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A constitutionally important “Tudor” servant

Sir Richard Rich

We tend to have rather a negative view of Sir Richard Rich, or Baron Rich of Leez as he became in February 1547, nowadays. In this, we are somewhat influenced by Robert Bolt’s portrayal of him, as a “betrayer” of More, together with the history of Trevor-Roper. One Bolt line, memorably delivered by Paul Scofield as More, was “Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world, but Wales?”, as Rich (John Hurt) becomes Attorney-General for Wales a few (film) minutes before More is executed. More is also quoted as saying that Parliament could make Rich King if it so wished.

Leez Priory

Rich, a lawyer, protege of Wolsey, Colchester MP, Speaker and Solicitor-General, was certainly involved in many of the events of the mid-“Tudor” period such as the prosecution of More and Fisher, accounting for Catherine of Aragon’s assets at Kimbolton Castle, supporting Cromwell in the Dissolution, quite possibly a personal hand in Anne Askew’s (unprecedented and illegal) torture, executor of Henry VIII’s will, the attempted prosecution of Bonner and Gardiner and the Seymour brothers’ fatal division. He then resurfaced under Mary I as an enthusiastic persecutor of heretics in Essex, before dying, nine years into the next reign, at Felsted where he donated money to the church and famous school in the village.

His descendants were granted the Earldom of Warwick and were heavily involved, on both sides, in the Civil War – one great-grandson, the Earl of Holland, fought for the Crown at the 1648 Battle of St. Neots and was beheaded the following March with the Duke of Hamilton (captured at Preston) and Lord Hadham (taken at Colchester).

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HENRY VIII: THE EVEN HANDED PERSECUTOR

Some folks out there have recently been trying to justify the long list of people executed by Henry VIII  because ‘at least they had a trial’ or ‘because it was over religion, and there were always beheadings, pressings, burnings over religion.’

Well, surprisingly, I must agree with them on one thing. Henry sure could be fair and evenhanded.

He dealt out his brand of ‘justice’/punishment to both Catholics and Protestants, peasant and nobles, strangers and relatives, men  and women, and young and old alike!

From the Protestant side, the list of victims  include twelve clergymen, 3 monks, 2 lawyers, a courtier, several servants, an apprentice, a leatherseller and a tailor, a player and a musician, a painter and a mercer. Poignantly, there is also listed a poor artificer and a poor labourer, a  wife, a man called Valentine Freese alongside his wife, a child under 15 called Richard Mekins, and an ‘aged father.’ All were burnt at the stake save for the ‘aged father’ who had his brains bashed out prior to the fire taking hold. (I presume this was meant to be merciful.)

From the Catholic side, we have a list of well over 200, mostly priests and monks, but also the Nun of Kent, and some laymen and laywomen, including  67-year-old Margaret Pole, who was charged with nothing but faced death because her son was out of vengeful Henry’s reach.

Of the ‘rich and famous/infamous’ there are approximately 25 executed nobles and some ordinary folk  connected with the  supposed nobles’ misdeeds,  such as  Mark Smeaton, who was tortured into confessing a fling with Anne Boleyn.  The executed include Edward Stafford, son of Henry Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham (who raised rebellion against Richard III) , Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, de la Poles and Poles (including a young boy who was imprisoned in the Tower and was never seen again…he might be there still*!), a Courtenay and a Hungerford (both  of these families had helped Henry’s father to his throne), Jane Boleyn, and of course wives Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard.

As we can see,  Henry was a very even handed chap indeed. No one got favouritism. No one got out alive.

* https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/2014/02/28/whatever-happened-to-henry-pole-the-younger-2011/

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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

 

Henry VIII – the ultimate feminist?

1) He created two peeresses in their own right – Margaret Pole as Countess of Salisbury and Anne Boleyn as Marquess of Pembroke (see point 2).
2) He gave noblewomen, such as the above, Lady Margaret (Stafford) Bulmer, Catherine Howard and Viscountess Rochford, an equal opportunity to be executed.
3) He gave women, such as Anne Askew, an equal opportunity to be tortured.
4) Having left only one male heir, not fated to survive him for long, all realistic claimants by 1553 were female thus England had a Queen Regnant.

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