Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Hengrave Hall

Hengrave Hall. Source.
This stunning manor is a rare example of early Tudor architecture that seems to be unchanged by time. Building began in 1525 by a wealthy cloth merchant, Thomas Kytson, and completed in 1538. The Hall is a stunning example of the great architecture of medieval England, with Roman and Saxon influences, and 15th century embellishments.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Gossip of the Week: Sir Francis Bryan

We have a lovely guest post this morning from Elizabeth, creator of The Tudor Book Blog and The Tudor Tattler. She is going to be discussing Sir Francis Bryan. Welcome Elizabeth!

Sir Francis Bryan, as depicted
in "The Tudors."
Born around 1492, Bryan was an intimate of King Henry VIII. The first mention of him at court comes from about 1513. He was an avid huntsman, which won him great favor with the King who promoted him throughout the early 1500's. He also enjoyed jousting, a great pastyme of the King and his gentlemen. However, Bryan had a slight accident in 1526, causing him to loose an eye. He wore an eye patch the rest of his life, which added to his roguish charm, I'm sure.

Bryan was sent on numerous diplomatic missions, one of which took him to France. There he became close friends with Nicholas Carew, another intimate of the King. While in France, the men got into a bit of mischief. According to one chronicler, Carew, Bryan, and other boon gentlemen "roade disguysed through Paris, throwyng Egges, stones and other foolishe trifles at the people..." Another story claims that when arriving in Calais, Bryan demanded "a soft bed and a hard harlot." He was known as a rake, often enjoying the company of the ladies of the night. It was rumored that he was happy to aid the King in his extra marital affairs, possibly even offering his own sister, Elizabeth Carew. The tricky part? She was the wife of Nicholas Carew, good friend of both the King and Sir Francis Bryan...

Boyish sports aside, Bryan was an intelligent fellow. He translated several texts into English, as well as performed his state duties (egg throwing aside) admirably. He was charming and diplomatic, when the moment called for it.

A young Nicholas Carew
Despite this, Cardinal Wolsey did not care for Bryan, Carew, and the other gentlemen of the King's Chamber who "were so familiar and homely with [the King], and plaied suche light touches with hym that they forgat themselves..." In 1519, Wolsey formed a coup d'etat of sorts, which removed many of these gentlemen from court. Bryan, however, remained with the King. It is no surprise that Bryan wanted to get even with Wolsey.

Bryan was a cousin of Anne Boleyn, so naturally supported her rise as Queen. Anne also hated Wolsey. Together, the cousins and other supporters were able to turn Henry against his "loyal servant." Bryan also supported Anne by testifying against Katherine of Aragon during the divorce trial.

He was one of Anne's great allies...that is until Henry VIII decided he didn't much care for her anymore.  Bryan had a talent for having the same opinion as the monarch. His quick change and great help in Anne's downfall caused Thomas Cromwell to coin Bryan's nickname as the "Vicar of Hell."

Luckily, Bryan had another cousin, Jane Seymour, whom he thought might make a good Queen. He helped "coach" Jane on how to act during her courtship with the King, and was the first to report to her of her former mistress's demise.

A young Mary Tudor
He certainly kept the King entertained with his wit and bold speech. One story of such entertainment occurred when Lady Mary was restored to the King's favor and returned to court. Henry apparently sent Bryan to test Mary's knowledge of the ways of the world. He had heard it said that his daughter knew "no foul of unclean speech." Sir Francis, whilst in conversation with Mary, let a foul word "slip." When Mary did not react, Sir Francis was surprised. It seemed what the King had heard was correct.

Due to his charm, wit, and willingness to always agree with the King, Bryan remained in Henry's good graces throughout his reign. When Henry died, Bryan remained an important figure at court, though not a favorite. He died suddenly on Feb. 2, 1550 of unknown causes.

What think ye? Did Bryan deserve the title the "Vicar of Hell?" Or was he simply a Roguish Rake who knew how to keep within the good graces of the King?

Sources and Further Reading
  • M.H. Keen, Chivalry.
  • Alison Wier, Henry VIII: The King and His Court.
  • Nicholas Sanders, Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism.
  • David Loades, The Tudor Court.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Family of Sir Thomas More by Hans Holbein

Thomas More commissioned Hans Holbein to paint a family portrait around 1527, the result being similar to the above painting. It was a monumental work, showing a Tudor-era family in a more intimate setting. Erasmus, who was presented with Holbein's study/sketch of this painting (shown below) by More commented that he felt as if he was at home with More and his family just by looking at it. Holbein, ever the master artist, had captured More and his family most intimately and accurately. Sadly, Holbein's original painting does not survive, being destroyed in a fire in the 18th Century. However, his original sketch (presented to Erasmus) and several copies (such as the one above) survive.

The sitters were identified by astronomer Nicholas Kratzer, a friend of Holbein and More, and the tutor of More's children. He later added the names and ages of the sitters in Latin on the sketch given to Erasmus.
"On the left is Elizabeth Dauncy, More's second daughter; beside her is his adopted daughter, Margaret Giggs, explaining a point to Thomas More's father, John More; Thomas More himself sits in the centre, with the engaged couple Anne Cresacre and his only son, John More, on either side of him; beside John More is the household fool, Henry Patenson; on the right of the picture are More's youngest daughter, Cecily Heron, and his eldest daughter, Margaret Roper; More's second wife, Alice, is kneeling on the extreme right."

In a letter, Erasmus talks of More's love for animals (including his pet monkey, which is shown in the portrait, along with the family dog) and how the family spent hours playing music. This is highlighted in the painting with a set of musical instruments, including a lute.

Most of the members of the group are holding prayer books, signifying that this may have been a prayer gathering, or simply a symbol of the family's religious devotions.

A gorgeous clock appears in the top center of the painting. Clocks were extremely valuable during the time, showing the family's high standing. The first "clocks" as we see above were invented in the 13th Century. As time went by, they become more ornate and complex, and became more like pieces of art than useful tools.

According to David Smith in his article Portrait and Counter-Portrait in Holbein's 'The Family of Sir Thomas More,' he explains that
"Almost without exception they have interpreted its naturalism and informality as a fairly direct mirror of everyday life in the More household. John Rowlands, for example, speaks of the artist ‘recording the family when the buzz of talk has just subsided,’ which implies that Holbein simply set down an actual moment of domestic life as it passed before him. More recently, Stephanie Buck has praised the picture's ‘intimacy’ and tied it to ‘an important function of portraits in this period, one that photography would assume at a later date, namely to provide those far away with an image of the people they love,’ in this case ‘. . . enhanced by depicting the person in his or her characteristic surroundings and engaged in everyday activities.’ For the most part, these qualities have seemed more or less self-explanatory, and calling this portrait the first conversation piece outside Italy has summed up what Holbein seemed to have had in mind."
Regardless of the artist's intentions, we are left with a beautiful and intimate snapshot of time in the More household, before the chaos of Henry VIII's Reformation ensued.

Sources and Further Reading
  • Smith, David R. Portrait and Counter-Portrait in Holbein's ‘The Family of Sir Thomas More.’ The Art Bulletin, Vol. 87, No. 3 (Sep., 2005), pp. 484-506.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Venetian Ambassador on Queen Mary

'She is of low rather than of middling stature, but, although short, she has not personal defect in her limbs, nor is any part of her body deformed. She is of spare and delicate frame, quite unlike her father, who was tall and stout; nor does she resemble her mother, who, if not tall, was nevertheless bulky.  
Her face is well formed, as shown by her features and lineaments, and as seen by her portraits. When younger she was considered, not merely tolerably handsome, but of beauty exceeding mediocrity. At present, with the exception of some wrinkles, caused more by anxieties than by age, which makes her appear some years older, her aspect, for the rest, is very grave. Her eyes are so piercing that they inspire not only respect, but fear in those on whom she fixes them, although she is very shortsighted, being unable to read or do anything else unless she has her sight quite close to what she wishes to peruse or to see distinctly. Her voice is rough and loud, almost like a man's, so that when she peaks she is always heard a long way off. In short, she is a seemly woman, and never to be loathed for ugliness, even at her present age, without considering her degree of queen.  
But whatever may be the amount deducted from her physical endowments, as much more may with truth, and without flattery, be added to those of her mind, as, besides the facility and quickness of her understanding, which comprehends whatever is intelligible to others, even to those who are not of her own sex (a marvellous gift for a woman), she is skilled in five languages, not merely understanding, but speaking four of them fluently - English, Latin, French, Spanish, and Italian, in which last, however, she does not venture to converse, although it is well known to her; but the replies she gives in Latin, and her very intelligent remarks made in that tongue surprise everybody....  
Besides woman's work, such as embroidery of every sort with the needle, she also practices music, playing especially on the clavichord and on the lute so excellently that, when intent on it...she surprised the best performers, both by the rapidity of her hand and by her style of playing. Such are her virtues and external accomplishments. 
Internally, with the exception of certain trifles, in which, to say the truth, she is like other women, being sudden and passionate, and close and miserly, rather more so than would become a bountiful and generous queen, she in other respects has no notable imperfections; whilst in certain things she is singular and without an equal, for not only is she brave and valiant, unlike other timid and spiritless women, but she courageous and resolute that neither in adversity nor peril did she ever even display or commit any act of cowardice or pusillanimity, maintaining always, on the contrary, a wonderful grandeur and dignity, knowing what became the dignity of a sovereign as well as any of the most consummate statesmen in her service; so that from her way of proceeding and from the method observed by her (and in which she still perseveres), it cannot be denied that she shows herself to have been born of truly royal lineage. 
[She is also subject to] a very deep melancholy, much greater than that to which she is constitutionally liable, from menstrous retention and suffocation of the matrix to which, for many years, she has been often subject, so that the remedy of tears and weeping, to which from childhood she has been accustomed, and still often used by her, is not sufficient; she requires to be blooded either from the foot or elsewhere, which keeps her always pale and emaciated.' 
-- Giovanni Michieli, Venetian Ambassador

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tudor Places: Sheffield Manor Lodge

The Turret House of Sheffield Manor. Source.

Sheffield Manor, also known as the Manor Lodge or Manor Castle, was built about 1516, surrounded by a large deer park east of Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England. It was originally used as a country retreat for George Talbot, the 4th Earl of Shrewsbury, and his family.

Ruins of the old manor house.
Today, much of the original manor is gone, though parts of the kitchens, long gallery, and the Turret House (also called "Queen Mary's Tower"), survive. The Turret House is the most intact of these remains, and was probably built around 1574, building records suggest. It is comparable with the "Hunting Tower" at Chatsworth House, with stairs rising three stories to the roof, where a viewing platform allows breathtaking views of the surrounding park land. The building also contains well preserved examples of seventeenth-century ceilings.

Room said to have been used by Mary,
Queen of Scots. Source.
Mary, Queen of Scots was one of the most notable "visitors" to the property. Custody of Mary was given to George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury on February 4, 1569. She was held for a time at Sheffield Manor and at Sheffield Castle. Though little remains of the manor where Mary was lodged, two of Mary's letters are preserved in the Sheffield Archives, giving us a tangible glimpse of her time here. Mary's ghost is said to haunt the Turret House.

In 1582, to coincided with Mary's imprisonment at Sheffield, an inventory of all the household goods and furniture made. The inventory describes the castle and contents and gives an idea of the composition of the castle at this date:
  • Chapel 
  • Great Hall 
  • Great Chamber (which was probably used as a large dining space)
  • Wardrobe
  • The Lord's Chamber and Outer Chamber
  • The Lady's Chamber
  • An assortment of Kitchen rooms: a bakehouse, brewhouse, pantry, washhouse and low washhouse, little kitchen, and old kitchen
  • A series of towers and servants rooms: a round tower, a square tower and a turret, round towers on either side of the gatehouse and walls running along the waterside, a porter's lodge, a dungeon
  • A series of animal-related rooms: a kennel and a range of stables.

Mary had a large entourage, which was made up of Scots, French and English friends and servants. All had some type of lodging here as well. Much saddness must have been felt not only by Mary, but also her captor. By August 1584 Queen Elizabeth finally agreed to Shrewsbury's petition to release him from his duty as Mary's captor. He had lost much fulfilling his duties, including his marriage, his health, and his chances of further political advancement after Mary's lack of security had led to her becoming involved in various plots.

Stained glass depiction of Cardinal Wosley's visit to
Sheffield Manor.
Another earlier and very notable visitor was Cardinal Wolsey, who stayed for a little over two weeks on his return to London to face treason charges. "Wolsey’s Tower" was built to accommodate Cardinal Wolsey, who then died after travelling on to Leicester. He was "entertained" by George, 4th Earl of Shrewsbury with all courteousness due his position. Wolsey's visit is commemorated in one of the Cathedral Chapter House windows. George Cavendish, Wolsey’s gentleman usher, provided a first hand account of the visit:
"And the next day we removed and rode to Sheffield Parke; where my lord of Shrewsbury laye within the lodge, the people all the waye still lamentinge him, cryinge as they did before. And when we came into the Parke at Sheffield, nighe to the Lodge, my Lord Shrewsbury and all other gentlemen and servants, strode without the gates to attend my Lord’s cominge to receave him. At whose alightinge the earle received him with much honour and embraced my Lorde sayinge these words ‘ My Lorde, Your grace is most hartelye welcome unto me, and I ame glade to see you here in my poore lodge, where I have long desired to see you, and muche more gladder if you had come after another sort. And here is my wife come to salute you; This done the two lordes went into the lodge arm in arm and so conducted my Lorde to a faire gallery where was in the furthest end thereof a goodly tower with lodgings where my Lorde was lodged."

Ruins of Sheffield Manor, c. 1819.
Sheffield Manor eventually fell into the hands of the Duke of Norfolk, who largely neglected it. It was eventually sold to tenant farmers, and largely dismantled in 1706. Some remaining walls and a window were moved to the grounds of Queen's Tower in Norfolk Park by Robert Marnock in 1839. In 2004, the remains of the manor were featured on the BBC TV program Restoration and won a £1.25 million Heritage Lottery Fund bid to convert it to a heritage center. Work is currently being conducted on the site, including archaeological digs. By 2014, the site hopes to complete the last phase of excavation and construction.

Sources and Further Reading
  • Sheffield Manor Official Site. URL.
  • Sheffield Manor Lodge History Website. URL
  • Archaeology of Sheffield Manor Website. URL
  • Sheffield Manor Official Blog. URL.