It’s a question as old as time – ‘Why was Henry VIII such a dick?!’
Well, we’re looking to find out! Join us for an exploration into how new neurological research could explain why Henry VIII was a tyrant (and massive dick)
Put on your theory cap, as we explore the reasons why Henry VIII might have been a tyrant.
It’s a question as old as time – ‘Why was Henry VIII such a dick?!’
Well, we’re looking to find out! Join us for an exploration into how new neurological research could explain why Henry VIII was a tyrant (and massive dick)
It may sound like just another dull law from history, but The Buggery Act wrought international persecution of the LGBTQ+ community for centuries!
OK I know what you’re thinking. Why is the 1533 Buggery Act such a big deal! After all, it’s a piece of Tudor law:
A) that sounds dry AF
B) has nothing to do with me!
The 1533 Buggery Act wove a tangled web that stretches throughout history. Beyond those who were caught up in its immediate wake, It’s threads lead us to Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment, Alan Turing’s conviction and the abysmal pit where fundamental rights should be, that the LGBTQ+ community and their allies are still fighting against.
So if that still sounds dry AF, then strap in Donald, because you’re about to get your mind blown.
The Buggery Act was the brainchild of Henry VIII who had a fun habit of lumbering the UK with laws that came out of him wanting to make a point during a hissy fit…yet inexplicably stuck around for hundreds of years at a major human cost (e.g that time he made it legal to execute someone with severe mental health issues) The 1533 Buggery Act was no exception!
But lets take it back to pre-Henry for a second. Prior to 1533 there were no set laws to persecute homosexuality in England. That’s not to say it wasn’t. In the 13th century two legal codes called for men caught having same sex relationships to be buried alive or burnt, which is horrific!
However, these were suggestions, not actual laws and there is no evidence that these punishments were ever carried out. For the most part, the then frowned upon act was dealt with in the ecclesiastic courts (so basically it was left with god and his earthly servants to deal with either after death or in the realm of the church)
As such, the sudden decision to make homosexuality criminal was a big deal. In fact it was such a big deal that this sharp turn to criminalisation actually had to be addressed in the original statues outlining the 1533 act. Which says that the law was in part created to make homosexuality clearly punishable, saying:
“For as moche as there is not yet sufficient & condigne punishment appointed & limitted by the due course of the lawes of this realme for the detestable & abominable vice of buggeri committed with mankind or beest.”
It goes on to explain the possible punishments for those caught committing ‘buggery’:
“And that the offenders being herof convict by verdicte, confession, or outlaurie, shall suffer suche peynes of dethe, and losses, and penalties of their goodes, cattals, dettes, londes, tenements, and heredytamentes, as felons benne accustomed to do accordynge to the order of the common lawes of this realme. And that no person offendynge in any suche offence, shalbe admitted to his clergye”
Obviously the clear biggy here is ‘pain of death’, but right at the bottom of this portion of transcript there’s the sentence:
‘And that no person offending in such offence shall be admitted to his clergy’ – that right there is the crux of this whole piece of legislation.
Because why create The Buggery Act and criminalise same sex relationships at this particular moment in time?
If you’re thinking , ‘that makes little to no sense’, gold star! It doesn’t… well at least until you break down what was going down in 1533.
You see, until the 1530’s England had been part of the Catholic Church. But, Henry VIII was desperate to break away from the church as it wouldn’t grant him a divorce so he could marry his side chick, Anne Boleyn. So Henry decided to create a new church for England, one that he’d be the head of (and wouldn’t you know it, the head of this new church just happened to be A-ok with divorce).
Sadly creating your own church doesn’t magically erase your countries already existing, centuries old religion overnight. So Henry worked with his right hand man, Thomas Cromwell, to loosen the tight hold Catholicism had on England and for a double win, also siphon it’s money to Henry.
The 1533 Buggery Act was just part of this plan. It was solely designed to take away a little bit of the power away from The Catholic Church, not to actually persecute homosexuality.
By 1540 the Buggery Act had done its job. The Catholic Churches hold on England had been loosened, Henry had married Anne Boleyn (and then had her executed), married again (this time she’d died in childbirth) and was onto marriage number four. Thomas Cromwell had played Cupid for these nuptials, hooking Henry up with his new wife, Anne of Cleves. Sadly Henry wasn’t a fan of his new bride and this was such a big no no that it led to Thomas Cromwell’s death.
But as is probably clear by now, Henry was a petty bitch, and so he made sure that when Thomas went down, he wasn’t going alone.
On the 29 June 1540 Thomas Cromwell was beheaded for treason and his mate, Walter Hungerford, became the first person to be executed under The Buggery Act (among other allegations).
A bloody punishment, with the Buggery Act added as an extra dollop of humiliation for Hungerford and as an additional middle finger to Cromwell who’d helped create the act.*
*side note: before we start feeling really sorry for Walter Hungerford, he was an abusive man who imprisoned his wife to the extent she had to drink her own urine to survive. So you know. Maybe hold the sympathy cards.
So, we can all agree that thus far, The Buggery Act is a very bloody farce. But that does that mean it’s done?
Though the law was repealed by Henry VIII’s daughter, Queen Mary I in 1553 (who wanted power over this to go back to the Catholic Church and it’s ecclesiastic courts), once she died, her successor and sister, Queen Elizabeth I made the Buggery Act law once more.
And from there it started to truly transform into a law for persecution.
For much of the 15th and 16th centuries arrests and executions under the Buggery Act were few and far between. However, that didn’t happen stop this horrifying law from spreading.
One of the huge issues of The Buggery Act being a law, was that Britons leaving the country took it with them. Take for example those plucky puritans who set sail for the brave new world of America – alongside terrible hats and a smattering of racism, they made sure to also pack legal persecution!
And so the legal execution of people for homosexuality began in a new country. In 1624, Virginia hung Richard Cornish, a ships captain, for ‘forcible sodomy’ of his ships 29 year old cabin boy.
Two years later, Massachusetts hung William Plain on allegations of sodomy that took place in England (so before he even moved to America!).
That same year, the countries New Netherlands colony successfully managed to achieve the discrimination trifecta when they used the Buggery Act to strangle and ‘burn to ashes’, Jan Creoli, a poor black gay man.
Back in Britain, a more vocal queer community was starting to appear, thanks to the underground popularity of Molly Houses (places where queer men could be free to openly show their sexuality, kind of the great great great grandfather of the small town gay bar). But this emerging light in the dark attracted the worst kind of people and they dedicated themselves to eradicating what they saw as the gay scourge.
One such group was the catchily named, The Society For The Reformation of Manners. Determined to rid London of its LGBT subculture, they worked undercover to infiltrate Molly Houses, gather evidence against its users and then together with the police, raid them.
One such raid was that of Mother Claps house in 1726. Dozens of men were rounded up and arrested, with several fined and pilloried. But that’s not the worst of it.
The Society For The Reformation of Manners successfully helped to leverage the Buggery Act to hang three of the arrested men for the crime of having sex, or as one witness spat out during the trial:
During the 1800’s the executions continued. Trials for men accused under The Buggery Act sprung up across England. Some of those found guilty had the relative luck (though the chance of survival still wasn’t great) at instead being transported to Australia, but others weren’t so lucky.
The last men executed under The Buggery Act were James Pratt and John Smith, in 1835.
A husband and father, James Pratt, met with John Smith in August 1935, at an ale house in London for a drink. The pair then got chatting with an older man, William Bonill and went back to his rooms.
William Bonill soon left to get another drink at the pub, leaving James and John alone. It was after this that Bonill’s landlord reported finding the pair having sex.
Neither James Pratt or John Smith stood a chance in court. If you are in any doubt on that front, just read the opening transcript from John Smith’s prosecutor.
‘feloniously, wickedly, diabolically, and against the order of nature, had a venereal affair with one James Pratt, and did then and there, feloniously, wickedly, diabolically, and agains the order of nature, carnally know the said James Pratt, and with him the said James Pratt did then and there feloniously, wickedly, diabolically, and against the order of nature, commit and perpetrate the detestale, horrid, and abominable crime (among Christians not to be named) called buggery, to the great displeasure of Almighty God, to the great scandal of all human kind’
Charles Dickens actually attended Newgate jail, when the men were awaiting sentencing and recalled:
‘Their doom was sealed; no plea could be urged in extenuation of their crime, and they well knew that for them there was no hope in this world.’
He was, of course, right. Of seventeen others sentenced to death at the same time as John and James (for crimes including attempted murder) all had their sentences commuted to transportation to Australia. All expect John Smith and James Pratt.
A huge crowd gathered outside Newgate Jail to watch their deaths.
Watching his (possible) partner, John Smith, being blindfolded and his noose put on, caused James Pratt an understandable level of anguish. He reportedly went physically weak, needing help just to stand and calling out:
‘Oh God, this is horrible. This is indeed horrible.’
Though we don’t have clean cut evidence that the two were in a relationship, it’s hard to read this as anything other than love and the devastation of James knowing what his partner was about to go through.
Which I think summarises the pointlessness and brutality the Buggery Act had on all those who feel under its wake. Of it’s last two victims; two men who just wanted a private moment to be together and died because of that.
The Buggery Act remained in place in one form or another until 1861 when the Offences Against The Person Act replaced it.
The new law abolished the death sentence for ‘buggery’, instead punishing those convicted with a prison sentence of up to life. In 1967 the laws around homosexuality as an illegal act were dropped.
All of this, because in 1533 a pissed of King set up a law that he hoped would bring down a religion – the persecution of thousands if not millions, was just secondary.
If you want to read up more on this and other areas of LGBT+ history (and please do!) some great sources are below:
By 1586 Mary Queen of Scots had been imprisoned by her cousin, Elizabeth I for almost two decades.
She’d lost her throne in 1657, having been forced to abdicate in favour of her baby. Then after fleeing Scotland for safety in England she’d been (at least in her mind) royally screwed over. Instead of helping Mary regain the Scottish throne, Elizabeth had her locked up.
Mary was a serious threat to Elizabeth’s rule. Viewed by Catholics as the true catholic ruler of England, there was many a plot to bump off Elizabeth and put Mary on the throne.
Thus, Mary was imprisoned. Spending year after year being dragged around England to be locked up in its various castles.
So you can see why, approaching her 20th year of imprisonment, Mary eagerly took part in plot to assassinate Elizabeth.
Enter, The Babington Plot. Put together by young nobleman, Anthony Babington and priest, John Ballard (along with other conspirators) the plot was an incredibly convoluted scheme to:
Whilst locked away, Mary advised the plotters, both in terms of strategy and how to ensure she’d win the English throne. And naturally as the ‘rightful’ ruler of England Mary would be the one to sign off on the plot starting. Which she did, in July 1586.
Unfortunately for Mary, the plot had been infiltrated and Elizabeth I’s own spy master, Sir Francis Walsingham had been using the letters to entrap Mary and get her to call for Elizabeth’s murder. Which by signing off for the plot to go ahead, she’d done.
Everyone involved with The Babington Plot, including Mary, was duly arrested.
In September 1586 the first of the conspirators were executed, including ringleaders John Ballard and Anthony Babington. Onlookers said that by the time he arrived at the execution site, John Ballards limbs were barely in their sockets, as a result of the torture he’d undergone.
One at a time, the men were hung drawn and quartered. Forced to watch their fellows dismemberment before their own death. The executions were so brutal that a public outcry meant the other conspirators were just ‘hung until they were quite dead’ before being dismembered.
With that bloodbath over, the attention turned to Mary. What could be done with the traitorous Queen?
The idea of executing a Queen was very possible. After all, Elizabeth’s own mother, Anne Boleyn had been beheaded. But this wasn’t a outcome that Mary entertained.
In her mind she had been anointed by god to reign. That was something holy and untouchable. There was no law in the land that could hold jurisdiction over her, the only judgement she was accountable to was God’s.
However it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t God’s holy anointed Mary going on trial for treason, but (as the royal warrant for the trial put it) Mary, a mere woman who was:
‘Pretending title to this crown of this realm of England’
Mary’s trial hearing started on 14 October 1586. Though it operated as less of a trial and more of a really long argument between Mary and those convicting her.
To say Mary would have made an excellent lawyer would be an understatement. She rallied hard, with a stream of well thought out and articulated arguments. Always ready with something to fight the prosecutions threats and refusals to acknowledge her words.
Mary’s arguments included:
After Mary’s hearing was finished, the trial was adjourned to The Star Chamber, leaving Mary at Forgeringay Castle. Then on 25 October, the trial was completed…without anyone telling Mary.
The trials commissioners found Mary guilty of treason. And together with Parliament they urged Elizabeth to execute Mary as quickly as humanly possible.
BUT Elizabeth didn’t want to execute Mary.
Though there’d been a lot of bad blood between the pair of Queens, there had also been a kind of respect. They were so similar in so many ways. Cousins thrust into positions of power considered above their gender. No matter how begrudging, there was a bond there.
After Mary’s second husband, Lord Darnley died in an incredibly suspicious explosion, Elizabeth wrote to Mary, urging her to distance herself from the scandalous tragedy, as:
‘I treat you as my daughter, and assure you that if I had one, I could wish for her nothing better than I desire for you.”
But even more than the bond Elizabeth shared with Mary, she didn’t want to execute her because it set a deadly precedent. To lawfully kill a sovereign.
Elizabeth had hoped she’d be able to pardon her cousin. That Mary would beg for forgiveness. But none of that happened.
As pressure mounted from her councillors and parliament, Elizabeth had no choices left. On 1 February 1587 she signed Mary’s death warrant.
With the warrant signed, Elizabeth’s councillors decided to carry out the execution immediately – without telling Elizabeth.
On the evening of 7 February, Mary was visited at her prison of Fotheringhay Castle and told she was to die the next morning.
Her last hours were spent both in prayer and sorting out her affairs. Sleeping would be near impossible, thanks to the incessant loud hammering as the execution scaffold was hastily erected.
Early on the morning of 8 February, Mary serenely entered the castles great hall to face the scaffold. And after that everything turned into a shit show.
To kick things off, Mary was curtly informed that she was to go to her death alone. This was a shock.
Traditionally women of Mary’s status were allowed their ladies around them on the scaffold. They not only gave one last herald of the condemneds status. But, perhaps more importantly, the women provided comfort before the ax fell and then shielded the broken body. Offering dignity in death by not subjecting the woman to being stripped by men for burial.
To be rejected this right at the last minute was a huge blow.
Though she maintained a calm exterior, Mary begged to be allowed her ladies. She was rejected, but refused to give up. Pleading for this, her final right.
Eventually the councillors gave in. On condition that Mary’s ladies didn’t loudly weep, wail, or generally erupt into female hysteria.
And so Mary climbed the stairs of the scaffold, her ladies in tow.
As Mary waited for the death sentence to be read out, a man burst forth from the crowd. Dr Fletcher, The Protestant Dean of Peterborough proclaimed that it wasn’t too late for Mary to save her soul and convert from Catholicism to the Protestant faith.
Mary ignored his loud protestations and prayers, until eventually breaking and saying:
‘Mr. Dean, trouble not yourself any more, for I am settled and resolved in this my religion, and am purposed therein to die.’
In response, the Dean fell to his knees on the scaffolds stairs and started loudly praying at her. Mary politely turned away and began her own prayers.
Despite the Deans complete inability to read a room, Mary finished her prayers. With this over she stood, readying herself for this final act of ceremony.
She paid the executioner, forgiving him in advance for what he was about to do. Then Mary’s ladies helped her remove her black gown. Revealing a red petticoat with deep crimson sleeves.
This colour wasn’t a a random choice, but the red of catholic martyrdom. Mary was making a clear statement – she was anointed by God, to kill her was a sin and in death she would become a holy martyr.
The wordless statement from Mary’s blood red petticoat rang throughout the great hall. Even as Mary was blindfolded, laid her head on the block and stretched her arms wide to signal the executioners axe.
The first blow hit the back of her head.
Accounts vary on if Mary cried out from the pain or remained silent. However as this was a chop wound (a mix of sharp force and blunt force trauma) its most likely that Mary felt excruciating pain for a few seconds, before losing consciousness.
The axes second blow hit her neck, severing it almost entirely. With one third chop needed to separate Mary’s head from her body.
The executioner then picked Mary’s head up by the hair, held it forth to the crowd and proclaimed
‘God save the Queen’
At which point, he lost grip on the head as Mary’s wig fell off, revealing her greying hair (something people were shocked about, despite the fact she was 44 and they’d just witnessed her bloody execution)
And with that macabre farce, the story of Mary Queen of Scots came to an end.
This was interesting! Where can I find out more? Choosing just one book on Mary Queen of Scots is impossible, so here are some of my favourites:
The third of Henry VIII’s wives, Jane Seymour, is mainly remembered as the one that Henry liked the most (which is kind of damning, with faint praise) and erm… that’s kind of it.
She’s sort of seen as the wet flannel of his wives. Nice and mainly inoffensive, but… well, she had a reputation as boring.
BUT that couldn’t be more wrong, you see:
Jane Seymour was a wily mother fucker. And I mean that in the best way possible!
So before we get cracking, lets have a quick recap on the life of Jane Seymour (if you want to skip this bit, just scroll down till the break and we’ll see you there! 👋)
Most likely born in 1508, Jane was one of several children born to high up Tudor Courtiers, Margery Wentworth and Sir John Seymour.
Jane’s main role in life was to marry well and pop out a ton of kids (preferably boys). So she was educated to be a wife, with little emphasis on academia, and LOTS of needlework. With her cross stitch mastered, Jane was sent to serve Henry VIII’s 1st wife, Catherine of Aragon, and more crucially – snatch a rich husband.
Jane arrived at court in a huge time of upheaval. In just a couple of years she saw Henry VIII change the country’s religion, divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn (who she then served).
BUT by 1536 Henry was falling out of love with Anne and had his sights set on getting off with the woman who was the exact opposite of his wife – that woman was of course, Jane.
So, with Anne proving to be pretty problematic, Henry decided to cut both his losses and Anne’s head (this is, of course, very simplified!)
The day after Anne’s execution, Jane was engaged to Henry and the pair were married 10 days later (so many red flags). Within a year, Jane was pregnant and soon giving Henry the thing he most wanted, a son.
And that’s where the story ends. Jane died on 24th October 1537, following drawn out complications she experienced in labour.
Let’s get down to business and look at just why Jane was in fact not a cute little wifey BUT a calculating master manipulator.
Ok first things first, let’s get this out the way:
Short answer: Yes
Long answer: Yes… but it’s not that black and white!
Here’s the thing, Anne Boleyn was doomed. Her downfall plotted from all sides, it was inevitable that she would be dethroned and disposed of.
And you know what a Queen down means? A WHOLE TON OF POWER UP FOR GRABS!
With the possibility of marrying the king (or at least becoming his mistress) the game was well and truly on – enter The Seymours.
The family had been on the rise for a while, but with Anne’s downfall, it looked like this could be the Seymours’ chance to cash in on some serious power and influence; especially because Henry had already set his sights on his next love:
Jane Seymour (handy that!)
And so, Jane had her family on side to advise, guide and generally ensure she (and more importantly, they) could milk the situation for all it was worth!
Jane utilised the demise of Anne Boleyn to her favour – by becoming the exact opposite of Anne.
Anne was outspoken, bold and the focus of any room, so Jane made sure that at all times, she came off as meek, mild and shy.
That’s not to say Jane didn’t follow in any of Anne’s footsteps. In fact she actually used same the play as Anne had in her early days with Henry. Rebuffing his initial romances, hooking him with the thrill of the chase and what he, the man who could have everything, couldn’t have.
But where as Anne had won Henry by turning down his initial romances with a mix of flirtation, sweetness and ambition, Jane went for all doe eyed Bambi innocence.
In fact, according to historian Antonia Fraser, Jane explained that she couldn’t possibly accept the kings gifts, for she had:
‘nothing in the world but her honour, which for a thousand deaths she would not wound… If the King deigned to make her a present of money, she prayed that it might be when she made an honourable marriage’
This was a seriously smart and calculated move!
Just as Anne Boleyn was entering her downfall, rumours of her alleged infidelities we’re spreading like wildfire. The other topic of hot court gossip? How has Jane Seymour remained a devout virgin in such a den of sexual sin? She must be an incredibly upstanding virtuous woman.
Like that, Jane secured her place as Henry’s dream girl.
BUT being Henry VIII’s dream girl wasn’t a walk in the park, after all this was a man with a body count…
Which brings us to our next point on what makes Jane so ingenious:
You see, Jane has the special role in Henry’s wives, as the only one, who was never in danger in getting executed.
Katherine of Aragon was threatened with death and eventually exiled, Anne Boleyn is beheaded, Anne of Cleves divorces Henry in part to ensure she doesn’t end up missing a key part of her anatomy, Catherine Howard is beheaded AND Katherine Parr just narrowly avoids execution.
But Jane? Well Jane somehow managed to maintain her golden girl status.
And you best believe that’s a badge well earned!
What we often forget about Jane is that she had one full year with Henry before becoming pregnant, with what is now often considered her golden ticket, a boy, Edward.
That’s one year with a man who was by now a full on tyrant, with violent mood swings galore and one recently decapitated wife under his belt (not to mention the abused exiled one),
To be blunt, daily life as Henry’s wife was akin to a tightrope walk over shark infested waters.
So how did Jane survive? Well, she played the game.
Like we’ve already covered, Jane courted Henry by playing up to idea of the docile little wife he wanted. And when she was actually his wife, Jane made sure to keep the act up!
She gave herself the Royal motto:
‘Bound to obey and serve’
Now that isn’t to say that Jane didn’t also want to use her new power to fight for what she thought was right. Just months after her marriage she begged Henry to restore the Abbeys he had destroyed years earlier.
In response, Henry reminded Jane of what happened to the last wife that disagreed with him…
After that it seems Jane made a concerted effort to study Henry’s moods, eventually having them down to a fine art.
This meant that unlike her predecessors, Jane knew when to push and more importantly, when to stop pushing.
Jane’s ability to handle Henry meant that she was able to:
Even before Jane and Henry were married, she was (allegedly) fighting to bring Henry’s estranged daughter, Mary, back to court.
With Spanish ambassador, Chapuys writing:
‘I hear that, even before the arrest of the Concubine [Anne Boleyn] The King, speaking with mistress Jane of their future marriage, the latter suggested that the Princess should be replaced in her former position; and the King told her she was a fool, and ought to solicit the advancement of the children they would have between them, and not any others’
But Jane wasn’t letting this one go.
She’d known Mary, from her time serving Mary’s Mum, Catherine of Aragon. And had watched on as Mary was cast aside and disinherited – Jane wasn’t going to let this shit continue!
So she continued quietly plugging away, getting the issue on the table under the radar. Until finally Henry agreed, if (and it’s a big IF) Mary would agree his marriage to Catherine of Aragon had been invalid.
The idea of signing a document declaring her parents marriage invalid broke Mary’s heart. After all, her mother had spent years fighting for that marriages validity; losing so much in that battle.
Yet, signing was Mary’s only hope at ever being able to regain her power.
So, she did, but she did so partly because she knew she now had a strong ally – Jane.
Mary knew that Jane had more than her back; she was one of the only people who was able to control and sway Henry. That’s one powerful person to have on side!
This is in turn led to Henry allowing his other daughter, Elizabeth (Anne’s daughter) back into his life. With the little princess invited back to court for Christmas in 1536.
That’s two Queens brought back into the folds of power, a feat Jane achieved in just 6 months, thanks to her skill at manipulating Henry without him even realising.
And that’s what makes Jane’s death even sadder.
She had such a short time on the throne, yet this master at the long game proved she could have achieved so much, if she had just had time on her side.
So, don’t overlook Jane. Sure she’s quiet, but remember it’s the quiet ones you have to watch.
This was interesting where can find out more? Sadly there aren’t many books on Jane but I’d suggest Elizabeth Norton’s book on her.
If you want an in depth look at all the wives, than I will always suggest checking out, Alison Wiers, Six Wives
Who doesn’t love a little bit of nerd based consumerism? Nobody, that’s who. And there is no better time to be a history nerd than right now, mainly because the internet exists and all sorts of
novelty essential historic goodies are at your fingertips.
In celebration of that wondrous fact I bring you the very best in Tudor swag, to help you adorn every facet of your life with your only slightly unhealthy Anne Boleyn obsession (other wives are available)
FYI: Nothing in this article is an ad/sponsored; all just my personal opinions
God knows I love a brew, but only one thing makes a cup of tea perfect: a historic mug.
These mugs come with not only a seriously cool six wives illustration (By artist, Sarah Cole) but also information on each wife’s tumultuous marriage AND what happened to her post-Henry (obvs, sadly Anne B, Jane, and Catherine H don’t get this…)
And the mugs are bone china, which makes tea taste even better (Fact!)
That’s right your very own B necklace. Staple of all good Anne Boleyn portraits and period drama costumes
You gotta give it to Anne, she was rocking a statement necklace waaaay before it was essential to every good accessory addict’s wardrobe. Truly, Anne is an iconic fashion icon (Seriously, never forget; girl bought back the French hood!)
Bonus: If your first or last name starts with a B, you’re really getting a double deal here: initial necklace AND Anne Boleyn tribute.
What better way to mark your place in the latest Tudor popcorn read, than with your own Queen bookmark?
Each bookmark comes with a quote pertaining to Elizabeth or Mary. As well as an adorable illustration and fun tassel (Perfect for absently minded fiddling during more dull chapters)
They can be bought as a pair or separately. Although, thinking of their history, keeping these two apart might not be such a bad thing…
Christmas just isn’t Christmas without a six wives decoration. They’re traditional (Well, at least I just declared them traditional)
You can either buy each wife individually or as a set, which also includes Henry VIII. Meaning you can create a whole festive scene with the six wives…and leave Henry relegated to the back of the tree, where he may accidentally fall on the floor. Oops.
Fun fact: The company that makes these decorations, also makes other history themed Christmas decorations (Including a suffragette) so you can create a whole historic festive theme if you so desire.
I’m a little bit in love with this charm bracelet, partly because so much thought has clearly gone into it.
Each charm represents a key part of Mary’s life, so there’s a Fleur de Lis for her time at French court, a thistle for Scotland and a dinky axe for, well, obvious reasons.
The shop also sells charm bracelets for other rulers of the era, including Elizabeth. Each of Henry VIII’s wives and even Richard III.
God damn I love the internet. Seriously, where else could you find postcards depicting Elizabeth I’s time travelling journey through Montana’s history?
Created by artist, Leslie Van Stavern Millar, these snapshots of a barmy but brilliant reality, show Elizabeth doing everything from meeting Sacajewa, downing wine with Jeanette Rankin and of course, refereeing an iconic 1923 boxing match.
This was interesting, where can I find out more? For more shopping fun time, why not check out our post on the very best suffrage swag!
Hair dye is by no means a new invention. In fact since early recorded history, people (particularly women) have been transforming their locks, just not in a way we – or anyone with even an ounce of sanity – would guess!
In early Rome, it wasn’t uncommon for ladies to attempt to colour greying hair with a root touch up, because apparently women aging has never been ok.
Anyway for this grey be gone, a concuction of boiled walnut shells, ashes and, er, earthworms, would be ground together to form a lovely dark paste.
But it wasn’t just dark haired ladies getting in on the gross dying action, blondes were also having fun (groan)
In this era, blonde hair was used to mark sex workers.
This was done either by using blonde wigs (taken from Germanic folk the Romans had handily invaded) OR by dying the hair.
Now if you thought earthworms were bad, then you’re going to want to strap in for the next bit, because all kinds of no.
To achieve blonde hair, a woman’s hair was slathered with anything from ashes to pigeon shit and then pissed on.
I know. I’m sorry.
BUT, this grimness does actually have some science behind it! See pee contains ammonia which acts as a bleach, which in turn, helps dye hair blonde.
Isn’t history the best?!?
Elizabeth I bought lip liner to the world, as well as using lead to lighten your skin (you win some you lose some) but it wasn’t just makeup that Lizzy was pioneering; she was also waaay ahead in the hair game!
A queen of iconic hair, it’s perhaps unsurprising that a lot of women in her court wanted in on Lizzys legendary locks.
And so ladies would pluck back their hairlines to achieve that trademark high Elizabethan forehead (ouch!)
Colouring was also a big thing, with red and blonde both the beauty ideals of the day.
Blonde was achieved with a seriously expensive mix of cumin seeds, saffron, oil and celadine, effectively pricing anyone but noble borns from the faux blonde hair racket.
Still, you can’t knock a good false blonde down and women once again resorted to pissing on their heads to bleach the fuck out of their hair.
Luckily, going red was a much nicer process.
Elizabethan ladies opted for henna, a method that is still really popular today.
Note: I’ve been dying my hair red for over a decade; the success rate of a decent colour using henna is like 0.0001%, so don’t be trying no Elizabethan dye jobs at Home.
In 1602, Sir Hugh Platt published, Delightes for Ladies; a handy guide of hints, tips and recipes for women. Hugh even included some hair care know how that didn’t suggest dead insects or piss as hair dye ingredients!
But, don’t applaud just yet!
Yeah. Turns out Hugh reeeally didn’t like women having hair; suggesting using sulphuric acid to dye their locks a fetching blonde.
Don’t worry though, Hugh makes it clear you shouldn’t touch the acid, just rub it all over your scalp. 👍
Thankfully by the end of the 1600s, wigs took over from highly dangerous chemicals.
These wigs not only allowed women to turn thier hair into towering pieces of ornate artwork, but also play with colour.
Marie Antoinette was a huge fan of pastels, with her wig collection looking a lot like a very hairy sweet shop!
Sadly all pastel haired dreams must come to an end and the French Revolution did away with the trend for spectacular coloured wigs.
In its place was the Titus.
A groundbreaking short hair cut that both acted as a protest to the French Revolution and meant women didn’t have to spend hours piling on pounds of hair.
But sadly the Titus was all about looking natural, meaning hair dye was out…
A teenage science nerd called William Perkin was trying to synthesise quinine (a medicine now used to fight maleria) to impress his teacher. Because. Nerd.
Sadly, William totally failed.
BUT he did accidentally create a purple shade, which he dubbed Mauvine.
Mauvine went on to help medical research, build up the textile industry, create new types of food manufacturing and tons more!
But let’s be real, the real success here was opening up hair to a whole rainbow of chemical colours!
Sure you left the salon with a burning scalp, but your hair was really pretty, so fair trade right?
Messing around chemicals is a dangerous game. Then putting that mess on your head is basically asking to be maimed.
Nobody is a better testimont to this than Hollywood star, Jean Harlow
Jean Harlow’s nickname was, The Platinum Blonde.
This meant, that as well as acting, being the blondest blonde in Hollywood was basically Jeans number 1 priority.
But this was no easy feat. Nobody was naturally that blonde.
So Jean went to extreme lengths to reach her famed platinum hue.
According to Alfred Pagano, Jeans hairdresser:
“We used peroxide, ammonia, Clorox, and Lux flakes! Can you believe that?”
No Alfred I can’t believe that!
Mainly because mixing literal household bleach (Clorox) and ammonia creates a highly noxious gas which can ultimately lead to kidney failure.
Jeans hair was dyed using this deadly deadly mess ONCE A WEEK FOR YEARS.
How is that shit even legal???!!!???
Thousands upon thousands of women attempted DIY versions of Jeans famous platinum dye recipe, with sales of bleach and ammonia sky rocketing
Thankfully the trend was short lived.
Jeans hair all fell out, which meant she stopped dying it and went to wigs.
But the deadly dyes effects remained.
Jean died of kidney failure aged 26. It was a slow and painful death: almost certainly down to her famed hair dye recipe.
By the 1950s mainstream brands like L’Oréal were selling hair dye that dyed hair blonde by lightening, rather than replying on bleach, or you know…piss.
The following decades were defined by hair colour, from the bright colours of the 1980s to the highlights of the 1990s and early 00s (oh hey ‘The Rachel’!)
Now it’s estimated around 70% of women dye their hair , which is pretty unsurprising when you release what a historic love affair we’ve had with colour (and that we know longer need pee to be on trend!)
This was interesting, where can I find out more? Fashions in Hair, the first 5000 years, by Richard Colson is a cracking book. But its retail price is mighty expensive, so best bet for that one is checking out your local library!
Another great (and affordable…) read is Face Paint, The Story of Make Up, by Louise Eldridge, which looks at historic beauty trends.
When I was about 8 I became obsessed with Lady Jane Grey, after seeing this painting in the National Gallery
This Victorian painting by Paul Delaroche, embodies everything that has made Jane’s story stand the test of time.
The innocent teenager forced into a role she didn’t want by a power hungry family. To reign for 9 days before being stripped of her crown and thrown into prison. Finally meeting her end thanks to a bloody axe and a sadistic queen.
It’s a good story right?
The doe eyed Jane of history is a myth. A romanticised tale that, to be honest, does the real Jane a huge disservice.
So let’s discover the young women behind the myth:
Bit of a harsh one to start with… but true! England didn’t want Jane to be Queen.
Though Jane was twice bumped up in the line of succession (by both Henry VIII and Edward VI) Nobody knew who the F she was.
Jane wasn’t a regular at court, there was no gossip on her; Jane just was not a name or face that anybody non-royal would recognise.
To put this in modern terms; Janes accession to the throne would be like Lady Sarah Chatto becoming Queen.
Lady Sarah Chatto is the Queens fave niece and one of the members of the Royal Family that has the most in common with the Queen.
Still – lovely though she sounds – if Lady Sarah Chatto became Queen there would be questions. Such as: ‘who the actual fuck are you?’
This was pretty much the position of the people of England.
It’s great that the previous King liked you and all…but nobody here knows you and yeah…. we’re not a huge fan of some random ruling over us.
The people of England knew Henry’s daughters Mary and Elizabeth; they liked them and (understandably) believed that they were the rightful heirs to the throne.
So it’s unsurprising that when Jane made her first speech as Queen she was met by silence.
Jane just didn’t have the support of the people and without that her reign could never succeed.
In fact by the end of her short time on the throne, half the country still wasn’t aware that there’d been a new queen. Jane had just been a blip.
By all accounts, Jane was ridiculously smart. Like Ridiculously!
Her parents took her education seriously and whilst her younger sisters were playing or picking up musical skills, Jane could always be found surrounded by books.
Jane could speak around 6 languages and loved nothing more than a juicy philosophical debate with some of the worlds scholars (many of whom were her pen pals!)
You may have guessed by now that Jane was all types of precocious!
Once, acclaimed writer and scholar Robert Ascham, found Jane alone, nose in a book, whilst the rest of her family were out hunting.
When he asked why she preferred to sit alone reading Plato in its original Greek, rather than being out with her family, she earnestly turned to him and said:
Soon Jane’s intelligence was gaining all sorts of attention. There was even speculation that she was more gifted than the (equally precocious) Princess Elizabeth.
Kind of awkward when you find out…
When Jane was around 10, she became the ward of Thomas Seymour; the brother of Henry VIIIs third wife, Jane and the now husband of Henry’s last wife, Katherine Parr.
Thomas was a power hungry man (as you can tell by the brother in law martial gymnastics!) and with Jane’s bump in the line of successions (following Henry VIIIs will) he wanted Jane for a potential pawn in one of his many political power plays.
So Thomas convinced Jane’s parents that if Jane came to live with him, it would help her education and transform her into an eligeable lady.
Just like that, Jane was placed into his care.
If you think this whole set up sounds sketchy AF… then you’d be right!
Not only was Thomas using a child for his political plotting, he was also a massive asshat!!
See Jane wasn’t the only ward under Thomas’s roof….
Princess Elizabeth was also living there, under the care of Katherine Parr. And you can bet Thomas was just as keen on using Elizabeth as he was Jane.
There are stacks of evidence that Thomas sexually abused Elizabeth. Some of this evidence suggests Elizabeth consented… but let’s remember that she was around 13 and he was one of her primary carers.
This abuse would lead to Elizabeth departing the home she shared with Jane.
Though the two had only lived together shortly; Jane impacted Elizabeth’s life. Both as an academic rival and later as a tragic warning of what could easily be Elizabeth’s fate.
After Elizabeth left his home, Thomas Seymour turned all his dickish attention to Jane.
Tragically –and luckily- for Jane, around the same time, Kathryn Parr died.
Without a woman in the house to help care for Jane, her parents sent for her to come home.
… but Thomas was a dick; so he obvs wasn’t giving up Jane that easily!
Thomas chased Jane down; eventually turning up at Jane’s parents house.
In a last bid attempt for Jane, Thomas promised her parents that he would work to get Jane married to the newly minted King Edward.
It worked and Jane was once more Thomas Seymour’s Ward.
With Jane back under his roof, Thomas doubled down on his quest for power.
He became erratic; his scheming more and more far fetched.
Eventually he decided that the only way he could convince King Edward to go along with his plans was if he separated Edward from his council…
So Thomas broke into Hampton Court Palace.
In the dead of night, Thomas snuck into the Kings quarters. As he got closer to the bedroom, a dog spotted Thomas and let out a bark.
So Thomas shot the dog.
The shot drew guards and Thomas was arrested… because don’t murder dogs you prick.
With Thomas under arrest, the home he shared with Jane was ransacked for evidence of his treasonous treachery.
Jane’s parents got her back home ASAP, but It was too late… she was officially part of Thomas’ treason. One of the charges raised against him was:
That daughter was of course, Jane.
To protect the family and Jane’s future, her Dad testified against Thomas.
The testimony was damning… so damning that Jane and her parents escaped any long term consequence.
Thomas wasn’t so lucky; he was beheaded for treason.
Though Jane had escaped the clutches of super dick, Thomas Seymour, don’t go thinking she wasnt all innocent saint…you see:
One of the most important things in Jane’s life was her religion. This wasn’t rare; religion was a huge hot button issue in Tudor England.
There was a divide between Catholics and Protestants. Each group believed the other was wrong… and by that I mean they thought the other sides religious beliefs were an automatic ticket to hell.
Jane made sure that her Protestant faith was at the core of all she did. And as a precocious and crazy smart teenager… that meant a lot of arguing!
As we’ve already said, Jane was pen pals with some of the leading minds of her day.
All well and good… unless they had a religious slip or went and converted. Then you best believe they’d be getting a letter from Jane cussing them out (seriously though, she straight up wrote that they’d go to hell)
But Jane’s biggest piece of dicketry was pissing off the future Mary I (the woman that would later sign off on Janes execution)
Jane’s family spent Christmas 1549 with Mary. They were family after all and though Mary was staunchly Catholic and Jane Protestant, surely they could get along for Christmas?
Haha of course not! It’s Christmas after all!
In the strong tradition of families falling out over the holidays, Jane took a trip to Mary’s private chapel.
There one of Mary’s ladies curtsied to the alter, explaining to Jane that she was curtsying to ‘him that made us all’. At this, Jane loudly scoffed:
When word of Janes mocking outburst got back to Mary, she was (understandably) pretty pissed of that Jane had come to her home and made fun of her religious beliefs.
Afterwards it was said that Mary felt she could never truly love Jane as she had before.
But Jane wouldn’t budge on her actions…truly:
On 6th July 1553, Jane was taken into a room where she found her family bowing at her. Then she was told that the King was dead, she was his new heir and was now Queen! All hail Queen Jane.
Jane’s response to this?
Jane was having none of it. She immediately proclaimed the whole thing ridiculous.
Only after a lot of coaxing/forcing did Jane put the crown on her head; still making it known she was only doing it to appease her parents.
Forced into a role she didn’t want, Jane was adamant she wouldn’t be taking any more bullshit.
When her husband and his Mum tried to flounce out of The Tower of London, protesting he wasn’t being treated regally enough (poor baby) Jane barred their way. Having the pair sent back to their rooms, tails between their legs.
But putting her mother in law in her place wasn’t the only way Jane was laying down the law. If she’d had it her way:
After Jane was told she was Queen and was presented with her crown, she wasn’t amused. Jane was less amused when she was told her husband, Guildford, was also getting a crown. As soon as she was alone with Guildford, Jane explained that he would not be becoming King. Consort… sure. King? Not a chance in hell buddy.
This was unheard of! A female ruler was already unusual (as in it hadn’t even been a possibility for hundreds of years!)
But Jane had made her decision. It was final. So final that when she discovered Guildford was making people calm him ‘your grace’ she shut that shit down sharpish.
No matter the argument, no matter how much she was pushed, Jane never backed down.
If she was going to be forced to rule, then she was going to do it her own way. Alone.
This was really interesting! Where can I find out more? I love, Crown of Blood, by Nicola Tallis. It’s a great read, packed full of info and resources. I actually read it over my 5th anniversary holiday with my partner (he was thrilled!) and I swear it made my already fab holiday approx 100x more fun.
Mary I has been remembered by history as ‘Bloody Mary’. The woman who burned her own people alive, ruthlessly lead her country into pointless religious upheaval and basically turned England into a clusterfuck of sadness and fear. But was Mary really that bad? Let’s find out!
Now I’m sure we can all (hopefully) agree that the beheading of an innocent teenage girl isn’t a winning start to your Queen career.
It is however worth pointing out that it’s more than arguable that Mary’s hand was forced in this; with continual attempts to make Jane queen and Mary’s hold on the throne more than shaky, Jane was way to dangerous to keep alive.
Yet Mary really didn’t want the teenager to die. Desperately attempting to spare Jane’s life by trying to diagnose Jane as pregnant (Jane wasn’t pregnant FYI and she was pretty pissed at Mary trying to get her internally examined)
In the end Mary saw no way out. For her to be Queen (and also alive!) heads had to roll.
Sadly, logic (however bleak!) does not prevail when you’re faced with a headless innocent 16 year old who is immediately martyred. And so starts the story of the woman labeled one of history’s biggest bitches.
The first born child of Henry VIII, Mary grew up in a happy little bubble. Her dad loved her, her mum (Catherine of Aragon) loved her; she was intelligent and her future was looking pretty damn bright. And then the divorce hit.
If you have divorced parents, then I’m sure you understand how rough a divorce can be on a child. But just incase, lets break this down:
Imagine that your dad is so desperate to divorce your mum he invents a whole new religion to do it (which btw turns your strict catholic upbringing on its head!). Then dad ships mum off, to essentially live in exile.
Then new mummy (Anne Boleyn) makes it clear that she’d be more than pleased if you and your mum were executed, but as that’s not happening any time soon, you’ll be stripped of your titles and made to basically serve your new baby sister (Elizabeth).
Oh…and then your dad stops speaking to you, your mum dies (obvs you’re banned from seeing her on her death bed) and then to top things off, new mummy is beheaded.
Somehow Mary turns out ok. She is super overly religious (Catholic of course, because fuck Dad’s new home wrecking religion!) and not a ton of fun, but she’s also determined, smart and a functioning adult. It could have been worse!
Mary and her dad start talking again and by the time he dies she is once more a Princess and eligible to the throne – should her brother die…
And what do you know, he does die!
Once Lady Jane Grey is out the way, Mary ascends the throne aged 37. The people are happy, Mary is happy, it’s all good. Well, apart from a few small problems.
You see, Mary was determined to return England to Catholicism, this can’t happen with Mary’s half sister Elizabeth (a protestant!) next in line to the throne. But as Mary was unmarried with no kids, Elizabeth was almost guaranteed the crown. So Mary set out to get herself a man….and so began her many problems
Mary quickly snagged herself a hot (and crucially, catholic) betrothed – Prince Philip of Spain. Sadly, for Mary, the English people hated him.
The English did not like Spain, it was foreign and they did not get on with it at all. They were certainly not happy with having a new foreign King telling them what to do and wanted nothing more than for Philip to pop back on his little boat and kindly fuck off back to Spain.
Worse than this casual xenophobia, the protestants were uprising. Afraid of what this catholic power couple would mean for them, a rebellion soon sprung up.
Life lesson: if your marriage causes a literal revolt, maybe have a little rethink.
Obviously Mary got married anyway. She was determined to get married, get up the duff and save England from the protestants and restore Catholicism. Fuck popularity, this was the lords work.
So a few months into her reign and Mary had ‘get a husband’ crossed off her to do list. Now all she needed to do was pop out a baby…easy right?
In Tudor England it was a woman’s job to have babies. In fact, it was a woman’s only job: Have all of the babies…ideally boys.
It seems simple but Mary knew differently. She had seen countless women fail at this, her mother included and she knew that without an heir, any work she did would be for nothing.
The pressure was very real.
And then it happened. Mary fell pregnant.Her stomach grew, she felt her baby kick, she even had the joys of morning sickness. But the baby never came.
Mary was so desperate for a baby that her mind had created one for her.
It’s now believed that Mary was suffering from pseudocyesis, a rare condition where a person experiences the symptoms of pregnancy, believing themselves to be pregnant, when there is no child. The condition may be caused by trauma (which for Mary would make sense!) and is treated with ongoing intensive therapy.
But Tudor doctors didn’t know about pseudocyesis, or therapy. Mary was on her own.
The fear that Mary must have felt is just incredible. She would have felt like she was both losing her grip on reality and her power. So it’s no surprise then that Mary doubled down on her third problem:
Mary believed that the only way to bring England back to Catholicism, was to publically punish protestants. She invoked old laws to persecute popular protestants (bishops, arch bishops, preachers, you name it!)
During her short reign, just under 300 people were sent to the stake for the crime of not being catholic. That’s, innocent men, women and children, all burned alive.
No matter what her intentions and reasoning, no matter how hard Mary believed she was actually ‘saving’ these souls, burning people alive is unforgivable. It’s beyond not ok.
And yet…. Mary wasn’t the only one to burn her people.
Her Dad (Henry Vlll) brother (Edward Vl) and sister (Elizabeth l) all also burnt subjects at the stake and the reasoning for many of these deaths religion based.
This isn’t to excuse anyone’s actions – it’s too point out that everyone was a dick when it came to this and that this ‘punishment’ was pretty standardized for the era (yeah; turns out Tudor England is a pretty crap place to live)
On the whole, Mary was actually a lot less execution happy than the rest of her family! With her Dad raking up more executions per year on average than Mary did.
In fact, Mary pardoned a lot of people (more than anyone else in her family!) believing in reprieves and forgiveness, she was known to offer many a last minute pardons as people were about to be executed.
Look, it’s time we dropped the ‘Bloody Mary’ label.
In history we have a habit of labelling, especially when it comes to women. In the tudor era alone we’ve had callous six fingered bitch Anne Boleyn, sex kitten whore Katherine Howard, Virgin Queen Elizabeth; we know that when we dig beneath the labels we find something so much more interesting, and actual person!
So was Mary evil? No. Now, she wasn’t lovely either – you wouldn’t want to get a drink with her (mainly because I reckon she’d drone on when drunk). Mary was a person, she had a troubled childhood that shaped her, a history of mental illness and dogged determination that led to so much heartache. She’s an interesting woman and well worth another look.
This was interesting! Where can I find out more? I’m going to suggest, Anne Whitelock’s Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen, it’s a thoughtful read and tries to understand why Mary had her world view.