Book Review – The Tudor Brandons by Sarah Beth Watkins

Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk is mentioned in biographies of and connected to, Henry VIII as he was the king’s most loyal servant and best friend.  Of course, we have all seen his portrayal in ‘The Tudors’ by the gorgeous and somewhat younger looking, Henry Cavill but to be honest, I didn’t know that much about his life.

Whenever Charles is mentioned, I automatically have the image of the Man of Steel, Cavill.  A dashing, womanising and beardless knight, shedding his tunic and hose at any given moment and having all the women swooning.  This is of course, not the real Charles Brandon.

Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon
Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon

The Tudor Brandons tells the story of the real Charles and his royal wife, Princess Mary Tudor.  The book is full of interesting facts and Sarah has done her research well.  It goes into detail about Charles ancestors and how he rose to become Duke of Suffolk and best friend of the King of England and how he risked Henry’s wrath when he married his sister, Mary who was the widowed Dowager Queen of France.  Their match was a love story, Mary married the ageing and sickly King Louis XII of France because her brother wished it but before she left England, she made Henry promise that if King Louis died, she would be free to marry whom she chose.

This she did, although it was in secret and with the help of the new French king, Francis I.  If Charles did not love Mary, would he have married her without telling Henry and risk being arrested or even worse, executed?  It is claimed in the book that whilst Brandon was married to Mary he was unfaithful to her but that can be reasoned away because in the sixteenth century among the nobility, it was normal for a man to seek pleasure elsewhere if his wife was pregnant.  It was thought that having sex whilst pregnant would damage the baby and that a man must sow his seeds otherwise it might be dangerous for him!

King Francis I of France
King Francis I of France

Brandon was older than Henry and died two years before his king and friend.  Henry was said to be devastated at his loss.  Charles’ was to be a quiet funeral but Henry wanted to give his friend a lavish send off, so he paid for his funeral and burial in St Georges’ Chapel, Windsor.

The last chapter covers the lives of his surviving children, legitimate and illegitimate.  Tragically, his sons died soon after him which meant that only the female line survived.  The most famous of which were the Grey’s through Brandon and Mary’s daughter, Frances.

My only complaint is that it is too short and a bit rushed, which meant I didn’t really have time to connect or empathise with Charles or Mary as well as I would have done had there been more detail about them. However, I enjoyed reading this biography of the Tudor Brandons and would recommend it to anyone who wanted a history of King Henry VIII’s best friend.

Book Review – The Truth of the Line by Melanie V. Taylor

The Truth of the Line is a novel set in Elizabethan England and follows portrait painter Nicholas Hilliard as he makes his way through the court of Elizabeth I and her famous courtiers and also his private life.

The mysterious portrait with a lot of meaning.
The mysterious portrait with a lot of meaning.

The novel starts in 1603 with Hilliard reminiscing about his eventful past life, then takes us back to 1572 where he is being introduced to Elizabeth herself.  His mentor is the famous miniaturist Levina Teerlinc and the author certainly knows her stuff when it comes to art history.  Melanie Taylor is a respected art historian and it shows.  The detail which she goes into about Teerlinc and Hilliard and their paintings and the symbolism of the portraits of Elizabeth is wonderful and she has done her research very well indeed.

As we follow Nicholas through the years we are as readers, transported back into the Elizabethan period through the sights that Melanie describes of the streets and the minute details of the court, to the smells of the herbs and flowers in the garden.  I could see the kitchen and the sun shining through the windows and taste the honey cakes and buttermilk – superb.

The Phoenix Portrait
The Phoenix Portrait

The novel also describes the paintings that Hilliard painted of the queen, especially the symbolism of the Phoenix and Pelican portraits.  It suggests that he didn’t like them particularly as they didn’t capture the human aspect of the queen, it were more like she was wearing a mask.  But then, it was explained to him that these portraits were to show her as a great stateswoman, a monarch not just a woman.  There was to be no show of weakness and this was how Elizabeth wanted it.  When looking at paintings of Elizabeth or indeed, of the period, I just see what is on the surface.  But after reading this book I will be looking much deeper.  For example, I have a copy of the Phoenix portrait in my living room and until I read this book, I didn’t even notice the queen was wearing a phoenix brooch or spot the vine leaves on her dress.  Everything in the portrait has a meaning, the fan she is holding, the jewellery she is wearing all mean something and have a hidden meaning.

The Phoenix jewel
The Phoenix jewel

The characters in the novel are well written and entirely believable; Dudley, Burghley and Walsingham are just as I imagined them to be and Elizabeth herself stands out.  Again, Melanie has done her research on the characters very well indeed.

Queen Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard
Queen Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard

As well as being a work of fiction, the reader also learns about life at court, sixteenth century art, limning, and the work of a goldsmith as Hilliard was not just a painter.

There is a surprise when the reader gets to 1584 which takes us deeper into court intrigue and secrets but I won’t spoil it here.  You will have to read the book to find out what happens.  It is certainly the subject for a good debate and one that will have differing opinions.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants a good Elizabethan mystery and a walk through the period that is so life like, you can almost touch and smell it.



Nice day for a sallat!

As the sun has finally shown its face, it feels like it’s time for a salad.  I’ve been looking through Gervase Markham’s wonderful bible for the English housewife and found some nice recipes for sallats.

Simple sallats

First then to speak of sallats, there be some simple, and some compounded; some only to furnish out the table, and some both for use and adornation; your simple sallats are chibols (a mild onion, like a spring onion) peeled, washed clean, and half of the green tops cut clean away, so served on a fruit dish; or chives, scallions, radish roots, boiled carrots, skirrets (a close relative of the parsnip, it is a root vegetable and tastes sweet), and turnips, with such like served up simply; also all young lettuce, cabbage lettuce, purslane (a herb that is native to Asia) and divers other herbs which may be served simply without anything but a little vinegar, sallat oil, and sugar; onions boiled, and stripped from their rind and served up with vinegar, oil and pepper is a  good simple sallat; so is samphire, bean cods, asparagus, and cucumbers, served in likewise with oil, vinegar, and pepper, with a world of others, too tedious to nominate.


Of compound sallats

Your compound sallats are first the young buds and knots of all manner of wholesome herbs at their first springing; as red sage, mints, lettuce, violets, marigolds, spinach, and many other mixed together, and then served up to the table with vinegar, sallat oil and sugar.


Another compound sallat

To compound an excellent sallat, and which indeed is usual at great feasts, and upon princes’ tables: take a good quantity of blanched almonds, and with your shredding knife cut them grossly; then take as many raisins of the sun, clean washed and the stones picked out, as many figs shred like the almonds, as many capers, twice so many olives, and as many currants as of all the rest, clean washed, a good handful of the small tender leaves of red sage and spinach; mix all these well together with good store of sugar, and lay them in the bottom of a great dish; then put unto them vinegar and oil, and scrape more sugar over all; then take oranges and lemons, and, paring away the outward peels, cut them into thin slices, then with those slices cover the sallat all over; which done, take the fine thin leaf of the red cauliflower, and with them cover the oranges and lemons all over; then over those red leaves lay another course of old olives, and the slices of well pickled cucumbers, together with the very inward heart of your cabbage lettuce cut into slices; then adorn the sides of the dish, and the top of the sallat with more slices of lemons and oranges, and so serve it up.

Oranges and lemons
Oranges and lemons

If your appetite has been whetted for mayonnaise free sallats then for the next blog post we will cover boiled sallats, pickled sallats, strange sallats and sallats for show only and preserving sallats.

If you want to see how sallats are authentically made and what they look like then there is a wonderful DVD available called ‘Tales from the Green Valley’.  It stars our favourite historian Ruth Goodman and my two favourite archeologists, Peter Ginn and Alex Langlands.  The team are working on a 17th century farm in Wales and turn their hand to baking bread, making puddings, preserving fruit and brewing ale.  My favourite is the making of butter and cheese.  They all rely heavily on Gervase Markham’s books for guidance.

Book review – Fortune’s Bastard by Richard Rex

This little gem of a book is, at only 192 pages (on Kindle) a short introduction to the life of Queen Elizabeth I.  It is ideal for those who have just become interested in her and who wish to gain a bit of knowledge before moving on to the more heftier tomes.  It is also a good refresher for those who have lost touch with Elizabeth Tudor over the years and wish for a quick catch-up.

This book isn’t as detailed as other biographies that have been written about her but it does cover all the important aspects of her childhood and early life, through to her relationship with her half-sister Mary; her accession to the throne; the marriage question and how she felt about matrimony.  With only her mother’s disastrous marriage and her father’s numerous equally disastrous marriages to go by, it is no wonder Elizabeth stayed well clear – as Rex eloquently points out.

The title of some chapters are misleading, for example, Chapter Seven is entitled ‘Mary, Queen of Scots and the Catholic Problems’, so immediately one thinks that this is going to be a lengthy, detailed chapter all about Mary and her turbulent reign and the catholic plots.  Unfortunately, the chapter skirts over most of the important details like the Ridolfi Plot and the involvement of the Duke of Norfolk.  After only a very brief mention of the duke and his plans to marry the Queen of Scots and the failed rebellion that followed in 1569, he is whisked off to the Tower in 1572 and executed.

This happens again in Chapter Nine, ‘The Earl of Essex: 1589-1601’.  This is an important and significant period in Elizabeth’s reign, politically and personally for her yet their complex and tempestuous relationship is hardly even mentioned.  The tragic history of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, is rushed and is only given a few pages.  After he loses his head on the block the chapter swiftly moves on to the economic crisis of the 1590’s; Elizabeth’s popularity and appeal to her subjects and her public image.  With such a meaningful title, Chapter Nine should have delved deeper into the life and ultimate death, of the earl.

I suppose I shouldn’t complain at least Devereux had a chapter named after him and was mentioned in a few pages, poor Robert Dudley didn’t even have that.  The love of the Virgin Queen’s life was hardly mentioned at all, he was just an ‘extra’ in a blockbuster movie.

The last chapter bears the title of just ‘Death: 1603’.  Well, that’s all it is really.  Elizabeth died in the early hours of 24 March 1603 and with just a page or two she’s gone.  At the end of the chapter though there are some very nice pictures with detailed paragraphs explaining them.

Perhaps I am being a little hard with some of my comments above because as I mentioned at the beginning, the biography of Elizabeth may only be a short book but it is without a doubt full of accurate and well researched historical facts.  I enjoyed reading this book and it will surely whet your appetite for a more detailed and lengthier biography of Elizabeth the Great.



The Birth of Sir Walter Ralegh – explorer, poet, soldier and royal favourite

Sir Walter Ralegh was born in either 1552 or 1554, possibly 22 January at Hayes, near East Budleigh, Devon, the second son and third surviving child of Walter Ralegh, a landowner of East Budleigh, and his third wife, Katherine, daughter of Sir Philip Champernowne of Modbury, Devon.  Ralegh was a poet, courtier, soldier and historian and did more than any other Elizabethan to promote English exploration and colonization of North America.

Little is known about Ralegh’s early career; he was educated  at Oxford, although the date of his matriculation at Oriel College remains uncertain, historians think he probably went up to university in 1572 .

Sir Walter Ralegh
Sir Walter Ralegh

He was the youngest of four surviving sons – there were two half-brothers from his father’s first marriage, John and George, as well as an elder brother from his father’s third marriage, Carew. Ralegh left Oxford without a degree, and was admitted to the Middle Temple on 27 February 1575, although the legal profession obviously did not suit him as in the late 1570s, he helped is half-brother Sir Humphrey Gilbert fight rebels in Ireland and outfit privateering expeditions against Spanish shipping.  After 1581 he was mostly at court, where he was much favoured by the queen who knighted him in 1584 and appointed him captain of her guards in 1587.

His introduction at court may have been helped by Kat Ashley, a close relative of his mother.  Kat was governess to Princess Elizabeth and then chief gentlewoman of the bedchamber.  It has also been suggested that his introduction could have come through Humphrey Gilbert who introduced him to leading courtiers such as Sir Francis Walsingham and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.  Whichever way he secured his place at court, he certainly had high connections.

The potato which Ralegh has been credited with introducing into England.
The potato which Ralegh has been credited with introducing into England.

Ralegh has been credited with introducing both potatoes and tobacco into England. The potato originated in Peru and arrived in Seville by at least 1570, where it then spread into other parts of Europe.  Ralegh’s name is not linked, in print, with the potato until 1699, when it was claimed in a weekly bulletin that he first brought it to Ireland, whence it spread to Lancashire and then to the rest of England.  Unfortunately, there is not enough evidence to support claims that he brought the beloved potato to England.

Was he then, responsible for introducing tobacco into the country?  Smoking was a new and exotic habit and was first introduced into Europe by André Thevet in the mid-sixteenth century and was being smoked in England by 1573.  Ralegh did not introduce it into the country but he might have helped to make it fashionable at court and among the gentry.

The life of Sir Walter Raleigh was certainly interesting and exciting to say the least and sometimes dangerous, his spells in the Tower of London will attest to that.

I shall be delving greater into his fascinating life in future blogs, including his feud with the Earl of Essex; his secret marriage to Elizabeth Throckmorton and the subsequent wrath of the queen; his imprisonment and beheading under James I to name but a very few.

I shall close the blog with one of his poems, ‘Farewell false love’, which was widely read by courtiers in the early 1580s and is powerful poetry.

Farewell, false love, the oracle of lies,
A mortal foe and enemy to rest,
An envious boy, from whom all cares arise,
A bastard vile, a beast with rage possessed,
A way of error, a temple full of treason,
In all effects contrary unto reason.

A poisoned serpent covered all with flowers,
Mother of sighs, and murderer of repose,
A sea of sorrows whence are drawn such showers
As moisture lend to every grief that grows;
A school of guile, a net of deep deceit,
A gilded hook that holds a poisoned bait.

A fortress foiled, which reason did defend,
A siren song, a fever of the mind,
A maze wherein affection finds no end,
A raging cloud that runs before the wind,
A substance like the shadow of the sun,
A goal of grief for which the wisest run.

A quenchless fire, a nurse of trembling fear,
A path that leads to peril and mishap,
A true retreat of sorrow and despair,
An idle boy that sleeps in pleasure’s lap,
A deep mistrust of that which certain seems,
A hope of that which reason doubtful deems.

Sith then thy trains my younger years betrayed,
And for my faith ingratitude I find;
And sith repentance hath my wrongs bewrayed,
Whose course was ever contrary to kind:
False love, desire, and beauty frail, adieu!
Dead is the root whence all these fancies grew.


Outdoor Sports enjoyed by the Elizabethans

In 1542, Henry VIII passed the Archery Act which meant that every man over the age of seventeen and under the age of sixty who were not lame, maimed, a nobleman, a clergyman or a judge, must keep a bow and four arrows in his house at all times or pay a fine of 6s 8d.  It was thought that men of all classes should be trained and ready for war.  Archery was the national sport of England as well as a means of waging war.


As the Elizabethan era progressed, archery became less popular.  Countrymen preferred to use the crossbow for shooting game birds and coneys as it was easier and quicker to use than the longbow, but not as accurate.  Guns were also being used more frequently especially with mustering for the militia, and were also becoming cheap.

Queen Elizabeth re-issued the Archery Act in 1566 and 1571 but the days of the longbow were coming to an end.  As her reign drew to a close, fewer people followed the legislation.

The preferred sport of royalty and the gentry was hunting, mainly for deer, hares and game birds. Spaniels were used to rouse the game from their hiding place and the hounds then continued the chase.  The meat of a slaughtered deer made fine gifts for friends and relatives, or could be made into venison pasties which was the mark of high status.


Hunting was also enjoyed by women, the queen being a keen huntress and a very skilled horsewoman would tire out her male companions and her horses which had to be changed for fresh ones at various stages of the hunt.

Hawking was also a sport which could be practiced by both sexes; a falcon and hawk were used to catch rabbits or other birds.  So too was fishing.  Women made good anglers just as well as their male counterparts.  Fishing was enjoyed for the catching of the fish as well as eating it.  Permission from the landowner had to be obtained first of course, otherwise the angler would find themselves indicted at the quarter sessions for poaching.  Experienced anglers used a rod, a selection of flies and a net.  There were numerous books on fishing and other sporting pastimes, The Art of Angling (1577) and Hawking, Hunting, Fouling and Fishing by William Gryndall (1596) are but two.

Other male sports of the Elizabethan era were swimming, wrestling, athletics, horse riding and fencing.

Football was a popular sport during Elizabeth’s reign but a very dangerous one.  It had more in common with rugby than the football we know today.  There were no rules against picking up the ball and running with it or tripping up your opponent.  There were also no limitations on the number of players or the size of the pitch.  The ball which was used was inflated leather.

As I have mentioned, Elizabethan football was a dangerous game and was described at the time as ‘a friendly kind of fight than a play or recreation.’  It was also called ‘a bloody murdering practice than a fellowly sport or pastime.’

Necks, backs, legs and arms were broken; noses and ears were made bloody and deaths were not unheard of.  Players often collided with each other violently and sometimes, fatally; goalkeepers were killed defending goal.  Football deaths were treated as felonies and if a player was killed all the players were reported to the coroner.  Why on earth would anyone want to play such a game?  It sounds more like something you’d see on the TV programme Game of Thrones than a football game.  It is not surprising to learn that gentlemen did not play football, only the working men.

There were a number of sports that used animals fighting against one another for entertainment, for example, bear baiting which was extremely popular; cock fighting and various other ‘games’ in which animals suffered horrifically in the name of ‘sport’.  As an animal lover I will not be going into any detail on these particular ‘games’ on this blog.  As a researcher of Elizabethan history and everyday life, I cannot deny its existence, however much I loathe it.  The Tudor and Elizabethan eras are not for the faint hearted and certainly should not be viewed through rose tinted spectacles either, but I suppose that’s half the attraction.


Games and pastimes in Elizabeth’s England

When we think of games today, we imagine board games like Scrabble, Monopoly and Cluedo or games played on an Xbox or Playstation.  Games today can be played by anyone of any age and social background.  However, in the Elizabethan period, games that were popular at the time such as bowls, quoits and card games, were agasint the law for almost everyone.  In 1542, Henry VIII reissued legislation outlawing all artificers, husbandmen, labourers, mariners, fishermen, watermen, servants and apprentices from playing ‘tables’ (backgammon), cards, dice, football, bowls, tennis, quoits and ninepins.

The reason for this was that in the Middle Ages, kings forbade people from playing idle,unlawful games in order to force them to practice archery.  The only people allowed to play these games were members of the gentry with an annual income of more than £100.  The rest of the population could only play them at Christmas, and in their own home.  The penalty if caught playing games at any other time was a heavy fine of £1.

It is interesting to note that had Sir Francis Drake been playing bowls on Plymouth Hoe at the time of the invasion of the Spanish Armada and had his crew been involved in the game, then he would have gone into battle without them because technically, they would all have been taken before the magistrate for playing an illegal game of bowls.

The game of bowls was very popular with the masses as records show that hundreds of people were arrested for playing it.  Tennis however, was a game for the aristocrats who had their own tennis courts built and played in private; they were not subject to the restrictions and fines.

Card games were played everywhere from alehouses to palaces.  The most popular were Gleek, Primero, Prima-Vista, Maw, Cent (which is like modern Picquet), One and Thirty, New Cut and Trumps (which is like modern Whist).  Queen Elizabeth was extremely fond of cards and was very good at it.

Board games were common pastimes in the sixteenth century.  Not all of them had to be palyed on a board, the necessary markings could also be scratched on the ground or on any convenient surface.  Some of the board games played in the Tudor era would be recognisable today.  Chess and draughts were both common.  Fox and Geese is another game that is still played today, although it was known under a variety of names.

If you Google the game Fox and Geese this is how you play it:

The Rules of Fox & Geese


The game of Fox & Geese is played upon a cross shaped board consisting of a 3×3 point square in the middle with four 2 x 3 point areas adjacent to each face of the central square. This makes a total of 33 points. Pieces are allowed to move from one point to another only along lines which join points. Accompanying the board, there should be a single playing piece representing the fox in black or red and 15 white playing pieces representing the geese.

Preparation and Objective

Fox & Geese is a game of inequality. The geese cannot capture the fox but aim, through the benefit of numbers, to hem the fox in so that he cannot move. The objective of the fox, on the other hand, is to capture geese until it becomes impossible for them to trap him. The geese start by occupying all 6 squares of one arm of the cross plus the whole first adjacent row and the two end points of the central row. The fox starts in the middle of the board.

Basic Play

Player’s toss a coin to decide who will play the fox – the geese move first. Players take turns to move a goose or the fox to an adjacent point along a line. However, the geese are restricted to being able to move directly forwards, diagonally forwards or sideways only.

Upon the fox’s turn, if a goose is adjacent to the fox with an empty point directly behind, the fox may capture that goose by hopping over it into the empty square and removing the smitten goose from the board.

Captured pieces are never replayed onto the board and remain captured for the remainder of the game.  The game is finished when a player loses either by being reduced to two pieces or by being unable to move.

Like all unequal games, it makes sense to play an even number of games, each player alternating between playing the fox and playing the geese. The player who wins the most games wins the match.


The fox can start anywhere on the board not occupied by a goose at the option of the player controlling him.

Variations with 13, 17 and 22 pieces can be tried.

Some variations prevent the fox from moving but not capturing diagonally. The limitations on the movement of the geese can also be varied. For instance, diagonal movement can be disallowed.

A huffing rule has been played in the past. If the fox can take a goose but does not do so, a new goose is added anywhere on the board by the player playing the geese.

If anyone has played this game, please let me know how you got on and what it is like to play.

Another form of indoor entertainment was ‘clash’ or ‘pins’.  This was a type of bowling in which skittles are knocked down with a ball, like modern ten pin bowling.  This game was thought to be far too low class for anyone of social standing, although it isn’t explained why this is.

Games have been popular through the ages and continue to rise in popularity thanks to the Xbox and Playstation.  These games would be completely unrecognisable to the Elizabethans and games like Halo and Grand Theft Auto would scare them to death.  Other games like the fantasy games based on Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings would probably have been more like the lives of some of the people who lived in the Tudor era (minus the dragons of course).  Archery, jousting and life on the Tudor streets in London could be a battle everyday where the loser lost his life.