Tag Archives: Charles Dickens

Henry VIII mistresses and queens

 

Henry-VIII-enjoyed-gambli-008After Jane Seymour’s death Henry consoled himself, possibly, with the attentions of his uncle’s step-niece Anne Bassett who was described as a very pretty girl. Rumour stated that Margaret Shelton was a possible contender for wife number four – or two if you were counting as Henry chose to count-It was also rumoured that a sixteen year old called Elizabeth Cobham was of some interest to the king but ultimately Henry opted for a continental match with Anne of Cleves. It was not a roaring success but it did mean that the court once again contained a household of ladies. One of the requirements, specified by King Henry, was that they be pretty.

Elizabeth Cobham married William Parr. At this stage in proceedings it’s easy to imagine that no aristocratic Tudor marriage was without its soap-opera moments. William Parr’s marriage was no exception to that. Parr had been married to the daughter of the then earl of Essex. Ann Bourchier his bride had taken matters in her own hands and gone to live “over the brush” with the man of her dreams, leaving Parr high and dry. William divorced Anne in 1547 and married Elizabeth Cobham – which seems simple enough except that someone failed to complete all the paperwork leaving Parr in a position where Parliament reversed the annulment to Anne making him bigamously married to Elizabeth. This in turn meant that an act had to be passed making the legitimacy of his children quite safe. Another act had to be passed properly completing the annulment from Ann in correct legal fashion and then he had to remarry Elizabeth…this receives a paragraph in Jones’ book about Henry’s ladies.

 

However, William Parr’s marital difficulties lay in the future. Henry, if you recall, was not keen on Anne of Cleves. The marriage was dissolved. As was often the case in Henry’s career of serial monogamy (turning a blind eye to mistresses) – the replacement was lined up before the current incumbent was dispatched. Enter Katherine Howard, Henry’s “rose without a thorn,” a young lady-in-waiting and so far as Henry was concerned the new and virtuous lady wife. Best to draw a veil over that one!

 

Historians speculate that had Catherine Parr, wife number six, fallen from grace that she would have been replaced by Katherine Willoughby the dowager duchess of Suffolk. There were also conversations about replacing Catherine with Lady Mary Howard – Henry’s own daughter-in-law, the widow of Henry FitzRoy.

 

In addition to the last two who were not the king’s mistresses, merely possible contenders for a very unlucky job, fourteen ladies are mentioned in various texts as possible mistresses of the king. Some of them progressed to becoming wives, others like Bessie Blunt were long term mistresses of the king. Still others are hazy echoes captured in phrases in letters sent by ambassadors reporting gossip, or a line in the account books. Women like Mary Berkeley who is supposed to have had a brief affair with the king whilst he was on a hunting trip are impossible to prove or disprove one way or the other. Her son Henry Perrot rose within the Tudor administrative system and found favour with Queen Elizabeth before becoming tangled in Irish politics. Most historians, it should be added, discount Mary Berkeley and Jane Pollard.

 

Another possible unacknowledged son Sir Thomas Stukeley (his mother was Jane Pollard) hailed from Devon and was, quite frankly, a bit of a rogue but was said to look like Henry VIII. Without DNA it is impossible to tell which of Henry’s potential children actually were his and the puzzle will no doubt result in the sale of many more books over the years.

 

Saddest of all though is the account to be found in the Privy Papers of 1537. William Webbe claimed Henry had stolen away his mistress and enjoyed her favours in “avowtry” or adultery.   This is a reminder that all the women mentioned in the previous few posts were of gentle birth – the game of courtly love was to be played. The king fancied himself in love with these women.  The same cannot be said to be true of common women. Put simply, they didn’t count.  Henry saw something he wanted and took it. This leaves a huge potential number of encounters that no one deemed necessary to document.  It is hinted at when it is suggested that Henry would be quite happy with an apple and a pretty wench to while away the hours! There was no pretence at romance in this last encounter. The only reason history knows about it is that William Webbe stood up to the king and demanded justice.  It says something that the record remains in the documents.

 

Mrs Webbe had no say in the matter and neither did William Webbe but so far as I’m aware he kept his head unlike Sir Nicholas Carew who lost it in 1539 or Thomas Cromwell who died in 1540 when the duke of Norfolk was able to use the Cleves fiasco alongside the blandishments of Katherine Howard to topple his rival.

Charles Dickens in his Child’s History of England describes Henry VIII as a “detestable villain.” His text was on the school curriculum for a good part of the twentieth century.  It is hard sometimes to disagree with his assessment of that particular monarch.

 

 

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Filed under Sixteenth Century, The Tudors

King John’s lost treasure

King_John_from_De_Rege_JohanneOne of English history’s enduring tales of lost treasure is that of King John’s loot lost in The Wash. The year is 1216.  It’s October.  The Magna Carta has been signed. Pope Innocent III has read it carefully then torn it up.  The barons are revolting.  The French are invading.  In short things are not looking good for John.

John was en route from Bishop’s Lynn (King’s Lynn these days) to Lincoln.  He’d already travelled south from Lincolnshire into Norfolk but for some reason turned back.  It has been suggested that he was already feeling unwell.  There was also the fact that he wasn’t terribly popular in the Fens – though he was well thought of in Lynn because he gave the town it’s charter in 1204 which gave its guilds the right to govern themselves.  For whatever reason he turned back towards Lincolnshire.

This meant he had to cross The Wash – a treacherous stretch of coast filled with creeks, quick sands, fast running tides and according to one popular theory an unexpected tidal bore. John crossed via Wisbech.  His baggage train containing his ‘precious vessels’ (Roger of Wendover) and ‘diverse household effects’ (Ralph of Coggeshall) seems to have crossed The Wash by a different route, possibly Sutton Bridge.  This seems a sensible option as the king could have travelled fairly rapidly by horse whereas ox-carts filled with household effects, chests, beds, the crown jewels and heaps of silver plate would have travelled more slowly.  The country was at war – speed was essential.  It seems as though the baggage train risked a more direct route in the belief that it would be able to cross The Wash before the tide turned.  There is no evidence that the baggage train was attended by local guides.

Equally we don’t know exactly what was lost and what was recovered either officially or unofficially at a later date.  We do know that John collected jewellery and precious plate.  It is probable that given the state of the country he had collected it together to keep an eye on it.  What we do have is a list of his belongings.  A Roll inventoried everything including his grandmother’s, Matilda, regalia.  Co-incidentally none of it made an appearance for the crowning of young King Henry III.  It is generally accepted it was all lost.  Charles Dickens paints a picture of the tide coming crashing in and carrying the carts off.  Other folk believe that the treasure still lays deep below eight hundred years worth of silt.

Poor John. The 12th October 1216 had not gone at all to plan.  In some versions of the story he watches as his belongings are carried away by the waves and in other versions someone has to tell him (rather them than me).  He was taken to Swineshead Abbey in Lincolnshire that night where he stuffed himself with peaches, pears and cider.  If he was feeling ill before he soon felt infinitely worse.  On the 18th October he died of dysentery at Newark.

Where there’s treasure there are always stories.  One tale suggests that a local landowner found all or part of John’s treasure during the fourteenth century.  Other accounts suggest that it was never lost at all, that either John hid it somewhere safe (so presumably it’s still there or there were some very wealthy members of John’s household shortly afterwards) or else he pawned it to raise an army to fight the revolting barons and the equally revolting french.  Whatever the truth, the facts that King John lost France and then lost his treasure do not stand him in good stead with posterity.

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Filed under Kings of England, The Plantagenets, Thirteenth Century