Saturday, April 30, 2016

What did a lady-in-waiting actually do?

History Extra

Margaret of Anjou with her ladies-in-waiting, from a tapestry in St Mary's Hall, Coventry. (The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)

By the 13th century, there was already a firmly-established female presence at the English court – such as Eleanor of Castile’s ‘women and damsels of the Queen’s Chamber’ – and they were expected to perform certain duties.
There were mundane tasks like making their mistress’s bed, carrying messages, accompanying her on visits or being entrusted with her jewels.
At her coronation, Anne Boleyn’s ladies were on hand to “hold a fine cloth before the Queen’s face” when she needed to spit.

But while everyone hoped that the ‘ladies-in-waiting’, as they were known by the 1700s, would set a good, moral example of how one should behave in court, a royal woman would also use her ladies as confidantes or spies.

Answered by one of our Q&A experts, Emily Brand. For more fascinating questions by Emily, and the rest of our panel, pick up a copy of History Revealed! Available in print and for digital devices.

History Trivia - Edmund de la Pole executed

April 30

 1513  Edmund de la Pole, Yorkist pretender to the English throne, was executed on the orders of Henry VIII.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Unique Scarab Seal from Egyptian Thirteenth Dynasty Discovered in Israel

Ancient Origins

A rare scarab seal has been found in Tel Dor on the Carmel Coast of Israel, south of Haifa. It is dated back to the 18th - 17th centuries BC and belonged to the period of Egypt’s Thirteenth Dynasty.

According to the Jewish Press, Alexander Ternopolsky, a birdwatcher, discovered the artifact. As soon as he made the find, he brought it to the archaeological team working at the site. Professor Ayelet Gilboa from the Department of Archaeology at the University of Haifa, who is heading the excavations at Tel Dor together with Professor Ilan Sharon from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, believes that the scarab belonged to a high-ranking figure in the Egyptian kingdom, perhaps a viceroy who was responsible for the royal treasury.
The reverse of the scarab seal found in Tel Dor, Israel.
The reverse of the scarab seal found in Tel Dor, Israel. (Tel Dor Excavations)
Exacavations started at the site in the mid-twentieth century. Since 2002, the work has been led by Professors Gilboa and Sharon. They discovered a settlement related to the Canaanite period (Late Bronze Age, the 2nd millennium BC), a Phoenician settlement, and two centers related to the Iron Age history of the Assyrians and Israelites. They also uncovered remarkable mosaics from the Hellenistic period, and remains from the Roman Period, including the ruins of a temple of Poseidon (aka. Neptune). However, the scarab is the first ancient Egyptian artifact found at the site.
“We have not yet reached the settlement of the 17th century BC, and this is why this finding is particularly important. The rains this past winter must have eroded the soil on the southern slope of the site, and thanks to Mr. Ternopolsky’s keen eyesight, the scarab was discovered and handed over to us.” Professor Gilboa explained to the Jewish Press.
People excavating at Tel Dor, Israel in 2006.
People excavating at Tel Dor, Israel in 2006. (Public Domain)
Scarabs were very popular objects in ancient Egypt. What makes the one discovered recently in Israel more unique, is its size and quality. The artifact was discovered in an excellent state of preservation. After preliminary studies, the researchers confirmed that the stone scarab contains the engraved name of its owner, but they haven't deciphered it yet. The description of the owner’s position in society includes phrases like ''overseer of the treasury'', ''bearer of the seal'', etc. Apart from those descriptions, archaeologists also recognized the symbol of the ankh, which symbolized eternal life and meant resurrection and stability.
The city of Tel Dor, located near the coast of Isreal and at the foot of Mount Carmel, was a very important port for thousands of years. It is believed that this place may contain the necessary evidence to explain the difficult relationship between the Egyptians and Israelites. The city appears in Egyptian inscriptions dated back to the New Kingdom Period, but the recently discovered scarab from the Middle Kingdom is a very unique discovery.
Aerial view of the Tel Dor excavation site.
Aerial view of the Tel Dor excavation site. (Sky View / Tel Dor expedition)
The researchers are trying to explain how the scarab of the viceroy reached the city of Tel Dor. One of the possible scenarios is that it arrived there by a representative of the viceroy, who came to the city for trade. Another explanation may be that it was brought there during the Roman period, when ancient artifacts were a precious souvenir. The scarab is currently being displayed at the Mizgaga Museum in Kibbutz Nahsholim. Excavations of the Tel Dor site will resume in July 2016.
Scarabs became popular during the First Intermediate Period (circa 2181 – 2055 BC), and continued to be an important part of religious symbolism until the fall of the ancient Egyptian civilization. They are related to the cult of the god Khepri.
A Scarab beetle in Tomb KV6, Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Egypt.
A Scarab beetle in Tomb KV6, Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Egypt. (CC BY SA 3.0)
Egyptian artifacts discovered in Israel are a puzzle for researchers, who are still trying to put the pieces in the right order and create an image of the history of these two ancient nations. The famous Egyptologist David Rohl used the enigmatic artifacts to support his theory about the chronology of ancient Egypt.
By analyzing the Bible and other sources, he revised Egyptian chronology and asserted that the previous history of the country near the Nile is untrue. In his book Test of Time, he discussed the rulers from the 19th to the 25th dynasties. It is possible that the current, and future, discoveries in Egypt and Israel will allow researchers to better clarify, and if necessary re-date, other parts of ancient Egyptian history as well.
Featured Image: The ancient scarab seal found in Tel Dor, Israel. Source: Tel Dor Excavations
By Natalia Klimczak

History Trivia - birth of Catherine of Siena

April 29

1347 Catherine of Siena was born. Catherine, the patron saint of Italy, played a significant role in returning the Papacy from Avignon to Rome. She was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1970

Thursday, April 28, 2016

12 surprising facts about Queen Elizabeth II

History Extra

Elizabeth II poses for a portrait in Buckingham Palace in December 1958. (Donald McKague/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

On Wednesday 9 September, at around 5.30pm, the Queen will surpass the record held by her great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria, of ruling for 23,226 days, 16 hours and 23 minutes.
Elizabeth acceded to the throne on 6 February 1952.
Reports suggest the royal family will mark the occasion at the Queen’s Scottish home, Balmoral.
Here, we bring you 12 surprising facts about Elizabeth II…


An unlikely queen

Elizabeth was not expected to become queen. The first child of the Duke and Duchess of York (who later became King George VI and Queen Elizabeth), Elizabeth stood third in line to the throne after her uncle, Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII), and her father, the Duke of York.
However, when Elizabeth’s uncle, Edward VIII, abdicated in 1936 in order to marry divorcee Wallis Simpson, Elizabeth’s father acceded to the throne and Elizabeth became first in line.

A young Cinderella

The teenage Princess Elizabeth performed alongside her younger sister, Margaret, in a number of pantomimes during the Second World War.
Never-before-seen images emerged recently of a 15-year-old Elizabeth playing the part of Prince Florizel in Cinderella in 1941.

Princess Elizabeth (Queen Elizabeth II) dressed as Prince Charming with Princess Margaret (1930-2002) as Cinderella during a royal pantomime at Windsor Castle, Berkshire, 21 December 1941. (Photo by Lisa Sheridan/Studio Lisa/Getty Images)


Wedding rations

Engaged to Philip Mountbatten (who was then created His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh) in 1946 (although the formal engagement was delayed until Elizabeth turned 21 in April 1947), the then-princess Elizabeth used ration coupons to buy the material for her wedding dress. The pair wed in November 1947.
According to the Independent, because of rationing the couple’s wedding cake was made using “ingredients given as a wedding present by the Australian Girl Guides”. The cake was baked by McVitie & Price.

A working mother

The Queen and her husband have four children: Prince Charles and Princess Anne, who were born before Elizabeth became queen, and Prince Andrew and Prince Edward.
When Elizabeth gave birth to Prince Andrew in 1960, she became the first reigning sovereign to have a child since 1857 when Queen Victoria celebrated the arrival of Princess Beatrice.

Princess Elizabeth watching Prince Charles playing in his toy car while at Balmoral, 28 September 1952. (Photo by Lisa Sheridan/Studio Lisa/Getty Images)

“Annus horribilis”

The year 1992 spelled disaster for the Queen: a fire broke out in Windsor Castle, and the respective marriages of three of her children – Prince Charles, Prince Andrew and Princess Anne – broke down. The Queen deemed this her “annus horribilis” (horrible year).


Staying in touch

The Queen has answered more than three-and-a-half million items of correspondence during her reign so far, and has sent more than 175,000 telegrams to centenarians in the UK and the Commonwealth. She has also sent more than 540,000 telegrams to couples in the UK and the Commonwealth celebrating their diamond wedding anniversary.
The Queen has penned more than 45,000 Christmas cards during her reign, and has given out upwards of 90,000 Christmas puddings to staff.

Strange gifts

The Queen has, during her reign, received a number of unusual gifts – some of them live animals. According to The British Monarchy website, these include two tortoises given to her during a tour of the Seychelles in 1972; a seven-year-old bull elephant called Jumbo, presented by the president of Cameroon in 1972 to mark the Queen's Silver wedding anniversary; and two black beavers during a royal visit to Canada. The animals were placed in the care of London Zoo.
Other curious gifts received by the Queen include a pair of cowboy boots (during a visit to the US); sunglasses, pineapples and 7kg of prawns.

Pooch pals

The Queen has owned more than 30 corgis during her reign. The first, Susan, was given to her as an 18th-birthday present in 1944. It has been reported that Susan accompanied the Queen on her honeymoon – to Broadlands, Hampshire, and Birkhall on the Balmoral Estate – in 1947. Many of the corgis since owned by the Queen were direct descendants from Susan.
Elizabeth’s love of dogs is similar to that of her great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria, who owned a number of German dachshunds and later in life Scottish collies, which she gave the name of Noble.

Queen Elizabeth II at Balmoral Castle with one of her corgis, 28 September 1952. (Photo by Lisa Sheridan/Studio Lisa/Getty Images)


Ships ahoy

Elizabeth has launched 23 ships during her lifetime, the first being HMS Vanguard on 30 November 1944, in Clydebank, Scotland, when she was Princess Elizabeth.
The first ship Elizabeth launched as queen, on 16 April 1953, was the Britannia, which was also from Clydebank. Other ships launched by the Queen include Elizabeth 2 in 1967, and Queen Mary 2 in 2004.

Royal assent

For a bill to become an act of law, it must first be passed by both the houses of Lords and Commons, and then receive royal assent from the Queen.
Since 1952, the Queen has given royal assent to more than 3,500 acts of parliament.

Prime ministerial

The queen has, over the course of her reign, held regular evening meetings with 12 British prime ministers: Winston Churchill (1951–55); Sir Anthony Eden (1955–57); Harold Macmillan (1957–63); Sir Alec Douglas-Home (1963–64) and Harold Wilson (1964–70 and 1974–76).
The Queen also met regularly with Edward Heath (1970–74); James Callaghan (1976–79); Margaret Thatcher (1979–90); John Major (1990–97); Tony Blair (1997–2007) and Gordon Brown (2007–10). The tradition continues with the current prime minister, David Cameron (2010–present) - the pair usually meet on a Wednesday evening.
Tony Blair was the first prime minister to have been born during Elizabeth’s reign – in May 1953, just a month before the Queen’s coronation.
Interestingly, there have also been 12 US presidents during the queen’s reign: Harry S Truman (1945–53); Dwight D Eisenhower (1953–61); John F Kennedy (1961–63); Lyndon B Johnson (1963–69); Richard Nixon (1969–74); Gerald Ford (1974–77); Jimmy Carter (1977–81); Ronald Reagan (1981–89); George H W Bush (1989–93); Bill Clinton (1993–2001); George W Bush (2001–09) and Barack Obama (2009–present).

President Ronald Reagan roars with laughter at a joke delivered by Queen Elizabeth II during a state dinner in San Francisco, March 1983. The 'deadpan'-style joke remarked on the California weather. (Photo by Diana Walker/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images) 


Elizabeth II is the 40th monarch since William the Conqueror obtained the crown of England on Christmas Day 1066. She is also the oldest monarch to have celebrated a Golden Jubilee (in 2002 at the age of 76) – the youngest was James VI and I, at the age of 51. Elizabeth was also the first British monarch to celebrate her diamond wedding anniversary, on 20 November 2007.
Only five other kings and queens in British history have reigned for 50 years or more. They are: Victoria, who reigned for 63 years; George III (59 years); Henry III (56 years); Edward III (50 years) and James VI and I (58 years).
Facts courtesy of The British Monarchy website, Time magazine, Vanity Fair and the Independent
To read a profile of Queen Elizabeth, click here.

History Trivia - Emperor Constantius II visits Rome

April 28

357 Emperor Constantius II, after dealing with the Franks, visited Rome before moving his army north to campaign against the Sarmatians, Suevi and the Quadi along the Danube. Constantius spent most of his reign quelling uprisings throughout the Roman Empire, succumbing to a fever in the winter of 361 at Mopsucrene (central Turkey). 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

History Trivia - Battle of Dunbar

April 27

1296 Battle of Dunbar: The Scots were defeated by Edward I of England. This battle was the only significant field action in the campaign of 1296 when King Edward I of England had invaded Scotland to punish King John Balliol for his refusal to support English military action in France.

Have we completely misinterpreted Shakespeare’s Richard III?

History Extra

King Richard speaks to James Tyrrell (portrayed by Shakespeare as the man who organises the murder of the princes in the Tower) in Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’. From ‘The Illustrated Library Shakespeare’, published in London in 1890. (Photo by Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of King Richard the Third is a masterpiece: the depiction of evil that dares us to like the villain and question, as we laugh along with his jokes, why we find such a man attractive.
The play is believed to have been written in around 1593 and its political context gives it a wider meaning. Queen Elizabeth I was ageing and obviously not going to produce an heir. The question of the succession grew like a weed, untended by all (at least in public), yet the identity of the next monarch was of huge importance to the entire country. Religious tensions ran high and the swings between the Protestant Edward VI, the Catholic Mary I and the Protestant Elizabeth I were still causing turmoil 60 years after Henry VIII’s reformation.

Portrait of Elizabeth I of England c1593. Found in the collection of Elizabethan Gardens, Manteo. Artist anonymous. (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
Shakespeare is believed by some to have been a devout Catholic all of his life, hiding his faith and working for sponsors such as the earls of Essex and Southampton, whose sympathies were also with the old faith. Opposed to those keen for a return to Catholicism was the powerful Cecil family. William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, had been Elizabeth’s constant supporter and advisor throughout her reign and was, by the early 1590s, as old age crept up on him, paving the way for his son to take on the same role. The Cecils favoured a Protestant succession by James VI of Scotland. It is against this backdrop that Shakespeare wrote his play and his real villain may have been a very contemporary player.
The Tragedy of King Richard the Third is replete with demonstrable errors of fact, chronology and geography. The first edition reversed the locations of Northampton and Stony Stratford to allow Richard to ambush the party of Edward V (one of the princes in the Tower) party rather than have them travel beyond the meeting place. Early in the play Richard tells his audience “I’ll marry Warwick’s youngest daughter./ What, though I kill’d her husband and her father?’” Accounts of both the battles of Barnet (April 1471) and Tewkesbury (May 1471) make it almost certain neither Warwick nor Edward of Westminster was killed by Richard.
The ending of the play is also misinterpreted. The infamous “A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!” is often mistaken for a cowardly plea to flee the field. Read in context, it is in fact Richard demanding a fresh horse to re-enter the fray and seek out Richmond (Henry Tudor). Even Shakespeare did not deny Richard his valiant end.

Illumination of the 1471 battle of Tewkesbury, dated 15th century. (Photo by Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
Shakespeare’s Richard delights in arranging the murder of his brother Clarence by their other brother Edward IV through trickery when in fact Edward’s execution of Clarence was believed by contemporaries to have driven a wedge between them that kept Richard away from Edward’s court. The seed of this misdirection is sown much earlier in the cycle of history plays too. In Henry VI, Part II Richard kills the Duke of Somerset at the battle of St Albans in 1455, when in fact he was just two-and-a-half years old.
The revelation at the beginning of the play that King Edward fears a prophesy that ‘G’ will disinherit his sons is perhaps another signpost to misdirection. Edward and Richard’s brother George, Duke of Clarence tells Richard “He hearkens after prophecies and dreams./ And from the cross-row plucks the letter G./ And says a wizard told him that by G/ His issue disinherited should be./ And, for my name of George begins with G./ It follows in his thought that I am he.”
George is therefore assumed to be the threat, ignoring the fact the Richard’s title, Duke of Gloucester, also marks him as a ‘G’. Before Clarence arrives, Richard appears to know of the prophesy and that George will be the target of Edward’s fear, suggesting that he had a hand in the trick and that a thin veil is being drawn over the obvious within the play. The true villain is slipping past unseen as signs are misread or ignored.
The language of the play’s famous opening soliloquy is interesting in the context of when it was written. In autumn 1592, Thomas Nashe’s play Summer’s Last Will and Testament was first performed in Croydon. Narrated by the ghost of Will Summer, Henry VIII’s famous court jester, it tells the story of the seasons and their adherents. Summer is king but lacks an heir, lamenting “Had I some issue to sit on my throne,/ My grief would die, death should not hear me grone”. Summer adopts Autumn as his heir but Winter will then follow – and his rule is not to be looked forward to. When Richard tells us “Now is the winter of our discontent/ Made glorious summer by this sun of York” it is perhaps not, at least not only, a clever reference to Edward IV’s badge of the sunne in splendour.
Elizabeth I, great-granddaughter of Edward IV, could be the “sun of York”, and this might explain the use of “sun” rather than “son”. Using Nashe’s allegory, Elizabeth is made summer by her lack of an heir that allows winter, his real villain, in during the autumn of her reign. The very first word of the play might be a hint that Shakespeare expected his audience to understand that the relevance of the play is very much “Now”.
Richard was able to perform this role for Shakespeare because of his unique position as a figure who could be abused but who also provided the moral tale and political parallels the playwright needed. The Yorkist family of Edward IV were direct ancestors of Elizabeth I and attacking them would have been a very bad move. Richard stood outside this protection. By imbuing Richard with the deeds of his father at St Albans, there is a link between the actions and sins of father and son, the son eventually causing the catastrophic downfall of his house. Here, Shakespeare returns to the father and son team now leading England toward a disaster – the Cecils.
I suspect that Shakespeare meant his audience to recognise, in the play’s Richard III character, Robert Cecil, William’s son – and that in the 1590s they would very clearly have done so. Motley’s History of the Netherlands (published in 1888) described Robert’s appearance in 1588 as “A slight, crooked, hump-backed young gentleman, dwarfish in stature” and later remarked on the “massive dissimulation” that would “constitute a portion of his own character”. Robert Cecil had kyphosis – in Shakespeare’s crude parlance, a hunchback – and a reputation for dissimulation. I imagine Shakespeare’s first audience nudging each other as Richard hobbled onto the stage and whispering that it was plainly Robert Cecil.

Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury (1563–1612). (Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images)
The warnings of the play are clear: Richard upturns the natural order, supplanting a rightful heir for his own gain, and Shakespeare’s Catholic sponsors may well have viewed Cecil in the same light as he planned a Protestant succession. We almost like Richard, and we are supposed to. Elizabeth called Robert Cecil her “little imp” and showed him great favour. Richard tells us that he is “determined to prove a villain” and Shakespeare was warning his audience that Robert Cecil similarly used a veil of amiability to hide his dangerous intentions.
Robert Cecil got his Protestant succession. William Shakespeare became a legend. Richard III entered the collective consciousness as a villain. Perhaps it was by accident and the time has come to look more closely at the man rather than the myth.
Matthew Lewis is the author of Richard, Duke of York: King by Right (Amberley Publishing, 2016). 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A seventh wife for Henry VIII?

History Extra

Katherine Willoughby in an 18th-century engraving after a Hans Holbein the Younger portrait. In 1546 the prospect of her marrying England’s ageing king was causing tongues to wag in diplomatic circles. (© National Portrait Gallery)

In February 1546, the imperial ambassador François van der Delft wrote to his master, Holy Roman emperor Charles V, to acquaint him with a story he had heard circulating in aristocratic and diplomatic circles. “Sire, I am confused and apprehensive to inform your majesty,” he began apologetically, “that there are rumours here of a new queen, although I do not know why, or how true it may be. Some people attribute it to the sterility of the present queen [Katherine Parr] whilst others say that there will be no change whilst the present war [with France] lasts. Madame Suffolk is much talked about, and is in great favour; but the king shows no alteration in his demeanour towards the queen, though the latter, as I am informed, is somewhat annoyed at the rumours.”
The speculation had reached Europe by early March when Stephen Vaughan, the king’s agent in Antwerp, advised lord chancellor Thomas Wriothesley and diplomat William Paget that: “This day came to my lodging a… merchant of this town, saying that he had dined with certain friends, one of whom offered to lay a wager with him that the king’s majesty would have another wife; and he prayed me to show him the truth. He would not tell me who offered the wager, and I said that I never heard of any such thing, and that there was no such thing. Many folks talk of this matter, and from whence it comes I cannot learn.”

Better humour

‘Madame Suffolk’ was Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, the widow of King Henry’s closest friend, Charles Brandon, who had died in August 1545. Married to Brandon in 1533 when she was 14 and he nearly 50, Katherine had many opportunities to meet the king socially in the 1530s and 1540s. Henry undoubtedly liked her – they began exchanging new year gifts in 1534 – and Eustace Chapuys, van der Delft’s predecessor as imperial ambassador, noted that he had been “masking and visiting” with her in March 1538, only months after Jane Seymour’s death.
“The king,” wrote Chapuys, “has been in much better humour than ever he was, making musicians play on their instruments all day along. He went to dine at a splendid house of his, where he had collected all his musicians, and, after giving orders for the erection of certain sumptuous buildings therein, returned home by water, surrounded by musicians, and went straight to visit the Duchess of Suffolk… and ever since cannot be one single moment without masks.”
So did Katherine and Henry become lovers at this period, and did Charles Brandon, who owed everything to his royal master, turn a diplomatically blind eye? The question is ultimately unanswerable, but Katherine’s appointment as a lady-in-waiting to Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Katherine Parr would have allowed her to be constantly about the court without attracting comment.
William Carey had been recompensed for tolerating the king’s affair with his wife, Mary Boleyn, and it is possible to speculate that the rewards Brandon received were for more than his own good service. Perhaps Henry would have wed Katherine in the years after Jane Seymour’s death if she had been single, but Brandon’s longevity denied him the chance.

It’s possible that Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk (shown here), was recompensed for holding his tongue while King Henry pursued his wife. (© Topfoto)
By February 1546, when the rumours about a new wife were swirling, Henry had been married to Katherine Parr for two and a half years, and their relationship was not always amicable. Any hopes that she would give him a second son remained unrealised, and he sometimes found her forthright Protestant opinions too challenging for his liking. According to the martyrologist John Foxe, he was heard to complain that “a good hearing it is when women become such clerks; and a thing much to my comfort, to come in mine old days to be taught by my wife”; and the conservative bishop Stephen Gardiner offered to obtain evidence that the queen’s views were “treason cloaked with the cloak of heresy” and merited death.
But matters turned out rather differently. Foxe says that Henry confided his intentions to his physician Dr Wendy (who also attended Queen Katherine), and the bill detailing the charges against his wife was left where a friend of hers would find it. Forewarned, she seized the initiative, begging Henry to accept that she had disputed with him only to divert his mind from his infirmities, and in the hope that she would herself “profit from his learned discourse”. The king was mollified, and embraced her with the words: “And is it even so sweet heart? And tended your arguments to no worse end? Then perfect friends we are now again, as ever at any time heretofore.”

Queen and courtiers

Several interpretations could be placed on these events, but perhaps the most obvious is that Katherine Parr was being warned and at the same time given an opportunity to redeem herself. Perhaps Henry was toying with his queen and his courtiers, playing off the reformers against the conservatives while showing both parties that he alone was in control of the situation.
Unfortunately, no one told Lord Chancellor Wriothesley what had happened, and when he came to arrest Katherine next morning he found her walking in the garden with her husband. He was  sent packing with Henry’s curses ringing in his ears.
On the other hand, it is possible that the capricious monarch had seriously considered changing his wife again but had decided against it at the last moment.

A Hans Holbein drawing of Henry VIII. By February 1546 rumours were doing the rounds that the king was tiring of his sixth wife, Katherine Parr, and her strident Protestantism. (© AKG)
Katherine Willoughby was attractive and vivacious, but she shared Katherine Parr’s devotion to Protestantism and was also markedly self-opinionated. In later years she had to apologise to William Cecil for what she herself called her “foolish choler” and “brawling”, and while these characteristics may have amused Henry in small doses her feistiness could have made her less appealing as a seventh consort. Katherine may have felt disappointment, or perhaps relief that she had not had to make an equally difficult choice.
King Henry’s life was now almost over – he died in January 1547 – but Katherine still had many years to live. After losing her two sons by Brandon to the ‘sweating sickness’ in 1551, she married Richard Bertie, her gentleman-usher, and had another son and a daughter. She avoided involvement in the conspiracy built around her step-granddaughter, Lady Jane Grey, but still spent four years in exile in Europe while the Catholic queen Mary ruled England. She returned when Elizabeth succeeded, but disagreed profoundly – and vocally – with the queen’s more tolerant approach to religious matters. She died in 1580, and her magnificent monument can still be seen at Spilsby, Lincolnshire today.

Henry’s Last Years

6 January 1540
Henry marries Anne of Cleves but their union is annulled on the grounds of non-consummation and an alleged pre-contract, on 9 July.
18 April 1540
Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s chief minister, is created Earl of Essex. However, he is executed, ostensibly for religious transgressions, on 28 July.
8 August 1540
Henry marries Catherine Howard. His  union with a Catholic is widely seen as a victory for the religious conservatives over their evangelical opponents.
13 February 1542
Catherine Howard is executed after admitting to affairs with the courtiers Francis Dereham and Thomas Culpepper, the latter after her marriage to the king.
12 July 1543
Henry weds the twice-widowed Katherine Parr. Her preferred suitor, Thomas Seymour, the late Queen Jane’s brother, prudently stands aside.

Katherine Parr. (© Bridgeman)
The third Act of Succession of Henry’s reign is passed in the spring. The ‘illegitimate’ princesses Mary and Elizabeth are restored to their places in the succession. Henry visits Boulogne after it surrenders to English forces on 13 September. But six years later the town is restored to the French.
19 January 1547
Henry Howard, the poet Earl of Surrey, is executed for foolishly misappropriating the royal arms. He defends himself brilliantly, but his fate is already sealed.

Henry Howard. (© Bridgeman)
David Baldwin’s books include a biography of Richard III (Amberley, 2013).

History Trivia - birth of Marcus Aurelius

April 26

121 Marcus Aurelius (Roman Emperor 161-180) was born. He was the last of the "Five Good Emperors", and is also considered one of the most important Stoic philosophers.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Behaving badly: Henry V's misspent youth

History Extra

Henry V: dithering also-ran or medieval hero? (Credit: Bridgeman Images)

On Friday 25 October 1415, in a muddy field in Picardy, the reputation of Henry V as a great warrior king was sealed. His victory over the French at Agincourt had a major effect on his position both at home and abroad. Even before he returned to England, a grateful parliament had granted him all revenue from customs duties – a sizeable income – for life. As for the French, they never again dared to face him in battle.
So Henry was able to conquer the whole of Normandy and advance on Paris, exploiting the divisions in France – between the Burgundian and Armagnac factions – that the defeat at Agincourt had exacerbated. The treaty of Troyes, signed in May 1420, sealed Henry’s acceptance as regent to Charles VI (‘The Mad’) and – through marriage to Charles’s daughter Katherine – heir to the throne of France. It seemed only a matter of time before he would rule over both England and France.
At the parliament held at Westminster in December 1420, the chancellor explained why the English had “special cause to honour and thank God” for the deeds and victories of the king. He had recovered the ancient rights of the English crown in France. He had destroyed heresy in the realm – a reference to his actions against Sir John Oldcastle and the Lollards (critics of the established church) in 1414. And, in his youth, he had put down rebellion in Wales.
In short, though Henry’s untimely death in 1422 curtailed the fulfilment of his plans, his career was, on the face of it, a complete success. As Thomas Walsingham, author of The St Albans Chronicle, expressed in a panegyric for the dead king: “He was a warrior, famous and blessed with good fortune who, in every war he undertook, always came away with victory.”
But had Henry always been so successful? Let us reflect on Henry’s life before he became king.

This 15th-century illustration depicts Henry, then Prince of Wales, paying homage to the French king Charles VI. The Treaty of Troyes, signed in 1420, saw Henry named Charles’s regent; by marrying the latter’s daughter, Katherine, Henry secured his position as heir to the French throne. (Credit: Bridgeman Images)
There are ample reasons to believe that Henry the prince was a far cry from Henry the king. In Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, Shakespeare portrays him as a medieval ‘hooray Henry’. In those plays, the prince chooses bad company; though wealthy, he prefers the low life and petty criminality; and it is only at his father’s deathbed and his own subsequent coronation that he reforms himself – becoming as excessively ‘correct’ as he was once so ‘incorrect’ for his social and political position. But was this fact as well as Shakespearean fiction?
The first ‘published’ comments on Henry’s bad behaviour so far unearthed appear in the Latin lives written about him in the late 1430s. In the anonymous Vita et Gesta Henrici Quinti (often called the Pseudo-Elmham), Henry is described as being in his youth “an assiduous cultivator of lasciviousness…passing the bounds of modesty he was the fervent soldier of Venus as well as Mars; youthlike he was fired by her torches and in the midst of worthy works of war found leisure for excesses common to ungoverned age”. The work devotes much space to his last-minute repentance to his father for his bad behaviour.
We could dismiss all of this as simply a good story – except that it was dealt with at great length, and in a work known to have drawn information from one of Henry’s courtiers: Walter, Lord Hungerford.
In another work, the Vita Henrici Quinti by Tito Livio Frulovisi (now believed to have been derived from the Vita et Gesta), stories of a misspent youth and late change of heart are shorter, but remain. Given this work’s links with Henry’s last surviving brother, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, and the status of both works as eulogies for Henry V, we have to assume that the accounts of his youth are basically true – as are those of the well-publicised change of character at his accession.
There are many intriguing facets to Prince Henry. For one thing, he had not been born to be king. Until just after his 13th birthday, in September 1399, he was merely the eldest son of the eldest son of a collateral line of King Richard II . He stood to inherit, in time, the duchy of Lancaster created for his grandfather John of Gaunt (d1399), the third son of Edward III. He was also to be bequeathed the earldom of Derby held by his father, Henry Bolingbroke (d1413), and the titles brought to the family by his co-heiress mother, Mary (d1394), daughter of Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Northampton, Essex and Hereford (d1373).
So the career that lay ahead for the “young lord Henry” or “Lord Henry, son of the Earl of Derby”, as he is described in the financial records of his father and grandfather, was that of a peer – but at the time it seemed that he might have to wait many years for his inheritance.
Tom Mison plays Prince Hal, with David Yelland as the old king, in a performance of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I. The play portrays Hal as a medieval ‘hooray Henry’. (Credit: Rex)
As it was, his life was completely transformed – first, in October 1398, by the exile of his father by Richard II; and then, the following September, by Bolingbroke’s return to England and usurpation of the throne as Henry IV.
On 15 October 1399, two days after his father’s coronation, Henry was created Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall and Earl of Chester, and was acknowledged as heir to the throne. Later in October, the title Duke of Aquitaine was added and, on 10 November, that of Duke of Lancaster.
Given the fragile political position of the new dynasty, Prince Henry was a vital cog in its establishment and, as such, shared in its problems – indeed, he experienced them even before the usurpation. In May 1399 the young Henry was taken to Ireland by Richard II , seemingly in an attempt to ensure his father’s good behaviour. It failed: in the king’s absence, Bolingbroke invaded England.

Education in arms

Henry was then 12 years old, an age at which it was customary for noble boys to begin gaining experience of military service, though they were not expected to actually participate in the fighting. So in the summer of 1400 he was assigned a company of troops within the huge army – over 13,000 strong – that his father took to Scotland.
Then, as the army returned to England, the Welsh revolt began. The historian Adam Chapman has observed that it was no coincidence that Owain Glyndŵr declared himself Prince of Wales on 16 September 1400 – the 14th birthday of the formal holder of the title, Prince Henry. Only six months later, the latter found himself involved in his first siege, at Conwy.
It is not surprising that the teenage prince learned under the tutelage of advisors appointed by his father. The young Henry held a number of nominal commands but was always guided by others, including Henry Hotspur, son of the Earl of Northumberland, and Hotspur’s uncle, Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester, who was appointed Prince Henry’s governor at the end of 1401.
Yet these were the very men who, in 1403, rebelled against Henry IV and his son. So the battle of Shrewsbury on 21 July, when he faced his erstwhile mentors, must have been a chastening experience for the prince – not least because he was wounded by an arrow that pierced his left cheek. The surgeon John Bradmore removed the arrowhead, but the wound put the prince out of action for a year or so.
Even as Henry entered his late teens, his father was reluctant to give him complete authority in the Welsh wars. The young prince was neither wholly committed nor effective, and constantly complained of being kept short of funds. Alongside praise for the prince’s good heart and courage, the speaker of the parliament of March 1406 also urged that he should maintaincontinual residence in Wales for the sake of the wars – an indication that he had not been attentive to his duties.
All did not go well with the prince’s campaigns. In 1407, at the siege of Aberystwyth, Henry theatrically negotiated its peaceful surrender, withdrawing his troops; Glyndwˆ r, though, simply occupied the castle. Aberystwyth remained in rebel hands until September 1408 and was recovered, as was Harlech in 1409, not by the prince in person but by those to whom he delegated.
This late 15th century illustration shows prisoners being taken at Agincourt. Some of Henry’s earlier military endeavours had not met with such success. (Credit: Alamy)

Sickly and sexed up

As the late Welsh historian Rees Davies observed, the prince’s personal role in Wales was limited. Chroniclers of the wars scarcely mention him at all. He seems to have preferred to stay in the relative safety of the English border towns and, increasingly, to spend his time in and around London.
In 1409 he was appointed constable of Dover Castle and warden of the Cinque Ports but so far no evidence has been found to show that he went to Dover or Calais, the captaincy of which he gained in March 1410. Yet in 1412, the prince was investigated for misappropriating the garrison’s wages.
The overall impression formed from the sources is that King Henry IV was slow to let his son have his head, but that, as the prince grew up, his father could not hold him back. It is notable how, once he turned 21, Prince Henry began to build up his own support. Fifty-one new grants of annuities were made in the year following Michaelmas 1407, a big increase on the average for the previous six years of less than ten.
Many of Henry’s circle were nonentities, which fans the notion that he associated with unsuitable people. It also seems that he promoted favourites such as Thomas, Earl of Arundel, and Richard Courtenay, whom Henry had appointed as bishop of Norwich after his accession. Comments made by Courtenay in 1415 tell us that Henry suffered from being overweight and in bad health, and that he was of the opinion that there were no decent doctors in England.
There’s more evidence for a sickly Prince Henry in his household accounts listing purchases of medicines. These records also suggest that he may have lived beyond his means, partly because of the large payments he made to retainers. Thomas Walsingham speaks of his retinue in 1412 being “larger than any seen before these days”. Intriguingly, too, in 1415 Courtenay observed that Henry had not had sexual relations with any woman since he came to the throne – the implication being that, as the Vita et Gesta suggests, he had been notably promiscuous before his accession.
As prince and heir, we would expect Henry to have had a place on the royal council. This was the case from at least the end of 1406, when he was 20. As the medievalist Christopher Allmand observes, Prince Henry attended a good proportion of meetings but was increasingly advancing the interests of key friends and relations – including his father’s half-brother, Henry Beaufort – and challenging the power of the chancellor, Thomas Arundel, archbishop of Canterbury. Indeed, Henry’s growing influence may have contributed to Arundel’s decision to resign from the chancellorship in December 1409.
Henry married Katherine of Valois, daughter of Charles VI of France, on 2 June 1420. This painting of 1487 is from the Chroniques de France ou de Saint Denis. (Credit: AKG images)
Yet, in November 1411, it seems that the prince’s influence over the council abruptly ended. There is no doubt that Henry’s relations with his father, and with his brother, Thomas, were bad: there were major differences of opinion on foreign policy, and a study of diplomatic relations with Burgundy suggests that the prince was making offers he was simply not entitled to issue. He was  also outraged not to be chosen to lead an expedition to Aquitaine in the summer of 1412.
The seriousness of the situation is reflected in a letter sent by Prince Henry from Coventry on 17 June 1412, a missive that was clearly intended to reach a wide audience. It addressed rumours accusing him of plotting to rebel against his father and seize the throne.
Father and son became reconciled but, according to the chronicler Thomas Walsingham, Henry IV refused to punish immediately those who had spread the rumours; instead, he ordered that sanctions should wait until the next parliament, when they could be tried by their peers. This could only mean that the prince’s detractors were noblemen. Interestingly, the Latin lives made much of Henry’s last-minute reform and confession to his father – does this suggest that, despite his protestations, he might have had a guilty conscience?
Henry the prince emerges as a complex character: not always living up to expectations, making enemies and choosing unsuitable friends. He was brave but flawed, and always prioritised his own desires. Six centuries after he assumed the throne, it’s worth remembering that the road to his achievement as all-conquering hero of Agincourt was often a rocky one.
Professor Anne Curry is the dean of the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Southampton.

History Trivia - Pope Leo III attacked in Rome

April 25

799 Pope Leo III was attacked during a procession in Rome due, in part, for recognizing Charlemagne as patricius of the Romans, which upset the delicate balance between the Byzantines and the west that his predecessor had established. He fled to Charlemagne, who escorted the Pope  safely back to Rome where he oversaw a commission that vindicated Leo and deported his enemies. Leo would later crown Charlemagne the first Holy Roman Emperor

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Spanish Archaeologists Continue Works to Recover the Elaborate Villa of the Emperor Hadrian

Ancient Origins

In the second century AD, the Roman Emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of a villa for his personal enjoyment as he was not content in his official palace on Palatine Hill. Located on the outskirts of Tivoli, Rome, Hadrian’s villa was actually a small town – complete with palaces, fountains, baths, and a number of buildings that imitated the different architectural styles of the Egyptians and Greeks. Now, a team of Spanish archaeologists has been excavating the site to determine the distribution of the various elements that made up Hadrian’s villa (Villa Adriana in Italian).

According to information published by the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia , the team is a group of experts consisting of archaeologists, researchers, and students of the University Pablo de Olavide (UPO) in Seville, who have been involved in the excavations of Hadrian’s villa since 2003. With a total of 120 hectares to study, this season of excavations will focus on the area of ​​the Palazzo.
Imperial palace of the Villa Adriana, Tivoli.
Imperial palace of the Villa Adriana, Tivoli. ( Public Domain )
"We are in a central area of the villa, in a significant area of the villa, because it is the first residential building constructed by the Emperor Hadrian in the Villa Adriana. The area 'Palazzo' has many problems and it is not yet understood, there are many doubts about many interpretive aspects of this sector of the villa that we intend to solve with our project,” said the director of the project and professor of Archaeology at UPO, Rafael Hidalgo .
Throughout the 13 years of fieldwork, they have found that there were originally three courtyards with wooden floors, marble walls of different colors in the imperial residence and, although most of the decoration was plundered, there are still some remnants which clearly show Hadrian’s passion for ostentation and luxury.
"Playing with pieces of marble that we finding in excavations, we can reconstruct what all this was before it was sacked. We know that these spaces were decorated with marble, both the floor and the walls," Rafael Hidalgo told La Vanguardia.
Black and white mosaic pavement; on the background wall: traces of frescoes and of opus reticulatum. From the Hospitalia at the Villa Adriana in Tivoli.
Black and white mosaic pavement; on the background wall: traces of frescoes and of opus reticulatum. From the Hospitalia at the Villa Adriana in Tivoli. ( Public Domain )
To date, one of the most important discoveries that the Spanish experts have brought to light in the area of ​​the "Palazzo", has been the oldest known Roman 'stibadium' (banquet hall) - a room that became fashionable during the Roman empire, although its origin is much older.
They were also able to confirm that there were a number of indoor rooms in the residential palace, exclusively for the use of the emperor, that open onto a central courtyard. There was a great fountain with two individual latrines on the sides as well.
“The individual latrine is a very important feature of the Villa Adriana because the use of latrines in the Roman world did not have the same concept of privacy that we have today, so it is very unusual that a Roman building has a latrine with a single seat” Hidalgo explained to La Vanguardia.
Finally, the palace was also found to have housed, as expected, a "garden terrace", which in turn flowed into a large porch.
The UPO team during excavation work in the 'stibadium.’
The UPO team during excavation work in the 'stibadium.’ (
Featured Image: Canopus of Hadrian’s Villa. (Public Domain )
By Mariló T. A.
This article was first published in Spanish at and has been translated with permission.

History Trivia - Saint Wilfrid dies

April 24

709 Saint Wilfrid died. A monk of Lindisfarne Abbey and later Bishop of Hexham, Wilfrid spread the Benedictine Rule and worked to establish Roman Catholicism over the influence of the Celtic Church in England.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Viking Invaders Struck Deep into the West of England – and May have Stuck Around

Ancient Origins

It’s well chronicled that wave after wave of Vikings from Scandinavia terrorised western Europe for 250 years from the end of the eighth century AD and wreaked particular havoc across vast areas of northern England. There’s no shortage of evidence of Viking raids from the Church historians of the time. But researchers are now uncovering evidence that the Vikings conquered more of the British Isles than was previously thought

At the time England consisted of four independent kingdoms: Wessex, to the south of the River Thames, and Mercia, East Anglia and Northumbria to the north of it. The latter three were all conquered by Scandinavian armies in the late ninth century and their kings killed or deposed – which allowed expansive Scandinavian settlement in eastern and northern England. However the kings of Wessex successfully defended their territory from the Viking intruders (and eventually went on to conquer the North, creating the unified kingdom of England).
Un-united Kingdoms, Mike Christie
Un-united Kingdoms, Mike Christie (Public Domain)
But precisely because Wessex remained independent, there has never been much examination of Scandinavian influence in that part of the United Kingdom. But we’re beginning to get a different picture suggesting that Viking leaders such as Svein and his son Knut were active as far south as Devon and Cornwall in the West Country.
In 838AD, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded a battle fought at Hingston Down in east Cornwall in which the local Britons joined forces with the Vikings against King Egbert of Wessex and his attempts to expand his kingdom. The fiercely independent Cornish appear to have held out against West Saxon control and presumably cast around for a strong ally in their fight. But why were Viking leaders interested in aiding the Cornish? Perhaps it was a political move, made in the hope of gaining a foothold in the peninsula in order to use it as a strategic base against Wessex. If so, it was thwarted, as the allied army was soundly defeated.
There are also records of raids for plunder in the West Country. A Viking fleet sailed up the river Tamar in 997, attacked the abbey at Tavistock and brought back treasure to their ships.
Cardinham churchyard.  Len Williams
Cardinham churchyard.  Len Williams, (CC BY-SA 2.0)
There is further evidence indicating Scandinavians in the West Country in a close examination of stone sculptures in Devon and Cornwall which has revealed Scandinavian art motifs and monument forms. A Norwegian Borre ring chain ornament decorates the cross in Cardinham churchyard in east Cornwall and a mounted warrior is in one of the panels of the Copplestone Cross near Crediton, mid Devon. Both are matched by examples in northern England in the Viking Age, but seem out of place in the West. Late versions of the “hogback” memorial stones, which have a pronounced ridge and look like a small stone long house, are well known in Cornwall too – the best example is at Lanivet near Bodmin.
These sort of memorials were popular with the Norse settlers in Cumbria and Yorkshire and may be the work of itinerant sculptors bringing new ideas into the West, or patrons ordering forms and patterns which they had seen elsewhere. However, the possibility that the patrons may have been Scandinavian settlers cannot be excluded.

All in the name

People with Scandinavian names such as Carla, Thurgod, Cytel, Scula, Wicing, Farman are recorded as working in the mints in Exeter and at other Devon sites from the end of the tenth century – and, although such names became popular in the general population, there is an unusual concentration in these areas. Detectorists operating in the West Country are finding increasing numbers of metal objects from the period, many with Scandinavian connections. Scandinavian dress-fittings, lead weights, coins and silver ingots – and all manner of gear for horses have been identified in the past few years. A woman’s trefoil brooch, probably made in Scandinavia, was discovered where it had been dropped in Wiltshire. This is the only example of the type yet found in Wessex, whereas 15 have been discovered in northern England.
Like these Viking artefacts, place names with Scandinavian links are well known in northern England – but we would not have previously expected them in the West Country. Yet the islands in the Bristol Channel: Lundy, Steepholm and Flatholme are hybrid names with Old Norse and Old English elements. Spaxton in Somerset was Spacheston in the Domesday Book, that is Spakr’s tun another hybrid. Knowstone in central Devon, recorded as Chenutdestana in Domesday Book, combines Scandinavian Knut with English stana to give Knut’s stone, perhaps named after the Danish king. More intriguing still are the 11 landholders in the Devon section of the Domesday Book with the personal name wichin which means “viking”. These names are rare in England and do not occur at all elsewhere in the West Country, so the cluster in Devon is significant. A combination of sculptural, archaeological and word usage evidence therefore points to a new appreciation of how far the Vikings travelled within the UK – and the dramatic reach of their influence. Featured image: Guests from Overseas, Nicholas Roerich (1899) (Public Domain) The article ‘Viking invaders struck deep into the west of England – and may have stuck around‘ by Derek Gore was originally published on The Conversation and has been republished under a Creative Commons license. -

History Trivia - Battle of Contarf Brian Boru

April 23

1014 Battle of Clontarf Brian Boru (High King of Ireland in 1002) defeated Viking invaders, but was killed during the battle

Friday, April 22, 2016

Game of Thrones season six: the real-life medieval history

History Extra

Maisie Williams as Arya Stark in the sixth season of Game of Thrones, which airs on Sunday (Monday morning in Britain). © 2016 Home Box Office, Inc.
George RR Martin, author of the books upon which the Game of Thrones television show is based, notes that the battle for the Iron Throne is loosely based on the 15th-century Wars of the Roses; the chime of Stark and York and Lannister and Lancaster suggests as much. But Martin draws much more eclectically on medieval cultures, as the following examples demonstrate.


Queen Cersei

Cersei has been compared to a good number of medieval queens, such as Margaret of Anjou (d1482), wife of Henry VI. To my mind, though, Cersei, the “green-eyed lioness” of the Lannisters, is much more like Edward II’s queen Isabella, the ‘She-Wolf of France’. Daughter of King Philip IV (the Fair) of France, Isabella was sister of his three successors. She was married, probably aged 12, to Edward II of England in 1308. Edward gave her four children, but, notoriously, he neglected her for his good-looking male favourites.
His barons forced Edward to give up one of these favourites, Piers Gaveston, 1st Earl of Cornwall, who was executed in 1312, but by 1320 Edward was deeply involved with Hugh Despenser the Younger. As a consequence of Isabella’s hostility to the Despenser faction, her lands in England were taken from her, as were her children, and her household was broken up.

Cersei Lannister played by Lena Headey and Jaime Lannister played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. ©2015 Home Box Office, Inc.
Isabella and Edward had effectively separated. When, in 1325, her eldest son, the future Edward III, went to France to do homage for the province of Gascony, which the English crown held from the French king, the queen seized her chance. In Paris Isabella took the exiled English lord Roger Mortimer as her lover, and they plotted against her husband.
Young Edward was promised in marriage to Philippa, daughter of William, Count of Hainault, in the Low Countries. In return William provided men and an advance on Philippa’s dowry. Borrowing heavily from Italian banking houses, Isabella, her son and Mortimer invaded England in 1326 and Edward II was overthrown. How far Isabella was complicit in her husband’s horrible death in 1327 isn’t clear, but she and Mortimer ruled England for the next four years.
In 1330 her son, Edward III, took charge of the kingdom, imprisoning his mother and executing her lover. Perhaps King Tommen will similarly assert himself against his mother in this sixth season?

Isabella of France, aka the 'She-Wolf of France', queen consort of Edward II of England. From the book ‘Our Queen Mothers’ by Elizabeth Villiers, c1800. (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)


The Iron Bank of Braavos and the Sparrows

The parallels between Isabella and Cersei are striking: adultery, complicity in their husbands’ deaths and attempts to rule through their sons. Isabella and Mortimer were able to raise funds for their expedition from the Italian bankers because Edward II had defaulted on his debts to them; Isabella and Edward III promised to resume repayments.
Just so, the Iron Bank of Braavos was ready to support Stannis against Tommen, once Cersei had defaulted on the huge sums owed to the Bank. The Crown’s financial crisis also drove Cersei to strike a deal with the Sparrows, the fanatical grassroots movement that has taken over the Faith, and to allow them to arm themselves in return for forgetting the money the Crown had borrowed.
The Sparrows resemble the Franciscan movement, founded by St Francis in around 1209. The Franciscans sought to return to a simpler, less money-obsessed form of Christianity. Franciscan brothers (friars) were sworn to poverty and wandered from place to place preaching the Gospel to ordinary folk in language they could understand. The Sparrows of the Faith, however, combine their contempt for riches with a strict sexual morality and with the power, like that of the Inquisition, to compel sinners into religious courts and to punish them for their offences – as Cersei and Margaery have discovered.

c1220, a portrait of Saint Francis of Assisi kneeling at an rock altar to pray with a skull in his hand. (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)

The Ironborn

We haven’t seen much of the Ironborn, the Westerosi sea-borne warriors, since season four. Fierce piratical fighters, depending on their swift, stable and beautifully designed longships for speed and manoeuvrability, the Ironborn live by raiding their neighbours and by selling their captives into slavery in Volantis. So too the Vikings (9th-11th centuries) depended on their longships to raid along the coasts of Europe, journeying down the rivers of Russia to the Black Sea, around the Mediterranean, and of course across the North Sea to the British Isles.
We tend to think of the Vikings as mostly interested in easily portable plunder, but in fact they were active in the European slave trade. One Icelandic saga relates how a beautiful slave-woman was acquired by an Icelander at the market on an island off southern Sweden. Melkorka turned out to be the daughter of an Irish king and her son became one of the richest men in Iceland.
Vikings exploited the market for blond-haired, well-educated slaves in the Greek empire. They raided in the Baltic territories and sold their Slav captives in Constantinople: the origin of our word ‘slave’. Vikings were also farmers and traders as well as raiders; the Word of House Greyjoy, ‘We Do Not Sow’, would not have resonated with those Vikings who lived long enough to settle with a wife and family wherever they could find land, in Scandinavia, northern Britain, Ireland or Iceland.

Viking ships arriving in Britain, c1130. Found in the collection of Pierpont Morgan Library. Artist: Abbo of Fleury. (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

The Dothraki

After a long absence from Game of Thrones the Dothraki are set to return. Loosely based on the central Asian Mongol peoples, these copper-skinned nomadic warriors are also involved in slaving and raiding around the grasslands of the Dothraki Sea.
The Mongols ruled over the largest land empire the world has ever seen, from the Pacific Ocean to Hungary. Western churchmen often visited them during the 13th century, bringing letters from western kings and from the pope. The friars wrote detailed accounts of their journeys, relating how difficult the weather was and how strange the food and drink. Fermented mare’s milk, or kumiss, was a poor substitute for wine, though they liked the spicy horsemeat sausages.

Genghis Khan, Mongol ruler, originally named Temujin, 1683 Woodcut. (Photo by Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
The Mongols held all other peoples in contempt, reports one writer. Hearing about the kingdom of France, they asked “whether there were many sheep and cattle and horses there, and whether they had not better go there at once and take it all”. Will the Dothraki who have captured Daenerys be quite so ambitious? Khal Drogo swore to take his men in the “wooden horses” (ships) to attack Westeros and capture the Iron Throne for his beloved wife, but traditionally the Dothraki have never sailed across the Narrow Sea.
Overall, then, Game of Thrones’ extraordinary hold on people’s imaginations has much to do with the way it harnesses mythology and legend: archetypes such as the dragons and the Three-Eyed Raven; the tales of lost children and reanimated corpses. Yet it’s the realness of the re-imagined medieval pasts it brings so vividly to life that makes viewers believe in Essos, the Seven Kingdoms and the battle for the Iron Throne.
Carolyne Larrington teaches medieval English literature at St John’s College, Oxford. She is the author of Winter is Coming: The Medieval World of Game of Thrones (IB Tauris, November 2015).
The first episode of the sixth season of Game of Thrones airs in Britain on Sky Atlantic at 2am on Monday 25 April (and in America on HBO at 9pm EST on Sunday 24 April).