Evil May Day 1517

As desperate people come to Europe in the hope of a life in peace, intolerant forces brew. Unfortunately the intolerance is nothing new, as the below text will show, even if the “foreigners” in 16th century London were mainly French, German and Dutch, but even during the 16th century there were voices raised against this intolerance, as the excerpt from Shakespeare´s play about Thomas More, that I have chosen to include in the spirit of the anniversary, as well as a sign that there will always be a voice of reason.

On this day in 1517 a riot, which has gone down in history as Evil May Day, broke out in London. Allegedly it was the reaction to an inflammatory speech held on Easter Tuesday by one Dr Bell at St. Paul´s cross where he had called for all Englishmen to “cherish and defend themselves and to “hurt and grieve aliens for the common weal”.

During the weeks following the hateful speech, there were several attacks on foreigners as well as a rumour saying that on May Day, the city would rebel and slay all aliens.

The rumours worried the mayor and aldermen and they announced a curfew on the night of April 30th. This did not help, or stop the riots, during the night towards May 1st around 1 000 men gathered in Cheapside, freeing prisoners already apprehended for having attacked foreigners in the previous weeks.

Hans_Holbein,_the_Younger_-_Sir_Thomas_More_-_Google_Art_ProjectThe mob proceeded to St. Martin Le Grand, an area north of St. Paul´s Cathedral where several foreign families lived. When arriving there they were confronted by the under-sheriff of London, Thomas More who attempted to calm them down and persuade them to return home, but his attempts to defuse the situation came to nothing when the frightened inhabitants of St. martin started throwing stones and hot water from their windows, something which led to an even more heated situation.

The mob started looting the homes of foreigners, but the riot was over by 3am that same day, and 300 men had been arrested. No one had been killed, and most of the rioters would eventually be pardoned, ironically after a plea to the king from Katherine of Aragon who herself was a foreigner.

However, 13 of the rioters were convicted of treason and executed on May 4th, and a few days later the broker John Lincoln – believed to have been the instigator of the hate speech held during Easter, in that he had persuaded Dr. Bell of “the dangers foreigners posed against those born in London – was executed as well.

Many years later, William Shakespeare would let Thomas More give a speech, partly written in Shakespeare´s own hand and as tragically current today as it would have been on that May Day 499 years ago.

 

Grant them removed, and grant that this your noise

Hath chid down all the majesty of England;

Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,

Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,

Plodding tooth ports and costs for transportation,

And that you sit as kings in your desires,

Authority quite silent by your brawl,

And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;

What had you got? I’ll tell you. You had taught

How insolence and strong hand should prevail,

How order should be quelled; and by this pattern

Not one of you should live an aged man,

For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,

With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,

Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes

Would feed on one another.

……You’ll put down strangers,

Kill them, cut their throats, possess their houses,

And lead the majesty of law in line,

To slip him like a hound. Say now the king

(As he is clement, if th’ offender mourn)

Should so much come to short of your great trespass

As but to banish you, whether would you go?

What country, by the nature of your error,

Should give you harbor? Go you to France or Flanders,

To any German province, to Spain or Portugal,

Nay, any where that not adheres to England,—

Why, you must needs be strangers. Would you be pleased

To find a nation of such barbarous temper,

That, breaking out in hideous violence,

Would not afford you an abode on earth,

Whet their detested knives against your throats,

Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God

Owed not nor made not you, nor that the claimants

Were not all appropriate to your comforts,

But chartered unto them, what would you think

To be thus used? This is the strangers’ case;

And this your mountanish inhumanity.
Sources/copyright

Henry VIII – Lucy Wooding

Playshakespeare.com

Henry VIII – Jasper Ridley,

The Oxford Martyrs

While “Bloody Mary” is a name that didn´t come about until after the death of the woman it´s said to describe, Mary I, and it maybe was an unfair epitaph, there is no avoiding the fact that there were substantial religious persecutions during her reign, much more so than during the brother that preceded her or the sister that succeeded her.

Of all the martyrs she created during her reign, the maybe most notable were Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley and Thomas Cranmer, together known as the Oxford Martyrs.

Born in 1487 Hugh Latimer managed to “cover” three Tudor monarchs, and even if he hadHugh_Latimer_from_NPG seen both up´s and downs during the reign of Henry VIII, whom he managed to provoke in the 1520´s by advocating an English translation of the Bible in a time when Tyndale´s translation of the New Testament had just been banned this resulted in a summons before Thomas Wolsey in 1528 who gave him an admonition and a warning. But the tables would soon turn, and as Wolsey fell from grace, the star of Latimer began to rise as he became one of the leading reformers at Cambridge.

In 1535 he was appointed Bishop at Worchester cathedral where he continued to advocate both reformed teachings as well as the destruction of religious icons. In May 1538, he gave the held the last sermon for the Franciscan friar John Forest before the latter was burned at the stake, the downfall of whom had partially, and ironically, been brought about by Hugh Latimer and Thomas Cranmer at the behest of Thomas Cromwell.

But in a fickle world it was only a year later that Latimer himself was sent to the Tower for opposing Henry´s six articles, something which also resulted in Latimer losing his bishopric. In 1546 he was sent back to the Tower for his ideas on reforms, to be released only when Edward VI ascended to the throne. He was restored to favor and was appointed to a position as a court preacher.

Hugh Latimer´s time in the sun was however as short as the reign of Edward, once Mary became Queen and embarked on her mission to restore the catholic faith, his faith was sealed, and he was arrested together with bishop Nicholas Ridley – the only one to be called bishop of London and Westminster – who was a thorn in Mary´s side no only due to his teachings, but also for his support of Lady Jane Grey. He had also been highly involved in the Vestments controversy with John Hooper in the early 1550´s and a written debate between them represent the first written documentation of a split within British Protestantism.

800px-Nicholas_Ridley_from_NPGWhen it became obvious that Edward VI wouldn´t survive his illness, Nicholas Ridley was highly involved in bringing Jane Grey to the throne instead of Edward´s older sister Mary, and on July 9th 1553 he was at St Paul’s Cross, giving a sermon in which he stressed the fact that both daughters of Henry VIII were indeed bastards.

As we all know, support for Jane faded as Mary was advancing towards London, and on the day Mary was proclaimed queen, Nicholas Ridley was arrested and brought to the Tower together with other supporters’ of Lady Jane. The month of February 1554 was spent dealing with the immediate circle around Jane, and several executions took place, including that of Jane herself. When this was over, time had come to deal with the leaders of the English reformation, something Mary obviously wanted nothing to do with. Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley was sent to the Bocardo prison in Oxford together with Thomas Cranmer.

Thomas Cranmer had assisted Wolsey in the work to have Henry´s marriage to Katherine of Aragon annulled and was allegedly also the one who came up with the idea to gather the opinion on the marital situation from the universities, something that took him on journeysThomas_Cranmer_by_Gerlach_Flicke through a Europe in which some countries had already moved closer to Protestantism, and he got in contact with important figure heads of the reformation, both on this trip and during travels as a resident ambassador to the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, nephew of Kathrine of Aragon. In Cranmer´s mission it was included that he should convince Charles to give his acceptance to the divorce, something which never happened.

 

In 1532 Cranmer was appointed archbishop of Canterbury, and as such he denounced the marriage between Henry and Katherine, going as far as threatening Henry with excommunication if he didn´t stay away from his wife of more than 20 years as well as mother of his only surviving child at this point. This makes it more than credible that when Mary I struck against Cranmer, there was more than accusations of heresy behind her wrath.

The_Martyrs_Memorial_against_the_west_side_of_BalliolDuring the following years, Cranmer would become closer and closer to Henry, and was involved in the downfall of both Thomas Cromwell and Katherine Howard. He led Edward´s funeral on August 8, and just over a month later he was sent to the Tower, and sentenced to death in November that same year, meaning that Cranmer spent longer time than Ridley and Latimer, who were sentenced in April 1555 and burned at the stake in Oxford on October 16th 1555. Thomas Gardiner had been brought there to watch Latimer andMartyrs'_execution_location,_Broad_Street,_Oxford,_Mar_2015 Ridley burn, but he himself wasn´t burned at the stake until six months later on March 21st 1556.

He was however burned in the same spot, and for the three Martyrs a memorial has been erected in Oxford, as well as a cross on Broad Street where the stake is assumed to have been standing.

 

 

 

 

 

Encyclopedia.com

 

Thomas Cranmer – Jasper Ridley

 

Thomas Cranmer, A Life – Diarmaid MacCulloch

 

Hugh Latimer – Harold S. Darby

 

 

Photo: Martyrs Memorial – Ozeye

The king´s fool – Will Somers

Until the the overthrow of Charles I, the tradition of not only court jesters, but also in

the households of prominent noblemen was a common feature, even if the name jester didn´t appear until mid-16th century, among earlier names we would find fol (fool), disour, and bourder The Royal Shakespeare Company has described them as follows:

In ancient times, courts employed fools and by the Middle Ages the jester was a familiar figure. In Renaissance times, aristocratic households in Britain employed licensed fools or jesters, who sometimes dressed as other servants were dressed, but generally wore a motley (of mixed colours or materials) coat, hood with ass’s ears or a red-flannel coxcomb and bells. Regarded as pets or mascots, they served not simply to amuse but to criticize their master or mistress and their guests. Queen Elizabeth is said to have rebuked one of her fools for being insufficiently severe with her. Excessive behaviour, however, could lead to a fool being whipped, as Lear threatens to whip his fool.

There is no wonder that Royal Shakespeare Company has had reason to explore the fool, as they are recurring in several of Shakespeare´s plays. In Twelfth Night, it is stated that the jester is the one who is wise enough to play the fool.

The fools of Elizabeth, or at least one of the, is someone who is the reason for this entire post and I will return to him, but first I want to look at the jester, or the fool, as a cultural phenomenon. Apart from criticizing the king or queen, and –maybe one can say – serving as a kind of conscience for the monarch, the jester also of course provided entertainment such as storytelling, joggling, magic and acrobatics. It could also be the jester who delivered bad news to his or her monarch when no one else dared, something which was maybe facilitated by the ability to play the “fool” and maybe thereby taking the “edge” of the bad tidings.

The jester, of fool, that I hinted at earlier, is of course Will Somers, who was with every Tudor monarch from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I, if even only up until the coronation of Elizabeth.

800px-WillSommers_engraving_300dpiWill Somers was born in Shropshire and had somehow ended up in Calais where he apparently dazzled the merchant Richard Fermour with his humour, because Fermour introduced Will to Henry VIII at Greenwich as early as 1525, and he would not only stay with the king throughout his reign but as I mentioned earlier, server all of his three children, even if retiring after the coronation of Elizabeth.

It seems a genuine friendship grew between the king and fool, maybe fueled by the fact that unlike the nobles, Will Somers never seem to have tried to capitalise on his friendship with the king, something which no doubt was something of a new experience for the king. Even so, the friendship wasn´t entirely without friction, around 10 years after Will Somers had entered the court Sir Nicholas Carew dared him to call queen Anne a ribald and young princess Elizabeth a bastard, something that sent the king into such a flying rage that he threatened to kill the Somers with his own bare hands.

The poor jester had to hide at Carew´s home in Beddington until the king´s anger had abated. Even so, it was around this time the king really started having physical ailments, something which would only grow worse over the years until the time of his death, and while Will Somers obviously could be at the receiving end of Henry´s anger, it is said that he was the only one who could lift the kings spirit when the pain from his ulcers kept him confined to his chamber or made it difficult for him to be in a benign mood.

Towards the end of the king´s life, Will Somers would be one of less than a handful of people to whom Henry VIII shared his most inner thoughts.

When Henry died, one can say that Will Somers was part of the inheritance left to Edward, Mary and Elizabeth, but he had lost his prominent position in relation to the reigning monarch, while it is noted that he made Edward laugh, he was in large parts reduced to a sidekick of Mary´s own Jane the Fool. His last recorded performance was at the coronation of Elizabeth I.

Family_of_Henry_VIII_c_1545

He is believed to be the Will Somers whose death is recorded on June 15th 1560 in the parish of St. Leonard´s, Shoreditch.

 

Fools and jesters at the English Court – John Soutworth

Notes of the Fool – Royal Shakespeare Company

Jester – Encyclopaedia Britannica

King & Court – Alison Weir

The Six Wives of Henry VIII – Alison Weir

 

Images: Wikipedia

It is said that the man in the background of the painting of Henry´s family is believed be Will Somers

The death of Thomas Cromwell

It was on this date that the rapid rise to power came to a definite and brutal end for Thomas Cromwell. AfterThomas Cromwell, Bodleian Library being at the side of Henry VIII for ten years, and at the outskirts of the court circles for even longer, the wheel of fortune stopped turning altogether.

There is however no straight forward explanation to the downfall of Thomas Cromwell, to say it was just due to the highly unsuccessful union with Anne of Cleves, which Cromwell had a very distinct hand in brokering, but it still had played a part in undermining the kings confidence in his most trusted servant. Just like his former master, Thomas Wolsey, more than ten years earlier, Cromwell had failed to grant the kings absolute wishes, in this case delivering a wife that lived up to the king´s expectations.

But this maybe could have been just a minor glitch in their relationship, had not those who had a much stronger desire than Henry VIII to see Thomas Cromwell fall; the men in who´s sides it was a thorn that a man of lowly birth had managed to become so close to the king and thereby stolen a position that several no doubt though rightfully belonged to them. Two of the noblemen that would have no problem seeing Thomas Cromwell fall was Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk and Thomas Wriothesley who also obligingly helped removed his badges when he was arrested during a council meeting on July 10th

Coat_of_arms_of_Sir_Thomas_Cromwell,_1st_Baron_Cromwell,_KGAnother factor that was to be part of the reasons for Thomas Cromwell´s downfall was religion. Some people like to think that Henry was the fore bearer of Protestantism, which in no way was the case, Henry VIII was never anything but catholic, even if he obviously had views on how things were run in the church and, also obviously, had no interest in being told what to do by the Pope. But Thomas Cromwell on the other hand had protestant inclinations, and this is why the foremost accusation against Thomas Cromwell was that of heresy. He was not only accused of being a Sacramentarian – that is to say belonging to a group of Christians that not only rejected the Roman Catholic idea that the blood and wine during communion actually become the blood and flesh of Christ, but also rejected the Lutheran idea of the Sacramental Union, that the bread and wine represents a union with the blood and flesh of Christ – but also of spreading heretical literature as well as not only giving license to heretics to preach, but also of releasing them from prison once they ended up there.

He was also accused of sympathising with Robert Barnes, the reformer who for a while acted as intermediate between Henry and the protestant Germany and was active but in the work for an annulment of the marriage to Katherine of Aragon as well as securing a marriage to Anne of Cleves. In the end, he too was accused of heresy, and only a few days after the execution of Thomas Cromwell, Robert Barnes was burned at the stake.

But back to Thomas Cromwell; what made things complicated for him was that his accusers managed to produce correspondence between him and Lutherans and when the letters were presented to the king, Cromwell did not dispute them. This apparently really set off Henry´s wrath, and made it even easier for the enemies of Cromwell to have the king´s ear. When they suggested Cromwell was guilty of treason he chose to believe them, a result of the lack of faith in Cromwell that was the result of the failed marriage to Anne of Cleves.

Lucy Wooding also suggest that something that shook Henry profoundly was the notion that someone could have a view that differed from his own on, in this case, religious matters. She also states that Cromwell´s fall can only be understood in light of the religious development in London, which had furthered Henry´s fear of religious extremism.

11 years before his execution, on the July 11th 1529, Thomas Cromwell had written his testament in which he made specific gifts and bequest to his servants and his best friend, as well as making provisions for his son Gregory

Item I gyue and bequeth to William brabason my seruaunt xxli sterling A gowne A dublett A Jaquet and my second gelding.

Item I gyue and bequeth to John averey yoman of the bottell with the kynges highnes vjli xiijs iiijd, and doublet of Saten.

Item I bequeth to thurston my Coke vjli xiijs iiijd.

Item I gyue and bequethe to William bodye my seruauntt vjli xiijs iiijd.

Item I gyue and bequeth to Peter mewtes my seruauntt vjli xiijs iiijd.

Item I gyue and bequeth to Rychard Swyft my seruauntt vjli xiijs iiijd.

Item I gyue and bequeth to george Wylkynson my seruauntt vjli xiijs iiijd.

Item I gyue and bequeth to my Frend Thomas alvard xli and my best gelding.

Item I gyue and bequeth to my frend Thomas Russhe xli.

Item I gyue and bequeth to my seruauntt John Hynde my horsekeper iijli vjs viijd.

Item I wyll that myn executors shall Saluelye kepe the patentt of the Manour of Rompney to the vse of my Son gregorye and the money growing therof tyll he shall Cum to his lawfull Age to be yerely Retayned to the vse of my sayd Son and the hole revenew therof Cumyng to be trewlye payd vnto hym at suche tyme as he shall Cum to the age of xxj yeres.

Thomas Cromwell also stated in his will that the rest of his assets that were not bequeted or consumed by the

Site of ancient scaffold at Tower Hill

Site of ancient scaffold at Tower Hill

costs of his funeral, which he wanted performed without any earthly pomp should be distributed to works of charity.

But this was of course not to be, as Cromwell was arrested by an act of attainder, which meant that he lost all of his worldly goods. The act also meant that he never stood trial, but the sentence was passed by the parliament.

On July 30th he wrote to the king, a letter which has survived in a very sketchy shape, but the last words of it say a lot of the spirit in which it was most likely written (even if sent before his actual arrest): s….vppon my knees prostrate…..kyng pardon mercye and……Crist………

The last letter written by Thomas Cromwell was sent on July 24th 1540, four days before his execution, to the Lords of the Council where he strongly rejects the suggestion that he should have had anything to gain from “the affair with M. de Rochepot”. He ends his letter with “Any part thereoff my lordes, assure yourselffes I was not as God shall and may helpe me and this my good lords I pray the eternall Redemer to preserue you all in long lyffe good helthe with long prosperyte at the Towre the xxiiii ti daye of July with the trymblyng hande of your Bedman Thomas Crumwell

London_Tower_Hill_Plaque-Courtenay-Cromwell-Howard-Seymour-Wyatt-Howard-WentworthThomas Cromwell was beheaded on Tower Hill, on this day 1540, after which his head was put on a spike on London Bridge. Henry VIII would later deeply regret the execution of his most trusted advisor and maybe even friend and accuse his ministers of bringing about Cromwell´s downfall through false accusations.

But he himself did, at the time, chose to listen to those accusations.

 

Sources:

Robert Barnes – Encyclopaedia Britannica

Sacramentarism – Encyclopaedia Britannica

Henry VIII – Lucy Wooding

Life and letters of Thomas Cromwell I & II – Roger Bigelow Merriman

Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of Henry VIII

Images: Bodleian Library, mariordo, Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

The life and death of Thomas More

Hans_Holbein,_the_Younger_-_Sir_Thomas_More_-_Google_Art_ProjectIf there somewhere exist a kind of Utopia, it was very far away on this day in 1535 when Thomas More lost his life on the scaffold due to his resistance to acknowledge Henry VIII as Supreme Head over the Church of England.

He was born in 1478 as the son of Sir John More, a successful lawyer and judge who passed away only five years ahead off his son at the age of 79. He had sent his son to what was considered one of the finest schools in London at the time. Between the age of 12 and 14, he was in service as a page for the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Morton, who – when he saw the intellectual potential in Thomas More – nominated him to the University of Oxford where he studied for only stayed for two years before moving on to legal training at New Inn in London.

John Morton has been suggested to have another role in the life of Thomas More, and that is as the actual brain behind the writing The History of Richard III which should then have been re-written by Thomas More. The fact is that while one faction put the blame on Thomas More for the blackening of Richard III:s reputation, More in his “History…” does not really assert anything. While he was writing stating that the story of the princes is such that he has heard it told, he at the end, the historian David Baldwin points out, round it off in such a way that can be interpreted  that he will not personally vouch for the stories accuracy.

Thomas More was deeply religious, which may not separate him from many others of his time, other than in the senseMore_famB_1280x-g0 that he according to his friend, the theologian and renaissance humanist Erasmus, contemplated giving up his legal career for the life as a monk. He didn´t however, Thomas More would come to be a devoted family father who had four children by his first wife, Jane Colt. Jane however died quite young and he remarried the rich widow Alice Harpur Middleton. While there was no children in this marriage, Thomas More raised Alice daughter Margaret as if she was his own. As I mentioned Thomas More´s book with the account of the fate of the princes, I have to avoid how this fate has been further intertwined with Thomas More through his adoptive daughter Margaret.

More gave made sure his daughters received the same education as his sons, something which was far from common at the time, and through this managed to convince his friend Erasmus that the education of women wasn´t a complete waste of time after all.

In 1504 More was elected to the parliament, and held from 1510 the seat for London and from 1514 he was a member of the Privy Council. In 1516 he wrote his legendary book Utopia about a far away island republic where men were free from oppression and even the animals were considered sentient beings with the right to life and freedom. The lack of private property in Utopia, whit the goods being kept in warehouses where the people request what they need – and get it, gave Thomas More and his book high esteem in the former Soviet Union, more than 400 years after it was written.

In 1523 More was elected a knight of the Shire for Middlesex, and on the recommendation of Cardinal Wolsey, speaker of the House of Commons. When Wolsey ultimately fell from grace in 1529, Thomas More became the Lord Chancellor. He was loyal to Henry VIII, supporting the idea that the marriage to Katherine of Aragon was unlawful. But the beginning of the end came when Henry challenged the authority of Rome.

Isola_di_Utopia_MoroAs the reformation started to take root among the public and some people started protestant sympathies, Thomas More was to be found at the forefront in the battle against heresy. He was accused of personally torturing people during interrogation, something he himself strongly denied, but the fact remains that six people were burned at the stake for heresy during More´s time as chancellor.

Thomas More continued to be steadfast in his support of the Pope, something that oddly enough did not cost him his position as a chancellor, but after refusing to sign a letter urging the pope to dissolve Henry´s marriage, he soon found himself isolated. This in combination with his decline to be present at the coronation of Anne Boleyn as well as his refusal to acknowledge Henry as Supreme Head would become the undoing of Thomas More.

He was brought to trial on Juli 1st  1535 for treason under the Treason act of 1534, where he defended his stand on the supremacy issue by quoting the Magna Carta clause that protected the privileges of the church. It took the jury 15 minutes to find him guilty, much due to the diligence of Thomas Cromwell, and he was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, a punishment which was commuted to beheading.

He was executed on this day, July 6th 1535. When he came to mount the steps to the scaffold, he is widely quoted asChelsea_Old_Church_14 saying (to the officials): “I pray you, I pray you, Mr Lieutenant, see me safe up and for my coming down, I can shift for myself”; while on the scaffold he declared that he died “the king’s good servant, but God’s first.

His head was left on a pike on London Bridge for a month and his body laid to rest in an unmarked grave St Peter ad Vincula.

He was canonized in 1935 and is celebrated on the same day as John Fisher, June 22nd by the Catholic Church and on July 6th by the Church of England.

 

 

Sources:

The Life of Thomas More – Peter Ackroyd

Henry VIII – Lucy Wooding

The Lost Prince – David Baldwin

The life and death of Anne Boleyn – Eric Ives

 

Images:

Thomas More – Hans Holbein the younger

The family of Thomas More – Hans Holbein the younger/Rowland Lockey

Photo of statue at Chelsea – Edwardx

 

 

 

 

 

John Fisher

Time, or rather lack of it, hasn´t quite allowed me to blog as I want to lately, and I´m looking forward to my upcoming John_Fisher_(painting)vaccation which I hope will change that situation.

Even so, I want to post a short note to commemorate John Fisher, who was executed on this day in 1535 for refusing to recognise Henry VIII as the Supreme Head of the Church of England.

John Fisher was born in Yorkshire in 1469 in Yorkshire as one of four children of the merchant Robert Fisher and his wife Agnes.

John Fisher studied at the University of Cambridge in the 1480´s, where he earned both a Bachelor´s degree and a Master´s degree in arts. He was ordanined priest in 1491.

He went on not only become  the Bishop of Rochford, but also came to play an important role in the life of Margaret Beaufort, whose chaplain and good friend he came to be during the last years of her life, and after her passing he gave a ceremon  in which he complemented her on her many qualities that often has come to be ignored in the accounts of her in the 21st Century. Under his supervision and support, Margaret Beaufort founded both the St John´s and Christ´s College at Cambridge, and he was by her side when she was dying.

He also convinced the scholar Erasmus to come and visit the University of Cambridge.

Towards the forced end of his life, he also ended up on the wrong side of Henry VIII by becoming a staunch supporter of Katherine of Aragon during the Great Matter.

After, in 1534, Fisher refused to take the oath recognising Henry VIII as Supreme Head, he was brought to the Tower, which he was to remain for a year, during which he wrote to Thomas Cromwell to bring to attention the harsh conditions under which he was kept. While his friends was allowed to send him food and drink, he was refused a priest even to the very end.

He was executed on Tower Hill on this day, one of several men who would in the end lose their lives for refusing to take said oath. At first he was thrown on an unmarked grave after having been left on the scaffold for the entire day, but was two weeks later moved to St Peter ad Vincula

He was, together with Thomas More who was executed only weeks later, canonized in 1935 by Pope Pius XI. His day of celebration is today, the same days as that of Thomas More.

 

Sources:

Margaret Beaufort-Mother of the Tudor dynasty – Elizabeth Norton

St John Fisher – Leonard Foley

 

 

 

Thomas Cromwell

Thomas Cromwell, whose name has risen to fame in this century not least due to the books by Hilary Mantel and laterCromwell,Thomas(1EEssex)01 adaptation for TV of the same, became a most powerful man during the latter reign of Henry VIII.

Born in Putney, London, as the son of a blacksmith, fuller and clothes merchant, it must be said that Thomas Cromwell made a remarkable rise to power, no doubt as a result of his own intelligence and skills, but also with the help of a few useful patrons along the way, not least Thomas Wolsey, whose household he belonged to for a number of years.

There exist both contradictory and curious information about Cromwell´s early years, in the latter category one find both that he should have been a mercenary marching with the French army as well as an agent of the archbishop of York in Rome.

But it was in the 1520´s he began his rise to power. In 1517 and 1518 he had been leading an embassy to Rome to obtain a Papal Bull of Indulgence from the Pope for the town of Boston in Lincolnshire.
This was followed, in matter of career, by a seat in the House of Commons and 1524 he was elected member of Cardinal_Wolsey_Christ_ChurchGrey´s Inn.

His period in the household of Thomas Wolsey stretched from 1516 to 1530 and by 1529 his secretary. He aided the dissolution of monasteries to collect money for the war coffer in the 1520´s and towards the end of his time with Wolsey´s, Cromwell was one of Wolsey´s most trusted advisors. But at the end of 1529 Wolsey had fallen from grace with his master, just like Cromwell one day would.

Thomas Cromwell was instrumental in bringing about the annulment of Henry VIII´s marriage from Catherine of Aragon, and was at one point an ally of Anne Boleyn but has in many quarters gone down in history as the man guilty of her destruction. Whether this is true, we will most likely not entirely know.

During the 1530´s, Henry showered Cromwell in titles and appointments and in 1536 he was made Knight of the Garter, the honour expected to befall George Boleyn who instead was about to meet his death.

Among the offices bestowed on Cromwell was Master of King´s Jewel House, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Master of the Rolls, Steward of the Duchy of Lancaster, Essex, Hertfordshire and Middlesex, Lord Privy Seal, Dean of Wells, Governor of the Isle of Wight and Great Chamberlain to mention but a few. Ironically, the last office, as well as the title Earl of Essex, he received only months before his arrest Hans_Holbein_the_Younger_-_Anne_of_Cleves_(Victoria_and_Albert_Museum)and execution.

There has been much speculation about what it was that brought about Cromwell´s downfall, whether it was that he went to far in his religious convictions – while Henry was all for religious reform, he was never a protestant, something it is widely believed that Thomas Cromwell was, or that it was by him the arranged disastrous marriage between Henry and Anne of Cleves. Most likely it was a number of reasons that his adversaries used to topple him.
On this day, June 10th 1540, Thomas Cromwell was arrested on charges of high treason.

 

The Tudor Revolution in Government: Administrative Changes in the Reign of Henry VIII – G R Elton

Thomas Cromwell: The Rise and Fall of Henry VIII’s Most Notorious MinisterRobert Hutchinson

 

Elizabeth Barton – the Nun of Kent

I mentioned Elizabeth Barton in my previous post, and while many interested in the Tudor era may know who she was,Elizabeth-Barton there may still be many who doesn´t, and as my posts also are a learning process for myself, here she comes;

There isn´t much known about the early life of the woman who would become known as “the Nun of Kent”, firstly both tolerated and respected, depending on which layer of society you´d ask. She is said to have come from a rather poor background in Aldington outside Canterbury, and like so many other women from the lower classes of society, she was working as a servant in a more well off home, the house of Thomas Cobb, when the visions began in 1525 when Elizabeth was 18 years old. The starting point of her visions coincided with a grave illness, where she by some accounts were catatonic up to 7 months, which may be an exaggeration, but on the other hand – without having seen either of them, obviously – what comes to mind is the state of Henry VI which lasted for over a year. After her illness she became a nun at St Selpulchre´s in Canterbury.

There have been suggestions however that she may have suffered from epileptic fits, a thought that may be supported by an account by Thomas Cromwell who wrote to a cleric “Her face was wonderfully disfigured, her tongue hanging out, and her eyes being in a manner plucked out, and laid upon her cheeks, and so greatly disordered.”

While we today most likely would look with great scepticism on someone claiming to have divine visions, but in Tudor times these were acceptable, even if unusual manifestations of religious devotions and Elizabeth Barton soon gathered a following consisting of thousands of people.

To begin with, her visions were rather harmless, she encouraged people to live good Christian lives and to undertake pilgrimages, she predicted the death of her patron´s son and she claimed to be able to give accounts of faraway places and the afterlife and she gained the blessing of the archbishop of Canterbury.

When she claimed an angle had told her that she had to go to the king and tell him terrible things would happen if he denounced Catherine of Aragon and married Anne Boleyn instead, Henry´s patience started to deteriorate. Even so, there are records that he actually received her twice. She also had meetings with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Bishop John Fisher, Thomas More and a large number of monks at Canterbury, Observant Franciscan Friars from Greenwich and Richmond as well as the Birgitte Nuns and priests of Syon.

It had been all fine and well while she was condemning rebellions and heresy, but when she started to interfere in the King´s business, her days were counted. She turned against the reformation, as well as the marriage to Anne, and stated that Henry himself would soon die a villain´s death. Henry swiftly decided that she was a fraud. Elizabeth Barton was arrested in 1533 and allegedly admitted that all her revelations and prophesies was fraudulent, after which she was condemned by attainder. All information that exists about her confessions, however, come from Thomas Cromwell and his agents.

Elizabeth Barton and five of her chief supporters, five of which were priests, were hanged for treason on April 20th 1534. She is the only woman in history who after execution has had her head put on a spike London Bridge.

 

 

 

Henry VIII – Lucy Wooding

New Worlds, Lost Worlds; The rule of the Tudors 1485 – 1603 – Susan Brigden

The Six Wives of Henry VIII – Alison Weir

The Holy Maid of Kent: The Life of Elizabeth Barton: 1506–1534 – Alan Neame

George Boleyn, sentenced today

 

George_Boleyn_signatureHe was the only surviving son among the Boleyn-children, George, Viscount Rochford. At one point he had had two brothers, Henry and Thomas, neither of whom reached adulthood. Only George, Anne and Mary were fortunate to do that.
In the end, only Mary would be left. George was arrested on May 2nd, the same day as his sister and today, in 1536, he stood trial accused of treason and an incestuous relation with his sister Anne.
It was said that the child – a boy – Anne had miscarried in January had been gravely deformed, and the reason for this was that she had conceived it with her brother. There is how ever no proof that there should have been some inappropriate relationship between brother and sister, other than that George at one point is said to have spent an unusually long time alone together with her.

Unlike his sisters, George never received any education at the French court, but on the other hand, as a courtier of Henry VIII he went on several successful embassies to France in different matters, one of which was to arrange the marriage between his, at the time, very young princess Elizabeth and the French dauphin, something which obviously never came to be.
Among his many appointments, one find Gentleman of the Privy Chamber, Esquire of The Body, diplomat, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and Constable of Dover Castle. This indicates that the King liked and trusted George Boleyn in his own right, and it is said that before he know who he actually was, even Eustace Chapuys, who hated to Boleyn´s for no strange reason, had liked George.

In contemporary texts, all though mostly after his death, George is recognised as a charming and intelligent man of436px-Arms_of_the_Boleyn_family_of_London good looks, and as that is the description of the kind of courtier Henry surrounded himself with, it most likely is accurate. There was also another side to George Boleyn though, and that was an arrogant, proud and maybe even ruthless side. He was a womaniser and due to a poem by the gentleman usher of Cardinal Wolsey, George Cavendish, George Boleyn has also received a reputation as a possible rapist as the very first line of the poem reads “I forced widows, maidens I did deflower” which indicate that he didn´t take no for an answer.
On one hand, it can be argued that George Cavendish was a staunch catholic who hated the Boleyn´s for their support of a reformed religion, but on the other hand, the poem continues by praising George for the already mentioned intelligence (wit) and charm, thereby giving the poem a balance in which may make the text more credible.
At the time of his trial, most of those watching thought he would be aquitted, and Eustace Chapuys, again, confirmed that George Boleyn had put up a brilliant defence. He later stated that George had been convicted only on presumptions.

But convicted he was, and on this day George sentenced to die a traitors death by being hanged, drawn and quartered. This was later commuted to a beheading. On the scaffold, George Boleyn gave a speech that went a bit further than what was custom, and he stated “Masters all, I am not come hither for to preach, but for to die, for I have deserved to died if had 20 lives, more shamefully than can be devised, for I am a wretched sinner, and I have sinned shamefully.”

Site of ancient scaffold at Tower Hill

Site of ancient scaffold at Tower Hill

That he claimed to be a wretched sinner and that he´d sinned shamefully has come to be interpreted by some historians as a hint to George Boleyn being homosexual, and having lived out his orientation.

The historian Retha Warnicke went as far as in her book “The rise and fall of Anne Boleyn” as to suggest that all men charged and executed in relation to Anne Boleyn was actually really condemned for being homosexuals. This, however, has been refuted by other historians but was in sorts resurrected by Alison Weir in her book the “Lady in the Tower – The fall of Anne Boleyn”. There are however no contemporary evidence that George Boleyn was homo- or bisexual, or even, apart from the possible translation of the first line in Cavendish poem, a violent man.

George Boleyn was executed on May 17th, two days before his sister, on Tower Hill and is, like Anne, buried in St Peter ad Vincula within the Tower.

 

 

Sources: Letters and papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII
Calendar of State papers, Spain.
The Lady of the Tower – The fall of Anne Boleyn – Alison Weir
The wives of Henry VIII – Alison Weir
The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn – Retha Warnicke
The Anne Boleyn Files – Claire Ridgeway

Image of site of Tower Hill scaffold – Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz

Boleyn family Crest – NinjaKid/Ollie Martin

Mark Smeaton

Anne Boleyn wasn´t arrested, condemned and executed by herself. A number of men went to their MIM_String_Instrumentsdeaths charged as accessories to her crimes.

The first man to be arrested, on April 30th, was Mark Smeaton, a court musician believed to have been of French-Flemish origin due to his name which can be derived from the names de Smet or de Smedt. Mark Smeaton is described as a very handsome young man and one of the prettiest monochord* players.

He had been appointed Groom the Privy Chamber in 1529, and what especially distinguish him from the others accused is that Mark Smeaton was not of noble birth, his father was a carpenter. Originally he had been part of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey´s choir, but after Wolsey fell from grace, he was moved to Chapel Royal, where he was noticed by Anne Boleyn.

He was favoured by Henry VIII who gave him special gifts of money and clothes, but the fact of his lowly birth kept him out from ever being part of the closer circle around Anne Boleyn, and it´s highly improbable that he ever had an affair with the Queen. He was however the only one of the accused men who confessed, and it´s telling that he was also, according to the Spanish Chronicle, the only one who was tortured. According to the same chronicle, Smeaton was a social climber who presumed to be equal to others who, by the social standards of the time, considered themselves to be above him through birth and title. As well as his presumptions provoking people, his admittance of adultery with the Queen caused outrage as they found it horrific that the Queen should stoop so low as to have an affair with someone so far beneath her.

It has been suggested that Mark Smeaton was homosexual, and possibly was he a lover of George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, but there really exist not proof of that. It is however believed that he might have been welcome into the circles around George Boleyn..
Mark Smeaton was convicted and sentenced to death of May 12th and executed on the 17th, two days before Anne herself. He was buried in a commoner´s grave.
Many years later, when Mary I wanted to stress the illegitimacy of her sister Elizabeth, she claimed that the latter had the “face and countenance” of Mark Smeaton.

*An instrument with a single string stretched over a sound box

Sources: The Lady in the Tower – Alison Weir
The rise and fall of Anne Boleyn – Retha M. Warnicke
Henry VIII – Lucy Wooding
Image of Monochord – Morn the Gorn