Category Archives: December

23 December – Of Samuel Pepys, three nuns, a turkey and that man Cromwell.

pepysWith only two days of my metaphorical advent calendar to go I really should be getting a bit more festive – so with no further ado allow mw to introduce the turkey – property of one Samuel Pepys. In 1660 Mrs Pepys was troubled by the art of spit roasting the aforementioned bird. In fact you can read every single 23rd December that Pepys ever recorded should you feel the urge by following the link:

http://samuelpepystoday.com/?day=1123

 

A swift search of the net reveals that in the UK ten million turkeys are eaten each Christmas. I had thought it was a relative new comer to the Christmas table. After all, you only have to think of Ebenezer Scrooge and the prize goose that graced the Cratchets’ table to realise that the turkey has not always been the bird of choice but apparently, and I really am sorry about this because I had hoped to avoid him today, that the first turkey arrived in England in 1526 and, yes, the first monarch to eat turkey was Henry VIII though it was Edward VII who made them into a popular festive meal.  For more about festive birds read the History Extra article here.

Since it’s proved impossible to bypass the terrible Tudor I should probably also mention that Dr Legh, one of Cromwell’s monastic visitors, was wandering around Huntingdonshire on his way north on the 23 December 1535. He took it upon himself to visit Hinchinbrooke  Priory.  Sadly the prioress, Alice Wilton, was very unwell and the sight of Legh was enough to finish her off.  Legh promptly took charge of the keys and the money coffers before asking Cromwell what he should do next.

There being only three nuns in addition to the prioress and it being a poor establishment the priory was swiftly suppressed. Ownership passed on to Richard  Cromwell who was the son of Morgan Williams who married Katherine Cromwell, Thomas Cromwell’s sister. Richard took his uncle’s name and benefited from his uncle’s patronage to the tune of several large chunks of monastic land including Hinchinbrooke Priory and Ramsey Abbey.  Hinchinbrooke was to become famous as the birthplace a couple generations down the line of  Oliver Cromwell.
‘Henry VIII: December 1535, 21-25’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 9, August-December 1535, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1886), pp. 340-350. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol9/pp340-350 [accessed 6 December 2016].

‘Houses of Benedictine monks: The priory of Hinchinbrook’, in A History of the County of Huntingdon: Volume 1, ed. William Page, Granville Proby and H E Norris (London, 1926), pp. 389-390. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/hunts/vol1/pp389-390 [accessed 7 November 2016].

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22 December in History

640px-Cromwell,Thomas(1EEssex)01

Where would I be without Layton and Legh – today on the 22 December 1535 the dastardly pair  of monastic visitors were beginning their northern visitation at Lichfield (yes – I know its the Midlands but to Thomas Cromwell it was the north).  Layton paused en route at Chicksand in Bedfordshire where the Gilbertine nuns  “refused to admit him as visitor.” (I bet that went down well).  He found two of the nuns were “not barren;  one of them impregnavit supprior domus, another a serving-man.”  How he discovered this if the Gilbertine prioress refused him admittance is open to speculation.  He must have taken himself off to the local tavern and listened to the gossip. Rumour had it that one of the nuns was bricked up alive – its always good to go with the stereotype and offers us our festive ghost story- not that this prevented the prioress receiving a pension when the priory was finally suppressed in 1538.

‘Henry VIII: December 1535, 21-25’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 9, August-December 1535, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1886), pp. 340-350. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol9/pp340-350 [accessed 6 December 2016].

old pretender.jpgJumping forward two hundred years James III of England also known as the ‘Old Pretender’ landed at Petershead.  The Jacobites had been up in arms since September on account of George I not giving governmental position to nobles who felt that they deserved posts.  However, the jacobites were disorganised and poorly led meaning that by the time James landed it was all over bar the shouting. By February it was all over and James was back in France. The National Library of Scotland has a useful time line which may be accessed here.

king-stephenThere’s one last event for the 22nd which requires slipping back in time to 22 December 1135.  Stephen of Blois, grandson of William the Conqueror, was crowned king of England in Westminster Abbey.  Stephen’s uncle Henry I had intended his daughter Matilda to rule but his barons, forced to swear their support for her, felt that a woman was unfit to rule so crowned Stephen in her stead.  It didn’t help that she was married to Geoffrey of Anjou – a chap who the barons weren’t terribly keen to welcome as the king – given that a woman, no matter who she was, would by necessity be required to be subservient to her husband.

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Duke of York arrives in Sandal Castle

Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York 2.jpgHaving returned from Ireland in October 1460, tried to claim the throne and ultimately agreed that he would inherit it after Henry VI died, Richard duke of York made his way north to deal with Margaret of Anjou who was not terribly impressed with the turn of events. Her forces were recorded at Pontefract, Hull and then further north.  Amongst them was Richard’s own son-in-law Henry Holland, duke of Exeter.

anne holland.jpgHenry Holland, a great-grandson of Edward III and descendent of Joan of Kent (thus a descendent of Edward I), had been married off to Richard of York’s eldest daughter (to survive childhood) Anne in 1447.  He  remained loyal to Henry VI and would be a commander on the Lancastrian side of the field at the Battle of Wakefield.  It would be a mistake that would leave him attainted for treason after the Battle of Towton in Easter 1461.  Anne Holland and her only child, Anne, would gain Holland’s estates. The couple’s marriage would be annulled in 1472  after Holland was badly wounded at the Battle of Barnet.  Anne would remarry Thomas St Leger and die in childbirth – another Anne.  As for Anne  Holland Junior she would be married off to Elizabeth Woodville’s son, Thomas Grey, marquis of Dorset.  She would be dead by 1474. If you want to know more about Anne of York read Susan Higginbottom’s post here. In a twist of history when the skeleton of Richard III was discovered under the car park it would be Anne of York’s descendants who provided the DNA that proved that it was Richard.

But back to December 1460, Richard was troubled by bad weather and an unfortunate interlude with the duke of Somerset at Worksop on the 16th December recorded by William of Worcester.  The Worcester chronicle stated that Richard arrived at Sandal on the 21st December (although Edward Hall states that he didn’t arrive until Christmas Eve).

Richard’s arrival in Sandal revealed that the castle didn’t have enough stores to feed the extra mouths – and not enough space either- lots of Richard’s soldiers spent a chilly Christmas under canvas. Nor was it possible to go foraging very easily as Sandal was a York pinpoint on a noticeboard of Lancaster red.

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A letter from Cranmer

Thomas_Cranmer_by_Gerlach_Flicke.jpgFirst of all, for those of you who follow The History Jar by email, yesterday’s post requires an update.  Rosie Bevan contacted me with the following information – “The relationship between Richard and Reginald de Lucy was uncovered in 2016. They were actually father and son. See Reginald de Lucy, Son of Richard de Lucy, King’s Justiciar: New Perspectives
Foundations (2016) 8:53-72 By Rosie Bevan and Peter G M Dale.” It’s true, history is always changing because new information keeps surfacing facts to careful research.

Today’s main even is that on the 20th December 1192 Richard I (a.k.a. The Lionheart) was on his way back home from the Crusades when Leopold V of Austria imprisoned him resulting in some hefty taxation in England to raise the ransom, brotherly misdemeanour from Prince John and an outbreak of ballads resulting in the legends of Robin Hood (cue stirring music and sounds of twanging arrows) and also of Blondel the Minstrel wandering around Europe trying to track down his royal boss (cue sounds of stirring music and sounds of twanging lute strings).

Inevitably I have gone for something more prosaic. On the 20th December 1535 Thomas Cranmer wrote to Lord Lisle better known as Arthur Plantagenet, illegitimate son of Edward IV.

Cranmer to Lord Lisle.
I understand that one Thos. King, now abiding in Calais, has left his wife Eleanor Saygrave, and lives with another woman, denying his former marriage. I have therefore sent my commissary to see them both punished, in which I desire your assistance. I hear there is good provision of wines with you. If so, I beg you will help me therein when I send to you. I am much bound to my Lady for her goodness to my chaplains. Ford, 20 Dec. Signed.

‘Henry VIII: December 1535, 11-20’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 9, August-December 1535, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1886), pp. 318-340. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol9/pp318-340 [accessed 17 December 2016].

Given that the Pope was threatening to excommunicate Henry VIII at this time for leaving Katherine of Aragon it seems a bit rich that Cranmer was writing about Thomas King running off with another woman and deserting his wife.

At this stage in proceedings I couldn’t tell you the circumstances of the marriage between Eleanor and Thomas but in Tudor households marriages were not a matter of love but of parental negotiation. Young people were not left to their own devices.  It was their parents and guardians who played a leading part in arranging marriages to strengthen alliances whether between kingdoms, estates or mercantile endeavours.  For more about marriage read the History Extra article here.

Calais was the last remnant of England’s continental claim.  It had been in English hands since Edward III captured it in 1347.  The Pale of Calais was about one hundred and twenty miles square.  It was, obviously, heavily fortified with the fort at Guisnes being of key importance.

Lord Lisle was the Governor of Calais.  He lived there along with his wife Honour Grenville.  Lisle had a reputation for being somewhat henpecked, a gossip and a purveyor of quail.  I don’t know what happened to Thomas King or how he came to live in Calais with a lady who wasn’t his wife far less how Cranmer came to be involved in the tale but it does give us a brief glimpse of ordinary life in all its messiness. And if anyone happens to know more about the story – please tell.

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Henry VIII excommunicated

Henry-VIII-enjoyed-gambli-008On the 17th December 1538 Pope Paul III excommunicated Henry VIII from the Catholic Church. And, rather than reinvent the wheel, double click on the image to open a new page   in the Anne Boleyn Files which explores the reasons why the papacy finally lost patience with the chubby Tudor terror.

Excommunication had been threatened by Pope Clement VII in 1533. He died the following year and a new pope was elected.

Pope Paul was born Allessandro Farnese and it was to this pope, elected in 1534, that fell the job of organising the Counter-Reformation. Two years after Henry’s excommunication using the papal bull drafted by Clement but never enacted the Jesuits were recognised by the Catholic Church and in 1542 the Inquisition received a face-lift.

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Jurgen Wullenwever

Henry VIII. to the Archbishop of Bremen.
Is much distressed to hear that his friend George Wolweber has been stopped on his journey, deprived of his goods, and thrown into chains. Did not expect such a return for his kindness towards the citizens of Bremen. Thinks the archbishop has been misled by malicious reports, and requests him to restore Wolweber to liberty. Richmond, 15 Dec. 1535.

Wullenwewer.png‘Henry VIII: December 1535, 11-20’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 9, August-December 1535, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1886), pp. 318-340. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol9/pp318-340 [accessed 6 December 2016].

Jurgen Wullenwever takes a lot of finding but when you do find him his story mixes the political and religious upheaval of Northern Europe with the story of Henry VIII’s divorce.  Apparently , as the letter above shows, he was a much sought after chap in December 1535 but managed to get into serious bother when he stopped at a local tavern, partook of much too much booze and woke up the following morning behind bars with various officials trying to get their mitts upon his person. The letter is from Henry to the Archbishop of Bremen in an attempt to secure Wullenwever’s release.

Wullenwever was actually on his way to Lubeck when he was captured having tried to raise support for the town with various German protestant cities. At that time the merchants of Lubeck were a dominant feature of the Hanseatic League. One of the original reasons for this power was that it controlled entrance to the Baltic.  However by 1535 the importance of Lubeck was on the decline whilst the importance of the Low Countries was on the rise.  Lubeck  was part of Denmark and wanted to be independent so it got rid of its city council and appointed Jurgen Wullenwever it’s burgomaster.

In order to gain independence Wullenwever had to juggle the sweeping changes that were occurring in European religion and keep the Danish/Swedish elite at arms length not to mention those pesky Low Country types and the Holy Roman Emperor in the person of Charles V.  Now is not the time to delve into the European politics of the period. Suffice it to say none of the above were too keen on the idea of a democratic city state.

What Henry VIII wanted was an agreement between the citizens of Lubeck and England of mutual support and appreciation.  He would support them in their bid for independence from Denmark/Sweden if they would support him in his attempt to divorce Katherine of Aragon…what with their democratic protestant leanings he felt they would be right behind him.  He felt this would strengthen his hand against the Pope and against the Holy Roman Emperor.  Apparently, it is suggested, he even had a fleeting thought of being offered the Danish crown, which had fallen recently vacant hence the Lubeckers bid for mercantile and political freedom.

The plot thickens from there.  Inevitably Cromwell attended secret meetings in London. Legh – better known for his role visiting the monasteries could be found in Hamburg having intense discussions on the subject.  Lubeck sent its own envoys. The duke of Norfolk became stroppy because he wasn’t invited to any of the meetings. Demands were made by the Lubeckers for financial support along with a less than subtle hint that if Henry didn’t stump up the cash then there were German princes who would be more than happy to help support one of the principal partners in the Hanseatic League.  It all progressed with the usual pomp and fanfare that you might expect whilst behind the scenes Chapuys wrote notes that suggested that he or someone he knew had spent a lot of time skulking in the shadows trying to listen to other people skulking in the shadows.

And then it all went very wrong.  It turned out that not all the inhabitants of Lubeck thought Henry was right to get rid of Katherine. Assorted Lubeck clergy indulged in a spat of verbal fisticuffs. More letters were written, Cromwell was heavily involved, Henry became indignant.  The citizens of Lubeck decided that perhaps they could agree with Henry and by the way could he send some gunpowder to show his gratitude.

Whilst the good burghers of Lubeck had been dallying with Henry the crown of Denmark had been filled.  Christian III now sent an envoy to Henry reporting that he had been elected and now required Henry’s support and what was this nonsense about Henry making a treaty with the treacherous citizens of Lubeck? Cromwell, Mr Fixit, smoothly suggested that there had never been no treaty, not never….

Henry and Cromwell stood on the sidelines whilst the Lubeckers with their ideas of democracy and reformed religion were forced to come to terms with the monarch they didn’t want.  Wullenwever went on the run but ended up drunk in a tavern. He was handed over to his enemies who tortured and executed him two years later on charges of being an anabaptist ( one who rejects the notion of infant baptism and believes in adult baptism – the term literally means re-baptised. Anabaptism evolved into a theology that meant that the Bible was the only rule for life and for belief.)

 

http://www.executedtoday.com/2013/09/24/1537-jurgen-wullenwever-burgermeister-of-lubeck/

Harreld, Donald. (2015 ) A Companion to the Hanseatic League

 

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I saw five ships…

golden-hindThis post contains not three ships but five.  It’s also rather brief as this event isn’t exactly a niche happening for keen historians its linked to one of England’s most identifiable historic figures!   Today, 13th December, in 1577 Sir Francis Drake set off from Plymouth with fewer than two hundred men on his greatest voyage.  The Pelican was Drake’s vessel.  He was accompanied by the Elizabeth, the Marigold, the Swan and the Benedict. Just to confuse matters the Benedict was also known as the Christopher.  By January the vessels made landfall in what we now know as Argentina and the Pelican was renamed the Golden Hind as it sailed through the Magellan Straits.

If you want to know more about drake and his various voyages then I suggest the Naval Museum in Greenwich link here which will open a new window and a thorough overview as to whether Drake was a hero (oh yes he was!) or a piratical villain -(oh no he wasn’t! Er, actually, he might have been if you were Spanish – he was a licensed privateer after all).

However, one of the first places I remember visiting as a child was Buckland Abbey in Devon, and my father served for a time in the Royal Navy so I grew up on a diet of seafaring heroics and the story of Drake’s drum, a replica of  which can still be seen at Buckland Abbey – although the original does still exist (and I have seen it).   Drake is supposed to have taken the snare drum with him on his momentous journey of 1577-1580.  The story goes that shortly before his death off Panama he ordered the drum to be returned home to Buckland and if England was ever in peril and the drum beaten then Drake would return to defend his country once more. Of course the sound of ghostly drum rolls have been heard at various times in England’s history including the outbreak of World War One and on the surrender of the Imperial German Navy in 1918.  It was also heard echoing during the dark days of the Dunkirk evacuation and during the Plymouth Blitz.  Folklore rather than history but the ‘story’ in history is one of the things that has always made history so fascinating for me. And, there’s that rather stirring poem by Newbolt – looking back I’m impressed that my father knew it so well having been required to learn it at school and even more impressed that it was deemed suitable for a five-year-old  who then demanded to hear it on more than one occasion- so consequentially it seems appropriate that this post: small part fact, large part folk lore and small part narrative poem finish with Newbolt’s words:

Drake he’s in his hammock an’ a thousand miles away,
(Capten, art tha sleepin’ there below?)
Slung atween the round shot in Nombre Dios Bay,
An’ dreamin’ arl the time O’ Plymouth Hoe.
Yarnder lumes the Island, yarnder lie the ships,
Wi’ sailor lads a-dancing’ heel-an’-toe,
An’ the shore-lights flashin’, an’ the night-tide dashin’,
He sees et arl so plainly as he saw et long ago.

Drake he was a Devon man, an’ ruled the Devon seas,
(Capten, art tha’ sleepin’ there below?)
Roving’ tho’ his death fell, he went wi’ heart at ease,
A’ dreamin’ arl the time o’ Plymouth Hoe.
“Take my drum to England, hang et by the shore,
Strike et when your powder’s runnin’ low;
If the Dons sight Devon, I’ll quit the port o’ Heaven,
An’ drum them up the Channel as we drumm’d them long ago.”

Drake he’s in his hammock till the great Armadas come,
(Capten, art tha sleepin’ there below?)
Slung atween the round shot, listenin’ for the drum,
An’ dreamin arl the time o’ Plymouth Hoe.
Call him on the deep sea, call him up the Sound,
Call him when ye sail to meet the foe;
Where the old trade’s plyin’ an’ the old flag flyin’
They shall find him ware an’ wakin’, as they found him long ago!

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Dr Richard Layton

Visitation_monasteries.jpgI’m still perusing Henry VIII’s letters and papers. One of today’s letters to Cromwell is an eyebrow raiser so I couldn’t resist it. The letter  containing scandalous information about a nun from Syon was written by Richard Layton who has been mentioned many times in this blog but has never had his own post – so I thought that today’s metaphorical advent could be Dr Richard Layton.  This image shows the monastic visitors arriving at a monastery with their cavalcade of out runners or “rufflers” and much fanfare.

Here’s the letter:

Bishop this day preached, and declared the King’s title, to a church full of people. One of the “focares” openly called him false knave: “it was that foolish fellow with the curled head that kneeled in your way when ye came forth of the confessor’s chamber.” Must set him in prison, to deter others. Learnt yesterday many enormous things against Bishop in examining the lay brethren, —that he had persuaded two of them to have gone away by night along with him, but that they lacked money to buy the secular apparel, —that he tried to induce one of them, a smith, to make a key for the door to receive wenches at night, especially a wife of Uxbridge, dwelling not far from the old lady Derby. He also persuaded a nun, to whom he was confessor, ad libidinem corporum perimplendam, and that she would be forgiven if she confessed immediately after each occasion, and was absolved by him. She wrote him many foolish letters, and would have got his brother, the smith, to have pulled a bar of iron out of that window where Cromwell examined the Lady Abbess, and at which they used to commune by night. He got the sexton also to assist him. Intends to make further search this afternoon both of the brethren and of the sisters, and will certify Cromwell tomorrow morning. Most of the brethren are weary of their habit. Such religion and feigned sanctity God save me from!

 

To all intents and purposes Layton presents himself as a loyal subject of the king and a religious reformer.The letter sums up his rather tabloid writing style; his approach to the visitation of the monasteries and his strategy of looking for gossip amongst the lay members of a community. The letter even contains an example of the rather delightful habit of referring to anything carnal in latin in order that messengers carrying his communications to Cromwell might not be tainted with the knowledge of a letter’s contents. In this case the literal translation is “the passion of their bodies fulfilment.”

So who was he? Layton was a Cumbrian descended from the Layton who owned Dalemain at that time.  Dalemain had been in the hands of the Layton family since 1272. It would leave the family in the seventeenth century due to the fact that there were six daughters and no sons.  If you go far enough back up the family tree its possible to find Nevilles  but the Laytons weren’t nobility they would be more correctly defined as gentry. Layton’s mother was a Tunstall – Cuthbert Tunstall, the Bishop of Durham, was his uncle.   He was  born somewhere near the turn of the century. Moorhouse notes that he was supposed to have thirty-two siblings (Moorhouse:27), another one of them became an MP.  It is clear however that with such a large extended family Layton had to look to his own skills for advance.  He was also, somewhat ironically, related to Robert Aske one of the leaders of the Pilgrimage of Grace who rebelled against the dissolution of the monasteries and I think that there’s a priest hole at Dalemain demonstrating that the family weren’t all as keen on reform as Richard.

It would appear that Layton, having finished his education and been received into the priesthood, entered Wolsey’s service.  This was a conventional enough progression in the   Tudor civil  service which still drew on the Church for its clerks at this time.  He appears to have had a number of livings in London including on at the Tower of London but as it required his presence he resigned from it fairly swiftly when better opportunities arose.

He came to the forefront of the changes that were occurring in the 1530s because of his acquaintance with Cromwell.   As the King’s Great Matter became ever more pressing he found himself interrogating the likes of Sir Thomas More and Bishop Fisher – his education and ordination giving his  questions legitimacy.  Cromwell must have found his old colleague efficient and effective because he sent him along with Thomas Ap Rice to the University of Oxford to undertake an investigation there as well.

The following year, August 1535, he found himself heading up the team of visitors rootling through the monastic houses of England and Wales with a list of pre-prepared questions in hand but always reporting back to Cromwell who arranged their findings into two groups: firstly, the Valor Ecclesiasticus which contained the accounts and lists of relics; secondly, the Comperta or ‘Black Book’ which contained all the monastic misdeeds. Layton had a hand in the construction of the questions and also in the injunctions which were issued at each visit.  An example of the latter would be the prohibition on leaving the monastic enclosure.  This prompted many letters to Cromwell complaining about the unreasonableness of the strictures involved.  It should be noted that  Layton was the only ordained cleric on the team of visitors.  Initially there seems from Cromwell’s letters to have been some jockeying for position between Layton and Legh, another visitor.  Both told tales and complained about one another but generally speaking Layton emerges in history as Cromwell’s chief visitor.

Layton gathered confidence with each foundation he visited.  His task was to inspect the accounts, uncover any poor practice from failure to obey the rule of St Benedict to encouraging superstitious practices as well as administering the oath of supremacy.  He seems particularly good at sniffing out scandal amongst the monks and nuns of the places he visited – much of it with a tabloid quality!  The letter above is a case in point – it reads like a particularly bad bodice ripper; although interestingly he did sometimes note a blameless monastic foundation.  Bristol and Durham received a clean bill of health from Layton. Having said that it is worth remembering  that Layton  was related to Cuthbert Tunstall who as bishop was also the titular abbot. Having finished visiting the southern monasteries, narrowly avoiding being burned in his bed whilst visiting Canterbury, he volunteered to visit the northern monasteries – it was after all a lucrative task. He set off just before Christmas 1535. As a consequence of his dependence on Cromwell for advancement his letters are often toadying and nearly always full of tales of naughty nuns and monks.

Layton managed to make himself so disliked that he together with Thomas Cromwell and  Legh are identified in the list of the pilgrims grievances in 1536 with a request that these “wicked” advisers be punished.  Not that this had any effect! As the monasteries closed it was Layton who journeyed around the country accepting the surrender of many of the monasteries that he’d inspected earlier.  It is impossible to know how many bribes he took for recommending former monks to new posts.

Layton became rector of Harrow-on-the-Hill and rather lucratively in the north he was appointed Dean in York on 23 July 1539.  He helped himself to rather a lot of York’s plate and pawned it for his own benefit. This only surfaced after his death when the deanery were forced to redeem the items in question.

By now he had a reputation as a ‘can do’ man so he found himself on the team  investigating the validity of Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleves. He’d already had a role at Anne Boleyn’s trial.  In short his career follows the path of many Tudor administrators but it was through his work on the monasteries that he attained notoriety.

His career as a diplomat began to extend in the period that followed. He became English Ambassador in the Court of the Netherlands. He was with the Queen of Hungary in March 1544 dealing with safe conduct passes.   We know this because he receives a mention in one of her letters to Chapuys. It is from the Spanish archives that we can learn about his illness and his death. He died in June 1544 in Brussels.

For those of you who are a little Henried out I will try to find something less Tudor tomorrow.

‘Henry VIII: December 1535, 11-20’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 9, August-December 1535, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1886), pp. 318-340. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol9/pp318-340 [accessed 6 December 2016].

http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1509-1558/member/layton-william-1514-5152

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The fate of kings – Edward VIII, Edward II, Richard II and Charles I

king_edward_viiiThree kings plus a spare – what could be more festive than that?

 

The first of today’s faces is outside my usual time period but it is a significant event so far as the British monarchy is concerned. On the 11 December 1936 King Edward VIII, uncrowned king of the United Kingdom, renounced the throne, not by proclamation but through the very modern medium of a radio broadcast. He then joined Wallis Simpson on a boat bound for France. He’d been king for less than a year. In his abdication speech Edward was eager to observe that as a constitutional monarch he’d never done anything in opposition to his parliament. Churchill made much the same comment in a speech given in the House of Commons on the subject. He also said, “ What is done is done. What has been done or left undone belongs to history, and to history, so far as I am concerned, it shall be left.”

 

Since then history, journalists, biographers and anyone with an interest have speculated as to the whys and wherefores of the case of the only king in English history to voluntarily renounce his throne.

 

Edward’s decision was the result of a constitutional crisis bought about by his love for Wallis Simpson, an almost twice divorced American. I say almost because her second divorce from Ernest Simpson was still pending at this time. If Edward had hoped that the political elite would be tolerant of his love for Wallis he was sadly mistaken even though there was probably a big clue in the fact that his own father, George V, had refused to meet her in 1934.

 

Edward even went so far to ask Stanley Baldwin, the then prime minister, if it would be possible for him to have a morganatic marriage. A morganatic marriage in this context is a marriage between a couple of unequal rank in society. Although the marriage is recognized any children resulting from the union would not be permitted to inherit the throne. Nor would Wallis have attained the rank and privileges of her husband. This was a reasonably common approach to marriage in European royal houses but would have been unique in British history – no one dared mention to Henry VIII, of instance, that his marriage to Anne Boleyn, even with her drip of Plantagenet blood, was not a marriage of equals.

 

Baldwin’s cabinet deemed that the British public would not take to a twice divorced American with a scandalous reputation so said no to a morganatic union. This left Edward with three choices: he could say goodbye to Wallis and marry a woman deemed appropriate; abdicate or ignore the prime minister and marry Wallis anyway. This would have led to a direct confrontation between king and his ministers as they would have resigned resulting in a constitutional crisis.

 

By the beginning of December the scandal was all over the papers.  Edward made his decision and ‘lay down the burden’ of kingship – which rather suggests he felt there was a choice in the matter. The pair got married on June 3 1937. Edward’s younger brother Albert, now King George VI, created him duke of Windsor.  Edward and Wallis spent the rest of their lives in exile.

 

edwardiiOf course, other kings have abdicated in English history – just they didn’t do it voluntarily and they certainly weren’t sent off  to be the governor of the Bahamas. The demise of deposed medieval kings reflects the way in which parliament gradually became more important as the centuries progressed and the kings themselves gradually found their power being eroded. Edward II was deposed in January 1327 when he was captured by his wife Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer. Parliament named his son Edward III as king. There wasn’t a great deal of debate about the matter but it is significant that parliament was called upon to recognise the transition. Edward II disappeared into Berkeley Castle where he was murdered – the medieval way of getting rid of a king who’d worn out his welcome.

 

tumblr_m94jocf45j1qeu6ilo1_500Two generations later Richard II renounced the throne in 1399. In reality, he too was deposed but his cousin Henry of Bolingbroke, who became Henry IV, recognized the importance of popular acclaim and legal justification for his actions- no need to discuss the fact that Richard II was being held captive at the time nor the fact that he didn’t have a great deal of choice in the matter. Like his great grandfather Richard found himself being escorted to a large castle (Pontefract) and quietly removed from the scene (starved).

During the Wars of the Roses, Lancastrians and Yorkists alike were careful to have parliament identify their reign as beginning prior to the key battle that saw them taking hold of power.  This ensured that the loosing side could all be attained for treason.

Charles_I_in_Three_Positions_1635-36By the reign of Charles I the law and parliament had evolved even further, though now is not the time to explore the reasons for that.  Charles found himself on trial for treason. The rationale for this came from the Roman idea that a military body could overthrow a tyrant and even then many people had doubts about the legitimacy of such an action. The Parliament of 1648 was notable for the way in which MPs were excluded from the House of Commons if they were not in support of Oliver Cromwell’s drastic actions. This parliament was known as the Rump Parliament.

 

The idea that there were fundamental laws and liberties which a monarch was required to uphold or to face penalties  imposed by parliament and the law would have come as a surprise to Charles I’s predecessors.  Having seen the power that they could wield parliament now invited Stuart monarchs to ascend to the throne, kicked them out if they didn’t like their religion and laid down statutes as to who could inherit the throne. This meant that with the advent of the protestant Hanoverian monarchs, the British monarchy was a constitutional monarchy.  Kings and queens are heads of state but within defined parameters – their role became increasingly ceremonial whilst the business of laws and governing rest in the hands of Parliament.

Who would have thought that this centuries long evolution would resolve itself in the first half of the twentieth century with the abdication of a monarch for the love of a woman?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mary of Modena

mary_of_modena_pieterszToday’s figure is Catherine of Modena, James II’s wife because it was on the 9th December 1688 that James II lost the Battle of Reading which marked the moment when his son-in-law William of Orange effectively deposed the hapless Stuart with the help of his people. James  having deposited his wife and son with his French cousin Louis XIV returned  and the whole sorry matter dragged on for a while longer  as he tried to hang on to the throne. He was caught by his son-in-law there was some umming and ahhing whilst the English worked out what to do with him and then they just quietly let him go rather than having to go through the tricky business of trying and executing him as they had done with his father.

 

We’re often taught at school that it was because of James II’s catholicism that the political elite of England toppled the second of Charles I’s sons to wear the crown but actually his lack of popularity was not for his personal beliefs alone. It was due to the laws he passed from 1685 onwards which offered religious toleration to everyone whether they were Catholic or Quaker. Other factors in the unrest included James’ links to France.  James was not so good at dissimulating about a french pension as big brother Charles had been. There is  also the fact that he didn’t have Charles II’s ability to juggle the different factions around him with good humour – his personality was a bit on the prickly side.

 

On the 10 June 1688 Mary of Modena gave birth to a boy – Charles Edward Stuart a.k.a. ‘The Old Pretender.’ This added to James’ woes because up until that point folk were prepared to tolerate him knowing that upon his death the throne would go to his eldest daughter Mary (if only  she’d been called something different this would have been a far easier post to write) by his first wife Anne Hyde (James should have married a princess rather than the daughter of  his brother’s leading minister but James had made Anne pregnant and had to be forced to the altar by his exasperated brother and future father-in-law). Mary (James’ daughter) was the protestant wife of the staunchly protestant William of Orange. Mary and her sister Anne conspired with one another to suggest that their half-brother wasn’t actually their half brother thus giving William the excuse he needed to accept the invitation to take the English crown. I’m not sure how Mary (daughter) squared that particular circle in her mind given that she was supposed to be friends with her slandered step-mother.

 

By December 1688 there had been anti-Catholic riots, plotting aplenty and rumour. James dithered. This was followed on the 9 December by the Battle of Reading, which James lost, and it was off to France for Mary of Modena the following day.

 

So who was she apart from James II’s second queen? Mary Beatrice d’Este, born 1658, was related to everyone important in Europe – the Bourbons and the Medicis. Her great uncle was the hugely influential Cardinal Mazarin. Her mother was very pious and little Mary grew up the same way.

 

Mary’s father died when she was just four. When she was eleven she contemplated becoming a nun  but it was evident that a child with so much important ancestry wasn’t going to be allowed to do that.  The Papacy, the French and even her own mother, who was acting as regent for her brother until he came of age, wanted to ensure the best and most beneficial marriage for themselves. Mary found herself being married off to Prince James a.k.a the Duke of York as the result of the usual diplomatic intriguing that went into most royal marriages the negotiations were strained. The pair eventually married by proxy and Mary, by now fifteen, left Italy to meet her new husband in 1673.

James was twenty-five years older than her, widowed with two daughters who weren’t terribly keen on their new step-mother. James was very admiring of his new bride but when she finally met him she is said to have burst into tears. Things probably didn’t get any better when James introduced her to her new step-daughters with the words “I’ve brought you a new play fellow.”  Mary (the new duchess of York) was four years older than Mary (James’ daughter) and some six years older than Anne. She did try to befriend Anne by playing with her.

 

Elsewhere in the country even though as an individual it is clear that Mary was a hugely sincere and likeable person (Charles II regarded her highly) the population called her ‘The Pope’s Daughter” and muttered darkly – so darkly in fact that Charles II sent his brother and bride out of London to let the matter cool down.

 

Gradually the resentment became an undercurrent. The problem seemed to be one that would resolve itself in time.  Charles II died. Prince James the duke of York became King James II.  Mary’s relationship with her step-daughters had resolved itself into dislike by Anne and warmth with Mary.  Mary had no real nursery to tend. Young Charles Edward was actually one of seven but all of them had died either at birth or before they reached the age of five up until that time – one little princess died as the result of illness caught from half-sister Anne. It can’t have helped Mary that there were plenty of other little Stuarts kicking about as James II had the same problems with fidelity as his elder brother.

Then came the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

So, where does that leave Mary?  Louis XIV provided the royal fugitives with a home, the Chateau de Saint- Germain-en-Laye just outside Paris and a pension. Mary bore James another child, the Princess Louisa Mary (one of England’s forgotten princesses) but she died of smallpox when she was nineteen.

 

James made a number of attempts to reclaim his throne. Mary’s jewels had to be sold to finance the ventures. Gradually James sank into bitterness and then, it has been suggested, senility before dying in 1701.

Mary who’d cried at first sight of her husband had grown to love him over the years. She wore black for the rest of her life and became increasingly withdrawn to the contemplative life that she’d hoped for as a child in the company of the nuns of the Convent of the Visitations. She died in 1718 in poverty and was buried by the nuns.

 

Her only surviving child – the so-called “baby in the bedpan” after the claim that the royal child was stillborn and a substitute smuggled into the royal bedchamber – proclaimed himself King James III. If you feel the urge you can still see the bed where Charles Edward Stuart was born or emerged from the bedpan. http://www.hrp.org.uk/exhibition-archive/secrets-of-the-royal-bedchamber/the-royal-beds/#gs.hTi2n=Y

 

I think that Mary was the only Italian queen England has had. She was also England’s last Catholic queen as the 1689 act of succession, or more correctly Bill of Rights, which invited William and Mary to become joint sovereigns, identified the order of succession specifically excluding potential catholic heirs. The 1701 Act of Settlement which identified where the crown would go after Queen Anne popped her clogs specified that no one married to a catholic could become monarch either.  This was confirmed in 1714 when George, elector of Hanover was invited to become King George I.

That’s not to say there might never be another catholic queen.  The Crown Act of 2013 ended those restrictions along with the system whereby a younger son displaces an elder sister from the succession – now the first born is the heir to the crown irrelevant of their gender or the gender of any siblings they may subsequentially acquire.

 

There’s even a biography freely available if you feel the urge:

https://archive.org/details/queenmaryofmoden00hailuoft

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