To celebrate International Women’s Day 2020, here’s a review of book written by an inspiring woman about brave, daring, bold and incredible women, most of whom have been ignored by historians and whose voices have been silenced: Invisible Agents: Women and Espionage in Seventeenth Century Britain by Nadine Akkerman redresses the balance.
Akkerman’s robust research in archives, libraries and private collections has allowed these remarkable women to find their voices again and, in studying their words and deeds, she has created an important, must-read book of a long-forgotten slice of women’s history.
At a time when it was almost impossible for men of rank to travel, women – who were viewed as being too weak and feeble to be a threat – rose to the challenge, carrying documents, letters and arranging for the moving of important political prisoners. Each study challenges preconceptions, taking the reader on an adventure as an entirely new and fresh perspective of women and the role they played in the development of spy-craft is revealed. From the mistress of Charles I to women willing to risk their lives to further political causes, Akkerman’s meticulous research presents a revelatory version of the politics and espionage throughout the English Civil War. Previously ignored, the contribution of these women is finally lauded and analysed from a scholarly but eminently readable perspective.
Two of the women discussed have a higher profile than others: Aphra Behn and Anne, Lady Halkett. Behn is routinely studied and it has long since been suggested she was a spy. Akkerman revisits the theories with precise and unbiased analysis, giving a new perspective on a formerly well-known version of events. Meanwhile Anne, Lady Halkett has been compared with Charlotte Brontë, Daniel Defoe, Walter Scott and Jane Austen, yet she is remembered more for her romantic attachments. Akkerman’s thorough analysis of Lady Halkett’s work reveals a politically astute woman aware of how to manipulate words to her own advantage.
Women may not have shouted about their involvement but in a world where women and men often existed in largely separate spheres, Akkerman highlights the need for a reinvestigation of the contribution to espionage made by other generations of women. Invisible Agents will grip and astound you from the first page. Treat yourself, this International Women’s Day and be inspired by Akkerman and the women she has brought into the spotlight.
Invisible Agents: Women and Espionage in Seventeenth Century Britain by Nadine Akkerman
Published by Oxford University Press
Available in paperback from 5 March 2020, RRP £12.99
There’s not much longer to wait now before I can reveal some news about the final instalment of The Marquess House Trilogy: The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy. As a little tease, I thought I’d choose a paragraph from the present day section and one from the historical story to whet your appetites.
There are no spoilers, only a tiny tiny glimpse of what is coming your way very soon.
Hope you enjoy the preview.
Perdita and Kit
After a few moments of fiddling, the strap holding the trunk shut moved. Perdita held her breath as, with care, Kit inched the leather through the toggle. When it was free, he turned to her and grinned. Her heart was beating in excitement. This reminded her of being on a dig, when every trowel full of earth might offer up a secret. Kneeling in front of the trunk, as though she were praying at an altar, Perdita pulled a mask across her face, the others mirrored her, then she gripped the edges of the lid and eased it open.
Shaking her head to rid it of such dispiriting thoughts, Arbella resumed her pacing, reviewing her plans and evaluating their continuing viability. She had grown up surrounded by strong women and had learned from the nursery that in order to protect oneself in the uncertain world of the court, it was essential to remain forever alert and to build around oneself a trusted network of friends, spies and informers. This was even more important when royal blood flowed through your veins, as it did through hers, making her a potential heir to the throne of England.
The year 2019 has been an extraordinary one for me. After years of trying I finally succeeded in having a book published. Two books, in fact: The Catherine Howard Conspiracy and The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracy. Both have been bestsellers on Kindle and over the course of the year they’ve led me to get to know some wonderful people, mostly on social media, but a few outside it too.
It’s been incredible, so thank you everyone who has helped to make this year so magical, especially the team at Sapere Books, my lovely agent, Sara, and all you wonderful folk who have read the first two in the Marquess House Trilogy or listened to it on the audio books. Book three: The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy, will be available to pre-order in January 2020 and all the secrets will be revealed.
As the great Neil Gaiman once said: “A book is dream that you hold in your hand”, a sentiment with which I agree whole-heartedly. As far as I’m concerned an audio book is not only a portable dream but it holds a unique magic. A dream that becomes manifest as the words spring to life and wrap themselves around your mind. It’s like having a friend whispering in your ear, sharing the most fantastic stories with you and you alone.
You may have guessed, I’m a big fan of audio books. I listen to them all the time and, when The Marquess House Trilogywas signed by Sapere Books, once I’d stopped jumping about in excitement, my other request to my lovely agent, was: “Could we try to get an audio deal too, please?”
This wasn’t for the financial gain or a bid for world domination but for a far more personal reason. My dad is now partially sighted and can no longer read. To be perfectly honest, he was never much of a reader in the first place but considering my profession, it did make me sad that he might never be able to see what I’d achieved. However, some years ago, he too, discovered the delight of audio books and Dad was the reason why I was so desperate for my agent to secure an audio contract, something she did with admirable speed.
However, then I had another request of my agent. It was the fulfilment of a dream I’d had for years:
“Would my friend be able to narrate it, please?”
I could almost feel the eyeroll at the other end of the phone.
“Yes, we met when we were doing our A-levels.”
A pause, so I continued:
“By my friend, I don’t mean someone who just fancies having a go, she’s an award winning actor with years and years of experience, shall I send you her CV?”
My friend is the wonderful Emma Gregory (@emma_chorussea) who has had a brilliant and extensive theatrical career and has also recorded, with great skill, numerous audio books. I’d always known I wanted the trilogy to be in audio form and I’d always wanted Emma to read them. I knew she would be perfect. When it transpired, my agent had other clients who had used Emma to narrate their works, my other book-wish was granted! It did bring a tear to my eye.
In September, I joined Emma at W F Howes to listen to her recording The Catherine Howard Conspiracy. Her interpretation was so evocative, there were times when I was brought to tears. It was strange and emotional hearing one of my dearest friends reading my words with such professionalism and integrity. Thank you, my darling Em and thank you to everyone at W F Howes, especially Lauren Fox and Craig Thomson. You really are dream makers!
If you fancy listening to Emma’s wonderful narration of The Catherine Howard Conspiracy, then you only have a few days left to wait. It’s currently on pre-order and will be released on – 31 October 2019 – with The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracy to follow shortly after.
Choosing real people from history to spin into a tale of fiction is one of the most interesting parts of planning a new story. Throughout The Marquess House TrilogyI’ve tried to tell the tale through the voices of women. These incredible ladies lived over 500 years ago and there was a huge number who were clamouring to have
their stories told.
As well as my more well-known main characters, I’ve tried to include the women who have been pushed to one side of history. Their stories are equally as fascinating as the queens, the princesses, the duchesses and the countesses; and their actions often impacted on social and political events, even though their input may have been forgotten by subsequent generations.
One of my favourite discoveries for the second part of the trilogy The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracywas Lady Katherine Paston. Born around 1547, Katherine provided me with a female blood link between Catherine Howard and Elizabeth I. It came through the Culpeper and Leigh line, which was from Catherine Howard’s mother, Jocasta Culpeper.
However, upon further digging, I also discovered that Katherine Newton was linked to Elizabeth I through a connection to the Boleyn family; the paternal line of Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn.
Katherine’s mother was Agnes Leigh, the daughter of Catherine Howard’s troublesome half-brother, John Leigh and, his wife, Elizabeth Darcy. When she was queen, Catherine Howard, begged her husband, Henry VIII, for clemency for John Leigh, securing his release from prison. John and Elizabeth rather unusually divorced sometime before he made his will in 1563.
There is no information concerning Agnes’s birth, although by 1544 she had married Sir Thomas Paston. He was a gentleman of the privy chamber and part of the powerful Paston family from Norfolk. Agnes and Thomas had three children: Henry (b. 1545), Katherine (c. 1547 – 1605) and Edward (1550 – 24 March 1630).
As well as his position in the privy chamber, Katherine’s father, Sir Thomas Paston, was also an MP for Norfolk. He was respectable, powerful and well-connected. His father, William Paston had married Bridget Heydon, the daughter of Henry Heydon and Anne Boleyn (senior) who was the paternal aunt of the future Queen Anne Boleyn. The Pastons and the Boleyns were both wealthy and influential families.
Katherine’s father died on 4 September 1550. After this, Agnes married Edward Fitzgerald MP, giving young Katherine a host of half-siblings, including included Douglas Aungier (a sister); Thomas Fitzgerald; Lettice Fitzgerald and Gerald Fitzgerald, 14th Earl of Kildare. There was certainly no doubting Katherine’s connections, yet, she is practically unknown.
In The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracy, I used Katherine’s connections to the Paston family, who were voracious letter writers, to place her at the heart of Elizabeth’s network of informers, the Ladies of Melusine. Whether she was even literate is not clear but I would guess she was, especially considering her family background. One of the contemporary comments made about Katherine was that she was supposed to suffer from ill health, which caused her absence from court. While I haven’t been able to verify this, I liked the idea and used her ‘illnesses’ as a cover for her being able to disappear for days at a time in order to write letters on behalf of Elizabeth and to deal with the correspondence of the Ladies of Melusine.
Finding Katherine’s voice, however, has proved difficult and despite extensive searching, I have been unable to discover any surviving documents written by her. As a married woman, she would not have made a will and there seem to be no letters. There is another Katherine Paston whose words have been preserved but these are not written by the correct Katherine.
The first mention of our Katherine, is in Henry Clifford’s book, The Life of Jane Dormer, Duchess of Feria, suggesting that in 1559, Katherine was in Spain.
Jane Dormer had been a lady-in-waiting for Mary I but on her death in 1558 and Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne, Jane had married Gómez Suárez de Figueroa y Córdoba, 1st Duke of Feria. Both staunch Catholics, they returned to Spain. Clifford suggests that Katherine was the Mistress Paston who was named as being part of the duchess’s household. This would have made her 12-years-old but it is possible. Despite being Catholic, Jane Feria was said to have kept in touch with the Protestant, Queen Elizabeth, whom she had known since childhood.
After this, events become a little blurred. I have found two possible dates for the marriage of Katherine Paston and Sir Henry Newton (1535 – 2 May 1599). One is 1560, which would make Katherine 13 years old, while the other is May 1578, making her 31. As women married young, my guess would be the earlier date, particularly as her children’s births run from c. 1570 to 1584, suggesting she was 23 when she gave birth to her first child. It is likely the marriage was in name-only until Katherine reached maturity.
The confusion comes from a fragment of a court record dated 15 February 1577, which seems to suggest Katherine Paston might marry Lord Stourton. From the dates, this was probably John Stourton, 9th Baron Stourton (1553 – 1588). He was the son of Charles Stourton, 8th Baron Stourton who had been executed for committing the crime of murder on 16 March 1557. However, other records show she was already married to Sir Henry Newton by then and had several children. Lord Stourton instead married Frances Brooke. A list of marriages below this fragment place the date ‘1578’ beside Katherine. I wonder if this was perhaps the day she returned to court after an absence rather than as the indication of her marriage. (https://folgerpedia.folger.edu/The_Elizabethan_Court_Day_by_Day)
Katherine’s husband, Henry Newton, was the eldest son of Sir John Newton of East Harptree and his first wife, Margaret Poyntz. He would have been 25 when the marriage to Katherine took place. This was not uncommon and perhaps this is why Katherine is listed as being in Spain. She may have been sent there in order to complete her education, returning when she was old enough to enter the marriage.
It is probable that Katherine and Henry lived at Barr’s Court in East Harptree, Somerset which was the family seat of the Newton family. Nothing of the house remains but there are records that the ancient mansion once looked out over Kingswood Chase, a royal hunting forest, on the outskirts of Longwell Green. The mansion is discussed by the historian John Leland in 1540 when he describes it as a ‘fayre old mannar place of stone’. There are also records suggesting the property boasted a moat, more for decoration than defence, two fishponds, a dam and a vast parkland.
The couple had six children: Frances, Margaret, Theodore, John, Anne and Elizabeth; suggesting their marriage was functional and happy. Although there are very few remaining records concerning family life, perhaps the suggestion that Katherine was often ill, might have been due to her pregnancies.
Katherine is first listed as being a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth I in 1576. A sought-after position with status attached. It is well-known that Elizabeth favoured her mother’s family, the Boleyns. The offspring of Mary Boleyn were prevalent at her court and were given the not altogether flattering nickname of The Tribe of Dan, a Biblical reference to one of the powerful tribes of Israel. Katherine, with her direct bloodline to Queen Catherine Howard, who had been first cousin to Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, and a paternal link to the Boleyn family, was definitely part of the family and by 1598, Katherine was one of the senior ladies of the court.
Family life would have run alongside court life and as Katherine and Henry’s brood grew, they would have divided their time between Henry’s estates in Somerset and Gloucester and the glittering life of court. However, it is possible tragedy struck. In Henry’s will, his youngest son, Theodore, is listed as his heir, stating the child was 15-years-old when his father died in 1599, giving him a birth date 1584. This is a sizeable gap between him and his siblings whose births were in the 1570s. The inscription on Henry’s tomb declares he was the father of two sons and four daughters. There is also an interesting comment made about Katherine after Henry’s death. It states that not only did Katherine oversee the creation of an impressive tomb for her husband in Bristol Cathedral but that she also raised a monument to her father-in-law, John Newton in the church at East Harptree in Somerset.
While this is possible, I suspect the true person to whom this tomb was dedicated was Katherine and Henry’s son who bore the same name. Young John vanishes from the records suggesting he died as a young man. As East Harptree was the family church, it would make sense that they would bury their son there. Katherine and Henry may then have decided to try and have another child, a new heir. Another possible reason why the real Katherine was absent from court with illness. Miscarriages, sickness or other symptoms could have kept her from her duties. Theodore was born in 1584, when Katherine would have been 37. He was probably her last child and pregnancy.
As with all large families, there were plenty of squabbles and Katherine’s marriage embroiled her in a family feud. After the death of Henry’s father, Sir John Newton, in 1568, a row erupted between Henry, his stepmother, Lady Jane Newton, and her son, Thomas Buckland. Lady Jane had been left a life interest in the manor of Netherbadgworth, Somerset, but she claimed the right to make arrangements about tenancies of the property. Henry refused to recognise these conveyances and a Chancery case resulted.
By 1580, they were at such loggerheads the case was taken to the Star Chamber, Chancery and the common law courts, who all tried to settle the family disputes. By then, the focus had shifted to Thomas Buckland’s claims to dig for iron ore in the Mendips at East Harptree and elsewhere. Henry Newton was furious and claimed that Buckland and his accomplices had not only illegally carried off lead ore worth £400 but had caused serious disturbances of the peace by their violence. Unfortunately, the outcome of the case has been lost.
Land disputes aside, it seems Henry was still an important man at court and Queen Elizabeth expressed a fondness for Katherine’s husband, showing him favour by bestowing a coveted and lucrative wardship upon him. She also sent him a note expressing her condolences when his son-in-law, Giles Strangeways died in 1596. He had been married to Katherine and Henry’s daughter, Frances, and Henry must have had a close relationship with Giles.
Henry was so overwhelmed by Elizabeth’s thoughtful gesture, he wrote to Robert Cecil stating that he would keep the queen’s ‘most gracious comfort sent me down by you’ as the most ‘precious thing which I shall ever had, and so leave it to my son’. Daily in his prayers he asked God to ‘increase those most excellent and royal graces in her which never any historians have recorded in any Queen as in our most excellent paragon’.
Despite this, Elizabeth could still be contrary and in January 1598 when Katherine requested the position of maid of honour for one of her daughters, she was unsuccessful in her request and Elizabeth Southwell was appointed instead. Although, as Mistress Southwell was the granddaughter of Catherine Carey and the great-granddaughter of Mary Boleyn, Elizabeth’s maternal aunt, her selection becomes more understandable and less of a snub towards Katherine and her daughters.
When Henry died on 2 May 1599 at East Harptree, he left a lengthy will with many Latin quotations. He was obvious a loving and caring father, as he created healthy dowries for his daughters and instructed Katherine’s brother, Edward Paston, to be executor. Although I have not yet found details of Katherine’s inheritance, if Henry was generous to his daughters and other members of the family, it is probable Katherine was left with a substantial dower and a comfortable lifestyle.
After Henry’s death, Katherine and Henry’s eldest son, Sir Theodore Newton inherited his father’s estate. Theodore married Penelope Rodney and it was their son, Sir John Newton who would rise to the aristocracy when he was made 1st Baronet of Barr’s Court. This title was bestowed upon him by Charles II on 16 August 1660 as thanks for providing troops to defend the plantation of Ulster. However, as John had no heir, when he died, it passed out of the Gloucestershire Newton family to the Lincolnshire Newtons. Strangely, there was no blood link between them.
The widow, Katherine, continued to express her love and loyalty to her husband, with the creation of a large dresser tomb built to Henry at Bristol Cathedral, where several years later, she too was interred. The tomb survives to this day and is in the Newton Chapel at Bristol Cathedral between the Chapter House and the south choir aisle. It is elaborate and elegant, demonstrating their elevated status and their blood links to many important families. Below the recumbent effigy of a serene and bearded Henry, their children are shown kneeling, with their hands in prayer, facing the scriptures to represent piety and obedience.
The inscription reads:
“Here lyeth Sir Henry Newton of Barr’s Court in the county of Gloucester, knight, who married Katherine the daughter of Thomas Paston of Norfolk, knight, by whom he had two sons and four daughters and when he had lived full 70 years religiously towards his prince, and virtuous towards men, ended his life in the year of grace 1599 in assured hope of a glorious resurrection.
Gurney, Hampton, Cradock, Newton last held on the measure of that ancient line of Barons Blood, full seventy years he past and did in peace his sacred soul resign: his Christ he lov’d, he lov’d to feed the poor sure love assures a life that dies no more.”
Katherine’s date of death is recorded as 1605, two years after Elizabeth I’s demise. In 1603, Elizabeth was replaced on the throne by James I, the son of Mary, Queen of Scots. The new king’s court swept away the old hierarchy and Katherine, a widow of 56, would have been dismissed along with Elizabeth’s other women, with only a few bright stars from the Tudor court remaining at the heart of events.
Lady Katherine Paston was born into the privileged classes of Tudor England, that period of great change in British history. She was connected by blood to two queen consorts of Henry VIII and she married a respected and successful man. Five of her six children survived into adulthood and through her son, the family was raised to the levels of Baronet.
During her life she witnessed four Tudor monarchs, three of whom were queens: Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey, Mary Tudor and Elizabeth. Each reign, no matter how brief, making its mark on history. As a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth, Katherine was at the beating heart of the Tudor court. She witnessed the subterfuge, the brilliance, the rise of the arts, the skulduggery, the terror of threatened wars, the power of a queen when she had to fight to save her country from the Spanish Armada.
Katherine was there. She witnessed these events and while she may have been pushed into the shadows of history for centuries, this brief glimpse of her life, proves that no matter who you are, where you were born or when you lived, hers was a life lived and this is my tribute to her.
At last, I can announce the name and show you the cover of the final part of The Marquess House Trilogy.
Introducing The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy. All the secrets are revealed.
The question I’ve been asked the most about this book is: who is Arbella Stuart? To give some context, she was the daughter of Charles Stuart, 1st Earl of Lennox and Elizabeth Cavendish. Charles was the youngest son of Lady Margaret Douglas (The Catherine Howard Conspiracy) and Elizabeth was the daughter of Bess of Hardwick (The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracy). It was through Lady Margaret Douglas that Arbella received her royal blood and her claim to the English throne. For most people she’s an unknown historical figure, yet, had things gone differently, Arbella could have been queen after Elizabeth I. All this and more is explained in The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy.
Even better, all the present day secrets at Marquess House are revealed as Perdita, Piper and Kit continue their search for the missing jewels and in the process uncover many other secrets.
Check back soon for the publishing date for The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy.
Two ruby rings linked by the mysterious inscriptions Semper Sorores and Luncta Sanguine
One silver locket set with a single perfect diamond
dedicated to an unknown English kingSeparately, they mean nothing – but brought together they hold the key to a secret that could change history forever
The three pieces of jewellery at the heart of The Marquess House Trilogy have always been an important part of the mystery. More than simply decorative baubles, the jewels all have a purpose in the story. In The Catherine Howard Conspiracy, we see all three pieces: the two ruby rings commissioned by Anne of Cleves and the silver locket given as a present to Catherine from her half-sister Lady Isabel Baynton and her husband, Sir Edward Baynton. Beyond this, I’m not going to say any more about the jewellery because I don’t want to put in any spoilers, however, I would like to share the origin of the idea and a bit more about the history and symbolism of jewellery. The specialism of my main character, Dr Perdita Woodville-Rivers.
When I finished my first ever complete manuscript (still languishing in a drawer as it needs a major edit and rewrite), I celebrated this achievement by buying myself a silver and jade ring. It was from a craft shop in Mevagissey in Cornwall and was something I wore for years. Sadly, the jade cracked and began to crumble so it now resides in a small velvet-lined box shaped like a treasure chest. Many people asked me if it was hinged and could open, enabling me to hide things inside. When I’d first seen it, these had been my thoughts, too, but the ring was just a ring and there was no secret cavity within. However, a seed had been planted in my imagination.
A few years later and because of my interest in the history and symbolism of jewellery, I was commissioned to write a feature about key jewels in history and their meanings. It’s a subject I’ve touched upon in both The Catherine Howard Conspiracy and The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracy describing Isabel’s diamond earrings; the phoenix jewel belonging to Elizabeth I;
Anne Boleyn’s ship pendant which was a present to Henry VIII and the incredible locket ring that was also a favourite of Queen Elizabeth’s.
There is also the stunning Lennox Jewel (mentioned in Book Three!) which was said to have been commissioned by Lady Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox for her husband, Matthew Stewart, Earl of Lennox and Regent of Scotland who fell in battle in 1571.
Below are a few highlights from my jewellery feature which I hope you enjoy and which might make you view your own collections with different eyes as you realise the unexpected secrets and promises you might be displaying unawares!
The Hidden Symbolism of Jewellery
“These gems have life in them: their colours speak, say what words fail of.”
George Eliot, from The Spanish Gypsy
In 1527 an event happened which changed the course of English history. Anne Boleyn gave in to Henry VIII’s persistent courting and sent him a gift confirming that her love for him was reciprocated. It was a symbolic jewel, a small pendant with a picture of a maiden in a boat, tossed upon the waves. While this may seem a small, almost childish gift today, in Tudor England the message of was clear and it was anything but juvenile. The symbolism of the boat meant Anne was asking Henry to protect her from the storms of life. The best way for a man to do this was to marry her. Anne’s carefully chosen jewel gave Henry the spur he needed, and over the next seven years, he turned the religions and laws of England upside down in order make the woman he loved his wife. Quite something for a small golden boat.
With this exchange of jewels the Tudors were following in an ancient tradition, not only were they exchanging coded messages, but connecting with their ancestors in their need to adorn themselves. Jewellery is made from a combination of natural elements and by wearing these precious metals, stones and minerals that formed millions of years ago the wearer is taking part in a magical, almost alchemical experience to become part of their surrounding world. Amazingly, this is something the human race has been doing for over 100,000 years.
In 2006, a study in a US science journal revealed the origins of the oldest jewellery in the world. There were two findings of beads made from seashells which had been deliberately drilled in order to string them together to make a necklace or bracelet. Two of the pea-sized shells had been found in a cave in Oued Djebbana in Algeria and were believed to be 90,000 years old. While the other tiny bead had been found in Skhul Cave on the slopes of Mount Carmel in Israel and was believed to be 100,000 years old. Whether these beads were used for religious, protective, ritual or decorative purposes is not clear.
Fast forward a few millennia and in the 19thcentury archaeologists made an unusual discovery in Glebe Cairn in Kilmartin Glen, Scotland. It was the grave of a high-status woman from 2150BC and one of the grave goods found with her was an intricate bead necklace made of jet from Whitby in Yorkshire. Although this necklace showed the woman’s great wealth and importance, it was also an indication of so much more.
“It wasn’t just a beautiful and rare precious rock, it probably was a kind of supernatural power dressing,” explains archaeologist, Alison Sheridan, from the National Museum of Scotland. “Jet has been used as an amulet throughout history and prehistory as people believed it had magical powers. To bury a very important and wealthy woman in one of these necklaces was to send her to the next world wearing something that would protect her as well as emphasise her power.”
The use of jewellery continued to evolve. When in 1922 Howard Carter uncovered the breath-taking tomb of the boy-king Tutankhamen in Egypt the significance of displaying wealth and power after death became clear, status and power was as important in the afterlife as during life. This was shown to be a universal belief when 17 years later the magnificent tomb of an Anglo-Saxon warrior was discovered at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, England. Here was proof, not only of how important chieftains were sent to the afterlife with boats and weapons, but also with vast amounts of intricate jewellery, to both display wealth and offer protection.
Bold curves and spirals were used to decorate the jewellery. There were depictions of animals, trees, insects and animals, all stylised and representing status or protection. The snake, a Celtic symbol of eternity and eternal life, was prevalent, as was a stylised dragon.
The famous helmet from Sutton Hoo depicts a dragon coming down over the warriors face, not only to protect the wearer but to intimidate the enemy, too. This reputation of superior craftsmanship and artistic skill was enhanced further when, in 2009, amateur metal detector Terry Herbert found the largest ever hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver jewellery in a field in Staffordshire. It was made up of 1500 pieces many featuring the intricate, woven patterns echoing the curling snake of life.
So, by the time the Romans arrived in 55BC it was hardly surprising that jewellery was in every day use as hairpins, belt buckles and brooches to hold clothing together. Although as time went by, a more controversial use for jewellery emerged: slave beads. These were decorative glass beads that were used across Europe and Africa from the 16thcentury which could be traded for goods, services and, rather chillingly, slaves.
The Secret Language of Jewellery
It was a few more centuries before the sophistication of passing messages within jewellery developed to the level used by Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. Although it is interesting that the jewel Henry gave Jane Seymour, his third wife, on their wedding day was an emerald and pearl pendant. The emeralds were to indicate love and fertility, while the pearls were patience, purity and peace. As this marriage took place a mere ten days after Anne Boleyn’s execution Jane would have understood the significance of this gift and perhaps realised that after the storm-tossed furore of Henry’s marriage to Anne, she should take the hint and remain calm, quiet, pliant and, hopefully, fertile. Thankfully, she was able to fulfil this role and just over a year later gave Henry his longed for son and heir.
While jewellery still has it’s very obvious symbols indicating wealth, status and religion, the more subtle language remains something of a mystery today. How many people if given a ring shaped like a snake for an engagement ring would think it was a beautiful gesture? Most women now would be appalled but when Prince Albert proposed to Queen Victoria in 1839, this was the style of ring he gave her. She was delighted, as a snake symbolises eternity, so the secret message within the ring was that he was becoming engaged to her and would love her for all eternity, theirs was a marriage of souls that would last forever.
In fact, it was the Victorians who took the secret language of jewellery to an extremely sophisticated new level. It was a period of great change and prosperity. Suddenly, people had money to spare and with all the foreign imports, as well as the new machine-powered production lines, jewellery was available to the majority of the population. Not only that, the Victorians had a queen who was deeply in love with her prince and romance was thriving. Yet, as there was still the necessity for young men and women to be chaperoned, they embraced the language of symbolism within their jewellery to develop a secret language to express their feelings. Something they could not do vocally as lovers were rarely alone.
Entire courtships could be carried out through secret messages in the tokens they exchanged: if a man was to present a woman with a heart-shaped pendant studded with amethysts she would understand it to mean he loved her with true devotion. While if she reciprocated with a tie-pin featuring a small robin with glittering rubies emblazoned on the its red chest, it would mean: trust in the passion of my love. Forget-me-nots made from tiny sapphires were another popular jewelled memento, again usually in a brooch. If lovers had to be parted they could wear the brooch indicating to other potential suitors they were pining for another who was absent. The Victorians were also very fond of wearing jewellery, mainly lockets but sometimes rings too, with a lock of a beloved’s hair inside. This was the ultimate expression of loyalty and often preceded an engagement.
However, when Prince Albert died in 1841 the devastated Queen Victoria went into deep mourning and wore mourning jewellery made from Whitby jet. It was said this was because of its intense black colour and she wanted nothing to alleviate the sombre mood. Jet is also considered to be a stone of sympathy which aids with the healing grief. It absorbs negative energy and, as our Scottish lady of 2150BC knew, offered protection.
Not Just for Decoration
Even today, jewellery is still symbolic. Every day many people use it to identify themselves as part of a group or faith: a Christian cross, a Star of David, a kara (the bracelet worn by Sikhs to encourage a calm spirit), a Muslim “Allah” necklace, the Egyptian ankh or key of life, a Hamsa pendant to ward off the evil eye or a Thors hammer to represent the Pagan religion of Odinism, the meaning is instant and speaks clearly without words.
We still have rituals surrounding jewellery: the wedding ring is the culmination of the marriage service and is also a very public display of your relationship status. The reason the wedding ring is worn on the third finger of the left hand is largely due to the Ancient Egyptians. They understood that the vein from this finger leads directly to the heart, so to wear a ring on this finger, given to you by the person you love, indicates your heart belongs to them.
The symbolism and significance of jewellery link us through the centuries to our deepest roots and yet, today many people have lost the vital understanding of this connection to their past. Perhaps by listening to our instincts when choosing a piece of jewellery and thinking more carefully about the form, the pattern, the shape and the stones we too can learn that jewellery is far more than something pretty or something to show off wealth, it can be a link to the past and an expression of our deepest, most personal feelings.
Supposedly found over 5000 years ago in India the Koh-i-Noor diamond is reputed to carry a curse. A Hindu text relating to the first authenticated appearance of the diamond in 1306 said: “He who owns this diamond will own the world but will also know all its misfortunes. Only God, or a woman, can wear it with impunity.”
All the men who owned it have either lost their throne or had other misfortunes befall them. Queen Victoria was the only reigning monarch to have worn the gem when the stone was mounted in a brooch.
Wallis Simpson’s Panther Bracelet
Made of onyx and diamond this was designed in 1952 by jewellers Toussaint and Lemarchand. Although this was given to Wallis Simpson after the abdication of her lover Edward VII, it has still been said the piece was designed to reflect her image as a sexual predator, a triumphant one, by the look of the panther’s expression.
Audrey Hepburn’s Tiffany Diamond
The Tiffany Yellow Diamondis one of the largest yellow diamonds ever discovered and was worn by Audrey Hepburn in 1961 publicity photographs for Breakfast At Tiffany’s.
Birds in jewellery mean soul mates while the diamond is a symbol of constancy and in yellow suggest sunshine, so the promise is the wearer is the giver’s soul mate and she will be cherished forever in the sunlight of their love.
3000-year-old jet bead
Discovered at Cairnholy, Scotland, the jet bead would have been believed to have magical properties. People wore talismans to ward off evil and as jet can generate static electricity, the spark it gave out would have made it appear even more mysterious.
The Curse of the Hope Diamond
Many believe jewels can be good luck talismans or, in rare cases, cursed stones. As the private jeweller and Cartier expert Harry Fane, who owns the Obsidian gallery in London, puts it, “they have to be more than just rocks”. The Hope diamond is the most legendary example of a stone deemed deeply unlucky, and unless you are entirely immune to superstition, the chain of ill fortune which has followed it seems convincingly dramatic.
Believed to originate from the Kollur mine near Golconda in India, legend has it that the deep blue, 112 carat, golf ball-sized stone was taken from the brow of a temple idol by the French merchant traveller Jean-Baptiste Tavernier in the 1660s. From then until 1958 – when it was donated to the Smithsonian museum in Washington by jeweller Harry Winston, who sent it in a plain brown package by registered mail – it was associated with the premature death, madness, suicide and murder of many who possessed it.
Jewellery in the 1600s
No matter where she was, in the seventeenth century, a woman would always don her earrings: whether dressed or undressed. By day, fake pearl or paste earrings to coordinate with clothing were acceptable. While for the evening, fine diamond and precious stones were expected.
These were the most fashionable stone a courtier could own. Men wore them on hats, as brooches and on cloak pins. Women wore them in abundance as heavy ropes, earrings and dotted through elaborate hairstyles.
Pearls were rare and expensive, however, in the seventeenth century Jaquin of Paris patented a method of making fake pearls. By coating blown glass hollow balls with a varnish that had been mixed with iridescent ground fish scales, then filling these with wax to strengthen them he created fake pearls. This method of simulating pearls was used for over 200 years.
The Secret Jewellery Code
Bee: wisdom and faithfulness
Bird: soul mates
Boat: Protection through life’s stormy seas
Feather: my soul is yours
Heart: love or devotion
Starfish: Love is stronger than the tides
Twinned bird: two souls flying together for eternity
Agate: world success and happiness
Coral: protection against evil
Emerald: Hope and fertility
Lapis Lazuli: unselfish love and compassion
Opal: faithful love. If a lover is unfaithful the stone will shrink and fall from its setting revealing the betrayal.
Pearls: tears, also patience, purity and peace
Ruby: passion. Sanskrit for “king of precious stones” – ratnaraj.
Sapphire: truth, contemplation and chastity
Turquoise: loyal and long-lasting love
Gold: wealth, good health and success.
Silver: unconditional love, sensitivity, balance and patience
Time is flying and what with the words for Book Three flowing like a river and a bug that laid me low for a few weeks, I apologise for my lack of blogging and social media, in general. However, to make up for it, here’s a little treat.
As we all know, not every word of every draft makes the final edit. In The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracyone of these deleted scenes was a conversation between Perdita and Kit which I loved. I was sad to lose it but understood the reasons (and the word count) why. Instead, I’d like to share it with you now. There are no spoilers, it’s purely a daft exchange between them as they delve into the secrets of the past.
The theory is one I was told by the wonderful Caroline Bullough who I met when we were both guests at the wedding of our mutual friend, Bethan to the lovely Rob.
It was a gorgeous weekend and Caroline’s explanation of her theory made me giggle. When she discovered my profession, she asked if I would be able to use her theory. Even as she was explaining it, I knew it would be an ideal scenario for Kit to regale to Perdita.
I hope you enjoy it.
The Cornichon Effect
An outtake from The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracy by Alexandra Walsh
“It’s The Cornichon Effect,” said Kit, casting a mischievous glance at Perdita.
“The what?” she asked in confusion.
“The Cornichon Effect: a strange phenomena that occurs when something new is pointed out to you, then you see it everywhere go. It’s a theory I developed some years ago.”
“Enlighten me,” laughed Perdita.
“When I at university and far less sophisticated than the suave man-about-town you know and love,” began Kit, Perdita grinned, “I was at a rather dreadful cocktail party, when a young lady who was really quite pretty asked if I would pass her the cornichons.”
Perdita shook her head in mock despair but Kit continued, undeterred.
“Until that point, I’d lived a sheltered life and had no idea what she was talking about. Panicking, because up until then my rubbish chat-up lines had been working a treat, I knew if I got this wrong, she would see me for the unsophisticated fool my brother and sister had always assured me I was. In front of me were three dishes: one held olives, another was filled with small gherkins and a third contained anchovy fillets. Which one could it be? I was a sweating nervous wreck – did the fish have a posh alternative name?”
“Did olives? In the end, I took a deep breath and guessed at the gherkins. She smiled and took one. I was triumphant, I also knew what cornichons were. Sadly, she took the dish from me and walked off to find her boyfriend.”
“However,” Kit continued, “for months after that incident, everywhere I turned, there were cornichons and references to cornichons. Previously, I’d never known of their existence but now, the world was full of cornichons and this is my patented theory, The Cornichon Effect. Once something unusual is pointed out, you tend to find that word or item everywhere you turn. It’s as though the Universe has brought it to your attention for a reason and will keep bashing you over the head with it until you take notice. It’s the same with us and mermaids. Everywhere we turn we find another reference, yet six months ago, I doubt either of us had given them much thought.”
Kit folded his arms and sat back, with a satisfied expression on his face.
“It’s good to know a university education wasn’t wasted on you, Kit,” laughed Perdita. “Although, I do like it. The Cornichon Effect is a very interesting and promising theory Dr Mackensie.”
“Why thank you, Dr Rivers.”
Thanks to Bethan, Rob and Caroline for Kit’s outlandish theory. xx
The second book in The Marquess House Trilogy has now been published – woohoo!! On Sunday 2 June 2019, The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracy went live and today, my copies arrived from my lovely publishers Sapere Books.
Earlier this year, when The Catherine Howard Conspiracy was published I fulfilled my life-long dream to become a published author. To have two books published in six months is more that I ever imagined would be possible.
Thank you to Sapere for being my dream-makers and thank you to everyone who has bought the books and been kind enough to tell me how much you’ve enjoyed them.
Now, back to book three and all the final, big reveals!
One of the most enjoyable things about writing an historical novel is discovering the tiny details that make the period real on the page. While I was researching The Catherine Howard Conspiracy, I spent a great deal of time hunting out the life stories of the women who surrounded the young queen in order to create a group of realistic friends and confidants.
There are some well-known names linked with Catherine and her downfall: Lady Jane Boleyn, Thomas Culpeper, Katherine Tilney, Joan Bulmer and Mary Lascelles, but I wanted to find the other women, the friends and family members who were there and gave Catherine help and support at this strange, glorious, wonderful yet terrifying time.
After checking a list of her ladies-in-waiting (thank you, tudorwomen.com), I discovered Catherine had at least two of her sisters within her ladies-in-waiting: Lady Isabel Baynton and Margaret Howard, Lady Arundell. For some reason, I was drawn to Lady Isabel and she became an important character in The Catherine Howard Conspiracy. I would like to share a very brief outline of this fascinating woman’s story.
Isabel and Catherine were half-sisters through their mother, Jocasta or Joyce Culpeper. Jocasta was first married to Sir Ralph Leigh, Treasurer of the Inner Temple and Isabel’s birth date is given in the few pieces of information I have managed to find about her as around 1496. However, I doubt if this is the case and my reasoning for this statement revolves around her marriage to Sir Edward Baynton in 1531. If Isabel’s birth date is correct this would make her 35 on her wedding day, which would have been highly unusual. Girls married young and if a woman was married for the first time in her mid-30s there would have been records of her as a spinster or comments about her age. As neither topic is ever raised, I suspect her birth age is incorrect.
Despite this, Isabel was one of five children: John, Ralph, Margaret, Joyce and Isabel, although which order they were born in is unclear. Her father, Sir Ralph Leigh, died in 1509 and, four years later in 1513, Jocasta married Lord Edmund Howard. Edmund had numerous siblings including Elizabeth Boleyn – mother of Anne – and Thomas Howard, 3rd duke of Norfolk. Jocasta and Edmund had six children, including the future bride of Henry VIII: Catherine Howard.
There are very few records concerning Isabel’s early life, but by 1533 she was at court, where Anne Boleyn had become Henry VIII’s second wife. Isabel’s step-father, Lord Edmund Howard, was uncle to the new queen and, Isabel, now married to Sir Edward Baynton, the Vice Chamberlain to the queen, was enjoying life at the heart of the glamorous Tudor court. In the vast, sumptuous and bejewelled procession for Anne’s coronation, Isabel is listed as one of the twelve ladies who rode on horseback dressed in crimson velvet. Waving to the crowd and relishing in the excitement of life, she had the luxury of watching and taking part in the spectacle that was Henry VIII’s court but with none of the danger or intrigue.
Isabel was Edward Baynton’s second wife. He had previously been married to Elizabeth Sulyard and they had seven children: Bridget, Andrew, Edward, Henry, Anne, Jane and Ursula. When he married Isabel on 18 January 1531 Isabel became their stepmother. Edward owned the manors of Bromham in Wiltshire and Faulston in Salisbury, which he had inherited from his father, Sir John Baynton, giving Isabel a number of properties to choose from when she wished to escape from the tumult of court.
For three years, the court of Henry and Anne was the centre of Isabel’s world but in 1536, things began to go wrong for Anne Boleyn. She was accused of adultery with a string of men, including her brother, George Boleyn, viscount Rochford. Sir Edward Baynton was given the task of obtaining confessions from the accused men. Family ties to Anne aside, Edward must have done a good job because he was at Henry’s next wedding, to the king’s third wife Jane Seymour and was given the prestigious position of her Master of the Horse. It is likely Isabel was with him, particularly as they both attended the christening of baby Edward, the future King Edward VI, a year later.
Meanwhile, Isabel was building a family with Edward and gave birth to her first child, a boy named Henry in 1536, the year of Anne’s fall. The following year, a second son, Francis arrived and at some point, a daughter, Anne. Sadly, there is no recorded date of birth for Anne and as there are no records of her later in life either, it is assumed she died young.
After Queen Jane’s death on 24 October 1537, Isabel was one of the 29 women who walked in succession to mark each year of her life. For a short time after this, Edward and Isabel were guardians to Henry’s daughters, the princesses Mary and Elizabeth from the king’s marriages to Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, respectively. Although the exact amount of time they held these roles is not recorded, it appears they remained close to the royal children and were regulars in their households throughout their youth.
Two years later, when the king announced he was to be married to the German princess, Anne of Cleves, Isabel and Edward returned to court. Edward, to once again take up the position of Vice-Chamberlain to the new queen and Isabel to be a lady-in-waiting. It probably never occurred to either of them that they would soon be drawn even deeper into the beating political heart of the Tudor England. As Henry turned from wife number four, to the wife number five, Isabel must have felt some misgivings as the king’s roving eye landed on the pretty face of the young Catherine Howard, Isabel’s half-sister. Isabel could only stand and watch as her younger sister became queen of England.
How would she have felt? Jealous, perhaps, although I think this is unlikely, having witnessed what other women had suffered at the hands of the king. Excited; she would be half-sister to the queen which would mean a rise in status, or terrified? Aware from her experience as lady-in-waiting to his previous wives how his mercurial mood could shift in a moment. We will never know but for Catherine it must have been a comfort to have an older sibling there to help her in this strange new world.
Catherine’s rise to the throne gave increased prestige to her family, including Isabel who, with her children, was granted ‘100 marks’, while Edward was granted the manor Semleigh, Wiltshire.
Once again though, the marriage was brief. Catherine was accused of lewd behaviour with men before she was queen, which she had not disclosed. While it looked as though this scandal might pass, another followed on its heels and a letter was found suggesting she was involved with Thomas Culpeper, a member of Henry’s bedchamber. Horrified, Henry stripped Catherine of her titles and refused to speak to her. She was removed to Syon Abbey in Isleworth, Middlesex to be questioned, with four women accompanying her, one of whom, was her elder sister, Isabel.
Some historians claim Isabel was a spy, passing information back to Thomas Cranmer, the archbishop of Canterbury and his investigators. Others that Isabel and Edward talked to Catherine at length trying to make her understand the danger she was in and to suggest that the affair with Culpeper had been rape. In the meantime, Jane Boleyn, who was supposed to have facilitated the affair, went insane with fear. How must Isabel have felt? She had already lived through the scandal of watching her step-aunt, Anne Boleyn, lose her life to Henry’s violence, now her younger sister was in a similar position.
In January 1542, the Bill of Attainder against Catherine and Jane was introduced to Parliament and on its third reading was passed. In the eyes of the law, they were already dead. On 10 February 1542, the dukes of Suffolk and Southampton escorted Catherine and Jane to the Tower of London. It is likely Isabel was with them. On 11 February 1542, the bill against Catherine and Jane became law and on the evening of 12 February, they were told they would be executed the next morning.
Records do not say who was with Catherine but it is possible Isabel stayed with her until the end. After this, Isabel vanishes from the lists of ladies-in-waiting. After such an experience, she must have left court, returning instead to one of the manors owned by her husband, either in disgrace because of her family tie to Catherine or because she could not bear to remain in such a violent and dangerous environment.
Two years later, Edward died. He was in France on campaign for Henry and died from his wounds. Although he had requested that he be buried in the family tomb at his manor in Bromham, Wiltshire, his body was never returned from France. After his death, Isabel was granted £6, 2s, 6d, as his widow.
It seems Isabel never returned to court. After Edward’s death, she married, James Stumpe. It was an odd union, as well as a little confusing, because James had first been married to Bridget Baynton, Isabel’s step-daughter. However, Bridget had died in 1545 and these two decided to keep things in the family. They were together until James’s death in 1563. Two years after James’s death, in 1565, she married a man called Thomas Stafford.
Isabel died on 16 February 1573, by which time she would have witnessed all three of Henry’s children take the throne in turn. Her life had spanned the reigns of five monarchs, she had seen her sister beheaded, she had survived scandals at court, married three times and ended her life in a comfortable manner. Isabel Baynton stood on the sidelines as history unfolded around her, on occasions drawing her to the very centre of events, yet, she is unknown to the majority of people except as a passing footnote in the story of other people’s lives. I hope that by including her in my novel, I’ve given Isabel her voice back.
The Catherine Howard Conspiracy is available from Amazon and The Elizabeth Howard Conspiracy, which is the second part of The Marquess House Trilogy, will be available on Kindle and in paperback from Sunday 2 June 2019.
“Every great and original writer, in proportion as she is great and original, must herself create the taste by which she is to be relished.” (To paraphrase) William Wordsworth in a letter to Lady Beaumont, 21 May 1807