George Cavendish was born in Suffolk in about 1497 and yes, he was related to the Cavendish family who became the Dukes of Devonshire and Newcastle. His brother, William, was the Cavendish who married Bess of Hardwick. And if you want further proof that everyone was related to everyone else in Tudor times then bear in mind that George’s wife was Sir Thomas More’s niece.
I’m looking at George today because he wrote about Anne Boleyn’s relationship with Henry Percy. Both he, William and Percy were part of Cardinal Wolsey’s household, so you could say that Cavendish had a ringside seat as events unfolded. Cavendish stayed with Wolsey until his death, in disgrace, in 1530. It was he who served Wolsey his last meal of baked pears in Leicester. He then had an uncomfortable conversation with Henry VIII about Wolsey’s last words – uncomfortable in more ways than one as Harry kept Cavendish on his knees for more than an hour.
George retired to Suffolk following Wolsey’s death despite being offered a job as one of Henry’s ushers. He went home to his wife and family from whom even Wolsey conceded he’d been separated for too long on account of loyal service. He took the opportunity to write a biography of the Cardinal having made notes of events and anecdotes down the years of his service to Henry’s right hand man so it is not surprising that the ‘gorgeous young lady’ who turned Wolsey’s power on its head should feature between the pages. Cavendish claims that Anne was motivated by hatred for Wolsey and a desire for revenge when the prelate scuppered her plans to marry Henry Percy in 1522 on the orders of Henry VIII.
Cavendish writes of the romance;
Lord Percy would then resort for his pastime into the Queen’s maidens, being at the last more conversant with Mistress Anne Boleyn than with any other; so that there grew such a secret love between them that at length they were insured together, intending to marry.
Cavendish went on to describe the couple being separated and clearly believed that Henry had his eye on Anne from an early time but more modern writers think that Wolsey didn’t think that Anne Boleyn was a suitable match for the earl of Northumberland. Percy’s marriage needed to be about land, power and money not love. It can’t have helped that Anne was packed off home in disgrace and that Percy rarely came to court after that nor was his marriage to the Earl of Shrewsbury’s daughter a very happy one. Cavendish also reports that Wolsey believed that it was Anne who turned Henry against him. He called her a ‘night crow.’
Clearly it would have not been wise to make any criticisms of Henry VIII during the monarch’s life time so Cavendish only made his writing available during the reign of Queen Mary. The text wasn’t published until 1641 but it is thought that Shakespeare had access to the manuscript.
Cavendish’s biography of Wolsey is still in print and is also available on the Internet at https://archive.org/stream/TheLifeAndDeathOfCardinalWosley/cavendish_george_1500_1561_life_and_death_of_cardinal_wolsey#page/n3/mode/2up. Click on the link to open up a new page to find out about the ‘honest poor man’s son’ who became a cardinal, the day that Thomas Cromwell shed tears, the duke of Norfolk threatening to rend Wolsey with his teeth and the prophecy of the dun cow.
An illustration from Cavendish’s manuscript showing part of the cardinal;’s procession.