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The Armourer's 'Prentices title page

Summary and publication details     Charlotte Yonge's own preface 
Online text of The Armourer's 'Prentices     Charlotte Yonge's historical sources

Publication details, summary and further reading

(Text kindly supplied by Amy de Gruchy)


October 1883-August 1884, serialized in The English Illustrated Magazine.
1884, published by Macmillan.


The tale is set in the reign of Henry VIII. On the death of their father, a New Forest Verderer, his younger sons, Ambrose and Stephen Birkenholt, lose their home and travel to London in search of their mother's brother. In his youth he was suspected of deer stealing and had to leave the Forest, but was now said to hold a good position in the household of the Archbishop of York, the future Cardinal Wolsey. On their journey the brothers earn the gratitude of a London armourer, Giles Headley, whom they save from robbers. They find their uncle, but are humiliated to learn that he is Wolsey's jester, though this is an influential position.

Ambrose has a religious conversion, and in time becomes a clerk to Sir Thomas More. Stephen is apprenticed to the armourer. Years pass, Stephen falls in love with his master's daughter, but she is betrothed to another apprentice, Giles Headley the younger, her father's godson and heir. At the Field of the Cloth of Gold this Giles and Stephen are both tempted to join a band of mercenaries. Giles succumbs, partly to escape his betrothal, for he loves a gentle Arab girl, but Stephen remains true to his master, who rewards him with the hand of his daughter, and makes him his heir.

Ten years later Wolsey dies in disgrace, and his loyal jester returns to the New Forest, where he becomes a prosperous and respected farmer. In 1535 Sir Thomas More also falls from royal favour, and is executed. Giles Headley returns, steadied by his military experiences. Moved by the plea of his Aldonza, a servant in the More household, and aided by Ambrose and Stephen, he removes the head of Sir Thomas from London Bridge.

The elder brother of the Birkenholts dies, and Ambrose soon follows him. Stephen thus inherits his old home in the Forest, and the office of Verderer, and Giles, who has married Aldonza, is reinstated as the heir to the armourer.

The theme therefore is dispossession and repossession. Giles, Stephen and his uncle repossess the good fortune they had lost, partly through their own faults. Ambrose is dispossessed of his unthinking faith by contact with worldly priests and monks, but gains a deeper and stronger belief from the teaching of Dean Colet and the Reformers, and the example of Sir Thomas More.

The large cast of fictitious characters are convincing, and of the historical ones, King Henry springs to life. There is no sustained plot but a succession of interesting incidents. Real events and persons are accurately shown, but through the eyes of ordinary folk who are affected by them, and who would not recognize their historical significance. The moral teaching is implicit rather than explicit, with circumstances rather than conscience moulding and improving the characters. According to the Preface, C.M. Yonge's aim was "to sketch citizen life in the early Tudor days", and in this she seems to have been successful.

Further Reading

For contemporary reviews see:

L. Madden
J.B. Shorthouse and C.M. Yonge
Unpublished thesis
University of London Diploma in Librarianship, 1964.

Stella Waring
'A passion for history',
Charlotte M. Yonge Fellowship Journal, 1999, pp. 23-24.

Charlotte Yonge's own Preface to The Armourer's 'Prentices

I have attempted here to sketch citizen life in the early Tudor days, aided therein by Stowe's Survey of London, supplemented by Mr. Loftie's excellent history, and Dr. Burton's English Merchants.

Stowe gives a full account of the relations of apprentices to their masters; though I confess that I do not know whether Edmund Burgess could have become a citizen of York after serving an apprenticeship in London. Evil May Day is closely described in Hall's Chronicle. The ballad, said to be by Churchill, a contemporary, does not agree with it in all respects; but the story-teller may surely have license to follow whatever is most suitable to the purpose. The sermon is exactly as given by Hall, who is also responsible for the description of the King's sports and of the Field of the Cloth of Gold and of Ardres. Knight's admirable Pictorial History of England tells of Barlow, the archer, dubbed by Henry VIII. the King of Shoreditch.

Historic Winchester describes both St. Elizabeth College and the Archer Monks of Hyde Abbey. The tales mentioned as told by Ambrose to Dennet are really New Forest legends.

The Moresco's Arabic Gospel and Breviary are mentioned in Lady Calcott's History of Spain, but she does not give her authority. Nor can I go further than Knight's Pictorial History for the King's adventure in the marsh. He does not say where it happened, but as in Stowe's map "Dead Man's Hole" appears in what is now Regent's Park, the marsh was probably deep enough in places for the adventure there. Brand's Popular Antiquities are the authority for the nutting in St. John's Wood on Holy Cross Day. Indeed, in some country parishes I have heard that boys still think they have a license to crack nuts at church on the ensuing Sunday.

Seebohm's Oxford Reformers and the Life of Sir Thomas More, written by William Roper, are my other authorities, though I touched somewhat unwillingly on ground already lighted up by Miss Manning in her Household of Sir Thomas More.

Gait's Life of Cardinal Wolsey afforded the description of his household taken from his faithful Cavendish, and likewise the story of Patch the Fool. In fact, a large portion of the whole book was built on that anecdote.

I mention all this because I have so often been asked my authorities in historical tales, that I think people prefer to have what the French appropriately call pièces justicatives.


August 1st. 1884

Online text of The Armourer's 'Prentices

Click here to reach the latest online version of The Armourer's 'Prentices from Gutenberg

Charlotte Yonge's bibliography for The Armourer's 'Prentices

Where did Yonge get the historical information for her novels?
Here some details of the authors and works that Yonge cites in her Preface to The Armourer's 'Prentices

Many of these details are still quite skimpy – do tell us if you can supply more details (especially websites)!

John Stowe
Survey of London and Westminster 1598
John Stowe (historian 1525 - 1605) was a member of the Society of Antiquaries
Recent paperback edition with introduction by Lady Antonia Fraser 1997
ISBN: 0750908270

Mr. Loftie's excellent history ...
Loftie, W. J. A History of London. 2 vols. 1883–4.

Hall's Chronicle
Edward Hall, died 1547.
Hall's chronicle : containing the history of England during the reign of Henry the Fourth and the succeeding monarchs, to the end of the reign of Henry the Eighth, in which are particularly described the manners and customs of those periods, carefully collated with the editions of 1548 and 1550.

Modern reprints of Hall's Chronicle are available

Maria Graham, later Maria, Lady Calcott (more commonly Callcott)

Maria, Lady Calcott (1785-1842) travelled extensively with her father, Admiral George Dundas, and then with her husband, Captain Thomas Graham, who died in 1822 during their trip to South America. She returned to London in 1824, and in 1827 married Sir Augustus Wall Callcott, the celebrated artist. She died in 1842, after being an invalid for several years. Her many works include travels to India, Rome, Brazil, and Chile; essays on artists; and, her most famous, Little Arthur’s History of England.

John Brand
Observations on Popular Antiquities, chiefly illustrating the origin of our vulgar customs, ceremonies and superstitions.

Brand, John, 1744-1806, antiquary, topographer, and clergyman, was born on 19 August 1744 at Washington, in the county of Durham and educated at Lincoln College, Oxford. On 6 October 1744 he was given the perpetual curacy of Cramlington, a chapel of ease to St. Nicholas at Newcastle. On 29 May 1777 he was elected a fellow in the Society of Antiquaries, later becoming resident secretary. He was appointed to the rectory of the united parishes of St. Mary-at-Hill and St. Mary Hubbard in 1784. He is the author of several works including Observations on the Popular Antiquities of Great Britain (1777). He died on 11 September 1806 in his rectory.

Frederick Seebohm
The Oxford Reformers of 1498 – being a history of the fellow-work of John Colet, Erasmus and Thomas More.
1st ed. London, Longmans, Green, 1867

Manning, Anne (1807–1879)
Household of Sir Thomas More (1851)
" ...a delightful picture of More’s home life told in the form of a diary written by his daughter Margaret."
says one source, while the view from another is " ... a satire on government ... "

(Charlotte Yonge contributed an essay on Anne Manning in Women Novelists of Queen Victoria's Reign, edited by (Emily Frances) Adeline Sergeant (1897))

Life of Cardinal Wolsey

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