Interesting Tudor-Stuart folks who you rarely see in movies

Inspired by Mississippienne’s medieval villainsthread.

One of my big irks about shows like The Tudors and the umpteen thousand novels and movies and plays and other works about Henry VIII and Elizabeth I is that in addition to telling stories everybody knows (especially the ones about Henry’s marriages) it overlooks some truly fascinating people who lived at the same time and who have seldom if ever been treated in the fictional retellings. Here are two- please by all means feel free to add more. Concentration is on Tudor Stuart England so that’s roughly 1485-1688, though we can be flexible on both date and geography.


Mary Boleyn (c.1499-1543) While she has been dealt with, her most recent solo ventured being perhaps The Other Boleyn Girl, she’s usually background and rarely gotten right. If I were to put her in a novel I would picture her something like an Emperor Claudius type character: “quality of wits may be more important than quantity”. There’s no doubt she was Henry’s mistress before her sister was, there’s much speculation he may have fathered one or both of her children (here’s a portraitof her son Henry), but she never benefitted or apparently sought to benefit from the relationship like other royal mistresses in England and elsewhere did. OTOH, while she never received the fortune and titles that her sister got, she was unique among her siblings in that she died a natural death: her sister and brother both rose much higher only to die by beheading, her father was jailed and in fear of his life, her brother’s widow was later beheaded for helping Anne and Mary’s first cousin Katherine commit adultery while queen, and of course cousin Katherine and several other Howard relations and in-laws got the axe as well.
Mary was widowed by her first husband, married for love the second time even though it meant she lived in poverty (by choice) rather than the comfort of an arranged second marriage, and kept a low profile. She ultimately died in relative wealth from the inheritances she received from her headless and disgraced relatives.
The main reason I mention her here even though she has been in movies is that my mother used to hold her up as a role model. Why, you ask?

“Because she got royally fucked with nothing to show for it, but through it all managed to keep her head.”

John Dee (1527-ca. 1608)- I’m going to link to his wikibecause there’s far too much to go into here so I’m just going to hit a few of the highlights. John Dee is one of those figures who if you wrote a novel about him people would claim you were going way too over the top for believability.

Dee was a true Renaissance man and not just because of when he lived. He was the son of a nouveau riche Welsh family who rose when the Welsh-when-convenient Henry VII became king and he had an incredible memory and intellect that could not be filled. He read everything he could and became an expert on, among other things, astronomy, astrology, navigation, building, chemistry (both alchemy and the legitimate-as-then-known chemical sciences), drawing, history, mathematics, and- increasingly and eventually to the point of obsession- magick.
He served as an advisor to Queen Elizabeth I and to other monarchs and wealthy patrons all across Europe and was one of the best traveled Englishmen of his time. He lived hand-to-mouth at times and was rolling in coin at others but almost all of his considerable earnings over the years went into his research and the accumulation of the largest library in England (larger by far than the queen’s) and one of the largest in Europe- depending on the source somewhere between 4,000 and 8,000 volumes, well into the double digit percentages of all titles then in print and in fact many he published or translated from other sources.
And speaking of things he translated, that’s where it gets really interesting: centuries before Joseph Smith, Mr. Dee was taking mystical dictation from angels and using crystals and stones to translate it. His main occupation for the last decades of his long life was his talks with angels, particularly the archangel Uriel who revealed many things to his pen pal, among them the Enochian language, all kinds of insiders guides to heaven and its workings, and even the sigil of God Himself (drawing). Uriel, Gabriel, and other recurring characters from Supernatural communicated in mysterious ways including outright appearances, possession of certain objects, crystals and other seeing stones, and by possessing Dee’s third wife. Uriel was an advocate of wife swapping, incidentally, so Dee and his associates (particularly his chief psychic advisor John Kelley) sometimes traded off wives, thus leading probably to a lot of “who can really say for sure?” genealogies since Dee and Kelley’s wives both had lots of children.
Anyway, Dee also was an early advocate of a New World empire and may have coined the term Britannia. Certainly he was an imperialist and, for all his travels from eastern Europe (where he may have tutored a young Elizabeth Bathory) to Paris to Scandinavia and back again to England, he remained a very patriotic Englishman first and foremost.

There’s a lot more to his story of course, but this should get us started. Hopefully somebody else will add (I’m currently rubbing what the man at the flea market swears is Mississippienne’s sigil) and I have a couple for later myself.

Sir Francis Walsingham - the first professional spymaster. He’s been portrayed in films but as a supporting character. It’d be interesting to see a story centered on him.

William Knollys, 1st Earl of Banbury:

Unfortunately “Walsingham, Sir Francis Walsingham…” just doesn’t roll off the tongue as attractively as “Bond, James Bond”.
The Lancashire Witches:

James I & VI could say with honesty that he wrote the book on Demonology (or, technically, Dæmonologie). Actually, probably not literally- he probably had it written and signed his name to it, and it was in fact a book on demonology, so more accurate is probably “he sponsored the authorship of a book on demonology”, but since he was king it was a bestseller and he was considered an authority on the topic. What does seem to be legitimate though is that he was fascinated by the topic of magick, particularly witches and demons and other makers of invisible evils.

So- there were two families of peasant stock who lived in site of Pendle Hillin Lancashire who
1- did not like each other and never had
2- had both had problems with the law
3- were both rumored to magick

One family was headed by a matriarch named Anne Whittle but called “Mother Chattox”, chattox being a contraction of ‘chatterbox’ because she was constantly muttering to herself or talking to others who may or may not be there. The other was headed by an elderly matriarch named Elizabeth Southerns but called “Mother Demdike” (not sure why). Mother Demdike’s granddaughter was Alizon Device, who in March 1612, 9 years into the reign of King James in England, had some form of altercation with a peddler over some pins- exactly what was at the root varies from account to account, but they argued openly about it. Alizon walked away mad, and almost immediately the peddler had a stroke and a brown (or black) dog was seen standing over him when he fell. It was obvious to all that Alizon had turned herself into a dog and hexxed him, but she made one mistake: she left him alive.

Alizon was arrested and while in custody accused her mother and brother and grandmother of witchcraft. (There were no phones in the early 17th century so consequently there was no right to a call, but this accomplished the same purpose of getting her family to come to the jailhouse.) Her brother corroborated her story but said it was mainly their mother, Elizabeth, who was the ring leader, and in true Stuart era PSA style she in turn said of her own mother, Old Demdike, “I learned it from you, okay!!!” Soon there was a big family reunion going on with all the Demdike/Device clan being hauled in including several who were never even accused of anything.

Old Demdike at this point said “Yeah, you got me copper, but howz about you let the girl go and in exchange I sing like Sammy Davis Muddapucking Junior?” and she fingered her ages old enemy Anne Whittle/Mother Chattox as the real witch queen of Lancashire. Soon Whittle and her whole clan join the Demdikes in the already crowded jail and the whole coven of them is transported to Lancaster Castle. Meanwhile the stories of this are spreading like Charlie Sheen news throughout England and growing with each retelling as every peasant and merchant who has ever had a bad experience with either family or at least ever wanted to adds their tuppence a hag to the lore.

Among things that come out in court or in gossip:

Mother Chattox was a clothing thief. Clothing was one of the most stolen items at the time as it was far more expensive then than now (this being long before the industrial revolution) and among the things she was alleged to have stolen was a capotaine hat- a conical hatsimilar to the sort Puritans wore- from the house of a local landlord who had her brought up on charges. When she was acquitted of the theft due to lack of evidence and satanic interference, she began wearing the hat everywhere, even after it was beaten up.
Also Chattox was accused of bewitching a broom to fly and apparently the sight of her and her daughter Elizabeth and her granddaughter Anne Redfern flying through the night sky was a pretty common occurrence, though one most hadn’t thought to mention. “Oh, by the way”, said Chattox, “while I’ll admit I haven’t always been a saint, at least I haven’t killed people using poppets, not like some people I could name, such as Old Demdike over there!” and at this time a search of Demdike’s house does indeed find numerous dolls that are obviously occult in purpose.

Long story short- and I recommend the long- all kinds of things come out of this. All of England is glued to this story, the pamphlets become bestsellers even before the trials are over, and the king is among those most interested since he’s known all along the land was brimming with witches. (Wrote a book about 'em- wanna read it? Here it goes…)

Ultimately the charges are dropped against most of the people who’ve been rounded up while eleven are tried for various satanic crimes. Of those, one is acquitted and ten are sentenced to death and hanged (nine in Lancashire, a tenth in Yorkshire). Their stories include lots of goodies (and this is the tip of the capotaine here), but the most important contributions were to pop culture:

1- The Halloween Witch to this day usually features a battered old pointed hat and a flying broom, both compliments of Mother Chattox
2- Precedents were set during the trial using the king’s book and its arguments for relaxed rules of evidence in witch trials that would be used again in many more witch trials in England and America (the spectral evidence at Salem for example was drawn from interpretations of these precedents)
3- Some Shakespearean scholars argue that MacBeth, which was performed many times during the reign of James I & VI as it was a huge favorite of his, may have been updated to include elements of these women as the witches, particularly the notion of a trio such as Demdike, her daughter, and granddaughter

The moral: if you’re going to change yourself into a dog to give a salesman a stroke, make sure he’s dead and make it a cute dog.

How about the two queens that outlived Henry VIII: Anne of Cleeves and Katharine Parr? Katarine’s life was soup opera fodder. After three old husbands, she finally got to marry the man her age she wanted only to watch him fall in lust (physical and political) with her stepdaughter. I have never thought Anne of Cleeves received her due. She’s usually portrayed as this simple German country noble woman without education or sophication. But she managed to get out of marriage with Henry VIII alive (he was nicer to her than most of his mistresses) and remained independent.

Alizon? Not Anathema?

Everybody ignores Henry VII, and the guy had a really fascinating life.

Another G.O. surname source: one of the people Demdike was accused of killing was named Nutter.

His mother as well. She became pregnant with him when she was twelve. Even in the 15th century it was considered shocking that her husband consummated the union- usually you waited until the bride was at least fifteen- but perhaps he knew he was going to die before the kid was born. Even more shocking: by some accounts he was her second husband (though the first union was never consummated and some just count it a betrothal, though her family did have to get an annulment).

Her mother-in-law Queen Catherine was interesting as well, especially her post-marital escapades that resulted in the Tudor dynasty. She died long before Margaret married her son.

I’ve always been fond of Anne–the one who got something out of Henry, survived him, and didn’t have to sleep with him. She usually disappears from the Tudor story immediately after she gets her annulment, but she was in fact around the court up until Mary’s reign; she died during Mary’s reign. According to Antonia Frazer’s in her biography of Henry’s six wives, Anne stayed up dancing with Catherine Howard on Catherine’s wedding day, while Henry went to bed early.

Does everybody know those stories, though? I certainly knew the broad strokes (married 6 times, created the CoE to divorce first wife, beheaded second, their fault he didn’t have a son, blah blah), but I never knew just what a Jerry Springer episode it all truly was until I started reading some of Philippa Gregory’s novels a few years back. Trust me, I would have been much more interested in history if they told us stuff like that instead of making us memorize the dates of various battles and treaty signings and shit.

Not a specific person but something about the Stuarts I’d like to know more about, and it’s one of those “details about daily life” which are a large part of what interests me about history.

School uniforms. There’s two plaid patterns which are very, very popular for those pleated skirts: apparently, both are Stuart patterns. The two patterns are almost identical: the less-popular one has a red “background” (and would be a Stuart “daily” plaid), the more-popular one has a white “background” but the bars are the same (and apparently it is a women’s version). What I’d like to know is how did those get on school uniforms: did the exiled Stuarts make a donation of cloth to a nearby school, perhaps one their own women attended? Je ne sais pas… but I’d love to.

Which is ironic since one of the many reasons he didn’t like her as a wife was because she couldn’t dance. It makes you wonder if she just blossomed after she got to England or if she was another one like Robert Graves’ Claudius playing the fool while the intelligentsia lost their head.

Lady Jane Grey. Queen of England for 9 days after Edward VI’s death, mainly through the manipulations of the Duke of Northumberland (himself a very interesting character), who ultimately wanted his son Guilford Dudley on the throne. It foundered because nobody else really wanted her on the throne, and the common people had no idea who she was. A fanatical anti-Catholic, you would have thought that she would have appealed more to the powers that be than the Catholic Mary, but Mary had a much more secure claim, and her followers ran right over Lady Jane.

I wrote a play about her. There was one biopic (I don’t recall who played her, but Cary Elwes played an unrealistically sympathetic Guilford, and Patrick Stewart was in there, too), but I didn’t care for it very much.

Lady Janewith Carter. Not a bad movie, but not very realistic.

Was the channel4 series about Elizabeth’s piratesany good?

Both of Henry VIII’s sisters were real pieces of work and one of the most frustrating things about the series The Tudors is that they blended them into one and made them less interesting than either.

Mary, the youngest, was betrothed to King Louis XII of France when she was young and she did not want to go be wed. She had tantrums, pleaded, and did most anything to avoid the fate, and while she really had no control over whether the wedding took place or not she could be a real embarrassment to the royal family so her brother finally promised her “He’s a lot older than you and when he dies you’ll probably still be young and you can marry whoever you want and I’ll approve it”. So she consented and became queen of France when she was 18 and Louis was 52.
The marriage only lasted two months before his death which of course led to many rumors. In The Tudors and in other fictionalized retellings she kills her husband. (In The Tudors they changed her husband for no apparent reason to an even older king of Portugal.) Contemporary sources indicate she may have “killed him of pleasure” however: she had dances constantly and was always pulling him into the bedroom. While 52 isn’t that old, add a few years to that age to account for the fact the 16th century had nothing like blood pressure/cholesterol/Viagra or other types of medication that extend life today, and then add another 10 or 20 years to account for the fact that he was married to an 18 year old (which would still age a middle aged man)- he basically had a heart attack of shear exhaustion, though possibly he died happy.
After his death she married Charles Brandon, one of Henry VIII’s best friends and much to Henry’s displeasure, just as her counterpart did in The Tudors. Unlike another inexplicable arbitrary change from history in The Tudors she did not die soon after but lived long enough to have at least 4 children (Lady Jane Grey was her granddaughter) and died after Henry had married “the Bullen” and died a few weeks before the birth of her niece Elizabeth.

Katharine of Aragon herself was pretty interesting: she’s mainly seen as just a longsuffering devout and pious victim, and certainly she got the extrement end of the stick in her later years, but she was fiery herself. She was the daughter of one of the most fiery couples in history (Ferdinand and Isabella) and quite a survivor, not least being her problems as the daughter of one incredibly stingy king and the ex-daughter-in-law of another (Henry VII) and having to support a household with essentially no income, then surviving to become queen. While she was queen and very pregnant she led troops in a campaign wearing maternity armor and during that battle (Henry was away on the Continent) the King of Scotland, Henry’s brother-in-law James IV and one , was killed and one of the biggest thorns in his side, was killed.
Henry’s expectation that would she quietly roll over for the divorce was of course a very unexpected and nasty surprise to him. She could have had a divorce package that would have made Anne of Cleves’ pale by comparison but of course her own position and, probably more importantly, her daughter’s place in succession meant more to her. Something I found interesting is that there’s some debate about whether her first marriage was consummated: I always assumed it wasn’t, but it seems that the assumption when he died was that it had been, so she may actually have lied about this to better defend the validity of their marriage.
Few movie retellings really give the issue of time where her annulment is concerned- it wasn’t an over and done with thing by any means but drug on for years and involved her managing to secretly squirrel correspondence to her nephew Charles V (Henry’s sometimes archenemy and one of the most powerful men in the history of Europe).

There was talk about Edward marrying her before he died - and I sort of suspect he just ran out of time. I’ve always wondered - he knew he was very ill, and she was his preference (he didn’t want Catholic Mary and didn’t seem to trust Elizabeth). I don’t think she would have been a Queen of Elizabethan proportions, but it wouldn’t surprise me if she turned out to have more backbone than her father believed she would.

Sampiro, I was just looking at the various biographies of John Dee on Amazon and wasn’t sure which one I wanted to buy. Which do you recommend?

It was part of the terms of her annulment settlement that she remain in England, but from the little I’ve read about her life afterwards, I gather that she did enjoy herself there once she was Henry’s “sister” rather than his wife. Since I just re-read the Fraser biography not too long ago, it’s fresh in my mind that she liked to gamble–something her family back in Cleeves would never have approved of.

I recommend the Fraser biography, btw–and am sorry I mispelled her name earlier.
Another person of interest is Margaret Pole, the Countess of Salisbury. She was the daughter of “Butt of Malmsey” Clarence, a niece of Edward IV and Richard III, and one of the few Plantagenets to survive Tudor efforts to clear out anybody who had a better claim to the throne than they did… almost. She was a fixture in the courts of Henry VII and VIII and as she neared the age of seventy might reasonably hope that she was safe. But it was then she was accused of treason, and suffered an extremely nasty and botched beheading.

To be honest I’ve only read online bios of him- I think I’ll check one out though. Mainly I’ve been researching him for a scholarly article (and by scholarly article I mean SUPERNATURAL fan-fic:)).

I’ve always been surprised they didn’t go ahead and marry Edward off to try and get some young wife pregnant asap when it was clear he wasn’t in the best of health.

There was one plot to marry King Henry VIII’s acknowledged bastard Henry Fitzroy to the Princess Mary even though they were half-siblings (using Abraham and Sarah as biblical justification). It didn’t come to much, largely because it was clear he wasn’t going to live long and even as desperate as Henry was for a son that was just a bit too “ewww” for him. There was also a plot to let Henry take an additional consort, which was precedented not only in the Bible but by other kings in European (though not English) history when they couldn’t have children or sons by their wife; even the Protestant Martin Luther condoned this with Philip of Hesse. Henry though didn’t want any part of this.
Usually an annulment was pro-forma when there were no sons: no other justification was needed. The two things that complicated H8’s divorce from Katherine were

1- Pope Julius II had given special dispensation that they could get married, thus Pope Clement VII would essentially be saying his predecessor was wrong, a potentially dangerous precedent
2- Charles V’s, Katherine’s nephew, was the most powerful man in Europe and already had problems with the Pope and this wasn’t really the time to intentionally piss him off

Totally off topic, but the movie Longford, about Antonia Fraser’s father Frank Longford, E. of Pakenham, is an excellent character piece. It centers on his friendship and advocacy of the murderer Myra Hindley and is well worth a watch. (This said not just to Miss Mapp but to anybody reading.)