Friday, February 23, 2018

Was Henry VIII a Psychopath? Probably ... Not

I know more about Henry VIII than I do about psychopaths. Or at least I think I do. I'm under the impression that psychopaths don't feel guilty about the bad things that they do. They're not capable of it.

Example? Hmmm...well....Hannibal Lecter?  The serial killer who chews his way through Thomas Harris's novels Manhunter, Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal is supposedly a bona fide psychopath. And I've seen Silence of the Lambs--twice--and shudder whenever I picture Anthony Hopkins' cannibalistic fava-beans riposte or hear him saying, "Ready when you are, Sergeant Pembry."

This is why when the news broke that Henry VIII was in reality a psychopath, it gave me pause. King Henry famously sent two of his six wives to the chopping block and laid waste to a long line of courtiers, ministers and relatives. Still, I was having a hard time with him gobbling an annoying gentleman of the privy chamber.

But I repeat, my knowledge of the world of psychopaths is not extensive. According to Psychology Today, there is no diagnostic test that proves someone is a psychopath--there is a list of criteria, and if a person fits enough of the list, then the chances are good. On the list: uncaring, shallow emotions, irresponsible, overconfident, selfish, inability to plan for the future, and last but not least, violent.

So I decided it was time to, if you will, put Henry Tudor on the couch.

The 16th century was far, far different than our own. However, what's important to remember is that within the context of his time, Henry VIII was considered outrageous, puzzling, menacing and unpredictable. I'm not talking about his subjects but his peers, other monarchs whose views were communicated through ambassadorial letters.





Henry VIII: Psychopath?
This theory about Henry's mental wiring comes from Oxford researcher Kevin Dutton, who wrote The Wisdom of Psychopaths: Lessons in Life from Saints, Spies and Serial Killing. Although it might seem strange, this is, among other things, a self-help book. "Psychopaths have a lot of good things going for them," declares the book's website. "They are fearless, confident, charismatic, ruthless and focused--qualities tailor-made for success in twenty-first century society." And for the mid-16th century too? Instead of feeling repulsed by Henry's psychopathic side, should I be proud of him? When he consigned devoted ministers Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell to the Tower, he wasn't cold, he was charismatic. Way to be the boss!

Byron: Dangerous to know, but no psychopath
Still, I wanted to know how Professor Dutton diagnosed Henry Tudor. It seems that he used a similar list of criteria to what I found in the article in Psychology Today, ranging from emotional detachment to feelings of alienation, and 10 people considered "Britain's greatest" were put to the test. Only Henry VIII scored high enough to fit the definition: 174 on a spectrum that required a minimum score of 168 to make it to Psychopath. The nine who did not make it: Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Elizabeth I, Charles Dickens, Freddie Mercury, Lord Byron, William Shakespeare, Winston Churchill and Oscar Wilde. (Britain's Greatest. I love Queen, but Freddie Mercury?)

If you'd like to know more about the job requirements for being a psychopath, Professor Dutton has a quiz--or rather a "Challenge." Typical of the questions: "Cheating on your partner is OK so long as you don't get caught." Hmmmm. When I think of Henry's marital history, it seems that cheating on his partners was OK even if he were caught. Didn't the Tudor king inform his outraged second wife, "Close your eyes, as your betters have done before you"?

Perhaps Professor Dutton is on to something. But before I agree to lump Henry VIII with Ted Bundy, I thought I'd refresh my memory on what other psychologists and historians have said about Henry's psychological state. His outrageous reign has led to all sorts of speculation.

Young Henry VIII
Henry VIII:  Extreme Narcissist? A carefully argued article published in 1972 by Miles F. Shore in The Journal of Interdisciplinary History (The MIT Press) found, after examining Henry VIII's behavior with a psychoanalyst's view, that the king exhibited "distinct behavior changes, and at least one depressive episode." The author blames a childhood swinging between "extravagant adulation and brutal discipline," as "exciting ceremonials and pageantry" came and went, replaced by "boredom and loneliness." This produced an adult who seemed confident, accomplished and flamboyant but beneath the surface was insecure, dependent and anxious.

According to the journal article:
"For Henry VIII, the first seventeen years of his reign had seen the acting-out of a series of grandiose narcissistic fantasies. His crisis came when these had to be modified in the face of real events: his injuries, his military and political disappointments, and his inability to have a legitimate male heir. Biological factors and the erosive effect of real events on his grandiose fantasies were the major precipitants of his crisis....compulsive attempts to remain young with hypochondriachal concerns, sexual promiscuity and possible real character deterioration."
Such analyses have deepened since the 1970s. In her excellent book The Creation of Anne Boleyn, author Susan Bordo probes the mind of Henry VIII to try to figure out how, after such an all-consuming and passionate love for Anne, he could callously sign her death warrant after three years of marriage. It's a question that bedeviled people in Henry's time and every century since. "In 2012, this kind of personality would probably he diagnosed as borderline or narcissistic," Bordo writes.

16th century treatment for syphilis
HENRY VIII: Syphilitic? Psychosis can result from untreated late-stage syphilis, which was first recorded in Europe in 1494. Ten to 30 years after infection, the sufferer experiences delusions, headaches, and impaired judgment. Because Henry VIII did exhibit these characteristics in the 1540s--and he was known to take mistresses in his 20s and 30s--syphilis was a theory tossed around for years. But recently, medical authorities have pretty much shut the door on this one. Henry did not exhibit the other physical symptoms of untreated syphilis: seizures, mania, ataxia. And he did not undergo any of the bizarre treatments used for syphilis. At least, not as far as the historical records reveal.

HENRY VIII: Brain damaged? Henry VIII was a serious athlete when young, suffering a few falls while relishing the dangerous sport of jousting. But several years ago a theory made the rounds that his most serious fall, in January 1536, caused a two-hour loss of consciousness. Did this injury to his brain transform him from affable and charming to cruel and paranoid?

The flaw with this theory is that Henry VIII exhibited cruel behavior long before 1536. This was a young man who executed two of his father's unpopular ministers shortly after taking the throne in 1509, and pushed through the arrest and execution of his cousin, the Duke of Buckingham, on flimsy charges in 1521. He didn't need to fall off a horse to commit acts of brutality.

Henry VIII's jousting armor, at the Tower of London
In her fascinating book 1536: The Year That Changed Henry VIII, historian Suzannah Lipscomb argues that the jousting accident did have a profound effect on the king, in a number of ways. It aggravated his leg ulcers, which caused "recurrent and excruciating pain" for the rest of his life. No one in that kind of pain is in a good mood. And this fall affected him psychologically in other ways, forcing the king to face his mortality and weakening his sense of manhood at a time when, at the age of 42, he had no legitimate male heir.

HENRY VIII, Unrestrained? Henry VIII might have been psychotic, or neurotic, or perpetually pain-stricken, or depressive. We have no way of knowing, five centuries after his death.

Some people feel he was manipulated by others: his father, his wives, Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell. But biographer Jasper Ridley is one who vigorously refutes the idea that Henry VIII was manipulated by others, the vacillating victim of court faction. In his work, Henry VIII is willful, aggressive, selfish, ruthless. A tyrant.



It was Thomas More who is thought to have said of his friend, his master and his murderer, "For if the lion knows his own strength, then no man could control him."

Henry VIII, at his coronation at the age of 17, was anointed with holy oil. The sovereign thus formed a mystical connection to God, one that Henry and all three of his children took very seriously. It was a moment and an ensuing transformation that few of us can truly grasp in the year 2018. It goes beyond modern psychiatry and biography and deep into the mind of that ever-fascinating enigma, Henry VIII. What to us might look psychopathic, from the viewpoint of the Tudors, was expected behavior to one who was anointed, of sacred flesh, and, let's not forget, head of the Church of England.

---------------------------------------

Read Nancy Bilyeau's newsletter for more links to nonfiction stories about history and for first look at new short stories, giveaways, and the first chapter from Nancy's upcoming spy novel set in the 18th century: The Blue. To subscribe to the monthly newsletter, sign up here.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Nancy Bilyeau is the author of the award-winning historical trilogy The CrownThe Chalice and The Tapestry, published by the Touchstone imprint of Simon & Schuster. The protagonist is Sister Joanna Stafford, a Dominican novice. In The Tapestry, the executions of Cromwell and Hungerford are part of the story. To learn more, go to www.nancybilyeau.com



Saturday, February 17, 2018

Historical Novel Society: Announcement of My 18th Century Thriller




I'm so pleased that Historical Novel Society, in it quarterly publication Historical Novel Review, released the news of my upcoming novel, The Blue. I'm moving from the 16th century to the 18th century with this book, which revolves around a woman artist, a French Huguenot living in London, who gets caught up in a spying conspiracy to steal the formula for a new shade of the most beautiful color in the world.


The publication date right now is Fall 2018. Exact date to follow!

From HNS:

"Endeavour Ink, a new imprint of Endeavour Press, has bought Nancy Bilyeau's fourth novel, The Blue, a suspense novel set in the porcelain-workshop race for supremacy in 18th century England and France, for publication in the UK and US in print and digital formats." :):


2018 is going to be exciting. I will be sharing all sorts of things for the rest of the year--an extra chapter of The Tapestry that was cut from the book, one that contains Princess Mary; a prequel to the trilogy I've written; and special advance tidbits of The Blue. I'll release all of the information on how to get the goods through my newsletter, so if you haven't already, please sign up here. It will take just a minute. :) 

And stay tuned!!



Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Truth About Elizabeth I and Torture: "The Rack Seldom Stood Idle"

By Nancy Bilyeau




In 1588, more than halfway into the reign of Elizabeth I, a man named John Gerard, English by birth, returned to his homeland, setting foot on the coast at Norfolk. He was arrested six years later, in a London house he had rented. The government officials did not believe Gerard’s story that he was a gentleman fond of gambling and hunting. And they were right to do so. Gerard was actually a Jesuit priest, educated in Douai and Rome, and leading a covert and highly dangerous life in Protestant England.


Father Gerard was conveyed to the Tower, accused of trying “to lure people from the obedience of the Queen to the obedience of the Pope.” His interrogators demanded to know who had assisted him in England. He refused to name names.

In a book Father Gerard wrote years later, he reports being one day “taken for a second examination to the house of a magistrate called Young. Along with him was another… an old man, grown grey.” Young began the questioning—what Catholics did Father Gerard know? “I answered that I neither could not nor would make disclosures that would get any one into trouble, for reasons already stated,” says the Jesuit.

Young turned to his silent colleague and said, “I told you how you would find him.” The older men looked at Father Gerard “frowningly” and finally spoke. “Do you know me?” he asked “I am Topcliffe, of whom I doubt not you have often heard.”

Sir Richard Topcliffe then led the interrogation, and Father Gerard was tortured by use of manacles for more than six hours. A friar said, ‘Twice he has been hung up by the hands with great cruelty…the examiners say he is exceedingly obstinate.”

Topcliffe, a lawyer and Member of Parliament, began serving the queen in the 1570s and seems to have reported to Sir Francis Walsingham. He hated Catholics with great intensity and boasted of having a chamber in his home containing devices “superior” to the ones in the Tower. The government allowed him to make official use of this home chamber. When a prisoner must be "put to the pain," it was time to send for Topcliffe. His favorite methods: the rack and the manacles.

Of all the mysteries of Elizabeth I, few are as baffling as the humane queen’s favor toward the inhuman Sir Richard Topcliffe, chief torturer of the realm. An undoubted sadist, he was the dark blot on her golden age.


When researching an earlier blog post on “Little Ease” in the Tower of London, I came across the 1933 book The History of Torture in England, by L.A. Parry.  The 16th century was when torture reached its height in England. “Under Henry VIII it was frequently employed; it was only used in a small number of cases in the reigns of Edward VI and Mary. It was while Elizabeth sat on the throne that it was made use of more than in any other period of history.” Parry quotes the historian Hallam: “The rack seldom stood idle in the latter part of Elizabeth’s reign.”

More recent historical works confirm this grim record. Prisoners were tortured and some were later executed. Anne Somerset in Elizabeth I said, “one-hundred and eighty-three Catholics were executed during Elizabeth’s reign; one-hundred and twenty-three of them were priests.” Elizabeth Jenkins, author of Elizabeth the Great, shudders over the “unspeakable Richard Topcliffe” and says, “The whole process of hunting down priests and examining them under torture was quite outside the domain of the law courts.”

How could the erudite Elizabeth who said she had “no desire to make windows into men’s souls” officiate over these horrors? Two people seem to have triggered this change in the queen. One was Pope Pius V who excommunicated the queen in 1570, branding her as a “servant of crime.” This act encouraged her subjects to rise up. 



The other was the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots, a focus of possible rebellion the entire time she was held in the kingdom after she was driven out of her own land. Elizabeth's secretary, Walsingham, became her spymaster. The indefatigable Puritan was convinced that the Jesuits and other priests who secretly practiced in England were part of an international conspiracy to destabilize the realm and eventually depose the queen. Many of the interrogated priests, such as Father Gerard, insisted they were loyal to the queen, that they led secret lives because Mass was illegal. But some unquestionably were drawn into dangerous conspiracy against Elizabeth, such as the Babington Plot, which sought to replace Elizabeth with Mary.

In fact, the embattled queen, no doubt frightened as well as enraged, ordered that the guilty Babington conspirators be executed in ways so horrible it would never be forgotten. And so the first ones were. But the crowd of spectators, presumably hardened to such sights, were sickened by the hellish castratings and disembowelings. When the queen heard of this, she ordered the next round of traitors be hanged until they were dead.

Elizabeth realized she had gone too far. It’s regrettable that she did not realize that more often.

---------------------------------------------------------------------

Read Nancy Bilyeau's newsletter for more links to nonfiction stories about history and for first look at new short stories, giveaways, and the first chapter from Nancy Bilyeau's upcoming spy novel set in the 18th century: The Blue. To subscribe to the monthly newsletter, sign up here.



UK edition
US edition
Nancy Bilyeau is the author of an historical thriller trilogy set in Tudor England, The Crown. The Chalice, and The Tapestry, published in nine countries. For more info, go to www.nancybilyeau.com.


Thursday, February 1, 2018

What Really Happened to Natalie Wood?

A month ago I wrote about the tragic death of Natalie Wood. Some startling developments in the case meant that it was time to update my story for The Vintage News today:



Los Angeles County sheriff’s investigators say Robert Wagner is a “person of interest” in tragic death of Natalie Wood in 1981

By Nancy Bilyeau

In a stunning development, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s investigators said in an interview released on February 1, 2018, that actor Robert Wagner is now a person of interest in the mysterious death of his then-wife Natalie Wood in 1981, and investigators want to speak with Wagner about the circumstances surrounding that death. No charges were filed after Wood drowned off Catalina Island on November 29, 1981. Law enforcement ruled the death accidental, but in 2012 the case was reopened and Wood’s death certificate was amended to “drowning and other undetermined factors.”

“As we’ve investigated the case over the last six years, I think he’s more of a person of interest now,” Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Lieutenant John Corina said in an interview with “48 Hours” correspondent Erin Moriarty. The full interview will air on the program “48 Hours” on February 3rd.

Hollywood mysteries have a way of seizing hold of us. To some, Marilyn Monroe’s death has contradictory, strange aspects to it, turning her 1962 demise into a cottage industry of books forwarding various dark theories. Unsolved crimes invite speculation, from the murder of silent-film director William Desmond Taylor to that of Hogans Heroes star Bob Crane.

But the death of actress Natalie Wood on November 29, 1981, is in a special category. When news broke that the 43-year-old was found drowned off California’s Catalina Island after being declared missing from their yacht by her actor husband, Robert Wagner, the world was horrified. Wood had been a star since she was a child, winning hearts as Maureen O’Hara’s daughter in Miracle on 34th Street in 1947. She dazzled in Rebel Without a Cause, West Side Story, Splendour in the Grass, Gypsy, and other big-budget Hollywood pictures.

After an investigation by the Sheriff’s Department and an examination by Los Angeles’ Chief Medical Examiner Thomas Noguchi, Wood’s death was declared accidental. New images flooded the newspapers and TV news, of a devastated Robert Wagner, wearing dark glasses....

For rest of the story, please go to The Vintage News.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Interview with Mystery Author Max Eastern

By Nancy Bilyeau

Max Eastern's debut novel is a suspenseful, hard-boiled, edgy and amusing story of a lawyer turned paparazzi who gets in way over his head with some dangerous people. The book, The Gods Who Walk Among Us, won the Kindle Scout competition and was published last year. Amazon selected it for a recent promotion of the top-rated mysteries and thrillers.





As one reader said in his review on Amazon: "When it comes to urban suspense, it's all in the details and the attitude and this book delivers both big time. Paparazzo Adam Azoulay stumbles into something much bigger than he bargained for when he spots a model/actress/vegan cleanse addict with an African dictator. What follows is a wild ride through a New York populated by exposure hungry celebs, air-headed philanthropists, a desperate dad, and a guy who just wants the truth told about a mass grave. Azoulay is great, cynical company and Eastern is meticulous and affectionate in his attention to the details of a still delightfully scuzzy NYC. This is a smart, sharp read that would appeal to Elmore Leonard fans and people who actually peruse a newspaper from time to time."

I got a chance to ask Max a couple of questions about his book, which I enjoyed quite a bit:




Question: It feels as if New York City is a character in this novel, you bring it to life with such vivid skill. How do you feel about the city?



Max Eastern: New York is classic; it's the center of the world, a glittering beacon on the seas, a cultural capital, where the best of the best are, a prosperous, rich epitome. But if you live here it's endless construction, subway delays, tiny, inadequate apartments, loud cheap window air conditioners, garbage collection at 12:00 am, weird smells, unidentifiable substances dripping from subway station rafters, endless lines. A recent contestant on Wheel of Fortune said he was a helicopter pilot for the NYPD. They first time that came to mind: was this the guy who hovered over my apartment for half an hour at midnight last night?


One of Max Eastern's photos of NYC, serving as inspiration image


Question: The plot revolves around a desperate--and very funny--effort to find a reclusive humanitarian figure in order to give him an award. I suspect you have quite specific feelings about awards.


Max Eastern: Awards are great if you get one and it feels good to give one to show appreciation and admiration, but they've gotten out of control. The spread of awards is crazy. Too much glad handing and back patting, and worship because a bunch of people got together to say someone gets a prize. The mutual appreciation societies are endemic and soul killing, and who really knows how they decide or every who decides. The Nobel Peace prize is awarded by Norwegian ex legislators. Does their imprimatur mean anything to you?

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


To read an excerpt of Max's book and his blog posts about noir and hard-boiled thrillers--and his search for the perfect gin gimlet, the kind that Raymond Chandler wrote about, go to his website.






Sunday, January 28, 2018

True or False? Debunking the myths of the Death of Henry VIII

By Nancy Bilyeau


No one would have called Sir Anthony Denny a brave man, but on the evening of January 27, 1547, the Gentleman of the Privy Chamber performed a duty the most resolute would recoil from: He informed Henry VIII that “in man’s judgment you are not like to live.”
            The 55-year-old king, lying in his vast bed in Westminster Palace, replied he believed “the mercy of Christ is able to pardon me all my sins, yes, though they were greater than they be.” When asked if he wanted to speak to any “learned man,” King Henry asked for Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer “but I will first take a little sleep. And then, as I feel myself, I will advise on the matter.”


            Cranmer was sent for but it took hours for the archbishop to make his way on frozen roads. Shortly after midnight, Henry VIII was barely conscious, unable to speak. The faithful Cranmer always insisted that when he asked for a sign that his monarch trusted in the mercy of Christ, Henry Tudor squeezed his hand.
            At about 2 a.m. on January 28th Henry VIII died, “probably from renal and liver failure, coupled with the effects of his obesity,” says Robert Hutchinson in his 2005 book The Last Days of Henry VIII: Conspiracies, Treason and Heresy at the Court of the Dying Tyrant.
            It was a subdued end to a riotous life. The sources for what happened that night are respected, though they are secondary, coming long after the event: Gilbert Burnet’s History of the Reformation of the Church of England (1679) and John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments (1874).
            Yet there are other stories told of the death and funeral of Henry VIII. He was perhaps the most famous king in English history, and so it is no surprise that in books and on the Internet, some strange or maudlin words and ghoulish acts have attached themselves to his demise.
            It is time to address them, one by one.

            Myth 1: “Monks, monks, monks”
            Henry VIII broke from Rome and made himself the head of the Church of England, dissolving the monasteries. The monks and friars and nuns faithful to the Pope lost their homes and were turned out on the road. Those who defied the king and denied the royal supremacy, such as the Carthusian martyrs, were tortured and killed.  
            Did the king regret it at the end? “He expired soon after allegedly uttering his last words: ‘Monks! Monks! Monks!’" says the Wikipedia entry for Henry VIII. It’s a story that has popped up in books too. The major source for it seems to be Agnes Strickland, a 19th century poet turned historian who penned the eight-volume Lives of the Queens of England from the Norman Conquest, and Lives of the Queens of Scotland, and English Princesses. Strickland writes: The king “was afflicted with visionary horrors at the hour of his departure; for that he glanced with rolling eyes and looks of wild import towards the darker recesses of his chamber, muttering, ‘Monks—monks!’ ”


            More on Strickland later. But when it comes to visions of cowled avengers glowering in the corner, it seems certain that this is an embellishment, an attempt at poetic justice. But not something that happened. Most likely at the final hour Henry regretted nothing.



Myth 2: “Cried out for Jane Seymour”
            Another story is that while dying Henry VIII cried out for his third wife, the long dead Jane Seymour. It supports the idea that Jane, the pale lady-in-waiting who rapidly replaced Anne Boleyn, was the love of Henry’s life. He did, after all, request to be buried next to her. And whenever a family portrait was commissioned after 1537, Jane was shown sitting beside him, rather than one of the wives he was actually married to. But Henry VIII does not quite deserve his reputation for being impossible to please when it comes to women. He actually had a low bar for marital success: birth of a baby boy. Jane produced the son who became Edward VI—doing so killed her—and thus moved to the top of the pecking order. 


Whether he actually loved Jane more than the five other spouses (not to mention those alluring mistresses) is best left to screenwriters. But one thing seems certain: Henry VIII did not cry for his third wife while expiring. There is no historical source for it.
           
Myth 3: “And the dogs will lick his blood”
            The most macabre story of all supposedly happened weeks after the king died but before he was lowered into the crypt next to Jane Seymour in St. George’s Chapel.  On February 14th, the king’s corpse was transported in a lead coffin from Westminster to Windsor; the procession of thousands lasted two days. There was a large funeral effigy on top of the coffin, complete with crown at one end and crimson velvet shoes at the other, that, one chronicler said fearfully, was so realistic “he seemed just as if he were alive.”


            At the halfway mark, the coffin was housed in Syon Abbey, once one of England’s most prestigious religious houses. That is fact. But the rest is suspect. Because of an accident or just the undoubted heaviness of the monarch’s coffin—Henry VIII weighed well over 300 pounds at his death—there was supposedly a leak in the night, and either blood or “putrid matter” leaked onto the floor. When men arrived in the morning, a stray dog was seen licking under the coffin, goes the tale.

            This hearkened to an unforgettable Easter Sunday sermon in 1532 before the king and his soon-to-be-second-wife, Anne Boleyn. Friar William Peto, provincial of the Observant Franciscans and a fiery supporter of first wife Katherine of Aragon, compared Henry VIII to King Ahab, husband of Jezebel. According to Scripture, after Ahab died, wild dogs licked his blood. Peto thundered that the same thing would happen to the English king.

            Gilbert Burnet is the main source for the coffin-leaking story. A Scottish theologian and bishop of Salisbury, he is today considered reliable—except when he’s not. One historian, while praising Burnet’s book as an “epoch in our historical literature,” fretted that “a great deal of fault has been found—and, no doubt, justly—with the inaccuracy and general imperfection of the transcripts on which his work was largely founded and which gave rise to endless blunders.” One of Burnet’s most well known contributions to Tudor lore was that a disappointed Henry VIII described fourth wife Anne of Cleves as a “Flanders mare.” Author Antonia Fraser, in particular, writes sternly that Burnet had “no contemporary reference to back it up” in her book The Six Wives of Henry VIII.

             What seems undeniable is that the foundation Burnet created, Agnes Strickland built on. Indeed, she raised a whole Gothic mansion in her own description of that night in Syon: “The King, being carried to Windsor to be buried, stood all night among the broken walls of Syon, and there the leaden coffin being cleft by the shaking of the carriage, the pavement of the church was wetted with Henry’s blood. In the morning came plumbers to solder the coffin, under whose feet—‘I tremble while I write it,’ says the author—‘was suddenly seen a dog creeping, and licking up the king’s blood. If you ask me how I know this, I answer, William Greville, who could scarcely drive away the dog, told me and so did the plumber also.’

             “It appears certain that the sleepy mourners and choristers had retired to rest, after the midnight dirges were sung, leaving the dead king to defend himself, as best as he might, from the assaults of his ghostly enemies, and some people might think they made their approaches in a currish form. It is scarcely, however, to be wondered that a circumstance so frightful should have excited feelings of superstitious horror, especially at such a time and place; for this desecrated convent had been the prison of his unhappy queen, Katherine Howard, whose tragic fate was fresh in the minds of men; and by a singular coincidence it happened that Henry’s corpse rested there the very day after the fifth anniversary of her execution.”

              Putting aside Strickland’s Bram Stoker-esque prose, there’s the question of whether such a ghastly thing could even occur. Sixteen-century embalmment did not call for completely draining a corpse of blood, it is true. And medical experts say it is possible that fluids circulate 17 days after death.

              But Strickland’s fervent connections to not only Friar Peto’s sermon but also Syon’s monastery past—echoing the “Monks, monks, monks” poetic justice—and the (near) anniversary of Katherine Howard’s death make it seem likely that this was a case of too good a story to resist.

               No one disturbed the coffin of the indomitable King Henry VIII—not even ghosts in “currish form.”





Read Nancy Bilyeau's newsletter for more links to nonfiction stories about history and for first look at new short stories, giveaways, and the first chapter from Nancy Bilyeau's upcoming spy novel set in the 18th century: The Blue. To subscribe to the monthly newsletter, sign up here.




Nancy Bilyeau is the author of a trilogy of Tudor-era historical thriller.  THE CROWN, published in nine countries, was shortlisted for the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award. The protagonist is a Dominican novice taking on the most important men of the era.  THE CHALICE was published in 2013 and won the RT award for Best Historical Mystery. The third and final book in the series, THE TAPESTRY, was a finalist for the Daphne du Maurier award for Best Historical Suspense. For more information, go to www.nancybilyeau.com

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Searching for Blackfriars: The Lost World of Dominican Glory

By Nancy Bilyeau


"Catherine, queen of England, come into the court!"

It was the third call made by the crier, commanded by Henry VIII to stop the queen from leaving the tribunal court convened to inquire into the legality of their 20-year marriage. On that day, June 21, 1529, before a vast room occupied by two scarlet-clad cardinals, nobles of the realm and a throng of spectators, Catherine threw herself at the feet of the man who was desperate to divorce her in order to marry another woman.



Immortalized by Shakespeare, Queen Catherine said:
Sir, I desire you do me right and justice; and to bestow your pity on me; for I am a most poor woman, and a stranger; born out of your dominions; having here no judge indifferent, nor no more assurance of equal friendship and proceedings. Alas, Sir, in what way have I offended you? What cause hath my behavior given to your displeasure, that thus you should proceed to put me off, and take your good grace from me?
 After finishing her entreaty to an embarrassed and unmoved husband, Catherine rose, ignored the crier, saying,  "It matters not, this is no indifferent court for me. I will not tarry." And she left. When the queen reached the sight of the crowd of commoners gathered outside, they cheered for her, the sound of it wafting into the chamber she'd left behind.

It is an unforgettable scene, one that has shaken and moved me each time I read Catherine of Aragon's plea to be spared such a humiliating rejection. Perhaps it was the draw of such high drama--the cheers and cries and arguments of The Great Matter--that led me to search that section of London for the place where the royal confrontation took place: Blackfriars. But there is another reason too.

In my novels, The CrownThe Chalice, and The Tapestry, I write the stories through the eyes of a Dominican novice who lives at the priory of Dartford, in Kent. It was the sole house of Dominican sisters in the kingdom. But the largest male Dominican establishment in England--and one of the most prestigious in all of Europe--was the monastery of friars dubbed Blackfriars. In its vast complex, the upper frater building, 110 feet long and 52 feet wide with two-foot-thick stonewalls, had a second-storey room called the Parliamentary Chamber. Many important sessions of government were held there.

It's natural to be surprised that a friary would possess such a chamber; the medieval monarchs' respect for the large monastic orders--Dominicans, Benedictines, and Franciscans--is not much written about. The first followers of St Dominic arrived in England in 1221. Over the next 50 years, their influence, and their numbers, grew as, pledged to humility and poverty, they stayed in various churches. They were nicknamed "Blackfriars" because of the color of their robes.


Edward I
Edward I was the principal patron of the new Blackfriars friary in London. He made a gift of 200 marks in 1280 to raise the church; construction of all the buildings--cloister, frater, infirmary, chapel, dormitory, vestry, buttery, brewery--lasted at least 20 years. King Edward took its creation so seriously that he extended the western perimeter wall of the city of London so the friars could have more room. Their property extended from the Thames River to Ludgate; the friars, moreover, were not answerable to the mayor or any governmental officials of the city. They were a city within the city.

After the work was finished, King Edward I conducted state business in Blackfriars and even slept there on occasion. Did nights spent on a friar's pallet afford more peace for Edward Longshanks, the Hammer of the Scots? Perhaps.

The Dominicans were grateful to their patron, so much so that they staunchly defended his son, Edward II, when no one else did. After Edward II was deposed by his French wife and her allies, the Blackfriars were distrusted and blamed for a time and had to go into hiding.

Edward II coronation

There are no more instances of Dominicans'  dangerous interference with political affairs. On the property, houses were built and lent to those not affiliated with the friars. It became a fashionable place to live, known for its gardens. Sir William Kingston retired to Blackfriars precinct after his years of service managing the Tower of London, dealing with such prisoners as King Henry's second wife, Anne Boleyn. The Parr family also had a house in Blackfriars, and Henry VIII's sixth wife, also named Catherine, was born there in 1512. 

When the end came in the 1530s and Henry VIII, denied his divorce by Rome, declared himself head of the Church of England, the Dominicans did not martyr themselves, like the Carthusian monks. The prior, John Hilsey, surrendered Blackfriars without any known objection in November 1538. The 15 friars living there were ejected and the friary officially closed. For his cooperation, Prior Hilsey received a pension of 60 pounds for the rest of his life and could stay in prior's lodgings, which included larders, buttery, kitchen, storeroom, cellar, gallery and other parcels.


Blackfriars as Elizabethan playhouse
Throughout the rest of the 16th century, the buildings and gardens of Blackfriars were sold to various courtiers. Large structures were broken up; later, some of the halls were put back together to become a playhouse for Shakespeare and other Elizabeth playwrights. In the Great Fire of London, that building was destroyed.

I knew very well that nothing of Blackfriars remained when I visited London in the summer of 2011 to research my novel, The Chalice. But it was hard to believe. It had functioned as more than a friary and parliamentary-session house, it was a palace. When Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, visited his aunt, Catherine of Aragon, he stayed not in any of Henry VIII's castles but in the guesthouse of Blackfriars. 

I bought some historical maps and guidebooks at the fantastic bookstore at Museum of London. Armed with my research suggesting some bits and pieces of the medieval complex remained, I headed for the neighborhood early in the evening. I took the underground to--what else?--the Blackfriars station.




I walked the neighborhood, my backpack, stuffed with books growing heavier by the minute. It's not really a tourist area, and the financial workers, ties loosened, drinking beer outside a shiny pub, glanced at me, bemused, as I rounded their corner yet again, a map of the city in my hand.

Tired and hungry, I was about to give up when I heard something very strange on a deserted side street. It was singing, a beautiful hymn of some sort. I followed the sound of their voices to a set of stairs leading up. At the top was a small, leafy courtyard park, and a group of 20 middle-aged men and women gathered, singing. A priest stood by.

I learned that this day, July 26, was St Anne's Day, and they sang to honor her, the mother of the Virgin Mary. I sat on a bench and listened to their program. At twilight, I got up to leave, and saw a scrap of low stone wall and near it a line of centuries' old tombstones on the edge of the park pavement. 

They were the graves of friars of the Dominican Order. The Church of St. Anne was built in 1550, twelve years after the surrender, to serve as the house of worship for those still living in the precinct. One thing they did was gather and protect some of the graves.




I had found Blackfriars.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------




Touchstone/US
Orion Books/UK
Nancy Bilyeau's trilogy of historical novels are set during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Published in nine countries, they follow the life of a Dominican novice named Joanna Stafford. The second novel, The Chalice, won the award from RT Reviews for Best Historical Mystery. For more information, go to www.nancybilyeau.com



Monday, January 15, 2018

Sir Walter Hungerford: Executed with Cromwell, Lost to History

by Nancy Bilyeau

The fall of Henry VIII's minister Thomas Cromwell was swift, deeply cynical and brutal to the point of savagery. And yet the worst part of it may have been that Cromwell saw it coming--and could not save himself.

Months before his arrest, Cromwell gathered his many servants and told them "what a slippery state he stood and required them to look diligently and circumspectly into their order and actions, lest, through their default, any occasion might arise against them."

Thomas Cromwell

Just as the nobility hated Cromwell's humbly born patron, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, they loathed and envied the self-made man whom the king relied on through the 1530s, the man who had risen from blacksmith's son and mercenary soldier to Lord Privy Seal and Earl of Essex. Joining nobles such as Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, in their hatred of Cromwell were the religious conservatives, led by Bishop Stephen Gardiner. Wolsey fell because he could not extricate Henry VIII from his marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. And once it became clear that the King wanted out of his marriage to fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, and Cromwell was not hastening to do so, the pack of enemies smelled blood.

Cromwell was arrested on June 10, 1540, in a way meant to cause as much humiliation as possible. The Duke of Norfolk ripped the Order of St. George from around Cromwell's neck while the Earl of Southampton tore the Order of the Garter insignia from his gown. "Traitors must not wear the garter," shouted Norfolk. Cromwell was then hustled directly to the Tower of London; within two hours, the treasurer of the royal household had emptied Cromwell's house of valuables while others ransacked his papers.

There was no trial. Cromwell was condemned of treason and "abominable heresies" and executed on July 28, 1540.

An execution on Tower Hill in the 1550s

But Cromwell did not die alone.

Following Thomas Cromwell to the scaffold erected on Tower Hill (not Tyburn, as some historians have written) was Sir Walter Hungerford. The decision to behead two men that day was unusual, though not unprecedented. Two noblemen that Cromwell had targeted for destruction--Henry Pole, Lord Montague, and Henry Courtenay, Marquess of Exeter--died together in late 1538. But those two men, condemned without trial for treason, were lifelong friends, distantly related, and requested a joint execution.

Why was Sir Walter Hungerford chosen for this ghastly honour? Cromwell was the author of the Reformation, a brilliant and ruthless statesman. His enemies sent Hungerford on the same path, from Tower of London cell to scaffold. It's a mystery that still swirls around that hot, pitiless day. In this post, I examine the myths, the theories and evidence.

True or False: Hungerford Was a Nobody

One theory is that Sir Walter Hungerford was an obscure and debauched criminal, so despicable that it would taint Cromwell to share a scaffold with such a creature.

Hungerford was a man of dark secrets, it would seem. But he was not a nobody.

Although some followers of Tudor history may not have heard of Hungerford, his family was a distinguished one with generations of service to the royal family. Sir Thomas Hungerford was steward to John of Gaunt in the 14th century and built the grand Farleigh Hungerford Castle in Somerset.

A reconstruction of Farleigh Hungerford Castle in its heyday

His son, Sir Walter, fought at Agincourt, served as an admiral and became Speaker of the House of Commons. The Hungerfords sided with the Lancastrians in the Wars of the Roses and accumulated much wealth, establishing a London house on the Thames near Westminster Abbey. Nonetheless, the family had an unpleasant reputation: "..their record for dishonesty, vice and violence seems to have been exceptional even in the unsqueamish age in which they flourished," reports one chronicler.

The Sir Walter Hungerford of our tale was born in 1503 and served as a squire of the body to Henry VIII. In May 1536, he was a member of the jury that heard the case of the accused lovers of Anne Boleyn--Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris, Francis Weston, and William Brereton. The King and Cromwell made it clear what verdict they expected to hear, and Sir Walter Hungerford delivered. Guilty, on all counts.


Anne Boleyn

On June 8, 1536 he was summoned to Parliament as Lord Hungerford of Heytesbury. By this time Hungerford owned estates all over Wiltshire, especially in Heytesbury parish. He was a man on the rise.

True or False: Hungerford an Important Cromwell Ally

Sir Walter married three times (more on his unhappy marriages later). In 1532, his father-in-law, Sir John Hussey, wrote to Cromwell, saying that Sir Walter "much desired" an introduction. To make the best possible impression, Hungerford sent Cromwell "a patent of five marks a year." In other words, he bribed him. Through serving on the jury condemning Anne Boleyn's lovers and paying his patent of marks, Hungerford must have pursued his goal in just the right way, for soon after, Hungerford became Sheriff of Wiltshire, an important position. By all accounts, he then dedicated himself to enforcing the law and rounding up traitors to the King.

So yes, Hungerford was known to be a Cromwell client and ally, but there were many other men who fulfilled more important roles in the kingdom. Hungerford's influence did not extend beyond Wiltshire. He was by no means a principal supporter, nor was he a royal councilor. So why kill him with Cromwell?

True or False: Hungerford was a Dangerous Traitor

One of the most striking things about Sir Walter Hungerford was how marital unhappiness, if not violence, surrounded him. Either his stepmother, Agnes, or one of his wives was found guilty of murder and hanged.  His marriage to Elizabeth, daughter of John, Lord Hussey of Sleaford, suffered when his father-in-law rebelled against Henry VIII in the religious rebellion known as the Pilgrimage of Grace. One of the aims of the pilgrimage was the removal of Cromwell. The rebellion failed; Hussey was executed. At around the same time, according to Elizabeth, her husband, Lord Hungerford, imprisoned her in the family castle and tried to do away with her.

After Cromwell's arrest, among all the letters found, was the one by Elizabeth accusing Lord Hungerford:
Here I have been for three or four years past, without comfort of any creature, and under custody of my lord's chaplain, which hath once or twice poisoned me, as he will not deny under examination. He hath promised my lord that he 'would soon rid him of me,' and I am sure he intendeth to keep his promise.
In the same letter, she said she refused to eat or drink anything the chaplain brought her, claiming that food donated by "poor women" was "brought to my window in the night."

Was the letter genuine? It's hard to know--after her husband's death, Elizabeth married the courtier Sir Robert Throckmorton and gave birth to four daughters.

The treason charges against Sir Walter Hungerford are also mixed up with the Pilgrimage of Grace. According to his indictment, in October 1536, Hungerford pretended to arrest a vicar sympathetic to the rebels, William Bird. Instead, he employed him as chaplain for "several months." (This was not the same chaplain as the man who supposedly imprisoned his wife; Hungerford had a large household.)

But even if true, was this enough to condemn a man to death?

True or False: Hungerford was a Witch

The second crime that Hungerford was accused of was witchcraft.

A 17th century witch

Supposedly, on March 22, 1537, at Farleigh Castle, Hungerford called upon two men, Sir Hugh Wood and Dr. Maudlin, to use magic to predict how long Henry VIII would live. The spring of 1537 was a dangerous time. The Pilgrimage of Grace was suppressed, but it had been a frightening struggle for Henry VIII and Cromwell. Their enemies were being rounded up and executed.

At that time, Prince Edward had not yet been born; Henry VIII had no male heir. It wouldn't have been surprising if some people had questions about the future of the kingdom. But using prophecy to forecast the length of the life of the sovereign was high treason. This was the same charge that brought down Edward Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham in 1521, also for supposedly employing minor religious figures to gaze into the King's future in his private castle. The similarity of the charges is striking--and suspicious.

True or False: Hungerford was a Moral Criminal

The third crime Hungerford was accused of was "the abominable and detestable vice and sin of buggery" with several servants. The Buggery Act was an act of Parliament passed in 1533, sponsored by none other than Thomas Cromwell. It was thought that he meant to use it to confiscate the property of monks accused of the crime.

Despite being married several times and fathering four children, was Hungerford gay? It's possible. Hungerford was the only person to be executed for the accused crime in the entire Tudor period. (Let me emphasize that being gay is not a crime at all!)

Another possibility exists. It's believed that in 1536, Anne Boleyn was charged with incest with her brother George as a shock tactic, the crime concocted to make it easier to condemn her on the shakier charges. Hungerford's enemies--whoever they were--might have tried the same thing in 1540.

July 28, 1540

A great many soldiers appeared on Tower Hill the day of the execution, in case of some last-minute defense of Cromwell. The chronicler Edward Hall said he was greatly mourned by the "common people." But there was no outcry on his behalf that day. Sir William Kingston, who listened to Anne Boleyn's terrified rambling while she was imprisoned, was still the constable. Perhaps it was Kingston who led Hungerford and Cromwell out to the hill and formally handed them over to the jurisdiction of the city of London for execution.

Eyewitnesses agree that Hungerford panicked before the crowd. Some modern historians refer to Sir Walter as well known for insanity. But the pragmatic letters he wrote to Cromwell just a couple of years earlier attest to Hungerford's being well able to function in society. It is likely that, during his weeks of interrogation and with the knowledge he would soon die on the block, Hungerford had a nervous breakdown, like Jane Boleyn would in late 1541.

Hungerford "seemed so unquiet that many judged him rather in a frenzy than otherwise," said one observer. Cromwell, who was about to make his final remarks to the crowd, took aside Sir Walter and said to him:
There is no cause for you to fear. If you repent and be heartily sorry for what you have done, there is for you mercy enough for the Lord, who for Christ's sake will forgive you. Therefore be not dismayed, and though the breakfast we are going to be sharp, yet, trusting in the mercy of the Lord, we shall have a joyous dinner.
Cromwell was the first to die, in a bungled beheading infamous for its ghastliness. Hungerford followed. Both bodies were carted to the nearby Church of St. Peter ad Vincula, within the Tower walls. Their graves are a few feet from Anne Boleyn's. As Macaulay wrote, "In truth there is no sadder spot on earth than that little cemetery."

Because he was a traitor, Hungerford's estates and homes were claimed by the crown. Henry VIII gave Farleigh Hungerford Castle to his brother-in-law, Sir Thomas Seymour. It was not a small acquisition. Which is perhaps as good a reason as any for the destruction of Sir Walter Hungerford.

The ruins of Farleigh Hungerford Castle today



Read Nancy Bilyeau's newsletter for more links to nonfiction stories about history and for first look at new short stories, giveaways, and the first chapter from Nancy Bilyeau's upcoming spy novel set in the 18th century: The Blue. To subscribe to the monthly newsletter, sign up here.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Nancy Bilyeau is the author of the award-winning historical trilogy The CrownThe Chalice and The Tapestry, published by the Touchstone imprint of Simon & Schuster. The protagonist is Sister Joanna Stafford, a Dominican novice. In The Tapestry, the executions of Cromwell and Hungerford are part of the story. To learn more, go to www.nancybilyeau.com