I know this is the Contemporary Romance Café. Ninety-nine per cent of the time I am a contemporary romance writer. Fact is I’ve always found history to be totally boring. My eyes glaze over when the Revolutionary War crops up. Medieval times, beyond the romance of knights in shining armor, put me to sleep.
That’s why my admission to becoming an amateur history sleuth is so shocking. It began at my cousin’s insistence that I look through the family tree she’d assembled on Ancestry.com. At the emergence of the first dozen little green leaves (history hints) I was hooked. Every fluttering leaf beckoned me to see where it led and excitedly I followed.
As the green leaves began to populate my Boleyn and Cromwell trees, it was apparent several members of both families were notorious and their fates were sealed rather unpleasantly. Nothing like a juicy mystery to get the ancestor adrenalin flowing. On the Cromwell side, my 17th great grandfather, John Smyth Cromwell appeared in 1338. Geoffrey Boleyn, my 14th great grandfather was born in 1380; the first Boleyn in the tree. I must admit, for someone who avoided even the mention of “history,” I had heard of the Cromwells and the Boleyns.
Without trotting out all of my dusty Boleyn family members and boring you, I will share the two most important, my 1st cousin, 13 times removed, Queen Anne Boleyn. Anne is the daughter of my 12th great grand uncle, Thomas Boleyn. Queen Elizabeth I, Anne and King Henry VIII’s daughter, is my 2nd cousin, 12 times removed.
Out of my Cromwell family tree, Sir Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England, is the most infamous.
I was ready to meet my ancestors. My husband and I headed to London. Our first stop was Westminster Abbey. We had seen several family plaques and Elizabeth I’s beautiful marble vault. I was excited to see my Cromwell relative’s final resting place. Throughout the Abbey there were black robed gentlemen, much like watchful ravens, available to answer questions. Feeling a bit puffed up by my celebrity relatives, I asked one the ravens where Sir Oliver Cromwell was buried. He gave out a dry gleeful cackle and I knew what he had to say was not going to be pleasant.
“Yes,” the raven answered. “He was buried here in a splendid vault in Henry VII’s chapel but when Charles II was restored to the throne, Cromwell was dug up and hung on the gallows at Tyburn. After the hanging, his head was cut off and stuck on a spike outside Westminster Hall,” he ended with a flourish.
I knew Oliver was a bad ass but really? You can only die once, for heaven’s sake. Horrified, I mumbled my thanks and my husband and I continued our walk. My goodness the English were bloodthirsty. I always thought they were so polite.
On to the Boleyns. My cousin Anne Boleyn (1507-1536) grew up at Hever Castle, our next destination. It was at Hever where I experienced an epiphany, a connection of sorts. The castle was beautiful and well restored. It seemed like a comfortable family home, without a cavernous great hall, or generations of tattered banners hanging from the rafters. On this day, it was almost empty.
Unconsciously, perhaps, I was searching for something Anne had touched, that I could touch, too. Then I saw it. Just outside Ann’s chamber encased in a glass box on the wall was a letter she wrote to her husband, King Henry, while she was imprisoned in the Tower awaiting her fate. I framed the glass with my hands and read. This wasn’t abstract. This was Anne, my cousin, my blood. She’d put pen to paper and begged to know the charges against her. She pleaded for the good men imprisoned because of her to be set free and asked there be no prejudice against her young daughter, Elizabeth.
When I finished reading her letter my cheeks were covered in tears and my throat was tight with emotion. She had touched me and in that moment I was filled with great sadness but also pride, for her bravery and grace in accepting her inevitable fate.
Ironically, it was one of my Cromwell relatives, Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex (1485 –1540), who was instrumental in Anne’s downfall. Four years after her execution he got his comeuppance and was beheaded at the Tower; his head was put on a spike on London Bridge.
Must go, have dozens of green leaves hinting at a Cromwell wedding
in the New World.
Christy McKee began her career in TV news and eventually found her way into advertising and finally fiction, her heart’s desire. She believes a good story should be about characters that win your heart, sometimes move you to tears and occasionally make you laugh. As a reader, Christy hopes you’ll be swept into her characters’ lives, enjoy getting to know them, experience the challenges they must face and be with them until they reach their happily ever after. Christy lives with her family in the beautiful Ohio country side.