I have updated my review and giveaway policies page (now just titled Policies above). If you are entering a giveaway, please read and abide by the applicable policy.

Attention Authors! If you arrived here looking for information on the Two Sides to Every Story guest post series, see the tab at the top of the page for more info!

Search This Blog

Monday, September 20, 2010

Off With Their Heads: Intro of the Players

To kick-off Off With Their Heads week, I thought it would be a good idea to get to know the characters that we will be encountering throughout the week. While we will not be looking at each and every royal or courtier that has lost their head, but I chose several of the best know cases.

First, the Queens – there are 5 very well known Queens – and all but one was at the hands of one Tudor or another.

Anne Boleyn – Anne was the first Queen to lose her head because of Henry VIII. Henry had been so in love with Anne that he had divorced his previous wife Catherine. But alas, that would not last long. Anne was charged with adultery, incest (with her brother), and treason against the king. These charges were most assuredly false, but were helped along by her sister in law (Jane Boleyn) – who we will see a little later on. Because of political manipulations and the desire for a male heir, Henry signed off on the warrant and Anne was executed by a French swordsman on May 19, 1536.

Katherine Howard – Katherine was the second Queen who fell to Henry – for quite similar reasons as her predecessor, but her charges were most likely true. Henry married Katherine (a young, pretty girl) after his failed marriage to Anne of Cleves. By this time Henry was aging and heavy and oozing – not much for a young girl to stick around for. Katherine began a secret love affair with Thomas Culpepper (which Jane Boleyn helped along) – which ultimately lead to her treason charge and execution. She was executed on February 13, 1542.

Jane Grey – Jane was the Nine Day Queen – she was pushed into the role by those around her who didn’t want Mary Tudor to become the Catholic Queen after Edward VI died. After just a few days, the Privy Council decided that Mary was the appropriate queen of England and she was imprisoned in the Tower of London to await the decision of what Queen Mary would do about her. Jane was charged with high treason but was supposedly going to be spared. Another rebellion a few days later sealed the deal – because her father was involved – and she was then executed on February 12, 1554 (almost exactly 2 years from the date of Catherine Howard’s execution).

Mary, Queen of Scots – Mary would be the last Queen to fall to a Tudor. Mary escaped from captivity in Scotland to England with the hope that her cousin, Queen Elizabeth, would help her. She thought wrong and Elizabeth had her imprisoned at various households across England. After several plots (on the part of Mary) she became too much of a risk to Elizabeth. She was found guilty of attempts on the life of the Queen and found guilty – although the Queen held off on signing the death warrant. After the warrant was signed – Elizabeth hadn’t given permission for it to be carried out – yet her councilors carried out the act quickly so that her mind couldn’t be changed. She was executed on February 8, 1587.

Marie Antoinette – Marie is our first and only Queen from outside of England. Most know the story of Marie Antoinette. Her and her husband, Louis XVI were frivolous in the way that they lived while their subjects faced hard times. The subjects revolted and the King and Queen were taken captive. The King was tried and executed – as we will look at later. Marie was charged with several crimes including incest with her young son. She was found guilty of treason in an orchestrated trial and sentenced to execution by the guillotine. She suffered the indignity of having her hair cut off and being driven through the mob in a cart in a simple, plain dress. She was executed on October 16, 1793. She was buried in an unmarked grave.

Now that we have investigated the Queens, we should look at the few Kings.

Louis XVI – This French King was the husband of Marie Antoinette. As stated above, they were dethroned during the French Revolution. Louis was charged with high treason and crimes against the state. All of the voting members of The Convention found him guilty of his crimes, but the vote was much closer on the issue of execution. In the end, it was decided he would be executed. On January 21, 1793 Louis was beheaded by the guillotine. There are some accounts that say his head was not fully severed in the first blow.

Charles I – The story of Charles I’s road to execution is a rather intricate story, which I am not even sure I really understand enough to describe here, so I’m going to rather explain just his trial and execution. The concept of trying a king was relatively new – usually he would just be overthrown and then murdered. The charges against Charles were that of treason and using his power to promote personal interests rather than that of the state. He also was, in part, responsible for helping along the civil wars. Charles refused to answer to the charges against him and his death warrant was signed. He was executed on January 30, 1649. In an unprecedented action, the head of Charles I was sewn back onto his body.

The last three characters that we will look at, in brief, are royal courtiers. There were many, many courtiers that I could have chosen for this, from many different courts – but I chose to stick with ones that are from the time of Henry VIII of England.

Jane Boleyn – Jane contributed to the downfall of not only Queens Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard, but also to her husband, George Boleyn, and several others. She provided witness to Anne’s adultery and incest and she conspired with Katherine for her secret trysts with Thomas Culpepper. For her actions in the Culpepper scandal, Jane was imprisoned and interrogated. During this time she appeared to suffer from a mental breakdown. At that time, those mentally insane could not be executed, but Henry changed all of that with a flick of his pen which changed the law to allow the execution of the insane. Jane was executed on February 13, 1542 – right before Katherine Howard.

Thomas More – Thomas was the Lord Chancellor of England – in this role, he was very effective. His problem stemmed from the religious upheaval in England. Thomas was a staunch Catholic during a time when the tides were changing to the Church of England. He resigned from his office because he refused to take an oath that renounced jurisdiction over the church to anyone but the sovereign. He also did not like Anne Boleyn. He refused to attend the coronation, which put him on Henry’s bad side. He had many petty charges brought against him, but they were proven to be false. What ultimately brought him down was his inability to swear to the oath of supremacy and disagreed with the King’s divorce from Queen Catherine. This led to his charge of treason. More refused to answer all questions – believing that if he didn’t deny the King was the ruler of the Church, he couldn’t be found guilty. He was found guilty anyway. He was executed on July 6, 1535 and his head was posted on London Bridge.

Thomas Cromwell – Cromwell was the Chief Minister to Charles I. Cromwell was Henry’s biggest supporter in the overthrown of Anne in favor of Jane Seymour. His downfall would be because of another of Henry’s failed marriages – Anne of Cleves. Cromwell was a strong supporter of the Cleves marriage because it would make the Reformation much stronger – by bringing in a Protestant queen. The Cleves marriage was a disaster – the King was not satisfied and Cromwell could not find him a way out of it without upsetting the Duke of Cleves and the Protestants. His enemies found a way to get him out of the picture. An Act of Attainder was signed but held until the Cleves marriage was ended. He was executed on July 28, 1540.

Now that you have a sense of what was behind the stories of these characters, we can explore other avenues throughout this week. Hope you learned a little something today. Stay tuned tomorrow for Off With Their Heads! In Pictures.

Copyright © 2010 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. This post, right here, is a good reason to be thankful that I was not born into any family of prestige that had access to the royal court. They ease of beheading, and imprisonment...a scary thing.
    Although, the flip side may be living as a peasant...maybe something in between?

    Sounds like this will be an interesting week, look forward to it.

  2. I always felt sympathy for all of these unfortunate people. Some of them may not have been the most savory characters but none of them deserved the fate they were dealt.

  3. Ibeeeg - Oh I agree with you! It seems so easy for someone to say you did something without any proof and for you just to get locked away or much worse. It would have been terrible!

    Holly - I felt sympathy for them too - they really didn't commit such terrible crimes that would warrant death. Maybe a few should have been locked away - but not death.

  4. Neat blog...first- time visitor.

    Found you on Lori's Linky for SHOW ME THE MONEY. :)

  5. Thank you for an interesting and informative post. Filled in a few blanks on the history and executions of these people. I learned never to get involved with those in powerful positions. In the time frame you covered, it was much safer to be a nobody. Life may not have been great, but with wealth and position, you opened ourself to the maneuverings of others. It must have been a difficult time to know what to do and where to stand in order not to be caught in the power struggles.

  6. LibraryPat - Really, the more I read about the time period, the more I really wouldn't want to be in a power position. I feel like it would have been a really narrow line and you certainly don't want to have scruples - because they don't matter.


Thanks for leaving your comments! I love reading them and try to reply to all!