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  • Elizabeth I’s Final Years – Her Favourites & Her Fighting men


    Elizabeth I’s Final Years outlines the interwoven relationships and rivalries between politicians and courtiers surrounding England’s omnipotent queen in the years following the death in 1588 of the Earl of Leicester. Elizabeth now surrounded herself with magnetically attractive younger men with the courtly graces to provide her with what Anna Beer has called ‘an eroticised political relationship’.

    With these ‘favourites’ holding sway at court, they saw personal bravery in the tiltyard or on military exploits as their means to political authority. They failed to appreciate that the parsimonious queen would always resist military aggression and resolutely backed her meticulously cautious advisors, William Cecil, Lord Burghley, and later his son Robert.

    With its access to New World treasure, it was Spain who threatened the fragile balance of power in Continental Europe. With English military intervention becoming inevitable, the Cecils diverted the likes of Walter Raleigh and the Earl of Essex, despite their lack of military experience, away from the limelight at court into colonial and military expeditions, leaving them just short of the resources needed for success. The favourites’ promotions caused friction when seasoned soldiers, like Sir Francis Vere with his unparalleled military record in the Low Countries, were left in subordinate roles.

    When Spanish support for rebellion in Ireland threatened English security, Robert Cecil encouraged Elizabeth to send Essex, knowing that high command was beyond his capabilities. Essex retorted by rebelling against Cecil’s government, for which he lost his head.

    Both Elizabeth and Cecil realised that only the bookish Lord Mountjoy, another favourite, had the military acumen to resolve the Irish crisis, but his mistress, Essex’s sister, the incomparable Penelope Rich, was mired by involvement in her brother’s conspiracy. Despite this, Cecil gave Mountjoy unstinting support, biding his time to tarnish his name with James I, as he did against Raleigh and his other political foes.

  • Elizabeth I’s Secret Lover – Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester


    In many respects Dudley was the most significant figure of his age. As a great impresario, he showed Elizabeth off to her people to glittering effect and became the forerunner of Shakespearian theatre, combining classicism with ribaldry. He attracted the financing of Drake’s circumnavigation. He was the supporter of academic endeavour, of poetry, and of Puritan scholarship. By employing a network of his own agents, he provided information of crucial importance to Government. He built some of the finest houses and gardens of the age. As Master of the Horse, he developed English bloodstock to provide horses for Royal and military requirements. He saw to it that England’s navy and army was properly prepared to meet Continental aggression when needed.

    Lord Robert Dudley has faced criticism from historians by competing with William Cecil to gain the ear of Elizabeth I and thwarting his efforts to arrange a political marriage for her to protect against Continental Catholic aggression. There can be no doubt that Elizabeth wanted to marry him. He was devastatingly attractive, athletic and loyal. The text provides compelling evidence that the ‘virgin queen’ spent time in bed with him.

    An influential and important character of the Elizabethan age, this biography places Robert Dudley within the context of the time and how he navigated court as the favourite of the infamous Elizabeth I.

  • Hunting from Hampstead


    Robert’s first book ‘Hunting from Hampstead‘ (Book Guild, 2002), came about after he inherited a bundle of perfectly preserved watercolour sketch books in his mother’s estate. Each page was filled with beautiful, illustrated drawing of hunting and country life. Further research showed that they had been drawn at the turn of the century by Cecil Stedall, his great Uncle. ‘Hunting from Hampstead‘ tells the story of Cecil and his brothers, who hunted from the family home in Hampstead, and travelled to Palestine with their horses to fight in the First World War. It was illustrated throughout with Cecil’s drawings and photographs taken by his mother. The book was warmly received and offers a fascinating window into a family’s life at the turn of the 20th century.

    Hunting from Hampstead – Robert Stedall (Book Guild 2002)

    He later embarked on Men of Substance – The London Livery Companies’ Reluctant part in the Plantation of Ulster published by Austin Macauley in 2016. Having been Master of the Ironmongers’ Livery Company in 1989, he was well-placed to access the voluminous Livery Company records to provide an account of their estates in Co. Londonderry from about 1610 to c. 1900. The story is set withing the context of Irish history during the period of British settlement in Ireland with all its religious and political repercussions, which led to partition and the ‘troubles’ of more recent times.

    Before retirement, Robert Stedall spent his professional career as a chartered accountant and finance director. He was educated at Marlborough College and graduated from McGill University in Montreal. He is a keen gardener, sailor and occasional poet.

  • Mary Queen of Scots Downfall


    The Life and Murder of Henry, Lord Darnley

    In the early hours of 10 February 1567, a large explosion ripped through the Old Provost’s lodging at Kirk o’ Field, Edinburgh, where Mary Queen of Scot’s consort, Henry Lord Darnley, was staying. Darnley’s body was found with that of his valet in a neighbouring garden the next morning. The Queen’s husband had been suffocated and the ramifications for Mary and Scottish history would be far-reaching.

    Lord Darnley cuts an infamous figure in Scottish and Tudor history. In life he proved a controversial character, and his murder at Kirk o’ Field in 1567 remains one of British history’s great unsolved mysteries – establishing whether Mary was implicated has taxed historians ever since.

    In this engaging and well-researched biography, Robert Stedall re-examines Darnley’s life and his murder. It is not to be missed; his investigation brings new light and compelling conclusions to a story surrounded by political betrayal, murder, falsified evidence and conspiracy.

  • Mary Queen of Scots’ Secretary


    William Maitland, Politician, Reformer and Conspirator

    Maitland was the most able politician and diplomat during the lifetime of Mary Queen of Scots. It was he who master-minded the Scottish Reformation by breaking the ‘Auld Alliance’ with France, which presaged Scotland’s lasting union with England.

    Although he gained English support to defeat French troops defending Mary’s Scottish throne, he backed her return to Scotland, as the widowed Queen of France. His attempts to gain recognition for her as heir to the English crown were thwarted by her determined adherence to Catholicism.

    After her re-marriage, he spearheaded the plotting to bring down her objectionable husband, Lord Darnley, leading to his murder, after concluding that English and Scottish interests were best served by creating a Protestant regency for their son, Prince James. With encouragement from Cecil in England and the Protestant Lords in Scotland, he concocted evidence to implicate her in her husband’s murder, resulting in her imprisonment and deposition from the Scottish throne.

    Despite her escape to England, he remained personally loyal to her and attempted to conjure Scottish support for her restoration by backing her allies holding Edinburgh Castle on her behalf. When it fell in 1573, he resorted to suicide.

  • Men of Substance – The London Livery Companies’ Relunctant Part in the Plantation of Ulster


    Is it generally realised that Londonderry with its impregnable fortifications was built by the City of London? Is it known that a second Spanish Armada landed in Kinsale in 1601, with every expectation of Irish rebel support to push the English out of Ireland? Had it succeeded, Ireland would have become a Spanish dominion.

    The English objective was to subdue Ireland’s dogmatically Catholic Gaelic chieftains to prevent it becoming a bridgehead for a foreign invasion of Britain. Attempts to impose English government and the Anglican religion faced determined resistance from a population alien in language, custom and creed. The English solution was to expropriate ancestral Gaelic lands for settlement by waves of colonists to ‘civilise the natives’. These included Presbyterians from Scotland who had no more sympathy with Anglican rites than the Catholic Irish.

    In 1610, James I needed ‘Men of Substance’ to bring to heel Ulster’s belligerent chieftains, who had Spanish support. He coerced the City of London into colonising County Londonderry, then the most belligerent part of Ireland, and into fortifying Londonderry and Coleraine. The Londoners set up The Irish Society to administer the project and required the London Livery Companies to fund it. With insufficient settlers arriving to establish control, they needed to retain local Irish assistance. Frustrated that plantation objectives were not being met, Charles I expropriated their estates, causing the Londoners to support Parliament in the Civil War, which cost Charles I his head. Meanwhile, in 1641, Irish rebels destroyed the Londoners’ former settlements. It was only the walls of Londonderry, which prevented them from re-asserting complete control.

    During the Commonwealth, Cromwell arrived in Ireland to restore English rule, allowing the Londoners to return. When the Irish, with French assistance, backed James II against William III’s ‘Glorious Revolution’, settlers again came under attack. Their great hardship during the siege of Londonderry bought time for William III to amass a huge force to restore order.
    In this early period, the Companies let their estates to head lessees, often absentees, who milked them until the tenantry could no longer subsist. The only safety valve was emigration. Huge numbers, initially Protestant, but later of Catholic Irish, seething with anger, left for America and Canada. For those remaining, deprivation, starvation and disease only inflamed Presbyterian and Catholic rivalries.

    At last, in the 19th Century, the Companies resumed direct control, beginning a period of unparalleled munificence, building towns, modernising farming, funding schools, churches and medical care and reclaiming wasteland. Yet, starting in the 1870s, calls for Irish Home Rule were coupled with demands for tenants’ rights. Despite landowner resistance, pressure on Parliament to fund tenant ownership became overwhelming. The Companies were high-profile targets, and by 1900 they had sold up. While The Irish Society continues to provide welfare locally, sectarian rivalry rumbles on. More recent conflict is understandable, even if difficult to condone.

  • The Challenge to the Crown


    May Queen of Scots – Volume I:
    The Struggle for Influence in the Reign of Mary Queen of Scots 1542-1567

    Mary Queen of Scots: Catholic martyr or manipulative femme fatale?

    On 10 February 1567, conspirators bent on killing Henry, Lord Darnley, King-Consort of Mary Queen of Scots successfully razed his Edinburgh residence at Kirk o’ Field in a huge explosion. Soon afterwards, Darnley’s partially-clothed body was discovered in a nearby orchard, strangled to death by an unknown assailant.

    Rumours of Mary’s involvement in his murder quickly surfaced. Placards across Edinburgh implied that she had provoked the Earl of Bothwell into killing her husband in a crime of passion. This became more plausible when she tried to avoid having to prosecute him for the murder, and subsequently married him, encouraged by her most senior Protestant nobles.

    While Mary’s motives for the marriage might be explained by her need for his protection, those of the nobility who had encouraged it are confusing. Why would they want a union, which would inevitably place Bothwell, a man they hated, as head of government? Was their motive to associate her in the murder plot?

    Mary’s involvement in Darnley’s murder has remained one of the great historical mysteries. Genealogist and historian, Robert Stedall has spent ten years researching the inter-marriages within the Scottish peerage to provide an explanation for their motives in removing Mary from the throne. In this first volume, of his two volume history of Mary and James, he explains in vivid detail the switching allegiances of the nobility, and can reveal for the first time, the gripping true story of Mary’s downfall and imprisonment.

    The second volume “The Survival of the Crown” deals with Mary’s imprisonment and execution in England, and James’s reign in Scotland, until he also became King of England in 1603. It was published by the Book Guild on 27 February 2014.

  • The Roots of Ireland’s Troubles


    If the objective of colonisation should be the establishment of economic benefit, in Ireland it was to enforce order. Settlers were required to usurp the traditional lands of its indigenous population. Their attempts to enforce Protestantism in all its forms onto the dogmatically Catholic locality were doomed to failure. With unrest continuing, Ireland became the battleground for the English Civil War fought out between Royalist and Parliamentarian to the detriment of its people.

    The availability of cheap Irish labour soon led to calls to protect English agricultural prices. Fears that Irish goods would undercut English production costs led to calls to prevent the development of an Irish industrial revolution, despite the desperate need to employ the surplus rural population. This inevitably led to famine. No one believed the problem which was unfolding despite all the efforts of Nationalist politicians. English land owners in Parliament were only concerned to protect landlord interests and to score points off their political opponents. If home rule could not be delivered by political means, it was inevitable that it would be delivered by force.

    Inextricably linked with the history of Britain, Stedall guides the reader through Ireland’s turbulent but rich history. To understand the causes behind the twentieth-century conflict, which continues to resonate today, we must look to the long arc of history in order to truly understand the historical roots of a nation’s conflict.

  • The Survival of the Crown


    May Queen of Scots – Volume II:
    The Return to Authority of the Scottish Crown following Mary Queen of Scots’ Deposition from the Throne 1567-1603

    In this follow-up to “The Challenge to the Crown“, the second, and concluding, part of his masterly account of Mary Queen of Scots, and her son James VI of Scotland, Robert Stedall takes us from the aftermath of the Earl of Bothwell’s murder, through Mary’s imprisonment and execution, to James eventual coronation as James I of England. En route, he skillfully leads us through the murky labyrinth of Renaissance politics, revealing a world in which few, if any, could afford to remain innocent.

    In this volume, James moves to centre-stage and his complex, neurotic personality is explored. What exactly was his relationship with his mother, removed from his side at such an early age, and how can we explain his seeming lack of feeling for her fate?

    Meticulously researched, beautifully written and handsomely illustrated, The Survival of the Crown is a magnificent conclusion to Robert Stedall’s illuminating account of a crucial turning point in British history.