Sunday, 9 May 2010

May 8th, 1536: Radix malorum est cupiditas

"For they that will become rich, fall into temptation, and into the snare of the devil, and into many unprofitable and hurtful desires, which drown men into destruction and perdition."
- 1st Timothy, Chapter 6, Verse 9

After breakfast on May 8th, 1536, the 16 year-old Duke of Richmond sat down in one of his London mansions to write a letter to the Bishop of Lincoln. The young duke - christened Henry FitzRoy - was King Henry VIII's only acknowledged illegitimate child, the product of a love affair between the king and a pretty young lady-in-waiting, Elizabeth Blount, carried out at the end of the 1510s. The royal bastard was one of only three men to hold the coveted title of a duke - the highest rank in the English aristocracy - the others were the Queen's uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, and the King's former brother-in-law, the Duke of Suffolk; a fourth, the Duke of Buckingham, had been executed for treason in 1521. As well as being Duke of Richmond, the teenager was also Duke of Somerset and Earl of Nottingham - thus making him, unquestionably, the highest-rank aristocrat in the kingdom.

Slim and handsome, throughout the scandal surrounding the Queen, the Duke of Richmond deftly avoided commenting on his stepmother's presumed guilt, except when in his father's presence. It was not just that his marriage to Lady Mary Howard, the Queen's cousin, had been arranged at the Queen's behest three years earlier, but Richmond had also been politically involved with one of her accused lovers, Sir William Brereton, and another, Sir Richard Page, had been in his service for half a decade.

The subject of the duke's letter to the Bishop of Lincoln was not, however, to plead for Sir Richard or Sir William, but rather to ask a favour. The duke had a man in his service called Giles Forster - a gifted intellectual whom the teenage aristocrat both liked and admired. He knew that Sir Henry Norris was imprisoned in the Tower and that one of his positions was High Steward of the University of Oxford. Forster was an Oxford man and the Duke would consider it a great favour if the Bishop of Lincoln could secure the stewardship for him once Norris was dead. In a rather feeble attempt to cover up the mercenary intent of his letter, Richmond explained that he was just being practical because, although Norris had not yet stood trial, everyone knew that "there is no way but one" in which such a trial could end. The Bishop, who had the unenviable task of being King Henry VIII's confessor, had considerable influence at Oxford, and he wrote back to the duke promptly, but with regret. Unfortunately, the conservative bishop had already promised the stewardship to Thomas Cromwell - perhaps as a means of deflecting the hawk-eyed secretary from enquiring too much into the bishop's theological preferences, which remained much closer to Rome than home.

By now, the scrambling for places and incomes shown in the Duke of Richmond's letter was by no means uncommon. Neither was his chilling dismissal of the very idea that the accused would get a fair trial, let alone live to tell the tale. The letters dispatched by the government to notify the regional authorities of the Queen's crimes had arrived in all their intended locations by May 8th - Dublin and York were the last two places to receive the official proclamations. Parliament had already been informed that it would have to reconvene to ratify a change in the Succession and the MPs were required to return to London.

From Wales, the Bishop of Coventry, President of the Council of Wales and the Marches, wrote back to the capital, acknowledging receipt of the official letters notifying them of the "scandal, danger, detriment and derogation" of the Queen's actions. The President-Bishop had been the officiating priest at the marriage between King Henry and Queen Anne at Whitehall in January 1533 - following medieval royal custom, it was the second of the two Nuptial Masses celebrated for the couple. In any case, the Bishop had a high opinion of the Queen and unlike many, he managed to avoid condemning her now. Aside from their Lord-President's personal fondness for the Queen, the Council itself had also had many past dealings with Sir William Brereton, one of her "lovers," as well as with two others, Sir Richard Page and Sir Henry Norris. So, whilst the Bishop and the Welsh Council certainly couldn't come out and query the government's integrity in arresting the Queen, they did manage to suggest that there was still room for doubt: "The news in this letter," they said in their reply, "is very doleful to this Council and all the liege people of the realm - God forbid it should be true."

The Bishop of Coventry and the Council of Wales and the Marches were, however, the exception, not the rule. Like the Duke of Richmond, everybody else seemed to take the news of the eight arrests as a carte blanche to get as much money, influence, land and titles for themselves or for their friends as was humanly possible. On the same day as the Duke's letter and the Welsh Council's response, John Hussee arrived in London and immediately took lodgings near Westminster. An able and conscientious lawyer, Mr. Hussee was currently in the employ of Viscount Lisle, Governor of Calais, then an English colony. The Governor was the King's uncle and upon hearing news of the Queen's arrest, he swiftly dispatched his solicitor to London to make sure that he too could participate in the division of spoils which the fall of the Boleyns was presenting. (The Governor was an illegitimate son of the King's grandfather, King Edward IV; his mother was a commoner, described by one unimpressed chronicler as "a wanton wench".)

The Governor's wife, Lady Honor, had enjoyed fairly close ties with the Queen's Household, following a state visit to Calais by the royal couple in 1532. As such, he was now eager to put as much distance between his family and the unfortunate Boleyns; Mr. Hussee carried a letter from his employer to Thomas Cromwell lamenting the Queen's "most mischievous, heinous and most abominable treasons against his most gracious and royal crown". There was also a letter for the King, but whilst Cromwell took the letter from Hussee on Lord Lisle's behalf, he informed him that under no circumstances did the King wish to be bothered with letters and petitions at this difficult time.

In his study at Westminster, Thomas Cromwell was beginning to feel the pressure of the case against the Boleyns. His visit to the Tower two days earlier, coupled with the daily reports coming in from Sir William Kingston, must have shown him that whilst the Queen had wobbled, she had not cracked like they might have hoped. The tactics of surrounding her with unfriendly faces, withholding information about her friends and family, refusing to give her the full details of what she would be tried for and denying her access to her own servants had certainly upset and occasionally infuriated her, but it had not made her any more afraid of the government, or inclined to co-operate. If anything, she seemed to be taking it as some kind of challenge. There was also the issue of the logistics of the trial - only Cromwell, and possibly Sir William Fitzwilliam, knew the full details of what was true and what wasn't and so it was vital that he kept on top of things. The trial of Sir Henry Norris, Sir William Brereton, Sir Francis Weston and Mark Smeaton were due to take place on Friday and the Grand Jury, the evidence, the alleged dates of their adultery and treason, all needed to be arranged without drawing too much attention to the gaping holes in the Crown's case. Cromwell also had a rising tide of public disapproval about the Queen's imprisonment to quell and various pamphlets lampooning both the King and Jane Seymour were beginning to circulate in the city; if the King found out, he would be furious. And added to all this, Cromwell also had to continue fielding the dozens of letters arriving asking that when the money and jobs of the Queen's so-called lovers were divided up, Cromwell would use his "good mediation and furtherance" to help his friends and supporters, all of whom were now declaring their inviolable loyalty to him in the same fulsome terms they had once used in letters to Anne Boleyn.


  1. Happy belated birthday! This is a splendid post, with the Duke of Richmond's prediction--we know how this is going to turn out. Lots of offices and benefactions up for grabs and people lining up. Quite chilling, really and very well described.

  2. Thank you, Stephanie. I have to agree, I found the Duke's quote about the inevitability of Henry Norris's fate very chilling and wanted to centre the May 8th post around it. Hope you enjoy today's, which I'll do once I'm home from my tutoring - it's about Henry VIII's first official appearance after his wife's arrest and the formal notification to the aristocracy of the Queen's detention.


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