Archive for the ‘Tudor people’ Category


Square composition, Central Tower, Canterbury Cathedral: archdiave on Flickr (click image)

Square composition, Central Tower, Canterbury Cathedral: archdiave on Flickr (click image)

My two great musical interests are English folk music, and polyphonic church music from the tudor period – English or otherwise.  William Cornysh, Thomas Tallis and Willaim Byrd are some of the major English composers from this period; Palestrina and Allegri being two great Italian composers of the time;and Tomas Luis de Victoria being probably the most famous Spanish composer of the late Renaissance.

Thomas TallisThomas Tallis

Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-23 to November 1585) made an appearance in the BBC ‘The Tudors’ series, and this seems to have stirred up a new interest in him.  Little is known about Tallis’s early life, but there seems to be agreement that he was born close to the end of the reign of Henry VII. We know that he was appointed as organist of the Benedictine priory at Dover in1532, moving, in the autumn of 1538, to the Augustinian abbey of Holy Cross at Waltham, until the abbey was dissolved.

(Try listening to the link below whilst looking at the picture on top of the blog – imagine the music echoing around the cathedral. Should you happen to be feeling in any way tense right now try doing this for a couple of minutes & see if you still feel tense! )

From there he went to Canterbury Cathedral (see photo at top of blog) and finally to Court as Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1543, composing and performing for Henry VIII, Edward VI, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth I until he died in 1585.

Throughout his service to successive monarchs in turbulent times Tallis managed to avoid religious controversy, and, like William Byrd, stayed an “unreformed Roman Catholic.”

Spem in Alium

He changed the texts to which he set music for changing monarchs to match their religious standpoint, however his music in no way feels constrained by changing religious politics.  The mood of the country in the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign leant towards puritanism, which discouraged the liturgical polyphony. However for the Holy Week services in 1573 the motet Spem in alium was written for eight five-voice choirs. The text is penitential, but the music is mesmerising, and very far from dour.

I have never put my hope in any other but in you,

O God of Israel

who can show both anger

and graciousness,

and who absolves all the sins of suffering man

Lord God,

Creator of Heaven and Earth

be mindful of our lowliness

Marriage, death and an appearance in ‘The Tudors’

Tallis married around 1552.  His wife, Joan, outlived him by four years. They apparently had no children. The television series recently produced by the BBC shows Tallis arriving in London and attracting the attention of Sir William Compton, a close friend of King Henry VIII, with the two becoming lovers.  After Compton’s death Tallis begins to court two sisters.  I have no idea whether this is accurate or not – but it makes for a good story!  Late in his life Tallis lived in Greenwich, close to the royal palace, and was buried at St Alphege’s Church.  A couplet from his epitaph reads:

As he did live, so also did he die, in mild and quiet Sort (O! happy Man).

Spike Milligan: Janesdead / Sheldon Wood on Flickr (click image)

Spike Milligan: Janesdead / Sheldon Wood on Flickr (click image)

Thomas Tallis likewise inspired this poem by Spike Milligan,

Thomas Tallis

Bore no man any malice

Save an organist called Ken

Who played his music rather badly now and then.


PPS We had an email from Phillip Sheppard (composer of the music for the recent David Starkey TV series about Henry VIII) – Phillip has added a page of tracks to his blog – click here to listen to them (password is ‘crumpets’) – his blog is called ‘Radiomovies’




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Many of the posts I have done for Tudor Stuff have touched upon people who were outlawed for their Catholic beliefs; many of these people were fined, imprisoned, tortured or executed.  In researching these stories I have often come across the name of Richard Topcliffe. Although this name is less well known today it was infamous in Elizabethan times for its association with torture and cruelty.

Early years

Somerby Church Linconshire : Rick Wilks on Flickr (Click image)

Somerby Church Linconshire : Rick Wilks on Flickr (Click image)


The Topcliffes were an old family from Somerby in Liconshire, Richard was born in 1531 but orphaned when he was aged 12 and was placed in the care of Sir Anthony Neville, his uncle.  It seems that Topcliffe may have entered the Queens service in some capacity before she ascended to the throne. Family connections helped him to become Member of Parliament for Beverley in Yorkshire and eventually secured him a role in the official investigation of those perceived to be enemies of the state.

Torture chamber I HDR : Photo hans jesus wurst on Flickr (Click image)

Torture chamber I HDR : Photo hans jesus wurst on Flickr (Click image)

Bully  and sexual fantasist?

From the 1570’s onward, England had no shortage of external enemies but the most suspicion fell upon its Catholic minority. Special attention was given to the Priests who were being smuggled into England to minister to these Catholics, it was in the persecution of this group that Topcliffes talents were most often employed.

Although Topcliffe seems to have been used at different times by the Privy Council, Lord Burghley and the spy master Walsingham, he was known to boast of his links to Queen Elizabeth. One of his victims, a Priest called Thomas Pormont reprted that Topcliffe had boasted to him that the Queen had allowed him to touch her breasts and legs and also;

‘that he felt her belly and said unto Her Majesty that she had the softest belly of any womankind’

It is hard to read anything about Topcliffe without getting the impression that this was a man who enjoyed his work. John Gerard wrote about meeting him after he was arrested in 1594. Apparently Topcliffe said to him

You know who I am? I am Topcliffe. No doubt you have heard people talk about me?

Clearly, Topcliffe thought that the mention of his name might be enough to frighten people. In order to heighten the effect Topcliffe hit the table with his sword as he said this. Gerard reported that he was unimpressed although he had indeed heard of Topcliffe, describing him as ‘a cruel creature’ who ‘thirsted for the blood of Catholics’

Torture bed : jeff caires on Flickr (Click image)

Torture bed : jeff caires on Flickr (Click image)


So closely was Topcliffe associated with the practice of Torture that the term ‘Topcliffian practices’ became known as a euphemism for torture. There are many accounts of his involvement with this, and again it is easy to get the impression that he took personal enjoyment from this.

He is known to have had his own ‘stronge chamber’ in his London house where he boasted that he kept a personally designed machine for torture – ‘compared with which the rack was mere childs play’ – we can only guess what form this machine may have taken. It is also likely that he helped to pioneer the use of manacles, a ‘lesser torture’ than the rack but still devastating in its effect upon victims.

Torture chair : Brian Gilmore on Flickr (click image)

Torture chair : Brian Gilmore on Flickr (click image)

A useful but little regarded servant of the State

Although he was useful to the Elizabethan state it seems likely that there was no love for a man who may have been considered a necessary evil. In his later years Richard Topcliffe retired from London and spent most of his time in his estates in Yorkshire and at Badley Hall in Derbyshire where  he died in 1604.

There are no pictures of Topcliffe that I know of ( unless anyone can correct me?).  I though it appropriate to use images of torture instead. Also, as an Amnesty International supporter I have added a link to their information about torture – sadly, there are plenty of modern Topcliffes still at work.
See also our earlier post ‘Torture – rack and manacles’


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Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I By Nicholas Hilliard 1586-1587 (V&A museum - click image)

Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I By Nicholas Hilliard 1586-1587 (V&A museum - click image)

I was recently looking for a book about Tudor Portraits and came across this book by Maurice Howard. The book doesn’t just cover portraits, there are references to items such as engravings, tapestry and funeral monuments. The author points out that the Tudor period saw an explosion in the production and use of artistic imagery. Some things were designed for private contemplation, for example the portrait minature  (see this wonderful Blog for more about this).  However, many other items seem to have been designed to display wealth and power. Looking through collections of artwork one gets an idea of the competition to acquire the the most elaborate and decorative items.

Pair of Gloves 1603 -1625 Victoria & Albert Museum (click image)

Pair of Gloves 1603 -1625 Victoria & Albert Museum (click image)


It is suprising how many portraits include subjects wearing – or quite frequently just holding gloves. Many of these are very highly decorated and are elongated into lace and pearl covered gauntlets. It seems hard to imagine that it would have been practical (or even possible?) to wear some of these pairs of gloves.

In his biography of Shakespeare, Anthony Holden discusses the playwrights father John who was known to have been a glover. After soaking the hides of deer, goats and sheep he would make the leather into gloves as well as other items such as belts and purses.

Elizabethan glove: little miss sunnydale on Flickr (Click image)

Elizabethan glove: little miss sunnydale on Flickr (Click image)

Over elaborate & a bit odd?

Of course, Stratford was a rural provincial backwater and it seems unlikely that John Shakespeare would have been turning out anything as elaborate as items being produced for use in London. As well as gloves, there are over-decorated shoes, sleeves, hats and of course the ruff. Look at this image from 1613 of the 3rd Earl of Dorset, Richard Sackville. No doubt the Earl dressed in his very finest clothes for the portrait. Clearly, the fashion for elaboration had continued to develop long after John Shakespeares day.

Richard Sackville 3rd Earl of Dorset c1613 William Larkin

Richard Sackville 3rd Earl of Dorset c1613 William Larkin

Really quite odd?

The Saltonstall Family 1636-37. Odd and just a little disturbing - what was he thinking of?
The Saltonstall Family 1636-37. Odd and just a little disturbing – what was he thinking of?

Look at this picture by David des Granges of the Saltonstall family. This painting is a family record which shows Sir Richard Saltonstall with his new wife and baby (seated) as well as his two  children from his first marriage. It has been suggested that the children are painted as they were at the time of their mothers death. The dead mother is lying in bed behind them all – her husband is vaguely waving his gloves in her direction. Can you imagine how such a picture would be recieved today? – it would be quite easy to make this sort of thing in photoshop. Surely this is one of the oddest pictures ever? Would you want it on your wall?

Is it just me, but..

Not for the first time when looking at Tudor images I find myself thinking how, well – odd it all looks. The Tudors really had a very different idea about what looked good – to modern eyes it all looks a little strange. Don’t you think that the Earl above looks just a little ridiculous? For me, the best expression of this came in this episode of Blackadder – have a look at this and ask yourself what Blackadder would have said about the Earl.

What do you think? Comments as ever are really welcome.



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Memorial to Anne Tree, Thomas Dungate and John Foreman

Memorial to Anne Tree, Thomas Dungate and John Foreman

This is a guest post from Robert Warwick who has written about an event that happened in his home town in Tudor times. We are delighted to have this post – partly because we have covered Catholic persecution quite often but as yet haven’t really said much about the dreadful religious persecutions that took place under the catholic rule of Queen Mary – hopefully this post will do a bit to redress the balance.

Anne Tree, Thomas Dungate and John Foreman

On 18th July 1556 three people were burned to death in the small Sussex town of East Grinstead, between London and Brighton on the South Coast of the UK.  Their names were Anne Tree, Thomas Dungate and John Foreman.  To some they were witches, to others heretics, to many – martyrs for carrying their protestant beliefs to their deaths. Ordinary people caught up in the struggle between the protestant and catholic churches after the death of Henry VIII.

St Swithuns, East Grinstead

St Swithuns, East Grinstead

Remembered to this day

The five years of the reign of Mary I, also known as Bloody Mary, from 1553 saw countless deaths, but even today these three martyrs are remembered by many who live in East Grinstead. In the churchyard of St Swithun’s, on the High Street, there are three slabs to commemorate them.  Even today it is not at all uncommon to see small posies of flowers laid underneath their inscribed names.  The actual resting place for their ashes remain unknown, but many think that they are somewhere in the graveyard, yards away from their memorial.  Just a few years ago over one hundred people turned up at a ceremony to commemorate the four hundred and fiftieth anniversary of their death.  The three of them were each tied to a stake and burned alive a few paces over the road from the church just outside the gentleman’s and lady’s outfitters, Broadley Brothers, a shop that has remained almost completely unchanged for the forty years or so I have known it.

East Grinstead High Street - today it is hard to imagine the horror that took place here

East Grinstead High Street - today it is hard to imagine the horror that took place here in 1556

East Grinstead

Today East Grinstead is the home for 24,000 or so people, many of whom have a daily commute into London.  In Tudor times things were very different.  The population of the town itself was about 300, comprising of a windmill, slaughter house, a currying house for dressing leather and a blacksmith’s forge.  Politically there were forty eight houses (or burgages) that were eligible to vote for the town’s two Members of Parliament.

Travelling in Sussex was a hazardous business, with poor roads and the constant threat of robbery.  East Grinstead was a convenient stopping off point for travellers and was a favoured location for Assizes for those judges that were too timid to venture further south.  The picture this paints is of a vibrant close knit community, small by today’s standards and certainly not immune to the political and religious upheavals of the day.  They were not the only ones to suffer.

St Swithuns churchyard - memorial stones are in the foreground

St Swithun's churchyard - memorial stones are in the foreground

Executed for heresy

In the same year Thomas Hoath, a priest was also accused of heresy and executed at the hand of the state.  John Smyth was excommunicated, his fate unknown.  But it is the story of these three ordinary people, killed in extra-ordinary times, that still manages to capture the imagination of East Grinstead townsfolk.

Although I live within a five minute walk of where the martyrs died I find it almost impossible to compare my life, and the town where I have lived most of my life, with that of the martyrs and others who lived here at the time of Mary’s reign.

All pictures by Rob Warwick



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Anne Of Cleeves

Anne Of Cleves

‘Nothing so fair as she has been reported’

Anne was in many ways the luckiest of all Henry’s wives.  She outlived all of the others – and outlived Henry VIII himself by ten years.  Her more peaceful and fortunate life can be put down to the fact that she just wasn’t Henry’s type.  She was described by the French ambassador, Charles de Marillac, as tall and slim and ‘of middling beauty’; however when Henry rode out to meet his betrothed at Rochester he complained that ‘She is nothing so fair as she hath been reported’.

Despite these misgivings the couple were married at Greenwich in 1540 by Thomas Cranmer.  Their first night as husband and wife was not a happy one. Henry confided to Cromwell that the marriage had not been consummated, saying, ‘I liked her before not well, but now I like her much worse’.

Thomas Cromwell arranged the marriage his relationship with the King was fatally damaged by this

Thomas Cromwell arranged the marriage: his relationship with the King was fatally damaged


Whereas Henry admired educated women, Anne could not play a musical instrument, nor was she very literary or cultured – preferring needlework and cards.  She had received no formal education as a child.  She could read and write, but only in German.  She is described as having a peaceable personality; and although it may not to have sparked passion in Henry it seems to have led to a lasting friendship.

Thomas Cromwell had brokered the marriage to try to form an alliance with Anne’s family against Emperor Charles V.  After first meeting Anne, Henry urged Cromwell to find a way of breaking off the arrangement without endangering the alliance – but at the time this seemed impossible.  When the marriage was not consummated on the wedding night Henry had cause to seek an annulment.  Anne did not contest it.

Hever Castle: Photo by Sez D onFlickr ( Click image)

Hever Castle: Photo by Sez D onFlickr ( Click image)

A Lasting Friendship

Henry was very grateful for Anne’s co-operation, and she received a generous settlement.  She was given Richmond Palace, and Hever Castle, home of Henry’s former in-laws, the Boleyns.  Henry and Anne became good friends – she was referred to as ‘the King’s Beloved Sister’, and Henry decreed that she would be given precedence over all women in England save his own wife and daughters.

Better perhaps to be ‘not so fair’ and ‘of midding beauty’ after all!

See more about Anne of Cleves & her family in another post

PS Take a look at more of Sez D’s excellent photos here – it is well worth a look!




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The Execution of Lady Jane Grey by Paul Delaroche. National Gallery, London

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey by Paul Delaroche. National Gallery, London

As Edward VI lay on his deathbed in 1553 he wanted a protestant heir to the throne – (or at least his advisors did ). He was only 15 years of age. Rather than name his Catholic half-sister Mary as his successor, he left the throne to his aunt’s descendents, in the knowledge that Jane, a staunch protestant, would be next in line to the throne.

Mary I Declared Queen

However, within only a few days, Mary had gathered enough support to ride into London in a triumphal procession. Parliament declared Mary the rightful Queen – and Jane and her husband were imprisoned for treason. Jane’s husband Guilford was publicly beheaded at Tower Hill. A horse and cart brought his body back to the Tower of London, past the rooms where Jane was held prisoner. Jane was then taken out to Tower Green for a private execution rather than a public one – this was expressly ordered by Queen Mary out of respect for her cousin.

Queen Mary

Queen Mary, allowed Jane a private execution

The Scaffold

On ascending the scaffold Jane gave her gloves and handkerchief to her maid, and then recited Psalm 51 in English. Tyndale had translated the Bible into English in 1525, but any editions before 1570 were very rare so it is possible that Jane translated this psalm herself, as she was a scholar of biblical languages. The Roman Catholic priest sent by Mary to try to convert Jane to Catholicism, stayed with her during the execution.

“What shall I do? Where is it?”

Jane is reported to have turned to the executioner saying, “I pray you dispatch me quickly”. Then, indicating her head, asked, “Will you take it off before I lay me down?” to which the executioner answered, “No, madam”. Jane put on her blindfold herself, wanting to go to her death with dignity – however once blindfolded, she could not find the executioner’s block, and began to panic, crying “What shall I do? Where is it?” (This is the moment depicted in the painting by Delaroche above) An unknown hand helped her, and with her head on the block, Jane spoke the last words of Jesus from St Luke’s gospel, “Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit!” She was then beheaded.

Psalm 51

edge2Have mercy upon me, O God,

according to thy lovingkindness:

according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.

Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.

Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.

Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.

edgeCreate in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.

Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.

Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.

O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.

For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem.

Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.


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Lady Jane Grey

Lady Jane Grey

Lady Jane Grey, Queen for nine days, executed at the age of 17, was more than just a pawn in the religious and state politics of Tudor England.  We will write more about the end of her short life in a future post, but for today we want to focus on her early life.

Bradgate Park

Jane was born at Bradgate Park in Leicestershire, famous today for its herds of red deer and fallow deer.  Jane was the eldest daughter of Henry Grey, Marquess of Dorset and his wife Lady Frances Brandon.  Through her mother, Jane was great-granddaughter to Henry VII.  Jane had a very difficult childhood, even by the standards of the time.

Bradgate Park (prakashodedra on Flickr: Click image)

Bradgate Park (prakashodedra on Flickr: Click image)

A strict childhood

Her mother, Lady Brandon, was a strict and really very cruel disciplinarian.  She seems to have been irritated by Jane’s personality.  She thought that Jane was too meek and gentle, and attempted to toughen her up with regular beatings. Starved of affection and a mother’s love and understanding Jane became a bookworm.  She turned out to be a very able scholar and quickly mastered skills in the arts and languages. Despite this Jane felt that nothing she could do would please her parents. She confided in a visiting tutor from Cambridge, Roger Ascham, saying,

“When I am in the presence of either Father or Mother, whether I speak, keep silence, sit, stand or go, eat, drink, be merry or sad, be sewing, playing, dancing, or doing anything else, I must do it as it were in such weight, measure and number, even so perfectly as God made the world; or else I am so sharply taunted, so cruelly threatened, yes presently sometimes with pinches, nips and bobs and other ways … that I think myself in hell.”

Photo of Bradgate Park by American-Psycho-UK on Flickr (click image)

Photo of Bradgate Park by American-Psycho-UK on Flickr (click image)

Jane Grey – scholar

Jane threw herself into her studies and became learned in Latin, Greek and Hebrew as well as modern languages. Through the teachings of her tutors, she became a committed Protestant.  Her faith was clearly a source of strength to her throughout her short life, and at her execution – more of that in a future post.

Young, beautiful and learned Jane, intent
On knowledge, fount it peace; her vast acquirement
Of goodness was her fall; she was content
With dulcet pleasures, such as calm retirement
Yields to the wise alone; — her only vice
Was virtue: in obedience to her sire
And lord she died, with them a sacrifice
To their ambition: her own mild desire
Was rather to be happy than be great;
For though at their request, she claimed the crown,
That they through her might rise to rule the state,
Yet the bright diadem and gorgeous throne
She viewed as cares, dimming the dignity
Of her unsullied mind and pur benignity.

by William Hone (1780 -1842)

Inscribed beneath a portrait of Lady Jane Grey



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