Books 2014 – On sale today

13 November – Elizabeth: Renaissance Prince by Lisa Hilton

(c) W&N

(c) W&N

‘Lisa Hilton’s majestic biography of Elizabeth I, ‘The Virgin Queen’, provides vibrant new insights on a monarch who continues to compel and enthral readers. It is a book that challenges readers to reassess Elizabeth’s reign, and the colourful drama, scandal and intrigue to which it is always linked. Lisa Hilton uses new research in France, Italy, Russia and Turkey to present a fresh interpretation of Elizabeth as a queen who saw herself primarily as a Renaissance prince, delivering a very different perspective on Elizabeth’s emotional and sexual life, and upon her attempts to mould England into a European state. Elizabeth was not an exceptional woman but an exceptional ruler, and Hilton redraws English history with this animated portrait of an astounding life. Her biography maps Elizabeth’s dramatic journey from timid, newly crowned queen to one of the most powerful and vivid monarchs ever to rule England.’


Further details – Lisa Hilton

Further details –

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13 November 1553 – Trial of Lady Jane

Today is the 461st anniversary of Lady Jane’s trial at the Guildhall in London.

Events by Place – Guildhall 13 November 1553.

On This Day

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Distinguished Lives: Episode 4 – The Reign of Jane

Episode 4 of the Distinguished Lives series, looks at ‘the extraordinary young woman who sat on the throne for only nine days.’ Leanda de Lisle (author of ‘The Sisters Who Would Be Queen’ and ‘Tudor: The Family Story’) discusses Lady Jane Grey.

You can listen to the podcast at:

Distinguished Lives: The Reign of Jane

The main points Leanda makes are:

In some ways Jane was a typical teenager. Quarrels with her parents, knows her own mind, get a sense of her seeking to find herself as a person. Feels very intensely about her beliefs, strong sense of right and wrong, a black and white view of the world.

An example of how Jane viewed the word in ‘black and white’ is the letter she wrote in the Tower of London, to her former tutor, Thomas Harding, who had converted to Catholicism. Letter asked people to fight the re-legalisation of the mass in England.

Leanda explains the background to the break with the Catholic Church during the reign of Henry VIII. How it was also a time of theological change. How Evangelism became Protestantism and how Protestants and Catholics differ on the key issue of the mass.

How Edward VI bequeathed Jane the crown instead of his sister, Mary. How Jane was overthrown 9 days after being proclaimed in London, which is why she is sometimes known as the 9 days queen.

Jane’s childhood, background, education and relationship with her parents. Belonged to a generation of women who would be highly educated. How her father had hoped she would marry Edward VI. At 13 she was a stroppy teenager but by the time she was 15, she had grown very close to her mother, Frances Grey, contrary to what is written about her later.

Regarded as a very exceptional young woman. How Jane became a patron of leading Protestants, including the head of the ‘Strangers Church in London.’

There had never been a ruling Queen before. Jane would have been Queen in her own right, would have been essentially treated as a man, as a King. People not used to this, so important that she was married off and had sons.

Married to Guildford Dudley (spare son of head of Edward’s Council, John Dudley Duke of Northumberland). This was slightly unfortunate as when Edward died and Jane was proclaimed Queen, a lot of people believed what had happened was about the ambitions of her father-in-law. They didn’t want a Dudley ruling England as King. The Dudley family were not royal and why should he rule instead of the daughter of Henry VIII, Mary Tudor.

Jane accepted the throne. There are later stories that she did not want it, was forced into it and was beaten into her marriage. These are stories and not based on fact. The fact is that she accepted the throne. Thinks Jane believed that God had chosen her over the Catholic Mary.

The elite supported Jane but the ordinary people flocked to Mary. Mary raised an army. Some of the elite panicked and joined Mary. Nine days after Jane was proclaimed Queen she was overthrown. She had been proclaimed Queen at the Tower of London and she found herself imprisoned in the same place.

Many people hoped and believed that she would be pardoned. Leanda thinks that Mary at first believed that she would be able to pardon Jane (who was very young, at only 16). All the blame was placed on Northumberland and he was executed about a month later. Mary wanted to see Northumberland blamed and she needed to unite the elite behind her.

Jane would be accused of treason (effectively she was guilty of treason), she would be tried and found guilty but Mary would be able to show her generosity by pardoning her. Trial took place in November and Jane was convicted of treason and then could hope for a pardon.

But Mary, now Queen, had decided by this time to marry the Catholic Philip of Spain and had legalised the mass that had been banned in Edward’s reign. Jane’s father was appalled at the idea of Mary marrying a foreigner.

Jane was appalled at the re-legalisation of the mass which she considered a wicked and evil thing. This is why she wrote the public letter to her former tutor (when he converted to Catholicism), condemning his actions in very strong terms and condemning the mass and saying people should fight against its re-introduction.

Jane probably didn’t know that he father was plotting rebellion. The rebellion went ahead in January 1554 and was crushed (not without difficulty). Mary decided that Jane was too dangerous a figure to be left alive any longer. Jane and Guildford were executed in February 1554. Lady Jane became regarded as a Protestant martyr.

Became evident that Jane would have to fight for her throne. A boy in the crowd, when Jane was proclaimed in London, spoke out that Mary had the better right. One of the first things that Jane ordered was that he had his ears cut off. She also started raising armies. All documents signed with her own signature (Jane the Quene).

Jane was very young. The question is to what extent was she manipulated by her father and father-in-law? Depends how much you believe she was a woman who had her own mind. In the past people have emphasised that she is a victim because of her youth. A victim of ambitious adults. De Lisle thinks this is true but only up to a point. She was 16 but she was a highly intelligent woman with her own views. She was not a puppet and was capable of being ruthless, just as Mary Tudor was and also the 17 year old Henry VIII who ordered the imprisonment and later, the execution of two of his father’s servants when he ascended to the throne.

De Lisle is asked if Jane had not married a Dudley, would it have placated the public. De Lisle replies that if she had married someone of royal blood it would have been easier for her. It would have made a massive difference but it was easier said than done because of lack of candidates.

Jane’s father (Duke of Suffolk) was ambitious and saw himself as an intellectual but was a useless politician. It was her mother through whom she drew her royal blood. Myth grew up in 1560s that Frances had been a cruel mother. There is no evidence for that at all. Evidence from Jane’s lifetime and from people who knew them, was that Jane was close to Frances.

This was a later invention, all based on an incident described by one of Elizabeth I’s tutors (Roger Ascham) who knew the Greys. Jane complains about her parents and how she much prefers to be with her tutor (Dr Aylmer), who is kind.

De Lisle says there are two points to remember. That Jane never singles out her mother, she complains about both her parents to Ascham. At the time Jane’s tutor was writing to Jane about how proud her parents were of her. Aylmer was also writing to his friends in Europe, asking how to ‘bridle’ this strong willed teenage girl. Reason Ascham wrote this story, was that he was writing a book about school masters and how it was better to treat pupils kindly rather than beat them.

Interesting that later writers have focused on Jane’s mother and they turned her into a wicked queen to Jane’s Snow White. They invest Jane’s mother with all that is supposed to be bad about women.

Jane had two younger sisters. Both were also close to their mother. Katherine is particularly fascinating, as she has been completely forgotten. She was Elizabeth I’s heir in law. Was extremely important for the first decade of Elizabeth’s reign.

Elizabeth hated and feared her because she was worried that Katherine would marry and have sons and then she would be replaced by Katherine. Elizabeth couldn’t marry Robert Dudley. First of all he was already married and when his wife died, Robert was suspected of being involved. Elizabeth had seen what had happened to Jane who had married a Dudley and could not risk marrying Robert and being overthrown.

Katherine married secretly. Both imprisoned in the Tower. Two sons born to Katherine and Edward Seymour. Elizabeth separates them.

Mary Grey, seemed to have inherited the same condition as Richard III. She had a twisted spine and was very short. She married a commoner, but Elizabeth still imprisoned her but Mary was released after her husband died. Mary was the survivor of the Grey sisters and she lived in freedom before she died probably of plague in the 1570s.

Jane was greatly admired while alive. De Lisle thinks she had a happy childhood. Katherine did know love and happiness. She wrote remarkably passionate letters to her husband. Mary also knew happiness with the husband she loved and also the satisfaction of becoming free again at the end of her life and finding peace again before she died.

Stories of Jane not wanting the throne, only came out after she was overthrown. De Lisle thinks that we have to be careful of accepting them. Are they true or just invented? After she was overthrown it was in the interest of the Protestant elite who had tried to keep Mary out and in Mary’s interest who wanted to reunite the elite, to blame everything on the Duke of Northumberland. Jane’s own father was pardoned by Mary very quickly. Talk was of Jane being pardoned as a victim of Northumberland.

Important to Mary for people to believe that Jane was a victim. Mary said that Edward VI had only written his will leaving the throne to Jane under pressure by Northumberland. Edward had become Northumberland’s puppet. If Jane, who was the same age as Edward, was also a puppet, it supports Mary’s claims. Story put out that Jane was pressured into it, it wasn’t her fault, and it was all the adults, particularly Northumberland.

We have to be careful to what extent we believe it. It makes a convincing line. We’ve always accepted it is true but we have to be a bit more questioning than that.

Public were delighted when Jane was overthrown. Viewed Mary as the rightful Queen. Was Edward’s heir by law and had been accepted right up to the last moment.

Jane’s imprisonment was relaxed slightly in December 1553. She was allowed to walk in the gardens. This was viewed as a prelude to her being pardoned. Things changed when the revolt began. She must have been very frightened. If her father lost, her life was seriously at risk.

Jane did not show fear during her last few days but she must have felt some fear. She also had to think about her religious beliefs. Mary sent a priest to try and convert her to Catholicism. De Lisle thinks that if Jane had converted that Mary would not have saved her life. Northumberland had converted and this had not saved him. Mary was trying to save her soul, not her life.

Jane was a Protestant martyr in the sense that she made a deliberate choice to die in the faith that she held. Jane also thought about politics in her last hours. Wrote an open letter to her sister Katherine, who was her heir. Telling her that she must not convert and die for her religion as Jane is doing, or else she would go to hell.

Jane also wrote up the interview she had with the priest in the Tower for publication shortly after her death. Jane’s writings were published within weeks of her execution. Were probably the most effective propaganda against Mary during Mary’s reign and Jane was part of that process. Jane was a political animal.

Jane set an example which was not forgotten. This is something that she consciously did. Jane was more than her image as a victim. She was also her own person.

Jane’s legacy today. Unfortunately the vast majority of stories about her paint this Victorian portrait of her as a victim. This view is beginning to change.

De Lisle recommends Eric Ives book about Jane (‘Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery’), as this gives a different point of view to Leanda’s book. Also looking at primary documents online, to read about events as they happen.

You can find out more about Leanda at: Leanda de Lisle

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Letter by Mary Tudor for auction

A letter written by Mary Tudor (Queen of France and Lady Jane’s grandmother) is among a group of documents due to be auctioned. The documents also include a letter written by Queen Catherine of Aragon.

You can view the letter here:


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Reviews of ‘Joan of Arc’ by Helen Castor

(c) Faber & Faber

(c) Faber & Faber

Joan of Arc: a History by Helen Castor, review: ‘popular history at its best’ by Diarmaid MacCulloch – The Telegraph

Joan of Arc: A History, by Helen Castor by Rachel Moss – Times Higher Education

‘In this sober, serious and compelling account Helen Castor… succeeds triumphantly in rescuing her from the various strait jackets…in which she has been confined.’ – The Sunday Times Culture 28th September 2014

‘In this fascinating biography, Helen Castor argues that familiarity with Joan’s story has led to a certain laziness, that we tend to read her story as if it were some kind of folk tale. Instead, Castor asks us to clear our preconceptions and follow Joan’s story as it unfolds, without jumping ahead to what happens next….What makes Helen Castor’s re-telling of this story so exciting is the way she sorts through the fiendishly complex medieval source material in order to locate the telling detail.’ – Event Magazine (Mail on Sunday) 26 October 2014

Joan of Arc by Helen Castor review – a triumph of history by Janet Nelson – The Guardian

Maid of Orléans is superbly brought to life in flesh-and-blood tale by Kate Mosse – The Evening Standard

Joan of Arc: a history by Jessie Childs – The Tablet

Joan of Arc: A History review – a new window on to a strange chapter in French history by Laura Feigel – The Observer

Joan of Arc: A History by Helen Castor, book review: The truth behind France’s national icon by Jad Adams – The Independent

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4 November 1551

We get a glimpse of Lady Jane Grey on the 4th of November 1551 when Edward VI entertained Mary of Guise at the Palace of Westminster.

Edward recorded the details in his diary.

4th November

‘The Duke of Suffolk and the Lord Fitzwalter, the Lord Braye and many other lords and gentlemen accompanied by Suffolk’s wife, the Lady Frances, the Lady Margaret [Douglas], the Duchess of Richmond and of Northumberland, the Lady Jane, daughter to the Duke of Suffolk, the marchionesses of Northampton and Winchester, the countesses of Arundel, Bedford, Huntingdon and Rutland, with 100 other ladies and gentlewomen, went to the dowager and brought her through London to Westminster.’

p.44, England’s Boy King: The Diary of Edward VI, 1547-1553
edited by Jonathan North

An example of Edward’s diary.

A page from Edward VI's diary (c) British Library

A page from Edward VI’s diary
(c) British Library

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My guest article at On The Tudor Trail…

You can read my guest article about Lady Jane’s appearance at On The Tudor Trail.

Lady Jane Grey’s Appearance

This is the fourth in my series ‘Another look at…’, which have investigated what the discovery of two letters by Dr Stephan Edwards have added to our knowledge of Lady Jane Grey.

You can read the other articles here:

Another look at…the wedding of Lady Jane

Another look at…10th July 1553

Another look at…19th July 1553

Posted in Another look at, Lady Jane Grey, Stephan Edwards | Comments Off

A look at how the Streatham portrait has been displayed over the years…

The ‘Streatham’ portrait is currently on display at the National Portrait Gallery as part of ‘The Real Tudors: Kings & Queens Rediscovered’ exhibition. The exhibition runs from 12 September 2014 until 1st March 2015.

(c) NPG 6804; Lady Jane Dudley (nee Grey) by Unknown artist

(c) NPG 6804; Lady Jane Dudley (nee Grey) by Unknown artist

The portrait was discovered at a house in Streatham in January 2006. It was announced in the November of that year, that it had been purchased by the National Portrait Gallery.

The portrait was first on display at the Gallery in Room 3 of the Tudor Galleries from spring 2007 to April 2009 and then at the entrance to the ‘Lady Jane Grey’ display from December 2009 until 15th August 2010. Between March 2013 and May 2014 it was on display at Montacute House in Somerset.

The painting was the subject of a gallery talk by Justin Nolan on June 12th 2007.

These were the main points from this talk:

‘The NPG has been aware of this painting since 1923. It is a ¾ length portrait of a woman wearing high status clothing from the 1550s.

The sitter is someone of importance. Analysis (including ‘dendrochronology’) has shown that the wood used dates from after 1593. The question is why would someone paint a portrait of a woman after 1593 wearing clothing from forty years before? There must have been something about the sitter to make it worthwhile.

The inscription dates from the same time as the portrait and cross referencing it with the known ‘Lady Jayne’s’ at the time, shows that it could refer to Jane Grey.

Jane was in the public consciousness in 1602. This is shown by Thomas Dekker’s play, ‘Sir Thomas Wyatt’. Some of this play survives and in it, Jane and Guildford are portrayed as lovers. So from very early on, the romantic notion of Lady Jane Grey existed.

It is possible that this painting belonged in the collection of a gentleman who wanted to promote his enthusiasm for Protestantism and could have been part of a series of paintings of ‘Protestant Worthies.’

This was probably not intended to be an accurate portrait of Jane but was using her as a badge of the Elizabethan Protestant Order.’

There isn’t anything in this portrait that supports an accurate representation, however, the question remains, why else produce this painting’ (Justin Nolan, NPG)

The painting was displayed between 2007 and 2009 as:

‘Memorial Portrait of Lady Jane Grey (Lady Jayne)
16th century’ (NPG)

The postcard on sale at the time had the following information:

‘Lady Jane Dudley (nee Grey) 1537-54
After a portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger.’ (NPG)

It was displayed between December 2009 and August 2010 as:

‘Unknown, 1590s

‘This panel is one of the earliest surviving portraits of England’s shortest reigning monarch Lady Jane Grey. It was not painted from life or indeed made during her lifetime. It is a commemorative portrait made at least 40 years after her death.’ (NPG)

It was displayed between March 2013 and May 2014 as:

Room 2 - The Court of Henry VIII, Montacute House

Room 2 – The Court of Henry VIII, Montacute House

‘Lady Jane Grey
By an unknown artist
Oil on oak panel 1590s’

‘This is one of the earliest surviving portraits of England’s shortest-reigning monarch, Lady Jane Grey, despite being made some 40 years after her death. The sixteen-year-old Jane Dudley (née Grey) was nominated by her cousin, Edward VI, to succeed him and at his death was uncrowned Queen of England for nine days before being deposed and executed by Mary I.

A commemorative portrait, this panel may have formed part of a set of Protestant martyrs. Scratched lines across the eyes and mouth suggest that the painting may have been subjected to an iconoclastic attack at some point in its history.’ (Montacute House)

It is currently displayed as:

‘Lady Jane Grey
By an unknown artist
Oil on panel, late sixteenth century’ (NPG)

In May 2014, Dr Stephan Edwards published his latest findings on the portrait, at his website, Some Grey Matter. He wrote:

‘On the whole, it seems entirely likely that the Streatham Portrait was based upon some earlier reference image that depicted Katherine Parr but, like the Norris Portrait, was adapted to “become” Jane Grey in the absence of an accessible authentic portrait of Jane.’ (1)

You can read about the rest of his research at Some Grey Matter.

The National Portrait has the following text on display at its current exhibition, ‘The Tudors Rediscovered.

‘Lady Jane Grey was named as heir to the throne by her cousin Edward VI: however, she was imprisoned after only nine days’ rule when Mary successfully asserted her right to the crown. Highly educated and devoutly Protestant, it was only during Elizabeth’s reign that she became more widely known. This fuelled an interest in her portraiture and portraits such as this example were created to mark her place for an Elizabethan audience. However, no lifetime portraits of Jane appear to survive and it is possible that none were ever painted. By 1620, one image had gained credence as a lifetime portrait and was used as the basis for an engraving. However, the sitter in this image wears a jewel that is very similar to one that belonged to Katherine Parr, and may be Henry VIII’s sixth queen.’ (NPG)

In the catalogue to accompany the exhibition, it is stated that:

‘Even during the uncertain time between Edward’s death and Mary’s accession, Jane made little mark on contemporary commentators, and given the short period of her reign it is not likely that a portrait was ever produced.

…Numerous portraits have been identified as Jane, but no certain image during her lifetime appears to have survived, if one ever existed. One portrait thought to depict Jane was painted in the Elizabethan period and was probably produced in response to her growing reputation as a Protestant martyr. In this three-quarter-length image, she stands holding a book, wearing a costly, if simply painted, gown of red velvet and cloth-of-gold and silver. Tree-ring dating suggests that the portrait was painted in the 1590s, and thus it may derive from an earlier likeness, or could even have been adapted from a portrait of another sitter. Whatever the case, it is clear that the portrait served as a likeness of Jane for its Elizabethan audience. The fragmentary inscription, which identifies the sitter as ‘Lady Jayne’, suggests that it may have formed part of a set of portraits, and the scratched lines across the eyes and mouth may be result of a deliberate attack at some point in history.’ (2)


1.Edwards,S. Some Grey Matter – The Streatham Portrait Date accessed: 5 October 2014

2.Bolland, C. and Cooper, T. (2014) The Real Tudors: Kings and Queens Rediscovered, National Portrait Gallery Publications, p.99

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Books 2014 – On sale today…

2 October – Joan of Arc by Helen Castor

(c) Faber & Faber

(c) Faber & Faber

‘Acclaimed historian Helen Castor brings us afresh a gripping life of Joan of Arc. Instead of the icon, she gives us a living, breathing young woman; a roaring girl fighting the English, and taking sides in a bloody civil war that was tearing fifteenth century France apart.

Here is a portrait of a 19-year-old peasant who hears voices from God; a teenager transformed into a warrior leading an army to victory, in an age that believed women should not fight. And it is also the story behind the myth we all know, a myth which began to take hold at her trial: that of the Maid of Orleans, the saviour of France, a young woman burned at the stake as a heretic, a woman who five hundred years later would be declared a saint.

Joan and her world are brought vividly to life in this refreshing new take on the medieval world. Helen Castor brings us to the heart of the action, to a woman and a country in turmoil, a world where no-one – not Joan herself, nor the people around her, princes, bishops, soldiers or peasants – knew what would happen next.’


Helen Castor

Further details –

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Books 2014 – On sale today…

2 October – Witches: James I and the English Witch Hunts (Paperback) by Tracy Borman

(c) Vintage

(c) Vintage

‘September 1613.

In Belvoir Castle, the heir of one of England’s great noble families falls suddenly and dangerously ill. His body is ‘tormented’ with violent convulsions. Within a few short weeks he will suffer an excruciating death. Soon the whole family will be stricken with the same terrifying symptoms. The second son, the last male of the line, will not survive.

It is said witches are to blame. And so the Earl of Rutland’s sons will not be the last to die.

Witches traces the dramatic events which unfolded at one of England’s oldest and most spectacular castles four hundred years ago. The case is among those which constitute the European witch craze of the 15th-18th centuries, when suspected witches were burned, hanged, or tortured by the thousand. Like those other cases, it is a tale of superstition, the darkest limits of the human imagination and, ultimately, injustice – a reminder of how paranoia and hysteria can create an environment in which nonconformism spells death. But as Tracy Borman reveals here, it is not quite typical. The most powerful and Machiavellian figure of the Jacobean court had a vested interest in events at Belvoir.He would mastermind a conspiracy that has remained hidden for centuries.’


Further details – Tracy Borman

Further details –

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