The Blog

Keeping the Accurate in Accuracy

I’ve never made it a secret I have Asperger’s syndrome. To the contrary, I have been quite up front about it. As an Aspy, one of my biggest bugbears is inaccurate book reviews. I would never try to censor someone’s opinion of any book, but the facts they list as the reason they dislike the book need to be factual rather than fictional or I become peevish.

This has, of course, happened to my book upon occasion. There are two incidences which stick out in my mind. The first is when a reviewer accused me of not explaining why I said Henry VIII did not have syphilis. Did they somehow miss the first five pages of the book wherein I did a point-by-point analysis of the debunking of that theory? The second is when I was accused of changing the spelling of Catherine of Aragon’s name to Katherina at random. Considering that I put the reason why I changed it (on several documents she signs her name Katherina; sometimes she also spelled it Katherine and Katharine) in the first sentence about Katherina’s life in the book, how did the reviewer miss it?

I am also driven mad by accusations of historical mistakes that are themselves incorrect. This is especially vexatious when they are citing something they read in historical fiction. What part of the word “fiction” made them think they were reading a history text?

It also happens to books I have read, and even if I myself am not a fan of the book any inaccuracies in a critique of it makes me bananas. When I am a fan of a book, it is especially aggravating. For example, when people review The Creation of Anne Boleyn and say that Dr. Susan Bordo’s book wasn’t well-researched because it contradicts some of the shallow research done by fans of historical fiction. My head could explode. Or when someone accuses Amy Licence’s book In Bed With the Tudors of being poorly researched and inaccurate. Having dug into some of the same source material I can attest that Amy Licence’s book was hella well-researched. Or when someone reads the impeccable history of Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives and complains because it is “too” detailed and isn’t “storytelling” and doesn’t give enough credit to discredited theories the reader has seen elsewhere. Or attacking a whole book over one facet; even though I agree with the historians who believe Retha Warnicke’s theory of Anne Boleyn’s deformed fetus is wrong, dismissing the entirety of her historical investigation in The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn is balderdash.

My teeth also grind when people give vague and unfounded reasons for not liking fiction. For example, giving any JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books one star because you do not “approve” of witchcraft is asinine. Or casting aspersions on a children’s fantasy book by the legendary author Madeline L’Engle because it was “unrealistic”; I’m so sorry you were expecting realism in a book about time traveling children in league with angels. Or the people who sniff at Jane Austen because all she focuses on is marriage. Bah! Read the books; she skewers social systems and pops vanity balloons all over the place. Or someone who criticizes a new Terry Pratchett Discworld book because a character is not exactly the same person he was in the last book – as though the characters have not evolved in each book!

Criticisms such as “I didn’t like it” or “it bored me” or “I found it dry” don’t bother me at all, because they are entirely subjective. It is only when facts are distorted that I start to twitch.

This is what it’s like to be an Aspy. Like Spock on the Enterprise, we live in a nearly constant state of galled because people do illogical and nonsensical things. Opinions may be disputed, but facts are by their very nature immutable.  Regrettably, I am also like Spock in that I frequently let people know when they are wrong or their conclusions are faulty. Not everyone appreciates this as much as you would think.

Gee, I wonder why people with Asperger’s syndrome develop a reputation for being ‘difficult’?

I Am Quite the Character

Well, this is both flattering and exciting! I am a character in a play. The play has been written and is being produced by a class taught by Dr. Susan Bordo, the author of the excellent book The Making of Anne Boleyn. It is called The Trial of Anne Boleyn and the role of ME is being played by Annie Griggs.

Sadly, the play isn’t open to the public. *woe*

Happily, they made a mock Law & Order promo for it and I cannot resist sharing it:


I have begged Dr Bordo to film it. Maybe I can post it here!

The Wee Folk *updated*

*Okay, this turns out to have been a hoax on a satirical website. I swallowed the bait, hook, line, and sinker. Mea Culpa.

Many of you may have already seen reports on this, but a team of archaeologists affiliated with the University College Dublin have discovered a trio of skeletons from a previously unknown humanoid species of extremely small size in a wooded area of Eastern Ireland.

OMG the squee!!!

The new species has been named Homo minusculus (tiny man) and it looks as though they were ‘people’ as humans are today. They may have only had stone age technology for their grave goods –  including an axe, two knives, a spear point and two miniature sewing needles – but you need to be human kind of smart to craft these kinds of tools. That means there were people, real honest to goodness people, who were living in Ireland who could aptly be described as The Wee Folk:

“The bones and artifacts have shown that they dated from somewhere between 1145 and 1230 AD, which means that the species would have coexisted with modern humans for more than 45000 years. This amazing discovery suggests than many tales and stories from the Middle Ages which were considered as fantastic by historians, could indeed be based on real facts. Homo minusculus could have inspired stories of leprechauns, elves and brownies that are common in European folklore.”

Ladies and gentlemen, they have found elves in the archeological record and I am beside myself with Celtic Joy.

Elf-lore of continental Europe describes the Elves as tall and fair, but the Wee Folk in Ireland (the Sidhe) are usually just that – WEE. The Germanic legends of beautiful Elves has a home in Ireland too, but the native Irish myths focus on fairies of all types. Fairies are typically human-looking minikins of very teeny stature who can be either helpful or harmful depending on how you treat them. Folklorists have long speculated that the ‘good people’ were a race indigenous to Ireland that was conquered and driven into hiding by invading Celts, and they eventually attained mythic status in the retelling.  Never in the wildest dreams of academia did we ever think someone would discover that indigenous race of humans would literally be the Wee Folk!

Please Lord, let them do facial reconstruction so I can actually see a fairy!!! 

*Seriously, I feel like an idiot. My only comfort is that Asperger’s are more easily fooled because we don’t understand how lies work.*

The deaths of Dereham and Culpepper

On this day in 1541 Francis Dereham and Thomas Culpepper were executed for treason, one for the crime of sleeping with the king’s 5th wife Katheryn Howard before she was unmarried and the other for flirting with her with the intent to canoodle.

I am always bothered when I think of the death of Dereham. He was the only man other than Henry VIII that Katheryn Howard had sex with and he died horribly in retaliation for his teenaged nookie. Dereham  and Katheryn were a serious item back when she lived at Agnes Howard’s estate, and he and repeatedly begged her to marry him. Katheryn  didn’t feel as intensely for hm. She liked him well enough and seems to have liked having sex with him, but she didn’t think she wanted to get married yet.  Many of the young women and girls who shared the dormitory at Agnes Howard’s home with her also had serious boyfriends. The ladies bribed the dowager’s maid to bring them the key to their door and at night, when they were supposed to be sleeping, they opened their door and allowed their suitors to come inside and woo them. The various boyfriends would bring alcoholic beverages and treats and there was lots of clandestine sex in the dark.

The abstinence only method of sex education worked as poorly then as it does now.

Katheryn and Dereham were eventually busted, and he was sent away to Ireland. Katheryn, rather than pining for he former lover, jumped at the chance of going to Henry’s court when it was offered to her. There she attracted the eye of the king, who married her in the summer of 1540. He was a good 30 years older than her, morbidly obese, and had put-oozing ulcers on his legs. I am guessing she married him for the money, security, high status, and to benefit the who Howard family.

She still liked to flirt, though. She struck up a romance with Thomas Culpepper and would meet him secretly. Later they would both swear they never consummated their attraction. 

Henry found out about her “past” with Dereham and her present with Culpepper. He threw a fit over the fact she 1) had not been a virgin when he married her and 2) liked Culpepper better. All of them were condemned to die for treason.

Dereham executed was a traitor, with all the macabre tortures that entailed. Dereham was hauled off to Tyburn on a cart, hanged until he was semi-conscious, revived until he was aware of what was happening to him, then disemboweled, beheaded, and his corpse was cut into four pieces. His only crime was the fact he had sex with Katheryn when she was still living with her step-grandmother, long before she met the king. He was tortured to death simply because Henry had not married a virgin. Dereham had ‘gotten’ the Queen’s maidenhead, ‘depriving’ her elderly and decrepit husband of that ‘prize’. The idea rankled in the king’s heart until he could only be comforted by Dereham’s ghastly death. It was, like much of what Henry did in the last few years of his life, grossly unfair.

I’m less sorry for Culpepper. I am positively glad he died. Why? Because he was probably the same Thomas Culpepper who had raped a woman and killed one of her would-be rescuers, only 6to be pardoned by the king. Henry may have been willing to pardon him for rape and murder, but not for the crime of a flirtation with the king’s wife. Culpepper was, irrationally, given an easier death. Thanks to his high status in society and Henry’s strangely enduring favor he was merely beheaded. It was a quick and easy death for the only man to have wooed Katheryn who had actually committed treason against the king. I admit that there is some satisfaction in the fact that, at last, Culpepper was being punished. In light of the fact he was a rapist and murderer his execution seems almost justified. Was the woman that he had raped and the family of his murder victim in the crowd gathered to watch his execution? I hope so, and I hope it brought them some measure of solace.

Katheryn would remain in the Tower until her own execution in February of 1542.

The Fear and Loathing of Edward II

Why do some historians and authors of popular history write such scathing and distorted reports of Edward II? Why do even some academics overlook facts to concentrate of salacious might-have-beens?

Homophobia, pure and simple.

It doesn’t have to be overt. Prejudice tends to come out subconsciously in a writers work. One author, whom I shall not name because I am not petty, said that Edward II was ‘capable of normal sexual relations’ – a clear indicator of that author’s views on the abnormality of Edward II’s love for a man.  Moreover, the author calls Edward’s foes ‘unequivocally heterosexual’ in comparison to the king in order to highlight the perceived wrongness of Edwards own equivocal sexuality.

Attacks on Edward II were always particularly vicious because he was rumored to be the “bottom”, or the passive sex partner. Popular historians have decried the ‘perverted sexual dominance’ Edward’s lovers had over him. Edward II was seen as being vile because he was thought to have allowed men to penetrate him as women are penetrated. A grown man lowering himself to act as a woman is the worst thing conceivable in a staunch patriarchy. Moreover, Edward was not a strong leader. He was easily swayed. He was bad at warfare. He didn’t try to crush anyone under his boots.

In short, Edward II committed the sin of being “girly”.

Jokes are made about Richard the Lionhearted, but there is always an air to them indicating that Richard like young men the same way the Spartans did. As long as he was the active or dominate “top” his homosexuality is forgiven. He is still thought to assume a “male” role as the one who penetrates rather than one who is penetrated. He was a warrior, and his reported homosexual activity has been treated as scandalous rather than revolting.

This difference between Richard the Lionhearted and Edward II have been treated seems ludicrous considering that Edward II had five known children and Richard fathered none. The odds are that Richard was the “more” homosexual of the two, since Edward II obviously bedded women with some frequency. Nevertheless, it is Edward II that has been the target of historical burlesque.

Lately, the condemnation of Edward II has been lightening. Why? Because of the changing attitudes toward homosexuality.

Now that homophobia is understood to be a bad thing, people are more reluctant to make Edward II’s errors an outgrowth of his sexuality. Moreover, a new generation of authors and historians can look at Edward II and see him as something other than “queer”. As homosexuality becomes more accepted, Edward’s sex life is no longer allowed to define the parameters of his reign. Edward is a human being and a bad king rather than merely a deviant to be mocked.

History does not change, but the historical narrative is extremely mutable.

Review of Edward II: The Unconventional King

Edward II was a deeply flawed king. In her book Edward II: The Unconventional King, Kathryn Warner doesn’t attempt to hide that fact. However, she also uses meticulous research to debunk myriad myths about Edward II, including the malarkey that he was killed via a hot poker in the rectum.

Edward II had a rough spot in history even without being completely unsuited to medieval kingship. He was sandwiched between his father, Edward I Hammer of the Scots, and his son Edward III — arguably the most magnificent of the Plantagenet kings. There was almost no way for Edward II not to be overshadowed by kings both fore and aft.

Warner also critiqued the assumption that Edward was “gay” as we understand it today. Yes, Edward loved at last two men with the emotional devotion of a spouse. Nevertheless, Edward had for legitimate children and one by-blow; he clearly had sex with women. I have no doubt that Edward was “in love” with his favorites, Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser the Younger, but whether or not that meant they had sex is something no one can prove or disprove conclusively. Even if he did have a physical relationship with his favorites, he would fit into the category of bisexual rather than exclusively homosexual.

Warner also dropped a bombshell that had already detonated among Edwardian scholars but who

se shockwaves hadn’t reached the general public yet. It is almost certain that Edward II was not killed in England, but was instead declared dead and sent into exile/refuge in Italy. The evidence is lavish and well presented, and some additional scholarly fact checking on my part supported her data to the hilt.

I also liked the fact that Warner fiercely defended Edward from the accusations that he was a limp-wristed & lily-livered ninny. Too often in both history and historical fiction Edward’s mistakes have been chalked up to stupidity, his defeats accounted for by cowardice, and his general ineptitude pawned off with homophobic snickering at his enthrallment by Gaveston and Despenser. Warner saves Edward from calumny without sacrificing veracity, and places his sexuality in its rightful place as just one facet of his character and reign.

This book is a great read for anyone who delights in fact over fiction, truth more than tall-tales, and accuracy rather than aspersions. It is available in both print and e-reader format.


Guest Post About Edward II from author Kathryn Warner

(I’d like to give a warm welcome to Kathryn Warner and thank her for the post. I’ll have a review of her excellent book up on Friday!)


King Edward II is rightly remembered as one of the most disastrous kings England has ever produced.  His reign of nineteen and a half years, July 1307 to January 1327, was a painful history of civil war, baronial insurrections, failed military campaigns in Scotland, war with France, and the king’s over-reliance on a cohort of male ‘favourites’ who wielded excessive and malign influence.  Edward was an unconventional, even eccentric man who was completely unable to fulfill the role he had been born into (for more details, see my Edward II: The Unconventional King).  Aggravated beyond endurance with their king, a strong alliance of Edward’s barons, bishops and even his own wife Isabella of France forced him to abdicate his throne to his fourteen-year-old son Edward III in January 1327.  Held in captivity at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire, the former king is traditionally said to have been murdered there on 21 September 1327, and by far the best known (and terrible) narrative of his death is that he was killed by having a red-hot poker inserted inside his rectum which burned out his insides. This story is, however, virtually certainly to be a myth.

Edward II’s death was announced to the parliament then being held at Lincoln in late September 1327, and his funeral took place at St Peter’s Abbey, Gloucester (now Gloucester Cathedral) on 21 December 1327 in the presence of his son Edward III, widow Queen Isabella, and much of the English nobility and episcopate.  Initially it was given out that he had died of natural causes; at the parliament of November 1330, the first one after the young Edward III overthrew the regency of his mother Isabella and took over governance of his own kingdom, it was stated for the first time that Edward II had been murdered.  The method was never given officially, though two men, Sir Thomas Gurney and William Ockley, were sentenced to death in absentia for the murder of the former king.  Gurney fled to Spain and died there in 1333; Ockley vanishes from history.

In the absence of any official explanation as to the cause of Edward II’s death, fourteenth-century chroniclers put their imaginations to work or repeated gossip they had heard, and gave a wide variety of causes of Edward’s sudden death.  Some say that he died of natural causes; others that he died of illness, or grief; some that he was suffocated; some that he was strangled; one that he was fine in the evening but dead by the morning; one that he was ‘vilely murdered’ with no more details given; one that he ‘either died naturally or by the violence of others'; one that ‘he died, in what manner is not known, but God knows it’.  Others state simply that he died at Berkeley without speculating how, and others admit that they have no idea what happened to him.  Adam Murimuth, who was a royal clerk and the only chronicler anywhere near Berkeley Castle in September 1327 (he was a hundred miles away in Exeter), wrote at first that Edward was murdered ‘by a trick’ and later that he was suffocated.

The infamous ‘red-hot poker’ story appears in the Brut of the 1330s and Geoffrey le Baker and the Polychronicon in the 1350s, and chroniclers of the later fourteenth century tended to copy this idea.  The story was popularised by Christopher Marlowe in his c. 1592 play about Edward II and has generally been repeated as certain ‘fact’ ever since.  It is anything but.  As we have seen, only a handful of contemporary or near-contemporary chroniclers repeated the story and are far outnumbered by the chroniclers who did not.  Assuming that Edward was murdered in September 1327 at all, it makes little sense for his murderers to have tried out a sadistic method they couldn’t have known would work and which probably wouldn’t have killed him immediately anyway.  The rationale usually given for this vilely sadistic method is contradictory: that it was chosen because it would leave no marks on the body to give away the fact that Edward had been murdered, but then, it makes no sense that Gurney and Ockley would inflict such torture on him so that his screams could be heard for miles around the castle and make it obvious what was happening within.  Another explanation often given for the red-hot poker torture and murder is that it was a punishment for Edward II’s sexuality, that he received his just desserts for being the passive partner in sexual acts with men (though we have no way of knowing the reality of Edward’s sex life).

In my opinion, the whole tale of Edward II’s murder by red-hot poker is an absurdity, a piece of salacious gossip which has been repeated over and over because it is so lurid and disgusting.  As we see above, it is emphatically not the case that Edward’s contemporaries and near-contemporaries were universally agreed that this was how he died; it was never given out as official fact; few if any modern historians of the fourteenth century accept the story as certain truth.  It is far more likely that Edward was suffocated, perhaps after being sedated, and in fact it is entirely possible that he was not killed in September 1327 at all.  Between 1328 and 1330, a large number of influential men, including Edward’s half-brother the earl of Kent, the earls of Mar and Buchan, the mayor and bishop of London and the archbishop of York, strongly believed that Edward was still alive and tried to free him from captivity at Corfe Castle in Dorset.  Kent was executed, the archbishop was hauled before King’s Bench, and numerous other men were arrested or fled the country, and their lands and goods seized.  In the 1330s an Italian bishop wrote a long letter to Edward III explaining how Edward II had escaped from Berkeley and ended up in Italy.  Edward II’s fate is mysterious, but we can be almost 100% certain that it did not involve a red-hot poker.

Further Reading

- Kathryn Warner, Edward II: The Unconventional King (2014)





- Seymour Phillips, Edward II (2010)

- Ian Mortimer, Edward III: The Perfect King (2006) and Medieval Intrigue: Decoding Royal Conspiracies (2010)



Hello Tudor Fan Page!

This post is for the lovely lady who admins the Tudor Fan Page on Facebook, who wanted to give her readers a quick & dirty summation of the theory that Henry VIII’s blood was positive for the Kell antigen and that he subsequently developed McLeod syndrome.

Most people don’t know it, but red blood cells have other antigens than just the ABO that determine your blood type. One of these antigens, the Kell antigen, can cause problems in pregnancy if fetus is Kell positive and the mother is not. The mother’s body attacks the fetus as “foreign” tissue and the baby is either miscarried later in the pregnancy, born dead, or born prematurely and then died of hemolytic disease of the newborn (HDN). Until 1963 nothing could be done to save the baby. The first baby is usually okay because the mother’s antibodies doesn’t typically kick in until the second pregnancy.

To have a Kell positive fetus in an Kell negative woman requires that the father be a Kell positive man who gave the fetus a Kell positive gene. Less than 10% of men have the Kell antigen in England, so it’s not a common problem but it isn’t rare, either.  If Henry had Kell positive blood, it would explain why his wives kept loosing babies late in the pregnancy or shortly after birth. Any baby that didn’t get the Kell antigen gene from Henry would be healthy, which is why his daughter Mary survived despite being the fifth child born.  All the rest of Henry’s surviving children (proven or in theory) were the first and/or only pregnancy of his partner. Any woman with whom he definitely had more than one pregnancy (Catharina of Aragon and Anne Boleyn) had multiple reproductive tragedies.

If the king had Kell positive blood, then he might have developed the rare condition known as McLeod syndrome. Onset of this disease is always around the 40th birthday, and gets worse over time. There are many, MANY symptoms of McLeod syndrome and patients tend to have them to varying degrees. Sometimes the symptoms involve a personality change so severe it is misdiagnosed as schizophrenia. Up until 1531, Henry’s 40th birthday, the king was still trying to use diplomacy to sort out his tangled love life. He grew increasingly fractious after that and in 1535 he started to slaughter people who opposed him. By 1536 he was so paranoid he thought Anne Boleyn had slept with more than 100 men and he had her beheaded for treason. It was nothing but downhill from there. When he died in 1547 he was a monster who had killed most of his relatives and friends. Sadly, his first 40 years of genial rule are forgotten and only the despotism of his later life is remembered.

If you want to read a slightly more detailed summery of the theory, you can find it in an article on Science Daily.

If you want all the details plus the context and medical history, you can buy my book Blood Will Tell: A Medical Explanation for the Tyranny of Henry VIII in either paperback or for an e-reader.

Happy reading, Tudor Fan Page!

How to make Edward II funny!

I recently stumbled across a historical blog whose post reduced me to tears of mirth. Literally, I laughed out loud and scared my dogs. The post was titled “The Support Group For People Unfairly Maligned In Historical Fiction” and it was one of the most hilarious tongue-in-cheek takedowns of semi-historical fiction I have ever read. Here is a sample:

Elizabeth I: Hello, everyone, England’s greatest queen here. There’s one idiot, I mean author, who seems to think that I – who never married, and was attended at just about every step of the way even when I was queen – managed to pop out six kids without anyone noticing. And I thought I’d scotched that stupid pregnant-by-Thomas-Seymour rumour at the time, but 460 years later people are still banging on about it.

Anne Boleyn: Where to start with my unfair vilification? I did not commit adultery. I sure as heck did not commit incest. (Sex with my brother?? There is not enough ewwww in my vocabulary.) I was not a serial killer, or a poisoner. Or convicted of witchcraft. I did not miscarry a deformed foetus. Neither was I deformed myself. Because of course Henry VIII would have spent seven years trying to get his marriage to the Holy Roman Emperor’s aunt annulled so he could marry someone hideously disfigured. Makes perfect sense.

Mark Smeaton: Well, apparently, I was Queen Anne Boleyn’s intellectually below-average socially inept fanpoodle. Or George Boleyn’s equally socially inept boytoy. I keep forgetting which.
George Boleyn: Well in this one here, it seems you’re both.

Mark Smeaton: Seriously? Let me see that. *flips pages* Wow. It even has me coming on to you in public! Because, people totally did that all the time in the 1530s, and everyone else would have been okay with it. Riiiight. That’s totally not anachronistic at all. *rolls eyes* I mean, really – somehow the fact that you gave me a gift of a book is evidence not of a patron/protégé type friendship, but that we were at it like rabbits? Good Lord. That’s definitely putting two and two together to make 567.

Katherine Howard: I’ll see your affair with George Boleyn and raise you … wait for it … Anne of Cleves and me. And no, we’re not going to act out that scene with the honey jar for you lot, so don’t even think about it.

The better you know your history, the funnier you’ll think the post is. Its author, Kathryn Warner, has a book out now about entitled Edward II: The Unconventional King and I will definitely be buying it! I’ll be sure to review it for you all!

Happy Birthday Katie Bug!

On this day in history (1992) the best thing that had ever happened to me up until that point occurred. My goddaughter, code named Katie Bug for her protection, burst forth from her mothers loins and promptly peed on the doctor. I was there, and having seen the episiotomy they had given her poor mom, I was happy about that.

She was, to me, beautiful from the second she emerged. I am apparently someone who thinks vernex, slime, blood, and an attached umbilical cord add a certain éclat to one’s look. I have to admit that she was even prettier after they got her cleaned up, though. If nothing else, her strawberry blond hair was now more visible. For the first six months she is scowling in every baby photo I have of her, but it is a charming scowl.

Katie Bug was a serious child. I would make a joke, then she would look at me solemnly and explain – using small words – why I was wrong and/or an imbecilic. Come to think of it, she spends a lot of time making that same expression as an adult too.

My goddaughter turned out to be brilliant, as well. Although to be honest she ate strawberry chapstick when she was a kid and for a while there I was starting to wonder if she was right in the head. Turns out she had plenty of brains. Just not the kind of brains that would discourage eating chapstick. On the plus side, I did teach her to say, “Do not try to oppress me with your patriarchal baloney!” by the time she was three.

The Bug is unoppressable still today, so that was a win.

I love you, Katie Bug. I hope you have a WONDERFUL birthday!!