Saturday, November 27, 2010

Bravo to the Rarely-Staged Henry VIII

My excitement and anticipation of seeing a production of Shakespeare's Henry VIII could easily have undermined my enjoyment of the actual play. Thankfully, the cast and crew at the Folger Theatre made that an impossibility.

I went to Southeast DC an hour early to peruse the Vivat Rex! exhibit at the Folger Shakespeare Library. This, I can report, was slightly disappointing after touring London and Kent last year. There were a few interesting pieces on display, but it was very small and limited and there was nothing as wonderful as what I saw at Hever, NPG, and Hampton Court Palace.

The play itself was staged in a very small, intimate room designed to (sort of) mimic the interior of Shakespeare's Globe. What set this apart from many of the plays I've seen was the stage design. It was so simple and yet so dramatic. Multiple metal screens with cut-outs, positioned in a zig-zag pattern along the sides of the stage, acted as halls of Tudor palaces, London alleys, prayer closets, and even the wings from which Henry would be haunted by those who he killed or let die.

The hanging, round chandelier doubled as a second stage above the primary action. The actors used the entire room and would walk through the audience or were staged among us to witness (such as the scene of Katherine and Henry's divorce hearing at Blackfriars').

The actors were wonderful and brought more emotion to Shakespeare's words than any I've seen before. Anthony Cochrane as Wolsey was excellent and Ian Merrill Peakes was a charismatic and attractive Henry VIII. Naomi Jacobson's changing accent was slightly distracting in her Queen Katherine. She seemed to teeter between English and Irish in an attempt to sound Spanish.

Although she had few lines, I loved Karen Peakes (Ian's real-life wife) as Anne Boleyn. Let's face it, in my mind she had huge shoes to fill. Peakes brought the perfect look and grace to Anne. She is now firmly the second best Anne I've ever seen, after Natalie Dormer.

The actor who stole the show was Louis Butelli as Henry's fool, Will Sommers. The director, Robert Richmond, chose Sommers as the portal through which the story would be told, he portrayed multiple characters, and brought out all of the humor Shakespeare is so famous for weaving through his plays. Every time he stepped out on stage, I knew something funny and interesting was about to happen.

Finally, I wanted to give props to Donna Langham Studio on the lovely costuming and Rodney Gordon, Ltd. for the well done millinery.

Thrilled and Excited!

It figures that I would pick a time and place other than 21st century America with which to be obsessed!

For the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII taking the throne, I spent two weeks exploring London and Kent and had the time of my life!

Because it is such a major undertaking for me to really explore Tudor England by visiting the places which intrigue me most, I am THRILLED when an exhibit opens in the US that allows me to partake in my passion for all things Tudor. And that is just what has come to the Folger Shakespeare Library.

The Library has brought the exhibit Vivat Rex! to Washington, DC in celebration of the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII's accession to the throne. This is the exhibit by the Grolier Club in NYC last year. (Ok, so we're a year late - who cares!?)

In addition, the Folger is running the Shakespeare play "Henry VIII" until November 28th. I am beyond excited to have tickets to the play today!!! It has garnered excellent reviews and I expect to be awed. Although the play closes soon, the Vivat Rex! exhibition runs until December 30th.
For tickets or more information, visit the Folger website.

I will promptly review the play and exhibition when I return home!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Pick a View and Stick to it!

As any full-time or amateur historian will tell you, pinpointing the dates of events in Tudor history is a very frustrating proposition.

Besides the fact that we are missing simple information, like birth dates for many--especially women--born between 1480 and 1603, a great deal of information has been lost over the centuries to fires and other disasters. This is not even to mention the many during the reign of Elizabeth I (and later Victorians) who tried to vindicate those beloved by their sovereign or create history where they found none.

As I read Alison Weir's latest, The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, I am frustrated by the amount of speculation required to piece together events. To a degree, I suppose that historians are happy that there are such holes in story's fabric, as new speculations sell books.

I avoided this book at first, as other reviewers pointed out what I have now read for myself: Weir's conclusion is that Anne Boleyn--while perhaps not guilty of the laundry list of offenses on which she was indicted--was guilty of something, and thus made her own bed.

What was not stated by reviewers was that a chapter or two later, Weir writes the sentence, "In a word, Anne Boleyn was framed."

This is where I begin to be angry and confused by Tudor historians. I may not agree with your theory, but I can only respect it if you choose one and stick with it!
I am not a fan of those who publicize one stance to get me to buy a book, but then hedge their bets.

I have already decided to go back and read those chapters again. Perhaps it's me and I misunderstood her meaning.

It's funny, I knew I wouldn't like this book--but was way of on the reason why.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Date is Set for a National Celebration!

Prince William and Kate Middleton have announced that they will marry on Friday, April 29, at Westminster Abbey.

Prime Minister David Cameron said it would be "a happy and momentous occasion". It will be marked by a public holiday across the UK.

Westminster Abbey was the site of the weddings of the Queen and Queen Mother and the venue for Princess Diana's funeral in 1997.

The prince's private secretary, Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, said the couple chose the Abbey for its "staggering beauty", 1,000-year royal history and its feeling of intimacy despite its size.

I'm so excited and my best friend and I are already making plans to be together to watch the wedding -- just like we did when William's parents married!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Drawing the Tudors

I posted my sketch of the most famous portrait of Anne Boleyn last week. This week, I give you Wife Number 3: Jane Seymour.
Jane was, in my opinion, the least attractive of Henry's wives. But I LOVED sketching her because her dress and jewels were so ornate and stunning. Let me know what you think!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

On This Day in Tudor History

November 17, 1558 was monumental day in Tudor—and for that matter—English history.

It was on this day that Queen Mary I died at St. James Palace and her half sister, Elizabeth I, succeeded her to the throne, beginning the fashionable, creative, amazing Elizabethan Era in England. (think Shakespeare!)Against all odds, the daughter of Queen Anne Boleyn would become one of the greatest monarchs of all time.

Mary reigned only five years but left a legacy that would always be remembered as one of persecution and execution, leaving her with the sobriquet "Bloody Mary."

Elizabeth became queen at the age of 25, and upon hearing of her accession to the throne, she is reputed to have quoted the 118th Psalm's twenty-third line, in Latin: "A Dominum factum est illud, et est mirabile in oculis notris" - "It is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Kate & Wills Tudor Connection!

Paging through all the Prince William, Kate Middleton engagement coverage today, I stumbled upon an article that connects them to the Tudors!

I guess it shouldn't be that shocking considering the royal family is related to just about all the

royal families in European history. In fact, William and Kate are even related to each other. They are 12th cousins. Considerable separation for a royal couple.

The relative who connects the royal couple is actually a tyrant from the Elizabethan Era named Sir Thomas Leighton. According to the Daily Mail Online:

'In 1587 Leighton sailed to England to advise Sir Walter Raleigh on defence. In gratitude, the Queen gave him a knighthood, and her cousin Elizabeth Knollys' hand in marriage'

The article focuses on Leighton's terrible rule as governor of Guernsey, but take note of who he married: Elizabeth Knollys.

Elizabeth Knollys was the Queen's cousin, and a relation of Anne Boleyn through her sister. Elizabeth Knollys was the granddaughter of Mary Boleyn through her daughter, Catherine Carey. The other interesting thing is that Catherine Carey has, for many years, been the subject of speculation about her patern

ity. Catherine was conceived during the time that her mother, Mary, was Henry VIII's acknowledged mistress. Although the king never claimed paternity of Catherine or even her brother, Henry.

So, we know for sure that Kate and Wills are related to Anne Boleyn, but perhaps they are related to Henry VIII as well!

Below is the lineage of Kate and William back to the last Tudor monarch.

Another Generation of Girls Will Dream of Marrying a Prince and Want This Ring

I clearly remember waking at 4 in the morning Eastern Time to watch the royal wedding of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer. I joined the many little girls dreaming of finding her prince, being dressed in a fairy tale gown, and marrying in grand style. I even bought a replica of Diana's spectacular sapphire and diamond engagement ring, when I was old enough to afford it.

Today, as William and Kate posed for reporters, photographers, and retold the story of their engagement--just as his parents did before--Kate showed-off that very same sapphire and diamond ring that Diana wore in 1981.

According to the BBC:

William has given Kate his mother's ring. He said:

"It's very special to me. As Kate's very special to me now, it was right to put the two together."

Speaking as they stood arm-in-arm before photographers, Prince William said giving Kate his mother Diana's distinctive sapphire and diamond engagement ring was "my way of making sure my mother didn't miss out on today and the excitement".

The couple will marry in the year that would have been William's parents' 30th anniversary.

A Piece of Modern History

Taking a break from 16th century history for a moment to report modern history being made. The moment we've been waiting for has arrived: Another royal wedding!

The Prince of Wales is delighted to announce the engagement of Prince William to Miss Catherine Middleton.
The wedding will take place in the Spring or Summer of 2011, in London. Further details about the wedding day will be announced in due course.
Prince William and Miss Middleton became engaged in October during a private holiday in Kenya. Prince William has informed The Queen and other close members of his family. Prince William has also sought the permission of Miss Middleton’s father.

Following the marriage, the couple will live in north Wales, where Prince William will continue to serve with the Royal Air Force.

Monday, November 15, 2010

On This Day in Tudor History

On November 15, 1515, Thomas Wolsey was made a cardinal in the Catholic Church.
When Henry VIII became king of England in 1509, Wolsey became the King's almoner. Wolsey's affairs prospered and by 1514 he had become the controlling figure in virtually all matters of state and was extremely powerful within the church
Wolsey would become the King's chief advisor, enjoying great freedom and often depicted as an alter rex (other king). Within the church, he became Archbishop of
York , the second most important seat in England, and then was made a cardinal in 1515, giving him precedence over even the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Wolsey always aspired to be pope, but was passed over. His downfall was his inability to help Henry divorce Katherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. The Boleyns—Anne in particular—are usually credited with his political and personal demise.
His main legacy is from his interest in architecture, in particular his spectacular home, Hampton Court Palace (pictured), which still stands today.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

What REALLY Happened On This Day—November 14th—in Tudor History?

One of the more interesting claims to come out of the differing biographies and historical accounts of the Tudor Era is the possibility that Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn had more than one secret wedding ceremony and the anniversary of their ill-fated marriage is actually today, November 14, 1532.
Thanks to Elizabeth I's September 7, 1533 birthday, it's hard to dispute that Henry and Anne finally consummated their six-and-a-half-year relationship in November of 1532.
According to “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn,” Boleyn biographer Eric Ives claims Henry and Anne thought that he was sufficiently detached from Katherine of Aragon to finally have sexual relations. After all, Henry just had taken Anne on the state visit to Calais to treat with King Francis I and even he officially received her as the King of England's consort--a major coup. There are also theories (as portrayed on Showtime's The Tudors) that Henry and Anne finally slept together when their return home was delayed by storms and they remained in Calais a few days.
The idea that a 16th century king desperate for a male heir would risk any resulting child being declared illegitimate is the likely impetus for the idea that Henry and Anne would marry--perhaps in secret--as quickly as possibly after the consummation. That would mean a November ceremony or perhaps just a traditional, formal betrothal.
By January, 1553, it's clear that Anne believed herself to be pregnant and it is widely believed the couple underwent a more formal secret ceremony in front of only their closest confidents on January 25 in the turret over the entrance gate to Whitehall Palace, London. In fact, the wedding was kept so quiet that Eric Ives quotes Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial ambassador, as reporting, in March 1533, rumors that Henry would not marry Anne until Easter of that year, clearly in the dark about any earlier wedding.
According to Ives's research, Tudor chronicler, Edward Hall, was the one who wrote of the possible November ceremony, putting forward St. Erkenwald's Day (November 14, 1532) as the date.
“The king, after his return [from Calais] married privily the Lady Anne Bulleyn on Saint Erkenwald’s Day, which marriage was kept so secret that very few knew it, till she was great with child, at Easter after.”
Of course, this date meant that Elizabeth was conceived in marriage. Had the wedding been January 25, Elizabeth would have been blatantly illegitimate by any standards. There would be no defense of her bastardy.
Even Catholic apologist and Boleyn hater, Nicholas Sander, dates Henry and Anne’s marriage as the 14th November.
All of this is fairly convincing evidence of two ceremonies.
Henry VIII loved nothing more than the masque. He loved to fool people and make them believe what he wanted them to believe. It is entirely possible that he would hold a secret wedding ceremony and dissemble in public.
However, the January ceremony baffles me a bit because Henry HAD to realize that the date would put paternity of his child (and long-awaited male heir, in HIS mind) and the legitimacy in question. They clearly had to real witnesses to a November ceremony and perhaps thought they needed another ceremony--with witnesses--to make it official before Anne started showing?
Then again, there seems to be no end to the things that baffle me (and millions of others) about Anne and Henry.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Drawing the Tudors

Last year when I was unemployed and going to school I also started sketching again. I hadn't tried to sketch, draw, or paint anything in years and wasn't sure I could do it. But I was so inspired by the beautiful paintings, rich clothing, and fabulous jewels of the Tudor era that it was either sketch or dress-up in costume every day.

Since corsets, gowns, and French hoods are just not practical, I began reproducing some of Holbein (and others') most famous paintings. I'd posted one back in December -- my take on Anne Boleyn.

More to follow in the coming months.

On This Day in Tudor History

On November 12, 1555, Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester and long-time servant of three Tudor monarchs, died at the (approximate) age of 62.

Gardiner was an English Roman Catholic bishop and politician during the English Reformation period who served as Lord Chancellor during the reign of Queen Mary I of England.

Interestingly, Gardiner *may* have been a blood relation of Queen Mary I. His father is known to have been Sir William Gardner, a substantial cloth merchant of the town where he was born. His mother, Helen, was reputed to be an illegitimate daughter of Jasper Tudor, 1st Duke of Bedford.

Gardiner's abilities attracted the notice of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who made him his secretary. In 1527 he and Sir Thomas More were named commissioners of England in arranging a treaty with the French ambassadors for the support of an army in Italy against Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor.

That year he accompanied Wolsey on his important diplomatic mission to France. Henry VIII was, at this time, anxious to cement his alliance with King Francis I, and gain support for his plans to divorce Katherine of Aragon. In the course of his progress through France, Wolsey received orders from Henry to send back his secretary, Gardiner, for fresh instructions. Wolsey was obliged to reply that he positively could not spare Gardiner as he was the only instrument he had in advancing the king's "Great Matter." The next year, Wolsey sent Gardiner and Edward Foxe, provost of King's College, Cambridge, to Italy to promote the same business with the pope. Pope Clement VII, who had been recently imprisoned in Castel Sant'Angelo by mutinous soldiers of the Holy Roman Empire, had managed to escape to Orvieto and was fearful of offending Charles V. Clement refused to issue a definitive ruling concerning Henry's annulment.

Gardiner's pleading was unsuccessful and he returned home where Wolsey and the pope's legate, Cardinal Campeggio, began the infamous trial at Black Friars.

Under King Edward VI, he completely opposed the policy of the dominant party both in ecclesiastical and in civil matters. Of course he objected to the religious changes in England, both on principle and on the ground of their being moved during the king's minority. His remonstrances resulted in his being imprisoned in the Fleet, and the visitation of his diocese was held during his imprisonment. Though soon released, he was soon called before the council, and, refusing to give them satisfaction on some points, was thrown into the Tower of London, where he remained for the rest of the reign, a period of over five years.

On Queen Mary I's entry into London, Gardiner and other Catholics were set free. Gardiner was restored to his Bishopric and appointed Lord Chancellor, and he placed the crown on the queen's head at her coronation. He also opened her first parliament and for some time was her leading councillor. He was now also called upon, in old age, to undo not a little of the work in which he had been instrumental in his earlier years — to demonstrate the legitimacy of the queen's birth and the legality of her mother's marriage, to restore the old religion, and to recant his own words touching the royal supremacy.

As chancellor he had the onerous task of negotiating the queen's marriage treaty with Philip II of Spain, for which he shared a general repugnance. Shortly after this, he became ill and died quickly. He lies buried in his own cathedral at Winchester, where his effigy is still to be seen.

Gardiner is played by Terence Rigby in the 1998 film Elizabeth, where he is portrayed as a villainous bishop who took part in the Ridolfi plot and who vehemently opposed Elizabeth I's Act of Uniformity. For the record: this is quite inaccurate, as Gardiner had died before Elizabeth ascended the throne.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Tudors' Jewelry Maker on Ideeli

The jewelry maker who replicated some of the jewelry from the Showtime series The Tudors for retail (and I believe even made some pieces used on the show) is a featured brand this week on Ideeli. Sorelli has quite a few pieces that work with modern fashion and with your Renaissance/Tudor-centric costumes.

For those who don't know, Ideeli is a pretty cool little online sale site that keeps things fresh by only selling a small lot from a particular brand for a very limited time. They sell out VERY quickly... so if interested, I suggest going there now!

Check it out at

The Sorelli pieces just went on sale this morning (Nov. 10, Eastern Standard Time, USA).