Friday, 3 October 2014

Catherine of Aragon's missing letters

(photo from Shakespeare's Secrets: A Hidden Cipher -

Having spent some time looking through various letters to and from the English court in 1513, I’d found (or not found) some surprising things.  Firstly, Wolsey and Thomas Howard appear to be very tight in their alliance, Henry VIII is a poor correspondent to his queen, Margaret of Savoy seems to have the biggest political hand in the events of the time, and Catherine of Aragon is rather absent.  Or, at least her letters for many months do not at all represent the correspondence of a Queen Regent.

These missing letters are what I’d been searching for. While many documents were lost in fire, misplaced through time, or just so difficult to transcribe that they are skipped over, I had been expecting many lengthy personal letters between Catherine and Henry in regards to her becoming regent in his absence (fighting in France). There were a few short messages from Catherine to Wolsey, Howard to Catherine, or vice versa – Catherine asking for more updates on her husband, or Wolsey giving a very basic update on Henry’s whereabouts. A much lengthier letter from Catherine appears in the records after the battle of Flodden.

In September, 1513, Queen Catherine writes to Henry VIII about the victory at the Battle of Flodden. She writes: “Sir, My lord Havard hath sent me a letter to open to your grace within one of mine by the which ye shall see at length the great victory that our Lord hath sent your subjects in your absence: and for this cause it is no need herein to trouble your grace with long writing…”

Looking closely at the wording of Catherine’s letter, she suggests that there is an additional letter from her to be read in conjunction with Lord Havard’s letter. Yet, she has already told Henry she would not bother with long writing (which suggests to me, although this is the longest letter in record during for these few months from her, that her other letters might have been longer). So where are these longer letters (if any)?

It has been noted by some historians that Catherine started writing in cipher when she was betrothed to prince Arthur.

S. Tomokio writes in his article ‘Earliest English Diplomatic Ciphers’: “It appears that Catherine used a cipher different from that of the Spanish ambassador, considering Bergenroth noted during the middle of his research that Catherine's cipher was one of the three ciphers that he did not yet understand. On the other hand, it appears, as noted above, Catherine let De Puebla decipher Ferdinand's letter to Henry VII sent to her. Examination of the manuscript is desired (”

This wonderful extract in Tomokio’s article shows us some excellent reference to the cipher used by Catherine and Henry: “‘Has learnt by her letter in cipher, and by the letter in plain writing of the King of England, that it is his intention to prevent the utter destruction of Venice,....
‘The King of England must therefore henceforth write in his letters nothing but such things as the French may read without danger. All other communications must be made by her, and be written in her cipher, or in the cipher of the ambassador, until the new ambassador arrives. Has always observed, and will in future observe the same rule, namely, to write in common writing only what the French may see, and to write all that is important in cipher.
‘In answer to the contents of the letter of the King, and of her letter in cipher, there is little to be said, except ....
’ Ferdinand to Catherine, 18 November 1509, (Calendared in Bergenroth pp.25-26)”

The newly published online (previously only in print) 'Henry VIII: April 1513, 1-10', Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 1: 1509-1514 (1920)’ lists and transcribes all the letters in record for this time, but if a letter is in French, German, Latin or any other dialect, including cipher, it is noted as such and not transcribed. Many ‘in cipher’ letters appear (and sadly letters ‘too damaged to decipher), which leads me to think how wonderful it would be to find the key to unlock Catherine’s ciphered letters.

Whatever the reason, the archives have a scarcity of letters from Catherine which is a thrilling little mystery in its own.  Six months as Regent of the country, a decisive victory and the death of the Scottish King would surely amass more than a handful of stinted letters from this very powerful and passionate woman.



Thursday, 18 September 2014

Battle of Flodden

The Battle of Flodden, which took place in Northumberland’s Brainston Moor, was a victory for England and the death of Scotland’s King James IV, who died in the battle. Although the English forces were headed by the Earl of Surrey (Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk), it was Queen Catherine who, heavily pregnant, rode out in full armour to address the troops before battle.

War with Scotland was personal – it was the King’s brother-in-law, James IV who declared war on England while England was making war with France.  James IV wrote to Henry VIII on 24 May, 1513, stating that he had received word from France that England might invade, and that if Henry invaded France, Scotland in turn would invade England. Scotland’s alliance (known as the Auld Alliance) supported France and were anit-Papist reformers. More specifically, England and Spain were allies with League of the Cambrai, the Catholic League, which was under attack from France who was invading Italy. While England attacked France, Scotland supported France by attacking England. Queen Catherine, a daughter of Spain and devout Catholic, kept Henry’s England highly influenced by Spain and the Pope until she fell out of Henry’s favour many years later. Adding to this was the already turbulent relationship between Scotland and England which, never a strong alliance, had reached critical breaking point when Robert Kerr, a Scottish East March warden was murdered (not to mention that Henry outraged James by claiming Scotland as one of his territories).

Fighting on two or more fronts always weakens an army, so when the King and his troops gathered arms and fought for two years in France, it was up to Queen Regent, Catherine of Aragon to sort things out on the northern borders of England while Scotland was trying to invade. Catherine proved herself to be a trustworthy Regent and leader at the time. The Battle of Flodden was not the end of Anglo-Scots tension or wars, but with James IV dead and his son and successor only 17 months old, it cooled their attack for many years to come.

Catherine may have succeeded in rousing troops to victory, but her joy was short lived as her newborn child died only days after he was born in October.

sources: 'Henry VIII: May 1513, 21-31', Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 1: 1509-1514 (1920)
and Wiki

Friday, 12 September 2014

Margaret of Savoy


It’s been an exciting few weeks – firstly, the Historical Novel Society weekend was very illuminating.  And it’s been good motivation as well. I have less than one year to finish my research and write my first draft of the Tudor murder mystery novel. I’m loving the research, but it is difficult to not get sidetracked.  I’ve been looking into Catherine of Aragon and whilst reading papers from Henry VIII court in 1513, I kept coming across some familiar names, but what caught my eye was Margaret of Savoy. Of course there have been a few women of that title over time, but only one alive in 1513 and the more I read about her (see, distracted) the more I came to love her.

The letter that caught my eye last night was from Mary, Princess of Castile to Margaret, thanking her for the costume patterns for the women in her court, of which she hopes to introduce the fashion very soon. I love this very girly sharing of patterns and style, but it goes much deeper than that as sneaky Margaret has a very large hand in dealing out textiles as well as fashions – not just out of a feminine vanity, but to add to the political and financial strength of her country.

Margaret of Savoy (or, Margaret of Austria, Duchess of Savoy) made new ground with what women rulers could do in a very male dominated world.  She was widowed twice and was allowed to live in her own right and having a hand in European politics. She negotiated a treaty of trade with England that favoured Flemish cloth interests and even helped to form the League of Cambrai in 1508 (a Holy League that held vast political and Papal influence throughout Europe) and later, the Treaty of Cambrai (known also as Ladies’ Peace).

I’d love to see what sort of relationship Margaret had with Catherine of Aragon, as both women held immense political sway and influence. But that must wait for another day. For now, I must read more papers and letters from 1513, note what I can (as I’m looking for Catherine’s letters from, to, or about her as her early life as Queen and especially Regent is very vaguely documented).

Monday, 8 September 2014

HNS and missing teen readers...

(I'm in the stripes)
What a great three days – my first Historical Novel Society Conference touched on so many aspects of the industry.  The best though was meeting so many like-minded authors (even though Tudor era writers were highly underrepresented).  As I was travelling with my friend Laura Purcell (Queen of Bedlam author), somehow I ended up adopted by a largeish group of Georgian writers and learning all about William Pitt’s brother John from Jacqui Reiter (who took the photograph above and is sitting to my right).
            My Christmas list has grown with books I want to read – Juliet Greenwood is at the top of my list with her late Victorian novels that just look so good (not to mention she was in the top 5 list for kindle historical fiction books which is rather impressive). I also splurged on a copy of The Miniaturist and the author, Jessie Burton was kind enough to sign it for me.
            There were so many excellent speakers, but also an illuminating session with traditional agents, publishers and sales reps of the industry. One of the most less helpful aspects of this session was when I asked about the teen market for historical fiction and was promptly told by several of the panellists that ‘teenagers just don’t read’.  Which of course, is pretty much nonsense but has given me the gumption to re-write some of my previous work for the adult market.  Teen readers (yes, they do exist!) that I’ve met purposefully avoid children’s fiction but will read adult novels.  So, eh.  Doesn’t matter too much I suppose as I’m jumping ship on the whole writing YA. I may return to YA when Briardarke officially takes on Faeries, but for now I have until December to research 1513 and everything Tudor and from January to June to crank out draft 1 of my first Tudor Murder Mystery (under a pen name).
            So now that school is back in session (thank heavens for my 15 hours a week in which to work) I expect my future blogs to be history heavy. Fun times!

Sunday, 17 August 2014

The Body in the Courtyard

(above portrait is of a young Catherine of Aragon)

Now that I’m no longer in between novels, I finally feel like things are back to normal.  Except that they aren’t.  Instead of working on my next teen fiction, I’m researching the early 1500s for the setting of my next series; a Tudor Murder Mystery series for adult readers under a pen name (which will be disclosed upon release of book 1).  The main character will be/is fictitious, but the story revolves around historic events, so although it’s a fiction, I absolutely must get the setting and history right.  Which means a lot of research, which I love doing.

I’ve always wanted to write a whodunit and I’ve always wanted to explore the Tudor era in more depth (the Masters degree was in Early Medieval Archaeology, so anything past Conquest was too late for me).  Now that I’m more engaged with the latter medieval, I find myself getting sucked into the era. The more I learn, the more I want to know.

Which brings us to 1513, the year my novel is set.  I knew a bit about the first wife of Henry VIII; that she was treated pretty roughly towards the end when his wandering eye took his interest (and hopes for a son) to Catherin’s lady-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn. I also knew she bore many children although only one survived (to become Queen Mary).  I didn’t know that she’d been assigned Regent for six months while Henry was away in France, that heavily pregnant, she donned full armour, rode north to address her troops who were due to invade Scotland.  England had been at war with Scotland for some time and she and her army won the war. Her child, however was born in October and lived only 52 days.  Small wonder, reading about what she’d been through. Catherine of Aragon was much more than just wife number 1.  She was the strength that the King depended on, trusted to run the country for him while he was away.  And that trust was not misplaced (now if only she could have trusted him).

But Catherine of Aragon is not my protagonist – she’s just part of the background tapestry of my setting. My main character is a young woman of no real consequence.  Her father is a Lord, her fiancĂ© is in France fighting along side King Henry, but her life is about to make some unexpected changes. Not only is her fiancĂ© reported fallen in the battlefield, but her parents ship her off to the countryside to care for a bedridden great aunt that she’s never heard of.  And then there is that body in the courtyard…

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Blood Tide's new launch!

It’s finally out in print and I can’t believe how wonderful it feels.  After years of rewrites, making small changes, edits and feedback from some very amazing readers, it’s pure concentrated love in triangle paperback form. Springbok Publications, my publisher for the book, has also sent me to my first e-launch.  I had no idea what to expect and I was sweating for the three hours before it started.  However, once live, it was good fun and I had the chance to engage with my readers and potential readers for a few hours.

Something someone asked me on the night was, ‘what made you want to write about slavery in 1733?’ Valid question.  It was a very convoluted answer.  The primary reason was that I felt Black History Month became a bit boring for teenagers at school.  It seemed to be the same list of names, dates and atrocities and I had the distinct feeling they’d become num to it all.  I wanted to engage these young adults with a new tale – a fictional tale using the elements of historic slavery with a character they could follow (and was new to them).

Of course, there was also that amazing charcoal sketch of a Caribbean woman at my grandmother’s house which inspired Amber’s mother, Precious.  This is her story too, although most of it is about Amber fighting her way to freedom alongside her fellow captors.  And, of course, who could resist the urge to write about pirates?

There was only one successful revolting slave ship in history, and that was the Amistat. Slaves on the ship managed to escape the hold, take the ship and live for a short time as pirates.  With several historic points as inspiration, I wove a tale that (hopefully) tempts newcomers to history, leaving them wanting to research their own histories and learn more.

Blood Tide is available now on Amazon, but should, in just a few weeks, be available to order from Waterstones and most bookstores.  For a signed copy, visit

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Blog Hop

It’s been a while again. Yes, I let time slip away (and, I must admit, research did take up a lot of my time). However, my good friend and fellow writer, Berni Stevens, has pushed me back on track by asking me to participate in this year’s blog hop.

So, I’ve got some questions to answer and a link to post, then some authors to nominate.  However, me being rather busy (and perhaps a bit lazy) I’ve only managed to coerce one author into participating instead of the expected three.  All I have to say is, ‘Thanks Tim! You were always my most punctual of author friends and once again you got back to me in record time.’

Right, the questions:

1) What am I working on?

I’m working on… ah, bells, do I really have to give a direct answer?  I’m in limbo, truth be told.  Three books coming out with three different publishers and I’m in the process of researching for a new series of books that will be under a pen name.  The books are set in Tudor England and will have a murder mystery slant to them. They are for adult readers (no, not naughty, but not aimed at my usual children’s and teen audience) and therefore under a different name. 

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Curses, I think I’ve already answered that question. How am I to… ah, nevermind.  It’s adult historical fiction, not children’s fantasy or teen urban fantasy or teen historical fiction.

3) Why do I write what I do?

Why? Because I can’t live if I don’t.  I’d shrivel up and die in a corner. Why else would anyone sit at their computer day in and out, waiting upon some chance in Hades that a big agent will someday commission the work that took years and excluded all social activities? In one word, delusional.  Yup, that’s me.  And every author I know.

4) How does my writing process work?

I write, I sit, I write, I sleep, I write, I edit, I write, I sleep a bit, wake up with a new idea for a subplot, then write some more.  Then I edit a whole lot, then when it’s all done I open a bottle of champagne and pray someone will be interested, then I send it to agents, then I get the rejection letters, then I cry a bit, then I edit some more, then I beg friends to read it and give suggestions, then I edit again, then I have a new idea and start it all over. Any questions?

Okay, nomination time! Tim Reed, over to you! Thanks for being a good sport :-)

Tim Reed has been published several times in the short story and novella field, in the USA and UK, spreading his net on the fantasy, weird tale and horror genres. He works as a technical author and does freelance proofreading in his spare time.

He has a love of well-written fantasy and supernatural fiction - both old and modern - and cites Algernon Blackwood and H P Lovecraft as his primary literary inspirations. His current ongoing works-in-progress include a modern retelling of 'The Magic Faraway Tree'; he will always write...even though his constant daydreaming continues to infuriate his nearest and dearest.

Blog link:



Thursday, 20 March 2014

To Talliston we go!

Just a few more weeks until the Murder Mystery party at Talliston.  With a Roman theme, I've been busy making Roman jewellery and costume (Ignore the stripy shirt under my tunica lol).

It has been very long since my last blog, but to be fair, I've had to hold back in regards to what's going on with my writing.  And I've been busy with Seadrake Creations, my jewellery business (!/SeadrakeCreations)
which has been keeping my hands from typing (forming, soldering, hammering silver is pretty amazing and fun).

On to writing.  So much has changed.  Faeries will be on hold for a little longer as the publisher is still setting things up and making sure all legalities are in order.  It's going to be a good company, I can feel it, and I'm very excited for the new director and owner... it brings back memories of when Wyvern Publications was new. It also gives me some breathing space to finish my other projects because as soon as she takes on Faeries, I'll need to crack on with book two.

Blood Tide is still with Springbok Publications and I've just finished reviewing the e-proof.  I can't believe how much it's improved since the manuscript was left with them... I truly am blessed to have great indy publishers!!!  It will be released as soon as it's ready - I know myself how long these things can take and I'll post links to the book as soon as it's up.

My third publisher (really, three??? I'm either doing something very right or very wrong) has taken my last children's stories for the anthology and is reviewing the changes now.  It's been a boon having a dedicated children's e-publisher, and now these stories are going into their own dedicated anthology with an emphasis on my Cornish storyteller collection.  It will be out when it's out and I'll post those links too.

As for random anthology contributions, I think I'm finished with those.  I've lost count of the number of collections I'm part of and although I loved doing it, it takes time from my larger projects.

Write, write, write, make jewellery, prep the house, create the Tudor style garden, work on the putting together the natural looking playground, blog, argh, it's all a spin. Some big changes are about to take place and when I'm at liberty, I'll write about them.  But for now, it's all work and very little play.  Oh, and some good publishing :-)