Having seen Ludlow in the snow, I would love to think of such a scene when Prince Arthur and Catherine were there. Or, better still, imagine it when the Mortimers were there, or Richard III as a boy.
Having seen Ludlow in the snow, I would love to think of such a scene when Prince Arthur and Catherine were there. Or, better still, imagine it when the Mortimers were there, or Richard III as a boy.
An Gof and the Cornish Rebellion 1497
As the early summer sun seared upon Bodmin Moor, sweeping south westwards to Goonhilly Downs , which straddles a swathe of the Lizard Peninsula , the tortured arid landscapes weren’t the only features of 1497 Cornwall, threatening to ignite in a blaze of fiery agitation. In 1337 the great Plantagenet King Edward III decreed his young son (Edward) “Duke of Cornwall”. The relevant Charter recognized that Cornwall , was one of the “remarkable places in our kingdoms”. The Duchy acknowledged Cornwall’s “difference” while maintaining a substantial connection to the dynastic regime . It also took jurisdiction of an earlier institution called the Stannaries, which were re-founded in 1201 during the reign of King John. They offered Cornish tinners (who in 1586 were reported to be “so rough and mutinous , multitude , 10,000 or 12,000 the most strong men in England”! ) licence from the regular system of law. The Stannary Parliament enjoyed considerable authority which could even overrule Westminster laws. However, there was no exemption from the king’s taxes.
By the early 1490s, due to a diminishing annual tin yield, all was not well . Tensions arose when the Council of Prince Arthur, Duke of Cornwall , declared tougher regulations for the tin industry. Subsequently as might have been expected of a maverick spirited people the rules were mostly breached . This show of audacity was swiftly curtailed by an indignant Henry VII who suspended the Cornish Stannary government . Thus the scene was set for an even greater conflict which revolved around the enduring contention of taxation.
Perkin Warbeck, who was a pretender to the English throne had garnered support in Scotland , which had the effect of precipitating additional national taxes to finance military action against his northern allies. John Arundell , Richard Flamank, John Trevenor, and Thomas Erisey, were the tax assessors in Cornwall. Not surprisingly the hard pressed Cornish were soon griping about the unwelcome burden to be foisted on them . The initial expression of blatant insurrection was voiced in the distant parish of St Keverne, situated on the Lizard Peninsula . The poorest were exempted from the tax, and it’s been indicted that a prime motive for the dissenters’ rage was the detested tax collector Sir John Oby. The chief advocates of Cornish disapproval were a tough St Keverne, blacksmith called Michael Joseph , known as An Gof (The Smith) and an articulate Bodmin lawyer , Thomas Flamank ; son of the tax assessor Richard Flamank . Consequently their impassioned rhetoric had the effect of giving rise to an insurgent march towards London. On reaching Wells, in Somerset, they were joined by James Tuchet, “Lord Audley”, who became the commander of the force . By June , the rustic band of brothers were closing on their destination but were to be disappointed as they weren’t reinforced by the previously rebellious men of Kent. Some became disheartened and deserted the cause. The Great Chronicle of London , described a rebel army of 15,000 who were “favoured” by the people of the territories they’d passed through….”but which became reduced to between 9,000 -10,000 when it eventually set up camp at Blackheath.
Tragedy at Blackheath:
The rebel encampment was wisely sited on top of a hill ; the plan being to attack Henry Tudor’s army (whose total number of 25,000 included 8,000 soldiers assembled by Lord Daubeney in readiness for war with Scotland) from the high ground ; however, in reality victory over well equipped troops under experienced leadership by a company of peasants armed with little more than bows, arrows, scythes and pikes would have been a miracle . Thus, on the morning of the 17th of June 1497, the Cornish found their position surrounded by the king’s forces , though Henry, himself with a huge reserve and artillery kept out of danger at St George’s Fields, in the suburbs of London ! Rebel archers were stationed to block entry to their chosen ground via Deptford Bridge ; letting fly with arrows a full yard long , “so strong and mighty a bow the Cornishmen were said to draw” ! Though initially tested , Daubeney broke through with (depending on conflicting sources) reported losses of between 8 to 300. Inexperience told when the Cornish failed to support the archers defending the bridge, offering Royal troops the opportunity to storm across to engage their men who had neither horse nor artillery . Soon , outnumbered and with vastly inferior weapons, the rebellious enterprise, whose slain were put at between 200 and 2,000, which had started out with such burning fervour was over and, by 2pm Henry VII was riding triumphantly through London . The three principal leaders of the rebellion were all captured and executed . An Gof and fellow Cornishman Flamank, were both drawn, hanged and quartered at Tyburn, on the 27th of June 1497 while Audley, their noble associate was beheaded at Tower Hill on the 28th. Their heads were then gibbeted on London Bridge.
So it was that the Cornish Rebellion of 1497 ended in military defeat , yet has since catapulted the names of it’s valiant local heroes to Cornish legendary status. Uncannily the last words of An Gof, are reported as being that he should have “a name perpetual and a fame permanent and immortal” . Thomas Flamank’s were said to be, “Speak the truth and only then can you be free of your chains”.
Other names mentioned as having joined the 1497 uprising are :
John Trevysall from Madron
William Antron from Antron
John Tresynny from Penryn
John Rosewarne from Rosewarne
Ralph Retallack from St Columb
Richard Borlase from St Wenn
Thomas Polgrene from Polgrene
John Allan from Stoke Climsland
William Ham from Stoke Climsland
Fifty priests and 69 women were also involved .
If Henry Tudor thought that the crushing of the Cornish at Blackheath , would discourage them from further insurgence, he was mistaken and, a mere two months later, they were again mobilising ; this time under the leadership of none other than Yorkist pretender Perkin Warbeck, who was proclaimed King Richard IV at Bodmin! A new force, numbering in the region of 6000 men which included members of the minor Cornish gentry marched into Devon, where they laid siege to Exeter, but following hand to hand fighting were repulsed and moved on to Taunton , which was the place where, bewildered and vexed, they were deserted by Warbeck ! Following their surrender some were executed, but the majority were pardoned ; those with material resources having to pay for the privilege .
Henry VII imposed heavy fines on Cornwall, which only served to sustain resentment . However, by 1508 he opted for a change in strategy to gain the allegiance the Cornish, with the Charter of Pardon, which restored the Stannaries.
Article by Max Retallack, a descendent of Thomas Flamank : 2019
Statue depicting Cornish 1497 Rebellion leaders Michael Joseph “An Gof” and Thomas Flamank , sited at the entrance of the village of St Keverne, Cornwall, to commemorate the 500th Anniversary of the uprising .
Henry VII on his deathbed : Wriothesley’s Heraldic Collection Vol 1 Book of Funerals.
And so, on 21 April 1509, Henry “Tudor” finally expired. He had been ill, obviously, for some time and perhaps his death was something of a relief to him. I’m sure it was for the rest of the country who probably breathed a collective sigh of relief. He had managed to keep his bony posterior on the throne for 24 years since that diabolical day at Bosworth when an anointed king was slaughtered. It does nothing for Henry’s reputation that he allowed the dead king’s body to be horrendously abused as well as the ignoble and deplorable act of having his reign predated from the day before the battle. But no doubt there were some that lamented his passing especially his mother Margaret Beaufort, a most highly acquisitive woman and probably one of the most greediest. She adored him and the pair must hardly have been able to believe their luck that he had survived the battle unscathed, probably due to the fact that he took no active part in it.
Unknown artist’s impression of Tudor being crowned in the aftermath of Bosworth..
It must have seemed surreal to him as he wandered through the dead kings apartments at Westminster that had now, overnight, become his.
Bust of Henry VII : National Portrait Gallery
He had some worrying times with bothersome pretenders to the throne popping up with annoying regularity as well as various uprisings. Whether he was plagued by his conscience we do not know although Margaret was prone to bursts of weeping at times when she should have been happy which must have been very tedious for those around her.
However moving on from that , what actually did see Henry off? His health seems to have gone into a decline when he reached his 30s. His eyes began to trouble him and he tried various eye lotions and eye baths made of fennel water, rosewater and celandine ” to make bright the sight” but to no avail ..his teeth were a source of trouble with Polydore Vergil describing him as having ‘teeth few, poor and blackish’ (1). His eye problems must have caused him dismay as he like nothing more than to pour over his account books to see where the pennies were going and how much he was amassing. He was predeceased by his wife, whom it is said he was fond of, and four children including his oldest son and heir, Arthur, but fortunately for him, if not the country and the Roman Catholic Church he had a surviving spare.
Henry VII death mask: Westminster Abbey
In his interesting book, The Death of Kings, Clifford Brewer writes “Henry had developed a chronic cough which was particularly severe in springtime. The condition became progressively more severe and associated with loss of weight and a general wasting . In 1507 and 1508 Henry’s spring cough become more troublesome. He is described as having become troubled with a tissic, or cough, he also suffered from mild gout. In his Life of Henry the VII , Bacon writes ‘ in the two and 20th year of his reign in 1507 he began to be troubled with a gout but the defluxation taking also unto his breast wasted his lungs so that thrice in a year in a kind of return and especially in the spring he had great fits and labours of the tissick’. This suggests that Henry suffered from chronic fibroid phthisis ( chronic tuberculosis infection) which became more and more active with resultant wasting and debility. This is found in several of the members of the Tudor line…Henry made a great effort to attend divine service on Easter Day 1509 but he was exhausted and retired to his palace at Richmond where he died on 21 April from chronic pulmonary tuberculosis (2)”
According to Holinshed Chronicle “….he was so wasted with his long malady that nature could no longer sustain his life and so he departed out of this world the two and 20th of April’.
Thomas Penn in his biography of Henry, The Winter King, describes Henry as ‘unable to eat and struggling for breath, Henry’s mind was fixated on the hereafter …on Easter Sunday 8th April, emaciated and in intense pain he staggered into his privy closet, where he dropped to his knees and crawled to receive the sacrament… later as Henry lay amid mounds of pillows, cushions and bolsters, throat rattling, gasping for breath, he mumbled again and again that ‘ if it please God to send him life they should find him a very changed man’. Henry made an exemplary death, eyes fixed intensely on the crucifix held out before him, lifting his head up feebly towards it, reaching out and enfolding in his thin arms, kissing it fervently, beating it repeatedly upon his chest. Fisher said that Henry’s promises took a very specific form. If he lived, Henry promised a true reformation of all them that were officers and ministers of his laws (3)’. However, as they say , man makes plans and the gods laugh and Henry did not survive to bring about the changes he was so eager on his death bed to make. He had left it too late.
Richmond Palace, Wynguerde c.1558-62
And so Henry Tudor shuffled off this mortal coil..the King is dead, long live the King..and so begun the reign of his son..Henry VIII..and that dear reader is another story.
It is to be aired in Spring 2019, so batten down the hatches, folks, we’re in for another bumpy dose of hokum. There are some familiar actors from previous series, plus the wonderful Harriet Walter as Margaret Beaufort. I think Dame Harriet will have a whale of a time.
There’s just one thing. These Starz series are renowned for prettying up the proceedings (I mean, they made Henry VII into a handsome, desirable stud!) So what, I wonder will they do with Katherine, who has always been portrayed as hard-done-by. But was she?
Recent research has proved that both Prince Arthur and Prince Henry (future Henry VIII) did their utmost to wriggle free of her. Why? Because she was too fanatically religious for them! It was believed that some of her astonishingly strict procedures were leading to an inability to produce children, which is hardly what is wanted of a Queen of England. She wouldn’t give up what she was doing, so the Tudors believed she was deliberately thwarting their chances of a continuing succession.
In the meantime, of course, Starz will portray her as the shy, beautiful, desirable, ill-treated bride who became the victim of the vile, adulterous urges of the contents of a certain Tudor codpiece.
Let’s face it, if she was too religious for the Tudors, she must have been quite something!
Henry Vll and his children in mourning for Elizabeth of York. An idealised presentation of Henry. His children , Margaret and Mary sitting in front of the fire while a young Henry weeps into his mother’s empty bed. From the Vaux Passional, a 15th century manuscript.
And so on this day Elizabeth gave birth to her son Arthur. Arthur’s life was destined to be short and he died on 2 April 1502. And so the fickle wheel of fortune turned once more with Arthur’s parents feeling the same pain, despair and shock that are recorded as having engulfed Richard lll and his Queen, Anne Neville on the death of their small son Edward. Perhaps Henry’s pain was cushioned somewhat by the knowledge that he had a spare heir, Henry Jnr.
Elizabeth is often quoted as having said, an in attempt to comfort Henry that they were young enough to have another child. (1) Whether she said this or not – how would such a personal conversation be known to others? – as sure as eggs are eggs, Elizabeth did indeed become pregnant soon after , a pregnancy that we all know resulted in her death. So thus in another strange coincidence Henry also lost his wife a few short months after the death of their son as did Richard.
Elizabeth’s bronze effigy on her tomb, Westminster Abbey, Torrigiano
It is said by some that Henry’s and Elizabeth’s marriage was a happy one, they both growing to love one another over the years. Alternatively you will read that she was considered by some to have been kept subservient and that Henry was not uxorious. You will have to form your own opinions over that one dear reader. Either way she has my sympathy with regard to her mother-in-law, the formidable Margaret Beaufort, to whom Henry remained close. Indeed a certain yeoman of the crown John Hewyk ‘grumbled that he would have spoken more to the Queen had it not been for that strong whore, the King’s mother ‘.(2) with a Spanish observer writing that ‘she is kept in subjection by the mother of the king. (3). However there are some examples that demonstrate that Elizabeth was not entirely a push over nor totally ‘eclipsed’ by her mother-in-law Rosemary Horrox gives us one such example where a Welsh tenant appealed to Elizabeth over an injustice involving the king’s uncle, Jasper Tudor, which led to Elizabeth ‘responding with a firm letter to the said Jasper. (4) Bravo Elizabeth!
Portrait by an unknown artist c 1503
Although much has been written about her death and funeral , and I won’t go into that here, interesting as it is, nothing much is known about her personal feelings towards her husband, the demise of the House of York, the treatment of her mother, Elizabeth Wydeville, and her ‘retirement’ in to Bermondsey Abbey, the fates of her brothers or the identity of Perkin Warbeck. However her Privy Purse Account have survived and perhaps some thing of her nature and true feelings may be gleaned from them.
Sir Nicholas Harris Nicholas, writing in 1830, was editor of The Privy Purse Expenses which also include a memoir. Sir Nicholas seems to have been a little in love with Elizabeth, whose motto was ‘Humble and Reverent’ attributing to her ‘most if not all of the virtues which adorn the female character’. He notes that her expenses consist chiefly of rewards to persons who brought her presents with often the reward being of greater value. ‘Nothing was too contemptible to be received, nor was any person deemed too humble..Among the articles presented to Elizabeth were fish, fruit, fowls, puddings, tripe, a crane, woodcocks, a popinjay, quails and other birds, pork, rabbit, Llanthony cheeses, pease cods, cakes, a wild boar, malmsey wine, flowers, chiefly roses, bucks, sweetmeats, rose water, a cushion, and a pair of clarycords’. All the bearers of these gifts would never go away empty handed.
There were disbursements for servants wages, for preparing her apartments when she removed from one place to another, which she did frequently, for conveying her clothes and necessary furniture, for messengers, for the repairs of her barge and the pay of the bargemen, for her chairs and litters, the purchase of household articles, for silks, damasks, satins, cloth of gold, velvet, linen, gowns, kirtles, petticoats for her own use or for the ladies she maintained; for jewellery, trappings for horses, furs, gold chains and for the charges of her stables and greyhounds; for the support of her sister Lady Katherine Courtney and her children, including the burial of some of them; for the clothing and board of her Fool, gambling debts and so much more. Sir Nicholas notes that ‘her Majesties revenue was not adequate to cover all these demands and she was ‘not infrequently obliged to borrow money’. A look at Henry’s Privy Purse accounts shows that he, perhaps being a good egg or because it was the least he could do under the circumstances, frequently bailed his wife out although it was expected these loans were to be repaid.
The accounts which cover the last year of Elizabeth’s life are too detailed to go into her but I list here a few :
MAY 1502 Item to Frary Clerc of St Johns for the buryeng of the men that were hanged at Wapping mylne 8 shillings
There are several examples of money being given to servants of her father, King Edward, who had perhaps fallen on hard times such as ;
JUNE 1502 Item ..and to a pore man in aulmouse somtyme being a servant of King Edwards IV 2s. 4d. as well as cloth to a woman who had been nurse to her brothers –
Help was also given to people who had served other members of her family :
DECEMBER 1502 item 3 yards of cloth delivered by commandment of the Queen to a woman what was ‘norice’ to the Princes brothers to the Queen grace
DECEMBER 1502 Item to a man of ‘Poynfreyt saying himself to lodge in his house Therl Ryvers in tyme of his death in almous 12 shillings’
For herself, other than her gambling debts , Elizabeth seemed to keep an eye on the purse strings with numerous mentions of her gowns being repaired.
DECEMBER 1502 item to the Quenes grace upon the Feest of St Stephen for hure disport at cardes this Cristmas 100 s.
She appeared to wear a lot of black during the period these accounts cover when presumably the court were in mourning for Arthur – an example being
NOVEMBER 1502 Item ..to Henry Bryan for 17 yards of black velvet for a gown for the Queen at 10 shillings 6d the yard. 13 yards of black satin delivered to Johnson for a riding gown and a yard of black velvet for an edge and cuffs for the same gown. Item black bokeram for lining of the same gown, sarcenet for ‘fentes’ for the same gown and an elle of canvas for lining of the same gown – although on a lighter note in
JUNE 1502 Item ..to William Antyne coper smyth for spangelles settes square sterrys dropes and pointes after silver and gold for garnisshing of jakettes against the disguysing lvj viiij d.
AUGUST 1502 ..to my Lady Verney for money by hur delivered by commaundement of the Queen to Fyll the Kinges paynter in reward 3s. 4d. Item to John Reynold payntour for making of divers beestes and othere pleasires for the Quene at Windsore 10 s.
A short, interesting appraisal of Elizabeth including her expenses were included by Ann Wrote in her biography of Perkin Warbeck. ‘The queen seems to have been a gentle passive creature. Her world was one of frugally mended gowns, whicker baskets and works of charity. She had little money of her own her allowance being one eighth of the king’s and she often gave it away. On Maundy Thursday she distributed new shoes to poor women but her own shoes cost no more than 12d each and had cheap latten buckles…Ayala writing in 1498 thought her’ beloved because she is powerless’ and believed as many did that her formidable mother in law kept her in subjection. Although Margaret Beaufort showed her kindness she was undoubtedly a stronger character. A citizen of Nottingham once tried to speak to Elizabeth when she visited that city, their pleasant conversation was stopped by that ‘strong whore’, Henry’s mother, and Elizabeth acquiesced’ .(5)
Later it is poignant to read about the costs of trying, vainly, to save her life when she was stricken after giving birth to her last child, Katherine.
‘Itm To James Nattres for his costes going into Kent for Doctour Hallysworth phesicon to comme to the Quene by the Kinges commaundement. Furst for his bote hyre from the Towre to Gravys ende and again iiij s, iiij d. Itm to twoo watermen abiding at Gravys ende unto suche tyme the said James came again for theire expenses viij d. Itm for horse hyre and to guydes by night and day ij s.iij d.and for his awe expenses xvj d.’
Elizabeth’s midwife Alice Massy was not forgotten; her wages being 12 shillings.
And thus Elizabeth, with exemplary timing, died on the anniversary of her birthday, 11 February. Its said that Henry took her death badly and it would seem that his behaviour and attitudes took a turn for the worse after he had been widowed but that is another story. Perhaps theirs was not a passionate love, duty having bound them together, but I do get the impression from their Privy Purse accounts that they did rub along together quite nicely.
King’s College Chapel. Dr Argentine is buried in a chantry chapel on the south side close to the alter.
In Kings College Chapel, Cambridge, just south of the alter can be found the chantry chapel where Dr John Argentine, Provost of Kings College from 1501 until his death in February 1507/08, physician, astronomer and collector of books, lies buried. A fine memorial brass covering his tomb depicts Dr Argentine in his doctors robes.
Dr John Argentine’s funeral brass
Dr Argentine, who spelt his name variously as Argentem or Argentein (1) was born in Bottisham, Cambridgeshire 1443 into a family that were prominent supporters of the House of York and he is remembered mostly, thanks to Dominic Mancini, as being physician to Edward V, and, it could be assumed, also physician to Edward’s younger brother, Richard of Shrewsbury. Mancini described Dr Argentine as being among the last of those to visit Edward and Richard in the Tower of London before their mysterious disappearance around June/July 1483. Mancini who spoke little if any English, would no doubt have been mightily relieved to meet someone who having spent a long time in his homeland, could converse easily with him in either his native Italian or Latin.
Mancini is responsible for passing on the learned doctor’s recollections of those visits to the Tower i.e. that the young Edward ‘like a victim prepared for sacrifice sought remission of his sins by daily confession and penance’ (2) in the belief that death was staring him in the face. Alternatively Edward may have been merely suffering from low spirits and angst due to the fact that his imminent Coronation had been cancelled and the crown firmly removed from his grasp. Tellingly, Dr Argentine omitted any mention that Edward was suffering from a raging toothache which puts to bed any likelihood that the infamous urn in Westminster Abbey actually contains the bones of Edward and his brother, as the jaw bone of the oldest child shows clear signs of ‘a chronic and painful condition which led to deformities in the jaw bone … possibly either osteitis or osteomyelitis’ (3), a horrible disease which no-one would have failed to notice, especially his doctor but why let commonsense stand in the way of a good myth…, but I digress.
Dr Argentine, having served successfully under both Edward IV and Richard III went on to become physician and dean of the chapel to Henry VII’s son, Arthur, Prince of Wales and it is surely unfathomable that he was never asked, as far as we know, to examine that most convincing and troublesome of all the pretenders to the throne, Perkin Warbeck.
Arthur, Prince of Wales c1500
1) The Library of John Argentine, Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society Vo.2 (1956) pp 210-212. Dr Argentine wrote in his own hand in several of his books..’Questo libro e mio Zouan (Giovanni) Argentein’ ‘ Questo libro e mio Johan Argentem’.
2) The usurpation of Richard III Dominic Mancini C A J Armstong p.93
3) Richard III The Maligned King Annette Carson p.219
Henry Tudor certainly didn’t have it all his own way after Bosworth, although his incredible luck held – as it did throughout his life, except for losing his wife and eldest son. He didn’t replace the first, but had a spare for the second. Richard III had not had that luxury.
But in 1486, during a time of Yorkist uprisings against him, Henry escaped an assassination attempt. Oh, if only it had succeeded! His luck interceded yet again, and not a whisker of him was harmed. Unfortunately for his foes, they either had to flee the country or were captured and paid the price. Francis Lovell had been holed up in sanctuary in Colchester and eventually escaped to the continent (it is thought) but Sir Humphrey Stafford was drawn, hanged and quartered. A horrible fate. I’m equally horrible enough to wish it had befallen Henry.
The paragraph above is clearly only touching the surface of what went on at this vital time. The Yorkists weren’t organised enough to carry those days, and all Henry suffered was a terrible, gnawing fear that remained with him for the rest of his life. This link that follows is concerned with Desmond Seward’s excellent book The Last White Rose: The Secret Wars of the Tudors, which is always worth dipping into. Very readable. So to find out more about these abortive rebellions, and Henry’s almost devilishly good fortune, have at this book!
As so often happens, acquiring a book for a specific reason leads to something else that is quite thought-provoking. In this case, the book is The Medieval Python: The Purposive and Provocative Work of Terry Jones, in which the subject of one of the eighteen contributions is Catherine of Aragon and her two marriages.
Do not make the mistake of thinking this volume is light or Pythonesque, because Terry Jones is not only brilliant when it comes to humour, but also very dedicated, knowledgeable and educated on medieval matters. The sections within the pages are not all by Terry himself, but by illustrious names that include Chris Given-Wilson, and Nigel Saul.
Now, before I get to the nitty-gritty, let me say that the item that prompted the essay A Prayer Roll Fit for a Tudor Prince, by John J. Thompson, is a fairly recent acquisition of the British Library (MS Additional 88929), and for a brief explanation about it, I suggest a quick glance at http://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2011/02/henry-viii-prayer-roll.html, which describes the roll as follows:
21 February 2011 – by Andrea Clarke
Henry VIII Prayer Roll
“The British Library has recently acquired a unique medieval prayer roll that once belonged to Henry VIII, and contains one of only three surviving examples of his handwriting from before his accession in 1509. Produced in England in the late 15th century, it is one of the finest English prayer rolls, and consists of four parchment strips sewn end to end that measure some four metres long when fully unrolled. The roll contains thirteen illuminations — images of Christ, focusing on the Passion, its Instruments and the Sacred Blood, as well as depictions of various saints and their martyrdoms. Accompanying these are prayers in Latin and rubrics (religious instructions) in English. The rubrics promise that the recital of certain of the prayers will offer safety from physical danger, sickness or disease; others will shorten, by specified amounts, the agony of Purgatory, while the placing of the roll on the belly of a woman in labour will ensure a safe childbirth.
“The prayer roll was once owned and used by Prince Henry, evidenced by the inclusion of his royal badges at the head of the roll. These include two Tudor roses, the Prince of Wales crowned ostrich feather, as well as Katherine of Aragon’s personal symbol of the arrow-sheaf of Aragon. At some point prior to 1509 Henry presented the roll to William Thomas, a Gentleman of his Privy Chamber, and added an inscription at the top of the second membrane, under the central image of Christ’s Passion: ‘Wylliam thomas I pray yow pray for me your lovyng master Prynce Henry’.
“The Henry VIII Prayer Roll is now London, British Library, MS Additional 88929. It is currently on display in our Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library, and will also be displayed in our Royal exhibition which opens in November 2011.”
The roll displays Tudor badges and emblems, but also the sheaf of arrows (maybe arrows passing through a tower) of Katherine of Aragon, who in November 1501 married Arthur, Prince of Wales. Arthur died six months later, at Ludlow Castle, of the “sweating sickness”, and was buried in Worcester Cathedral. His tomb displays the same Tudor symbols as the roll.
Arthur’s younger brother, Henry (to be Henry VIII) soon became Prince of Wales. His father, Henry VII, waited until he was sure the widowed Katherine was not pregnant and then proposed that she married the new Prince of Wales. Katherine swore her marriage to Arthur had not been consummated. This was essential, because the Church forbade a man to marry his brother’s widow. It was, and still is, in the Bible, and is one of the Ten Commandments.
The roll does not name a Prince of Wales, but it was surely made for Arthur, and emerges as a very important relic of this fraught time in history. It cannot be dated to much before 1490, when Arthur became Prince of Wales, and if it includes Katherine’s emblem, then it was probably around the time of their engagement or marriage. Its later ownership by the young Henry VIII is confirmed by his writing on it, and it is suggested that what he wrote reveals him to have been as devout a Catholic as everyone else. At least, he was at that point. Then the roll came into the hands of a devoted Tudor servant, William Thomas, before disappearing from history for 500 years, reappearing in the 19th century. If it were not for it coming to light again, its existence would never have been known at all. Its real purpose is still not known.
It is usually imagined that Prince Arthur and Katherine of Aragon were content enough together (I certainly had that impression), but now a truly remarkable fact has been uncovered in the register of briefs in the Vatican archives. It is dated 20th October 1505 and notes Pope Julius II’s response to Arthur, Prince of Wales, who by that date had been dead for over three years. So Arthur had to have sent a letter to the pope, whose answer had been mislaid or at least misfiled. The prince’s request also contained mention of his wife, so had to have been written within that six-month period before the prince died.
The pope’s response has not survived, and we do not know if it was ever sent (I strongly suspect it was, and it arrived in England) but it apparently granted papal authority to Prince Arthur to restrain his wife (Katherine of Aragon) from continuing to engage in “excessive religious observances injurious to her health since these would imperil the maritalis consuetudo (marital custom) of Roman law and endanger her ability to bear children”.
So, when it was too late, the Pope authorised Arthur to insist his pious wife conduct less strenuous religious exercises, these to be determined on the advice of her confessor. From which, it would seem all was not well in the young people’s marriage. Arthur (and Henry VII, no doubt!) was alarmed by discovering just how intensely devout his new wife was. I do not know what Katherine was doing to cause such concern, but whatever it was, she was clearly going far further than the conventional Tudors liked. Well, conventional at that time, because Henry VIII’s Great Matter lay in the future. The begetting of heirs was the whole point of royal marriage, so anything that might get in the way of this was to be stopped immediately, if not sooner!
After Arthur’s untimely death, a treaty for marriage was drawn up for the widowed Katherine to marry his younger brother, the future King Henry VIII. It was signed on 23rd June 1504, and the two were formally betrothed on 25th June. Henry was 12, Katherine 17. Two years later, on 27th June, 1505, Henry appeared before Richard Fox, Bishop of Winchester, and the Lord Privy Seal. The young prince had reached his maturity, and wished it to be formally recorded that he disowned his part of the marriage contract.
Now, why? What brought this about? Had the Pope’s response to Arthur finally arrived, and Prince Henry seen it? Whenever the letter from Rome turned up, I think that Henry read it in the first half of 1505.
The fact that the register of briefs at the Vatican is dated October 1505, does not mean the pope’s letter was written then. It merely records the letter. So was Henry now warned of exactly how extreme and pious his new bride would be? Arthur had learned too late, after marriage. Henry, Prince of Wales, may have also been devout, but clearly not to the same degree as Katherine. However, on the death in 1509 of his father, Henry VII, the marriage took place anyway. Something else had clearly happened since his appearance before Bishop Fox. Might it have been that the Pope’s instructions had taken effect, and Katherine had moderated her religious devotions? I have no idea what else it might have been, only that once old Henry VII was dead and buried, his son married Katherine after all.
It is always said that for a number of years Henry and Katherine were happy together, until the absence of a male heir—and the increasing likelihood of Katherine’s age preventing such an heir—prompted Henry to start looking around. Had this lack of an heir caused such anxiety to Katherine that she resumed her former devotions? Certainly she would turn to God for divine help.
Did it then become a vicious circle, with Henry being more and more alienated by such extreme religion, and Katherine seeking more and more comfort from her devotions? Was this another cause of his suggestion that she and Arthur had after all consummated their marriage, making his own marriage to her invalid? If such a charge could be made to stick, so to speak, it would certainly rid him of an increasingly inconvenient wife. By then he wanted to marry the enchanting vixen Anne Boleyn, of course, but infuriatingly, the Pope wouldn’t agree to it! If the Pope had granted Henry his wish, would we still be a predominantly Catholic country? Certainly we would have been for a lot longer than actually happened.
The fact that Arthur had approached the Pope on the matter of Katherine’s religious activities being detrimental to the bearing of children, was something that I believe Henry pounced upon. Leviticus 20:21 was very clear: “And if a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is an unclean thing: he hath uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.”
So, was it in Henry’s mind that by continuing such extreme devotions, Katherine was knowingly preventing further living births? Did he believe that this was why his marriage had resulted in one living child, a girl, all other pregnancies having ended in miscarriages or stillbirths? It would also have been easy enough for Henry to convince himself that Katherine’s marriage to Arthur had been consummated. All this, and fascinatingly desirable Anne Boleyn was there, tantalising Henry with her inaccessible charms. But even without Anne, would Henry have wanted to end his marriage anyway, because he so desperately wanted a male heir and knew that Katherine’s age, apart from anything else, was against such a likelihood?
So, was Anne only one aspect of Henry’s wish to be free of Katherine? Were there in fact two Great Matters wrapped up as one? The first due to religion having led to childlessness; the other due to lust, that was to prompt a change of religion?
The above has been prompted by the essay by John J. Thompson, and is my conclusion from the facts as presented. I recommend that the essay be read in its entirety, because its details about the prayer roll are fascinating. Although, one thing does need pointing out. Henry VII was never the Duke of Richmond!
I have just watched a documentary (called The Best King We Never Had and presented by Paul Murton) about Prince Henry, the firstborn son of King James VI of Scotland, James I of England. James, the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, was already King of Scotland, when he succeeded Elizabeth I, and became the first King of a United Kingdom. He was a Protestant, as was his dazzling son, Henry, who was destined to succeed him.
At birth, or a very short while after, Henry had been taken from his mother, Queen Anne of Denmark. She was anguished by this, and it would be ten years before she saw him again for any length of time. Like his father before him, Henry was given into the care of John Erskine, Earl of Mar, keeper of Stirling. This enforced parting caused great rift between the king and queen. The reunion was to take place when James became Elizabeth’s heir, and the journey south to London was undertaken.
It was a time of religious strife, Protestants versus Catholics versus Puritans, and would include the great Gunpowder Plot that aimed to blow-up James and his Parliament. James was a Protestant, as was his son. Henry grew up a sophisticated, popular and talented young Renaissance prince, and the future boded well that he would be a good and effective king. But death was to claim him at the age of only eighteen, when he was taken by typhoid after swimming in the Thames in winter. Which meant that the succession passed to his younger brother, Charles, who was to be beheaded. But that is another story.
The loss of Prince Henry reminds me of the earlier loss of Prince Arthur, firstborn son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. What might these two princes have brought to their kingdom? Their departure from life meant their brothers inherited the crown instead. Henry VIII and Charles I were to prove awful in one way or another. (My personal opinion, I admit, and not necessarily yours as well.)
The documentary imparts a great deal of background information, among which is the wearing of 17th-century armour and fighting on foot. Paul Murton, the presenter, is got up in this armour to fight with an expert from the Royal Armouries. It was fascinating, and the thing that stood out for me was that afterward, Murton couldn’t wait for the helmet to be removed because it was so claustrophobic, Then he said more than once that the experience of wearing it and then fighting had made his ears ring.
This excellent programme was first shown on 30th November 2017, and is available on BBC iPlayer for fifteen days from the day of writing this, i.e. Boxing Day 2017. I don’t know if it can be seen anywhere else.
This very good blog post details the career and planned future of Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond, who might have succeeded Henry VIII had he not died suddenly at seventeen and a legitimate half-brother been born a year and a quarterlater. It also states his original and current burial places, the latter being St. Michael’s Church, Framlingham, together with his wife, Lady Mary Howard
Henry Fitzroy, whose mother was Elizabeth Blount, is one of the few adults in the disputed male line from Katherine de Valois’ widowhood. Her sons from this relationship(/s) were Edmund and Jasper, surnamed either Beaufort or Tudor, the second dying without issue in 1495. Edmund had only one son, later Henry VII. He had several sons – some died in infancy and Arthur as a teenager without issue in 1502, leaving Henry VIII. Henry Fitzroy and Edward VI were Henry VIII’s only sons not to die in infancy. That leaves seven men, five of whom are guaranteed to share a Y-chromosome, plus Fitzroy and Jasper, just in case their mothers’ private lives were even more complicated.
We also know precisely where to find Owain, the last proven Tudor – somewhere within the pre-Reformation bounds of Hereford Cathedral. So the evidence to test John Ashdown-Hill’s theory is definitely at hand.
The other point to remember is that the earldom of Richmond was under attainder from 1471-85, so the future Henry VII did not hold it until he “unattainted” himself after Bosworth.