Monday, 27 February 2017

A Duchess of Burgundy

John I of Portugal
The Portuguese-English Alliance

Isabella of Portugal was the only daughter of King John I of Portugal and his wife Philippa of Lancaster[i]. King John gained his throne following the death, in 1383, of his brother Ferdinand. Ferdinand’s only surviving child, the ten year old Beatrice, was married to King John of Castile. The Portuguese had no desire to be swallowed up by the Castilians, whose king was hungry to expand his domains. An interregnum followed the king’s death in October 1383 as the two John’s fought it out.

On 6th April 1685 the Portuguese Cortes pronounced John, Master of the Order of Aviz[ii], king of Portugal. The Battle of Aljubarrota, fought on 14th August 1385, between the Castilians and the Portuguese, resulted in a resounding victory for the Portuguese commanded by John and his general Nuno Alvarez Piera. More than 5,000 Castilian soldiers were killed after the battle. In October the Battle of Valverde merely served to confirm Portuguese independence from Spain.

John of Gaunt
The following year the newly crowned King John came to the aid of his father-in-law John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, when he attempted to take the throne of Castile by right of marriage[iii]. The Duchess of Lancaster and her daughter followed the army who were unimpressed. According to Froissart’s Chronicles the men grumbled;

‘What was the Duke of Lancaster thinking of….when he planned a big campaign yet brought his wife and daughter with him? It has held us back all to no purpose….As for the campaign and the capture of towns, cities and castles, the ladies are not much help there.’[iv]

Eventually John of Gaunt returned home having lost a large part of his army to sickness.

The Royal Family

Born in Évora, on 17th January 1397, Isabella was one of six children and the only girl. Her oldest brother Edward was born in 1391, Peter[v] in 1392, Henry[vi] in March 1394, after Isabella came John[vii] born in January 1400[viii]. The last child, of what was to become known as the Illustrious Generation, was Ferdinand born in September 1402. The children had an older half-brother Don Alfonso[ix], the result of King John’s liaison with his mistress Inês Peres.
Don Alfonso

Although John is viewed by historians as not particularly bright he was an effective leader and a warrior who had a dream of recreating the Arthurian legend in Portugal. His sons were taught to venerate him as the saviour of Portuguese independence. John used the younger and lower ranking nobility to counter-balance the power of the older nobles and clergy, something that was viewed by the old aristocracy with disdain;

‘Another and new world then arose and a new generation of men; for the sons of people of such low degree that it would not be fitting to name them were, at that time, made knights for their good services to the king, and for their courage.’[x]

John also kept control of the machinery of government solely in his hands.

Philippa was a contrast to her husband imbued with the spirit of pragmatism. She was in control of the children’s education and instilled in them a strong religious faith and the sense of royal duty. Henry was dedicated to biblical and theological studies[xi] with an interest in liturgical matters, an interest inherited from his mother.

Philippa also involved herself in the affairs of the home she left behind her; intervening with her brother Henry IV, when he usurped the throne from their cousin Richard II, to help Richard’s followers. She also arranged the marriage of the Earl of Arundel[xii] to marry John’s illegitimate daughter Beatriz[xiii].

An Unusual Childhood

Philippa of Lancaster
Isabella was allowed to play with her older brothers, despite the formalities of the queen’s nursery. Isabella also helped to look after her younger brothers John and Ferdinand when they were small. John was to become a private and retiring person as an adult, while Ferdinand adored his adventurous brother Henry and dreamed of following in his footsteps.

The children were tutored to read in several languages including Latin, French, English and Italian, and were also taught science and mathematics. The royal children’s education, probably managed by Philippa, was of high quality as evidenced by their literary writings in adult life. Philippa imbued her children with admiration for the Plantagenet ancestry. In the spirit of her parents’ renaissance court Isabella was an avid reader and the siblings all enjoyed horse riding and hunting.

Edward was more suited to be a scholar than a king while his brother Charles had a temperament better suited for ruling; his advice to his brother on delaying decision making was very sensible;

‘Neither grant nor decide them [unclarified issues] at once; and those that certainly do not appear bad and unreasoned , do not deny them, but put them off so as later, with more repose and less fatigue, to determine them as you ought.’[xiv]

Isabella was sometimes allowed to join her brothers when they were tutored by their father in statecraft. Alongside them Isabella was schooled in diplomatic negotiations and the vagaries of politics, something that was to be of use to her later in life.

Real Politique

Walls of Ceuta
On 19th June 1415 the eighteen year old Isabella was grief stricken when her mother Philippa died at the age of fifty three. Philippa caught the plague and died at Sacavém after bidding her children farewell. Her three older boys, about to be knighted, were presented with jewelled swords by the queen. John, whose marriage to Philippa had been based on the alliance with England, had grown quite fond of his wife and was;

‘So grieved by [her] mortal illness… that he could neither eat nor sleep.’[xv]

Mother and daughter had a close and affectionate relationship and after Philippa’s death Isabella withdrew from the world for a while. She spent her time with her ladies-in-waiting, keeping herself amused with needlework, singing and indulging her passion for reading.

Six days after their mother’s death the princes joined their father who led a fleet to north Africa in an attack on the port of Ceuta[xvi]. Philippa had coordinated the expedition. The battle of Ceuta in August resulted in the Portuguese taking the town, their first foothold in what was to become their empire in Africa. Edward was placed in charge of the town which was to become a drain on the Portuguese treasury[xvii].

Battle of Agincourt
Nine days before King John and his sons' attack on Ceuta, a momentous event was happening in the English Channel as Henry V led an army across to France to press his somewhat nebulous claims to the French throne. It did not take long for him to cut a swathe through France and by October had sealed his bid with victory at the battle of Agincourt[xviii].

This victory was to overturn the status quo; the Hundred Years War had been stagnating for some time, but Henry’s audacious feat was the start of the English domination of the last stages of the war.

Following the victory in France and with dreams of further military glories yet to come Henry V, hoping to create an anti-French alliance, looked to Portugal for a wife. Isabella received an offer of marriage from her maternal cousin of England. The Portuguese and English had been allies in trade for a long time and Henry’s grandfather had helped King John gain his kingdom. John’s marriage to Philippa had helped strengthen the ties between the two countries, but the negotiations failed.


The Fifteenth Century – Margaret Aston, WW Norton and Company 1979

The Hundred Years War – Alfred Burne, Folio Society 2005

Chronicles – Froissart, Penguin Books 1968

The Reign of Henry VI – RA Griffiths, Sutton Publishing Ltd 1998

Agincourt – Christopher Hibbert, Pan Books 1964

The Fifteenth Century – EF Jacob, Oxford University Press 1997

Prince Henry – Peter Russell, Yale University Press 2000

Isabel of Burgundy – Aline S Taylor, Madison Books 2001


[i] Eldest child of John of Gaunt and cousin of King Richard II of England
[ii] A chivalric order
[iv] Chronicles - Froissart
[v] Duke of Coimbra
[vi] One of Portugal’s most famous sons, Duke of Viseu, he became known as Henry the Navigator and is regarded as the main force behind the Age of Discoveries
[vii] Later Constable of Portugal
[viii] Two children, possibly girls, died at birth in the years between Isabella’s birth and the birth of Prince John
[x] Prince Henry - Russell
[xi] In later life he was to found a chair of theology at Lisbon University
[xii] One of her brother’s principal supporters
[xiii] Born in 1386, Beatriz was the youngest child of John’s relationship with Inês Perez
[xiv] Isabel of Burgundy - Taylor
[xvi] The town was part of the Kingdom of Fez captured from the Hafsids with the assistance of the King of Aragon
[xvii] It was later decided that the port of Tangiers was essential for their expansionist plans but the city was not taken until 1471. Tangiers was handed over to England in 1662 as part of the dowry of Catherine of Braganza when she married Charles II

Monday, 20 February 2017

A Tudor Poet – Henry Howard VIII

Henry Howard
A Poet of Renown

Henry blamed the Seymours for his cousin’s downfall and early in 1542 wrote a vitriolic allegorical poem directed at Anne Seymour, Edward’s second wife, who may have snubbed Henry when he asked her to dance. It was also a hit at the new men at court and makes reference to the brave Howard clan, many of whom were still locked up the Tower. The poem made specific reference to Henry’s uncle Thomas who died in the Tower for love of Margaret Lennox.

Henry has been credited with bringing the Renaissance style of poetry to England, introducing the sonnet form. Poetry was an acceptable pastime at the Tudor court and courtiers were expected to have some skills in writing ballads and poems. Henry used allegory to complain about what he saw as the injustices of life. Often these injustices were matters that Henry brought on his own head by his ‘foolish pride’ and arrogance.

Henry had lived his life weighed down by the expectations of others, in particular his father who had very rigid expectations of how the future fourth duke of Norfolk should behave. In his poetry Henry was able to represent himself as a noble and isolated hero of his dreams. It was this façade that he presented to his fellow nobles,

‘That then stir up the torment of my breast

          To curse each star as causer of my fate.

          And when the sun hath eked the dark represt

And bought the day, it doth nothing abate

          The travail of my endless smart and pain.’[i]


When Sir Thomas Wyatt died not long after Catherine Howard’s execution Henry wrote an elegy in heroic quatrains to his friend and fellow poet. Wyatt’s poetry was less explosive than Henry’s; Henry wrote with a disregard for the consequences, much as he lived his life. Henry was a man out of place in the Tudor court where one mishap could end you up on the block.

Wyatt and Henry translated Petrarch’s sonnets. Henry also translated Virgil’s second and fourth books of the Aeneid into blank verse in rhyming meter and it is believed that he was the first English poet to do use the form.

Fighting Up North

The Fleet
July 1542 saw Henry in the Fleet for quarrelling with one Jhon a Legh[ii]; it is possible that Henry assaulted the victim or challenged him to a duel[iii]. Henry immediately sent his servant to demand of the council that he be released with immediate effect. In early August Henry was released on his own recognisance of ten thousand marks[iv].

The following month saw Henry on the road to Scotland to fight incursions from Scottish raiders, owing allegiance to King James V, Henry VIII’s nephew. Henry VIII declared war on the Scots, knowing that their French allies were embroiled on the continent fighting Charles V. The Duke of Norfolk was made Lieutenant General of the army and Henry travelled in his father’s wake.

The English army of 20,000 crossed the border at Berwick on Tweed on 21st October with orders from the king to perform ‘some notable exploit’. The appalling weather forced the army back into England having done little more than sack Kelso Abbey and the nearby town. The king was not amused writing to Norfolk about;

‘The loss of this enterprise [which was] not of such sort as we did trust and desired.’[v]

But the king’s amour propre was soothed when Sir Thomas Wharton[vi] won the Battle of Solway Moss in November[vii]. The Howards and their men were not involved in the fighting and Henry returned to London more restless than ever, his aggression un-blunted by what little action he had been caught up in.

Fighting at Home and Abroad

Arms of Sir John Wallop
Back from Scotland found Henry setting up home in London, but he quartered himself in Cheapside and a number of his servants and braggarts ran amok. His father’s connections got him off the charges only for Henry to fall foul of Bishop Gardiner’s fasting laws. In April 1543 he was interrogated by four privy councillors who were sympathetic but Surrey found himself back in the Fleet. Once again he took up his pen to rage against unkind fate.

Henry was out of prison by May 1543[viii] and back at court in time to see Henry VIII sign a peace treaty with the Holy Roman Emperor. The two powers planned a joint invasion of France. Sir John Wallop led the English force across the Channel and Henry begged the king for permission to march with them.

Henry arrived at the English camp outside Landrecy in October 1543. Henry immediately set about orientating himself to the approbation of Sir John who wrote an approving letter back home. The siege of Landrecy was lifted by the arrival of François with an army which camped at Cateau-Cambrésis. The English were lured away from Landrecy which François immediately re-victualised before decamping with his army. Henry returned home.

Henry was back in France the following year with another invasion force; Norfolk was Captain of the Vanguard and his son and heir was Marshall of the Field. The weather conspired against the English who planned to besiege Montreuil. The choice of town was not a happy one and both Norfolk and the imperial generals inveighed against going ahead; but from far away in England Henry VIII overruled them.

The armies were subjected to a series of attacks by the French which reduced their effectiveness, especially when Henry VIII changed his mind and insisted that the priority was Boulogne. The king actually crossed the channel to impose his priorities upon the joint armies and Henry and his uncle William were present when Boulogne surrendered to Henry VIII.

Ramparts of Montreuil
It was too late for the army at Montreuil; the French Dauphin Henri came to the town’s relief and on 28th September 1544 the English decamped. Henry, as Marshall of the Field, was responsible for the army’s evacuation. They arrived at Boulogne relatively safe and sound on 30th September thanks to Henry’s masterminding of the evacuation.

In April 1544 there were rumours that François intended to regain Boulogne and invade England with an army of 40,000 men. Henry was appointed responsible for the defence of the town. And on 3rd September 1545, after a series of deaths among senior military men, Henry was made Lieutenant General of the King on Sea and Land for all English continental possessions. Norfolk wrote to Henry advising him not to encourage Henry VIII’s desire to permanently extend the Pale of Calais;

‘Have yourself in await, that ye animate not the King too much for the keeping of Boulogne, for whoso doth, at length shall get small thank. I have so handled the matter, that if any adventure be given to win the new fortress at Boulogne, ye shall have charge thereof.’[ix]

Henry ignored the warning, as he did all good advice. But eventually the cost of holding Boulogne meant that even the king came to his senses and ordered the evacuation of the town. Henry returned to England.

Proud Foolish Boy

Tower of London
Henry Howard has been described as;

‘An extravagant roistering soldier-poet….a brilliant, indiscreet young man who loved to flout conventions both trivial and important, ostentatiously refusing to eat meat in Lent, complaining openly about the power given to low-born men like Wolsey and Cromwell and, worse, boasting about his own descent from the Plantagenets.’[x]

It was this arrogance which was to bring Surrey and his father to the Tower. The two Seymour brothers, Edward in particular, were looking forward to a long period of power during their nephew’s minority and the Howards were an irritant in their rosy vision of the future.

On 12th December 1546 both Surrey and his father were arrested and taken to the Tower. A plot had been uncovered; at Surrey’s instigation his sister Mary was to romance the king;

‘That she might rule as others have done.’[xi]

St Michael's Framlingham
Upon being questioned Mary incriminated both her brother and her father[xii]. Henry VIII was more than happy to rid himself of the Howard family and their pleas for mercy were ignored. To compound his arrogance Surrey had quartered his arms with those of Edward the Confessor. Edward Seymour and John Dudley, Viscount Lisle were more than happy to use the plot and Surrey’s arrogance to topple their rival Norfolk

On 7th January Parliament passed an act of Attainder against both Surrey and Norfolk. Surrey was tried at the Guildhall on 13th, found guilty and condemned to death. Surrey was executed on 19th January 1547[xiii] and was buried at the church of St Michael the Archangel, in Framlingham. Norfolk’s writ of execution was signed by the king on 27th January. Norfolk’s execution was set for the following morning but it was Henry who was to die instead.


Thomas Wyatt – Susan Brigden, Faber and Faber 2012

Henry VIII’s Last Victim – Jessie Childs, Vintage Books 2008

The Ebbs and Flows of Fortune – David M Head, University of Georgia Press 2009

House of Treason – Robert Hutchinson, Phoenix 2009

Henry VIII – Robert Lacey, Weidenfeld & Nicholson & Book Club Associates 1972

The Earlier Tudors – J D Mackie, Oxford University Press 1992

Rivals in Power – David Starkey, MacMillan London Ltd 1990

The Six Wives of Henry VIII – Alison Weir, Pimlico 1992

The Lost Tudor Princess – Alison Weir, Vintage 2015

A Tudor Tragedy – Neville Williams, Barrie & Jenkins 1964


[i] Henry VIII’s Last Victim - Childs
[ii] Possibly John Leigh of Stockwell, Queen Catherine’s half-brother
[iii] Illegal within the confines of the court
[iv] In 2015 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £5,559,000.00 labour earnings of that income or wealth is £54,490,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £194,100,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £2,427,000,000.00
[v] Henry VIII’s Last Victim - Childs
[vii] James V died within the month to be succeeded by his newly born daughter Mary, Queen of Scots who was to embroil Henry’s son Thomas in her web of deceit – see and
[viii] In July the king married his sixth wife Katherine Parr.
[ix] Rivals in Power - Starkey
[x] Henry VIII - Lacey
[xi] The Six Wives of Henry VIII - Weir
[xii] It is believed that Mary was angry that neither father nor brother had helped in her fight for some of her dower from Fitzroy; she was poor and reduced to living in her father’s home, with only her title as a remnant of her marriage
[xiii] The last person to be executed in Henry’s reign