Happy Halloween, Tudor Enthusiasts! I was contemplating a Halloween-themed blog post for today... I already did the "haunted Tudors" post last year - which I hope you'll read if you get the chance! When I considered the topic of witchcraft (which is interesting all on its own) I thought it would be perfect for a spooky post today. I hope you find it as fascinating as I do! Because witches were not as prevalent during the 16th century, I've extended this post to encompass the 17th century as well - because that is when witch hunting really got going. Let's take a look at witches of the Tudor and Stuart dynasties....
Witchcraft in a Nutshell
Witchcraft persecutions began during Elizabeth I's reign - around 1563, which was actually much later than other areas of Europe... Witch hunts in southern France and Switzerland began as early as the 14th century.
In early modern tradition, witches were stereotypically women. The common belief was that these women would make a diabolical pact with evil spirits and appeal to their intervention. They would reject Jesus and the holy sacraments, and take part in "the Witch's Sabbath" - a parody of the mass and sacraments. By paying honor to the 'Prince of Darkness,' they would in turn receive preternatural powers - thereby becoming evil.
Folklore said that the 'Devil's Mark' would appear on the new witch's skin like a brand, to signify that the evil pact had been made. It was said during Elizabeth I's reign that the devil's mark had been spotted on Anne Boleyn - though this has been popularly seen as a cruel and unwarranted slam against her.
Interestingly, the reasons for a woman to make a pact with the devil were varied - people believed that women, in their frustrations and struggles, would appeal to the devil in order to gain powers to deal with infertility, fear for her children's well-being, or revenge against a lover.
Although witch persecutions were not really in effect until 1563, the use of witchcraft had been deemed as heresy by Pope Innocent VIII in 1484. From then until about 1750, roughly 200,000 witches were tortured, burnt, and hung across Western Europe.
What was a Witch like?
Witches were frequently characterized as being ugly and old women. (Though in Anne Boleyn's case, people were apparently willing to overlook those characteristics when they called her a witch). They were typically described as "crone-like," with snaggle teeth, sunken cheeks, and hairy lips. Not a pretty picture, and certainly similar to how we picture witches today! Also, if they were the owner of a cat, they were all the more likely to be considered a witch - that's right, even in the early modern period, cats were considered a sign of witchcraft. For that reason, most cats during the Tudor period in England were burnt or otherwise destroyed because of the fear that they would attract evil. As sad as that is, I find it interesting - we hear frequently about how kings and queens kept pets such as dogs and monkeys...but never cats! Now we know why!
Witch persecutions were not a pretty thing. Similar to your average 16th century execution methods, the witches were handled cruelly and harshly, and were typically put under some kind of awful torture to gain a confession of their craft and other witches in the village. 'Thumb screws' and 'leg irons' seem to be the most common forms of torture used on the witches, and they usually resulted in a confession - This, of course, would have been taken as proof that witchcraft really did exist in England, because a woman being tortured would confess it! Whether it was said out of pain and agony or not, it certainly gave witch-hunters cause to continue looking and persecuting... and it only increased the fear of evil and the devil!
1645-1646 marks a short period of time when 'witch fever' gripped England hard. A man named Matthew Hopkins, a renowned witch finder, had 68 people put to death in Bury St. Edmunds and 19 people hung in Chelmsford in a single day. He was given exorbitant amounts of money for touring England and ridding towns and villages of evil witches. The grateful townsfolk would do anything and pay any price to rid their homes of the devil's influence! Because of this, many people lost their lives.
Hopkins' main 'tool' to discover witches during this period was by using a needle and poking/prodding a wart, mole, or insect bite to see if the woman felt any pain. If she didn't, it was 'solid proof' that the mark was indeed the devil's mark! There could be no question that she was a witch and would have to be executed! However, his 'needle' was no needle at all. It was a 3 inch spike that retracted into the spring-loaded handle so the women would not feel a thing.
Witch TestingOther witch tests included the swimming test. Mary Sutton of Bedford was tossed into a river with her thumbs tied to her opposite big toes. If she floated, she was guilty; if she sank, she was innocent. Either way she would die! Poor Mary Sutton floated, and was therefore burnt. In August 1612, King James I (who was famously terrified of witchcraft), ordered that the Pendle Witches (three generations of a family), should be marched through the streets of Lancaster all together and hanged. In fact, King James I was so fearful of witchcraft and the threat of evil, that he advocated a book called Daemonologia - published in Edinburgh in 1567. This was a guide telling his subjects how to detect witchcraft and how to protect themselves from it. His writings included descriptions of the devil's mark, the swimming test, and the fact that a witch cannot shed tears!
Witchcraft Statistics & Facts
- From April 1661-Autumn 1662, 600 witches were found - 100 were executed.
- Mother Samuel, from Huntingdonshire, was tortured into confessing to the death of Lady Cromwell in 1590. She, her daughter, and her husband were all hanged and their naked bodies were left there for onlookers to see.
- In 1616, nine witches were hanged at Market Bosworth, Leicestershire, England, for causing epilepsy in a boy.
- Major Thomas Weir was strangled and burnt for witchcraft in 1670 [at age 70] for incest and bestiality. His sister, Jean, was hanged for similar crimes.
- Margaret Aikens, a 16th century Scottish woman was known as "The Great Witch of Balver." She said she could detect other witches, and under supervision, she was taken around the world for that purpose.
- Jane Wenham was the last person in England to be convicted of witchcraft. This was in 1712.
During James I's reign, the 'new world' of America was discovered - and unsurprisingly, witch hunting continued there. The Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts in 1692 stemmed from King James' fear of witches - and that fear continued through his son Charles I, and all the way throughout the Stuart dynasty. Witches were no longer the subject of folklore and medieval myths - they were a real, tangible representation of the devil. They could inflict diseases on people, spoil crops, bring about bad weather, and perform other unspeakable and detestable acts of devil's work. Witches and witchcraft were a scary reality of the 16th and 17th centuries in England. Even to this day the history of witches remains something of a mystery. Was there really some kind of mythical power that certain women held? Did people truly (successfully) practice the dark arts? Or were the thousands of executions and horrible tortures for nothing? Although certainly a sad and somewhat creepy history - it is an interesting history of a type of people and a major fear of the Tudor and Stuart dynasties.
I hope you enjoyed my Halloween-themed post today! If you're dressing up as an historical figure for Halloween, please send pictures to the Tudor Enthusiast's Facebook page! Be safe, have fun, and enjoy a spooktacular Halloween!
After posting my blog yesterday about the "beginning of the end" for the tragic Anne Boleyn, I came to the awful realization that something that I posted in there was actually false, which makes me want to cringe because I really want to spread the truth about the Tudors and not fall into the trap that so many history lovers fall into - which is believing everything we hear. The Tudor Dynasty is a very common time in history to study, so naturally there is a lot written about it. The important thing to know when reading and watching things about these historical figures and events, is that there are SO many rumors that have been revolving around these people and this entire time period for roughly 500 years! So how do we figure out what's real and what's not? Historical research. Now, I'm not claming to be a historian - though I hope to be one someday. I am only a twenty-year old girl who is passionately in love with this history, but I am striving to tell you things exactly how they happened. I do not want to be influenced negatively by fictional portrayals of the Tudors - no matter how fun those portrayals are. So, with that being said, I'd like to correct something that I wrote yesterday, as well as look at a few other myths surrounding the most debated and written-about Tudor figure, Anne Boleyn.
1. The Deformed Fetus - I really must apologize for falling for this rumor. Honestly, it is one that I've heard SO many times, and have never given a single thought about - (that should teach me). As I wrote yesterday in my post about Anne's second miscarriage (which, by the way, was actually her third), I explained that the miscarriage was particularly difficult for Anne because the fetus was said to be deformed. This is something that every Anne Boleyn novel and every portrayal I've seen in film or on TV has supported, but now I know that there is actually no proof to this rumor. I got this new information from a Tudor historian and new author, Claire Ridgway, who runs the Anne Boleyn Files website, and has just published two new books about Anne Boleyn's life. While reading her website, I found a section where she actually discusses the myth of the deformed fetus. Here is a quote from her website - "There is no mention of a deformed foetus in the contemporary primary sources and the only historical mention of it is in the writings of Nicholas Sander, a man who was a Catholic exile in Elizabeth I’s reign and who set out to blacken Anne Boleyn’s name. He was also the one who described Anne as having a “projecting tooth”, “a large wen” and six fingers." Even Eustace Chapuys, who was one of Anne's absolute enemies, described the fetus as being that of a male child, roughly 3 and a half months old, and gives no mention of it being deformed whatsoever. Clearly, this is a rumor contrived to make Anne look bad, as many of these rumors did. I apologize to HER and to YOU for falling for and reporting such a myth. Please disregard any and all mentions of a deformed fetus by Anne Boleyn in the future!
2. Eleven Fingers- This rumor is one that particularly bothers me, mainly because it really doesn't make any sense when you think about the attraction of a man to a woman in those days. King Henry VIII could literally have had any woman he wanted to have at court, and historians and I can certainly agree that if there were any obvious abnormalities in a woman (such as having an extra finger on one hand), Henry would have passed her over in a heartbeat. In the 1500's, an abnormality such as that would have surely been believed to be a sign of witchcraft - something that Anne was later called, thanks to these nasty rumors! Henry would have never taken a chance on someone like that, and we can assume it would have marred his attraction to her.
Also, it must be noted that Anne Boleyn's grave has actually been opened, and researchers have seen her bones and identified it to be her - taking note of her height and bone structure, and revealed that there were absolutely no deformities in her fingers. If that isn't proof enough, I don't know what is! Unfortunately, in 1972, the movie "King Henry VIII and His Six Wives" portrayed Anne (played by Charlotte Rampling) as having an extra fingernail on her pinky - which is another form of the six-finger rumor. I'd like to just say AGAIN that there is no truth to this story, and this was clearly a rumor made up by the same man who spoke of her deformed fetus - who was very obviously no friend of Anne's!
3. George Boleyn's Homesexuality - One day I'll write a post only about George Boleyn, but I don't feel that I've done enough research on him yet, and I think that is because modern portrayals have made him a very dislikeable character! Although this is not a direct Anne Boleyn myth, it does surround her and affects her because George was one of her closest companions. Showtime's The Tudors portrayed George to be quite a nasty guy - a crude, mean-spirited rapist who seemed to hate every woman except his beloved sister Anne, and who seduced Mark Smeaton and took him as his lover. I've actually read and watched many fictional portrayals of George where he is shown to be homosexual, or at least believed to be. While this is a possible explanation for why he did not want to sleep with his wife, Jane Parker - later Lady Jane Rochford - there is actually no historical basis for this - (neither is there any historical basis for Mark Smeaton being homosexual, by the way!)
4. The Nasty, Hateful Woman - This is also a rumor that bugs me, because I've heard far too often that people think Anne was a horible, nasty witch who didn't care about anyone. Based on historical records of things that Anne said, it's true that she wasn't always the nicest woman. She did have a bit of a mean streak, especially when it came to her rivals, Katherine of Aragon and her daughter Lady Mary. When Mary was charged with the task of helping to take care of Anne's daughter, Elizabeth, Anne was described as being especially cruel and telling Lady Elizabeth Bryan that she should starve Mary if she did not obey her. It was also no secret that Anne wanted Queen Katherine to die, and would have liked Mary to die too. She certainly made comments like these, but when we think of the context of her life at that point, we can't really call her a horrible woman without being guilty of wearing blinders and judging only from today's standards. Anne was a clever, somewhat conniving woman, and she knew what she had to do to get to the top. I think that all ambitious women of those times had to have a bit of a mean streak, and Anne used it to her advantage. Truthfully, I believe the things Anne said were simply words, and I don't think she ever would have done anything about them. On the contrary, she actually is recorded to have been extremely sweet and loving to those she was close to - especially her daughter Elizabeth, who became her pride and joy when she was born. Unlike the depiction in 'The Other Boleyn Girl,' Anne was NOT hysterically upset that she bore a girl (although we can assume that she was somewhat disappointed). She reportedly fell in love with Elizabeth immediately, and frequently visited her in her household, as well as showed her off to members of court as the most perfect baby in England. Certainly, Anne knew how and when to use her emotions and anger, and we do know that she had a temper, but I don't think she deserves the horrible reputation that some people pin on her. 'The Other Boleyn Girl' does a great disservice to Anne by showing her as such a nasty character.
At some point soon I will tackle a blog post about 'The Other Boleyn Girl' - because as much as I like Philippa Gregory and enjoy her books, I have heard far too many people basing their knowledge of Tudor England on that movie and book, and that is absolutely detrimental to really learning the history. One thing I'd like to say, however, is that I am a HUGE fan of historical fiction. Personally, I prefer reading a fiction book to a nonfiction book, but I ALWAYS follow-up my fun reading with research, because I truly want to know what happened. This is why the myths surrounding Anne Boleyn are a big deal to me! I don't want people thinking forever that she was a witch, an adulteress, a terribly mean-spirited concubine who deserved what she got. I'd like to spread the TRUTH about the Tudors, and I hope everyone is interested in learning about it. Once again, I apologize for the mistakes I made (and will continue to make) in my posts - This is what research and learning is all about!
Hello, Tudor Fans, and Happy Halloween! I hope you're all planning your Tudor-inspired costumes for tonight! I've taken the opportunity today to spend a little time researching some fun ghost stories about our favorite Tudor characters. I'm sure you've heard of some of them before, but I'm going to go through some of my favorites, and I'll also attach some links for you to do some more exploring on this eerie subject! Enjoy!
1. The Ghost of Anne Boleyn - This is probably one of the most well-known ghost stories in England, or at least among Tudor enthusiasts. Anne's ghost is said to haunt several sites around England, but one of the most interesting sightings in my opinion, is when her apparition appears at her childhood home, Hever Castle every year on Christmas Eve. According to visitors of the historical castle (and workers, as well), Anne Boleyn is said to arrive in a horse-drawn carriage up the long pathway leading to the castle - (the horses are headless, mind you). When Anne steps out of the carriage in front of her home, she is said to be
carrying her severed head in her hands. Then, it is said that she just wanders the grounds of Hever Castle - through the gardens, the corridors, etc. until morning, when she mysteriously disappears. This is one of the creepier stories of Anne's ghost, and if I'm not mistaken, people can visit the castle on this night and hope to catch a glimpse of the headless Queen! However, Anne's ghost isn't confined to Hever Castle alone. She's also been seen walking over a bridge leading to the Tower of London (I haven't read a specification about which bridge), also holding her head. It seems pretty fitting that she would haunt the Tower of London - which is considered the UK's most haunted building! She's also been seen inside the Tower, wandering the corridors, and in the chapel where she is buried. The other most note-worthy place she is said to haunt is Windsor Castle - where she has been spotted running through corridors screaming - (head in tact).
2. The Tower of London Ghosts - As previously stated, the Tower of London is known as the most haunted building in the UK, making it a prime visiting spot on Halloween! While virtually visiting this haunted fortress, let's take a look at some of the most popular ghosts that still hang out there. Anne Boleyn is the most well-known ghost there, but there are several other exciting poltergeists! For example, in the Bloody Tower, guards have spotted the shadows of two small children running down stairs and corridors, only to disappear into the stone walls moments later. For those of you who are extra informed on the Tower happenings, the Bloody Tower is the site of the mysterious disappearances of the two little princes, Edward and Richard - thought to be murdered in 1483. Since they were last seen in that particular Tower, it's hard to think of the two little shadows as a coincidence! Another popular ghost at the Tower is Sir Walter Raleigh, who was executed by King James I. He was also imprisoned in the Bloody Tower, and the rooms he stayed in are still furnished as they were when he occupied them. People at
the Tower have reported seeing Raleigh walking the corridors, looking exactly as he appears in his famous portraits, leading very few people to doubt that it is his ghost. One of the most gruesome stories at the Tower of London is that of the Countess of Salisbury. 72 years old, she was sentenced to death by beheading in 1541. When she was told to kneel at the block, she refused, and instead she ran from the executioner, causing him to chase her around the outside of the Tower, and consequently hacking away at her and completing the most hideous execution in the Tower's history. Her screaming ghost, as well as a phantom executioner, are said to re-enact this execution to this day. Another famous and tragic Tudor figure is Lady Jane Grey, the nine days Queen.She as been seen by
several guards at the Tower, being described as a white figure - some people call her apparition the "white lady," and her husband, Guildford Dudley, who was also executed at the Tower, has been seen and heard in the Beauchamp Tower, crying for his life. There have also been stories of the presence of animal spirits, as exotic animals were kept on display at the Tower for several years, being gifts from other Kings. Different forms of animal abuse were committed to the animals, and now guards and workers at the Tower have claimed to hear animals suffering from behind the stone walls. One man even had the unfortunate experience of running into the apparition of either a black or grizzly bear - running through the figure, and dying of shock within two minutes of the encounter. The apparition was apparently accompanied by a terrifying growling sound. In the Salt Tower, a man reported being nearly strangled by an unseen presence in the dark, and since that encounter, no one will enter that area of the fortress at night. This is supposedly the most haunted and ancient of the Towers, and even dogs reportedly refuse to enter. there are many other ghostly stories in the Tower, such as hearing whispers from behind saying "There's only you and I here," a sense of feeling smothered and overwhelmed in the room where Henry VIII's armor is on display, and feeling different sensations of pain, only to leave and find that people have strange marks on their body from where they may have been handled by ghosts. All in all, I would say this is a spooky place, filled to the brim with paranormal activity!
3. The Ghost of Katherine Howard - Probably one of the most well-known Tudor ghosts is the young Katherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII, at Hampton Court Palace. Katherine has been seen by many visitors and workers at the palace, and everyone seems to see the exact same thing. In the Haunted Gallery of Hampton Court, Katherine's ghost is seen running and screaming frantically down the corridor, disappearing into the door at the far end. It makes sense that her ghost would be spotted here, because this is exactly what she did in real life, when she was informed that she was being arrested by the King's orders. She broke free from her guards and ran down this very corridor to the room where Henry was said to be praying. She intended to beg for her life, but Henry never heard her, and she was immediately brought to the Tower of London. This is a very frequent sighting at the palace, and she has also been caught on camera in people's personal photographs.
4. Other Ghostly Encounters - There are hundreds more ghost stories that involve our favorite Tudors, but I have told you some of my favorite and most well-known sightings! Hampton Court is thought to be especially haunted - not only housing the spirit of Katherine Howard, but also King Henry VIII himself, and his third wife, Jane Seymour - who is said to walk around the castle in a white gown, perhaps looking for the son she never got to know. As Hampton Court was reportedly one of Henry's favorite residences, it is no surprise that his appartition can also be seen here ,wandering the halls. He has also been spotted at Windsor Castle, along with his daughter, Elizabeth I, both wandering around various rooms - although Elizabeth is said to spend a lot of time in the libraries of Windsor. There are undoubtedly far too many
Tudor ghosts to research and report on, but I hope that you'll take some time to watch a few videos and read a few articles that I'm posting - in the spirit of Halloween! Wouldn't tonight be a great night to wander the corridors of the Tower of London in search of our favorite historical friends? Here are a few sources of information for you to browse through. Enjoy them!