Q&A with Leanda de Lisle, Author and Historian
Posted By Claire on August 28, 2013
Thank you so much to historian Leanda de Lisle for participating in this Q&A session and thank you to everyone who asked questions, they’re all really interesting. Leanda’s book on the Tudor dynasty is released tomorrow in the UK and I heartily recommend it – see details at the bottom of this post.
Leanda has also kindly written a guest post for us on Margaret Douglas and Anne Boleyn and I will be publishing that, here on The Anne Boleyn Files, tomorrow. I will also be reviewing her book.
Q – Is there any particular Tudor era figure what you would like to research deeper, because he/she fascinates you? (and you haven’t done research on them yet). Eliza
A – I researched many new characters for Tudor – Henry VIII’s niece, Lady Margaret Douglas, was one favourite. But I would like one day to do a true adventure story – and research an expedition funded by Sir William Hawtrey (who owned Chequers) to discover a northern sea route to the East. Amongst those who sailed off to achieve this feat was a Deryshire man called Hugh Willoughby. He left England on 10th May 1553 with three ships under his command. I describe them leaving in Tudor, with the whole court (except King Edward, who was too ill) coming out from Greenwich Palace to wave and cheer as they sailed down the Thames. Two of the ships grounded off the Russian coast. Hugh Willoughby survived for weeks before eventually freezing to death along with almost the entire crew. The captain of a third ship made it to Moscow, and the subsequent trade with Russia helped make Hawtrey a very rich man. I am interested in our relationship with Russia from this period through the reigns of Elizabeth I. Ivan the Terrible wanted to marry the Queen! Leanda
Q – Do you think that Henry’s jousting accident in January 1536 played a greater role in his rejection of Anne than is usually noted? I think it must have given him a sense of mortality and although he wasn’t “seriously injured” I think he probably woke up with an enormous headache and it would have made him realize that if he had died the succession and the country would have been in chaos. Also, he was 45 which at the time was the start of old age as I understand it. Then when Anne miscarried, he might have felt that he didn’t have the time to wait to see if she would have a son (especially given his history with Katherine). I was wondering what your thoughts are about this. Jennifer Mullins
A – Yes I am sure it would indeed have given him a sense of his mortality. It has been suggested that the head injury also changed his character and turned him into a monster. Given what he had done to the Carthusian monks the previous year, I think he was already a bit of a monster! Leanda
Q – Hypothetical I know, but do you think Anne would have survived if Elizabeth had been the hoped for male heir. Would Henry have become frustrated and angered by her failure to produce a spare? Gayle McMartin Hulme
A – I think she might well have survived – for at least as long as her son did. Henry would have seen it as God telling him the marriage was a true and good one. Leanda
Q – In your book on the Grey sisters (p. 124) it says that Guildford Dudley wore a “black velvet suit slashed with white satin” for his trial. I find this detail intriguing and have been wondering where it did come from (interestingly, in the film “Lady Jane” he also wears something very similar). Is this from an inventory or perhaps some chronicle? Christine Hartweg
A – From memory I drew this detail from John Gough Nichols, Chronicle of Queen Jane – it might be available online? Leanda
Q – If you had the chance and you could ask a question to Henry and Anne what would that question be? Christine
A – To Anne, ‘If you had your time again how would your decisions concerning Henry differ?’ To Henry ‘Now that you know what happened to your religious settlement during the reigns of Edward VI and Elizabeth I, do you regret the break with Rome?’ I suspect he wouldn’t! Leanda
Q – Anne Boleyn was intelligent, by all contemporary accounts. Why would she jeopardise not only her own position, but that of her daughter, by indulging in liaisons that would harm her reputation? I have never believed any of the calumnies against her. Given that she was sexually experienced, courtesy of her time in the French court, I do not believe that dalliance with the gentlemen of Henry’s bedchamber would have had any great attraction for her. She disgusted Henry because of her sexual expertise. He was a known prude, in spite of his many mistresses. She would never have been stupid enough to give Henry cause to doubt her. Her enemies manufactured the so-called evidence. Lilian MacLean
A – Anne denied any sexual betrayal of Henry to her death. I believe her. Leanda
Q – What do you consider to be the single most important factor contributing to Anne’s downfall/execution? In just 3 short years she went from beloved wife, to falsely accused and executed. Leslie
A – Her failure to have a son. Leanda
Q – Re: The Faking of Jane Grey……you describe Jane as a ‘usurper’ yet she inherited the throne from the will of the last reigning monarch, and we plainly see Mary I ‘conquering’ the throne as did her grandfather, Henry VII. Can you explain why Edward VI’s will was passed over for that of his long dead father, Henry VIII? globerose
A – A combination of factors: Edward’s youth made it easy to argue that he had been manipulated. There was the vital fact that his father’s will was backed by Act of Parliament and his was not. Finally, Jane’s marriage to the mere younger son of a hated nobleman from a recently elevated family. If Guildford had had royal blood it would have made a big difference. Mary was the grandchild of the heads of four royal Houses. Blood mattered. Leanda
Q – Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions. This is a bit of a hard question to answer, see as you aren’t actually Henry VIII. But, I am interested to see what you think. (VERY GLAD I AM NOT HENRY VIII)
Do you think Henry knew that he would be remembered for having so many wives? Of course, he is remembered for other things (breaking with Rome, battle of Boulogne, etc) but did he not think this would have an effect on his legacy? Today, when kids learn about Henry in school they remember him for his many wives and the ones he killed. They think of him as tyrannical and vicious. They do not realize he was trying to get an heir and he was willing to risk a lot to carry on the Tudor dynasty.
So, I guess my question is do you think Henry foresaw that he would be known for his many wives above other things he would have liked to be remembered for? Kaitlyn Cornell
A – Henry’s overweening vanity and self-righteousness means I suspect he would imagined that he would be remembered principally for ‘restoring’ the crown’s empire over Church and State, and making himself Pope in England. The wives he would have seen as a mere detail , and one that only showed how Gods servants suffer (namely himself). I think he would be astonished that Anne Boleyn has such a fan base! Leanda
Q – I wonder if you are related to the Lisle family who lived during the Tudor period? Carina
A – de Lisle is my married name, not mine. My maiden name was Dormer. The Dormers were Tudor courtiers and I am descended from them. Court families only amounted to a few thousand and they all married each other so there are a few interesting characters I can claim. Through my mother I am also a very junior descendant of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, whose head Henry VIII chopped off, and also (very junior) of Thomas, Duke of Norfolk, beheaded by Elizabeth I. Don’t think Edward VI or Mary I killed any of my ancestors, but I haven’t really looked into it! The cousin I want to claim is Natalie Dormer – is she related? I hope so! Leanda
Q – What sort of relationship to you think Henry had with his father, Henry VII. He certainly made huge differences marked between his rule and his father’s when he first came to the throne.
What about his mother? What do you think that relationship may have been like? Anne Barnhill
A – I think Henry had a far closer relationship with his mother than his father. There was a sense of competing with his father’s memory and as he got older increasingly he played up the importance of his Yorkist ancestry – it is very telling that he called his son Edward. While it is often said the boy was named after Edward the Confessor, Henry showed no interest in that royal saint, and allowed his tomb to be stripped. On the other hand Henry was to be buried in the same chapel as his Yorkist grandfather, Edward IV. I go into all this in more detail in Tudor: The Family Story Leanda
Q – Henry Carey aged 9 years was brought before the court and he stated he was the son of Henry VIII. Purely on his testimony was Anne executed, the matter being incest. One can imagine how frightening it must have been for the poor lad. Gwyneth
A – I think this story must come from a novel? The historical basis for the claim that Henry Carey was Henry VIII’s son was the malicious gossip of a man who opposed the break with Rome – Thomas Skydmore of Syon. He claimed ‘Master Carey’, Mary’s Boleyn’s son, was Henry’s child, and not that of Mary’s husband William Carey. He also called Henry a robber, and accused him of sleeping with Anne’s mother. Leanda
(Note from Claire – Henry Carey was not brought before the court to state that he was Henry’s son and he had nothing to do with Anne Boleyn’s fall. Chapuys thought that Henry’s marriage to Anne was annulled on the basis of consanguinity, i.e. that he had had a previous sexual relationship with Anne’s sister, but this had nothing to do with whether he had actually fathered Mary’s children.)
Q – I would like to know how much of an impact Anne had on Henry after her execution. I know it was forbidden to speak of her in court, however Henry did restore Elizabeth (and Mary) to their titles (perhaps due to Katherine Parr’s prompting?). I wondered if any of his future actions can be seen as caused by Anne. Perhaps Katherine Howard reminded Henry of (a less problematic and easier to control) Anne Boleyn? Isabella
A – What mattered to Henry about Elizabeth was that she was his daughter – but there is an example, perhaps, of Anne Boleyns’s impact on Henry after her death. She was, famously, elegant and fashionable in her French influenced dress. Even her enemies noted that. By contrast when Henry met Anne of Cleves she was wearing hideous German clothes – and I think it was Anne of Cleves dress sense more than her appearance that Henry simply couldn’t bear! Leanda
Q – I wanted to know if there’s any treasure hidden in any of the Tudor castles or buried with the Tudors and has any body ever attempted to go search for it. Is it true that Anne was a witch. Suzanne
A – No Anne was not a witch. As for treasure – well, at the end of the civil war, in 1649, when Charles I had been tried and executed by parliament, they opened the tomb of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, so that Charles I could be buried in it. The night before Charles’s burial, with the tomb open, a soldier broke into the chapel. He cut and stole some of the velvet pall that covered Henry’s coffin and then he broke into the coffin itself. He found nothing of value there so he took a piece of Henry’s bone, and when the solider was caught with it, he explained he was hoping to carve it into a handle for a knife. Leanda
Q – I have been reading your book about the Grey sisters I find it very interesting and telling for many years I have admired Queen Elizabeth I and now I find that I don’t really like her and I think it has to do with the way she handled the succession and the way she treated the Grey sisters I don’t understand why she preferred Mary Queen of Scots over the Grey sisters why was she allowed to change her fathers will when Edward VI wasn’t and he had his reasons and I find his reasons logical considering he was really just a boy and not a man. Vicky
A – I think Elizabeth felt less threatened by Mary, Queen of Scots. But after Katherine Grey’s death that changed. While Mary Grey was eventually welcomed back at court, Mary, Queen of Scots was kept imprisoned and was eventually executed. I go into this more in Tudor: The Family Story. Leanda
Q – Read your book on Lady Jane, I agree that she was not the victim many in history have portrayed her, was wondering, do you think, under different circumstances, that Edward might have considered her for a bride, especially if the French wedding fell through? Douglas Breeden
A – It is possible. Edward’s father, Henry VIII, his grandfather Henry VII, and his great-grandfather, Edward IV, had all married English brides. Leanda
Q – I have always been curious about Elizabeth Boleyn and her involvement and reaction to what happened to all three of her children: Anne, Mary, and George. Have you found anything regarding her attitudes and feelings in your research? Susan
A – I am sorry, no I haven’t – but it must have been awful for her. At least Mary kept her head. Leanda
Q – Read your book on the Grey sisters and thought is was excellent. I am curious, though, if you think that Mary had a realistic alternative to executing Lady Jane, and if so, what might have happened if she had not beheaded her cousin. Esther
A – I think Mary had good reason to fear Jane’s skills as a Protestant polemisist. But if she had kept Jane alive, and under closer guard, it would have made it easier to deal with the new and greater threat of Elizabeth Tudor, and perhaps chopped off that head. Leanda
Q – I have a question on the relation between the Howards and the Boleyns. Anne’s mother was a Howard, but the relationship between the two families seemed not to be very good. What role did the Howards take during the Boleyns’ downfall? Layla
A – Norfolk was the trial judge who proclaimed the death sentence on Anne – with tears rolling down his face. And well he might weep, because his own brother, Lord Thomas Howard, would be in the Tower within weeks. I am about to do a guest article on this for the Anne Boleyn Files, so watch this space! Leanda
Q – Do you think that Henry’s recurring ulcer also contributed to his mood swings and increasing frustration with Anne at the end? Laurie
A – The problem with the ulcer began to impact later but certainly had a major impact on Henry’s health (and doubtless his temper) in the 1540s. Leanda
Q – Do you think Anne Boleyn actually committed the crimes? Or was it just a cruel act to get rid of her and make room for Jane Seymour to take her place? Laura
A – I am sure Anne was innocent of the crimes of which she was accused at trial in 1536 and that, indeed, it was a ruse to get rid of her – ‘though Henry may have convinced himself that the accusations were true. Leanda
Q – It’s an interesting theory, but if Henry were really using the sword to compensate for sexual humiliation, then why on earth wouldn’t he have used it on very likely guilty Katherine Howard? Sonetka
A – It was not so much about compensating for sexual humiliation as his desire to associate himself with King Arthur. He was casting himself in a romantic role – perhaps he was already thinking about this when he asked Norris, a Knight of the Garter, Henry’s equivalent of the Round Table, to confess to him personally. His reaction to news of the adultery of Katherine Howard is strikingly different to that Anne Boleyn – it was a real shock. He just wanted that matter done and dusted. He couldn’t cast two Guineveres, and he took no great interest in Katherine Howard’s scaffold. Leanda
Q – I was just wondering about this comment I read. It claimed that Henry stopped loving Anne way before Anne stopped loving Henry. I know this would be hard to determine but what do you think? Also how much influence would Anne Boleyn have got if Anne produced a prince of Wales as well as a Duke of York along with a couple more ‘spares’ as opposed to just a prince of Wales? Mimico
A – Impossible to know who stopped loving who first, but Anne couldn’t afford to fall in love elsewhere, that is for sure. Henry could. I think Anne could have had huge influence if she had produced several male heirs. Leanda
Q – I was wondering, had Catherine of Aragon stepped aside when she was asked to, do you think it would have affected Anne Boleyn’s situation regarding her chances of bearing a healthy son and ultimately her fall? Bolaji Olatunji
A – Anne Boleyn would have been that much younger and so had a higher chance of producing a male heir. Also if Catherine and stepped aside, and there had not been any break with Rome, Anne would have been accepted by many people who did not ever regard her as a true Queen. Leanda
Q – Apart from rumour, court gossip and guess work from historians what precise evidence is there for Henry having any sexual inadequacies? The ability to produce healthy children does not prove this; his wives were constantly pregnant, which proves that he had no problem in that department. There must have been some form of problem within the family as a whole that led to the high number of still births and the deaths in early infancy of his children with Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. That Anne in revenge for his getting tired off her claimed that Henry was useless in bed is no more evidence than authors who hated Anne claiming she was a whore or a witch. There must have been much speculation during the court hearings of the divorce about the cause of these miscarriages and still births; Henry and Katherine’s sexual ability being one of them. However, as the medical evidence at the time is scanty and very contradictory, it is hard to determine if Henry had any impotency problems or not.
It would not have been unusual for a man in his 40s to have some problems, but we know this from today. But Anne’s claims are not proof; they are nasty gossip from a nasty woman who was most likely getting him back for some argument or other. There are a couple of references to problems with later wives, but that could be compatibility as with Katherine Howard and Katherine Parr he had no such sexual problems. His inability to get them pregnant may have been for other reasons that we do not have any evidence for. Parr,for example did not have any children by her first three husbands; she may not have had sexual relations often as they were all invalids at this time.
So apart from the scanty implications that are guessed at; do we have any real evidence that Henry had long term and regular problems in the bedroom. I doubt very much that he did. BanditQueen
A – You are quite right to question accepted orthodoxies, and it is an interesting point. Anne was the source for the first stories that Henry suffered bouts of impotence. I suspect he may indeed have suffered some erectile disfunction, linked to fears that he had made another incestuous marriage, cursed by God. But we can’t know. Henry himself admitted to impotence with Anne of Cleves, and again this was linked to fears he had made an invalid marriage. But he could just not have tried very hard, because he wanted out. He made it plain he was only impotent with Cleves, not other women, and as proof offered that he still had wet dreams. I like your thinking! Leanda
Q – What are your personal feelings and opinions in regards to each individual wife? Do you believe that they are more infamous than Henry himself and if so, do you believe history has been ‘feminised’ like Dr Starkey suggests? Cassie
A – If history has been feminised it is a very good thing. What is history if you ignore half the human race – and women influence men. I don’t think the wives are more infamous than Henry – but he would be shocked and appalled how hugely important they are in our memory of him. My feelings on each wife?
Katherine of Aragon: Even Henry was frightened of her. A bad enemy to make, but much to admire.
Anne Boleyn: I think she was trapped into a relationship with Henry, but having accepted him, she pursued her marriage with utter ruthlessness. She is fascinating, but I find it hard to like her. She died very bravely.
Jane Seymour: I don’t think she was the milk sop she is painted – look at her brothers! A nasty piece of work, who married Henry with disgusting haste following Anne’s execution. My least favourite.
Anne of Cleves: Beloved by the people. She is the one I would like to read a novel about – she lived well into the reign of Mary I. A long and interesting life as an observer. She really was the one who survived.
Katherine Howard – An ordinary girl and a bit silly as young girls can be. The one I most pity. And like Anne Boleyn she died bravely.
Katherine Parr – For me it is her love affair with Thomas Seymour that stands out from her story. I think of her as Thomas’s wife. Leanda
Q – Do you think that had Henry lived to see his son by Queen Jane die, she would have perhaps followed in Queen Anne’s shoes? As Queen Jane could no longer have anymore children,surely, the King would have replaced her with another? His mission in life was to get a son no matter what the cost, so I really wonder if Queen Jane would have been put to death, had she lived as well? Baroness Von Reis
A – I think Henry was already planning for what would happen if he did not have children by Jane. He hoped to make his bastard, Richmond, his heir…but then, of course Richmond died. Would he have got rid of Jane? Maybe… Leanda
Tudor: The Family Story will be released in hardback in the UK on 29th August – click here to pre-order – and on 8th October in the US – click here.
By the way, Leanda has some very informative articles on her website – see www.leandadelisle.com/articles/