‘The Lives of Tudor Women’ Interview with Elizabeth Norton

Elizabeth Norton is the author of ‘The Lives of Tudor Women’, ‘The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor’, ‘England’s Queens’, ‘She Wolves: The Notorious Queens of Medieval England’, as well as individual biographies about Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleeves, Catherine Parr, Margaret Beaufort and Bessie Blount.

The paper back of Elizabeth’s latest book, ‘The Lives of Tudor Women’ was published by Head of Zeus last month.

To buy ‘The Lives of Tudor Women’:


Head of Zeus

(c) Micaela Cianci

(c) Micaela Cianci

Follow Elizabeth on Social Media:

Elizabeth’s website: Elizabeth Norton
Twitter: @ENortonHistory

Many thanks to Elizabeth for answering my questions.

(c) Head of Zeus

Why did you choose this subject for your book?

History is so often written about men, with social histories often including a chapter on women before using the remainder of their pages to discuss men as though they were representative of the whole of society. This happens even in the Tudor period, which was of course so politically dominated by women. I was therefore very keen to write this book as a means of redressing the balance. I wanted to look at women’s lives rather than women’s issues. The book therefore focusses on women, looking at all aspects of their lives even when they overlapped with men.

Women made up approximately 50% of the Tudor population and I therefore wanted to provide a picture of what their lives were like. I wanted to move away from the stereotype of powerless or uninteresting/unimportant women. It was a dauntingly large project, but probably the most enjoyable and rewarding piece of historical research that I have ever embarked upon.

What does your book add to existing works featuring Tudor women?

When I first decided to write the book, I was adamant that the stories of lower status women should be included. Works on Tudor women disproportionately focus on upper class women, such as the wives of Henry VIII or his daughters. While their lives are undoubtedly fascinating, they cannot be said to be representative of what life was really like for the majority of the people of England. Other books have been written about Tudor women, but none have delved so deeply into just what life was like for a woman of all classes. It is both social history and biography, providing a comprehensive account of the central Tudor Everywoman figure.

Why did you decide on the ‘Seven Ages of Man’ for the structure?

Devising the structure for such a broad book was a real challenge. However, I was immediately drawn to the idea of writing about a Tudor everywoman figure – a concept that would have been familiar (as an ‘everyman’) to contemporaries. What I like about the concept of the Seven Ages of Man is that they were intended to be a universal idea, applicable to all. Yet, manifestly, this is not the case. Shakespeare’s scheme and the countless others around in the period only dealt with male lives. Stages that include a soldier or a justice of the peace cannot also apply to women. I therefore wanted to devise the Seven Ages of Women, on which all the stories contained in the book are hung.

Which was the most interesting ‘Age’ for you to write about?

The most interesting age was definitely the final age, that of the elderly. Only a small proportion of people in Tudor England made it to advanced age and it was therefore the life stage that I knew the least about. For women, it could be a time of considerable hardship, since there was no retirement. With women then – as now – tending to outlive men, many poor widows eked out a miserable existence spinning or making hose into their eighties and even nineties. Old women were also viewed with suspicion, with the elderly poor particularly vulnerable to witchcraft accusations. Even for wealthy and influential women, like Elizabeth I, old age was a difficult life stage to negotiate. It is no surprise that Elizabeth sought to preserve the myth of her eternal youthfulness for as long as possible.

What surprised you most researching this book?

I was most surprised by the volume of surviving material for lower status women in the period. The number of documents relating to women which exist still untranscribed in archives is astonishing. In St Bartholomew’s Hospital Archives in London, for example, I was able to research the career of the hospital’s matron, Sister Fisher, while in the Draper’s Company in London I could read about the Draper’s widow and businesswoman, Katherine Fenkyll. City and local archives were filled too with accounts of the lives of many ordinary women, including runaway servants and simple housewives. There is a huge body of material available for a study of women in the period, with many of the sources used in the book never printed or discussed before.

Why did you choose to include the separate information panel sections?

While I wanted the book to primarily function as a collective biography, looking at a Tudor Everywoman figure, there were some topics that were just to interesting to be glossed over or ignored. Every chapter includes one or two separate information panel sections which deal with a topic relevant to that chapter. These deal with a wide range of topics, including swaddling bands, pleading the belly, surgery, female centenarians, make up and ducking stools. The aim was to give an even broader picture of life without moving too far away from the main lives discussed in those sections.

Do you have a favourite woman’s story?

Absolutely. While all the stories were fascinating in their own way, my favourite has to be Elizabeth Barton, the famous (or infamous) Nun of Kent. Barton was a peasant girl who worked as a domestic servant in Kent. She fell ill and it was soon reported that she was having heavenly visions. The then Archbishop of Canterbury, William Warham, arranged for Barton to become a nun in Canterbury and he later organised an interview for her with Cardinal Wolsey. It was at that meeting that Barton first made it clear that she did not support Henry VIII’s ‘Great Matter’ and his proposed marriage to Anne Boleyn.

Barton became one of the most vocal and politically important opponents to the marriage, with Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher of Rochester believing her words. Even the pope’s ambassadors met with her on their knees. Thomas Cranmer, who succeeded Warham as Archbishop of Canterbury, for one, believed that both Wolsey and Warham were afraid of Barton and that she greatly set back the king’s marriage. She also told the king of her opposition towards him to his face in several interviews.

Elizabeth Barton’s career finally came to an end in late 1533. She had originally predicted that Henry would not survive marriage to Anne Boleyn by six months and, when the king survived this period, Barton’s credit was fatally damaged. Under interrogation, she confessed that she had feigned her visions and she was eventually hanged in 1534. Barton’s story is so fascinating because it was so unusual. She went from an incredibly lowly background to become one of the most important politicians in England. Interestingly, she was not the only prophet in Tudor England, a career that seems only to have been open to women in the period.

‘The Tudor novelty of not one, but two reigning queens (even three, if one admits Jane Grey) – women reaching the pinnacle of power in a way unknown in English history.’ (p.268) Do you personally count Jane Grey as a reigning Queen?

I do, I also count the Empress Matilda, who reigned briefly in 1141. Although Jane’s reign was short, she was named as successor by her predecessor and acknowledged by his council. For a few brief days she was ruler of England, with even the Holy Roman Emperor accepting her accession as a fait accompli. I think Jane’s importance lies in what she could have been. She could have been England’s first crowned queen. Indeed, she very nearly was. There was a period of just over a week where there was only one monarch in England and that was Jane. I therefore consider that she does indeed count as a reigning queen.

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To celebrate the publication of the paper back of ‘Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was’ by Sean Cunningham

(c) Amberley Publishing

The paper back of ‘Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was’ by Sean Cunningham is published today.

Prince Arthur, painted around the time of his wedding (wikicommons; public domain)

Last year this web site took part in the ‘Prince Arthur’ book blog tour. Here is Sean’s guest article:

Arthur and Catherine: Why a Five-Month Tudor Marriage Still Matters to British History by Sean Cunningham

Arthur’s tomb, Worcester Cathedral

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Books 2017 – on sale today – Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was (paperback) by Sean Cunningham

15th June 2017 – Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was (paperback) by Sean Cunningham

(c) Amberley Publishing

‘During the early part of the sixteenth century England should have been ruled by King Arthur Tudor, not Henry VIII. Had the first-born son of Henry VII lived into adulthood, his younger brother Henry would never have become King Henry VIII. The subsequent history of England would have been very different; the massive religious, social and political changes of Henry VIII’s reign might not have been necessary at all.

In naming his eldest son Arthur, Henry VII was making an impressive statement about what the Tudors hoped to achieve as rulers within Britain. Since the story of Arthur as a British hero was very well known to all ranks of the Crown’s subjects, the name alone gave the young prince a great deal to live up to. Arthur’s education and exposure to power and responsibility, not to mention his marriage to a Spanish princess in Catherine of Aragon, all indicate that the young prince was being shaped into a paragon of kingship that all of Britain could admire.

This book explores all of these aspects of Prince Arthur’s life, together with his relationship with his brother, and assesses what type of king he would have been.’

From Amazon.co.uk

Further details – Amazon.co.uk

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Queen of Bradgate Park Celebrations

Bradgate Park will be celebrating the reign of their nine day Queen, Lady Jane.

Free Guided Tours

Dates: 8th-16th July
Times: 11.30am and 2pm.
Cost: Donations welcome.
Location: Depart daily from the Visitor Centre.

Details: This tour will take you into the ruins where you will learn about Jane, her family and the 9 Days when she was the first Queen of England.

Meet the Executioner & 1000yrs of History (Hilarious History Songs)

Dates: Saturday 8th and 15th July
Time: 11am – 5pm
Cost: Donations welcome.

Details: Find Gilbert Savage Medieval Executioner and Tony King performing regular sessions in the ruins throughout the day

Lady Jane Grey – Talk, Walk & Supper with Peter Tyldesley Park Director*

Date: Saturday 8th July
Time: 6.30pm/7pm
Cost: £24
Tickets: Available from See Tickets.

Details: Departing from the Conservatory Tearoom this walk will take you across the Park which Jane would have known well through into the ruins of Bradgate House, Jane’s childhood home. Learn about the trials and tribulations Jane would have faced in her short life.

*Please contact the park with any dietary requirements.

Dusk Tours

Dates: 10th, 11th, 12th, 14th July
Time: 6.30pm-8.30pm (Gates open 6pm/Gates close 6.45pm)
Tickets: Available from the Visitor Centre & Shop.

Details: Enjoy exclusive access to the Park after hours for a guided tour of the Visitor Centre and guided walk around the ruins. This tour will take you into the ruins where you will learn about Jane, her family and the 9 Days when she was the first Queen of England.

1000yrs of History with Anthony King

Dates: Sunday 9th July – Friday 14th & Sunday 16th July
Time: 11am-5pm

Details: Daily free performances outside the Deer Barn Tearoom between 11.00am – 5.00pm

Ghost Walk

Dates: 13th July
Time: 7.30pm-10pm
Cost: £14
Tickets: Haunted Heritage.

Hysterical History Comedy Night

Dates: Saturday 15th July
Time: Performance starts 7.30pm. Doors and Bar open 7pm.
Location: Conservatory Tearoom
Tickets: £7.50. Available from the Visitor Centre & Shop.

Details: Join Robert Cratewell Tudor Executioner and local comedian Tony King for a hysterical historical night of comedy. For over 18’s.

Remembrance & Rose Petal Service

Date: Sunday 16th July
Time: 6.30pm-8pm
Tickets: Email Bradgate Park at estate-office@bradgatepark.org

All images © Bradgate Park Trust

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Books 2017 – Another book to look forward to…

8th December – Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scots: The Life of King Henry VIII’s Sister by Sarah-Beth Watkins

(c) Chronos Books

‘Margaret Tudor was Henry VIII’s older sister and became the Queen of Scotland after her marriage to James IV in 1503. Her life was troubled and fraught with tension. She was continually caught between her country of birth and the country she ruled. After James IVs death, she made the disastrous decision to marry the Earl of Angus, threatening her regency and forcing the Scottish council to send for the Duke of Albany to rule in her stead. Over the years, Margaret’s allegiance swung between England and Scotland, making her brother Henry VIII both her ally and her enemy at times. Although Margaret wished for peace between the two countries, these were tumultuous years and she didnt always make the wisest choices. Yet, all she did she did for her son James V, and her absolute conviction he would rule Scotland as its rightful king.’

From Amazon.co.uk

Further details – Chronos Books

Further details – Amazon.co.uk

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Another book with a ‘Jane’ link to look forward to…

The Survival of the Princes in the Tower: Murder, Mystery and Myth by Matthew Lewis

(c) The History Press

‘The murder of the Princes in the Tower is the most famous cold case in English or British history. Traditionally considered victims of a ruthless uncle, there are other suspects too often and too easily discounted. There may be no definitive answer, but by delving into the context of their disappearance and the characters of the suspects Matthew Lewis will examine the motives and opportunities afresh as well as ask a crucial but often overlooked question: what if there was no murder? What if Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York survived their uncle’s reign and even that of their brother-in-law Henry VII? There are glimpses of their possible survival and compelling evidence to give weight to those glimpses which is considered alongside the possibility of their deaths to provide a rounded and complete assessment of the most fascinating mystery in history.’

From Amazon.co.uk

Further details – Matt’s History Blog

Further details – The History Press

Further details – Amazon.co.uk

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