Sir Henry Norris – wrong place, wrong time.

Queen Anne BoleynHenry Norris was one of Henry VIII’s friends. And so far as I can tell in my various readings the poor man had done nothing wrong other than serve his royal master for some twenty years when his chum had his head lopped off on trumped up charges of naughtiness with Anne Boleyn.

 

Like many others in Henry’s court Norris’s was an interesting family history. His father Sir Edward Norris was knighted after the Battle of Stoke in 1487 which must have caused his wife, Frideswide, a little bit of distress as she was the daughter of Francis, Lord Lovell mentioned in other posts as the friend of Richard III who refused to accept Yorkist defeat and who was last seen on his horse fording the River Trent in full armour in the aftermath of the battle.

 

Family tensions aside, Henry’s older brother John was an esquire of the body to Henry VIII but he seems to have remained firmly Catholic and was part of Queen Mary’s household in later years. Henry Norris on the other hand was also at court but hanging on to the Tudor coat tails and twisting in the wind like the proverbial weather-vane (forgive the mixing of the metaphors). He managed to survive Wolsey’s purge on the young men of the court in 1519. He was one of the twelve grooms of the Stool (yes, that’s right he had the honor of wiping the royal bottom but during those moments had the opportunity to chat with the king in the way that even Wolsey and Cromwell didn’t.) He was given grants, titles and lands as well as the very lucrative post of weigher of the common beam at Southampton which meant Italian merchants using the port paid their taxes to him. He was the keeper of the king’s privy purse. He was with Henry at the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520 and he wasn’t overly keen on Cardinal Wolsey.

 

He appears to have sided with Anne Boleyn and benefited from this when the Cardinal fell in 1529. He went with Henry and Anne to Hampton Court to inspect the Cardinal’s haul of belongings and went to see Wolsey at Putney. It has been argued that he was of a reforming tendency because of his links with Anne’s faction. He was probably one of the witnesses to Anne’s marriage to Henry.

 

By 1535 he was in receipt of various of Sir Thomas More’s manors and was also constable of Beaumaris Castle and Wallingford Castle. Interestingly he seems to have also acted on behalf of the king in the matter of Jane Seymour suggesting that if his friend Henry wanted a new woman then Henry Norris was going to be helpful in the matter.

 

Unfortunately it was suggested in April 1536 that Norris loved Anne. Anne jokingly said that Norris was waiting to fill dead men’s shoes which was why he hadn’t yet married Margaret Shelton. Norris objected strenuously “if he should have any such thought, he would his head were off.” And hey presto Norris was on the receiving end of a visit to the Tower.

 

On May 1 Norris was at the jousting tournament that the king suddenly left with only a handful of retainers leaving Anne to close the celebrations. Henry told Norris that he believed there was a plot before he left. Norris must have been puzzled. Henry had leant Norris his own horse and now the king was saying that all Norris had to do was to confess and his life would be spared. Norris was arrested and taken to York Place where he was interrogated by the Privy Council.

 

May 2nd Norris was taken to the Tower having said something to the imaginatively named Sir William FitzWilliam that was taken as a confession of guilt but which was not used in evidence at the trial. Warnocke and Weir suggest that he may have admitted homosexuality. The only real thing that this information is proof of is that FitzWilliam was determined to get a confession – any confession. Norris remained adamant that he was innocent of the charges. Whilst Norris was being admitted to the Tower Anne was watching a game of tennis and possibly feeling somewhat nervous.

 

11 May 1536 the Abbot of Cirencester (a man whose own world was about to be turned upside down) wrote to Cromwell to say that he’d already promised Norris’s stewardship of the abbey elsewhere.

 

Norris was tried on May 12 1536. The offences were, as you might expect when Cromwell was involved, thorough and detailed. Henry was humiliated so that he could be rid of his unwanted spouse. Princess Elizabeth would ultimately be illegitimised and have to suffer speculation over which of the men tried with Anne was her father. From the dates provided by Cromwell many people thought that it might have been Sir Henry Norris.

 

The Lisle Letters record the events of the trial and at court before the executions. There was confusion, accusation and some sympathy for Norris who appears to have been well-liked

Norris got his wish to lose his head when he was executed on May 17. Lord Rochford, Anne’s brother, died first. Norris had to watch, then it was his turn. Unsurprisingly he said very little compared to Rochford.

 

Cromwell suggested, according to Weir, that rather than being a loyal servant Norris was overcome by ambition. Weir presents some interesting arguments as to why Norris had to go. The most logical of them being that he had the king’s ear and could, perhaps, have interceded on Anne’s behalf. Warnicke on the other hand argued that all the men caught up in Cromwell’s net were promiscuous possibly with men as well as women which would have made them vulnerable to the accusations that Cromwell flourished in front of the king. They all admitted on the block that they had led sinful lives but then Norris had children from his first marriage who he would have wished to save so far as possible from Henry’s wrath.

 

Just to confuse things even more Margaret Shelton was Anne Boleyn’s cousin and possibly Henry VIII’s mistress. It would also transpire that Sir Francis Weston, another of the accused, had tried to inveigle himself into Madge’s affections.

Warnicke, Retha. (1989) The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Weir, Alison. (2009) The Lady in the Tower. London: Jonathan Cape

 

 

 

 

1486- an assassination attempt, plots and a prince

henryviiKing Henry VII worked to secure his kingdom in a way that was different to that of his predecessors.  With the exception of William, Lord Catesby (the ‘cat’ in the couplet ‘the rat, the cat and Lovell our dog/All rule England under the hog) who was executed at Leicester on the 25th August 1485, three days after the Battle of Bosworth, Henry showed remarkable magnanimity to his foes offering them pardon if they laid down their arms.  Of course, not all of them did as is recounted by Seward in his book The Last White Rose.

As the timeline for the year shows Henry began by honouring the promise he made in Christmas 1483 to marry Elizabeth of York.  he continued the process of appointing advisors whom he could trust and he set about a progress to be seen in his kingdom.  It is perhaps significant that he headed north into Richard III’s heartland where men still retained loyalty to a monarch they regarded as a fair one.  It almost seems that he couldn’t quite believe that die-hard Yorkists would be so stupid as attempt another round of the vicious civil war less than six months after Bosworth.  As it is, it looks as though the majority of people were either worn out or fed up with the constant strife because the 1486 plot against Henry was decidedly lack lustre.

January 16- Papal dispensation for Henry VII to marry Elizabeth of York. They were third cousins so their match was prohibited within the four degrees of consanguinity.  In order to legally marry they needed the pope to agree.

January 18- Henry VII marries Elizabeth of York but she is not crowned.  He is making the statement that he is king in his own right.  He is not going to be Elizabeth’s consort and this delay in her coronation ensures no one forgets.  The delay will possibly also antagonise the Woodville faction.elizabeth of york

March 2- Papal dispensation is confirmed by Rome.

March 6- John Morton, Bishop of Ely becomes Henry VII’s Lord Chancellor.

March 10- Henry VII begins a royal progress to the north of England. He journeys to Waltham, Cambridge, Huntingdon and Lincoln where he spends Easter. He washes the feet of twenty-nine men reflecting his age.  Whilst he is at Lincoln, Sir Reginald Bray- Margaret Beaufort’s man-warns him that Francis, Lord Lovell (and Richard III’s right-hand man) is going to leave sanctuary at Colchester where he fled after the Battle of Bosworth.  He’s holed up with Sir Humphrey Stafford of Grafton and his brother Thomas.  Bray’s informant, Hugh Conway is summoned but Henry doesn’t believe him, not least because Conway won’t reveal who his informant is. The plot will become known as the Sanctuary Plot or the Lovell Rebellion.

April 20- Henry VII enters the city of York.  Whilst he is in York rumours of a Yorkist stirring up trouble reach the city.  The man is known only as  Robin of Redesdale.  He is raising support for the Yorkists in Ripon and Middleham – which is, in any event, a Yorkist stronghold.  The next rumour is that Lord Lovell and an army are marching on York.

April 23- There is an assassination attempt on Henry VII’s life whilst he is in York. In one source he is saved by the Earl of Northumberland. Henry  deals with the threat with seeming unconcern and promises of pardon all round.  Lovell ends up fleeing from Yorkshire to Broughton Tower in Furness as the rebellion fizzles to a stand-still but with King Henry’s men in hot pursuit.

There is also a Worcestershire rising led by Humphrey Stafford – there is very little support.  He and his brother quickly flee having spent rather a lot of time hiding in a wood.

May 5- Riots in London in support of Edward, Earl of Warwick.

May 11- The Stafford brothers arrive at Culham in Berkshire.  They claim sanctuary in the church which belongs to Abingdon Abbey.

May 13- The Staffords are dragged from Culham Church on the orders of Henry VII.

May 19- Lovell journeys under cover to Ely and from there he looks for sanctuary or a boat to take him to Flanders. He is probably hidden by the de la Pole family – the Duchess of Suffolk is Edward IV and Richard III’s sister.

June 20- Sir Humphrey Stafford appears before the King’s Bench and demands to be returned to sanctuary.  The Abbot of Abingdon is unamused that the ancient rights of sanctuary have been violated. Sharply worded notes are sent to Pope Innocent VIII who sends a Papal Bull in August validating Henry VII’s actions – not that it matters much to Sir Humphrey.

July 5- Sir Humphrey Stafford’s judges decide that from now on – including Humphrey- no one can claim sanctuary for treason.  He’s condemned to a traitor’s death.

July 8- Sir Humphrey Stafford is hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn but Thomas Stafford is pardoned on the grounds that Humphrey being older must have misled him.

September 19-Prince Arthur is born at Winchester.

The birth of Arthur, symbolically born in King Arthur’s Camelot, the child of the red and white rose means that Henry has a male heir which strengthens his hold on the kingdom. However Francis, Lord Lovell who has been skulking around Cambridgeshire- presumably wearing a large cloak and false beard in order to avoid capture finally makes it to Flanders in January 1487.  Inevitably Henry VII’s crown won’t rest easy on his head for very long despite his best efforts to convince the population otherwise.

Seward, Desmond. (2011) The Last White Rose: The Secret Wars of the Tudors.  London: Constable and Robinson.

Wagner, John A. (2001) Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. Oxford: ABC Clio

Hans Holbein and the mystery lady

anne_ashby_largeThe catchily titled Lady was a Squirrel and a Starling  was painted, experts believe, on Holbein’s first visit to England (1526-28). She is sometimes supposed to be Margaret Giggs, Sir Thomas More’s step-daughter on account of the fact that her unusual fur hat is very similar to a drawing of Margaret held at Windsor in the royal collection but evidently a pointy hat was a fashionable item – because who would want to be painted in clothes that weren’t their very finest?

Another, and more likely, suggestion made by the National Portrait Gallery is that the lady may be Anne Lovell nee Ashby. The rationale for this suggestion comes from the presence of the very perky pet squirrel in the portrait. Holbein portrayed monkeys and even a marmoset as well as falcons in his portraits.  Not that there was anything new about being painted with your pet – think of Leonardo Da Vinci’s portrait of the girl with her pet ermine. The squirrel may indeed just be a pet in the picture for a bit of foreground interest. Apparently they were popular from medieval times onwards but this is a sixteenth century portrait and symbolism was important.

east_1aAlternatively, and more likely, the squirrel is an allusion to the Lovell family of Norfolk  who had three squirrels on their coat of arms. If this is the case then it is also suggested the starling is a rebus for the East Harling Estate in Norfolk which Anne’s husband Francis inherited from his uncle Sir Thomas who had fought at Bosworth on the side of Henry Tudor. There is a squirrel lurking in the stained glass at East Harling.

Anne and Francis were only recently married when Holbein came to England.  It is possible that the picture is one of a pair of husband and wife but that the husband has gone astray.  So is the portrait a celebration of marriage? Of inheritance? Or something else?  Once again history in it’s many guises offers some tantalising insights but leaves much of the story untold.  We do know that Anne was dead by 1539 and that Francis remarried to a woman called Elizabeth but of Anne we know very little other than what she looked like.

According to Time Out this picture is number thirty-one on the hundred best paintings to see in London. It is certainly an opportunity to admire the way that Holbein creates texture not only in the textiles but also in the squirrel which looks as though it is about to leap off the oak board upon which it is painted.