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A Grey Day

The Grey family, originally from Northumberland, are a consistent feature of English history from the Southampton plot of 1415 to Monmouth’s rebellion nearly three centuries later.

Sir Thomas Grey (1384-1415) of Castle Heaton was a soldier and one of the three principals in the Southampton plot against Henry V, revealed to him by Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March, at Portchester Castle. His connection to the House of York was that a marriage had been arranged between his son and Isabel, the (very) young daughter of Richard of Conisbrough, Earl of Cambridge. The betrothal was cancelled as one of the consequences of the plot’s failure. It may have been related to Grey’s purchase of the Yorkist lordship of Tyndale. (The sale of which demonstrates how relatively hard-up the second Duke of York was at this time.)

Sir John Grey of Groby (1432-61) was the son of Edward Grey, Baron Ferrers of Groby and a grandson of the third Baron Grey of Ruthin . Married to Elizabeth Wydeville, by whom he had two sons, he fought for Henry VI at the Second Battle of St. Albans and was killed there.

 

Lady Jane Grey (1537-54) was the daughter of Henry Grey, who had become Duke of Suffolk on his marriage to Frances Brandon, Henry being Sir John’s

great-grandson. Edward VI had named Jane as his heir and her father, together with John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland and Archbishop Cranmer sought to implement this on  Edward’s 1553 death, contrary to Henry VIII’s succession legislation. She married Northumberland’s son Lord Guildford Dudley and planned to create him Duke of Clarence but their coup was thwarted and the principals imprisoned. Wyatt rose in early 1554, apparently in favour of the Grey-Dudley faction, so Jane, her husband, father and father-in-law were beheaded close to the St. Albans anniversary. This “Streatham portrait” is possibly a retrospective of Jane, having been painted years after her death. She was also the great-niece of Viscount Grane, formerly Deputy of Ireland, who was beheaded in July 1541.

Ford Grey, Earl of Tankerville (1655-1701) was also Viscount Glendale and Baron Grey of Werke. As a veteran of the Rye House Plot, he escaped from the Tower and joined the Duke of Monmouth in exile before joining the Duke’s rebellion two years later. At Sedgemoor, he led the rebel cavalry but was captured, whereupon he gave evidence against his co-commanders and his attainder was reversed in 1686. Within another nine years, he was appointed to William III’s Privy Council and served in several other offices.

This genealogy connects Sir Thomas to Henry Grey Duke of Suffolk, Lady Jane Grey’s father, through his Mowbray brother-in-law. This shows Tankerville’s male line descent from Sir Thomas’ grandfather.

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A truncated reign and a truncated monarch

Right at the start of this series, Helen Castor (left) takes a black marker pen and illustrates the cause of the 1553 crisis on a large sheet of paper. Beginning with Henry VII, very few of his legitimate male descendants were alive at the start of that year – eliminating the obvious illegitimate cases, we have Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, aged seven (a Catholic in Scotland) and Edward VI, aged fifteen, whose health took a turn for the worse at that time. There were, however, nine healthy legitimate female descendants: Lady Margaret Douglas, Mary Stewart who was Lady Margaret’s niece of ten and already crowned in Scotland (but living as a Queen consort in France), Henry VIII’s two bastardised, but included by law, daughters Mary and Elizabeth, Lady Frances Grey (nee’ Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk in suo jure) and her three daughters Jane, Catherine and Mary together with Frances’ niece Lady Margaret Clifford. In short, the “Tudor” male line was on the propinquity of its termination, although a medical explanation for this was not given.

In the first programme, Castor showed how Edward’s “devise for my succession” developed during that fateful year. First, he hopes that one of the Protestant Grey sisters will have a male heir to succeed him with Frances as the new King’s grandmother and Regent. Then his illness accelerated and there are crossings out on the devise, such that “the Lady Jane’s heires male” becomes “the Lady Jane AND HER heires male”, in the hope that he will live long enough for Parliament to enact this document and supersede Henry VIII’s own legislation, which named the Catholic Mary as heir after Edward, although the Greys would be preferred to the Stewarts. On the left is the “Streatham Portrait“, previously thought to have been of Jane, but not commissioned until half a century later.

During the first half of 1553, Lady Jane was married to Lord Guildford Dudley, son of the Duke of Northumberland who was Lord Protector at the time. Lady Catherine Grey also married, as did Guildford’s sisters, one to Lord Henry Hastings, later Earl of Huntingdon. In the event, fate overtook Edward’s plans and his devise, as letters patent, had no legal status at his death on 6 July. Darnley’s claim as the last “Tudor” male was to be ignored and England was to have a Queen Regent, as Northumberland took his son and new daughter-in-law from Bradgate in Leicestershire, via Sion House to the Royal Apartments in the Tower for her reign to be proclaimed on 10 July, although Jane took the fateful decision that her husband was to be created Duke of Clarence and not King.

In the second programme, Castor explains how the Privy Council erred by sending Northumberland to East Anglia to arrest Mary, removing the realm’s best military commander from the capital, where the professional soldiers and their weapons were. Mary moved from Kenninghall in Norfolk to Framlingham Castle to strengthen her position and gathered support from those who still adhered to her Catholic faith and who had “known” her from afar for her whole life. There was to be no arrest of Mary, nor was there to be a pitched battle as Henry VIII’s first-born child outmanoeuvred Northumberland, at his Cambridge base, in order to march upon London.

The third episode begins with a naval mutiny ensuring that Mary had some artillery to enforce her claimand the Privy Council officially dethroning Jane. Mary took the Tower, Jane, Guildford and their fathers became prisoners and Mary was proclaimed. For Jane, there could be no return to her earlier life at Bradgate. Except for Northumberland, there was to be no trial until November and even then Jane, Guildford and Suffolk had their sentences of death suspended – until Thomas Wyatt rebelled in the Protestant interest in mid-January, in protest at Mary’s plans to marry Phillip II. Mary then signed the three death warrants, the teenage couple went to the block on February 12th and Jane’s father eleven days later. Cranmer, who had been part of her Privy Council, was attainted and deprived but lived to face Mary’s further wrath at a later date. Darnley married the other Queen Mary and was killed a year or two later in his own realm. For nearly fifty years from that July day when Edward VI’s eyes closed for the last time, England had no male claimant descended from Henry VII and the throne was disputed solely by Queens Regnant.

Castor concludes by pointing out that Jane, proclaimed Queen by the Privy Council who had served Edward VI, should be reckoned as a real monarch of England, even though she had been illegally proclaimed and then dethroned. In some ways, her turbulent final year taught her cousin Elizabeth a valuable lesson – not to take a husband, especially as the most likely such candidate was her fellow survivor: Lord Guildford Dudley’s younger brother, Robert.

On the right is Paul Delaroche’s highly inaccurate painting of Jane’s end, painted as late as 1834. His version of her execution takes place indoors but we know that she died on Tower Green, as did most beheaded women.

For those of us more focused on the fifteenth century, we will be familiar with the concepts of a king Edward whose death was not announced for several days whilst a faction sought to establish control (1483) and of prisoners being executed to clear the way for a Spanish marriage (1499).

The Royal martyr

If you wish to visit the site of a heresy execution or a memorial to a victim in England and Wales, there are several options, most of which date from Mary I’s reign. Aldham Common in Hadleigh commemorates the town’s Rector, Rowland Tayler. Oxford marks an Archbishop, Cranmer, together with Bishops Latimer and Ridley, whilst their episcopal colleagues Hooper and Ferrar met their fate at Gloucester and Carmarthen respectively. There were also several hundred laymen, before and during her time, but all of them were commoners.
Scotland is sligPatrick_Hamiltonhtly different in this respect. Patrick Hamilton (left), born in about 1504, was burned outside St. Salvador’s Chapel (below) at St. Andrews in February 1527-8, as an early exponent of Luther’s reforms. He was a great-grandson of James II and thus the cousin once removed of the young James V, whose personal reign began that year. Like Cranmer, Tayler and a few others, Hamilton was legally married.

Significant opportunities missed?

Robert Stillington is likely to have been born in about 1420 and was consecrated as Bishop of Bath and Wells on 30 October 1465. As we know, in spring 1483, he confessed his knowledge of Edward IV’s bigamy. Based on Stillington’s evidence, the Three Estates voted to cancel the coronation of Edward V, inviting Richard Duke of Gloucester to become king instead, as described by the (otherwise hostile) James Gairdner as “almost a constitutional election”.

Richard III succeeded as a result of this decision but Stillington’s status remained unchanged during this reign. Edward IV had raised Canon Stillington to the first available see after his own second secret marriage ceremony and Richard could have rewarded him similarly on two, three, four or even five occasions.

As the late David Baldwin’s Richard III (pp.172-3) reveals, two Bishops died during Richard’s reign – had he been of similar character to the first Lancastrian, the second or fourth “Tudor”, there may have been three:
1) William Dudley (Durham) died on 29 November 1483 and John Shirwood was appointed. The Prince-Bishopric of Durham was the next highest see in the province of York and Thomas Wolsey (right) was to be translated there from Bath and Wells in 1523, although he had already been Archbishop of York for nine years and was really only an administrator in the other dioceses.
2) Lionel Wydeville (Salisbury), who had hitherto thought himself to be Edward IV’s brother-in-law, died some time in late 1484. Thomas Langton was translated from St. David’s and Hugh Pavy appointed there. Both of these diocesan livings were better than that of Bath and Wells. Earlier than this, he could have been deprived for treason. Langton was appointed as an administrator from March 1484.
3) John Morton (Ely) was arrested in June 1483 for treason and might have been deprived after his attainter, as Cranmer was summer 1553. Again, Ely was a more lucrative see.
4) Peter Courtenay (Exeter) joined the Buckingham rebellion in autumn 1483 and fled to Europe after attainder – another comfortable senior vacancy.

So there we have it. As we also showed here, Richard III had several good opportunities to promote Robert Stillington after his election by the Three Estates but took none of them, clearly implying that he regarded the cleric as having merely performed his conscientious duty, not a favour of any kind.

Starkey on home territory

This BBC documentary was actually very good and it worked because Starkey spoke about a subject he knows inside out – the Reformation and Henry VIII, relating it to current affairs. From Luther’s theses, indulgences and translating the Bible, first into German then English, he moved onto Tyndale‘s efforts to smuggle it into England and Henry’s efforts, through More, to stop him. Then came Wolsey, Campeggio and the King’s “great matter”, followed by More’s downfall and Anne Boleyn’s rise, reminding us how Henry had three Catholics and three Protestants executed on the same day, whilst always actually remaining a Catholic.

Indeed the quality of this programme demonstrates why Starkey should concentrate more on broadcasting about Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, not interpreting the “Roses” period on an “incomplete records” basis through a “Tudor” prism. Quite apart from Henry VII liking the accounting reference, he is the main reason that the records are now incomplete!

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

 

They died on the same day …

15 November 1558 – Deaths of Queen Mary I, known as Bloody Mary for her executions of Protestants, and her Archbishop of Canterbury, Cardinal Reginald Pole.

Mary’s accession marked a return to Catholicism for England after her father Reformation and her brother’s passion for Protestantism. Many Protestants were executed, including Thomas Cranmer, Henry VIII’s Archbishop of Canterbury.

As the first Queen Regnant in English history, Mary faced several problems, not least who to marry. Marrying a subject meant that he might be seen to hold more power than her and would give him huge authority. A match with a foreign prince was seen as an invitation to a foreign king to rule England. Her union with Phillip II of Spain was carefully constructed to deny him power but was deeply unpopular.

Reginald Pole was the grandson of George, Duke of Clarence. His mother had been controversially executed by Henry VIII as had his oldest brother. Pole lived much of his life in exile being courted by the Catholic powers of Europe.

One Papist plot revolved around marrying Pole to Mary and deposing Henry VIII with the couple to join the remnants of the House of York to the House of Tudor. Because of this, Reginald was viewed as a dangerous threat by Henry.

Mary and Reginald coincidentally died on the same day, closing a chapter in English history as the country would never again return to Catholicism. Their deaths also finally ended the last plot of the Wars of the Roses. Was this the real end date of a hundred years of civil war?

https://mattlewisauthor.wordpress.com/2014/10/12/the-fate-of-the-house-of-york/

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Wars-Roses-Struggle-Supremacy/dp/1445646358

Incidentally, Sir Geoffrey Pole also died that November.

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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