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.

Connect with Samantha at the following sites and check out her books:

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Connect with me on Instagram for a chance to win Samantha Wilcoxson’s book, Queen of Martyrs the story of Mary I!

Posted in Historic Characters

Rival Queens: Mary, Queen of Scots & Queen Elizabeth I

Mary Queen of Scots & Queen Elizabeth I. If only they could have been friends. 

💔

I recently came across some gorgeous photos from Harper’s Bazaar with model’s posing as the rival queen cousins, Mary Stuart and Elizabeth Tudor. This got me thinking about the turbulent relationship between the two women and I thought I’d jot a quick blog about it.

Mary looked up to her dear cousin, Elizabeth, who was nine years older than she. She wrote to her often, entreating her for guidance and trying her hardest to please Elizabeth in her choice for a second husband.

The two queens exchanged gifts with their letters and Mary also attempted to arrange a meeting with Elizabeth but it never worked out.

But as Elizabeth dithered on her choices for Mary and drug her feet after suggesting Mary marry Elizabeth’s favorite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, the Scottish queen decided to take matters into her own hands. Relations quickly deteriorated between the Cousin Queens when Mary exerted her right to choose her own husband. <enter Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley>

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Artist Unknown.
Elizabeth put Dudley forth as a possible suitor because she knew he would be loyal to her and could keep an eye on Mary. When Mary reluctantly agreed to meet him, Elizabeth began having second thoughts.
Mary’s second husband, Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley.
Artist Unknown.
In Mary’s eyes Darnley was the perfect choice, as he also held a legitimate claim to the English throne. This made him a terrible choice in Elizabeth’s eyes.

Mary tried to persuade Elizabeth many times to name her as her heir, especially the older Elizabeth got and it became apparent that she would never marry and birth a child. At one point Elizabeth even admitted that she preferred Mary over another cousin and heir-in-line, the Protestant Lady Katherine Grey. Lady Katherine was the granddaughter of Henry VIII’s youngest sister, Mary.

Lady Katherine Grey. Artist: Michael Stinnett. Although a Protestant, Katherine angered Elizabeth by marrying without her consent, therefore putting her out of favor as a choice for Elizabeth’s heir.

When Mary fled to England to escape the wrath of her Scottish lords, she still held out hope that she would find favor with her cousin. But it was not meant to be.

Elizabeth had Mary arrested and held her under house arrest for the next 19 years before signing Mary’s death warrant. Mary was beheaded with her cousin’s approval, at the age of 44.

Although portrayed together in paintings, movies, and photos, the two queens never met.

Harper’s Bazaar U.S. retrieved from models.com

Photographer: Mark Seliger
Models: Julia Banas as Elizabeth and Lea Julian as Mary

To see the rest of the photos in this beautiful photo shoot, click here.

Posted in Book Review

A Murder by Any Name

Book Title: A Murder by Any Name: An Elizabethan Spy Mystery

Author: Suzanne M. Wolfe

Time Period: Late 16th Century

Setting: London, during the reign of Elizabeth I

My Rating:

I loved everything about this book. Starting with the cover…which I admit is THE thing that caught my attention in the first place, to the colorful 16th century language of not only the court royals but the common folk as well. The main character, Nick Holt, is extremely likable. What makes his likability so unusual is that, although he is of noble blood and is a spy for Queen Elizabeth, he also has a compassionate nature and can make even the lowest servant feel at ease. And although he himself has shady dealings as a tavern owner who frequently visits women of less-than-stellar reputations, he’s not a complete rake.

Of course, I can’t speak of characters without mentioning Nick’s sidekick and true star of the show, Hector, Nick’s Irish Wolfhound. I always love when authors not only include animals in their stories (after all, they are so much a part of our world) but give them real personality and a human connection that pet owners can truly relate to.

The murder of a young noblewoman is at the heart of this story, and I’ll admit I was stumped the whole way through the story, trying to figure out who the culprit was. Ms. Wolfe does an amazing job at weaving an intriguing story that keeps you guessing and mixing it with historical tidbits and facts that don’t feel like a historical information dump.

Well researched and artistically written, A Murder by Any Name is a great start to this Elizabethan Spy Mystery Series. It will be interesting to see where Nick and Hector go from here.

Purchase your copy of A Murder by Any Name: An Elizabethan Spy Mystery by Suzanne M. Wolfe here.

Posted in Book Review

The Bridled Tongue

Book Title: The Bridled Tongue

Author: Catherine Meyrick

Time Period: Late 16th Century

Setting: Elizabethan England

My Rating:

Alyce Bradley is practically past her prime in terms of making a good match. When she is faced with marriage to a man that repulses her, the offer of marriage from another man, though rumored to be a womanizer and a pirate, almost appeals to her.

Alyce makes her choice, and has to live with it. And slowly she is making it work. But when jealousy and bad blood cause Alyce to be accused of damnable deeds, she will face the most difficult trial of her life.

She is not the perfect, beautiful protagonist that you see quite often in fictional stories, which is one thing that makes this story unique. Alyce has a sharp tongue, is quite practical and solemn, and has a hard time showing her affection. But she has likable qualities, and the one I found to be most admirable was her ability to bite her tongue when those around her were being rude to her. I found myself quite often thinking of all the things I would have said in response to the characters that verbally mistreated her, had I been in her shoes! (Yeah, I probably would have been accused of witchcraft for being insolent, incorrigible, or whatever other bad qualities that get attached to women who aren’t demure and meek. LOL)

Meyrick gives you a wonderful insight into the everyday life of a late 16th century English household and the workings of a manor house. Her attention to detail concerning the court systems, jails and commerce of the time period are wonderfully described making you feel as if you are experiencing it for yourself. She demonstrates perfectly how tittle-tattle, jealousy, and revenge played a large part in the witchcraft accusations in the 16th century, and it is easy to see how one might find themselves on the wrong side of the law, just because a neighbor (or worse-a friend or relative) had it out for them.

Alyce had so much stress in her life. From a husband whom she was trying to get to know and understand in the small snatches of time they were allotted together, to a jealous sister, and a delusional former suitor. I fretted throughout the story as to how she was going to get out of her predicament. Meyrick really knows how to build the tension and keep you guessing as to what is going to happen next. I worried myself to find out how all the loose ends were going to come together to resolve the conflict in poor Alyce’s life. I am a sucker for a knight in shining armor and I tend to lean toward the whole rescued damsel in distress trope. Alyce’s husband tries to be that for her but can’t. And I’m ok with that. I was still pleased to see the author give Alyce the happy ending that she deserved!

This was my first exposure to reading books from this author. I do plan on reading more of her wonderfully detailed works.

For more information about author Catherine Meyrick visit her at: https://catherinemeyrick.com/

To purchase The Bridled Tongue visit:

Posted in Events in History

The Arrest of Mary, Queen of Scots

“In my end is my beginning.”

The celebrated poet, T.S. Eliot may have penned these famous words in his poem, “East Coker”, however, he was not the first person to use them.  Mary, Queen of Scots took this phrase as a motto sometime during her long captivity in England. Embroidering the words on her canopy of state, they served as a sort of prophetic epitaph of her life, that ended so tragically at the hands of the Queen of England, Elizabeth I.

Some scholars speculate that she may have been referring to her late grandfather-in-law, Francis I’s symbol of the salamander with these words. In medieval times the salamander had an allegorical element that symbolized a righteous person’s ability to withstand fire, just as the three Hebrew children in the Biblical story, emerged unharmed from the fiery furnace.

Medieval manuscript depicting a salamander enduring the flames.
National Library of France, Department of Manuscripts, French 2286, fol. 10r.

Mary was an unrepentant Catholic. She never swayed from her religious beliefs, even though it caused heartache for her for most of her life. It is no secret that she considered herself a martyr for her Catholic faith (even going so far as to wearing a red petticoat, the martyr’s color, at her execution). She is known to have told her cousin, the Duke of Guise:

“For myself, I am resolute to die for my religion. . . With God’s

help, I shall die in the Catholic faith and to maintain it

constantly. . .without doing dishonor to the race of

 Lorraine, who are accustomed to die the sustenance of the faith.”

In her Essay on Adversity, written in 1580, Mary wrote of the lives of rulers:

“Tribulation has been to them as a furnace to fine gold—a means

of proving their virtue, of opening their so-long blinded eyes, and

of teaching them to know themselves and their own failings.”

Perhaps Mary saw herself emerging victorious on the other side of this mortal life with that everlasting life promised to believers that can only come after death.

Mary’s words can also be a bit predictive. They are a sort of foretelling of the immortal, romanticized life that she has taken on since her death. She is, beyond a doubt, one of the most controversial figures in Scottish history. Whether you believe she was complicit in her second husband’s death, and guilty of plotting a treasonous over-taking of the English throne, one cannot deny that she has had more than her fair share of 15 minutes of fame, and she remains one of those characters in history that we non-participants either love to love, or love to hate.

A little back history

After her disastrous second marriage to Lord Henry Darnley ended in his death by strangulation, Mary was kidnapped, raped and accepted a marriage proposal by another man accused in the death of her husband (we’ll save that story for another day.)  When Mary followed through with the marriage barely two months after Darnley’s death, suspicions were heightened concerning Mary’s involvement with Darnley’s murder.

Panel paintings of Mary, Lord Darnley, and James Bothwell on wall of the Mary Queen of Scots House in Jedburgh, Scotland~photo: Tonya U. Brown~2017

Soon Scottish lords were seeking to implicate Mary in Darnley’s murder as well, and she was forced to abdicate her throne to her one-year old son, James. When attempts to raise an army to take back her throne failed, she ended up imprisoned at Loch Leven Castle where she eventually miscarried Bothwell’s twins. She finally escaped ten months later with the help of one of her sympathizes.  

Surrender of Mary Queen of Scots at Carberry Hill, 1567. Illustration for the Historical Scrap Book (Cassel, c 1880).

Mary attempted a second time to raise an army, trying in vain to defeat her leading opponent, her half-brother James Stewart, Earl of Moray. When she was not successful, she fled to England, hoping to obtain help from her cousin, Queen Elizabeth.

Any indications of sympathy that Mary may have received from Elizabeth were short lived. She was quickly taken into custody and remained so, moving from residence to residence under house arrest for the next 19 years. Although records indicate that she led a somewhat pampered life while in England (after all—she was a queen), the fact remained that Mary was still a captive of Elizabeth’s. With her health declining, she made it no secret that she would use any means necessary to escape her situation. This was not a confession to treason, but merely an admission that she had tried on more than one occasion to escape.

 A victim of one scheming nobleman after another, she continued to be a political pawn, having no control of her own life. When her private letters were produced for Elizabeth to read, the contents were condemning. Through plots originating at the hands of her supporters in an attempt to rescue her, and plots formed at the hands of her enemies in an effort to entrap her, Mary endured some of the most farcical examples of court intrigue that have ever existed and rivals anything even Hollywood could come up with.

The day finally came

On August 11, 1586, Mary was arrested for her part in another murder plot to kill Elizabeth that would eventually come to be called the Babington Plot.  Mary’s long-time English foe, Elizabeth’s Secretary of State, William Cecil, and another of Elizabeth’s secretaries, Sir Francis Walsingham, had finally succeeded in scrounging up something to pin on the Scottish queen.

Forged postscript to a letter by Mary Queen of Scots to Anthony Babington and alongside Babington’s record of the cipher used~The National Archives~United Kingdom

By this time, Mary was suffering from arthritis, making movement in her arms and legs very painful. She could not walk without assistance and was confined to a bed most of the time. She testified in court that due to her illness, she had no desire to take the reins of government again. She also complained that her letters and papers had all been taken from her, and that she had not been given any counsel as to how to proceed in her trial. The most adamant of her complaints, however, was the fact that since  she was not an English subject, they had no right whatsoever, to try her under English law.

Her pleas and complaints went unheard, and after Elizabeth’s attempts to end her Scottish problem with other means had failed, she finally signed the death warrant to execute Mary on February 1 the following year. She was executed seven days later. Mary was 44 years of age when she laid down her life in typical martyr fashion, her red petticoat announcing to the world the glorious death to which she had been called.  

Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots~Robert Herdman~Glasgow Museums
Notice the red petticoat peeping out at the bottom of her gown?

The following pictures were taken at the Mary Queen of Scots House in Jedburgh, Scotland when I was there in 2017. They depict examples of the high demand for relics pertaining to Mary and her fascinating story. There are many more relics at Jedburgh, but here I have posted only the ones that pertain to this post.

One final note of interest…

If you are interested in seeing some of the places that Mary stayed after her initial arrest in Scotland in 1567, or if you want to start at the beginning of her life in 1542, this is an excellent book. The author is Andrew Burnet.

Mary Was Here by Andrew Burnet
Mary Queen of Scots~Unknown Artist~Hermitage Museum~St. Petersburg, Russia