Posted in Guest Post, Writing Craft

Historic Worldbuilding in Fiction: The Use of Light

Join me as author Heather E.F. Carter talks about the use of light in historical fiction writing.

Hi. My name is Heather E. F. Carter, and I write eighteenth-century historical fiction. I have published one novel, The Black Unicorn, and I am currently at work on its sequel, which will have something to do with phoenixes in its title. In my own blog, I approach my historical topics through the lens of historic worldbuilding in fiction. In this blog, which I was happy to write for my friend and colleague Tonya Ulynn Brown, I shall be discussing the use of light, both natural and artificial, in the past. The eighteenth century is my area of expertise, but I do happen to know a few things stretching both before and after the long eighteenth century.

Light is a subject near and dear to my heart, and important to take into consideration when writing fiction set in the past.

The fact is that people in the past simply saw the world differently than we do because of light. Even daylight was different, without all the pollutants in the air, and the night sky shone so brilliantly with stars that we must now go to very remote places on our planet to catch even a glimpse of what the ancients saw. And see things, they did: comets and shooting stars. Medieval writings abound with mentions of the things they saw in the night sky, usually interpreted as portents for evil things to come. Comets carried with them particularly evil omens. Comets foretold the Black Death, as well as just about any major war you can think of. Untimely death of a monarch or heir to an ancient family? Comet. Pestilence? Comet. Famine? Comet. You name it, there was probably a comet spotted in the sky by a diligent monk beforehand.

“Medieval writings abound with mentions of the things they saw in the night sky…”

And nightfall remained more absolute for centuries—even in the upper classes, who could afford artificial light in the form of candles and oil lamps and (Victorians) gas lighting, the quality of the light in no way approached what we enjoy today. And moonlight was more important; when the moon waned, people up to no good such as thieves and smugglers were out and about. Conversely, ladies planned social events on nights when the moon was full. If you have a ball or a soirée in your book, set it on nights when moonlight is strongest. And remember that the roads would have been crowded—during a full moon, people were out and about. And also bear in mind that there was safety in numbers. A footman in every coach would have been armed with a blunderbuss or other firearm, but honestly what made people safe was all the traffic clogging the roads.

 And when the moonlight wasn’t strongest, give your character brave (or crazy) enough to walk the city streets on foot a torch boy (a person—often a child—with a lantern, who hired out their light to those who could afford it) to light the way. However, bear in mind these torch boys often worked in concert with thieves and cutthroats, so there’s that complication to take into consideration.

Needless to say, artificial light was hugely different, but people of the past came up with ways of dealing with it. Candle making was a household operation that goes back into distant time. In the Middle Ages and sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, villagers in the Fall and milder evenings of Winter would gather together around a common, outdoor fire: women would sew, men would gossip, lovers would flirt, and children would play. And in households wealthy enough to burn candles every night, there were a few different types: tallow (made from animal fat, and smelling like animal fat—these were also notoriously smokey) beeswax and spermaceti (often pulled out only for special occasions, even among the aristocracy) and the ubiquitous rush light. Rush lights could be made at home, and they carried with them the added benefit of not being taxed. In grand households, rushlights were the lights to be found in servants’ quarters. They were basically  the dried pith of a rush (the rush center) dipped repeatedly in fat. They were long and skinny, secured in a special stand, and their use spanned centuries. William Cobbett, in his nineteenth-century Cottage Economy, writes:

My grandmother, who lived to be pretty nearly ninety, never, I believe, burnt a candle in her life. I know that I never saw one there, and she, in a great measure, brought me up. . . . The rushes are carried about by hand; but to sit by, to work by or to go to bed by, they are fixed in stands made for that purpose. . . . These have an iron part something like a pair of pliers to hold the rush, which is shifted forward as it burns. These rushes give a better light than a common dip candle and they cost next to nothing. If reading be your taste you may read. . . as well by a rushlight as you can by the light of taxed candles. Qtd. In Artificial Sunshine: A Social History of Domestic Lighting, The National Trust, 39.

18th century rushlights

Brass reflectors and glass magnifiers were often used to enhance these lights. Do you have a character sitting in a darkened study reading documents after nightfall? I do, in my current work in progress. In fact, I have two such characters, sitting in studies on opposite ends of London. And they are both using a glass magnifier to intensify the candle light that they are reading by.

Now, the most common way to light a candle or rush light was to use an existing flame. Yes, there were tinder boxes, but there was a knack to using them successfully that many people simply didn’t have. James Boswell (b. 1740), whose primary fame lies in the fact that he is the prolific biographer of Samuel Johnson (poet, essayist, dramatist, and pioneering lexicographer), details the hassle he went through (and panic) when his light went out while he was in the midst of a creative endeavor.

“About two o’clock in the morning I inadvertently snuffed out my candle, and as my fire was long before black and cold, I was in a great dilemma how to proceed. Downstairs did I softly and silently step into the kitchen. But, alas, there was as little fire there as upon the icy mountains of Greenland. With a tinder box is a light struck every morning to kindle the fire, which is put out at night. But this tinder box I could not see, nor knew where to find. I was now filled with gloomy ideas of the terrors of the night. . . . I went up to my room, sat quietly until I heard the watchman calling ‘past three o’clock’. I then called to him to knock at the door of the house where I lodged. He did so, and I opened to him and got my candle re-lumed without danger.”

Qtd. In Jane Brox, Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light, Boston, Mariner Books, 16.

So, if you’re having your characters use a tinder box, give some thought as to how easily they’d be able first of all to locate the tinder box, and secondly how easily they’d be able to achieve results. Aristocratic ladies, for example, likely would not have the skill set to use one properly. There was such a thing as a pistol tinderbox, also called a tinderbox pistol, which was a sort of mechanized tinder box—I use one in my writing. That’s an option too. In the following excerpt from my novel, The Black Unicorn, I have my main character Elina use one to achieve a light:

But, as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I noticed a clever little pistol tinder box sitting on a table just inside the doorway, with an attached candle-socket and a brass barrel full of matches. Checking the receptacle for tinder, I cocked the pistol, shut down the striker, and pulled the trigger. On my first attempt, I found the telltale little spot of glow in the tinder, and pulled a brimstone match from the barrel to transfer the flame to the candle. Moments later, my candle held high, I stepped over the threshold into the dark, cool hush of a little world kept secret for almost two-hundred years.”

Heather E. F. Carter, The Black Unicorn,  68-69.

And once light was achieved, the quality of indoor lighting was basically poor. Even in aristocratic households, they were sparing of candles since not only were they a finite commodity, they were also taxed. Naturally, there was no Amazon to order more when one ran out. Sure, if you lived in London, you could send a servant down to the wax chandlers to buy more, but they were expensive—and even aristocratic households watched expenditure. However, no expense was spared in conspicuous consumption for the benefit of friends and neighbors. In ballrooms, it would be hot as hell from all those lit beeswax candles. And wax would rain down upon the revelers from the chandeliers, singeing bared shoulders and mucking up fine laced dress coats and piled-up hair pieces and powdered wigs.

Also, bear in mind that once the sun went down, the house was dark—much darker than anything we know. Street light, if your characters lived in urban areas, was often generally just a lantern lit in the doorway of every third to sixth house or so, depending upon the city or town ordinance. Nicer neighborhoods naturally had more light than poorer neighborhoods. So, if your character is going off on their own in search of a water closet or retiring early to their room, they’re going to need a chamber stick to light the way. And also, they are going to have to be damn careful! People died in the dark, taking a misstep here and tumbling down the stairs, or opening the wrong door there and falling into the cellar. Don’t believe me? In June 1776, an “’unfortunate man” staying at a tavern in New Haven “was going to bed without a light. . . [and] opened the cellar door instead of a chamber door, and falling down the cellar steps fractured his Scull, of which he expired the next morning.’” Jane Nylander, qtd in Brox, Brilliant, 17.

This 18th century brass chamberstick might have helped the “unfortuanate man” at the tavern in New Haven from falling to his death.

Finally, have fun with light. Because artificial light was imperfect, it’s a great place to write in some atmosphere—shadows were everywhere, and they moved. Think of how the shadows slide across your characters’ faces, the shape of the shadows on the wall, and how those shadows moved with the flickering and sputtering of the living flame. Also think of the color of the light—it wouldn’t have been white, like the light we enjoy today. Reflected off brass fixtures, gilt mirrors and furniture, and bejeweled buttons on clothing (at least for the aristos) it would have had a burnished, glittering or orange color to it.

The world of light in the past is, quite honestly, an alien country. It is something we simply cannot completely understand. The terrors of the night were real. Darkness was a yawning leviathan. But it was also an unbelievably magical monster, as well as a devilishly sensual one. It heightened senses that do not get much exercise in modern times. Close your eyes, and imagine for yourself this strange world of light and darkness, and have fun with it. It is like a whole another character!

About the author:

Heather E. F. Carter writes historical fiction, historical romance, and erotic short stories. Though a lifetime Southern Californian, the settings of her novels are not foreign to her, having spent time each year in her parents’ hometown in Northern England. An accomplished academic, she combines her areas of expertise with her passion as she weaves historically authentic and timelessly relevant tales of love and intrigue. Having earned a B.A. in European history from UCLA, an M.A. in Medieval Women’s History from CSUF, and an M.A. in Early Modern History from UCLA, she left her studies midway through a doctorate in eighteenth-century English history when she discovered her passion and propensity for writing novels. While on a year’s leave of absence in her sixth year at UCLA, she put her doctoral research to good use writing THE BLACK UNICORN, a historical romance set in eighteenth-century North Yorkshire. Fascinated with Baroness Orczy” Scarlet Pimpernel stories, she was inspired to explore her first love, Sir Percy Blakeney, and wondered what he might have looked like if he were a little less heroic. That idea, combined with her love for vampire stories and the classic Gothic hero, led to the creation of Ashby Harcourt, also known as the highwayman behind the sobriquet The Back Unicorn. Her family’s history on the gothic North Yorkshire Moors, which grew in her annual visits with her beloved grandmother, was a natural choice for the setting. Heather’s passion for the research and writing of THE BLACK UNICORN comes alive on the pages through the vivid scenes and seductive dialogue. As you surely will, she fell in love with her story, so much so that she eventually chose to leave academia to pursue writing fiction full time. When she is not setting the pages on fire with her steamy romance, she is spending time at home in Sand Diego with her musician husband, Terry Carter, their adorable and precocious twins, and pet snake, Zanzibar. Music runs in the family, and Heather also plays the flute and supports her husband’s burgeoning ukulele empire. Currently she is researching Revolutionary Paris for the sequel to THE BLACK UNICORN.

Follow Heather on social media:

Check out Heather’s debut novel, The Black Unicorn.

Photo credits in the order they appear:

1. manuscript comet: http://jessehurlbut.net/wp/mssart/?tag=comet

2. comet: https://publicdomainreview.org/collection/flowers-of-the-sky

3. book photo, The Black Unicorn: Tonya Brown

4. rushlights: http://colonialsense.com/Antiques/Other_Antiques/Early_Lighting/Rushlights.php

5. chamberstick: http://www.chambersticks.com/21/#jp-carousel-3569

6. author photo: Heather E. F. Carter

Posted in Guest Post

Historical Artistry: The Story Behind the Mary, Queen of Scots Paper Doll Coloring Page

​​I have had the pleasure of working with Rebecca on several art commissions. She is amazing! My first experience with her was when I commissioned her to create a coloring page to accompany my first novel, The Queen’s Almoner. This download is a free gift for my newsletter subscribers on my author website. You can download your free copy by signing up at http://www.tonyaubrown.com.

Rebecca is not just another artist (is there even such a thing?!). But she is a lifelong student of historical characters and events, and she puts a lot of research and thought into the art that she creates. Rebecca is currently working with another wonderful artist, Ashley Risk, on a second commission for me that will be used alongside my next historical novel coming out later this summer, The King’s Inquisitor. You can read more about that book here.

​Take a look below as Rebecca explains how she came about the design for the Mary, Queen of Scots coloring page.

Dear Reader,

I thoroughly enjoyed creating this image of Mary, Queen of Scots for the author of The Queen’s Almoner, Tonya Ulynn Brown.  She and I share a passion for two queens who happened to grow up at the glittering French court, only to return to a devastating fate on their native shores of the British Isles.  However, their deaths should not define them. 

What gives women from the past agency is to recognize fully their achievements more so than their treatment at the hands of ruthless individuals. As Dr. Owen Emmerson, Historian and assistant curator at Hever Castle has said, with Anne Boleyn, “We tend to see her backwards” and so create a narrative which predetermines her fate. The same is true of Mary, Queen of Scots. Consequently, it is important to take a holistic view of the lives of both of these women—of all women in history, really—as well as women in our present. 

The irony is not lost on me that Mary, Queen of Scots died at the hands of the daughter of Anne Boleyn. Yet, I feel very strongly (and not to be too reductionist here) that Elizabeth I’s decision was based on fear mongering and Mary’s use by Catholic nobles more so than the feelings these women had for each other. This is evidenced when Mary was first taken captive by her Scottish nobles.  Elizabeth I was horrified at Mary’s treatment as a queen regnant and demanded her release (Porter). 

However, I’m not here to argue over four hundred-some-years of history; but I do wish to show, through my drawing, that Mary, Queen of Scots stands tall in history. As a result, I wanted to incorporate into this image, symbols which show her strength, her character, and her agency. 

Firstly, the shield in the upper left hand corner can be well explained by J. Paul Murdock from his blog “A Royal Heraldry:”

When Francis died at the end of 1560 and Mary became a widow and Dowager Queen of France, her Arms changed slightly, and France became dimidiated and not impaled. France’s half of the Shield showed only half of France’s Coat of Arms. The fashion of either impaling Arms (where the full Arms are used on both sides) and dimidiation (where half the Arms are used and both ‘merge’ into one another) is an often confusing topic in itself.

The representations of Mary’s Arms shown here are taken from Mary’s seals and Scottish coins of the time. No coins were issued in Scotland however, between 1562 and 1565. Thereafter, only the plain Scottish Arms were used again as can be seen in (the drawing). 

The use of unicorns is intriguing and has been explained in the following way:

Unicorns are associated with purity, strength and power…they are also proud and untamable—two words people would use to describe Scots throughout history. Since the 15th century, many monarchs of Scotland have used the unicorn in their coat of arms.  Kings favored the mythical beast because they considered it to be the best representation of power. In fact, unicorns are believed to be so strong that only kings and virgin maidens could keep them captive. (Rabbies)

The unicorn plays an important part in Scotland’s identity.

Photos from various places in Scotland including Edinburgh Castle, Doune Castle, Sterling Castle and others.

Photo credit: Tonya Brown

Incorporated on Mary’s kirtle are symbols from her time as queen consort to Francis II of France from 1559-1560. The dolphin symbolizes her husband, the dauphiné of France.  The word dauphiné does in fact mean “dolphin” in English and refers to the region of France that is now Grenoble. When the Lord owning it died, he gave it to the King of France with the conditions that it would be ruled by the heir to the throne.  Hence, the dolphin used on Mary’s kirtle in this image is taken directly from Francis II’s coat of arms. 

The kirtle also holds Mary’s symbol of Queenship in Scotland: the thistle and crown. Mixed among these symbols on the kirtle are the fleur de lis, which symbolizes the French divine right to rule. 

Mary is drawn in an attifet, her famous heart-shaped hat. The dress was inspired by a portrait at the Blairs Museum in Aberdeen, Scotland by an unknown artist.  According to historian Estelle Paranque, “There’s a striking resemblance between the dress in this portrait, which was painted in the seventeenth century, and the costume worn by the actress who played Mary Stuart in Pierre-Antoine Lebrun’s 1820 tragedy (based on Schiller’s 1800 play). The gold and black dress embodies both Mary’s martyrdom and queenship.”

According to historian Estelle Paranque, “There’s a striking resemblance between the dress in this portrait, which was painted in the seventeenth century, and the costume worn by the actress who played Mary Stuart in Pierre-Antoine Lebrun’s 1820 tragedy.

(Photo credit: Gallica)

The original play Paranque refers to is a verse play by Friedrich Schiller’s and was based on Mary’s last days. It later inspired Donizetti to compose his opera, “Maria Stuarda” in 1835. 

The symbols with the name “Marie Stuart” scribed to the right of Mary’s figure are also taken from the same portrait at the Blairs Museum. 

In Mary’s hands are various items which define her. In her left hand is the rosary which she had at her execution and which was, unfortunately, recently stolen from Arundel castle.  In her right hand are riding gloves which denote her love for equestrian sport.  Also in her right hand is her long chained girdle, indicating she is about to read her small girdle (prayer) book. 

Among other sources, research for girdle books can be viewed at the British Art Studies website. There, the portrait of Lady Philippa Speke (nee Rosewell) displays the unusual pose of grasping at a girdle to read a prayer book.  Additionally, this abstract by William Aslet (link below) offers images of exquisitely decorated girdle books.  The actual girdle chain in the drawing of Mary is taken from the Blairs Museum portrait. 

At the onset of this project, Tonya directed me to a wonderful resource on Mary’s clothing: The Fashion Secrets of Mary, Queen of Scots. The link offers insightful suggestions on fabric types and colours. It is here where I first decided on the Blairs Museum portrait.

These dolls were called pippins and according to The Fashion Secrets of Mary, Queen of Scots, were used to help individuals in 16th & 17th century Europe to keep up to date on the latest fashions. Photo credit: Historic Environment Scotland.

I hope this image showcases the magnificence of Mary, Queen of Scots and I also desire that you have as much pleasure studying its meaning and colouring it in, as I did creating it for you. 

With Warm Wishes, 

Rebecca Monet

About the Artist

Rebecca Money is a writer and illustrator who grew up in the state of Maryland in the U.S.  She received a degree in illustration and for nearly twenty years, created custom murals in private homes in Atlanta, Georgia. She has spent the last fifteen as a mother and writer. Her mural clients would jokingly call her “Rebecca Monet.” It wasn’t until her last year of painting murals that her father discovered, through a genealogy-fascinated cousin, her clients were not off the mark.  She has since adopted “Rebecca Monet” as her pen name.  A perennial student at heart, she loves writing, art, history, flamenco and going really fast on carting tracks.  “I think Anne would have especially loved the latter and I enjoy the thought of seeing her, French hood flying, as she beats everyone else to the finish line” ~ RM

Be sure to check out Rebecca’s Queen Anne Boleyn Paper Doll book at anneboleynpaperdoll.com

References and Further Reading:

Aslet, William.“Article: Negotiating a Courtship between Courts: Hilliard’s Prayer Book Portraits of Queen Elizabeth and the Duc D’anjou, by William Aslet.”

British Art Studies, Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and Yale Center for British Art, 30 Sept. 2020, https://www.britishartstudies.ac.uk/issues/issue-index/issue-17/negotiating-a-courtship-between-courts. 

Ensign, Alison. “The Fleur-De-Lis: Meanings, Uses, and Facts • • Familysearch Blog.” • FamilySearch Blog, 17 Nov. 2021, https://www.familysearch.org/en/blog/fleur-de-lis-symbolism-and-meaning#:~:text=The%20fleur%2Dde%2Dlis%2C%20sometimes%20spelled%20fleur%2Dde,petals%20attached%20at%20the%20base. 

Grueninger, Natalie and Linda Porter. Reassessing Mary, Queen of Scots’ Reputation, Episode 145, Talking Tudors Podcast, 8 February 2022. https://onthetudortrail.com/Blog/2022/02/12/episode-145-reassessing-mary-queen-of-scotss-reputation-with-dr-linda-porter/

Murdock, J. Paul,. “Mary, Queen of Scots.” A ROYAL HERALDRY, https://aroyalheraldry.weebly.com/blog/mary-queen-of-scots. 

“New Research Reveals Fashion Secrets of Mary Queen of Scots.” Historic Environment Scotland, https://www.historicenvironment.scot/about-us/news/new-research-reveals-fashion-secrets-of-mary-queen-of-scots/#:~:text=Known%20as%20’poup%C3%A9e’%20or%20′,’pippins’%20in%20renaissance%20Scotland. 

Paranque, Estelle. “More Stories.” Mary, Queen of Scots in Art and Literature | Art UK, https://artuk.org/discover/stories/mary-queen-of-scots-in-art-and-literature. 

Rabbles Blog, Clare. “The Unicorn: Everything You Need to Know about Scotland’s National Animal: Scotland’s National Animal, National Animal, Creepy Old Photos.” Pinterest, 10 Jan. 2021, https://www.pinterest.com/pin/644014815462580271/.

Posted in Guest Post

Unrivaled Passion for a Renaissance Queen: Reassessing Anne Boleyn

Guest Post by Rebecca Monet, Author of the Queen Anne Boleyn Paper Doll Book: An Illustrated Biography

When the term “Rival Queens” is used, it is assumed to mean Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. That is, if you aren’t Tonya Ulynn Brown and myself—then it jokingly becomes Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, and Mary Queen of Scots. We jest, but while my respected peer’s passion has drawn me to her much-maligned Scottish Queen (one whom I’ve learned was the first queen regnant of the British Isles!)— I, too, hope others will engage with Anne’s story, as Tonya has graciously invited me to answer the question, “What made you interested in Anne Boleyn?”

My fascination with Anne is not only recent, but quite unexpected. Though I have a soft spot for England, with an on-going interest in ancient empires and twenty years of flamenco dance under my belt, my history pursuits have always leaned toward the exotic. Add to this a walloping helping of all things French, and I give ten points to Mary Queen of Scots. But then, Anne would understand the French fascination too—since, like Mary, she spent most of her formative years at the French court as well—but more on that, shortly.

That said, it was all the more surprising that while the world was locked down during March of 2020, I grew obsessed with a British queen.

At the time, I had decided to go 2 for 2: to meet lockdown head on with binge watching paired with exercise. Using my mini trampoline, I bounced my way through “The Crown,” which, despite watching on my parents’ recommendation, led analytics to proffer a wide selection of British History programs. I gave a perfunctory scroll and came across a lovely lady in crushed green velvet with the words “The Last Days of Anne Boleyn” scribed beneath her. I thought, “This should keep my attention for about an hour.” It has been two years and counting.

So gripped was I by her story, that my bouncing slowed to an eventual stand still. I sat on the side of my mini trampoline to watch the rest of the documentary and for over two hours I googled Anne. It was the documentary’s words, “Anne Boleyn…with a single blow of a sword, became the first queen in Britain’s history to be executed.” Henry VIII and his wives are so intwined with the notion of beheading, that I hadn’t considered Anne to be the first. Add to that the narrator’s final introductory words, “So who was the real Anne Boleyn and why was she executed?” And you have, in essence, my marching orders. It became an academic pursuit which fit the vernacular phrase, “Oh no you didn’t.”

Matched to the gross injustice Anne suffered was my fascination that Anne was not the most beautiful woman at court. This fact added mystery to the question, how did Henry become obsessed with her, dedicating seven years of precious Tudor lifespan pursuing her in marriage?

Despite scenes such as those in The Tudors (which I watched only after writing the Queen Anne Boleyn Paper Doll book, and a good thirteen years following the show’s premiere)—it was not love at first sight for Henry and Anne. It was a slow dawning which led to deep obsession; making their seven-year courtship all the more tantalizing— especially since my study of her evidenced the fact that she was not the pursuer (as “Other Boleyn” stories might wish for you to believe).

In fact, to suffer the idea that Anne was a commoner, a daughter following the schemes of her father and a blindly ambitious courtier in pursuit of power, is to align with the obsolete and misogynist views of male Victorian historians (not particularly accurate fellows). In an effort to moralize and elevate Henry— transforming him into a straddled, keen-eyed Santa Clause for their dreamy “Merry Ol’ England”—these historians deliberately dropped the agency of the six women married to Henry VIII in some sort of figurative (and grossly apocryphal) hostage exchange.

Deconstructing centuries old analysis and dramatic tropes, it is best to start with removing Thomas Boleyn from the equation. He did not need his daughters to elevate himself. He was favored by Henry VIII’s father long before Henry VIII himself made Thomas a Knight of the Bath when Anne, by today’s standards, would have been in kindergarten. In short, Thomas did not use Anne to rise in the court of Henry the VIII;

he was already a shining star— having, for one thing, been selected by Henry VIII to retain his interests with the Holy Roman Emperor against France while acting as diplomat to the court of Margaret of Austria in the Lowlands.

It is here that Thomas secured a position for Anne as one of Margaret’s filles d’honneur (or demoiselles d’honneur / maid of honour). Not to be confused with a housekeeper, Anne was in fact tutored in French and educated alongside Margaret’s nephew: the young, future Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. Hense, Margaret of Austria’s given moniker, La tante de l’Europe (The Aunt of Europe). This was a prestigious and highly competitive position for Anne to attain. Margaret’s court was, as historian Gareth Russell has aptly quipped, “Hapsburg Prep.” And while there, Anne most likely rubbed shoulders with many contemporary thinkers and artists of the age, such as Albrecht Dürer and Erasmus.

Thomas Boleyn was a Humanist and Anne’s position at Margaret’s resplendent Renaissance court lived up to his ideals. He enjoyed seeing his daughter educated in a time when few women were. In fact, when Anne entered fully into Henry’s court in 1522, she was unusual in more than one way. Not only could she read and write when most women in Henry’s court could not (or at least they were highly limited in these skills), but she brought with her the proficiency of more than one language and all the talent, intelligence and artistry of the Renaissance; a way of being which was not only de rigueur, but Henry VIII’s greatest passion. Henry longed to be the consummate Renaissance prince and, as Dr. Owen Emmerson of Hever Castle has said, Anne “was the Renaissance” when she came to Henry’s court. She embodied it.

Most likely this is because after a short time at Margaret’s court, Anne was called up to the court of France—bouncing from one of the two most prominent Renaissance courts north the Alps to the other—in order to be a lady-in-waiting to Mary Tudor when Mary went to France to marry the aged Louis XII. The marriage ended with Louis’ death only three short months later. Anne remained, probably due to her French language skills (which she acquired from Margaret of Austria’s court).

Anne served and traveled with the devout and meek Queen Claude— the new queen of France and daughter of Louis XII—debunking yet another misnomer about Anne: specifically, that she learned the “art of love” in France; for, Claude ran a pious court (unlike her husband, King Francis I and his court which
held his “privy band of ladies,” in which Anne did not take part).

Yet, it is likely Anne might have met Leonardo da Vinci while in France, as Francis I brought Da Vinci to his court to paint, create architectural additions and plan court entertainments—going so far as to hang Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in his stool room (bathroom).

With a Renaissance resumé such as this, it is clear to see why Henry VIII was in direct competition with Francis I for the honorary title of “Renaissance Prince;” even having the cheek to pebble the Venetian ambassador with questions such as, “Is (Francis) as tall as I am? Is he stout? What sort of leg has he?” Following up with a jovial but no less rivalrous declaration, “Look here! I also have a good calf to my leg!”

Henry longed to be the

consummate Renaissance prince

and, as Dr. Owen Emmerson of

Hever Castle has said, Anne “was

the Renaissance” when she came to

Henry’s court. She embodied it.

In today’s world, Henry VIII and Francis I would be the perfect frenemies, right down to a fateful wrestling match at The Field of Cloth of Gold where Henry suggested they have a go and where he was roundly— and quite humiliatingly— defeated by Francis.

So, when this witty, intelligent, multi-talented Anne Boleyn left France after nearly a decade of serving a pious queen along with the queen’s formidable mother-in-law (sometimes a queen regent, Louise of Savoy), and bright sparkling sister-in-law— the sister of Francis I and a true Renaissance woman— Marguerite de Navarre (who was dubbed by her 20th century biographer as “The First Modern Woman”), one can see why Henry VIII was enthralled with Anne; for, according to Lancelot de Carles, a French diplomat, she “listened carefully to (these) honourable ladies, setting herself to bend all endeavor to imitate them to perfection.”

Queen Claude
Louise of Savoy
Marguerite de Navarre


This was not because of her father’s plan to hook her up with the King (an idea that most likely frightened Thomas more than inspired him), and it was not because Anne was a commoner grasping for glory (she came from nobility and had royal blood). It was because she breezed in with the freshness and vitality of the Renaissance, and at a time when Henry desperately needed a male heir. It was, in essence, a perfect
storm.

Henry fell madly in love with a woman who was not the golden, pale ideal of feminine Renaissance beauty, but a woman whose mind and inner being held its ideals, a woman whose years on the continent, as Suzannah Lipscomb describes, “transformed her from a teenage girl into an extremely desirable woman. The Anne that emerges back in England is one who has been shaped by many different influences—who is both pious and worldly, who’s both sophisticated and something of an innocent. She’s one who can play musical instruments, who can sing, who can dance, who can speak French, who is sophisticated and witty; who’s been exposed to a world of cosmopolitan glamour. And she’s such an attractive prospect because—precisely because—she is so complex.”

In the end, the very power Anne indirectly gave Henry—the impetus to break from Rome, making his rule indelibly imperial—was the same power that brought her down. The courtly love with which enthralled Henry, also ensnared Anne when she jokingly said to his groom of the stool, Henry Norris, “You look for dead man’s shoes, for if ought came to the king but good, you would look to have me.”

Henry’s need for a male heir and false accusations against Anne were the final implosion to nudge Cromwell into reassembling Anne’s remark as treasonous. In the following days and with a speed heretofore unprecedented, Cromwell orchestrated Anne’s fallacious trial which was loosely constructed on accusations which Professor Eric Ives and others have painstakingly researched and found to be highly inaccurate. Her end was swift and bewildering, even to her dissenters. Though it began with a strong desire for justice, it is Anne’s inner beauty and intelligence which impelled me to stay. When I think of Anne, I think of Shakespeare’s description of Cleopatra, “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety.”

In the end, I doubt time will be able to disengage my love for this true Renaissance woman who became one of England’s most intriguing queens, as well as many other remarkable women of the age; one being Mary Queen of Scots, a queen who also happened to arrive on home shores from France, fresh with hopeful dreams.


Free Download entitled “She Was the Renaissance:” an in-depth dissertation regarding Anne’s time at both Margaret of Austria’s Court and the French Court is available at anneboleynpaperdoll.com

Dr. Owen Emmerson holds the Queen Anne Boleyn Paper Doll book in front of Hever Castle.

About the Author

Rebecca Money is a writer and illustrator who grew up in the state of Maryland in the U.S.  She received a degree in illustration and for nearly twenty years, created custom murals in private homes in Atlanta, Georgia. She has spent the last fifteen as a mother and writer. Her mural clients would jokingly call her “Rebecca Monet.” It wasn’t until her last year of painting murals that her father discovered, through a genealogy-fascinated cousin, her clients were not off the mark.  She has since adopted “Rebecca Monet” as her pen name.  A perennial student at heart, she loves writing, art, history, flamenco and going really fast on carting tracks.  “I think Anne would have especially loved the latter and I enjoy the thought of seeing her, French hood flying, as she beats everyone else to the finish line” ~ RM

Be sure to check out Rebecca’s Queen Anne Boleyn Paper Doll book at anneboleynpaperdoll.com

Photo Credits (in order of appearance)

  1. Hever Rose Portrait of Anne Boleyn: hevercastle.co.uk https://www.hevercastle.co.uk/news/what-was-anne-boleyns-favourite-rose/
  2. The Last Days of Anne Boleyn. Directed by Rob Coldstream, performance by Daniel Flynn & Tara Breathnach. BBC, 2013.
  3. Tomb of Thomas Boleyn. Photo by Ann Longmore-Etheridge. https://www.flickr.com/photos/60861613@N00/8228504848
  4. Anne at Mechelen, coloured “Mechelen” page using a free “fan art” face option: Monet, Rebecca. Queen Anne Boleyn Paper Doll Colouring Book. Rebecca Monet, 2020. Available at anneboleynpaperdoll.com/store
  5. Anne with Leonardo da Vinci, coloured page using “fan art” face option : Monet, Rebecca. Queen Anne Boleyn Paper Doll
    Colouring Book. Rebecca Monet, 2020. Available at anneboleynpaperdoll.com/store Left to Right # 6-8:
  6. Portrait of Queen Claude of France: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.
  7. Portrait of Louise of Savoy: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.
  8. Portrait of Marguerite de Navarre: Attributed to Jean Clouet, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.
  9. Anne Boleyn art by Dmitry Yakhovsky for MadeGlobal Publishing from: Richards, Natalia. The Falcon’s Flight: a Novel of Anne Boleyn. MadeGlobal Publishing, 2020. Available on Amazon in print and for Kindle
  10. Photo of Dr. Owen Emmerson holding up the Queen Anne Boleyn Paper Doll book in front of Hever Castle : Photo taken by Dr. Owen Emmerson, Historian and Assistant Curator at Hever Castle.
  11. Pages from the Queen Anne Boleyn Paper Doll book. anneboleynpaperdoll.com/store

A few key documentaries and podcasts which informed this article and the Queen Anne Boleyn Paper Doll Book:


Henry & Anne: The Lovers Who Changed History. Directed by Chris Mitchell, performance by Professor Suzannah Lipscomb (self), Jack Hawkins & Emma Connell. Lion Television, 2014.

The Last Days of Anne Boleyn. Directed by Rob Coldstream, performance by Daniel Flynn & Tara Breathnach. BBC, 2013.


Grueninger, Natalie and Natalia Richards. All Things Boleyn with Natalia Richards, Episode 72, Talking Tudors podcast, 8 May 2020. http://onthetudortrail.com/Blog/2020/05/08/episode-72-allthings-boleyn-with-natalia-richards/

Amanda Harvey Purse, Tudor historian and author of The Boleyns: From the Tudors to the Windsors, featured on the Anne Boleyn Files:
https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/leonardo-da-vincis-boleyn/

Books which informed this article and the Queen Anne Boleyn Paper Doll Book:


Bardo, Susan. The Creation of Anne Boleyn: In Search of the Tudors’ Most Notorious Queen. Oneworld, 2014.


Dugan, Holly. The Ephemeral History of Perfume: Scent and Sense in Early Modern England. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011.


Emmerson & Ridgway. Hever: A Castle and its People. (date and publisher TBD as of publication)


Ives, Eric. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: The Most Happy. Blackwell, 2009.


Lipscomb, Suzannah. 1536: The Year that Changed Henry VIII. Lion Books, 2012.


Mackay, Lauren. Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the eyes of the Spanish Ambassador. Amberley, 2015.


Morris, Sarah. Le Temps Viendra. Spartan Publishing, 2013.


Morris & Grueninger. In the footsteps of Anne Boleyn. Amberley, 2015.


Richards, Natalia. The Falcon’s Rise: A Novel of Anne Boleyn. MADEGLOBAL Pub., 2019.


Vasoli, Sandra. Struck with the Dart of Love. MADEGLOBAL Pub., 2016.


Vasoli, Sandra. Truth Endures. MADEGLOBAL Pub., 2016.


Vasoli, Sandra. Anne Boleyn’s letter from the Tower: A New Assessment. MADEGLOBAL Pub., 2015.


Weir, Alison. The lady in the tower: the fall of Anne Boleyn. Emblem, 2011

Posted in Guest Post

The Tudors and the Reformation

Guest post by author Samantha Wilcoxson

On 31 October 1517, a monk nailed ‘Disputation on the Power of Indulgences’ to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. He had no way of knowing a notice of discussion regarding Catholic Church practices would cause his name to go down in history.

Some historians question whether Martin Luther really posted his 95 Theses on the eve of All Saint’s Day. However, the changes that resulted from Luther’s actions cannot be denied, even if some myth is blended with history. Thanks to the boldness of one German monk (and the innovation of the printing press), what it meant to be a Christian changed across Europe.

 Martin Luther nails his 95 theses to the doors of Castle Church, Wittenberg, Germany. Painting by Ferdinand Pauwels (1873). Source: WikiCommons

Following these events, Henry probably would have balked at the idea that the reformation would take root in England through his own actions. While Luther was a voice calling for an end of corruption in the Catholic Church, Henry split with Rome for reasons that were more personal but no less far reaching.

Henry’s 1534 Act of Supremacy made the king’s word the highest in the land on matters of religion, making Henry’s Church of England a form of Catholicism with the king’s authority taking the place of the pope.

The ‘little monk,’ as Henry had called Luther in his ‘Defense’ did not hesitate to respond. Luther publicly questioned Henry’s authorship of the treatise and said it should not be taken seriously. In typical Henry VIII style, the king used Luther’s accusation later when he wished to dissolve his marriage with Katherine of Aragon, claiming that it was Cardinal Wolsey who had defended of the sacrament of marriage. Luther gave his support to the devoutly Catholic Katherine and, in his booklet ‘Against Henry, King of the English,’ accused Henry of being ‘a fool,’ ‘effeminately querulous,’ and ‘stupid.’

“Henry…did not hesitate to respond…”

Reginald Pole, Catholic cardinal and cousin King Henry VIII, also chose to write vehemently against him in his book, De Unitate. Pole had not intended it for publication. He expected it to be a personal communication between himself and his cousin. Pole believed the fire and brimstone call to repentance was necessary to get through to the tempestuous king.

Pole understood better than most the passions and beliefs of both Catholics and Protestants and was known to have sympathized with many of the reformers’ arguments, such as the need to abolish corruption among the clergy. For England to break with Rome was a devastating blow to church unity and Pole was devoted to reconciliation. He thought all should, “Believe as firmly as if your salvation depended upon faith alone; act as if good works were all sufficient.”

In De Unitate, Pole chose not to argue for the authority of the pope but appeal to Henry’s responsibility as the spiritual leader of his people. At least one friend warned that the work was too harsh, but Pole retorted that flattery and compromise had brought them to this point. He vehemently refused to support Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn or the legalized murders of Fisher and More.

He also included warnings that Charles V stood ready to rescue the Princess Mary, who would never be excluded from the succession on Pole’s watch. Henry feared union between Reginald and Mary and did not take the warnings well.

Pole was attainted in absentia, charges that were reversed when he returned to England to serve as Mary’s Archbishop of Canterbury. The king also sent assassins after Pole, but their attempts were unsuccessful. Henry demonstrated no willingness to consider any of the guidance provided in De Unitate. Henry was Head of the Church of England, and no one was going to convince him otherwise.

Henry continued to distance himself from the Catholic Church. The Dissolution of the Monasteries caused an immeasurable loss of history and religious life, and acts such as the destruction of Thomas Becket’s tomb horrified Christendom. Before the king’s death in 1547, Pole was convinced he was a predecessor of the Antichrist.

Once Henry’s break with Rome had been made, it was easy for his son, Edward VI, or advisors acting with his authority, to usher in full Protestantism and ban the Catholic mass. A new Book of Common Prayer was written for Church of England worship, priests were allowed to marry, and churches were stripped of their elaborate splendor. Masses for the dead were no longer said, and veneration of saints was discouraged. Some reformers wanted to see full Lutheranism or Calvinism adopted, while others held tight to their ancestral Catholicism. Edward did not live long enough to settle these issues. When he died at age fifteen, his older sister became queen.

Manuscript depicting a Catholic mass. Source unknown.

Mary immediately began returning the country to Catholic worship. Her relatively short reign was spent striving toward a goal that is difficult to comprehend with a modern worldview that firmly separates church and state. Mary felt responsible for her subjects’ salvation and passionately believed she was doing the right thing with her attempt at counter-reformation in England. As Eamon Duffy states in his Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor, “No sixteenth-century European state willingly accepted or could easily imagine the peaceful coexistence of differing religious confessions.” Even Mary’s sister, Elizabeth, who would later claim “no desire to make windows into men’s souls” ruthlessly persecuted Catholics.

During Mary’s first Parliament, the marriage of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon was validated, erasing Mary’s illegitimacy if not the mental scars her father had caused. Edward’s religious reforms were overturned, allowing Mary to reasonably believe the counter-reformation would occur quickly and easily.

Not only did she have vast popular support, but Mary had her cousin, Cardinal Reginald Pole. He had almost been elected to the papacy in 1550, and his support seemed to assure England’s smooth transition to the ‘true faith.’ Pole published sermons for those too young to remember the old faith that they might embrace it. However, reformed teaching occurred at some of the highest levels in the church, and to secure the salvation of her subjects, Mary outlawed Protestant books and teaching. When some reformers resisted, the burnings began.

Mary is chiefly remembered for the 284 people burned for heresy during her reign. Burning heretics was meant to provide a foretaste of hell in the hope that heretics would recant and be saved. Better to suffer a finite time on Earth than an eternity in hell. However, Mary and her counter-reformers were surprised to find that many convicted heretics held firm to their beliefs, becoming witnesses of Protestantism rather than examples of recantation.

Mary and Reginald both died on 17 November 1558, knowing that Elizabeth, Mary’s half-sister and heir, would reverse their efforts. Mary may have failed in restoring England to Rome, but she did leave her sister a kingdom and demonstrated that it could be ruled by a woman.

Elizabeth quickly took charge and ensured that Mary became remembered as ‘Bloody Mary’ for the Protestant burnings. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs included inaccurate versions of events, such as Latimer allegedly saying to Ridley as their fires were lit, ‘Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England as shall never be put out.’

Protestant bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley are burnt at the stake in Oxford, 16 October 1555. Original Publication : Fox’s Book of Martyrs.


Elizabeth proved a better politician than either of her siblings. She returned the country to Protestantism while claiming that she would not make religious decisions for her subjects. Instead of burning for heresy, Catholic priests were hanged, drawn, and quartered for treason. Elizabeth ruled much longer than her siblings but downplayed the focus on religion, and she is better remembered for other events. Although she is less identified by her religious beliefs, it was Queen Elizabeth I who secured England’s place in history as a Protestant country.

Samantha Wilcoxson writes historical fiction and a history blog. Her works include the Plantagenet Embers series and Luminous: The Story of a Radium Girl. Samantha is passionate about history and exploring the personal side of events. In her writing, she urges the reader to truly experience what it might have felt like to live through a moment in history. She is currently working on the publication of her first nonfiction work, Women of the American Revolution, and a novelization of the life of patriot Nathan Hale.

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