Poison and murder – a Boleyn conspiracy?

fisherI recently purchased James Moore’s The Tudor Murder Files.  It’s published by Pen and Sword.  It turns out that under Henry VIII there were something in the region of 72,000 executions – which is a rather eye watering figure.  Clearly there were assorted bigwigs including as Sir Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard  but there were also thousands of nameless men and women such as those who were executed by the Duke of Norfolk during the period of martial law following on form the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536-which has just reminded me of another victim of Henry VIII’s famous Tudor tantrums – Robert Aske. Which brings as neatly to today’s post having mentioned beheading and hanging it’s time to move on to being boiled alive.

In Europe the practise of boiling people either in water, oil or tar (anything that got hot and unpleasant basically) continued into much more recent times.  In 1531 the Act of Poisoning was enshrined in English law.  It came about because a cook called Richard Roose or Rouse was found guilty of murdering two people with broth.  Roose is mentioned by name in the act.  The act made the crime of poisoning that of petty treason. Petty treason, just in case you were wondering, is when a subordinate (wife or servant) kills or betrays their superior (husband or master).  After Roose met his unfortunate end a maid servant was boiled in King’s Lynn for poisoning her mistress  and in March 1542 Margaret Davie was boiled at Smithfield for poisoning three households.

 

Richard Roose was a cook for the Bishop of Rochester – John Fisher (pictured at the start of this post)- the man who had been Margaret Beaufort’s confessor and who wrote her biography.  In 1509 he had led the funeral of Henry VII and had tutored Henry VIII in theology. He was regarded as one of the most learned theologians in the Western world which was fine whilst he and Henry VIII were in agreement.  In short, he was a very important person until he sided with Katherine of Aragon against Henry in Henry’s Great Matter. In 1527 Henry told Fisher that his conscience was tormented by concerns over Leviticus and  Deuteronomy as to whether he was legally married to Katherine.  Fisher, not taking the hint, went off and had a conflab with assorted theologians and got back to Henry with the “good news” that he had nothing to worry about. Henry presumably took a deep breath then went off to consult with theologians that Fisher hadn’t thought to ask.

1529, Fisher expressed his views very clearly at the Legatine Court about marriage and Anne Boleyn. He was Katherine’s advocate.  This was not at all what Henry wanted.

Fisher found himself briefly imprisoned for resisting the reformation of the clergy and the legal strategy that Cromwell was using to exert pressure on Rome.   It didn’t stop him from writing several books in support of Katherine of Aragon. By 1531 Bishop Fisher must have been feeling very uncomfortable indeed. Not only did he resist attempts to limit clerical power but Henry made it very clear that he would throw the bishop into the river if he didn’t start behaving himself.

On the 18th February 1531 the sixteen or so gentlemen who had shared Bishop Fisher’s meal became unwell.  One of them by the name of Curwen died. The beggars who gathered at Lambeth for alms – the leftovers- also became unwell. One, a widow called Alice Trypptt died.  The soup, or pottage as it was called, was dodgy.  The only man who didn’t succumb to food poisoning was Bishop Fisher who hadn’t fancied the soup.  Other sources suggest that Fisher wasn’t even present in Lambeth at the time.

The Venetian Archives contains a report about Richard Roose’s interrogation and confession.  He admitted having put a “powder” in the soup for a bit of fun.  He thought that the powder was a laxative (a man with a strange sense of humour).

At Henry’s insistence rather than being tried for murder in the usual fashion Roose was put on trial for treason as though Fisher was a member of the royal family.    What this meant was that there was no jury to hear the case, the verdict being a summary one. The Imperial Ambassador, Chapuys, noted that Roose did not say where the powder came from in the first place. Chapuys hesitated to blame Henry VIII himself for dishing out powders to get rid of troublesome priests but did suggest that the Boleyn family might have something to do with it – and let’s remember he wasn’t Anne’s greatest fan.  Thomas More reported the rumour that the Boleyn’s were involved to Henry VIII who was signally unamused by the suggestion.  It should be noted that neither Chapuys or More presented any evidence.  Henry is said to have commented that Anne Boleyn was blamed for everything.

It should be added that Fisher had another near miss involving a canon ball that landed in his study.  It appears that the canon which fired the aforementioned cannonball was sited in the home of Thomas Boleyn.  In October 1531 Anne Boleyn sent Fisher a message warning him not to attend parliament.  She noted that he would not get sick again.

On the 5th April The Chronicle of Greyfriars reported Roose’s end along with the mechanics of execution which as based on a rope and pulley system which lifted him in and out of the  water.  Another chronicle noted that there was a lot of yelling and that those people not sickened by the sight felt that the axeman was a more edifying sight.  Roose died without benefit of the clergy.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing but up until this point Henry wasn’t known for executing people willy-nilly  he hadn’t got to the point where he was lopping off heads to get the wife he wanted so either he had something to hide and was getting rid of the accomplice in plain sight or he really was deeply concerned about household staff with small bottles labelled with skulls and crossbones getting rid of their employers.  Let’s just remember the that the Tudors had a thing about anyone mentioning that they might die – so fear of being poisoned probably would produce alarm and brand new nasty punishments.

Poor Fisher found himself in ever increasing difficulties.  In 1534 he was imprisoned for not reporting everything about the Maid of Ken (Elizabeth Barton).  And then he refused to take the Oath of Supremacy.  On 22 June 1535 Fisher became one of the 72,000 execution victims of Henry VIII.  When he emerged from the Tower he was gaunt and badly nourished. This probably demonstrates more effectively than anything that Henry had no need to send henchmen to skulk down dark alleys with little bottles decorated by skulls and crossbones.   Henry and Cromwell knew how to use the law to intimidate and then silence Henry’s critics without legally getting their hands dirty.

Boiling people was removed from the statute books in 1547 during the reign of Edward VI although Moore dies note that there was at least one execution of this kind during the reign of Elizabeth I.

Moore, James. (2016) The Tudor Murder Files. Barnsley: Pen and Sword

Blickling Hall and the Boleyns

Queen Anne BoleynThere are rather a lot of halls in England and they aren’t all ancient seats – rather some of them seem to have been given the name hall to hint at an antiquity that didn’t exist. The Telegraph’s list of best stately homes has houses and palaces – the first hall is number ten on the list.  So that is my post for today.  Blickling Hall in Norfolk which definitely  has a pedigree.

Blickling was originally a medieval moated hall of the end described in earlier posts this month. It changed hands several times but this post is particularly interested in its purchase by Sir Geoffrey Bullen.  He was a successful merchant who would become Lord Mayor of London. Not only did he do well financially but he married up when he took the hand of Ann Hoo the daughter of the first Lord Hoo – not bad for the son of a yeoman farmer from Salle.   Geoffrey was knighted by Henry VI and was a friend of Sir John Falstaff of Caistor who was the inspiration for Shakespeare and who left his home to the Pistons causing a feud between the family and the duke of Norfolk.

Geoffrey’s son William did even better in the matrimonial stakes than his father.  He married Lady Margaret Butler, the daughter of the earl of Ormonde and one of his co-heirs.  It was form here that the Boleyn claim to the earldom of Ormonde stemmed – and which could have changed Anne Boleyn’s fate had she been married off to James Butler in order to resolve an inheritance dispute over the title and lands.   William was created a knight of the Bath by Richard III. He died in 1505.

Blickling was Thomas Boleyn’s residence from 1499 until 1505 when he inherited Hever from his father.  Thomas did even better in matrimonial terms than his father or grandfather in that he married the daughter of a duke – Lady Elizabeth Howard.    It’s thought that both Anne, Mary and their brother George were born there. If Anne was born after 1505 rather than in about 1501 then its more likely that she was born at Hever in Kent.

As with the medieval site there’s not a great deal of Tudor Blickling left as it was rebuilt during the Jacobean period by Sir Henry Hobart in about 1616. The house is worth visiting as one of the most beautiful Jacobean houses in the country but sadly I have no photographs of it as the last time I visited digital cameras were unheard of.

Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without a good ghost story – so here it is.  Anne Boleyn is said to return to her place of birth on the anniversary of her execution (19th May 1536).  The former queen arrives in a coach,  driven by a headless horseman and pulled by four headless horses, at midnight.  Dressed in white, carrying her own head she descends from the coach to walk the corridors of her childhood home, undeterred by Sir Henry Hobart’s rebuilding of the hall, until the sun rises.

 

If that’s not your cup of tea, Blicking Hall is home to a portrait supposed to be a young Ann Boleyn. There’s also a portrait of her daughter Elizabeth I.

 

 

Anne Boleyn – ‘Most Happy’

anneboleyn emblemIt was 1514 when the first rumour of a possible annulment in Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon drew breath. In 1516 a princess was born and for a time there was hope but by 1525 Catherine was beyond the age of childbearing and Henry ceased to cohabit with his wife.  He’d been involved romantically with several of Catherine’s maids by that time and had been dallying with Mary Boleyn since 1522.  In 1526 Henry found himself falling in love with Mary’s sister Anne.  The following year he proposed and started proceedings to remove Catherine from the picture.  She didn’t go without a fight. Of course there was  also the small matter of getting rid of all of Catherine of Aragon’s pomegranate symbols from buildings, furniture etc and replacing it with Anne’s emblem and initials.

Anne’s emblem when she became queen in 1533 after a secret marriage ceremony before Henry’s marriage to Catherine had been formally annulled was the white falcon.  The white falcon was part of the crest of the Earls of Ormonde from whom Thomas Boleyn, Anne’s father, claimed descent via his mother.  Piers Butler was forced to hand over the title to Henry in 1528 and, in turn, he graciously awarded it to his future father-in-law in 1529.

This particular white falcon is alighting onto a barren tree stump, incidentally a Plantagenet badge, which is sprouting a crop of roses – hardly complicated imagery.  The old queen had failed to produce a male heir; Anne carrying all before her was going to produce a Tudor sprig.  The arrival of another princess, this time called Elizabeth, in September 1533 must have come as a blow.

The crown and the sceptre are doing the job you might suppose them to do.  They are reminding everyone who cares to look that God, rather than Henry VIII, has made Anne queen of England.

As well as the falcon Anne also used the leopard which derived from the coat of arms of Thomas of Brotherton who was a son of Edward I and the First Earl of Norfolk – and yes, Anne claimed descent from him  as her mother was Elizabeth Howard, daughter of the Duke of Norfolk.  Clearly Anne was keen to identify her royal connections.  Having supplanted bona fide Spanish royalty she went to some lengths to demonstrate the rather thin trickle of Plantagenet blood flowing through her veins.

On her marriage Anne chose as her motto “Most happy.” Before then she’d had the words, in Latin, “Grumble all you like, this is how it’s going to be.”  You’ve got to admire the woman’s panache but you can see how she might have irritated the great and the good with her abrasive sense of humour.  She is also purported to have had a third motto meaning, “Always the same.” This was the one that Elizabeth I chose to use.

How happy Anne remained is a moot point given that there were rumours of Henry VIII’s attention wandering less than a year into his second marriage.  Hart mentions his six month affair with Anne’s cousin in 1535. By this time Anne was proving a disappointment.  As well as meddling in political and religious affairs she miscarried two or possibly three babies. There then followed a miscarriage of a boy on 29th January 1536- the same day as Catherine of Aragon’s funeral.

That same year as the monasteries were dissolved and the machinery of Catholicism demolished to furnish Henry’s bank account and ego,  Anne found herself arrested and carted off to the Tower where she was duly executed on the colourful, not to mention highly dubious charges, of treason, adultery and incest on the 19th May with a sword rather than an axe. Having made the famous comment about a small neck she also beseeched , “Jesu save my Sovereign and master the King, the most goodliest, and gentlest Prince that is, and long to reign over you.”

Eleven days later Henry, that “goodliest” monarch, wed wife number three and all those master masons, carpenters and glaziers found themselves removing the letter A and replacing them with a J.