Handbags at Court

I know it’s been a while, and I’m sorry about that but it’s partly because of this:

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And also because of this:

We're buying it, not selling it

We’re buying it, not selling it

As I’m sure you can appreciate, these have left little time for blogging. However, I’ve been writing about family and kinship lately and unpacking all the layers of understanding within early modern relationships, and I thought I’d give you a taste. I like this vignette not only because I can imagine it taking place (scene in a film, anyone?) but because it illustrates the points I’m currently trying to make so nicely.

In December 1529, Spanish ambassador Eustace Chapuys reported a quarrel at court between the two Duchesses of Norfolk, the most senior women of the dynasty. On some unspecified court occasion, Elizabeth Stafford-Howard, the junior or ‘current’ Duchess, had tried to take precedence ahead of Agnes Tylney-Howard, the widowed dowager Duchess. Unsurprisingly, the Queen (Catherine of Aragon) refused to allow this. Elizabeth and her husband Thomas II, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, were ‘much offended’, noted Chapuys, ‘especially the Duchess who comes of the House of Lancaster’. She and the Duke spoke many ‘angry words’ that the Queen, in Chapuys’s opinion, was unlikely to forgive. This was important to the Spanish in the context of bringing the Duke of Norfolk onto their ‘side’ of the King’s ‘Great Matter’, but it also reveals that relationships between female kin could be complicated, with several co-existing ‘layers’ of perception and expression.
On the most obvious level, this was a spat between two holders of the same title about their relative status. While there could only ever be one male titleholder at a time, it was possible for several women to share the same title, and therefore the same duties and responsibilities, at the same time. When a nobleman died, his title passed to his heir. If he left a widow, she retained her courtesy title, but his successor’s wife also gained it, creating a situation where two women possessed a title concurrently. If several male holders died within a short space of time and each left a widow, there could be several women all using the same title. It is easy to see that this might cause friction between the individuals concerned. In this case, Agnes, therefore, was the dowager or ‘the old’ Duchess of Norfolk, while Elizabeth, as the wife of the current male titleholder, was ‘the young’ Duchess, and Elizabeth felt that she ought to take precedence. This may also have been about conflict between different family lines or branches, for while Elizabeth’s immediate Howard relations formed the inheriting line, Agnes, as the previous duke’s second wife, now headed an alternative Howard branch which might well have been considered the ‘junior’, and thus the subordinate, branch by Norfolk and Elizabeth.
An aside in Chapuys’ report suggests that there was more to it. Both Norfolk and Elizabeth were offended by the Queen’s decision to place Agnes first, but ‘especially the Duchess, who belongs to the house of Lancaster’. This was a reference to Elizabeth’s natal status as a daughter of Edward Stafford, third Duke of Buckingham, who had strong links to the royal line through his Woodville ancestry. Though women nominally gave up their natal family name and thus status when they married, this statement suggests that Elizabeth felt that her pre-marital status remained relevant even after marriage into a new family. Agnes, the dowager Duchess, did not come from such exalted stock. Her natal family, the Tylneys, were Lincolnshire gentry. If not for their marital titles, Elizabeth would have been far above Agnes in the pecking order of precedence. It would appear that Elizabeth felt that this ought to carry weight even after marriage had brought both women into the same family and nominally levelled the playing field. This dispute, therefore, was not only about title precedence, but apparently also about these women’s noble status ‘underneath’ their titles; another ‘layer’ to consider when examining noblewomen’s kinship networks.
On yet another level, Agnes and Elizabeth’s marriages to successive dukes of Norfolk meant that not only did they share a title, but that they were also step-mother-in-law and step-daughter-in-law. Then as now, this relationship could be particularly fraught. Moreover, women’s relations to stepchildren also had the potential to be difficult, since the presence of a stepmother often complicated matters of inheritance. Elizabeth, therefore, was not only quarrelling with another noblewoman over status; she was picking a fight with her mother-in-law. But did she see it in this way? The incident with the Duchesses of Norfolk was reported by Chapuys. The insinuation that natal status and familial relationship played a role in Elizabeth’s reaction is therefore made by an outsider to this network. Though we cannot therefore be sure it accurately reflects Elizabeth’s own feelings, it does tell us that outsiders thought that it did, and that they accepted the continued importance of women’s natal status after marriage. Chapuys also highlighted the personal relationship between the two women as mother and daughter-in-law, again showing that all of these layers were perceived by outsiders as well as those involved. Ultimately Elizabeth may not have been thinking of the kinship relation between them at all when she fought for her own precedence, or alternatively she may have been perfectly well aware of it and this may denote a poor personal relationship.

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Katherine Howard: Background and ‘Cast’

Alright so this isn’t what you’d truly call ‘live-blogging’. But we’re still absolutely in Katherine Howard season (she sticks around till February, folks) so I’m still going to write posts about this, even if they aren’t strictly a day-by-day, blow-by-blow account. For these to make sense, though, I want to give you a bit of background and an introduction to the people around Katherine who got tangled up in her fall.

What we know about Katherine’s childhood would almost fit onto the head of a pin. We’re not sure exactly when she was born; sometime between 1518 and 1524, the later year looking more likely. Her father was Lord Edmund Howard, brother of Thomas, third Duke of Norfolk, and her mother was Edmund’s first wife, Joyce or Jocasta Culpeper-Legh. This was Joyce’s second marriage, so Katherine had a number of Legh half-siblings as well as several full ones. (Early modern people tended not to distinguish between half, full, or step siblings). Although the Howards were ridiculously rich and powerful, Katherine’s father was only a younger son and seems to have been fairly hopeless, particularly with money. There are several surviving ‘begging’ letters written by him to Wolsey, complaining that he didn’t have enough money and that his family wouldn’t help him. This meant that Katherine didn’t grow up in the kind of material luxury enjoyed by many other Howard relatives.

Katherine’s mother died in 1527, when Katherine may have been as young as three. It’s not clear what the family did between then and 1531, but at that point Lord Edmund was made Comptroller of Calais. It’s generally thought that this is when Katherine was sent to her grandmother’s household at Horsham, rather than going with her father to Calais. 1531 makes sense in the context of that household too. Katherine’s grandmother was Agnes Tylney-Howard, dowager Duchess of Norfolk, widow of the second Duke of Norfolk, and she lived between Horsham in Sussex and Norfolk House in Lambeth, next door to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s palace. Agnes kept a reasonably large household, with a number of gentlewomen and female servants including some relations. In 1531, though, there was a vacancy; another Katherine, Katherine Broughton, a joint-heiress whose wardship Agnes had purchased from the Crown in 1525, married Agnes’s son Lord William Howard, and so moved out of her household. It makes sense that this would be the time for Agnes to take on a new young female relation.

Katherine found herself in a world of Howard relations, clients, and general hangers-on. Agnes’s son Lord William and daughter – another Katherine, Lady Daubeney – were frequent visitors, as were their children. A ‘Henry Howard, Esquire’ and his wife Anne Howard were also among the household, and these might have been Katherine’s brother and sister-in-law. Another cousin, Katherine Tylney, was in a similar situation to our Katherine. There were other women working as ladies-in-waiting, maids of honour and chamberers, and the line between them and Agnes’s wards seems to have been quite blurry; they all slept in one big chamber. Those in the service of other Howards were also frequent visitors to Agnes’s household.

Katherine seems to have found her feet pretty quickly. It’s no secret what she got up to during these years under her grandmother’s roof. She had sexual affairs first with Henry Mannox, who was her virginals tutor, and then Francis Dereham, in service to her uncle the Duke of Norfolk. There are two basic schools of thought on Katherine; that she was promiscuous and should have known better, or that she was effectively the victim of sexual abuse. I’m not going to get into this here as her early affairs deserve a post in their own right, but I’ll give you a hint that I’m sceptical of the latter.

Nor was Katherine alone in her exploits here. Others in the ‘maidens’ chamber’ – Joan Bulmer, Alice Wilkes, Katherine Tylney – also had affairs with visiting men. In fact, Katherine bribed her grandmother’s chamberer to steal the key to their room so that she could let the boys in. Agnes’s reaction to this also deserves more attention because again there are two schools of thought; either she didn’t give a damn, or she did give a damn, but found it impossible to control her household. Neither seem to fit the bill.

This was the state of affairs for Katherine until early 1540. With the arrival of the King’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, Katherine was plucked from her grandmother’s household and sent to take up a place at the royal court as one of the new Queen’s maids of honour. Soon her cousin Katherine Tylney had joined her. The King, as is well known, was not enamoured with his new bride and swiftly wanted out of the marriage. Following his usual pattern, he fell in love with one of her ladies in waiting instead: Katherine.

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So, er, I do not keep my promises. I haven’t live-blogged Katherine Howard’s fall as I said I would and I’m sorry about that. Term overtook me in tsunami fashion. I’ve also been busy signing my book contract with Oxford University Press (MEGA YAY), finally getting an article accepted for the journal Historical Research, and finishing another one that now needs to sit for a bit before I reread it and send it off somewhere else. Apparently publications are like buses. Never to speak of the usual teaching, marking, seminar convening, general arranging of things.

In other news, I’ve been knitting (my back can tell you all about that) but I can’t show you pictures, because I’m knitting Christmas presents for people who might plausibly read this! I’ve also been driving myself slightly crazy with this:


The white markings are painted on in white pigment dissolved in a teeny amount of water, and then I use a paint eraser and small brush to painstakingly remove white from the edges and the spots in the middle, to create the pattern. It is not an activity for the impatient.

I now have a small amount of breathing space so I will try to get some stuff up on Katherine. Honest.

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Katherine Howard: Live Blog

The fall of Katherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth Queen, in the winter of 1541-2 was shocking and fast-moving, and hit the royal court like a sledgehammer. It hit the Queen herself like an axe in the neck.* Katherine’s fall generally receives less attention than the fall of her first cousin Anne Boleyn. Mostly this is because there’s far, far less doubt of her guilt. The debate is more about what level of guilt she had actually reached – did she sleep with Culpeper, or did she just want to? It’s also slightly less shocking than Anne’s demise simply because it had happened before.

For me it’s no less interesting because of these things. In fact in many ways Katherine’s fall is the more fascinating, because it involved so many family members. When Anne was executed, the only other family member implicated was her brother George. When it was Katherine’s turn, at least ten family members were dragged down with her, and her uncle the Duke of Norfolk was reduced to grovelling in a way that he had not had to do five years previously. You can really drill down into contemporary perceptions of kinship, family, and dynasty here.

For these reasons I’m going to be ‘live-blogging’ the fall of Katherine Howard throughout this winter. For every day that something significant happened in this saga, I’ll write a post. Follow me, and you can see the whole thing unfold day by day. It won’t all make for ‘comfortable’ reading- we are talking about these peoples’ journey to their death, and they often knew that as well as we do. But it should take us to the heart of the Tudor court during this period, and to the heart of the Howard dynasty. Stay tuned for the first post – a ‘preview’ into the people involved.

If you’re interested, here is some stuff to read. Interestingly there’s very little proper scholarly stuff on Katherine Howard, but you can get a good idea from these:

  • Lacey Baldwin Smith, Catherine Howard (London, re-issued 2010). This is probably still the ‘classic’ biography of Katherine. It’s what I would call scholarly-ish; written by a scholar, but in the 70s and so rather out of date, and written for a wider audience, so fewer footnotes. Read with a pinch of salt.
  • David Starkey, Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII (London, 2003). Again, a little dodgy on the scholarly front, but very readable and gives a great overview of events.
  • John Bellamy, The Tudor Law of Treason: An Introduction (London, 1979).

David Loades has recently published a biography of Catherine Howard (Catherine Howard: the adulterous wife of Henry VIII (London, 2012)) but I haven’t read it yet so I’m hesitant to recommend it without knowing what’s in it. At a guess I would say it brings existing material together in a readable format, but without adding anything new.

If you can get access to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, check out the entry for Katherine. It makes interesting reading next to some of the stuff above.


* I know, that was dreadful, and I’m sorry, but not sorry enough to take it out.

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It’s been a little while! Sorry about that but I’ve been on holiday. So what news. Well, Cornwall was lovely as it always is.

Gig racing at Port Isaac

Gig racing at Port Isaac

While there we – as always – went to several historic houses. Trerice, the home of the Arundell family, was built in the late sixteenth-century and then monkied about with after that. Carelessly I don’t have any pictures of the house itself, but it had some amazing things inside!

Seventeenth-century stump work!

Seventeenth-century stump work!

Terrifyingly creepy figures

Terrifyingly creepy figures

Very cool plaster ceiling

Very cool plaster ceiling

We also made a pilgrimage to St Enodoc’s Church to find John Betjeman’s grave, and in the church entrance there was this amazing seventeenth-century gravestone.

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After that I house-and-cat-sat for my parents, and while there I gave poor earless pony some new ears, and also a new mane and tail.

Not too bad for a first sculpting effort!

Not too bad for a first sculpting effort!

While sculpting I put music on and sang along…Paolo the cat didn’t think much of that!

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It being Autumn, I’ve also picked up knitting again, but I can’t show you that because it’s a present for somebody. Term is about to start at both Chichester and Royal Holloway, and I’m also engaged in doing some specialist research for a TV documentary that I can’t tell you about yet.

Now that I’m back into a normal routine of research and writing I promise there will be some actual history on here soon. There should also be some Even More Exciting News! Watch this space!

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…things lose their ears around here.

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*Elf of Safety note. This was my first time using an attachment drill (like a Dremel, in my case a different brand). Nobody is lying when they tell you to use goggles and some kind of facemask. I did, albeit somewhat sceptically, and Blimey O’Reilly If I hadn’t I would be trying to get plastic out of my eyes right now. Teeny bits go everywhere and I mean everywhere. Hoovering afterwards was necessary. I’ve just found bits between my toes. (?!). So for the love of whatever you love, please be safe.

Also I promise she is going to get shiny new ears soon. After (probably) a bit more abuse with a knife and sandpaper. Watch this space.



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How cute are these?!

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They are cat beads by Laura Sparling at http://www.beadsbylaura.co.uk/. Each is about a centimetre and a smidge tall, and they are GORGEOUS! I got a tortoiseshell, a grey, a tabby, and a ginger. They are for my Auntie Annie, my sister Lyndsey, my mum, and me respectively. You can pay extra to have them made up as necklace pendants, but I thought why pay for what I could do myself….so…!

All except the ginger were done with silver because it just seemed to go better. Also, I wasn’t intending to provide chains, because I figured most people have a silver chain they could use for this, and sterling silver chain is expensive. This meant all I needed was some sterling silver wire (I *think* I used 0.6mm gauge) some plain silver bead caps, plain silver beads, and silver pendant bails, and one set the same in gold. I had all this stuff except the bails already in my stash so I can’t tell you where they were all from, but none of it’s difficult to find. The bails I ordered from beadworks. My favourite ‘local’ bead shop is The Bead Shop on Seven Dials in Covent Garden.

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I’d love to tell you the length of wire I used here but I am too approximate (which is why I’m not better at this – expert jewellery makers use precise measurements and write them down for next time, I guesstimate). *Some* silver wire, then, and a silver bead cap on the bottom. Then, with some effort and swear words, I held onto the top of the wire like grim death and spiralled the other end on top of the bead cap to create an end so the cat can’t slide off. Silver wire is pretty soft so I did this with my fingers.

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Finally I added a plain silver bead to the top and made a wrapped loop, tucking the end in so it wouldn’t scratch. I don’t have pictures of this bit but making a loop like this is pretty basic. Try this: http://jewelrymakingjournal.com/make-a-wrapped-wire-loop/

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Hurrah! Just added the bail, and then voila, pendants!

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Three out of four are now with their new owners, and the last one is going in the post today. After this all I need to do is make a gold chain to go with mine, since all I have finished at the moment is copper. Happy crafting all!


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