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The Grundisburgh martyr

Today in 1558, Alice Driver and Alexander Gooch were burned on the Cornhill in Ipswich. Her trial record, particularly her testimony, shows that Alice Driver freely admitted not sharing certain Roman Catholic beliefs and this was sufficient to convict her. Both are commemorated on this monument in Christchurch Park (left) and Driver by a road in her home village.

These executions happened only thirteen days before both Mary I and Cardinal Pole died and the next monarch repealed de heretico comburendo, the law under which Driver and Gooch were put to death, such that it was last used in Canterbury on the 15th of that month. For comparison, the third Duke of Norfolk was scheduled for beheading in January 1547 but reprieved when Henry VIII died a few hours earlier.

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Insurrection: Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell and the Pilgrimage of Grace

insurrectionAn intriguing new book by historian Susan Loughlin is about to be published by The History Press on April 4th of this year (2016) detailing an event in world history that has perhaps gone unnoticed by some historians and those who run with the history blogs and bloggers.

 

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Susan at The Angel and Royal Inn in Grantham outside the door of the room where Richard 3 signed Buckingham’s death warrant.

 

 

I first “met” Susan Loughlin  on the popular Facebook group “Ricardian” administered by author Stephen Lark that has over 1,000 members and counting.  (I’m one of the 7 moderators of that group.)  Susan has always brought her serious and knowledgeable input to issues relating to King Richard the Third and is known for her spunky attitude towards historians and others who dare to hand out misinformation about this much maligned king.  But her new book is not about Richard but relates the story of  Henry VIII and a popular rebellion that occurred in 1536 when 30,000 men took up arms against the king during the dissolution of the monasteries.  Her book “Insurrection:  Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell and the Pilgrimage of Grace” is available for pre-order at Amazon.com and will be available in the USA/Canada in June/July:

http://www.amazon.com/insurrection-Henry-Thomas-Cromwell-Pilgrimage/dp/0750967331/ref

 

I was lucky enough to interview Susan this past month.  Here are some of her thoughts on her life, her new book and Ricardian issues.

Susie, can you tell us something about where you were born and grew up?

I was born in London, the daughter of Irish immigrants and grew up in the northern suburbs of the city.  I was educated at primary and secondary schools in Muswell Hill and Finchley.

Tell us something about your education.

I am grateful to the wonderful teachers I was fortunate enough to have – in particular, Mr. Steven Lilly, who encouraged my curiosity and love of the Humanities.  I vividly recall being taught the ‘traditional’ version of the Wars of the Roses at secondary school and recently had a conversation about this with my old school friend, Lydia.  We both remember being unconvinced by the narrative we were told with regard to Richard III.

I received eight O Levels and three A Levels (including one in History) and obtained a place in three UK universities to study History.  However, I decided to go to work for a year and deferred my places.  I then got used to a regular salary:  I took driving lessons, holidays, and in particular, a wonderful trip to California.  I remained working and changed careers to work in Local Government in London.  I also studied for my professional qualification whilst working and spent a number of years delivering front-line services in the London Borough of Barnet; the second largest borough.  Of course, Barnet was the site of one of the most prominent battles of the Wars of the Roses.  There are many roads in the area which bear testimony to this:  Gloucester Road, Warwick Road, Plantagenet Road, York Road, Lancaster Road and Woodville Road!  In addition, the local County Court sessions were held in a building named Kingmaker House!

When I relocated to Ireland, I decided to embark upon my study of History at the National University of Ireland, Galway.  This institution began life by Royal charter in the reign of Queen Victoria and was originally known as Queen’s University, Galway – a sister to the institutions in Belfast, Dublin and Cork.  Following the establishment of the Irish Republic, Galway became known as University College of Galway and most recently, the National University of Ireland, Galway.

I decided to pursue my passion for History, Classical Civilizations and Political Science.  It would have been tempting to take a pragmatic approach and opt for a potentially safe and lucrative path, such as Law, but I decided to pursue my own interests, for my own pleasure.  Academia is incredibly competitive and most people do not enter it in expectation of materialistic dividends.  It is, in fact, a labour of love.

I studied many different modules of History, including Irish, European, and English.  My A Level included Early Modern history, so I was drawn, in particular, to these subjects.  I was fortunate enough to study under many fine lecturers, including Professor Steven Ellis, a Tudor expert and the head of both the History department and the School of Humanities.  I am grateful for being endowed with the title University Scholar during my BA degree and graduated with First Class honours in both History and Political Science.  I then began studying for my research PhD, under the direction of Professor Ellis and obtained a scholarship and the title Galway Doctoral Research Fellow.

And here I was so proud of my little BA!  But I’m so happy to hear you defend the study of History and other areas of intellect when so many of people think University’s raison d’etre is to end up in a well-paying job.  That attitude is one of my pet peeves.

Please tell us what made you a Ricardian?

As I mentioned, I remember being taught the standard version of events regarding Richard III, the Battle of Bosworth and how Henry VII reunited the Houses of Lancaster and York.  However, like my school friend, I had misgivings with regard to the portrayal of Richard III.  He just appeared like a pantomime villain character and actually reminded me of the cartoon character ‘Dick Dastardly’ from ‘Wacky Races’!  Something just didn’t sit right and I was left with a lingering curiosity about the man.  I met a friend at work, who had actually studied Richard’s reign for both her BA and MA.  She was utterly convinced that the king was a victim of a Tudor smear campaign.

When I started studying Henry VIII in depth, I realized what a deeply insecure individual he was.  His father’s ‘claim’ to the throne was, at best, flimsy and by all accounts, Henry VII was extremely paranoid.  This trait was evidently passed on to his son.  Henry VIII was totally obsessed with securing the Tudor dynasty by providing a male heir; something which eluded him until the birth of Prince Edward in 1537.  It occurred to me that only interlopers would be insecure and systematic in their attempt to conceal the truth and justify their own positions.  It is well known how Henry VII behaved in eradicating Plantagenet claimants; a task completed by his son with the obscene execution of the sixty-seven year old Countess of Salisbury, Margaret Pole.  (Margaret’s son, Reginald, was in exile on the continent and managed to avoid capture, despite Henry having assassins in pursuit of him.)

That has got to be one of the more grisly of Henry VIII’s many grisly acts!  There is a paucity of evidence for Richard’s reign – why is  this?

The contemporary accounts which do exist are contradictory and flawed.  It is not the place for a discussion of the sources here but I would recommend Annette Carson’s Richard III:  The Maligned King, The History Press, Stroud, 2013, pp. 330-348  for a succinct appraisal.  What I would add, however, is that it is simply preposterous to any serious historian to accept either Thomas More’s The History of King Richard III or Shakespeare’s play, The Tragedy of King Richard III (written in 1592) as sources.  More was born in 1478 and, as such, was five years old when Richard was crowned.  In addition, his mentor had been John Morton.  The same Morton who had conspired against Richard and was Archbishop of Canterbury by Henry VII in 1486.

More’s work was never finished.  Why was this?

I find it incredulous that one of the leading Humanist scholars of the day (a frequent correspondent of Erasmus) should have included such demonstrably ludicrous ‘facts’ as Richard being born after a two year gestation, with a full set of teeth.  My own view is that Thomas More was, to use a London colloquialism, ‘having a laugh’.

A central tenet of my own personality is contempt for injustice.  Given the lack of credible sources and blatant Tudor propaganda, I believe Richard III has been vilified, without the evidence to support such claims.

Let me be clear, I do not hold a romanticized view of the man nor perceive him as a knight in shining armour.  He was not a saint.  Far from it.  But let us place him in the context of his times and not project our own values onto him.  Let us not assume to know him or his thoughts from small crumbs of evidence.  He was a medieval magnate and king.  He did things that were necessary to survive and protect his own interests.  Did he love Anne Neville or marry for land and wealth?  Frankly, I do not care!  We cannot speculate about his mind-set.  We cannot extrapolate grandiose theories from what little we have.  He was not a Lollard; neither was he a Renaissance prince.  He was simply a prince of the blood, forced into a situation where he had, I believe, no option but to accept the crown offered to him by the Three Estates of the Realm.  What was the alternative?  I leave you to ponder that.

I will!

Richard III is a ‘victim’ of injustice – caused not only by Tudor propaganda but the chaotic set of circumstances that his brother, King Edward IV bequeathed to him.

Yes, Edward certainly left a mess.  Given your Ricardian bona fides, how did you turn to the subject of Henry the 8th and the dissolution of the monasteries?

My university did not offer a module on The Wars of the Roses, so, as discussed above, I studied English, Irish and European Early Modern History.  Professor Ellis is a specialist in peripheral Tudor regions and administration and also in the religious aspects of Henry VIII’s reign.  We decided that I would research the Pilgrimage of Grace – it combined a study of the North of England and the Henrician religious experiment.

Let’s talk about your new book.  Perhaps because I’m American, I do not know much about the pushback of 30,000 men against Henry’s very famous actions.  Can you tell us a little about these men and what they did or did not accomplish?

That’s interesting, Maire, because I was completely unaware of the Pilgrimage of Grace until I studied it as an undergraduate under Professor Ellis.  It had obviously been ‘air-brushed’ out of conventional, general, Whig interpretations of the English Reformation.  Hence, only those in academia or with an avid and thorough knowledge of the reign of Henry VIII would be familiar with it.  And I shudder when I think of the inaccurate portrayal of the event in the TV series, ‘The Tudors’!

Essentially, the Pilgrimage was the largest popular rising against a Tudor monarch and had the potential to threaten Henry’s throne.  30,000 men, of all social orders took up arms against the king in the autumn of 1536.  Their intentions were abundantly clear – they wished for a return to the ‘old ways’ of religious worship, for the monasteries to stand and for Princess Mary’s reinstatement as Henry’s heir.

The Pilgrims succeeded in so far as the king was forced to agree to a truce in order to cease hostilities and a copy of the rebels’ grievances were taken to him by two of the rebel leaders.  Henry was indignant and felt that his honour was much diminished and reluctantly agreed to consider their grievances and convene a parliament in York to discuss the issues.  He issued a pardon but it is apparent that he had no intention of honouring it – he only wished to stop the rising’s momentum.  When some disenchanted rebels realized that the King and Duke of Norfolk had been duplicitous, further risings ensued in 1537.  This afforded Henry the opportunity to seek retribution for the events of the previous autumn.

The Pilgrimage was a missed opportunity for religious conservatives and the book discusses the pitfalls that prevented the movement achieving its explicit aims.  One rebel, however, is particularly interesting, in that he did not fit the usual Pilgrim ‘profile’ and is something of an enigma.  Sir Francis Bigod was a Yorkshire gentleman and a known Evangelical.  His behavior has been somewhat a puzzle to historians.  In 1536, he was a staunch defender of King Henry’s religious innovations and expressed his desire to be a priest and preacher in a letter to Cromwell in April.  A few months earlier, he had reported the Abbot of Whitby for denying the Royal Supremacy.  Thus his involvement as one of the leaders of renewed rebellion in January 1537 is hard to reconcile with his previous behavior.  He even wrote a treatise denouncing the Royal Supremacy and arguing the king could not have ‘cure’ of his subjects’ souls.  Needless to say, he paid the price with his life.

The book also examines the punishment handed out by a vengeful monarch and explains why some former rebels managed successfully to rehabilitate themselves.  The links between retribution and reward are examined in a study of patronage and the governance of the region in the aftermath of the rebellion.

Another rising in the North was not attempted against until 1569, in the reign of Elizabeth, but this, I would suggest, illustrates the latent conservative nature of the inhabitants and a lingering resentment with changes imposed upon them by force and betrayal.  Historians Michael Bush and David Bownes have argued that if the Pilgrimage had succeeded the Anglican Church was ‘certain’ to return to Roman Catholicism and that the dissolutions would not have occurred (see Bush & Bownes, The Defeat of the Pilgrimage of Grace, University of Hull Press, 1999).  Had the Pilgrimage been successful, the course of English religious history, would arguably have been very different.

As always, English history fascinates and perplexes at the same time.  Thank you, Susie and congratulations on your new book. Read more…

LONDON’S GUILDHALL: Where Buckingham Did Not Spit

In the heart of the City of London stands the medieval Guildhall. Built between 1411 and 1440 on the site of a much older structure, for the most part it survived the Great Fire of London, and still dominates the square in which it stands, a true relic of the London of Richard’s day.

Legend has it that the palace of Britain’s first king, Brutus of Troy, stood on this spot, and the hall itself is graced by two wooden giants Gog and Magog, who are also mythical guardians of London—there were carvings of this pair here at an early date but the ones towering above the hall today date only from 1706, the earlier pair having been destroyed in the Great Fire.

Many notable events have taken place within the Guildhall, including a number of famous Tudor era trials including Thomas Howard, Thomas Cranmer, martyr Anne Askew, Lady Jane Grey and her husband Guilford Dudley, and the lovers of Queen Katherine Howard, Thomas Culpeper and Francis Dereham.

It was here too that Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham came on June 24, 1483, Midsummer’s Eve, to deliver before the mayor and other important persons, a speech in support of Richard III’s assumption of the Crown. He was supposed to have delivered an amazing oratory in which he condemned the Woodvilles and mentioned that the ruling of a country was not fitting for a child. Apparently, he spoke so suavely and convincingly, with such fluid ease, that he ‘did not even pause to spit’ between his sentences.

At the end of the impassioned speech, however, it was claimed by certain writers that he was greeted by stony silence. However, we have no way of knowing how true this is, or whether it was simply added in by hostile sources—knowing the determination and forthrightness of medieval Londoners, if they had not approved even in a small way, it would be surprising if no protest was registered. It was not as if either Richard or Buckingham had huge contingents of men in London at the time to intimidate them into agreement. Of course, silence, if indeed silence
there was, could have come merely from surprise and the gravity of what the Duke was suggesting. At any rate, minutes later Buckingham’s entourage reportedly hurled their hats in the air and cried, ‘King Richard! King Richard!’
The Guildhall is well worth a visit and is open most weekdays, though it is best to check on the website as it can close at short notice for functions. Its entrance is directly opposite that of the adjoining Art Gallery (which is also well worth a visit, especially the Roman Amphitheatre,which was once the largest in all Britain.)
 

 

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London’s Guildhall

 

Fabricating Precontracts: Richard III vs Henry VIII

On 10 and 11 June 1483, Richard duke of Gloucester wrote to his affinity in the North and asked for troops to support him against the Woodvilles who, he claimed, were plotting his destruction. On 22 June Ralph Shaa preached his “bastard slips” sermon, followed by similar speeches by the duke of Buckingham, and on 26 June a quasi-parliamentary assembly of the Three Estates of the Realm – the nobles, bishops and representatives of the commons who had come to London for the coronation and subsequent first Parliament of Edward V – offered Richard the crown in place of his nephew. Allegedly Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells, had come forward and testified that the boy’s father, Richard’s brother Edward IV, had secretly entered into a legally binding marriage contract with Lady Eleanor Butler, daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury, who was still alive when he, again secretly, married his queen, Elizabeth Woodville. This second marriage was therefore invalid, which meant that young Edward was illegitimate and couldn’t inherit his father’s title.

This was a key turning point: Richard had been staunchly loyal to his brother and all surviving evidence suggests that up until mid-June he had every intention of pressing ahead with his nephew’s coronation. He had sworn allegiance to him, had spent the month and a half since his arrival in London preparing robes and food, issued letters of summons for the 40 esquires who were to receive the knighthood of the Bath on the occasion and even paid £800 of his own money towards the royal household, which appears to have been on the verge of bankruptcy. Moreover, his own political future in his nephew’s government seemed secure: a speech drafted by Chancellor John Russell for Edward V’s first Parliament proposed not only to extend his Protectorate beyond the coronation, but to expand its remit from keeping law and order to in the future also have “tutele and oversight of the king’s most royal person during his years of tenderness”, effectively making him regent.

Nevertheless, some believe that the sudden revelation of the precontract was too convenient to be true. They argue that the executions of William Hastings, Antony Woodville, Richard Grey and Thomas Vaughan and the threat of troops advancing from the North terrified the council – the same council which only two months earlier had successfully persuaded the queen to limit her son’s escort from Ludlow to 2000 men – and the Three Estates into accepting a fabricated precontract so Richard could satisfy his hitherto secret ambition of becoming king. As brother and uncle of kings, Lord Protector, Constable and Lord High Admiral of England, Richard was indeed a powerful man, so could it be true?

The precontract that deposed Edward V tends to be viewed as some kind of exotic technicality, but precontracts were common not only in medieval England, but well past the Reformation and affected all levels of society, even kings. A well documented example is Richard’s great-nephew Henry VIII, who tried to have three of his six marriages annulled because of an alleged precontract. In all three cases the claim was highly dubious, but Henry was not only an anointed and firmly established – if not feared – King of England, but also head of the Church. So how did he fare?

Surprisingly, he failed in two out of three cases. Let’s look at each of them in turn:

1) Anne Boleyn

Henry had defied the Pope and changed his country’s religion in order to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and marry his second wife, Anne Boleyn, but in early 1536 their marriage was one the rocks and Henry was looking for pastures new. One of the tools he tried to use to get rid of her was her former relationship with Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland.

In 1527, when Anne had been lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon, a romance had developed between her and Percy and they had become secretly “engaged”, presumbably by making a de futuro marriage vow (“I will marry you”). Henry, who had his eye on Anne for himself, asked his then Chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey, to intervene and “after much debate and consultation about lord Percy’s case it was finally decided that his engagement to Anne Boleyn should be dissolved and that he should instead marry one of the Earl of Shrewsbury’s daughters, Lady Mary Talbot, which he later did.”

The fact that the engagement had been dissolved at his own insistence didn’t stop Henry from claiming now, nine years later, that it was in fact a legally binding contract and therefore invalidated his marriage to Anne. His new Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell, tried to persuade Percy to confess, but he refused to be bullied. On 13 May 1536 he wrote to Cromwell:

“I perceive by Raynold Carnaby that there is supposed a pre-contract between the Queen and me; whereupon I was not only heretofore examined upon my oath before the archbishops of Canterbury and York, but also received the blessed sacrament upon the same before the duke of Norfolk and other the King’s highness’ council learned in the spiritual law, assuring you, Mr. Secretary, by the said oath and blessed body, which afore I received and hereafter intend to receive, that the same may be to my damnation if ever there were any contract or promise of marriage between her and me.”

There’s little reason to doubt his sincerity. His marriage to Mary Talbot was extremely unhappy and in 1532 Mary had tried to get it annulled by claiming that Percy had blurted out during an argument that they weren’t really married as he had been precontracted to Anne. However, when the matter was investigated he swore on the Blessed Sacrament in front of the duke of Norfolk, the archbishops of Canterbury and York and Henry’s canon lawyers that this wasn’t the case. He should have jumped at the opportunity to regain his freedom, but de futuro marriage vows only became binding if followed by sexual intercourse, so if he hadn’t slept with Anne then there was no binding contract.

Faced with Percy’s refusal, the king had to find another reason why his marriage to Anne was invalid. In the end it was declared null and void due to unspecified impediments supposedly confessed by Anne herself, but if she had hoped that this would save her life it wasn’t to be. She was accused of adultery with a number of men, including her own brother, and of planning to replace Henry with one of her lovers, which was treason. All but one of the accused, a musician who had been pressured into confessing, pleaded not guilty, but to no avail. On 15 May Anne was found guilty on all charges and sentenced to death. How she could have committed adultery if her marriage to the king was invalid was not explained. Percy, who sat on the jury that convicted her, fainted and had to be carried out. He died eight months later of natural causes. On 17 May the queen’s supposed lovers were executed, followed two days later by Anne herself, her sentence having been commuted from burning to beheading. Incredibly, Henry had been able to make the unlikely incest charge stick – the spectators at George Boleyn’s trial were betting ten to one that he would be acquitted – but not the claim of the precontract.

2) Anne of Cleves

Henry’s marriage to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, was a political match and not a happy one. They were married in January 1540 and by June Henry was actively looking for a way out, complaining that he was unable to have sex with her because she was too ugly, that she wasn’t a virgin and even that she smelled bad. Sir John Wallop, the English ambassador in France, was therefore instructed to speak to the Cardinal of Lorraine about Anne’s former marriage negotiations with his brother, duke Francis of Lorraine.

Henry knew that many years ago Anne and Francis had been contracted to marry; in fact, he had questioned this after meeting her for the first time in a bid to call off the wedding, but her brother’s ambassadors had dismissed his concerns. They declared that they had not only read the agreement, but also been present when the ambassador of the Duke of Gueldres, who had arranged the match, declared it null and void, and promised to provide copies of both the agreement and its dissolution. However, all they had been able to produce was a notarised statement that they had investigated the Cleves archives and found a report which stated that the negotitations “were not going to take their course”. Crucially, they had been unable to confirm whether the marriage contract was per verba de praesenti (“I marry you”) or de futuro (“I will marry you”) and Henry now used this to his advantage.

On 6 July Anne was asked to agree for a church court to investigate her marriage, which she did. The following day a convocation presided over by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer began to consider the evidence and after two days of “mature deliberation” found the marriage “null by reason of a precontract between lady Anne and the marquis of Lorraine, that it was unwillingly entered into and never consummated, and that the King is at liberty to marry another woman, and likewise the lady Anne free to marry.” Specifically, it was argued that Anne’s marriage contract with Francis had likely been per verba de praesenti and therefore binding even without consummation and that, far from not being able to get it up, Henry had deliberately abstained from sleeping with Anne while awaiting clarification of the matter since, if the precontract turned out to be valid, it would have made their children bastards.

On 12 July Parliament announced Anne’s agreement to the annulment of her marriage to Henry, including her confirmation “that she remaineth not carnally known to the King’s Highness’s body”. Henry showed his gratitude by deciding “to endow you with 4,000l. of yearly revenue. We have appointed you two houses, that at Richemont where you now lie, and the other at Blechinglegh, not far from London, that you may be near us and, as you desire, able to repair to our Court to see us, as we shall repair to you. When Parliament ends, we shall, in passing, see and speak with you, and you shall more largely see what a friend you and your friends have of us.” In return Anne sent him the ring she had received for their “pretensed marriage”, asking for it to be broken into pieces. It was a good deal: although she endured public humiliation and had to give up her title as queen, her cooperation with Henry’s wishes not only saved her life, but made her one of the wealthiest women in England.

3) Catherine Howard

Only 19 days after his marriage to Anne of Cleves was annulled, Henry married his fifth wife, Catherine Howard. Like her cousin Anne Boleyn, she was a niece of Thomas Howard, 3rd duke of Norfolk, and her fall from grace was just as spectacular. On 2nd November 1541 Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, passed a letter to Henry which alleged that while growing up in the household of her step-grandmother, the dowager duchess of Norfolk, Catherine had affairs with Henry Manox, her music teacher, and Francis Dereham, a servant of the Howard family and now the queen’s secretary. The claims were made by a chambermaid who had shared a dormitory with her. Stunned, Henry ordered an investigation.

The chambermaid and Manox were questioned and Manox admitted that he “had commonly used to feel the secrets and other parts of the Queen’s body”, but denied sleeping with her, unlike Dereham who “used to haunt her chamber rightly and banquet there until 2 or 3 a.m.” Dereham and a number of Howard servants were arrested and sent to the Tower. Dereham confessed under torture that he “had known her carnally many times, both in his doublet and hose between the sheets and in naked bed”, but insisted that this had ended before her marriage to the king and that Thomas Culpeper, a gentleman of the Privy Chamber, had “succeeded him in the Queen’s affections”. Culpeper was arrested, tortured and confessed that “he intended and meant to do ill with the Queen and that in like wise the Queen so minded to do with him.”

On 8 November, Catherine herself was interrogated and made a written confession, in which she admitted to sexual relations with Dereham, but denied that they were contracted to be married:

“Examined whether I called him Husband, and he me Wife.— I do Answer, that there was Communication in the House that we Two should Marry together; and some of his Enemies had Envy thereat, wherefore he desired me to give him Leave to call me Wife, and that I would call him Husband. And I said I was content. And so after that, commonly he called me VVife, and many times I called him Husband. And he used many Times to Kiss me, and so he did to many other commonly in the House… As for Carnall Knowledge, I confess as I did before, that diverse Times he hath lyen with me, sometimes in his Doublet and Hose, and Two or Thre Times naked: But not so naked that he bad nothing upon him, for he had al wayes at the least his Doublet, and as I do think, his Hose also, but I mean naked when his Hose were putt down.”

In a letter to Henry she implied that Dereham had forced himself on her:

“Also Frauncez Derame by many persuasions procured me to his vicious purpose and obteyned first to lye uppon my bedde with his doblett and hose and after within the bedde and fynally he lay with me nakyd and used me in suche sorte as a man doith his wyfe many and sondry tymez but howe often I knowe not and our, company ended almost a yere before the Kynges majestye was maried to my lady Anne of Cleve and contynued not past oon quarter of a yere or litle above. Nowe the holl trouythe beyng declared unto your majestye I most humble beseche the same to considre the subtyll persuasions of young men and the ignorans and fraylnez of young women.”

Catherine clearly hadn’t learnt from the experiences of her predecessors, Anne Boleyn and Anne of Cleves. Admitting to a precontract with Dereham might have saved her life since, having been consummated, it would have invalidated her marriage to the king; denying it meant that her dalliance with Culpeper came dangerously close to treason. Henry’s advisors on the other hand were only too aware and interrogated the dowager duchess about a possible precontract between Dereham and her step-granddaughter.

Denying the precontract sealed Catherine’s fate. Henry now sought to establish adultery, which again proved easier than establishing a precontract. She had admitted to secret meetings with Culpeper, calling him her “little sweet fool” and giving him presents, but both denied a sexual relationship. Nevertheless, on 1 December Dereham and Culpeper were convicted of treason and on 10 December Culpeper was beheaded and Dereham hanged, drawn and quartered. Their heads were put on spikes and displayed on London Bridge, where they remained until 1546.

On 21 January an Act of Attainder was passed against Catherine, which found her guilty of wanting to “return to her old abominable life” with Dereham and to “bring her vicious and abominable purpose to pass with Thos. Culpeper.” Since a mere intention wasn’t actually treason, it also declared “that an unchaste woman marrying the King shall be guilty of high treason” and on 13 February Catherine was executed. The same bill found the elderly dowager duchess, her eldest son William, his wife, two of her daughters and several of their servants, who had all spent Christmas in the Tower, guilty of concealing this treason. They were sentenced to life imprisonment and their property confiscated.

As the above examples show, even a King and head of the Church couldn’t simply declare that a precontract existed; he had to prove it and there was no guarantee that he would succeed. Henry’s position was well-established – Anne Boleyn’s trial took place in the 27th year of his reign, that of Catherine Howard in the 32nd – and he had all the tools of his office(s) at his disposal to assemble evidence and intimidate witnesses, including imprisonment and torture, but he only succeeded in one case – Anne of Cleves – and only because the lady played along. Canon law hadn’t changed since the Middle Ages, so let’s compare Henry’s experience to Richard’s claim of a precontract between Edward IV and Eleanor Talbot.

While Richard had been confirmed as Lord Protector by the council and was working in co-operation with its members, he was in a considerably weaker position than Henry. He wasn’t an anointed king, merely de-facto regent, had only recently arrived in London and only had 200–300 retainers at his disposal (500–600 including Buckingham’s men). Unlike Anne of Cleves, neither Stillington nor Lady Eleanor’s family appear to have been rewarded for accepting the precontract. There’s also no indication that they were intimidated, imprisoned or tortured, like the families and supposed lovers of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard.

The Crowland Chronicle, written with hindsight in 1486, speaks of “armed men, in fearful and unheard-of numbers, from the north, Wales, and all other parts” marching on London in response to Richard’s letters, but Simon Stallworth, in his letter to Sir William Stonor dated 21 June 1483, doesn’t sound fearful or suspicious. On the contrary, he assumes they’re a peace keeping force:

“Yt is thoughte ther shalbe 20 thousand of my Lorde Protectour and my lorde of Bukyngham menne in London this weike to what intent I knowe note but to kep the peas.”

As it turned out, the 4000 men who answered Richard’s call didn’t arrive until his coronation and were sent home without seeing any action. Clearly he expected trouble, either due to a plot against his life, as he claimed in his letters, or the revelation of the precontract or both, but in the end reinforcements weren’t needed. The executions of Hastings, Rivers, Grey and Vaughan may have contributed to a general feeling of uncertainty, but a contemporary fragment in the Cely papers suggests that, far from seeing Richard as the culprit, people were worried about his safety:

“… there is great rumour in the realm, the Scots have done great [harm] in England, the Chamberlain is deceased in trouble, the Chancellor is desperate and not content, the Bishop of Ely is dead, if the King, God save his life, were deceased, the Duke of Gloucester were in any peril, if my Lord Prince, who God defend, were troubled, if my lord of Northumberland were dead or greatly troubled, if my Lord Howard were slain.”

The logical conclusion therefore has to be that the precontract was accepted because the evidence – at the very least Stillington’s testimony – was convincing.

Sources:

H. A. Kelly: “The Matrimonial Trials of Henry VIII”, Wipf and Stock; Reprint edition (2004)

Annette Carson: “Richard Duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector and High Constable of England”, Imprimis Imprimatur (2015)

Claire Ridgway: “Henry Percy Won’t Play Ball”, The Anne Boleyn Files http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/13-may-1536-henry-percy-wont-play-ball

Marilee Hanson: “The relationship between Henry Percy & Anne Boleyn 1523”, English History http://englishhistory.net/tudor/henry-percy-anne-boleyn-relationship

Claire Ridgway: “9 July 1540 – The End of Henry VIII’s Marriage to Anne of Cleves”, The Anne Boleyn Files http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/9-july-1540-the-end-of-henry-viiis-marriage-to-anne-of-cleves

Marilee Hanson: “Anne of Cleves: Facts, Biography, Information & Portraits”, English History http://englishhistory.net/tudor/monarchs/anne-of-cleves

Marilee Hanson: “Catherine Howard: Facts, Biography, Portraits & Information”, English History http://englishhistory.net/tudor/monarchs/catherine-howard

Claire Ridgway: “The Fall of Catherine Howard”, The Anne Boleyn Files http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/the-fall-of-catherine-howard

Claire Ridgeway: “The Bill of Attainder against Catherine Howard and Lady Rochford”, The Anne Boleyn Files http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/21-january-1541-bill-attainder-catherine-howard-lady-rochford

Marilyn Roberts: “470 Years Ago – Terror for the Howards at Christmas”, The Anne Boleyn Files http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/470-years-ago-terror-for-the-howards-at-christmas

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