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The death of Katherine of Aragon

catherine of aragonOn January 7 1536www.beautifulbritain.co.ukKatherine of Aragon died at Kimbolton Castle in Cambridgeshire. Sir Edward Chamberlain and Sir Edmund Beddingfield, the late queen’s, er, hosts, wrote to Cromwell detailing the events of the day and asking for further orders as well as requesting a plumber to ‘enclose the body in lead.’

Cromwell then set about organising the funeral as well as dealing with the usual missives about monasteries.  On the 7th of January he had a letter from the Abbot of Whitby who’d been accused of piracy and another from Sir Francis Bigod who’d encountered a monk from Roche Abbey in York Castle accused of treason because he’d denied the supremacy.

Meanwhile Eustace Chapuys sent an account of Katherine’s final days to her nephew Charles V.  He’d hurried to Kimbolton on the 30th December. Chapuys noted that he’d been accompanied by one of Cromwell’s men and that he and the queen ensured that they always had witnesses to their conversation.  Katherine was careful not to be accused of plotting against her erstwhile spouse:

After I had kissed hands she took occasion to thank me for the numerous services I had done her hitherto and the trouble I had taken to come and see her, a thing that she had very ardently desired… at all events, if it pleased God to take her, it would be a consolation to her to die under my guidance (entre mes braz) and not unprepared, like a beast…I gave her every hope, both of her health and otherwise, informing her of the offers the King had made me of what houses she would, and to cause her to be paid the remainder of certain arrears, adding, for her further consolation, that the King was very sorry for her illness; and on this I begged her to take heart and get well, if for no other consideration, because the union and peace of Christendom depended upon her life.

Chapuys may have arrived in England as the Imperial Ambassador – a professional diplomat but it is clear that he had become fond of Katherine. He spent the next four days at Kimbolton and believing that her health had rallied took his leave promising to do his best to have her moved to better accommodation:

“And seeing that she began to take a little sleep, and also that her stomach retained her food, and that she was better than she had been, she thought, and her physician agreed with her (considering her out of danger), that I should return, so as not to abuse the licence the King had given me, and also to request the King to give her a more convenient house, as he had promised me at my departure. I therefore took leave of her on Tuesday evening, leaving her very cheerful.”

It was only when Chapuys arrived back in London and asked Cromwell for an audience with the King that he learned of Katherine’s death:

“This has been the most cruel news that could come to me, especially as I fear the good Princess will die of grief, or that the concubine will hasten what she has long threatened to do, viz., to kill her; and it is to be feared that there is little help for it. I will do my best to comfort her, in which a letter from your Majesty would help greatly. I cannot relate in detail the circumstances of the Queen’s decease, nor how she has disposed of her affairs, for none of her servants has yet come. I know not if they have been detained.”

The letter also demonstrates Cromwell’s efficiency organising Katherine’s funeral.  He even arranged for Chapuys to have black cloth for his mourning garb.  Chapuys declined the offer preferring his own clothes for the occasion.

Katherine had disposed of her affairs.  Recognising the end was near she had taken steps to ensure that her will was written.  There was also the famous last letter penned on her death bed to Henry.  Sadly, Tremlett suggests it was a work of fiction – but he also recognises that the letter may well reflect her feelings (why do all the best bits turn out to be fictions, amends and fabrications?):

The hour of my death now approaching, I cannot choose but, out of the love I bear you, to advise you of your soul’s health, which you ought to prefer before all considerations of the world or flesh whatsoever. For which yet you have cast me into many calamities, and yourself into many troubles. But I forgive you all, and pray God to do so likewise. For the rest, I commend unto you Mary, our daughter, beseeching you to be a good father to her. I must entreat you also to look after my maids, and give them in marriage, which is not much, they being but three, and to all my other servants, a year’s pay besides their due, lest otherwise they should be unprovided for until they find new employment. Lastly, I want only one true thing, to make this vow: that, in this life, mine eyes desire you alone, May God protect you.

When news of Katherine’s demise arrived in London Henry and Anne celebrated, famously by wearing yellow, but it is said that later Anne cried – perhaps she recognised that there was no one standing between her and Henry’s wrath anymore. She was pregnant at the time but by the beginning of summer she had miscarried a boy and her days were numbered.

‘Henry VIII: January 1536, 6-10’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 10, January-June 1536, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1887), pp. 12-26. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol10/pp12-26 [accessed 6 January 2017].

Tremlett, G. 2010  Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish Queen.

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Eustace Chapuys – Imperial Ambassador

chapuys1533 was a momentus one for Henry. He married Anne Boleyn, Cranmer annulled his marriage to Katherine of Aragon and in September there was the birth of another princess– Elizabeth. Anne had promised Henry a boy which was a tad silly of her. History knows that she fell pregnant on three more occasions and miscarried at least one male sealing her own fate in 1536.


However that was all in the future on December 6th 1533 when Eustace Chapuys the Imperial Ambassador wrote a long letter to Charles V (Katherine’s nephew and at various times affianced to Princess Mary -Henry VIII’s sister- and also to Princess Mary- Henry VIII’s daughter). Chapuys’ letter from today remains in the archives of Vienna. Here is an extract that relates to the legitimacy of Princess Mary:


On St. Andrew’s eve, the King, who, for a month past, ought to have made or sent me an answer for what reason he claimed to deprive the Princess of her title, legitimacy, and primogeniture, sent to me by Norfolk and Cromwell to say that he would like to be informed by them of what I wished to say both on that matter and in what concerned the Queen ; and this he did, not to refuse or delay the audience, which he was very willing to give me, whenever I liked, but in order to take advice upon the subject.

And having made several remonstrances to them that the King could not allege illegitimacy, or deprive the Princess of her title, they replied that my arguments might be true and well founded in civil law, which had no force here, but that the laws of this kingdom were quite otherwise. But on showing them that I rested my argument only upon the decision of the canon law, which in a spiritual matter no prince’s decree could prejudice, they knew not what to reply, except that they would report it to the King, and afterwards declare to me his intention. This they have not yet done, although he has held almost daily consultations, to which several learned canonists have been called. As regards the Queen, viz., the agreement proposed by the Pope, they said that formerly it had been under consideration, but that since sentence had been lawfully given by the archbishop of Canterbury, they thought the King would not expressly or tacitly do anything prejudicial to the said sentence, as it concerned his own honor and the interest of his new born daughter, especially as she was already declared Princess, and that if all the ambassadors in the world were to come, or even the Pope himself, they could not persuade the King otherwise.


And there it is neatly summed up by Eustace – it didn’t matter to Henry what anyone else might think, he had too much invested in his new marriage and family for any form of backtracking.


So, our face of today is Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial Ambassador whose words inform us about many of the events in Henry VIII’s world where he arrived in 1529 having had a career in the imperial diplomatic service following his education in law at Turin University and acceptance into holy orders.


He was sent to England by Charles V to replace the previous ambassador Mendoza with the specific aim of supporting Katherine of Aragon during her marital difficulties. The diplomatic relationship turned into one of genuine affection. It was Chapuys who made a last visit to her bedside as Katherine lay dying. Chapuys describes Katherine’s nemesis as “the Concubine” and “the whore.”  If he was required to be polite he referred to her as “the Lady.” It doesn’t take much imagination to identify the way he talked about the infant Princess Elizabeth.  Chapuys refused to meet Anne until Henry orchestrated a meeting  just before her fall in 1536.

Chapuys had reason to dislike Anne. He counted Sir Thomas More amongst his friends and he remained loyal to Princess Mary throughout his life.


Chapuys remained in England until 1545 where he didn’t always win friends and influence people. Lord Paget described him as a liar who would be able to hold his own in a court of vipers (he must have fitted right in).

When he retired from diplomatic life/spying he returned to Louvain where he originally came from and founded two centers of education.


He died in 1556 having done much to influence the way history would perceive Henry and his wives because of his lengthy correspondence with Charles V. It is from Chapuys that we get all the gossip, some of it without any foundation whatsoever beyond Chapuys dislike for Anne and an equal dislike for all things French. Reading his letters does give a fascinating insight but they need to be taken, on occasion, with a hefty pinch of salt.


images-9In other news for the 6th December.  It was on this day in 1421 that Henry VI was born at Windsor to Katherine of Valois.  A mere nine months later his father Henry V would be dead from dysentery and a babe in arms would wear the crown.  And, of course, from there it is a gentle downhill spiral towards the Wars of the Roses and ultimately the arrival of the Tudors with their dodgy claims to the throne.



‘Henry VIII: December 1533, 1-10’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 6, 1533, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1882), pp. 599-613. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol6/pp599-613 [accessed 19 November 2016].


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Mary – Tudor Princess, queen of France and duchess of Suffolk

tudormary03The picture behind today’s advent calendar is Henry VIII’s sister Princess Mary who was known for her beauty. Mary was betrothed to the future Charles V of Spain in December 1507 when she was thirteen prior to her marriage to the elderly King Louis of France in 1514. The marriage was delayed because of negotiations and diplomatic maneuverings and ultimately Henry saw an opportunity to ally himself with France. Mary had no say in who she would marry she was a princess after all.


Her spouse, King Louis XII, was fifty-two, feeble and “pocky” as compared to Mary’s eighteen years and acknowledged beauty. He died less than three months later and Mary was sent into isolation for six weeks to check that she wasn’t carrying a potential heir to the French throne. Mary took the opportunity to marry the man of her dreams Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk (and a man with a dodgy marital history of his own) with the connivance of the new young handsome French king Francois I who was probably delighted to scotch the potential diplomatic plans that Henry was no doubt plotting. And, as luck would have it, Henry’s allegiances had swung back to Spain so he was indeed beginning to put forward an Anglo-Spanish alliance cemented in the persons of Charles V and his newly widowed sister Mary.


Henry was furious having forgotten his promise that Mary could marry who she wished. The pair were ultimately forgiven but not before they’d written to the furious king through the good agency of Cardinal Wolsey begging for forgiveness. Mary was Henry’s favourite sister and they did promise to pay a very large fine so it wasn’t long before they were back at court.


Our entry from Henry’s papers for December 3 1513 occurs before Mary’s engagement to Charles was broken off because Henry signed a warrant to the Great Wardrobe for a “gown of cloth of gold for the Princess of Castile.”


There may be some of you thinking, was that the same Charles V who was the nephew of Catherine of Aragon and fiancé of Henry’s daughter Princess Mary…er, well, yes – which just goes to show that Henry was nothing if not persistent.

Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 1, 1509-1514, ed. J S Brewer (London, 1920), British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol1 [accessed 2 December 2016].


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Reginald Pole – White Rose and Cardinal

reginald pole.jpgThe Pole family descended from Margaret, Countess of Salisbury (the daughter of the duke of Clarence who was allegedly executed in a vat of malmsey and Isobel Neville – elder daughter of the earl of Warwick a.k.a. The Kingmaker). She had four sons; Henry (Lord Montagu), Arthur, Reginald and Geoffrey.    There was also a daughter called Ursula. Had Richard III won the Battle of Bosworth and remained childless and Margaret’s brother the young earl of Warwick been deemed unfit to rule then his heirs would have been the Poles.


Young Reginald was born in about 1500.  He was educated by the Carthusians in Sheen and from there studied at the universities of Oxford and Padua and from there to Paris; all at the expense of his royal cousin King Henry VIII.  There is a note in Henry’s accounts describing him as “Mr Pole, the king’s scholar.”

In the summer of 1530 he became caught up in the King’s Great Matter.  In addition to using the Leviticus 20:21 and checking with Jewish communities in Europe as to their interpretation of the Old Testament in order to undermine Catherine of Aragon’s countering Deuteronomy argument, Henry also sent messengers  to the great university to elicit their opinions on the matter.  On May 1 Henry asked the University of Paris for an opinion and made Reginald his “dearest relative” the chief correspondent on the matter.

Reginald seems initially to have backed his cousin.  His letters record that Paris found in Henry’s favour but that the other faction were looking for a counter-opinion. (Bernard: 214).  By the end of the year, however, Reginald appears to have been having second thoughts. It was perhaps his concern over the divorce that led him to turn down Henry’s offer of the archbishopric of York following Wolsey’s demise.  Henry must have thought that Reginald would be in favour of the divorce to offer him the post.  He needed as many bishops on his side as possible. Henry offered the post to Reginald for a second time and saw him in person to discuss the matter.  Apparently the sight of Henry was enough to convince Pole that he couldn’t go agains this own heart on the matter.  He even sent a lengthy apology on the subject which no longer exists.  In it he warned of the dispute that might arise if Princess Mary was disinherited and reminded Henry of the Wars of the Roses – which was perhaps not an entirely sensible thing to do as it reminded Henry about who had the Plantagenet blood flowing through their veins and who might have been monarchs in other circumstances.


In January 1532 Pole went off to Europe to continue with his academic studies and to keep a low profile which he did until 1535 when Henry demanded that he wanted Reginald’s opinion on the subject of Henry’s supremacy, the divorce and the break with Rome.  Henry  helpfully sent him some books on the subject. By the time Henry had his answer Sir Thomas More and Bishop Fisher were dead as were the Carthusian monks of the Charter House in Sheen who’d taught him as a boy.  Reginald described Henry as a ‘wild beast’; being like a dirty barrel and incestuous (perhaps a reaction to the fact that Henry had an affair with Anne Boleyn’s sister Mary).  It was perhaps not a response designed to win friends and influence people nor was it a very private response as it was soon published all over Europe; later Reginald would claim that it was without his consent.

Henry politely suggested that Reginald return home for a face to face discussion.

By now Pope Paul III was in charge and he suggested that perhaps Reginald’s welcome would be rather too warm if he set foot on English shores.  It can’t have helped that the Imperial Ambassador, Chapuys, had suggested that perhaps Reginald might be able to marry the Princess Mary and take the crown from Henry in 1534. The small matter of Pole’s religious orders seems not to have worried the ambassador unduly (though Pole didn’t celebrate his first mass until Queen Mary was on the throne). Chapuys had already told the Pole family to keep Reginald in Europe rather than at home where he’d most likely have ended up in the Tower at the very least.

On 22nd of December 1536 Reginald was made a cardinal having made a name for himself in Rome where his humanist education leant itself to the reform of the Catholic Church from within.  To add insult to Henry VIII’s injury Reginald was made papal legate of England in February 1537.

Reginald’s actions reminded Henry that there was such a thing as a ‘white rose faction’.  The Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 was ultimately used to round up Reginald’s mother and brothers following the Exeter Conspiracy.  It hadn’t helped Lord Montagu that he’d sent a letter to Reginald berating him for the contents of his book on the subject of Henry’s supremacy and the break from Rome. The poor man must have squirmed horribly when Thomas Cromwell turned up to visit him especially to read chunks of his brother’s rebuttal of Henry’s actions.  Even the Countess of Salisbury had written to Reginald demanding that he come home and face the music.  Both these letters had been seen by the King’s council before they were sent to Reginald (Seward: 295).  By 1539 Geoffrey was in the Tower and he in his turned implicated the rest of his family. He, his brother and his mother would be executed.

Reginald, in Europe, found himself facing assassination attempts that would continue throughout Henry’s life was increasingly disturbed by the extent to which the Church in England faced destruction.  Ultimately he sought the help of Francis I of France and also Catherine of Aragon’s nephew, Charles V, arguing that Henry was worse than the Turkish threat.  Charles chose not to invade England and Reginald’s name found its way onto a bill of attainder in 1539. Henry VIII had come to hate his Plantagenet cousin. For Englishmen who didn’t want to lose their catholicism he became an alternative to the Tudors.


It was only when Henry VIII’s daughter Mary took the throne after the brief reigns of her half brother Edward VI and the nine days queen Lady Jane Grey that Pole returned to England after a long career as a papal diplomat.  He’d even been suggested as pope.  Mary wrote to her cousin asking for spiritual guidance, his attainder was reversed and despite a lack of concord with Mary’s spouse Philip II of Spain he stepped foot on English soil once more at Dover in 1554.  The country was Catholic once more.  He sought now to heal the breach with Rome – notable amongst the victims of Mary’s determination to wipe Protestantism from English thoughts included the burning of Thomas Cranmer who Pole replaced as Archbishop of Canterbury.

Reginald Pole died on the 17th November 1558 on the same day as Queen Mary.  Their plan to return England and Wales to Catholicism bound to fail as Protestant Princess Elizabeth was now hailed Queen Elizabeth I.

The portrait of Pole pictured at the start of this post may be found at Hardwick Hall, a National Trust property, in Derbyshire.

Bernard, G.W. (2005) The King’s Reformation. New Haven and London: Yale University Press

Seward, Desmond. (2010)  The Last White Rose: The Secret Wars of the Tudors. London: Constable



Filed under Sixteenth Century, The Plantagenets, The Tudors

Catherine of Aragon – queen of England

catherineofaragon_1769901iHistory might have been very different had the baby boy born on New Year’s Day 1511 survived beyond the first perilous months of infancy. Starkey records that two hundred and seven pounds of gunpowder were used to celebrate the child’s birth.


Little Prince Henry, Duke of Cornwall lived for fifty-two days. He was buried at the end of February. Catherine although she became pregnant readily enough either miscarried or produced infants who died: seven in all. Sir Loyalheart still wore lover’s knots on his jousting armour but the much needed heir had yet to make an appearance.   By 1514 the first rumours of a possible divorce were bandied about but in 1516 Princess Mary was born and there was renewed optimism.


In the meantime Henry went to war with the French and Katherine became regent of England and Wales. It was she who was in charge of England when the Earl of Surrey fought and won the Battle of Flodden. Meanwhile Henry’s father-in-law let him down with regard to France. Ferdinand signed a peace deal with the French having inveigled Henry into a war against them. It cannot have helped his daughter’s marital relations. Ultimately Henry would marry his youngest sister to King Louis XII of France. Spain went from being an ally to an enemy. Later Henry would propose that his daughter Mary, should marry to cement a French alliance when all Catherine wanted was for her daughter to marry her nephew, Charles, the son of Juana and Philip.


Charles V was a disappointment to his aunt. Catherine worked carefully after Princess Mary’s proxy marriage to the French dauphin in 1518 to bring her own plans about. He visited England and in 1523 launched an invasion of France along with the English but he failed to fulfil his side of the deal. Then Charles won the Battle of Pavia against the French and dropped the English because he no longer needed them. He deserted his aunt as well.


There had been other changes over the years. Henry came to rely on Wolsey during his time in France in 1513. He didn’t turn to Catherine so readily for advice when he returned to England. In 1515 Wolsey became Lord Chancellor. He would remain at the heart of Henry’s government until his fall in 1529.


If Catherine was finding life difficult with Henry and with shifting European politics she gave no sign of it. In fact she became increasingly popular with her English subjects. There had been riots in May 1517 and Catherine had interceded on behalf of the condemned apprentices.


Catherine’s last known pregnancy occurred in 1518. By 1523 her good looks had faded and she’d become somewhat on the fat side. Francis I of France described her as “old and deformed.” Then, to add injury to insult, in 1525 Henry unveiled a son. Henry Fitzroy was Henry’s son with Bessie Blount and he was six years old. Catherine was not amused. The row was tremendous. If only she’d realised it, things were about to get worse.   In 1525 Henry stopped sleeping, it would appear, with Catherine. He may also have put his current mistress Mary Boleyn to one side.


In May 1527 the King’s Great Matter was discussed. Henry wanted to be rid of his Spanish wife. He wanted a divorce. He claimed that he was concerned for his immortal soul.  He should never have married his brother’s wife. He felt that his childlessness- because clearly girls didn’t count- was a consequence of his sin. He also wanted to marry Anne Boleyn who’d refused to become his mistress.


Poor Catherine had lost her looks, her fertility, her political influence and now she was going to lose her husband.



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Christina of Denmark, Duchess of Milan


In October 1537 Henry VIII’s third wife, Jane Seymour, died from complications following childbirth. Henry, a man notorious for divorcing his first wife and beheading his second was in need of a new wife – or at least that was the view of his chief minister Thomas Cromwell.

Cromwell’s attention initially fell upon Marie de Guise a young widow with a son – so a proven track record for the production of heirs. She was also purported to be a tall woman, something that Henry liked the sound of when he Marie was described to him. Marie however declined the offer of marriage explaining that she only had a little neck. She went on to marry James V of Scotland.

Henry next suggested that all the eligible women in France on Cromwell’s list of suitable brides make like to meet in Calais – think of it as a Tudor hen night where the king could choose his next wife on the grounds that Henry didn’t trust his ambassadors and he was determined he didn’t want to marry an ugly princess. Unsurprisingly the prospective brides and their families were not terribly impressed with the idea – the French ambassador explained that diplomatic marriages were not horse markets . There was also the small matter of the fact that Henry had been excommunicated- which rather put off the Catholic brides.

Ultimately Cromwell sent Hans Holbein on a fact-finding trip with his paintbrush and easel. One of the most striking portraits that Holbein painted at this time was that of sixteen-year-old Christina of Denmark. Christina was the younger daughter of Christian II of Denmark and Isabella of Austria (sister of Charles V). Christian was an early follower of Luther – even if Charles V was very Catholic.  Christian was a bit of an unfortunate king – his wife died, his children were effectively confiscated by their Hapsburg uncle and then he managed to get himself toppled and imprisoned – so Christina of Denmark was actually more Christina of the Netherlands. In some ways she was already part of the English royal family because her great-aunt was none other than Katherine of Aragon.

In addition to being a Hapsburg she was also, as this picture shows, a very pretty girl. She’d been married by proxy at the age of eleven to the Duke of Milan who was a mere twenty-six years older that her. He died two years later – hence the deep black of mourning- Christina returning to her uncle in Brussels so that he could arrange the next advantageous diplomatic marriage. Like Marie she was a tad concerned about the English King’s way with the ladies. She is supposed to have said that if she had two heads one of them would be at the disposal of Henry. Charles V who was looking for allies against the French seems little bothered about the way in which his aunt had been treated and was quite prepared to send his niece across the Channel…unless a better offer came along.

As a consequence of the initial negotiations Holbein visited Brussels in 1538. Christina sat for a portrait but only for three hours.  Holbein did his preliminary drawings, came home and whipped up the portrait.  And what a portrait! This is the only full-length female portrait that Holbein made (I think if memory serves me correctly). The colours and the simplicity of the picture concentrate the viewer on Christina’s hands and face as does the beautifully executed fur collar.  There is a hint of a smile on Christina’s face – perhaps she knew she wouldn’t have to marry Henry!  Henry liked the portrait so much that he announced that he was in love.

For some reason the negotiations did not continue. Christina married François, Duc de Bar in 1541, who succeeded his father as Duc de Lorraine in 1544 and died in 1545, leaving Christina Regent of Lorraine with three children. She died in 1590. As for the portrait – well Henry liked it so much he kept it.

The image for this post was accessed from http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/hans-holbein-the-younger-christina-of-denmark-duchess-of-milan 08/11/2015 @ 23:26

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