The Royal Book – instructions for looking like you should be on the throne

Following the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, the Tudors did everything possible to bolster their somewhat tenuous claim to the throne. Henry married Elizabeth of York on 18 January 1486 nearly six months after his victory at Bosworth and two months after he was crowned king. Edward IV’s daughter would have to wait until November 1487, the year of Stoke Field, for her own coronation.  It was not in the new regime’s interest to remind the populace that Elizabeth had a better claim to the throne than Henry VII.  

The queen was either already pregnant, or conceived during the marriage celebrations given that Henry’s longed for heir arrived exactly eight months after the wedding.  As soon as it became apparent that Elizabeth was expecting, Margaret Beaufort began to plan for her daughter-in-law’s laying in.  She created a set of ordinances drawn up from her experiences as part of Elizabeth Woodville’s household during the 1470s and from the procedures set out in Edward IV’s own book of household regulations.

The result was a treatise on royal ceremonials ensuring that the birth, baptism and care of Tudor princes and princesses was conducted according to customs established by the earlier Medieval kings of England. Modern understanding of the rules relies upon Leland’s Collectanea  which gleans the material from a manuscript in the Harleian Library (No 6079).

The book identified what the queen’s chamber should contain before she withdrew to it in the month preceding the birth as well as how it should be furnished and decorated. The walls were to be hung with Arras tapestries and heavy fabrics. Only one window should be available to allow in some light and fresh air should it be required. There were two beds – a state bed with cloth of gold and satin sheets and a more practical pallet bed on which the child might be delivered. There were to be two cradles – one a state cradle in which the infant was to be placed when it was being viewed and the other, again a more practical affair for when the child slept. All the males in the household were to be replaced with females for the duration of the pregnancy and the forty days afterwards.

There were instructions for the baptism and the number of staff required to care for the new arrival. The royal wet nurse’s food was to be tested for poison and her health monitored by physicians. Nothing would be left to chance – no one would say that the Tudors were less royal than their predecessors. Whatever else you might think, you’ve got to admire Margaret’s organisational skills! And her powers of observation – she had been a part of Edward IV’s court since her marriage to Lord Stanley.

If you’d like to read the instructions for caring for a Tudor prince or princess follow the link.

#unstitched coif – the outcome!

I learned so much from my own small part in the project and am really looking forward to seeing what other people made of the design. If you’re in Sheffield before Christmas take some time out to have a look. And remember, the linen which is 54 threads to the inch and from Milan is not so fine as the fabric worked on by Tudor and Stuart embroiderers, nor did they have the benefit of electric lights, modern equipment or prescription glasses!

Coifs on exhibit using blackwork embroidery techniques represent approximately 300 hours of work each – which goes someway towards explaining why a couple of trunks of clothing could equate to the value of a small estate during the early years of the seventeenth century (and also why I did no gardening this summer.).

Elizabeth Denton -a very respectable woman who received some rather nice gifts from Henry VIII!

Elizabeth Denton or Elizabeth Jerningham as she was when she was born was appointed as Lady Governess to the infant Prince Henry in 1491. She also looked after his younger sister Mary until the queen appointed the child’s own lady governess. Elizabeth continued to be a part of Elizabeth of York’s household until the queen’s death on 11 February 1503.

King Henry VIII showed his affection for his former lady governess with gifts of a tun of Gascon wine each year and appointment as keeper, for life, his Coldharbour, one of Lady Margaret Beaufort’s homes, soon after he became king. In 1515 she was granted an annuity of £50 for her service to the Tudors. The gifts led to Philippa Gregory portraying Elizabeth as the first of Henry’s mistresses. It seems unlikely, but not impossible, that Henry would have wanted a former mistress looking after his own daughter! She next appears as Lady Governess in 1516 caring for Mary Tudor. Also, as Amy Licence observes, the suggestion rests wholly on the grants.

Elizabeth’s family was part of the Suffolk gentry but their service to the Tudors saw them rise during Elizabeth’s life time marrying into the Dacre and Stanhope families. She was distantly related by to Anne Stanhope, the wife of Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset.  And her family served the king in other capacities. One of her brothers, Richard Jerningham, was a Gentleman of the Chamber and is recorded as being sent to Germany in 1511 to buy armour on Henry’s behalf.

 So who was Elizabeth Denton?

She was the daughter of Sir John Jerningham of Somerleyton Hall near Lowestoft in Suffolk who died in 1474 and his wife Agnes Darell. (Image from Her half-brother, Edward[i], inherited the bulk of his father’s estate but under the terms of Sir John’s will, upon the death of her brother Osberne, she was to inherit the manor of ‘Little Worlingham with all the commodities etc. within the towns of Little Worlingham, Cove, Ellough and Great Worlingham . . . and in default to Elizabeth Denton, my daughter, for life, and after to Walter Denton, her son for life, and after to be sold.’  The date indicates that she was significantly older than Henry – so unlikely to be mistress material for a man who was known to like a younger woman.

Elizabeth was married before she entered royal service, potentially to John Denton, but very little is known about her family except that she had a son called Walter. By 1515 she was a widow and was granted an annuity by Henry who continued to be fond of her. Elizabeth recognised that her time was running out. She had become a tenant at Blackfriar’s Priory and erected a tomb for herself there. Her will, dated April 26 1518 stipulated that she was to be buried near the staned glass window which featured St Thomas Aquinas. She ensured her last resting place with gifts to the monastic community:

To the Prior 20s. to the Sub-prior 10s. to Frier Simond 20s. to Frier De la hay, 10s. to every other Firer of the said Place, that is a Priest, and shall be within the said Place at the time of my burying, 2s. To every of the Novices of the same Place 12d. To the intent of the same Prior, etc, shall pray for the Soul of my late Husband, my Soul, and all Christen Souls. (John Strype’s Survey of London and Lady Elizabeth Denton’s will Guildhall Labrary S 9171/15 f/108v.)

The content of the will is conventional and it is perhaps not surprising that Elizabeth Denton was a pious woman given the piety of Lady Margaret Beaufort. Her eldest brother’s family continued in their Catholic beliefs after Elizabeth I ascended the throne and chose to emigrate to America rather than conform.

Licence, Amy, The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII. (p.XLII)

Suckling, Alfred, The History and Antiquities of the County of Suffolk, (London: John Weale, 1846), Vol. I,

Weir, Alison, Elizabeth of York

[i] Richardson, Douglas, Magna Carta Ancestry, 2nd ed., 2011, Vol. I, p. 512; Druery, John Henry, Historical Notices of Great Yarmouth, (London: Nicholas & Son, 1826), p. 17 

Guest Post Monday -Judith Arnopp – My reasons for writing How to Dress like a Tudor

This week I’m delighted to welcome Judith Arnopp to the History Jar. I thoroughly enjoyed finding out more about what motivates her and admiring her tailoring skills – she makes dressing up as a Tudor sound very appealing! But if you’re one of my Zoom class don’t expect to see me clad as a Tudor lady anytime soon.

Without further ado, over to Judith…whose book is now on my Christmas List – those reindeer are never going to get off the ground given the number of history books I’m hoping for this year.

I would probably have never written the book had I not begun to sew my own Tudor clothes. I’ve always played about with fabric and thread but never attempted anything vaguely historical until I began to take part in reenactments.

I love to visit Raglan Castle during their annual Tudor event where I sell my historical fiction books to the public and meet readers. It is fun, and in the early days, to blend in with the other reenactment groups my husband and I dressed up. Initially our get up was very simple and not even close to accurate but then I purchased a second-hand gown made by Gina Clark and became hooked …on dressing up, not sewing at this point.

After a few years the lovely red gown somehow shrunk, or perhaps I got fatter, I don’t know but I needed a new one and the price was way beyond my budget. I began to wonder about making my own. By this time, I was already making hoods and shifts and partlets, but could I make a gown?

Turns out, the answer was no! The first one was awful but luckily, I’d made it from curtains, just as an experiment to see if I could do it. Yes, I was downhearted at the failure, and it took a several months before I summoned the nerve to try again. This one turned out sightly better, at least it fitted and had a good width of skirt. I tried again, this time coming up with a wearable gown. (see pic one)

Unfortunately, just as I was all set to wear it, Covid 19 reared its ugly head and by the time we were allowed out again I had grown even fatter – this is what happens when someone with hypothyroidism is forbidden adequate exercise and locked up with free access to cake. I went on a diet but by this time had begun to yearn for an English style gown, rather than the French style I’d made before. So, I studied a few portraits and got my sewing kit out again.  (see pic two)

I hadn’t even finished work on this when I was approached to write a book on Tudor clothing – after so many failed attempts I didn’t feel I was qualified but then someone pointed out that I could encourage other would-be sewers to have a go and show them that perseverance can pay off. So that is what I did.

The Tudors have always enthralled me. I read about them while I was at school, and as an adult, and when I enrolled in university as a mature student it was the obvious era to choose to study. Having spent much of his life in exile, when Henry VII ascended the throne, he was largely unknown to the people. He was keen to promote the new Tudor dynasty and to show his line off to its best advantage. He stressed the royal connection of his mother, Margaret Beaufort, and her descent from John of Gaunt and legally removed the stigma of bastardy from the family, reiterating the royal descent of his grandmother, Katherine of Valois. More surprisingly, he also claimed descent from the ancient Welsh King Cadwaladr, and King Arthur. The legend of Arthur states that the king will one day return to England, and to give credence to this, Henry named his first-born son Arthur. Unfortunately for Henry, Arthur was not to survive long enough to become King, that honour fell to his younger brother, Henry, better known as Henry VIII.

Henry VIII made no secret of his love for fine clothes and on becoming king, spent vast amounts of money on his wardrobe and further embellishing the Tudor image. Holbein’s famous portrait records a monumental figure, strong, powerful, and fabulously dressed. Everything in the portrait, from the jewels in his hat to his fine slashed shoes point to power, and his prominent codpiece speaks, rather ironically in a man who struggled to obtain heirs, of fertility. 

Henry’s heirs took this idea of power portraiture even further, in the later portraits of Elizabeth I she is almost obliterated. All we see are her huge sleeves, heavily embroidered gowns, and jeweled embellishments. She is the ultimate Tudor icon.  

Of course, although the nobility aspired to match the monarchs, they could not afford such extremes, but even Henry wouldn’t have dressed so grandly every day. Most reenactors cannot hope to accurately emulate the opulence of royalty, but we do our best and even lower-class clothing is great fun to wear. Sometimes I actually prefer my lower status clothes to my fine gowns; they are not so warm, movement is freer and you can roll up your sleeves and take off a few layers. 

A world full of royalty and nobles is dull and there are other roles to play. You can choose from cooks, monks, housewives, prostitutes, costermongers, millers – the list is endless and there is something for everyone.

How to Dress like a Tudor is not aimed at skilled sewers; it is for those who know little more than how to thread a needle, sew a few basic stitches, but are prepared for a steep learning curve. The book also provides a history of Tudor clothing from the reign of Henry VII through to Elizabeth I, offering reference for those who are studying history, or writing in the historical period. The second, smaller section of the book offers advice on how to sew Tudor clothing, with suggestions for patterns, suppliers, fabric choices, ways to cheat and most of all, I hope it encourages people to just give it a go.

Author bio

Judith writes historical fiction set during the late medieval and Tudor period. Her usual focus is on the women who lived close to the monarch, women like Margaret Beaufort, Elizabeth of York and Mary Tudor but more recently has been writing from the perspective of Henry VIII himself. Her books are on Kindle, Audible and Paperback.

You can find her fiction books here:

She also writes non-fiction, her work featuring in many anthologies and online magazines. Her latest non-fiction, How to Dress like a Tudor published by Pen & Sword Books is available now.

Judith is a founder member of a reenactment group The Fyne Company of Cambria, and began making Tudor costumes for herself, her husband, John, and other members of the group. It was this that inspired How to Dress like a Tudor and she hopes to write more non-fiction Tudor history in the future.

You can find Judith on FacebookTwitter, Linked-inGoodreadsBlueskyInstagramwebpage

Sir Hugh Johns or Johnys – deputy marshal of England and tutor to the future Henry VII

I had one of those – why is this person not better known moments this week. Today’s post is about a man who travelled widely, saw conflict in many theatres of war on land and on sea, and who taught Henry Tudor while he was a ward of Sir William Herbert, Lord Raglan. Oh yes, and the man loved Elizabeth Woodville from a distance but couldn’t pluck up the courage to tell her in person so got Richard Duke of York and Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, see quote below, to do it for him…not men you think of as a pair of life’s natural matchmakers.

Sir Hugh John, knight, which now late was with you unto his full great joy, and had great cheer as he sayeth, whereof I thank you, hath informed me how that he for the great love and affection that he hath unto your person, as well for the great sadness [seriousness] and wisdom that he found and proved in you at that time, as for your great and praised virtues and womanly demeaning, desireth with all his heart to do you worship by way of marriage, before any other creature living as he sayeth. I, considering his said desire, and the great worship that he had, which was made knight at Jerusalem; and after his coming home, for the great wisdom and manhood that he was renowned of, was made knight Marshal of France, and after that knight Marshal of England, unto his great worship, with other his great and many virtues and deserts; And also the good and notable service that hath done and daily doth to me, Write unto you at this time, and pray you effectuously that you will the rather, at this my request and prayer, to condescend and apply you unto his said lawful and honest desire, wherein you shall not only purvey right notably for yourself unto your weal and great worship in time to come, as I verily trust, but also cause me to show unto you such good lordship, as you by reason shall hold you content and pleased, with the grace of God, which everlastingly have you in his blessed protection and governance.

It raised the intriguing idea of both men being vaguely acquainted with her during the 1450s. After all, her mother, Jaquetta of Luxembourg was married to John Duke of Bedford before his death and her subsequent marriage to the knight, Richard Woodville. And of course, there is the assumption that the Elizabeth was the Elizabeth Woodville rather than someone else entirely. And that’s where the whole romantic idea, described in some detail by Agnes Strickland in her Lives of the Queens of England, comes unstuck. Further research, in this case to Susan Higginbottom’s blog reveals the existence a slight spelling mistake – not Woodville but Woodhill…. – And more importantly did Warwick’s wife, Ann Beauchamp, know the lady and what were her thoughts on the subject?…but that’s not history, that’s speculation or an interlude in a work of fiction.

Sir Hugh Johnys, constable of Oystermouth Castle near Swansea during the 1460s owed his allegiance to Edward IV’s father, Richard 3rd Duke of York. During his first protectorate, the duke wrote in support of Hugh’s desire to marry, commenting on the knight’s ‘gentillesse’.[i] 

So who was Hugh Johnys or Johns who eventually took Maud Cradock for his wife and had seven children? He was never a wealthy man but he continued to serve the Yorkists in South Wales and the Marches for the duration of his life before eventually dying and being interred in St Mary’s Church, Swansea in about 1485.

He was descended from the Vaughans of Llangynwyd and Bredwardine, who were, in their turn, kinsmen of Sir William Herbert[ii]. After Edward IV became king in 1461, Johns served as part of Herbert’s administrative hierarchy in South Wales and the Marches. He even tutored the young Henry VII, presumably in warfare rather than rhetoric and grammar.  His earlier military career made him a memorable choice of sword master.

His brass records that he was a member of the confraternity (a lay guild) of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre and that he fought against the Turks for five years following the date that he entered the knighthood on 14 August 1441. Prior to travelling to the Holy Land, he served the Emperor of Constantinople – joining his forces in 1436. His service took him to Troy, Greece and Turkey where he fought both on land and sea before he continued his Mediterranean adventure with a journey to the Holy Land. When he returned to Europe, he served under, Lady Margaret Beaufort’s father, John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset in France and from 1446, Richard of York. One his return to England he served as a deputy to the Duke of Norfolk who was the Marshal of England.

He owned one manor, Landimoor, which was granted to him, in 1451, by John Mowbray, 2nd Duke of Norfolk (died 1461) whose steward Johns was. Local tradition suggests that it was Hugh and his wife who modernised Bovehill Castle with lead pipes that supplied his home with water from a nearby well. After Norfolk’s death an inquisition post mortem reveals that Johns’ overlord was William Herbert who acted as custodian during the minority of the next duke.

In 1452 he was appointed steward to the manors of Redwick and Magor in Monmouthshire. Henry VI made the grant because of Johns’ military service in France and as a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre. The Byzantine emperor wrote personally to King Henry, a monarch known for his piety, commending Sir Hugh to him but beside from knowing the location of Johns’ theatre of war and that his was a distinguished service no further information about the engagements in which he fought can be pinpointed. If you wish to know more the National Archives blog has a wonderful post all about Sir Hugh’s grant and service which includes the information that in 1448, Johns was in the personal retinue of John Talbot.

In 1453, Johns took part in a trial held by the Court of Chivalry, in a case of treason.  The court was not part of England’s system of common law it was a military tribunal. Its judges were the constable of England and the earl Marshal and its remit was to judge cases relating to deeds of war including disputes about ransoms and the use of coats of arms. On 11 May, Robert Norris was accused of treason. It’s unclear exactly what Norris said or did an accusation was lodged against him by John Lyalton. He was instructed to answer the charge on 25 June at Smithfield in a trial by combat. Hugh Johns was the lead adviser on the seven-man panel assigned to ensure that the defendant have every chance. The Crown obliged with the provision of weapons and tents to ensure all was fair. Johns had ‘an established martial reputation’.[iii] There are several letters pertaining to the combat but it’s unclear whether it went ahead or not. Across England law and order was beginning to break down. In Yorkshire, the feuding of the Percy and the Neville families was reaching new depths and in France, the English suffered a defeat at Castillon on 17 July that would cause Henry VI’s complete mental collapse when he learned the news in August.

In 1468, Johns became one of the poor knights of Windsor, which was part of the college of St George’s Chapel which prayed for members of the Garter. The role came with accommodation and an income. However, since he spent much of his time in Wales its a matter of further reading to discover how much time he actually spent in Windsor – but since he travelled to Jerusalem, it perhaps wasn’t such a long journey for this much travelled and commended Welshman.

Hugh and Maud’s brass was probably commissioned during Johns’ life time. It was damaged in 1941 during the Blitz.

Bliss,T and Grant, F.G., Some Account of Sir H. Johnys, Deputy Knight Marshal of Engand, temp. Henry VI and Edward IV, and of the monumental brass to Sir Hugh and Dame Cradock his wife in the chancel of St Mary’s Church, Swansea (Swansea: John Williams, 1845)

Compton-Reeves, A. A 1453 Court of Chivalry Incident,visit%20Jerusalem%20during%20this%20period. (accessed 15:00, 29 October, 2023)

Robinson, W.R.B., Sir Hugh Johnys RobinsonW. R. B., ‘Sir Hugh Johnys: a fifteenth century Welsh Knight’, Morgannwg, 14 (1970).

[i] Bliss, p.5

[ii] Robinson, p.15

[iii] Compton-Reeves p.75

Guestpost Monday: Sharon Bennett Connolly- Nicholaa de la Haye and me

It’s a real delight to welcome Sharon Bennett Connolly to The History Jar as my first guest blogger. I love her blog, History the Interesting Bits and her books. Those of you who have attended my medieval classes will probably have at least one of her books on your own shelves including Heroines of the Medieval World and Ladies of the Magna Carta. I recently posted on History the Interesting Bits ( and it turns out that we may have a bit of a mutual appreciation society going on which leaves me feeling very honoured as really do admire the way that Sharon has drawn women previously left to languish in the footnotes into the limelight. So without further ado over to Sharon…

Well, it has been quite a journey, but King John’s Right Hand Lady, my biography of Nicholaa de la Haye is now out in the world. My journey with Nicholaa started with a blog post in 2015, shortly after a day trip to Lincoln Castle with my son. Nicholaa’s story really caught my attention. From that day on, I devoured everything I could find on Nicholaa, scouring the internet for details of her life and the events in which she was involved. I bought a copy of Louise Wilkinson’s excellent study, Women in Thirteenth Century Lincolnshire, which included Nicholaa’s story. And when I started thinking about writing a book, Nicholaa came to mind. In 2016, I entered a competition with a publisher, to have my first book published and Nicholaa was one of the inspirations. 

In Heroines of the Medieval World, I wanted to tell the stories of the most incredible women in medieval history and Nicholaa was certainly in my Top 10. And from that book, I started thinking that there was more scope to examine the women related to the Magna Carta story, especially Nicholaa and her contemporary,  Matilda de Braose. The conflicting lives and experiences of these two women inspired Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England; while Matilda became King John’s bitter enemy and ultimate victim, Nicholaa was a loyal ally, trusted to hold Lincoln Castle against the rebel barons, despite being a woman. 

As I was researching Nicholaa’s story for Ladies of Magna Carta, I got very excited as I realised that I may have enough material for a full biography. I contacted my editor, expecting her to shut me down and say ‘no thanks, no one will be interested.’ But, instead, she said ‘go for it!’ And the project was born.

Nicholaa’s career spanned sixty years, four kings and two husbands and, in a time when men fought and women stayed home, Nicholaa de la Haye held Lincoln Castle against all-comers. In 1191, 1216 and 1217, it was Nicholaa who defended the besieged castle, earning herself the ironic praise that she acted ‘manfully’. Nicholaa gained prominence in the First Baron’s War, the civil war that followed the sealing of Magna Carta in 1215. 

On one of King John’s visits to inspect Lincoln’s defences in 1216, a recently-widowed Nicholaa met him at the gates and presented the king with the keys to the castle, claiming she was too old and weary to continue in her duties. John refused to accept her resignation, instructing Nicholaa to keep hold of the castle until he ordered otherwise. Whether Nicholaa ever intended to give up Lincoln, or the event was staged so that John could demonstrate his continued trust in Nicholaa, is open to debate. I suspect it was the latter. John was in the midst of civil war and running short of allies. Nicholaa had already demonstrated her abilities at defending Lincoln, and her loyalty to John – he would have been hard put to replace her. However, the event gave John the opportunity to reinforce his trust in Nicholaa in front of his barons.

Intent on continuing the civil war, the rebel barons invited the king of France to take the throne of England. The king refused, but his son, Louis (the future Louis VIII), accepted the offer and was hailed as King of England in London in June 1216.

That summer, Nicholaa prevented another siege of Lincoln Castle by paying off a rebel army, led by Gilbert de Gant, who remained in occupation of the city of Lincoln but lifted the siege of the castle. As Louis consolidated his position in the south, John fell desperately ill, probably from dysentery and halted at Newark Castle, where he died on the night of 18/19 October 1216. King John valued her so much that, from his deathbed, he appointed her sheriff of Lincolnshire; Nicholaa was the first woman ever to be appointed as a county sheriff.

Shortly after John’s death, the rebels returned to Lincoln.

Although now her 60s, Nicholaa endured a siege that lasted close to seven months, resisting the English rebel barons and their French allies with all she had, and giving the regents for the new king, nine-year-old Henry III, time to gather their forces and come to her aid. 

The siege ended in the Battle of Lincoln, also known as the Lincoln Fair, when 70-year-old William Marshal, known to history the Greatest Knight, spurred on by the chivalrous need to rescue a lady in distress – and to send the French packing – marched on Lincoln. The six-hour battle, fought in the tightly packed medieval streets of the city of Lincoln, was the turning point in the war. Within months of Marshal’s victory, the French had gone home, and the English rebels were swearing allegiance to Henry III.

The French chronicler Anonymous of Bethune described Nicholaa as ‘a very cunning, bad-hearted and vigorous old woman.’ Perhaps they were sore losers!

And how was Nicholaa thanked for such a stalwart defence of Lincoln Castle? Within four days of the battle her office as sheriff of Lincolnshire was given to William Longspée, Earl of Salisbury – the king’s uncle. Salisbury then seized the castle, evicting Nicholaa. Why? Because Salisbury’s son was married to Nicholaa’s granddaughter and the earl thought he should control the young couple’s inheritance. Did he really think Nicholaa would give up without a fight? Did he think seven months of siege had taken the fight out of her?

He should have known better.

Nicholaa appealed to the king and the privy council and got herself reinstated as constable of Lincoln Castle. She never got to be sheriff of Lincolnshire again, but at least she got her castle back. Not that Salisbury was one to give up either and there are various instances throughout the early 1220s of Salisbury trying to take the castle, through siege, subterfuge and persuasion. He tried everything! But Nicholaa would not give up – Salisbury would die first, which he did! And three months after Salisbury’s death, Nicholaa finally retired, resigning her custody of Lincoln Castle and settling on her manor at Swaton, Lincolnshire, where she died in 1230. She was buried in the local church, St Michael’s, where her tomb can still be seen today.

Nicholaa de la Haye was a staunch supporter of King John, remaining loyal to the very end, even after most of his knights and barons had deserted him. And I wanted to know why. Why did Nicholaa support John? Why did she not rebel like the rest of them? She must have known how heavy-handed and brutal John could be. She must have known the dreadful fate of Matilda de Braose – starved to death in one of John’s dungeons. So, what made her stay loyal?

To both King John and Henry III, she was ‘our beloved and faithful Nicholaa de la Haye.’

A truly remarkable lady, Nicholaa was the first woman to be appointed sheriff in her own right. Her strength and tenacity saved England at one of the lowest points in its history. 

It is often said that the best thing John ever did was die when he did. 


The best thing he ever did was appoint Nicholaa as sheriff!

Nicholaa de la Haye is one woman in English history whose story needs to be told…

About the book:

King John’s Right Hand Lady: The Story of Nicholaa de la Haye by Sharon Bennett Connolly

In a time when men fought and women stayed home, Nicholaa de la Haye held Lincoln Castle against all-comers. Not once, but three times, earning herself the ironic praise that she acted ‘manfully’. Nicholaa gained prominence in the First Baron’s War, the civil war that followed the sealing of Magna Carta in 1215. Although recently widowed, and in her 60s, in 1217 Nicholaa endured a siege that lasted over three months, resisting the English rebel barons and their French allies. The siege ended in the battle known as the Lincoln Fair, when 70-year-old William Marshal, the Greatest Knight in Christendom, spurred on by the chivalrous need to rescue a lady in distress, came to Nicholaa’s aid. Nicholaa de la Haye was a staunch supporter of King John, remaining loyal to the very end, even after most of his knights and barons had deserted him. A truly remarkable lady, Nicholaa was the first woman to be appointed sheriff in her own right. Her strength and tenacity saved England at one of the lowest points in its history. Nicholaa de la Haye is one woman in English history whose story needs to be told…

Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS is the best-selling author of 4 non-fiction history books, including Heroines of the Medieval World and Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England. Her latest book, a biography, King John’s Right-Hand Lady: The Story of Nicholaa de la Haye, was published in May 2023. A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Sharon has studied history academically and just for fun – and has even worked as a tour guide at a castle. She writes the popular history blog, and regularly gives talks on women’s history. Sharon is a feature writer for All About History magazine and her TV work includes Australian Television’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?




Twitter: @Thehistorybits



Podcast: A Slice of Medieval (

The Kingmaker’s Women

My copy arrived this afternoon. Very exciting. I really enjoyed researching the lives of Anne Beauchamp and her daughters; heartbreak, rebellion and witchcraft. Who needs fiction?

Isabel and Anne also had a half-sister, Margaret, who married Sir Richard Huddleston of Millom. And then of course, there were so very many aunts, all of them with their own stories. One of them, another Margaret, married the Earl of Oxford, was forced to flee into sanctuary and earned her living as a seamstress.

Available in all good bookshops not to mention a certain well known website!

A busy few weeks.

Its been a few weeks but that’s because I’ve been sewing manically and completing The Little History of Derbyshire which I would have to say I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and which will be out next year. In the meantime, The Kingmaker’s Women published by Pen and Sword has gone to print so should be available very soon. I’m extremely excited about this text as I’ve found out more about the Neville family’s links with Cumbria and Carlisle.

The coif has had a minor disaster – an elderly red table cloth which marked the pristine linen. My desire to avoid chemical cleansers went out of the window very swiftly and although the red mark was removed water leached into the fabric and carried the cleaning agent to the silks – which do not, I am sad to say like Dr Beckman’s cleaning agent. After consultation with the other ladies in the group I can only conclude that it reacted to the tannins in the dye and now I have a little seepage. It would have to be said that I wasn’t a happy woman for a good few hours but I now have a plan. More photos will appear as I am now stitching like a mad thing to get all that I want to do done within the time frame available to me – which explains the lack of August posts.

My actual subject for today is Thomas Linacre, pictured at the start of this post, who I began to research as one of Arthur Tudor’s tutors in the spring – He didn’t have long to influence the young prince, if indeed he ever did- but he went on to serve Henry VIII and to found the Royal College of Physicians. For those of you familiar with Linacre Reservoir near Chesterfield, there is a link. He was born in Brampton near Chesterfield although another source gives Canterbury as his birth place.

We don’t even known when exactly he was born, certainly it was around the time that theWars of the Roses took on a bloody hue in 1460 or 1461. he was educated by William Selling of Christchurch, Canterbury – lending to the argument that he was born there but there are other routes for a promising young man to travel from his home to Kent. From there he went to Oxford in 1480 where he studied Greek.

In about 1485 he travelled into Italy with Selling, who was Henry VI’s ambassador. Linacre studied in Bologna before travelling to Florence, where he learned Greek from Demetrius Chalcondylas

After that Linacre journeyed to Padua where he became a Doctor of Medicine and then returned to Oxford. He sent one of his works, published in Italy, to Henry VII in the hope that he would be appointed as one of Arthur’s tutors. In about 1501 he was appointed as Arthur’s physician. He was one of the so-called ‘New Men’ with ‘New Learning’ and corresponded with Erasmus.

He was appointed as King Henry VIII’s, and lived for some of the time with the court where he treated Cardinal Wolsey, William Warham and Richard Fox.

Half way with the 17th century coif – almost.

Time to move the coif along on the frame. It’s taken me longer than I hoped to get to the half way stage and now I need to be careful about over tightening the linen as I don’t want to damage the stitching I’ve done already. I’ve also taken the opportunity to experiment with a grey thread for my plan if I have time to make it my own. Unfortunately, it only gains the depth of colour I want when it is used in satin stitch, so back to the drawing board.  

This will be the last post about my theory with regard to the flowers of the Mary garden – I’m curious as to how the bugs fit in to the story. I know that the cycle of life caterpillar, larva and moth or butterfly provides us with rebirth and resurrection but I’m not sure about the beetles. I do wonder if there’s a linked symbolism that perhaps explains why there are no bees, grasshoppers or snails.

The list of plants:

Borage– (which is about to appear on my canvas) – it was believed borage brings courage – so I can see why it might be an essential. However, back to the concept of the Mary Garden – it also goes by the name St Joseph’s Staff.

Carnation  – is one of the oldest known garden plants. The Romans were rather keen on them.  Pink ones are associated with motherly love. Apparently, they sprang from Mary’s tears as she watched Christ carry the cross. Red ones are symbolic of blood and if you’re Holbein you stick them in pictures as a symbol of betrothal or salvation thanks to Christ’s resurrection. The image below is the portrait of Simon George.

Columbine – see post on Granny’s bonnet. But also known as ‘Our Lady’s shoes’. According to a legend the flowers were said to have sprung up wherever Mary’s foot touched the ground on her way to visit her cousin Elizabeth

Daffodil – see post on daffodil.

Marigold – see post on marigold.

Roses – divine love, martyrdom – associated with Mary, sometimes called the mystical rose. I was thrown art the start of the project because the first thing I thought was Tudor rose, but then I’m not a catholic and I don’t live in the seventeenth century with a handy guidebook.

Strawberries – the leaf has three parts so might be associated with the Trinity – it’s also called the ‘Fruitful Virgin’.  Medieval art sometimes depicted Mary with strawberry plants (I feel a hunt for an example coming on at some point). In Norse mythology it was associated with the goddess Freya and was simply transferred into Christian culture.  Expanding the theme a little, it is also the emblem of righteous men – the fruit of good works.

Violet – humility, innocence, purity – sometimes known as ‘Our Lady’s Modesty.’  St Bernard described Mary as ‘the violet of humility.’ It can also refer to the passion of Christ.

I don’t think I’ve left anything off the list. I’m still looking for a book or journal article about secular embroidery linked to English Catholicism but am having no joy. I may expand the search into stump work which was popular during the same period. I have discovered a book entitled A Garden Catechism which details 100 plants in Christian tradition which I will be getting.  I think I may be hooked.  

A complete list, should you feel the urge, can be found here and Castle Bolton Garden has a very interesting online article as well:

Ferguson, George, Signs and Symbols in Christian Art (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

Gardens, daffodils and embroidery as a statement of faith

Daffodils – I defy anyone not to think of Wordsworth’s lonely wanderings! Or Wales where it translates as St Peter’s leek. Or the Marie Curie Cancer charity – so having established that daffodils play an important part in modern symbolism or romantic ramblings what about the past, setting aside Greek myth?

They have many common names including bell rose, faerie bells and ladies ruffles. More tellingly, thanks to the time they flower, they are also known as lent lilies and lenty cups. Christian lore states that the daffodil first made its appearance in the garden of Gethsemane and to add to my growing picture of a Mary Garden, daffodils are also known as ‘Mary’s star’. It has been suggested that the occurance of daffodils in the wild in England and Wales can be an indicator that there was once a monastic house on  the site- in London, Abbey Wood is the home of wild daffodils and the location of Lesnes Abbey (Phillips, An Encyclopedia of Plants).

In all there are more than one hundred flowering plants associated with Mary. Incluing lavender which also goes by the name of Mary’s drying plant and lily of the valley which are sometimes called Mary’s tears. The frequency of the names is an aid to demonstrating that in medieval England that Mary was deeply revered. There’s even a mystery play about her childhood and betrothal to Joseph. The Wilton Diptych that belonged to Richard II shows him kneeling before her and the angles surrounding her all helpfully wearing the king’s badge of a white heart. 

And then of course, we arrive at the Reformation in Tudor England which saw the vibrant colours and stories of the past white washed away. In the Seventeenth Century, Oliver Cromwell and his Roundheads destroyed even more of the iconography that they believed to be idolatrous.

Even so, when Charles II sat upon the throne about 5% of the population, in some parts of the country, was still Catholic. While devotional pieces of the kind owned by Elizabeth Stuart (she married into the Howard family) are rare, as indeed are liturgical clothing. The work of Helena Wintour was born in 1600 is an exceptional collection. Her father Robert and uncle Thomas were executed for their part in the Gunpowder Plot in 1605. Helena remained a Catholic throughout her life and set up a secret Catholic School in Worcestershire where she lived so that catholic children could be educated in England rather than having to go abroad.  She designed and embroidered vestments for the Jesuits who visited her home. 

 There seems to have been little written about secular Catholic embroidery that I can find (if anyone can recommend any reading I’d love to hear from you) but it would be logical that if people were planting gardens to link them to their beliefs; hiding priests in holes behind fire places; educating their children in secret and paying huge fines rather than attend the local protestant parish church – it does not seem unreasonable that they were embroidering their faith into the clothes that they wore. 

Father Henry Hawkins, a Jesuit, published a text in 1633 about the symbolism of flowers associated with the Virgin Mary called Sacred Virginity (Partheneia Sacra) which was smuggled into Catholic households enabling them to use the flowers described as a symbol of their faith.