Gift Ideas for History Lovers: My Top 5 History Reads of the Year

It can be hard to know what to get the history lovers in your life when it comes to Christmas, especially if, like me, they’re interested in more than one period. If you need a bit of inspiration this year, then here’s a list of my top five history books that I’ve read this year. It’s a mixture of different periods and some fiction and non-fiction, so hopefully there’s something for everybody there.

Jane Austen Investigates: The Abbey Mystery, by Julia Golding

Whilst this is technically a children’s fiction book, it is well suited for Jane Austen fans of all ages. A teenage Jane Austen turns supersleuth when mysterious goings-on happen at Southmoor Abbey, where she has been sent to be a companion of Lady Cromwell for a week. It’s written in a very entertaining way and is a satirical version of a Gothic novel, full of many hints of the real Jane which will be recognised by hardened fans. It’s also a good way to introduce younger readers to the world of Jane Austen. This has definitely been one of my favourite books and I found it quite hard to put down! If you would like to know a bit more, I recently wrote a review for Love British History, which can be found here.

The Real Falstaff: Sir John Fastolf and the Hundred Years War by Stephen Cooper

This book places the Hundred Years War in the context of John Fastolf, the man Shakespeare used as inspiration for his Falstaff character. It successfully blends military history and social history with the personal life of John Fastolf. It gives you a great understanding of how Fastolf fit in and influenced the world around him until his death in the 1450s, including a focus on the homes he built for himself. All in all, a very interesting read and shows just why Fastolf isn’t recognised enough.

Sitting Bull: His Life and Legacy by Ernie LaPointe

In this book, Ernie LaPointe, great-grandson of the legendary Chief Sitting Bull, tells the real story of his famous ancestor. This is a biography with a difference. It’s written in the traditional style of Lakota oral history. This makes it read very differently to other books, but feels true to the person of Sitting Bull. It also makes it easy to read. Again this is up there with one of my favourite books of all time as it is full of emotion but is also education in the respect it shows just how complicated history has portrayed Sitting Bull. I wrote a review of this earlier in the year, so please do take a look here if you’re interested.

Before the Crown by Flora Harding

This is another fiction book, but this time an adult one. I was recently given this by a friend as a gift, so I would definitely recommend gifting this one. It tells the story of how Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip fell in love during the war and the lead up to their wedding on the 20th November 1947. Whilst this isn’t my usual time period, my friend obviously remembered that I have a personal connection to the Queen’s wedding day as my mum was born on the exact same day. I feel this has captured a young Elizabeth and Philip well and is also a very easy read. This would definitely be a good choice for any Royal fan!

Saving Mona Lisa: The Battle to Protect the Louvre and Its Treasures from the Nazis

Again this isn’t my usual time period, but I read this mainly because I have been a regular visitor to the Louvre, but was unaware of the troubles the museum had had during the Second World War. Whilst this is a non-fiction book, it does read more like an action or thriller story as the museum staff risked their lives to protect the treasures in their care. Again this makes it an enjoyable read and really focuses on the individuals involved and their sacrifices, as well as the personal achievements and recognition they had after the war ended. I recently wrote a review of this, which can be found here.

Update and New Anthony Woodville Content

Things have been a bit hectic here lately with lots of things going off here, so thought it would be best to explain what’s happening. Before I start though, I want to make it clear I will still be blogging, but it may reduce to one post a month from now on. There are still so many stories I want to share, so I will continue doing that for as long as I possibly can do. I also want to take the time to say thank you to all you readers and followers of the blog. It means a lot that people are interested in what I write.

Next week marks the 100th Anniversary of the first Remembrance Day here in the UK and to mark it, I’ll be writing about Walter Tull. He was one of the first black professional footballers and the first black officer in the British Army during World War One. His story is a very special one and it will be an honour to share it with you all.

Newns, T., Epitaph of Walter Tull at the Sixfields Stadium in Northampton (2009), Wikimedia Commons

Some of you regular readers will know about my research into the life of Anthony Woodville, the fifteenth century knight and brother- in-law of Edward IV. I have been doing this on and off for the past 6 or 7 years now, so you can imagine it means a lot to me. Back in June, I was asked, alongside my good friend Michele Schindler, to give a talk on Anthony Woodville and Francis Lovell’s connections to Richard III. This is now available to view on YouTube, so I’m attaching it here for you to watch if you want to.

I was also asked by Rebecca, who runs the Tudor Dynasty podcast, to write an episode on Anthony Woodville. This is now available through any app you listen to podcasts through. If that’s not for you, you can easily listen by using the following link:

There is also some other news that I’ll be announcing next week that I really can’t wait to share with you. It’s been a long time coming, but I hope you’ll be as excited about it as I am. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this content and let me know what you think.

The Great Hall at Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace lays South East of London and is just four miles away from Greenwich. It’s position made it an ideal location for a royal palace, as it was close enough to the capital, but still offered a retreat away from the city. The site was not always a royal palace. It was originally a manor house owned by various bishops until it was gifted to the future Edward II in 1305.[1] Successive monarch spent large amounts of money to alter the palace to their own needs. One of the most considerable alterations was made by Edward IV in the 1470s.

Eltham was one of Edward IV’s favourite residences. With the palace’s proximity to nearby Greenwich Palace, Edward and his queen, Elizabeth Woodville, shared their time, together and separately, between the two sites.[2] With the couple spending a lot of their time at the Eltham, upgrades were needed. An extensive building project began, including adding new royal apartments. However, the most significant building added was the Great Hall. Whilst a great hall had existed previously, it didn’t meet Edward’s standard for the rebuild and a new building was required. Before Edward’s time, great halls were places of communal activity throughout the day. However, their function had changed with the addition of separate rooms, reducing the great hall to a space mainly used for large functions and to show off wealth.[3]

The Great Hall was designed by Edward’s chief mason and carpenter in a style influenced by the hall at Westminster, which is now one of the only buildings left of the former Palace of Westminster.[4] It is 101 foot long and 36 foot wide, with a large oak roof and high stained glass windows to let in light. It would have originally been lavishly furnished, especially with tapestries. Motifs of Edward’s emblem, the rose en soleil, or rose with a sun, were placed on both sides of the entranceway into the hall.[5] The emblem was itself a mixture of two Yorkist symbols, the white rose, and the sun in splendour, so there was no denying who’s space a guest was walking into.

Eltham Palace Great Hall, Tom Parnell, Wikimedia Commons

After the rebuilding, Elizabeth gave birth to her second youngest child, Catherine, in Eltham in 1479, and a year later, Edward moved his substantial library there.[6] This showed just how much the couple valued Eltham’s new buildings, but these would pale in comparison to the new Great Hall’s greatest ever event. At Christmas 1482, Edward held a massive feast for over 2,000 guests. Whilst Edward wouldn’t have known at the time, this ostentatious banquet was to be the last time he visited before his death in April 1483.[7]

Sadly for the palace at Eltham, Edward was the last monarch to consider Eltham as a favourite residence. Henry VII only used it as a nursery for this children, meaning that when his son, Henry VIII became king, he no longer used it much, as his favourite palaces were Greenwich and Hampton Court, which also allowed easy access to London.[8] By the time of the Stuart era, the palace was much neglected, so much so in fact that Charles I was the last ever monarch to visit.[9] Things became even worse after the palace was sold to Nathaniel Rich in 1651. He began to demolish buildings and even stripped the Great Hall’s roof of lead!

Jackson, R. J., Eltham Palace, Kent. A paper, etc (1896) British Library

It was in this sorry state the site stayed in for around 200 years before anyone took any notice. It had been converted into farm buildings, with the Great Hall being used as a barn.[10] In a strange way, it was this use as a barn that had kept it still standing, although rather ruined. It’s ruined state was looked on romantically, until protests were made to improve the stability of the building. This was done, but with little love for the surviving buildings for the history they portrayed. This is easily seen when it was also regularly used as a tennis court by those who lived nearby.[11]

It wasn’t until the 1930s, when the millionaire Courtauld family moved in and began restoration work, alongside building a brand new art deco house inspired by the existing architecture, that the building began to be cared for again properly.[12] The stained glass currently in the Great Hall is sadly not original, but was replaced with new glass in the 1930s thanks to the Courtaulds.[13]

Today there is no fear of a return to a state of abandonment for Eltham Palace, not just thanks to the Courtaulds and the threat of bombing during the Second World War. English Heritage, who now own the whole site, originally were given rights to the Great Hall in 1984, and at last it was acknowledged as one of the finest examples of a medieval hall still in existence, for which we also have to thank Edward IV’s design, but also the men who built it.

[1] English Heritage, ‘Eltham Palace and Gardens’,

[2] Royal Palaces, ‘Eltham Palace’,

[3] Thompson, M., The Medieval Hall: the Basis of Secular Domestic Life, 600-1600 AD (Aldershot: Scholar Press, 1995), p. 153

[4] Exploring London, ‘Treasures of London – The Great Hall at Eltham Palace’,

[5] Bedford, K., Eltham Through Time (Stroud: Amberley Publishing, 2013)

[6] Royal Palaces, ‘Eltham Palace’,

[7] English Heritage, ‘Eltham Palace and Gardens’,

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] Royal Palaces, ‘Eltham Palace’,

[11] English Heritage, ‘Eltham Palace and Gardens’,

[12] Ibid

[13] Exploring London, ‘Treasures of London – The Great Hall at Eltham Palace’,

The Town of Reading in The Wars of the Roses- Guest Post by Jo Romero

In this latest guest post, I welcome back Jo Romero. You can view her previous post on a riot, dog and the George Hotel in Reading here.

Jo has been obsessed with history for as long as she can remember and gained her History degree at the University of Hull. She has been published in The Historians magazine and runs the blog Love British History where she shares articles, travel and historic sketches.

The Wars of the Roses was defined by the fight for power between Yorkists and Lancastrians and tales of castles, battles and political twists. But how far was a rural, textile-producing town in Berkshire involved in these turbulent events of the fifteenth century?

Reading was a modest but busy town, with a population of around 2,000-3,000 at the mid-fifteenth century.(1) A huddle of timber-framed buildings housed clothiers, butchers, fishmongers and cooks. Its river snaked through the town, and the spires of three Medieval churches pierced its sky.

Taverns and ale houses nudged wonkily into the streets, with names like The Bell, The Bear and The George. These establishments enjoyed custom not only from work-weary locals, but also from pilgrims visiting the town’s abbey, founded in 1121 by Henry I. There were royal visits too, along with a large and wealthy entourage.

And it was here, while locals washed down ale at taverns and haggled over prices at the market, that events concerning the security of the unstable crown played out just yards away.

When plague threatened London, parliament sometimes gathered in the leafier, safer suburbs of Reading Abbey. Henry VI was here in 1451, 1452 and 1453, and Edward IV in 1464 and 1467.(2) Henry VII visited in 1486.

It was during one visit in 1452 that Henry VI requested 13,000 archers for the defence of his realm.(3) Although this was three years before the 1455 ‘official’ start date of the Wars of the Roses, by the time Henry added his seal to this act he and his advisers would have known trouble was brewing: Gascony had been lost, nobles struggled for control over the king and his closest adviser William de la Pole had been beheaded at sea in 1450. The king’s request was enacted at the end of 1457.(4)

Reading Abbey ruins, © Jo Romero

As the Wars progressed, Reading itself provided military support to the crown. In November 1462, The Corporation Diary records payment for arrows and “sondyers ye last went to the king”. It’s possible that these soldiers were at The Battle of Towton in March 1461. We know that Edward IV’s army was made up of many supporters from the south and south east and it’s probable that Reading townspeople made up some of the 20,000 Yorkist troops that fought there. The battle site would have been a five-day ride from Reading but we know that soldiers did attend from Berkshire and as far as Dorset.(5)

Although 1487 marks the Battle of Stoke, considered by many the end of the Wars of the Roses, an inventory of Reading’s armour four months later could hint that Henry still had concerns.(6) The town didn’t routinely inspect its armour and it’s possible that this October inventory was driven by a real or perceived threat to royal control. Two years into Henry VII’s reign, security was far from watertight. A new pretender, Perkin Warbeck, would emerge in 1491 and Henry faced trouble in France as well as Scotland in the coming years. While town officials counted steel-plated vests and chain mail in Reading’s town centre, Lambert Simnel and the 1486 Lovell Conspiracy would also have been fresh in Henry’s mind. As historian Thomas Penn writes about the years following Stoke, “old loyalties simmered, and the after-shocks of rebellion rippled on”.(7)

But after-shocks rippled in Reading long before The Battle of Stoke.

In September 1464, Edward IV chose Reading Abbey to publicly introduce his new, secret bride, Elizabeth Woodville, daughter of Lord Rivers. They had married despite him being in negotiations to marry the French princess Bona of Savoy. Elizabeth was led through the abbey past stunned nobles within its cool, stone walls with Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (‘The Kingmaker’) by her side. It’s easy to imagine him barely concealing his rage after working to negotiate a politically advantageous European match for the king and not having been consulted on the secret Woodville marriage. By February it was reported that “King Edward and the Earl of Warwick have come to very great division and war together.”(8)

The Marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, from the Anciennes Chroniques, Jean de Wavrin, c1470-1480. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Reading’s streets buzzed with gossip about the wedding, and there were even plots within the town to have the union dissolved. A Milanese ambassador wrote: “The greater part of the lords and the people in general seem very much dissatisfied at this, and for the sake of finding means to annul it, all the nobles are holding great consultations in the town of Reading, where the king is.”(9) Taverns and street corners around Reading may have been alive then with the angry whispers of exasperated nobles.

Reading Abbey also saw the rise of Elizabeth Woodville’s sister, Margaret, when she married Thomas Fitzalan, heir to the Earl of Arundel here, also in 1464. As the 25-year old Margaret stood solemnly at the abbey’s altar next to her new husband, the October light glinting through the stained glass window, she must have felt stunned: elevated to Countess, Margaret would have four children and lived into her early fifties.(10)

It wasn’t all fairytales and weddings, however. Reading was also the scene of an act of treason that gives an insight into one of the root causes of the conflict.

In 1444, Thomas Kerver walked through the church of Reading abbey with three men, uttering ‘treasonous proposals’ about the government of Henry VI. He was quickly arrested and charged with having “falsely and traitorously… schemed, imagined, encompassed, wished and desired the death and destruction of the king.”(11) Kerver’s sentence was death, although Henry reduced it at the last minute to imprisonment. Kerver’s actions reveal that it wasn’t just the nobility who were disillusioned with Henry as a ruler but a deep-seated disappointment simmered among his subjects, too.

Lastly, Reading has one more, macabre link to the Wars of the Roses.

In 1538 John London wrote to Thomas Cromwell that the canon at Caversham Priory  “was accustomed to show many pretty relics, among others the holy dagger that killed King Henry… all these… my servant will bring your Lordship next week.”(12)

There was a reason for glorifying this grisly piece of criminal evidence. Henry VI was said to have been murdered at the Tower of London in 1471. Despite his failings in kingship, he was posthumously adopted as a martyr and considered responsible for a number of miracles, including curing the madness of Geoffrey Braunston’s wife in 1486, restoring Beatrice Shirley from the dead in 1489 and William Cheshire, who “having made a vow to visit the blessed King Henry, was immediately made glad by the restoration of his lost eye.”(13)

Unfortunately, we have no idea what happened to Caversham’s holy dagger after it was spirited out of Reading by London’s servant, or the specific miracles it was said to perform.

At first glance then, it would seem that a small cloth-producing town in the Thames Valley 40 miles from the nearest battle and 45 miles from Westminster would have been insignificant to the development of the Wars of the Roses. But evidence points to Reading’s involvement in royal (and secret) weddings, militia, political tensions – and of course the prized relic: the miracle-performing dagger that was said to have killed a fragile but worshipped king.


1 Joan Dils, Reading: A History. Carnegie Publishing, 2019. Dils uses the 1381 and 1525 tax records to estimate a population of 1,300 in 1381 and 3,400 in 1525. Our figure for the mid-fifteenth century would be somewhere in the middle of these estimates. Page 44.

2 Ibid., p.31. Also Coates, in his History and Antiquities of Reading (1802) adds that Henry VI held parliament here in 1451 and 1452. page 253.

3 Charles Coates, Ibid., page 253.

4 Dan Spencer, The Castle in the Wars of the Roses. Pen and Sword Publishing, 2020.

5 Adrian Waite lists those whose property was confiscated after supporting the Lancastrian side after the Battle of Towton, including ‘Thomas Manning, of New Windsor in Berkshire’. AW History, accessed 18th July 2021.

6 JM Guiding, Reading Records: Diary of the Corporation, vol. 1. J Parker, 1892. p85

7 Thomas Penn, Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England, Penguin, 2012 page 24.

8 ‘Milan: 1465’, in Calendar of State Papers and Manuscripts in the Archives and Collections of Milan 1385-1618, ed. Allen B Hinds (London, 1912), pp. 115-117. British History Online [accessed 18 July 2021].

9Milan: 1464′, in Calendar of State Papers and Manuscripts in the Archives and Collections of Milan 1385-1618, ed. Allen B Hinds (London, 1912), pp. 110-114. British History Online [accessed 18 July 2021].

10 The Peerage, Margaret Fitzalan, accessed 18 July 2021.

11 C.A.F. Meekings, Thomas Kerver’s Case,1441, The English Historical Review, Volume XC, Issue CCCLV, April 1975, Pages 331–346.

12 ‘Henry VIII: September 1538 16-20’, inLetters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 13 Part 2, August-December 1538, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1893), pp. 141-154. British History Online[accessed 18 July 2021].

13 The Miracles of King Henry VI: being an account and translation of twenty-three miracles … with introductions by Father Ronald Knox and Shane Leslie. CUP archive. 1923. Pages 39, 50 and 73.

Anthony Woodville Talk

Next month I’ll be giving my first ever live online talk on Anthony Woodville. It will be a joint talk with Michele Schindler, who has written on Francis Lovell, the best friend of Richard III. We will be talking on Anthony and Francis’ connections to Richard III and a bit about their lives too.

The talk is for Be Bold Network, a free organisation that helps connect history teachers with the knowledge they need for the school curriculum. I feel very honoured to be asked to contribute, especially as my own secondary school history teacher wasn’t a very good influence, despite history being my favourite subject.

If you would like to get hold of a ticket, you can book through the following eventbrite page.

Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, presenting his translation of the Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers to Edward IV, 19th Century (Private Collection: Look and Learn)

Fastolf Place: The London Home of Sir John Fastolf

Sir John Fastolf was a veteran of the Hundred Years War in France. He spent around 30 years there and was often charged with the responsibility of various castles, forts, and towns, as well as being a member of the Duke of Bedford, the Regent of France’s, household.[1] His military career proved to be a profitable one and on his retirement in 1439, aged nearly 60, he built himself great houses. The main one that remains, albeit in ruins, is Caister Castle in Norfolk. I have already done a post on that which can be found here. However, the other place he split his time when he was needed in London for business or other reasons, was Fastolf Place in Southwark.

Parker, Sir John Fastolf, © National Portrait Gallery, London

Fastolf rented the site, which was then known as Dunley Place after a previous family of owners, almost as soon as he returned to England. He must have found it homely as he decided to buy it in 1446 and soon went about renovating it to his own taste. The previous site had a watermill and many houses, but this was all about to change.[2] After the new site was transformed into a modern moated manor house, it had a wharf to move people and goods up the Thames, gardens, drawbridge, stables, bakehouse, and larder house.[3] The amount of money he spent on it shows just how much money he had acquired from his time in France. To buy the place he paid £546, 13 shillings and 4 pence (around £351,500 in today’s money); the renovations cost £1,000 (or around £643,000 today).[4]

Fastolf Place had a varied history. Before it was a private residence, it had once been a nunnery, but even in Fastolf’s lifetime, it had changed from peaceful surroundings, to one of turmoil. With the accession of Henry VI, the wars in France that had been such a huge part of Fastolf’s life were slowly coming apart. The English possession in Northern France, particularly Normandy, had reverted to French hands. This was upsetting for large parts of the general populous who had seen Normandy as an English right.[5] Jack Cade’s Rebellion of 1450 was partly fuelled by this upheaval. These rebels marched and occupied London, hoping that the Government would do something about the demands they had. Fastolf wasn’t immune to this as Fastolf Place was threatened by the rebels as they claimed Fastolf was a traitor for being a part of the Normandy army, despite being retired for some time by 1450.[6] It was only because of a servant who risked his life and was himself threatened with having his head cut off, that saved the residence.[7]

Fastolf Place on the Londinvm Feracissimi Angliae Regni Metropolis, 1572

John Fastolf died at Fastolf Place on the 5th of November 1459 aged 79, but that was not the end of the building’s history. It passed onto the Bishop of Winchester, William Waynflete, who founded Magdalen College at the University of Oxford.[8] He finally sold the site to give money to the college in 1484, but not before he had briefly rented the house out to Cecily, the Duchess of York, in the late summer of 1460.[9] Both she and her youngest children, George (future Duke of Clarence), Richard (future Richard III), and Margaret (future Duchess of Burgundy), used the house as a safe place following the Yorkish victory at the Battle of Northampton in July 1460.[10] This was probably thought to be a safer place to stay than anywhere closer to the City of London. Cecily didn’t stay there long but left her children behind in the care of the household and their older brother Edward, Earl of March (future Edward IV), who visited them there every day.[11]

After the house left the ownership of the Bishop of Winchester, it passed through many tenants, including Sir Thomas Cockayne of Ashbourne in Derbyshire during Edward VI’s reign.[12] These types of people were on a similar social standing to John Fastolf, so there is certainly some continuation there. The last mention there is to the house Fastolf knew was in a lease in 1663.[13] When excavations took place in the area surrounding the known site of the townhouse in the 1980s and 1990s, remains of it were never found, suggesting that anything that was left over had been destroyed by later building projects.[14]

The site of the Boar’s Head, Southwark, London: map of the borough with key. Etching, 1755. Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Whilst there are no remains of Fastolf Place, other buildings owned by John Fastolf in the Southwark area did last longer. He owned some houses and a pub known as the Boar’s Head along the Borough High Street of Southwark. The Boar’s Head was part of a court of buildings which made up the pub and 10 to 12 houses.[15] All of these were owned by Fastolf after his return to England. These remained until 1830 when they were demolished to make way for extensions of nearby St Thomas’ Hospital.[16]

[1] Cooper, S., The Real Falstaff: Sir John Fastolf and the Hundred Years War (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2010), p. 37.

[2] Cooper, S., The Real Falstaff, p. 138.

[3] Carlin, M., ‘Sir John Fastolf’s Place, Southwark: The Home of the Duke of York’s Family, 1460’, The Ricardian, 5.72 (1981), p. 312; Cooper, S., The Real Falstaff, p. 138.

[4] Carlin, M., ‘Sir John Fastolf’s Place, Southwark’, p. 311.

[5] Cooper, S., The Real Falstaff, p. 118.

[6] N. Davis (ed), The Paston Letters and Papers, Part 2 (1976) cited in Carlin, M., ‘Sir John Fastolf’s Place, Southwark’, p. 312.

[7] Cooper, S., The Real Falstaff, p. 122.

[8] Walford, E., ‘Southwark: Famous inns’, in Old and New London: Volume 6 (London, 1878), pp. 76-89. British History Online

[9] Carlin, M., ‘Sir John Fastolf’s Place, Southwark’, p. 312.

[10] Carlin, M., ‘Sir John Fastolf’s Place, Southwark’, p. 311.

[11] N. Davis (ed), The Paston Letters and Papers, Part 2 (1976) cited in Carlin, M., ‘Sir John Fastolf’s Place, Southwark’, p. 311.

[12] Carlin, M., ‘Sir John Fastolf’s Place, Southwark’, p. 313.

[13] Magdalen College, Oxford: Lease of Southwark Watermills 1663, cited in Carlin, M., ‘Sir John Fastolf’s Place, Southwark’, p. 313.

[14] Cooper, S., The Real Falstaff, p. 120.

[15] Walford, E., ‘Southwark: Famous inns’, in Old and New London: Volume 6 (London, 1878), pp. 76-89. British History Online

[16] Walford, E., ‘Southwark: Famous inns’, in Old and New London: Volume 6 (London, 1878), pp. 76-89. British History Online

Elizabeth Scales: Heiress, Wife and Lady-in-Waiting

Unfortunately like many women who lived in the medieval period, not much is known about the Lady Elizabeth Scales, other than she was the sole heir to her father’s estates and wife of Anthony Woodville. Most of what we do know of her is glimpsed through how others commented on her, or in connection to her wealth and status as a woman of her own means, with a husband who provided her status as the wife of the much favoured brother of Queen Elizabeth Woodville. Just like many other women of her time, there are no sources that speak with her own voice or showing her as her own person, just how she connected to the political world around her. Whilst it is difficult to reconstruct Elizabeth, I hope this blog post may help to answer at least some questions about who this mysterious, and often forgotten, woman of the late 15th century was.

Elizabeth Scales was the only surviving child of Thomas, Lord Scales and his wife, Emma. The pair had did have a son, but it is believed he died at a young age, meaning Elizabeth grew up as the heir to her father’s estates.[1] According to the post-mortem inquisitions, her birthdate is estimated at around 1436.[2] Whilst it was rare for women to inherit estates, it did happen. Just as in the case of the Earldom of Warwick, titles could pass to women, hoping that their husband could continue the line at a later date.

Image from page 304 of Wright, T., The Homes of other days: a history of domestic manners and sentiments in England from the earliest known period to modern times (1871). Credit: The British Library.

Her first husband, Henry Bourchier, had died in 1458 and the date of her second marriage to Anthony Woodville is unknown, but it is believed by Susan Higginbotham to have been in the run up to the Battle of Towton in 1461.[3] This can be reasonably assumed as William Paston falsely reported Anthony’s death at the battle, where he refers to him as Lord Scales.[4] With this in mind, it is clear that the early parts of their marriage would have been tumultuous, as Thomas Scales was murdered in 1460, as well as facing the bloody battle at Towton.

Elizabeth would have known Anthony even before their marriage as both of their fathers had been friends for many years. Lord Scales was the one who had nominated Richard Woodville, Anthony’s father, to become a Knight of the Garter in 1450.[5] The pair at this time were loyal to the Lancastrian King Henry VI and were known to offer him military support. Not long after the nomination was made, both men fought alongside each other to stamp out Cade’s Rebellion.[6] They were also regularly seen at court in each other’s company.

Following the death of her father, Elizabeth inherited many manors in Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Essex and Suffolk.[7] This does give some indication of motive behind the marriage between Elizabeth and Anthony, but to suggest this alone was a factor simplifies the motives for marrying at that time. As both families were intertwined through ties of friendship, they would have both been known to one another and would probably wish to strengthen this bond. It may even be possible that there was some love, or at least affection between the pair.

The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM)/Wikimedia Commons

Sadly, there are no sources that survive that tell us anything in depth about their relationship or what their feelings were towards one another. The only glimpses we have are comments from their time at court, where they were often noted to be in one another’s company. In November 1464, they were part of King Edward’s party at Reading, where they were playing cards together. At this game, John Howard lent Elizabeth 8s and 4d to play.[8] They also were both part of the entourage that escorted Margaret of York to her wedding to Charles the Bold in Bruges. Anthony was chosen as he had been part of the negotiations for the match and as an experienced married woman and member of the court, his wife, Elizabeth, was deemed a good choice for a companion. No doubt Elizabeth would have offered good advice for what lay ahead. Elizabeth was also chosen for this role as she was a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth Woodville, so she was also the Queen’s representative. During the period 1466-1467, we know Elizabeth was paid £40 for the role of lady-in-waiting, the same as the Queen’s sister, Anne.[9] In today’s money, this would equate to nearly £27,500. From this it is clear how valued Elizabeth was within the Queen’s household.

In 1466, Anthony placed a legal case to ensure if his wife died before him, the Scales’ estate would pass to him, rather than to distant relatives.[10] Unfortunately, we don’t know Elizabeth’s feelings on this manoeuvre, meaning that it could have been possible that she agreed with this decision, as before this, the both of them had managed the Scales’ manors and lands together, most notably at Middleton in Norfolk. However, this was outside usual practice and again, there is nothing that suggests Elizabeth’s exact opinion on the matter.

Middleton Towers near King’s Lynn (Author’s Own Image)

Elizabeth died in 1473, when Anthony was away on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. No matter what their relationship was really like, this must have been a massive blow. Anthony had gone on this pilgrimage in honour of his late mother and in doing so, was not there when his wife died. Perhaps this is why the pilgrimage was a profound experience for him, especially as he adapted the pilgrimage shell as his personal symbol from then onwards, as well as it being the reason for his later translation of the Dictes and Sayings of Philosophers.

Anthony did go on to later remarry, but despite more than one match being offered for him, including Mary of Burgundy and Princess Margaret of Scotland, he didn’t do so until around 1480 to Mary FitzLewis, an acquaintance through family connections. In his will Anthony makes more mention to his first wife than his second, which may suggest he had more affection for Elizabeth than Mary. In it he asked that 500 marks be used for prayers in the name of the souls of Elizabeth, her brother Edward, and all the Scales family.[11] The will is perhaps the only source we have where Anthony directly mentions Elizabeth. Lynda Pigeon has described the will as making “no affectionate mention” to Elizabeth, which wrongly suggests the use of a will.[12] A will is a business transaction and as Anthony’s was written whilst incarcerated at Sherriff Hutton, probably knowing his fate was execution, it would have been made hastily and with the knowledge that it may not have been carried out.

As I have already mentioned, there are little sources that describe the personality of Elizabeth, or her relationship with Anthony. I hope this blog post has helped show glimpses of what little is known about this woman who does appear to have been very capable in her roles as heiress, courtier and wife. She did not have children of her own, but she would have known of Anthony’s illegitimate daughter, Margaret, that he had before their marriage. Perhaps that means we can add a mother figure to the list of achievements this remarkable woman had to her name, no matter how little we know about her.


[2] TNA: (142/1/36 Cambridge); (142/1/37 Hertford); (142/1/38 Norfolk) cited in Higginbotham, S., The Woodvilles: The Wars of the Roses and England’s Most Infamous Family (Stroud: The History Press, 2013), p. 78.

[3] Higginbotham, S., The Woodvilles, p. 78.

[4] James Gardiner (ed), Paston Letters, no. 90, part 1.

[5] George Smith (ed) Coronation of Elizabeth Wydeville: Queen Consort of Edward IV on May 26th, 1465 cited in Higginbotham, S., The Woodvilles, p. 78.

[6] I. M. W. Harvey, Jack Cade’s Rebellion of 1450 cited in Higginbotham, S., The Woodvilles, p. 78.

[7] Pidgeon, L., ‘Antony Wydevile, Lord Scales and Earl Rivers: Family, Friends and Affinity, Part 2.’, The Ricardian, 16 (2006), pp. 16-17.

[8] Higginbotham, S., The Woodvilles, p. 79.

[9] A. R. Myers, ‘The Household of Queen Margaret of Anjou, 1452-3’, The Bulletin of the Rylands Library, 40 (1957-58) cited in Higginbotham, S., The Woodvilles, p. 79.

[10] Higginbotham, S., The Woodvilles, p. 80.

[11] Anthony’s Will, appendix in Higginbotham, S., The Woodvilles, p. 181.

[12] Pidgeon, L., ‘Antony Wydevile, Lord Scales and Earl Rivers: Family, Friends and Affinity, Part 2.’, The Ricardian, 16 (2006), p. 3.

The Yorkist Cause under Henry VII

The Battle of Bosworth on the 22nd of August 1485 has been seen as the last battle of the Wars of the Roses. However, this is not technically true. The Battle of Stoke Field on the 16th of June 1487 was the last serious military attempt by those wishing for the Yorkist cause to be on the throne. It was led by many prominent Yorkist figures, such as John de la Pole, the Earl of Lincoln and Richard III’s loyal best friend, Francis Lovell. This battle all aimed to install Lambert Simnel, a boy who had been classed as Edward, the Earl of Warwick, despite Warwick being incarcerated in the Tower of London on the orders of Henry VII.

Illustration for Chatterbox (1899), Crowning Henry VII after the Battle of Bosworth, © Look and Learn / Bridgeman Images

Simnel is believed to have been trained into the role of pretending to be a person of high social status. There is much debate over who the person responsible for this training actually was. Theories have ranged from Margaret of Burgundy, the one I believe to be the most likely, Francis Lovell and even a clergyman under the instruction of Elizabeth Woodville.[1] Despite Simnel eventually, being given employment as a kitchen servant, he was a key indicator to see whether Henry VII’s rule was to be worth its mettle.

Dovaston, M., Lambert Simnel in the Kitchen (c.1923), The Stapleton Collection / Bridgeman Images

Around five years ago, I was lucky enough to visit the battle site of Stoke as I live fairly local. The atmosphere of the place was somewhat eerie, but this was a start of a fascination for me. The Wars of the Roses has long been something in my life, but I before that trip I never really thought much about the legacy of the House of York and its affect on the reign of Henry VII. Upon that battlefield, I thought of the men who had died and how or why they would have continued to feel loyalty to a cause that the history books tell us finished at Bosworth.

Henry VII was in fear that he would be replaced by force, just as he had done to Richard III.[2] It was a genuine enough fear as the Wars of the Roses had raged on for around fifty years and there were still those who sought to manipulate Yorkist sentiment. Most people of a reasonable age remembered well the violence as “none hath escaped but at one time or another his part has been therein”.[3] What may also have resulted in thoughts of rebellion is that Henry’s reign was not as popular as he had wished, especially in the North where the Tudor regime had “few firm friends”.[4]

Whilst most of the rebellions during the reign of Henry had financial reasons behind them, there was always rumours of Yorkist sentiment behind them. Bennett argues that Henry’s harshness more than likely kindled hope and rumours of Yorkist rebellion.[5] This may have had some nostalgic hindsight linked to it but whilst there was the rumour surrounding it, Henry had reason to be paranoid. Henry VII had dismantled the Plantagenet state and dismembered Plantagenet society, most of all by centralising his own power. This in turn shows his lack of respect for tradition and disassociated himself with what had come before. By creating such antipathy towards the Tudor regime, a culture of spies and spying became central to maintaining his control, thus forming a reign of terror that would later epitomise the rest of the Tudor monarchs.[6] The threat that the Yorkists posed was significant enough to create and fuel this, even well into the reign of Henry VIII in the form of his executing of the Duke of Buckingham.[7]

Warbeck is the main reason for this as he had much more of the country behind him. He claimed to be Richard of York, the youngest of the Princes in the Tower. Many were quick to question whether he really was who he claimed. This pretender was by far the most dangerous for this very reason. he was able to gather support from many foreign rulers, such as Margaret of Burgundy, Charles VIII of France and James IV of Scotland.[8] In this way, Warbeck was able to play on Henry VII’s fears of deposition, which derived from his own life experiences of being a puppet for others in international policies just because of being a challenge to an existing king.[9]

Portrait of Perkin Warbeck (c.1474-99), Bibliotheque Municipale, Arras, France / Bridgeman Images

Eventually Warbeck was executed due to the continuing threat he posed to the Tudor regime. In order to maintain loyalty to Henry VII, Warbeck was made to confess in front of the crowd at his execution that he had been forced by John Atwater to pretend to be Richard of York.[10] However, it is to be taken into account that Warbeck might have been forced to confess to this through previous torture.

It is clear that whether Simnel and Warbeck were who they claimed to be or not, they were still able to play on Henry VII’s natural fears and general vulnerability of his reign. For this very reason, it is easy to see why Henry did take the Yorkist sympathies seriously. Henry had proved just how easy it was to win by conquest, as he had done at the Battle of Bosworth against Richard III.[11] His fear and paranoia worsened after the death of his wife Elizabeth of York and his son Prince Arthur, but as with any monarch who won the crown by force, he was always looking over his shoulder. In the early years of his reign his treatment of the Northern Rebellion of 1489 was seen as a gross overreaction.[12] Whilst in hindsight the Yorkist cause clearly did not come to fruition, Henry did take it seriously at the time and saw it as the main threat to his reign.

All in all, Henry VII was perhaps not quite as popular as time seems to have suggested. For those who saw the Yorkist regime with nostalgia, Henry had definitely been weighed, measured and found wanting.

[1] Ellis, S. G., Ireland in the Age of the Tudors, 1447-1603: English Expansion and the End of Gaelic Rule (Harlow: Pearson, 1998), p. 84; Ricca, J. A., Francis, Viscount Lovell: Time Reveals All Things (Richard III Foundation Inc, 2005), pp. 95 and 97; Bacon, F., The History of the Reign of King Henry VII (London: Hesperus Press, 2007), p. 17.

[2] Anderson, A. and Imperato, T., Tudor England, 1485-1603 (London: Hodder Murray, 2001), p. 38.

[3] Lit Cant VIII cited in Keen, M., England in the Later Middle Ages, Second edition (London: Routledge, 2003), p. 408.

[4] Bennett, M.J., ‘Henry VII and the Northern Rising of 1489’, English Historical Review, 105.414 (1990), p. 50.

[5] Bennett, M.J., ‘Henry VII and the Northern Rising of 1489’, pp. 35-36.

[6]  Bacon, F., The History of the Reign of King Henry VII, p. 98; Cunningham, S., Henry VII, p. 84; Grant, A., Henry VII: The Importance of His Reign, p. 5.

[7] Lipscomb, S., 1536: The Year That Changed Henry VIII (Oxford: Lion Publishing, 2009), p. 192.

[8] Anderson, A. and Imperato, T., Tudor England, p. 47 and 49; Crowson, P.S., Tudor Foreign Policy (London: Adam & Charles Black, 1973), p. 50.

[9] Cunningham, S., Henry VII (London: Routledge, 2007), p. 42; Anderson, A. and Imperato, T., Tudor England, p. 38

[10] Cited in Key, N. and Bucholz, R. (eds), Sources and Debates in English History, 1485-1714 (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), p. 36

[11] Anderson, A. and Imperato, T., Tudor England, p. 46.

[12] Bennett, M.J., ‘Henry VII and the Northern Rising of 1489’, p. 44; Grummitt, D., ‘The Establishment of the Tudor Dynasty’, p. 24.

Anthony Woodville and the Smithfield Tournament

The Smithfield tournament is one of only a handful of instances of there being a slight to Anthony Woodville’s honour. For Anthony, this slight was taken very personally because he had been accused of cheating by his opponent. For a knight such as Woodville, this public accusation would have been a rather personal insult.

Tournament (19th Century), Private Collection / © Look and Learn / Bridgeman Images

The tournament was arranged to start an alliance between England and Burgundy to gain a powerful ally to help consolidate the Yorkist Edward IV’s reign.[1] The tournament was initially arranged by Elizabeth Woodville and her ladies in 1465. In a scene similar to something from Arthurian legend, Anthony was given, by the ladies in waiting, a letter ordering him to honour his queenly sister by partaking in a tournament against Anthonie, the Bastard of Burgundy, also known as Count de la Roche, as well as a gold collar being placed around Woodville’s thigh.[2] However, the Bastard of Burgundy, as an illegitimate brother to Charles, Duke of Burgundy, was too busy fighting in the wars against the French. This meant he was unavailable until 1467.[3]

Upon the Bastard’s decision to finally take up the challenge, he arrived in England with a large retinue made up of 400 knights, lords, squires and others.[4] After three days of rest for the Burgundian visitor, he and his large retinue, with large amounts of pomp and ceremony, visited Edward IV and accompanied him to open parliament.[5] This amount of pageantry was to set the tone for the whole tournament as Anthony Woodville, whilst a devout and pious man, knew how to live it large when it came to tournament spectacle. Even whilst staying at the Bishop of Ely’s palace in Holborn in the lead up to the tournament, Woodville’s household were known to be full of prayer and godly worship while wearing sumptuous silks and cloths of gold outfits.[6] The pageantry didn’t stop there. It had been agreed in the rules laid out for the tournament that the knights would be allowed to have spare horses. Anthony had 9 horses in total. Each horse was extravagantly dressed in various fabrics ranging from cloths of gold, velvets and damasks, all richly decorated with gold or furs.[7]

The Tournament (19th Century), Private Collection /© Look and Learn / Bridgeman Images

However, large the spectacle, it did not take away from the seriousness of the fight that was to follow. On the first try the lances didn’t hit so they were replaced with swords.[8] It was at this moment that things seemed to go wrong. The Bastard’s horse was spooked for some reason and reared, trapping its rider to the ground.[9] He instantly accused Woodville of cheating, but this was probably due to his fear of cheating, as he a previous German squire opponent had hidden daggers in his horse armour.[10] To prove he hadn’t cheated Woodville rode over to Edward IV, showing he had no concealed weapons.[11] Due to the accusations Edward deemed it necessary to dismiss the knights until the following day.[12]

The second day’s action was to be fought on foot with axes, which were a popular choice of weapon for foot combat during tournaments.[13] Both men fought hard and during the fight, Woodville’s axe sliced the Bastard of Burgundy’s visor.[14] The men still continued to fight and it was only with the intervention of King Edward’s men that stopped the two men from seriously hurting one another.[15]

Despite the controversy of whether or not cheating did happen during the tournament, it still managed to achieve its overall goal of improving Edward IV’s popularity and help secure a lasting alliance with Burgundy.[16] This was also helped by Edward IV’s younger sister Margaret marrying Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, of which Anthony was also vital in an ambassador role to help negotiate the marriage terms.[17] From Anthony’s involvement in increasing relations with Burgundy, it shows just how vital he was in international matters as well domestic ones in England.

[1] Kettle, A., ‘Parvenus in Politics: The Woodvilles, Edward IV and the Baronage 1464-1469’, The Ricardian, 15 (2005), p. 17.

[2] MacCracken, H. N., ‘The Flower of Souvenance: A Moment in the Twilight of Chivalry’, The Sewanee Review, 20.3 (1912), p. 368.

[3] MacCracken, H. N., ‘The Flower of Souvenance’, p. 371.

[4] MacCracken, H. N., ‘The Flower of Souvenance’, p. 371.

[5] MacCracken, H. N., ‘The Flower of Souvenance’, p. 372.

[6] MacCracken, H. N., ‘The Flower of Souvenance’, p. 372.

[7] Uden, G., A Dictionary of Chivalry (London: Longmans, 1968), pp. 37-38.

[8] MacCracken, H. N., ‘The Flower of Souvenance’, p. 372; Uden, G., A Dictionary of Chivalry, p. 342.

[9] MacCracken, H. N., ‘The Flower of Souvenance’, p. 372; Uden, G., A Dictionary of Chivalry, p. 342.

[10] MacCracken, H. N., ‘The Flower of Souvenance’, p. 372.

[11] Uden, G., A Dictionary of Chivalry, p. 342.

[12] Uden, G., A Dictionary of Chivalry, p. 342.

[13] Uden, G., A Dictionary of Chivalry, pp. 21 and 343;

[14] Uden, G., A Dictionary of Chivalry, p. 343; MacCracken, H. N., ‘The Flower of Souvenance’, p. 374.

[15] Uden, G., A Dictionary of Chivalry, p. 343.

[16] MacCracken, H. N., ‘The Flower of Souvenance’, pp. 370-371; Kettle, A., ‘Parvenus in Politics’, p. 17.

[17] Kettle, A., ‘Parvenus in Politics’, p. 16.

Caister Castle: A Powerhouse of Wealth

Caister Castle was brainchild of Sir John Fastolf. Fastolf has been immortalised as John Falstaff in Shakespeare (confusingly similar names, I know). Shakespeare’s version portrays a rather comic figure far from the real man. Falstaff is seen as a fat, penniless womaniser, which could be further from the real Sir John Fastolf who built Casiter Castle in the mid-fifteenth century. In fact, the real Fastolf was a wealthy man and he knew how best to show it off by building Caister. He actually gained his wealth during the Hundred Years War.[1] Most notably, he was amongst the army that fought against Joan of Arc.[2]

The fifteenth century powerhouses of the rich were at a crossroads between the medieval castle and what would much later develop into the country house of retreat. Houses were being designed that still retained some form of defensiveness, or at least the appearance of such, whilst also promoting ideas of comfort for residents. Caister was built within this context. During this time the best way to display wealth and power was seen by having a fortified building that had an unusual design.[3] This was something that Caister did very easily.

As is seen in the following images, Caister still had a defence like design by using a moat, the appearance of battlements and a single tower. However, it is its unusual design that I believe sets it apart from other houses of the time. Fastolf had been fighting out on the continent during the Hundred Years War and the spoils he had gathered during that time were what helped pay for the building of Caister in the first place[4]. It was the style of the Lower Rhineland he had been fighting in that inspired his design, especially for the tower.[5] This was no ordinary tower though, it was a solar tower. A solar was a late medieval invention and was a private room, or set of rooms as seen at Caister, for the Lord or his family.[6] Caister’s solar tower is five storeys high and the higher up the room was, the more private it was. The upper three storeys were solely Fastolf’s private rooms and the top one was his treasure room.[7] The fact that there was even a separate treasure room shows how much emphasis Fastolf himself placed on the wealth he had acquired. By creating such magnificent surroundings for himself, he was able to compete with other wealthy men for a visual demonstration of power.[8] This expectation was the reason why everything that happened within the household, both the physical and social, aimed to be a collective effort to maintain the power and status of the Lord.[9]

Caister Castle, Norfolk
G. H. Beaumont, Caister Castle, Norfolk (1785), Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire, UK/Bridgeman Images

Houses with towers, such as Caister, were usually reserved for those who had royal favour and were given permission to build in this way as they involved castellation that had to be granted a permit from the King.[10] They were also harder to build because of the height and so, it is amazing to see that Caister’s large tower still survives intact, even more so this is the main part if it that still remains standing.[11] However, this may be due to it being one of the earliest, if not the earliest example, of a castle being made from brick in England. Brick was only just being used on a large scale in England and it is most noticeable in later fifteenth century examples, such as William Hasting’s Kirby Muxloe in Leicestershire.[12] It was largely used by royal favourites due to the cost and lack of availability of the material.[13] When teamed up with the tower design of Caister, it shows just how much wealth and royal favour Fastolf must have acquired during his time fighting on the continent.

Pollard, R., Caister Castle (1800), British Library Collection
Caister had the typical fifteenth century double courtyard design. Both of these revolved around two great halls, one used in the summer and the other used in the winter.[14] There is no suggestion as to why this was, so it is possible that one would have been easier to heat in winter than the other. The main hall, possibly the summer one, was the main place for display as it was the main communal area. Within it were examples of stained glass depicting Fastolf’s coat of arms, his wife’s family coat of arms, his own motto and reflections of his military achievements.[15] Perhaps it may have mentioned his fighting Joan of Arc, but unfortunately the specific achievements identified in the windows is unknown. The only known military achievement Fastolf was known to have memorialised was the Siege of Falaise which was a tapestry used as the ‘cloth of state’ behind the dais end of the great hall he would be sat at.[16]

Overall, I believe Caister to be the testament of a man who had many a military achievement, most notably fighting against Joan of Arc. Unfortunately, most of its grandness can only be imagined due to most of it being in ruins, but it would have been spectacular. Even today I find it a place of unusual serenity considering its proximity to the popular seaside resort of Great Yarmouth. If you haven’t been there, I would thoroughly recommend it and it also has a fabulous car museum to visit too!

[1] Emery, A., ‘Late-Medieval Houses as an Expression of Social Status’, Historical Research, 78 (2005), p. 158.

[2] Harrison, K., Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured (New York: Doubleday, 2013), p. 81.

[3] Thompson, M., The Medieval Hall: the Basis of Secular Domestic Life, 600-1600 AD (Aldershot: Scholar Press, 1995), p. 153.

[4] Emery, A., ‘Late-Medieval Houses as an Expression of Social Status’, p. 158.

[5] Wood, M., The English Medieval House (London: Ferndale Editions, 1981), p. 172.

[6] Wood, M., The English Medieval House, p. 67.

[7] Wood, M., The English Medieval House, p. 172.

[8] Wood, M., The English Medieval House, pp. 1728-179.

[9] Girouard, M., Life in the English Country House (London: Yale University Press, 1978), p. 15.

[10] Girouard, M., Life in the English Country House, p. 76.

[11] Girouard, M., Life in the English Country House, p. 73.

[12] Pevsner, N., The Buildings of England: Leicestershire and Rutland (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1960), p. 132.

[13] Pevsner, N., The Buildings of England: Leicestershire and Rutland, p. 132.

[14] Girouard, M., Life in the English Country House, p. 60.

[15] Emery, A., Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales, 1300-1500: Volume 2 East Anglia, Central England and Wales (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 57.

[16] Parker (1983) cited in Wood, M., The English Medieval House, p. 404.