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,

Lady Arbella Stuart

On January 21st 1582 Walshingham receives a letter from George, Earl of ShrewsburyStuart,Arabella00 where he asks Walshingham to inform the Queen of the death of his daughter – Elizabeth Cavendish, Countess of Lenox – and that she “commend to her royal favor her infant and orphan daughter” and that the little girl now was destitute and her grandmother “taketh her daughter’s death so grievously, and so mourneth and lamenteth, that she cannot think of aught but tears”

The grandmother in question was the Countess of Shrewsbury, known to history primarily as Bess of Hardwick, and the young girl who now lacked both her parents was Arbella Stuart, second cousin to the Queen and cousin of James IV of Scotland, later also to become James I of England.

Bess_of_Hardwick_as_Mistress_St_LoHer grandmother would be prepared to fight for what she believed was Arbella´s rights, and on the 28th that same month she turned to Walshingham asking him to solicit for the same portion (pension) that had been previously been granted her daughter, to secure the young girl´s education and training in good virtues. It seems her request goes unheard this first time around, because she returns in May that same year, again making that same request, stating that the young girl´s mother on her sickbed….

Arbella was 7 years at the time, and instead of becoming a ward of the crown which was the usual for heiresses, she would stay with her grandmother at Hardwick Hall, from where she seems to have gone for occasional visits to court during the years to follow. She would eventually fall out with her grandmother whose ambition to see Arbella on the throne was greater than those of Arbella herself.

Arbella did get her education through tutors, and 10 years after the death of her Portrait_of_Christopher_Marlowemother, her grandmother Bess writes to Lord Burghley, William Cecil, of one of her grand-daughters attendants, a Morley who “hath attended on Arbell & red to hyr for the space of thre yere & a half”. The fact that he had read to her, and a later reference to him studying at the university, has led some – among others the author Charles Nicholl – to believe that Morley was the playwright Christopher Marlowe who at times has his name spelt in that way.

The Countess of Shrewsbury goes on to explain that the man in question apparently has been waiting to receive some kind of annuity from Arbella as his work there had been damaging to his university studies, and that he due to this, and due to the fact that the formidable Bess finds him suspicious, not least because of his “forwardness in religion (though I can not charge him with papistry)” she took the opportunity to fire him.

While this post really isn´t about Christopher Marlowe, it is highly interesting that Bess of Hardwick still seems to have found *something* catholic about this man, as Christopher Marlowe would at one point be suspected for being catholic.

But back to Arbella; as a great-grandchild of Henry VII through his daughter Margaret Tudor in her second marriage to Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus, she had a claim to the throne – which she herself didn´t seem much interested in pursuing – and for a while she was considered as a successor to the childless Elizabeth I who was drawing towards the end of her reign and life, but it seems that from the beginning of the 1590´s, the Cecil´s preferred her cousin, James IV of Scotland (Arbella´s father had been the brother of Lord Darnley, murdered husband of Mary Queen of Scots).

George_Brooke,_9th_Baron_Cobham,_after_Hans_Holbein_the_YoungerArbella´s own seeming disinterest in the throne, and the fact that another successor was in the end chosen, did not prevent others from wanting to see her on the throne. In 1603, after the death of Elizabeth I, she allegedly was the focus point in The Main Plot in 1603. The plot is thought to have been funded by Spain, and led by Henry Brook, Lord Cobham and was only discovered during investigation into the Bye Plot – a plot striving to force the implementation of religious tolerance and headed by Lord Cobham´s brother George Brooke.

The members of both conspiracies where tried together, and one of the accused wasSir_Walter_Raleigh_oval_portrait_by_Nicholas_Hilliard Sir Walter Raleigh, at the time governor of Jersey. It was alleged that the money provided by Spain would be brought here and divided between Lord Cobham and Raleigh to be used in the plot as they saw necessary. It has on one side been suggested that it´s utterly ridiculous that Raleigh, who had fought Spain during the reign of Elizabeth, not least during the defeat of the Spanish Armada, would all of a sudden turn on England in this fashion and during many years Raleigh´s involvement in the plot was considered marginal* at most, but it did send him to the Tower for the next 13 years.

Arbella herself had early on reported the invitation to join the plot to her cousin the King.

Throughout her childhood, possible marriage candidates had been discussed, and among those suggested or interested in securing her hand was Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford (a potential match infuriated the Earl´s father), Ludovic Stuart, 2nd Duke of Lennox as well as the king of Poland, Sigismund III Vasa, son of the Swedish King John III.

2ndDukeOfSomersetWhen she did eventually marry, it was after a betrothal entered in secret. In 1610, news reached the king that Arbella was planning to marry the 13 years younger William Seymour, Lord Beauchamp. This worried the King, as Arbella was fourth in line for the throne and William – being the grandson of Lady Katherine Grey and therefore descendant of Henry VII through Mary Tudor (with Charles Brandon) – sixth in line and it´s no wonder if he thought this was a prelude to an attempt at taking the throne.

Both of them however denied that any agreement existed between them, which was clearly a lie as they got married in secret on June 22nd 1610 at Greenwich Palace. This led to their arrest once the king had found out, and Arbella was kept at Sir Thomas Perry´s house at Lambeth while Seymour was brought to the Tower.

Like her grandmother, Arbella wrote letters that has survived, some of them from this period, and sometime after her arrest, Lady_Arbella_Stuartmost likely from Lambeth, she petitioned the King, asking for his forgiveness;

“May it please your most excellent Majesty

To regard with the eyes of your royal and gracious heart, the unfortunate estate, your Majesty´s handmaid, who, knowing your Majesty´s gracious favour to her to be the greatest honour, comfort and felicity that this world can afford, doth now feel any part of the contrary to be the most grievous affliction to her that can be imagined. Whereinsoever your Majesty will say I have offended I will not contest but in all humility prostrate myself at your Majesty´s feet; only I do most humbly on my knees beseech your Majesty to believe that that thought never yet entered to my heart to do anything that might justly deserve any part of your indignation……”

 However, Arbella did not only write numerous letters and petitions to the King, she did also write to her husband, and when this came to the King´s attention, he arranged for her to be moved from Lambeth into the care of the Bishop of Durham. The move was delayed due to Arbella claiming to be sick, and during this delay she and her husband attempted to escape.

The plan was to meet up at Lee in Kent, there to get on a ship heading for France. Arbella was during her escape dressed as a man to avoid detection, and it has been suggested that Shakespeare based the character of Imogen in Cymberline on Arbella. Lady_Arabella_Stuart (1)When she arrived her husband was nowhere to be found, while he had managed to get out of the Tower, he arrived too late and the two boarded different ships.

Arbella´s ship was intercepted by the King´s men just as it was about to reach Calais, and she was brought to the Tower.

Arbella would never see her husband – who would go on to be a commander during the Civil War – again or even leave the Tower.

On September 25th 1615 Arabella Stuart died from illness and malnutrition due to refusing to eat, at the age of 40.

 

Sources:

Calendar of State Papers Domestic of Elizabeth I, 1581 – 1590

Bessofhardwick.org – collected letters of the Countess of Shrewsbury

Life of Lady Arabella Stuart, Volume 1 + 2 – Mrs A. Murray Smith

Lexscripta.com

The Letters of Lady Arbella Stuart – Sarah Jayne Steen

 

*History changes as new evidence is put forward and the view on Raleigh´s part has somewhat changed, but that is clearly for another post.

Interview with Amy Licence

Recently I reviewed Amy Licence book “Edward IV & Elizabeth Woodville – a trueAmy love story”, and now I have had the pleasure of asking her a few questions

 How did your interest in history start?

I don’t really remember a time before I was interested in history. It came from reading and visiting old castles with my parents. I do recall a book I got out of the library when I was about 5 or 6, about cavemen, and being so frustrated when I finished reading it, wanting to go back to the library and get another but the library was closed. By the time I was 14, I’d read all their Tudor books.

AmyAt what point did you realise it was primarily the women’s stories you wanted to highlight?

I’ve always been interested in looking at the women’s side of things; I remember reading biographies of men and spotting these fascinating figures in the margins and thinking that their stories deserved to be told in their own right. There were occasions too, when I thought some historians were unfair to women and I refused to accept their portrayals and interpretations of female motivation and actions. I think the salient moment, though, was when I became a mother, and began to see a discrepancy between my own experience and the way certain books portrayed and valued it. Then, I found that researching childbirth in the past opened up all sorts of other questions about gender relations that I wanted to pursue.

How important is history to C21st people and do you personally feel that lack of In bedknowledge influences the modern man?

I think history is important in ways that aren’t obvious. It’s important to learn about the past, so we can see the present in context and there’s always the old adage about us being doomed to repeat the past, but I think the lessons we learn are more subtle than that. Studying historical figures, particularly weighing conflicting sources and assessing bias, constantly reminds me there are more than one way of looking at something, that no one person is entirely “this” or “that.” When I’m trying to piece together the experience of someone living five centuries ago, at the remove of time and cultural distance, it makes me understand how difficult it is to interpret people from the outside and how they must be assessed within the mores of their own beliefs. This is so relevant to today, when we interact with people from different generations, countries and religions; these historical lessons are transferrable across other boundaries. This is the most valuable knowledge that comes from my work, studying the lives of people in the past.

sixWhat determines who you will be writing about when you prepare for a new book?

It’s a negotiation. Sometimes my publisher has something specific in mind they’d like me to do and sometimes I’m keen, or I might say that individual doesn’t particularly interest me. On other occasions, there will be something that I’m burning to write about and, so long as I submit a valid proposal, I’m lucky that my publisher usually agrees. Quite often an idea comes to me while writing a previous book and I want to follow that through but it demands a book of its own.

What will you be working on next?

I’m working on a biography of Catherine of Aragon for Amberley Publishing, as I want All about Richard IIIto set her in the context of a Renaissance, Humanist queen, not just a wife who failed to produce sons. I’m also continuing to write children’s books for MadeGlobal; my book on Henry VIII will be coming out with them soon.

 

Amy Licence is a historian, journalist and teacher who to date has published 10, soon to be 11, books on the history of late 15th and early 16th century, focusing on women´s history.

Published books: In Bed with the Tudors (2012), Elizabeth of York – the forgotten Tudor Queen (2013), Anne Neville – Richard III´s Tragic Queen (2013), Royal babies 1066-2013 (2013), Richard III: The Road to Leicester (2014), Cecily Neville – Mother of Kings (2014), The six wives and many mistresses of Henry VIII – the women´s stories (2014), Living in Squares, Loving in Triangles – The lives and loves of Virginia Wolf and the Blomsbury Group (2015), Edward IV & Elizabeth Woodville – a true love story (2016), Red Roses – Blanch of Gaunt to Margaret Beaufort (2016).

Amy Licence is also working on a book series for children; “All about..” featuring Richard III, Henry VII and Henry VIII

Remember, remember the 5th of November

Shortly after midnight on the night leading up to November 5th 1606, after beingGuy-Fawkes ordered by King James I to search the cellars under the Parliament, Sir Thomas Knyvet discovered a man attempting to leave the cellars.

After having been apprehended, the man told his capturers his name was John Johnson when questioned by members of the King´s Privy Chamber.

His real name, however, was Guy Fawkes and he was part of what has become known to history as the Gunpowder plot.

Guy Fawkes was born in York in April 1570, the only date that remains today is the one for his baptism which took place on April 16th, so it´s fair to assume that he was born only days before, one date that has been suggested is the 13th.

His father died when he was only 8 and his mother married a recusant Catholic, meaning that he refused to attend Anglican church services, and Guy himself would later convert to Catholicism. Following this he travelled to the continent where he enlisted with Spanish Catholic forces against Protestant Dutch reformers in the 80 Years War. He also tried to enlist Spain in a revolt against England, something which he failed to do, but he did meet Thomas Wintour, one of his future companions in the Gunpowder plot. They returned to England together, and Wintour introduced Fawkes to Robert Catesby (note to the curious; yes, he was a descendant of Sir William Catesby, councillor of Richard III and executed after the battle of Bosworth).

1280px-Gunpowder_Plot_conspiratorsIt was Robert Catesby who got Guy Fawkes involved in the gunpowder plot, which aimed to murder the protestant King James and replace him with his daughter Elizabeth. Guy Fawkes seemed to have been popular among his fellow plotters, something allegedly due to the fact that he seems to have been talented in the intellectual sphere as well as a skilled soldier.

In her book about him, author Antonia Fraser describes him as “a tall, powerfully built man, with thick reddish-brown hair, a flowing moustache in the tradition of the time, and a bushy reddish-brown beard” who was ”capable of intelligent argument as well as physical endurance, somewhat to the surprise of his enemies”

The plotters met on five occasions, the first one on May 20th  1604 at the inn Duck and Drake in London. Through a promotion, one of the plotters, Thomas Percy, was able to gain access to a house owned by John Whynniard, Keeper of the King’s Wardrobe. There he installed one John Johnson, in reality of course Guy Fawkes, as a caretaker of the property.

They also rented an undercroft directly under the Houses of Parliament where theyGuy_Fawkes_by_Cruikshank started to store barrels of gunpowder, which by July 20th 1605 numbered 36.

But these were plague riddled times, and the risk of catching the disease kept Parliament closed for months until what would have been the faithful day – and was, but in other ways than planned – of November 5th.

What most likely blew the cover of the plotters was the fact that one had sent a letter to at least one Catholic member of Parliament, telling him to stay clear on the 5th. Clearly his sympathies wasn´t with any rebels, and the letter he had received was shown to James I, prompting a search of the facilities around the House of Parliament during the night which lead Guy Fawkes to be discovered just as he was attempting to leave the cellar.

Guy_fawkes_torture_signaturesHe was resilient for a while, but even though it´s said that James himself was impressed by the apprehended rebel´s defiance, it did not keep the king from ordering that Fawkes was tortured. The torture was ordered to continue until a confession had been obtained and everything from manacles to the rack was authorised. It is not known beyond a doubt that Guy Fawkes was put on the rack, but the shaky scribbling of his alias Guido (originated when he was fighting for Spain) hints to a man in distress and pain. By the 9th of November, his interrogators had found out what they wanted, including his own true identity as well as that of his co-conspirators.

Guy Fawkes was sentenced for high treason, the punishment for which was being hanged, drawn and quartered. The execution was to take place on January 31st.

It is not quite known what happened, but in the hanging process but Guy Fawkes broke his neck and died during the first stage of the horrific punishment, something which didn´t keep him from being quartered and his body parts sent to “the four corners of the Kingdom” as warning examples.

Guy Fawkes was 35 years at the time of his death.

Sentenced along with Guy Fawkes was the original initiators Robert Catesby, Thomas Wintour, Thomas Percy and John Wright as well as the recruited Robert Keyes, Thomas Bates, Christopher Wright, John Grant, Robert Wintour, Ambrose Rokewood, Francis Tresham and Everard Digby.guy-fawkes-mask

 

The 5th of November became a kind of Thanksgiving Day by an act of Parliament, an act that stood until 1859, the celebrations influenced by the bonfires lit on the original night. Not rarely has dolls meant to be portraying Guy Fawkes been set on fire.

During recent years, however, the mask intended to portray him has come to once again represent defiance, worn by the internet activists in the group Anonymous as well by participants in demonstrations against social and financial inequality.

There is a saying that Guy Fawkes was the last man to enter the House of Parliament with honest intentions.

Sources:

The Gun Powder Plot – Antonia Fraser

The Gunpowder Plot: Faith in Rebellion – Alan Haynes

 

 

 

 

Isabella of Angoulême

Isabella of Angoulême was crowned Queen  consort of King John, at which time she 800px-IsabelledAngoulemewas only 12 years old on this day, October 8 1200.

She was the daughter of Aymer, the last Count of Angoulême of the House of Taillefer. After having been Queen of England for two years Isabella became Countess of Angoulême in her own right as her father died.

Isabella is said to have been a great beauty, but allegedly had a temper which was comparable to that of her husband, causing the marriage to deteriorate over time (even if the marriage had been a political coup for John, there are suggestions that he was infatuated with her at least for a time).

In relation to children, Isabella was fortunate compared to many other women of the period in the was that she got to see them all reach adulthood, and there was quite a few, in her marriage to John, five children were born, the oldest becoming Henry III at the time of John´s death.

After becoming the Queen dowager, she married Hugh X of Lusignan, the son of her former fiancée to who she had been betrothed when she´d been married to John and had another nine children. The plan had been to marry her eldest daughter to Hugh, but when he saw the beauty of his future mother-in-law, things took quite another turn.

Through this marriage she angered the King´s Council as she had not asked for their consent, and chances are, as they could make the decision, is that they may not have allowed her to remarry at all. As a punishment, they confiscated all her dower lands, with the result that she threatened to keep Princess Joan, promised in marriage to the Scottish king, in France. This escalated the conflict to the point where the council started sending letters to the Pope in the name of the young king, demanding that Isabella was excommunicated. The two parties managed however to reach an agreement.

After not being shown sufficient respect as Queen Dowager of England by the French Queen Blanche, for whom she had nothing but hate going back to 1216 when Blanche had encouraged an invasion of England in support of the Barons, she set plans in motion to create an English confederacy in France, something that came to nothing. After her second husband had made peace with the French king, Isabella´s resentment continued to simmer, and in 1244 she was accused of having bribed to royal cooks to poison the king.

Rather than accepting the consequences, she fled to Fontevraud Abbey where she died two years later, in 1246, 30 years after her first husband.

 

Sources:

King John and the road to Magna Carta – Stephen Church

The Magnificent Century – Thomas B. Costain

King John – Treachery, Tyranny and the road to Magna Carta – Marc Morris

 

Erik and Elizabeth…and Mary

Erik_XIV_(1533-1577)_Domenicus_VerwildtDoing homework with my son and prepping him for a test in Swedish history this week, and that prompted this post. So, you may ask (or not), what place does Swedish history in a blog claiming to be about English medieval and renaissance history?

Ah! None of us exist in a vacuum, and neither did for example the Tudor monarchs. The subject of my son´s test is the House of Vasa, and the subject of this post is one of the more determined of Elizabeth´s suitors, the oldest son of Gustav Vasa, Erik, upon his father´s death to be crowned Erik XIV.

He was born in December 1533, in other words just a few months after the Queen whose refusal he would have quite a hard time to accept. The first proposal would come while she was still “just” a princess, and his envoy caused somewhat of a stir by breaching court protocol as he approached Princess Elizabeth before Queen Mary. Apparently Mary thought that an alliance between England and Sweden was not an altogether bad idea and sent a messenger to her sister to find out what she herself thought about, becoming – as that was what wasErik_XIV_of_Sweden_by_Steven_van_der_Meulen_1561 (friarproträtt) on the table at the moment – the Queen of Sweden, but as we all know, Elizabeth´s response was that she had no wish to marry at all.

Erik was not one to be easily put off. His proposals was to become a recurring feature in Elizabeth´s life for a number of years. The second portrait of Erik in this post is most likely the one he sent to Elizabeth to persuade her to marry him, in any event it spent considerable time in England, and wasn´t returned to Sweden until the 20th century and can now be seen at Gripsholm Castle some miles outside Stockholm.

He was presumably assisted in his goal to marry Elizabeth by his own sister Cecilia Vasa, who early on started a correspondence with the English Queen, and seems to have formed a genuine friendship, to the extent where she expressed a desire to stay unmarried and join the Cecilia_of_Baden-Rodemachern_c_1610English court instead, as a Lady-in-waiting of Elizabeth. Cecilia did however get married, to Count Christopher II of Baden-Rodemarchen. On September 11, 1565 Cecilia and her entourage arrived in London where they primarily were received by the wife of William Cecil.

They stayed at Bedford House, where Elizabeth came to visit. She ended up paying an allowance to Christopher for letting his wife stay in England. The reasons for Cecilia´s visit was not simply social; her main goal was to persuade Elizabeth to accept her brother´s proposal, but also to recruit privateers to plunder hostile Danish, German and Polish ships off the Swedish coast.

The opinions on how she succeeded in her mission has been divided, but we can easily conclude that she did not succeed in her aim to secure the English Queen as a consort for her brother. According to the Spanish emissary da Silva, she approached the Earl of Leicester, Robert Dudley, asking him to put a good word for her brother, and maybe that´s where her objective failed.

While Cecilia is said to have been impressed by the way Elizabeth handled the threat posed by Mary, Oueen of Scots, it seems her brother was more impressed by Mary Young-Mary-Queen-of-Scotsherself.

We will most likely know whether he genuinely gave up on Elizabeth, or if he just wanted to increase her potential interest, but after a number of rejections from the English monarch, Erik instead turned his interest to Mary, something that undoubtedly did get some reaction from Elizabeth. This did not get a successful conclusion either, and he went on to explore the prospects among other European princess´s, one of which sent his envoy packing in 1564 after a love letter to Elizabeth, by now the Queen of England, came into light.

karin månsdotterErik would in time marry one of his maids – Karin Månsdotter – who was already the mother of his child. He would also come to suffer a rapidly deteriorating mental health which among other ways manifested itself by him simply murdering one of his noblemen, Nils Svantesson Sture, stabbing him to death. His brother Johan took the throne and Erik spent the remainder of his life being transported between different castles, effectively in prison, but the kind of prison that suited a disposed king.

Erik Vasa died in 1577, an event that in the 16th and 17th century didn´s stir much speculation, but in time the legend was born that he had in fact been murdered, poisoned by way of the traditional Swedish pea soup.

Whether the soup actually was what contained the poison we will most likely never know, but in the 1950´s the remains of Erik XIV was excavated and examined, and we now know that Erik XIV died from a lethal dose of arsenic.

 

(It should aslo be said that Cecilia Vasa is an acquaintance well worth making for anyone interested in history, as she was very far from the meek woman someone of her standing and time would be expected to be.)

Sources:

The History of Sweden; Gustav Vasa and his sons and daughters – Herman Lindquist

The Children of Henry VIII – Alison Weir

Vasadöttrarna (The Vasa daughters) – Karin Tegenborg Falkdalen

Arvet efter Gustav Vasa (The legacy of Gustav Vasa) – Lars-Olof Larsson.

 

 

Proposal painting – Steven van der Muelen

Painting thought to be Cecilia Vasa by unknown artist

 

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