The Truth and Myths of Thomas Cromwell (Guest Post)


The Truth and Myths of Thomas Cromwell

Guest Post by Caroline Angus Baker

Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex, Lord Privy Seal of England, has enjoyed a revival as a popular Tudor character in recent years after being reshaped into a hero. But was Thomas Cromwell ever a villain? After his execution in 1540, all mention of Cromwell falls away, only to be plucked from the archives in the 1950s and made in the villain who brought about all the Protestant changes made by Henry VIII. Did Cromwell really do all this work on his own? Was he a religious fanatic? How does a common-born man come out of nowhere to rise to the top of English society in one decade? Simply, Cromwell didn’t; he had a remarkable tale before he was noticed by Henry VIII.



A child born in Putney, to common parents, suffering poverty and violence?

Much of Cromwell’s childhood has been imagined or created from basic details, as there hasn’t been a lot of information available until now. It’s nice to think of a boy shrugging off his low-born life and escaping to Europe. But the story is more complex.

Born in around 1485, Cromwell’s father was an Irishman named Walter Cromwell alias Smith, a yeoman of many trades, particularly running an alehouse, and before the court 47 times in fifteen years for breaking the assize of ale (other words, selling ale overpriced, poor quality, etc). Cromwell’s mother was Katherine Meverell, and the Meverells of Throwley were a gentry family, making Cromwell little higher in life than assumed. Throughout this life Cromwell did favours for the Meverells and their relatives, giving them plum positions wherever they lived. Cromwell’s parents were kindly people, not cruel as sometimes portrayed.

Cromwell never forgot where he came from, or who he knew. A local boy named Thomas Megges grew up to be one of Cromwell’s many proteges, as did Thomas Mundy, all Putney boys who were of school age together. When Cromwell got elevated to the peerage in 1536, he was made Baron of Wimbledon, and his wealth and lands grew right through the very area where he was born. His wife was a Putney girl, his sisters and their families paramount throughout Cromwell’s life.



The ruffian’s “lost years’ in Italy?

The word ruffian gets used far too often when describing Cromwell, but it’s the only word Cromwell himself used to describe his childhood behaviour, and Eustace Chapuys wrote that Cromwell admitted to time in prison before leaving Putney. In approximately 1500, young Cromwell did leave Putney in search of adventure, but his time in Italy is documented through records, business transactions and by an Italian novelist named Matteo Bandello. Rather than fleeing his father, Cromwell took a place as a mercenary in the French army, who were sent to fight the Battle of Gagliano, Naples, on 29 December 1503. The French lost, as were France’s hopes forever in Naples, but Cromwell survived the killing and made his way to Florence. Cromwell was found on the streets of Florence, starving and homeless by Francesco Frescobaldi, head of a wealthy mercantile family, who was amazed to find a fluent English speaker on the streets. The novelist tells a great tale of how Cromwell is taken into the Frescobaldi family.

Cromwell had found a home with Frescobaldi, who smuggled goods from Egypt and the Ottomans into northern Europe, making huge sums in the process, even in league with King Henry VII, making England wealthy. Cromwell learned the art of trading wool and wine and had the chance to travel to the Low Countries to attend trade fairs. Francesco’s brother Leonardo traded out of Southampton, giving Cromwell valuable contacts for a new life back in England. Cromwell made many friends and business allies for the next 30 years. Cromwell also met John Hacket in Calais in 1505, and George Elyot in 1512, both in the Low Countries, giving him access to a wide range of people. By this time, the men were all corresponding as close friends in fluent French. After ten years in the Frescobaldi’s employ, Cromwell lived in Florence and Antwerp, learned Italian, Spanish and “self-consciously elegant” Latin, learned how to defraud the Pope by smuggling goods, learned to chase down debtors in the Low Countries, became at ease with the snobbery of the cloth trade, and created a huge web of friends and colleagues, none of whom he ever forgot. Cromwell started vast libraries of books, with many of the greatest Italian and humanist works of the era in his collections. He was the Italianate-Englishman and determined to be the best Italian in England in 1514. But records also show Cromwell back in Rome in 1514, working as a London-based lawyer in a dispute, and for the next five years, made himself a tidy sum working as a lawyer between London and Rome, despite having undertaken no legal training.

In his time in England between Roman visits, Cromwell married Elizabeth Wykes in around 1519, with their son Gregory born in about 1520. Cromwell also had a ward, Ralph Sadler, living in his house as his own son, and nurtured his sister’s son Richard, who took on Cromwell’s surname. By 1523, Cromwell had leased Austin Friars, a manor in the heart of the Italian community of London, had two more children, Anne and Grace. He could live a wealthy life as a lawyer and merchant. But more lay ahead – Cromwell got himself elected into parliament in 1523, at a time when parliament rarely opened, his first speech advising against Henry VIII’s possible war with France.



A sulking, unknown fixer and monastery-destroyer for Cardinal Wolsey?

In 1524, Cromwell was admitted to the bar, recognised as a lawyer by Gary’s Inn in London. He had worked for noblemen, clergymen and merchants in his time, so to be recommended to Cardinal Wolsey was no surprise. But Wolsey needed someone special; he needed money and he needed a man who could fight his way through prolonged legal issues. Failing monasteries needed to be inspected and closed, to finance Wolsey’s vanity projects – large colleges built in his name, the completion of Hampton Court Palace, and the finishing of a giant tomb made by revered Italian tradesmen. Cromwell could well deal with Italians, but closing monasteries brought him into physical and legal battles with the gentry and the locals alike. Yet Cromwell emerged with even more people to add to his ever-widening group of friends who wrote to him throughout the rest of his life.

During this time, Cromwell met many men interested in evangelical reform. While he worked for a cardinal and kept his religious affiliations quiet, Cromwell aided Reformation leaders and had them installed the new Cambridge College, helping reformers such as Thomas Cranmer, Robert Barnes and Miles Coverdale, all men who would feature in Cromwell’s rise and downfall.

Cromwell’s relationship with Thomas Wolsey grew in the short five years they worked side by side, this brought Cromwell into contact with many noblemen such as the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk and met his friend-turned-nemesis Stephen Gardiner, a friendship that would spiral out of control in later years.



Abandoning his closest friend for personal gain?

Did Cromwell step over Wolsey’s body to take his place beside the king? Absolutely not. Wolsey was Henry VIII’s closest friend and Lord Chancellor of England. When Henry decided he needed a marriage annulment, it was Wolsey’s job to procure the desired legal and ecclesiastical paperwork. Anne Boleyn would take Katherine of Aragon’s place, but Anne was only single because Wolsey forbade her marriage to Henry Percy of Northumberland years before. Anne Boleyn hated Wolsey and vice versa.

A legatine court needed to be set up, the judges Wolsey, and Cardinal Campeggio from Italy. Here Cromwell could again be helpful. But 1529 would not be a kind year, as Cromwell had lost his wife and daughters to sweating sickness and Gregory was sent away for his education. Anne Boleyn was ready to be queen, Henry wanted Katherine ousted, and Wolsey and Campeggio simply couldn’t make the charges against Katherine stick. Cromwell stood by and watch Wolsey fail in the most public arena the 16th century had witnessed. When Henry denounced Wolsey and banished him 200 miles north to York, Cromwell had to stay in London. But he did not advance himself, rather Cromwell dared to face the king and beg for Wolsey’s return to power and favour. Crowmell did a good job too, softening Henry’s angry heart, but Wolsey’s greed got the better of him, and even Cromwell’s brilliant mind could not save him, nor could he be with Wolsey when he died of illness in Leicester in November 1529. But King Henry had seen Cromwell now, saw what he could do. Cromwell also put his contacts to work, and got himself into parliament in late 1529, the first sitting in almost seven years, and tried to build a new life out of grief. All he had worked for had gone; his family was dead, Wolsey was disgraced and dead, and his own legal practice had dried up due to busy times with the cardinal. In this time, Cromwell had a brief affair with an unknown woman, resulting in the birth of his daughter Jane, While illegitimate, Cromwell paid for Jane’s quality care and upbringing for the rest of his life.



Cromwell made being gay illegal?

In 1533, Cromwell did write the Buggery Act, a law designed to hurt men accused of the crime of sodomy. The law was created as an easy way to arrest men, primarily priests, as there was never any evidence to submit, and those arrested could not defend themselves. It was used to destroy men who would not submit to Henry’s new church, rather than what happened in bedrooms around England. Buggery was an immoral sin, but now also a legal crime, punishable by death.



A meteoric rise to power as Anne Boleyn’s “man?”

Suddenly the king needed a new man at his side, and he called on Thomas Cromwell. But he was not an unknown to many; the Attorney-General sang his praises, his friend Stephen Gardiner was to be the king’s secretary, and ambassadors across Europe had already worked with him in the past. Cromwell was 45 years old when he caught the king’s eye and was no stranger, but a well-travelled and well-skilled man of many trades.

The Pope would never allow Henry to marry Anne Boleyn. Cromwell’s plans were simple; bypass the Church completely and start a Royal Supremacy over religion. He had his friend Thomas Cranmer elevated to be the archbishop, declared Henry the Leader of the Church in England, and ruled that the clergymen of England had to swear allegiance to Henry instead of the Pope or risk losing their heads. It was a pragmatic solution to a problem Henry could not solve in usual channels. Cromwell promised to make Henry the richest man in England and Henry was sold on Cromwell’s unorthodox plan. This allowed the Reformation to take hold in England, and by having Catholic men like Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher killed, the Pope’s voice began to lose its power. To everyone who already knew Thomas Cromwell, none of this came as a surprise. But the nobles, in places of power due to birth and ancient customs were stunned by this new man.

Cromwell and Cranmer worked together, creating Henry as the Head of the Church, able to end his marriage to Katherine of Aragon. Cromwell wanted the Reformation in England; he could even recite much of the New Testament by heart. Anne Boleyn wanted the Reformation so she could be queen, and yet Cromwell was not “Queen Anne’s man,” not in truth. For Cromwell loathed Anne and her family but had her married to Henry in 1533 anyway, Queen Katherine banished to the country. When Anne produced a daughter and then miscarriages, Henry wanted out and Cromwell had no qualms about destroying another queen. Over the course of 1530 – 1536, Cromwell did not hesitate in doing the king’s bidding. It was business, it was a pragmatic approach to issues that arose. Now the King’s Chief Minister, the Principal Secretary, Vicegerent of Religious Matters and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Cromwell had England in his grip. But not all his new laws were terrible; many helped cities with water, sewage, and food for the poor. Cromwell fed 200 people twice daily from his own kitchens. He passed laws making sure churches helped the homeless and jobless, he changed tax laws meaning the noblemen and merchants paid to fund alms-houses. Cromwell walked a tightrope like no one else.



Cromwell made up lies about Anne Boleyn to kill her?

In 1536, Henry wanted a new wife and Cromwell had the task of destroying Queen Anne. Queen Katherine had just died of cancer, and Queen Anne had lost another child; Henry could wait no more. No man called to sit in judgement of Anne for crimes could go against the king, and Cromwell’s best friend Cranmer was Archbishop of Canterbury. Cromwell had allies all over court and country, and Anne did not. It is unknown who suggested Anne was unfaithful, Henry or Cromwell. But Henry did show genuine shock when he heard Anne was found guilty of seducing four men, plus the extra charge of incest with her brother. The plan could have been a possible slander of adulterous rumours which blew out of control when people got nervous. A legal mind like Cromwell could easily spin any testimony to sound like Anne Boleyn was a witch. Did Cromwell orchestrate Anne’s death? He did. Did he show remorse? Not in any outward sense, though to go through the whole process could not have been easy for any man to bear. Once Anne was buried, Cromwell assumed her father’s role in as Lord Privy Seal of England, giving him wide-ranging powers in every respect.



The Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion was all Cromwell’s fault?

In late 1536, as Henry basked in the glow of his new wife Queen Jane, upwards of 40,000 men marched toward London, demanding to be a Catholic nation again. Their enemy? Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell’s had been back to his old tricks – closing monasteries in order to reap the financial gain, albeit the money went in Henry’s pocket, not his own. Henry loved destroying the Catholic Church’s power and taking their lands and wealth. Cromwell’s inspectors raided monasteries, abbeys and convents across England and Wales, calling them houses of sin, fraud and debauchery. Relics and shrine were pulled down, unnecessary under Reformation prayer. Cromwell’s new laws were the cause of the rebellion, and he wore the blood of the over 200 clergymen, nobles and commoners executed when the rebellion got quashed during sporadic fighting between October 1536 and March 1537.

But 1537 wasn’t a total loss for Cromwell. His investment in Jane Seymour’s womb paid dividends when she gave birth to Prince Edward. Sadly, Jane’s death was as hard on Cromwell as anyone. Just three months before Queen Jane’s death, Cromwell married his son Gregory to Jane’s sister, Lady Elizabeth. Gregory’s sons were first cousins to the prince, but after Queen Jane died, all the glory the Cromwell’s could have won also died away.



Gregory Cromwell – rapist?

A tricky truth/myth to dispel. In autumn 1538, Cromwell was busy with the White Rose trials, having the final men of Plantagenet blood arrested and executed. But in Lewes, where Gregory Cromwell lived with his wife Elizabeth, their new-born son, and another son on the way, a scandal emerged, and Gregory’s father stepped in when the situation became grave. Bishop Sampson of Chichester wrote a letter stating that Gregory could go to church for punishment for a serious offence. Bishops could only demand punishment for heresy and sexual crimes. Gregory was no religious man and heresy was not in his nature. That only led to one other cause. Having sex with maids was considered a routine sin in Tudor times, but a sexual charge requiring clerical punishment was considered serious, such as rape or buggery. Gregory angrily refused a light punishment and refused to accept what happened. What did happen? The crime is not recorded, but in doing this very simple acknowledgement in church, it meant Gregory could avoid “the possibility of further business.” Gregory’s “honesty” was affected, and so ruined his wife’s “reputation.” At the same time, Lady Elizabeth wrote to Cromwell in London and said she would no longer live under the same roof as Gregory, and she moved away. Gregory and Elizabeth did not reunite for more than six months. After spending a fortune to set up Gregory in Lewes Priory, Cromwell had to forfeit the lot and move Gregory and Elizabeth to Leeds Castle, where they patched up their marriage.



Cromwell brought about his own downfall when picking Anna of Cleves?

When Cromwell’s downfall came, it did not come from a gradual decline in power or a bolt from the blue, rather a strange mix. In April 1539, Cromwell fell ill and wrote to Henry of suffering an ague (malaria) and tertian fever (malaria fever that comes in waves every two/three days). This illness really struck a knife in the heart of Cromwell’s hard work. He had not long released the latest version of the bible, nicknamed the Cranmer Bible, though it was Cromwell’s bible; he and Cranmer were even on the cover. But when Cromwell fell ill, the Duke of Norfolk and many traditionalist clergymen in power got together and wrote the Six Articles, six points of clarification needed in religion, mostly around transubstantiation and clerical celibacy. While Cromwell was unable to move for a month, Cranmer watched hopelessly as the king took on board this Catholic doctrine and tried to mix them with the Reformation ideals. Religion was still a mess, and the Reformation took a big step backwards in a short time. Cromwell spent the rest of his life trying to undo the Six Articles. Archbishop Cranmer was forced to send away his German wife and daughter and never saw them again, lest they all be punished, possibly executed.

The King wanted a new wife, and Europe was low on princesses and duchesses available and/or willing. The best was Anna von mark, Duchess of Cleves. Anna’s brother, Duke Wilhelm of Julich-Cleves-Berg was like Henry; he was not strictly Catholic or a Lutheran, he was a middle way. But Anna’s sister Sybylla was married to the Elector of Saxony, a Lutheran German state with the powerful Schmalkalden (Protestant) League and an army. England needed allies and the Schmalkaldic League looked were perfect. But negotiations frequently stalled, and when Henry liked the look of Anna’s painting and agreed to marry her, the countries still had no alliance.

It took Anna two months to travel to England, and in that time, all hell broke loose. Duke Wilhelm laid claim to the duchy of Guelders, held by Emperor Charles V. Charles travelled to his lands in the Low Countries, and threatened war with Julich-Cleves-Berg if Wilhelm did not step back from Guelders. France, bordering these two, urged peace and wanted an alliance with the Emperor. Suddenly Europe’s largest Catholic nations were aligning, and Henry was aligned to Cleves by his marriage. Poor Anna had nothing to do with this, but by marrying her, and bedding her, Henry would be aligned to Anna’s brother and must be dragged into war. England would be decimated. To top it off, the Elector of Saxony still hadn’t aligned with Henry, so even the Schmalkaldic League would not necessarily be England’s ally.

By selecting Anna, Cromwell had accidentally brought England to the brink of war while Christendom hung in the balance. Cromwell was a brilliant legal mind, so Henry and Anna’s marriage contract was so tight nothing could be done. Henry was forced to marry Anna, or Cleves would turn against England, possibly alongside the Schmalkaldic army and all of Germany. But marrying Anna meant England became the enemy of the Holy Roman Empire and possibly France.

Henry’s dislike to Anna was obvious, but it was not all about her looks, rather she was the anchor to a war England couldn’t win. The men of Europe postured and moved troops around for months, by which time, Henry was totally infuriated, disgusted by Anna, and trapped in a scenario where no one would even write to England about the impending war. Henry needed to be free, he needed an annulment, and he needed someone to take the fall. But Henry had just given Cromwell the honour he always dressed of; Cromwell was now Earl of Essex and owner of lands that encompassed his beloved home town. Cromwell was a high-ranking nobleman, the Lord Great Chamberlain, Lord Privy Seal, Vicegerent of England and Ireland, Chancellor of the Exchequer, head statesman in the House of Lords and much more. But to show the Emperor that England was not a threat, someone needed to suffer.



Thomas Cromwell, traitor?

Cromwell was arrested on June 10, 1540, for being a traitor. He had said to Stephen Gardiner, one night at home at Austin Friars, that he would not turn from the Reformation, even if Henry did, Cromwell would fight the king if necessary. Angry words from a man who never seemed to recover from malaria. Was it treason? Technically yes, by Cromwell’s own laws of never speaking against the king. Cromwell’s long-time servant Thomas Wriothesley betrayed him and told the king that Cromwell was talking about Henry’s impotence, sending the king into a rage. More rumours were thrown on the pile – that Cromwell wanted to marry Princess Mary and become king, that Cromwell was colluding with extreme Lutherans in Zurich, and was a heretic by failing to enforce the Six Articles of religion. By laws Cromwell wrote in the early 1530s, a subject could be attainted without trial and sentenced to death. Cromwell was stripped of all titles, but Henry still allowed him to be beheaded, rather than more horrific penalties. In his prison cell, Cromwell wrote out all the paperwork needed to prove that Henry was not truly married to Anna due to her pre-contract in childhood, plus lack of consummation and lack of inward consent. Once the paperwork was done, Cromwell lost his head on July 28; all he worked for scattered to the wind as Henry married Katherine Howard. Gregory and Elizabeth, plus Richard Cromwell, Ralph Sadler, Thomas Cranmer, Thomas Wyatt, and countless more mourned the loss of Cromwell, but many rejoiced.

It was said Henry regretted the loss of Cromwell within a month of the arrest; Cromwell was still in the Tower when the king realised how much Cromwell did every day (while putting up with Henry’s atrocious leg smell), but it was too late to back down. By Christmas, Henry was angry at his councillors for lying about Cromwell’s crimes. Henry nor England really saw any kind of success after that, and no man could hold Cromwell’s position, instead, dozens were brought in to fill the void. Henry died a fat old man and Cromwell was forgotten, all except for one portrait of him, hidden away and saved for us today.

To commemorate the anniversary of Cromwell’s unjust execution, I am having a free kindle promo on Amazon worldwide from July 27 – July 31. Both novels in the Queenmaker Series, Frailty of Human Affairs, and Shaking the Throne, all about Thomas Cromwell and Nicóla Frescobaldi, will be free to download. Book three, the final chapter of Cromwell’s life, No Armour Against Fate, will be available from November 1.

Go to Amazon (or local Amazon of choice) to get your free books, or check out carolineangusbaker.com

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Thomas Cromwell: Rags to Riches to the Scaffold

Guest post by Diarmaid MacCulloch

Thomas Cromwell has rarely had a good press, even in Protestant Englands triumphant island story, in which the Popes deluded followers were repeatedly put in their place so that the British Empire could flourish and spread Christian civilisation far and wide. In that tale, Henry VIII could take all the credit for making Tudor England walk tall, and he had the glamour which his most effective minister notoriously lacked. Various surviving versions of Holbeins portrait of Cromwell do not flatter this busy royal minister: even the one which hung in his own house which I find in itself interesting and rather admirable.

Roman Catholics have always hated Cromwell, and curiously, so have many Anglicans, as they turned away from their Protestant Reformation heritage and waxed sentimental about the ruins of Englands monasteries (you cant deny Cromwells central part in destroying the monasteries). Many politicians and notables at the time hated him out of sheer snobbery: how could talent and efficiency possibly be allowed to snatch power from good breeding and ancient pedigree? So from several different points of view, Cromwell ends up being seen as a thug in a doublet doing the bidding of Henry VIII, the Tudor Stalin.



Hilary Mantel in two brilliant and widely-acclaimed novels, with another still to come, has done much to alter this dismal picture. She has done precisely in semi-fictional style what Ive also sought to do in my biography of Cromwell: recapture the complexity of this fascinating, self-taught man, who rose from the back alleys of rural Putney to become Earl of Essex, one of the oldest noble titles in the realm, yet who in the moment of this greatest triumph, was struck down and destroyed.

There is a difficulty in ever writing Cromwells life properly. Cromwells papers survive in vast numbers, thanks to the political accident that they were seized from his filing-system at his arrest and have stayed in government hands ever since, but they amount to the contents of his in-tray, rather than his own letters out. That I suggest is the result of a quick decision which his household made when he was arrested: they burned the out-tray, because that would be where the incriminating material would be. It would be much less easy for Cromwells enemies around the King to build an accusation on what other people write. So they handed over the in-tray, and that was huge. A good try, though it didnt work. But it has largely deprived us of his voice.

Once we try to penetrate the silence, a rather different Cromwell emerges. My aim has been to put Cromwell back in the centre of Tudor Englands picture, without the bias which led one of his most recent and crudest of biographers, Robert Hutchinson, to call him an ambitious and totally corrupt statesman, an opportunistic jack-the-lad, a ruffian on the make. Let readers judge!

Diarmaid MacCulloch is Professor of the History of the Church, University of Oxford

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Anne Boleyn’s Last Pregnancy: The Beginning of the End?

When Anne Boleyn miscarried what her midwife called a boy it was also reported by the midwife that the child was malformed*. In Tudor England, at the time, a malformed baby meant that the mother had gravely sinned, whether it be witchcraft, adultery or incest. Are these the events that began the downfall of Anne Boleyn?

Henry was an extremely religious man and this miscarriage caused him to question everything. What had he done wrong to not be given a healthy, legitimate male heir? It was reported that Henry VIII had told a courtier the day after Anne’s miscarriage that he had been charmed into marriage with Anne due to magic spells or witchcraft. This is when, some believe, that Henry began to question all the actions he took to make Anne his queen. He set aside Katherine, broke from Rome and executed close friends like Thomas More.

We don’t know exactly how far along Anne was in her pregnancy when she miscarried but in my mind it is quite possible that the child was reported as malformed because of the gestation period. Although, having said that, one would believe a midwife would know the difference…so….is it possible the child was malformed? Yes, of course and that could be the reason her body rejected it. It was not a viable fetus.

If Anne had delivered Henry a healthy son things may have turned out much differently for the Queen. Or would it?In my opinion, I feel it would have been a temporary fix for Anne as Henry still may have put her aside. He would have been happy to have a male heir but I dont believe that would have permanently changed his frustration with his wife. It may have been several months or years after the birth of a son but it would eventually happen. Henry would have had to be careful on the timing of this as not to concern his subjects with the paternity of the child if he accused her of adultery or incest.



I am of the belief that Henry was already tiring of Anne – he was courting Jane Seymour and growing increasingly frustrated with Anne’s boldness. This miscarriage was the catalyst for the events to come. If Anne could not give the King a son, then maybe Jane could. But, as many of us believe, Anne would not have gone down without a fight – she had her daughter’s future to be concerned about.

Some will argue that had Anne delivered of a healthy son that all would have been well for the couple. Is it possible? Well, of course, but I truly believe we have to look at all the events of the time. Henry was already pining for Jane, just as he had done with Anne and we know in that instance that he would stop at nothing to get what he wanted. Would Jane have eventually given in to become his mistress? I don’t believe so. Around this same time Anne was attacking the King’s closest adviser, Thomas Cromwell. Anne believed that Cromwell had gone too far with the dissolution of the monasteries. Anne had even threatened to have Cromwell executed. It was only a matter of time before Cromwell had had enough.

Queen Anne did not agree with the total dissolution of all monasteries and nunneries. She wanted reform, not complete destruction. The queen understood that many of the poor and sick, orphans and widows, indeed, all those in need, flocked to the open doors of the monasteries for help in time of trouble. Not only did they provide a help to these unfortunates, they also kept the country in better shape, with fewer beggars on the streets and fewer ruffians who had been forced to turn to crime to survive. The Queen wished to rid these religious houses of their superstitions but she did not wish to see them destroyed. This put her in direct conflict with Master Cromwell. -The Anne Boleyn Files

With a son, Anne would have understood that the child would be the future King of England. Henry knew the history of past kings of England and could look no further than King Henry II and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Eleanor joined forces with her son(s) to dethrone her husband and king. What would stop Anne from doing the same when her son came of an adequate age to rule?

Four months after Anne’s miscarriage it appeared that Henry was once again on her side when he helped to arrange an uncomfortable confrontation in church between Anne and the Imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys. Chapuys, as the envoy for his master Charles V had no choice but to bow to the Queen – acknowledging her in front of witnesses. This must have been humiliating for Chapuys but a victory for Anne and Henry. Only two weeks later Anne would be arrested. So was it really Henry after all who instigated the downfall of his wife, or was it Cromwell? And what was the catalyst to propel Anne to the inevitable? It is believed that one of Anne’s ladies, Elizabeth Somerset, Countess of Worcester blamed her own behavior to her brother (who had scolded her for loose living) that she was not as bad as the Queen. Saying that Anne was entertaining men late at night in her room, including Mark Smeaton. It wasn’t only Lady Worcester but other ladies in Anne’s household were also spreading rumors. The question will always be: Why?

There are so many “what ifs” and questions when it comes to the story of Anne Boleyn’s downfall. We cannot change the fact that Anne Boleyn was unjustly executed, but I am of the firm belief that we do her a great service by still discussing her 482 years later.

*Note: The reference about the malformed fetus was taken from “The Last Days of Anne Boleyn” – the statement is believed to have originated from Nicholas Sandersa Catholic recusant writing in the reign of Elizabeth I to discredit Anne (and Elizabeth). We will never know for certain if the child was indeed malformed, however, we do know that things really began to change between Henry and Anne after that miscarriage.

References:

Fraser, Antonia. “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” (1989)
Ives, Eric. “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn” (1986)
Licence, Amy. “The Six Wives & Many Mistresses of Henry VIII: The Women’s Stories” (2016)
Loades, David. “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” (2010)
Richards, Natalia. “Falcon’s Rise” (2016)
Weir, Alison. “Six Wives of Henry VIII” (1971)
TheAnneBoleynFiles.com
The Last Days of Anne Boleyn

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Book Review: “The Raven’s Widow” by Adrienne Dillard

Jane Seymour (13)

It is through my connections to the Tudor world online that I ran into author Adrienne Dillard. Adrienne is a total sweetheart and sent me her book to review after I asked her to write an article about Jane Boleyn for my site. I already had a growing “To Be Read” pile going on but I moved her book closer to the top because I was reading about Katheryn Howard at the time and I thought Jane Boleyn would be a great follow-up book. I wasn’t sure what to expect since this is the first book by Dillard that I’ve read. She has also written Cor Rotto – A Novel of Catherine Carey and Catherine Carey in a Nutshell.

Jane Boleyn, or Jane Parker, Lady Rochford is often portrayed as a villain in novels and TV series such as Showtime’s The Tudors. It is because of those depictions that average people like you and me get our first impressions of Tudor “characters” from. I’ve always believed Jane’s depictions to be unfair and one-sided, she was a very complex woman who became tangled in two major controversies in her lifetime.

The Raven’s Widow – Book Review

Jane Parker never dreamed that her marriage into the Boleyn family would raise her star to such dizzying heights. Before long, she finds herself as trusted servant and confidante to her sister-in-law, Anne Boleyn; King Henry VIII’s second queen. On a gorgeous spring day, that golden era is cut short by the swing of a sword. Jane is unmoored by the tragic death of her husband, George, and her loss sets her on a reckless path that leads to her own imprisonment in the Tower of London. Surrounded by the remnants of her former life, Jane must come to terms with her actions. In the Tower, she will face up to who she really is and how everything went so wrong.

The Raven’s Widow is a brilliantly told story about Jane Parker, wife of George Boleyn, Lord Rochford. The story is told in two timelines, her time with Anne and George and her time with Katheryn Howard.

The story begins with a young Jane who is trying to find her way and control her mouth. It continues with her blossoming into an amazing and loyal woman who suffered way too much loss in her lifetime. One of the things I have always wondered was, why did she and George never have children? Of course not everyone had children, or were able to, but other fictionalized stories about the couple would lead you to believe that their marriage was a sham and George was gay. In this story you cannot help but feel for Jane and George who struggle to get pregnant because of their limited time together due to his loyalty to the King. My heart broke along with her’s through each miscarriage she suffered.

Jane had always noticed that her brother Henry’s friend George Boleyn was attractive but was turned off by all the attention he received from the other ladies. When Jane found out she was to marry George she was not pleased with the decision at all. Their marriage was an arranged one that over time turned into true love. A great love.

Each character in the story came to life while reading it – that’s everyone from Mary Boleyn to Jane’s servant Lucy and even Thomas Cromwell. Anne Boleyn shares a decent amount of the story with Jane and George and is just as fiery and hot-tempered as we all imagine from stories about her. You really can’t blame her either, especially near the end, she became desperate to save herself, her family and her daughter from disaster.

As I was finishing this book I had tears in my eyes – I had become so attached to Jane that I didn’t want her ending to come. Nor did I want this amazingly written book to end.

This book is a real page-turner and you’ll have a difficult time putting it down. Even though I knew where the story was going it left me anxious for what was to come on the following pages.

Order your copy today!

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The Tudor Society - Tudor History at your Fingertips

Katheryn Howard: Part One

The story of Katheryn Howard intertwines with many other notable figures of the time but none more than Anne of Cleves and Thomas Cromwell. We’ll start with Katheryn’s childhood and attempt to chronologically move through time until her execution in 1542. After writing Part One, I realized her story deserves multiple parts. Part One, will start from Katheryn’s childhood up to her marriage to King Henry VIII. Part Two will cover her downfall. That part of her life definitely deserves a lot of attention.

There isn’t a whole lot of information about Katheryn’s childhood, so I’ll tell you what we do know. Katheryn Howard, according to author Gareth Russell was born around 1522 at Lambeth to Edmund Howard and Joyce Culpeper.



Joyce Culpeper

Joyce Culpeper was married twice, first to Ralph Leigh when she was twelve years old – the couple had five children together. When Joyce’s husband died around 1509, Joyce became a wealthy widow. She also inherited either land or money from her father after his death, but I do not have a date for that.

Joyce’s second husband was Edmund Howard – the couple were about the same age when they married. What it came down to was the fact that Joyce had money and Edmund Howard needed it. Joyce’s mother never trusted her son in law and they tried everything in their power to make sure Edmund didn’t have access to their money or land. We’ll delve more into Edmund in a moment.

The five half-siblings Katheryn had by her mother’s first marriage were: John, Ralph, Isabel, Joyce and Margaret Leigh. We’ll hear about Isabel a little later on in this story.

Katheryn’s full siblings were: Henry, Charles, Margaret and Mary.

Joyce died around 1528 or 1529 and left behind a husband and ten children.



Edmund Howard

Edmund Howard was the third surviving son of the 2nd Duke of Norfolk. He wasn’t always the pathetic man he later became, at one time he was said to have the athletic abilities of his brothers but that he lacked their social intelligence.

As a young boy, Edmund spent time at the court of King Henry VII as a page boy – a great place for the third son of the Duke of Norfolk to start his career.

At forty years old Edmund married Joyce Culpeper -this was his first marriage and as we’ve already discovered, Joyce’s second.

When Katheryn Howard was born her father, Edmund could not have been thrilled to have another daughter – another dowry to provide for a marriage. You see, Edmund had a problem with money….he didn’t have any. He often borrowed from friends and didn’t pay them back.

When Joyce died Edmund didn’t have the money to support this large household – the elder daughter’s of his late wife, Isabel and Margaret as well as his own children, Charles, Henry ,George, Katheryn, Margaret and Mary were all still living in his house. Katheryn’s eldest half-brothers, John and Ralph had moved out when Katheryn was a small child. John had inherited a manor in Stockwell from his grandfather and Ralph had a trust fund to help pay for his schooling to become a lawyer in London. Katheryn’s half-sister Joyce was also married and out of the house.

Keeping all of this in mind, when Edmund Howard wrote a letter to Wolsey asKing for financial assistance he mentioned that he had ten children to support, when we now know that he definitely did not. As author Gareth Russell states, “debt seldom stimulates a compulsion toward honesty”. Isn’t that the truth.

Edmund Howard, being of the Howard clan, behaved as though he resented being from such a notable family. He claimed that his money problems could not be solved by getting another  job. The thought of doing so would bring great reproach and shame to him and his blood. So Edmund believed getting another job to help pay for his expenses would bring shame on his family. Interesting – like being in debt wouldn’t bring a greater shame on your family name.

After the death of his first wife Joyce he married again to the not so kind, but wealthy widow Dorothy Troyes – we know she wasn’t so kind when we look back at the letter that Edmund wrote to Honor Grenville, Lady Lisle during his time in Calais – if you follow my website and Facebook page you already know this story, but for the rest of you, get ready to laugh.

“Madame, so it is I have this night after midnight taken your medicine, for the which I heartily thank you, for it hath done me much good, and hath caused the stone to break, so that now I void much gravel. But for all that, your said medicine hath done me little honesty, for it made me piss my bed this night, for the which my wife hath sore beaten me, and saying it is children’s parts to bepiss their bed.

Okay, so let’s talk about his wife Dorothy and the fact that Edmund states in the letter that she beat him and scolded him for wetting the bed….the poor guy had kidney stones and accidentally wet the bed. What kind of wife would treat him that way? On the other hand….I get the impression that Edmund liked to play the victim in his life, especially if we look at all the times he complained about being a Howard and how hard it was to be part of such a prestigious family.

Luckily for Edmund, his marriage to Dorothy did not last long since there is evidence that she made out her will in 1530.

Later, when Edmund’s niece, Anne Boleyn was Queen of England she was able to assist her hapless uncle by getting him a position as Comptroller of Calais. The timing was perfect for Edmund to leave the island and cross the channel to get away from his debt-collectors.

It was at some point after Edmund got the position in Calais that his household was broken up in England and his daughter Margaret was married to Thomas Arundell while his step-daughter Isabel was married to Sir Edward Baynton. The rest of the children who were still in his household were at the age where they could continue their education in another family’s household – Katheryn and her brother Henry were invited to become wards of the dowager duchess of Norfolk.

Edmund Howard died in 1539 before he could see his daughter become Queen. Imagine how his life would have improved…or maybe he would have gotten himself into hot water and been executed. We’ll never know.

Here is another quote by Edmund that sums up his life: “If I were a poor man’s son, I might dig and delve for my living.” Instead, Edmund found himself with few friends and ‘beaten by the world,”

Ward of Dowager Duchess

Katheryn arrived at Chesworth House south of Horsham in 1531 – her life would never be the same.

Most have assumed that Katheryn was not educated in the household of the dowager duchess, however, it does appear that she was able to read and write – Katheryn was most definitely better educated than most English women but because she could read and write does not mean she was educated. Especially not like her cousin, Anne Boleyn.

The dowager duchess had many young women in her household. If you compare to today’s standards it would be similar to having a handful or two of teenage girls together in a large room. The girls were actually housed in an attic dormitory or maiden’s chamber, as it was called. While the young men were housed in a separate area. It would only be a matter of time before trouble ensued. Such was the case in this household.

There were also young men in the household – we all know what teenage hormones are like so it understandable that at night one of the girls, whether it was Katheryn or another, would sneak into the bedroom of the dowager duchess and steal the key to the dormitory – once they received it they could unlock the door the allow the young men to enter their room. Now, before we go too far into that part of the story that’s discuss Katheryn’s so called relationship with her music tutor, Henry Manox. Manox and Katheryn were flirtatious with one another and it is believed that the two had secret meetings with one another. There was kissing between the two and Manox later said that they had not slept together but that he had seen her private parts.

It is believed that Manox fell in love with the young Howard girl who was much above his own standing and that others had noticed. For Katheryn, being with Manox made her feel grown-up and protected, she thought she loved him as well. Unfortunately, for the couple one of Katheryn’s roommates, Mary Lassell approached Manox and told him his relationship with Katheryn was inappropriate. What she didn’t say is that she also had a crush on him – so there may have been some jealousy on her part. Mary warned Manox that he would never be able to marry Katheryn because she came from such a noble house and the marriage would never be approved.

Manox, the pig he was, responded by saying,“Marry her? My designs are not quite so honorable. And from the kisses the girl allows me, I shall soon achieve my purpose.” 

Mary quickly informed Katheryn of what he had said and Katheryn was disgusted. Katheryn confronted Manox and he responded by smoothing her over with something to the effect that he can’t control his feelings around her. Katheryn, surely flattered, continue her so called relationship with Manox. Eventually the relationship ended – we don’t know what happened but I’m sure Katheryn realized there were other men in the household who wanted her attention and she liked it. It’s possible that the relationship ended after the dowager duchess caught the two alone. Katheryn received two or three blows from her grandmother and the couple were told that they should never be alone together again.

Later in interrogations Katheryn said this about Manox: At the flattering and fair persuasions of Manox being but a young girl I suffered him and sundry times to handle and touch the secret parts of my body which neither became me with honesty to permit nor him to require.

It wasn’t long after the relationship with Manox ended that Katheryn fell in love with Francis Dereham, a more serious candidate for her hand since he, unlike Manox, had sufficient status and wealth to marry Katheryn. Dereham was an usher for the dowager duchess, and like Manox was older than Katheryn. Dereham frequently visited the girl’s dormitory at night and most definitely consummated his relationship with young Katheryn.

Dereham always claimed that he considered them married or precontracted – they called one another husband and wife. This by the standards of the 16th century was enough – other’s had heard them call each other by those titles and were aware that they were sleeping together.

Author David Loades believes the couple’s relationship lasted from 1537 to 1539. While contraception at the time was primitive, Katheryn clearly had a good grasp on how to prevent pregnancy.

Henry Manox became very jealous of the couple and wrote an anonymous letter to the dowager duchess to inform her of the goings on at night in the dormitory. After reading the note the dowager Duchess caught the lovebirds together and was furious. Dereham departed shortly after to Ireland with an understanding that he would wed Katheryn when he returned to England.  Little did he know that by the time he returned everything would have changed for the couple.

While Francis was in Ireland Katheryn Howard moved closer to court staying at her uncle’s house (Duke of Norfolk). This is when she met Thomas Culpeper. Thomas was a gentleman of the King’s privy chamber and he was also a distant cousin to Katheryn’s through her mother. His position in court was considered very important since it allowed him personal access to the King. Katheryn fell deeply in love with Thomas.

Eventually, Katheryn was welcomed to court as a lady in waiting to the queen.  It was  while she was a lady in waiting to Anne of Cleves in March 1540 that she caught the eye of the King Henry VIII. The King had be invited to dinner at the home of Bishop Gardiner on the River Thames and he graciously accepted. It was while the King was watching the dancers that he noticed the young, auburn-haired Katheryn Howard smiling, laughing and dressed in the french fashion. It wasn’t long after the event that Henry began showing more interest in Katheryn.

Once the King eyed you there was no going back. There was nothing she could do but accept his advances. At this time she was still in love with Thomas Culpeper, but adored the attention that the King gave her…along with the prospect of becoming queen of England.

The King was attracted to Katheryn’s beauty and youthfulness – and of course, he believed she was a virgin, unlike his current wife, Anne of Cleves .

Henry and Anne of Cleves continued playing the part of husband and wife for the first few months of their marriage with only the King’s closest advisors knowing his true intentions. Thomas Cromwell had been Henry VIII’s closest advisor since the downfall and death of his predecessor, Cardinal Wolsey. Cromwell had the King’s ear in all matters and pretty much was running the show. When the Cleves marriage backfired Cromwell was rightfully concerned about his position with the King, however, in April 1540 Henry raised Cromwell to the earldom of Essex. He also created him Lord Great Chamberlain. From an outsider’s perspective this looked as though Cromwell was safe from the wrath of the King.

A plan was already in motion because Henry wanted out of his marriage with Anne so he could be with Katheryn Howard, and if Cromwell could not do it, then he would find someone who could, but in the meantime he’d make Cromwell believe he was still his closest advisor – this is how Henry VIII worked.

By the 24th April 1540 Henry gave Katheryn Howard lands seized from a felon and a few weeks later she received an expensive gift of quilted sarcanet. It is possible that their relationship was consummated around this time because this is when Henry was urgent to annul his marriage to Anne of Cleves.

With Katheryn, the King believed he was getting all her couldn’t have with Anne of Cleves.

Thomas Cromwell

The end of favor came for Cromwell when was arrested, on the 10th of June 1540. The scene played out as Cromwell was leaving the parliament building to head to dinner – a sudden gust of wind blew his hat from his head and it fell to the ground. Normally, when a gentleman lost his it was customary for everyone to remove their hats as a sign of respect. When Cromwell bent down to pick up his hat, no man showed him the respect that was warranted. At which Cromwell replied dryly: “A high wind indeed must it have been to blow my bonnet off and keep all yours on.” The men around him pretended not to hear what he had said and carried on to dinner.

During dinner no man spoke to Thomas Cromwell. Once dinner was over all the lords proceeded to the council chamber where they would carry out their daily business. When Cromwell finally reached the chamber all the men were already seated, at which he said, “you were in a great hurry, gentlemen, to get seated.” Once again his words were ignored – and as he went to sit in his chair Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk yelled out – “Cromwell, do not sit there; that is no place for thee. Traitors do not sit amongst gentlemen.” At this point Cromwell was furious with his treatment said, “I am not a traitor.” And as he spoke those words the captain of the guard entered the chamber and arrested him. The arrest of Thomas Cromwell was a shock to many – he had been the King’s closest advisor for many years.

Unfortunately for Cromwell his downfall was greeted with much happiness all over England, for there were those who believed the absence of Rome in their life and the dissolution of the monasteries were solely his fault. They felt he finally got what was coming to him. For Henry VIII it allowed him to continue to move forward with his divorce from Anne of Cleves – the awful marriage that was Cromwell’s idea. Now Henry was a step closer to being with Katheryn Howard.

End of Marriage for Anne of Cleves

In the early hours of the 6th of July 1540, the King sent a messenger to inform Anne of Cleves of his concerns about their marriage. The following day, after they were summoned to Westminster, the convocations of York and Canterbury among other leading clergy, declared the marriage null and void after hearing Gardiner speak against the validity of the King’s marriage.

That very day a group of men appointed by the King went to Anne to inform her that her marriage was no more and that henceforth she would be called, “the King’s sister”.

Henry Was Free to Marry

Now that his marriage to Anne of Cleves was over, Henry VIII was free to marry Katheryn Howard. On the 28th of July at the mildly obscure Oatlands palace, Henry and Katheryn were married. Some believed that the location of the wedding and the smaller court presence was due to the fact that Katheryn was pregnant. This was most definitely untrue. Katheryn was very petite and her small frame would have made a pregnancy obvious. Those who dressed her would have noticed and most definitely gossiped – it seems that’s all most of the ladies did at court. 😉

King Henry was obsessed with his young bride. He was so turned on by Katheryn that he could barely keep his hands off her. After the failed consummation with Anne of Cleves this is exactly what Henry needed. Now he behaved as a teenage boy obsessed with his girlfriend. This would prove to the court that he was the same young Henry he always was….or so he believed.

How had Henry not noticed that his wife was not a virgin? This is something I’ve often wondered. Clearly Katheryn had experience in the bedchamber, was she smart enough to “act the part” of a virgin or was Henry so enamored that he overlooked such an obvious thing. He believed Katheryn to be his “Rose without a Thorn” so my guess is that he was ignorant to the truth.

On the same day that Henry and Katheryn married, Thomas Cromwell was executed.

I’ll end this article with some of Thomas Cromwell’s final words (very fitting for this article) and return here next week for the rest of Katheryn Howard’s story – see you next week:

Gentlemen, you should all take warning from me, who was, as you know, from a poor man made by the King into a great gentleman and I, not contented with that, not with having the Kingdom at my orders, presumed to a still higher state. My pride has brought its punishment.

Continue with Katheryn Howard: PART TWO

YOU CAN FIND MORE PODCASTS AT: http://Patreon.com/tudorsdynasty/posts

Further Reading:

Russell, Gareth; Young and Damned and Fair – The Life of Catherine Howard, Fifth Wife of Henry VIII (2016)

Loades, David; The 6 Wives of Henry VIII (2014)

Licence, Amy; The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII (2014)

Fraser, Antonia; The Wives of Henry VIII  (1994)

Weir, Alison; The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1991)

Kizewski, Holly K.; Jewel of Womanhood: A Feminist Reinterpretation of Queen Katheryn Howard (Thesis 7/30/14 – University of Nebraska – Lincoln)

Hutchinson, Robert; Thomas Cromwell (2007)

The Life of Jane Seymour – Third Wife of Henry VIII

Described by Polydore Vergil as “A woman of the utmost charm both in appearance and character” and Sir John Russell as, “the fairest of all his wives”. Eustace Chapuys described Jane as “of middle stature and no great beauty”.

Jane was of a natural sweet-nature, unlike her predecessor Anne Boleyn and had also been considered virtuous.

Before you continue reading, if you’d prefer, you can listen to a supplemental podcast I made about Jane with the help of Matthew Lewis:

Jane Seymour – Third Wife of Henry VIII

As you may or may not recall, Jane Seymour was at the very bottom of my list of Tudor queens – she has just always seemed so boring to me. To my surprise, while researching this article, I began to uncover a woman who was a bit more interesting than I initially suspected.

Jane’s Family Tree

We know her best as the third wife of Henry VIII but Jane Seymour, through her mother, was descended from King Edward III through his great-granddaughter, Elizabeth Mortimer, Lady Hotspur.

Jane’s father, Sir John Seymour was descended from of a man who travelled with William the Conqueror to England by the surname of St. Maur – and eventually that name transformed into the Seymour name we know today.

John Seymour, was a close companion of King Henry VIII and had been knighted in the field of battle by his predecessor, King Henry VII at the Battle of Blackhearth.

Portrait of Sir John Seymour by unknown artist.

John and Margery Seymour had ten children in all. Their eldest, John, was (as the oldest son) expected to do great things, but when he died years later his parents were devastated. Next there was Edward, who then claimed the prized position of eldest son, then Henry who was okay with a simpler life outside of court, followed by Thomas, another John (d. 20 July 1520), Anthony (d. young), then Jane, Elizabeth, Margery (d. young) and Dorothy. This order of children does not seem correct to me because it has always been noted that Jane and Thomas were close in age. If there were two siblings in between that would not be the case. Author Antonia Fraser gives a better account, from her 1992 book called “The Wives of Henry VIII”: John, Edward, Henry, Thomas, Jane, Elizabeth, Dorothy, Margery, Anthony and John. With no real evidence of who was older, Anthony or Margery – yet we do know the youngest three children (in this instance) all died young.

Jane, Thomas, Edward and Elizabeth Seymour. The surviving Seymour siblings minus Henry and Dorothy.

The Early Years

Author Elizabeth Norton says that Jane was too young to remember when her older brother died – I strongly disagree with that statement since she would have been about eleven years old at the time – a good age for recalling the death of an older sibling. Jane also lost her youngest siblings Anthony, Margery and John. Anthony and Margery are believed to have died young from the Sweating Sickness – the very reason why Jane was especially fearful of catching it herself in later years – because she had seen what it had done to her brother and sister.

In Jane’s early years she was witness (at about age four or five) to her father leaving Wolf Hall to fight at the Sieges of Thérouanne and Tornay in France. Around that same, the Battle of Flodden was taking place in the North of England – led by Queen Katherine as regent. One must wonder if Jane understood what was happening around her at this time and if she worried for her father’s safety from the security of her family home at Wolf Hall in Wiltshire.

Author Amy Aubrey Locke of The Seymour Family said that Jane Seymour probably had a quiet, humdrum childhood. That Jane spent little time with books but much at needlework. Some of her childhood needlework was still in existence up to 1652. What we do know about her education is that Jane was literate in English and that she did not learn Latin, which was the gateway to further learning.

Jane most likely shared a classroom with her brother Thomas since they were so close in age. As we’ve learned recently, Thomas had no interest in learning and it makes one wonder if that motivated Jane to be a better student. We also know that Jane enjoyed the outdoors – this was a very important part of her education as a country gentlewoman. Jane became an expert horsewoman and hunting was one of her favorite outdoor sports.

Nineteenth century author, Agnes Strickland believed Jane Seymour was educated at French court, as a maid to the English princess, Mary Tudor when she married King Louis XII of France in 1514. While there is no definitive proof of this, Strickland claimed that there was a portrait of a girl at the Louvre that she believed was Jane Seymour. I’m skeptical of this information since Jane would have been only five or six years old at the time and that seems very young to be a maid in any household, let alone the household of a queen in France.

Old Enough to be Married

Between John, his wife Margery and their son Edward, their connections at Tudor court ran deep – Edward had been spending much time at court and knew well who could help him find his sister a position at court. Once she arrived at court this would open a world of marriage prospects for the single Jane.

What is not doubted is that in 1529, before Katherine of Aragon lost the title of queen, Jane served in her household as a lady-in-waiting. It is likely that Jane was in the household of a notable lady prior to that of the queen since, as author David Loades states, a position like that “could scarcely have happened except from an established position within the court”.�

Jane Seymour arrived at court when she was eighteen or nineteen, but at what capacity is still unknown.

Some believe that Sir Francis Bryan, a distant cousin, had a hand in her placement in the household of Queen Katherine, as well as that of Queen Anne.

History says that at one time Jane was attached to the son of Sir Robert and Lady Dormer – a neighbor of Wolf Hall. Unfortunately, it is believed that Jane was of too modest of rank to marry a Dormer.

Author Janet Wertman of Jane the Quene said in an interview once that she believed Jane was desperate to marry and resentful of her siblings. It’s interesting when you see that Jane was 27 when she married, nearly a decade older than most women and both of her younger sisters had acquired marriages before her.

It says a lot that her younger sister Elizabeth married sometime before 1530 – most likely an indicator that Jane wasn’t perceived as a great catch – that her sister’s beauty was much greater. Being that John Seymour had so many children and three daughters to marry off this left very little in the way of a dowry for any marriage, yet with that being said Elizabeth married Sir Anthony Ughtred – of the prominent Ughtred family.

While in the household of Queen Katherine, Jane would have been expected to go to mass often and work on needlework, but she would not have been expected to have learned discussion. The most important role at court for Jane would have been that of a woman looking for a husband – in this, Jane was not versed in courtly flirtation. The modus operandi of single ladies at court, or in the household of the queen, was to play hard to get. Be unavailable. This was a skill that came naturally to Jane and may have been one of the reasons why she was still single in her 20s.

Jane Joins the Household of Anne Boleyn

Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn in secret around the beginning of 1533; That summer Henry redesignated Katherine of Aragon as dowager Princess of Wales and her household was reorganized. Jane was one of the ladies who had been removed from the household since she was suspected of sharing similar religious views with Katherine. From there she was sent to the household of the new queen, Anne Boleyn.

Jane Seymour and an older Anne Boleyn

By August of that year, Anne, heavily pregnant with her daughter Elizabeth, took to her Chamber at Greenwich Palace. Jane and the other ladies would have been there to tend to the Queen’s needs. Their duties, since men were not allowed in the Queen’s rooms during a lady’s lying-in, were to guard the door, wait tables and routine work such as lighting fires and keeping the place clean. The Queen’s ladies would have slept on pallet beds in the Queen’s Bedchamber in case something happened during the night, but once the big day grew closer it was the royal midwife who slept near the Queen in their place.

Princess Elizabeth was born on the 7th of September 1533 and the birth was reported as easy. Jane’s duties at this point would have been to bring water and wine when Anne was in need of them. Both the King and Queen were disappointed in the arrival of a daughter but were confident that sons would follow.

The tide began to turn for Queen Anne after her miscarriage in July or August 1534. Those who were against the marriage from the start used this to fuel their ambitions to have Anne removed.

Things Were About to Change

In the summer of 1535, King Henry and Queen Anne embarked on their annual progress across England. One of their stops along the way was the home of John Seymour – Wolf Hall, on the 4th of September.

Stops along their progress were generally chosen due to size and convenience, but it’s also possible that the king wished to visit the home of the woman he fancied – Jane Seymour. In addition, the King enjoyed the company of John Seymour, her father. At the moment Anne Boleyn was still safely secure on her throne and Katherine of Aragon was still alive – so Henry would not have been thinking about marrying since he would have had plenty of wives to go around.

So much is unknown about that visit to Wolf Hall, especially if Jane was present. As a member of the Queen’s household, surely Jane would have been there…or would she? We do not know how the entourage for the progress was constructed since there is no documentation of it. Author David Loades states that it is just as likely that Jane stayed behind in London. No matter where she was Jane’s whereabouts in the summer of 1535 are unknown.

January of 1536 saw much change in England; On the 7th of January Katherine of Aragon died at Kimboltan Castle. Two days later, dressed in yellow, Henry and Anne triumphantly paraded to mass with their daughter Elizabeth. It is believed that the color yellow was the color of celebration. The couple wore the color to celebrate the death of the former queen…this is a subject that has been heavily debated.

At the time, Queen Anne was pregnant again and had good reason to be concerned with the sex of the child. If this child proved to be a girl, or if she miscarried, all would be lost. She understood that the tide had turned and many wished her removed as queen.

Because of the death of his first wife and pregnancy of his second wife, King Henry decided to stage a tournament. He was forty-four years old at the time and chose to participate in the jousting events, even though he hadn’t jousted in several years. It was on the 24th of January 1536, seventeen days after his first wife died that King Henry fell in the tiltyard during a joust. The King lay motionless for two hours and some thought all hope was lost.

It had been reported that Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk burst into the Queen’s chambers to tell his niece the King was dead. Anne Boleyn was visibly upset – she was pregnant with the King’s child but without the King she had no protection from those who wished her harm. Henry recovered from his fall and five days later Anne suffered a miscarriage of a male fetus.

Showtime’s “The Tudors” – Jane Seymour on Henry VIII’s lap. Photo: Jonathan Hession/Showtime

There was another story, told by Jane Dormer (a woman who served Queen Mary), that Anne had walked in on Jane Seymour sitting on the King’s knee and that is what caused her to miscarry the child. This tale is completely fabricated – this can be proven by the fact that Dormer was born in 1538 – two years after the events occurred. Jane Dormer claimed that she heard the story from one of Anne’s ladies, in old age, whose memory may not have been so good after so many years had passed.

The Rise of Jane Seymour

After this final miscarriage the door was left open for her enemies to hatch plans to have her removed. Some may have been planning this already and were interrupted when Queen Anne became pregnant again. It was clear to many that God did not smile upon the marriage as Anne could not provide the King with a son.

Even Cromwell and Chapuys had discussed the topic of Anne being replaced by another – quite a leap if you consider the two men were on opposite ends of the religion spectrum. It also appears that Chapuys was aware of Jane Seymour being a lady of interest to become wife number three. Shortly after that conversation it was reported by that Chapuys received a letter from the Marquess of Exeter and his wife Gertrude that said the lady had rejected a royal gift by the king.

After Jane had refused the gift from King Henry word spread quickly about the King’s interest in her. When he found out, Henry informed Jane not to pay attention to the rumors.

Jane Seymour by Hans Holbein the Younger

Not long after, in March 1536, while the King was at Westminster and Jane at Greenwich the King sent her yet another gift – to which Jane fell to her knees and kissed the royal missive telling the messenger that she was “a gentlewoman of fair and honurable lineage without reproach”. Saying she had “nothing in the world but her honour, which she would not wound for a thousand deaths”. It was those words that made Henry realize that any time he was in the presence Jane that it should be done in front of family…to witness them. He wanted to make sure he did things right this time.

Eventually Jane had accepted a gift from the King, and Anne Boleyn had noticed something around her attendants neck. She asked her lady if she could look at her new necklace and Jane, knowing Anne would be livid if she saw, drew back. The Queen then snatched it from Jane and opened it to find a portrait of the King. You can about imagine the scene in your head.

In mid-April 1536, Edward and Anne Seymour moved into the apartments at Greenwich which previously had belonged to Thomas Cromwell. The fact that Cromwell was willing to give up his apartments to Jane shows that he had decided to join the charge against Anne. A secret passage joined the two chambers (Henry and Jane’s), so Henry could visit Jane without anyone noticing.

During the trial of Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour was noticeably absent from court. She spent time in the household of the King’s favorite, Sir Nicholas Carew “in almost regal splendour” – the Carew home was only seven miles from London. On the 15th of May it was noted that she was in a house looking onto the river within a mile of Whitehall. It was at this location that Sir Francis Bryan kept Jane in the loop. Jane’s reaction to Bryan telling her of Anne’s execution had not been noted.

The question remains – did Jane believe Anne to be guilty of the charges against her? At the time, when Jane caught the King’s eye, Anne was already in disfavor with Cromwell and a majority of English subjects had blamed her for the lack of papal authority in England.

On the 18th of May the Imperial Ambassador wrote to Cardinal Granvelle of Jane Seymour, saying:

“She is sister to Sir Edward Seymour, of middle stature and no great beauty…shis is over twenty-five years old and has long frequented the court…she is not a woman of great wit, but may be of good understanding. It is said that she is included to be proud and haughty, and has a good affection towards the Princess�”�Chapuys was, of course, referring to Mary.

On the 19th of May, the day Anne Boleyn was executed, Cranmer issued a dispensation for Henry and Jane to marry �although within the third degree of affinity�. What that affinity is is unknown but one can assume that the King was just covering his bases to make sure this marriage, his third, was completely valid.

Jane the Quene

The day after the execution of Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour traveled to Hampton Court Palace and was secretly betrothed to Henry VIII. The King’s swift action was “ill taken” by many people seeing it as a marriage that was planned prior to the trial and execution of Anne Boleyn. Henry, aware of this, attempted to keep the betrothal secret for some time but it was a matter of hours and word had spread all over court.

When we think of Jane Seymour it is usually of that of a woman who was a pawn for her family…a sweet and kind lady who tried to bring Mary back into the King’s good graces…but what about a woman who knew that her placement on the throne would be at the cost of another’s life? What about that woman? There was a side of Jane Seymour that we don’t hear about…the side that was willing to take part in the events that placed her on the throne next to King Henry VIII. Think about that for a moment.

After the not so secret betrothal, some believe that Jane, and possibly Henry, went to her family home in Wiltshire – Wolf Hall.

On the 30th of May 1536, Henry and Jane married at Whitehall in the Queen’s Closet.

Wedding of Jane & Henry on Showtime’s, “The Tudors”

Henry’s personal wedding gift to Jane was a gold cup designed by Hans Holbein and engraved with their initials entwined with a love knot. Jane’s motto appeared three times on the cup. “Bound to obey and serve”.

Drawing of the cup Hans Holbein the Younger Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
On the 1st of June 1536, Henry and Jane traveled by barge to Greenwich.

Only a week after the wedding King Henry was already talking about the  “prince hoped for in due season”. Henry was optimistic that soon he would have that legitimate male heir he longed for and lost two wives over.

June 1536

A lot happened at the beginning of June:

On the 2nd of June, Jane was shown to the court as Queen.

On the 3rd of June, Sir John Ruseell wrote a letter to Lord Lisle that said this about the new queen:

I assure you she is as gentle a lady as ever I knew, and as fair a Queen as any in Christendom. The King has come out of hell into heaven for the gentleness of this and the cursedness and unhappiness of the other…

Then, on the 4th of June, she was proclaimed Queen of England at Greenwich.

On the 5th, her brother Edward was created Viscount Beauchamp.

On the 7th of June the royal couple traveled by barge from Greenwich to Whitehall. As they rode down the Thames there was much fanfare – “every ship shot guns”  and Chapuys sent his trumpeters and musicians to float around the barge to play music for the newlyweds.

 

The Tower of London at this time was draped in streamers and banners in salute of the couple – must have been quite the site.

The King’s appearance at this time was not the marvel it had once been – Henry was still a tall man of 6’2 but had put on much weight with age. It was noted at the time that the king wore a hat to hide the fact that he no longer had much hair.

The following day, on the 8th of June, Parliament convened and passed an Act confirming that both Mary and Elizabeth Tudor were illegitimate which settled the succession of any child that may be born to Jane, or any future wife.

Now when we look at the relationship between Queen Jane and the Lady Mary it is often showcased as Jane pushing Henry VIII to bring his daughter back to court and reinstate her in the line of succession. While Jane was determined to bring the King’s daughter back into favor it wasn’t necessarily her doing.

That same month, the Lady Mary finally appeased her father by declaring herself illegitimate and recognized him as the Head of the Church of England – both things were required for her survival.

Jane’s gentle pushes with Henry in regards to his daughter may not have been what got her back in the King’s good graces, but it did show Henry what a good heart his new queen had.

Only a couple of weeks after the King received the letter of submission from his daughter, he and the queen traveled to Hunsdon and visited with Mary for the day. It was this visit that the Queen presented the Lady Mary with a “very fine” diamond ring and Henry gave his daughter 1,000 crowns and told her if there was anything else she needed that she need only to ask.

Queen Jane;s first couple of month’s in her new position were a whirlwind of activity. After their return from Hunsdon, Jane had her first reception with an ambassador when King Henry planned a moment for the Imperial ambassador (Chapuys) and Jane to talk. During their conversation Chapuys told Jane that he wished for her to be the all-needed peacemaker. He used the term, “Pacific” for Jane. When Henry returned and heard what the ambassador had called Jane he agreed and said that Jane wished for peace – “besides that her nature was gentle and inclined to peace, she would not for the world that he were engaged in war, that she might not be separated from him”.

It appears that the King and Queen were very happy with one another at this point of their marriage. The only thing that could have made it better was if Jane became pregnant, something she was all to aware of.

Henry and Jane went on a summer progress and traveled east to Rochester, Sittingbourne and Canterbury all the way to the coast ending at Dover Castle. They had many hunting expeditions and were said to have killed 20 stags on the 9th of August alone.

While they were on progress plans were being made for Jane’s coronation – initially there were plans to hold the coronation on the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, on the 29th of September, which would have been perfect to coincide with all the festivities that were already associated this day. Eustace Chapuys reported that Henry would “perform wonders” for his new queen and no doubt wipe-out any memories of the last, disgraced queen’s coronation.

Then there was an outbreak of plague that put a halt to all plans for a coronation. Maybe by the time the plans resumed the queen would be with child. But, as we now know, the coronation never happened.

The Happy Couple

The King and Queen returned to London in December of 1536, and on the 22nd of that month the couple rode through the city in great state.

According to Agnes Strickland, there was a record that indicates the severity of the weather that winter. It was said that the King, Queen and the whole court rode across the Thames on horseback to Greenwich Palace.�

In early spring 1537, Jane discovered she was pregnant. Henry had great reason to rejoice, for he believed she was carrying the son he had desired for so long. The pregnancy was announced in April when Henry relayed the great news to the Privy Council.

Jane’s life changed immediately after she realized she was pregnant. As always, when a Tudor queen was pregnant she could longer be intimate with the king – for fear of harm to the child. Jane’s life would have included a great lack of excitement from what he had experienced previously. Her biggest concern was to protect the child she was carrying.

By late May at Hampton Court, it was announced that the child had moved in her womb. One courtier wrote, “God send her good deliverance of a prince, to the joy of all faithful subjects.”.

The Birth of a Prince

On the 16th of September, Jane took to her chamber at Hampton Court in preparation for the birth of what was hoped to be a prince. Lady Mary had been with Jane for the last few weeks and would also be present in the chamber with her step-mother. By early October it seemed obvious that the birth was imminent. Then on the 9th of October the Queen.s labor began. Jane’s labor lasted three days and three nights. It was rumored that she would have to be cut open to secure a safe delivery of the child. There is no evidence of a cesarean since that procedure was not known at the time, and no proof that Henry had to choose between Jane and the child if one had to be saved.

At two in the morning on the 12th of October an exhausted Jane delivered a healthy, fair-haired boy. Her labor was long and painful but she had survived the delivery and so had the child.

Henry was over the moon with glee that he finally had a son, a legitimate heir to the throne of England. They named the child Edward, Duke of Cornwall from the moment he was born. Church bells tolled and fires were lit throughout the city to celebrate the birth of a prince.

By ten in the evening on the same day Jane was sitting in her bed having someone write a letter to Cromwell (for her) to inform him that they had delivered a son, a prince. Her letter was signed, “Jane the Quene“.

On the day of Prince Edward’s christening the guests had gathered beforehand in the queen’s apartments. Jane was lying on a bed of crimson lined with cloth of gold. Around her she wore a crimson mantle edged with ermine. Her blonde hair flowed loosely. Beside Jane sat the King. When the little Prince was brought to Jane she gave him her blessing.

In the Annals of the Seymours, the author states that at the time it was required for the queen to attend the christening, and that the Queen was carried from her room to the chapel on a pallet or sofa – she was propped up with cushions and wrapped in a crimson velvet mantle. It also states that King Henry sat next to her during the entire ceremony. While this makes for a great visual there is no evidence to corroborate the story.

The following day Jane suffered a bad attack of diarrhea, which left her very ill. By evening she was feeling better.

The Death of a Queen

That night she fell ill again and early the following day her health was of growing concern. At that time it seemed obvious that she was suffering from childbed fever.

Jane’s conditions continued to worsen and Henry was called to be by her side. In the early hours of 24 October 1537, the queen slipped quietly away. Queen Jane was dead. Henry was destroyed by the death of his wife – his favorite wife, for she gave him a long desired son.

The people of England shared in their King’s grief – this is evident by a ballad that was written about her and was published in the popular, Ancient Poems of the Peasantry of England. We’ll end this podcast with this beautiful, yet historically inaccurate ballad.

Queen Jane was in travail
For six weeks or more,
Till the women grew tired,
And fain would give o’er.

O women! O women!
Good wives if ye be,
Go, send for King Henrie,
And bring him to me.

King Henrie was sent for,
He came with all speed,
In a gownd of green velvet
From heel to the head.

King Henrie! King Henrie!
If kind Henrie you be,
Send for a surgon,
And bring him to me.

The surgeon was sent for,
He came with all speed,
In a gownd of black velvet
From heel to the head.

He gave her rich caudle,
But the death-sleep slept she.
Then her right side was opened,
And the babe was set free.

The babe it was christened,
And put out and nursed,
While the royal Queen Jane
She lay cold in the dust.

So black was the mourning,
And white were the wands,
Yellow, yellow the torches,
They bore in their hands.

The bells they were muffled,
And mournful did play,
While the royal Queen Jane
She lay cold in the clay.

Six knights and six lords
Bore her corpse through the grounds;
Six dukes followed after,
In black mourning gownds.

The flower of Old England
Was laid in the cold clay,
Whilst the roy al King Henrie
Came weeping away.

Sources:

Fraser, Antonia; The Wives of Henry VIII (1994)
Locke, Amy Aubrey; The Seymours (1914)
Loades, David; Jane Seymour – Henry VIII’s Favourite Wife (2013)
Loades, David; The 6 Wives of Henry VIII (2014)
Loades, David; The Seymours of Wolf Hall (2015)
Licence, Amy; The Six Wives & Many Mistresses of Henry VIII (2014)
Scard, Margaret; Edward Seymour – Lord Protector (2016)
Skidmore, Chris; Edward VI – The Lost King of England (1981)
Weir, Alison; The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1991)
Bell, Robert & Dixon, James Henry; Ancient Poems, Ballads and Songs of the Peasantry of England (1857)
Pollard, A. F. (Albert Frederick); England under Protector Somerset : an essay (1900)
St. Maur, Richard Harold; Annals of the Seymours (1902)
https://archive.org/stream/genealogicalhera03burk#page/200/mode/2up
Ives, Eric; The Live and Death of Anne Boleyn
Doran, Susan; The Tudor Chronicles
Wertman, Janet; Jane the Quene (2016)

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