Time Period: Early 17th Century-The end of James VI & I reign/Beginning of Charles I reign
Reading historical fiction has many perks. First, it’s the ability to escape to a time when women wore beautiful, fancy dresses and men dressed as impeccably as the women (I can’t resist a man in a lace-ruffled tunic and knee-length damask coat, can you?). I also love the chivalrous knights and damsel in distress stories. But it also opens many doors for learning about people in history that I either know little about or have never heard of before. The Lady of the Tower hit all of these points for me, and in my opinion, that’s what makes this such a great read.
Author Elizabeth St. John does a marvelous job at portraying the intrigue that surrounded the court of King James VI & I as he took the throne of England after Elizabeth I’s death. This first book in the Lydiard Chronicles, follows the life of Lucy St. John as she tries to avoid the politics of court in an effort to live a quiet, unassuming life. Caught up in her family’s desire for riches, prestige, and titles, we watch as Lucy struggles to distance herself from court and make her way in the world without the royal trappings that the rest of her family longs for.
The Lady of the Tower, is rich in historic narrative, immersing the reader into a time of great political transition in England. From the English countryside to the royal palace and the Tower of London, I loved the glimpses into everyday English life, and really felt as if I were a part of the story. I particularly enjoyed reading about Lucy’s time spent as jailor in the Tower of London. For, although many stories have been written about the people who have spent time within these walls, we rarely get a feel for what life might have actually been like for those unfortunate enough to spend any amount of time there.
Tumultuous times lie ahead for the country of England, as the Lydiard Chronicles continue with the next generation of St. Johns in the second book in the series, By Love Divided. I’m confident that readers will not be disappointed.
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
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.
Hi everyone! I just wanted to do a quick post, inspired by Louise’s challenge on Instagram at Ahellaloadofhistory. I’ve been participating in her 30 day history challenge and Day 10 asks for you to share an obscure history fact.
I don’t know how “obscure” this fact is that I wanted to share, but I thought it was kind of neat so, here it is.
For the Love of Dogs
Mary Stuart was taken to France when she was five years old with the intention that she would one day marry the French Dauphin, Francis. It has been said that when she first arrived at the French court, she stuck closely to her maids that had accompanied her, and was content with a group of about 20 dogs that lived at court.
Mary always kept dogs, and it appears that the Maltese was one of her favorite breeds. She also favored terriers, and it was a terrier that made it into the (obscure) history books on the day of her execution.
A Faithful Friend
Mary was taken prisoner in England in 1568, and was held for 19 years. She was allowed to keep dogs throughout her captivity.
One eyewitness account tells of her tiny dog that had hidden within the folds of her skirt on the day of her execution. Of the event, Robert Wingfield wrote:
Then one of the executioners, pulling off part of her dress, espied her little dog, which was under her clothes, which could not be gotten forth but by force, and afterwards would not depart from her dead corpse, but came and laid between her head and shoulders (a thing diligently noted: ) the dog being imbrued with her blood, was carried away and washed, as all things else were that had any blood, except those things that were burned.
Wingfield’s account does not clarify the color or type of dog that wouldn’t leave Mary’s side. And many tales have grown up around this little detail of Mary’s death. Some had said it was a white dog, others say it was black. Some say it was a Skye Terrier. Although some professional dog breeders claim that the Skye Terrier didn’t come into existence until the 19th century, leaving people to believe that perhaps it was a Scottish Terrier that was so devoted to her.
Mary’s Dog in Literature and Pop Culture
I came across a really cute book that I want to get for my 4th grade classroom library. The Dog Who Loved a Queen, by Jackie French tells the story of Folly, Mary’s canine companion that accompanied her to the executioner’s block. This is a fictional book, told from Folly’s point of view. I am always on the lookout for ways to incorporate the time periods that I love to study and read about into my classroom. I enjoy sharing other historical time periods with my students that do not fall within the confines of our standard curriculum.
Click on the book cover if you’d like to check out this book.
You will also find a fuzzy little canine appearance in The Queen’s Almoner. You can read about Tom Tom the pup here.
I am not a big fan of Reign, but I found this lovely picture on Pinterest of Adelaide Cane, dressed as Mary Stuart alongside her deerhound, Stirling.
Until next time, Long May She Ever Live in Our Memories.
*Please note: this post is part of a series. To read the parent post clickhere*
A Rough Start
James V of Scotland was just a toddler when his father, James IV died during the Battle of Flodden Field, making him the next King James of Scotland. He was the fourth child and only surviving legitimate son of James and his wife Margaret Tudor (sister of Henry VIII).
Born in April 1512, he was crowned in September of the following year, becoming the seventh monarch of the Stuart Dynasty. Too young to rule, his mother ruled as regent for a spell. When she married Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus the following year, she unknowingly forfeited her rights to rule as James’ regent. In her place, the king’s uncle, John Stewart, 2nd Duke of Albany became regent.
Albany was pro-French, renewing the Auld Alliance that would promise James a royal French bride. With French sentiments in Scotland strengthened, the king’s mother fled to England and stayed there for some time. When Albany left Scotland on business, Margaret returned to Scotland and worked to eventually declare James free to rule without a regent. This agreement was made with the understanding that James would govern under the supervision of several Scottish lords, each taking a turn in overseeing the king’s power.
When it came time for James’ step-father, the Earl of Angus to take his turn, he took James prisoner and ruled in his place. Several attempts were made to free the young king and he finally escaped to resume his power when he was 15 years old. One of his first acts as king was to exile the Douglas family. He even went so far as killing Angus’ sister, Janet Douglas, Lady Glamis, by burning her at the stake for witchcraft.
Due to the Auld Alliance, James procured the hand of Madeleine of Valois, the daughter of French King Francis I. She was frail and sickly from the time she was a child and her father refused at first to allow James to marry her. Finally convincing Francis to allow the marriage, they married in January 1537. However, Madeleine died of consumption seven months later without giving James an heir.
Less than a year later, James married the 21 year old widow, Mary of Guise.
A Wanted Woman
Mary of Guise was born in Lorraine, France in 1515. She was the eldest of twelve children born to Claude of Lorraine, Duke of Guise and Antoinette of Bourbon. When she was 18, a marriage was arranged for her to Louis II d’Orléans, Duke of Longueville. She bore Louis a son, whom they named François, and was pregnant with their second child when her husband died of what is believed to be smallpox. Her second son was named after his father, but only lived a few months after his birth.
Mary was young, attractive, intelligent, and valuable to the French court. Soon the king of France was looking to put her many assets to good use. It didn’t take long for her to be courted by two kings: James V, the king of Scotland, and Henry VIII, the king of England.
Mary and James had met the previous year when he came to France to meet Madeleine. He thought her attractive and now turned his attentions toward her in an effort to maintain French-Scottish relations. Henry VIII had lost his third wife, Jane Seymour the year before as well. When he got wind of James’ intentions, he too sought to obtain Mary’s hand in marriage to prevent the union. It is said that Mary was concerned for her safety at the hands of the English king, making a comment on her small neck as an excuse not to marry the man, a reference to his beheaded queen, Anne Boleyn.
Eventually, Francis I of France decided that James would be the better match. They were married by proxy in France in May 1538. Due to the death of her first husband, the Duke of Longueville, Mary’s young son would have to be left behind in France as he was now the new Duke of Longueville. She arrived in Scotland a month later and was married to James in St Andrews Cathedral.
The Good Wife
It didn’t take long for Mary to give James a desired heir. Their first son, James, was born in May 1540 and a second, Robert, joined in April 1541. However, both boys died just days after Robert was baptized. Unfortunately, as with any good queen, the show must go on, and less than a year later Mary was pregnant again.
The Beginning of the End
With the death of James’ mother and the bonds of relationship between nephew and uncle being strained over the burgeoning Protestant reformation, James soon found himself at war with his uncle Henry. Having ignored his uncle’s urging to break away from the Catholic church, he added insult to injury when he refused to meet with Henry. The English king, being the tyrant that he was initiated an attack on Scotland.
Scottish forces suffered a great loss at the Battle of Solway Moss. The king, who did not fight in the battle because he was sick with a fever, sunk further into despair. When the news reached the king that his wife had given birth to a daughter on 8 December, and not the desperately hoped for son, the king is believed to have made the prophetic, yet disheartening statement, “It began with a lass and it shall end with a lass”, making a reference to the beginning and ending of the House of Stuart.
James died six days later, with only one legitimate child left alive to take the throne: Mary.
The Show Still Must Go On
After James’ death, Mary of Guise continued to carry the Catholic torch in Scotland. She spent quite a bit of her time battling the Scottish lords for the regency and trying to avoid Henry’s matrimonial advances toward herself and her young daughter. By this time Henry had worked his way through two more wives and was still interested in adding Mary of Guise to that list. If that didn’t work, he wanted the young queen for his heir, Edward. When it became apparent that he would get neither, he initiated a war with Scotland known as the Rough Wooing. Determined to protect her daughter from an English marriage, she snuck the child away to France when Mary was five years old. Arrangements were made for her to be brought up in the courts of the French king, and eventually marry his son, the Dauphin, Francis.
In 1550, Mary of Guise returned to France and reunited with her only daughter whom she hadn’t seen in two years. She travelled extensively throughout France but eventually made her way back to Scotland where she eventually took over regency in 1554. She worked closely with her brothers, the Cardinal of Lorraine and the Duke of Guise and these dealings kept Scotland and France in close diplomatic relationship for as long as she held the regency.
As Protestantism grew in Scotland, Mary’s influence declined. However, she managed to maintain control of the regency until her death due to dropsy in 1560. Her body was eventually snuck to France, and Queen Mary was able to attend her mother’s funeral.
Below are pictures from my time spent at Stirling Castle, one of the principal places of residence for King James V and Mary of Guise. It is located in Stirling, Scotland. These pictures were taken in June 2017.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.”
— Winston Churchill.
I am so glad you’re here. If you found me through Twitter, you probably already know that I am a writer of historical fiction who loves all things British–and in particular, Scottish. If you came here from Facebook, then you probably already know thatI have written a book about Mary, Queen of Scots. And if you know me from Instagram then you know that I like to post pictures of my travels and my kids–the two-legged ones and the four-legged one.
If you know me in person, then you know that I have a huge obsession with 16th century Europe and love to read about the Reformation and what life was like in that time period. I also like to read about the kings and queens of the medieval time period. You are likely to find any number of those topics on this blog.
I hope you love history as much as I do. If you do, then perhaps you’ll hang around and chat a while. Feel free to comment on what you liked, what you didn’t, and what topics you might like for us to discuss further.
Thanks for stopping by!
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