Anne Boleyn

The perils of waiting on a Tudor queen

At 7 o’clock on a bleak February morning in 1542, King Henry VIII’s fifth wife Katherine Howard, so enfeebled by fear and misery that she could hardly stand, was half-led, half-carried from her cell in the Tower of London to the scaffold in a nearby courtyard. Watching as the axe fell on her mistress’s neck, and knowing it would be her turn next, was her lady in waiting Jane Rochford. This grisly scene illustrates the horror that underlay the glamour and magnetism of a court where ambition, intrigue, plot and counter-plot swirled in a giddying maelstrom and where balancing on the slippery tightrope of Henry’s moods was essential. Threaded through

The making of Good Queen Bess

In the course of British history there have been few royals with a childhood as traumatic as that of Elizabeth I. She endured the torment of her mother Anne Boleyn’s execution, her father’s death, the comings and goings of four stepmothers, sexual abuse from a stepfather (who was executed soon after), the death of a half-brother, imprisonment and the death of a half-sister before finally acceding to the throne. All this by the age of 25. Throughout her young life, Elizabeth veered from sole inheritrix of the crown to hated bastard child Not many could cope with such a relentless identity crisis. Throughout her young life, Elizabeth veered from sole

‘Struck with the dart of love’: portrait of a marriage

‘These bloody days have broken my heart.’ Thomas Wyatt’s words are an expression of his personal distress at the fall of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife and the woman for whom the king had defied the pope and proclaimed himself supreme head of the English Church. But they are also indicative of the shockwaves resonating around England in May 1536. Within just three weeks, Queen Anne, along with five men – among them her brother George, with whom she was accused of incest – were tried and convicted of treasonous adultery and beheaded in the Tower. Wyatt himself, narrowly escaping their fate, may have witnessed Anne’s execution from a

Hampton Court: an architectural symbol of royal lust

The Dowager Countess of Deloraine, who was governess to the children of George II at Hampton Court and other royal homes, was a notorious bore – so much so that her ‘every word’ made one ‘sick’, according to the courtier Lord Hervey. When she naively asked him why everyone was avoiding her, he replied with exquisite irony that ‘envy kept the women at a distance, despair the men’. This kind of witty, skittish anecdote is scattered throughout Gareth Russell’s scintillating hybrid of a book, which is partly a biography of a place and partly something stranger: an episodic history of England from Tudor times to the present, illustrated by lightning