Elizabeth I: A tale of betrayal and deception

Continuing the Treason theme pursued by the archives for the past year, Tracy Borman tonight gave a presentation about how the life of Good Queen Bess was shaped by the ever-present threat of insurrection against the crown.

The Tudors are among England’s (and perhaps the world’s) most celebrated dynasties, often associated with ideas of absolutism and supreme power, but in reality they were always fundamentally insecure on the throne. Henry VII’s descent from John of Gaunt and his mistress made a weak claim to the throne, and anyone outright seizing it by force would forever suffer the taint of usurpation. Henry played on the idea of treason right from the start – legally backdating his reign to the day before Bosworth so that Richard III’s supporters would be the traitors.

Henry VIII would take the concept further, regularly hurling treason charges at his ministers, blood relatives and even wives once they had fallen out of his favour. An example highlighted was the treatment of Anne Boleyn and Henry Norris – accusing them of adultery was not enough, it was also alleged based on an offhand joke that he was plotting to assassinate the king. The real motivation, of course, was that Anne had failed to birth a living son and thus Henry needed rid of her. That she would be beheaded was a foregone conclusion before the start of the trial. This is posited as one reason her daughter Elizabeth avoided conjugal attachments.

Another came after Henry’s death when her stepmother Katharine Parr swiftly remarried to Thomas, Lord Seymour of Sudeley. He is rumoured to have behaved inappropriately toward Elizabeth, even plotting to marry her (without Edward VI’s permission) after Katharine’s death. He too was executed as a traitor following an incident where he shot one of the king’s dogs and broke into the royal bedchamber.

During the unpopular reign of Mary I & Philip of Spain, Elizabeth was used involuntarily as the figure head for Sir Thomas Wyatt’s rebel movement. Mary imprisoned her sister for a time and only narrowly avoided killing her. Lady Jane Grey was not so lucky.

Once Elizabeth had actually ascended the throne, another Queen Mary proved similarly dangerous. Deposed in Scotland, Mary Stuart still possessed the strongest claim to the English throne. She sought Elizabeth’s mercy but instead became her prisoner. Her very presence made her a focal point for revolutionary intentions by English Catholics, made worse when Pious V actually issued a Papal Bull encouraging them to rise up. This led to the Treason Act 1571, which expanded the offence to include intent of harm against the monarch. Elizabeth ultimately executed Mary, but had to put on a show of reluctance about it, scapegoating her ministers to distance herself from regicide.

In the question period that followed, Borman rejected the theory that Henry VIII had been nice until his 1536 jousting accident. She said that he had always been paranoid and vicious. She also said that Cromwell and Wolsey were the only deaths for which Henry demonstrated any remorse.

Asked about Elizabeth, she said there were hints by a midwife about a lovechild with Seymour, but no evidence of substance. The Queen had to be subtle in her attempts to rehabilitate her mother’s legacy, for Anne was still hated by most of the English populace. Borman cited Miranda Richardson in Blackadder II as her favourite onscreen portrayal.

Public Domain Day 2023

Compared to previous years, the delivery of books and other media into the public domain this year – from authors who died in 1952 – is a little disappointing.

The last of the Sherlock Holmes canon entered the public domain in the United States, having already long lost its copyright in Britain, but the infamous test case Steamboat Willie is still one more year off.

The one book that stuck out to me was The Daughter of Time (1951) by Josephine Tey. It is a murder mystery novel, but instead of contemporary crimes her policeman investigates the murder of the Princes in the Tower in 1483 and comes to the conclusion that Richard III was innocent. Although a work of fiction and not a textbook, Fey’s valediction provides an insightful analysis of the interaction between fact, legend and propaganda, as well as a satire on many other types of historical literature.

All that is from the Wikipedia page, for I have not yet read the book itself. That said, I have read Philippa Langley’s The King’s Grave and attended many virtual lectures by the Richard III Society. Although the society and the wider Ricardian movement predate Fey’s book, they were of negligible size or influence by the time of its publication and many in the movement today are quite explicit about the role it played to revive academic research into the maligned monarch as well as shift public opinion.

Now that copyright has expired, I hope that LibriVox and similar organisations will not tarry in bringing out an audiobook, failing which I will search for a physical copy in my local libraries.

An Evening with Philippa Gregory

I have virtually visited the National Archives many times to hear talks from authors of historical fact. This time I got to see an author of historical fiction.

Shikha Sharma, the Events Manager, introduced the talk as part of the “What’s Online?” series. The interview was primarily centred on Dawnlands, part of the Fairmile series taking place in England in the seventeenth century, but there were questions and observations about Gregory’s other works as well.

Gregory said that a lot of people think they don’t know the Stuarts very well, and that it is much easier to convince publishers to print books about the Tudors. It was the notion of a family story developing into global affairs that got them interested.

Sharma reminded us that the talk was part of the Treason exhibition. The accusation of treason was the state’s supreme weapon to suppress rebellion and scrub out subversive ideas. She asked about the character of Ned Ferryman, who sticks to his personal ideals throughout but is considered a traitor by the law. Gregory said Ned was an old Cromwellian soldier who thought he was fighting for a new world of liberty. None of them could have predicted the restoration of the king so soon. Most of Cromwell’s soldiers were pardoned by Charles II, but those who had been directly involved in his father’s execution were pursued across the world. Ned is contrasted with Lyvia, who joins a long line of ambitious, manipulative women (nearly always Catholic and Italian), ingratiating herself at court, with occasional warm feelings never prioritised. Gregory said it was always helpful to have someone who can observe important historical events.

Sharma asked why it was important to tell these stories, and how the research is done. Gregory said that the life stories of lower-class women were not often recorded except as character assassinations when they stepped out of line, official records often differing sharply from personal accounts. Around 1660-80 there was a prominent increase in the number of women writing and publishing. The range of subjects on which books can be written was widened by the English Marxist historians of the 1950s. Each character presents a different research problem – she could find only two biographies about Mary of Modena, both very old and out of print. The working-class characters are usually composites from historical records rather than directly based on specific individuals. Her favourite character is always the one she’s just finished working on. Gregory covers her study with maps and drawings relevant to the book she’s writing, meaning she redecorates for each new book. She doesn’t want to delay the creative process for research – typically each new book takes 18-24 months in all, though by now she has a large stockpile of research from all the books she’s done before. We are separated from the Stuarts by generations of Whig historians, but you can often find hidden treasures in local museums.

Sharma noted that the books were prone to “painterly” descriptions, and asked if that was deliberate. Gregory said that if you pick up any historical fiction you know the author’s narrative voice. One’s idea of historical Venice is heavily mediated by Canaletto, as is London by Gustave Doré.

On the topic of historical accuracy and the grand sweep of her plots, she said that she doesn’t plan much for the series – it’s dictated by the real history but she has to decide as she goes along how her characters fit into it. Most family lineages start as peasants in the mud, much as they’d like to be aristocrats. If somebody points out an error in a book she corrects it in the next edition. She claims this has only happened 3-4 times in over thirty publications.

Sharma often asked questions from the audience but she did not name the members and often merged several similar questions together. I asked how close to the present day Gregory would consider setting her books. She said she had originally considered taking the Fairmile series as late as 1920, where British society was plagued by a fear of moral decay after the First World War and a sense that the prosperity of empire had reached its limits. Her plan had been to write two books per century, but she now finds herself writing four or five which may require the breadth of her series to be reduced.

The obvious question to ask of these kinds of authors is when they would go if they could travel through time. Gregory said she was less interested in specific eras than in solving historical mysteries, such as the Princes in the Tower or Amy Robsart.

Sharma asked specifically about the baby in the warming pan. Gregory said we know what happened in the birthing chamber because James VII was forced to hold a public inquiry. Princesses Mary and Anne both claimed to believe the story in order to justify the later coup, but the books written now cannot present it as fact.

 

A New Regency Bill

Ever since the state opening earlier this year, the topic of counsellors of state has been prominent in my mind, and in the minds of many others. Just as Elizabeth II’s health was failing and the necessity of this constitutional device was more pressing, so the actual availability of counsellors was at its lowest since the device was invented. Many in academic and political circles were discussing possible updates to the legislation. I even had a go at drafting a new bill myself. As the original 1937 Act had already been amended twice, and as I wanted to avoid a confusing change of pronouns mid-paragraph, I did consider neatening things up by repealing it wholesale and typing out most of its provisions again, but that version turned out to be too long-winded for the amount of actual change I needed to effect. By early September it was nearly in a presentable state, but then Her Majesty’s death seemed to render the matter moot for a while.

Today the Lord Chamberlain of the Household announced that King Charles wished his siblings Anne and Edward to be re-appointed as counsellors. This will require new legislation, which we can expect to be brought forward swiftly. I hope it’s not too late to send in my own.

A

BILL

TO

Amend the provisions for a regency in the event of the incapacity of the sovereignty due to illness or minority, and for the performance of certain of the royal functions in the name and on behalf of the Sovereign in certain other events.

BE IT ENACTED by the King’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:—

1. The Regency Act 1937 is amended: –

  1. In subsection (1) of section two, replace “Lord Chancellor” with “Prime Minister” and “Chief Justice of England, and the Master of the Rolls” with “Speaker, and the President of the Supreme Court”.
  2. In subsection (2) of section two, replace “His Majesty’s Dominions and to the Government of India” with “His Majesty’s Realms and to the Commonwealth Secretariat”.
  3. In subsection (1) of section five, replace “mother, if she is living” with “living parent”.
  4. In subsection (1) of section six, replace “by telegraph” with “electronically”.
  5. For all of subsection (2) of section six, substitute “The counsellors of state shall be any five persons of His Majesty’s choosing, appointed by Statutory Instrument under this Act and subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.”.

2. The Regency Acts of 1943 and 1953 are repealed.

3. This Act may be cited as the Regency Act 2022, or it and the Regency Act 1937 may be cited as one.

4. This Act takes effect upon the approval by both Houses of Parliament of the first statutory instrument passed under section one.

EXPLANATORY NOTES

This bill updates the Regency Act 1937, as well as repealing the 1943 and 1953 Acts which had amended it already.

Section 1 (1) changes the list of persons empowered to determine the monarch’s absence or incapacity. It adds offices whose jurisdiction encompasses the whole United Kingdom (Prime Minister, Lord Speaker, President of the Supreme Court) and removes those whose roles are only applicable to parts of it (Lord Chancellor, Lord Chief Justice, Master of the Rolls).

Section 1 (2) removes reference to defunct bodies and adds reference to current ones.

Section 1 (3) updates the list of potential counsellors of state. The original text specified the consort and the first four adults in line to the throne. In early 2017 this would have meant Princes Philip, Charles, William, Harry and Andrew. By 2022 the former had died and the latter two had withdrawn from royal duties, leaving only two counsellors still active: the minimum for this provision to be used. The accession of King Charles III dulls the urgency of the situation by adding Queen Camilla and Princess Beatrice to the list (as consort and fourth adult in line respectively) but the current arrangements are still less than ideal. The new text allows for counsellors to be added or removed as necessary without the burden of new primary legislation each time.

Section 2 repeals intermediate legislation whose provisions are now redundant. The 1943 Act lowered the age of eligibility for the heir-apparent to be a counsellor, but that is negated by this Bill. The clause regarding counsellors’ absence is also covered by the revised wording. The 1953 Act anticipated minority reigns by persons who have since reached the age of majority and gave powers to persons who are now deceased. The sole active provision of the latter Act is to reduce the age at which the heir-apparent could be regent from twenty-one to eighteen years, but as the present heir-apparent is over the higher age that point is likewise moot.

Section 4 delays implementation of the legislation until His Majesty’s appointments have been approved, to avoid an interim situation in which there would be no counsellors of state at all.

The Books of Quinn and Kay

Since getting my library card, the first two books I have consumed are Life on the Old Railways by Tom Quinn and This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay, the former as a hardback and the latter as an online audiobook.

It may seem odd to review both of these together, but there is some similarity – both consist of recollections of employment in a British state institution established in 1948.

I was interested in the descriptions of the institutional rank structure: On the old railways it went from Cleaner to Passed Cleaner to Fireman to Passed Fireman to Driver. The “passed” indicated that you had already completed a set amount of time in that role and were training for the next one. One diarist remarked that despite the intensely hierarchical nature of the system, movement from one rank to another was oddly informal and that the job titles were more reflective of the job you’d already done than the one you were currently doing. Pay rises, whatever your rank, did not take effect until your birthday. Kay explained the ranks of the NHS as Pre-registration house officer, senior house officer, specialist registrar and consultant. That structure had already been abolished and replaced by the time his diaries began, but the old terminology lingered for years afterwards in staff usage. He noted that the “senior” house officer was in reality still a very junior role and that promotion was purely a function of time rather than performance. This, he reckoned, was to convince the lower employees that their next upgrade was always just around the corner and so prevent them bailing out.

Another theme of both books was the sheer amount of time dedicated to the profession – railwaymen would be up before dawn to get their engines ready whereas junior doctors would would stay long into the night to keep patients alive. Neither managed to get many weekends or holidays to themselves.

Record-keeping was also important – the railwaymen recalled how every ticket, time and tonnage had to be scrupulously written up by hand (under torch or even candlelight) in enormous ledgers many of which were later sadly thrown away, whereas Kay spoke of the hospital’s attempts to digitise, with computer systems that refused to communicate with each other, blocked employees’ emails, erased recordings and ran so slowly that the patient would be dead by the time you’d selected the right medicine from the drop-down menu.

Despite the arduity, it was noted that the workers at both organisations were passionate about their jobs and generally held in high esteem – train driving was what every child had always wanted to do, while medicine was where every parent wanted their children to go (some class differences, of course). Perhaps that could also be their problem – the external prestige of holding such a position was used to compensate for (and even cover up) the stress of actually performing it.

This Is Going To Hurt was dramatised earlier this year as a critically-acclaimed BBC series. There is no TV version of Life on the Old Railways, but stories and documentaries about the days of post-war steam are ten-a-penny on most channels and online.

Link

Today’s virtual event was by the Foundation for Integrated Transport, and its content is adequately explained by the title.

“Car dependency” is a term used in the urban planning community to mean the inability of a resident (or visitor) to move around a settlement without the use of a personal motorcar. It is often cited as a defining (and damning) feature of suburban environments, particularly in the United States following the Second World War. As their name implies, urban planners (and urbanists more generally), tend to focus their attention on cities and dense conurbations, with comparisons made to the suburbs. Smaller towns and rural environments are often overlooked, hence the theme of today’s seminar.

Though interested in the premise, I was a little disappointed by the format – although the participants spoke to each other over Zoom, the guest attendees were made to watch it through YouTube, so other than the chatbox (only available to those who had YouTube accounts) there was no meaningful interaction with the hosts.

Off to the Libraries

Although the COVID pandemic is not exactly over, lockdown seems unlikely to recur and so it is now practical to visit again those places which had been inaccessible for much of the last two years, including public libraries.

As I have mentioned before, the ceremonial county of East Riding of Yorkshire is divided into two unitary authorities – one for Kingston-upon-Hull and one for everything else. This includes public library systems. I have therefore gone about acquiring a card for each. Applications online were a reasonably simple process of filling in a form on the councils’ websites, though actually visiting a library in person to collect the physical card was rather as neither institution’s opening hours were exactly convenient. Oddly, both sets of online login details suddenly stopped working once I’d taken possession of the cards and I had then to go back to ask for help.

Now that they are working I can search both libraries’ online catalogue before going to pick anything up. There is a delight in finding here the tomes (particularly on heraldry) that had long eluded me on Google Books or the Internet Archive, or even the library at the university. The downside is that these are not all kept at the same location (East Riding’s in particular are scattered across a large area.) and that the reference section of Hull Central Library has been closed for more than a year.

In case one cannot attend the physical libraries at all, both online accounts include the BorrowBox service allowing patrons to take out virtual resources, though the inventory on there is quite small.

EXTERNAL LINKS

Stories in Scotland’s Skies by Philip Tibbets

Today’s virtual lecture took me back to the Heraldry Society of Scotland, where our speaker – the Lyon Court’s vexillologist – gave a fascinating talk about the history of flag culture in Scotland, and the process by which flags – heraldic or otherwise – come to be invented.

At least I think that was what happened. Unfortunately I cannot say for certain due to glaring technical problems. We virtual attendees did not actually see the inside of the venue, for the visual feed was only of the slideshow (and even that did not seem to be aligned properly with the speech), but we guessed that the microphone was positioned a great distance away from Mr Tibbetts’s mouth and much closer to an audience member with a recurrent cough. As a result only about half of the speaker’s syllables could be heard, which rendered most sentences unintelligible. Edward Mallinson made several attempts to resolve the sound problem but it made no difference. He even turned on the automated subtitles, but those are notoriously poor even when the sound is good. Before even thirty minutes into the planned ninety-minute event I and a few other Zoom-watchers had given up and logged out.

It was, to say the least, a grave disappointment.

Heralds-a-Heralding

Today and yesterday, Charles III was formally proclaimed as King across the world, following the meeting of his accession council. This is only the fourth accession in Britain since the invention of the television, and the first time that the council itself has been broadcast live. Indeed, to my knowledge the only other time that any meeting of the council in Britain has been recorded was for the 1993 documentary Days of Majesty, and even then only a small clip was shown. There was supposed to have been a meeting (probably done virtually) some days ago for the swearing in of Liz Truss’s new cabinet, but the fading of Queen Elizabeth’s health prevented it. When that session will eventually take place is unknown. The ceremony was something of a consolation prize for Penny Mordaunt, who lost the bid to become Prime Minister but was instead appointed Lord President. She took the lead role in the day’s proceedings. Once the proclamation had been approved and various oaths had been taken it was read out by David White, Garter King of Arms, on the palace’s balcony. Not long later it was repeated by Timothy Duke (Clarenceux) on the steps of the royal exchange. The next day it was read by Robert Noel (Norroy & Ulster) at Hillsborough Castle. Joseph Morrow (Lyon) read it at Mercat Cross, as did Morfudd Meredith (Lord Lieutenant of South Glamorgan) and Thomas Lloyd (Wales Herald) in Cardiff. The other proclamations made around the British Isles, and the Commonwealth, are far too numerous to list.

Times such as this are a rare opportunity (others being state openings and, next year, the coronation) to see officers of arms in their full finery. They will be very busy over the coming months.

It can be taken as read that, following his ascent to the throne, the undifferenced arms of the United Kingdom, and those of all his other realms and territories, now belong to His Majesty. The arms of his siblings, niblings and cousins have no reason to change from what they were before. The arms of his wife, sons, and daughters-in-law are all due for upgrades.

Probable arms of Camilla, Queen Consort


Camilla, as Queen Consort, can now be expected to impale the Shand arms with those of the King. Given that William now has all of the statuses and titles that his father held a week ago, it is most probable that he will bear the same heraldic achievement, with which Catherine will impale the Middleton arms. It is yet to be seen (and there are conflicting precedents) of the Duke & Duchess of Sussex will similarly upgrade by swapping their five-point cadency label for one of three points, and removing the strawberry leaves from their coronets. The ever-present yet ever-uncredited Sodacan has already uploaded multiple illustrations of how he expects the revised armorial achievements to look.

Probable arms of Catherine, Princess of Wales

There is some controversy over whether Charles will change the heraldic depiction of the crown from St. Edward’s (depressed arch) to Tudor (no depression). There is a perception that St. Edward’s Crown is for queens and the Tudor crown for kings (due to the latter being preferred from 1901 to 1952) but this is not binding and St. Edward’s was regularly used by kings before Victoria’s reign.

FURTHER VIEWING