in reading this book is, once again, getting to know members of the family that are only a footnote in most history or popular culture treatments. Ms. Higginbotham addresses such controversies as Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Duchess of Bedford, mother of Elizabeth Woodville and the popular view of her as a practitioner of witchcraft. Ms. Higginbotham rightly points out that the mere accusation of practicing sorcery was used against a number of strong women in the 15th century. Why writers of popular historical fiction insist on continuing to demonize prominent women is just sad. We should embrace and admire women like Jacquetta, her daughter Elizabeth, Lady Margaret Beaufort and Queen Margaret of Anjou rather than portray them as grasping power-hungry bitches. (off soap box)
The other member of the Woodville clan that deserves a more indepth look is Queen Elizabeth's brother, Anthony, Earl Rivers. He is known as the footnote to the rise of Richard III when he and the Queen's son, Sir Richard Grey were arrested while escorted their nephew Edward V to London for his coronation. Anthony is revealed in this book as a fascinating man highly educated, and literate. Earl Rivers was the patron of William Caxton who brought the printing press to England. He was one of the first published authors in England having translated a few works from French into English. After his imprisonment he realized that he was going to be executed and took the time to write his will. His is a poignant story and you will be left wanted to know more about him.  Ms. Higginbotham strips away the popular myths surrounding the Woodville "upstarts." It is refreshing to see a fair biography of an important 15th century family.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year! What present did you get from the King?

As we usher in 2014, it is good to reflect on the tradition of New Year's Day gift giving at the court of King Henry VIII. Officially the calendar year began on Lady Day, March 25, which can lead to some confusion when matching dates to years in your research. However, the 1st of January was celebrated also celebrated as New Year's Day and was the traditional day for exchanging gifts.

King Henry VIII had a couple of notable January 1st. On January 1, 1511 Queen Katherine of Aragon gave birth to a healthy son who was named Henry and granted the title Duke of Cornwall. He was healthy enough for the King to be able to make a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in Norfolk to give thanks for the birth of his heir. A grand tournament was held in the second week of February in celebration of the birth. This tournament was preserved in an illustrated roll with the King wearing H's and K's jousting in front of the Queen and her ladies as Coeur Leon, Sir Loyal Heart. Sadly the baby died two weeks later on February 22. The cause of death is unknown. It is believed that the baby was given a state funeral and was buried in Westminster Abbey near the Shrine of Saint Edward the Confessor.

The second famous January 1 for the King was in 1540 when he traveled to Rochester to meet his new bride, Anna of Cleves. He decided to arrive in disguise as a messenger knowing that his sweetheart would recognize her true love and embrace him. Unfortunately, Anna was unaware of this chivalric custom and ignored the messenger in favor of watching a bull baiting from her window. When the messenger embraced and kissed her she was appalled. The King was humiliated by her rejection. He left the room and returned to greet her as King. After he left he famously returned to London, telling Thomas Cromwell that he was not well handled and that he liked her not, claiming she was not as beautiful as had been reported. The most disastrous of Henry VIII's marriages (from his point of view) really got off on the wrong foot.

How does the Marchioness of Exeter and her husband tie in to the tradition of New Year's Day? As prominent members of the King's court they would be expected to give the King gifts appropriate to their station and to receive appropriate gifts from the King. Examining the list of New Year's gifts in 1532 the Marquis along with the Lord Chancellor (Thomas More), the Dukes of Richmond, Norfolk and Suffolk, the Lord Steward, and the Earls of Oxford, Northumberland, Westmoreland, Rutland, Wiltshire, Huntington, Sussex, Worcester, Darby and Exeter received gilt cups, cruses, goblets and bowls weighing between 21 oz. 1 1/2 q. to 41 1/2 oz.  The Lady Marquis (as Marchionesses are usually styled in the letters and papers) along with the old Duchess of Norfolk (Agnes Tilney), the young Duchess of Norfolk (Elizabeth Stafford), Lady Margett Angwisshe, the Lady Marquis of Dorset, Lady Salisbury (Margaret Pole), the Countesses of Rutland and Darby and many other ladies (it's a looong list) received gilt cruses, cups, jars, salts, a lee pot, goblets and casting bottles weighing between 8 5/8 oz. and 35 5/8 oz.  The higher your rank the heavier your gift from the King.

In return the Marquis of Exeter gave his cousin the King a bonnet trimmed with aglets and buttons and a gold brooch. The Lady Marquis gave the King a gilt cup with a cover.

A cruse is an earthenware jar or or pot, as it is listed as gilt, it is covered in gold.  A casting bottle is for sprinkling perfume.

For additional reading:
Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 5, available online at
For the funeral of Henry, Duke of Cornwall a description is in Jane Boleyn: The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford by Julia Fox
For the Westminster Tournament Roll of February 1511 and other documents for the brief life of Henry, Duke of Cornwall - Vivat Rex!: An Exhibition Commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the Accession of Henry VIII by Arthur L. Schwarz
For the meeting of Henry VIII and Anna of Cleves and the tradition of meeting royal foreign brides in disguise - The Marrying of Anne of Cleves: Royal Protocol in Tudor England by Retha M. Warnicke.