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