Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Horse Heredity in the Dark Ages

By Kim Rendfeld

The early medieval warhorse had two jobs. The first was to charge into battle with a fully armed and armored warrior on his back. The second was to beget foals as strong and brave as he was.

He—they were all stallions—was shorter than today’s thoroughbred. The modern thoroughbred can be 5-foot-1 to 5-foot-8 at the withers. A Germanic early medieval warhorse was about 4-foot-5, and a Roman military horse could be 4-foot-9 to 5-foot-3. (Yes, my horse friends, I know the proper unit is hands, and medieval people likely used that measurement or something similar. But like most 21st century Americans, I think in terms of feet and inches.)

All horses were expensive; they could cost three to five times more than a bull and as much as 90 times more than a ram. But the warhorse, a predecessor of the famous destrier, was the most costly of all livestock, both to purchase and to maintain. As was the case with all grazing animals, land had to be set aside for pasture rather than crops, and if we are to believe written sources, horses required a lot more oats in winter than oxen did.

Horses were critical to the military and had a variety of functions, carrying soldiers and baggage and pulling carts with supplies. The only time a warhorse was put to work was in combat (well, maybe he was used in the hunt, too).

This meant warhorses belonged only to the wealthy, who could afford to set aside land and have livestock work for such limited times. While medieval animals were valued more for their work than companionship as pets, warriors did get attached to their steeds, akin to fellow soldiers. The men relied warhorses not to freeze or bolt when they heard clashing swords and screams or saw an enemy attacking them. A horse giving in to fear endangered both man and beast.

Early Signs of Bravery

In other words, there was no room for cowardice—for anyone. Medieval people believed gelding would make a horse timid. The folk also thought that male horses were solely responsible for passing desirable characteristics, like courage and pride, to their offspring. As for the females, they just needed to have the broad quarters and abdomens good for bearing young, maybe be good-looking, and have attained the right age, at least 3 years. Some writers recommended mares stop breeding at age 10 because her foals would be lazy, while others thought she could reproduce throughout her life.

Mares outnumbered stallions, anywhere from 10 to 30, so not all colts grew up to reproduce. The rate of gelding varied region by region, but the decision of whether a colt would later become a stallion or a gelding was made when the animals were young, likely before they were 3. (Male horses were ages 3 to 4 1/2 before being allowed to mate. The belief was that younger parents had smaller and weaker young.)

Because bravery was a desired trait, owners would watch for signs. Those included a colt running in the front of the herd, staying calm when seeing or hearing something unfamiliar, being more playful than other horses his age, and when racing, leaping over ditches and crossing bridges without a fuss. Easily spooked colts would have an appointment with the knife in the fall, considered the perfect time for the procedure.

In Spring, a Stallion’s Fancy Turns To ...

At this time of year, between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice, a stallion would be fulfilling his more pleasant responsibility and become reacquainted with his harem. He didn’t have access to his mares at any other time. He was fattened, perhaps on barley and vetch, before and during the spring because his duty was exhausting. A strong, well-fed stallion was believed to sire strong foals, but he had a deadline.

Breeding after summer solstice was believed to result in weaker foals. Yet a real practicality came into account. A mare’s pregnancy lasts 11 to 12 months. Her caretakers would prefer her to deliver when the grass was growing so that both mother and baby would have fodder.

Conceiving foals might take more than one try. The mare was thought to be pregnant when she no longer showed interest in the stud.

Not all the mares in the herd would be available to the stallion. Some of them would have recently given birth. Nursing foals took six months, and the mothers would not be bred for another six months after that. The waiting period might have been to time optimal conception and the availability of fodder. Yet the owners of the herd would want to keep their animals healthy, if more for practical reasons than sentimental ones. They needed to protect their investment.

The inspiration for this post is a tragedy that happened while Charlemagne was at war against the Avars in 791. In his half of the army, a pestilence killed nine-tenths of the horses, which from a military perspective is devastating. Think of it as nine-tenths of the vehicles being wiped out. Even if you have more tanks in production, that kind of a loss is still a huge blow, and in this case, you can't speed up production.

This occurred in the late fall, and more horses would be on the way. Some mares in the herd would be in foal, and there would be some months-old foals along with maturing colts and fillies. But none of that was enough to come anywhere near replacing a loss of this magnitude. A normal year would have some deaths from illness or age among the herd, and aristocrats would expect to lose some horses in battle. But not this many.

First, stallion and mares would need to wait until spring to breed. On top of the 11-to-12-month pregnancy, it would take another two years for horses to be ready for someone to ride them.

Replenishing the herd was a slow process indeed, and in the meantime, the army was crippled.

All images public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Source: Horse Breeding in the Medieval World by Charles Gladitz


Kim Rendfeld learned about the mass loss of horses while researching her work in progress, Queen of the Darkest Hour, a novel about Charlemagne's influential fourth wife, Fastrada, and his rebellious eldest son, Pepin. She has written two novels set in early medieval times.

You can order The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar, about a Saxon peasant who will fight for her children after losing everything else, at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, CreateSpace, Smashwords, and other vendors.

Kim's first novel, The Cross and the Dragon, in which a Frankish noblewoman must contend with a jilted suitor and the fear of losing her husband, is available at Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, CreateSpace, and other vendors.

Connect with Kim at on her website, her blog, Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at, on Facebook at, or follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Arthur Wellesley - First Duke of Wellington (The Iron Duke)

by Arthur Russell.

Sir Arthur Wellesley, the First Duke of Wellington, garnered quite a few names over a long illustrious career – first as a military man, and later in life in a political career that saw him reach the highest position as a two term Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

His distinctive Roman nose gave him the name “Nosey” for the soldiers he led, while his military prowess and spectacular achievements on battlefields on two continents earned for him the name “The Iron Duke” or simply “The Duke”.

He was born in a house on Merrion Square, Dublin and spent most of his formative years in the Wellesley family demesne of Dangan Castle, in the rolling pastoral countryside between the village of Summerhill and the small provincial town of Trim in County Meath, Ireland. His upbringing was typical of many young men of his class, time and place, which is so well described in Philip Guedalla’s  masterful tome, “The Duke” about the life and times of the hero of Waterloo as well as his successful campaign in Portugal, Spain and France against Napoloen Bonaparte in the European wars of the early 19th century.

Guedella’s book, which was written and published in 1931, just eight decades after Wellesley’s death in November 1850; opens with a description  of the Wellesley family’s unique Anglo Irish aristocratic background of the late 1700’s.

“Castes mark their children deeply – and as a caste the English gentry resident in Ireland were pronounced. Every conquest leaves a caste behind it, since conquerors are always apt to perpetuate their victory in superior social pretentions. Had not the Romans been the noblemen of Europe? Even a Norman raid became an aristocracy in England; and in Ireland the Anglo-Norman conquest left a similar deposit. Such castes are frequently absorbed, assimilated by their subject populations. But where race combines with religious differences and recurrent insurrection to keep the two apart, the schism is absolute and the conquerors remain an alien caste. Such castes, where they survive, are aristocratic by necessity, since their hauteur is less a mannerism than the sole condition of their survival. For without a sinful pride the conqueror will vanish --
Anglo-Irish magnates knew themselves observed by long, resentful rows of Irish eyes; and what conqueror would condescend before such an audience? The silent watchers made and kept them prouder than ever; and in the last half of the eighteenth century the Anglo Irish magnate was indisputably “Grand Seigneur”. ----------------
A chasm yawned between the classes, as it yawned between Versailles and France. But safe on the hither side the gentry lived their lordly lives, drank claret, toasted the “glorious, pious, and immortal memory”, ran races, and matched fighting cocks. ---------
As their rents rose ever higher on the mounting tide of Irish population, they scattered their argosies (and mortgaged their remotest prospects) in the lordliest game of all. For they built as recklessly as kings. The trim Palladian facades rose gracefully in every Irish county ---------------
A light hearted gentry built with an increasing fervor, since rents could never fall while tenants swarmed in every cabin---------
They bore themselves with the immense patrician dignity that comes from super position on a foundation of slavery. For the native Irish, even in the last years of the eighteenth century, were not far removed from slavery ----------
The nearest social parallel to rural Ireland was to be found three thousand miles away, in the cotton fields of Carolina. There too a little caste lived on their acres. The grace of Southern manners on the white pillared porches of Colonial mansions matches the ease of Irish country houses. There is the same profusion, the same improvidence against the same background of slavery. The same defects recur------

Ireland at the end of the 18th century was truly a country of contrasts, social, religious, political. It was a country of native Irish and their Anglo Irish masters; of ruling class Protestant and oppressed Catholics; of a minority population of privileged haves and an overwhelming majority population of dispossessed and disenfranchised have nots. Ireland was a country that was ill-governed by a seriously unrepresentative Dublin based parliament which focused on serving the interests of those who made it up rather than the welfare of the country and the people it more rightly owed responsibility for protection and just legislation.

His privileged background inclined the future soldier politician to be an ultra conservative and non reformist. As a young man, he cut his political teeth serving under two Lord Lieutenants of Ireland (both appointed by the English House of Commons). He was also a member of the Irish parliament for the nearby borough of Trim in County Meath. As a young parliamentarian he was strong in his opposition to granting the Freedom of Dublin to the leading reformer in the Irish Legislature, Henry Grattan; precisely because Grattan and his Patriot party were reformers and its leader seen as being untrue and disloyal to his own (aristocratic) kind by many of his peers in the Dublin Parliament. 

His long career was both political and military, his spectacular success in the latter helped to propel him to the highest office in capital city of the Empire he helped to expand during his Indian campaign (1796-1806). India was where he made his reputation as a supreme strategist and military commander.

He was no social reformer, but is credited as being the British Prime Minister who guided the Catholic Emancipation Bill through a reluctant House of Commons in 1829. In doing this he was making good on a promise made in 1805, when as Chief Secretary for Ireland he stated that he would always refuse to observe the excesses of the oppressive Penal Laws that the majority population of Ireland had endured for more than a century. As a supreme pragmatist he could well see the shifts in the wind that informed that such legislation had no place in enlightened governance in the aftermath of the American War of Independence, and the French Revolution. Ultimately he furthered the process of righting the massive legislative wrongs that had been perpetrated against Catholics for so long.  His boyhood experience of Ireland and of the strictures the majority population lived under, may well have given him insights and motivation. It is a matter of record that the British Army that took to the field at the battle Waterloo under his command, was made up of 30% Irish soldiers, most of them Catholic. By that time they were allowed have their own chaplains, a reform made a mere 30 years before.
Of course his critics on both sides, argued that the pragmatist in him bowed to the inevitable only when it became inevitable. Against that, he had to operate against the not insignificant opposition of King William, who as head of the Established Church, saw Emancipation as an essential inherited Royal duty to deny, to protect and defend against a long perceived enemy – the Roman Catholic Church. Wellington’s threat to resign and collapse the Government quickly overcame whatever objections the King might have held. It was a risk the Duke was prepared to take, in the certain knowledge that civil war would have broken out in Ireland if the Act was not passed. Many of his Irish Ascendancy colleagues would find it hard to forgive what they saw as betrayal of his class.

By contrast, 2 years later (1831) he adamantly opposed the First Reform Act which sought to widen voting rights and suffrage in the United Kingdom. He was no great believer in the capacity of the “plain people” to engage in political processes, which he considered to be more rightly the preserve of their “betters”. His attitude no doubt drew on his inherited aristocratic perception of the social order, which was further reinforced by strong military experience garnered on 60 battlefields in India and Europe. So much depended on his ability and capacity as a military leader to know what was best for those under him. Because of these influences in his life and career, he would always find it hard to accommodate completely to the notion that the business of running a country is not quite the same as running a military campaign.  Imposing discipline on soldiers is one thing, doing the same for a diverse population quite something else. To his credit, it has to be noted that at a time when the lives and welfare of rank and file soldiers drawn from what were considered “the lower orders”, was not set at high account in the scale of things; Wellington was always conscious of his responsibility for the lives and welfare of those under his command. This trait earned this aristocratic and rather aloof leader of men a well deserved reputation for his defensive as well as offensive approach to warfare, earning him the respect, loyalty and even sometimes the love of those who served with and under him.
In his day he was something of a fashion leader and did much to popularise the short tunic, tight breeches and high shiny boots so beloved by Society of the early 1800's.

Lady Catherine - First Duchess of Wellington

Catherine Packenham - Duchess of Wellington 
When it came to his interaction with the fair sex, Wellesley had a questionable record. As a young military man at the start of his career in 1793, he had cast his eye on Catherine (Kitty) Packenham, the daughter of Edward, 2nd Baron of Longford, but was found by her family to be wanting in terms of wealth and prospects. He found this rejection hurtful, causing him to throw all his energy into his military career. His spectacular Indian exploits won him the plaudits he lacked so that when he returned to Ireland a decorated hero 12 years later; he was pushing an open door in his quest for Kitty’s hand. 

As so often in life, long absence coupled with the excitement and uncertainty of the chase could well have outshone the attainment of the prize. Winning that particular battle as part of the upward trajectory of his career, was no guarantee of “happy ever after”.  His life with Kitty was not what either of them had hoped for, though the marriage produced two boys, Arthur (1812) and Charles (1815). He had a series of mistresses and sexual dalliances during his long life, in a parallel life to his domestic life. Nor did he make any great secret of this as evidenced by his retort to a would be blackmailing newspaper publisher who threatened to expose one of his many affairs in exchange for payment.  He is credited to have told him “Publish and be damned”.

Despite all of this, he was reported to be extremely saddened when Kitty died of cancer in 1831. It is reported that his one comfort was that after "half a lifetime together, they had come to understand each other at the end". Three years later he was equally saddened by the death during a cholera epidemic, of one particular mistress friend, diarist Harriet Arbuthnot.

This brilliant complex man, soldier and statesman died in Walmer castle on September 14th 1852 at the age of 83, and was accorded a state funeral in November of the same year, at which thousands paid their respects to one who had done so much during a long and interesting life of service to the Empire he had helped to establish.  He was laid to rest in an imposing sarcophagus in St Paul’s Cathedral, beside another hero of the Napoleonic wars, Lord Horatio Nelson.

Memorials to Wellington in Ireland

"This column erected in the year MDCCCXV11 (1817)
in honour of the illustrious Duke of Wellington
by the grateful subscriptions of the County Meath
The country that birthed and nurtured Wellington did not forget him in the aftermath of his greatest victories and death. Two years after Waterloo, his native Trim raised an imposing commemorative column close to the town centre, while a huge memorial, the largest obelisk in Europe; was raised to him in Dublin’s Phoenix Park after his death.

The Wellington monument in Dublin's
Phoenix Park, the largest obelisk in Europe.
Completed in 1861
While most Irish Nationalists in the wake of Irish independence almost a century ago are no great lovers of the Duke; the Wellington monuments in Trim and Dublin have been spared the fate of similar memorials to King William III (of Battle of the Boyne fame) on College Green and Horatio Nelson in the centre of O’Connell Street as somewhat uncomfortable reminders of Ireland’s sometimes difficult history as part of the British Empire. While their presence sometimes give cause for debate and flurries of letters to newspapers, (pro as well as contra); as time passes, and the nation comes to terms with its past; the desire to remove or destroy may lessen rather than increase. With growing National confidence comes the realisation that history cannot be changed by such acts, and in so many ways, the actions and achievements of those who went before, from all sides of political, social and religious divides, contribute to who we in Ireland are.


Arthur Russell is the Author of Morgallion, a novel set in medieval Ireland during the Invasion of Ireland in 1314 by the Scottish army led by Edward deBruce, the last crowned King of Ireland. It tells the story of Cormac MacLochlainn, a young man from the Gaelic crannóg community of Moynagh and how he and his family endured and survived that turbulent period of history. ‘Morgallion’ was awarded the IndieBRAG Medallion and is available in paperback and e-book form.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Editor's Weekly Round-Up, March 26, 2017

by the EHFA Editors

Enjoy this week's round-up of historical articles.

by Annie Whitehead

by Wendy J. Dunn
(Editors's Choice from the archives)

by Maria Grace

And a timely post from the archives...

by Katherine Pym

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Teething: A leading cause of infant mortality?

by Maria Grace

Anyone who has dealt with young children knows the misery teething can bring, not just to the baby, but the entire household. Modern parents expect teething to begin at about five months, ushering in fussiness, sleep disruption and drooling, but nothing more difficult or dangerous than that.

Twenty four hundred years ago, though, Hippocrates warned parents of the fever, diarrhea and convulsions teething could produce. 18th century Scottish physician John Arbuthnot estimated one tenth of children died while teething. (Mims, 2005) Others estimated up to one third of infant mortality was due to teething. (Day, 2013)

Dreaded Dentition

18th century French physician Jean Baumes (1783) wrote “All experience teaches that dentition is to be dreaded.”

Why the dread? In layman’s terms, the irritation of the gums and possibility that teeth might fail to break through could upset a child’s fragile nervous system. Obviously, right? Such disruption could lead to convulsions or even death. Buchan (1838) suggested “These symptoms are in a great measure owing to the great delicacy and exquisite sensibility of the nervous system at this time of life, which is too often increased by an effeminate education. Hence it comes to pass, that children who are delicately brought up, always suffer most in teething, and often fall by convulsive disorders.”

In other words, it was probably mom’s fault. Of course.

Still some children cut teeth without significant issues. This Baumes attributed to healthy parents and good quality care of the child. A woman who “restrained her passions during pregnancy” and “retained a tranquil mind” helped insure her child would have successful teething. But errors of diet and “abuses of regimen” could lead to feebleness of constitution, an imbalance of fluids, and “organic disorders of bodily systems.”

According to period physicians, dentition contributed to two major groups of illnesses: digestive and nervous. Digestive ills included diarrhea (which killed many infants no matter what caused it) constipation, vomiting (also potentially deadly), cough, colic and hiccoughs. Even more dreaded were the nervous complications: restlessness and fitful sleep which could lead to exhaustion, derangement and convulsions. Cases of “dental paralysis”, especially upon the eruption of the canine teeth, were even reported. All of these could lead to death.

A Charm Against Teething Evils

Regency medicine was more medieval than modern, so superstition and ancient beliefs still held powerful influence over treatments. Medicinal amulets to ward off evil were every bit as reliable and quite possibly as effective as the doctors of the era. (And probably a good deal less dangerous … just saying.) Many relied upon the protective power of coral.

Belief in coral was steeped in centuries old traditions. Ancient Greeks and Romans believed coral would ward off a variety of infantile illnesses. Plato wrote of the value of wearing coral amulets and hanging them in cradles and nurseries. Ancient Egyptians believed coral would ease teething pain. By the 16th century, coral beads became a common christening gift among the wealthy classes.

(Total aside here, it is interesting to note that coral beads were a very fashionable accessory for young ladies of the Regency era. It does make one wonder about them as possibly infantilizing young women as well… but back to teething now…)

Coral teething sticks became popular as well. And then as now, whatever is popular tends to become fashion statements and, well just plain overdone.

Artisans designed elaborate teething rattles for their wealthiest of patrons. Usually fashioned out of silver and gold (both considered to have supernatural powers of course) these odd looking accessories would have a whistle on one end and the coral sticks on the other. Bells, silver ones in particular, would be hung around the base of the whistle, their pure tones repulsing evil spirits and drawing in good ones—and distracting the baby as well. A ribbon allowed them to be suspended from the baby’s neck or tied at the waist. (Yet another great idea, right?)

Less ornate teething ‘corals’ were also available, but not nearly the status symbols the elaborate ones were. Still though, they provided the same benefits. Corals provided a tough, but safe substance for babies to bite down on and gave parents the peace of mind they were doing something to protect their baby through a difficult and dangerous time.

Teething Treatments

When teething corals did not provide sufficient relief, physicians and superstitions had numerous treatments to offer. (And if you ask me, I think, in this case I’d go with the superstitions…)

Since babies drool during teething, saliva was though to soften the gums. If it was insufficient to the task, a number of preparations were available to help nature along. Parents were told to rub chicken grease or fresh hog’s lard lightly and frequently over infant’s gums. A somewhat less palatable alternative was to use hare’s brains for the same purpose. Yum.

When a family could not afford coral, ivory, wolves teeth or bone might be given to a child to bite on. If those were not available, a child might be given a dry bread crust, a lump of sugar wrapped in cloth, licorice sticks dipped in honey, carrot sticks or wax candles.

I just heard my dentist friends gnashing their teeth.

Baumes (1783) discouraged the uses of gum rubs as vulgar. Furthermore, he thought giving children hard substances to bite as they would harden and callous the gums, making teething harder rather than easier. I see you rolling your eyes, but wait, it gets better.

Instead he recommended standard era treatments including enemas, purgatives, emetics, bleeding, blistering, plasters, cauterization and leeching. Buchan (1838) gives us a sound scientific explanation why: “Difficult teething requires nearly the same treatment as an inflammatory disease. If the body be bound, it must be opened either by emollient clysters or gentle purgatives; as manna, magnesia alba, rhubarb, senna, or the like. The food should be light, and in small quantity; the drink plentiful, but weak and diluting, as infusions of balm, or of the lime-tree flowers; to which about a third or fourth part of milk may be added. If the fever be high, bleeding will be necessary; but this in very young children ought always to be sparingly performed….Purging, vomiting, or sweating, agree much better with them, and are generally more beneficial.”

Of course, this makes perfect sense. But wait, there’s more.

Under the most severe of circumstances, era surgeons might go so far as lancing an infant’s gums. Baumes (1783) warned though that a simple incision was not always enough. The gums needed to be lanced down to the teeth and skin flaps excised to fully liberate the teeth. In the most extreme cases, the tooth socket might be broken or tooth extracted.

Would you believe that it was only at the turn of the 20th century that medical science disavowed the use of lancing to treat teething?

A few medicinal preparations were available to soothe babies’ pain and help them sleep. The most basic was to give them a cloth soaked in brandy to chew or suck on. (Then again, after all this stress and worry, mom might be the one more in need of that.)

On a more commercial level, a number of preparations became available, like Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup. Most of the concoctions were solutions of alcohol and morphine, possibly with various herbal components. A few boasted calomel, a mercury-based compound, as well.

So let’s review, leeches, bleeding, lancing, alcohol, opiates and mercury versus lard and hare’s brains. There’s a reason I suggested superstition was a safer alternative for teething babies.

No wonder teething was such a cause of infant mortality!


Baumes, Jean Baptiste Timothée. A treatise on first dentition and the frequently serious disorders which depend upon it. Translated by Thomas Emerson Bond. New York: Raetas & Kelley, 1841.
(French version written by Jean Baptiste Timothee Baumes published in 1783).

Buchan, William. 1838. Domestic Medicine: Or, A Treatise on the Prevention and Cure of Diseases by Regimen and Simple Medicines: with Observations on Sea-bathing, and the Use of the Mineral Waters. To which is Annexed, a Dispensatory for the Use of Private Practitioners. J & B Williams, London.

Day, Nicholas. "Your Baby’s Teething? Rub a Minnow on It." Slate Magazine. April 17, 2013. Accessed March 16, 2017.

Hunter, Sonja. "Rethinking "Teething" Deaths." Rethinking “Teething” Deaths. March 01, 2013. Accessed March 10, 2017.

Kane, Kathryn. "Corals: Protection for Teething Babies." The Regency Redingote. January 09, 2014. Accessed March 6, 2017.

Mims, Robert. "S.L. DOCTOR EXAMINES THE MYSTERY OF PIONEER INFANTS' `TEETHING' DEATHS." December 22, 1991. Accessed March 10, 2017.

Stempniak, Marty. "TBT: In the 1800s, One Opium-Laced Drug Helped Moms Soothe the Pains of Teething Children." H&HN. March 31, 2016. Accessed March 16, 2017.


Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. 

After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.

Click here to find her books on Amazon. For more on her writing and other Random Bits of Fascination, visit her website. You can also like her on Facebook, or follow on Twitter.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Torn Between Two Queens

by Wendy J. Dunn

There’s a chorus of an old song that I’m sure most people have heard at least once in their life:

Torn between two lovers,
feelin' like a fool,
Lovin' both of you
is breakin' all the rules.

I’m not torn between two lovers, but I have to admit to feeling torn between Tudor queens. Yes – I have my fair share of Anne Boleyn replica jewellery, an Anne Boleyn Iphone case, Anne Boleyn note paper and even devoted years of my life giving voice to Anne Boleyn in my fiction, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that I feel just as devoted to Katherine of Aragon. I even have an unpublished manuscript to prove it – a novel that focused on her childhood in Castilla, which I had hoped to be the first work of a planned trilogy about her life.

Now that my young adult Tudor novel, The Light of the Labyrinth, has stepped out into the published world, I have been thinking about returning to this work. It is actually crying out to me to return to it. That’s not surprising; I spent three years of my life committed to putting Catalina’s story onto the page. Since putting the work aside over four years ago, I have had a lot of time to think about why it didn’t hit the bull’s eye, and what I should do to start again.

So many people think of Katherine of Aragon as a Spanish princess, but she wouldn’t have described herself in that way – not really. It was the marriage of her father and mother, King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabel of Castilla, two monarchs who ruled over different parts of what is now known as Spain, that resulted in the gradual union of their two countries that became one of the most powerful dominions in Christendom.

As a daughter of King Ferdinand, Katherine was a princess of Aragon. Her mother – the Queen of Castilla, a far more powerful country than Aragon – could have made it very difficult for her husband, but her great ability in diplomacy was apparent even on the home front. She chose to wield her power in such a way that always included her husband. Her immense gifts as a ruling monarch makes me wonder if this was the reason history renamed her Isabella – a name, it is believed, the English brought into being when they wanted to belittle the grandmother of Mary I, as well as in response to the Spanish Armada (Liss 2002).

Born on the sixteenth day of December in 1485, Katherine of Aragon, or Catalina as she was known at her mother’s court, was the fifth and last child of these two monarchs. At three, Katherine was betrothed to Prince Arthur, the first-born son of a new royal English dynasty: the Tudors.

Extremely intelligent, pious and educated by the best tutors her mother could find, Katherine was also trained – like her three older sisters – by her mother to be a devoted and obedient wife who was able to be a good helpmeet for their husband. Katherine was not only able to care well for her husband’s stomach, but also was an excellent embroiderer and maker of manly shirts. She would one day anger Anne Boleyn when she refused to stop making shirts for Henry VIII. As his wife, it was her duty to make them (Fraser 1998).


There are many stories from the pages of history about Katherine I can visualise as a fiction writer. One story I especially love - when Wolsey visited Katherine during the time of "The King's Great Matter". Busy sewing with her women, Katherine doesn’t invite him into her chamber, but speaks to him at the door, with skeins of threads over her shoulder and I suspect a needle in her hand. Like Anne, Katherine did not like Wolsey, especially in this time when she was being pressured to step aside as Henry’s Queen. Did she feel tempted to accidently brush against Wolsey and prick him with her needle? Make him bleed, because she saw him as one of the reasons her husband now rejected her, making her own heart bleed.

Katherine arrived in England just before her sixteenth birthday, after a long and perilous journey from her mother's kingdom of Castile. The sea journey was even more dangerous, with her ships being driven back once by terrible storms before venturing out to sea again. A chronicle of the period said:

It is reported that this lady Katherine thought and feared such an unhappy chance might come, (the death of her husband, Prince Arthur) for when she had embraced her father and taken leave of her noble and prudent mother, and sailed towards England, she was continually so tossed and tumbled hither and thither with boisterous winds that what with the raging of the water and the contrary winds her ship was prevented many times from approaching the shore and landing (2014 Primary Sources, online).

Katherine met her future husband and his father at the Bishop’s palace at Dangerfield in Hampshire. At this palace – against all Castilian custom, a custom historically influenced by the Moors – Henry VII insisted on lifting the veil of his son’s bride. He saw a pretty girl with grey eyes. Her skin colour appeared to be what is still described of as the English rose, which she inherited from her English ancestors. Katherine’s grandmother was Catherine of Lancaster, the daughter of John of Gaunt (Fraser 1998). Katherine’s greatest beauty was her thick red/gold hair, hair that cascaded past her waist. When she first met Henry VII and Prince Arthur, her hair would have flowed free – as a symbol of her virginity. Sigh. I always feel somewhat cross when I see Katherine of Aragon recreated in movies or television shows as a woman with black-hair. She wasn’t. Thomas More said of her: ‘There is nothing wanting in her that the most beautiful girl should have’ (2014 Historic Royal Palaces, Online source).

Arthur Prince of Wales
The King and Prince Arthur expressed themselves fully pleased with Katherine. Arthur wrote later about his joy at first seeing ‘the sweet face of his bride’ (Fraser 1998, p. 24). But Arthur’s happiness was short-lived. Within only a few months of marriage, the fifteen-year-old prince was dead and Katherine fighting for her own life. They had both been stricken with one of those sudden deadly illnesses of the period – probably the English sweat - that struck fast and hard.

Katherine was pious and honest. After Arthur’s death, Katherine said, over and over, that their marriage had never been consummated. Her father wrote, in 1503, ‘It is well known that the princess is still a virgin’. But he was also a wily politician. In arranging Katherine’s betrothal to Prince Henry, her husband’s younger brother, her father asked the Pope to write up the dispensation in a way that made the question of her virginity unimportant and would safeguard Katherine’s later marriage. Henry VII also protected his own child and son, not forgetting his political back – the marriage would only go forward when Henry the younger was old enough to agree to the match.

Katherine endured seven dreadful years after Arthur’s death. A political pawn – in the hand of a father-in-law who often acted towards her like an utter miser – she was kept short of funds, as well as powerful friends. I agree with Antonia Fraser that these years of deprivation shaped her in such a way that made it impossible for her to bend when Henry VIII later sought to take a new wife (Fraser 1998). In that future time, Katherine probably remembered her time of triumph after seven years of hell while a widow. It is possible that she thought that all she needed to do was to keep faith and God would answer her prayers again.

I also find myself wondering if this time of deprivation impacted upon her health. Katherine spent many hours praying and days fasting during these bleak years. Perhaps this led to some kind of physical damage that caused complications during her pregnancies, making it difficult for her to bear living children. Alison Weir also suggests this in Henry VIII, King and Court, that Katherine’s deep piety and habit of fasting – behaviours reinforced during her widowhood – may have caused reproduction problems (Weir 2001).

Just before Henry VII died, a desperate Katherine contemplated taking the veil. She was saved from this destiny for another destiny when the King died in 1509 and she married – just weeks later – his son, Henry VIII.

During the early years of Katherine's marriage to the young Henry Tudor, the English court had a reputation for learning as well as piety. I have no doubt that Katherine influenced and encouraged her husband's better traits. Greatly respected for her intelligence, Katherine acted as her father’s ambassador during the early years of her marriage to Henry. Henry VIII also had no hesitation in entrusting his Kingdom to his wife whenever he decided to ride off to war with France, his country's traditional enemy.

Katherine did her very best to provide Henry with a royal heir. She believed she had done her duty by giving her husband their daughter, Mary, the only child of their union to survive infancy and live to adulthood. Perhaps if the fates had been kinder – if her husband hadn’t convinced himself that their marriage was accursed, and indeed was no marriage after his hopes for a son had been dashed time after time by the birth of yet another dead or soon to be dead baby – Mary could have been a valid answer to the English succession.

18 Year Old Henry in 1509
Katherine took her responsibilities as Queen very seriously. She gave money to the poor, was a patron of scholars and poets, and enriched religious orders not only with her presence, but also with her wealth. As the events of the Evil May Day, in 1517, proved when she begged for four hundred lives of those who had rioted in London, protesting against foreigners making their livelihoods in London, she was willing to stand up to her husband for those deprived of power. Her actions on during that terrible May were long remembered in a ballad:

What if (she said) by Spanish blood,
have London's stately streets being wet,
Yet will I seek this country’s good
And pardons for their children get;
Or else, the world will speak to me,
And say, “Queen Catherine was unkind,”
And judge me still the cause to be,
These young men did misfortune find.
And so disrobed of rich attire,
With hair unbound she sadly hies,
And of her gracious lord required,
A boon, which hardly he denies…

For which, kind Queen, with joyful heart,
She heard their mothers’ thanks and praise;
And so from them did gently part,
And lived beloved all her days…
(Luke 1971, p.195).

Henry VIII may have rejected her as his wife, but England never rejected her as one of their most beloved Queens. To this day, also like Anne Boleyn, flowers are placed on her tomb.

Sometimes, I find myself imagining Katherine and Anne, alone together, in a heavenly, Tudor garden. The sun shines brightly as they sit close together, heads bent, their hands busy at completing exquisite embroideries. They murmur and laugh together, and I hear the often-repeated name of Henry: a man they both loved until their last living breath. I think, in Heaven, free of life’s sorrows and the battles to live and to love, Anne and Katherine would at last discover their common ground and find an eternal friendship.


Fraser, A, 1998, The six wives of Henry VIII, Arrow Books, London
Weir, A, 2001, Henry VIII, King and court, Ballantine Books, New York
Luke, M. L 1971, Catherine, the Queen, Paperback Library, New York

Liss, P. K 2002, “Isabel, Myth and History”, in Isabel la Católica, Queen of Castile: Critical Essays, David A. Boruchoff (Editor), 2002, Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

2014. Primary Sources: The death of Prince Arthur Tudor, 1502. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 17 September 2014].

2014 Historic Royal Palaces: Hampton Palace, viewed 17 September 2014,

[this is an Editors' Choice post, first published on 19/09/2014]


Wendy J. Dunn is an Australian writer who has been obsessed by Anne Boleyn and Tudor History since she was ten-years-old. She is the author of two Tudor novels: Dear Heart, How Like You This?, the winner of the 2003 Glyph Fiction Award and 2004 runner up in the Eric Hoffer Award for Commercial Fiction, and The Light in the Labyrinth, her first young adult novel.

While she continues to have a very close and spooky relationship with Sir Thomas Wyatt, the elder, serendipity of life now leaves her no longer wondering if she has been channeling Anne Boleyn and Sir Tom for years in her writing, but considering the possibility of ancestral memory. Her own family tree reveals the intriguing fact that her ancestors – possibly over three generations – had purchased land from both the Boleyn and Wyatt families to build up their own holdings. It seems very likely Wendy’s ancestors knew the Wyatts and Boleyns personally.

Born in Melbourne, Australia, Wendy is married and the mother of three sons and one daughter—named after a certain Tudor queen, surprisingly, not Anne.

Wendy tutors at Swinburne University in their Master of Arts (Writing) program. She also works at a primary school as a literature support teacher.
For more information about Wendy J. Dunn, visit her website at 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

An Overview of Laud and Strafford – Charles I’s ‘Evil Councillors’

by Annie Whitehead

William Laud and Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford: these men are perhaps less well-known than some other characters during the time of political upheaval which ultimately led to the first of the English Civil Wars, and the intention of this article is to give, in the constraints of a blog post, only an overview of their careers.

Both Laud and Strafford did much good for England, but their attitudes and characters contributed greatly to their unpopularity and ultimately towards their downfall. Their careers invite comparison.

William Laud (7 October 1573 – 10 January 1645) was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1633, until his execution in 1645. His career began in the reign of James I, but progressed slowly. James said of him that "He hath a restless spirit, and cannot see when matters are well, but loves to toss and change, and to bring things to a pitch of reformation floating in his own brain." It has been said of Laud that he did more than any other single man to provoke the Civil War. Charles I shared many of his 'qualities', and once Charles acceded, Laud's rise was rapid. In 1626 he became Bishop of Bath and Wells, in 1628 Bishop of London and Chancellor of Oxford University in 1630.

Along with Strafford, Laud dominated Charles' government during the eleven years' personal rule, and his chief aim was to 'stop the rot' in the Church of England, suppressing all traces of Puritanism.

William Laud

Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford (13 April 1593– 12 May 1641) served in Parliament and from 1632–40, served as Lord Deputy of Ireland; he was condemned to death by parliament and executed in 1641. Early in his political career he was an opposition MP. He joined in the attacks on the king's favourite, Buckingham, and he was imprisoned in the Marshalsea 1627-8 as one of the 76 who refused to contribute to the forced loan for Buckingham's pro-Spanish policy. His career changed direction after the assassination of Buckingham, and when given the choice between increasing the power of the king or the people, he chose the king.

Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford
Archbishop Laud was an Arminian, and this religious attitude alone was enough to gain him unpopularity. He was feared by the parliamentarians, who believed that he intended to lead the king and the country back to Catholicism. Laud brought about further conflict when he declared that bishops should have more political power, and that they should become involved in local government as Justices of the Peace.

Laud was not a popular man with parliament, and he went on to upset the bishops when he decided to reform the Church. He declared that the Church was dishonouring God, and he wanted the Church to work towards uniformity and conformity. Laud was determined to stamp out Church abuses such as: Simony (the buying of offices), Nepotism (obtaining positions for relatives) and Pluralism (holding more than one office, which led to non-residence). He made himself unpopular with the bishops who were opposed to his reforms. They would not earn as much, and they could no longer put people who would support them in influential positions. Some of Laud's ideas were less contentious; he ordered closer examination of candidates for the priesthood and encouraged more honest and dedicated clergymen.

Unfortunately for Laud, his religion made him unpopular, and his reforms of the Church led people to fear him. Laud was stubborn and would take advice from nobody, and parliamentarians felt justified in believing him evil. It was reported that he was unable to keep a check on his temper during meetings.

Strafford had very similar problems to those of Laud’s. He upset parliament when in 1628 he changed sides, because he was not fully committed to the radical ideas of parliament, who were at the time totally opposed to the monarchy. He was never trusted by the parliamentarians or the king and, like Laud, his character made him enemies. He was arrogant, stubborn, and ruthless. He was an efficient administrator, and Charles moved him from London, appointing him President as the Council of the North. He revived the decaying administration there and rooted out corruption. In 1632 Strafford went to Ireland as Lord Deputy, and there he removed corruption and set up a prerogative court. He encouraged industry and investigated land ownership.

Unfortunately, whatever the merits of their ideas for reform, Laud and Strafford  were not likeable as characters, and they were feared by parliament for the power they held. Their reforms, necessary or not, would never have been welcomed by parliament, the landowners, or the clergy.

The trial of Laud

Besides facing almost impossible tasks, Laud and Strafford were ruthless to the point of cruelty while they were carrying out their plans. They both pursued the Policy of Thorough, which consisted of a belief that a higher standard of efficiency and honesty was needed to put the country in order.

The trial of Strafford

In 1630, Leighton, a clergyman, published Sion’s Plea against Prelacy, an attack on the bishops. For this, he was punished by Laud; he was tried in Star Chamber, imprisoned, and he lost his ear. In 1637, William Prynne, John Bastwick, Henry Burton, and John Lilburne were involved in writing and publishing an attack against the bishops. Laud had Lilburne flogged through the streets of London, while the other three men lost their ears and were sent to the Tower.

John Lilburne

Strafford was perhaps less cruel than Laud, but he was certainly determined to achieve his aims no matter what. While he was President of the Council of the north, he humbled the great northern families and ordered the Yorkshire weavers to work according to rule, which brought less money in for the workers. In Ireland, Strafford forced the convocation [of bishops] to accept the 39 Articles* of the English, although the Irish Church had remained predominantly Catholic.

Laud and Strafford were not likeable characters. Their ideas were bound to have been met with resentment. No Englishman would welcome efficient administration and tax collection, and many influential men would resent the reform of the Church and the government of the North and Ireland.

Strafford on his way to execution, being blessed by Laud
Strafford was impeached by the Long Parliament, but despite numerous complaints against him, including from those with whom he'd had dealings in Ireland, there was no proof of treason. His enemies then issued a Bill of Attainder, and Strafford was executed on 12th May 1641.

Laud was accused of treason by the Long Parliament and was imprisoned in the tower. Prynne, with good reason, was a personal enemy, but others were inclined to let old age despatch the unpopular archbishop. Like Strafford before him, he faced a trial in which it proved impossible to prove any specific act of treason, but Laud was executed on Tower Hill on 10th January, 1645.

*Read about the 39 Articles Here

and for further detail about the careers of these two men:

Archbishop Laud - Hugh Trevor-Roper
Archbishop Laud - Arthur Stuart Duncan-Jones
Strafford - C.V. Wedgwood
Strafford in Ireland 1633-1641: A Study in Absolutism - Hugh F. Kearney
The King's War, 1641-47 - C.V. Wedgwood

[all above illustrations are in the public domain, and sourced from Wiki Commons]


Annie Whitehead is an historian and novelist who writes about the Anglo-Saxon era, although she has a keen interest in the seventeenth-century. The author of two award-winning novels set in Anglo-Saxon Mercia, she was also a contributor to 1066 Turned Upside Down, a re-imagining of the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings. She is a member of the Royal Historical Society and an editor of the EHFA blog. Currently she is working on a contribution to a non-fiction book to be published by Pen & Sword Books in the summer of 2017.